Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

SEO Blog

How to Avoid a Google Penalty

Oops! Don't run afoul of a Google penalty.Some “Google Penalties” Aren’t

Colloquially, the term “Google penalty” , usually means anything on your website that is harming your rankings. According to Google, though, a “penalty” is a manual action taken by Google that negatively affects your rankings.

Manual Penalties

These are real “penalties”. If you get hit with a manual penalty, you should see evidence from that in your Google Search Console. Normally Google will identify exactly what you’ve done that they don’t like. So obviously, you should fix whatever that might be.

Google penalties will reduce your online visibility and traffic.

Once you’ve fixed the offending practice on your site, you can ask Google to re-index your site with the corrective actions implemented. Normally that will restore you to Google’s good graces and eliminate the penalty. This doesn’t happen immediately, though, and you can expect the delay of possibly weeks before you see your rankings improve.

Algorithm penalties

There are a number of things that might happen on your website that can negatively affect your rankings without incurring a manual penalty. I call those algorithm penalties because they’re just a normal result of Google’s algorithms evaluating the content on your site. Here are a few of the most common ones.

  • Free hosting services
    • If you’re cutting costs by using a free hosting service, there is one common attribute of those that can get you in trouble with Google. That’s when the hosting service compensates for the free service they’re giving you by adding advertising to your web pages. Some of  that advertising may be pretty spammy, and Google is not likely to be happy with it.
  • Malware
    • If your website has been infected by any viruses, trojans, or spyware, you’ll get hit with one of these penalties. Make sure your website is malware-free. The GlobalSign blog has some excellent suggestions on how to find malware on your site and how to protect against it. You can check that out here.
  • Thin content
    • Many websites for visually oriented businesses overly rely on images on their pages and have very little text. Those photos or graphics could be pictures of your pet cat as far as Google can tell. Google can read the alternate text behind your images (you do have that, right?), but other than that images do little to help Google understand what your page is about.
    • Aside from that, if you’re overly concerned about brevity on your pages, you can run into the same problem. If there’s too little text content on your pages, regardless of why, you may be penalized for thin content.
    • You can also run into those pages being considered “duplicate content” if the actual body content of the page pales in size with other elements on the page that are common to all pages on your website (think footers, sidebars, and so forth). In this caseyou may be facing the plagiarism penalty (see below).
  • Keyword stuffing
    • This is an ancient SEO technique to make sure your targeted keyword phrase appears many times on the page. This used to work with some early search engines. But it provides a very poor user experience for those trying to read your content. Google is smart enough to identify that and consider it a negative ranking factor. I still see this from time to time.
  • Plagiarism
    • Duplicate dogs are fine. Duplicate content? Not so much.If you copied significant amounts of content from another website (even if you own that other website) Google considers it to be duplicate content. Google is excellent at identifying duplicate content and will usually try to show only the oldest of those duplicate pages. If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that there is little benefit to the user if Google shows a bunch of pages that all say the same thing. So Google doesn’t do that. If the content on your page is not original, it may never show up in Google search results.
    • I see this sometimes on websites designed by vertical web services. These are companies that specialize in a particular kind of businesses like handyman services, dental practices, plumbers, etc. The often have lots of excellent pre-written content about the kinds of services these businesses provide. One problem with this is that many other businesses in your niche may use the same pre-written content that ends up on your website. Bingo: you have duplicate content! If you use such a company, please ensure that the content they put on your pages is unique to you.

We can help!

If you’re concerned that you might be at risk for some of these penalties, give us a call. We can review your website with you over the phone at no cost and help you understand any potential issues that may be lurking there.

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What is Local Search? Why is Local SEO Important?

Increase your local search visibility on Google.What is Local Search?

Local search is happening more and more. Pretty much everyone has a smartphone; and more voice searches are happening every month. When someone is looking for a local business they increasingly conduct a “near me” search. They look for “coffee shop near me”, or a “plumber near me”.  They also often search for services in their state, county, or town.

A few statistics from Search Engine Journal:

  • 50% of people doing a phone search visited a local store within 24 hours.
  • 34% of people searching on their computer also visited a local store within the a day.
  • 71% of people say they search for the location of a business before visiting it for the first time.
  • 60% of adults search for local services or products on tablets and phones.
  • 97% of users looked online for local businesses in 2017 and 12% reported looking for a local business online every day. That number may be even higher today, two years later.

Why is local SEO important?

Local listings on Google: the Local Pack or 3-Pack.

The Google Local 3-Pack

If you’re a brick and mortar store or service who deals with local consumers on a face-to-face basis, understand that your customers who don’t yet know your business name are looking for you via local search.

If your competitors are doing local SEO, they’re going to show up in those searches where you may not. They may be showing up in the coveted Google Local 3-Pack and you may not be.

Local SEO is a bit different from — an expansion of — standard SEO.  To show up in local searches you need a  basis of proper SEO for your website, but that is often not enough.

What’s different about Local SEO?

Standard SEO practices focus on two kinds of things. Your on-page keyword optimization and other factors in your website help Google and other search engines understand what your website and your individual pages are all about. Your off-page authority on the web helps Google understand how important your website is. On-page factors typically control whether or not you will show up in Google’s results when someone searches for what you do. Off-page factors typically influence how high in the list you will show up. Both are necessary to compete successfully with other businesses like yours.

All of that is necessary for local SEO, but there are couple of additional factors that are not included there.

  1. The first is proximity to the searcher. If someone is searching for a local business, Google will tend to show them local businesses that are close rather than local businesses that are further away. I probably don’t need to tell you that you have no control over that.
  2. The second is your “prominence” across the web. This is something you can control.  How broadly are you mentioned in local search engines, directories, maps, and phone apps? How consistently are you listed in terms of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone)?

How well are you doing in local search?

It’s really easy to tell whether your site is like a Billboard in the Woods or not. Just don’t fall into the trap of searching for your business by name on Google and thinking that’s sufficient. Unless there are other businesses with names very similar to yours, this is not a good test. You need to pretend that you’re a customer who doesn’t know the name of your business but is searching for what you sell or what you do.

Try to look yourself up by searching like that customer would, including either a local town, your county, or just searching “near me”.

  • Do you show up in the first page or two of results?
  • Do you show up in the Local 3-Pack?
  • How many competitors are showing up higher than you?

If the results of your test are disappointing, don’t despair. At Rank Magic, we can fix that.

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We welcome your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Protect Your SEO Investment: Own Your Domain

True Story: A Cautionary Tale of Domain Ownership

Do you know who owns your business’s domain name?

A client of mine was a local chiropractic center. They had a reasonably acceptable website, but it had never been optimized. Without SEO, they just did not show up in search. To fix that, they hired us to optimize their site. When it came time to apply our optimization to their site, they had a falling out with their website design company. It was so bad that they decided they needed to move to a new company to host and support their website.

Their old web person had registered their domain for them; let’s call it LocalChiropractor.net. When it came time to move it, their web person wouldn’t allow it, wanting to retain the income for hosting the website. Suddenly it became clear that this client did not own their domain name. Their web company had registered it in their own name and refused to release it.

Aarrgghh! Domain ownership isn't always obvious to a small business owner. But it's important.

Make sure you own your own domain name.

Moving to a brand-new domain name would have caused them to lose all SEO benefits and search visibility that had been earned by the old website. Only because they had no visibility at all yet did they really have nothing to lose. And fortunately for them their web company had registered them a .net domain name. Having a .com domain instead of a .net domain is important for small business.  Fortunately, I was able to help them register LocalChiropractor.com which matched their previous domain except with .com. We optimized that and they now have enviable visibility on Google.

If this client had earned good Google rankings on their old domain, all of that would have been lost and they would been starting from scratch. It would have taken them many months to catch up to where they had been before.

Moral of the story

Make sure you, and not your website or marketing company, own your own domain name. It’s your business and you’re entitled to full control. If you’re not sure, check with whoever registered your domain for you.

We welcome you to join the conversation in the Comments section below.

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Finally, how do you show up when someone searches for you without knowing your company name? It’s easy to find out! Just click here.

To Blog or Not To Blog?

Why should I blog?

Does your small business need a blog?

Would you love to have the perfect prospects find you without having to spend thousands in purchased advertisements?

Would you be happy to grow your business and build sustainable profitability with a steady stream of top clients without spending hours per week on marketing tasks?

For any business to grow, new prospects need to be able to find you easily where they search – Google. And while Google has millions of websites to review, one thing that helps yours climb to the forefront of Google’s attention is fresh, high value content.

The most effective way to accomplish this is with blogging. Blogging is just one form of content marketing, and we’ve all heard that content is king.

Bottom line, consumers are not randomly choosing a company to work with. They are researching, reviewing, and weighing in on whether you’re the company they want to choose. Notice I didn’t say “the best” company – I said the one they want to choose. Years ago, marketing and advertising messages were focused on the company proudly stating that they are the best in their industry.

Times have changed – we know that “best” is strictly subjective – and quite frankly, meaningless. Your company may be the best option for some prospects and be a bad fit for others. So focus your blog topics on your uniqueness, who you help and how you help them. The best-fit prospects will identify with your company as “the best” – for their situation and needs.

A blog makes your small business more competitive

Yes, you need a blog.

But do I really need a blog?

Yes. High value blogs give your audience new, meaningful content to consume on a consistent basis. They are interesting, educational, thought provoking and memorable. Blog content is not only what Google is seeking, it’s what your next top client is searching for, reading and evaluating. Now if your perfect prospect has a choice of 2 companies – who do you think will get the sale: the company that posts valuable content 2 to 4 times per month, or the company that randomly posts blogs 2 or 3 times per quarter? And if you’re not blogging at all, you’ve automatically lost that sale.

Yes, you can do this yourself. Simply write clean and informative articles, without spelling or grammar mistakes, with a friendly and professional tone of voice, accompanied by high quality images, at least twice a month, every month. Post that article on your blog page and on your LinkedIn profile. For good measure you’ll want to include that article in a branded and formatted email campaign for those prospects who have found you and have signed up for your emails but are still considering working with you.

Peek into What Content Marketing IS NOT

Writing a small business blog

This is totally do-able. However, it takes time. Time away from servicing your clients, time away from leading your team, time away from building your projects and running your operations.

It also takes skill. You may have gotten away with acceptable writing for college term papers, but marketing-ready copy is a different skill set. Tone of voice as well as grammar and punctuation are all essential.

Even for the most devoted Do It Yourselfer, please know that creating high quality content consistently is not a Saturday Home Depot project. It’s a “must get done every month” ongoing business process. It must be planned ahead of time and executed according to a pre-determined launch schedule.

You can do this. In fact, you can jump in right now. Get out a paper and pen….

  • List the top 3 questions you get asked about most often in your industry.
  • List the top 3 frustrations and problems your clients have that your company solves.
  • List the top 3 goals your prospects have that your company can help attain.
  • List the top 3 ways your company does things differently.

If you can do this (of course you can!) you’ve got your topics for weekly blog posts for the next 3 months! You’re welcome 😊

Now …

Now that you’ve had the experience of beginning your plan – decide if you’re willing to commit the time to carry this out yourself, or if you’ll outsource it. Is this going to be in your Zone of Genius or will it be an unwelcome burden? Either way – blogging is a must, and it’s here to stay.

About our guest blogger

Susana Fonticoba, Clear Path MarketingSusana Fonticoba is the owner of Clear Path Marketing in East Hanover, NJ. Have questions? You’re invited to reach out and ask. Better yet, she’s giving away her popular Content Marketing Cheat Sheet. The mission and specialty of Clear Path Marketing is to work side by side with entrepreneurs who are growing their revenue but lack processes and structure to map out a consistent, sustainable growth plan. Susana is a certified business growth strategist who partners with entrepreneurs across the country.

What’s been your experience? If you have a blog, how happy are you with the investment of time and attention it takes? Let us know in the comments below.

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NJ Presentation: The Secrets of Do-It-Yourself SEO

Sponsored by SCORE of Northwest New Jersey

I’ll be presenting at Fairleigh Dickinson University on Wednesday, May 8 at 6:30 PM.

The presentation is focused on small businesses and startups, and will explain the essentials of search engine optimization, focusing on things you can do yourself.  If you have more time than money in your startup or small business, invest some time in making sure that you show up in Google when potential customers are looking for someone who does what you do.

Click here to register.

Score presentation for New Jersey small businesses on SEO.

I hope to see you there!

Click here to register.