Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Archive for the copywriting Category

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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How to Use Keywords to Get Your Blog Found and Read

You do have a blog, don’t you?

Write your blog around keywordsWe always recommend that our clients host a blog on their own website. Google loves fresh content, and a blog is the perfect place to add new content on a continuing basis. Blogs are perfect for answering long-tail keyword searches. Keywords are the search phrases people type or speak into a search engine. Long tail keyword searches are typically at least four or five words and are thus quite specific. They are also easier to rank for than broader keywords.

Start with keyword research

People search for answers to their questions in search engines.You want to base your blog posts around keyword phrases that represent questions your customers or potential customers are likely to be asking. Blog posts that introduce a totally new idea are unlikely to show up in search because very few people will know to be searching about that. But if your blog answers a question that lots of people have, it’s more likely people will be searching for it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t introduce new subjects in your blog, just that those posts are unlikely to bring in readers from Google or other search engines. Those posts will need to be promulgated through things like your email newsletter, your Facebook page, or other social media.

How does a small business do keyword research?

Start with keyword research for your blog.If you’re one of our clients, we’ll do the hard work for you. But if you’re not, that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. One place a lot of people use is the Google Keyword Planner. It’s actually designed for Google Ads, but doesn’t have to be limited to that. You can also search for a good keyword planning tool. In tools like this you can enter sample keyword phrases and see what related phrases are searched for frequently.

Be careful to avoid using keyword phrases that are jargon — terms that are common to you but may not be common to your target market. Google used to have a rule to help identify potential keywords; they called it “Ask 10 Taxi Drivers”. What that means is to ask a number of people who might become customers or clients but who are not in your line of work. They’re likely to use terms you wouldn’t think of because they’re not as close to your business terminology as you are. What questions do they have? Are those questions lots of people might ask? If so, those are good questions to build a blog post around.

Check the search volume

Your keyword research should indicate roughly how many times a month each variation on your keyword phrase is searched. You don’t automatically want to pick the one that is searched most frequently. That’s because you need to balance that with relevance to your customers and your business. A good keyword phrase is searched often enough to make it worthwhile and is also focused enough to be of interest to your target market.

Use your keyword in your blog post

Use keywords in your content, but carefully.If your keyword phrases a question, it might make an excellent headline for your blog post. You might also want to use it in the title tag and/or the description tag of your blog post.

Long gone are the days when the key to showing up for a search phrase was to repeat that search phrase multiple times throughout your blog post. Don’t do that; Google abhors keyword stuffing. Instead, use variations on the keyword and linguistically related terms. For example if your post is about how to pick the best running shoe, you might explain the difference between running shoes and sneakers or jogging shoes.

Make sure your primary focus is on answering the question. Chances are you will almost automatically use related terms that will help Google understand how related your blog post is to that question.

Check out your competition and be better

Answer the question better for more traffic.Take a look at other material online that tries to answer your question or is all about your chosen keyword phrase. See how you can answer the question better or more thoroughly. See what they didn’t explain well, and do a better job than they did. See what they left out and include it.

Google is getting better and better at identifying the best answer for a question. Make sure it’s yours.

Comments start a conversation and can increase conversions.Allow comments

If people can comment or ask questions at the bottom of your blog post, you can engage with them and leverage the value of your blog post in terms of converting readers into customers.

Promote your blog post

Share your blog post where you think it will find interest. I like to promote every new blog post I write on social media and in my email newsletter. It’s always helpful to jump start visibility of your content.

Questions? Share them in the comments below.

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Your Website Needs Calls to Action!

This Buy Now button is a clear call to action.

Not having calls to action (CTAs) is one of the ten most common SEO mistakes small business owners make.

What’s a Call to Action?

An Add To Cart call to action buton is essential on any product or service "Buy" pageA CTA is a direction that asks or tells your reader to do something. It’s an image or line of text that prompts your reader to take an action, like download, buy, learn, request, sign up, subscribe, join, phone, ask, get help …

Why are CTAs important?

If you want people to comment on your blog posts, you nered to encourage that with a callo to action button like this one.

Do you want more orders? More inquiries from potential customers? How about more readers for your blog? More social shares? None of that is likely to happen without good calls to action.

If you’ve ever ordered a fast food burger, you were almost certainly asked “Do you want fries with that?” That’s a call to action, and it sells a lot more fries than if they don’t ask.

This call to action button for downloading something is more effective with nearby text extolling the valkue of the download.

It’s a very important part of getting your website visitors to convert into customers, and it’s often overlooked in writing website content. A call to action can determine whether or not a visitor on your website does what you want them to.

Small Business Trends claims that 70% of small business websites lack a call to action.

And customers actually expect them. When they get to a breaking point in a page or reach the bottom, they often look for direction to help them move on to the next step – whatever that is.

How to create and use Calls to Action

There are a few guidelines for effective use of CTAs. Here are what I consider to be the most important of them.

  • Almost all of your marketing content needs calls to action:
    • brochures
    • emails
    • blog posts
    • web pages
    • coupons
    • print ads
  • Get more subscribers with a CTA like this.Make them brief. Occasionally for SEO purposes, a call to action may be longer for the sake of including keywords, but in general they tend to work better if they’re brief.
  • Make them clear – ambiguous CTAs don’t work.
  • Demonstrate a benefit. Give your readers a reason to take the action you want them to take.
  • It never hurts to emphasize that something is FREE!
  • Use strong action verbs:
    • Download
    • Buy
    • Sign up
    • Subscribe
    • Join
    • Get Started
    • Call Now
    • Ask Us
    • Get Help
  • Wherever possible, avoid weak directions like “click here” or “learn more”.
  • Make your CTA as specific as possible:
    • Download my E- book
    • Call to talk with us
    • Sign up for our email newsletter
    • Ask us a question
  • Make your call to action stand out visually on the page.
  • The best locations are at the end of a blog post or web page, in between separate topics on a page, in a side panel, or in a pop-up or slide-in.

Some in-depth reading

The Daily Egg has a nice article on examples that work.

Neil Patel suggests avoiding CTAs like Sign up — Buy now — Learn more. He offers some detailed advice on how to write calls to action that are more likely to convert visitors to customers.

And here are a few CTA’s of our own:

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

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Need more traffic so more customers can see and respond to your Calls to Action? Rank Magic can help! Ask me how.

The Top 7 SEO Things Small Businesses Screw Up

SEO mistakes are easy to make.SEO Mistakes Are Easy

Owners of small (and very small) businesses are usually highly skilled in what they do. But they often have insufficient experience with SEO. Despite our company name, there’s no “magic” in SEO, but it’s not intrinsically obvious either. I hope it’s helpful for you to know these pitfalls.

The Top 7 Things Small Business Owners Screw Up

1) Not starting SEO soon enough

Start your SEO as soon as possible.It’s very common for small business owners to recognize very early on that a website is indispensable to their business. They will often spend a great deal of time and effort in creating a website that is robust, full-featured, attractive, and even sexy. Often it will include a blog with months or years of laboriously crafted information.

But without SEO, all of that information may be inaccessible to potential customers. It’s like a Billboard in the Woods. Want to find out if your site is a Billboard in the Woods? Conduct a simple test.

Once you realize that your beautiful website can’t be found, SEO becomes a priority. And at that point, it may require you to make major changes in your website design, structure, and content. The sooner you start your SEO, the less work you’ll have to re-do on your site.

2) Writing for Google

Google's G logoYour audience is people: current and future customers or clients. But out of zeal to achieve high visibility in Google, many small business owners focus on Google instead of on their customers.

That can result in practices that violate Google’s standards, like creating doorway pages. It’s always a bad idea to try to fool Google into ranking you higher than you deserve. But even without that, thinking too much about Google and too little about your customers often results in content that goes overboard in terms of keyword inclusion.

Keyword stuffing makes a web page read awkwardly and creates a poor user experience which may well drive people away. A few years ago in Google’s Penguin algorithm update, they specifically focused on penalizing keyword stuffing.

3) Not understanding the customer

As business owners, we’re always focusing on what we do and the advantages or features of our products and services. It’s natural to write about that on our websites.

But that misses the point.

Don't put your customer tyo sleep by emphasizing features instead iof benefits.Customers don’t care what the features are; they care about what it will do for them. To get customer to buy from you or patronize your services, you need to explain what’s in it for them. What benefits you offer, not what features you have built into your products or services.

It’s also important to write with a customer focus in mind. If your web pages talk all about what “I” or “we” can do, it misses the marketing message. Your web content needs to talk about whatever desire, pain point, or purpose the customer has in conducting the search that brought him or her to your website. Good marketing copy is YOU-focused, not ME-focused.

4) Choosing unachievable keywords

Some keywords are dominated by big, national companies.It’s natural to want to focus your SEO on search phrases that people search for a great deal. Optimizing for a phrase that people search for hundreds of thousands of times a month instead of phrases that people search for 20 or 30 times a month. The problem with that is that such keyword phrases are usually way too competitive for a small business to compete with.

On the bell curve, keyword phrases that fall in the middle of the curve get the most searches, but are also the most competitive. Long tail keyword phrases — those out near the edges of the curve — can be finely tuned to focus on your unique selling proposition and good rankings are much more achievable for them.

Don’t optimized for car repair. Optimize instead for brake repair. And transmission repair. And each of your auto services. Even better might be to optimize for brake repair in [your town or county].

Don’t optimize for New Jersey lawyer. Optimized instead for New Jersey workers compensation lawyer. Or New Jersey child support lawyer. Or NJ real estate attorney.

5) Not writing enough

Copywriting for marketing and SEO is a valuable skill.Too often small business owners want to keep their pages short and “punchy”. You may recognize that people don’t have the patience to read a great deal of content. The Internet expression TL:DR has become popular lately. It means “Too Long: Didn’t Read”.

The mistake here is that people don’t read a web page the way they read a novel. They scan or skim, looking for subheadings to find the morsels that they are particularly interested in. If your copy is constructed well with frequent subheadings, it won’t be intimidating to the visitor on your site. And they can find what they need to know easily.

Beyond that, though, if you’re optimizing a page for two or three different but related keyword phrases, you need at least 300 words of copy to help Google understand what the page is all about. To include those keywords  on the page enough with fewer than about 300 words inevitably requires you to do keyword stuffing.

6) Having a single Services page

List of ServicesThis is a critical error I see a lot. In order to present the website from growing too large, a business will include a  page titled Services. On that page they may have a bulleted list of all the different things that they do, possibly with a sentence or two of description about each of them.

If a page is about everything you do, it can’t possibly be “all about” any one thing that you do. Let’s say your car repair shop does transmission repairs. If that is only one item out of a bullet list of a dozen or two services you offer,  Google is never going to want to show that page to somebody who’s looking for a transmission repair shop.

If, however, each item listed on your Services page links to another page that is truly all about that specific service, those are the pages that Google will like.

7) Forgetting about the code

Craft your meta description carefully.This is understandable. As a small business owner, you probably know little about HTML code — the computer code that tells a browser or phone how to display your page — and care about it even less. But there are certain things in the HTML code which the visitor to your site never sees but have a critical role in your SEO.

The page title tag is the most powerful place to have keyword phrases appear. That’s in the code; it’s not the main headline on your page.

The description meta tag often appears as a snippet in the search engine results even though it doesn’t appear on your visible web page. That can play significant role in whether someone clicks on your listing in Google or one of the listings below you.

There are a lot of coding techniques that can help your SEO. You ignore them at your peril.

8) Failing to monitor results

Google rankings can suffer unexpectedly.Your search rankings are going to bounce around a bit, and that’s inevitable. But if you’re not paying attention to them, and your rankings begin to slide, you may not notice it in your revenue numbers until much later. You should always monitor your rankings, your web authority, your competitive position, your social media presence, and your citations across the web. It’s also important to run periodic site crawls to reveal whether Google or other search engines are running into difficulty understanding what’s on your website.

Sometimes changes in Google’s ranking algorithms can begin to hurt you even though everything you have done up to that point is effective. For example:

  • Having a mobile-friendly website that’s easy to use on a phone was unimportant just a few years ago. Today it’s critical, and is a ranking factor at Google.
  • We didn’t used to pay too much attention to how quickly a web page loads in a browser, but now slow pages can hurt your rankings.
  • A few years ago, secure websites with URLs starting with HTTPS only applied to websites that collected personal information like credit cards and email addresses. No longer. Secure websites now enjoy a boost in rankings compared to those that are not secure.

As a small business owner, you can’t be expected to stay on top of every change in how Google ranks websites, but if you monitor your results you’ll know when something is going wrong. Only then can you take steps to fix it.

Rank Magic can help!

That’s rather a lot of stuff to be aware of and to deal with. And as a small business owner we know you have your hands full just running your business. That’s where Rank Magic can help.

If you’d like us to explore your website over the phone with you and highlight any problem areas you may not be aware of,  just give us a call. The call is free, but the advice can be priceless.

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

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