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How to Improve Local Rankings in Google

Local search rankings are critical to local businesses

Increase your local search visibility on Google.

If you’re a local business, how you rank in local search can make or break your business. If you’re not showing up in Google when people search for what you do, your competitors are eating your lunch. That’s why it’s important to understand how to improve local rankings in Google and stay competitive.

It’s important to understand that there are two different local rankings in Google: the Local 3-Pack and the organic listings. The 3-Pack is the map with (typically) three local businesses beneath it corresponding to map pin icons on the map. The organic listings are typically beneath the Local 3-Pack and are the most common rankings customers consider.

These two parts of a local search result are determined by different factors. What’s most important to show up in the Local 3-Pack isn’t the same as what’s most important to show up in the local organic results. Let’s take them one at a time.

Google's Local 3-Pack for "near me" searches. To show up here, you need to improve local rankings in Google.

Google’s Local 3-Pack

Ranking factors for the Local 3-Pack

#1 Google My Business

This is the most important factor here. Critical to success here is making sure your category is correct, that your NAP (name, address, phone) is consistent with what’s on your your website, and that you’ve filled out as much information as possible. This may be the most important step you can take to improve local rankings in Google.

Related: Don’t Show Up Missing on Google My Business!

#2 Reviews and Citations

Positive online reviews are next in line. Make sure you have reviews on your Google My Business page. And not just review stars, but informational reviews; Google considers review comments important. 9 of 10 people trust online reviews. So does Google.Get reviews on a good number of other sites, too. Facebook, Yelp, DexKnows, SuperPages and CitySearch are good ones. Also any vertical directories you’re listed on.  You can suggest that delighted customers review at some of these places. You also need to monitor any reviews you get and respond to them whenever possible. A positive customer-focused response to a mediocre review can leave a very positive impression.

Related: How to Get Online Reviews

Citations that are consistent widely across the web gives Google confidence in your location and phone number. Consistency is critical because if a number of your listings have a previous address, some have a local number and others a toll-free number or fax number, Google isn’t confident which is right. If Google isn’t sure, it’s much less likely to rank you highly.

Related: Understand Common Citation Myths

#3 On-page SEO

This relates to making sure your website is secure, fast, and thoroughly Google-friendly. Make sure keyword placement is appropriate so that Google can tell clearly what each page is all about, and studiously avoid keyword stuffing.

Related: On-Page Optimization

The better your link profile, the higher your domain authority - and the higher you'll rank in Google results.#4 Domain Authority and your link profile

Your authority across the web informs Google about how important your website is. A commonly used measure of this is the Moz Domain Authority. It’s derived from a number of factors, the most important being your link profile: the number and quality of other websites linking to you.

Ranking factors for local organic listings

#1 On-page SEO

This is the same as #3 above for Local 3-Pack listings. It’s just more important for your organic ranking. It’s clearly indispensable for showing up in both parts of the search results.

#2 Domain Authority

See factor #4 above under the Local 3-Pack.

#3 Behavioral factors

A number of behavioral factors can affect your organic rankings in Google. They include the following.

  • Click through rate reflects the number of searchers exposed to your listing on a search engine results page (SERP) who actually click on your listing. They have looked at your page title and description and concluded that it’s a good match for what they’re looking for.Google's Local 3-Pack for "near me" searches. To show up here, you need to improve local rankings in Google.
  • Mobile clicks to call are possible only for mobile searchers, since you can’t click to call on a computer. But when someone finds you in a search on their phone and clicks to call you, it’s a very concrete message to Google that your page is an excellent result for that search. The more that happens, the better.
  • Bounce rate is related to the click through rate. For either to happen, the searcher needs an impression – you need to show up on the SERP for their search. A bounce occurs when someone is on a SERP with your listing and clicks on you but immediately bounces back to the search results to pick someone else instead of exploring your site. That’s a negative ranking factor. They clearly did not like your page or determined it wasn’t a good match for what they were looking for. And Google understands that.
  • The longer someone spends on your site, the more Google assumes they liked what they found there.Time onsite is something that Google tracks and most people aren’t aware of it. When someone clicks on your site and stays there awhile, perhaps exploring additional pages on your website, that tells the search engines that your site was an excellent match for that search. The longer they spend on your site, the more good information they must’ve found there. That makes you look really good in Google’s eyes, and will help you rank higher in the future.

#4 Reviews and citations

See#2 under the Local 3-Pack above. These are important to your rankings in both the organic results and the Local 3-Pack.

To improve local rankings in Google, you really need to pay attention to every one of the above ranking factors.

Facing challenges with your local search rankings? Start or join a discussion below.

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How to Increase Domain Authority for SEO

What is Domain Authority?

We typically track the Page Authority for our clients’ home page as well as their overall Domain Authority.

Let’s start at the top and explain that Domain Authority is a metric developed by the folks at Moz that attempts to predict how well a given website will show up in search results. It’s based largely on the number and quality of other websites that link to the domain it’s reporting on.

What’s Page Authority?

There is a separate measure called Page Authority for each web page on your site to predict how well each page will show up in search results. Both authority measures use many factors and are tweaked by machine learning to approximate as closely as possible actual search results.

We track the number of inbound links you have grapohically and report it to you regularly. Link count him him him him hims is one of the factors that goes into your Domain Authority.

We track the growth of your inbound link counts and report it to our clients regularly.

Once your website has decent on-page optimization, it’s time to focus on your off-page optimization. we believe that your  Domain and Page Authority account for about 40-50% of where you show up in search results. so you should work to increase Domain Authority and Page Authority. You can check your Domain Authority here.

How many links do I have?

You can get an idea of how many other websites link to you with the Moz Domain Authority tool linked above. In terms of the actual number of links to your site, we subscribe to Moz and report to our clients monthly. But you should be able to find how many links you have in the Google Search Console.

What’s a good domain authority score?

Across the web, an average Domain Authority score is considered to be something in the 40-50 range. But understand that this “average” includes both small businesses and huge businesses. For your own purposes, I don’t recommend that you worry about what’s “average”. In order to show up on the first page of Google for your keyword phrases, you probably need a Domain Authority in the same ballpark as those sites that are currently showing up on the first page.

Moz logo. Moz is helpful in tracking domain authority.

Moz does excellent reporting of domain and page authority.

I recommend that you aim to achieve both Page Authority and Domain Authority higher than your direct competitors. For many of our small business clients, that may be as low as the mid-20s.

Tracking your Domain Authority

Links come, and links go. If you’re doing active link building well on your site, your Domain Authority should continue to improve. Be aware that if you add back links without regard to the quality, more links could conceivably cause your Domain Authority to drop.

If you have a new website or have just begun to work on increasing your authority, you might want to track it on a weekly basis. Once you have a good process in place, tracking your Domain Authority on a monthly basis should be adequate.

How to increase Domain Authority

Directories

Directories are a good place to get a bunch of inbound links quickly.

Directory links are relatively easy to get.

If you are just starting out, it might be easiest to submit a listing for yourself in a number of general-purpose directories. They’re not the most powerful links, but they are among the easiest to obtain. Generally I don’t recommend paying for featured listings in directories; the incremental value is not typically there.

But do be sure to fill out your listings as much as possible. The more explicit and robust the listing, the more value it provides. If it allows you to enter things like your logo, or your business hours, always do that.

For many businesses, vertical directories are useful. There are a number of directories that focus on listing specific niches like lawyers, doctors, dentists, plumbers, landscapers, and so forth. These usually require a one-time or ongoing fee, but many of these have high authority themselves, making them powerful sources of links for you.

Incentivise others to link to you and improve your Domain Authority

Explain the benefits of linking to your site when asking for a backlink.

Existing relationships

Next, I typically encourage people to focus on other relationships. If you belong to any professional associations or networking organizations, make sure that they link to you.

Any vendors you use benefit from your success; that gives them an incentive to see you do well, and linking to you will help that. Perhaps customers of yours (if businesses) would be willing to link to you – especially if they’re delighted with your services.

Look for any other businesses that refer customers to you, and any other businesses that you refer customers to. Those businesses obviously value your connection and are more inclined to be willing to link to you.

Reciprocal links

Don’t be afraid of reciprocal links – those where you link to the person who links to you. While they’re not quite as powerful as one-way inbound links, they are often very natural. And the offer of a link from you which will help the other business rank better in search can provide just the necessary incentive for them to agree to link to you.

If you have a way with words, consider writing user-generated content.

Consider writing user-generated content for the sake of the backlink.

User generated content

If you have a flair for words, another source of inbound links can be “user generated content. Guest blogging is quite popular; you write a unique article for someone else’s blog and usually receive a link back from the “about the author” blurb at the end. This has been somewhat over utilized of late and it’s not quite as valuable as it once was.

Caution

DON’T use paid links, link farms, and other link schemes to increase domain authority because they violates Google’s rules and can sabotage your search rankings.

DON’T value quantity over quality. A single powerful link can help you more than many low quality links.

DO consider the authority of sites you seek links from. I suggest finding link partners that have at least an equal Domain Authority to you or better.

What’s been your experience? If you’ve been working on improving your Domain Authority, how happy are you with the investment of time and attention it takes? How successful have you been? Let us know in the comments below.

Is your site like a Billboard in the Woods? Take a simple test.  If you’re not happy with the results of that test, Rank Magic can help.

Google’s New Ranking Factor: Page Experience

Google to focus on user experience as a ranking factor.Google’s next big algorithm change for Page Experience is planned for launch next year. It will measure user enjoyment of web pages using both old and new specific ranking factors, grouped into a page experience score. Google explains it:

The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.

So what are these page experience factors?

I’ve broken them down into nine discrete thing that a small business owner needs to address on your website.  Let’s hit them one at a time.

Your site needs to be responsive and mobile friendly

A responsive site is one that adapts to the device it’s showing up on. If you open up your site in a browser and change the width of the browser window, the display of the website should respond to that. If you make the browser window narrower, you shouldn’t see it cut off the right edge of paragraphs.

Bring mobile-friendly is no longe an option. Most searches are done from phones now.This is it really obvious on a phone. Your website should look  different on a phone than it does on a desktop computer. But you don’t want to have a separate mobile-only websites like some people did in the early days of the smart phone. You want the same information available on a phone that’s available on a computer, since Google is using a mobile-first index. If your mobile site is abbreviated and has less content in an effort to more easily fit on a phone, that’s the version of your site Google will index and rank. You want one website that can display differently on a computer and a phone. That way the same information is available regardless of how a customer is looking at it.

Also in terms of being mobile-friendly, it’s important that tap targets, links, buttons and so forth, are large enough and far enough apart to make it easy to tap them. If they’re too close together, your fingers are likely to hit two at once and that provides a poor user experience. The size of your text also may need to be different on a phone so that it’s easy to read.

Page speed

Page speed is important: all else being equal, a fast page will outrank a slow page.Page speed refers to how many seconds it takes for a page on your website to download into a user’s browser or phone. Google likes to see a web page that displays on your phone or in your computer within 2½  seconds. Fully displaying in 4 seconds is considered adequate, but any longer than that and Google considers it to offer a poor experience.

From a practical matter, we live in an age of impatience. If someone clicks on your listing in search results and drums their fingers while they’re waiting for to load, they may give up before it finishes loading and go back to the Google search results. They are there likely to click on another listing and that “bounce” tells Google that they didn’t like what they found on your site. Not only did you lose a potential customer, but it’s likely to hurt your rankings in the future.

Visual stability

All across the web they are calling this “cumulative layout shift” or CLS. Let your web designer worry about those terms, but don’t  let this jargon intimidate you. What this refers to is things jumping around on your screen as a page loads. It can be very annoying, as you can see on the website Media Bias Fact Check. Google considers this a poor page experience and if it’s happening on your website, your rankings will suffer for it.

Avoid 404 errors

404-error-page-not-foundWhen a user tries to go to a page that isn’t where they think it is, they get a 404 Page Not Found error. If there are links on your site that point incorrectly to content on you’re website, your shooting yourself in the foot. It’s a poor user experience if you send your users to pages that aren’t there. It’s important to scan your website and make sure you clear up any of those.

Beyond that, though, there may be malformed links on other websites or links on those sites that point to pages you have since eliminated or moved. Those 404 errors are pretty much unavoidable. But you can improve the user experience of them with a custom 404 page. Unlike the default 404 error your browser provides, if you have a custom 404 page it’s formatted just like your website so users know that they haven’t been completely lost. Many websites treat this with a little bit of humor and offer to help the misled user to find what they’re looking for via a search option or a link to your site map.

Security is important

HTTPS padlock icon

Is your website secure? Google is on a mission to improve security across the web, and as a result it tends to give a ranking advantage to secure websites. If your website URL starts with HTTP:// then it’s not secure. Secure websites start with HTTPS:// and insecure websites are flagged when they show up in Chrome. Many people will see the “Not secure” indicator in the address bar of their browser and mistake it to mean that the site is dangerous. You certainly don’t want that for your own website.

If your website is insecure, our blog post from a couple of years ago may help. It’s entitled Make Your Small Business Website Secure with HTTPS.

Avoid intrusive interstitials

Boy, that’s a mouthful. Intrusive interstitials refers to those annoying pop-ups that block most or all of the page content when you arrive on the page. You may have run into them when loading certain websites with an ad blocking plug-in in your browser. Very often they pop up to ask you to subscribe to a newsletter, and so forth. They provide an annoying user interface, and Google doesn’t like them for that very reason.

Not all pop-ups are bad; just those that are intrusive, blocking too much content.

Readability

Writing readable text The Internet expression TL:DR has become popular lately. It means “Too Long: Didn’t Read”. If your web page is too long or too dense and intimidating, people may leave before they digest what you’re trying to say. That doesn’t mean you need to have short pages with little content on them. On the contrary. But you can reduce the density of the page with effective implementation of images and white space.

You also want to avoid sounding pedantic because it takes too much effort on the part of your reader. The Yoast SEO plug-in for WordPress has a very valuable feature in that it will assess the readability of your content and offer suggestions to make it more approachable.

Employ clear headings and subheadings

Clear headings and subheadings can go a long way toward making your material less intimidating. Users can scan the page to find the precise portion of the page they are most interested in. Odds are you scanned this page’s headings before deciding to read it. And by employing proper heading tags in the code of your page, you help Google more easily understand your page, and that can only help in your rankings.

Don’t forget CTAs

Include a Call To Action on your page for best reaults.A CTA is a Call to Action and is critical in getting your users to take the action you want them to. If you’ve ever ordered a burger at a fast food joint, the cashier almost certainly asked you “do you want fries with that?” They sell a hell of a lot more fries because they ask.

So if you want someone to call you or to sign up for your newsletter, or to buy something, you need to ask them to do just that. The easiest CTAs to see are buttons, but you can also employ text-only calls to action if that fits your purposes better.

Page experience is important in so many ways

A good page experience will entice more people to read what you have to say, will keep them  engaged and on your page longer, That will reduce your bounce rate and increase your time-on-page, and thus will increase conversions as more people click on your calls to action. Not only that, but Google will like your page better and rank it higher.

Get ready for Google’s upcoming Page Experience algorithm update by improving the user experience across your website now.

Facing challenges with your page experience? Start a discussion below.

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The Most Important 60 Characters of Your Content: The Title Tag/Page Title

What’s a Title Tag?

Every page on a website needs a title tag or page title (both terms refer to the same thing. Here’s a quick explanation,) It’s not the visible title or headline on  the page. Instead, it’s in the code of the page. But the page title is visible in three important places:

The headline of your listing in search engines

The page title tag shows up as the headline of your listing in search results.

This is often the very first thing a visitor sees about your website. It’s one of the most important factors in encouraging a user to click on your page.

The tab of your browser

This is most helpful for people who have many tabs open in their browser, making it easier for them to get back to your page. Having keywords for the page near the front is helpful here because your page title’s likely to be truncated.

Social media platforms

The page title shows up as the headline when you share the page in social media.

This is an example of a blog page that’s been shared on Facebook. Notice how prominent the title tag is here.

Writing a good title tag

Your page title tags are very important to your SEO, but they also contribute, positively or negatively, to the user experience of searchers. They should be crafted with care. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind.

Length

Avoid truncation if you can. Search engines allocate a finite amount of space to listing headlines. If your page title tag is too long, it will get truncated, possibly hiding important words. I suggest keeping your page titles under 60 characters. The real limit is in pixels, not characters, because some letters (M, W) are wider than others (i, l, t) but the 60 character limit is a good, easy rule of thumb.

Uniqueness

Identical title tags are not as cute as identical dogs.Duplicate content? Not so much.Every page deserves — no, needs — its own unique title tag. Too often I encounter websites that have dozens of pages showing the same page title; often it’s just the company name. When this happens, it not only doesn’t help the page to rank highly in search engines, but also doesn’t compel the searcher to click on it.

Some micro businesses who don’t pay a professional web designer find themselves left with the default page title from the theme that they use. You can spot these sites because page title of their home page is “Home” or some pages on their website have a title tag that reads “New Page”. Let me just ask: how likely are you to click on a page that shows up in the search engines with the headline that simply says “New Page”?

Focus

Focus on your content.To achieve high rankings in Google or elsewhere, your pages must have a clear focus. A services page that lists everything you do or products page that lists everything you sell isn’t really “all about” anything. And the page title of “Services” or “Products” is equally unfocused. It’s unlikely to rank highly in search engines and if it does show up for search it’s unlikely to encourage the searcher to click on it. Every product or service needs its own page with content that’s completely focused on that product or service. Similarly, each page is title tag needs to clearly reflect the focus of the page.

Keyword placement

A good page title with keywords for the page near the front can grab the searcher’s attention immediately and assure them that clicking on your listing will provide information highly relevant to what they’re looking for.  If you feel compelled to include your company name in page titles, it needs to go at the end — with the exception of your Home page where your name is also an important keyword. or the About Us page which is all about you. I typically discourage including your company name in title tags for internal pages because it dilutes the power of the keywords you’ve carefully included in the title tag.

It's okay to use your brand in page titles if it's well known and popular.If you have a well-known brand, see the exception to this rule next.

Your brand or company name

If you have a well-known brand name that’s respected nationally, or even locally, it may be well to ignore the prohibition recommended above. A strong brand name can increase your conversion rates — the likelihood of someone clicking on your listing when it shows up in search results. I would still recommend using it at the end of the page title except for your Home page and perhaps your About page.

Keyword stuffing

I’ve written before about the dangers of keyword stuffing. Since the beginning of search engines, business owners have felt a need to throw as many keyword phrases as they can at search engines so the page will rank for almost any way people search for it. That tactic may have actually worked 20 years ago, but once Google came on the scene it quickly became wise to that trick. Instead of helping, keyword stuffing actually hurts your ranking chances. And if such a page does attract visitors, the user experience of keyword-stuffed copy quickly drives them away.

Similarly, a keyword-stuffed page title is unlikely to attract clicks. What is the value to a searcher of the listing with a headline that says “Best Car Repair, Auto Repair, Car Repair Shop, Local Car Repairs”? Title tags like this are bad for searchers and are very likely to hurt your rankings. Search engines understand variations of keywords and common synonyms (car, auto) and would consider a title like this to provide a poor user experience, making it counterproductive.

Spend a little more time on your title tags

When creating a new web page or blog post, it’s tempting to write your page title and then create your content. Once you finish the content, you’re eager to publish it and get it out there. That’s when you should stop and take a breath. Revisit the title tag and make sure it still clearly identifies what your page is about. Think about it with the above rules of thumb in mind before you finalize and publish your content. A little extra thought and care can make a big difference in how many people choose to read your material.

Want to dig a little deeper? Online marketing agency Distilled has an in-depth article on how to make your title tags the best they can be.

Update September 1, 2020 — Moz has an excellent new blog post that’s very germane to this discussion: Title Tags SEO: When to Include Your Brand and/or Boilerplate

Facing challenges with your own page title tags? Start a discussion below.

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Your Small Business Reputation Management

Reputation management for your small business is important.

Reputation management for your small business is important.As a small business owner you can’t afford to ignore what people write about you online. Online reviews are reported to factor into 70% of buying decisions. Search Engine Land has found that 88% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from family and friends. Your small business reputation can have a direct impact on your bottom line. Positive reviews do drive business your way. And bad reviews can drive customers away.

Some quick facts from BrightLocal:

  • 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses
  • 95% of people ages 18 to 34 read local business reviews
  • 91% of 18-to-34-year-old consumers trust reviews online as much as recommendations from friends and family
  • 57% of consumers will only buy from a business that has 4 stars or more
  • Consumers read an average of 10 reviews online before they feel they can trust a business

It’s also been found that reviews produce an average 18% increase in sales.

How to establish and manage your small business reputation

There are four ways to ensure you have a good online reputation. And it’s important to pay attention to each of them.

Google values your authority.

Authority

Establish your expertise by creating content that’s not directly about you but provides useful information about your industry as a whole. For example, an accountant might publish easy to read explanations of recent changes in the law, explain how to file for government benefits during the current COVID-19 pandemic, or provide record-keeping tips for small businesses. You’ll see concrete examples of this kind of content in our own blog.

Prominence

Citations are mentions or listings of your business with at least your NAP — your Name, Address and Phone — on local search engines, directories, social media, maps and mobile apps. The more you have, the more prominent you are and the more easily your business can be found.

Prominence helps both your reputation and your rankings.So be sure you’re listed on as many of these platforms as possible. And claim your listings at places like Google My Business, Yelp, SuperPages, MerchantCircle, CitySearch and YP.com.

It’s also very important that your NAP be consistent across all of them. Nothing is more confusing than citations with different variations on your company name, old addresses, and inconsistent phone numbers. If some of your citations have a previous address or some have your toll-free number while others have your local number, customers (and Google) aren’t sure which is right.

Prominence also helps you show up better in local search. A recent survey found that nearly 60% percent of small businesses aren’t optimized for local search, which is surprising when you consider that 45% of searches are for local businesses.

Shameless plug: Our PowerListings service will get you listed on about six dozen of these sites and lock in your information to ensure perfect NAP consistency among them all. You can learn more on our Local SEO page.

Social media

Social Media can help or hurt your small business reputation.Be active on social media. GlobalWebIndex reports that there’s a growing role of social media to research products that can be leveraged beyond mere brand recognition to enhancing your reputation. They report that 40 percent of consumers use social media to look up businesses and products. Beyond that, Statista research showed that more than half of consumers have a more favorable view of businesses that use social media to engage with customer complaints and questions.

You can use social media to enhance your authority by leveraging the content creation described above. Every new piece of content you add to your website  should be promoted on all of your social media accounts with a link back to that content on your website.

Online reviews

9 of 10 people trust online reviews.

Small businesses can live or die based on their online reviews. If you haven’t been paying attention to your online reviews, now’s the time to start. When someone passes along a word of mouth referral for you, the person they refer is more likely than not to look you up before calling you. More than your own website is going to show up when they do that. Your listings on Google My Business, LinkedIn, Yelp, and elsewhere will populate most of the results. Any of those sites that host reviews about you will show the average review stars in the search results. Those stars jump off the page and capture attention. And if they are not universally good or excellent, that’s a significant dent in your reputation.

It’s important that you monitor your reviews online. If you don’t have any on a particular platform, it’s relatively easy to get one: ask a delighted customer to write one for you (just don’t tell them what to say about you). If a mediocre or negative review is written, it’s critical for you to respond promptly to that. A good response can turn a negative review into a positive experience for the person who reads it.

A survey found that more than 90% of consumers will avoid a business because of a negative review. But if you respond to it positively and act on it, that can enhance your reputation. Responding to negative reviews makes it more likely for 45 percent of people to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Shameless plug: To help our clients stay on top of this, our PowerListings service alerts them as soon as a new review appears on any of dozens of online review sites. You can learn about that on our Local SEO page.

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