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Local Search Ranking Factors

Ever wonder what it takes to rank high in the search engines? Ranking factors, despite being perceived as a great mystery, are in reality relatively straight forward. Create great content, get people to link to it, make sure your business listings are in order and you’re all set! Of course, I’m oversimplifying things. There’s a bit more to it than this, however knowing what the search engines are looking at provides a perfect place to start.

Every year the top SEO service providers pull their shared experiences, tests, and case studies to produce a Top Ranking Factors list.

For local business owners, this list is a valuable resource for deciding where to spend time and budget to put your business in the best possible position to be found in the search engines.

Check out this infographic on the top Local Ranking Factors.

Local Search Ranking Factors

Sanctuary provides optimization services for local businesses. Let us help you get your business showing up at the top of the search engines.

Search Engine Local Ranking Factors
Yelp Reviews

Google Stars They say any press is good press in Hollywood. In some cases that might be true, but in the respected business world a bad review can set a business back and do damage to the bottom line. Local businesses depend heavily on word of mouth, column reviews, Yelp reviews and other types of positive press to grow their business. But what happens when someone posts a negative review?

An average customer who has a positive or pleasant experience is less likely to leave a review without being prompted. However, if a customer perceives a negative experience, they are highly likely to express their opinion without any prompting. Thanks to the explosion of social media, these negative opinions can spread like wildfire and be very difficult to overcome.

As a local business in North Canton, it’s critical that you make a dedicated effort to build a library of online reviews that enhances your business’s credibility and showcases both the positive experiences and your positive responses to negative experiences alike. Here is a compilation of Sanctuary’s top advice for developing healthy online reviews.

 

Overcoming Bad Online Reviews

Wreck-it-Ralph said, “I am bad, and that is good, I will never be good and that’s not bad, there’s no one I’d rather be than me.” You can think of a bad review in the same way. Bad reviews can often shed light on deeper issues and if treated the proper way can build strong relationships between a business and its customers.

Yelp Reviews Chris Auman addresses this subject in his article “Why Online Reviews are Important and How to Get Them.

His first rule of thumb is simple, Don’t Fear Reviews.

“There will always be difficult customers and you can deal with them directly. But if you run a reputable business, your overall reviews should give an accurate picture of your business. If you’re afraid of reviews then maybe you have deeper business issues to deal with.”

It may sound backward, but dealing with negative reviews is the first step in getting positive reviews. It’s a reflection of your business model, which dictates how your business operates. “A perfect business isn’t one with perfect reviews; it’s one that deals with their reviews and feedback perfectly.” – Mike Ramsey.
Continue reading Online Reviews Are Important…

 

Onsite vs. Offsite Reviews

Part of combatting negative reviews is having plenty of believable positive reviews from happy customers. , And that’s why offsite reviews are important.

It’s a great practice to have onsite reviews and testimonies from real people. Nothing helps to sell your business better than the words of a happy customer. BUT we all know that onsite testimonials have been cherry-picked. We’ve even seen some that are completely false and made-up. As a society, we’ve become very cynical and untrusting of these reviews. A sad state to be in, but nonetheless it’s where we are.

Chris Auman states “The key to an effective review strategy is to encourage reviews on external web sites. If a business has a substantial amount of good, offsite reviews on external websites, it will instill confidence that real people have given their honest opinions about a business. But more importantly, reviews are an important signal that Google uses to determine search results.”
Continue reading Onsite vs. Offsite Reviews …

 

Getting Reviews in Google

review-us

Getting positive reviews in Google is important. They will show in the search results, and the more you have the better positioned you will be to outshine the competition. We’re talking more than just reviews from other sites showing up in a Google search; we’re talking about Google+ and those coveted gold stars!

Google doesn’t make this incredibly easy for users to do, but that is the point. They don’t want countless, mindless reviews flooding the market – and neither do you. Reviews are always a matter of quality over quantity.

There are ways to get reviews in Google, which you can read about in our post “How to get Reviews for Your Business on Google Plus.

The number one way to do it is to ask for it. A follow-up email after purchase, a link in a Thank-You page or a card you hand out with steps to follow are all good ways to achieve this. Remember, people are slow to post a review unless they’ve had a bad experience, so you have to ask for them. Amazon figured this out a long time ago and if you’ve ever bought something from them, you’ve received a follow-up email 5-7 days later asking for a review. It’s good practice.

However, asking and paying for reviews are two different things. Do NOT pay for reviews. It’s not worth it, and if you are a small business you could get into troubled waters that are hard to get out of. And it should go without saying that paying for reviews is  simply an unethical practice.
Continue reading Getting Reviews in Google + …

 

Get Help with Online Reviews for Your North Canton Business

There is a lot to know about encouraging good reviews on Google+. Allow Sanctuary Digital Marketing Group to manage the gathering and promotion of your positive reviews. Contact us today for a no-cost, upfront marketing consultation. We can take a look at your whole internet presence and tell you what’s working and what’s not.

Call 330.266.1188 and tell us a bit about your North Canton business. Let’s chat about your marketing needs and how Sanctuary can facilitate your online marketing presence.

Getting Online Reviews
Cross Device Conversions

As a business owner in North Canton, there is no doubt that you have seen the shift of marketing. From mailings to local newspaper advertisements then to the need to have a website. Now you hear rumors of the growth in mobile device usage and the complete, utter necessity to have a website that can handle the Mobilegeddon transition.

With all that you juggle, between inventory reports and employee management, my hope is that Sanctuary Marketing Group can be a helping hand in your digital marketing efforts. For that reason, this is what we have been learning about mobile marketing. Most of this will be directly tied to a webinar offered by Marin Software and SocialMoov, but I’m boiling it down you can understand and hopefully apply these mobile marketing insights. Here we go!

Mobile Use is Growing

Foremost, the reason that we are even having this conversation is because mobile devices and mobile device usage is growing, therefore mobile marketing is growing. Most of us wake up with phones in our hands and are also put to sleep by their glowing screens. Think about your day today, how many times have you used your phone? Personally, I have packed the following mobile device usage into my day:

  • Turned off my phone’s alarm clock.
  • Checked my email.
  • Scanned social media.
  • Texted my brother (all of that before getting out of bed).
  • I used the timer on my phone to know when to finish my french press.
  • I checked my bank account.
  • Rescheduled a bill payment.
  • Read a chapter of a book.
  • Played a game
    …and it is not even 11:00 AM!

Neni Pogarcic (Global Search Lead, Google) pointed out on the webinar that this is not an atypical morning for those of us going about our day. Not only that, but most of this can be done without even touching a computer. With that in mind, how are you going to appropriately reach the many who traverse their morning without touching traditional Google search or a desktop computer? The next question, beyond reaching those individuals, is how are you going to provide means for them to convert?

On-Device Conversions, Now Think Cross-Device

Device conversions, particularly in the world of digital marketing, used to be computers only, but think through all the conversions that take place on your phone now. Think for a moment, how many devices have you used today and how many conversions have taken place? 98% of users say they are cross-device users throughout the day. Users quickly bounce between websites, tablet apps, and smartphone notifications. Are you, as a local business owner, catering to the next generation of buyers?

Cross Device Conversions

Can My North Canton Business Win the Mobile War?

Here are three steps to succeed with mobile:

Three Steps to succeed with mobile
1) Incredible Experiences

While many understand that the desktop version of your website should include as much detail as possible, Google has spent a lot of time recently on spelling out the absolute best mobile design for websites, especially for businesses. Google has business owners ask questions about how close together your website’s buttons are, how wordy your pages are, and how usable your mobile website is? You can learn all about that in our summary of their updates — basically, ask yourself how easy it is to use and convert on your website? We’re here to help if you need any suggestions or work done. Just let us know your need help!

2) Relevant Advertising

Advertising should always aim to be relevant, but when you’re seeking to land on a mobile device it has to be all the more fine tuned. Do you know your audience and do you know how to reach them? Marketers have mere moments to reach individuals when they’re using their mobile devices (Google calls this Micro-Moments). Are you providing the absolute best imagery, copy text and advertisement destination URLs for your audience?

3) Insightful Measurement

If you are not appropriately measuring your efforts and providing insightful reporting, you might as well put a stop to all that you are doing. By putting the proper measures in place, you can use the results (whether positive or negative) from your efforts to refine future efforts.

This is a very brief summation of notes from the webinar The Path to Mobile Success, hosted by Neni Pogarcic (Global Search Lead, Google), Luca Angeli (Analytics Manager and Bidding Optimization Specialist, Marin Software) and Hoiling Wong (Product Marketing Manager, Marin Software).

The team at Sanctuary Marketing Group is available to help answer any questions that you have about Mobile Marketing.

Three Steps for Mobile Success
Local Mobile Search

You already have a mobile friendly site? Better be sure of that! On April 21, 2015 Google’s mobile ranking factors will kick in. Those who do not have a mobile friendly site will begin to see a “significant impact” in their search results, according to Google. This roll out will happen over the course of a week and will be a “Yes/No” on whether your site is mobile-friendly or not, there are no degrees of mobile-friendliness in this algorithm.

Mobile Usability
Our Mobile Planet: Understanding the Mobile Customer

Mobile is something we all should have been paying attention to anyway. According to a survey sponsored by Google and Ipsos MediaCT, smartphones have become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Smartphone penetration has risen to 56% of the population, and Smartphone owners are becoming increasingly reliant on their devices. In 2013, it was reported that 67% of smartphone users accessed the internet everyday on their phone and most never leave home without it. These number have undoubtedly risen.

Google is now stepping up the game with this update by ‘requiring’ businesses to have a mobile friendly website to be found in mobile search results. And it makes sense: Google wants to deliver results that their users can be happy using. As a business, you should have the same goal! Make your site easy for people use, and they will use it. To be clear, this will mostly likely only affect non-branded searches done through Google on your browser or the Google App. Those searching for branded terms will likely not see any changes in the results.

Local Mobile SearchOur smartphones allow us to research anything, anywhere. The moment an idea crosses our mind we can pull out our phone and begin the process of getting “more input.” Statics tells us that 94% of smartphone users have looked for local information on their device, and 57% of these users do it once a week, with a whopping 25% doing it every day. Being optimized for local search is a key part of being found.

So how do you make sure you’re ready for April 21st?

Usually updates come up with little or no notice, but Google said it wanted sites to prepare; so, you have some time to make your website mobile-friendly which is a big benefit for business owners. Assuming you have a mobile site already some of the usability issues can be quickly fixed to comply with what Google is looking for. We do offer web design services that can quickly identify any issues, and affordably provide you with a solution. If you don’t have a mobile site at all, we can help with that too.

Identify Mobile Usability Issues

Mobile Friendly LabelKnowing if your site is mobile friendly or not can be done by simply doing a search for your site on your smartphone. Since late last year, Google has been using a ‘mobile friendly’ label on sites which it has identified as being such. If the site does not have this label, then that means it has not passed the test, and there’s a strong possibility it will be affected by the update.

Identifying the issues that are keeping the site from being mobile friendly can be done quickly with a few tools Google provides. Each one of these tools offers varying features and should be used in tandem to assess current issues with usability. Google Webmaster tools will give you the specific items Google is looking for and alert you if the site is not in compliance. It’s also important to understand the potential impact on traffic, which is why I suggest looking at current mobile traffic. Understanding how these mobile visitors are getting to the site and what they do while they are on it will help in making decisions on improving the usability. Identifying landing pages, exit pages, and other metrics will provide information on hurdles users faces and potential areas of improvement.

  • Site validation: Validate your site with Google’s mobile friendly test tool. It’s important that all the elements of your site are crawlable.
  • Current user behavior: Google Analytics provides a wealth of information on mobile users. Identify how they enter your site, where they land, what they do and where they convert. This information will help you understand any hurdles they are facing.
  • Search appearance: Google Webmaster tools will show you what queries your pages are showing up for, what position they hold and which search results these users click. There are features with GWT that will alert you if Google finds usability issues and provide some guidance on the what to fix.

As with most Google updates there tends to be a “freak out” moment where we wonder if we’re going to make the cut. Remember this one simple rule, one that I live by, Don’t optimize for Google! Optimize for the user. If your site is built with user experience at the forefront, then you have nothing to fear. My colleague Jackie Baker has written extensively about The Best SEO Strategy is Always About Your Customers (Not Google).

Sanctuary Marketing Group is ready to assist businesses to make sure they don’t lose rankings and quality traffic on mobile searches after the change is made. Contact us at for a free consultation.

Google Mobile Friendly Update
Local Search SEO Tactics Guide

In Phase 6 of our Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics we look at special challenges related to working with larger companies. The following are just a few suggestions to help you get started at the enterprise level.

Befriend the IT Department

When working at the enterprise level, you’ll often find that getting things done can be hard due to the tight control of important things like… updating pages on the website! So do what you can to become friends with the people in IT that might control things that the company considers “technical”.

You’ll find that making friends and gaining the trust of people in IT will show that you’re not a threat to their job and you’re trustworthy enough to get FTP access and their CMS to make simple updates and improvements to pages.

This may sound like a given since you’ve been hired to help them with their SEO, but many times IT can have final say over the marketing department (believe it or not). IT people can be controlling, territorial and even threatened by your requests to step into their world. So do your best to gain their trust first. Buy some lunches and/or beers and show that you’re not a threat and that you actually have the knowledge needed to not “break” anything on the website.

Cooperation – Many Hands Make Light Work

For larger companies, you might be working with hundreds or even thousands of individual locations. This can obviously be a challenge for multiple Local Search SEO Tactics Guidereasons.

First, there’s simply a lot to do. Just planning how you’re going to claim and optimize the basics for several hundred locations could take months or years depending on the budget available.

Second, most local SEO companies such as ours are not large organizations. So we’re essentially David taking on Goliath. We’re essentially a few individuals taking on a mountain of work.

So for this reason, consider what you can do to leverage all of your available resources.

Consider properly planning what needs to be done and then outsourcing the time consuming work to reliable and affordable freelancers.

Consider what resources you can tap into at the company. Is there a secretary at each location that can follow some simple instructions and chip away at a task over the course of a month?

Can tasks be given to management at each location so they have ownership over their own local marketing? Detailing specific tasks, working closely with them, following up and proofing their work can ensure that things get done right and in a timely manner.

Cross-link Nearby Locations with Geo-Anchor Text

Internal linking is important on your website to show that content is related and to help readers find related content. Building these “hubs” of information is a core usability and SEO best practice.

The same tactic makes sense for building hubs related to corporate locations in a geographic area. It can show the search engines that the company is a force to be reckoned with in the local area and it can help users find optional locations that fit their needs.

Most of all it helps the search engines to see that this company is an important service provider within that state or city and that it should be shown prominently. (In theory)

Learn That Less is More

You’ll find that when you’re dealing with companies that are larger in size, the work you can do can be extremely limited and slow unless it’s your full time job to manage their local presence online. You’ll also find that many competitors are not even doing the basics.

So the best thing to do is to keep your efforts focused and make sure that you’re not worrying about making huge leaps and bounds. Take small but solid steps over time and you’ll find that you’re actually making huge leaps and bounds over your competition.

  • Start with priority tactics and do them well. Don’t worry about volume. Example, it might be better to claim two priority citations per month for each location and do it well than it is to bulk claim citations and worry about volume. 2 citations per month is probably more than what the competition is getting.
  • Make smart, focused recommendations for the company staff to integrate. Provide simple tasks to stakeholders at the local level if possible and you’ll find that your small steps will help you climb that mountain in no time.
  • Keep your communication and reporting simple and to the point. People are busy… enough said.
  • Demonstrate ROI at a glance. Immediately show what you did and why it’s important. Show a visual graph of improvements over time if possible.

Use a Flat Site Architecture

This means that you should try and keep your clicks to a minimum and to keep your location pages near the top of the site architecture.

Each location on the site should have it’s own unique location page that’s indexable and it should be linked to other relevant locations in the state, city or neighborhood.

For example:

Bad:

CorporateBeastie.com/Locations/Country/State/County/City/Neighborhood/Location/

Good:

CorporateBeastie.com/Location-Search/Location/

…or even better:

CorporateBeastie.com/Location/ (with store locator found prominently on the homepage)

Create Unique Service Pages for Each Location

One of the best things that you can do to further your efforts is to create and optimize unique location and/or service pages for each location in the company.

Each page should be unique and have content that’s specifically related to that location. This can be a massive job. Even if you can get past the bureaucracy, the work in creating the actual pages can be daunting.

But this hard work is an opportunity because it’s hard. That means that it’s likely that the competition is not undertaking the work and you’ll have a leg up on them.

Develop Regional Location Landing Pages

Getting a leg up in a region or state can start with developing the signal to the search engines that you have a large presence in that area.

From there, consider solidifying those signals by linking directly to your individual location landing pages.

Align Yourself with Other Campaigns/Tactics for Maximum Impact

Working with a larger organization has it’s benefits. Make sure to take advantage of opportunities to work with other stakeholders and see how you can align your efforts with other marketing initiatives.

The most simple example is to champion the website. Make sure that anything and everything that goes out to the public has the website listed, or more specifically, a link to the individual location pages or unique landing pages that you’ve developed.

Use Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumb links can help your customers find their way around your site. Many people do not enter via the homepage so make it easy for them to understand where they are and get around.

Breadcrumbs also automatically link related pages. The most simple example is how individual location landing pages will all link back to the region or state pages — therefore reinforcing that your top level pages related strongly to the locations.

The Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics

Phase 1: Local Campaign Planning & Setup

Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO

Local Search Tactics Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO
Local Search SEO Tactics Guide

Local Search SEO Tactics GuideIf you’ve mastered the basics in the first four phases of our Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics, or you happen to have unlimited resources, consider some of the following tactics to expand your local footprint online.

Video Distribution

As mentioned previously, video can be a great way to expand your footprint online and another avenue to communicate with potential customers.

To get the maximum impact out of your videos, consider distributing them beyond your own site. Google’s YouTube is obviously the 1000 pound gorilla, but there are many other sites that you can use to distribute your videos online.

Some of the most popular include:

Vimeo
MetaCafe
DailyMotion
Blip.tv
Viddler
Yahoo

Photo Distribution

Getting the maximum exposure for your photos is important. Photos can be found in many ways which is a huge opportunity for your business to be discovered online.

Google Images catalogs your images from your website automatically. But don’t stop there. Here are a few options to get you started:

Google+
Facebook
Twitter
Flickr.com
Instagram
Tumblr
StumbleUpon
Pinterest
Photobucket
FunnyJunk

Social Outreach and Engagement

Engagement on social media is a world of it’s own and I won’t go into it in detail here. But let it be said, it’s an excellent way to expand your reach online and engage with local customers. Google+,FacebookTwitterTumblrFoursquare, etc. are all options. Even if you step into the waters slowly and have just a little bit of activity on these sites it can be a good thing.

A great place to start to learn about everything social media is this site: Social Media Examiner

Claim Unstructured Citations

Unstructured citations are basically listings of your business on websites other than traditional directories or search engines. Examples might include a magazine website, niche or local blog, social media site, newspaper website, event listings, government websites, etc.

Consider pursuing these citations once you’ve claimed and optimized your priority structured citations.

The difference is that structured citations are usually in a directory or searchable/sortable format that search engines and users can easily digest. Unstructured citations are a little more random where you might be the only business listed on the page. Structured citations are obviously much harder to establish but can be very valuable to your local SEO efforts.

Guest Blogging on Local Blogs

How do you get links back to your site? Well, it takes work. One way that you can do that is offer to create GREAT local content for other websites in exchange for a citation and link back to your site. To get started check out this link: A beginner’s guide to guest blogging

Develop a PR Strategy

Getting your business in front of the local media can be a huge boost to your local marketing and SEO mojo. Trying to cover PR strategy here is not possible but we can summarize it pretty simply: plan your schedule, craft your message, seek out your targets and engage on as many fronts as possible. Learn as much as you can about press releases, how to approach reporters, be newsworthy, research wire services and learn patience.

Get Involved with Local Events or Plan Your Own

Local events can be a great way to increase your visibility in the community – especially if the event is recurring like a weekly meet-up or educational series. If you’re already holding local events, make sure to list them on sites like YelpFacebook EventsLinkedInZvents.comEventful.com and AmericanTowns.com.

Get Involved in Your Community

Look for ways that your business can become involved in the community. Links and marketing opportunities often follow. Not to mention the good things that you can accomplish. It’s a win-win proposition. Get started today.

Claim All Your Social Profiles

Google+, Facebook and Twitter are only the beginning. Visit knowem.com to expand your social presence online and ensure that other companies can’t claim your company name.

Monitor and Respond to Reviews

In addition to encouraging reviews online, you should have a strategy to monitor and respond to reviews. Not knowing that there are negative reviews online about your business is not an ideal situation. So consider these services to stay in-touch with your customers and try to turn a negative into a positive. Sometimes it just requires a simple response and you can’t do that without an effective system to monitor your reputation online.

GetFiveStars
ReviewFlow

Get Listed on Mobile/GPS Services

If you utilize the services of the primary data distributors mentioned previously (Localeze/Neustar, InfoGroup, Acxiom, etc.), you’ll likely get your information distributed to the top GPS/Map providers. But to be sure, consider listing your business directly on the priority sites listed below:

Navteq:  http://mapreporter.navteq.com/
Teleatlas:  http://mapinsight.teleatlas.com/mapfeedback/index.php

There are many other data providers and services. You can go direct and deep on this if you have the time. Start with the top free services like Google, Apple, Yelp, etc. and seek out the specific procedures to get listed on each if you don’t see your business listed in a timely manner.

Comment and Contribute to Local Blogs

If you can identify local websites and blogs that have high visibility in your area, engage with other users on the site or consider contributing content. Simply having a presence and being involved – even in small ways – can help to increase your visibility in the community. Without being too obvious or salesy, consider exploring creative ways to add your business name, address, phone number and links to the site too.

Give Reviews and Testimonials to Other Local Businesses

This suggestion isn’t exactly a marketing tactic for your business but if you do it right, it can help you to bring visibility to your business in the eyes of other local business owners. What you need to do is simply review other local businesses in a visible way. The tactic is simple and it provides you with an opportunity to say something good about your favorite local businesses and promote your business in the process.

Simply offer to provide a testimonial in exchange for a mention of your name, your business name and a link back to your website. What business would not want you to provide some kind words about their business and services online? This tactic will bring visibility to your business over time and will provide you with a valuable link back to your website. The link itself may or may not bring any SEO mojo but if presented correctly it’s just another way that a local client could discover you online.

Start a Scholarship for a Local University

What’s better than cheap promotion of your business? Not much. But if you can get cheap promotion for your business and get it from a local university while doing something good for a kid? Well, that’s about as good as it can get.

For this tactic you’ll have to spend some money to establish a scholarship but it doesn’t have to be thousands of dollars. In exchange for a modest yearly donation you’ll get all sorts of visibility and likely your own page on a university website that links back to your business. When building links there aren’t many opportunities that are better than your own page on a .edu domain with a link back to your website. Just think of all the opportunities that this small investment in your community will bring you.

Sponsor College Student Groups that Relate to What You Do

Investigate opportunities to support local college groups and activities that have something to do with your business. This will get you a ton of local goodwill, marketing and networking opportunities and will likely get a link back to your website from a .edu domain. The link may or may not help you with your local SEO but it certainly can’t hurt and you’ll have many opportunities to promote your business while helping to mold the next generation of…. well, whatever you do!

Sponsor Local Events

Not many things will get you on the radar of the locals more than sponsoring local events. This can sometimes be expensive but there are always opportunities within almost any budget. Sponsoring local business and community events is a great way for your business to be discovered by local people who may never have heard of you otherwise.

Consider local chamber events, community festivals, business networking or education series events and even your own small events at your location such as free lunch hour learning sessions.

Ultra-Refine Your Citations and Links

Building citations on high quality websites is an important local SEO tactic but many businesses don’t have the time or the knowledge to do it right. This is a huge opportunity for those of you “in the know”.

But how far do you go? Well, that question doesn’t have a simple answer because there are many factors such as the competitiveness of your industry and how aggressive your competition is online with their own SEO.

One thing that you can do before you worry about quantity is focus on QUALITY. Take some time to identify the best citations that apply to your business and then take a deep dive to make sure that they all match exactly. Making sure that your NAP (Company name, address and phone + your URL) is exactly the same on all priority citation sites could make a big difference when you’re up against your competition online.

Want more specifics? Check out this article about some specific tactics that will help you review your citations and find new one’s that Google has identified for your competition.

Claim Generic/Structured Citations

Once you’ve claimed all your priority citations, local citations and industry citations, consider manually claiming and optimizing more generic citations.

Keep in mind though, not all citations are created equal. So be careful where you’re spending your time in this area.

Structured citations are usually in a directory or searchable/sortable format that search engines and users can easily digest. But many are considered to be low quality and therefore low value to your SEO efforts.

Content Distribution

Why post your valuable content on your website when you can post it on your site and thousands of other sites? That’s a question that many people don’t ask often enough! (including myself)

We won’t go into specific tactics here but consider ways to not only publish your content on your own site but how you can use the tools and services available to you to distribute your content and potentially reach a much larger audience that you could with your own website.

But isn’t this duplicate content you ask? Won’t Google dislike tactics like this? The short answer is “no”. Having your content on many websites is inheritably not a bad thing and you will NOT be penalized for this directly. The only bad thing that could happen is that your content is returned in the search results from another site instead of your own. But if exposure is your goal, then this is not a bad thing. Exposure is exposure. Just make sure that you take any opportunities available to you to link back to your own site.

Also, there are options to distribute your content but not distribute the entire piece of content.Headline distributionSuggested Content DistributionNewswire DistributionLink Distributionand Paid Social Media Distribution are all tactics that you can explore.

Use Google Mapmaker

Using Google Mapmaker to improve your business information on Google Maps can help customers find you easier (especially if you’re location is not correct on Google Maps) as well as giving them more information about exactly how to get there with as little confusion as possible.

For a great, detailed overview of using Google Mapmaker click here.

Explore Microdata/Structured Markup

Microdata, Rich Snippets, Microformats, Structured Markup, it’s all the same thing. In the words of Google: Structured markup is a way of annotating information already on your website to help Google and others understand information more precisely. More specifically: Microdata is a way to label content to describe a specific type of information—for example, reviews, personal information, or events.

With local search optimization you want to use this markup to clearly define your business location and other important supporting information so there is no question about what’s on the page and how the search engines should use it.

Why is it important? It can help the search engines better understand your pages and it can improve your listings in the search results as this additional information may be displayed inline with your listings.

Again in the words of Google: Your addition of structured markup simply helps to resolve ambiguities by clarifying that 1) you are in fact referencing a business (e.g. you mean “Shalimar” the restaurant rather than “Shalimar” the city), and 2) you’re referencing a very specific location (e.g. the Shalimar in Sunnyvale rather than the Shalimar in San Francisco). When annotating reviews, you also clarify which text corresponds to the review of the particular business.

More information:

http://maps.google.com/help/maps/richsnippetslocal/

http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=146897#_blank

http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=176035

The Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics

Phase 1: Local Campaign Planning & Setup

Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO

Local Search Tactics Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies
Local Search SEO Tactics Guide

After you’ve mastered the basics you can let the real work begin! The following secondary tactics can be extremely effective but like most good things, Local Search SEO Tactics Guidenothing comes without effort. Many of the tactics listed here in Phase 4 of our Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics are not one time tasks so be prepared to start working and never stop.

Go After the Long Tail

Essentially the “long tail” is about selling less of more. Ultimately it will return more results than if you went after just a few high profile keywords (the head terms). For example, a head term (which is hard to rank for) would be “Furniture”. The long tail keyword examples of the furniture category could include such phrases as Furniture Showroom New York City, Oak Bedroom Furniture Ohio, High Quality Kids Furniture Miami and Contemporary Grey Couch Boston.

The long tail is, well, long. It can return much more traffic than if you just focus on one key phrase. You obviously don’t want to avoid the head terms. It’s just that we shouldn’t obsess and put all our efforts into ranking for a few terms like some companies do. If you understand the concept of the long tail, there is ultimately much more traffic there AND it’s easier to get.

If you can get local rankings for highly competitive terms in your area without killing yourself I say go for it. I’ve done it. But many times I’ve found that continually tackling the long tail brings in more traffic and helps to build up the overall reach of the site more than just continually pounding on 5-10 top level terms that you may or may not get.

My approach might be different than some too. I focus on content development and landing pages built specifically around priority terms. It’s hard and time consuming. But when you go after the long tail in this way you can get top rankings very fast and drive much more traffic than putting the same amount of effort into ranking for one or two competitive terms. It’s not always the case but it’s where we’ve seen a lot of success in developing targeted, local traffic.

Optimize Your Site & Priority Content for Mobile

More and more people are searching “on the go” which makes it imperative that your business is optimized for mobile tablets and devices. That means that your website information should be easy to read, easy to share and easy to engage with on all mobile devices. Mobile usage is growing every year and it’s a very important part of local optimization online. It’s going to become more and more important as the internet is accessible in more and more ways. (Think Google Glasses, embedded chips and other futuristic technologies)

Develop Local Landing Pages

Landing pages are individual web pages (other than your homepage) that visitors see in the search results. Work on developing keyword/location specific pages that relate to your business.

Example: SEO Company North Canton, Ohio — Search Engine Optimization North Canton, Ohio — Local Search Optimization North Canton, Ohio

These are all examples of individual landing pages that you could develop with unique content. The more content that you have on your site related to what you do, the more you’ll show up for those specific searches in your area.

Bonus: If you’re running pay-per-click campaigns you can use these pages and link them up to the individual keywords in your campaign to increase your quality scores and conversion optimization.

Create Valuable Content and Never Stop

In addition to setting up a blog and having an easy way to publish and manage content, you need a plan in place to actively create valuable content related to what you do.

This is one of the most difficult and time consuming tactics but it’s the #1 thing that search engines like Google want to see. YOU MUST CREATE CONTENT AND NEVER STOP.

Look at if from Google’s point of view. Who would you rather link to (all things being equal), a website with 10 pages that’s never updated or a website with 1000 pages on the same topic that’s being updated 3 times a week? Hopefully you see my point.

Google knows that it’s HARD to create valuable content. That’s the way they like it and for those willing to take the time and invest in content creation it will pay off.

Embed a Google Map on Your Site

One thing that might help Google understand where you’re located is to embed a Google Map on your site that shows the address and location of your business. If anything, it will help your customers find you and that’s the goal of all this, right?

Use Schema Markup Code

Schema markup code basically allows you to put simple code on your website that highlights important information about your business and location. This is a rare thing with SEO because it’s a simple tactic and search engines automatically treat this information as important information. Take advantage of it!

An example would be the following for the phone number field: Phone: <span itemprop=”telephone”>330-266-1188</span>

When it comes to local, there is one all-important aspect of schema that you should focus on first which is your company name, address, city, state, zip code and telephone number.

Beyond that consider all the options that apply to your business like payments types to testimonials.

Develop and Optimize Videos

Video can show up directly within search results. Ask yourself what you can do to optimize your videos so the search engines know that the content is related to a local business.

If you haven’t thought about developing videos as a part of your internet marketing strategy it’s a great tactic. Also consider that YouTube is one of the top 10 websites on the planet. People are always looking for information on YouTube and it can be a great outlet for you to increase your visibility online.

Optimize Website Photos and Galleries

Optimizing your photos is not only a great local SEO tactic, it’s a core SEO tactic. Consider everything from the file name of every image to the alt tag on the page.

The Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics

Phase 1: Local Campaign Planning & Setup

Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO

Local Search Tactics Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies
Local Search SEO Tactics Guide

Like the primary onsite strategies recommended in phase 2 of our Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics, there are many things that you can control offsite in your campaign. Even though these tactics are not accomplished with your own website, you have absolute control to do as much or as little as you want with them. Dive in with Google+ and continue to build on your previous efforts using the following tactics.

Setup Google Places/Google+

Local on Google starts with establishing your business listing on Google Places and/or Google+.

Local Search SEO Tactics GuideYou should establish an account for your business and optimize it to the hilt immediately. Having an account allows you to control your company information online, engage with potential customers and increase your visibility.

But, what’s the difference between Google Places and Google+? The answer is not so simple…

Google Places: When Google began to focus on “local” and populating accurate business data on their maps product, they offered a way for businesses to establish an account, populate and optimize that data. You can still establish a Google Places account. Google may already have your business information listed but having a Google Places account allows you to control the data and expand it. (Now technically called Google Places for Business)

Google+: Google+ is the social arm of Google Local online. (Think of it as Google’s answer to Facebook.) Eventually Places will be combined with Google+ as one product. You can opt to establish a Google+ account for your business. If you decide to go this route you do not need to establish a Google Places account. Eventually all accounts will be merged as Google+. (Now technically called Google+ Business)

To confirm, this is all confusing and it keeps changing.

Basically what you need to do (at the time of this writing) is the following:

  1. EXISTING PLACES ACCOUNT: If you have a Google Places for Business page, keep it, optimize it, monitor it. Wait for the Google+ merge. You can merge this manually if you want to engage more socially.
  2. EXISTING GOOGLE+ ACCOUNT: The word is that eventually all Places accounts will be officially migrated to Google + Business accounts so you should probably just stick with your Google+ Business account and not establish a Places account. That way you’ll have one central account.
  3. NEW BUSINESS LISTING: If you are setting up a new business listing you could technically go either way or both. But if we’re looking for a definitive answer I’d say that you should stick with Mike Blumenthal’s advice and start with a Google Places for Business account and upgrade it later.

More Reading:

Google Places/Google+ Explained
Google Places for Business vs. Google+ Local
Getting started with Google Places for Business

Setup Bing Places

Setup of a Bing Places account is easy. Establish your account, follow the instructions to optimize it and move on. The Bing search engine powers Yahoo.com search results so it’s a “must do” step in a successful local seo plan.

More information:

10 Basic Bing Local Optimization Tips

Setup Yahoo Local (Localworks)

Yahoo Local listings are not as complicated as Google but they do have options. At the base level you need to sign up for a free basic listing.

At the time of this writing they did have several other paid options including a directory submission level powered by Yext. The value of paying for the Yext service is debatable and not something that we’ll address here at the moment. But increasing your citations is important as we’ll discuss later.

Submit to Primary Data Distributors

Have you ever wondered how Google Maps or your GPS have information about your business? Many times they get their information from secondary data distributors.

You can go directly to these sites and have them distribute your information to hundreds of websites and services.

As of 2014 here are the top companies. We won’t go into the specifics here because things are always changing.

  1. Neustar/Localeze
  2. Infogroup
  3. Acxiom
  4. Factual

More information: 

Keep an eye on David Mihm over at Moz.com as he continually updates us on the ever changing world of how these companies distribute data to sites and search engines.

Need help with your data distribution? Look no further.

Claim Industry Specific Citations

Citations are listings of your business on other websites. The basic information is Name, Address and Phone (Your NAP). More information can be distributed and uploaded to other websites including your website address, photos, videos and more.

Industry specific citations are important because they help search engines understand what your business does. The more citations that you have, the more Google will trust that you’re a legit business operating in your field.

We’re a local SEO company so it makes sense for us to be listed on various SEO directory sites, marketing industry directories, etc.

Industry specific citations can be either structured or unstructured citations. The difference is that structured citations are usually in a directory or searchable/sortable format that search engines and users can easily digest. Unstructured citations are a little more random where you might be the only business listed on the page. Structured citations are obviously much harder to establish but can be very valuable to your local SEO efforts.

Your industry citation targets will be completely different than the next guy but there are resources available to get you started with the basics.

More Information:

Best Industry Citations from GetListed.org

Looking for an easy way to find citations? Look no further.

Claim Local Citations

Local citations are listings of your business on other websites in your local area. The basic information is Name, Address and Phone (Your NAP). More information can be distributed and uploaded to other websites including your website address, photos, videos and more.

Local specific citations are important because they help search engines understand where your business in located and what you do (among other things). The more citations that you have, the more Google will trust that you’re a legit business operating in your local area.

We’re a local internet marketing company located in Ohio so it makes sense for us to be listed on any business directory that’s specific to Ohio or cities in our local area.

More Information:

Best sources for local citations.

Looking for an easy way to find citations? Look no further.

Claim Listings on Priority Citation/Directory Sites

Citations are listings of your business on other websites. The basic information is Name, Address and Phone (Your NAP). More information can be distributed and uploaded to other websites including your website address, photos, videos and more.

Citations are important because they help search engines learn more about your business. The more citations that you have, the more Google will trust that you’re a legit business.

Be careful about submitting your information to just any site. It won’t necessarily hurt anything, just consider the time that it takes because not all sites are created equal. Start with obvious choices like popular Yellow Page websites, Yelp.com, etc.

NOTE: Data distributors will send your information to most popular sites but they might only be sending basic information. To fully optimize your listings you’ll need to manually claim and optimize them.

More Information:

Looking for an easy way to find citations? Look no further.

Bright Local’s Top 50 Local Citation Sites

The Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics

Phase 1: Local Campaign Planning & Setup

Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO

Local Search Tactics Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies
Local Search SEO Tactics Guide

There are many things that you can accomplish with your own website so you shouldn’t waste an opportunity that you can fully control. Many of the factors that influence local search rankings are outside of your control so start with the following onsite tactics and you’ll start to build on that solid foundation here in Phase 2 of our Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics.

Display Phone Number Aggressively

Consider adding your official street address, city name and phone number to the header or footer of your website. Make sure that it’s TEXT and not an image.

Add Location & Contact Information to Website

Making sure that Google knows that you’re a local business starts with telling them where you’re located in your city. Add your official address to your website on every page. If you have multiple locations, make sure that each location has it’s own optimized page with contact information.

Optimize Title Tags, HTML, and Content

Whenever appropriate, you should try to optimize the individual pages on your site and include your city and state. It might or might not be appropriate everywhere, every time. But consider sprinkling your location throughout the site pages so your specific location has a “presence” throughout your site.

Setup and Distribute an XML and Onsite Sitemap

This one is not local specific but it’s an SEO best practice. You must make it easy for search engines to index all of your content. Especially secondary landing pages that are location specific. A great way to do this is by using a content management system like WordPress which will create XML and onsite sitemaps automatically. If you’re not using WordPress you can alway create an XML sitemap manually.

Create KLM File

A KLM file is another way that you can tell the search engines specifically where your business is located. They’re simple to create and upload to your site so there’s no excuse to quickly accomplish this step and move on.

Encourage Reviews

As mentioned previously in the first section (Phase 1 Planning/Setup) you should have a strategy to acquire reviews from customers. It can happen naturally Local Search SEO Tactics Guideas customers seek out sites to review your business and leave feedback, but you should have an active strategy to encourage reviews and make it very easy for your clients.

Some ideas:

Setup a blog or method to publish content

Setup a Blog or Method to Publish Content

Google loves content. Having an easy way to create and publish content on your website is essential. Start now, never stop. Hire someone to create content if needed. Creating the content is the hard part, setting up an easy way to publish that content is easy. Consider building your entire website on a platform like WordPress to make updates and maintenance simple.

As Google states “Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

This all starts with having a good way to easily publish great content.

The Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics

Phase 1: Local Campaign Planning & Setup

Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO

Local Search Tactics Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies
Local Search SEO Tactics Guide

Every great campaign starts with a solid foundation. In this section of our Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics you’ll learn the basics of how you can establish a solid base for your local marketing Local Search SEO Tactics Guidecampaign. Many of the local tactics presented here are geared toward totally new businesses, but if you’re marketing an established business and have the option to implement a change that helps solidify the base, then don’t hesitate. Many of these tips can make or break a successful campaign.

Keyword Research

Keyword research drives everything. Many people will say that local search starts with Google+ or building out your NAP, etc. I’m going to suggest that you start at the very beginning with thorough keyword research. To do everything mentioned here effectively you need to know which keywords and phrases are priority. You may think you know what words your customers will use to find you, but more often than not, you’ll be wrong. At a minimum you could be limiting your possibilities and opportunities. For example, If you’re a lawyer, should you call yourself a lawyer, attorney, law firm or something more specific? Only keyword research will give you the answer and it can make a big difference in your overall results.

Get started here: Google Keyword Planner

Establish Your Business Name

If you’re just starting out, consider establishing your business name using your priority keywords. It’s not easy to change things later and you definitely don’t want to tweak your official business name later to insert keywords. So consider (for example) calling your new business Bob’s Cake Bakery and Cookies instead of Roberto’s Fancy Sweets. Bad examples but hopefully you get the idea.

Establish Your Company Website URL

Now that you know your priority keywords from your keyword research and you have a business name that’s chock full of keywords, you need a website address. Without making your URL too long, consider having your keywords in your URL. Even if you could get a simple URL like bobbys.com, consider a domain that’s more descriptiive and longer like bobbysbakery.com.

Tip: Having one dash in your URL is ok. Two dashes is pushing it. 3 is spammy and not ideal. Make it easy to remember.

Tip: Stick with a .com addresses if at all possible. (Unless you legitimately need .org, .net or .edu, etc.)

Tip: Register your domain through GoDaddy.com and use a promo code. They always have discount offers.

Establish a Physical Address in Your City

Don’t even consider using a P.O. box. when you’re promoting and distributing your business information. Don’t do it. Ever. You must have a physical mailing address within your city. End of story.

Establish Your Office Close to the Centroid

You’ll have a much better chance of ranking in the local listings vs. businesses on the outskirts of the city if you have a physical address in the center (the centroid) of your primary city. It’s not a huge factor anymore but every little bit helps.

Tip: Use Google Maps to determine exactly where this is.

Establish a Local Phone Number

There’s something to be said about having a toll-free number but if you’re trying to connect with local customers you should focus on your local phone number as much as possible. It should be everywhere, on every page of your website, and distributed aggressively on your citations. It’s a major ranking factor. I would even go so far as to speculate that having a toll-free number on your site might dilute your local focus in the eyes of Google. Make sure that your local phone number is consistent and everywhere.

Develop an Action Plan and Set Measures/Goals

An important part of developing a successful local SEO strategy is deciding how you’ll measure success. Local success could mean many things depending on your objectives. The point is to get everyone on the same page from the start and decide what the goals are and ultimately how success will be measured.

Confirm and Solidify Your Business Categories

Part of your keyword research should include researching the business categories that fit your business the best. The top level categories are a great place to start to determine the best broad keywords. Identifying the top categories will also help you learn how Google and other sites categorize your industry.

In addition, in other tactics we’ll discuss later, you’ll be distributing your business information on secondary websites. Identifying the best categories ahead of time should be a priority.

Base your top choices on what’s available within Google. http://blumenthals.com/index.php?Google_LBC_Categories

Use search suggest on Google and other sites like the Yellow Pages to identify more top level categories.

Establish Associations & Member Accounts

If you’ve just started a business decide if there are any important local or trade memberships that you can establish. Even if you have an existing business, document your current associations and memberships because they’ll come in handy when distributing and optimizing your company information online. Do you belong to a local Chamber of Commerce? How about several chambers from the surrounding area? How about affordable industry associations or prominent memberships in your local business community. All of this information should be documented and distributed going forward so establish them now instead of later.

Establish Campaign Email Accounts

You’ll need to decide which email address you’ll use when distributing your business information. This is important because you’ll need to claim many of your citation accounts using email. So if you’re an agency, consider setting up something like [email protected] so you have easy access to the account to do your job. You’ll also distribute a contact email for the business as well. so you should confirm what email address the business wants to use so customers can contact the right person in the future.

NEVER use an employee, owner or partner email address. When they leave the company or retire (and they will) it will be a huge mess. You can always forward the email address but it’s not ideal.

Setup Priority Social Engagement Accounts

You’ll likely have opportunities to distribute links to your social profiles like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as you go forward. Make sure that your accouts are at least established before you start — even if you’re not currently active. That way they’ll be in place and accessible from any citation source in the future.

Develop a Review Acquisition Strategy

Ask yourself from the beginning how you’ll encourage and make it EASY for people to review your business online. If you’re developing a new website, how will you encourage reviews? Will you have a dedicated link, promo, page that explains all their options? When you distribute your business information, will you link directly to your page that encourages reviews? What is the link to this page? If you’re printing business cards, can you include a call to action to review your site online? Again, what’s the link? How about signs in your store, on receipts, etc? Encouraging reviews is important so think through your strategy at the start so you can effectively distribute the information going forward.

Learn more about ways to encourage reviews here.

Integrate Analytics and Webmaster Tools

Setup Analytics. It’s good for you. Seriously, Google Analytics is free and it will be a great resource to understand whether your local search campaign is successful in the future or not. You’ll know everything about your website traffic, where your visitors are coming from, what they’re using to search for your business online and ultimately if visitors are turning into customers.

Take your first step. Do it today and move forward knowing that you’re collecting great data that you can use in the future: http://www.google.com/analytics/learn/setupchecklist.html

The Massive Guide to Local Search Tactics

Phase 1: Local Campaign Planning & Setup

Phase 2: Primary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 3: Primary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 4: Secondary Onsite Local Strategies

Phase 5: Secondary Offsite Local Strategies

Phase 6: Enterprise Specific Local SEO

Local Search Tactics Phase 1: Local Campaign & Planning Setup
Web Search Results in Yosemite

Digital marketers and business owners have been talking for a while now about how it’s becoming harder to track local digital marketing efforts.

It used to be all about rankings online. Then it became about clicks and visits. Then we all became real sophisticated and started tracking conversions and calls coming through from the website.

Then Google, as they tend to do, decided that they’d like to make our lives as marketers and business owners a little more difficult. They started to show information within the search results. In fairness, they’re just trying to give the searcher the information they’re seeking with as little friction as possible.

But if potential customers are researching a local service provider, they can now get almost everything they need, right within the Google search results. They can judge the quality of the company with reviews. They can confirm where the business is located with the address. They can contact the company by phone. They can get directions to the location as well as other tidbits that help them decide if they’re going to engage with the business.

But this creates a problem if you’re trying to justify your marketing efforts. Essentially a customer could contact you and do business with you and you have no way to track that success back to anything related to your online marketing strategy.

Just to take the problem further and see where things are going in the future, I just upgraded my Mac to the new system software. And you can now search ON THE COMPUTER and it will not only search your computer – it will search the web and return results right there within the computer interface.

mac-local-search-results

So now Google has lost control. The marketer has lost control and now the business has lost control of any ability to track where a lead or sale originated unless you physically ask the customer where they found you. Many times they’ll just end up saying ‘online’ or they won’t be able to remember.

The bottom line is that justifying your local digital marketing activities is going to get harder before it gets easier. We should all keep an eye on how this evolves and continually find ways to track the value of our efforts when dealing with marketing online.

Why Tracking Local Leads and Conversions Online is Getting Harder
Why is Local SEO Important

Why is Local SEO ImportantMore than 40 percent of online searches now focus on returning results for local companies, and Google, Bing, and Yahoo have changed their algorithms to address that need.

If you haven’t already noticed, search engines deliver search results based on the physical location of the person performing the search. If your intent is to buy something locally, then Google will more than likely return a listing of the names, addresses, phone numbers and websites  for local businesses providing what you want to buy.

Unfortunately, a search engine can only do that when the sites it scans contain the information needed to perform this pre-selection. The website that fails to optimize locally could find itself relegated to page 10 or worse of the search results: that is, if it shows up at all.

(more…)

Why is Local SEO Important?