If you own a business in a small town near a big city, you’re probably a bit jealous of your competitors in this big city. The search volume for that city will most likely be significantly larger, and with that, the amount of potential customers as well.

So, is there any way you can still benefit from this proximity of potential customers? Perhaps if you also appear to be located in this city? You could, for example, easily use the name of a city in your URL, even if your business is actually located in the neighboring town. But how does this affect your SEO? And are there perhaps other reasons to avoid doing this? Let’s discuss in today’s Ask Yoast!

Vincent Ramos emailed us his dilemma:

I have a website with a city name in the URL, but my actual location is in the neighboring city, which gets smaller search volume. Our NAP is in the footer of every page with our actual address. Does it hurt my SEO that there’s a different city in the URL?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

Adding a different location to your URL than your actual location

“Does it hurt your SEO? No, but it might hurt your visitors when they come and visit your site because they expect you to be in city A and you’re not. So, I’d always tend to go to the side of honesty: just say that you’re in the city that you’re actually in.

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You’ll find that actually being close to the center of the city that you want to be found in is very important in terms of local SEO. It’s very annoying, but that’s how most of the local rankings work. So, don’t lie, put your real location in your website URL if you can. See how that reflects on people and just say on your page, “We’re very close to ‘whatever the name of the city is’…”, because that’s the honest truth that usually lasts longer than any tricks around that. Good luck.”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast, we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Maybe we can help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.

Note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about the Yoast SEO plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business’ »

 

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Local SEO is about how to optimize your website to rank better for a local audience. A website gives you the opportunity to target the entire (online) world. But if the target audience for your business is actually located in or near the city you have your office or shop, you’ll need to practice at least some local SEO as well. You need to optimize for your city name, optimize your address details. In short: you need to optimize so people know where you are located and are able to find you offline (if required). In this post, we will try to explain what local SEO is, so you can optimize your local site as well! 

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What is local SEO?

If you have a local business, like a shop, or have people visiting your office frequently, optimizing your website is also about making sure people are able to find you in real life. But even if your not actively getting visitors in your building, but are targeting an audience that is located in the same geographical area as you are, you need to optimize for that area. This is what we call “local SEO”.

Ground-rule these days is that it’s by far the easiest to optimize if you have a proper address in a region/city. The thing is that if you want to optimize for, for instance, a service area that you are not located in physically, your main tool for optimization is content. You should simply write a lot about that area. We found that oftentimes, this leads to forced articles or pages that have little to do with the business at hand, and are clearly there for SEO reasons.

Mentioning all the areas

Just recently, I heard someone say that he just mentioned a number of neighboring towns and that got him visitors from these towns.

What is Local SEO? Local SEO is about optimizing your site for better rankings for a local audience

Depending on the niche you are in, that might have some effect, to be honest. But I wouldn’t call it proper optimization. For the majority of companies, that strategy won’t work that well. It’s not really an optimization, it’s just that no-one else mentions that area and that product on his website. If there is competition, please use other methods as well.

Local SEO explained in detail

In our series on local SEO, David Mihm mentions a number of things you can do to really optimize your website for a certain geographical area:

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking
  7. Social media and local SEO
  8. The impact of behavioral signals

That indeed is quite a lot to digest, but if you are serious about optimizing for your local audience, you should read all 8 articles.

Local SEO isn’t just about search engines

Yes, there is a lot you can do online to optimize your website for a local audience. But if you are running a local business, things like word-of-mouth and a print brochure etc also contribute to local SEO.

If you mention your website and social profiles on your offline communication/promotion as well, your Facebook likes might go up, your Twitter followers could increase and the direct traffic on your website will get higher. One way or another, this will be visible to Google as well, beit indirect perhaps.

So, local SEO consists of a number of factors that help you address your local audience by better rankings in search engines. It’s not just optimizing your address or your social media strategy, it’s all these things combined that we call local SEO. Good luck optimizing!

Read more: ‘Ultimate guide to small business SEO’ »

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When my colleagues asked me to name two of my favorite products for my birthday sale, I didn’t hesitate. Yes, our flagship product Yoast SEO is awesome, but I’ve always had a thing for small businesses and helping them optimize for Google. Two of our products that every small business owner should purchase, in my book, are our Local SEO plugin and our Technical SEO training. Let me explain why I think these two products should be in the online toolkit of every small business owner.

Local SEO plugin

Our Local SEO plugin is a necessity for every business owner that relies on visitors coming to a shop or showroom, office building or has other local ties. So, if your address matters for your business, you should definitely use this plugin.

When you install the Local SEO plugin, you can serve your address details to Google in the most convenient way possible (schema markup). In that same schema markup, you can display your opening hours. You can add Google Maps for your business in the blink of an eye, including the option to show directions. And, as the icing on the cake, you can setup and add a store locator to your website.

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Technical SEO training

The thing that annoys me most in the whole web agency world, is when companies sell their clients services that their client probably won’t understand. SEO can get pretty technical at some point, and you, the customer, might come across terms that dazzle you. If you’re lucky, your web partner will tell you what it all means and why they have to spend billable hours optimizing it. But I have seen my share of website owners that simply assume the web agency is right. That stops now.

If you take our technical SEO course, you’ll be able to recognize all the technical ‘gibberish’. You’ll understand why these things are needed and might even be able to see if these are needed in the first place.

Of course, this course is also for you when you’re a web developer wanting to improve your technical SEO knowledge. Most customers expect you to take that role and to understand the things that are dealt with in this training. And with the 19% discount we offer today, chances are that your customer will otherwise outsmart you after taking this course :)


Save 19% on our Technical SEO 1 training

Small business bundle

So, for my birthday, I basically picked a small business bundle that you will surely find beneficial. If you are serious about your website, and you should be, go and check out all the details and improve your website and SEO knowledge today.

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Online reviews are important for any local business. They’ve become essential in local search strategies. Having positive reviews and ratings will help in attracting traffic, both to your website as well as to your local business. Should you respond to positive reviews? And what about the negative ones? Here, I’ll give you lots of tips on how to respond to online reviews of your business.

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Importance of online reviews

For customers, online reviews are critical. Every one of us would check out reviews before booking that expensive holiday home in the south of France. Online reviews are also important for your SEO. There’s an overall consensus among SEO experts about reviews being a ranking factor for local search. You should read the article David Mihm wrote for Yoast for more information on the impact of reviews on your local rankings. Or learn how to grow your business with ratings and reviews.

Why should you react to reviews?

Reviews tell what other people, your customers, think of your product. If you respond to reviews, you show your (potential) customers that you care about their opinion. And that’s something your customers will appreciate. Apart from that, responding to reviews will make your business stand out from other companies, as a lot of them do not make an effort to respond to their reviews.

If you write a response to a review, you’ll not be only writing to the person who wrote the review. Your response will be out there for all potential customers. Handling reviews with grace, gratitude and a little bit of wit, can have a huge impact on the way people perceive your brand.

To which reviews should you respond?

Reacting to reviews appears to be a wise thing to do. That does not mean you should respond to every single review. In my opinion, you should react to negative reviews. Responding to negative reviews will show potential customers how you handle problems and solve solutions to dissatisfied customers.

I would also react to very positive reviews, especially if the response it elaborate and detailed. Responding to positive reviews will give the opportunity to promote your brand and to show your passion for your company. Responding to positive reviews is not that hard to do. It’s the negative ones that need a strategy.

How to respond to reviews?

How do you respond to those negative reviews? What should you do and which pitfalls should you avoid? I’ll share seven tips on how to handle those negative reviews!

1. Keep Calm

It’s never easy to get a negative review. In some cases, it can feel unfair. Perhaps the tone of the review is harsh, personal or condescending. Your first reaction will most likely be an emotional one. Perhaps you’ll get angry or very frustrated. In such a case, it’s wise to take a moment before you write your response.

2. Have a plan

Negative comments and reviews will always come up at one point in time. It’s a good thing to prepare yourself for it. You could have some standard replies ready. Be careful never to use the same answer more than once. Always adapt a reply to the specifics the situation requires. Having some nicely drafted sentences ready can help you to formulate the response in the heat of the moment.

3. Own the problem

A negative response means that someone has had a negative experience with your business. Maybe they didn’t like the food you served in your restaurant. Of course, this could be due to their lack of taste, but such a response will not be satisfying to your potential audience. In most cases, start with apologizing for their negative experience, even if it’s not (entirely) your fault. You are sorry that they had a negative experience. You are sorry the food did not taste good.

If something went wrong because of a mistake on your site, tell people that, own up to your mistake and apologize for it. If someone did not get their dessert and is pissed off about that, investigate the specifics of the situation. Did you, in fact, forget about their dessert? Admit to your mistake, apologize and try to fix the problem. In this case, invite them back to have dessert another time.

Everyone makes mistakes and people are really forgiving if you are willing to show your human side. Own up to your mistakes, apologize and try to come up with a solution.

4. Let someone proofread your response

You’re never an objective author of responses to reviews. You’re involved; what might sound reasonable to you, might sound crazy aggressive to someone else. If you’re not sure about your response, letting someone else read it first (someone objective) can be a good idea.

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5. Short and sweet

Don’t write responses that are too lengthy. Make them short and sweet. Nobody wants to read through a reply of thirteen paragraphs. Even if someone personally insults you in a review, you should never get personal. Try to remain professional and polite, at all times.

6. Don’t get trapped in long discussion

Never get trapped in lengthy discussions. Reply once, maybe twice if necessary, but stop replying after that. Nobody wants to read a complete discussion between a dissatisfied customer and a business. Or maybe some people do like to read such a thing, but it does not reflect well on your business.

7. Take the discussion offline

Someone had a bad experience with your business and you can solve it? Try to contact them outside of the review-channel. Ask them to get in touch with your sales department, or invite them over to your restaurant. Did people not get their dessert? Invite them over to your restaurant. People can’t get in touch with your support department? Help them to make a connection.

After the response?

If you have had some negative responses, you’ll probably want to bury them underneath a big pile of positive ones. Maybe you’ll encounter customers that have positive experiences. By all means, invite them to leave a review. Research shows that a lot of people are willing to do that!

If you can solve the problem with a dissatisfied customer, you can also ask if they can edit or remove their review. You should only do that if the air is clear between the customer and your business.

Read more: ‘How to get local reviews’ »

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As a small business owner in the fashion and interior design industry, it’s important to make sure that visitors become familiar with your work and style. But when it comes to making your site SEO proof, some other aspects need attention as well. This case study focuses on the site bedivine.com.au, a great example of a visually nice site, in need of some small SEO finishing touches!

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Homepage optimization

My first impression of the homepage is ‘Cool and visually attractive image, but where’s the rest?’ Fortunately, there is a small arrow that indicates that there’s more when you scroll down. But I have to say that having the first parts of your content below the fold could lose you some visitors who are too lazy to scroll down. Once I see the content below the image, I’m a little bit overwhelmed. The layout is somewhat messy because all text is centered and there’s a combined use of bold, italics and various fonts. This doesn’t feel very inviting.

Bedivine homepage content

Call-to-action

One important thing that’s missing on the homepage (but also on the other pages) is a call-to-action. There’s no button that visitors can click on to get something on this site. In this case, you may want to hire BeDivine as a fashion or interior design stylist. While there are various menu items for all of the services BeDivine offers, none of them have a clear goal, for example, a ‘contact me’ button. The same goes for the homepage: it doesn’t invite visitors to take action. I understand the importance of describing what you can offer potential clients and what kind of look and feel you bring into the mix. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t guide your visitors through your site by enabling them to easily contact you.

Menu

A menu is a valuable part of your site to help visitors navigate to the most important pages of your site. In this case, the menu is clear and focuses on all important aspects of BeDivine. That’s great! However, I do find it a bit odd that, besides the top menu bar, there’s also a menu bar on the bottom left on the homepage.

Bedivine extra menu

It serves no purpose, especially since the top menu bar is sticky. This second menu only causes clutter and should, therefore, be removed.

Broken parts

Make sure that every part of your site is working and regularly check if this is still the case. On BeDivine I came across some broken links to the portfolio and the Instagram feed wasn’t working (as you can see in the screenshot above). These are things that decrease the user experience and make people lose interest in your site.

Mobile friendliness

I can’t stress this enough: in 2018 search will drastically change because of Google’s plans to index the mobile version of sites first. This means that the mobile version of your site becomes leading in determining the rankings. So, if your site isn’t mobile ready yet, make sure to fix this ASAP!
In case of BeDivine, some mobile optimization would absolutely be beneficial. When opening the homepage on my mobile phone, all I see are large letters that fill the screen. They eventually make up the word ‘Be Divine’ if I’m patient enough to scroll all the way down. This immediately illustrates the problem; the content is way below the fold and it’s unlikely that a visitor will ever get to it.

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Read more: ‘Mobile SEO: the ultimate guide’ »

Local SEO

One question that’s left unanswered at the end of this review is whether this site should be optimized for local SEO? And I would definitely recommend that. The services that BeDivine offers are probably bound to a certain area, which is now not mentioned clearly on the site at all. Optimizing for a specific region could give a lot of benefits in the search results. Therefore you should create a Google My Business account and register your business. Local Search expert David Mihm wrote a great series of blog posts for us on Local optimization. We also have a local SEO plugin which helps you with your local optimizing. Since the services of BeDivine are a source of income, it’s in their best interest to get as much traffic on their site as possible, to increase their conversion rate.

In conclusion

Overall, I think that BeDivine is a site with a lot of potential! They’re already doing many things right, like evoking the ‘feel’ of their business and a nice menu. By changing some relatively small things on their site, they can achieve even better results. This would lead to a great mix of displaying the services you offer your customers, and a usable site. The best of both worlds!

BeDivine’s response to our case study

“Thank you Yoast for taking the time and use my website as a case study. Looking after my own website is very time consuming and having someone else looking into it is a great help. I will definitely fix all the little (and big) things mentioned by you. I don’t like messy so am keen to bring my page back to a functional website with an easy overview and a ‘call-to-action’ function. Thank you very much!” – Beate Pluta, creative director

Keep reading: ‘Avoid these common SEO mistakes’ »

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After a lot of its and buts, you have finally decided to create a website. A personal website for yourself, or that long overdue website for your business. You know you have to think about design and should supply well-written texts. You’ve already been inquiring about that thing called hosting. You may even have called someone that can build your website for you. All in all, you’re pretty confident that you can now start a website without any problems. But wait. Have you thought about this little thing called SEO?

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Create your website with SEO in mind

A large part of the search engine optimization process starts with focus: what is your website about? You have to focus on what we sometimes call ‘top tasks’. It’s a term used in mobile UX but it most certainly also goes for that moment when you decide to create a website from scratch. What is the purpose of a visitor coming to your website? And how can we make the journey of that visitor a pleasant journey?

When we discuss SEO with people that want to create a website, we focus on two main areas:

  • The technical side of things
  • Filling the website with content

In this post, I’ll highlight a number of important technical issues. In a follow-up post, I will go into the content side of things.

The technical side of things

With WordPress, it’s easy to build a website yourself. But a lot of you have probably hired a web agency to construct your website for you. That doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for them to finish. There are a lot of things you can check and optimize yourself.

Speed optimization

One thing you want to pay attention to is the speed of your future website. You can easily check that on websites like Google PageSpeed Insights, or Pingdom. In an ideal world, your web agency has already tested things and your own check of your site’s speed will result in nothing but greens and great ratings. If not, these tools will tell you exactly where you can improve. That could be an image of several MBs that slows down the loading of a page, or the loading of an excessive number of JavaScript files, just to name a few.

If you want to learn more about speed optimization, please read Site Speed: tools and suggestions. And make sure your new website is as fast as possible.

URL Structure

Since you are setting up a new site, you still have full control over your URL structure. In most cases, focus is your friend here. Including dates in blog URLs that aren’t related to dates is my favorite example of what not to do. You just don’t need a date in there, unless you are a news website and that date does matter.

For shop websites, focus the URL on your product. Do people use SKUs to find your products? Include one in the URL. If not, please leave them out. Ground-rule: strip your URLs from anything that’s unnecessary. And if we’re honest: /blog/ isn’t a useful addition to your URL, neither is /shop/.

A small remark about the length of your URL: if you use focus, your URL will never need to be too long. I’m not against long URLs, especially since Google seems to leave them out of the search result pages in a growing number of cases. But a shorter, logical URL is easier to remember. And easier to share offline, for that matter.

Heading tags

One of my favorite subjects: heading tags. HTML5 allows for one H1 per block element, am I right? I still recommend against that. If you use one H1 and one H1 only, you need to make very clear for yourself what the subject or focus keyword of that page is. By restricting yourself to that one H1, you most definitely will add focus to that page. It’ll help you to properly optimize – read more about that further down in this post.

It’s simple:

Make it responsive

The mobile version of your website is equally important, if not more important than the desktop version. Mobile-first, they say. Fact is, that your website probably has as many mobile visitors as it has desktop visitors, of course depending on the type of site you have. I think, therefore, that a responsive site should be the default for every website that has been built in 2010 or later. We all use our mobile devices to browse the web, and your website should be ready for that.

If your web developer tells you that the website is accessible from a mobile device, don’t just trust him/her. Go over your mobile website yourself and check if you, as a visitor, can do all you want and need to do there. I already mentioned our article on mobile UX; use that as a reference when testing your mobile site yourself.

Read more: ‘Mobile SEO: the ultimate guide’ »

Local optimization

We have written a lot about structured data. Using structured data, you can serve Google your address details in the most convenient way. With for instance JSON, or using our Local SEO for WordPress plugin, you can insert a snippet that will help Google to fix your website/business to a location. This information is used for local searches, but will also end up in Google’s Knowledge Graph:

Apple NY Knowledge Graph

So if your business or website is related to an actual location, be sure to optimize for that part of your site right from the start as well. And definitely add your LocalBusiness data right now, if you haven’t done that already :)

Track your traffic

Let’s not forget this one. I have seen my share of websites where the owner told me that conversion was low or that nobody filled out their contact form. But the owner had no idea how many people got to his/her website. No idea what the main landing pages or exit pages were.

If you are serious about your website, at least install Google Analytics or any other preferred statistics app. Collect data about your visitors, and find out what the customer journey on your website is. Find out what pages people like and which pages they dislike. If you want to know more about Google Analytics, please visit our Google Analytics archives for related posts. When you start a website, don’t wait too long before adding Google Analytics, so you can see your traffic grow from day one.

Get your technical aspects right

If you have covered the technical issues of a new website, you’ll have properly prepared your site for all the great content you’ll be adding. Adding content is the next big step in building an awesome website! We’ll deal with how to approach that in a follow-up post tomorrow.

Keep reading: ‘WordPress SEO: The definitive guide to higher rankings for WordPress sites’ »

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In this new Ask Yoast case study we’ll focus on an Australian real estate company: Building Properties Inspections Melbourne. This company specializes in building and pest inspections and provides its customers with reports, containing all the details of those inspections. What kind of customer makes use of these services? You could think of people who consider buying a property and therefore want to know if it’s in good condition. Or people who have already bought a new home and discovered timber pest afterward.

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People search online first

Of course, services like these are offline services. After making an appointment, someone of the company will actually come to your house for the inspection. However, to make this appointment, people need to find the company first. Some visitors may find the company thanks to the advice of a friend who has already used their services. People that don’t know this company will probably use an online search engine to find a business providing these services. This is where SEO comes in: if a website is at the top of the search results, people will be more likely to click on that website. In the end, this will result in more actual clients and more business for the company.

What page should rank for your keywords?

The next step is thinking about what page should rank at the top of the search results. Probably one of the most important services of Building Properties Inspections Melbourne is the ‘Pre Purchase Inspection’. When someone is about to purchase a property, this service can be used to make sure the building is in good condition.

Searching for a service like this using a search engine such as Google, people might insert a keyword like ‘Pre Purchase Inspection’ or ‘Pre Purchase Inspection Home’. When your website ranks high for such keywords, lots of people will visit your website and call in your services. When your website is on the 3rd page of the search results, nearly no one will even see your website.

Adding sufficient content

It’s important to have one specific page for every keyword or keyword group: the cornerstone content page. When someone searches for a query such as ‘Pre Purchase Inspection Home’ in Google, you don’t want your page about pest inspection to rank first. That’s why you need to make sure that Google understands what page contains the best, most relevant information for a specific keyword.

Looking at the ‘Pre Purchase Inspection’ page on the website of this company, we noticed there is too little textual content:

Pre purchase inspection

The textual content on the service page.

The current text consists of nearly 100 words. You might understand that it’s hard for Google to rank this page as the best result when only such a small amount of content can be found on the page. Make sure you add a minimum of 300 words to all of your posts and pages. For a cornerstone content page -like this page should be- we even recommend a minimum of 900 words. Tell everything about the specific service, how you operate, why people should choose you (your USP) and of course, use the keywords you want to rank for with that page in the text.

Calling to the next action

Finally, add a call-to-action to the page to give your visitors the opportunity to contact you easily. There is already a contact form on the current service page, but, because of the dark background, it looks like a footer. Visitors could skip the content in the dark block altogether because it looks like it’s not relevant for the actual page itself:

Call to action on the inspection website

The testimonials and the current call-to-action

However, the testimonials and the call-to-action in the block are important. We recommend adding a button below the textual content which says ‘Book an Inspection’ and link that button to the contact page of the website. Below the button, you can show the testimonials. Showing this content on a white background just like the other textual content will help visitors understand that it belongs to the page.

The homepage as a landing page

Not all visitors enter your website on one of the service pages: most of the other visitors will probably enter the website on the homepage. This is why it’s important to make sure your homepage is clear and easy to understand.

The current homepage contains a slider at the top of the page:

homepage as a landing page

Readers who regularly visit our blog know that we’re not a big fan of sliders. Nearly nobody actually clicks on any of the slides and it often has a negative effect on the loading times of a website. We recommend removing the slider and adding some introductory content instead. This introduction needs to tell your visitors what your website is about and what your USP is. Below the introduction, we recommend adding a clear call-to-action in a color that’s not in your color scheme yet. There already is a call-to-action as you can see in the screenshot above: the ‘Click here to book online’ button. However, this button doesn’t stand out as it is a so-called ghost button. Make sure it does. On their mobile website, they’re already doing this better, as you can see on the image below.

Mobile homepageWe recommend switching the orange and white colors, so the button has an orange color instead of the complete bar, this would make it stand out more. Add some introductory content above the button, and the top of this mobile homepage would look great!

Lastly, on both desktop and mobile, the homepage contains a lot of textual content. Since it’s mostly the service pages that need to rank for specific keywords, it’s not necessary to add this amount of textual content to the homepage.

In our opinion, the homepage should above all tell your visitors what the website is about and guide them to your main pages. We recommend reducing the textual content on the homepage, especially for the mobile version of the website.

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The importance of local SEO

Since the services of this company are offline, it’s important for them to rank locally. You want visitors that live nearby to find your website in their search results. You’ll understand that it’s less beneficial when people at the other side of the country see your website in the search results. Those people will probably exit your site quickly because your company is too far from their area. To rank locally, there are 3 things to keep in mind: structured data, Google My Business and ratings and reviews.

Structured data

Structured data can be beneficial for lots of different pages but for local SEO you should at least add structured data to your contact page. The Yoast Local SEO plugin could help you with that. The plugin will add Google Maps to your contact page. Besides that, you can add your business address and opening hours. The plugin will automatically add structured data to that information and Google might show this directly in the search results as a rich result.

Google My Business

The second thing you need to optimize is your Google My Business account. Having such an account can also lead to a rich result, such as a knowledge graph. When people in your neighborhood search for your services, this knowledge graph might appear. Local SEO expert David Mihm tells you all there is to know about it in this Google My Business post.

Ratings and reviews

Adding ratings and reviews to your site will increase the trust of visitors. Furthermore, they’re a sign for Google that your company can be valuable to others looking for the same services. If you also add structured data to those ratings and reviews, Google might show them in the search results and the CTR to your website could increase because of that rich result.

To sum it up

It was great reviewing the website of Building Property Inspections Melbourne. We think it’s a clear website and with some SEO improvements, the rankings should increase. The first thing is creating cornerstone content pages of the services pages. Adding sufficient textual content to those pages, it will be easier for Google to rank them higher in the search results. The second thing we recommend is optimizing the homepage to make sure visitors immediately understand what your website is about. After that, they should be guided to the main pages of the website. With clear calls-to-action, you’ll create a clear path for your visitors. Lastly, optimizing the website for local SEO can be very beneficial since you want to focus on the people nearby. Good luck optimizing!

Read more: ‘Using cornerstone content to make your site rank’ »

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SEO is important for every website that wants to attract traffic. SEO for non-profits, in that regard, isn’t that different from SEO for other businesses. For non-profits -often struggling to make ends meet- it can be a cheap and effective way of attracting traffic. Making sure your website is findable in the search engines increases the chance that people will find their way to your non-profit organization. So, what SEO challenges are the most urgent for non-profit organizations? I’ll tell you all about those in this post.

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SEO is a must for a non-profit organization

It’s important for your non-profit organization to rank well in Google. Why? You want your audience, the people you’re aiming to help, to find their way to your website. When you’re findable, it’s much easier for them to get in touch and receive your information. Also, you want potential donators to find your website. Their sponsorship could help you to grow your non-profit business, expand your mission and help more people.

SEO is relatively cheap. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a lot of work. So, you need lots of time, writing skills, and some technical help with our plugin. Provided you have those at your disposal, ranking in the search engines is doable and will get you more traffic and visitors.

What SEO aspects to focus on?

There are a few SEO tactics that are especially important for non-profit organizations. SEO for non-profits isn’t essentially different from SEO for other companies. However, due to the distinct nature of (most) non-profit organizations, there are a few SEO tactics that’ll prove to be extra beneficial.

Content: write about what you do!

The first SEO aspect to focus on as a non-profit organization should be your content. While many businesses have trouble coming up with topics to write about, for most non-profits finding inspiration won’t be the problem. On the contrary, every non-profit organization has stories, a mission, a reason to exist. Translating those stories into awesome content is a great SEO strategy. Write about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and why that’s such a great thing. You’ll probably write content around your most important keywords without knowing it.

A good strategy is to write a few great lengthy cornerstone articles, which truly reflect your main mission. Other (smaller) posts should link to those cornerstone articles.

Optimize for your brand

Make sure that people find you when they search for the brand name of your non-profit organization. Lots of non-profits are known for their name. You want to be found on your brand name, when people search for it. So you’d better ensure you rank number one for that name. This shouldn’t be that hard if you focus on decent writing and make sure your site structure is in order.

Read more: ‘Low budget branding’ »

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Local SEO

Lots of non-profit organizations focus on a specific location or have multiple locations. You want people in your area to find you. If that’s the case for your organization, make sure that your website is findable on Google maps. Enter the information about your organization via Google Local Business Center. Check out our local SEO plugin if your non-profit organization focuses on multiple or specific locations. That’ll really pay off!

Keep reading: ‘Ranking your local business: introduction’ »

Mobile

Mobile search is becoming more and more important. Google announced that in 2018 the rankings in the search engines will be based on the mobile index. So it’s very important that your website is mobile friendly. Lots of people will search for and visit your website on a mobile phone. The design should be responsive and your site speed on mobile should be in order. Check out Google’s mobile friendliness test to see whether or not your site is mobile friendly.

Conclusion on non-profit SEO

SEO for non-profits isn’t that different from SEO for businesses, blogs or online shops. SEO should be part of the online marketing strategy of every non-profit organization, as Google is the most important channel for information for most people. Ranking high in Google is the way to reach your audience.

Non-profits should have no problem coming up with ideas for content. Focusing on writing awesome content will probably be the best and most effective SEO strategy. Top that off with great technical excellence and good site structure and there’s no doubt your non-profit organization will be on the (search) map!

Read on: ‘SEO for everyone: Yoast’s mission explained’ »

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This is the final 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, discussed how to get the most out of  Google My Business, covered best practices for on-site optimization. I’ve also given you some ideas for building inbound links and how to build citations, explained the importance of reviews, and the relative unimportance of social signals. Here, I’ll take a look at the most nebulous but potentially most influential component of local rankings: behavioral signals.

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Making local search reflect offline reality

As one of the most pervasive companies on the planet, Google has as much data about our behavior as any company in human history. They’ve been slower to use that data to inform local search rankings than many of us might have guessed, but recent company announcements and algorithmic updates suggest that may be changing.

Experts in the Local Search Ranking Factors survey have pegged these signals at about 11%, but included in this 11% is the overall most-important factor as well as several competitive difference-makers.

Only Google has a full picture of user behavior, so it’s the blackest of Google’s many algorithmic black boxes. Thus, many of the specific behavioral ranking signals I list below are either hypothetical or too new to have been tested by SEO practitioners.

But Google’s longstanding mission in local search has been to reflect the real world as accurately as possible online. A reflection based on data from real-world human beings will be far more accurate than one based on data from digital-world webpages and robots. It stands to reason that as Google can gather more of this real-world behavioral data, it will grow in algorithmic importance for rankings.

Let’s take a look at some of the behavioral data Google is likely using to inform local rankings, from most primitive to most advanced.

Location of searcher

Google has always been very good at detecting location on mobile phones (perhaps obviously). Now, they are scarily good even for desktop searches. And while it’s hard to describe something as sophisticated as detecting a user’s location as “primitive,” the algorithmic outcome of that location is relatively straightforward.

The distance of a business from the location where a search is being performed influences how well it ranks for those searches. All other factors being equal, the closer the business to the point of search, the higher it will rank. (In fact, the experts of the Local Search Ranking Factors rated this criterion #1 in 2017.)

Beyond numeric rankings, the radius of businesses Google considers proximally relevant varies somewhat by category, as the below screenshots illustrate. (Note the zoom level of the map for searches performed from my office in central Portland.)

coffee shops portland

roofing companies portland

golf courses portland

High-frequency brick-and-mortar businesses like coffee shops have a tighter radius of relevance. Low-frequency or service-area businesses like golf courses or roofing companies have a wider radius.

If your business lies outside this relevancy radius from the search locations of large groups of your customers (for instance, a golf course west of Beaverton or east of Gresham in the screenshot above), you’re going to have a tough time attracting those customers via Google.

Branded search volume

In a way, branded searches are a kind of citation: if corroborated by information in Google’s business database, they’re an expression of interest in that business (if not an out-and-out endorsement). While branded searches are an incredibly basic indicator of the awareness or popularity of a business, most Internet users perform these on a regular basis, making them one of the most democratic ranking signals.

Beyond just the number of times a brand name is searched (and searched by people in a given geographic area), the context of those brand names is important as well. Adjacent keywords used in those searches that rank for future unbranded searches for those keywords.

Generally, branded searches favor established businesses over new ones, and businesses that take a holistic approach to marketing (including offline). They’re one of Google’s best heuristics for word-of-mouth as it tries to build its reflection of the offline world.

Click Through Rate

There’s an endless discussion around Click Through Rate (CTR) as a ranking factor in organic search. Evidence from two respected researchers Rand Fishkin and Darren Shaw, however, strongly suggests that it has at least a temporary impact on local results.

belltown

At MozCon 2014, Rand used audience clickthrough participation to move the rankings needle during his presentation for a local Seattle wedding boutique. (He’s also found evidence for the impact of CTR on organic results, too.)

local result shaw

Darren Shaw performed some longer-term studies later in 2014. He demonstrated that in some markets like personal injury law and accounting CTR had at least some effect on improving rankings.

The theory is that the more people that click on your listing or website in a given search result, the more times it will show up for similar searches in the future. CTR is one step up from a branded search. CTR is an indication, if not endorsement, that the searcher thinks the destination listing or website will be relevant to her query.

Google has never shared information about the inner workings of this ranking factor (and in fact has explicitly obfuscated its usage at all). But SEO practitioners suspect there’s a mechanism involving CTR relative to position on page. After all, the top couple of results are always going to get the lion’s share of clicks.

You can improve your organic CTR with more compelling Title Tags and Meta Descriptions on your webpages. Your Google My Business listings have fewer options, but a superior review profile (both star rating and volume) will definitely help you stand out from the competition and earn more than your share of clicks.

Personalization

Since the introduction of Google+, the account infrastructure underlying Google’s products (Search, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc.) has been largely unified. As a result, we’re all perpetually logged in to the same account on every device. On some devices, like Android phones and Google Home, require users to log into their Google accounts before using them.

While Google+ may have failed as a social network, as a tracking and data-gathering mechanism it’s been a smashing success. It’s now trivial for Google to track us from desktop to mobile to tablet, from Gmail to Maps to YouTube to Search and back again. Our behavior in each product and on each device informs what we see in different products on different devices.

Examples of Google tracking

Below are just a few examples of how that happens:

  • Websites you’ve visited (and engaged with) in the past are more likely to get a rankings bump in future searches for which that website is relevant.
  • Knowing the location of your logged-in phone may inform desktop search results performed from the same account, as it’s a safe assumption for Google that our phones are always by our sides.
  • Businesses and websites that have sent receipts to your Gmail account may rank better for future keywords in the same category. To see for yourself, search “hotel reservations” for a result similar to the screenshot below.

hotel reservations

From searcher to searcher, and keyword to keyword, every search result is increasingly personalized. At a practical level, this means that it’s increasingly difficult to track keyword rankings, as everyone sees a slightly different result.

At a strategic level, it means you should do everything you can to engage your customers with reasons to return to your website, engage with your email newsletter, and share your business with their friends and family via email and text. Google is probably monitoring all of those visits and shares. It may use them to inform future search results for those customers, friends, and family, even if they don’t convert on their initial visit.

Knowledge Panel interactions

As Google displays more and more Knowledge Panel results, the percentage of clickthroughs to webpages has dropped to under 50%. But that doesn’t mean searchers are no longer clicking at all: increasingly clicks are happening within Knowledge Panels.

These Knowledge Panel click throughs are far stronger endorsements of a business’s relevance for a given query than a website visit. They’re a direct indication of a desire to transact with the business.

Phone calls

Google has offered mobile click to call functionality since January 2010. Even as early as February 2014, 40% of searchers had used it.

Driving directions

Where a phone call indicates a desire to learn more about a business, a request for driving directions is an even stronger indicator that a searcher intends to visit that business. It’s the strongest of all purely digital signals that a business is relevant for a particular query.

Bookings (where available)

Google has long offered users the ability to make bookings with hotels and restaurants directly from the Knowledge Panel through partnerships with Expedia, OpenTable, and others. Jennifer Slegg recently reported Google expanded this feature to wellness and fitness categories through partnerships with booking services like MindBody. I expect we’ll see the pace of these partnerships pick up rapidly in other verticals. Businesses can now even “roll their own” booking buttons with the new Appointment URL feature.

By offering this in-SERP interactivity with a business directly through Knowledge Panels, Google not only reduces the number of clicks to business websites but can collect more data about how searchers view a business.  This data surely influences rankings, though as with most behavioral signals, only Google knows just how much.

In-store visits

It’s a reasonable expectation that Google is tracking our on-SERP and click behavior online. But in the last couple of years, Google has moved from reasonable to downright creepy. Through its perpetual location-tracking of Android users and iOS users with the Google Maps app installed, it has a near-complete picture of our offline behavior as well. We see the outcome of this 360-degree tracking in the Popular Times section of many business’s Knowledge Panels, such as the one for Apex seen here.

Google aggregates location data from any person it can–whether they’ve searched for a business or not–and puts that data front-and-center on that business’s Knowledge Panel. It even tracks how long people stay at a given business, and whether the businesses is busier or less busy than usual.

This complete offline tracking helps Google offer its advertisers a “closed loop” of data as to whether online ads lead to offline visits. To think that Google isn’t using this same closed loop of data for its own local algorithm defies belief.

But even for Google, there are privacy limits (at least for now). In 2015, it decided to scrap a feature that would have allowed advertisers to send push notifications based on a user’s location.

Regardless of your feelings about whether knowing a business’s popularity before you visit is an acceptable tradeoff of your privacy, offline visits are surely the ranking signals which help Google identify local popularity and relevance most accurately — and they can’t be optimized.

Offline transactions

Google has surprisingly struggled to find success in the mobile payment space. Google Wallet was essentially a failure, and Android Pay has continued to lag even Samsung Pay in consumer adoption (both are far behind Apple Pay). Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore data from 24 million consumers. Particularly in industries with frequent purchases like supermarkets, coffee shops, and gas stations, the volume of Android Pay transactions could well be seen as a reasonable indicator of the offline popularity of a business.

But Google is not only looking at mobile payments — it’s now looking at all payments. Earlier in 2017, Google announced a partnership with credit card companies to track some 70% of all consumer purchases. In the United States, this partnership is already the subject of a federal privacy complaint. There seem to be few privacy advocates in any branch of government, though.

Transaction volume will naturally favor big businesses with lots of customers, but historically Google has tended to favor smaller ones in its local search results. But I do expect this high-quality, highly-personalized signal to play at least some role in rankings moving forward.

Summary

Many of the ranking factors above were not available to Google when it launched its local algorithm in 2008, or even as recently as 3-4 years ago. And it may be another 3-4 years before we start to see some of the more sophisticated ones influence rankings dramatically. But together I see them gaining more influence than any other piece of the ranking puzzle.

Collectively most of these metrics, along with customer reviews, portend a much stronger and more sophisticated algorithm based on engagement. The more Google shifts its local algorithm in this direction, the less it has to rely on weak proxies of popularity like backlinks and citations, which are only implemented and controlled by an infinitesimal fraction of the population.

You may be frustrated by the lack of tactical recommendations in this final installment of the series. The reality is, there’s very little you can do to game these signals. A local algorithm based on engagement benefits great businesses doing good marketing–a worthy outcome we should all support.

Series Conclusion

Local search has become a multi-faceted paradox in the last couple of years. While the algorithm has evolved to reward more real-world behavior, the SERP interface is rewarding more technical tactics like Schema markup and rich snippets.

And while the sophistication of Google’s algorithm and the number of local businesses who are paying attention to SEO make it harder than ever to rank, the payoff may be lower as fewer businesses win organic real estate above the fold.

But Google isn’t going away anytime soon. Organic search results will continue to be an important customer acquisition channel far into the future. Regardless of how Google changes over time, the techniques I’ve laid out in this guide should help position your business effectively for whatever the next innovations are!

Thanks to the Yoast team for the opportunity to share my suggestions experience with this community! If you want to keep up with my thoughts moving forward, you can subscribe to my newsletter. While you’re there, I hope you’ll check out my Tidings email newsletter product.

I wish you all success with your businesses!

Read on

Other parts in the Ranking your local business series:

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking
  7. Social media and local SEO
  8. The impact of behavioral signals

The post Ranking your local business part 8: Behavioral Signals appeared first on Yoast.

This is the seventh 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, discussed how to get the most out of Google My Business, covered best practices for on-site optimization. I’ve also given you some ideas for building inbound links and how to build citations and explained the importance of reviews. Here, I’ll focus on what impact social signals have on local results (if any). 

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Those of you who have been following along with this series since we started probably feel like you’ve drunk from a firehose. There are a lot of angles from which to attack Local SEO!

Generally speaking, though, social media is not one of them, so this will be the shortest post of the series. Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat Marketing, a long-time participant in the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, sums up the place of social media brilliantly: “Do the basics, don’t overthink it, and move swiftly along.”

Primarily, “the basics” have to do with optimizing your social media profiles, as opposed to your social media activity.

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Social-Local Basics

At a minimum, every local business should claim a business profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, even if you don’t plan to use some or all of those profiles.

Customers may look for you on those sites, and you don’t want them to come up empty, or worse: discover another business with a similar name and think it’s you. And you never know when you might decide to engage with customers on those social platforms – in which case it’ll be nice to have an existing profile as a jumping-off point.

Social profiles offer some of the easiest inbound links and citations you can acquire, and it makes sense to utilize all relevant fields that major social media platforms offer you.

At a minimum, use a high-quality logo (or if more appropriate, personal photo). Pick a high-resolution photo or graphic representation of your business that you can use as a “cover” image. Hubspot produced this handy guide of the sizes you’ll need for each social platform. For more advanced readers, Facebook now offers the ability to use video for your cover.

social-local profiles

social local profiles linkedin

Fundera has compiled a great list of compelling local business Facebook pages here, for more inspiration.

Because each of these social profiles can (and should) act as a citation, you’ll want to maintain a consistent business name across all platforms. This helps Google (and customers) associate these profiles with you.

Where possible, add your location information to your profile, even if it’s just a city and state. This helps Google make that connection even more strongly.

local social location information local social profile location information

social local profile location information twitter

If you don’t plan to use one or more of these profiles actively, pin a post to the top of that profile. That way, you can let customers know where they can find you. It doesn’t matter if that’s your website, your email newsletter, or a different social channel that you do manage actively.

local social profile facebook

Social-Local Longer-Tail

With the exception of Twitter, with whom it has a direct contractual relationship, Google has a hard time getting visibility into what’s happening on social platforms. So “being active” on social media isn’t really going to help with your local search visibility. And even if you’re wildly popular on social media, it’s unlikely that popularity will translate directly into higher local search rankings. 

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One way, in which it might translate, is if your social profile is frequently linked-to by other websites as a result of your popularity. The link you’ve added from your profile to your own website then passes additional authority to your website. But that’s a fraction of a fractional increase in authority. Not one that’s worth getting hung up on.

There’s some evidence to suggest that viral social media posts (and even social media ads) that drive traffic to your website may increase your rankings, but it’s rare that a local business achieves virality. And if you do, what’ll really increase your rankings are the citations and links from news articles mentioning that your business has gone viral.

You should primarily focus your social media efforts on engaging your customers with interesting content, promotions (if relevant), and polls and conversations that will increase their affinity for your brand. You can promote your website to a degree, but generally speaking, improvements in your local rankings will come from other factors.

The Outlier: Google+

I mentioned five of the most popular channels above, and intentionally excluded Google+. Millions of pixels and gallons of ink have been expended on chronicling the failure of Google+ as a social network. Those chronicles are largely accurate.

chart impact google+ on rankings

But in a recent Steady Demand case study, featuring Buffalo jeweler Barbara Oliver, Mike Blumenthal found that creating shareable content on Google+ appeared to have a direct positive impact on Barbara’s local rankings. There’s a lot of work involved in building the kind of Google+ community that Barbara has built. Let alone in coming up with content that this community will find interesting. But if you’re primarily interested in using social media to increase your local search rankings, Google+ is (surprisingly) the social platform on which you should focus.

The Real Place of Local-Social Media: Conversations

As this terrific guide from the Perch App suggests, it’s far more productive to treat social media as an engagement channel rather than a means to ranking better.

Making yourself available to your customers and responsive to their questions on the platforms above — as well as the locally-focused NextDoor — helps create the positive association for your brand that social media is best-designed for.

To the extent that words become the new links, Google may begin to weigh social media activity more heavily in its algorithm in the future. But for now, utilize your social media channels for brand awareness, customer engagement and loyalty, not rankings.

Summary

  • Overall, social signals have limited impact on local search rankings.
  • Nonetheless, every business should create a well-branded Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn Business page.
  • Include links and citations for your business on these profiles.
  • Google+ is the social platform on which activity seems to increase rankings the most.
  • Your primary goal in using social media should be for customer engagement and loyalty, not rankings.

Read on

Other parts in the Ranking your local business series:

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking

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