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Mastering the Art of Voice Search Optimization

Amazon Alexa“Alexa, tell me about voice search”
“I found this information on: Boy George”

Virtual assistants may be far from perfect – just search #AlexaFail on Twitter – but they sure are popular.

A 2018 survey of over 90,000 internet users found that 17% currently own a smart speaker (such as a Google Home, or an Amazon Echo), with a further 34% planning to purchase one in the near future. 20% of mobile Google searches are also carried out using a virtual assistant such as Siri.

Voice search is clearly here to stay, and businesses need to pay attention. Why? Because while the Alexas and Siris of the world may be saving lives, they could be killing your SEO.

We’ll take a quick look at four foolproof ways to stay on their good side.


1.  Siri Loves Structured Data

It’s true, she really does.

But first, what exactly is structured data? Structured data helps the Google bots to better understand your website, and the content you write. While humans can easily identify tables, lists and reviews by sight, robots need a little more help.

Voice search on phones is increasing in frequency.When you add structured data to your pages, you’ll need to use what’s known as ‘schema markup’. This is a specific type of HTML code that lets Google recognize the format of the data you’ve added, and – crucially – pull this data through for search result snippets. Think of it like speaking to the Google bots in a language they can understand. And the better they understand you, the better chance your site will have of ranking.

That said, adding elements like ‘review schema’ benefits users, as well as robots. By pulling through a review’s star rating to the results page, users have a far clearer idea of the type of content they’ll be viewing, which in turn should boost your click-through rate. Plus, by adding a variety of types of content to your pages you’ll also improve the experience of those viewing your site online (nobody likes to be faced with a huge wall of text!), so it really is a win-win.

So why does voice search favor structured data so much? By adding schema markup in the right places, you’re spelling out to Google exactly where it can find the content it needs to answer a voice search query. The easier you can make its job, the better!

And keep your eyes peeled for the launch of ‘speakable structured data’. It’s still in its BETA phase at the moment, but if introduced it will let you wrap certain parts of your copy in a specific markup code to signpost it as the perfect voice search result for Google.


2. Conversation is Key

Most local searches are done via voice search on a phone.The way we type a search query is different from  the way we search by speaking aloud.

Instead of typing ‘what is SEO’, or even ‘SEO what is’, we’re more likely to say ‘what’s SEO?’. This might seem like semantics (and technically, it is!), but bringing a conversational feel to your content is a surefire way to set you up for voice search success.

Here are three easy ways to nail conversational content:

  1. Use contractions, such as what’s, it’s, and here’s. This is simply more reflective of how we speak. E.g. ‘You might be wondering exactly what SEO is. Here’s a quick breakdown…’
  2. Use questions and answers. Why? Because it makes your content more engaging, and it signposts snappy answers to be picked up as voice search snippets. E.g. ‘So what is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s all about…’
  3. Use natural language. It can be tempting to drift into complicated language in your copy, which can be off-putting to both robots and humans alike. Follow the easy rule: ‘If you can say it in a simpler way, do’.

3. Revel in Mobile Responsiveness

Mobile responsiveness is no longe an option. Most searches are done from phones now.Mobile responsiveness is no longer the secret of clued-up web designers; all the best website builders in the business now offer completely mobile-responsive templates as standard. In SEO terms, having a mobile responsive website is an essential, not a preference.

But how does mobile responsiveness help with voice search optimization? With the vast majority of voice searches still carried out on mobile, your site needs to offer the best mobile user experience in order to compete for voice search snippets. That means a site that’s fast, and easy to navigate from your phone. Again, this is something that will benefit all your mobile users, not just those using voice search.


4. Fish for Long-Tail Keywords

When it comes to targeting keywords, voice search presents an opportunity rather than a challenge.

People are lazy when they type. They rely on search engine intelligence to decipher the meaning behind their two or three word queries: think ‘best restaurant Washington’, ‘website cost’, or ‘find gas station’.

With voice search, people are a lot more talkative. You’re far more likely to see queries such as ‘where’s the best restaurant in Washington?’, ‘how much does a website cost?’ or ‘how far away is the nearest gas station?’.

You can harness the power of these long-tail keywords in two key ways:

First, the gift of extra information and a question word in these queries gives a much clearer idea of the user intent behind the search. By targeting these long-tail keywords, you’ll create more precise content that gives users the answers they’re really searching for.

Second, you can (almost) say goodbye to shoehorning awkwardly worded keywords into your articles. Voice search queries are generally fully formed sentences that will easily double up as engaging H2s and H3s. Get ready for your content to (almost) write itself!


So there you have it: four simple ways to set your site up for voice search success.

But the best part? As we’ve mentioned throughout, these optimizations will improve the quality of your site for all users, not just those finding you through voice search. That means happy customers, happy search engines, and a website that’s ready to face future Google algorithm updates head on.


Hannah WhitfieldAbout the Author

Hannah Whitfield writes for Website Builder Expert, the number one resource for getting people online. Behind every successful online business is a sound knowledge of SEO, and Hannah wants to bring you the latest developments that’ll keep you one step ahead of the competition.


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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.

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10 SEO Mistakes Small Businesses Make

Small business SEO isn’t obvious

SEO is not magic. We explain 10 common small business SEO mistakes.I often explain that despite the “Magic” in our company name, SEO isn’t magic, and there really should be no secrets about how it works. Nevertheless, it does require a little shift in how you think about your website to understand what works and why. Small business SEO mistakes can be pretty easily avoided if you know what they are.

Startups and small business owners, especially those with cash flow concerns, often try to do things for themselves. We found that there are some common SEO mistakes that small businesses make which are easily avoidable. Here’s a list of the top ten things small business owners often mess up when trying to do SEO. (Needless to say, if you want or need professional help in optimizing your site without making these errors, Rank Magic is here to help.)

Much of what follows comes with a tip of the hat to the folks at Search Engine Watch; if you’d like to read a bit more about this from their perspective, here’s their article on the subject.

Ten SEO mistakes that small businesses make

Neither are some of these ten common mistakes

1) Waiting too long

Small business owners often spend months or years designing their websites and creating content. Without an SEO strategy in place from the beginning, they often find their efforts to be sub- optimal. When they come late to the SEO process, very often much of what they have worked on so diligently on the website needs to be redone in accordance with SEO best practices. The best time to start SEO is when you start designing (or redesigning) your website. This may be the single most common small business SEO mistake.

2) Avoiding low-competition keywords

It’s easy to think that you should focus on the keyword phrases everyone is searching for all the time. It feels like a waste of time to optimize for niche keyword phrases that receive fewer searches. But for a new business or a new website, the reverse is actually true. It takes months and years to develop the online authority to rank highly for those keyword phrases – you may be trying to compete with Amazon or Wayfair or Costco for those super-high volume keyword phrases. They’re the most competitive.

Optimizing for appropriate low competition keyword phrases is easier and much more likely to result in success over the shorter term.

For local businesses, niche keyword phrases might include a county, town, or neighborhood. Think electrician on the upper East Side or Indian restaurant in Morristown. Those kinds of keyword phrases narrow your competition dramatically and make it much easier to achieve first page rankings. At Rank Magic, we do extensive keyword research and analysis for our clients.

3) Optimizing for Google instead of the customer

Design for humans, not Google.Just about anything you do on a website specifically for Google, is likely to fail to address the needs of your customers. As Google has improved over the years, it’s gotten very smart about identifying websites that are helpful to users as opposed to being focused just on Google. It’s important to bear in mind that the user experience on a website is a ranking factor at Google.

4) Ignoring or avoiding long-tail keywords

Long-tail keyword phrasesLong tail keywords are easier to rank for. are more precisely focused on your products or services than more general terms. A new plumbing company may optimize for the keyword plumbing.  But most people searching for that phrase are looking for general information about plumbing — or perhaps jobs in the plumbing industry — rather than looking to hire a local plumber. The keyword plumbing services receives fewer searches per month but is much more closely focused on the needs of the plumber’s customers. An even longer-term phrase for one of this company’s services might be sump pump repair or sump pump leak. Our new plumbing company is likely to have much better success with these long-tail phrases.

5) Ignoring the code

I see this often, especially with new businesses that have tried to create their own website using one of those do-it-yourself sites like GoDaddy or Yahoo Site Builder. The code that runs the website is not visible on the page and is easy to ignore. But that code includes lots of information critical to search rankings and to conversions once you do show up in a search. Things like

Meta tags are in the HTML code that runs your site and they tell search engines about your page.

  • The page title, which shows up as the headline of your listing in Google,
  • The meta-description tag, which often shows up as part of your listing in Google,
  • Page and image file names,
  • Image alternate text,
  • URL structure and more.

These items all relate to the underlying code of your web pages which either A) help Google understand what the page is about and the value it offers or B) contribute to the likelihood of someone clicking on your listing when it shows up in Google.

6) Keyword stuffing

The now-ancient practice of keyword stuffing involves using a keyword phrase over-abundantly on the page in the hopes that it will convince Google the page is really, really, really about that phrase.

It doesn’t work. And it makes the user experience on the page really crappy, driving people away instead of converting them to paying customers. This is a small business SEO mistake that was usually made many years ago and has just never been fixed. If it applies to you, it’s time to fix it.

7) Forgetting internal links

Once you have people on your site, you want them to stay long enough and learn enough about you so they want to do business with you. Internal links – links among the various pages on your site foster those more extensive visits on your site.

8) Not measuring results

This chart of search traffic is an example of result tracking.You need to know if your efforts are working or not. If they’re not helping, you know you need to change things. How are your search rankings doing over time? How much traffic are you getting from search? Is it improving? You need to know this. Rank Magic provides extensive reporting to our clients on the essential things they need to know but if you’re not a client of ours you should take steps to track results yourself.

9) Focusing on features instead of benefits

You’re enmeshed in your business and are proud of the features of your products or services. Small businesses often get bogged down in the details of those features and go on at length about them.

Guess what? No one cares.

Your customer cares about benefits, not features. They want to know how you can address their concern or relieve their problem. They won’t search for a high tech toilet float valve — they want you to stop their leaky toilet.

This is one of those SEO mistakes that small businesses make that requires you to change your perspective about what to tell people about your business.

Learn more about customer-focus in this blog post.

10) Forgetting about calls to action

Order a hamburger at any fast food restaurant and I’ll bet the person taking your order asks “You want fries with that?” They sell a lot more fries because they ask. That’s known as a call to action.

This Buy Now button is a clear call to action.We all think our website copy is going to make us irresistible and will make users reach out to us without us having to ask. We’re delusional about that.

What do you want your website users to do? Buy something? Call for an appointment? Subscribe to your newsletter? Ask them.

To finish up this post, here are a few examples of calls to action:

If your small business is not ranking well and bringing in customers — Rank Magic can fix that!

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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.

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How to Focus Your Home Page Optimization

How to optimize your home page.We usually optimize home pages for the organization or company name and perhaps one specific keyword, and not much else.  That’s to guarantee that someone learning about you from another customer or client of yours will find you at the top of the results when they search for your name.

Clients ask us:

Why don’t you optimize my home page for all my important keywords?

There are reasons both practical and behavioral.

First, the practical SEO reasons:

The Title Tag is the most powerful place for your keywords to be. It shows up as the text in the tab of your browser, sometimes in the top border of your browser window, and almost always is the headline of your listing whenever the page shows up in search results. You need to get all the individual words from your optimized keywords into the title tag. Anything past about 70-80 characters is treated as less important than words near the beginning, so this limits how many keywords can be fully optimized. And only the first 55 characters or so will be visible in the Google search results.

Optimized keywords need to appear in a number of places on the page. Many of those places are in the code, and there’s a limited number of opportunities for that. But they also need to appear in the readable text copy on the page, in headings and sub-headings, in paragraph text, and in the clickable text of links. In order to cover all of your keywords on the home page and have them be used in a natural, readable way would require you to write a tome. And people just aren’t going to read your page if there’s that much text: it’s intimidating. When that happens, people click back to the search results and try something else  — probably your competitor.

Search engines need to understand that your page is 'al aboutSearch engines need to understand that your page is really “about” the keyword phrase that was searched. If your page covers dozens or hundreds of keywords, it can’t really be “about” all of those things. It ends up being about everything and nothing. Then search engines won’t be able to tell what searches your page is a good match for.

People don’t have to always come in through the front door. Our objective is always to have well-focused internal pages for our most important keyword groupings.

Let’s take a law firm, for example. There may be many attorneys, each focusing on a small set of legal practice areas: criminal defense, wills and trusts, business contracts, real estate closings, personal injury litigation, employment law, and so forth. Each of those practice areas needs its own page in order to be optimized for all the keywords related to that topic. If you land on a page that lists all the many and varied things the firm does, you may need to scan down the page, scrolling down “below the fold” to see if they do what you need. Most people won’t take the time.

But if you land on a page that’s all about real estate closings, that page will be immediately recognizable as what you want: both from it’s headline in the search results and from the headings and sub-headings on the page itself. That focus is essential for search engines to know what searches to show any web page for.

Now the behavioral reasons:

Firsat impressions are important, and they happen fast.First impressions happen fast. Depending on the research, you have between 50 milliseconds and three seconds to convince the new visitor that they’re in the right place. If people are searching for a child custody lawyer, it needs to be immediately obvious that they’ve landed on a page about family law, focusing on child custody issues.There’s no way your home page can convince them it’s a match that quickly. It may mention child custody but the searcher would have to take the time to scan through the home page to find it among all the other things your firm does  — and people just don’t do that anymore. They simply won’t take the time; they’ll click the back button on their browser and pick another listing from the search results hoping for a better match.

Avoid bounces.When someone clicks a search result and then comes quickly back to the search engine results to look for another choice, that’s called a bounce. Bounces are bad. They tell the search engine that your page was actually not a good match for the search term. Search engines learn from user behavior and will reduce your rankings as a result of a high bounce rate.

It’s as simple as that.

That’s why I won’t encourage you to spend a lot of time and energy working detailed keywords into your home page. It won’t necessarily hurt the home page’s rankings, but it won’t help it appreciably to rank for focused keywords. And it won’t help convert those visitors into paying customers. Your internal pages are where you need people to end up, and those are the pages that will include calls to action and encourage them to reach out to you to become a client or customer.

Need help focusing your home page and internal pagges for great rankings? Rank Magic can help!

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