Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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How to Improve Local Rankings in Google

Local search rankings are critical to local businesses

Increase your local search visibility on Google.

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

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

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

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

Google’s Local 3-Pack

Ranking factors for the Local 3-Pack

#1 Google My Business

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

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

#2 Reviews and Citations

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

Related: How to Get Online Reviews

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

Related: Understand Common Citation Myths

#3 On-page SEO

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

Related: On-Page Optimization

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

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

Ranking factors for local organic listings

#1 On-page SEO

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

#2 Domain Authority

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

#3 Behavioral factors

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

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

#4 Reviews and citations

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

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

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

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How to Increase Domain Authority for SEO

What is Domain Authority?

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

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

What’s Page Authority?

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

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

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

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

How many links do I have?

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

What’s a good domain authority score?

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

Moz logo. Moz is helpful in tracking domain authority.

Moz does excellent reporting of domain and page authority.

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

Tracking your Domain Authority

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

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

How to increase Domain Authority

Directories

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

Directory links are relatively easy to get.

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

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

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

Incentivise others to link to you and improve your Domain Authority

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

Existing relationships

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

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

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

Reciprocal links

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

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

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

User generated content

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

Caution

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

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

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

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

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

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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How to Protect Your SEO During a Website Redesign

Protect Your SEO

Google rankings drop after a website redesign.Your website search rankings have been earned through time and a significant amount of effort. There are a number of situations where a change to your website runs the risk of jeopardizing those rankings.

  • A redesign of your website
  • Changing your website to be responsive and mobile-friendly
  • Changing your domain (e.g. BobAndJohnsPlumbing.com becomes BobsPlumbing.com)
  • Changing your top level domain (e.g. from .net to .com)
  • Switching to a secure HTTPS website from an insecure HTTP website

Any of these changes involve a very real risk of losing your hard-earned search rankings. When the URL (the website address) of any of your pages changes, all of the links that pointed to that page still point to the old URL. That means the new URL suddenly has no external links pointing to it, and link authority (domain authority, page authority) drops to zero. That link authority is a critical part of your search rankings. When it drops to zero, so does your Google ranking.

When you begin any website maintenance that’s going to change your URLs, you need to pay special attention to protecting your SEO by protecting your inbound link profile.

How to Protect Your Link Authority

301 permanent redirects are used to protect link authority during a website redesign.A 301 permanent redirect is something your web designer should be well familiar with. It tells anyone looking for an old URL where to go to see that information in its new URL. Unlike other ways to redirect people, the 301 redirect also allows the new URL to inherit the link authority that had been earned by the old page.

So the first step is to compile a list of the URLs of all the pages on your site before you switch over to the redesigned version. Next to each one, annotate the URL of the new version of that page. If any of your old pages are disappearing, annotate the URL of the closest matching page in your redesigned website. If there really isn’t a matching page in your new website, then use the URL of your home page.

Each of those pairs of URLs represents a unique 301 permanent redirect which your web designer needs to create. Those need to go into effect at the same time as your redesigned website goes live. If you want to test any of your 301 redirects to make sure they’re working properly, there’s a redirect testing tool here.

The inheritance of link authority isn’t instantaneous, so expect a loss of rankings for a few weeks. But there are some things you can do to combat that.

For any of your inbound links with whom you have a personal or professional relationship, contact them and ask them if they would change the target of their links to point directly to the new URLs. that can work to speed up how quickly your rankings will return. And as always, link building should be an ongoing activity. New links to your new URLs are very important after a website redesign.

More information:

This is an update to our original post from 2007.

Your perspective adds to the value here. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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8 Small Business SEO Essentials You Need to Understand

How You Can Compete With the Big Boys

Learning about SEO is an investment in your business.Large companies and national franchises have an obvious edge in search visibility over your small business.

  • They have thousands of inbound links giving them authority or importance on the web.
  • They have a budget for SEO that probably far exceeds your own.
  • Their websites have more pages and deeper content than you can afford to create.
  • At least some of them are bound to have been around longer than your company has.

But that doesn’t have to stop you.

SEO is no longer just about who’s been on the web longer, who has more pages on their website, or even who has the most links. It’s about which web page has the most relevance to what was searched and who has the best answer for the searcher’s question.

You can do this.

Here are eight things for you to understand and put in place on your site.

1) Focus on Quality Content

If you sell products, you need to go beyond the manufacturer’s stock product description that everyone has on their website. Add valuable information about how to choose the right product or what extra value you offer that makes your company the smart choice to buy from.

If you sell a service, explain your Unique Selling Proposition: what sets you apart from your run-of-the-mill competitor? What questions should a customer ask to tell if the company they’re considering is the best?

Provide extra value to the searcher in your content and you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.

2) Backlinks are Essential

Link Popularity — the number and quality of other sites that link to yours — is an essential tie-breaker for search rankings. Google doesn’t want to show lousy web sites on the first page, and the more other web sites think you’re good enough to link to, the better search engines assume you must be.

Backlinks are essential to good search rankings.Quality is more important than quantity here; sites with a good authority or importance themselves bequeath more value to you via their links. The more important sites that link to yours, the higher is your Domain Authority or importance on the web.

Relevance is also a factor: a site that’s related to you is a more valuable link than one that’s not. Links from sites in similar businesses or in the same Chamber of Commerce or professional association tend to count more than sites that aren’t.

If two web pages address a given search equally well, the one with a higher level of importance on the web will almost always outrank the other one.

[Update 1/4/2020:] The folks at T-Ranks have published a thorough article on How To Get Backlinks.

3) Don’t Try to Fool Google

So-called Black Hat SEOs have tried for years to fool Google into ranking websites higher than they deserve. And sometimes their tricks work — for a little while. But when Google catches them their clients suffer.

Don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

4) Take Advantage of the Long Tail

Long tail distributionThe term long tail refers to the ends of a normal distribution bell curve.

The head portion represents the more generic searches people use: shoes, plumber, lawyer, restaurant.

The long tail portion represents more specific searches that aren’t searched nearly as often: women’s Muk Luk boots, plumber in Morristown NJ, criminal defense lawyer in San Diego, Mexican restaurant in Fargo.

Competition is much less for long tail keywords and your chance of ranking well is vastly improved.

5) Leverage Local SEO

If you’re a local business that interacts with your customers on a face-to-face basis, you need to take advantage of Local SEO opportunities. Google recently explained how to improve your rankings for local search. The three main factors for local search rankings are:

Increase your local visibility on Google.

  1. Relevance — how closely your content matches the searcher’s intent
  2. Distance — how local you are to the search being conducted
  3. Prominence — how widely known you are based on SEO rankings and information Google has on you from reviews, links, and listings in local directories, maps and apps.

You handle relevance through your normal SEO process of keyword selection and keyword-focused content. Distance requires that your pages include your address. Prominence is a bit more challenging in that there are dozens of directories and other locally-focused websites you need to be listed on. That brings us to the next item:

6) You Need Widespread and Consistent Citations

Some of the sites in PowerListingsIf you show up in lots of local sites with a consistent NAP (name, address, phone), search engines have a higher degree of trust about who you are and where you’re located. If you don’t show up, there’s less trust and that translates into lower rankings. Also, if you’re listed inconsistently with previous addresses on some sites, variations of your company name,  or bad/old phone numbers there’s less trust as well.

You need to make sure you’re listed correctly on as many of these sites as possible. We have a product called PowerListings that automates that for you and locks in your information. You can learn more about PowerListings here.

7) Achieve Freshness on Your Blog

There are lots of ways a blog helps you rank well in search engines.Having fresh content on your site encourages the search engines to visit more often and helps with your rankings. But beware of people who tell you to change or freshen up the content on your optimized pages. In our experience that’s likely to de-optimize your pages and hurt your rankings.

Instead, host a blog on your site and write informative content for your target market at least monthly, Weekly may be better if you can manage it. That’s all the fresh content you need, and it provides you with an opportunity to share your blog posts on social media and an email newsletter.

8) The Value of Google+ and +1 Signals

Google's G logoYou probably know that you need a Facebook page and perhaps a Twitter account. But lots of small businesses ignore Google+ and that’s a mistake. If you have a strong, active Google+ presence you’re likely to earn +1s. They’re similar to Facebook Likes. The folks at Moz noted that next to your web authority, the number of Google +1s is most highly correlated with great search rankings.

In addition, links back to your web pages from Google+ carry more weight than links from Facebook and Twitter because they’re the only ones that convey actual PageRank value.

Update May 2019: Sad to say, Google+ never lived up to its potential and is being discontinued as of October, 2019.

Rank Magic can help!

We’re the small business SEO experts.

We focus on what I call “small and very small businesses” and we address all eight of these factors and much more for our clients. We recognize that as a small business owner you have your hands full with running your business and have little time to spend paying attention to all of your marketing efforts.

Please give us a call to discuss your website. I’ll be happy to personally look at your site with you and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses so you can determine if we’re a good match for what you need.

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