Audience research with Els Aerts: Pro tips to get started

Proper audience research is key in maintaining and growing your customer base. So, how do you go about doing this research and how do you make sure you ask the right questions? We asked expert Els Aerts, partner at AGConsult, to walk us through the process and give us a few tips on how to get started with audience research and surveying. Els, the floor is yours!

Why research your audience?

Els: “Let’s be honest, you probably assume you know your audience quite well. There’s no shame in admitting it, a lot of companies do. That’s because you might know socio-demographic information such as their age, gender, and location. But, does this actually tell us who these people are?”

Get to know your customer like never before

Els stresses that socio-demographics are valuable, but the age of your customers does not tell you why they’re interested in your service. Or what problem your product solves for them. It also doesn’t give you insight into their objections or concerns. Or what might be holding them back from buying (more) from you. She states: “If you want to connect with your audience, you need to know a whole lot more about them. And proper audience research can help you with that.”

Where to start with your audience research?

Before you start your research, Els advises to ask yourself this question: What problem do I want to solve? The answer will help you determine what type of research to conduct. And, who among your audience is able to give you relevant insights into this issue. Often enough, this will help you shape your questions and what part of your audience to reach out to. For example, don’t send a survey about your onboarding process to people that have been your customer for over three years. These people don’t remember what your onboarding was like and can’t help you optimize this specific process.

Choose your method wisely

Els: “When you’ve determined what part of your audience to research, it’s time to choose a method. Of course, this is dependent on a few factors, such as the problem you want to solve, your product or service, and the size of your audience. But for most businesses, a cheap and easy way to get started is an online survey. There are loads of tools that can help you set up an online survey at a very low price (or for free, yay!). You can post a survey on your website or in your app, by using a tool such as Hotjar or Zoho Page Sense. Or you can send it to people via email or social channels with a tool such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo.”

When you need to dig deeper, she suggests conducting personal interviews and user testing: “These one-on-one interactions provide you with context and a more profound understanding of your customers. Interviews are also the way to go if you haven’t got that many customers yet. Mainly because an online survey might not provide you with enough input when the number of participants is limited. In that case, you can collect valuable information about your audience through personal interviews.”

Let’s formulate some questions

The next step is formulating the right questions to ask your audience. And you probably have tons of questions you would love to ask them. How to select which ones to ask? Els advises taking a moment to think back to the question you asked yourself before starting your research: What problem do you want to solve? 

“If there are any problem areas you want to address, focus on those first. For example, if you have a problem with churn rate, research your existing customers. If the acquisition is the issue, reach out to potential customers in your audience. Your problem area will guide you in who you should approach and what questions you should ask.”

There’s no such thing as a stupid question, right?

Unfortunately, although always aiming to help, Els can’t provide you with a ready-made list of questions to ask your audience. She can, however, tell you what questions will not get you the results you’re looking for:

  • Leave out any questions in which you ask people to predict the future. An example: “would you use our app more regularly if we introduced feature x, y or z?” Asking your audience to predict their future behavior is asking to be lied to. 
  • Don’t ask questions about a too distant past. Human memory can be unreliable at times. And, even if people can’t really remember something correctly, they want to be helpful. So they might make stuff up, which in fact, doesn’t help you at all. 
  • Get rid of all questions in which you’re asking someone’s opinion. An example: “How attractive do you think our design is, on a scale from 1 to 10?”. What will you do if your design scores a 7? And how is that different from an 8 or 6? Ask yourself how this information will help your business. 
  • Try to avoid framing or phrasing your questions in a way that leads to biased answers. An example: “How fast would you say our customer service response time is on a scale from 1 to 10?” It might seem a perfectly neutral question, but by using the word fast you’re pretty much suggesting it as an answer. Either use both the positive and negative versions of an adjective in your question or leave it out altogether. 

Summary: how to set up your audience research

Proper audience research is essential in growing and maintaining your customer base. So, how do you make sure the research you conduct gets you the answers you need? Always start by asking yourself the question: what problem do I want to solve? This will help you choose the right audience and research method. An online survey is a cheap and easy way to get started, but if you want to dive deeper Els recommends doing personal interviews or user testing. To formulate your questions, keep the problem you want to solve in mind. And, try not to include any questions in which you ask people to predict their future behavior, questions about a distant past, questions in which you ask their opinion or questions that can lead to biased answers. 

You’re all caught up now, and ready to start your audience research. We wish you lots of luck and plenty of valuable input on all your future surveys and interviews. Thank you, Els, for sharing your knowledge and experience in this interview!

About Els Aerts: Els has been creating better online experiences based on user research since 2001. She’s the co-founder of AGConsult, a Belgium-based usability, and conversion optimization company. She loves helping companies understand their customers better. Because knowing what makes your customers tick, drives growth. 

Read more: An introduction to user research »

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Building a brand for your business

At Yoast, we pride ourselves on our branding. I would go as far as saying that it has attributed a lot to our success. I also think that good and consistent branding needs to be talked about more, as it is one of the hallmarks of a great enterprise. Please let me explain why I think it’s important for a business to think about their branding and give some examples of what we did. Hopefully, it’ll inspire you to do better branding for your company!

What is branding?

First, let’s look at some definitions. The American Marketing Association on their site defines a brand as:

A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.

Lexico defines branding as:

The promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design.

On the scientific side, definitions range widely too. David Aaker, called the “Father of Modern Branding” by marketing text book writer Philip Kotler, defines branding as:

“Far more than a name and logo, it is an organization’s promise to a customer to deliver what a brand stands for…in terms of functional benefits but also emotional, self-expressive, and social benefits”

David Aaker in Aaker on Branding

So, branding is the whole package: the name, the images, the advertising, the story. Good branding associates your company and/or product with positive feelings. Some major brands even go as far as only promoting the feelings in their advertisements, because we all know what the product is. If you’re in that stage, you’ve reached true “brand recognition”. If you succeed in making people feel certain feelings because they’ve bought something from you, the way I feel when I drink a Diet Coke, for instance, you’ve hit the jackpot.

How do you measure branding?

As digital marketers, we tend to want to measure everything and we think we can measure everything equally well. I don’t think that’s the case for branding. You might have the budget to do large scale brand research, but only truly big brands usually have that kind of money. And when you’re doing that research, the bigger question is: what do you want to do with the outcome of that research?

To go one step deeper, we probably need to define better what we’d be measuring if we can measure anything. I find this brand knowledge pyramid in this article by P. Chandon from INSEAD very useful:

Brand knowledge pyramid which describes going from brand awareness, to strong, favorable & unique brand assocations to postitive & accessible brand evaluations, to intense & active brnad loyalty.

So, if you see the above pyramid, brand awareness is a pre-requisite for everything else. If people don’t consider you when they’re making a purchase, everything else you do to “charge” your brand is useless. More people searching for you online, which you can see through, for instance, Google Trends, is a good measure of brand awareness. Note that it is always relative to your competition. Comparing searches for “Yoast” with searches for “Coca-Cola” is both non-sensical and mostly just self-flagellation. However, comparing searches for “Yoast SEO” with searches for “WordPress SEO” makes much more sense, and luckily, it shows that we won that battle 5 years ago.

If you really want to measure the impact, I think the smartest thing to do for smaller businesses is just seeing whether more people search for your brand online.

The brand “Yoast”

Given our definitions above, the brand Yoast has two sides to it: the brand image and the “functional” aspects of the brand. The functional aspects are a result of the functionality of our product, the quality of our UX, the usefulness of our features. To be able to build a good brand, having at least one good product is a requirement. Of course, that product can be a news site, or information, or whatever you want it to be, but it has to be great. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that’s a given. The great product is there and exists.

The brand name

Some things get lost in history, and that’s kind of funny. Yoast is how you pronounce my first name (Joost) if you’d pronounce it in English. Basically, toast with a Y. These days, people at conferences who don’t know this, sometimes introduce me as “this is Juiced from Yoast”, which always cracks me up. What’s most important though is that Yoast is short, it’s easy to remember and it’s unique in our space.

For a while, keyword domain names were all the rage in the SEO industry. If you want to include the most important keyword for your business, make sure you stick something on to it that makes it rememberable and unique. This will make it a lot easier for people to search specifically for you. Some examples of this are for instance SearchEngineLand and Search Engine Journal. While they both clearly have the keyword in their brand name, the addition does make it a lot easier to search for them. At the same time, they do have longer brand names because of that. If your company name is long, think of whether abbreviating it is a good idea. Some of the best brands in the world are abbreviations: KLM, IBM, H&M, AT&T. You might not even know the words behind some of those abbreviations!

Building the brand image

Mijke, our brand manager, was one of the very first people I hired when I started hiring people. Erwin, the illustrator behind all of our avatars and a lot of the other images you see on this site, followed soon after. From the very beginning, things like color schemes and logos were important. But, also our positioning on who we are in the world are things that we’ve deemed as very important.

Even before he was a Yoast employee, Erwin drew my avatar. Paul Madden created my very first avatar as a doodle at a conference, and while very nice, Erwin improved upon it quite a bit. Later, when Yoast started growing, we asked Erwin to create an avatar for every new employee. We still endeavor to do this, but admittedly we’re running quite a bit behind at the moment.

If you’re interested in our avatars, this infographic is quite interesting (click to enlarge as it’s rather big):

Logos, but also: so much more

In many ways, our avatars were more important at the beginning of Yoast than our logo was. Our avatars, with their recognizable style, immediately made clear that someone who responded somewhere was a Yoast employee. People remember our avatars while most people do not remember our older logo’s.

Image of the old Yoast logo and the current Yoast logo.
The old Yoast logo vs the current one

You cannot just create a logo and then be done with it, you’ll have to give it some more thought, and depending on how big your company is, sometimes even a lot of thought.

Our branding is in every post image we create. You won’t find a lot of stock photos on Yoast.com, we use custom made illustrations for every important aspect of our site. Illustrations that contain exactly what we want them to contain, and are examples for the world we want to live in. These illustrations also hang in our offices as decoration, and during the COVID-19 work from home episode, we allowed our employees to pick one and we sent them some of these illustrations to hang on their home walls. That’s when you know your branding does bring a sense of community, just as in the pyramid above.

Branding in the search results

One of the things that I’ve always been very keen on is doing proper branding in the search results. It’s really important that when someone is researching a topic and you rank for a lot of the terms in that topic, they see you rank. Even if they don’t click on the first result. This is why I’ve always said it’s very important to include your brand name in titles. This is another spot where a relatively short brand name will help you, as you’ve got just so much more space to add a meaningful title. Usually, it makes the most sense to add the brand name to the end of the title and make it easily distinguishable. This can be as simple as - Brand name, we chose to use • Yoast. I think it stands out just a bit more, but mostly because hardly anybody else uses it, so think about what works for you and pick something!

Another opportunity for branding is the knowledge panel that might show up for your brand. Knowledge panels are a type of rich results in the search engines. They are a great asset to have. Be sure to optimize everything you can in that if you have one!

Conclusion

So, we’ve seen that branding is more than just having a logo. Branding needs to consistent, as it is one of the hallmarks of a great enterprise. But, truly measuring the efforts your branding is hard. That’s why you should focus more on what it is you want to do with the outcome of the research. Branding in the search results is something relatively simple, which can result in a lot of brand recognition. Which steps will you take to do better branding for your company?

Read more: 5 tips to improve your branding »

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How to change your favicon in WordPress: a step-by-step guide

Have you seen that icon in the search results in front of your website’s URL? It’s visible for most people in mobile results now. So, no excuses, your site needs a good favicon. Luckily, setting a favicon in WordPress is very easy. Here we’ll explain how to change the favicon of your WordPress site!

Yoast’s favicon shows when you search for our brand on mobile.

We’ve been writing about favicons for years. This article about favicons and branding will tell you what you need to think about in that regard. Read it, and make sure your favicon is good and stands out.

Spoiler alert! Next week, when Yoast SEO 12.1 is out, you’ll be able to see your favicon in Yoast SEO’s mobile snippet preview too, so stay tuned for our next release!

Now let’s give you a simple step-by-step guide on how to change your favicon in WordPress:

Time needed: 5 minutes.

The favicon is called a site icon in WordPress and can be added in the customize theme section.

  1. Log in to your WordPress website.

    When you’re logged in, you’ll be in your ‘Dashboard’:WordPress Dashboard

  2. Click on ‘Appearance’.

    On the left-hand side, you’ll see a menu. In that menu, click on ‘Appearance’.appearance in wordpress

  3. Click on ‘Customize’.

    The ‘Appearance’ settings will expand providing you additional options. Click on ‘Customize’.customize in WordPress

  4. Click on ‘Site Identity’.

    Here you can define your site name, tagline, logo, and icon. The image you set under “Site Icon” will be used as your site’s favicon:

That was easy, wasn’t it? So, no more excuses, get to it. Change that favicon on your WordPress site!

Read more: Favicons and your online brand »

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Google’s Knowledge Panel: What is it and how to get one?

Google’s Knowledge Panel is the block you’ll find on the right side of your screen in the search results. Nowadays, you’ll see it for a lot of queries. It presents the results of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which can be seen as an engine connecting all kinds of data Google finds on the web. If you have a local, branded or personal panel, you might be able to influence what Google shows in the panel. Here, we’ll explain how.

What is a Knowledge Panel?

Knowledge Panels are a type of rich results in Google’s search results pages. They can show information about all kinds of things: businesses, people, animals, countries or plants, for instance. Such a panel appears on the right side of your screen in the desktop search results. It shows details on the particular entity you’re searching for. What you see in this panel is powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph.

example knowledge graph panel
An example of a knowledge panel

Why should we care about Knowledge Panels?

If you want to be found for search terms like your name, brand or business name, a Knowledge Panel is really useful! If Google decides to show you or your business in this panel, you pretty much dominate the search results on the right side of the screen in desktop search. In mobile, the panel will appear between other results but is pretty dominant as well.

A Knowledge Panel will, therefore, make sure your company or brand will stand out in the search results when people are specifically searching for it. That’ll give you lots and lots of clicks. This does make sense: if people are searching for you or your brand name, they probably want to find your website. So Google’s providing them with the best result.

How do you get a Knowledge Panel for your business?

As with all types of search results, Google will decide whether or not it’ll show a knowledge panel in the search results. If you’re a local business, you can do some things to increase your chances to rank with a knowledge panel. For the branded and personal panels, it is much harder to obtain such a knowledge panel.

Local panels

If you want a chance of Google displaying a local panel for your business, the first step is to open a Google My Business account. You’ll then be able to verify that you are the owner of your business. After that, you can add or edit all relevant information about your business, such as address information, opening hours and photos.

What also helps, is to verify your site with Google Search Console and to add structured data markup for businesses, as our Local SEO plugin does.

In the end, Google will decide whether or not to show a Knowledge Panel. Relevance, distance, and the prominence of the business are all important aspects for Google in determining if it’ll show one Making sure your website is working well and on a high-authority domain could enhance your chances.

Read more: Improve your local SEO with Google My Business »

Branded/personal panels

It’s not possible to apply for a branded or personal panel. Google will decide whether you or your brand is worthy of a Knowledge Panel. If you or your brand have enough authority, a panel will appear. Brands and people who are well-known and have, for instance, Wikipedia pages, often have Knowledge Panels as well.

For Yoast, we do have a Knowledge Panel. Joost de Valk also has a personal panel and since a while, as you can see, I have one too!

My own personal knowledge panel!

There are ways to increase your chances of getting in, as discussed in this webinar with a.o. Jason Barnard, but it will take lots of time and effort and success isn’t guaranteed, unfortunately.

Yoast SEO and the Google Knowledge Panel

As of our 11.0 release, Yoast SEO outputs a complete Structured data graph for the pages on your website. Structured data offers Google information about you, your business and your website in a way that’s understandable for machines and therefore it’s a great help for Google’s Knowledge Graph.

By doing so, Yoast SEO’s structured data graph helps Google’s Knowledge Graph connect the dots. This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get a panel, but you’ll offer the data for the panel in the best possible way.

In Yoast SEO, you can also add your social profile information. Yoast SEO will use this data to output the correct Schema markup. This means that, if you get a panel, the right social profiles are shown.

How to verify your panel?

If you have a personal Knowledge Panel, make sure to verify it. Verifying is not all that hard. Follow the steps Google has outlined for you in this article. You need to log in to your Google account and sign in to one of your official sites or profiles to get verification for your business. Once verified, you’ll be able to suggest changes in the panel to influence what it looks like.

Conclusion on Google’s Knowledge Panel

Knowledge Panels are a great asset to have in the search results. For local panels, you should make sure you’re doing everything you can to get one. For branded or personal panels, it is much harder to influence your chances of getting one. It all depends on your level of authority, and that’s something that probably won’t be fixed overnight.

Keep reading: What is Google’s Knowledge Graph »

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Favicons and your online brand: Make sure you stand out!

Favicons are those little icons you see in your browser tabs. When you have lots of open tabs in your browser it helps you recognize and find the page you were looking for. They are important for your branding, even more so, because Google recently decided to add them to the mobile search results. So, let’s take a closer look at those little icons and your branding here!

What is a favicon?

Not too long ago, you would only see those little icons, called favicons, in your browser tabs:

Which would help you find the tab you need when you had many open tabs in your browser. But, for some time now, Google shows them in their mobile search results too:

favicon mobile search results

Did you know that, as of Yoast SEO 12.1, you’re able to see your site’s favicon in Yoast SEO’s mobile snippet preview too?

If your favicon represents a trustworthy brand, it can help people recognize your brand through this little icon, thereby boosting the click-through rate to your site. After all, a picture says more than a thousand words!

Make it stand out

You should make sure your favicon stands out, whether it’s from that long list of tabs or the search results. Check if it matches your logo and website well. Especially, when you are not one of the big brands, you want people to recognize this little icon. Two tips directly related to that are:

  • Avoid too many details in your favicon;
  • Please use the right colors, so the favicon doesn’t blend in with the gray of your browser tab.

Both are closely related to branding. Your brand should be recognizable in your favicon. Proper branding is making sure people will relate your favicon to your website immediately.

As to which format and size to use for your favicon you best stick to Google’s guidelines. This is what they recommend:

Your favicon should be a multiple of 48px square, for example: 48x48px, 96x96px, 144x144px and so on. SVG files, of course, do not have a specific size. Any valid favicon format is supported. Google will rescale your image to 16x16px for use in search results, so make sure that it looks good at that resolution. Note: do not provide a 16x16px favicon.

An SEO benefit?

Are there real SEO benefits to favicons? Well, the advantage of these icons certainly became bigger now they’re present in the mobile search results. While adding a favicon won’t make your page rank higher directly, it might increase the click-through rate to your page, when it is shown next to your URL in the search results. But, beware: this only works if your favicon is associated with a positive feeling regarding your brand or website. In practice, this means you should invest time in holistic SEO: making your website (and product/service) awesome in every way!

Favicons in WordPress

If you use WordPress, you might already know that there’s been a favicon functionality in WordPress core ever since version 4.3. So you can use this default functionality, without hassle. It’s located in the Customizer and is called Site Icon. Here, you can read how to change your site’s favicon in WordPress, step by step.

Final note: when you upload your icon, don’t forget to optimize the image, so it won’t slow down your site :)

Read more: 5 tips on branding »

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Ultimate guide to small business SEO

SEO isn’t just for big businesses. As a small company or a local business, there is actually a lot you can do yourself to get good results from search. This ultimate guide for local and small business SEO will help you get the most out of search by finding your niche, optimizing your pages and using social media.

As local SEO is basically about optimizing for local search engine results, it’s fair to say that local SEO and small business SEO are closely related, which is why we’ll cover both in this article.

We’ll discuss a variety of related topics in this article:

As long as Google’s local search result pages continue to grow and improve, we’ll never be done with this subject. In the meantime, here’s our ultimate guide to local and small business SEO. But first, let’s start with an update on local SEO and the Coronavirus pandemic.

Local SEO and COVID-19 a.k.a. the Coronavirus

2020 turns out to be quite the year. The Coronavirus pandemic is changing the world. Many local businesses have trouble keeping their heads above water while struggling with an audience that hasn’t come outside for a while. Even if everyone is allowed outside and do their thing, the behavior has changed. Priorities will change, which means some businesses will profit while others will falter. As a local business, you have to keep your ear to the ground to find out what your customers want and need. Maybe you need to pivot or find new ways of getting your products to your audience.

Even if businesses will be allowed to reopen, chances are consumers will be cautious. On the other hand, e-commerce is soaring. For many businesses, now is the time to focus on getting online. It will be some time before everything goes back to normal, if ever. So, it’s best to find out what your customer needs right now and try to fulfill that demand. Many sites offer free data that helps you get insights into what’s happening, like Google’s Rising Retail Categories site or Microsoft’s COVID-19 Insights.

For now, the least you can do is to keep your online business details up to date. Make sure that your data is correct and make use of the various Coronavirus tools search engines provide to help searchers find the most up to date information on your business. So, update your Google My Business, use the Posts feature to add additional information and add COVID-19 structured data if necessary. Google has guidance for businesses coping with COVID-19. Plus, Google also lets you add support links — like asking for donations or selling gift cards — to your Business Profile.

We have a couple of posts that can help you find your footing as a local business during this pandemic:

To help you learn SEO to get the most out of your site during this difficult time, we’ve made our All-around SEO course free (a $199 value!). Enroll now and start improving your site!

The three pillars of local SEO: proximity, prominence and relevance

Ranking locally, means you have to keep three things in mind. Proximity, prominence and relevance are the factors that determine if your business should appear at the top of the local SERPs for a specific search term.

  • To determine proximity, search engines have different means to find out where the searcher is, mostly based on zip codes and/or geo-coordinates.
  • Prominence is all about trying to find out how well-known your business. To determine this, search engines look at a variety of sources available on the web like links, reviews and citations.
  • Relevance is the third local SEO factor. Here, search engines look at how well a local company matches what a user is searching for. To be relevant, you don’t simply fill out and update your Google My Business account, as Google specifically mentions that it also factors in your rankings in the regular search results, so it is a good idea to work on your SEO in general.

More background on how local SEO works

A couple of years ago, an expert on local SEO called David Mihm wrote an epic eight-part series on local SEO. Today, while not brand-new, these posts still provide a solid overview of how local SEO functions and what you can do to influence it. Please read these and report back.

Curious what local results look like worldwide? Try Valentin.app. This web app gives you localized Google results without the hassle.

  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

Your site, our Local plugin SEO + My Business

To rank locally with your small business, you need to have a couple of things in order. You’ll often hear us talk about how essential Google My Business is for local businesses. But that’s not all. One of the most important things is having a great, SEO-friendly website that describes what you do, why people should use your business and why they should trust you. The website should support your brand and have content in your tone of voice, written in words your potential customers search for. Your website should be technically great, offer a great user experience, and work properly on mobile. Of course, it should be secure thanks to HTTPS and load quickly thanks to speed optimizations.

As you know, Yoast SEO helps you get your site ready for search engines. Not only that, but it also helps you create awesome content that’s bound to attract customers. Yoast SEO even builds a full structured data graph for you, based on what you’ve filled in. Search engines use this to determine who you are and to make connections to other parts of the web. All these factors help to make your site a great fit. However, there’s more you can do.

As a local business working on local SEO, it is very important to align all the different platforms you operate on. Search engines will check and double-check your details to make sure that you say who you are and that you say what you do. In case of a local business, details like addresses, phone numbers, geo-coordinates, opening hours et cetera, should be correct at all times. You should even present these details in localBusiness structured data, added to your site.

Local business Schema.org structured data incredibly important. It is one of the most important ways for search engines to read what your site is about, so they use it to verify all your other outlets. In the past, adding valid structured data was a chore, but not anymore. Thanks to the Yoast SEO structured data framework, you can be well on your way to a full graph. The missing piece in this puzzle is our Local SEO plugin. This easy to use plugin is aimed at local businesses who want to manage their details without thinking about it. It even lets you build a complete and beautiful About Us page for your business, with all the details you want — including a nice Google map. In the background, the Local SEO plugin will automatically add the necessary Schema.org localBusiness structured data that Google loves so much.

If you run a WooCommerce online store, you’ll be please to hear that our Yoast SEO for WooCommerce plugin is another great help. This is an essential addition if you want to arrange a local pick up for your orders, among other things.

Combine Yoast SEO and the Local SEO plugin and you are well on your way to stardom

Finding your niche

Alright, there’s more you can do to make your business stand out. Determining your niche is vital for local or small businesses. When you know your niche, you can emphasize what makes your brand or products unique, therefore improving your chances to rank well for them. If you have a clear niche, you can compete locally with large national brands – despite their multi-million dollar advertising budgets.

Find out who your customers are and which words they use to describe your product or service because people will use the same terms to find your website. These terms can really help you optimize your local business SEO when you turn them into long-tail keywords and these keywords should be as specific as possible. Once you’ve done all of this, remember to regularly assess your niche as it evolves with the growth of your company.

Low budget branding

We have talked about this time and again: branding is very important for SEO. Branding means stuff like your logo and tagline. Do they represent your company without further explanation? What do your logo and tagline reveal about your values and your field of expertise? It’s all about recognition. You can work on your branding without investing a lot of dollars. Yes, low-budget branding is a thing.

Read more: Low budget branding tips for small businesses »

Here’s a tip for branding: share your expertise! You can do that in blog posts and on social media. We’ll talk more about this later on.

Start writing great content

Your small business SEO will get a significant boost from the right content. Too many small business owners just put their products and contact details on their website and leave it at that. But there is so much more to tell and share!

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

When writing your content, be realistic about the chances of getting that content to rank in search. If you are in a highly competitive market, content works very well as a marketing tool and as input for social media, but it probably won’t get you that number one spot in Google, and that’s OK. Manage your expectations.

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

Keep reading: Improve your small business SEO today »

Share your content on social media

While you can actually sell your products on social media platforms, in most cases we recommend using social media for brand awareness or to lead potential customers to your website for a sale. Using social media as a small business is all about promoting your brand, your company, and your products to establish your image and to get the right traffic to your company website. When used in this way, social media can really help small business SEO.

I like to compare social media to a market where all the stall owners know each other and customers browse the products. At some point, someone will tell other visitors where to go to for a product: “The cheese over there is delicious”, “you should really check out the fruit over there”, that kind of thing. So make sure people start talking about you. And start talking about yourself online, to make others start talking to you on social platforms. Lastly, actively engage in social media conversations, to let people know you are listening. Learn how to use social media to increase your sales.

Local ranking factors that help your small business SEO

There are many things that influence your local rankings, but there is one very obvious one: your address details or NAP, which stands for Name, Address, Phone number. Be sure to add these in the correct formatting (in code), using Schema.org details, as mentioned earlier. You now that our Local SEO plugin can help you do that easily. As well as this, it may help to add your city, and perhaps your state, in the title of your pages for easier recognition as well.

Also, if you want to start optimizing your website in order to rank better, but you are not sure where to start, you might want to have a look at our new, free SEO course for beginners!

Google My Business

Make sure you use the exact same NAP details on both your website and your Google My Business listing and include your website link to your listing too. This is the only way for Google to understand the relationship between them. Add these details — for example in your footer — and of course, on your contact page. Google My Business really is your friend if you want to rank in your specific geographical area, so get your details right! Not only that, but the tool also gives you an enormous amount of options to manage and improve your listings.

Add ratings and reviews

Google My Business, like Facebook, allows others to leave a review of your company. If your company has a good rating, people will be more likely to click through to your website from either of these two platforms. Make sure you monitor and maintain these reviews.

If you get a negative review for any reason, react by responding and solving your customer’s problem. Then, once you have, ask them to change their review afterward. In other words, turn that dissatisfied customer into a brand ambassador!

It’s easy to make use of these reviews and ratings. If you need some tips, find out more in this article:

Read on: Get local reviews and ratings »

Links from related small businesses

Social ‘proof’, like the ratings and reviews mentioned above, should be backed up with a few links from relevant sites. Getting links to your business site is still an important part of local SEO. You should work hard to get mentions or citations of your business on other sites. How and where you do that, differs in every industry, but these include Yelp, Bing Places, Yahoo! Local, Apple Maps, among many other sites and services. Moz has a handy tool that checks your online presence.

You should get a listing on these sites, for the obvious reason that this means you also get a link to your website. If you can get some links from other related local websites, that will also help your site’s findability. Note that links from other local websites should be from sites that are in a related profession. It’s of no use to have your bakery website linked from an accountant’s website.

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

Near me searches

When talking about local rankings, we also have to mention near me searches. These are searches and search suggestions that include words like “near me”, “closest”, “open” and “nearby”. Optimizing for these searches is similar to optimizing for local, but applies for global brands as well (“buy Lego near me”). So you’ll have to think outside the box — there’s probably more to optimize for. Google really focuses on search terms like these, as you can read in our post on Google’s Possum update.

In conclusion

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

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

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

The post Ultimate guide to small business SEO appeared first on Yoast.

Domain names and their influence on SEO

We often get questions from people asking about the influence of domain names on SEO. Is there any relation at all? Does it help to include keywords like product names in your domain name? Is the influence of domain names different per location? And what’s the use of using more than one domain name for a site? In this article, I’ll answer all these questions and more.

What’s a domain name?

Let’s start at the very beginning. A domain name is an alias. It’s a convenient way to point people to that specific spot on the internet where you’ve built your website. Domain names are, generally, used to identify one or more IP addresses. So for us, that domain name is yoast.com. When we are talking about www.yoast.com, which we rarely do, the domain name is yoast.com and the subdomain is www.

Note that I deliberately included “.com” here, were others might disagree with that. In my opinion, most common uses of the word “domain name” include that top-level domain. 

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Top-level domain (TLD)

Where “yoast” is obviously our brand, the .com bit of our domain name is called TLD (or top-level domain). In the early days of the internet:

  • .com was intended for US companies,
  • .org for non-profit organizations,
  • .edu for schools and universities and
  • .gov for government websites.

We’re talking 1985. Things have changed quite a bit. For the Netherlands, we use .nl, but lots of companies are using .com instead, for instance, when the .nl domain name they wanted was already taken. Things have gotten quite blurry. These days, TLDs like .guru and .pro are available. Automattic bought .blog a while back. And what about .pizza? We call these kind of TLDs generic TLDs.

Country code TLD (ccTLD)

I’ve already mentioned the .nl TLD. We call these kinds of TLDs country code or country specific TLDs. Years ago, Tokelau – an island in the Southern Pacific Ocean – started giving away their .tk TLD for free, and thousands of enthusiasts claimed their .tk. If I would have claimed michiel.tk, there would have probably been nobody in Tokelau who could have pronounced my domain name well. It’s like .cc, which you might have heard of, because it was once promoted as the alternative to .com. It’s actually a country specific TLD belonging to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, although the people of Cypres might disagree.

This brings me to the first statement about domain names and SEO:

ccTLD or subdirectory?

If your website is available in multiple languages, you might be wondering what the best solution is: domain.com/uk/ and domain.com/de/ (subdirectories or subfolders) or domain.co.uk and domain.de (ccTLDs).

For SEO, the subdirectory makes more sense. If you use a subdirectory, all links will go to the same domain. Marketing is easy because you have one main domain. If there are language differences per subdirectory, use hreflang to tell Google about that. If you include all in one (WordPress) install, maintenance is easier. Just to name a few advantages.

Note that a subdomain, like the “www” I mentioned, is something totally different than a subdirectory. Google actually considers kb.yoast.com to be a different website than yoast.com, even though I’m sure they can connect the dots.

Age of a domain

These days, the age of a domain – referring to how long your domain already exists – doesn’t matter as much as it did before. It’s much more about the content, the site structure and basically how well your website answers the query people used in Google. To become the best result and rank top 3 for a query, you’ll have to be the best result.

As a matter of fact, John Mueller of Google confirmed just a few weeks ago that domain age doesn’t matter:

Is it that black and white? No, it’s not. Domain age as such might not influence ranking, but older domains probably have a nice amount of backlinks, pages in the search result pages etc. And obviously, that might influence ranking.

Exact Match Domain (EMD)

BuyCheapHomes.com is probably an existing domain name. This is an example of an Exact Match Domain name. In 2012, Google introduced what we now call the EMD Update. Google changed it’s algorithm, so websites that used domain names like that wouldn’t rank just for the simple fact that the keyword was in the domain name. And yes, that used to be the case, before the update.

So, after this update, does it still pay off to use a domain name that includes a keyword? Only if the rest of your website adds up. Homes.com works pretty well :) And in the Netherlands, the Dutch equivalent of cheaploans.com, goedkopeleningen.nl, probably gets a decent amount of traffic. But that’s because Google is better in English than Dutch (but catching up on that).

My advice: if you managed to build a brand around that EMD, and you still get lots of traffic, keep up the good work. If your money is still on BuyCheapHomes, please make sure your branding is absolutely top notch. You’re in the hen house and a fox might be near.

More on EMD in Moz’s The Exact Match Domain Playbook: A Guide and Best Practices for EMDs.

Branding

Following the EMD update, branding became even more important. It makes so much more sense to focus on your brand in SEO and your domain name – as opposed to just putting a keyword in the domain name – that a brand name would really be my first choice for a domain name. LEGO.com, Amazon.com, Google.com. It’s all about the brand. It’s something people will remember easily and something that will make you stand out from the crowd and competition. Your brand is here to stay (always look on the positive side of things).

Make sure your brand is unique and the right domain name is available when starting a new business. By the way, this might be the reason to claim yoast.de even if you’re mainly using yoast.com – just to make sure no one else claims it ;)

By the way, I mentioned that a (known) brand is usually easier to remember. For the same reason, I’d prefer a short domain name over a domain name like this. Pi.com was probably already taken.

Read more: ‘5 tips on branding’ »

More than one domain name for the same website

Does it pay off to claim multiple domain names and 301 redirect all the domains to the main domain name? In terms of branding: no. In terms of online ranking: probably not. The only valid reason I can think of to actively use multiple domain names for the same website, is offline and sometimes online marketing. If you have a specific project or campaign on your website that you’d like to promote separately, a second domain name might come in handy to get traffic straight to the right page on your website.

“Actively” is the main word in that last paragraph. As mentioned, feel free to register multiple domain names, just make sure not to confuse Google. Besides that, actively using multiple domain names for the same website will diffuse the links to your website. And that isn’t what you want, as mentioned at the subdirectory section as well. 

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Domain Authority (DA)

I feel I have to mention domain authority here as well, as you hear a lot about it nowadays. Domain Authority is a score that predicts how well your website will rank on the search results pages. It’s based on data from the Mozscape web index and includes link counts, MozRank and MozTrust scores, and dozens of other factors (more than 40 in total). Source: Moz.com. It’s Moz-specific, so if you are using Moz, go check it out. And if you are a heavy user of domain authority, please elaborate why in the comments, as it’s not a metric I use, to be honest :)

Keep reading: ‘SEO friendly URLs’ »

Ask Yoast: Give a division a separate domain?

A website of a larger company often represents multiple divisions. If one division outgrows the others, or if expectations for one division are very high, the need for a separate website or domain may arise. What’s best to do for SEO in such a case? Set up a new domain for that division? Or build it on a sub-domain? In this Ask Yoast, we help you determine the best solution in case a division wants its own website.

Brooke Brown of smartbridge.com emailed us with this question:

“One division of our company is getting more presence, so they want to build that division its own website. What’s the best option?

1. Build it on a new domain like smartbridgemobility.com;
2. Build it on a totally separate domain;
3. Build it on a sub-domain like mobility.smartbridge.com.”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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Division on separate domain

In the video, we help you decide what’s best for SEO if you want to give a division a separate website:

“Well Brooke, first of all I consider myself pretty good at branding and if your brand “Smartbridge” is strong, I would consider doing something much simpler. I would make it smartbridge.com/mobility. Give it its own look and feel, but keep it on one domain.

If you don’t want to do that, but you want to separate the two, then I would give it an entire brand for itself. Because that probably is best in the long run to sell or whatever you want to do with it. I’m not a big fan of sub-domains because they lead, or can lead, to all sorts of technical issues. And they’re a bit of nothing really. It’s not its own brand, it’s far too attached to your main domain.

So I would probably choose a sub-folder and if you can’t do that I would choose a completely different brand. Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to [email protected].

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

SEO basics: What is content marketing?

Content marketing consists of all marketing activities that focus on creating and sharing information. It should be part of every SEO strategy, but it’s also crucial for branding. The idea of content marketing is that sharing valuable information is a great way to attract an audience and to build a brand. Blogging is one of the most well-known ways of content marketing. In this post, I’ll explain what content marketing is, why content marketing is important for SEO and how you should set up a content marketing strategy.

What is content marketing?

Sharing valuable information for free is the very essence of content marketing. Your audience will benefit from the information and will perceive you and your company as experts in a particular field. In the end, your expertise will be the reason why people will buy your products or services.

At Yoast, content marketing is one of the main things we do. We share our knowledge. We write about SEO on our blog and share this on Social Media and in our newsletter. And although it might feel contradictory, giving away our knowledge has a very positive effect on the sales of our eBooks and courses. Our audience perceive us as experts (probably through all the blog post we write) and are willing to pay money to get more of that knowledge.

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Why is content marketing important for SEO?

Writing content is a key aspect of Search Engine Optimization. Google reads your text, indexes the text and ranks it. If you do your content marketing correctly, you will write a lot of copy related to the terms your audience is searching for. Your website will pop up more and more often, as you write more blog posts. Overall, your rankings will go up, when you start doing content marketing. And, all of these new visitors are potential buyers. So, in addition to increasing the traffic, content marketing could increase your sales as well.

How do you set up a content marketing strategy?

Make sure to think about cornerstone content when you are setting up a new content marketing strategy. You should have about 4 or 5 articles that are invaluable to you, your company and your audience. These articles should be informative posts or pages. When you have written these articles (and of course, you can add stuff and change them over time!), you should write tons of other blog post about topics similar to these cornerstone articles. Make sure though, you write each of these new blogpost from another angle or about another subtopic. And don’t forget to link to your cornerstone articles from these blogposts.

Read more: ‘What type of content should a cornerstone article be?’ »

Low-budget branding for small businesses

Over the years, we’ve written quite a few articles about branding. Branding is about getting people to relate to your company and products. It’s also about trying to make your brand synonymous with a certain product or service. This can be a lengthy and hard project. It can potentially cost you all of your revenue. It’s no wonder that branding is often associated with investing lots of money in marketing and promotion. However, for a lot of small business owners, the investment in branding will have to be made with a relatively small budget — especially during a crisis. 

You might be a local bakery with 10 employees, or a local industrial company employing up to 500 people. These all can be qualified as ‘small business’. All have the same main goal when they start: the need to establish a name in their field of expertise. There are multiple ways to do this, without a huge budget. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on how to go about your own low-budget branding.

Define and communicate brand values

Branding with a limited budget starts with defining your company’s and your brand’s values. You need to think about what you, as a brand, want to communicate to the world. Doing this yourself won’t cost you, provided you are capable of doing this yourself. In fact, it’s a pretty hard task, when you think of it. It’s about your mission, the things that make your brand into your brand. Brand values relate to Cialdini’s seventh principle, Unity.

My favorite example illustrating unity: outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face, which make you feel included in their business ‘family’. “We are all alike, share the same values.” By being able to relate to these brands and their values, we are more enticed to buy their products. It’s a brand for us, outdoor people.

Take some time to define your brand values. That way, you’re able to communicate your main message in a clear and consistent way. It makes your marketing all the easier. You’ll be able to create brand ambassadors, even on a budget.

Come up with a proper tagline

Once you have defined your brand values, it’s time to summarize them all into one single tagline. For example, WordPress’ mission is to “democratize publishing“. In your tagline, you formulate your values and make sure your added value for the customer, user or visitor is also reflected. Again, be consistent. If you set a tagline, your actions and products should relate to that tagline, actually, even be based upon it. It summarizes your business.

Rethink your logo

Having a great logo is essential. When designing that logo, you’ll have to keep in mind that it’s probably something you’ll have for years. It’s the main thing – besides yourself – that will trigger (brand) recognition. It’s not that you can never change your logo, but don’t ‘just’ add a logo. Think about how it stands out from other logos, for instance on a local sponsor board.

Design that logo, print it, stick it on your fridge for a week or so, and see if there’s anything about it that starts to annoy you. If so, it’s back to the drawing board. Feel like you don’t relate to it in terms of business values or even personality? Back to the drawing board. When talking about low-budget branding, designing a great logo is probably your most expensive task.

Online low-budget branding

The online world is a great place to work on your low-budget branding. You need to establish a name in your field of expertise, and the surplus of social media can facilitate that by giving you a free platform.

Social media

I do a lot of local networking, because I really like the city we live in, and the huge variety of entrepreneurs that work in our hometown Wijchen. During network meetings, one of the phrases I often hear is: “Social media just takes me too much time”. To be honest, it might be wise to change your mindset about the costs and start seeing the revenue social media can bring you. It really is the easiest and probably one of the cheapest ways to promote your brand. Basically, the only cost is time investment (depending on how aggressively you want to use the medium). It may take a while before you find a strategy and/or platform that works, so give it some time and don’t just throw in the towel!

Read more: Social media for small business owners »

Share your expertise

You can use Twitter to stay in touch with like-minded business owners. Discover the huge number of Facebook groups in your area, and/or in your field of expertise. Bond with people that share the same values. Feel free to answer questions in your field of business and do this with confidence. Position yourself as the go-to company for these questions. Help people that way and create brand ambassadors. You really have to put some effort into establishing your position. It won’t happen overnight.

A bit of an extreme example: before Yoast became a business, Joost was already sharing content/expertise and our open source software. He engaged actively in forum and social media discussions about WordPress and SEO. Commenting on other people’s blogs. Time before revenue: 8 years. I’m not saying you need to wait eight years before making money with your passion. But I do think that you should be able to write, comment and take a stand in topics that matter to you from the start.

Make yourself visible

Eventually, it all comes back to business values. Everything you communicate should reflect these values. It’ll give you guidelines and will make sure your message is delivered in the same way, always. Low-budget branding is about just that: making yourself visible, in a consistent way.

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to small business SEO »

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