Posts

Hotel FrontEverybody talks about SEO as if it is a monolithic entity. At most, you might hear conversation about local SEO and every few weeks someone will chime in to remind us about international SEO, but the vast majority of the dialogue just refers to SEO as a whole.

But, ignoring its constantly changing nature, SEO is also a lot harder to pin down. Great optimization bends and molds to match the client and the unique needs of a market. What works for a nearby plumbing company may not translate to a small tech startup or a healthcare provider. The absolute basics are the same, but all of these companies have different online needs that can’t be handled with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality.

Hotels are one market with especially unique needs, and now that summer is winding down and many people are trying to squeeze in a vacation before the kids return to school, now is as relevant a time to talk about SEO as any. Aleh Barvsevich broke down the topic in detail, covering how search results for hotels are chosen and displayed and what opportunities hotel clients have in PPC and SEO.

Establishing your brand online can lead to higher sales and profits, but the first step is always getting your site high enough in the search engine rankings that potential customers can find you. But, search engine optimization can be intimidating for many business owners to handle on their own.

Hiring an experiences search engine optimization consultant is often the best option for business owners who want to get their business online, but lack the time or technical skills to do so. However, you’ll want to get the most for your dollar. Kim Lachance Shandrow recently shared a list of questions you can ask any prospective SEO consultant to make sure you’re getting the best service possible.

  1. How will you improve my search engine rankings? – Consultants who won’t go into the details about the methods they use are almost always questionable professionals. SEO consultants should be happy to explain exactly how they improve rankings for companies, along with estimates of how long it can take to get the results you are desiring.
  2. Do you follow Google’s Webmaster guidelines? – Any consultant who tries to toe the line of Google’s publicly posted webmaster best practices is almost guaranteed to get you in trouble sooner or later. There are many consultants who will try to use tricks to get high rankings extraordinarily quickly, but Google is quick to punish those trying to abuse loopholes. Bing and Yahoo also have best practice guidelines publicly available that you should also want your consultant to follow.
  3. How will you keep me informed of all changes made to my site? – As a business owner, you should expect to be involved in your SEO strategy from the very beginning, and your consultant should be willing to stay in communication about any changes being made to your site or the SEO strategy as a whole.
  4. Do you have local SEO expertise? – Brick-and-mortar businesses trying to attract people to their local shops need consultants who are experiences with working locally. The strategies for local SEO can often differ from more regional or national level optimization. There are also numerous actions that local SEO requires to get your site showing up for searches in your area that SEOs without local experience may skip over.
  5. How do you measure your SEO success? – Any experienced consultant should be able to tell you in detail how they measure your traffic coming to your website and where it is coming from. The most commonly used tool for tracking rankings and traffic is Google Analytics, and consultant should be willing to share the data with you.

Many small business owners are hesitant to really put an effort into SEO or their online presence because they feel like the web is already conquered by big companies they can’t compete with. It is common to feel like you don’t have the resources, time, or manpower to achieve any sort of success on search result pages, but local businesses actually have a much larger opportunity than they usually think.

Search engines provide a more leveled playing field when it comes to corporations and local businesses. All you have to do for efficient SEO is know where to invest your limited resources to get the most return, and show your value to the search engines. Nick Stamoulis recently discussed three main ways you can achieve SEO success, even with the limited means of a local business.

1) Build links naturally, one quality link at a time

While links have lost some of their influence in SEO, they are still a serious consideration to search engines. Google’s latest updates have many business owners scared of link building, but the truth is it will always be an important part of SEO and you can’t ignore it. The key to link building is to ensure that you are building quality links from various sources, which is best done by focusing on one at a time. This keeps your linking pattern looking natural and stays away from any gray areas.

Some will try to set link building goals or try to take short cuts, but Google has made it clear that if you don’t get penalized for your cheap tricks now, you will eventually. Arbitrary quotas only inspire efforts to get bulk links when your self-imposed deadline approaches, and easy links come with a big target on their backs.

2) Create Content For Your Audience

Content marketing is a buzzword for SEO at the moment, but some have already lost the real reason content has come to have such impact on SEO. Quality content has been favored by search engines because that is what audiences and customers want, and it inspires interaction between businesses and their customers. One of the things lost in the feeding frenzy of tasty blog posts, infographics, and ebooks is that those methods aren’t relevant for many smaller businesses.

Small businesses often offer services that draw customers not looking to spend a lot of time reading or watching videos. Instead, they want to be able to see what businesses have been doing, and what value they are contributing to the community. This can be as easy as semi-frequent announcements or updates on G+ or pictures and status updates on Facebook. Just focus on providing the information customers will want. Answer their questions, direct them to solutions, and provide something of value to those who find you online.

3) Find Your Niche

It is true that if you run a small flower shop you won’t have the same online presence that a national brand like 1-800-Flowers does. However, your smaller local net can catch better fish than a large net a national brand uses. You can establish yourself in your small market by pinpointing a variety of different ways your service can be used. That theoretical florist, for example, can cater wedding parties and high-end hotels, educate gardening enthusiasts, and help decorate local restaurants. Find what small markets aren’t cornered in your local area, and make your place.

Remember, national brands may have more money and people available to use for SEO, but value is what matters to the search engines. Ask yourself why customers keep coming to your local business rather than those corporate giants, and adapt it to the internet. If your site is worth visiting, the search engine results will reflect your worth.

Years ago, all a local business had to do was build a lot of links and their business would show up on the first results page. SERPs have gotten much more competitive in that time, and Google has introduced a strict local algorithm, so now local SEO has become a unique sector that is often more difficult to implement than almost any other online marketing strategy.

You can always hire a company to take care of all of your SEO needs, but if you have a tight budget and are willing to get your hands dirty, there are steps you can take to try to get onto the coveted first page of local results, called the 7 Pack. You’ll recognize the 7 Pack as the listing of businesses directly under the map of the area. Search Engine Journal set out a five step plan to improve your local business rankings.

The first step is checking to see if your target keywords actually trigger the local algorithm. Usually simply including key phrase combinations such as the city and most important keyword should connect with the local search results, but sometimes this doesn’t work. If that is the case, then it would seem your SEO strategy should be less localized as Google doesn’t register your service as part of its local algorithm.

One of this biggest tricks for local businesses is knowing where to establish your company online. Google’s algorithm always gives preference to businesses located within the city limits searched for, often called the “centroid” bias. This means Google will rank businesses located closer to the heart of the city higher than those on the outskirts if all other factors are equal.

For businesses located in suburbs or just outside of city limits this is poses a big question. Most want to capitalize on the bigger market from the closest city than the small market in their local town, but trying to rank in a metropolitan area when you aren’t physically established within that boundary is a incredibly difficult task. You have to decide if you want to fight to get into the rankings for the city, and possibly only achieving the second or third page on the local listings, or you can aim to corner the market in your town and rank first every time for a smaller audience.

Deciding that move usually requires determining how competitive your niche is, and even businesses already well situated in a metropolitan market will be rewarded for investigating. The quickest way to find out how competitive your market is starts ith taking the #1 ranking in the 7 Pack and copying all of their information exactly as it is displayed in the search bar with quotation marks. This gives you an approximate estimate as to how many directories and citations you will need to outrank the top listing in the 7 Pack. You can do the same for the lowest ranking. Your results obviously have to outdo the lowest ranked business in the 7 Pack to overtake it, so exploring will give you an idea just how tall the SEO mountain you have to climb is.

Once you’ve done your research you can actually begin working on your local SEO, but the process will be much easier thanks to informed decisions only possible through understanding your local online market. Search Engine Journals last two steps can get you going on improving your local site’s ranking but nothing happens overnight. Local SEO is competitive and time consuming, but without it you are falling behind the times.

Source: Phil Campbell

Source: Phil Campbell

There is no longer a question in analysts mind as to whether the huge growth in tablet and smartphone usage is changing how consumers behave. Mobile users are impossible to deny, and easy to actually observe. All you have to do is look outside to see the number of people with a smartphone attached to their hand as if they are glued together.

What is in question is just how consumers are using these new devices. Mobile devices change how we find businesses and services, especially locally, but they also affect how we interact socially, how we engage media, and how we organize our lives.

To try to understand how we are using mobile devices, and how they are changing the way we live, BrightLocal conducted a consumer panel survey. They investigated how consumers find local businesses, and what content is the most important to users while they are on the go. Myles Anderson broke down the result on Search Engine Land, but the most notable finding is that while mobile and tablet use is bursting through the roof, less than a third of users are regularly finding local businesses with mobile devices.

Forty percent of consumers claim the have never used their smartphone or tablet to look up local businesses. This should come as a shocker to any SEO analyst who has been keeping up with trends lately. There is a lot of discussion about mobile SEO out there, and plenty of people focus on the local capabilities of smartphones and tablet to find businesses while consumers are already out. They say “shoppers want to be able to find the store they want and buy now” or something like that.

Now, a fair percentage of mobile users are doing just that. Almost twenty percent of users have looked up local businesses at least once a week, and twenty-nine percent do so at least once a month, but the amount of users who have never looked up a local business should still be a very interesting statistic for SEOs.

High Voltage

For companies looking for an SEO, the process can be confusing. There is a lot of jargon that the uninitiated business owner likely doesn’t know, and the field is absolutely full of companies offering what initially look like the same thing. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

There are certain things the uninformed local business owner can keep an eye out for to help the process. Stoney deGeyter knows these warning signs as well as anyone, as he writes about small business SEO all the time, and has seen more than a few SEOs offering questionable or outdated methods.

Some SEOs will advertise that they can get you ranked on a selection of websites like MSN, Ask.com, or AltaVista. The more search engines they can get you on, the better right? Nope. I personally have seen sites offering to get you on MSN rankings which is an immediate red flag considering MSN isn’t a search engine anymore. It changed to Bing years ago. Ask.com is the fourth most used search engine and it only pulls in around 3-percent of all searches. The point is, if they can’t get you on Google or Bing, they won’t actually be able to help you much.

Another misleading promise is to get your site the number one spot in the rankings, no matter what. If this was possible, SEO would be stunningly easy, but it is not possible and SEO is far too competitive and complex for any guarantee of this kind to be anything but a bluff. SEO companies have no direct control over where search engines rank sites. Our job isn’t to achieve a certain ranking, but to get your page ranking as high as possible over numerous keywords in a competitive market. A good SEO should certainly be able to raise your ratings, but you can’t expect to get the top ranking for “local restaurant” just because a company promised it.

One way to tell if an SEO is out of touch with the current SEO climate is to look to see if they advertise search engine or directory submission services. This went out of vogue in 1998, but there are still companies proclaiming their services as if they are useful. Aside from Pay-Per-Click, and Pay-To-Be-Included type results, the only way to get your site found is to design it to be found. There is a reason Google doesn’t have a submission option. They haven’t been needed in years.

There are tons of other warning signs to watch out for, and deGeyter shares four more in his article. Unfortunately, SEO has just enough bad eggs that uninformed local business owners are often taken advantage of with false promises or downright ineffective methods. Some are actively trying to pull one over on innocent business owners, some are just out of touch with current SEO, but either way they aren’t worth your dollar.

It is impossible to understate just how quickly SEO changes and how important it is to keep up. Strategies change, and search engines update countless times. Google’s Penguin and Panda updates are clearly the most talked about, but Google has had plenty of other updates with less catchy names throughout the last year, like the Knowledge Graph (okay, that one has a catchy name too).

Penguin and Panda changed the landscape of searching completely and strategies have had to adapt to them quickly, though SEOs not taking advantage of gray area SEO tactics like link buying were mostly unaffected. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have to follow the new guidelines as well.

Most of these guidelines are more broad however, but Don Pathak, writer for Search Engine Journal, tried to simplify and explain them, and in doing so came out with a few specific points.

Many writers, usually with vested interests, have argued that SEO success can’t be done with just great content, and it is true to an extent that the internet is competitive to the point where great content doesn’t quite get you to the top search result. However, Google has also made it very clear that it wants to favor the quality of content over SEO tactics. Keeping a site fresh and relevant will give you as much of a boost as any behind the scenes tweak can.

The new Google also favors locality, so if your business has a local presence in a marketplace, optimizing for that location will help customers find your service. You can get started by simply establishing a local profile on Google Places for Business, and encourage customers to give you reviews on the site.

SEO will likely always concern itself with the technical dealings behind the curtain of a website, but Google wants to give preference to those who operate valuable and well made websites, not those manipulating every loophole to get the market advantage. As with anything run mostly through algorithms, there will always be “hacks” or weaknesses, but rather than exploiting them as they open, it is better to just create a website with real value.

Many local businesses want a quick and easy way to boost their local rankings. The bad news is, there isn’t really a shortcut anyone can take to better local SEO. There isn’t any way to just make a one time change and suddenly be rocking the rankings.

The good news is, there is a simple method to improving rankings, it just requires consistent output of quality content or promotional activities. This usually equates to blogging, which takes consistent effort, but is highly rewarding.

Chris Silver Smith lists all of the reasons why starting to blog can seriously help local businesses at Search Engine Land.

 

Every topic I cover can be as complicated as you let them be. With the focus on minute data and snippets of code, SEO could easily be intimidating for anyone trying to get started learning.

This is a problem for local SEO because most business owners aren’t experts. If they think of local SEO as a daunting field, rather than seeing the opportunities it could open up for them, they are likely to shy away.

With this in mind, I’d like to take us back to the basics. We haven’t covered local SEO here in depth, so this will serve as a great place to begin exploring the topic. But, the tips offered here are valuable for broader SEO as well.

For good local SEO, there are really three major rules.

  • Get your website up to standards
  • Spread your business details everywhere
  • Use social media to get your customers to do promotion for you

Getting your website up to standard

Google is beginning to combine regular and local search results, and your website quality helps decide where you will land in the local search results, as well as more broad searches. Making a quality site relies on you doing a few specific things. For one, your site should have a clear and functional structure with a set heirarchy of pages. This will help Google’s crawlers go where you want them too, and know what is most important.

Another, more basic step in making a good page is just filling your site to the brim with quality content. Your content makes your first impression to customers as well as search engines. Putting out continuous good content keeps bringing search crawlers back to your page, and generate backlinks to your site from other pages.

Spread your business details

This one is quick and easy, so I’m going to let Myles Anderson from Search Engine Land sum it up. “Having your correct business details widely available is positive for local SEO and sets you up nicely to take advantage of the mobile-boom. Many of the same data sources which feed the desktop internet also feed mobile sites and applications so even if your website isn’t mobile enabled your business will appear on popular mobile applications.”

This is especially true for local SEO because people are searching to be able to contact YOU. Make it easy for them. Google will reward you for it. But don’t get lazy once your information is out there. Remember where you have put it by keeping a record. If you ever move, or change phone numbers, you will need to go change it everywhere the old information is.

Be social!

Just like everywhere else online, Google is becoming more and more intertwined with social media. If you don’t have a social media account for your business, it is time to get one. Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are all very influential in your SEO status. From there, make it easy to share your content from your site with social media buttons prominently connected with content. Once you have a following, you will notice they share content for you. You still have to be proactive by sharing your content with them on social media in the first place, but if you connect with your followers, you will be shocked to see what they do for you.

Conclusion

Of course, there are a ton more things you can do to help give yourself a boost. It is high time you have a mobile optimized page for your site, and it is important to make sure you are listed on Google and Apple Maps. But, these first three rules will help you easily expand, and see what investing in local SEO can do for you.