Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

SEO Blog

Local Business: Get Found and Get Chosen

You need to get found — and chosen

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

Getting found on Google

When someone is looking for what you do, you need them to find you. Typical SEO is great for getting you to show up prominently in the search engine results. But Google has been changing and you have additional opportunities to get found.

The Local 3 Pack  on the right often displays near the top of the page when a local search is performed. Whether you show up here is a function of three things:

  1. Your SEO
    This includes on-page optimization for the keyword phrases customers use most when looking for what you do, and off-page link building to improve your website’s online “authority”.
  2. Proximity to the searcher
    This is what it sounds like: how close your location is to wherever the searcher is searching from. Clearly you can have no influence over this.
  3. Prominence of your business
    This relates to your online citations: how broadly across the web your location data is listed and how consistent it is across dozens of local search engines, directories, maps and apps.

At Rank Magic, we’re experts in Local SEO for small and very small local businesses. And we have a simple solution for ensuring your prominence across the most important locally focused sites across the web.

Reach out to us for a free SEO and prominence consultation about your business.

The Moz Blog calls location data and review ratings “The 1-2 Punch of Local SEO”

Image courtesy of The Moz Blog

Once you’ve optimized your location data and customers can easily find you, the next step is to get them to choose you.

Getting chosen

Once you’ve been found, it’s very likely that some of your competitors will also show up. You want them to pick your listing in preference to the others. One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate that you’ve got a very strong positive review profile. Inc Magazine says

Research shows that 91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

The impact of online review ratings is clear in this Google local 3-pack.With that in mind, take a look at the Local 3-Pack on the left for someone looking for an Indian restaurant in upstate New York. Which would you check out first? Most likely you would choose the one with 4.5 stars rather than the one with 1.6 stars. And if one of the restaurants listed had no reviews at all, odds are that would be your last choice.

It’s pretty clear that your online star ratings can have a significant impact on your business.

If you don’t have a strategy for encouraging positive reviews from your customers, now is the time to start one.

At Rank Magic we have a simple  program to generate positive reviews and balance them across the top rating sites like Google, Facebook, MerchantCircle, Yelp, and more. Contact us to learn more about how our solution can drive more customers to your business.

In fact, we have a free scanning service. Now you can see how good your own location prominence and reviews are. There’s no obligation, and did I say it’s free?

Just click here to run a free scan of your local listings.

Join the conversation with your opinions and experience in the Comments below.

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Does Your Site Use Intrusive Interstitials? Better Not!

Why you need to avoid intrusive interstitials

What’s an Interstitial?

An interstitial is an ad that appears in between two pages. Sometimes they can appear before the home page on your site. Often interstitials are pop-up ads, but sometimes they will be helpful, like an offer to chat with a live person. An interstitial ad is a form of interruption marketing used by advertisers who want their ads to be more like broadcast ads.

Many interstitials are just fine. But you want to be  sure your interstitials aren’t intrusive.

Examples of intrusive interstitial's that can generate a Google ranking penalty.

What’s wrong with an intrusive interstitial?

An intrusive interstitial or pop-up ad is one that annoyingly blocks all or most of a page. This is more problematic on mobile sites where there’s much less screen real estate. With less room on the screen it’s very easy for an interstitial to be considered intrusive.

One thing intrusive interstitials do is that they annoy your visitors. That’s a bad thing in and of itself, especially if it’s annoying enough to drive the visitor away. They also slow down the loading of your site because it’s extra material to download into a phone or browser.

Why is it important to avoid them?

It’s been well known for years that Google favors fast sites. If your interstitial is slowing down the display of your pages, that might hurt your ranking. But even beyond that, Google hates them. Google announced about a year and a half ago that at the beginning of 2017 intrusive interstitials would negatively affect your ranking. And here at  Rank Magic we are always concerned about the health of your rankings.

A few exceptions

Google has identified three types of interstitials that “would not be affected by the new signal” if “used responsibly.”

  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app-install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

Please join the conversation and share your observations in the Comments section below.

If you’re struggling with your online visibility, please call us. Because at Rank Magic, we can fix that!

Make Your Small Business Website Secure with HTTPS

HTTPS padlock icon

What is HTTPS?

Many normal website URLs start with HTTP:// which specifies the standard language for a browser to download a website.

Unfortunately, that’s not secure enough to protect things like your login to your bank or any other site where you share important information like credit card numbers.

A secure site begins with  HTTPS://. HTTPS encrypts all the data between the browser and the website, protecting it from prying eyes. You should always check before filing out forms with sensitive information; the easiest way is to look for the green closed padlock symbol to the left of the URL.

What if my site doesn’t take credit cards?

It feels like it shouldn’t matter for a small business website that never asks for anything sensitive like a social security number or credit card. Therefore, why bother? Why spend money to change your site?

The Google logo.Because Google cares! As far back as 2014 Google said they were using it as a ranking signal and that they would weigh it more and more heavily as time went on.

Moz reported in 2016 that the portion of HTTPS sites on the first page of Google results had increased from about 5% to about 30%. Surely it’s even higher now.

Why small businesses need HTTPS

As a small business owner, you understand how tough it is to compete with larger, more established competitors. Every little thing that helps you rank better against them is critical to your business. Even though HTTPS is not yet one of the half dozen strongest ranking signals on Google, it’s getting more important day by day. I believe now is the time it’s become important enough that it needs to be addressed, and earlier this year I converted this website to HTTPS.

Even your local small business competitors may be getting the jump on you by securing their own websites. You don’t want to be late to the party. Just see how widely this has become a “best practices” tool for you.

How tough is it to do?

Here are the three steps involved, thanks to Amy Gideon at TAG Online, Inc.

Step 1: Obtain a secure certificate.  The type of certificate can vary depending upon your hosting company and the level of security you want and need. So make sure to first check with your web hosting company on what type of certificate you need.

HTML coding may be required to make your site secure.Step 2: Once the certificate is installed, update your site to ensure that all links within the site are relative That means if your site displays an image called photo.jpg, the code that makes that image appear should be (assuming the image resides in the main directory): <img src=”/photo.jpg”>  as opposed to <img src=“http://www.yoursite.com/photo.jpg>. This is good practice for many reasons, but it also prevents the site from loading non-secure images, as the “http://” prefix will no longer work and would be insecure. Also update your site to ensure that there are no links or references that display content (PDFs or images, for example) linked from outside sites that are not secure. Here is a link to a tool that will scan your website for non-secure content: https://www.jitbit.com/sslcheck/.

Step 3: Test your site using HTTPS: if the green lock appears in the browser, then you can ask your web hosting company to redirect all requests to HTTP to now go to HTTPS.

Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or have your webmaster  do it, it’s time and effort well spent.

Comments, opinions, and disagreements are all welcome below. Join the conversation!

Need help with this or other aspects of optimizing your website? Give us a call.

Don’t Use the Keywords Meta Tag

People still use the keywords meta tag.

I shouldn’t have to write this post. Everyone should know that the keywords meta tag has been useless for years, right? Then why do I still see websites using sometimes elaborate and excessive meta keywords tags?

The red X meand don't use the keywords meta tag.Stop it! Don’t use them.

Why? A little history might help.

This meta tag began to be used more than twenty years ago — even before there was such a thing as Google. We were using search engines like AltaVista and InfoSeek and Ask Jeeves and Lycos.  And we were advising our clients to use the keywords meta tag.

They weren’t very sophisticated.

The keywords meta tag was designed to help them know what searches to rank a page for. Sounds easy, right? Well, maybe a bit too easy.

Quick story:

Back in 1995 you could look to see what the most popular search terms were. You still can, actually.

Star for Britney Spears on the Hollywood Walk of FameAt the time, one of the most popular search terms was Britney Spears. For some website owners that was compelling. The theory went that if millions of people were searching for Britney Spears, let’s put her name in our keywords meta tag. Then search engines will send those millions of people to our website. Surely some of them will want to buy what we sell!

So they added “Britney Spears” to their keywords meta tag to fool all the search engines into sending Britney fans to their website. And back in those days excess was the rule. If having Britney Spears in the meta keywords tag once helped to rank for people searching for her, putting it in there a dozen times should bring even more of them! So that’s what they did. It might have looked like this:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”shoes, Britney Spears, women’s shoes, Britney Spears, pumps, flats, Britney Spears, high heels, Britney Spears, patent leather shoes, Britney Spears, red shoes, Britney Spears, brown shoes, Britney Spears>

It didn’t take long for the search engines to notice that the actual content on the web page  — the stuff that people could read — wasn’t about Britney Spears at all. They spotted the cheating tactic and began to treat it as search engine spam. The result was they stopped using the keywords meta tag at all in deciding what a given web page was about or what searches they should rank it for

It’s been worthless ever since.

But myths and legends die hard. And as recently as 2008 Google Engineer Matt Cutts had to produce a video explaining that Google definitely does not use the meta keywords tag in ranking websites. Yahoo and Bing have confirmed that as well.

But it gets worse.

A keywords meta tag in your code might be seen as a spam signal: a ham-fisted attempt to fool search engines into ranking you better than you deserve to be. Spam signals are bad. Really bad. They hurt your rankings instead of helping them.

You can still do it. But don’t.

For some reason enough people still think they help that one of the most popular plugins for WordPress sites, the Yoast SEO plugin, includes an option for it. But with this warning:

Yoast SEO plugin option for adding the keywords meta tag

[Update 2/15/2018] Beyond that, the good folks at Yoast have just now removed any reference to the meta keywords tag and they explain why here.

Bottom line: just don’t do it.

Your opinions matter — especially if you disagree. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Is It Time to Abandon Flash?

It's time to abandon flash content on your site.Do you really need to get rid of flash on your site?

I’ve written about the demise of Flash in this blog as long as 10 years ago. It’s been a slow process, but it looks like it’s finally on its death bed.

The news is not good.

Recent news about the Adobe Flash platform for audio and video web content is not good. Google says it’s working hard to “make sure the web is ready to be Flash-free.” Already by default Flash doesn’t work on mobile or Chrome and having it on your site may be a negative ranking factor as a result.

Flash is undeniably on the way out. Adobe will stop supporting Flash at the end of 2020. According to Mozilla in July,

This morning, Adobe announced its roadmap to stop supporting Flash at the end of 2020. Working with Adobe and other browser vendors, Mozilla has prepared a roadmap for Flash support in Firefox, and guides for site authors to make their final transition away from Flash technology.

Bolstering that, Microsoft wrote an article entitled “The End of an Era – Next Steps for Adobe Flash”, saying

We will phase out Flash from Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, culminating in the removal of Flash from Windows entirely by the end of 2020.

Does that mean we have until 2020 to remove Flash content?

Ominously, The Verge predicts

Google is making HTML5 the preferred and default way to display website content in a change that’ll take place over the next couple of months. This means that unless a website has an HTML5 content player, video content will not automatically display. All Flash content will be blocked, unless users manually enable it on a site-by-site basis. [Emphasis added]

HTML5 is the new standard for video content on websites.Adobe has reportedly ceased development of Flash for all mobile devices, so industry watchers like LifeWire agree that it’s close to 100% certain that Flash will never be available on the iPhone. If you want your audio, video or animations to work on an iPhone, Flash is out of the question.

The Google Play store isn’t supporting Flash for Android devices. That means that if you install a Flash player from elsewhere for your phone you won’t be able to get any bug fixes or updates .

And as if to put a final nail in the coffin, Forbes has a recent article entitled “The Death Of Adobe Flash Is Long Overdue”.

Where to now?

If you have Flash content on your site, it’s time to ask your webmaster about converting it to HTML5.

If you’ve made that transition on your own site, please share your experience with us in the comments below.