This is the third post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Previously, I’ve listed the most important aspects that influence your local ranking and discussed how to get the most out of Google My Business. Here, I’ll focus on another essential asset for local SEO: optimizing your website for local search. Learn why and how to do that!

Your website is one of your most important pieces of digital equity, and one of the fundamental components of a successful local marketing stack. It’s a crucial communication vehicle from you to your customers. Regardless of changing consumer search and social media behavior over time, it will remain a place that consumers visit. It’s the place to get more information about and connect with your business.

All that being said, it may surprise you to learn that your website makes up a relatively small part of Google’s local ranking algorithm. Google is famously secretive about how it ranks local businesses. But the experts surveyed for the Local Search Ranking Factors peg website influence at only around 14% for local pack results, and only 24% for local organic results. More on the distinction later in this post.

Your website is the ranking factor over which you have complete control, however. This makes it an ideal asset from which to begin your local marketing campaigns. Let’s take a look at the most important website optimization criteria (also known as on-site optimization or on-page optimization). Improving your performance across each of these criteria will help you rank better for local searches, and attract more customers.

Crawlability

Google has built a giant database of hundreds of trillions of webpages which its algorithm then analyzes and ranks. It does this by sending out scores of digital robots, or “spiders,” which visit page after page. They “click on” the links on each page to see where they lead. We refer to this activity as “crawling.” 

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Technical issues

As a business owner, you want to make sure that Google’s spiders are crawling your website and storing its contents in their database appropriately. The quickest way to assess your website’s crawlability for major hurdles to Google’s spiders is to enter this search at Google: [site:yourdomain.com]. For example:

number of results in search

Before you browse the list of results, take a look at the number that Google returns and judge whether it’s more-or-less accurate. For example, if you have a 5-page website and Google returns 1000 pages, or if you have a 1000-page website and Google only returns 5 pages, you have a major technical issue with your site. You may want to dive into that with the Yoast SEO plugin, or even bring in outside assistance.

You should also register your website with Google Search Console for additional technical advice and other testing tools. You can read more about GSC here.

Site architecture

The term site architecture, for the purposes of this article, refers to the arrangement of the functional and visual aspects of your website. Essentially it’s the hierarchy of pages within your site, and the hierarchy of content within each page.

When it comes to local search, there are a couple of key best practices to follow for your site architecture.

First, place your basic contact information in the header (usually at the top righthand side) and footer of your website. You want to make it as easy as possible for customers who land on your website to contact you or to make a transaction. No matter what page they enter first.

My friend Willi Galloway’s Perch Furniture website does an excellent job with this feature.

It’s also a good idea to have a dedicated “Contact us” page with more detailed information about your business. Make sure you link to this page from your homepage, and ideally from your primary navigation menu as well.

Contact page content

Your contact page should contain the same information you submitted to Google My Business (address, phone number, and hours). It should also contain an email address or contact form for customers who prefer email to voice calls. If you collect reviews and testimonials from customers, this is a good page to include at least a handful of those.

If you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar business, you should include written driving directions from population centers near you. These driving directions not only help prospective customers but also help Google identify markets you serve (more on this in the Relevance section below). Include an embedded Google Map too, as Google may track clicks for driving driving directions as a ranking factor.

If you’re a Service Area Business, your contact page should mention the major surrounding towns and cities that your business serves. You might even consider building a unique page for each of these major towns and cities. Link to them from your contact page and fill them with case studies and testimonials from customers in those markets.

The Perfectly Optimized Local Landing Page, by Bowler Hat and Search Engine Land

 

Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat Marketing has put together this excellent example above.

Advice for businesses with multiple locations

If your business operates more than one physical location, it’s essential to create a unique page for each one. Including a unique page for each location helps your customers (and Google) avoid conflating contact information between them. It’s also the best way to expand your local ranking potential to multiple cities.

If you operate a handful of locations, link to the contact page for each one from the footer of each page of your website.  If you operate more than a handful, link to a store locator page from your primary navigation or other utility menu.

Special markup: Schema.org

Schema.org is a code protocol developed jointly by the world’s top search engines. It’s created to make it easier for companies to structure the data they present on their websites. One of the most widely-used schemas is for business contact information.

As my friend Mary Bowling says, marking up your contact information in schema.org is like “handing Google a business card”. Google’s pretty smart, but rather than leaving to chance that it will be able to crawl your contact info, why not do everything you can to guarantee it?

It’s not clear that marking up your contact information in schema.org will directly improve your rankings. But it can give your organic results some extra visual impact, increasing chances that customers will click on your result.

schema.org local seo

There are various schemas for LocalBusiness, with more added every year, including LegalService, AutomotiveBusiness, and more.

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Crawlability made easy: the Yoast Local SEO plugin

Whew! That’s a lot of advice to consider. Luckily, you can use the Yoast Local SEO plugin to take care of lots of it. You’ll have to add the proper pages to your WordPress-powered website and link them appropriately from your menus yourself. But the plugin handles most of the technical details required for your contact page, and I highly recommend it.

Mobility

At the moment, the average consumer is surprisingly forgiving of non-mobile-friendly websites. 70% of all local searches, however, are projected to come from mobile devices within the next two years. So businesses that fail to prepare their websites for this reality are going to see customer conversions – and search rankings – drop significantly.

The SEO industry cried wolf on Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update a couple of years ago. But now the tea leaves are very clear that mobility will be a significant ranking factor in the coming years. You can prepare for the inevitable by making your website faster, and making it easier for mobile visitors to use.

Test your site’s mobile friendliness

Google provides this easy-to-use free tool to test how friendly your website is for mobile visitors. It warns you about any major suboptimal features, and renders a screenshot of how your site appears for the majority of mobile visitors.

Improve mobile user experience

Google also provides a detailed guide of how to improve the user experience of your website for mobile visitors. Key aspects of user experience to keep in mind:

  • Does the width of your website automatically adjust to the screen size (“viewport”) of the visitor’s device?
  • Does text automatically resize for mobile visitors, so that they don’t have to pinch-and-scroll to read it?
  • Are your calls to action and other buttons large enough for people to click with their fingers and thumbs?

These kinds of adjustments for the mobile visitor comprise what’s known as “responsive” behavior. If your WordPress website is not yet responsive it’s time to upgrade your theme to one that is.

Make your site faster

And of course, one of the biggest website improvements you can make is to get your site to load faster. We’ve all been frustrated by sites that load slowly, or won’t load at all, on slower data connections. Sites that load quickly help build positive digital engagement with your business, and there’s some evidence to suggest that both load time and engagement with your content improve your rankings.

Conveniently, Google also provides a free tool to assess how quickly your site loads relative to others. This one is an extremely tough grader though! It’s rare to see sites score above the 75-80 range. Nonetheless if you want to supercharge your website speed, Google provides free advice for how to do it. Find it in the Possible Optimizations section of this tool.

Relevance

Thus far I’ve focused mostly on the technical aspects of your website. But if your technically-optimized website features weak or irrelevant content, you’re going to rank poorly – and attract very few customers.

From a content standpoint, the goal of your website is to communicate a strong “scent” to both Google and users about exactly what products or services you offer, and where you offer them.

What keywords (keyphrases) to target

At the risk of stating the obvious: you want to be relevant for keywords and phrases that your customers are searching for. This typically means using generic layperson’s terms to describe your products and services as opposed to industry jargon. (Unless you’re in a very niche business-to-business industry.) An example from the medical field would be to use “ear, nose, and throat doctor” instead of “otolaryngologist.” 

Keyword research is an entire sub-discipline within SEO and it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole. But there are a couple of easy sources for good keywords to target:

  • Pay attention to the language that customers use in their phone calls with you (or your staff) and in emails and contact forms.
  • Pay attention to the category terms that Google My Business returns when you type related keywords.
  • Perform a search for each of the terms above and scroll to the bottom of the results page. Google will list terms related to the one you searched for, front-and-center.

Build a master list of these terms and match them up with pages on your website, one keyword to one page. It’s entirely likely each page will rank for far more terms than the keyword you target. But it’s good to keep your pages focused on a small handful of terms.

In addition to talking about your products or services, you should include your city and state or metropolitan area as part of these keyphrases as well. As I mentioned in the comments of my previous post Google has gotten better at detecting the area that a local business website serves – particularly for websites that use schema.org. But it’s still a good practice to sprinkle these geographic keywords liberally within your website.

Where to place your keywords

Your Title Tags are far-and-away the most important places to put your keywords. Note that Title tags and the Page or Post titles that you enter in WordPress are not the same thing.

To see what your existing Title Tags are, perform the “site:yourdomain.com” search I mentioned earlier in the Crawlability section.

The blue link text associated with each page in these results is the Title Tag of that page.

For editing your Title Tags, the Yoast SEO plugin is a godsend. Pull up your list of keywords to target from the previous section and add them to the corresponding pages. Personally, I like to use the Yoast plugin Bulk Editor (SEO -> Tools -> Bulk Editor in your WordPress dashboard) to make these changes efficiently.

Take some time in crafting each Title Tag, though. Don’t just stuff your keywords in willy-nilly and then tack on your city and state (or region or county) at the end. Remember that in addition to conveying to Google the terms for which you want your business to be relevant, these are the phrases that your prospective customers will see when they’re searching. So make these Titles enticing for visitors as well as keyword-focused.

For example, which Title Tag would you be more likely to click on?

Option 1:

Car Insurance Agent – Luxury Car Insurance Agent – Car Insurance Agency – Portland, Oregon

Option 2:

Portland’s Top Locally-Owned Car Insurance Agency since 1954: Smith Insurance

I’d certainly choose Option 2, and most of your customers would also.

It’s also a best practice to include your target keywords in your WordPress page/post titles and other headlines. Nevertheless it’s far more important to write these for your visitors than it is to write them for Google.

The final place to use your keywords is within the text of links you use on your website (known as “anchor text”). So for example, instead of saying “click here,” you might say “click here to contact our insurance agency” to help Google gain a little more context about what services your contact page is relevant for.

The changing place of your website in Google’s Local SERP Topography

As I hinted in Part I of this series, we’re moving into a world with more place-based (mobile and voice) results and fewer website-based (desktop) results. Increasingly, Google is trying to extract as much structured information as it can from your website and place it front-and-center in the Knowledge Panel it constructs with the information from Google My Business.

This Knowledge Panel information will form the basis for voice responses from Google Home and other personal assistants. After all, listening to an assistant read an entire webpage after you asked it a question would not be much fun!

This shift is why the Crawlability section above was the longest part of this article. It’s important that your website give Google (and visitors) a strong sense of what you do and where you do it, but it’s even more important that Google can crawl that information, assimilate it, and present it in a structured format.

As a result, tactics like Schema.org markup and tools like the Yoast Local SEO Plugin that help structure information about your business are becoming that much more important. Your content is still critical, but start thinking of your website primarily as a data source for the Knowledge Graph and as a customer destination secondarily.

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Summary

  • Ensure your website is crawlable with the site:yourdomain.com search. Note the number of results.
  • Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly and Page Speed tools to ensure your website converts the most mobile visitors possible, and make it easy to contact you from the top and bottom of every page.
  • Build a unique contact page for each location that you operate and mark up your location information in Schema.org with the Yoast Local SEO Plugin.
  • Use keywords relevant to your products and services that your customers are searching for, especially in your Title Tags and internal links.
  • Continue to monitor your Knowledge Panel, and those of other businesses in your industry, for additional structured information sought by Google.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business at Google: Introduction’ »

This is the second post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Google My Business (GMB) is a free product that allows business owners to verify and submit basic details about their business to Google. Owners can also engage with existing and potential customers across Google’s properties.

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After starting its life as a rudimentary web form called the Local Business Center, Google My Business has matured into a highly sophisticated product over the last decade. In the last couple of years, GMB received many improvements. GMB is an essential part of a well-thought-out local SEO strategy.

GMB offers highly-rated companion apps on both the App Store and Google Play. It also provides metrics about the visibility and engagement with your business that no other product does (including Google Analytics).

Eligibility for Google My Business

Any business with a bonafide brick-and-mortar location is eligible for a Google My Business listing at that location. For businesses with two or more locations, each location would be eligible for a distinct GMB listing.

A common question I get from business owners at conferences is:

“I operate my business out of my house and I don’t want people to know my address–what do I do?”

Well, if you don’t operate a walk-up brick-and-mortar location, but visit your customers in a particular geographic area, you’re what’s called a “Service Area Business.” Examples of Service Area Businesses are plumbers, carpet cleaners, and courier services. In this case, you’re still eligible for a listing. However, you’ll want to choose “Yes” when Google asks if you deliver goods and services to customers at their location.

Google My Business

Just because you serve customers in a given market does not mean you’re eligible for a Google My Business listing in that market. For example, an eCommerce company based in Chicago would not be eligible for a GMB listing in Dallas just because they had customers in Dallas.

Verifying your location

Google tries to make sure that only legitimate businesses are represented in GMB. It requires anyone who attempts to claim a Listing verify their association with the business in some way.

The easiest way to start the process is to perform a desktop search at Google for your business name (for example, “Pacific Seafood Portland”). In the panel on the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a link that poses the question “Own this business?” Importantly–before you click that link to begin the verification process–make sure you are either not signed in to Google (you can create an account in the next step), or are signed into a Google account for your business as opposed to your personal Gmail.

GMB own this business

It’s not a GMB requirement, though; however, it’ll be much easier to share access to your listing with employees or other agents of your company from a business account.

Once you fill out the most basic information (see below for what these details are), if it can corroborate your address and phone number, Google will call and ask you to enter a PIN number on screen. If it hasn’t previously seen a business with the phone number and address you submitted, you’ll be mailed a postcard within a week with instructions for how to PIN verify.

Primary Business Information

Name, Address and Phone

This sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many business owners overthink these core attributes or try to “optimize” them.

Your Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) are your basic thumbprint online. If they don’t reflect your business accurately at Google My Business, Google (and your customers) lose trust that you are who you say you are. They will stop sending business your way.

  • Do NOT stuff keywords in your business name. Represent yourself as you would answer the phone or welcome a customer into your store. You probably see spammers doing this and succeeding all the time, but at some point, it’ll come back to bite them. Google is monitoring for these kinds of abuses all the time and getting better at blacklisting the abusers.
  • Submit the same address you use on your website. (If you’re a Yoast user, this should be the address you enter in the Yoast Local SEO plugin.) Even if you’re a service-area business, you’ll have to submit a physical address and not a PO box or other mailing-only address.
  • You’ll see a map displayed just alongside your address. Zoom in and double-check that the pin is in the correct place on your business. Google’s pin precision for U.S. addresses is typically pretty good, but it can be spotty in other countries.
  • Don’t use a tracking phone number to segment customers coming from Google vs. other sources. There are ways to do this, but they’re pretty advanced. Implementing tracking numbers incorrectly can do tremendous damage to your local search rankings.

Category

From a rankings standpoint, the category field is the most important attribute you can optimize at Google My Business. In my experience, it’s best not to listen to Google’s advice on categories on this one, particularly since that advice has changed so frequently over the years.

GMB category selection

Google maintains a taxonomy of several thousand categories to describe local businesses. By typing in a few characters of a keyword that describes your business, you’ll probably find a match pretty closely.

Google suggests “using as few categories as possible,” as well as categories that are “as specific as possible.”  And while it’s true that Google can and does “detect category information from your website and from mentions about your business throughout the web,” my advice is to explicitly specify as many relevant categories as you can on your Google My Business listing.

If you operate a small restaurant that’s open from 7 am – 3 pm, select “Breakfast Restaurant,” “Brunch Restaurant,” “Lunch Restaurant,” “Restaurant,” “Cafe,” “Coffee Shop,” and any other relevant category. Take the time to enter multiple keywords that describe your business and see which categories match. Use all of them that are relevant.

Google’s automated review system may remove one or two from your listing, but this is not spam–provided you select relevant categories–. It helps you show up for as broad a range of searches as possible.

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Website

Google calls this field “website,” but it doesn’t have to be your “website” per se. In particular, if you operate more than one location, you may want to enter the page on your website that corresponds to the location you’re submitting to Google (rather than your homepage). Opinions are mixed as to whether listing your homepage or a location page will help you rank better, so do what’s best for prospective customers. If you think your homepage will give them the best initial sense of your business, then submit that as your “website.” If a location page (or even some other page) will give them a better sense, submit that instead.

Secondary Business Information

After entering the attributes above, you’re asked to verify your listing. But don’t stop there. There are a few other attributes that are well worth your time to add.

Photos and Images

Photos may be the most neglected attribute in all of local search. The success of Instagram, Pinterest, and any number of lesser-known apps indicates just how visual our internet culture has become. Consumers often select (or reject) a business because of its photos. Not only on the content of the photos but their quality and professionalism.

Photos are especially important in the mobile ecosystem that Google My Business powers (including Google Maps), where they are the dominant representation of a business in Google’s card-focused user interface.

As with all local media or social media sites, Google My Business has its own image format requirements. Take some time to review them and make sure you have high-quality assets for each format.

Optimizing your photos also offers a great opportunity to engage your customers. At the very least place the ones you’re considering at your point of sale and ask them to choose which one they like better.  Or get even more creative and start a contest among your customers to show your business in its best light, with the winner–as voted on by other customers–receiving a cash prize or gift card.

Hours

Selecting your opening hours is pretty straightforward. Google has dramatically improved its interface for telling customers when you’re open over the past several years. Hours will be front-and-center wherever customers interact with your business on Google so they should definitely be accurate.

You can now even daypart multiple times during the day, and add specific hours for holidays and special events.

GMB popular times

While you can’t control it, you may be interested to know that Google now displays the busy-ness of your business in real-time. This is based on aggregate location-tracking of visitors with Android phones and iOS Google Maps users with location services enabled.

Menu URLs

Certain categories of businesses will have the option to add a link to a menu.  If you’re lucky enough to be in one of these categories, I highly recommend adding this link, as it gives Google an additional set of keywords that your business for which should be considered relevant.

Advanced Information

These are low priority fields. All three are geared primarily towards large multi-location businesses and franchises.

GMB advanced information

Ranking factors beyond your control

Two significant ranking factors over which you have little control have to do with the physical location of your business.

The first is the proximity of your business to the location where your prospective customer is performing her search. All other things being equal, Google will choose to display a business closer to the searcher than one farther away from her.

In the early years of Google, its algorithm favored businesses which were close to the center of a given city or its “centroid.” Google simply wasn’t as good at detecting the location of the searcher. It defaulted to showing businesses in the areas of highest population density.

This factor has declined in importance, especially for mobile searches where Google has a precise idea of where you are. Google has also gotten better and better at detecting the location information of desktop searchers, partially through surreptitious means of collection.

The second factor is having an address in the city in which your customer is searching.  If your customer is searching in Seattle, your Tacoma or Bellevue-based coffee shop won’t appear, simply because it’s not relevant for that search.

Short of opening additional locations to target areas where high concentrations of your customers are searching, there’s not much you can do to optimize for these ranking factors, but you should be aware of their importance.

Google My Business Insights

Google provides a free, lightweight analytics package as part of GMB. This gives you a basic sense of how customers and potential customers are viewing and interacting with your listing.

Insights shows how many times your listing appears in plain old search vs. Google Maps. It also shows the number of clicks to your website, requests for driving directions, and phone calls.

There’s also a simple breakdown of how many customers see your listing for direct searches (for your business specifically) vs. discovery searches (for businesses in your category). While no one outside of Google is entirely sure how they calculate the discovery number, it’s probably as good a barometer for the overall strength of your local SEO as any, particularly if you track it over time.

Unfortunately, this is harder than it should be, as GMB Insights are only visible as snapshots-in-time. Unless you remember to check them regularly and transfer them to a spreadsheet along with the date, it can be difficult to track your growth. Strangely, there’s no default longitudinal view built into the product.

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Troubleshooting GMB Listing Issues

The most common GMB troubleshooting issue continues to be the existence of duplicate listings for the same business. While it’s gotten harder to detect duplicate listings, it’s much easier to close them. I’ll cover why duplicate listings are bad for your business in future installments of this series.

The first step to identifying duplicates is to search for your business name on maps.google.com. You’ll see a little more comprehensive list of potentially-matching results than Google is willing to present on Google.com.

GM duplicate closure

If it looks like multiple listings refer to your business, select the one you’d like to report as a duplicate and click “Suggest an Edit.” On the following screen, slide the “Place is permanently closed or never existed” bar to “Yes,” and select the radio button next to duplicate.

Google support staff are generally responsive to these kinds of reports within a week.  If you continue to have trouble, ask multiple people–co-workers, friends, family members, or relatives–to report the same problem, and it’s more likely Google will look at it.

If your issue seems particularly thorny, you’re most likely to get a response by tweeting @googlemybiz, the official Twitter support channel for GMB. And if Google support just isn’t cutting it, Joy Hawkins, who just started her own company last year after years as the GMB expert at a large agency, is an invaluable resource for troubleshooting additional issues.

The future of Google My Business

At various times in its past, Google My Business has seemed like the hot potato no one wanted to wind up holding at Google Headquarters.

That no longer seems to be the case. GMB has become Google’s front-line defense against Facebook’s overwhelming mindshare among small business owners. The main product has become much more robust. Google has released two major sub-products within GMB–Messaging and Posts–just within the last couple of months.

The goal of both products seems to be to get small business owners to engage with their customers via GMB on a regular basis, as opposed to a “set it and forget it” basis.

We’re also starting to see a handful of third-party integrations that allow customers to book appointments or order products directly from the Google search result for select businesses.

While it’s too early to tell whether usage of any of these new features might benefit your rankings, it’s something that experts in the local search community will be following closely in the coming months.

Summary

  • Represent your Name, Address, and Phone exactly as they appear to customers in the real world. These are not attributes to optimize.
  • Pay special attention to categories and select as many categories as are relevant for your business.
  • Upload great photos of your business, and if you don’t have any, consider hiring a professional photographer to do so.
  • Take advantage of the relatively new option to add a menu URL if you’re in a relevant business category.
  • Consider using the Discovery metric from GMB Insights as a barometer for the overall strength of your local SEO.
  • Pay attention to new engagement features from Google as they’re released.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business at Google: Introduction’ »

You are a small business owner with a local target audience. Of course, your local audience needs to find your shop or office, and you want to use social media for that. But, in the plethora of platforms, you just have no clue where to start. So you post something on Facebook, try a tweet now and then, but nothing happens. To small business owners, social media can feel like a struggle every time. And perhaps that last word sums it all up: you are probably just putting your extra time into social media. Whereas investing actual, accountable time in social media will probably pay off way more.

Investing that time deliberately means you need to figure out some things first. Let us help you with that.

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What platforms should I use?

You need to find the social platforms your target audience uses. Otherwise, you won’t be able to reach the right people. There are (at least) two ways to find out what these platforms are:

  • Ask your customers what social media they use. That might be Twitter or Snapchat, but can also be Yelp or Meetup.com, depending on your type of business. Simply ask your customers and see what response you get. If you have hundreds of customers a week, this is probably not the best course of action.
  • Simply start using a certain social platform. And see what happens. I prefer this option over the alternatives. Try everything, keep track of the results, and stop doing the things that don’t work for your business after a couple of months. Don’t give up the next day, but set a goal for yourself and see if you can achieve that.

Read more: ‘Social media strategy: where to begin?’ »

Factors that influence social media for small business

There are many things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about social media plans as a small business owner. Your results will depend on the platform you’ve chosen, but the three factors below also definitely play a part.

Give it time

Keep your expectations in check: your social following won’t grow overnight. Don’t expect people to follow you right after creating a profile. You need to invest that time we talked about. And creating a profile isn’t investing time, that should be done in a few minutes. The actual time investment starts right after that.

Create relevant content

You need to make sure your messages/mentions/promotions/articles are worth sharing. In other words, your content, in general, must be relevant and worthwhile. At Yoast, we try to publish five articles a week, but only if we have something that deserves publishing. We’d rather skip a day than publish something that could backfire on (for instance) social media, due to lack of relevance.

The need for relevance can hold back certain businesses from using social media. People often say:

“But I have nothing worth sharing.”

That’s nonsense. If you are good at what you do, you’ll have projects, testimonials, pictures, and quotes worth sharing. No need to write new blog posts every day, simply find something you’re proud of and share it. And if you do want to start a blog, Marieke has some tips to get inspiration for you. For those who want to dive into blogging, there is always our ultimate guide to blogging.

Don’t give up

The third factor that influences social media for small business is determination. To work properly, social media for small businesses has to be a continuous process of publishing and engaging. Saying “I have tried social media and it’s just not my thing” doesn’t show determination. You may have tried Snapchat, and it’s not your cup of tea. That’s fine. But perhaps Facebook is. And maybe posting on Facebook isn’t for you, but engaging in Facebook Groups might be. I call bullsh*t on the statement that “social media isn’t your thing.” You probably just haven’t found the right medium or platform.

Social media usage for small businesses

Let me go over some social platforms and give you some ideas on how to use them. This isn’t a blueprint for your own social media strategy: the actual use will depend on your type of business and the time you are willing to invest in social media. Here are some ideas:

Twitter

Twitter is an excellent way to send messages and interact with your local community. Two things come in handy here:

  • Hashtags. Hashtags allow you to connect your tweet to an individual subject, without having to add an extensive introduction. It’s being used to tweet about television shows like #GoT or cities like #Seattle. Especially adding your town’s name to a tweet will get you local attention. We can confirm this works even for #Wijchen, the small town where we’re located.
  • Advanced Search. If you are looking for a way to get involved in relevant, local conversations, you should try the advanced search option on Twitter. It allows you to search for any subject you like, in the area you want. See screenshot below.

Social media for small business: Twitter Advanced Search

Facebook

First things first: is your company already on Facebook? I recommend adding it as a local business or place. Facebook has 1.94 billion monthly active users and 1.28 billion daily active users on average (Source: Facebook). Facebook is huge. That alone should be reason enough to add your business to Facebook. And adding your company to Facebook isn’t that hard. It’s a relatively small effort when it comes to social media for small business owners.

Promote your page to your personal friends, get likes, and share updates and photos. Note that for sales posts (“Buy our product!”), you have a better chance of success if you ‘boost‘ your post just a little bit. Boosting can be done for a specified audience, with the location being one of the filters.

Another reason Facebook is an attractive choice for your social media efforts is Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups can be about just about everything. A quick search for Facebook groups about Milwaukee shows how much variety there is:

Social media for small business: Facebook Groups Milwaukee

Pokemon Go, Refugee supporters, Saab, ukulele, auto modelers, running – you name the subject, and Facebook has a group for you. Usually, there are also networking groups for local business people. Just search and find the group that fits your need. Introduce yourself and your business, and engage in discussions. That’s an easy, time efficient way to promote yourself and your company to a local audience.

Instagram

Do you have product images or photos worth sharing? In that case, Instagram might be the social platform for you. Instagram works with hashtags, much like Twitter. I use hashtag apps like Hashme or Tag o’Matic to find the right ones matching my content. Hashtags on Instagram work like a charm when adding local content. An example:

#seattle #seattlelife #seattleart #seattleartist #seattlelove #downtownseattle #spaceneedle #spaceneedleview #spaceneedles #washington #spaceneedleseattle #washingtonstate #seattlewa #seattleskyline #seattlecenter

It took me 30 seconds to find 15 relevant local hashtags using that last app. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags a post, by the way. Use these to your advantage!

Of course, there are many more social media platforms for small businesses. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with options right now. One thing I would like to mention is that review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are also social sites. They shouldn’t be forgotten if your business is mentioned on these sites. Be sure to monitor your mentions there and act on them if needed. That’s also being social!

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Measure your social media efforts

We have written some articles on the various analytics tools for social media networks, and I’d like to point you to these as well. Keeping track of followers and reach gives you an indication of how well your strategy is working. Focus on the numbers that tell you something about engagement, to see what social networks do indeed help you build your community. Here we go:

  • Facebook Insights: Get 30 likes, and Insights will be available. After 100 likes on your page, you can even compare your numbers to the competition.
  • Twitter Analytics: See who your influencers are: the people that like your tweets and have a nice following of their own. Find local influencers and get acquainted with them: ask them to tweet about you now and then.
  • Iconosquare for Instagram: As there still is no proper analytics for Instagram from Instagram, I rely on Iconosquare for that. Use it to find the best time to post, and see what kind of content works best for your business.

Please check out these tools yourself. Keep a keen eye on trends and engagement, as that is the most important thing in my opinion.

The obvious social media strategy works best

I want to leave you with two final thoughts here:

  • Post engaging content, because that is the best way to build an audience. Sounds simple, but it is pretty hard. Don’t be afraid to experiment here. Usually, personal stories lead to the most and best engagement. Having said that, Yoast office life pictures on social media often lead to questions about the awesome features of Yoast SEO Premium (for instance). Keep an open mind and help any customer with whatever question they have, related or not. The engagement counts, not the subject of your post.
  • Your employees are your brand ambassadors on social media. They love your company, enjoy working there and are most likely to share a lot of your social content if not all. Your employees create that local snowball effect. After all, most of their connections on Facebook are probably/usually living in the same geographical area as you. Acknowledge this, and stay aware of the value of these ‘in-house’ shares.

That’s it for now! I’m sure I’ve convinced you that even as a small business, investing some time and effort into your social media strategy will pay off. So go for it! And feel free to drop any questions or thoughts about social media for small business in the comments!

Keep reading: ‘Ultimate guide to small business SEO’ »

Previously, we published an interview with local SEO expert David Mihm on our SEO blog. As a lot of you liked this interview, David and Yoast decided to join forces and publish a series of posts about Local SEO. In this series, David will go over the various aspects that contribute to your local rankings. Take it away, David!

For the last nine years, I curated and published the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Experts from around the world ranked the tactics to SEO success for their – and their clients’ – businesses in this survey. The survey results have become a starting point for many small businesses and marketers, as they learn about how to get their business more exposure on Google. This year, Darren Shaw of Whitespark took over data collection and analysis and published the results on the Moz blog.

The evolution of local search results

Since I conducted the first survey, the local search landscape has changed a lot. To give you a sense, back in June 2008, the first Android mobile phone hadn’t even been released yet.

evolution of local search results

In that time, we’ve gone from a world where local search primarily meant “ten blue links” for desktop searches and shifted to local pack results on mobile phones. Now we’re increasingly going into a world of single answers from voice-controlled assistants.

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An important distinction: organic vs. place

You might say:

“It’s all Google – how different could those results be?”

And it’s true, at its core, Google has always tried to provide searchers with the ‘best’ result for a given query. (Though that’s modulated slightly in the last couple of years as ads have become more prevalent.) But the ‘best result’ depends on the context of the query. The type of search and the location of the person searching provide Google with two vital pieces of context.

Webpage-related results

Consider a search like [get more followers on Instagram]. No matter where I’m performing that search – mobile or desktop, home or on the go – I’m looking for an answer to that pain point, anywhere in the world. I’ll largely find the answers on webpages – through the ten blue links – featuring products, case studies, or articles about how to do so.  

Place-related results

With a search like [coffee shop], though, Google can have pretty high confidence that I’m looking for a place to grab a latte right that moment. I probably want a place pretty close to me, no matter where I’m performing the search or on what device. Sure, I could browse a magazine article about the best coffee shops in my city or look at a full list of coffee shops on a directory page. But it’s much more useful for Google to simply return a list of places, rather than other websites about places.

comparing search results

Differences

Google’s webpage-related results [Instagram followers] and its place-related results [coffee shops] are generated by two different algorithms. Searches with specific questions like [How do I make chimichurri?] are likely to trigger a third kind of result called a Featured Snippet. But that’s a topic for another day!

As a local business, you’re going to face fierce competition in the webpage-related results. If you offer services to help get more Instagram followers, you’ll have to compete with every other provider of this service on the planet to get your website ranked.

But in the second instance, when Google detects a search that has local intent you’re only competing with other coffee shops near you. Note above; I didn’t even specify my city, Google just inferred it. And even though Starbucks has coffee shops in just about every town and city in the world, it’s harder for them to stand out against local brands in these place-based results. And these results are also featured in Google Maps, in-car navigation devices, Google Home/Assistant searches, and many other media.

More place-based results

Over the last few years, Google has gradually shown more and more of these place-based results for local queries and fewer webpage results. I mentioned this trend earlier and will discuss it in more detail in the last installment of this series. Even the webpage results that show up beneath these place results on a local intent search have been infused with local business websites since early 2012.

Regardless of medium (desktop, mobile, or voice), and regardless of the type of result (webpage or place-related), Google remains a significant source of customers for many local businesses. So it’s critical to put your best foot forward to attract those customers in both algorithms.

A deep dive into local rankings

Inspired by the response from this community to my last interview with the Yoast team, I thought I might expand on my answers. I’ll, therefore, provide a more detailed look at each of the major building blocks of a successful local search strategy. Below, you’ll find a list of the building blocks I’ll deal with in the following installments of this series.

The major algorithmic components

What are those components? Google likes to say “relevance, prominence, and distance.” And while that’s not misleading, it is an oversimplification.

Both the organic and place-related algorithms have become staggeringly complex, and I don’t pretend to know all of the signals that Google uses to inform these rankings. But I’ve closely watched the algorithm mature over the last decade. I’ve found it helpful to break Google’s triplet above into slightly more granular components – most of which inform both relevance and prominence. (Darren Shaw continued this categorization in this year’s survey.)

Source: Moz/Whitespark

Over the next seven weeks, I’ll be giving my take on the most impactful tactics and techniques to help your business succeed across each of these major algorithmic areas:

Google My Business

Hopefully, most of you know by now, Google My Business is an online tool where you can tell Google about your business – the kind of business you are, where you’re located, the hours you’re open, and more. I’ll look at the most important fields to fill out and explain why they’re important. 

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On-Page best practices

It’s important to structure your website in a way that reinforces what you’ve told Google in your My Business listing. (The Yoast Local SEO Plugin helps with a big one.) I’ll take you through the key components of your website to focus on.

Inbound links

The foundation of Google’s organic algorithm is not going away anytime soon. I’ll give you some ideas for how and where to get people to link to your website.

Citations

Citations refer to online mentions of your business that may or may not include a link. I’ll explain why they’re important and highlight the ones you should care about.

Reviews

Customer reviews are one of the easiest and most sustainable practices you can implement to improve your SEO. I’ll show you how to find the review sites that matter for ranking in Google and give you some ideas for how to implement a consistent and impactful customer review program.

Social signals

While not a major piece of the algorithm, I’ll highlight some of the evidence that suggests that social media can improve your local search visibility.

Behavioral signals/personalization

An emerging area of interest for a lot of professional SEOs, and the piece of the ranking pie that I see growing the most over the next few years.

Along the way, I’ll be eager for your questions in the comments of each post and on social media, and will do my best to address them in subsequent columns!

Read more: ‘5 questions: talking local SEO with David Mihm ’ »

SEO isn’t just for large companies. As a small business or local business, there is actually a lot you can do to achieve local goals yourself. Many of these things relate to focus. In this ultimate guide for local and small business SEO, we’ll tell you about finding your niche, optimizing pages and social media efforts.

Way back in 2014 we promised you in our post on local SEO that we’d be writing a bit more about local and small businesses. Considering that local SEO is basically the optimization process for the local results in search engines, we can say that local SEO is often closely related to small business SEO. This is why we decided to discuss both in this article.

In this article, you’ll find a variety of related topics:

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As long as Google’s local search result pages continue to grow and improve, we’re not done with this subject. But in the meantime, we’d like to present you our ultimate guide to local and small business SEO. Let’s start at the beginning of your SEO process.

Finding your shop’s niche

Especially for local or small businesses, determining your niche is very important. When you know your niche, you can emphasize what makes your products or brand unique, therefore improving your odds to rank well for them. If you have a clear niche, you can locally compete with large national brands in spite of their multi-million advertisement budgets.

Find out who your customers are and what words they use to describe your product, because people will use the same terms to find your website. Using these terms, often made into long-tail keywords, can really help you optimize your local business SEO. Make your keywords as specific as possible.  Once you’ve done all this, don’t forget to monitor your niche as it evolves with the growth of your company.

Find your shop’s niche

Low budget branding

We have mentioned this over and over: branding is very important for SEO. Branding deals with things like your logo and your tagline. How do they represent your company without further context? What do your logo and tagline reveal about your values and your field of expertise? It’s all about recognition.

Read more: ‘Low budget branding tips for small businesses’ »

A tip for branding: share your expertise! You can do that in blog posts and on social media. We’ll talk about this some more, further down this guide.

Start writing great content

Your small business SEO will get a significant boost from the right content. Many small business owners put products and contact details on their website and that’s basically it. But there is so much more to tell and share!

Focus on making an awesome first impression on your potential customer. Write about your business, your business goals, how great your products are and things like that. You can also discuss market developments or local events that relate to your business. These are just a few tips for your local SEO content strategy.

When writing your content, be realistic about the chances of that content to rank. If you are in a highly competitive market, content works very well as a marketing tool and/or as input for social media. But it will probably not get you that number one spot in Google, and that’s fine. Manage your expectations.

Picking the right keywords to optimize for is very important. Usually, it’s a good idea to pick mid-tail keywords, including the local area you are focusing on. It really doesn’t matter if you add this content to your site as a page or blog post. Just make sure that you write about things that people want to talk about or that make people talk about your business in a positive way.

Keep reading: ‘Improve your small business SEO today’ »

Share your content on social media

Did you know you can actually sell your products on social media itself? While that’s very cool, in most cases social media are used for brand awareness or to lead potential customers to a sale. Using social media as a small business is all about promoting your brand, your company, and your products to establish a certain image and to get the right traffic to your company website. Social media, used in the right way, can contribute to small business SEO.

I tend to compare social media to a marketplace where all the stand owners know each other and customers browse among the products. At some point, someone will tell other visitors where to go to for a product: “The cheese over there is delicious”, “you should really check the fruit over there”. This is what real life social media are like. So make sure people start talking about you. And start talking about yourself online, to make others start talking to you on social platforms. Lastly, actively engage in social media conversations, to let people know you are listening.

Use Social Media to increase your sales

Local ranking factors that help your small business SEO

There are many things that influence your local rankings, but there is one very obvious one: your address details (NAP). Make sure to add these in the right formatting (in code), using schema.org details. You can use our Local SEO plugin for that. Furthermore, ask your web developer to dig into AMP, like Joost mentions in this Ask Yoast about AMP for small businesses. Besides that, it may help to add your city, and perhaps your state, in the title of your pages for easier recognition as well.

Google My Business

Make sure you use the exact same NAP details on both your website and your Google My Business listing. This is the only way for Google to understand the relationship between them. Add these details for instance in your footer and of course, on your contact page. Google My Business really is your friend if you want to rank in your specific geographical area, so get your details right!

Improve local SEO with Google My Business

Adding ratings and reviews

Google My Business, like Facebook, allows others to leave a review of your company. If your company has a good rating, people will be more inclined to click to your website from any of these two websites. Be sure to monitor and maintain these reviews.

If you get a negative review for some reason, react by solving your customer’s problem. Ask them to change their review afterwards. In other words, turn that dissatisfied customer into a brand ambassador!

It’s not that hard to get involved in these reviews and ratings. Find more information on that in the article below.

Read on: ‘Get local reviews and ratings’ »

Social ‘proof’, like the ratings and reviews mentioned above, should be backed by a sufficient amount of links from local directories like:

  1. Yelp
  2. SuperPages
  3. YP.com
  4. ReferLocal.com
  5. Yahoo
  6. Bestoftheweb
  7. etc.

You should be mentioned on these pages, for the obvious reason that this means your website is linked. If you manage to get some links from the related local websites in that directory, that will also help your site’s findability. Note that the last category of links has to be from websites that are in a related profession. It’s of no use to have your bakery website linked from an accountant’s website. 

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If your small business is closely related to other businesses that are not located in the same area, you should definitively also ask these businesses for a link. Google spiders the web link by link. If your business is linked from a website that is in the same field of business, that link is extra valuable to you.

Near me searches

When speaking about local rankings, we also have to mention near me searches. These are searches and search suggestions that include words like “near me”, “closest”, “open” and “nearby”. Optimizing for these searches is similar to optimizing for local, but applies for global brands as well (“buy legos near me”). So you’ll have to think a bit outside of your usual box – there’s probably more to optimize for. Google really focuses on search terms like these, as you can read here:

Is that a Possum near me?

In conclusion

As we’ve seen, there are many things you can do as a small business to improve your site and rank better. You should start by focusing on your niche and emphasizing your uniqueness. Think about how you present your brand: logos and tag lines are important to give your customers an idea of who you are as a business.

You can increase your visibility by creating great content on your site, optimized for the right keywords. Also, it always helps if you present yourself actively on social media. There are several factors related to local SEO that help small businesses. Make sure Google My Business has the right details, keep track of your ratings and reviews, and try to get linked by related small businesses. Finally, try to optimize for ‘ near me’ searches.

Read more: ‘5 questions: Talking local SEO with David Mihm’ »

David Mihm is a local SEO legend. He’s been a leading figure in the SEO world for years. Recently, he started a new firm called Tidings, that helps businesses achieve success in local markets. We’re honored to present you his fantastic answers to five pressing questions on local SEO. Find out what you should focus on if you want to be successful in your area!

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You’ve been in the – local – SEO business for a long time now. You’ve seen many trends come and go, but what was the most striking change you’ve encountered in local SEO in recent years?

Well, I’m going to cheat a little. I’d say there are two very important trends. These are far more important for the average local business than any given algorithm update over which so many SEOs obsess. These are 1) Google’s increased monetization of local SERPs, and 2) Knowledge Panels. I wrote about both of these pretty extensively in my 2017 predictions post.

Google is showing more Adwords than ever above the fold; that won’t be news to anyone. What might be news are some of their hybrid ad/local units. We’re seeing them now in the hotel space and some home services verticals on the U.S. West Coast. Within a couple of years, these hybrid ad formats will roll out to every category, and every geographic market in the world. The availability and visibility of organic inventory will decrease.

In parallel, Google has been moving into a world of answers, not websites. They want to present as much information as they can about a local business directly in the search result. This way the need for searchers to click through to a business’s website will decrease. We’re seeing more and richer information like photos, reviews, busy times, critic lists on which the business is included. There’s also an increase in the ability to transact with the business right from the SERP. Especially in the hospitality, restaurant, and personal care industries. Of course, websites still play a crucial role in helping Google determine the relevance and authority of your business. But you’re going to get fewer clickthroughs from Google. Even if the number of customers they send you remains consistent.

Why is there this distinction between Local SEO and regular SEO? What are the main differences between the two?

There are two prongs to the differences. The first is that since the Venice update in ca. 2011, Google has been localizing organic search results to the geographic area of the searcher. If I search for something like “bankruptcy lawyer,” Google interprets that search as inherently local. I’m looking for a bankruptcy lawyer near me, not in New York or Hong Kong or London. So they sprinkle in websites from local bankruptcy attorneys for this “global” query via some local filter on their traditional algorithm. I didn’t specify “Portland, Oregon” in my search, but Portland bankruptcy lawyers appear right alongside the largest websites in the world like Yelp, Avvo, and Findlaw. Optimizing a website and backlink profile to have a strong local scent is a different skill set than optimizing an eCommerce or media website.

The second prong (one with an even greater difference than traditional SEO) is that there is a fundamentally different algorithm at work that ranks the business listings included in what we call the 3-pack: the visual unit that appears between the ads and organic website results. This algorithm is built largely on ranking factors that aren’t in play for a typical organic market: business listing data, user reviews, proximity to the searcher, and many others.

example of a 3-pack local seo

The 3-pack shown between the ads and organic results after a local search query

 

It’s hard to rank in a neighboring area or town. So what can you do when your business is not close to the center? Or when you live in a small town? Can your business compete with those in a larger city?

It’s going to be hard. You’re probably better off trying to win business on social media than you are in local search at Google — at least for keywords in the major city — in this instance. The best chance you have is to compete organically by targeting specific pages at the larger city. The best/easiest kind of content to populate these pages is usually case studies from customers who live in the larger city.

Beyond that, it’s going to take an overwhelming review profile (as in 10x the number of reviews of the most-reviewed big city competitor) to get noticed in the 3-pack. And that takes a LOT of time and a lot of effort.

So my general advice would be to dominate your small-town market. Get as many customers from your “backyard” as you can. Then start to gradually expand to the bigger city using word-of-mouth, targeted offline business partnerships and referrals, and eventually social media.

Let’s say you have limited resources available to work on your local SEO. You can focus on a maximum of three things. What would you advise?

Glad you asked!  I’ve got a graphical resource which I hope answers this question perfectly :)

Thinking about the longest-term benefits for local search, I’d say you should focus first on your website.  Make it mobile-responsive, answer the most common questions your customers have, showcase customer stories and case studies, and make sure you convert people who are already clicking through to it.

Next, I’d focus on building offline relationships in your community (but make sure they’re represented online as well).  Think about relevant non-profits to which you can donate time or money, get involved in community events, and figure out how you can network with and support complementary local businesses to your own.

And then I’d implement a really great review acquisition platform. Getting happy customers to talk about your business on prominent review sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook is not only an increasingly important ranking factor, but it helps convert prospective customers who see all of your great ratings.

The great thing for local businesses is Local SEO should get less-technical over time. Things like title tags, citations and backlinks are certainly still important, but I see their relative value diminishing as Google collects more and more engagement signals from individual customers.

Today’s marketing landscape seems to revolve in large part around social media. How important is social media for Local SEO? Should every local business have and maintain a Facebook business listing? If so, how?

Social media is important for a holistic digital presence and does have some value for Local SEO. All kinds of studies show that customers are more likely to buy from a business that shows some engagement on social media — an active presence gives people a better feel for your business before they decide to purchase from you.

Every local business should maintain a Facebook business page — not least because Facebook, at some point, will decide to leverage the huge amount of data they have around local businesses and launch a local search engine of their own. You’ll want to have a strong presence out of the gate when that happens.

Beyond that, Facebook pages regularly rank well for your business name, so they’re great for reputation management. And we routinely see Facebook reviews pulled into the Knowledge Panels for local businesses in virtually every industry. So from that standpoint, we know Google is at least able to assess your volume of Facebook reviews (if not the content of the reviews themselves).

(Local businesses should know that unless they pay to Boost or otherwise advertise their Facebook presence, though, very few fans will see it (likely somewhere between 2 – 6%). Helping bridge the gap between expected performance on Facebook and the actual performance of email marketing is the rationale behind my new product, Tidings.)

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that improve your local SEO’ »

If your business website’s goal is to get in touch with (potential) customers, you should avoid a number of contact page mistakes. Here, we’ll mention the mistakes we find most annoying. And we’re not unique in that.

In my previous post about contact pages, I already mentioned that the right content on this page can improve both user experience and SEO. In the comments on that post, Simon asked: “What do you think are the 5 most common mistakes on a website contact page?” What I think are the most common mistakes makes it my personal list, so I decided to dedicate this post to what I find the most annoying :)

Let’s dive straight in with number one. 

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#1 Just a form

If your contact page consists of a form and nothing but a form, you are not serving all of your visitors. Naturally, there will always be people that don’t understand the form. Provide a fallback option, like an email address or a phone number. Here are some reasons why people might dislike / do not understand your form:

  • Your form is too long. People get lost or simply don’t take the time to fill out all the things you want to know. Keep forms short and clear.
  • Your form isn’t responsive. This ruins the mobile experience on your contact page. Labels might get lost, as a mobile browser will focus on the form fields.
  • Your form can get broken. Perhaps you missed an update of your favorite contact plugin, just to name one reason.

#2 Fancy names for your contact page

Don’t you just hate it when you have to do an internal search on a website just to find their contact page? In my opinion, there are two options:

  1. Add the menu item “Contact” to your main and/or footer menu.
  2. Add your contact page at example.com/contact/.

I won’t look in any other spots. It’s straight to your search or back to Google to find the next company that’s going to answer my question. Preferably, you want that link to your contact page to be above the fold. But I have to say that a footer link is common as well, both as an extra and as the main link.

Just like the link in the URL, I’d like the title of that page to be “Contact” or a variation of that, like “Contact us” or “Get in touch”. Don’t use “Let’s talk business” or whatever strange sentence that won’t cover the immediate goal of the page. It will confuse people, even in Google already. Make it clear that this is the page where they can get in contact with you.

#3 Outdated information

C’mon people. Like all your other pages, your contact page needs some tender love and care from time to time. Moving offices? Adjust your website. New sales rep? Change profile picture and email address. Make sure your information is accurate at all times.

Don’t take this lightly, I think outdated information is one of those contact page mistakes that we choose to ignore sometimes. “I’ll get to that one of these days”. “It’s on my to do list”. No, update it when it changes. And if your address changes, let Google know in the process.

#4 Make sure people can contact you privately

That means “Reach out to me on the WordPress Slack”, “Talk to me on Twitter”, or even “Drop a comment below” isn’t enough. And yes, contact pages that use a comment form as a contact form do exist. People that want to talk to you probably just want to talk to you. Make sure they can.

Is it wise to display links to social profiles on a contact page? I believe that only makes sense if you want people to contact you on, for instance, Twitter and you monitor these social profiles for questions. If you mention Instagram on your contact page and don’t check Instagram at least every other day, it’s probably not the preferred way to contact you. In that case, that link shouldn’t be on your contact page.

Best case scenario: two options to contact you privately (form and email address or phone number would be a nice start), so if one fails, visitors can use the other.

#5 Not having a contact page at all

If only I got a penny for every website I came across that lacks a (clear) contact page… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every website should have a contact page. Most websites are set up to interact with the visitor, get them to buy products or provide information. But they can always have extra questions or interesting business opportunities for you. Make sure it’s clear how they can get in touch.

It’s probably the most obvious of all the contact page mistakes listed here, but I just felt the need to mention it.

Are there any more contact page mistakes you can think of?

For sure. And if you’d ask me the same question on another day, I could probably come up with more. The above ones are the ones I find most annoying, but what about:

  • No clear confirmation that a form is sent. So I’ll send it again. Just in case.
  • Crappy captchas. The horror! Need I say more?
  • Contact pages that are flooded with distractions. I just want to contact you!

Now over to you

Feel free to spill your guts in the comments. Let me know what annoys you the most about contact pages!

Read more: ‘What makes a great contact page? With lots of examples!’ »

Every business owner with a website is looking for ways to get noticed in the search results. Today, there are loads of tactics to rank well as a local business, but there is no silver bullet: as with most SEO issues, this is a combined effort. One of these pieces of the local SEO puzzle is Google My Business, a dashboard for managing listings. But what is it exactly and why is it so important for local SEO?

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What is Google My Business?

My Business is Google’s one-stop shop to manage how your business will look and perform in the search engine. It is an essential tool to find out and adjust how your site shows in Maps, the Knowledge Graph, Google+ and organic search results. According to the 2017 edition of Moz’ Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, Google My Business continues to be the biggest driver of local SEO success, with quality links coming in at a close second.

You can manage your business listing by adding NAP details, opening hours, photos et cetera. In addition to that, it is possible to manage the reviews your customers leave behind. As you know, reviews should be a key factor in your local SEO efforts.

How does it work?

Getting started with My Business is easy; you have to make an account and claim your business. After filling in your details, you will get a real-life postcard from Google on the address you’ve specified. This card is the only proof you’re the owner of the business listed at the address.

Once verified, you can fill in all the necessary details and check how your listing is doing. You can even get regular insights to see how many impressions, clicks and subscribers your listing got over a period. It’s a great way of getting a feel for how your business is perceived by Google and customers alike.

Keep in mind that My Business is not the catch-all tool for your local SEO. It has to work in tandem with your on- and off-site SEO efforts. You won’t climb the charts if your profile is inaccurate, but you also won’t reach the top without a well-optimized site and localized content. These things go hand in hand.

Ranking factors

Google My Business uses many factors to determine rankings for businesses. We’ll highlight the three most important ones:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

Relevance

Relevance determines how well your business fits the search intent of the customer. Is your focus identical to what the customer needs or are you a bit opaque about what your business does? Vagueness doesn’t rank. Be as clear as you can be. Keep your focus.

Distance

Distance is a well-known factor for ranking local businesses. You can’t rank in a local search for (dentist New Jersey) when you have located your company in Manhattan. The exact way Google determines which businesses to show in a local search is unknown, and it can be pretty hard to rank in a given area. The other factors play a significant role as well. It helps not just to say you are located in a particular area, but also to show it by creating local-oriented content around your business on your site. Google uses what’s known about the location of the searcher to present the most relevant local businesses.

Prominence

Prominence is all about the activity around your listing; this could be the number of reviews, events, local content et cetera. It also helps if you can get loads of quality links to your site. It is somewhat hard to determine what prominence means exactly, but one thing is sure: no one likes dead profiles. You have to keep it updated with new photos and manage your reviews. As said before, this works in tandem with your site, so make sure both listings align and that you publish local content.

Optimize your Google My Business listing

To start, you need to claim your listing. After that, you can use the following tips to make your My Business account a success. Keep in mind that everything you add must be in line with the information you provide on your site. Inaccurate information kills your listings and could kill your rankings:

  • Claim your listing with your actual business name
  • Choose a category as accurate as possible
  • Provide as much data as you can – your profile has to be 100%
  • Check your phone number
  • Check your opening times – think about holidays!
  • Review your photos – are they accurate and good or can you improve them?
  • Create citations on other sites as well – pick well-regarded business listing or review sites and directories, stay away from spammers
  • Keep your My Business listing in line with your site – and use Schema.org data
  • Above all, keep your data up to date

It’s critical to remember that this is not a set it and forget it type of thing. Things chance, your business changes. Keep everything active, monitor reviews and stay on top of things. It’s frustrating if your listing doesn’t perform as well as you’d like, but keep putting in the hours, and it will work. US businesses can check their listings with this tool by Synup: Google My Business Guidelines Checker.

my business guidelines check

Structured data and Yoast Local SEO

Google increasingly depends on structured data to find out what your site is about and which elements represent what. This is most certainly true for your business information, including the information that My Business uses. Make sure you add the correct structured data to your site. Enhance your NAP details, opening hours, reviews, product information et cetera, with Schema.org data. This will make it much easier for Google to determine the validity of your listing. Several tools can help you with this, including our Yoast Local SEO plugin.

Your local SEO is critical, even with Google My Business

So, you should activate and maintain your My Business account, and make it awesome. But the most of your listings and to get good rankings, you must have your site in order as well. Optimize every part of it. Create local content for your chosen keyword and business location. Acquire quality local backlinks to build up a solid link profile. Ask customers to review your business onsite or on My Business. Make sure your listing is active and attractive. Dead profiles are no good.

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that help your local business’ SEO’ »

If you’re a well-known local business owner, one of your online goals should be getting more local reviews from your (satisfied) customers. These reviews or ratings help Google in determining the value of your company for their users. If you have a nice amount of four-star and five-star ratings, Google considers you a more valuable result on their search result pages, which contributes to better rankings for your site.

Today, we’ll dig a bit deeper into these local reviews and convince you to ask your customers for reviews.

Google and local reviews

First, let’s see what Google has to say about local reviews. On their review datatype page, they clearly state that Google may display information from aggregate ratings markup in the Google Knowledge Cards with your business’ details.

They state that they’re using the following review snippet guidelines:

  • Ratings and reviews must come directly from the users.
  • There is a difference between these user ratings and critic reviews (human editors that curate or compile ratings information for local businesses). That’s a different ball game.
  • Don’t copy reviews from Yelp or whatever other review site, but collect them from your users directly and display these on your site.

There is a clear focus on genuine reviews. Add name, position, photo and any other relevant, public information on the reviewer. That always helps in showing that your reviews are indeed genuine

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Ask your customers for a review in person

It’s really that simple: ask your customers for a review. Yelp may advise against this, Google promotes it (Source: SEL). I agree with Google on this. A friend of mine is in the coaching business and he asks his customers after finishing the coaching process to leave a review on his Google My Business page. This, plus obviously an optimized site, has helped him achieving a local #1 ranking.

It might feel a bit odd, to ask your customers for a positive review. However, I bet most of your customers will be more than happy to do this for you. It’s a small token of appreciation for your great service, product or your friendly staff. If you believe in your business, and you’re taking extra steps to help your customer, your customer will for sure leave that review for you. Especially in local businesses, where you know your customer and perhaps have been serving him or her for decades, just ask.

Ask your customers for local reviews online

Feel free to ask your customer for a review on your website, for example, right after a purchase. If a customer wanted your product so bad he or she made the purchase, they may be willing to leave a review about their shopping experience as well. Even a simple “How would you rate your experience with our company” could give you that local rating you want.

Twitter

And why not leverage Twitter here? I find Twitter to work pretty decently for local purposes. There’s a separate ‘community’ of tweeps talking to each other on Twitter in our hometown. I’m sure most of them visit local stores. Not just that, but they’ll probably also have an opinion on these stores. And they might just be willing to share that opinion.

Facebook

One of our local shops won a national award and a lot of locals congratulated the owners with this ‘very much deserved’ win on Facebook. How’s that for an opportunity to ask for Facebook reviews? Let me elaborate a bit on the Facebook reviews. These are local reviews as well! The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in NY has over 16,000 reviews already. Most good, some bad:

Local reviews on Facebook

Facebook is an awesome opportunity for any local business to get reviews. Don’t underestimate how many people search for your business on Facebook.

As mentioned in the section about Google and local reviews: “Don’t copy reviews from Yelp or whatever other review sites”. The same goes for these Facebook reviews. It’s very nice to get them, but leave them on Facebook (or use them in your offline print campaign) and get separate local reviews for your website.

Even negative reviews matter. Don’t feel bad when you get one, feel motivated!

Asking for reviews, for instance, right from your (support) email inbox, like in the signature of your email, might feel a bit strange at first. However, it will trigger your brand ambassadors to leave a review, after seeing that signature email after email. And yes, you will get some negative reviews as well from people that are not completely satisfied with your product or service. And you want these.

Negative reviews give you a chance to go beyond yourself in showing how customer-driven you are. They allow you to fix the issue this customer has. After fixing it, ask them to share the solution / their experience with your company, so others can see what you have done to turn that disappointed customer into a satisfied customer.

It’s your job to make your customer happy, and good reviews will follow. Speed up that process by asking your customers for their feedback!

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that help your local business’ SEO’ »

In this post, we’ll go over a number of contact page examples, so you’ll be able to review your own contact page and improve it. For a lot of companies, that contact page is the main reason they have a website in the first place. For others, the contact page filters or manages all incoming contact requests. The right information on these contact pages, combined with for instance a map or images, really improves user experience. And that way you can even use your contact page to improve the overall SEO of your website.

Please understand that there is more than one way to look at a contact page. Some websites use it to direct customers to their customer service, others fill their contact page with call-to-actions and direct visitors to their sales team. Small businesses will use their contact page to direct people to their store or office. What works for others, might not work for your contact page. It highly depends on what kind of business you have. Go read and decide for yourself what improves your contact page!

Essential elements of your contact page

Think about what you are looking for when visiting a contact page on any website. I for one, am not a big fan of phone calls, so I’d rather email a company. Saves time, and it’s less intrusive. Personally, I prefer a contact form on some occasions and an actual email address on others. So I’d advise to provide both. Let’s look at all the essentials:

  • Company name.
  • Company address.
  • General company phone number.
  • General company email address.
  • Contact form.

Multiple departments

If you have more than one department that can be reached by phone or email, list all. Add a clear heading and the details of how that department can be contacted. An example: universities and hospitals usually have separate departments for students, patients, press, business opportunities and more. Youtube has a variety of departments/directions to point you to on their contact page. Obviously, these departments should only be listed if their details should be available for everyone visiting that website.

This article is about great contact page examples, but I came across this one that I really have to mention. EY.com has a great contact page example of how I would not approach this:

Contact page ey.com

Apart from the design of that contact page, the thing I like the least is the fact that I’m not sure what will happen after clicking ‘webmaster’ or ‘global ey.com team’. One would expect a page with more info, but in fact, it opens a pop-up screen with a contact form. It would be so much more convenient to have a contact form right on that page, with an option to choose between technical issues or general inquiries. That can be done by using radio buttons or a select box, for instance. That way, one topic is chosen before sending the form.

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Multiple locations

If you have multiple locations, list all address details (NAP plus email) for every one of those locations. But please make sure to highlight your headquarters one way or the other. Let’s check out a couple of contact page examples that have multiple locations:

  • PwC Australia lists all of their locations on one page but I really have no clue what their main location is.
  • Arcadis does a much better job with a nicely designed contact page, stating the main contact details, personalized details per department and a nice country selector to get you to the nearest location.
  • The US Chamber of Commerce lists one main address and a link to a separate page with all the locations. Makes sense, and provides a focused user experience.

Did you also notice the bottom section of that US Chamber of Commerce page? Even if you can’t find what you are looking for, this section about where to find more information helps you to find what you are looking for. It might even reduce the number of emails in the process.

These are the bare necessities. What else can we do to make that contact page awesome for visitors and Google?

Spice up your contact page

Contact pages that list the bare necessities are dull. And there is so much more you can do to spice up that contact page!

Why and when should I contact you?

It sounds so obvious, but you actually might want to tell your visitors why and when they should or shouldn’t contact you. It pays off to create a safe environment, to assure people you have no annoying holding tunes, that you’ll connect them with a human being from minute one, or simply that you won’t be taking calls after 2PM for whatever reason.

By explaining a bit more about your contact policies, you a) add text to an otherwise dull page and b) are able to manage expectations. Hubspot pointed me to this nice contact page example that does this very well: the contact page of ChoiceScreening.

An awesome call-to-action

Add a great call-to-action to your contact page. That could be a button at the bottom of your contact form, but also a phone number that is displayed in a prominent spot. Just make sure it’s immediately clear what you want your visitor to do on that contact page. Pick your preferred contact method.

There are plenty of contact page examples that have done their call-to-action right. I’d like to mention for instance Jetblue:

Contact page examples: Jetblue

Before showing you their contact details (you can scroll down for these options) they try to answer your question on their website already. It’s very clear that they want you to check for yourself first, hence the large “Select a topic & Get answers”-option. It’s a common practice for a contact page, which undoubtedly saves time for your business.

Macy’s clearly wants you to call them, judging from the box on the right of their contact page. Nestlé gives you a number of options to choose from, being FAQ, Call, and Social Media. I like that as well, although there is no one call-to-action standing out from the rest, so I’m not sure what will work best. But it is definitely better that the lack of a call-to-action on the ABN AMRO contact page.

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Social accounts

For the fifth time in two weeks, my newspaper was late. It has been stormy, which could be the reason for the first four delays. Today is a beautiful day, so the delay makes no sense. I contacted my newspaper via a direct message on Twitter and got an ETA for the newspaper within 5 minutes. Social media is a very common way to stay in touch with (potential) customers and some customer services have made an art out of helping customers that way.

Contact page examples: social at GarminBe sure to list your active social networks on your website. And make sure to respond to any (serious) mention of your company or direct message you receive. I already mentioned Nestlé. Garmin adds a nice little block (see image) to their contact page, and Hootsuite has a nice section on theirs that contains all their social networks. I like how they emphasize the option to use these to get in contact with them.

A map and directions

A map isn’t a necessary element for every contact page, but hey, it looks nice and gives your visitor an idea of where you are situated. If your company has multiple locations, it provides a nice overview of your (global) reach and will tell the visitor if there is a location nearby.

If you have a business where customers come into your office, shop or whatever to do business or purchase products, directions do come in handy. Scribd has this incorporated in Google Maps. Gladstone added a small map in the sidebar and wrote instructions from multiple directions on their contact page, much like Gettysburg Seminary has. You can automate a lot of this if you are on WordPress. Our Local SEO for WordPress plugin allows you to add a directions option right on your contact page. It allows you to add a map with your location and a handy option to show the directions from the address the visitor is right now. If you have customers coming to your store/business, I would add directions that way.

Your staff and your business

Present your friendly staff on your contact page, or at least the ones people will reach when calling, tweeting or emailing your company. Your board of directors is also an option. You don’t have to clutter the page will images like the Tilburg University does (although they do have filter options). And I certainly wouldn’t use crappy photos like RoyalHaskoningDHV, even though I like the rest of that page. But a couple of nice photos like Peninsula Air Conditioning has, is welcoming, right? By the way, how do you like that phone number in the header?

If you frequently have people come into your office or store, add an image of your building. That way people will immediately recognize your business when they drive up to it. DSM has a nice example of that on their contact page. As a cherry on the cake, I recommend adding a nice video presentation of your company to your contact page, like Blackstone has.

A lot to digest, right? And you thought just listing your address and email would suffice. Think again. If you have a business that depends on people contacting you, be sure to pick any of the additions listed above to improve the user / customer experience of your contact page. I hope the contact page examples we mentioned will help you improve your contact page as well!

Read more: ‘Local SEO: setting up landing pages’ »