2017 Search Trends — No. 1, Faster Sites

Before turning the last page on the 2016 calendar and welcoming in 2017, I’d like to pause for a moment and look briefly at some important trends in organic search that will strongly impact search performance in 2017. These should not be mysterious hints of things to come, but rather strong signals — claxons, if you will.

faster seoBefore turning the last page on the 2016 calendar and welcoming in 2017, I’d like to pause for a moment and look briefly at some important trends in organic search that will strongly impact search performance in 2017. These should not be mysterious hints of things to come, but rather strong signals — claxons, if you will.

Faster Site Speed Is Now an Imperative

If you have not been working on improving your site speed, by 2017 you will be left in the slow lane and passed by sites that have taken on the challenges of improving end-to-end speed.

You might ask: Why is it so important now? Google has been nudging site owners to improve their sites for several years. They have offered tools for site speed measurement and guidelines for improvement. The search giant even announced that its algorithm would give a boost to faster pages. The boost proved to be minimal; so many site owners did not see it as an imperative. Besides, in many organizations site performance improvements are seen as the province of the technical team, not marketing. Now, a slow site will inhibit your ability to successfully execute other trendy initiatives.

Mobile Is First

In 2015, more searches were done on mobile devices than on desktops.

The trend to more mobile usage has not abated. Google noted the growing use of mobile and is now working on a mobile-first approach. Because more people see pages on a mobile device, Google will be indexing and ranking based on the content of the mobile pages.

Guess what? Slow sites deliver slow mobile pages, which users rapidly abandon. Some site owners chose to address the need for a mobile site by offering stripped-down versions of their sites. With the mobile-first imperative, these sites will be judged based on the content given on the mobile version, not their “full” sites.

Several years ago, Google began advocating for using responsive design for mobile sites. As we move into the future, responsive design will simply be table stakes for mobile search performance. With mobile-first, it is more than likely that even mobile-friendly, slower performing sites will be left in the search rankings dust.

Now, with accelerated mobile pages (AMP) expanding beyond news content, fast, lean pages are leaping to the forefront. Google is even identifying them in the search results so that users can choose these fast, lean pages for themselves. The number of AMP pages is expected to continue to grow in the future.

In 2017, not having a fast, mobile site will put you behind the curve.

Secure Is Better

Google continues to push for more secure sites. It has already been announced that in 2017, users of Google Chrome will see clear designations on the browser bar whenever they are visiting insecure pages.

Google intends to essentially shame sites into moving to secure environments. Because of the encryption, secure sites tend to be slower than insecure sites.

Once again, this cries out for a need to improve site speed.

If there is a single unifying theme that should drive organic search efforts in 2017, it can be summed up in this slogan: Get fast or get left behind.

How to Double Your Landing Page Conversion Rates With 6 Easy Tune-ups

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your Google AdWords campaign is failing to optimize your landing page. No matter how carefully you fine tune your ad copy, tweak your keyword match settings and reallocate your budget, if your landing page conversion rates are low, you are literally giving away sales

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your Google AdWords campaign is failing to optimize your landing page. No matter how carefully you fine tune your ad copy, tweak your keyword match settings and reallocate your budget, if your landing page conversion rates are low, you are literally giving away sales. Today, I will walk you through the steps to improve (even double) your current conversion rates.

What Is a Landing Page?
A landing page is the specific page on your website where prospects land after clicking on one of your ads. Note that you should never use your homepage as a landing page, because the homepage gives a general introduction to your company, while a landing page needs to be tightly geared to the ad copy. In fact, it is best to create a separate landing page for each ad. This allows you to clearly reiterate the main idea in the ad, improving the overall congruence, or harmony, of the prospect’s experience.

What Is Your Conversion Rate?
The most important conversion rate is the ratio of sales to visitors. However, that’s not always quick and easy to calculate, so advertisers measure other key sales actions, such as filling out a contact form or making a phone call. For example, let’s say that 1,000 people click through your AdWords ad to your landing page, but only 20 of them fill out the contact form on that page. Divide 20 by 1,000 to find that your “contact form conversion rate” is 2 percent. Your numbers might be very different, but remember that the conversion rate refers to the percentage of people who take further action toward making a purchase after landing on your page.

Why Should You Improve Your Landing Page Conversion Rates?
Simply put, improving your conversion rates means that you will get more leads or customers for fewer advertising dollars. Taking the example above, suppose that the action you want prospects to take is purchasing a product that you sell for $100. If 20 of 1,000 people who click on your ad buy the product, you make $2,000. If 40 of those same 1,000 people buy the product (4% conversion rate), then you make $4,000. That’s $2,000 extra revenue from the exact same investment in advertising!

What Are the Basic Keys to Improve Landing Page Conversion Rates?
Improving your landing page conversion rates is both a science and an art. Monitor your AdWords campaign closely at first to determine the results of the changes you implement, and be ready to tweak your landing page as needed depending on what you discover. These are the parts of the landing page that often need fine-tuning:

  1. Congruence: This is the overall harmony of the user experience. Your landing page should tightly reflect the message, tone, and feel of the ad that was clicked on. Your prospects clicked on the ad because something in it resonated with them, so follow up on that with the landing page. If you change nothing else, ensuring congruence can dramatically improve your conversion rates.
  2. Headline: The headline is the most important part of your landing page. People scan quickly and make snap decisions when reading online, so your headline needs to captivate them. Don’t try to close the sale in the headline, but do restate the offer or the most important point from your ad.
  3. Offer and Call to Action: Most people know that a strong offer is an important element in making a sale, but is your offer irresistible? Try offering something different from what everyone else in your line of business offers, or add an extra bonus. Make sure to give clear instructions on what to do next to make the purchase, and if possible, add a deadline to increase urgency.
  4. Copy: Make sure your landing page explains exactly how you can solve the customer’s current problem or fulfill a specific need. In other words, focus on benefits rather than features. Plus, add elements that make your business sound legitimate, such as testimonials, reviews, or industry affiliations.
  5. Reduce Risk: Prospects tend to be skeptical when shopping online, largely thanks to the frequent horror stories in the media. If your offer requires payment, reduce the perceived risk by providing a guarantee, adding third-party trust verification, and providing full contact details for your company.
  6. Layout and Aesthetics: Because people scan rather than reading in depth online, clearing out the clutter can improve your conversion rates. Make it easy for prospects to figure out what to do. Make the buttons they need to click bigger. Remove extraneous navigation menus. Avoid long blocks of text. Keep it simple and obvious, aesthetically pleasing, and congruent with your overall brand.

Want more Google AdWords tips and advice? I put together an AdWords checklist to help you get your campaigns set up for success. Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

How Social Media Impacts SEO

SEO is evolving at what feels like “ludicrous” speed. When I was getting started in 2006, on-page keyword density, a cursory understanding of HTML meta tags and links from article directories were about all you needed to know to get a page to rank high in Google.

SEO is evolving at what feels like “ludicrous” speed. When I was getting started in 2006, on-page keyword density, a cursory understanding of HTML meta tags and links from article directories were about all you needed to know to get a page to rank high in Google.

Then Google tweaked their algorithm and higher-quality link-building was the golden ticket to a #1 ranking. Fast forward to today and the old-school tactics of just a few years ago no longer work. That’s because SEO has evolved and grown to the point where engagement is the new measurement of success.

Old-School SEO Is Dead
In my experience talking with business owners every day, there is a huge misconception that SEO is simply about HTML meta tags and backlinks. That’s what I call old-school SEO and it’s been dead for a while now.

As mentioned above, SEO is now about engagement. To be successful in ranking high in Google, plus driving traffic and ultimately leads and sales from SEO, you need to focus on engaging your target prospects online. That means creating compelling content your prospects would want to read and share with their friends and colleagues.

And, of course, where do people share content online? You guessed it: social media! That brings us to the first way social media impacts SEO…

  1. Content Distribution
    To clarify, I am not saying that on-page SEO factors like HTML tags or off-page factors like backlinks are no longer important. They are—and always have been—the foundation of a solid SEO strategy.

    What has changed is the shift from old-school link-building tactics to more natural content distribution. Sharing content on social media accomplishes two important goals for SEO:

    • Your content can spread virally, which drives more traffic and more engagement with your website. This can also lead to more brand searches in Google, further reinforcing your authority.
    • Your content can get in front of other bloggers and news sources who in turn are more likely to link to your webpages. As mentioned already, backlinks are still critical for SEO so this leads to higher rankings.
  2. Control Your Brand in Google
    When you search for a company in Google, what do you see? Most likely, you’ll find the company’s website, Google+ profile page, LinkedIn page, Facebook page, Twitter page and any other social media profiles.

    Clearly, Google gives preference to company social media pages in their search results. This is good news because it’s not hard to set up your social media pages and nearly instantly dominate the results for brand searches.

    Why is this important? Well, before a prospect contacts you, they most likely going to do their homework online. That means searching for your brand in Google and reviewing the websites they find. By creating and maintaining active social media profiles, you put yourself in control of your brand in Google.

  3. SEO Expands Beyond Google
    Google is the top search engine, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore Bing. Bing has said they do take social media signals like the number of Twitter followers into account when ranking webpages. That means social media activity directly impacts your rankings on Bing.

    Plus, let’s not forget about searches on the social media sites themselves. That’s right, social media sites are search engines as well! Every day people are searching on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and others to find content and search for businesses. If you ignore social media, then you obviously miss out on the opportunity to get your business in front of those relevant searches.

Do you want more SEO tips? I created a simple checklist that walks you through specific actions you can take to improve your rankings and traffic. Click here to get my SEO Checklist.

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 2: Landing Pages

In my last post, I gave some specific and proven best practices for the creation of successful emails. In this post, I’ll talk about Landing Pages—because now that you’ve been able to lure your target into opening your email and clicking on the embedded link(s), you want to continue to drive that prospect to your desired outcome.

In my last post, I gave some specific and proven best practices for the creation of successful emails. In this post, I’ll talk about Landing Pages—because now that you’ve been able to lure your target into opening your email and clicking on the embedded link(s), you want to continue to drive that prospect to your desired outcome.

Whether your email offer is more information, a video, an e-book, a survey or a whitepaper, don’t send your prospect down a black hole by linking them to your website. Instead, create a specific digital destination (a landing page) for your campaign so you can not only quantify site visitors and their actions on the site, but it also reassures prospects that they’ve arrived at the right destination.

Based on lots of testing with our own clients and best practices from sites like Marketing Experiments, Marketing Sherpa, KISSmetrics, HubSpot and more, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Your LP Headline Should Match Your Email Headline: While this may not seem like rocket science, prospects can get easily confused. You have less than a second to help them take the next step, so why create confusion with a brand new headline that is seemingly unrelated to the email they opened, read and clicked?
  • Place the CTA ABOVE the Fold: Especially now that we’ve entered the world of responsive design, it’s critical that your call-to-action is near the top of your page so that those viewing on even the smallest screens can clearly take the next step. And, make sure it’s the most obvious thing on the page because—after all—it’s the action you want them to take!
  • Make Buttons Highly Obvious and Actionable: Whether it’s using a color that contrasts to the rest of your page, uses language that makes it clear what you want/what they’ll get when they click, or are sized big enough to be obvious and legible, don’t hide your action buttons where they might get missed. Instead of buttons that say “Click here” try “Get me my..”
  • Have a Single Purpose With a Single-Focused Message: Think about why the prospect clicked on the email, and what their expectations are for when they arrive on your page. Don’t clutter it up with extraneous copy points or additional “stuff.” In fact, remove other types of navigation from the page as it can unnecessarily distract the visitor from taking the desired next step.
  • Be Authentic and Transparent With Real Testimonials: While you can—and should—edit quotes, make sure they’re attributable to someone even if it’s “Carolyn G., Business owner” or “C. Goodman, California.” Make sure they’re pithy and don’t ramble. These days, “social proof” (using quotes from Facebook posts or Tweets), adds social credibility. Plus people are influenced based on reviews by others.
  • Use Bullet Points for Copy: People skim, and won’t spend any time reading long paragraphs of text. Make sure your copy is crisp—short, sharp and to the point.
  • Include a Phone Number: This helps overcome buyer insecurity that they may be dealing with a company based overseas. Plus, they may have questions before completing an order, so it’s best to provide an easy-to-find phone number to help.
  • Keep Your Forms Simple: If you don’t need to collect certain data, then don’t ask/collect it. As a rule-of-thumb, shorter forms tend to work better. Personally, I’m always annoyed that certain forms ask me for personal information that is seemingly irrelevant to my purchase. As a result, I’m often untruthful in the information I provide in that field because I consider it none of their business.
  • Radio Buttons or Drop Down Menus? The right answer is to test it yourself because different tests for different customers yield different results. Marketing Experiments provides some great case studies on this topic. In one experiment, radio buttons generated a 15% lift over a drop down menu.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own landing page efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.

Google’s Mobile Algorithm Update: What You Need to Know

Google announced some very big news about a major algorithm update that landed on April 21, 2015—yesterday. Due to the shift in how people are searching and surfing the internet, Google has updated its search algorithm to take into account more mobile signals.

Google announced some very big news about a major algorithm update that landed on April 21, 2015—yesterday. As I’m sure you know, mobile traffic and the number of Google searches from mobile devices is on the rise. Well, it’s more than rising, because it’s about to surpass desktop computer traffic online by the end of the year.

Due to this shift in how people are searching and surfing the internet, Google has updated its search algorithm to take into account more mobile signals.

What Does This Mean for Your Business?
Zineb Ait Bahajji, a member of Google’s Webmaster Trends team, said this Google update will have a bigger impact on search rankings than the infamous Panda or Penguin updates. If you’ve been following SEO for a while, then I’m sure you’ve heard of the Panda and Penguin updates, which both caused massive changes in website rankings.

In other words, April 21 should have sent a lot of ill-prepared businesses off of the first page of Google!

What Do You Need to Do to Fix It?
If you haven’t already, then now is the time to get serious about your mobile website strategy. Answer these three questions to determine if you were ready for the April 21 update:

  1. Do you have a mobile version of your website?

  2. Can Google’s mobile bots crawl your website?

  3. Are your mobile webpages easy to use and navigate?

If you answered no to any of those questions, then you need to take action ASAP. Let’s go through each one in more detail.

1. Mobile Website
The two most common options to create a mobile website are:

  1. Create a separate mobile website on a subdomain like m.yourdomain.com. This is a great option if you have a limited budget. In fact, you can set this up for free using DudaMobile.com. If you have a complex website or a large e-commerce website, then this is not going to be a good option for you and I would recommend Option No. 2.
  2. Create a responsive website. A responsive website responds automatically to the device requesting the pages and displays the page differently depending on the device. Many popular CMS systems like WordPress have themes that are already responsive, so I recommend using an existing theme whenever possible. If you’re just getting started, then I highly recommend creating a responsive website rather than a separate mobile website because it’s easier to maintain in the long run.

2. Allow Google’s Mobile Bots
This should be fairly obvious, but if Google’s mobile bots can’t crawl your website, then Google is not going to show your website in the search results. It’s like your website doesn’t exist!

To check if Google can crawl your website, go to Google Webmaster Tools. Create an account (if you don’t have one already) and then go to the Crawl section in the left navigation. Then click “Fetch as Google”, select “Mobile: Smartphone” and click the big red button that says “Fetch.” Google will then tell you if there are any issues crawling your mobile website.

3. Mobile Website Usability
Finally, go to every page on your mobile website and make sure the pages are easy to use and navigate. Google started using mobile usability as a ranking factor as of April 21. Check all the images, hyperlinks, videos, and any other functionality normally available on the desktop version and fix anything that’s broken on the mobile version because that will drag down your rankings.

Drive Leads on Facebook by Getting Customers to Gab

What can a regional supplier of HVAC products and services teach you about Facebook? Plenty. I’ve already explained how Steelmaster Buildings gets leads on its Facebook page using a similar strategy. Today I’ll give an update on how Amanda Kinsella, of residential HVAC provider Logan Services, is getting along. She is continuing to generate leads and tracking ROI to the penny on Facebook. Yes, Facebook.

What can a regional supplier of HVAC products and services teach you about Facebook? Plenty.

I’ve already explained how Steelmaster Buildings gets leads on its Facebook page using a similar strategy. Today I’ll give an update on how Amanda Kinsella, of residential HVAC provider Logan Services, is getting along.

She is continuing to generate leads and tracking ROI to the penny on Facebook. Yes, Facebook.

A Simple Approach
Drive prospects to your page and get them talking about themselves. At first it sounds too simple. But that’s the beauty of it. Here’s the short version: grab customers’ attention and “ethically bribe” them to visit your Facebook page.

Sure, use a contest … BUT … make sure you provide an incentive for prospects to talk about themselves.

Bribe Customers to Talk About Themselves
Get a bowl of candy. Then, hand it out. Free. Just like at a trade show booth.

Why do vendors set out a bowl of candy? To encourage you to linger? Yes.

But smart booth attendants know the key to success is not using candy to talk about what they’re selling. Generating leads is 110 percent about getting prospects talking about themselves first.

A Strange Place to Start
Don’t be fooled by the bad advice online about how to generate leads on Facebook. We’re being hoodwinked into believing social media is a no-cost way of generating customers.

Wrong! It is a low-cost strategy. Smart, targeted advertising is often where to start: Buy attention. Pay for advertisements in places your target market can be found.

For example, Amanda is a one-woman marketing team at Logan Services. This small business serves a large chunk of territory in the Dayton, Ohio region.

Amanda keeps it simple—buying ads where her target market hangs out. She invests precious budget-dollars in local newspapers, TV and radio spots. This creates attention she can work with … that she can push towards Logan’s Facebook page.

Her lure? A free heating or air conditioning system for a customer who needs one. She runs a contest on Facebook that gives away a multi-thousand-dollar residential HVAC system!

Sound crazy? Keep reading. She’s been doing this for a few years now—generating positive ROI.

Tactic No. 1: Use an Incentive to Spread the Word
Any fool can run a contest on Facebook. But when giving away thousands of dollars in equipment and a service contract, Amanda has to be SURE her investment will pay off.

She needs guaranteed leads that will generate thousands in profit for Logan.

When potential customers (from the ads) first started landing on the Facebook page, Amanda told them about the catch. Nobody would win a new furnace unless a minimum of 200 prospects entered the contest.

Her prospects needed to:

  • tell Logan why they needed the system (in a few sentences); and
  • spread the word about the contest.

Amanda put her prospects under incentive to help make sure Logan got what it wanted—leads! You can do the same.

Tactic No. 2: Use Your ‘Thank You’ Page
After prospects filled out the contest application, they were presented with an opportunity to get a quote from Logan on the contest “thank you” page. On average, 20 percent of all contestants started requesting quotes.

Prospects were realizing, “Hey we need a furnace sometime soon … and we may not actually win … so why not check out Logan’s prices anyway?”

This is the power of good direct response social marketing design and this is why you should know people like Amanda.

Tactic No. 3: Give Customers an Incentive to Talk
Human beings love to talk. Especially about themselves. Your potential new (and existing) customers are no different.

Once Amanda’s hopeful contestants spread the word (and reached the minimum threshold) they were given a chance to enter the contest. To enter, prospects filled out an application. The contest form captured valuable insights … stories on why the prospect needed a new furnace so badly.

Talking about themselves naturally revealed details about current and future need for Logan’s products and services.

Convincing customers to talk about themselves is how Amanda grew her database of qualified leads well into the hundreds. That was just in the first year.

Exactly How She Did It
Here is a visual example of how Amanda “ethically bribes” customers to talk about themselves … in ways that reveals leads for her sales team to gently follow-up on.

YOU can do the same. See how it works?

Today, Amanda uses the same lead generation model for Facebook. It works, so why change it?

She also exploits her captive audience on Logan’s Facebook page. As you can see above, these are people who have come to expect giveaways. So, Amanda gives away regularly!

In this case, cash. Gift cards.

Amanda’s reward? More leads at even less cost.

Here’s the rub: She’s not spending on ads for these leads because prospects been “trained” to keep in touch with Logan. Lately, they’re hungry for energy saving tips that save them some money. But most of all, prospects and customers are on Logan’s Facebook page accessing the latest contests.

It wasn’t always easy for Amanda. She struggled for a long time. Amanda tried everything to get potential buyers to talk with her on Facebook. But nobody wanted to talk with a HVAC company. Not even about subjects like saving money on taxes and other energy tips she provided.

But today is a different time for Amanda!

Google Finally Shuts the Door on Doorway Pages

Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time, Google clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?

Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time Google, clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?

Although it is Google’s long-standing profile that “doorway pages” are bad practice, and Google has had the technology to detect them for many years, the decision to go after them now is that, in my opinion, they have recently proliferated in morphed forms, particularly for local results. Google’s decision is also consistent with its attack on “thin content” sites. “Doorway pages” were the original thin content pages. In their early format, “doorway pages” were often machine-generated, with keywords plugged into very generic content. As search marketing has evolved, so, too, have “doorway pages,” and the new morphed forms provide almost as bad a user experience as the original machine-generated pages.

With the shift from desktop to mobile, users want crisper, more keenly targeted local results and do not want to be directed to a low-quality doorway page or a bridge page that forces them to make yet another click. It is particularly frustrating to the growing audience of mobile searchers to be guided by Google’s results to “doorway pages,” that provide little more information than Google’s search page. “Doorway pages” often create a carousel effect, where the user performs a search and is continuously lead to the same page, in spite of changing the query. These pages maximize the site owner’s search footprint as well as the user’s frustration. Because “doorway page” programs are often used to funnel localized traffic, they sit at the intersection of local and mobile search. This is a highly competitive space for Google.

Google has clearly indicated the type of pages it classifies as “doorway pages.” According to Google, these pages are created solely to derive traffic for specific queries. They can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They are sometimes bridge pages that lead users to intermediate pages instead of to their final destination. They often have multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page. These pages often look like search results pages instead of content pages, and they often function as geographic traffic funnels.

If you are not sure whether your search tactics employ “doorway pages,” now is the time to take a closer look at whether your pages fit the profile that Google indicated in its announcement. If you are not sure, my advice is quite simple—don’t fool yourself. You probably need to rethink your strategy quickly. Your very first step should be to block Googlebot from those pages and begin redirecting them to quality pages.

For some businesses and site owners whose search tactics have relied on large “doorway page” campaigns to drive traffic and manipulate the search results, this change could have a seismic impact. If your competitors have been using “doorway pages” and you have not, the change could boost your ranking performance. If this change leads to an improvement in search engine results quality, it will be a clear win for users.

Top 10 Local SEO Best Practices for Small Businesses

Have you ever wondered how you could get your business to show up on the first page of Google, along with a map showing your prospective customers exactly where your business is located? The answer is to use local search engine optimization (SEO).

Have you ever wondered how you could get your business to show up on the first page of Google, along with a map showing your prospective customers exactly where your business is located? The answer is to use local search engine optimization (SEO).

With local SEO, you can get your business in front of prospects at the precise moment when they are literally searching for you. It doesn’t get much better than this. However, due to all the Google algorithm updates, local SEO is not quite as easy as it used to be. Whether you’re an SEO veteran or you’re just getting started, use the top 10 best practices in this article to give your business the best shot at ranking on the first page of Google’s local results.

  1. Claim and Complete a Google+ Local Page
    Next time you search in Google to find a business, pay close attention to the big map in the upper right corner of the results page. An entire section of the results list is devoted to the businesses that appear on that map. But here’s the catch: Google doesn’t pull the business information from websites. They are pulled from Google+ Local business pages!

    Setting up your Google+ Local page is easy and free, but you need to pay attention to what you are doing. The number one rule is to create only a single page per location. Creating duplicate Local pages is forbidden by Google’s Terms of Service, and can hurt your rankings.

    In addition, your page must use relevant categories. Think of categories like sections of the Yellow Pages, so the more categories you choose the better—as long as you don’t choose irrelevant categories, which is also against Google’s Terms of Service. Choosing categories can be difficult, so use this list for help.

  2. Add Your Service and Geographic Keywords to Page Titles
    This is especially critical for your homepage, but is a Best Practice for all your web pages. Title tags are like chapter names in a book—they tell Google what the page is all about. Your homepage title tag is like the book’s cover. It needs to be enticing but accurate, and explain to Google what the website holds. For local SEO, adding both the service and geographic keywords to your title tags lets Google know that your site is relevant to people searching for your particular service in your local area.
  3. Make Your NAP Consistent—and Omnipresent
    NAP is an acronym for the most important information when it comes to optimizing for local SEO. NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number.

    Google strives to provide the most accurate, credible information to its users. Therefore, before displaying your information, the algorithm cross-checks your NAP across not only your Google+ local page, but the entire Internet! To ensure your NAP is consistent, I recommend searching for your business name in the Moz Local search tool.

  4. Add Pages for Different Services and Locations
    If you provide multiple services, and/or practice in different locations, make sure you create a separate web page for each. Although it may seem redundant, this step is crucial to local SEO. You simply cannot optimize the same page for Houston, Texas, and Deer Park, Texas, and expect it to perform well for either location. Likewise, a page with keywords for both oil changes and collision repair is not truly optimized for either. Make sure that each page is entirely unique, and target each to a core keyword phrase.
  5. Install Schema
    Schema markup is a type of HTML code that tells Google more about your website. When a human reads a particular page, he or she innately understands certain things about that page, such as exactly what is being discussed. Search engines, however, have a much more limited understanding. Schema bridges that gap by adding machine-understandable explanations. Many webmasters are not yet using this valuable tool, so this is a great opportunity to get a jump on your competition.
  6. Get Customer Reviews on Google+ Local
    Unfortunately, getting customer reviews is one of the most challenging tasks that small business owners face, and there is no magical shortcut. The two keys to success are first to ask, and second to make it as easy as possible for your customers leave an online review. Even when you make things easy for your customers, this will be a slow process, but over time, it will improve your local rankings and create a big barrier for your competitors.
  7. Create a Mobile-Optimized Website
    Increasingly, consumers are turning to their phones and other mobile devices when searching for products and services. This is even more true for those who are looking for local companies, which means you absolutely must have a mobile-friendly website to compete in the local search results.

    If you’re like most businesses, then you have been dragging your feet and putting off investing in a mobile website. Well, the time has finally come because on April 21, 2015 Google will launch an algorithm update that will drastically change the mobile search results. In short, if your site is not mobile-optimized at that time, your rankings will suffer dramatically in any Google search launched on a mobile device-which is approximately 50% of all searches today!

  8. Provide High-Quality Website Content
    The importance of high quality content is nothing new for SEO. However, until recently this wasn’t a big factor in the local search rankings. Now, failing to create well-written, unique, informative web pages with at least 500 words of content each could mean your business will not show up when prospective customers are searching for you.
  9. Build High-Quality Links to Your Website
    Again, this is nothing new for SEO, but it’s a fairly new factor for local SEO. Your domain authority, or online reputation, is now a critical factor in your local Google rankings. One of the biggest factors in your domain authority is the quantity and quality of relevant links from other websites.

    As you gain more and more high-quality links, then your domain authority will increase, and in turn, your local rankings will also improve.

  10. Be Active on Social Media
    Exactly how much of an impact social media presence has on local SEO is currently the subject of hot debate. What is not open for debate, however, is the fact that social media is a great way to generate buzz and get exposure for your business. This exposure can lead to more referral traffic, more high-quality links, more reviews, and more online comments about your business, which are all signals that will improve your local Google rankings.

Want more Local SEO Tips? Click here to get my Ultimate Local SEO Checklist

SEO 101: The 3 Keys to Rank No. 1 in Google

Mark Twain was only half joking when he said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, then wait a few minutes.” Growing up in Massachusetts I distinctly remember days when one minute it would be raining or snowing, and the next minute it would be clear skies.

Mark Twain was only half joking when he said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, then wait a few minutes.” Growing up in Massachusetts I distinctly remember days when one minute it would be raining or snowing, and the next minute it would be clear skies.

In other words, the weather in New England is a lot like Google’s algorithm; It’s constantly in flux, and it can seem nearly impossible to stay on top of all the updates. Whether you are new to SEO (search engine optimization) or your rankings have recently slipped, you might have gone looking for answers only to become overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice. If you are feeling frustrated and confused, don’t worry because you are not alone!

Fortunately, no matter how many new updates Google rolls out, following the fundamental best practices of good SEO should keep you ahead of the power curve. Here are the 3 steps to achieving and maintaining a spot at the top of the rankings.

  1. Research
    No matter what else you do, choosing the right target keywords is the most important step for your success. Begin your research for free with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. As you study the available keywords, look for the ones that best meet 2 separate but related criteria:
    • A) Search Volume: This refers to how many people are searching for that particular keyword. A higher search volume means more potential eyeballs for your page.
    • B) Relevance: You want to focus on the keywords that draw customers who are ready to buy. Later, you can expand your reach to include “tire kickers,” or prospects who are in the early stages of considering a purchase. But for now, you want to bring in people who want your product or service today.

      While the “perfect” target keywords include both high search volume and high relevance, those can be tough or even impossible to find. For now, focus on those that hit a “bullseye” for relevance, even if the search volume is not quite as high.

  2. Relevance
    Once you have a list of target keywords, you need to make sure Google considers your website as relevant to those keywords. At one time, “keyword stuffing,” or unnaturally forcing the keyword all over the site, was a common strategy. Today, this action is penalized with lower rankings. Instead, focus on naturally incorporating the keyword where it makes sense. There are two steps to improving your relevance:
    • A) Website Structure: Match one keyword to each page of your website. This keeps the focus clean and helps Google recognize that the page is relevant. For your homepage, focus on your “dream” keyword—the one word or phrase that best describes your business and for which you would love to rank No. 1.
    • B) Page Elements: Each web page contains numerous areas where you can add your keyword. These include the Title Tag, Meta Description, Header Tags (H1, H2, and H3), and Body Copy. Remember to use the keyword in the Title Tag and Meta Description, and to incorporate it only where it naturally fits in the Header Tags and Body Copy.
  3. Reputation
    Convincing Google that your website and its individual pages are relevant is not enough. You also need to demonstrate that you are a trusted authority on your particular target keywords. You do this by building your site’s reputation.

    Traditionally, the best way to build reputation was through hyperlinks from other sites to yours. While this still remains very important, many old-school link building tactics are now penalized by Google. You need to focus on organic, natural relationships with other websites, rather than simply going on a campaign to build as many links as possible.

    Social media is also becoming an increasingly important factor. Page referrals through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets are now weighed heavily in the new Google algorithms. In fact, some experts believe that social media signals will soon outstrip web links as the No. 1 factor in determining your domain reputation.

What Does All This Mean for You?
As Google continues to roll out new algorithms and updates, some SEO ranking techniques will disappear, and new ones will be developed. What will never change, however, is the importance of creating excellent content.

Rather than attempting to “trick” Google into giving you higher rankings than you deserve, focus on creating content that is worthy of being ranked No. 1. Add new content frequently, spruce up old content that has seen better days, and make quality your number one goal. This simple policy will help you weather any storms and ensure that your site receives high rankings for many years to come.