Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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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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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.

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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How Many Incoming Links Do I Really Have?

Link Popularity Is an Important Ranking Factor

Link popularity — the number and quality of inbound links to your site is a critical ranking factor. I estimate it counts for 40-50% of where you rank on Google. While link quality outweighs link counts, many of our clients still like to know how their link counts are doing.

Moz and Majestic

Your link count is one of the link-related ranking factors at Google.

We track client inbound link counts from both Moz and Majestic because there are different ways to “count” links that results in occasionally large differences in link counts between them.

Link age may be a consideration: older links may count less than fresher links. Link weight is also important: the weight of a link is related to the web authority of the linking page so that links from more authoritative pages count significantly more heavily in your favor than links from lesser sources.

Link trend chartMoz tends to track high value links while Majestic tends to dig deeper and track many lower quality links. Moz tends also to have fewer false positives. Both constantly refine their link counting algorithms, resulting in occasional dramatic changes in reported link counts.

Links versus Domain LinksIn our monthly reporting to clients, we rely on the Moz link counts. But we track both and periodically report to clients about both of them, as well as counts of how many other websites are linking. Some websites (domains) may link to you from multiple pages, resulting in a difference between total links and linking domains. We also report on MozRank and Domain Authority.

MozRank

Moz logoMozRank is a link popularity score that weighs the number of incoming links to a given web page (or a given website for Domain MozRank) but modifies that with a quality score for those inbound links. It’s designed to approximate Google’s PageRank score which is an important ranking factor at Google, and is on a logarithmic 0-10 scale like Google’s PageRank.  While Google used to display an approximate PageRank for web pages, they stopped doing that around 2014. MozRank is the closest approximation of that we’ve found.

Domain Authority

Domain Authority by MozDomain Authority is another metric from the folks at Moz to measure the strength of a website in terms of its likelihood to rank prominently in web search results. On a logarithmic 0-100 scale, it’s based on a number of more elementary metrics including link counts, linking domains, link quality, MozRank, and more. It’s being continuously tweaked via machine learning against actual Google search results

If you’d like to know more or have us track your own link popularity, just reach out anytime.

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Why Did Your Nice, New Website Destroy Your Search Rankings?

Loss of RankingsIt’s sad to say, but we see this all too often. An old website gets a facelift, and the new site looks great. But it’s not long before the website owner notices that they’re no longer getting any business from people finding them on the web. What happened?

We’ve written before about why good SEO consultants make lousy web designers, and vice versa, and there are just some SEO techniques that great web designers don’t really think much about.

The two mistakes that kill your online visibility

There are two main factors that govern where you rank in the search engines: Relevance and Reputation. A significant problem with either one of them will cost you rankings in the search engines.

Keyword relevanceRelevance

During the website redesign, the text copy on your pages may be updated. Certainly the HTML code behind the pages is changed. It’s not at all uncommon for the new copy to fail to use some of your essential keyword phrases or for them not to be included appropriately in the code. This makes it difficult for search engines to recognize that your page is an appropriate match for those keyword phrases.

The solution to this is to go back to your original optimization recommendations and re-apply them to your webpages.  (You do have optimization recommendations to reapply, don’t you?)

Reputation

This accounts for 40-50% of where you rank in Google. It’s important in other search engines as well, but Google weighs it more heavily than the rest of them. Your reputation (sometimes called  “authority”) is measured by your link popularity:” the number and quality of other websites that link to yours. Over time, the pages on your website have earned significant link popularity, helping them to rank well in the search engines.

URL changes can hurt your rankings

Unfortunately, most website redesign projects result in new URLs for the pages on your website. Without explicit action, all the link popularity earned by you or previous page URLs is simply lost. This is related to the issue of canonicalization we discuss in the SEO portion of our website, as well as in our blog.

The solution is to do the proper kind of “redirect” from the old URL to the new URL so that the new URL can inherit the link popularity and reputation earned by your previous version of the page. There are multiple kinds of redirects that will ensure that anyone who tries to go to your old page will be sent to the new one. But only one kind, the 301 permanent redirect, will also redirect the link popularity value from the old URL to the new one.

Don’t Panic

Don't Panic!

Obviously, if this happens to you you need to jump on it as quickly as possible and get things fixed. Better still would be to anticipate this potential disaster and deal with it before your redesigned website even goes live.

If this has happened to you and you need help recovering from the loss of search rankings, Rank Magic can help.

Has this happened to you? Share your experience in the Comments below.

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