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.

The post Why I like the Local SEO plugin and Technical SEO course so much appeared first on Yoast.

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


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


  • 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

The post Ranking your local business part 7: Social Signals appeared first on Yoast.

This is the sixth 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. Here, I’ll focus on another core local search ranking factor: generating reviews about your business. Learn why and how to do that!

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Although they weren’t part of the initial release of Google Maps, reviews have been a fixture on Google’s local properties for over a decade. The reason is obvious: frankly, consumers love reviews.

BrightLocal consumer survey data suggests that over 90% of consumers use reviews to evaluate local businesses. 84% of them trust reviews just as much as a personal recommendation! So it’s no wonder that Google features them so prominently.

It stands to reason that if consumers love reviews so much, Google’s ranking algorithm does too. Businesses with robust review profiles on Google – and beyond – tend to be rewarded with higher rankings.

Reviews create a virtuous cycle. More reviews lead to better visibility, which leads to more customers, which result in more reviews. Quite simply, gathering and encouraging customer reviews is one of the most sustainable marketing techniques your business can engage in.

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How Google evaluates reviews

Only Google engineers know for sure, but local search experts have theorized for years that Google primarily evaluates reviews across the attributes below. I’ve listed them in order of importance for competitive searches, according to the experts surveyed for the Local Search Ranking Factors project.


Google designed its entire local algorithm to represent the offline world online in the most accurate way possible. In Google’s ideal world, popular businesses rank near the top of search results. Less popular businesses rank further down. Reviews are one of the easiest ways for Google to assess popularity.

All other factors being equal, popular businesses tend to serve more customers than less popular ones. But remember as I said earlier in this series, Google can only “see” what’s represented online.

So if your customers leave reviews of your business at a higher rate than your competitors’ customers do, your business will appear more popular and stands a good chance at outranking the competition.


The area in which Google’s algorithm has arguably improved the most over the past 3-4 years is in semantic analysis. In fact, one of the earliest datasets on which Google trained its semantic algorithm was local business reviews. As early as 2009, Google highlighted key terms and phrases that it found consumers using to describe local businesses.

So not only is Google looking at the number of reviews when assessing the popularity of local businesses, it’s looking at what people are saying about local businesses in those reviews. For example, doctors whose patients frequently mention a particular kind of treatment in their reviews are likely to rank better for searches for that treatment. Contractors whose customers mention the kind of projects they execute, such as “kitchen remodel,” are likely to rank better for searches for those kinds of projects.

Google’s ability to semantically analyze reviews includes a sentiment filter. Adjectives like “great,” “terrific,” or “best” are likely to move the ranking needle for your business more than reviews with adjectives like “mediocre,” “average,” or “OK.”

The content of your customers’ reviews isn’t necessarily something you can control. But prompting your customers to think about particular questions as they write their review (“What service did we perform for you?” e.g.) can help improve the effectiveness of those reviews with respect to your rankings.


A common misconception – compounded by misleading testimony from Google executives – is that Google does not use third-party reviews to rank local results. This could not be further from the truth. In some cases, reviews on third-party sites can improve your rankings even more than comparable reviews left directly at Google.

It’s not only a best-practice, but it’s also essential to earn reviews from your customers on some sites beyond Google. (More on this below.)

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Star / numerical rating

You may be surprised to see star ratings listed this low as a ranking factor. Generally speaking, Google’s algorithm seems to value volume and sentiment much more strongly than the star rating that customers leave for a business. With nearly 80% of reviews being three stars or above (even on Yelp!), it’s not particularly useful for Google to split hairs between a 4.2 and a 4.4-star business, for example.

Where rating may play a larger role is in consumer choice. According to BrightLocal, a majority of consumers see the rating as the most important review factor in choosing a business.

The reviewer

Google’s review spam filter leaves much to be desired. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that the account of the reviewer may have some positive influence on how much weight his or her review carries.

In much the same way that Yelp Elite (essentially, highly-active Yelpers) reviews carry extra weight in Yelp’s algorithm, it’s likely that reviews from members of the Local Guides Program carry extra weight in Google’s.


The velocity or frequency with which customers leave reviews may also impact a business’s rankings. The BrightLocal survey referenced above found that 73% of consumers think that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant. While Google’s “review expiration date” is considerably longer than three months, especially in less-frequently-reviewed industries like DUI law or addiction treatment, it’s likely that business with a steady stream of new reviews will outrank those with a stale review profile.

Where to get reviews

As I touched on in the Diversity section above, you don’t want to focus your review acquisition efforts solely on Google. In fact, reviews on prominent sites like Yelp have been proven to single-handedly increase rankings for businesses in smaller markets with limited competition. See this empirical study by Mike Blumenthal showing the impact of Yelp reviews on dive bar rankings in Mike’s hometown of Olean, NY.

Just as with citations, you want to have reviews on the sites where Google expects popular businesses to have reviews. The only difference between the sites where you should acquire citations vs. the sites where you should acquire reviews is that data aggregators don’t offer reviews as a feature.

Consumer directories

It nearly goes without saying that you should do your best to acquire customer reviews on Facebook and Yelp. These two platforms are used to research local businesses by tens of millions of consumers every month. Yelp syndicates its reviews to Apple Maps. This way, even more consumers will read them. And of course, Facebook is Facebook. It’s the app in which we spend one out of every 5 of our mobile minutes.

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Industry-specific and local reviews

Beyond these two giants, you should look at the sites that show up in Knowledge Panels for your competitors. Also look at other high-ranking businesses similar to yours in other geographic markets.

google reviews


Sites like the ones listed in the ‘Reviews from the web’ sections of Knowledge Panels likely have direct relationships with Google to feed them reviews.

Also, take a look at the review sites that show up for searches matching the pattern

[your keyword] [your city] [reviews]

Note the review sites that appear in the top 20 (or so) organic results. Pay close attention to the ones with gold stars in the organic results.

Critic reviews

In a limited set of categories related to dining and nightlife, Google also displays Critic reviews from well-known editorial sites in those categories. It’s likely that businesses reviewed by these lists have an advantage over businesses that don’t appear here. I expect we’ll see Google rolling out Critic reviews to more categories in the future.

How to get reviews

I can’t emphasize this point enough: implementing an intentional review acquisition process has become an essential element of success in local search.

Knowing the importance of customer reviews, you might be tempted to blast all of your customers at once, asking them to leave reviews. Or worse, you might be considering simply buying your way to the top with a bunch of fake reviews from Fiverr or similar sites. These techniques will likely lead to success in the short-term but also lead to dramatic pain in the long-term. Google and other review platforms get better about cracking down on this kind of behavior. This is fairly trivial to spot algorithmically.

Instead, a steady drip of reviews is what will lead to sustained long-term success. Depending on your industry, this could be a handful per month or a handful per week.

There are plenty of affordable software companies that can help you implement this intentional review acquisition process. I recommend GetFiveStars, run by a team of local search experts, but do a little research and see which service is right for your business.

How review services work

The diagram below, used by permission of GetFiveStars, shows how their platform works (and other similar platforms work).

In a nutshell, review services automate the process of collecting feedback from your customers and prompt happy customers to leave reviews on third-party review sites. Importantly, they can also help you determine your Net Promoter Score, and identify areas for improvement within your business.

Far beyond the ranking benefits that a stream of positive reviews can have, review services can help you get out in front of bad reviews with a controlled feedback mechanism. They enable you to capture complaints and act on them before they spread around the internet.

Getting Yelp reviews

Getting Yelp reviews can be a challenge, thanks to Yelp’s overaggressive review filter and historically asinine policy on review solicitation. (Most review services don’t include Yelp in the list of sites on which they solicit reviews.)

My opinion is that it’s well worth the (minimal) risk to ask for reviews on Yelp, though, if you’re able to identify prospective customers who already have a Yelp account, and provided you’re emailing customers individually, one at a time, instead of a mass solicitation.

Check out this excellent post by Phil Rozek on how to pre-identify potential Yelp reviewers for your business.

You can also do a little research on Facebook using the Intelligence Software tool I’ve mentioned in previous installments in this series. Just select Like and enter the name of your business, and add another line for Likers of Yelp.

Voila, you have a list of fans of your business who are also likely to be active on Yelp. Letting them know how much a Yelp review can help your business increases the chances they’ll leave that elusive Yelp review.

Under no circumstances should you offer an incentive to leave a review on Yelp (or any other platform, for that matter). This is a violation that will get you blacklisted. If the incentive is not disclosed, it may violate United States FTC guidelines or similar laws in other countries.

Responding to reviews

As Mike Blumenthal of GetFiveStars likes to say: “There are two kinds of businesses in the world. Businesses that have gotten a bad review, and businesses that will get a bad review at some point.” No matter how great your business is, it’s bound to happen.

Many sites, including Google and Yelp, allow for you to respond to that bad review as the business owner. The important thing to keep in mind is that the real audience for that response is not this particular customer, but the dozens or hundreds of prospective customers who read your response and evaluate your empathy for the reviewer and attempt to resolve the complaint.

See this excellent guide on responding to complaints for more best practices for review responses.

Repurposing reviews

Another benefit of subscribing to a review acquisition service is that many of these services include an embeddable testimonials widget as part of your subscription. This gives you compelling, keyword-rich content that can improve your website’s position in organic search results. It also provides social proof to prospective customers who visit your website. Even if you don’t subscribe to a review acquisition service, you can replicate this process by copying-and-pasting snippets from some of your favorite customer reviews onto your website. Make sure you get the permission of the person who left the review before doing so.

This technique works particularly well for the reviews of your business that Yelp has filtered. To find them, scroll down to the bottom of your Yelp page. Look for a link similar to this one:

Click that link to open an accordion-style window. Ignore the propaganda from Yelp at the top. Scroll down to find another link that looks like this one:

This will give you a complete list of filtered reviews, which no search engine has indexed. Many times the customers who left them are incredibly frustrated that Yelp has hidden their comments. They are more than happy to give you permission to promote their comments in full on your website.

What’s next for reviews

As I brought up in my last column, words may be becoming the new links. This trend portends even more ranking power for reviews.

The reality is that reviews are a far more democratic ranking signal than inbound links or even citations. They more accurately reflect the popularity of a business than either of these prominent local ranking factors.

Half of the consumers who’ve been asked by a local business for a review have left one. This is an exponentially higher fraction than the number of consumers who operate websites, let alone have given a local business a link from those websites!

While Google still clearly has a long road ahead of it in fighting review spam, its team of Ph.D.’s will surely shut down the most egregious spammers within the next couple of years. And as long as consumers continue to make decisions at least partially based on reviews, they’ll be a fixture in local search results (and rankings) for years to come.


  • The volume of reviews for a local business, and the content included in those reviews, are two of the most important local ranking factors.
  • Reviews on Google are important, but local businesses should get reviews on other prominent sites as well. Facebook and Yelp are important regardless of your business category or location. Also, seek out key industry and local sites that show up in the Knowledge Panels of your competitors.
  • Review acquisition services are a great way to automate your review process and make it sustainable. They can help you get out in front of complaints before they spread across the Internet, and improve your Net Promoter Score.
  • Research existing friends and fans who use Yelp to minimize the risk that their reviews will be filtered.
  • Extend the power of reviews by posting them on your site as testimonials, with permission from the reviewer.

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

The post Ranking your local business part 6: The impact of reviews appeared first on Yoast.

This is the fifth 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, and given you some ideas for building inbound links. Here, I’ll focus on another core local search ranking factor: building citations for your business. Learn why and how to do that!

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I’d like you to think back 12+ years ago to early 2005. (Scary for a guy who’s 35 to acknowledge, but some present-day readers may still have been in elementary school!)

The Internet was a very different place. MySpace, not Facebook, was all the rage, and Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram weren’t even close to launching. There was no iPhone and there was no Android.

In a nutshell, the world was far less digital. When you searched at Google, it returned “10 blue links” of webpage results. The authority of those webpages was largely determined by inbound links.

But the launch of Google Maps in early 2005, and the subsequent release of the 10-pack in May 2007, portended something entirely different. Google Maps and the 10-pack ranked business listings, not websites, which required a completely different algorithm – an algorithm which remains distinct to this day.

After studying this algorithm in detail and discussing it extensively with colleagues like Mike Blumenthal, I wrote in May 2008 that “citations are the new links.”

Google now obfuscates much of the evidence that prompted my theory. But the underlying foundation of that Maps/10-pack algorithm still seems to be in place today in the Maps/3-pack interface that has succeeded it.

What’s a citation?

My premise in that May 2008 column was that while inbound links were the dominant ranking factor for “10 blue links” results, Google’s listing-based results couldn’t rely primarily on inbound links to determine rankings.

The reason? At the time, many businesses in Google’s business index didn’t have websites (some still don’t). Without a website, there’s nothing for other sites around the web to link to. So Google had to develop an alternative ranking algorithm that wasn’t dependent on links.

Based on information in a couple of Google patents highlighted by Bill Slawski, I thought about this secondary Google algorithm. I theorized it focused on the number of times Google’s spiders found references to a business across the web largely through mentions of its Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP).

I referred to these Name, Address, Phone number mentions as “citations”. This term appeared extensively in Google’s patents, and that term has largely stuck to this day.

Fingerprint picture

Your NAP is basically your digital thumbprint – it’s how Google knows that a website is mentioning your business as opposed to someone else’s. The more times Google sees your thumbprint on reputable websites, the more confident Google is that it’s displaying a reputable business in its search results.

Key citation attributes

The core citation attributes are your Name, Address, and Phone number, along with your website. These attributes must be consistent anywhere you expect Google to pick up your thumbprint.

It’s why using tracking phone numbers is such a risky practice. It’s great to know where your incoming phone calls are coming from, but implemented incorrectly, tracking numbers can pollute your thumbprint. As can stuffing your business name with keywords because you think it will help you rank for those terms. 

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The reality is that mixing and matching your NAP leaves makes it much harder for Google to match mentions of your business. Subsequently it’s more difficult to give your business credit in the form of rankings. It can also lead to duplicate listings if those mismatches appear in prominent enough sources. This is a headache that no business wants to develop (see Troubleshooting GMB Issues).

NAP consistency – which appears twice in experts’ top 10 individual local ranking factors – is especially important between your own website and Google My Business. The Yoast Local SEO Plugin makes this two-way consistency easy.

Where to get citations

Unless you’re blatantly spamming, there really isn’t a bad website on which to acquire a citation. But as with inbound links, certain citations are more valuable than others. Let’s take a look at the most valuable citation types below.

Data aggregators

In most developed countries around the world, Google has licensed existing databases to build its local business index rather than starting from scratch. In many cases, the licensors are the largest traditional yellow pages companies in each market. For example, Paginas Amarillas in Latin America, YPG in Canada, and Telelistas in Brazil have all licensed (or appeared to license) data to Google over the years. In the United States, the primary licensors have been Infogroup, Acxiom, Neustar/Localeze, and Factual.

Why did Google choose to license data from these companies? Because they tend to vet business information more stringently than the average web directory, through phone and mailing address verification. So Google has high confidence in the fidelity of the information they license.

These aggregators also license business data to other directories and mobile apps featuring local businesses, in addition to Google. In turn, Google crawls those websites looking for citations.

The Local Search Ecosystem

These aggregators are not perfect, however. Because they’re the original data source for so many websites, an incorrect Name, Address, Phone, or website attribute can be amplified many times over. This creates all kinds of incorrect and mismatched thumbprints. To reiterate, these mismatched thumbprints actually look like different businesses to Google. So it’s critical to get your information correct at the source – the data aggregators themselves – if you want to get credit for all of your thumbprints.

Many aggregators allow businesses to correct improper information (or submit missing information) via online portals. This includes Infogroup’s ExpressUpdate and Acxiom’s MyBusinessListingManager. Others are either not publicly-accessible (Factual) or are prohibitively expensive (Neustar/Localeze), in which case it’s best to use a citation submission service (more on this below).

Consumer directories

In addition to licensing data, Google does what it does best – crawls the Internet – looking for local business citations as well. Citations from authoritative consumer directories (such as Yelp or YP.com) carry much more weight in terms of helping your rankings than those from weak directories you’ve never heard of, like USCityNet or ABLocal.

For U.S.-, U.K.-, Canada-, or Australia-based businesses, Darren Shaw and Nyagoslav Zhekov of Whitespark have put together great resources. These resources delineate the top consumer directories on which you should list your business.

The key point here is that the quality of the citation source matters far more than the quantity of sources on which you’re listed. Despite the marketing of certain business listing services touting “dozens” or “hundreds” of directories, the reality is that there are only a handful of cross-industry consumer directories on which you really need to be listed. At that point you should move on to industry and local directories – which are largely outside the network of major listing services. It won’t hurt to be listed on longer-tail directories, but they’re just not worth your time or money.

Industry directories

As with inbound links, citations from industry-relevant websites help build the authority of your business. They also give Google a sense of the types of keywords for which your business is relevant.

Chances are that U.S.-based businesses can rattle off the important vertical directories in their industry. Sites like Avvo and Findlaw for Lawyers, Houzz and HomeAdvisor for contractors, WeddingWire and TheKnot for photographers, etc. Basically, these are the directories that rank regularly for the keywords that you want to rank for.

Businesses with an optimized thumbprint on these directories stand a better chance of ranking in Google for industry terms than businesses with a messy or missing thumbprint.

The team at Whitespark has also put together a list of the top industry directories. This is a great starting point, no matter what kind of business you are.

Local directories

Citations from local directories also increase the authority and credibility of listed businesses. As I mentioned in my inbound links column, the member directories of your local chamber of commerce and neighborhood business association are great places to start.

There may also be business listing websites that are popular with local residents. In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, the Oregonian newspaper maintains a strong directory at OregonLive.comTravel Portland and Supportland also maintain robust directories, just to name a couple.

Seek out listings on similar sites in the towns and cities where your business operates. 

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Advanced citation building

One of the advantages of citation building over other SEO tactics is that it’s relatively non-technical. Any business owner with enough time can be just as effective as an agency or expert SEO consultant. It’s simply not that complicated to get your business listed on major data aggregators, consumer directories, vertical directories, and local directories. There are a couple more advanced techniques that you can use to either go beyond the basics or outbuild your competition, however.

Unstructured citations

The four types of directory citations I covered above are all what SEO professionals call “structured citations” – sites on which NAP attributes are presented in well-structured format by the sites on which they appear, perhaps even in schema.org.

But mentions of your business name or phone number in general web content (such as a blog post or media article) may be just as valuable. Provided that there’s enough context for Google to identify that it’s indeed your business being mentioned.

In terms of identifying good prospective sources of these unstructured citations, many of the same linkbuilding suggestions I gave around finding interviews and guest columns apply here.

Longer-tail industry and local directories

If you’re lucky enough to operate in an industry and a geography covered by Whitespark’s lists of top citation sources, you can probably stop reading here. But if your business is in a country or market in which Whitespark has not yet done research, you can perform similar research yourself.

Simply search Google for [your keyword] and [your city] and note the directories that appear in the top 20 (or so) organic results. You can even get more specific and add the word [directory] to the end of your string, or [submit] to the beginning.

These are websites with a reasonable degree of credibility in Google’s eyes, on which it would be helpful to place your NAP thumbprint.

Through a different, but equally effective, mechanism, Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder can automate much of this research for you.

For those local businesses with a moderate budget, there are automated submission tools. These can help get your thumbprint on many important directories in a matter of days (or even minutes in some cases).

My former product, Moz Local, remains an excellent baseline citation submission service for U.S. businesses.

Whitespark’s service is a great option for those businesses with slightly larger budgets or more tailored submission needs.

Rule of thumb[print]

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It’s important to be represented as cleanly and as completely as possible, as many places as you can be online. However, it’s important to weigh the benefit of citations against their cost – whether in time or money.

My overriding rule of thumb[print] when it comes to thinking about citation building is “be where your customers expect you to be.” That is, if you run a deli, and every other deli in your city is on Yelp, you probably need to be on Yelp, too. If you’re a guitar instructor, and every other guitar instructor in your region is on Thumbtack, you probably need to be on Thumbtack, too.

Being where your customers expect you to be also means you’ll be where Google expects you to be. Citations beyond these obvious websites provide diminishing returns, so be wary of that fact as you evaluate signing up with new products or services.

The place of citations in the local algorithm of the future

Citations are a rudimentary ranking factor in what is an increasingly sophisticated local algorithm. Because they’re relatively easy to build, most successful small businesses will already have a strong citation profile.

In other words, citations have basically table stakes in the Local SEO poker game. You need a strong citation profile to compete. But if your business already has a strong profile, it’s unlikely that building a few more citations will move the needle much on your rankings.

Increasingly, Google is able to assess the veracity of a business’s thumbprint from users of Maps, location-enabled Android devices, Waze, and other mobile collection devices (such as StreetView cars). Thus, the future competitive differentiators are likely to be different from the structured citations of today.

My colleague Mike Blumenthal has rhetorically posed, “are words becoming the new links?” Google’s algorithm gets smarter and smarter at detecting entity mentions that appear in natural language (such as those in interviews or media articles). This could blend the disciplines of citation building, link building, and social media even further.


  • Citations are your business’s digital thumbprint. “Optimizing” that thumbprint via business name keyword-stuffing or tracking phone numbers carries substantial risk to your local rankings.
  • Your thumbprint should appear on data aggregators, as well as prominent consumer portals, industry directories, and local directories.
  • My rule of thumb[print] for citations: be where your customers expect you to be, and you’ll be where Google expects your business to be.
  • Unstructured citations are likely to become more important in the future. More and more local businesses achieve the “table stakes” of basic directory presence.

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