Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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The Most Important 60 Characters of Your Content: The Title Tag/Page Title

What’s a Title Tag?

Every page on a website needs a title tag or page title (both terms refer to the same thing). It’s not the visible title or headline on  the page. Instead, it’s in the code of the page. But the page title is visible in three important places:

The headline of your listing in search engines

The page title tag shows up as the headline of your listing in search results.

This is often the very first thing a visitor sees about your website. It’s one of the most important factors in encouraging a user to click on your page.

The tab of your browser

This is most helpful for people who have many tabs open in their browser, making it easier for them to get back to your page. Having keywords for the page near the front is helpful here because your page title’s likely to be truncated.

Social media platforms

The page title shows up as the headline when you share the page in social media.

This is an example of a blog page that’s been shared on Facebook. Notice how prominent the title tag is here.

Writing a good title tag

Your page title tags are very important to your SEO, but they also contribute, positively or negatively, to the user experience of searchers. They should be crafted with care. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind.

Length

Avoid truncation if you can. Search engines allocate a finite amount of space to listing headlines. If your page title tag is too long, it will get truncated, possibly hiding important words. I suggest keeping your page titles under 60 characters. The real limit is in pixels, not characters, because some letters (M, W) are wider than others (i, l, t) but the 60 character limit is a good, easy rule of thumb.

Uniqueness

Identical title tags are not as cute as identical dogs.Duplicate content? Not so much.Every page deserves — no, needs — its own unique title tag. Too often I encounter websites that have dozens of pages showing the same page title; often it’s just the company name. When this happens, it not only doesn’t help the page to rank highly in search engines, but also doesn’t compel the searcher to click on it.

Some micro businesses who don’t pay a professional web designer find themselves left with the default page title from the theme that they use. You can spot these sites because page title of their home page is “Home” or some pages on their website have a title tag that reads “New Page”. Let me just ask: how likely are you to click on a page that shows up in the search engines with the headline that simply says “New Page”?

Focus

Focus on your content.To achieve high rankings in Google or elsewhere, your pages must have a clear focus. A services page that lists everything you do or products page that lists everything you sell isn’t really “all about” anything. And the page title of “Services” or “Products” is equally unfocused. It’s unlikely to rank highly in search engines and if it does show up for search it’s unlikely to encourage the searcher to click on it. Every product or service needs its own page with content that’s completely focused on that product or service. Similarly, each page is title tag needs to clearly reflect the focus of the page.

Keyword placement

A good page title with keywords for the page near the front can grab the searcher’s attention immediately and assure them that clicking on your listing will provide information highly relevant to what they’re looking for.  If you feel compelled to include your company name in page titles, it needs to go at the end — with the exception of your Home page where your name is also an important keyword. or the About Us page which is all about you. I typically discourage including your company name in title tags for internal pages because it dilutes the power of the keywords you’ve carefully included in the title tag.

It's okay to use your brand in page titles if it's well known and popular.If you have a well-known brand, see the exception to this rule next.

Your brand or company name

If you have a well-known brand name that’s respected nationally, or even locally, it may be well to ignore the prohibition recommended above. A strong brand name can increase your conversion rates — the likelihood of someone clicking on your listing when it shows up in search results. I would still recommend using it at the end of the page title except for your Home page and perhaps your About page.

Keyword stuffing

I’ve written before about the dangers of keyword stuffing. Since the beginning of search engines, business owners have felt a need to throw as many keyword phrases as they can at search engines so the page will rank for almost any way people search for it. That tactic may have actually worked 20 years ago, but once Google came on the scene it quickly became wise to that trick. Instead of helping, keyword stuffing actually hurts your ranking chances. And if such a page does attract visitors, the user experience of keyword-stuffed copy quickly drives them away.

Similarly, a keyword-stuffed page title is unlikely to attract clicks. What is the value to a searcher of the listing with a headline that says “Best Car Repair, Auto Repair, Car Repair Shop, Local Car Repairs”? Title tags like this are bad for searchers and are very likely to hurt your rankings. Search engines understand variations of keywords and common synonyms (car, auto) and would consider a title like this to provide a poor user experience, making it counterproductive.

Spend a little more time on your title tags

When creating a new web page or blog post, it’s tempting to write your page title and then create your content. Once you finish the content, you’re eager to publish it and get it out there. That’s when you should stop and take a breath. Revisit the title tag and make sure it still clearly identifies what your page is about. Think about it with the above rules of thumb in mind before you finalize and publish your content. A little extra thought and care can make a big difference in how many people choose to read your material.

Want to dig a little deeper? Online marketing agency Distilled has an in-depth article on how to make your title tags the best they can be.

Facing challenges with your own page title tags? Start a discussion below.

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If you’re struggling with your online visibility, call Rank Magic: we’re experts in that.

5 Tips for Avoiding Bad SEO Companies

Sometimes I feel like I’m in an industry that has more than its share of charlatans. Small Business Trends reported on five dead giveaways that you’re dealing with an SEO company that practices deceptive or “black hat” SEO.Snake oil salesman

Their descriptions of these telltale signs is worth reading. This is just a very quick listing of what they are. I encourage you to read the article to better understand the implications.

  1. Keyword stuffing
  2. Overuse of bold text and links
  3. Hidden links
  4. Complicated link schemes
  5. Multiple domains or subdomains with essentially the same content

One place to look for and compare some good SEO companies (if you’re in the greater NYC area) is a list from the folks at DesignRush of 40+ Best SEO Agencies In New York.

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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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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NJ Presentation: The Secrets of Do-It-Yourself SEO

Sponsored by SCORE of Northwest New Jersey

I’ll be presenting at Fairleigh Dickinson University on Wednesday, May 8 at 6:30 PM.

The presentation is focused on small businesses and startups, and will explain the essentials of search engine optimization, focusing on things you can do yourself.  If you have more time than money in your startup or small business, invest some time in making sure that you show up in Google when potential customers are looking for someone who does what you do.

Click here to register.

Score presentation for New Jersey small businesses on SEO.

I hope to see you there!

Click here to register.