Google recently announced an update to their search ranking algorithms that in most part only affects what Google terms “spammy websites” but with that being said, there is in my opinion, some unintended affects to small business websites…Continue reading
In this final article of Website Ranking Factors For Small Business, I will cover factors that can get your website penalized by the search engines, hurting your chances of appearing for the keywords you want. The below information is by no means all inclusive, but covers some of the more common black hat SEO activities that will eventually hurt your rankings.Continue reading
In my prior article in this series, I discussed website On-Page Ranking Factors for small business websites. This article will cover factors that are considered Off-Page Ranking Factors and how they apply to a small business trying to achieve first page rankings for desired keywords.Continue reading
In this article series I will cover top-level factors that search engines use in determining where a website will rank for given keyword(s), and how a small business can use these factors to propel their website ahead of the competition, driving quality traffic through organic placement.
On Page Search Engine Ranking Factors for Small Business Websites
This first article will cover what is known as On Page factors, meaning what can be done on the website itself. We will cover the following:
- Keyword Research
- Keyword Use
- Engaging Visitors
- Updated Content
- Page Titles
- Meta Descriptions
- Heading Tags
- Page/Site Speed
As I’ve written about before, website content is king when it comes to attaining rankings on the search engine results page (SERP). I can not stress enough how important it is to have a good amount of Quality Content on each page of your website. The old days of having a website with the same old, stale set-up of: Home, About Us, Services, Gallery and Contact Us are dead and gone. The web and how people use it has changed dramatically, and to keep up with this change, the search engines have changed their game too. Having quality content, with a purpose, will help any small business get to the first page of the search engine results.
For a more detailed explanation of why quality content matters and how the search engines have changed, please read my article on Google Caffeine and how it applies to small business websites.
What keywords do you want to show up for? How competitive is it to get to the first page for those keywords? Do you know what keywords will get your phone to ring or get people walking into your store? These are some of the questions that need to be answered when determining what keywords you will want to work on.
For many of my customers the first keywords they say are typically the hardest ones to achieve rankings for. For example, and automobile mechanic in Portland, Oregon may want to achieve rankings for “Auto Repair Portland”, or something similar. I typically try for rankings for less competitive, but higher converting keywords. This has proven to be very successful for many small businesses. So for an auto repair shop, I might suggest building a page directly targeting people who need to have their timing belt replaced, with quality content that explains why this auto repair shop are experts in replacing timing belts. The auto repair shop gets to the first page of the search engine for a keyword such as “timing belt replacement”, the people that land on that page can see that this shop knows their stuff about timing belts, and thus coverts more of these prospects into customers. This process can be duplicated over and over again for different services such as: transmission flushes, emissions repair, brake repair and so on. A good quality, robust website will eventually get rankings for even the most difficult keywords with this tactic. The question I ask many of my customers is “would you rather be on the first page for 150 keywords or 10?
Keyword research is a tough job that requires researching trends, search volume, and competitiveness. Hiring a qualified SEO Company can take much of the guessing out of this task.
Keyword use in your website
Do you use keywords and phrases in your website content you hope to be found for? If you’re trying to get rankings for the keyword “timing belt replacement” do you use that keyword string and related keyword strings in your content? Do you know what words Google considers the same? For example right now Google recognizes that the words “replacement” and “repair” are very similar, so serves results that are very similar for the searches of “timing belt replacement” and “timing belt repair”.
Understanding keyword similarities and using variances of these keywords on your websites text will help you achieve ranks for these desired keywords.
Do you measure “bounce rate” by page on your website? One of Google’s engineers explains bounce rate as “I came, I puked, I left”. High bounce rates point to one of two problems with your website.
Serve the information your visitors want. Is there something that is distracting your visitors and making them want to leave? What keywords is that page being found for? If a website visitor thinks they are mislead when visiting your site, they will simply back out and look elsewhere. So if you have a webpage about “timing belt replacement” make sure your information on that topic above the fold, where the visitor will see it quickly. Making a visitor hunt for what they are looking for does little more than inflate your bounce rate.
Design and layout above the fold. Is your page to busy? Is your page confusing? Page layout and message can start a prospect down your sales funnel, or can kill it. Using heat maps of web pages can help web designers fix high bounce rate issues regarding layout and design of a web page. Google Analytics also offers “In-Page Analytics” to help show click tracking on a page.
Updated Website Content
How often do you update the content on your website? Is the content new and about topics that will get your website traffic? One of the most important things that can get search engines coming back again and again to your website is creating new content. I typically recommend two new pages or posts per month for each of the small businesses I work with. Having Quality Content and constantly Updated Content builds a firm foundation for SEO success.
Page Titles, Meta Descriptions and Heading Tags
I’m not going into this as I wrote a previous article titled “Quick and Easy SEO for Small Business Websites” that covers this exact topic. I will say that Page Titles, Meta Descriptions and Heading Tags all play significant roles in helping achieve rankings on SERP’s.
How to make your website easy to index
The search engines want to serve websites that are easy for normal people to use. If your website is not easy for a search engine spider to use, they will assume it will be hard for a normal human to use also. Making it easy for a search engine to find ALL of your websites pages, using alt-tags on every picture, limited or non-use of flash and using an Xml Site Map will help the search engines index your website.
Conversely, disabled back buttons, pop-ups, hidden pages, doorway pages, certain types of redirects, heavy use of flash, text in picture format and others make it hard for a search engine to index and will hurt your rankings.
This is defiantly one where you get what you ask for. Your website speed and page load speed are factors that the search engines grade heavily on. Pages that are loaded with lots of pictures, big header pictures, picture sliders with to many pictures, self hosted videos and flash laden websites all slow load speed of a website. Search engines want to serve up websites that are quick and give their customers the information they seek quickly, and a slow website is counter-productive to that.
Cheap, inexpensive web hosting can hurt the speed of your website. Google offers a free on-line website speed tester to see how fast your website is. The tool also offers advice such as: browser caching, image optimization and others to help fix your speed issues.
URL Keyword Tagging
There is a little controversy these days over url’s with keywords in them getting better rankings. There has been a lot of speculation over the last year that Google would be dropping this from their ranking algorithms, but since it hasn’t been announced, I will cover it here. URL Keyword Tagging is the practice of buying highly sought after url’s with keywords or keyword strings in the url. For example, a carpet cleaning company in Portland might be interested in buying the url PortlandCarpetCleaning.com to try and target people searching that phrase. The hope here is that the search engines will give added weight to that website since the url contains those keywords.
I typically don’t recommend spending the money that many of these highly sought after url’s cost for two reasons.
- Since there is speculation that Google will be dropping this from their ranking algorithm, the SEO boost for the time being versus the cost of the url may not bring a good return on investment.
- Keyword URL Tagging can be done by adding the desired keywords into the page slug, giving almost, if not the exact same effect. I have used this on many of my customer websites, with excellent SEO results.
However, there are studies out there that point to these types of URL’s getting more SEO traffic, so ultimately I leave this decision to the business owner after weighing their options.
Next article in this series will be: Website Ranking Factors for Small Business – Off Page SEO
How to correctly Search Engine Optimize your Small Business website
With some forethought and some website know-how, just about anyone can gain rankings for their website using white hat methods. In this post, I will explain some top-level SEO tactics that will help anyone gain better rankings for the keywords they desire.
Correctly using Title Tags on your small business website
Title tags are used to quickly explain in 50 to 80 characters what your page is about. This is what is shown on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) hyper-linked in blue as seen below.
Title tags should not be thought of as a Title for your page, but more as a Headline. This is the first thing that people will see on the SERP, if it doesn’t speak directly to your most valuable prospects, it won’t get clicked. What good is getting to the first page if you don’t get clicks?
Do’s and Don’ts for website title tags.
- Do keep your title tag between 50 and 80 characters. Try and target only one or two top level keywords, I also recommend adding a city name or two if you’re trying to attain ranking for city related searches.
- Do only use “|” or “-” to separate keyword strings in your title tag. These symbols are the most frequently use separators, and to someone quickly scanning results on the SERP helps break up keywords on what your page is about.
- Do be specific and to the point in your title tag. In the above example it should be clear to see that this website is about Cadillac Transmissions, Clutch and Differential Repair.
- Don’t use the same title tag for every page on your website. If you do, the search engines may think its duplicate content and your chances for ranking all your pages declines dramatically.
- Don’t use more that one or two top line keywords in your title tag.
- Don’t repeat keywords more than twice. Remember you’re trying to entice people to click your website, stuffing keywords in the title tag does little to help with achieving clicks.
Meta-Descriptions optimized for search engines and visitors
Meta-Descriptions are the text under the title tag on the SERP. When writing your meta-description, it is important to use your desired keyword(s) from your title tag. It’s important to use your desired keywords naturally, with a few secondary keywords mixed in. The meta-description should give a brief overview of what a visitor should expect to find on your page. Small businesses may also want to add city names they service, or special offers such as “free estimates” or “find coupons here”, you could even add confidence factors such as “30 years experience” or “BBB Rated A+” or something to that effect. All this needs to fit into approx. 180 characters, so really thinking about your desired keywords, cities and most valuable prospect when writing your meta-description, while maintaining readability is key.
As you can see in the above example, stuffing keywords into the meta-description does little to entice a prospect of visiting the website. In this example I did a search for “Plumbers Portland, OR”, and unfortunately for these folks they are ranked 9 pages back, so kind of shows this tactic does not work (other factors not mentioned). The example under them also shows a waste of title tag and meta description space. I almost never use phone numbers in title tags or meta descriptions, they are a waste of valuable SEO space and do nothing to help rankings, unless you’re trying to rank for your businesses phone number, which seems like a silly thing to do unless your businesses name is something like 1-800-Got-Junk.
Are Meta-Keywords important to small business websites?
These days the search engines rate very little (if any) relevance on meta-keywords. In fact many newer website building programs don’t even include a meta-keyword field. However, if your website program does, filling in a few meta-keywords can’t hurt. Most experts agree that 7-10 keywords per page is sufficient. Make sure to use your primary and secondary keywords, variations on these keywords and any cities you are trying to rank for in this area.
Heading Tags, sometimes referred to as “h tags” are much like headlines in an old fashioned newspaper make it easy for your readers to understand what the content on your web page is about. They also helps search engines understand the same.
Correctly using a h1 tag on your website
Heading tags come in 6 different sizes from h1 (being the biggest) to h6 (being the smallest). There should only be one h1 tag per page. This tag should include your top level keyword, worked into a brief overview of what the page is about. For the transmission shop above, a great h1 tag for a page talking about Cadillac transmissions, clutch and differential repair would be “Expert Cadillac Transmission, Clutch and Differential Repair“.
Sub-heading tags – h2 and h3
H2, h3 and h4 tags are used for sub-headings. It can be tempting to try and stuff keywords into sub-heading tags, try and avoid this. Sub-heading tags should be used to highlight what each area of content on your website is about. Trying to naturally use primary, secondary or variations of these in h2 and h3 tags is good SEO. As you can see from this article, I have used h2 and h3 tags, and tied in my primary keywords: small business, websites, search engine optimization. I have also included some variations on these keywords, such as: optimized and optimize.
On blogs, it is not necessary to use a h1 tag as the post title should include what you would normally include on a static page h1 tag.
h4 and h5 Heading tags for small business city rankings
Using h4, h5 and h6 tags is not necessary for small business website SEO, but can be helpful in attaining rankings such as city specific searches.
Correctly using h4 and h5 heading tags to include pertinent information such as: area’s served or short lists of services can be helpful in letting the search engines know where your small business pulls customers from. Unless you tell the search engine what and where your small business does its thing, the chances of you ranking high for these types of searches is almost zero.
Back in 2007, The Kelsey Group along with ComScore compiled a study which studied the relationship between positive online reviews, off line buying and price paid for services by consumers. Now understanding this study was done in 2007, some percentages may have changed since then, but the data complied in this study should make generation of positive online reviews a priority for any small business.
The above study found that 41% of consumers read reviews before deciding (have to believe that percentage is higher 5 years later). And of those, as high as 87% of polled said reviews (or lack of) had a direct influence on their decision to purchase (or not). One of the greatest findings in my opinion was that 97% of everyone that took part in the study said reviews had some sort of impact on their decision to buy.
So the question I often ask my customers is: What is being said about your business online? Are you making it easy for people to leave reviews on you business? Do you engage your customers and prospects through social media, your website and in your store ask for their online recommendation? If you’re not doing these simple things, I can honestly say you are missing the boat with your biggest fan base…your current satisfied customers.
Online Reviews Generate Sales
Notice I didn’t say “positive” online reviews generate sales? Often I get push back about making it easy for people to leave reviews about a customers business. I think with many small business owners there is always that fear of generating the dreaded Negative Review. I wholeheartedly believe that the vast majority of small business owners want and strive to do what is best for each and every one of their customers. Are there times when you’re not going to be able to satisfy every single customer? Of course. Is it plausible that a disgruntled customer may post something online that’s less than stellar? Of course. But in response to the fear of the dreaded Negative Review, I ask my customers if they were searching online and found a business that only had 5 star reviews, and nothing else, what would they think of buying from that business? I get several responses to this question, but in general the sentiment is that they would proceed with caution before buying from that business…because as they are already well aware, pleasing everyone is impossible.
Dealing With The Dreaded Negative Review
Now that we have addressed and mostly agree that all reviews won’t be 100% positive, lets talk about how to address and take care of that negative review, if it ever comes your way. First as a small business you need to decide where to invest in trying to get customers reviewing your business. I typically start my customers on Google Places, Yahoo Local and Facebook. Each one of these have functionality to be able to publicly respond as the business owner, or a representative of the business. Responses to negative reviews should be done quickly as possible to show that you as the business owner follow up on every customer issue quickly. There are many different software programs and platforms available to monitor your online reputation.
How Not To Respond to a Negative Review
If that negative review comes in, as a business owner you want to respond to it. I really recommend taking emotion out of your response as it will most likely tarnish what should be a professional response from you. Lashing out, picking apart, belittling and other such responses have no place here. Below I have placed a screen shot of one such response I found online. Obviously the business owner was hurt and dismayed at the review, but placing threats, or questioning someones motive should not be done here. If I had run across this response while looking for what this business did…I would have run the other way…and interestingly enough, 5 out of 8 people that were asked if the negative review helped them said yes. In my eyes. complete failure on the business owners part.
The Correct Way To Respond
I’m not going to pretend that I know your business and how you should respond to a negative online review. You know your customers and you know how they talk, act and what they respond to. Obviously responses would vary depending on your business. A daycare center would respond differently than a tattoo shop, so understand that, you as the business owner should look at your response as everyone else will…a direct reflection on how you treat upset customers. Going into long drawn out rants on why this particular customer was impossible to service, or attacking their credibility will do little to improve any damage that may have been done. Instead I recommend asking details about what was wrong with the service, dates and times, who they dealt with, and personally asking them to call the business and asking for you by name will reap must greater results. That will go miles further than the example above. Below I have included a response from a business owner that I thought was very good.
The business owner concluded the review by leaving their full name as well as a phone number to contact them personally.
Recently I read an article from PPC Associates titled How To Spot Fake Google Reviews, obviously I was enticed to read the post as gaining reviews for local businesses is one of the best ways to affect rankings and help set your business apart as a trusted partner. I often talk to my clients about the importance of reminding their customers to write reviews about the service or product they received. In fact I had one client that took this to heart and emailed his past clients asking for reviews…and to my surprise he garnered 15 reviews which shot his business to the first page for a highly sought for keyword. But the reason the above article caught my attention is explained below.
Fake Reviews Are Black Hat SEO
It’s can tempting as a SEO company to help your clients position out by writing a few fake reviews for them. After all you might think that your helping them get to the first page, they get business, and you look like a hero, right? Wrong. Fake reviews are black hat.
Earlier this last summer I met with an insurance agency that wanted to get to the first page for the keyword string “Auto Insurance Portland”. One very well known company here in town known for their outrageous commercials and well known slogan was the first Google Places result for the search. After looking at this company’s place page, it became pretty clear that whomever was handling their SEO was involved in Black Hat tactics to get their client to the first page. The biggest factor was Fake Reviews. Whomever had posted these fake reviews didn’t even try to hide the fact they were fake. Instead of writing a review, they had just stuffed a bunch of keyword strings (keyword stuffing) into several different reviews. Keywords such as:
- SR22 Insurance
- Auto Insurance
- Car Insurance
- Auto Insurance Portland
- and on, and on…
were repeated over and over again in all these reviews.
So after reading the article on How To Spot Fake Google Reviews, it made me think of this well known insurance company. So of course I went to Google to see how this companies Black Hat SEO Tactics were working. And to my surprise, this company has been been removed completely from the results on “Auto Insurance Portland”. I did find their Google Place Page after doing a name search and found that not only did Google remove all the Keyword Stuffed reviews, but they also placed the page back into “unclaimed” status. One lone review still remains…and from what I saw it still stinks to high heaven, I’ll let you decide for yourself below:
I decided to block out the company’s name for obvious reasons. But it seems to me that whomever wrote this review is trying for rankings for:
- Insurance Beaverton Oregon
- Auto Insurance
- Homeowners Insurance
- Business Insurance
- SR22 Insurance
Moral of this story? If some SEO Company promises you rankings, find out how they plan to do it. I’ve always tried to use the rule that if a Google employee asked how I gain rankings for a client, how would I feel when I told them the answer?
One of the things I am continually amazed at is how many small business websites don’t really sell the benefits of doing business with them. How does your website sell benefits of doing business with you, rather than your competitor? This is probably one of the very first things I ask any new business, right after I ask them if they’re satisfied with how their website is working to produce leads for them. Almost always the response I get is no, or I have no idea how it’s working. In this post I will cover a tactic that I have found very helpful in converting visitors into prospects.
Websites are sales people too
Might seem silly to say websites are sales people too, but sometimes small business owners need to be reminded of that. In the almost 10 years I have been doing this, I’ve heard websites referred to everything from “online brochures”, “24 hour sales person”, “online menu of services” and so on, and however you may view your website, one question every business owner needs to ask themselves is: How does my website reflect upon me and my services/company? Sharp or sloppy?
Being viewed as a Professional Small Business
Websites need nurturing, just like a sales person would. Do you keep up on your website? Have you trained it on your newest products and/or offerings? Does it talk, in detail, about what you do, how your business is different, and what the benefits of doing business with you versus one of your competitors? If the answer is no to any of the above, it might be time to make a change.
Building a small business website that sells
I come from a background of sales, so when I started City Ranked, it seemed a no brainer to me that a small business website needed to sell the very best attributes a small business had, sell the benefits of doing business with said small business and how that business made it easy to do business with them. With convincing from one of my very first customers, we tested a new website layout that almost “punched” a website visitor in the face with the benefits, confidence and convenience factors of doing business with them, on every single page.
After conducting an exhaustive list of services the client offered, we dived into what set them apart from their competition. This client offered Junk and Garbage Hauling Services, and because it only takes a couple guys with a truck to offer this type of service, the market is littered with these types of business, both local and national and fly-by-night operations. So making sure that we remind website visitors the “benefits” of doing business with this client were key. As you can see from the above screenshot, we came up with 8 key points that we needed to remind visitors of, as a side point their old website only mentioned 3 of these points in tiny small text within the website text.
The results of our website redesign
Almost immediately the quality of customer leads and phone calls coming off the website shot up. No longer was “price” the driving question behind what the customer was providing. Questions such as “how fast can you come?”, and “Do you pick up from ___?” became the norm. Second we saw website conversion percentage increase dramatically. People that would have normally visited then left, were now visiting and calling. Obviously more calls = more sales. Also customer has seen an increase in calls from commercial clients.
Websites that sell, ring up sales
So what did my customer and I learn from all this? Building a website, that sells a small businesses best qualities, right up top, where every visitor can see them nets results. For me I can safely say that I have a very satisfied customer, for my customer, their website is finally working they way they always wanted it to work. My customer even stated that their sales were up over 80% versus the same period the prior year! Now obviously other factors such as local search optimization, professional SEM, and website SEO went into those results…but at the end of the day, we can drive tons of traffic, if the website still doesn’t sell, it does no good.
If that doesn’t convince you to build a website that sells, I don’t know what will.
How to build a small business website that’s blown out for Google Caffeine…Continue reading