Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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Local SEO Citation Myths

Citations are important for Local SEO

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

The Google Local 3-Pack

There are several tools available to help build citations across the web for Local SEO. We support the Yext platform, but it’s not the only good one. You can even manage them manually if you have the time and inclination. But it’s important to understand what citations are and why they’re important for local search, and not be mislead by common myths about them.

Your visibility in Local Search depends on three factors:

  1. Classic SEO: high quality on-page content well optimized for your target keyword phrases
  2. Prominence: citations listing your NAP (name, address, phone) consistently and widely across the web
  3. Proximity: how close your location is to the person doing a local search

Clearly, you have no control over the location of a searcher, but the other two factors are things we deal with all the time. For local businesses, classic SEO can get us a good bit of the way there. But ensuring a proper citation profile is essential as well.

Since we focus on small and very small businesses here at Rank Magic, the preponderance of our clients are local businesses. As a result, we support building and maintaining citations for many of them. If you own a local business, it’s important to understand what citations are and what they aren’t. And sadly, there are widespread myths about what they are and how they work. Joy Hawkins at Moz has recently written about them; and you can dig into her article for more information. The following is a quickly digestible overview with some of our own observations.

1) Your suite number has to be everywhere.

NAP - name,address & phone

Inevitably, some of your citations will include your suite number and others won’t. There is no need to worry; Google doesn’t pay very much attention to that. If you run a scan of your most important citations from the tool on our site, you may notice that if you enter a suite number in the scan, addresses without the suite number are not flagged as inconsistent or erroneous.

2) Minor differences in your name are critical.

You may be listed in some places as “Main Street Medical”, in others as “Dr. Stacey Morrow, Main Street Medical”, and in others as “Main Street Medical: Dr. Philip Cleaver”, etc. Never fear: Google is smart enough to understand that all of these represent the same practice. Where it becomes important though is if there is no overlap. Google may not understand that listings for “Dr. Stacey Morrow” and “Dr. Philip Cleaver” represent the same practice. In that case, it would be important to correct them.

3) You need to clean up your citations on hundreds of sites.

It’s good to clean up your citations on important and independent sites. But many sites are related. In its heyday, The Open Directory was replicated on more than 300 separate domains and subdomains. Fixing it in one place affected all of the others. That still happens today with many websites including results from Local.com. If your citation on Local.com is correct, it will very soon trickle down to all of those other sites that repeat its listings.

It’s still helpful in local search for your citations to be spread widely across the web. The more places Google find a consistent NAP for your local business, the more confidence it has. Remember, if Google is confused about exactly where your business is or what your phone number is, it’s less likely to rank you as prominently.

4) There’s no local search risk in canceling a citation service.

Well … That may be a little complicated. A study of canceling the Moz Local service showed little or no change after cancellation. Yext is a little bit different. [Fair notice: we are a Yext Certified Partner.]

Yexy Knowledge Graph PowerListingsYext places a lock on your location information for the duration of your subscription. When you cancel that subscription, they simply remove the lock on it and then it’s free to be changed or updated in accordance with normal procedures at each citation source.

The folks at WhiteSpark did a study and concluded that the Yext seems to place a “cover” on top of the previous missing or incorrect listing and when that cover is removed many citation sources revert to the previous content — or lack thereof. In our experience,  we find that three or four months after canceling a Yext subscription about half of citations that were missing or incorrect before are missing or incorrect again. So while hanging onto your Yext subscription is a good idea, if you decide to cancel it you should plan to do a little manual cleanup after cancellation to preserve your local search visibility.

5) Citation building is the only link building you need for Local SEO success.

Remember the first of the three local ranking factors I cited at the top? You need natural, related links as part of classic SEO to help establish both relevance and authority, apart for just cementing your NAP. All of these factors work in concert, and working heavily on one of them doesn’t mean you can ignore the others.

6) Don’t worry if an unrelated business used to have your current phone number.

Google is pretty smart about recognizing that you’re not the same as the business that had your phone number in the past. However, it seems there may be a risk to this if customers continue to call your phone number trying to reach the previous business that had that number once before. That usually only happens if your phone number was active at that previous business recently. When Google discovers that, it may conclude that it provides a poor customer experience and that may affect your rankings.

As soon as you become aware that a different business once had your phone number, it would be a good idea to check and see if they are still listed out there with that phone number. (Our scan linked to above under myth #1 is an easy way to check this.) If they’re still listed on a number of sites , it would be good to correct that on those citation sources so they don’t impact negatively on your own business.

Google My Business listings are essential for local businesses.

7) Your Google My Business listing is a citation.

Actually your Google My Business listing is part of the core search engine, like Bing and Apple. It’s more important than a run-of-the-mill citation, but all of those citations across the web tend to support your NAP on Google my business.

I hope this leaves you more comfortable about your citations. I welcome your comments and suggestions – join the conversation in the Comments below.

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If you’d like to explore how Rank Magic can help you with your own citations and local search visibility, just give us a call.

What is Schema Markup? How important is it for local business SEO?

What is Schema (Structured Data Markup)?

Structured code markup in accourdance with schema.orhSchema is a common short term for structured data, named after Schema.org, the website for structured data markup. It was created by a collaborative team from Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It’s not too often that competitors come together with a common purpose. But structured coding is important enough for them to do it. It creates an agreed-upon set of rules for structured data that tells the search engines exactly what kind of information is on your website.

Schema code goes into the HTML code that tells a browser what information is on your website and how to display it. According to schema.org:

Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means — “Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.

Schema for SEO

SEO really does improve small buisiness visibility.We always recommend that our SEO clients include schema structured data markup as an important SEO technique. That’s because giving the search engines structured data helps them understand your webpages better and results in a ranking increase for you. One study determined that websites with schema coding rank an average of four positions higher in search engine results than those without schema markup.

Schema allows search engines to better understand addresses, dates of events, phone numbers, email addresses, and other information about you. So it helps Google understand:

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • how to reach you,
  • and (critical for local businesses) where you are.

Neil Patel explains this in more detail if you’re interested in digging in deeper. There’s also a comprehensive guide to structured data from the folks at 3 White Hats. Search Engine Watch has posted a good article about why businesses should implement structured data. And for a strictly local business focus, Search Engine Journal has a guide on How to Use Schema for Local SEO.

You don’t need to know structured data details

Since schema is in the HTML code of your website, it’s the responsibility of your web designer to understand how to write that part of the code for your site. The structured code in schema tends to be detailed and complex. Unless you’re acting as your own web designer, the two things you need to know about schema on your website are

  1. Why it’s important, and
  2. Making sure that it’s there.

Surprisingly, according to recent research fewer than one-third of websites use schema markup.

Sample of structured data markup from Google's chema tester.

Did I say this stuff is complex? True. Above is a small sample of structured code from Google’s Structured data Testing Tool. But that’s why your small business’ competitors are probably not using it. So implementing it on your own site gives you a significant advantage over those competitors who don’t use it.

Don’t worry!

SEO really does help small businesses show up in Google.There is a stupefyingly simple way to implement this stuff on your website. It’s a lifesaver if you’re doing your own coding, but even if your webmaster does it for you, this solution can save significant time, effort, and money.

I have long been a proponent of Yext PowerListings for local businesses. Yext is the leader in local data management, and many of my clients subscribe to their Knowledge Graph service. [Full disclosure: I am a Yext Certified Partner] In a nutshell, PowerListings gives you a single place to enter tons of information about your business which is then published on more than six dozen local search engines directories maps and mobile apps.

The simple solution: Yext Knowledge Tags

Yexy Knowledge Graph PowerListings Yext Knowledge Tags is an enhancement to their Knowledge Graph PowerListings which provides a simple short snippet of code to add to your web pages that will implement full schema coding throughout. If anything changes in your Knowledge Graph, it’s automatically reflected in the schema code on your website.  Immediately.

For existing subscribers, this is a no-brainer in my opinion. But whether or not you currently subscribe to the Yext Knowledge Graph or “PowerListings”, this is worth your serious consideration. I refer you to our explanation of local SEO, citations, and PowerListings.

Reach out for a friendly phone call about your website and how much of a difference this can make for you.

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

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What is Local Search? Why is Local SEO Important?

Increase your local search visibility on Google.What is Local Search?

Local search is happening more and more. Pretty much everyone has a smartphone; and more voice searches are happening every month. When someone is looking for a local business they increasingly conduct a “near me” search. They look for “coffee shop near me”, or a “plumber near me”.  They also often search for services in their state, county, or town.

A few statistics from Search Engine Journal:

  • 50% of people doing a phone search visited a local store within 24 hours.
  • 34% of people searching on their computer also visited a local store within the a day.
  • 71% of people say they search for the location of a business before visiting it for the first time.
  • 60% of adults search for local services or products on tablets and phones.
  • 97% of users looked online for local businesses in 2017 and 12% reported looking for a local business online every day. That number may be even higher today, two years later.

Why is local SEO important?

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

The Google Local 3-Pack

If you’re a brick and mortar store or service who deals with local consumers on a face-to-face basis, understand that your customers who don’t yet know your business name are looking for you via local search.

If your competitors are doing local SEO, they’re going to show up in those searches where you may not. They may be showing up in the coveted Google Local 3-Pack and you may not be.

Local SEO is a bit different from — an expansion of — standard SEO.  To show up in local searches you need a  basis of proper SEO for your website, but that is often not enough.

What’s different about Local SEO?

Standard SEO practices focus on two kinds of things. Your on-page keyword optimization and other factors in your website help Google and other search engines understand what your website and your individual pages are all about. Your off-page authority on the web helps Google understand how important your website is. On-page factors typically control whether or not you will show up in Google’s results when someone searches for what you do. Off-page factors typically influence how high in the list you will show up. Both are necessary to compete successfully with other businesses like yours.

All of that is necessary for local SEO, but there are couple of additional factors that are not included there.

  1. The first is proximity to the searcher. If someone is searching for a local business, Google will tend to show them local businesses that are close rather than local businesses that are further away. I probably don’t need to tell you that you have no control over that.
  2. The second is your “prominence” across the web. This is something you can control.  How broadly are you mentioned in local search engines, directories, maps, and phone apps? How consistently are you listed in terms of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone)?

How well are you doing in local search?

It’s really easy to tell whether your site is like a Billboard in the Woods or not. Just don’t fall into the trap of searching for your business by name on Google and thinking that’s sufficient. Unless there are other businesses with names very similar to yours, this is not a good test. You need to pretend that you’re a customer who doesn’t know the name of your business but is searching for what you sell or what you do.

Try to look yourself up by searching like that customer would, including either a local town, your county, or just searching “near me”.

  • Do you show up in the first page or two of results?
  • Do you show up in the Local 3-Pack?
  • How many competitors are showing up higher than you?

If the results of your test are disappointing, don’t despair. At Rank Magic, we can fix that.

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7 Trends for Successful Digital Marketing (Infographic)

There’s a lot going on in digital marketing lately. For your small business to compete successfully, you need to be aware of and respond to current trends and changes in internet marketing and digital marketing more broadly. Here are the 7 top trends to be aware of:

  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Video
  • Email marketing
  • Paid advertising
  • Lead generation
  • Content marketing

Below is an excellent overview of the most important trends in digital marketing you need to watch. Thanks to the folks at Serpwatch for all their hard work on this.

7 trends in digital marketing for small businesses to be aware of.

How to Get Online Reviews

How to Get Online Reviews

How important our online review stars?

How important is it to get online reviews?

For more on the value of online reviews, see our infographic.

People use online reviews to pick a business

When searching online, people really do take online reviews into accout when deciding which listing to click on. For example, if you were looking for an Indian restaurant in Lake George, NY, this local 3-pack might well convince you to drive ½ hour south to Sarasota Springs. But if that’s too far, it’s an easy choice between the two local restaurants.

Avoid phony reviews

There’s an understandable temptation to sort of start the ball rolling by writing a review for yourself. Or to make up for a mediocre average star rating by creating some 5-star reviews.

Don’t do it.

Here are a few things to avoid – don’t do any of them:

How to get online reviews

I strongly encourage all small businesses to actively get online reviews. They can make all the difference between just getting found on Google and getting chosen.

What are third party reviews?

Third party reviews are reviews on websites other than your own. Reviews on your own website are referred to as first party reviews. I have no clue what second party reviews might be.

Some of the most powerful third-party review sites include Google My Business, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yelp. You may like our post about whether Yelp reviews really help.

If a potential customer already knows your company name and looks you up by that, you are very likely to show up in the Knowledge Card at the top right of Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page). When that happens, your average review stars from Google My Business are clearly displayed.

Beyond the Knowledge Card, when someone searches for your company name they are also very likely to see your pages on Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, MapQuest, vertical directories, and other sites. To the extent that those listings display review stars in the Google SERP, they all work toward establishing your reputation and encouraging people to look at you more closely. Obviously, the more stars that show up on your own Google SERP page, the better you appear to be.

How to get third party reviews

Third party reviews on sites like Yelp can help both your rankings and your conversions.

Ideally, your services are so outstanding that your customers are driven by their delight to want to provide positive reviews for you online. Pragmatically, we must admit that an unsatisfied customer feels more motivated to write a scathing review than a delighted customer is motivated to write a positive review. To counteract that, you will want to make it very easy for those happy customers to write about how wonderful you are. There are a few ways you can ethically increase the likelihood that satisfied customers will review you online.

  • Ask them. If they indicate a willingness to write a review for you, follow-up with an email to them which includes a link directly to your page on the third party site of your choice. In that email, tell them where to find the button or link to click to write a review.
  • Provide links on your website to your pages on third party sites that display reviews. You may increase the likelihood of people clicking to leave you a review with a call to action suggesting that.
  • Include a link in your email signature block.  That way, every email you send to a client includes a link to your page at one or more third-party sites that host online reviews.
  • Write reviews of others yourself. When you write a review for a strategic partner who may refer business to you or to whom you refer business, seeing that review may motivate them to write a review for you in return. The same thing applies to businesses in your networking circle. An honest positive review might make them feel at least slightly obligated to return the favor.

What are first party reviews?

First party reviews are simply reviews that appear on your own website as opposed to anyplace else.  BXB Media wrote a nice comparison of first party and third party reviews. And if you have them coded properly with  schema markup, Google will display your review stars in SERPs.

 A couple of quick warnings are due, though.

  1. You may not apply structured coding reviews you copy onto your website from somewhere else. That violates Google’s terms of service and you will suffer for it.
  2. For reasons only known to Google, reviews on your home page will not be reflected with review stars in Google’s SERPs. Review stars only appear when your internal pages show up in search results.

If you do it properly, however, those review stars showing up on Google can make a big difference in how many potential customers click on your listing, even if you’re not the first one. Here’s an example for one of our clients in a local search for floor tile repair. Which listing would you be likely to click on first?

Customer reviews on your website can greatly increase the number of clicks you get when people search for what you do.How to get first party reviews

I caution that this needs to be “done right”. Potential customers, and Google itself, are aware that you control your website and may be suspicious that the reviews displayed there are somewhat less than honest. So the first rule is to heed the two warnings in the paragraph above. Google explains that:

Google may display information from aggregate ratings markup in the Google Knowledge Cards. The following guidelines apply to review snippets in knowledge cards for local businesses:

  • Ratings must be sourced directly from users.
  • Don’t rely on human editors to create, curate or compile ratings information for local businesses. These types of reviews are critic reviews.
  • Sites must collect ratings information directly from users and not from other sites

The last item above means you can’t just take testimonials customers have sent to you and enter them onto your website yourself and apply structured coding to them. They really need to be gathered directly from your customer and entered on your web pages automatically. That’s to prevent you from cherry-picking only good reviews to display on your site.

The tool we prefer here at Rank Magic is Yext Reviews. As part of their location platform subscription program, they provide an automated review gathering form and a widget on your website. You can direct customers to the form and the reviews they enter will be automatically displayed on whichever pages of your site you have placed the widget on.

An added advantage of the Yext platform is that it alerts you anytime someone writes a review for you in either your first party reviews or any of the third party review sites in their network. I’ve written recently about how important is is too know when a new review is written so you can replay to it promptly.

Rank Magic can help.

Contact us to find out how we can help review stars make you a “star” on Google.

I welcome you to join the conversation in the Comments section below.

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