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small business SEO

5 Steps to Small Business Search Engine Optimization

The video above is a replay of a recent live webinar I conducted. Combined with the text below you should have a pretty good feel for the steps necessary for small business SEO.

If you’re looking for a highly technical post on search engine optimization (SEO), this is not the content for you, and honestly, that’s because I don’t believe SEO is that technical (unless you have an e-commerce site, in which case it can be). There are elements you have to understand, but you mainly have to apply the right tactics on a consistent basis.

So, without further ado, here are the five steps that I would recommend for small businesses as they dive into their SEO efforts.

1. Strategy First

Back in the day, people would get a website built, they’d get somebody to put content in the website, and then they’d find somebody to “SEO the site,” but you can’t approach SEO that way today because every aspect of your total online presence is so highly integrated (see image below), that you really have to think about all of the components at the same time.

small business seo strategy

This is why I put such a strong emphasis on focusing on strategy first.

When focusing on your strategy, start by developing a list of problems that your target audience is experiencing that you can help them solve. Conduct keyword research around this list of core themes and identify the top five or so topics that you’ll produce content around. So, instead of writing about your products and services, you’ll write about, in detail, the problems your audience is facing and how to fix them.

Content is such a big part of SEO these days. You must create content that your audience will want to read and find useful, which allows you to make a connection to the solutions that you sell. That’s how you think strategically about search engine optimization.

The key is to hone in on four or five core topics and start producing content around those. Your website structure and content need to revolve around these few themes which will make your content development easier and more focused.

To develop these themes, I brainstorm a bunch of topics, and then there are a few tools I use to narrow them down:

Google Keyword Planner

This is a free tool from Google that is a part of Google Ads and is often used by advertisers to figure out what search terms and keywords they should bid on, but it’s also a great tool for giving you data on what search terms are being searched for.

In addition to monthly search volume and competition, Google Keyword Planner also gives you a suggested bid for the term, and while you aren’t using this for advertising purposes per se, it can help you see which word may generate more conversions or sales because people are willing to pay more for it in their advertising, which is a good clue it could be a good word for you to target with your content. Decent volume and a higher suggested bid could be good indicators that those are good themes you should go after.

Keywordtool.io

This tool gives you questions that people are asking which often show high intent (questions are great for voice search SEO as well).

Answer the Public

When you type in a search term, this site will give you a bunch of variations and questions people are asking related to that term.

Google Auto-Complete

If you just start typing a keyword into the search box on Google, it will start to suggest what terms they think you’re after or related common searches (there are also related searches at the bottom of the search page). These related terms are often ones that have high volume.

google related terms

Keywords Everywhere (Chrome Extension)

When you type in a search term in Google, this extension will provide a sidebar on the right side of search engine results pages that shows you related keywords and other things that people have been searching for, as well as volume and cost per click.

Once you have the handful of themes that you’d like to move forward with, I’d recommend creating what I call hub pages that have a lot of related links driving back to them, including block posts related content that you produce over a year or so. From a structural standpoint, I’d make these hub pages prominent tabs on your main site navigation (more on the hub content later).

2. Google My Business

Once your strategy is in place, you have to essentially bow down to Google, especially if you’re a local business. For local businesses, Google My Business has become one of your most important search engine optimization assets.

Google My Business is also how you get into Google Maps that show up above the organic listings. To determine who shows up in this 3-pack, Google factors in the proximity of where you currently are, but it also factors in if your Google My Business listing is properly optimized. To optimize your listing:

  • Make sure it’s claimed
  • Make sure there aren’t any duplicates of the listing
  • Add a specific and relevant category
  • Include your company’s name, address, local phone number, and website (these should match the information on your website)
  • Add photos and videos
  • Add positive reviews (these are a huge ranking factor on their own) – Be sure to respond to all reviews, both positive and negative.
  • Publish Google Posts

To be effective with your SEO, small businesses need to not only take advantage of Google My Business, but the entire Google Universe as well, including Google My Business, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Google Ads, because they all integrate together to help you get the results you desire.

3. On-site ranking factors

If you’re trying to optimize a page for a keyword phrase, you get to set the:

  • URL of the page
  • Page title (meta)
  • Header tags – H1 and H2
  • Alt image attribute
  • Page content

Take a look at these elements on the page you’re reading now – you’ll see SEO tips and strategies for small business in a number of places because that’s what this page is optimized for.

So, include the keyword in those areas! Now, this is not to say you should keyword stuff because you shouldn’t. You still want to write for humans, but be sure to take the opportunity to get your most important keywords in these areas. The page title, meta description, and URL also influence the snippet that shows up in search engine results pages (meta description isn’t an actual ranking factor, but it is a click-through factor, kind of like an ad for somebody to click).

I use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, which is a free plugin that helps me optimize this metadata. I highly recommend using it!

To supplement these on page efforts, you must control your Google Search Console as well. This is where you tell Google what’s on your website. To do this effectively:

  • Claim and verify your profile
  • Add your sitemap
  • Check your messages
  • Integrate it with Google Analytics

4. Content Hubs

I spoke about this briefly earlier in the post but thought I’d dive a little deeper. Content is no longer just a tactic; it’s like the air that’s necessary for your marketing efforts, which is why these hubs are so important because this content becomes such an important asset over time.

If you were working with an HVAC contractor, for example, this is what a hub page (Guide to Air Conditioning Repair) with its various sections may look like:

small business content marketing

On these pages, you’d include links to all of the content you’re writing about these topics as well curated content from other websites that are related, creating a link building structure that shows Google all of this content is related. It essentially shows Google that you have useful content for your audience. Remember, the guide itself will be in your main site navigation.

If you create 4-5 hub pages over the course of the year and just keep building upon them, they will be huge assets for your business.

Here’ an example of a hub page we’ve put together for Duct Tape Marketing: The Ultimate Guide to Local Marketing.

5. Off-site ranking factors

These are things that you do have some control over, but they’re not on your website (although typically point back to your site). These are other factors that tell Google what your site’s about, what people think about it, that it’s important, etc.

Clean data

Make sure all listing and directories are accurate across the web. This is especially important if your business has moved. Your data needs to be consistent. There are a few tools that can help to ensure your data is clean including Yext and MozLocal (both offer free scans to see where you stand and can help you fix them).

Links from other sites

If people link to posts on your site (a backlink), this tells Google that people think you have great content on your site. It acts as a popularity vote. Good places to look to add links to your site include:

  • Alumni sites
  • Strategic partners and suppliers
  • Local events
  • Media
  • Chamber of Commerce

Reviews

When people write about your business and type in what a business does well, Google recognizes this. The following are areas to add reviews:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Yelp
  • Industry-related review sites

Social signals

When people talk about you on social media, Google pays attention to those mentions.

Domain authority

You have less to do with this, but it’s a huge ranking factor. This factors in how many links back to your site are from important sites, how long the domain has been around, and so on.

To recap the information above, you must have a plan; you must take advantage of the Googleverse, you must optimize and pay attention to on and off page ranking factors, and you need to build content hubs.

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to Small Business SEO.

voice search

How to Optimize Your Website for Voice Search

As we are all aware at this point, voice recognition technology is continuing to get better and better, in fact, it is now believed to be 95% accurate. As users, we’re adapting to this new voice revolution rather quickly (almost 1/4 of mobile search queries are voice search), yet marketers and SEO specialists seem to be lagging behind a bit when it comes to optimizing for this new way to search.

If you’re in the marketing world, it’s time you start paying attention to voice search optimization to help you show up in search results via this method.

While optimizing for voice search requires slightly different tactics than the search engine optimization techniques we’re used to, they can benefit your website as a whole, regardless of how a person is searching for you, so implementing these best practices is really a win-win.

Aim for the Featured Snippet

Position zero, or Google’s featured snippet, is now the most coveted spot in search engine results pages for many reasons, but becoming the top result for voice search is now one of them.

A featured snippet is meant to be a quick answer to a question (as shown in the screenshot below), which is typically what people are looking for when they are using voice search.

voice search optimization

If you are able to land this spot in results pages, you’ll be more likely to be the result found in voice search results. According to a survey by Backlinko, 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a Featured Snippet.

With the featured snippet, simple answers (such as asking a celebrity’s age) are answered directly as they are facts. For more expert/opinion-based posts, search engines will pull content from websites they think are the best fit to answer the question.

Helpful tips to get to that desired spot include:

  • Knowing and addressing your audience’s intent
  • Doing your keyword research
  • Creating high-quality content that answers questions
  • Implementing SEO best practices
  • Focusing on easy-to-follow formatting

At the end of the day, aiming for the Featured Snippet should be a top priority regardless of how people search, but it can really give you an extra boost with voice search.

Optimize for certain types of keywords

As most people in the marketing world know, when it comes to SEO, keywords are, well, key. They are at the core of your content strategy and help you identify and respond to audience intent.

When it comes to voice search, you need to think about keywords and SEO a bit differently as these search queries tend to be a bit longer than type-based search. Because of this, you really need to put an emphasis on long-tail keywords.

Additionally, when people use voice search, they’re typically more conversational than when they type terms into a search box. Be sure to create content around conversational phrases. Having an FAQ page on a site or Q&A related blog posts can be easy for search engines to pull from since questions typically come across as being more conversational. I like using Answer the Public to find questions related to search terms I’m trying to rank for. I definitely encourage you to check it out!

When it comes to SEO, I don’t really condone shortcuts as SEO should be looked at as a marathon, not a sprint, however, research is showing that there are some common trigger words that may help with voice search that you could add to your target keyword phrases to help you get found through voice search. These terms include, but are not limited to:

  • Buy
  • Get
  • Find
  • Top rated
  • Closest

Granted, don’t include these in all of your content, but you may want to consider sprinkling them in here and there.

Understand schema markup

If you’re asking yourself what schema markup is, I highly recommend starting your research (and don’t be deterred by code, this is important stuff!). Not only does it bode well for search optimization in general, it may also be one of the most important factors to ranking for voice search.

In a nutshell, schema markup helps search engines understand the content on a page. By including it on your website, you make it very clear what that page is all about, making it easy for search engines to scan.

Invest in mobile optimization

For SEO in general right now, it is imperative that your website is mobile-friendly. Google primarily cares about user experience and are now pulling the experience on mobile devices over a desktop for SEO. I’d recommend moving to a responsive design and ensuring mobile site speed is quick to avoid penalty.

Since so many voice searches are done via mobile device it’s essential you are optimized to help get found in mobile results.

Focus on content

While this may seem like a no-brainer at this point in the SEO game, there are a few specific tips that you should pay attention to specifically when it comes to voice search:

  • Ensure your content is simple and easy to read
  • Aim to write long-form content (roughly 2,000 words) as that’s typically what Google pulls from for voice search
  • Answer your audience’s questions and solve their problems with your content
  • Write/speak naturally in your content (this goes back to people using conversational phrases when using voice search)
  • Share your content on social media regularly, as those tend to perform better with voice search

Stick with SEO basics

Lastly, don’t forget about the basics of SEO. The more you follow those best practices, the more Google will reward you. Just because there are new aspects to consider doesn’t mean you should forget about the existing elements.

  • Be sure to optimize on-page elements with relevant keywords including URL, page title, header tags, alt text, meta description, and within the copy itself.
  • Build a backlink and review strategy.
  • Ensure your site is secure.
  • Focus on page speed (according to Backlinko, the average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds (52% faster than the average page).

I say this all the time but it never seems to be enough: build out your total online presence. Create the best user experience you can and you’ll see the benefits roll in.

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.

quick fixes for SEO

Quick Fixes to Turn Your SEO Around

Let me be clear, SEO is absolutely a marathon, not a sprint. To do it well, it takes a lot of time and effort and needs to be a continuous practice.

With that being said, there are a few low-hanging fruit items that you can address first that can help turn your SEO efforts around (or kick them off) quickly.

Interested in what I’m talking about? Read on.

Focus on keywords with intent

With the way people search online these days, the key to SEO is understanding your user’s intent. What problems, questions, or goals do they have?

Did you know that if you’re already ranking on the first page of Google, providing the best answers within your content to questions your audience is searching for can potentially land you a featured snippet in search engine results pages? That’s huge!

People may express problems in ways that turn into key phrases, so content today has to be customer-focused.  To discover your customer’s intent, look at emails that you’ve sent. Talk to your sales or service reps. What questions are they answering?

I also find that tools such as Keywordtool.io and Answer the Public are extremely useful because they turn up actual questions people ask about specific terms, which is one of the best ways to find intent in a search phrase.

In addition to intent-based keywords, looks at the keywords your competitors are using as well and brainstorm ways to target those in order to compete in search rankings.

Use these target keywords within your content to help get found online.

Find and fix broken links

No matter how great your website is, broken links happen. External website URLs changes, pages get taken down, the list goes on. While it’s common, having broken links on your website can have a negative impact on SEO (404 errors are a big issue). It all ties back to Google wanting to provide their users with the best customer experience possible.

If you find a broken link on your website, either remove it or update it to the current link (or swap it out with an even better, more current one).

There are numerous tools you can use to identify these links without having to manually go through each page on your site. One of the tools I highly recommend using is Google Webmaster Tools. With it, you can not only identify broken links, but you can also see how your site looks from Google’s perspective.

Moving forward, if you decided to change any URLs on your site or remove any pages, be sure to set up redirects that drive to an existing page to avoid getting penalized.

Develop a backlink strategy

Link building is the new networking and is essential for your SEO efforts.

When I talk to business owners I often hear that link building is one of their biggest challenges, so they don’t always put a lot of effort into it because it can become burdensome and frustrating for them. Trust me, it doesn’t have to be that way.

They key is to create amazing content (this ties back into your keyword research strategy as well). By creating linkable assets, such as videos, how-to guides, infographics, and podcasts, you’ll be able to attract backlinks from other sites that want to link to that content. Share this content on your social platforms, via email, and with your strategic partners to help them spread the word with their networks.

In addition to creating this amazing content on your site, consider:

  • Being a guest on a podcast – check out the numerous benefits of this tactic here
  • Guest blogging on a credible site
  • Leveraging partnerships – Consider writing testimonials for your partners and include a link back to your site in the review.
  • Networking in person – Build those relationships!
  • Getting added to citations and directories

Don’t forget to add internal links throughout your site either. This can also help boost your SEO and it’s within your control.

At the end of the day, reputable backlinks will help to keep your site relevant in search engines.

Focus on the basics

It’s always good to go back to the basics and focus on your on-page SEO. Here are some tactics to keep in mind:

  • Include your target keyword or keyword phrase in your page title, meta description, H1 tags, URL, and organically within your page (don’t keyword stuff)
  • Ensure the page title is less than 65 characters and that the meta description is between 50 and 300 (this limit was increased this year)
  • Add internal and external links to your pages and posts
  • Label the image alt text with the topic you’re writing about

Additionally, do a review of your blog posts and optimize past content. See what links are dated and update them. Do your keyword research and see if there are newer and better keywords to target for the posts. Swap out old CTAs and replace with new ones. Keep your content current and show Google you’re staying active. It will benefit your SEO efforts.

Lastly, do a crawl of your site to ensure there isn’t any duplicate content. While this may sound like a no-brainer, after you’ve been developing content for awhile, it can be difficult to pinpoint what you’ve already written about (it could have been created years ago!). While writing about the same topic is OK, just make sure the content itself is unique from page to page or post to post.

That’s it for today! What low-hanging fruits have you grabbed onto that have produced good results for your business?

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.

seo 2018

The Most Effective SEO Tactics of 2018 Thus Far

We’re almost halfway through the year (what?!), which makes it a good time to start taking a look at what’s working as it relates to your SEO efforts so that you can plan accordingly moving forward. We’ve seen a lot of people increase their SEO budgets this year, which isn’t surprising, as it’s a significant piece of your marketing puzzle.

Here are the SEO tactics that seem to be working thus far.

Master keyword research

The importance of keyword research hasn’t changed over the years, but how we approach them has.

Your keyword strategy is the driver behind your content efforts (and in turn, your SEO efforts). Keywords should be used to identify user intent and search behavior.

Focusing your content on long-tail keywords gives you a better chance to match the intent of the person searching for you.

I’ve been using my keyword research to help me identify content hub themes every month.

Content hubs are fully foundational pages that have tremendous amounts of value about what the theme is, with blogs and other resources that people can click through to for further information.

I not only have internal pages driving back to this one hub page, I also include links to external, high-quality content on the page that can also be linked back to the hub page.

With so many pages driving to one another, you’ll start to gain a lot of trust and authority from Google, which will help your SEO efforts.

Think about the context of your content

As many marketers know at this point, Google’s primary job is to provide people with an excellent user experience, and because of this, they want to make sure their users get the best possible content provided to them based on the search criteria they’re looking for.

Gone are the days that you can just skim over a given topic. Today, you must take a deep dive into what you’re trying to cover so that a user can get all of the information they’re looking for in one place.

I’ve seen people say your post needs to be 2,000 words to be effective, however, I say use as many words as necessary to get your point across thoroughly. What’s worse than not hitting 2,000 words, is rambling on about nothing for the last 1,000 of those words. Think quality over quantity.

Focus on link-building

When I talk to marketers I often hear that one of their biggest challenges is link building, and because of this, putting a strong effort towards it is often put on the backburner, but this is a big problem.

Although rules and tactics have changed over the years, the heart of SEO still revolves around content and links. Without great content, you’ll never get links, so if you’re looking for a place to get started, create that amazing content. By creating linkable assets, you’ll be able to attract backlinks from other sites that want to link to that content.

Now, don’t forget internal links either. Linking to other content on your site can also help boost your SEO and it’s a low hanging fruit to grab onto.

Improve CTR

What you find on Google’s search engine results pages has changed over the years with different types of ads, answer boxes, and so on (that’s as of today, who knows what will show up tomorrow).

With so many places to click through to, it’s no wonder that click-through rates (CTR) on SERPs has declined for companies over the past few years.

So, how do you avoid this? Master the art of developing CTAs and copy that scream to be clicked on. This applies to ad copy as well as copy that shows up in your organic posts (such as the copy that can be found in your page titles and meta descriptions).

Optimize for mobile

Have you heard of Google’s mobile-first index? It’s exactly how it sounds. Google is now ranking search results based only on the mobile version of the page as opposed to taking both mobile and desktop versions into consideration. This makes sense from a customer experience standpoint as the majority of Google searches are done on a mobile device these days.

This is not good news for people who have put the majority of their time and effort towards desktop functionality.

Moral of the story is if your website isn’t mobile optimized, you’re going to take a hit when it comes to SEO. Some people think they can get by with their website being technically mobile friendly, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly optimized. Keep your visitors’ experience in mind and make sure the mobile version provides the best one possible. It will increase your odds to get found on search.

Use video and other visual elements

According to Cisco, online video will make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021. That number is startling, but does it really surprise you? It’s hard to ignore video, this medium can be so engaging!

So, while us marketers have been talking about video for years now, it’s time to really get serious about it.

Seems like a foreign concept? Start with YouTube! Not only is it easy to use and embed on your site, YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and it’s owned by Google, which, from an SEO standpoint is a major plus (have you started seeing YouTub videos appear in Google Image search yet?).

In addition to video, be sure to include relevant and intriguing images on your site to help break up the written content on a page. Check your image file size to make sure it isn’t too large as that could slow down your site speed (a red flag for Google).

Be a guest on a podcast

I talked about this topic earlier this year but believe in the power of it, so I thought I’d revisit the topic, although you don’t commonly hear about it as a best practice for SEO. Here are a few of the benefits you’ll receive by being a guest on a podcast:

  • Access to a highly engaged audience
  • Easier than writing guest blog posts
  • You’ll establish real emotional connections
  • It becomes a highly shareable piece of content
  • You’ll gain credibility
  • Potential for online reviews

Combine the points above and you’ll create a recipe for SEO success.

Keep things fresh

Google wants to see that your site is active. In lieu of constantly posting new content, figure out ways to re-purpose existing content as well as ways to update that content. This can really help your SEO efforts without always having to reinvent the wheel.

Seems like a lot? It is, but don’t forget you have the ability to outsource these tactics to a specialist if you don’t think they can get done in-house.

Are you implementing the tactics mentioned above? What are you struggling with the most? What tactics are you seeing success with?

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.

missing the boat

Why You May Be Missing the Boat When It Comes to Local SEO

If you own or work for a local business within your community, you simply can’t ignore local SEO if you want your business to stay competitive. People need to be able to find you in local search results, and businesses near the top of the search engine results pages don’t show up there by accident. They put in the time and effort to make sure they get found.

If you have started implementing local SEO tactics but still aren’t where you want to be in search results, you may be missing some key elements. Below are a few common reasons businesses may be missing the boat when it comes to local SEO.

You’re ignoring the importance of on-page elements

On-page factors are important for SEO in general to make sure you get found online, but there are a few things you really need to be paying attention to when it comes to local search. If you want to reach local prospects and customers, you should include the name of the city or area your business serves within your page title and meta description. This will help notify both Google and prospects of where you are. Including your location within your website content is important as well. Be sure to also include your name, address, and phone number (NAP) on the homepage of your website as another area that can alert Google where you are located.

You’re not paying attention to your citation profile and inbound links

The majority of consumers use search engines to conduct local searches, but many businesses don’t claim a single local business listing online, which is a problem.

Google relies on hundreds of data aggregators and directories to help them keep all the local businesses straight. Getting your listing right on search engines is essential. If you’ve moved or changed your name, address, or phone number (NAP), or just listed it in numerous ways across a bunch of directories, there’s a good chance Google isn’t sure which listing is accurate, which can hurt you in terms of getting found online.

Google wants to send people to the right physical address. I’d recommend investing in a tool like MozLocal to see where your business stands. If you find that there are a few inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete listings use MozLocal, BrightLocalWhiteSpark or Yext to clean up listings and get rid of inaccurate duplicates.

In addition to being listed on directories, such as Yelp, make sure your business is included in local directories, such as with your chamber of commerce or tourism associations, as well.

Your Google My Business listing isn’t optimized

While Google My Business is technically a listing, it’s a big one and comes with its own set of optimization requirements. It is imperative that you pay attention to, claim, and optimize your Google My Business Listing. To get everything set up, visit google.com/business.

Unfortunately, there’s a chance you may have some cleanup to do. Confirm you only have one listing for your business and that it’s the one Google thinks is yours.

Once the right listing is claimed, take full advantage of the real estate and linking options available. This is essential for your business to show up in the desired Google 3-pack for local searches.

Your Google My Business Listing must be optimized and include the following:

  • Solid information including a description, business hours, and so on
  • An accurate category
  • Photos or videos
  • 5-star reviews

Note the exact way your NAP appears in the listing. Whatever is listed as the NAP on the listing, you’ll want to use it consistently on your website and across all directories and online mentions. If you don’t have a location customers or clients can visit, you can hide your physical address as you’re setting up your Google My Business listing.

Online reviews aren’t a priority to you

Google sees reviews as one of the elements that help determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack, but as you may be aware, reviews aren’t always easy to get. Even a business with loyal and satisfied customers must work to get them.

The key is to ask often and make it as easy as possible for happy customers to log in to the sites that matter and leave a review for you, such as on Google My Business listings and Facebook. You can always repurpose these reviews in other areas such as in email newsletters or on your website.

Tools like GetFiveStars and Grade.us can help automate the process of review collection to help lessen the burden on you.

If you run a local business, it’s important to make the steps above a priority. You may find that local leads drawn from organic search can become your most effective lead generation channel.

Remember, whenever a review is left about your business, positive or negative, it’s important to respond to it. It shows others reading the reviews that you care what your customers think and that you are willing to dedicate time to their own unique experiences and needs.

You don’t understand schema markup and are not using it

If you’re not familiar with schema markup, it’s a good idea to brush up on this topic so that you know how to use it. You should be conversational and knowledgeable on the topic, but you don’t really need to know anything about the underlying code to get markup right. Just visit Schema.org’s Local Business NAP generator and fill it in – the tool will produce the HTML code you need to add to your client’s site in place of their current address.

In a nutshell, search engines are trying to adopt a consistent markup protocol to help use HTML code to identify things such as businesses, reviews, addresses, movies and so on. However, few businesses are using this on their websites, and if they are using it, they aren’t using it to its fullest potential.

Here’s the thing, by using schema markup, you’re not being sneaky. Google actually wants you to use it because it helps them better determine what the content on your website is all about.

You’re not creating local content

When you create content, you need to go above and beyond to let local customers know where you are.

It’s easy to get spammy when a lot of local content is listed and this can hurt you, but you can absolutely talk about where you work. Consider creating specific pages with case studies for specific neighborhoods that you cater to. It’s important for you to use your blog to talk about local events, the community, your customers, and employee-related local news.  By doing so, you are able to mix up your content in unique ways.

Are you implementing all of the recommendations above? If not, identify the areas you need to work on and really try to optimize them. This should help improve your rankings in search engine results pages and properly compete with your local competition.

in-house or agency SEO

In-House vs. Hiring an SEO Professional: Which Path Should You Choose?

Search Engine Optimization is an essential part of the marketing mix today – few businesses can afford to ignore or abdicate this tactic. If you have a well-optimized website, and a content-driven SEO strategy, you are guaranteed to improve your rankings. Yes, guaranteed. 

Implementing a sound SEO strategy isn’t tough, but you need to do it right, which begs the question, “who should run and manage the SEO side of your business?”

Staying In-House vs. Choosing a Professional

It all comes down to the needs of your company. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s likely that one of your biggest pain points is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. There are few business owners who have the time to create content consistently while keeping up with day-to-day tasks of the company. It’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to kick off and manage an in-house SEO program.

While ongoing SEO tasks should be in every entrepreneur’s wheelhouse, it’s likely they’ll require outside professional help as well to ensure the program is successful.

Don’t believe me? Here is just a handful of the many tasks that should be considered for an effective SEO plan:

  • Blog posts – at least two/month, but ideal 4-8/month
  • Social media posts – 50-200 posts/month across major social media platforms
  • Guest blog posts – Occasional for relevant third-party sites
  • Ongoing reputation and citation management
  • Ongoing backlink analysis
  • Email marketing
  • PPC advertising
  • Marketing automation for lead capture and remarketing

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the numerous tasks that need to be taken care of for an impactful SEO strategy.

Ignoring Google altogether is no longer an option. Business owners need to sit down with the people in their organization and decide if they are going to take on these tasks themselves, hire a permanent role in-house to dedicate to this or seek help from an agency.

This isn’t always an easy decision. As a first step, I’d recommend identifying your website goals and SEO budget. Consider meeting with an SEO expert to weigh in on what is possible within your budget so that you can properly set expectations. Keep in mind, the dollars you allocate to SEO are an investment, not an expense.

Once you have a good understanding of your budget and goals, you need to decide between staying in-house and going with an agency.

Why I’d recommend agency over in-house

For small businesses, I recommend going with an agency.because you don’t have any training or management responsibilities, and it is often the most cost-effective option, provided you find an agency that follows best practices and delivers consistent results. Business owners must do their due diligence to find the right SEO partner.

There are many reasons why I think going with an agency is the best option, but one is that when you hire an agency, you’ll have an SEO expert who will outline his process and strategy. He’ll have experience working with other companies and dealing with challenges in real-time. These experts are forced to stay on top of their game by monitoring SEO and Google updates on a daily basis. If you hire a person in-house, you’ll never know if they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, because SEO isn’t your area of expertise, it’s there’s.

Additionally, agencies take a team-based approach and are able to help you with a variety of things including content generation (which isn’t always in an in-house person’s wheelhouse). Working with an agency will also give you access to premium SEO, social media, and tracking tools that you would likely not justify spending money on if it was out of your own business’s pockets.

How to choose the right agency

There are many ways to screen an SEO agency before engaging with one. It’s important to ask for proof. Unfortunately, many companies misrepresent and their achievements and don’t practice what they preach. To make sure you’re getting the answers you need, below is a list of common SEO questions you should be asking:

  • Have you done SEO for a business like mine before?
  • What references can you provide?
  • Can I see your recent case studies?
  • What is the primary metric on which you focus your SEO? – Look for customer leads, sales, and conversions.
  • What can you tell me about your approach to link building? – Look for quality over quantity.
  • When will I begin to see results? – SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Expect initial results within 4-6 months.
  • What type of marketing or SEO-related certifications do you have?
  • How much does SEO cost? Expect to spend a minimum of $1000/month for basic local SEO services. Most legitimate SEO companies will charge between $2000-$5000/month.

That’s my two cents. You can absolutely find quality SEO professionals to hire in-house, but over the years, I’ve seen small businesses find much greater success going the agency route.

If you’re implementing an SEO program in your small business, did you hire in-house or hire an agency? Why?

3 Winning the Game of Search with Tools

Winning the game of organic search comes down to three essential activities.

1. Figuring out what to write about in order to rank well for your key terms – Keyword research
2. Figuring out what others are doing that currently rank above you – Competitive research
3. Figuring out how to build authority for your content in the eyes of search engines – Link and networking research

While there are potentially dozens of elements that go into each of the points above for the most part this is the game. This also explains why content and social are foundational aspects of SEO today.

In an effort to do all that figuring out above you must employ a toolset that makes it easy to do keyword research, optimize every bit of content, spy on competitors and network to increase links and authority for your content.

Below is a list of tools I use for these activities. I wonder if you might add or share your favorites.

[listly id=”3pw” layout=”full”]

21 The Search it is a Changin

coffeeCurrently, it seems like there is a lot going on in the world of search that is pretty exciting for the typical user. Today I would like to point out a few changes I’ve noticed and what they might mean for your SEM and SEO efforts.

Visual Search – images seem to be getting more and more important in the search world. I don’t know if it’s a function of the fact that no one likes to read of if images are being used digitally (say as phone wallpaper) much as they were in print fashion years ago. It’s always been a good idea to optimize your images online, say with a file name and alt attribute that describe the content, but with Google’s changes to their image search engine it’s probably more useful than ever. Also, check out how Bing is displaying images with it’s Visual Search feature – this is a Bing search for Pulitzer winning fiction

A Feisty Competitor – And speaking of Bing, depending upon the research you choose Bing and proposed combination of Bing results for Yahoo search could start to put a dent in the once thought impossible Google search share. Bing users are finding the comparison shopping and travel, including airfare prediction feature very attractive. It’s certainly time to plug in and make sure your sitemap and other functions are playing well with Bing

Would you like a biscotti with that? – Lastly, Google is poised to release an update to its search algorithm so substantial they are making the rounds promoting it and allowing developers to play with it to experiment with results. The update is dubbed caffeine. The big promise is better results, faster results and real time results. The search engine optimization community always get very nervous during these updates but many signs point to the fact that if you produce lots of high quality content you’ll be fine. Although, take note (and I’ve been suggesting this for some time), social media content seems to becoming even more important for ranking purposes. I do also think that page load will get more emphasis so I would run your pages through the YSlow tool to get suggestions on speeding up page loads. You can play with search results in caffeine right now and see how your site will fare in a split screen mode of Google vs Google Caffeine Rank Tool. Google’s search voice Matt Cutts also shares views on Caffeine

13 Blog Post Optmization with SEO Blogger

keyword phrasesThe folks at Wordtracker, a paid service that is a great tool for discovering and choosing keyword phrases for your web site based on things such as search popularity and competition, pointed out a little Firefox add-on to me recently that some bloggers might find rather handy.

I’ve stated here often that one of the great benefits of blogging as a business tool is that search engines seem to rank blog content very highly. Given that fact, it’s also smart to write your blog content with both reader and spiders in mind. Using important keyword phases in things like your blog titles and blog text is a smart way to get the most bang for your blogging buck.

The Wordtracker Firefox add-on, called SEO Blogger, sits in the browser sidebar as you compose a blog post. Simply put in a keyword or phrase and the tool supplies you with related phrases and recent search volume so you can optimize your blog posts without ever leaving your posting screen. This can be a handy way to gain insight into the exact phrases people are using and even suggest new ways to say some of the things you write about often.

Here’s a quick four step tutorial on how SEO Blogger works.

Image credit: librarianishish

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34 SEO

SEO Is Not Really That Complicated

LotusJumpSo, I know this post will draw the ire of some SEO folks, but that’s alright, some need their ire drawn. SEO can be a complex science and there are those, Aaron Wall and Lee Odden come to mind immediately, that have much to add to the field of SEO when it comes to highly sophisticated implementations.

In my experience however, the typical small business need only focus on three things to greatly improve their chances for showing up in search results for key phases. (There are many, many things that can be done, but get your head around these three first.)

1) Consistently create education based content that is optimized for important keyword phrases – another way of saying this might be write lots of useful information in blog posts and work the phrases that people might use searching for your business or the problems you solve in the title of the posts.

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