Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

SEO Blog

5 Tips for Avoiding Bad SEO Companies

Sometimes I feel like I’m in an industry that has more than its share of charlatans. Small Business Trends reported on five dead giveaways that you’re dealing with an SEO company that practices deceptive or “black hat” SEO.Snake oil salesman

Their descriptions of these telltale signs is worth reading. This is just a very quick listing of what they are. I encourage you to read the article to better understand the implications.

  1. Keyword stuffing
  2. Overuse of bold text and links
  3. Hidden links
  4. Complicated link schemes
  5. Multiple domains or subdomains with essentially the same content

One place to look for and compare some good SEO companies (if you’re in the greater NYC area) is a list from the folks at DesignRush of 40+ Best SEO Agencies In New York.

Local SEO Citation Myths

Citations are important for Local SEO

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

The Google Local 3-Pack

There are several tools available to help build citations across the web for Local SEO. We support the Yext platform, but it’s not the only good one. You can even manage them manually if you have the time and inclination. But it’s important to understand what citations are and why they’re important for local search, and not be mislead by common myths about them.

Your visibility in Local Search depends on three factors:

  1. Classic SEO: high quality on-page content well optimized for your target keyword phrases
  2. Prominence: citations listing your NAP (name, address, phone) consistently and widely across the web
  3. Proximity: how close your location is to the person doing a local search

Clearly, you have no control over the location of a searcher, but the other two factors are things we deal with all the time. For local businesses, classic SEO can get us a good bit of the way there. But ensuring a proper citation profile is essential as well.

Since we focus on small and very small businesses here at Rank Magic, the preponderance of our clients are local businesses. As a result, we support building and maintaining citations for many of them. If you own a local business, it’s important to understand what citations are and what they aren’t. And sadly, there are widespread myths about what they are and how they work. Joy Hawkins at Moz has recently written about them; and you can dig into her article for more information. The following is a quickly digestible overview with some of our own observations.

1) Your suite number has to be everywhere.

NAP - name,address & phone

Inevitably, some of your citations will include your suite number and others won’t. There is no need to worry; Google doesn’t pay very much attention to that. If you run a scan of your most important citations from the tool on our site, you may notice that if you enter a suite number in the scan, addresses without the suite number are not flagged as inconsistent or erroneous.

2) Minor differences in your name are critical.

You may be listed in some places as “Main Street Medical”, in others as “Dr. Stacey Morrow, Main Street Medical”, and in others as “Main Street Medical: Dr. Philip Cleaver”, etc. Never fear: Google is smart enough to understand that all of these represent the same practice. Where it becomes important though is if there is no overlap. Google may not understand that listings for “Dr. Stacey Morrow” and “Dr. Philip Cleaver” represent the same practice. In that case, it would be important to correct them.

3) You need to clean up your citations on hundreds of sites.

It’s good to clean up your citations on important and independent sites. But many sites are related. In its heyday, The Open Directory was replicated on more than 300 separate domains and subdomains. Fixing it in one place affected all of the others. That still happens today with many websites including results from Local.com. If your citation on Local.com is correct, it will very soon trickle down to all of those other sites that repeat its listings.

It’s still helpful in local search for your citations to be spread widely across the web. The more places Google find a consistent NAP for your local business, the more confidence it has. Remember, if Google is confused about exactly where your business is or what your phone number is, it’s less likely to rank you as prominently.

4) There’s no local search risk in canceling a citation service.

Well … That may be a little complicated. A study of canceling the Moz Local service showed little or no change after cancellation. Yext is a little bit different. [Fair notice: we are a Yext Certified Partner.]

Yexy Knowledge Graph PowerListingsYext places a lock on your location information for the duration of your subscription. When you cancel that subscription, they simply remove the lock on it and then it’s free to be changed or updated in accordance with normal procedures at each citation source.

The folks at WhiteSpark did a study and concluded that the Yext seems to place a “cover” on top of the previous missing or incorrect listing and when that cover is removed many citation sources revert to the previous content — or lack thereof. In our experience,  we find that three or four months after canceling a Yext subscription about half of citations that were missing or incorrect before are missing or incorrect again. So while hanging onto your Yext subscription is a good idea, if you decide to cancel it you should plan to do a little manual cleanup after cancellation to preserve your local search visibility.

5) Citation building is the only link building you need for Local SEO success.

Remember the first of the three local ranking factors I cited at the top? You need natural, related links as part of classic SEO to help establish both relevance and authority, apart for just cementing your NAP. All of these factors work in concert, and working heavily on one of them doesn’t mean you can ignore the others.

6) Don’t worry if an unrelated business used to have your current phone number.

Google is pretty smart about recognizing that you’re not the same as the business that had your phone number in the past. However, it seems there may be a risk to this if customers continue to call your phone number trying to reach the previous business that had that number once before. That usually only happens if your phone number was active at that previous business recently. When Google discovers that, it may conclude that it provides a poor customer experience and that may affect your rankings.

As soon as you become aware that a different business once had your phone number, it would be a good idea to check and see if they are still listed out there with that phone number. (Our scan linked to above under myth #1 is an easy way to check this.) If they’re still listed on a number of sites , it would be good to correct that on those citation sources so they don’t impact negatively on your own business.

Google My Business listings are essential for local businesses.

7) Your Google My Business listing is a citation.

Actually your Google My Business listing is part of the core search engine, like Bing and Apple. It’s more important than a run-of-the-mill citation, but all of those citations across the web tend to support your NAP on Google my business.

I hope this leaves you more comfortable about your citations. I welcome your comments and suggestions – join the conversation in the Comments below.

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If you’d like to explore how Rank Magic can help you with your own citations and local search visibility, just give us a call.

Top SEO Ranking Factors in 2019

What are the most important search engine ranking factors?

Growth of revenue from better online visibility via SEOGoogle has stated that there are more than 200 SEO ranking factors that control where your website ranks when people search for what you do or sell. They are not all weighted equally: some are exponentially more important than others. And it helps to know which are the most important so that you can spend your time as wisely as possible improving your website for good search rankings.

SparkToro recently reported on a survey of more than 1,500 SEO professionals to arrive at a consensus about the relative importance of 26 different ranking factors. I’d like to focus on the top dozen factors you should pay attention to. But before we begin, here’s the relative ranking chart from SparkToro, rated on a 10-point scale of importance.

Top 26 Google Ranking Factors in 2019

Let’s dive into the top dozen SEO ranking factors from this list.

  1. Write your page content for relevance to your desired visitor.Relevance of your page content. Clearly, this earns the top spot because if your page isn’t highly related to what was searched for, Google will never want to show it. The focus of your page content needs to be highly relevant to the search. The most common violation of that is when a local service-oriented website has a Services page that lists all the services they offer. Unless each bulleted service links to a page that’s all about that specific service, it’s a wasted page. I often have to explain that a page that’s about everything you do is really not about anything you do.
  2. Link building is essential to your authority on the web.Quality of your link profile. Your importance or authority on the web is very heavily dependent on your inbound link profile. That’s the number and quality of other websites that have links pointing to yours. Each one of those inbound links is a vote for you. But web pages that have a high authoritative score help you much more than pages with less authority.
  3. Use of query-relevant words and phrases. Google does an excellent job of understanding the semantic relevance of your content. Inclusion of related words and phrases helps Google understand the focus of your page and compare it to the searcher’s intent. For example, a page about New York pizza could be about a restaurant in New York City, or about a recipe for New York-style homemade pizza. The non-keyword phrases and words on the page help Google to understand its relevance to a given query.
  4. Expertise, Authrority and Trust are imporant ranking factors at Google.Domain E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.  E-A-T is heavily dependent upon both your content (including the author’s expertise) and your link profile. If you’re the author of content on your website and blog, your personal perceived expertise counts in your favor. You can build on that by publishing frequently, thoroughly, and widely about topics related to your business.
  5. Yoiur web site MUST be mobile friendly.Mobile Friendliness. Ever since Mobilegeddon or Mopocalypse in 2015, it’s been essential for your website to be mobile friendly. And it’s important for your website to be responsive rather than having a separate website for mobile. Google’s index which they use for ranking, is now based on the mobile version of your website, not the version people see on a desktop. With more than half of all searches done on phones, not being mobile friendly hurts not only your ranking, but severely affects conversions from anyone who ends up on your website from their phone.
  6. Exact Match Keywords. While Google has gotten much better at understanding related words and keyword phrases that may be in different orders or broken up on your page, having an exact match for the keyword phrase people search for the most is still important.
  7. Pursue a robust and diverse link profile.Quantity and Diversity of Linking Websites. This refers to your inbound link profile. It’s important to have not just a lot of inbound links to your site, but to have them from different domains rather than having many of them come from one website.
  8. Content Accuracy. If the content on your page is at odds with widely accepted facts, it’s unlikely to rank well. While Google is looking for authoritative pages, part of what makes a page authoritative is Google’s assessment of its accuracy.
  9. Link Authority. This is about the Domain Authority of your website. Each page also has an authority value, but this is referring to your overall website’s authority. It’s based on the quality of other websites that link to you.
  10. Page E-A-T. While the domain’s Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness is very important (it’s number four on this list), the E-A-T of the page that’s going to appear in search results is also important.
  11. Page Query-Relevant Content. Is it clear to the searcher why the search engine retrieved your page? If not, it’s time to re-think the content and design of your page.
  12. All else being equal, a fast page will outrank a slow page.Load Speed. How fast a page downloads is important for two reasons. First, it’s a ranking factor at Google, so a slow page is unlikely to rank as highly as a fast page, all other things being equal. Second, the likelihood of someone abandoning your page before reading it — and going back to the Google results increases dramatically with how long your page downloads to a user’s browser or phone. That’s called a “bounce” and too many of those will hurt your rankings in the future. Google considers page speed good if it’s under two seconds. I consider it acceptable if it’s under three seconds. But every second extracts more abandonments of your page.

If you’d like to explore any of these 2019 search ranking factors with respect to your own website, I’m happy to speak with you. Just give me a call.

All About Domains (Infographic)

What is a domain? And how is it different from a website?

A domain corresponds to a physical location on the Internet. It’s analogous to a street address. And in that analogy, your website is like the building at that street address. For example, an address may be 135 Main St. But what’s there could be an office building, parking garage, a mansion, or small house. In this analogy, 135 Main St. is comparable to a domain, and the building that resides there is comparable to a website.

You might think of your domain as the brand name of your website. You may change your website (and probably should every few years) but your domain typically remains the same.

For a new business, selecting a domain name is very important. In the past we’ve suggested some rules for selecting a domain. A few years later, the Search Engine Institute came out with their own rules, which didn’t differ greatly from our own.

There’s actually a lot more to know about domains

The folks at Hosting Tribunal have published a very informative info graphic on the subject. Here it is.

Everything you ever wanted to know a bout domain names (almost).

Join the conversation — share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Need some help getting your own domain to show up better in Google? Reach out to Rank Magic — we can help!

What is Schema Markup? How important is it for local business SEO?

What is Schema (Structured Data Markup)?

Structured code markup in accourdance with schema.orhSchema is a common short term for structured data, named after Schema.org, the website for structured data markup. It was created by a collaborative team from Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It’s not too often that competitors come together with a common purpose. But structured coding is important enough for them to do it. It creates an agreed-upon set of rules for structured data that tells the search engines exactly what kind of information is on your website.

Schema code goes into the HTML code that tells a browser what information is on your website and how to display it. According to schema.org:

Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means — “Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.

Schema for SEO

SEO really does improve small buisiness visibility.We always recommend that our SEO clients include schema structured data markup as an important SEO technique. That’s because giving the search engines structured data helps them understand your webpages better and results in a ranking increase for you. One study determined that websites with schema coding rank an average of four positions higher in search engine results than those without schema markup.

Schema allows search engines to better understand addresses, dates of events, phone numbers, email addresses, and other information about you. So it helps Google understand:

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • how to reach you,
  • and (critical for local businesses) where you are.

Neil Patel explains this in more detail if you’re interested in digging in deeper. There’s also a comprehensive guide to structured data from the folks at 3 White Hats. Search Engine Watch has posted a good article about why businesses should implement structured data. And for a strictly local business focus, Search Engine Journal has a guide on How to Use Schema for Local SEO.

You don’t need to know structured data details

Since schema is in the HTML code of your website, it’s the responsibility of your web designer to understand how to write that part of the code for your site. The structured code in schema tends to be detailed and complex. Unless you’re acting as your own web designer, the two things you need to know about schema on your website are

  1. Why it’s important, and
  2. Making sure that it’s there.

Surprisingly, according to recent research fewer than one-third of websites use schema markup.

Sample of structured data markup from Google's chema tester.

Did I say this stuff is complex? True. Above is a small sample of structured code from Google’s Structured data Testing Tool. But that’s why your small business’ competitors are probably not using it. So implementing it on your own site gives you a significant advantage over those competitors who don’t use it.

Don’t worry!

SEO really does help small businesses show up in Google.There is a stupefyingly simple way to implement this stuff on your website. It’s a lifesaver if you’re doing your own coding, but even if your webmaster does it for you, this solution can save significant time, effort, and money.

I have long been a proponent of Yext PowerListings for local businesses. Yext is the leader in local data management, and many of my clients subscribe to their Knowledge Graph service. [Full disclosure: I am a Yext Certified Partner] In a nutshell, PowerListings gives you a single place to enter tons of information about your business which is then published on more than six dozen local search engines directories maps and mobile apps.

The simple solution: Yext Knowledge Tags

Yexy Knowledge Graph PowerListings Yext Knowledge Tags is an enhancement to their Knowledge Graph PowerListings which provides a simple short snippet of code to add to your web pages that will implement full schema coding throughout. If anything changes in your Knowledge Graph, it’s automatically reflected in the schema code on your website.  Immediately.

For existing subscribers, this is a no-brainer in my opinion. But whether or not you currently subscribe to the Yext Knowledge Graph or “PowerListings”, this is worth your serious consideration. I refer you to our explanation of local SEO, citations, and PowerListings.

Reach out for a friendly phone call about your website and how much of a difference this can make for you.

We welcome your opinion. Join the conversation in the Comments below!

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