Understanding Local Business SEO and Marketing with Google
If the words are not on the page then you are unlikely to rank
Fact is that for many local businesses serving local communities today, they just aren’t going to (nor should they) rank globally or nationally for singular business keywords like “Plumber” or “Electrician” or “insert common service”.
If they did, the SERPs would be a little useless.
It’s one of the reasons why we get personalised and localised results. Results returned based on where we are searching from, returning (in theory) results from those localities serving that marketplace.
For local businesses looking to play, their route to market online is a mix of advertising or being listed in local directories that rank, or paying for PPC or social media ads to raise awareness.
There’s a tiered ecosystem in place – and the SERPs (search engine results pages) are structured to maximise return for Google and the players who make it to the top.
If we look at this SERP for “electricians” we will see that at the top above the fold so to speak, we have ads. Google ads, that look a little like organic results but to the trained eye are just ads.
Paid Inclusion Local Organic SERP
These ads are paid for by companies (usually not direct service suppliers) who act as lead generation vehicles offering placement via a combination of CPL (cost per lead), CPA (cost per acquisition) or straight up paid inclusion ( pay a joining or monthly fee).
Local trades people seldom (if ever appear in these ads) simply because the CPC’s are often out of their price band. They just fail to see the value in paying £2 or £3 per click for an unknown quantity. Many have websites that are years behind the curve in terms of layout or ability to convert and track the sale and for a lot of them, the whole Internet marketing gig is just headache inducing.
Local Pack – The Carousel of Hope
Businesses do get an opportunity to appear in the ‘local pack’ as it’s known, but these are limited and often randomised to show whoever the algorithm at the time deemed worthy. In areas of high concentrations of competing businesses and population, those chances to be seen are ever diminished.
The “Organic” SERP
Here’s the stuff that appears below the fold and the local pack SERP for “Electrician in Folkestone”.
Full of directory type websites.
Few local businesses appear here, and the two that do is made up of the savvy guy who bought a decent domain name, and another who uses rich snippets generated by a * hubspot local page product.
* Golly gee, they even get the privilege of being able to link back to the people they paid for the local SEO service too, so no footprint there…
The Aggregators Are The Innovators
In short, the aggregators are winning and the small guy isn’t and despite Google’s efforts to half heartedly level the playing field, the fact is that for most local businesses looking to appear in search, they need to work real hard to win and pay a small fortune for the opportunity.
Factors like a local address, postcode and phone number on a webpage help (I’ve seen local websites appear organically for some local queries whereby they had local info on the page) but for the most part, they simply aren’t set up to target their local areas effectively, they lack the authority, and most crucially lack the landing pages.
Take a pretty dominant site like this for example. Look at the query for site:www.checkatrade.com/Search/Electrician/in/ and we’ll see that Google lists around 2050 urls
All of their pages are listed with local business who pay to be included. Including a map and a list of services. Premium spots appear to exist upon some of the pages and… in essence, it’s a search engine within a search engine for local results with reviews.
Just like a Yell, a ThomsonLocal or whatever other local directory type service you care to mention.
I guess you could say it’s a great business model for Google and lucrative for the aggregators but not such a great deal for the local businesses with services to offer who are having to pay. This then drives up costs for consumers as businesses seek to turn a profit.
CPC’s north of £5 per click – 1000’s of monthly searches for variants of Electrician in London (postcodes boroughs etc) for example, it soon adds up and there’s money on the table.
Arguably you could also say it’s a good deal for the searcher as they get to see grouped listings with reviews, and social proof scores and what not. However, that’s not to say that today in 2016 small business owners can’t or shouldn’t be doing the same.
What should a small local business do?
If they can’t get passionate about their business online and talk to their customer base, and interested parties then they’re missing a trick and can’t really complain when their competitors are suddenly everywhere.
If site owners made more of an effort to be strategic in what they do, then they too could begin to rank for queries like these through creating content that was more tightly focused on their areas of service. Some do already, but a lot don’t and that contributes to the reason why they end up paying third parties to be listed, who then drive leads via PPC or other channels.
If only these businesses took the time to build out some localised content that contained the words that people search for, then perhaps they too could begin to compete. (Really!!)
It’s one of the reasons I put this landing page tool together, a tool that enables people to build specific localised landing pages based on their own web templates and the ability to then create landing pages for very specific localities.
It’s no panacea; people still need to put the effort into what they do.
More effort equals more reward is still a truism, nothing new there but it is a time saver, it does give people a little more focus and subject to HTML chops is a handy way of creating content that’s useful for PPC , social media marketing and local SEO campaigns.
Ok end of advert – fact is, some small businesses could do a whole lot better in the SERPs, if only they made the effort.
Standout SEO Advice For People Like You
Ok, so you have your web domain. It’s hosted on a fast platform and you have a cool funky site, great! Now what?
The Google of today looks at many aspects of a domain when deciding how to rank it.
Page Speed is Important
Make sure that your content loads fast and use a tool to assess this. If it isn’t, then make it so, through on page changes and solid hosting.
Mobile Friendly and Useable Across Devices
Make sure that your content renders across devices in ways that users will find useful and useable. Use the mobile friendly page tester to ensure that your site meets the requirements. Strongly consider looking at an AMP (accelerated mobile page) version of your site and seize the opportunities that this presents.
In addition to page speed and user experience, being relevant to the query is the biggest factor in its decisions I could get super granular and break it down further but confusion isn’t the aim.
Being Relevant to the Query
Well duh, who’d have thought that people will actually want to see stuff that’s related to what they searched for! So how does it all work?
In short, you could break it down in to two distinct camps. What you show on the page and what happens off the page.
What you show on the page is…Onsite SEO
When you create a piece of content that you are looking to rank in Google or Bing, you should (in most cases) be in the habit of researching your subject and ensuring that you have an audience that actually searches for what it is you are about to write. You should do this via keyword research, using a tool like Google Adword’s keyword planner. You can get an idea for what it is that people search for, in what volume and where, along with related phrases that you can weave in to your copy.
Research your intended audience
Keyword volumes are a handy way of gauging the potential traffic you’ll receive and enable you to make better investment decisions around the products you are looking to sell or the ideas you are looking to promote. They are the corner-stone to success, as without them, you are shooting at fish in a pond in the dark, and why would you want to do that?
Assess the competition and be realistic
You also need to gauge the likelihood of success – To quote an extreme example, there’s little point in being Joe Bloggs the insurance agent on main street and seriously expecting to be able to rank for ‘car insurance’ simply because the level of competition for such phrases is insane and is targeted by multi nationals with weekly budgets larger than the probably value of your entire business. So take a considered view on what it is you aspire to and be creative in how you are going to target it.
You might have a particular angle for your locality perhaps and you might well have enough local understanding of issues and the landscape to get your content picked up by local news outlets or shared on social media which may then appear in Google in related tweets.
Look at people who you consider to be the competition in your space, see what they rank for, look at the type of content they create, note who shares it, take notes and emulate the best aspects of their strategy, dig deep and see what applies to you.
Put the right pieces in the markup at the right places
The code that outputs your pages is often referred to as mark up – mark up encompasses a multitude of html tags that are interpreted by the browser to display your content and informs the way in which Google and Bing and other properties may output their search results.
If we think of document relevancy and how search engines decide what is and what isn’t relevant we find that some html tags have more weight than others and that the placement and incidences of words throughout them can have a substantial bearing on how relevancy is interpreted.
In the <head> of your documents. ensure that your page contain your aspired to key phrases and ensure that yourdo the same.
In the <body> of your content use <h#> headings to head up your copy with headings that work closely with your target key phrase aspirations and ensure that what you write in your copy also contains mentions of your target phrase, along with semantic variants where possible. Write naturally, don’t force it, and don’t ‘keyword mention’ spam.
Some folk will talk of italicizing certain words, or bolding certain phrases. Others talk of using different font sizes to tell the search engines that some words are more important than others. Like most things, there are sensible things you should do and things that you shouldn’t. If it feels right to play with font sizes to make things stand out, then do so, but don’t expect any direct search benefit as a result.
If you look at how many standard content pieces are written, you’ll pretty much see that most ranking documents use a wide range of methods for displaying what they say. Don’t waste your time trying to reverse engineer some secret sauce, because it doesn’t exist. Just write for your users and pepper your content with a liberal dose of words that make sense to your reader, reinforcing the core of what it is all about.
You can read more about how to position your page content here, from Google itself.
Create keyword relevant urls
Make sure that the urls you create contain your target key phrases – this might be achieved via /filename-with-keyword-phrase-alone.html or use a directory type /key-phrase/related-branch.html approach. It doesn’t really matter which, but it’s important that you use one or the other as to not include the core aspect of your target phrase may well hamper your ability to rank for your aspiration.
Through using keyword rich URL’s you not only give your users a good indication what the page is about should the link be shared in an email, but you may also increase the incidence of keyword diversity when such links are shared as urls.
Use hyphens as a separator, not underscores, partly because that’s what Google used to advise (some Googlers say it doesn’t matter anymore) but also because if shared as hyper links, the underscores can be missed and can create confusion in type in scenarios, whereas hyphens are clear and unambiguous.
They also appear in the search engine results page and act as a re-enforcement in the users mind when submitting their query. Google often emboldens words that match the query, so it’s a good thing to do.
Use a logical navigation structure on your domain with useful anchor text
Make sure that your users will have some insight in to the pages that they are clicking through to.
Don’t use words like product 1 or service 2, be specific, in your menus and site navigation be sure to think about the types of things that users search for and inject these into your structures.
Use solid tried and tested practices that users like and reinforce these throughout.
Consider the use of bread crumb trails to enable the user to see where they are in their journey and reinforce the message to both people who read it and the bots that will spider and index your content.
Is infinitely better than nothing or something that was devoid of links or product/service mentions. Shows your users where they are, adding context and meaning.
Think about how you name your files and images
Similar to using target key phrases in your URLs, you should also consider how you use and name imagery or files within your content. An image named image1.gif isn’t very useful to bots or people, whereas descriptive-file-name.gif is. This will increase the likelihood of your images appearing in image search and may also have a direct ranking benefit too.
Images should also contain descriptive alt attributes and it certainly doesn’t hurt to use the title attribute too. Be sure to be sensible avoiding the urge to be spammy or ridiculous.
For the more technically adept there’s of course a whole host of other considerations to be had too which will enhance how your content appears across search and other platforms.
Ever wonder how some results in the SERP (search engine results page) have stand out extra graphical elements? These are commonly referred to as rich snippets. Here’s an example of them in action.
Rich Snippet Mark Up
Rich snippets are pieces of code that often generate enhanced search displays, making your content more visible to your target audience. They do this through the use of structured data standard called schema.org microdata. There are a range of different types:
To quote one example, “events” are often seen in the SERPs, and they might look a little like this. We can produce an example of a fictional event, showing both the markup and the visual representation.
The guys at verve search have an excellent run down of the considerations involved so do check out their post.
Ever noticed how some tweets seem to have an image associated with a shared link?
That’s twitter cards in action and it’s a very simple addition to do.
We can see how it works with this page here – when the page is shared on Twitter, it receives an enhanced preview.
The code that makes that happen can be viewed below
<meta name=”twitter:title” content=”Plan your travels from Bayeux France to La Rochelle France” />
<meta name=”twitter:card” content=”summary_large_image“>
<meta name=”twitter:site” content=”@distantias” />
<meta name=”twitter:creator” content=”@distantias” />
<meta name=”twitter:image” content=”https://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/94269660.jpg” />
You can read more about adding Twitter cards here.
Facebook Open Graph Code
We’ve all shared content on Facebook and seen the previews created as we do. The cool thing is, you can actually control how your message is presented and display a custom image to fit.
The code that makes it happen is this.
<meta property=”og:title” content= “Journey Planning From Bayeux France to La Rochelle France “/>
<meta property=”og:description” content=”Plan your travels from Bayeux France to La Rochelle France Create friendships, Earn points , Book Hotels and more”/>
<meta property=”og:site_name” content=”Distantias” />
<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/94269660.jpg”>
<meta property=”og:image:type” content=”image/png”>
<meta property=”og:image:width” content=”100″>
<meta property=”og:image:height” content=”70″>
<meta property=”go:image:height” content=”70″>
When shared on Facebook, this produces this.
HREFLANG – Calling International SEO
Some companies target international audiences. You can use hreflang to target different geolocations and languages.
The implementation is too lengthy to go into detail here, but if you’d like to know more than you can read all about it here or hit me up and I’ll walk you through it.
What Happens Off the Page is…Off Site SEO
So, in the previous part we took a quick look at various on-site or on-page factors that help influence ranking and page performance, this being just one part of being “relevant to the query”.
In this part, we are going to look at the off page factors and talk about how things work and what you can do to influence your domain in the best most effective way.
As previously discussed, Google use a variety of signals to determine relevancy.
In addition to what they say on the page, websites can boost their perceived importance and score through obtaining citations from across the web from other websites through using a variety of anchor texts (the text used in a link to reference other pages on the web).
The facts of life are that for many queries, in terms of the content contained within the pages that discuss them, there is often more than one relevant useful page for a query. So, when faced with this predicament, the algorithm uses external citations (effectively votes ) in an attempt to sort it all out and decide who should be shown and who should not.
The idea being, that if a page has more links to it around a topic and those pages are adjudged to be authoritative on the topic, then that’s a good signal to use when sorting any wheat from the chaff.
How to determine authority from linking pages
So, this begs the question of what IS an authoritative page and how should you get them to talk about you?
In the old days, people would talk of the concept of PageRank. PageRank was once a a publicly accessible metric displayed by google in its toolbar. Various tools used this number to assess link acquisition worthiness. It was a useful, easy to understand metric.
Google eventually took this number away from the public domain, mainly because it was no longer necessary for public relations purposes and it was used and abused by people seeking to influence its algorithm.
The breach was filled by companies like, MajesticSEO and SEOMoz who effectively reverse engineered aspects of how they believed PageRank may have been calculated and so, developed scoring systems of their own. Domain authority for Moz and Trust and Citation Flow for MajesticSEO to use similar principles to that of PageRank. Not prefect and devoid of other factors used for ranking, but an indicator nonetheless and, in the world of understanding the machinations of black box technology – they are therefore, useful.
You should have already identified a handful of competitors and gained an understanding of what they rank for, what they write about and generally assessed their abilities via some kind of SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) These would have helped inform your content production decisions and given you a pretty good idea of the kinds of things you need to be doing onsite.
Additionally, they should also have informed you on some of the other reasons why they were succeeding via an analysis of the linking domains to their website.
This post from Koozai looks at the variety of tools that exist that help you to do this and there are many of them. SEMRush is my current favourite as it’s highly flexible, and gives you a lot of insight that is actionable in simple easy to understand ways.
So you’ve done your analysis and you have a hatful of linking opportunities.
If you are thinking of emulating link profiles (think mixed competitor mashup) then you’ll need to asses the likelihood of obtaining those links and ask yourself a few hard questions.
Will they link to you? Are they a direct competitor perhaps? Why should they link to you? What value do you offer to their readership, what’s in it for them?
If you think about those questions first, you’ll be better placed to succeed in your request.
If you are thinking of emulating ideas, then look at how successful those ideas were and do some leg work in investigating why. Use tools like BuzzSumo to evaluate those social shares and take note of who shared and why.
Here’s a couple of other things you should do when link building
Don’t go in cold, take the time to build a relationship.
If they are a blogger, then read about them, find out what motivates them, look at how they write and what they write about. Follow them on social media perhaps, engage with them a few times, retweet their stuff. After a period of time, send them a little email or if you are great on a phone, pick up a phone and talk to them.
Talk about how you can help them, think about how you can help them, in fact make that your focus. If you do that (genuinely) then they’ll be far more receptive and you won’t have to work that hard to get them to like you and talk about you.
If they are operating in the same business sphere as you, then think about partnerships. Talk to them about how you can help each other, focus on the mutually beneficial aspects of the web and your brand and your products and use these to make your case.
If they are a community like a forum, then take the time to contribute, but do so in a way that adds value.
Here’s a couple of things you shouldn’t do when link building
Don’t just send out a boiler plate shitty email, saying your site is great, here is my link, please link to me. That’s lame of course, but don’t think that by tarting it up with sophisticated language that it’ll be any less so.
Don’t pick up the phone and call cold and tell them the benefits of how linking to you can help them.
Don’t go on forums or other places related to your niche and spam the hell out of them. It’ll bite you on your bum if you do. Don’t just expect to be able to rock up and leave your deposit on someones manicured lawn.
There’s many things that influence ranking, and it’s often an ever shifting thing that you need to watch and refine. You should ensure that you look at your site analytics and webmaster tools daily and keep up to speed with change and innovation in your space. Failure to do so, could cause all manner of downsides for your business, a lot of which can be avoided through regular assessment. I hope this has given food for thought and is of use to you!
Need help with your domain? Hire Rob Today
Promote your website online
Regular readers aside, there is a chance that you may have come from a search engine for a query related to promote my website online, or get on the first page of Google or SEO for small businesses or Improve my sites position in the search engines or … I’ll stop there, point made.
Potentially the list is endless. All manner of people search for things in all manner of ways. There is no set in stone route. There are indicators and tools that people and companies working in fields like me, use daily to get a feel for a niche or domain. We look at search data provided to us by the search engines based on the competitiveness of an a PPC keyword or phrase, some of us have access to stat counter data that allows us to use data collected real time from websites that have the code installed, allowing us to see things like referral strings, user activities and clickthroughs. In other words we use information indicators from real people in real life scenarios. There is little if any guess work involved, it’s asbout real data crunching and using that knowledge to inform your strategies.
Promoting a small business using SEO
Big businesses with big budgets have it easy. They already have the content, already have the budget that enables them to invest in people who can help them get to, and understand what it is they need to do and how it is they do it. Small businesses do not usually have access to similar resources.
Search marketing for SME’s
So how do you get started? Lets just assume you already have a website that’s been built, you might have already paid an SEO or an SEO Company to optimise your website or you might not have, whatever the case, lets just look at what might be a typical scenario.
A typical brochure type website
Your site is some old type standard 4 page website with a Flash animated intro perhaps a Home, About, Services and Contact page with a bit of static text that says not very much at all. What people don’t know is that, despite you being small, you have a massive catalog of products and stock, you have a small sales team, a customer support team, a marketing dept that deals with newspaper ads and off line directories, you have a distribution network, a product development team with an inhouse design dept too. You are small on the grand scale but in your niche you like to think you are getting to where you need to be. Your company in the area you operate is well known and respected, and your suppliers and customers all value what you do tremendously. Yet outside your little bubble nobody knows that. A little glance at your website reveals none of any of that, in the online world nobody knows because nobody told them.
Invest in your online presence and get that ROI
I hear some of you saying but hang on, I just paid $5000-00 for that website. Do you mean I’ve got to rip it all up and redo it?
The answer to that is in some cases YES in some cases NO.
Some websites are so awful that they are just beyond redemption.
The attention they need is so drastic that they might as well start again from scratch, they need a root and branch deconstruction that addresses absolutely everything, their only redeeming feature is the email addresses that came with the domain. For others it’s not so drastic, it’s a fairly straightforward case of assessing the resources at hand and deciding what to do with them.
This single blog post isn’t really the place to do justice to what is often a complex individual thing in that no two businesses are exactly the same. All have their own strengths and weaknesses that need to be assessed in the light of the company at hand’s aims and objectives, that said there are a few things I’d like to leave you with to consider.
8 general SEM tips that will help your website succeed online
- Employ a professional SEM/SEO firm or SEO ConsultantThe best way would be to employ one of the above to deliver an improvement. Forget the outlay, it really shouldn’t be a concern. A well constructed, SEO/SEM campaign can deliver a massive ROI, massive. They should be able to help you look at your business and help you with a strategy that will propel you through the roof. Don’t want to do that? Scared off by the fees? Don’t have the initial investment capital required? Not to worry, you can have a go at doing it yourself, at least aspects of it, but prepare to make a few mistakes and lose a $ or 2 in the process…
- Invest in a PPC program.You wouldn’t think twice about paying £500 for a onetime half page local newspaper advert, yet the same money could deliver up to 5000 laser targeted geographically related enquiries directly to your site from people in buy mode. Try this link (free £50 at the time of publication). A good PPC program will enable you to identify related keywords and phrases relative to your product or service and deliver visitors who have entered these into search engines.
- If you have a product database, put it online!If you sell things then people online will not know unless you tell them. Getting your inventory into a web based system is an absolutely crucial part of any online marketing and promotion strategy. Do it now, send me a message from here and I’ll tell you where to go, heck I might even do it for you.
- Use your staff to build you contentIdentify your company strengths and use the people you employ. Install software that will enable you to use your team to big up your products online, allocate company time to key individuals with something to say, get them all singing from the same hymn sheet, get their enthusiasm for your company, their jobs, your customers, your products out there.
- Interact with your customers and suppliersInstall software that gives your customers genuine opportunities to feedback and interact. Show the world that your company is alive and reacting to customer issues or concerns. Allow the people who have used your products or services to talk about their experiences, if your products and services are good then with the right approach you’ll be surprised at how you can pull people in and share their views. This well help solidify relationships and improve repeat sales and increase user confidence in your company its products and services.
- Use social media to reach out to your nicheThe online world has an array of fora with dedicated categories and communities for all manner of interests. If a category or community doesn’t exist then consider creating one. Interact with bloggers and stumblers generate interest and get your stuff dugg build networks and friends with similar interests. Use sites like Myspace and Facebook to generate interest and Buzz, get your company or you out there in your space.
- Get relevant links to your site for the keywords you seek to attainThere is no real substitute for using a bonafide link building service, a good link building service will know where to acquire the right kinds of links. They will often as part of their service, offer a content writing service too which will help your domain get the necessary links required to assist in your overall website promotion strategy. It should be said too that by following the proposals above you will naturally attract links to your site which will over time, improve your websites performance in the Search engine results pages (SERPS) ultimately lowering your PPC adspend into the bargain.
- Read blogs and content from people and companies who have a passion for this stuffNot vital, but you’d do a lot worse that to read articles and content from people who live and breath this stuff, me aside of course you might also do well to read blogs related to online marketing ideas, Niche marketing ,Social Media , Search marketing and online sales to mention a few.Why?Simple really, doing business online is the future for many businesses today. By increasing your knowledge base you increase your ability to make informed choices that will enable you to make the best possible purchasing decisions. If you ever bought a ‘pay £10 per month for submission to a zillion search engine package’ then you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Getting back to where I started initially, if you found this article online then it might have been because you were looking for ways to promote your site. Perhaps you’d been burned in the past by some company that didn’t deliver or for reasons related to a limited budget. Heck you might even be a company just starting out looking for ideas and information. Whatever the case, I hope you found it all useful and wish you every success for 2017.