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

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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

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.

Volume

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.

Content

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.

Diversity

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.

Velocity

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.

Summary

  • 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.

Summary

  • 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’ »

Today, it’s time for another Ask Yoast case study. In this edition, we’ll give SEO advice to a local business owner. We received a cry for help from Hussein Ibrahim who owns the car services site seattletowncarbestride.com. Hussein wanted to know what he could do – apart from using our Yoast SEO Premium plugin – to get excellent rankings for his business in the major search engines. Well, Hussein, here we go!

Local SEO

If you want to improve this site’s SEO you have to focus on local SEO. Since Hussein’s business is a car and taxi rental service, he’s bound to a certain area: in this case Seattle. So it’s crucial that his site ranks for people who are searching for these kinds of car services in Seattle.

Structured data

There are 3 main things to keep in mind if you want to rank locally. The first one is adding structured data to your site. It’s important to have schema.org markup on at least your contact page, and you might consider adding it to the footer as well. Yoast’s Local SEO plugin can help you out with the first. It inserts Google Maps into your contact page, as well as your business address and opening hours. In addition to that, you might see this data pop up in the search results pages as well, if Google chooses to use rich results for your site. Seattle town car best ride currently doesn’t have any structured data, so we highly recommend to add it to their site!

Make sure your customers find your shop! Optimize your site with our Local SEO plugin and show your opening hours, locations, map and much more! »

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In this article we’ll sum up what to pay attention to, when adding structured data to your local business site. Or learn how to implement structured data to your site with one of our online courses.

Google My Business

Additionally, you should let Google know you’re a local business owner by having a Google My Business account. This will help your site show up in the search results when people search for a car service in Seattle. Having this can also lead to rich results in the SERPs, such as a knowledge graph. Make sure that the address listed in your Google My Business account is the exact same address as displayed on your site, otherwise you won’t benefit from having this account.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business: making the most of Google My Business’ »

Ratings and reviews

Having ratings and reviews on your site is important to make your business look trustworthy to your visitors. Moreover, it also helps Google determine whether your business is valuable for their users. Seattle Best Town Car Service should, therefore, implement a possibility for customers to give a rating for their services or write a testimonial on their site. This is something they can actively ask their customers to do after using their services.

Keep reading: ‘How to get local ratings and reviews’ »

Speeding up your site

Page speed is one of the most important ranking factors for Google, so it’s key to make sure your site loads fast. We did a page speed check for Seattle Town Cars Best Ride and this is what we found.

First of all, we’d advise Hussein to take a look at their hosting company. When using the PageSpeed Insights tool by Google, ‘reducing server response time’ was one of the recommendations. This is not something you can do yourself, but it depends on what kind of server your hosting company is offering. If they can’t speed up the response time, consider looking for a better hosting company.

Secondly, browser caching should be enabled for all types of files. This is not the case for some JPG and CSS files on seattletowncarbestride.com. Since this site runs on an Apache server, you can fix this easily within the Yoast SEO plugin. You can do this by specifying the expiration times in the htaccess file, which can be edited from within the Yoast SEO plugin. Watch this video to see how easy that is. In case your site is running on an Nginx server, you can ask your host to do this for you.

Last but not least, Seattle Town Cars Best Ride should optimize some of the images on their site. A list of the images that need compression can be found in the Pagespeed Insights tool. Compressing images will reduce the file size, which will make these images load quicker.

Read on: ‘Site speed: tools and suggestions’ »

Taking care of your user’s needs

If people work on optimizing their site for search engines, they often tend to overlook user experience. But if your visitors seem to enjoy your site – which Google determines by analyzing so called user signals – this can positively affect your rankings. Google wants to offer the best search results and experience to their users. So don’t forget to always keep an eye on the usability of your site.

Seattle Town Cars Best Ride has quite some moving elements on their site, causing distraction and possibly negatively affecting the user experience. Especially on the homepage, the moving images get a little annoying when scrolling all the way down. Toning that down will give the site a much more focused and calmer appearance.

Also, a slider is used on the homepage. This is something we advice against at Yoast. The most important reason for that, in this case, is that the call-to-action disappears and reappears if the sliders changes. This makes it harder for the visitor to get to the page you want them to get to.

Images are an essential part of your site because they can make your site more attractive. Make sure they aren’t broken or missing, especially on the homepage this looks a bit unprofessional:

image missing homepage

Moreover, the white text in the slider isn’t always readable, because of the color of the background images. Try to avoid these kinds of contrast mistakes:

Writing content for both your visitors and Google

What we like about Seattle Town Car Best Ride is that they have separate landing pages for all the services they offer. That makes it possible to optimize every service for its own keywords. Therefore, their chances of ranking for every service will increase. The service pages also have some decent content which describes what the service is about. Keep in mind that you should at least write about 300 words on a page, to show Google that you really know what you are talking about. Because Google wants to show their users the best search results as possible, you should be able to convince Google you are an expert on that topic.

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Some pages of Seattle Town Car Best Ride could benefit from some extra attention though. The ‘Reservations’ page and ‘Rates’ page are lacking introductory content. Both can be seen as “thin content” pages by Google, decreasing their chance of ranking. Moreover, the ‘Reservations’ page has little content and a broken contact form. Always make sure that your visitors can reach you, otherwise there’s no point in optimizing your site at all.

Apart from visitors that – hopefully – read your content, Google tries to ‘read’ your content as well. Headings play an important role in understanding your content. Seattle Town Car Best Ride uses H1 and H2 headings to structure their text, but it uses the H1 twice on almost every page. Google could find this confusing because it assumes that the H1 describes the subject of the page. If there are multiple H1 headings, Google doesn’t know which one you deem most important.

The meta description is another important content element for SEO. A good meta description is crucial if you want to convince possible visitors to click through to your site. With a clear description, you can inform potential visitors what a page is about.

Seattle Town Car Best Ride is lacking a meta description on a lot of pages. This doesn’t mean the pages won’t show a description in the snippet in the search results, but Google itself will just pick a sentence from your page – which doesn’t always turns out bad. Sometimes Google will do that, even if you have created a meta description. Nevertheless, we think it is worth your while to write a strong meta description. If Google chooses to show it, it can make your snippet much more appealing.

Keeping up with the times

As Google and the internet changes and evolves, so does SEO. A few years ago, most sites were running on HTTP. Nowadays, you see more and more sites that use HTTPS for secure browsing. We encourage site owners to take this step, and so does Google. Google has said that having HTTPS is seen as a ranking signal. Seattle Town Car Best Ride isn’t running on HTTPS yet, so we definitely recommend to make this change. In general, your hosting company can help you switch to HTTPS.

Read more: ‘Moving your website to HTTPS/SSL: Tips and tricks’ »

Another important development in SEO is Google switching to mobile indexing first. This probably takes place in 2018, as they announced. As a result, Google will rank your site based on the mobile version of your site, instead of the desktop version. Google is doing this because more and more users are browsing on a mobile device instead of a desktop. So having a top notch mobile site should be everyone’s top priority.

Fortunately, Seattle Town Car Best Ride looks and works fine on mobile. What they should fix though, is their site’s speed for better performance on mobile, like mentioned above.

Mobile view of their homepage

Closing remarks

All in all, Seattle Town Car Best Ride, isn’t doing bad at all content-wise. They are clear about what services they offer and make sure that their visitors know how to contact them, by using call-to-actions near every content part. But they could definitely benefit from some local optimization. Adding structured data, creating a Google My Business account, and adding ratings and reviews to their site, makes clear to Google that they are a Seattle business that needs to be taken seriously!

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

This is the fourth 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, and covered best practices for on-site optimization. Here, I’ll focus on another essential asset for local SEO: earning inbound links to your local business website. Learn why and how to do that!

Since the ascent of Google as the world’s #1 search engine, links have been the primary concern of most SEO practitioners. The seminal idea behind Google’s ranking technology makes it clear that inbound links are the primary vehicle by which Google discovers new pages and websites on the Internet, and they’re the primary way Google assesses the credibility of a given website.

Google’s emphasis on links is the most significant area of overlap between its organic and local ranking algorithms. According to the experts of the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, links make up the biggest piece of the pie in localized organic results. They’re the #1 competitive difference-maker across all types of local results.

Local businesses can’t be fully evaluated on the basis of links, for reasons you’ll see in my next post. But there’s no question that a strong inbound link profile (links pointing from other websites to yours) has a positive impact on how well your business ranks. 

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Why links in the first place?

I know you’re probably thinking, “hey, I want to rank #1, just tell me what to do!” But understanding why Google values links so highly can help you assess the strength or weakness of your own link profile. This can help you determine your link acquisition strategy.

Google’s robots, or “spiders,” crawl the Internet by “clicking” one link after another after another. They discover new pages and websites as part of that crawl, and store the content of each of those pages in a giant database.

In addition to storing the content of each page, Google also stores how its crawlers arrived on the page. In other words, it remembers the pages and websites that were linking to it. A link from one site to another is like a vote or endorsement for the credibility of the second website.

google crawling links

Diagram courtesy of Aaron Weiche, GetFiveStars

Sites with the most endorsements (green circle) tend to rank better than those with few or no endorsements (yellow circle). Especially links from websites that are heavily-endorsed themselves improve your ranking. You need endorsements in order to get elected, and you need links in order to rank well.

Link attributes

Topical context

Google counts thousands of PhDs as employees. And while its algorithm over the years has been incredibly vulnerable to abuse by spammers, increasingly it’s taking into account the context in which a link appears. Google largely devalues links that appear on completely unrelated websites. For example, a personal injury lawyer that receives a link from a Russian real estate forum. In fact, increasingly these kinds of links put you in jeopardy of a Google penalty.

Conversely, links that you acquire or earn that are likely to refer you actual customers are increasingly the ones that Google values. For example, a personal injury lawyer that receives a link from a neighboring chiropractor’s website.

Eric Ward a.k.a. “Link Moses,” was building links before Google was even a gleam in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s eyes. As such, his still-highly-relevant advice is to build links as if Google didn’t even exist. Living by this “first commandment” of link building makes it incredibly unlikely your site will ever be penalized by Google. And, it will make the impact of your link building more permanent and effective.

Page / domain authority

The source of a link matters a great deal to how much weight it carries in Google’s algorithm.

Going back to my earlier analogy, endorsements from major groups and figures help politicians earn votes more than do endorsements from anonymous individual voters. In the same way, links from pages and websites that are themselves heavily linked-to (such as BBC.com or WashingtonPost.com) are going to benefit the linked site much more than a link from a hobbyist blog or tiny startup.

In particular, links from government, school, and non-profit websites tend to be particularly powerful. These are high-trust websites that aren’t going to link to low-trust businesses or scam artists very often. So websites that earn links from these high-trust, high-authority websites, have a leg up on their competition.

Anchor text

I mentioned the concept of anchor text briefly in my last column. Anchor text are the words that make up the link itself. Such as “my last column” in the previous sentence.

The text of the link helps provide Google additional context about the topic of the linked page, i.e. what keywords that page should rank for. So links that contain keywords related to what you sell or where you’re located – and even links for your brand name – are going to help you rank. They’ll help you more than links using generic terms like “click here” or “read more.”

You have complete control over anchor text on your own website, and you should use it to your advantage. But you don’t really have control over what text people use on other websites. In general, it’s not the best use of time for local businesses to influence what anchor text others are using. It’s just a ranking factor to be aware of.

Assessing your existing link profile

Any number of tools exist to analyze your existing link profile, but in my experience the one that gives the most complete picture for local businesses is aHrefs. It’s a robust product that provides more information than the average local business needs. But just take a free trial and capture a high-level summary of your link profile. Most small businesses won’t need to continue usage beyond a day or two.

hrefs for inbound links local seo

 

The key aHrefs numbers are in the top row of the screenshot above: UR, DR, and referring domains. UR and DR refer to Page / domain authority. The number of referring domains is the best heuristic for most local businesses as to how strong their existing link profile is. Click the number under Referring Domains to view a list of the sites that are already linking to you. Are there obvious sites not in that list that should be linking to you? Consider reaching out to them to let them know how much a link would help your business.

During your free trial of aHrefs, I also recommend researching the profiles of the sites that rank above you for your target keywords. Take a look at their DR and number of referring domains. In particular, comparing those two metrics will give you a rough sense of how much link building work you’ll have to do to move the needle on your rankings.

Links that move the needle in local search

Google likes to pretend that great content, and great websites, will naturally acquire links. But for 99.999% of businesses, that’s terrible advice. The old question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?” applies to content and links.

If you produce great content, but no one’s there to see it, does it acquire links? The answer is a resounding no. Businesses need to be proactive about acquiring links. As long as you follow Eric Ward’s first commandment and acquire links that will actually send you customers, you shouldn’t fear a Google penalty.

Over the years, many local businesses haven’t followed Eric’s advice, have fallen victim to scam artists selling hundreds of links. Or have otherwise been too aggressive about acquiring links. The reality is that, for many businesses, 10-20 high-quality links will lead to top rankings in short order – sustainable rankings will last for years. Take the time to earn these high-quality links and don’t pursue those over-aggressive tactics.

Industry-relevant links

Industry-relevant links are often the easiest links for small business owners to acquire. Many of them simply involve asking your existing contacts at companies or organizations with whom you do business.

Local business and neighborhood associations

Are you a member of your local chamber of commerce, business association, or neighborhood association?  Most groups like these operate a member directory, and you want to make sure that directory is online, visible to the public, and to Google’s spiders.  If the websites of these groups are not showing up in your aHrefs backlink profile, bring up the issue with the director or marketing manager of these associations and ask them to put up a webpage that links to each member.

Regional/national certification boards and industry organizations

Depending on your industry, you may also be licensed by, or participate in, a regional or national organization.

Don’t just display your certification on your website. Link to your business’s online profile on the websites of these certifying boards and industry organizations. This not only increases the credibility of your business to potential customers, but helps Google’s spiders discover and crawl your profile on these highly-trusted sites.

Distributors (directories or announcements)

For those of you who are retailers, think about the products that you sell in-store. Are you unique, or one of the few stores in your local market that carries a particular product? If so, consider asking the manufacturer or distributor of that product for a link from their website. Preferably from a “where to buy” directory. At the very least these companies should partner with you on a press release – containing a link to your website. For example, to announce to their customers (and Google!) where people can buy their product in your area.

Vendors (testimonials)

Are there particular vendors from whom you purchase a lot of goods or services? Ask them if you can contribute a testimonial to their website, and if they really appreciate your business, that testimonial will contain a link back to your site.

Interviews and guest columns

Getting featured in a trade publication is not only a great driver of business – especially referral business – but can provide a powerful link back to your website. These links are a little more difficult to acquire, as they require building a relationship with authors or influencers in your industry.

To get started, see if a friend can make an introduction on your behalf to one of these key columnists.  Intelligence Software offers this free tool that taps some of Facebook’s more advanced search capabilities. (LinkedIn Premium offers some of the same features, but it’s a paid product.)

Essentially, you want to search for writers and editors who are employed at some of the key publications in your industry to see if and how you’re connected to them through friends. Once you see how you’re connected, you can ask specific friends to put in a good word for you.

Here’s an example of the output of an Intelligence Software search for employees at Third Door Media (the parent company of Search Engine Land, one of the top news outlets in SEO):

https://www.facebook.com/search/str/third%20door%20media/pages-named/employees/present/intersect

As you can see, the search would be pretty complicated to type in, but the tool from Intelligence Software makes it easy.

Locally-relevant links

Charities—or schools—to which you’ve donated money or goods, or volunteered with.

Many of you, and perhaps many of your employees, are likely involved in local charities on non-profit organizations. These links are highly-valued by Google, as charities tend to be trusted institutions in the offline world as well as online.

You want to make sure your involvement is acknowledged online.  As my friend Mike Blumenthal likes to say, “You don’t need a thank-you from the executive director. You don’t need a plaque. If they really want to thank you for your involvement, they’ll give you a link from their website.”

Groups for whom you host events at your physical location

Hosting events for outside groups is one of the lowest-cost, lowest-work link building initiatives you can undertake. Chances are good that the business or group hosting the event at your business will link to your website’s contact/directions page when they post their invitation online. Someone else is doing your link building for you – and who knows – some of the attendees may even turn into customers!

Complementary businesses

You probably have colleagues in related industries to whom you refer business, and from whom you’re referred business, regularly. Make sure these referral relationships are represented online in the form of links. That way Google knows that your businesses vouch for each other just as you do in the offline world.

Interviews and guest columns

Local publications like newspapers and alternative weeklies or monthlies are terrific places to get your business featured. And the chances may be better, especially in smaller towns or tightly-knit neighborhoods, that a friend of a friend works at one of these companies.

Using the same Intelligence Software tool, you can perform searches to get a list of journalists (or columnists) in your city. See how you’re connected to them through friends or family:

https://www.facebook.com/search/str/journalist/pages-named/employees/present/intersect/str/portland%2C%20oregon/pages-named/residents/present/intersect

The future of links and rankings

Some SEO professionals have been predicting the demise of links for a several years. But there’s little evidence to support this trend so far. Certainly Google has gotten better at penalizing low-quality links over the course of various algorithm updates, but if anything, high-quality links have been that much harder to come by, and even more valuable to their recipients.

Links may very well become “democratized” as they become less representative of the overall sentiment of the online world. A very small percentage of internet users has ever published a link on a website or blog. Also, more and more non-link signals are available for Google to assess the popularity and credibility of a local business. More on these signals coming in the final installment of this series!

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More on links

You can truly go crazy with link building, and there are entire companies and agencies devoted to this SEO niche. It’s probably not the highest and best use of your time as a local business owner, or even a local business marketer. But it is important that every local business has a reasonable link foundation underpinning their other marketing initiatives.

Here are four amazing resources for those of you wanting to take an even deeper dive into link building:

Neil Patel has this great summary of link building tools and techniques that have helped him build his own, and his clients’, businesses.

The aforementioned aHrefs has published this excellent guide on the discipline their company was founded to help master.

Phil Rozek has a terrific series of questions you can ask yourself as you try to identify what low-hanging link opportunities might be available to you.

And Megan Hannay of ZipSprout has created an awesome product to help you identify non-profit organizations that recognize supporters and volunteers online.

Summary

  • Inbound links pointing from other websites to your website are critical to establish the credibility of your business in Google’s eyes.
  • Build links as if Google didn’t even exist – links that will bring you customers in addition to rankings.
  • Assess your existing link profile, and the profiles of your competitors with aHrefs. Pay special attention to DR (Domain Rank or authority) and the number of referring domains.
  • Seek out industry-relevant and locally-relevant links from groups and websites with which you already have an offline relationship.
  • Ask for introductions from colleagues, friends, and family to key influencers who write for industry and local publications.

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

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

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

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

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

Crawlability

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

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Technical issues

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

number of results in search

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

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

Site architecture

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

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

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

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

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

Contact page content

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

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

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

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

 

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

Advice for businesses with multiple locations

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

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

Special markup: Schema.org

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

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

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

schema.org local seo

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

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Crawlability made easy: the Yoast Local SEO plugin

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

Mobility

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

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

Test your site’s mobile friendliness

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

Improve mobile user experience

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

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

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

Make your site faster

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

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

Relevance

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

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

What keywords (keyphrases) to target

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

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

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

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

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

Where to place your keywords

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 1:

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

Option 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summary

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

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