Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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Google’s New Ranking Factor: Page Experience

Google to focus on user experience as a ranking factor.Google’s next big algorithm change for Page Experience is planned for launch next year. It will measure user enjoyment of web pages using both old and new specific ranking factors, grouped into a page experience score. Google explains it:

The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.

So what are these page experience factors?

I’ve broken them down into nine discrete thing that a small business owner needs to address on your website.  Let’s hit them one at a time.

Your site needs to be responsive and mobile friendly

A responsive site is one that adapts to the device it’s showing up on. If you open up your site in a browser and change the width of the browser window, the display of the website should respond to that. If you make the browser window narrower, you shouldn’t see it cut off the right edge of paragraphs.

Bring mobile-friendly is no longe an option. Most searches are done from phones now.This is it really obvious on a phone. Your website should look  different on a phone than it does on a desktop computer. But you don’t want to have a separate mobile-only websites like some people did in the early days of the smart phone. You want the same information available on a phone that’s available on a computer, since Google is using a mobile-first index. If your mobile site is abbreviated and has less content in an effort to more easily fit on a phone, that’s the version of your site Google will index and rank. You want one website that can display differently on a computer and a phone. That way the same information is available regardless of how a customer is looking at it.

Also in terms of being mobile-friendly, it’s important that tap targets, links, buttons and so forth, are large enough and far enough apart to make it easy to tap them. If they’re too close together, your fingers are likely to hit two at once and that provides a poor user experience. The size of your text also may need to be different on a phone so that it’s easy to read.

Page speed

Page speed is important: all else being equal, a fast page will outrank a slow page.Page speed refers to how many seconds it takes for a page on your website to download into a user’s browser or phone. Google likes to see a web page that displays on your phone or in your computer within 2½  seconds. Fully displaying in 4 seconds is considered adequate, but any longer than that and Google considers it to offer a poor experience.

From a practical matter, we live in an age of impatience. If someone clicks on your listing in search results and drums their fingers while they’re waiting for to load, they may give up before it finishes loading and go back to the Google search results. They are there likely to click on another listing and that “bounce” tells Google that they didn’t like what they found on your site. Not only did you lose a potential customer, but it’s likely to hurt your rankings in the future.

Visual stability

All across the web they are calling this “cumulative layout shift” or CLS. Let your web designer worry about those terms, but don’t  let this jargon intimidate you. What this refers to is things jumping around on your screen as a page loads. It can be very annoying, as you can see on the website Media Bias Fact Check. Google considers this a poor page experience and if it’s happening on your website, your rankings will suffer for it.

Avoid 404 errors

404-error-page-not-foundWhen a user tries to go to a page that isn’t where they think it is, they get a 404 Page Not Found error. If there are links on your site that point incorrectly to content on you’re website, your shooting yourself in the foot. It’s a poor user experience if you send your users to pages that aren’t there. It’s important to scan your website and make sure you clear up any of those.

Beyond that, though, there may be malformed links on other websites or links on those sites that point to pages you have since eliminated or moved. Those 404 errors are pretty much unavoidable. But you can improve the user experience of them with a custom 404 page. Unlike the default 404 error your browser provides, if you have a custom 404 page it’s formatted just like your website so users know that they haven’t been completely lost. Many websites treat this with a little bit of humor and offer to help the misled user to find what they’re looking for via a search option or a link to your site map.

Security is important

HTTPS padlock icon

Is your website secure? Google is on a mission to improve security across the web, and as a result it tends to give a ranking advantage to secure websites. If your website URL starts with HTTP:// then it’s not secure. Secure websites start with HTTPS:// and insecure websites are flagged when they show up in Chrome. Many people will see the “Not secure” indicator in the address bar of their browser and mistake it to mean that the site is dangerous. You certainly don’t want that for your own website.

If your website is insecure, our blog post from a couple of years ago may help. It’s entitled Make Your Small Business Website Secure with HTTPS.

Avoid intrusive interstitials

Boy, that’s a mouthful. Intrusive interstitials refers to those annoying pop-ups that block most or all of the page content when you arrive on the page. You may have run into them when loading certain websites with an ad blocking plug-in in your browser. Very often they pop up to ask you to subscribe to a newsletter, and so forth. They provide an annoying user interface, and Google doesn’t like them for that very reason.

Not all pop-ups are bad; just those that are intrusive, blocking too much content.

Readability

Writing readable text The Internet expression TL:DR has become popular lately. It means “Too Long: Didn’t Read”. If your web page is too long or too dense and intimidating, people may leave before they digest what you’re trying to say. That doesn’t mean you need to have short pages with little content on them. On the contrary. But you can reduce the density of the page with effective implementation of images and white space.

You also want to avoid sounding pedantic because it takes too much effort on the part of your reader. The Yoast SEO plug-in for WordPress has a very valuable feature in that it will assess the readability of your content and offer suggestions to make it more approachable.

Employ clear headings and subheadings

Clear headings and subheadings can go a long way toward making your material less intimidating. Users can scan the page to find the precise portion of the page they are most interested in. Odds are you scanned this page’s headings before deciding to read it. And by employing proper heading tags in the code of your page, you help Google more easily understand your page, and that can only help in your rankings.

Don’t forget CTAs

Include a Call To Action on your page for best reaults.A CTA is a Call to Action and is critical in getting your users to take the action you want them to. If you’ve ever ordered a burger at a fast food joint, the cashier almost certainly asked you “do you want fries with that?” They sell a hell of a lot more fries because they ask.

So if you want someone to call you or to sign up for your newsletter, or to buy something, you need to ask them to do just that. The easiest CTAs to see are buttons, but you can also employ text-only calls to action if that fits your purposes better.

Page experience is important in so many ways

A good page experience will entice more people to read what you have to say, will keep them  engaged and on your page longer, That will reduce your bounce rate and increase your time-on-page, and thus will increase conversions as more people click on your calls to action. Not only that, but Google will like your page better and rank it higher.

Get ready for Google’s upcoming Page Experience algorithm update by improving the user experience across your website now.

Facing challenges with your page experience? Start a discussion below.

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How to Avoid a Google Penalty

Oops! Don't run afoul of a Google penalty.Some “Google Penalties” Aren’t

Colloquially, the term “Google penalty” , usually means anything on your website that is harming your rankings. According to Google, though, a “penalty” is a manual action taken by Google that negatively affects your rankings.

Manual Penalties

These are real “penalties”. If you get hit with a manual penalty, you should see evidence from that in your Google Search Console. Normally Google will identify exactly what you’ve done that they don’t like. So obviously, you should fix whatever that might be.

Google penalties will reduce your online visibility and traffic.

Once you’ve fixed the offending practice on your site, you can ask Google to re-index your site with the corrective actions implemented. Normally that will restore you to Google’s good graces and eliminate the penalty. This doesn’t happen immediately, though, and you can expect the delay of possibly weeks before you see your rankings improve.

Algorithm penalties

There are a number of things that might happen on your website that can negatively affect your rankings without incurring a manual penalty. I call those algorithm penalties because they’re just a normal result of Google’s algorithms evaluating the content on your site. Here are a few of the most common ones.

  • Free hosting services
    • If you’re cutting costs by using a free hosting service, there is one common attribute of those that can get you in trouble with Google. That’s when the hosting service compensates for the free service they’re giving you by adding advertising to your web pages. Some of  that advertising may be pretty spammy, and Google is not likely to be happy with it.
  • Malware
    • If your website has been infected by any viruses, trojans, or spyware, you’ll get hit with one of these penalties. Make sure your website is malware-free. The GlobalSign blog has some excellent suggestions on how to find malware on your site and how to protect against it. You can check that out here.
  • Thin content
    • Many websites for visually oriented businesses overly rely on images on their pages and have very little text. Those photos or graphics could be pictures of your pet cat as far as Google can tell. Google can read the alternate text behind your images (you do have that, right?), but other than that images do little to help Google understand what your page is about.
    • Aside from that, if you’re overly concerned about brevity on your pages, you can run into the same problem. If there’s too little text content on your pages, regardless of why, you may be penalized for thin content.
    • You can also run into those pages being considered “duplicate content” if the actual body content of the page pales in size with other elements on the page that are common to all pages on your website (think footers, sidebars, and so forth). In this caseyou may be facing the plagiarism penalty (see below).
  • Keyword stuffing
    • This is an ancient SEO technique to make sure your targeted keyword phrase appears many times on the page. This used to work with some early search engines. But it provides a very poor user experience for those trying to read your content. Google is smart enough to identify that and consider it a negative ranking factor. I still see this from time to time.
  • Plagiarism
    • Duplicate dogs are fine. Duplicate content? Not so much.If you copied significant amounts of content from another website (even if you own that other website) Google considers it to be duplicate content. Google is excellent at identifying duplicate content and will usually try to show only the oldest of those duplicate pages. If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that there is little benefit to the user if Google shows a bunch of pages that all say the same thing. So Google doesn’t do that. If the content on your page is not original, it may never show up in Google search results.
    • I see this sometimes on websites designed by vertical web services. These are companies that specialize in a particular kind of businesses like handyman services, dental practices, plumbers, etc. The often have lots of excellent pre-written content about the kinds of services these businesses provide. One problem with this is that many other businesses in your niche may use the same pre-written content that ends up on your website. Bingo: you have duplicate content! If you use such a company, please ensure that the content they put on your pages is unique to you.

We can help!

If you’re concerned that you might be at risk for some of these penalties, give us a call. We can review your website with you over the phone at no cost and help you understand any potential issues that may be lurking there.

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To Blog or Not To Blog?

Why should I blog?

Does your small business need a blog?

Would you love to have the perfect prospects find you without having to spend thousands in purchased advertisements?

Would you be happy to grow your business and build sustainable profitability with a steady stream of top clients without spending hours per week on marketing tasks?

For any business to grow, new prospects need to be able to find you easily where they search – Google. And while Google has millions of websites to review, one thing that helps yours climb to the forefront of Google’s attention is fresh, high value content.

The most effective way to accomplish this is with blogging. Blogging is just one form of content marketing, and we’ve all heard that content is king.

Bottom line, consumers are not randomly choosing a company to work with. They are researching, reviewing, and weighing in on whether you’re the company they want to choose. Notice I didn’t say “the best” company – I said the one they want to choose. Years ago, marketing and advertising messages were focused on the company proudly stating that they are the best in their industry.

Times have changed – we know that “best” is strictly subjective – and quite frankly, meaningless. Your company may be the best option for some prospects and be a bad fit for others. So focus your blog topics on your uniqueness, who you help and how you help them. The best-fit prospects will identify with your company as “the best” – for their situation and needs.

A blog makes your small business more competitive

Yes, you need a blog.

But do I really need a blog?

Yes. High value blogs give your audience new, meaningful content to consume on a consistent basis. They are interesting, educational, thought provoking and memorable. Blog content is not only what Google is seeking, it’s what your next top client is searching for, reading and evaluating. Now if your perfect prospect has a choice of 2 companies – who do you think will get the sale: the company that posts valuable content 2 to 4 times per month, or the company that randomly posts blogs 2 or 3 times per quarter? And if you’re not blogging at all, you’ve automatically lost that sale.

Yes, you can do this yourself. Simply write clean and informative articles, without spelling or grammar mistakes, with a friendly and professional tone of voice, accompanied by high quality images, at least twice a month, every month. Post that article on your blog page and on your LinkedIn profile. For good measure you’ll want to include that article in a branded and formatted email campaign for those prospects who have found you and have signed up for your emails but are still considering working with you.

Peek into What Content Marketing IS NOT

Writing a small business blog

This is totally do-able. However, it takes time. Time away from servicing your clients, time away from leading your team, time away from building your projects and running your operations.

It also takes skill. You may have gotten away with acceptable writing for college term papers, but marketing-ready copy is a different skill set. Tone of voice as well as grammar and punctuation are all essential.

Even for the most devoted Do It Yourselfer, please know that creating high quality content consistently is not a Saturday Home Depot project. It’s a “must get done every month” ongoing business process. It must be planned ahead of time and executed according to a pre-determined launch schedule.

You can do this. In fact, you can jump in right now. Get out a paper and pen….

  • List the top 3 questions you get asked about most often in your industry.
  • List the top 3 frustrations and problems your clients have that your company solves.
  • List the top 3 goals your prospects have that your company can help attain.
  • List the top 3 ways your company does things differently.

If you can do this (of course you can!) you’ve got your topics for weekly blog posts for the next 3 months! You’re welcome 😊

Now …

Now that you’ve had the experience of beginning your plan – decide if you’re willing to commit the time to carry this out yourself, or if you’ll outsource it. Is this going to be in your Zone of Genius or will it be an unwelcome burden? Either way – blogging is a must, and it’s here to stay.

About our guest blogger

Susana Fonticoba, Clear Path MarketingSusana Fonticoba is the owner of Clear Path Marketing in East Hanover, NJ. Have questions? You’re invited to reach out and ask. Better yet, she’s giving away her popular Content Marketing Cheat Sheet. The mission and specialty of Clear Path Marketing is to work side by side with entrepreneurs who are growing their revenue but lack processes and structure to map out a consistent, sustainable growth plan. Susana is a certified business growth strategist who partners with entrepreneurs across the country.

What’s been your experience? If you have a blog, how happy are you with the investment of time and attention it takes? Let us know in the comments below.

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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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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.