Back in April of this year, Moz released the results of their annual Local SEO Ranking Factors Survey, which polls a number of local SEO experts on which ranking factors they believe are most important when it comes to websites obtaining top Google “SnackPack” rankings. As expected, some of the most important ranking factors at the top of the list are related to website authority, and inbound links from other websites. Link-related factors have been among the top SEO ranking factors for as long as I can remember, and this is coming from someone who has been doing SEO for over 10 years.
As an SEO consultant who has to explain to clients on a regular basis that there are hundreds of factors when it comes to improving their website’s rankings on Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, these types of surveys make it sound like we should be spending all day cherrypicking backlinks from their competitors and listing their business information on as many directory and Local Citation websites as we can find. But this is not an approach that I take…spending hours on end using the out-dated link building method of paying for multiple paid directory listings, based on two of three of the client’s competitors ranking well on Google (Local/Organic).
Yes, links are important. They always have been, they always will be. But are they the “end all, be all” of SEO and improving OVERALL SEARCH ENGINE VISIBILITY? No. And we don’t focus solely on rankings anyway.
Improving User Experience
For a number of our SEO clients, we have seen a surprising amount of success focusing more attention on some of the underrated on-page factors, such as:
Cleaning up all on-page issues (missing page titles/meta descriptions, duplicates, etc.)
Making sure Google My Business profile is properly optimized (correct categories, images are uploaded, NAP are the same on GMB profile as on website and important citation sites, etc.)
Presenting relevant content on home page…link to FAQ’s that are helpful and relevant, make sure internal links are spread properly throughout the site in an attempt to improve click-thru-rates (CTR), pages-per-visit, and other user experience-related metrics.
Checking for duplicate content.
Identifying pages with thin content (under 500 words), eliminate outdated content pages, combine shorter FAQ pages to create longer, more informative page content.
If this all sounds like basic on-page optimization tasks, that’s because they are fairly basic. But when Moz and other SEO-related blogs come out with these studies saying that link and citation-related factors account for 30% of most important local ranking factors, and 37% of top organic ranking factors, sometimes there are underrated ranking factors that end up “falling through the cracks”.
Top 50 Local Ranking Factors
Of the top 50 most important Local ranking factors, 21 of them (or over 40%) are link or citation-related:
#4 Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain #5 Consistency of Citations on the Primary Data Sources #6 Domain Authority of Website #8 Quality/Authority of Structured Citations #9 Consistency of Citations on Tier 1 Citation Sources #11 Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL #16 Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain #17 Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain #20 Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally Relevant Domains #21 Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts, Gov Sites, Industry Associations) #28 Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains #29 Quantity of Citations from Locally Relevant Domains #33 Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain #34 Quantity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL #37 Prominence on Key Industry-Relevant Domains #38 Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain #39 Diversity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL #40 Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains #44 Enhancement/Completeness of Citations #47 Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators) #48 Quantity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL from Locally Relevant Domains
If reading this entire list is making your head spin, or if you’re saying to yourself “how many link-related factors can there really be?”, I don’t blame you. Actually, I’m 100% with you.
When I said earlier that I don’t spend hours on end analyzing every link-related factor for clients, hopefully it now makes sense as to why my time might be better spent elsewhere. How ridiculous would it be for me to report to a client that I spent 5 hours last month analyzing every single factor on this list, with no measurable or action item to report?
How much progress are we really going to make for the client if I’m sitting in front of a computer all day, looking at a client’s inbound link profile going, “oh, I see the problem, the quantity of inbound links to the GMB landing page URL from locally relevant domains is the main issue” or “AH-HAH! That’s the problem! The Quantity of inbound links to the domain is good, but the DIVERSITY is way off!”
I will never say that links aren’t important. But sometimes these link-related factors can be a little over-the-top, and to be honest…I personally believe that the SEO industry puts too much emphasis on link and citation-related factors, so that they can keep the companies who offer link and citation building happy and in business. Are links and citations important? Of course. Are they the top secret, magic wand of the SEO industry? I’m not so sure.
There’s one local ranking factor that I believe is completely underrated
For two of our legal clients, we found out that there was one local ranking factor in particular which made an immediate, significant impact when it comes to their local SEO presence and overall Google local visibility.
For client #1, their website was redesigned. The internal link structure on the new site is almost identical to the old version, on-page factors still the same, the same images, and basically the same overall layout, but one thing improved. This lead to a:
A 13% increase in organic traffic the following month
A 20% increase in average session duration
A 13% increase in new visits
For client #2, we noticed that this one particular ranking factor for client #1 made such an immediate impact, that we spent the past few weeks improving it for client 2. We ran keyword ranking reports this morning, and have already noticed:
A significant improvement in Google Local rankings (for a fairly competitive keyword/legal practice area)
A significant improvement in Google Mobile rankings
So what is the most underrated local SEO ranking factor?
It’s #27 on the list….Mobile-Friendly/Responsive Website
For client #1, we put the new website URL into Google’s PageSpeed and Insights tool and noticed a significant improvement. Now, it’s worth being mentioned that there are a NUMBER of websites which test website load times, such as GTMetrix, Pingdom, etc. We definitely focus on improving load times of clients’ websites, which are usually WordPress, by installing caching plugins, implementing CDN’s, and optimizing/compressing images.
It should also be worth noting that “load times” as a factor isn’t even in the top 50 when it comes to Local/Snack-Pack ranking factors.
But #27, how responsive and mobile-friendly a website is, should definitely be bumped up on Moz’s list, in my humble opinion. More people are searching for businesses via mobile devices. And for the past 3 years, every SEO blog and forum site would have told you that “responsive websites are vital to your website’s Google rankings!”, partly so that, again….in my humble opinion….more website redesigns can be sold. So for this factor to be #27 on the list, after we’ve spent the past few years selling mobile responsiveness as the next big thing, is a bit surprising to me, especially based on the immediate impact we’ve seen these past 2 weeks for the above-mentioned client projects.
If you want to spend a few minutes on a local SEO ranking factor that is measurable, plug your website URL into the Google Pagespeed and Insights Tool, have your web developer improve your score, and see if your local rankings, organic traffic, and Google My Business views/actions/searches don’t see an improvement over the next few months. Oh, and try to implement an SSL as well, it shouldn’t take too long.
Back in October of last year, we realized that, in order to improve our client’s search engine visibility on Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, we needed to develop a link building strategy outside of the traditional content marketing, “if you write it, they will link” mentality. Our client is in a very competitive market where competing personal injury firms spend hundreds of thousands each month on Adwords, organic SEO, video marketing, and social media strategies.
We knew we could never compete with these firms unless we came up with a creative approach to obtain more backlinks and improve the amount of authority that our client’s website has with Google.
While analyzing backlinks that competing websites have obtained, we’ve seen other firms obtain backlinks from high-authority .edu college websites by launching offering a college scholarship program.
We approached the client with the idea of us helping them to launch a scholarship program of their own, which we would go out and promote for them in order to raise awareness and attempt to obtain backlinks from other websites. We basically told them to give us three months, and if it doesn’t yield any results in terms of increases in organic traffic, phone calls, and leads, then we’ll step back and re-evaluate.
When launching the scholarship program, the process was basically as follows:
Come up with a name and disbursement amount for the scholarship
Identify target audience, and who is eligible to apply (law students, high school students, undergrad students, etc.)
Generate content for the scholarship entry page which lists requirements, gives more information about the scholarship, etc.
Create and publish the scholarship entry page, along with a custom form where applicants can input their personal information, upload their transcripts, include links to their social media profiles, upload their essay entry, etc.
Once the page is published on the client’s website, identify college websites which list third-party and outside scholarship entries
Contact each University’s financial aid department, through e-mail, and request that they include our client’s scholarship on their website, along with a link back to the page on our client’s site. This takes time, but we focused on being as detailed as possible when contacting these Universities so that they didn’t need to follow-up with any of their own questions.
After spending a few months identifying potential college websites and contacting them, following up with them again after 15 days, spot checking the web pages to see if the links have been added, etc., it’s nice to see some progress. We’ve been able to obtain a number of high-authority .edu links from college and other scholarship websites with Google Pageranks as high as 6 and 7 out of 10.
As of today (February 24th, 2016), here are some results that we’ve obtained after launching the scholarship program for our client 3 months ago. Please note, these are actual Google Analytics reports, but specific data has been removed to protect client privacy.
1) An 82% increase in all traffic
Traffic increasing by 82% is never a bad thing, especially when it’s during holiday months like November and December when traffic is typically down.
2) A 32% increase in organic traffic
More links, more authority with Google, more organic visits! We’ve also seen an increase in phone calls and web form submissions, and organic search rankings continue to improve as well.
To the left of the vertical red line, you’ll see the client’s traffic before we launched the scholarship offering. To the right, as you can see, everything is trending upwards since launching the campaign back in November.
It’s also worth noting that the scholarship program has received applications from students from all over the country, hopefully the client is ready to read through all of those essay submissions and pick a winner in a few months (which we’ll be announcing on the client’s Facebook page and in a blog post).
Moz, a website that has been trusted in the local search community for a number of years, recently released their 2015 Local Search Engine Rankings factors report. This is a survey conducted by a collection of experts in the local search realm, as they weigh in on what they believe are the most important rankings signals when it comes to local search queries.
As an attorney, you most likely market your services to a specific geographic area. You would also, therefor, most likely be interested in your site ranking among the top 3 local search results for search terms that are relevant to your practice area(s) and location(s). A few examples:
“Los Angeles employment law attorney”
“Miami divorce lawyer”
“Houston bankruptcy law firm”
And so on. But how do your competitors constantly obtain top rankings in the local search results, especially now that there are only 3 local search results being displayed by Google? I’ll dive into the most important factors that are in the survey, and explain why they’re important for your law firm to improve it’s visibility on Google+ Local.
The Overall Ranking Factors
The survey groups each ranking factor into a primary category. They are as follows, in order of importance:
On-Page Website Signals (name address and phone number listed on website, local and practice area keywords in page titles and headlines, alt image tags, etc.) 20.3%
Link Signals (anchor text of inbound links, quality of websites that are linking to your firm’s site, number of inbound links, etc.) 20.0%
My business signals (your Google+ Local business page being properly categorized, name address and phone number on Google+ Local business page matching law firm name, address, and phone number on website, etc.) 14.7%
External location signals (does your law firm name, address, and phone number appear the same on all trusted citation sites, quality of citation sources, etc.) 13.6%
Behavioral/mobile signals (click-thru rates, mobile click-to-calls, etc.) 9.5%
Review signals (number of reviews, review scores, diversity, etc.) 8.4%
Social signals (amount of Google+ Authority, number of Facebook likes, followers on Twitter, etc.) 5.0%
And Personalization signals account for the additional 8.5%
I’ll touch on each of the most important ranking factors under each category below. It’s also worth noting that the survey broke each factor down in two different categories- how important they are for organic results, and how important they are for local results. Organic results are the non-local results in Google that don’t list the business name, address, phone number, website, and reviews. They are the rankings in Google under the local results, and the results which appear if the local results (referred to as Stack/Snack Pack) do not appear for that search query.
So in the example below, a Google search for “Los Angeles employment law attorney”.
Local (“Snack Pack”) Results:
There’s no way of knowing when the local results will be displayed for every keyword you’re trying to rank for, and there’s not really a reason to optimize for organic and not for local, or vice-versa.
There are also a number of organic ranking factors which attribute to a law firm’s website obtaining higher local search engine rankings.
That being said, I’ll move forward assuming that all of the ranking factors that I touch on will attribute to your law firm website’s overall search engine visibility for local search terms, with the emphasis on improving your local search engine ranking results.
There are also additional categories which list the most negative ranking factors, as well as the top difference-making factors. I’ll discuss each of these under each category.
On-Page Website Signals
Back in the good ol’ days of SEO, including your keywords in your website’s page titles, meta keywords list, and maybe even your meta descriptions (if you really knew what you were doing) would be enough to see your website obtain top search rankings on Yahoo! and AltaVista. However, times have changed. There are hundreds of on-page ranking factors when it comes to optimizing your website to obtain top search engine rankings on Google+ Local and Google organic. Some of the most important factors include:
Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content (# 7/50 for top organic ranking factors)- Google wants to see your city, state, and county mentioned in the actual content of your website. If you’d like to rank for a number of city/county-based search terms, then putting together specific pages dedicated to those cities and/or counties can’t hurt. But make sure you include your city, state, and county in the content of the website, not just where your address is listed.
HTML NAP Matching GMB Location NAP (# 9/50 for top local ranking factors)- Your law firm name, address, and phone number should be listed on your law firm’s website in text that can be crawled by Google EXACTLY as it appears on your Google+ Local business page. Not as an image, not without the suite number listed, and not without the “PLLC” or suffixes that are at the end. EXACTLY as it appears on your Google+ Business page, and vice-versa. Marking it up in schema.org format can’t hurt either.
City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags (# 10/50 for top organic ranking factors)- Including your city and state in your website’s page titles isn’t a ranking factor that is normally discussed, nor it it one that we’ve taken seriously until now. You only have 55 characters when it comes to your page titles, but a lot of law firms include the firm name at the end of every page title. Why not include your city and state instead, to prove to Google that you’re the best firm in your area? Try to implement your city and state in the relevant page titles as often as possible, because this is now an important ranking factor when it comes to on-page optimization for local SEO.
Domain Authority of Website (#2 overall difference-making factor in competitive markets)- The survey lists domain authority of website as an on-page optimization factor. However, domain authority is widely-believed to be a link signal factor. Moz’s exact definition of domain authority is:
Domain Authority is Moz’s calculated metric for how well a given domain is likely to rank in Google’s search results. It is based off data from the Mozscape web index and includes link counts, MozRank and MozTrust scores, and dozens of other factors. It uses a machine learning model to predictively find an algorithm that best correlates with rankings across thousands of search results that we predict against.
I didn’t include this factor in the list to discuss it, because it’s a very broad ranking factor made up of a collection of on-page and off-page metrics. Instead, I included it to explain why on-page ranking factors were the most important category when, in all honesty, off-page factors are probably more important.
Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (#26 overall difference-making factor in competitive markets)- Anchor text diversity is important when it comes to SEO. Don’t focus on all of your anchor text of inbound links including keywords that you want to rank for, which is an old-school SEO technique. Instead, your law firm’s name should be the anchor text for the inbound links to improve your local search engine rankings.
NAP in hCard / Schema.org on GMB Landing Page URL (#27 overall difference-making factor in competitive markets)- Like we said, including your law firm name, address, and phone number in schema.org or hCard markup format can’t hurt. You should try to do this on every page of your website, but including it in your landing page (which is usually your home page for most firms) is a good starting point.
Top Negative On-Page Ranking Factors
Presence of malware on site (#4 overall of top negative ranking factors)- check in Google Webmaster Tools and make sure there are no malware threats present on your law firm’s website.
Absence of crawlable NAP on website (#9 overall)- like I said earlier, Google should be able to crawl your law firm’s name, address, and phone number. It shouldn’t be an image.
Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store or other false addresses (#10 overall)- If you’re using a UPS mail store, Regis Virtual office, etc. Google is probably on to you.
Presence of Multiple Crawlable NAP on GMB Landing Page (#21 overall)- This is an interesting ranking factor, because the survey is stating that having multiple crawlable addresses on your Google+ Local landing page can negatively affect your local search engine rankings. However, a lot of firms (and businesses, for that matter) who have multiple locations usually include all of their locations in the footer or sidebar(s) of their home page, and throughout the website. This factor is stating that you should be specifying city-specific landing pages for each of your locations, and that those pages should not include the other office locations.
Mis-Matched or Private WHOIS Information (#27 overall)- I’m glad this factor is listed. Do NOT use domain privacy for your law firm website, and make sure your hosting company doesn’t do this either. There’s no reason for it, and it could actually see your website penalized for local search queries.
Google has tried over the past 3 or 4 years to limit the types of methods that SEO professionals use when attempting to rank a website higher in Google’s index. Their Penguin updates that have launched over the years have made link building tactics that were previously effective, such as article submissions, social bookmarking, blog commenting, forum signatures, and a number of other link building methods, not only unacceptable, but potentially harmful.
However, link building is not dead. Inbound link-related factors continue to be the most important when it comes to obtaining higher organic AND local search engine rankings. Here are some of the most important link signals ranking factors when it comes to local SEO:
Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain (# 2/50 for top organic ranking factors)-Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain Your website should obtain links from websites which are quality and authoritative. How do you measure the quality of an inbound link? Google Pagerank? Domain authority of the domain linking to your law firm’s website? Domain authority of the individual page linking to your law firm’s website? Relevance? Number of additional outbound links on the page? Yes, and I could go on. Also, the ranking factor “Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL” is listed as #12/50 for organic ranking factors, which seems to be very similar.
Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain (# 6/50 for top organic ranking factors)- Don’t rely solely on inbound links from your microsite(s) or paid legal directories. Your law firm website should be linked from a number of different sites which are relevant to your location(s) and practice area(s).
Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain (# 16/50 for top organic ranking factors)- Your website should have a higher quantity of inbound links, and they should also be of high quality (ranking factor #2). If it sounds like I’m being a little stand-offish when it comes to trying to explain inbound links as a ranking factor, there’s a reason for it.
Let’s just move forward saying that inbound links are extremely important to your law firm website’s search engine rankings, before I say something I’ll regret when trying to explain other link-related ranking factors, like:
“Velocity of New Inbound Links to Domain”
“Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains”
“Quantity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL from Locally-Relevant Domains”
Yes, these ranking factors are important. But am I going to tell you that you should focus time and attention on one or a few of these factors?
No, because they’re all related.
You can’t focus on building higher quality inbound links, only to turn around and see that the quantity of inbound links are important as well.
You can’t focus on building more practice area-specific links, only to turn around and see that local-specific links are important as well. Not to mention the fact that link building methods are dramatically limited by Google’s numerous updates, so I’ll conclude and move on to the negative link-related ranking factors by concluding this: links are important. According to Google- write great content, and you’ll more quality, relevant links. According to Google.
Top Negative Link Factors
Oh wait, link-related factors are the most important overall ranking factor category, and yet… there are no link-related ranking factors in the top negative factors category. (Head spins).
My Business Signals
Moving on to something that you (mostly) control, your local Google My Business page. Here are the most important local ranking factors when it comes to your GMB page:
Proper GMB Category Associations (# 3/50 for top local ranking factors)- We took on a new client a few weeks ago, and made some changes to their Google My Business page. All we did was change their primary category, and their local search engine rankings saw a significant improvement less than a week later. This is definitely an important ranking factor, it’s listed #5 under difference-making factors in competitive markets.
Product / Service Keyword in GMB Business Title (# 7/50 for top local ranking factors)- Proceed with caution. The number 14 negative ranking signal- Keyword stuffing in business name. List your business as your law firm name in your GMB profile, don’t include keywords. It should be exactly as it appears on your website. This ranking factor doesn’t make sense to the legal field for a number of reasons.
Individually Owner-verified GMB Location (# 13/50 for top local ranking factors)- Make sure you claim your GMB profile.
Top Negative My Business Ranking Factors
Incorrect Business Category– #1 negative ranking factor. Make sure your law firm’s Google My Business profile is properly categorized.
Reports of Violations on your GMB location- #5 overall
Mis-match Address on GMB Landing Page #7
Incorrectly-placed map marker in GMB #12
Presence of Multiple GMB locations with Same/Similar Business Title and Address #13
Choosing to Hide GMB Address #20
External location signals
Google pulls from a number of trusted citation sources when it comes to local search engine rankings. These citation sources are extremely important when it comes to your local search engine rankings. Here are some of the most important ranking factors when it comes to external location signals:
Consistency of Structured Citations (#2 overall for top local ranking factors)- I’ll save everyone some time and sum up citation/external signals like this- your law firm name, address, and phone number has match up across the board on all citation sources. If there are inconsistencies, duplicates, etc. you’ll probably be negatively affected. This is the NUMBER ONE ranked factor under difference-making factors, as well as the #1 factor that experts have been focusing on ever since the 3-pack of local results launched in Google.
Tip: Want to see how your law firm name, address, and phone number are listed on trusted citation sites? Order our free Local SEO Audit which will display how your firm is listed on all of the top citation sources.
Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)- #14 for top local ranking factors- What’s interesting here is that, according to the study, the number of citation sources that a business is listed on is less important than the citation sources that you do have being consistent and accurate. I do have a hard time believing, however, that a law firm which is listed on 10 sites accurately will have more authority and obtain higher search engine rankings than a firm which is listed on 120 citation sites.
Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)- #18 for top local ranking factors- Not necessary links from other websites, but how often is your law firm name address and phone number (NAP) mentioned on non-citation websites? Be sure to add your NAP to your Youtube videos, press releases, etc. and make sure it’s all accurate and consistent.
Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains- #13 in difference-making factors in competitive markets- Being listed on niche legal directories such as hg.org, Findlaw, Justia, and other niche legal citation sources can help to improve your local search engine rankings.
Top Negative External Location Factors:
Mis-match NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem (citation sources)- #3 overall
That’s pretty much it when it comes to external location factors. Make sure your citations are consistent, because if they’re not, you’ll probably have a hard time obtaining top local rankings on Google.
Additional Ranking Signals
Behavioral/mobile, Review, Social, and Personalization Signals
I’m going to group the remaining ranking factor categories together and touch on a few remaining factors which you can focus on to improve your local rankings on Google:
Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)-#11 overall for local ranking factors- more positive reviews means higher Google rankings, to an extent.
Proximity of Address to Centroid- #16 overall for local ranking factors- I am only mentioning this ranking factor because I’m glad to see it has dropped over the years. I wrote a report on how to obtain higher rankings on Google Maps, way back when it was called Google Maps, and this was a top 5 factor. Not anymore, glad to see things are evolving.
Proximity of Address to Centroid of Other Businesses in Industry- #20 overall for local ranking factors- Hmm, maybe I spoke too soon. How close your address is, to the centroid of other law firms in your area? Not so sure about this one.
Top Remaining Negative Ranking Factors
Low Numerical Ratings of GMB location by Google Users (e.g. 1-2)- #18 overall- Bad Google reviews means bad Google local rankings. Once again, to an extent. The fact that this is only #18 on the list of negative ranking factors means that a few negative reviews, left for whatever reason, doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world. From a rankings standpoint, at least.
The rest of the negative review ranking factors, such as negative reviews on third-party sites, and negative sentiments, round up the list of remaining negative ranking factors.
To conclude my post, which was intended to explain and debunk some of these local SEO ranking factors, I’d like to include some quotes from some of the experts polled in this survey as they weigh in with some of their expert opinions.
“In the past year or so, “local” seems to have come full-circle: it’s mostly organic SEO (read: links), Google local listings are primitive, and Google still won’t do anything about mapspam. What’s really changed in 10 years?” – Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System
“How does this local website with no SEO, no backlinks, crappy title tags beat us? Aggregate user data. Historical citation data. Hyper local signals. Forget being a small fish in the world wide waters, be a big fish in a local search pond.” -Thomas Ballantyne
“In a hyper competitive market like legal, claiming the few remaining spots (of the Top 3 Snack Pack) relegated to the actual businesses requires exorbitant retainers with sophisticated agencies. Good for me, but bad for the industry as a whole – especially the smaller firms who can’t possibly afford to keep up.” -Conrad Saam, Mockingbird Marketing
“Those who gain meaningful local links and couple it with strong on-page optimization, good site structure and useful content will thrive. I believe that some behavioral signals are effecting rankings – click-thorough rates from the SERPs, in particular, and probably bounce rates and time on page, too. There are some signals that can help in local rankings, but only if they are not overdone – things like location and product terms in anchor text and review text, for example. The challenge for many is having the restraint to not overdo something that works.” -Mary Bowling, Ignitor Digital
“I think this is going to eventually (gradually after several other small changes) turn into pay-to-play…. “Only 3 precious spots – pay a premium if you want to be in one of them. If you can’t afford a 3 spot, then there is always Adwords.” -Linda Buquet, Local Search Forum
“Local business owners will need to prepare to pay to play, while at the same time, diversifying their marketing outreach to be less Google-dependent. Reviews have become a major competitive difference maker, so you’ll want to be earning as many good ones as possible, particularly on prominent platforms like Yelp, and the basis of these reviews is right in your own store, in your interactions with customers. I would not be surprised to see digital-happy marketers taking a second look at more traditional marketing techniques to try to regain relationships that have just vanished with the universal introduction of the highly limited Local Stack. Diversify, diversify, diversify!” -Miriam Ellis, Solas Web Design
It’s very common, hopefully, for you to launch a new version of your website every few years. Times change, technology evolves, and it’s important for you to “keep up with the Joneses”, aka your competition. You know what they say: “evolve or die”.
But is redesigning your website as easy as drawing up a new layout, putting up some new pictures, and changing a few things around? Well, hopefully your website design agency makes it seem that easy, but in reality, a lot goes into redesigning your website. Make sure your website redesign implements the following:
1) A responsive layout
It’s no secret that the number of mobile users who are browsing the Internet from their phones and/or tablets is increasing. Google also recently released a mobile-friendly update which gives websites which adapt to the user’s screen based on which device they are using higher rankings in their search results. Make sure your redesigned website is responsive. If you’re planning on using a WordPress theme, most of the newer premium themes are responsive out-of-the-box, so be sure to choose one that is mobile-friendly and gives your visitors what they want.
2) A content development (or pruning) plan
Over the past few years, webmasters and business owners have been told by Internet marketing “experts” that the more content that your website has, the better chance of it ranking well on Google and other search engines.
Yes, adding additional pages dedicated to relevant topics can help your website to rank for “long tail keywords”. But in Internet marketing, you should always focus on “quality over quantity”. If you previously had the mindset that you had to add a certain number of pages on a weekly or monthly basis in order for you to stay competitive, it most likely resulted in a drop-off in the quality of that content. The bulk content model is a flawed theory. Content writers, bloggers, and employees sometimes have a hard time coming up with original and creative ideas for content topics when they’re assigned a certain number of content pieces and given a deadline to complete their writing. As a result, the quality of the content suffers.
In other instances, maybe you’ve hired a number of different bloggers and content writers in the past to post regular updates on your website. Maybe these content writers didn’t read what content has already been posted on the website, and created content based on topics that already existed.
There are a number of law firm and other websites which have hundreds and thousands of pages indexed, and getting a grip on what content already exists can be a grueling task.
You don’t necessarily have to keep all of this content. In fact, in many instances, it’s better to either ditch some of the old pages, or combine the pages with shorter content into one or a handful of longer pages or blog posts. For example, if you have an FAQ section on your website, it’s very possible that most of these pages include less content, maybe a paragraph or two. Google hates websites with thin, duplicate content, so combining some of those FAQ pages into longer posts (based on practice areas, services, etc.) and weeding out the duplicate pages is something you may want to do before launching your redesigned website. This is called content pruning.
TIP: Implement 301 redirects
If you end up deleting a number of pages, or if your website redesign includes a different URL structure (.html, .asp, etc.), make sure to implement 301 redirects so that the old URL’s forward to the new pages on the redesigned website.
3) Categorized pages, posts, FAQ’s, case results, etc.
We used WordPress as our preferred content management system when we redesign websites, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is because WordPress allows us to keep everything organized and categorized, which helps to improve user experience, click thru rates, and conversions. For example, let’s say we’re redesigning a website for a personal injury law firm, and they handle cases in a number of different practice areas: auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, medical malpractice, premise liability, etc. In WordPress, we can categorize all of their blog posts, case results, FAQ’s, videos, etc. so that the relevant content is presented to the user based on the practice area that he or she is researching. So if the user is on the motorcycle accidents page, as long as we made sure the imported content was properly categorized during the website redesign process, we can present the user with FAQ’s related to motorcycle accidents (state helmet laws, common motorcycle injuries, dangerous roads or intersections, past case results that the firm has obtained for motorcycle accident victims, etc.). Google sees that the pages per visit, average time on site, and other conversion-related factors have improved as a result, and they’re most likely going to reward a website which is improving the user’s experience.
4) Faster load times
Website load times are on a very long list of what Google looks at as a ranking factor, and SEO aside, nobody likes a website which takes 10 seconds to load. Make sure your website redesign includes the proper caching plugins or features. Serve scaled images, versus uploading a high-res photo and asking the user to wait while it’s re-sized. Implementing a content delivery network (CDN) can also help to improve website load times. For more information on load times, check out GTMetrix and Pingdom. Google Pagespeed can also be useful it analyzes your website in both desktop and mobile views, and offers suggestions on what you can improve.
5) Don’t give your users everything at once
This may be related to the “content development/pruning” tip that I mentioned earlier, but it still deserves its own section. What I’ve seen a lot of law firms do on their websites is throw a long list of practice areas at the user for them to choose from, in the main navigation menu and on the home page. If your law firm offers 50 different practice areas, or if your business offers a number of different services or products, we’ve found that it is more effective to group all of these into a handful of main categories, and letting the user navigate his or way through to find what he or she is looking for. Also, when you list all 50 practice areas or products on the home page, the “link juice” that is coming into the home page of your website is being distributed to internal pages that are linked from the home page. So if you have 50 links, versus 5-7 links, the link juice is being “diluted” because it’s being split up among too many pages.
Don’t insult your user’s intelligence, or assume that they have the attention span and patience to go through a list of 50 practice areas or services to find what they’re looking for. Also, by funneling your visitors to the proper sub-pages, it makes your law firm or business look more like an expert in those practice areas or services, versus the law firm which takes any case they can get their hands on or the business that does absolutely everything.
6) Be sure to include microformat markup
There is specific code which can be included on your website that communicates to Google and other search engines that the content included in that code is your business name, address and phone number (NAP). This code is called microformat, and the microformat that is preferred by Google is schema.org. You can also implement schema.org microformat markups to website items such as videos, events, reviews/testimonials, offers, and more. To see what microformat language is included in your website redesign, be sure to check out Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. You may also want to see what type of microformat markups some of your competitors are using, so if you know of a few local websites which rank well for the search terms you’re targeting, put their URL’s into the tool as well.
7) Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is absolutely vital when it comes to your website redesign. If you don’t currently have access to GWT, make sure you register and implement it when your redesigned website launches. You’ll want to monitor for any crawl errors, messages, HTML improvements, and other issues that Google Webmaster Tools alerts you of. If you’re using WordPress on your redesigned website, I recommend using Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin because, in addition to all of the SEO options which it offers, it also allows you to easily add your GWT code for instant access.
8) Social media sharing
This may sound like a no brainer, but make sure you include an option for users to share, like, Retweet, Pin, and other ways to share your website’s content on social media sites. Include links to your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and other social media sites in the header and/or footer of your website redesign. Your users want to find out more about you, don’t make them rely on what comes up in a Google search when they type in your law firm or business name.
9) Build your list
You’ve probably come across a blog or law firm website which offers a free report in the past, in exchange for your name and e-mail address. You may think that these free reports don’t turn directly into cases or sales, but you’d be surprised how valuable one newsletter subscriber is. Think of creative ways to capture your user’s name and e-mail address, whether it be by offering a free informative guide, or by running a contest where the user has to provide his or her name and e-mail address to enter. You can implement slide-in forms, pop-ups, and post-content forms where users can enter their information. If you develop a widget, such as a child support calculator, personal injury worksheet, or whatever it may be, ask the user to provide you with their information before viewing their results. Make sure you focus on building your e-mail list on your redesigned website, it will allow you to build your brand and referral base.
The last thing you’ll want to implement in your website redesign, and probably the most important factor, is your calls-to-action. If possible, try to implement a floating navigation bar where your phone number is always displayed on the user’s screen, and they always have the option to click the “contact us” link. Look into a live chat provider, which can be very effective when it comes to improving conversions. Your users also want to find out more information about you and your business, so be sure to implement video throughout the website and include a call-to-action at the end. If you have a physical location where customers or clients come to visit you, make sure your website includes a Google Map, and driving directions. Don’t just assume that your visitors are going to know to click on “contact us” in your navigation menu and fill out a web form. Why not include a form in the sidebar of your blog and interior pages, and make it stand out in a different color?
If you follow these 10 tips, your website redesign should give your users the impression that you take your web presence seriously, and that you are, indeed, keeping up with the competition.
We realize it may not immediately make sense, but it is very true: getting involved in your community, in real life, can significantly improve your SEO, you website traffic, and your overall online marketing strategy. Even though hosting a charity event, throwing a party for your clients, or teaming up with local schools doesn’t seem to have anything to do with where your website shows up on Google, it really does.
How, exactly, does community involvement lead to better SEO?
You get more great backlinks. Your local event might be covered in the newspaper, mentioned on industry websites, or touted by non-profit organizations that you are benefiting. All of these sources have a lot of authority and will result in high-quality links.
You improve your social media following. Encourage people to “check-in” to your events on social media websites like Facebook and Four Square. Post pictures of the event of Instagram. Holding an event will result in at least a few more local followers – potential clients and people who will potentially share your links and spread the word.
You increase your number of online citations. A citation is when a website mentions your name, address, and phone number – even if they don’t link to your website. Being involved in a lot of local events means getting online citations every time someone promotes you, the event, and your business. Lots of citations increases your authority and your page rank.
You create opportunities for great content. Just because your community event happens in real life doesn’t mean it can’t be mentioned on the internet. Be sure to promote the event online and cover the event afterwards. Consider creating a hashtag for the event, taking pictures, and even life blogging it on Twitter. After the event is over, consider writing a longer blog post summarizing it or even posting a video with highlights.
You build your brand. Every time you hold a public event, you are solidifying your brand in the community and associating your brand with positive stuff: giving, participating, helping, caring, and having fun.
You build your following. Even if someone who attends your event is already a client – and even if they already follow you on Facebook – attending the event can solidify your relationship with them and make them a true fan and disciple of your business. Having strong relationships with past clients often means getting future referrals, getting more content shared online, and getting established as an authority in your field in the community.
Would you like to learn more creative ways to improve your search engine optimization strategy, or would you like to request a free SEO audit? Call The Search Ninjas today to talk to an expert: (410) 929-5610.
On July 24, Google rolled out its latest search algorithm update. Although the update wasn’t named by the company itself, SearchEnglineLand dubbed the update “pigeon,” while around the world SEO experts began wondering how these new changes affected search engine optimization – and what businesses should do in response.
What do we know about the Google Pigeon update so far? While the search engine giant has not released any details, researchers have already pinned down a few main points:
Pigeon is designed to give users better local search results. Google claims that all algorithm updates have one central goal: getting users useful, accurate, and high-quality information. In this case, Pigeon was released so that people looking for local businesses and services have an easier time finding what they need.
Pigeon loves local directories. If you haven’t taken the time to make your business shine on local directories, now is the time to start. Begin by making sure that your business is listed on all relevant directories, from Yelp to your local chamber of commerce. Continue to improve your ranking by encouraging your clients to leave reviews on these websites.
Pigeon loves social media. If your business isn’t already spending time building its presence on social media and engaging with local clients on websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you should consider it now. If you are engaged in social media marketing, this might be a good time to see how you can improve your strategies.
Pigeon favors local businesses over local brands. This is good news for small business owners: if you have a local ice cream shop, it may show up in Google local search results before national listings for known brands, such as Ben and Jerry’s or Cold Stone Creamery.
Pigeon favors businesses on Google+. It might not be fair that Google seems to give an advantage to local businesses that use its other products, but that is the way things seem to be at the moment. Claim your business’ Google+ page, make sure all of the information on the page is accurate, and optimize the page with content and images. If you have your Google+ profile set up correctly, images and information about your business may appear in local search results.
Many of your old SEO tactics still work! Pigeon has not affected many key areas of SEO. For example, building your website’s authority, collecting high-quality backlinks, and creating great new content are still all really great ways to get new clients and boost your web traffic.
Was your website negatively affected by the Google Pigeon update, or would you like to improve your website’s search engine optimization? Call The Search Ninjas today to talk to an expert and request a free SEO audit: (410) 929-5610.
We have five great blog posts about SEO and web design for you this week – including two very interesting posts about Pintrest, the up-and-coming image-based social media website that is becoming more and more important in the social media marketing world.
Why might your small business be interested in marketing on Pintrest? For starters, the website has a very large and very active user base – mostly of women. In addition, it is one of the best places on the web to connect with users who prefer images over words.
Are you ready to find out how you might be able to use Pintrest to improve your business and reach new clients? Or do you want to read the other top news stories and blogs of the week? Let’s get started:
The Growing Importance of Pintrest. Hilary Feldman at SEER Interactive understands that you probably don’t need yet another social media website to worry about and update. But she also knows that being Pinterest-friendly is a really, really great way to engage users, beat the competition, and grow your business. In this post, she not only gives you some shocking numbers about Pinterest use, but also doles out tons of tips about how your small business can start taking advantage of the image-based social media platform.
Link Echoes and Link Ghosts. At Moz Blog, Rand Fishkin explains everything you need to know about link echoes – the phenomenon where your page rank is affected by links even after those links are removed. What can we learn from understanding link echoes? For one, getting a great link even on a website that quickly changes its content can be a great thing.
Engaging with Pintrest Users. At Small Business Trends, Annie Pilon takes a closer look at what users click on when they are browsing Pinterest boards. Some of the tips are easy to guess: users like lighter, taller images as opposed to small, dark images. But how could we know that users also love to click on images, with clearly listed prices and calls to action? Or that they’d rather not see human faces? For a full list of tips and statistics, read the full article by clicking above.
Make your Content More Sharable. These days, it is hard to get a significant number of readers without the help of social media and online sharing. But how do you write content that lends itself to sharing? At Buffer Blog, Garrett Moon has done the research and has the answers. Here’s one quick tip before you continue on to the article: headlines with high emotional value – headlines that have a human touch – are shared significantly more often than headlines that don’t cater to readers’ emotions.
Tour WordPress 4.0. Daniel Pataki at Smashing Magazine walks users through the new features included in the next WordPress update, from embedded previews to more intuitive post editing. This is a must-read for our many clients who use WordPress for their websites – get familiar with all of the new features and see how they could help you improve your website and improve your business.
If you need assistance with your website’s SEO, a new website design, or online marketing in general, call The Search Ninjas today to speak to our team today. We offer free, no-obligation SEO audits: (410) 929-5610.
It’s the tail end of summer, and this week we are talking about vacation: from how to handle your social media accounts when you leave the office, to what you can learn about marketing while you are at the beach or on the golf course. We’ve also included some interesting news for our many clients who are small business owners: a new study found that entrepreneurs don’t go on vacation nearly enough and when they do, they have trouble unplugging from their jobs.
Whether you’ve found time for family and fun this summer, or whether you are dreaming of a future vacation, there should be some useful information for you below. Ready to start reading?
Five Fresh Tips for Email Marketing. At CopyBlogger, Pratik Dholakiya shares some great advice about approaching email marketing in an effective way. Here’s what we like best about his tips: a lot of them involve analyzing your results, learning, about your users, and conducting research. His other big tricks? Focusing on customer engagement and social media in tandem with sending out regular emails.
Step-by-Step Content Audit walk-though. Everett Sizemore at The Moz Blog has wowed us with his exhaustive look at the content audit process. This is a must-read for anyone who thinks their website is suffering from too little, too much, or plain bad content. And a must-read for anyone who is interested in improving their SEO as well as the usefulness of their website. A content audit has never hurt anyone!
How to Take Social Media Vacations.We all agree that social media is useful and good for business. But we probably also all agree that too much social media isn’t healthy for anyone. On the Buffer Blog, Kevan Lee talks about how you can step away from your Twitter and Facebook accounts without harming your social media presence – and why you might want to take occasional breaks. From automating your Tweets for a week to setting up a scheduling queue, this post has it all.
Learn about marketing while you are on vacation. Media Post has an interesting article about what you can learn about email marketing from taking a vacation: from using data to fix customer problems to finding creative ways to surprise your users. For two more fun tips, read Loren McDonald’s full article by clicking the link above.
News: Small Business Owners Don’t Take Vacation. Bad news for small business owners from Fortune Magazine: almost half of you haven’t taken any vacation in 2014 and 61 percent will only take about five days off this calendar year. The reason? Many are too busy running things to take a break. Not only are many entrepreneurs missing out on vacay, the majority of those that do get out of the office end up working while on the road.
Are you back and your summer vacation and ready to think seriously about your web design and SEO? Call The Search Ninjas today to speak to our website design team or request a free SEO audit: (410) 929-5610.
When we talk about search engine optimization, great content, and online marketing, we talk a lot about the written word. However, it’s vital to remember that images, pictures, infographics, and other visuals are just as important as words, especially when it comes to engaging your reader, limiting bounce rates, and getting social media shares.
This week, we’ve picked three blog posts that focus on visual marketing strategies, from one post explaining why visual content is important to two other posts that shows you how to create awesome visual content, whether on your own website or on social media.
Ready to jump in? Start reading below.
The importance of visual content. Did you know that over half of the population is visual learners? Or that over 90 percent of communication isn’t verbal? Marketing expert Ryan Farrel shares these facts and more at the Content Marketing Institute when discussing how important graphics, pictures, and other visuals are to developing your brand and promoting your business. Learn about why visuals are important and how you can integrate them into every aspect of your online marketing plan, from web design to social media.
Ten reasons to invest in infographics. Are infographics a trend or a truly powerful online marketing tool? At Business 2 Community, Jonathan Long lists ten different reasons that infographics are an effective and efficient way to spend marketing dollars. For example, did you know infographics keep visitors on your website for longer, or that they can increase your number of followers on Facebook and Twitter? Click the link to learn eight more reasons to start working on your own infographics today.
Visual social media basics. Seth Feigerman at Mashable explains the best ways that companies can embrace all-visual social media websites, including Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine. While other social media platforms are easier for marketers to understand, visual social marketing can be more a challenge. This post not only explains these platforms, but also shares great examples of how other companies are embracing the visual and gaining millions of followers.
Embracing adaptive change. Brent Gleeson at Forbes discusses how important it is for the owners of small businesses to understand and cope with change. From the quickly-changing world of online marketing, to changes in your business or the legal system, leaders and managers need to not only accept change but also take advantage of it. Start by reading five different ways to start.
Lots and lots of free Twitter tools! Kevan Lee at Buffer Blog has a great post this week on how you can make using Twitter easier and more profitable, all through using tools and apps that are free. While you probably don’t want to use all 59 tools that are covered, one or two of the apps could give you a leg up when it comes to mastering the leading mini-blogging site.
Are you ready to add visuals, images, and infographics to your website and marketing plan? Call The Search Ninjas today to speak to our website design team or request a free SEO audit: (410) 929-5610.
You probably hear a lot about how important SEO is, especially from us, the people who special in it and obsess over it. We think that it’s an awesome way to increase traffic to your website, find ideal clients, and ultimately improve your business. We also think that it’s an awesome way to make sure your users are getting high-quality, relevant, and useful content.
But – and this is a big but – we also want you to understand that SEO is not a magic bullet will solve all your problems and reveal all of the answers. We talk all the time about the benefits of SEO. Today, we’re going to discuss what SEO isn’t.
SEO isn’t the only online marketing strategy you need. One of the biggest marketing mistakes that we see is small businesses putting their entire marketing budget into one thing, whether it is pay-per-click ads, television spots, or SEO. Yes, making a significant investment in SEO can truly help your business. But once a customer or client finds your website, how or why will they contact you? As important as it is, SEO is only one puzzle piece in the greater marketing picture.
SEO isn’t a quick trick. When will be on the first page of Google? might be the most common question we are asked. The answer is probably disappointing: great SEO takes time and isn’t a series of one-step tricks of the system. If you are talking to an SEO expert who claims that SEO is easy if you know all of the inside information, run away! SEO takes thought, planning, and analysis. And truly great SEO for one small business might not be truly great SEO for a different kind of business.
SEO isn’t what it was ten years ago. In fact, SEO isn’t what it was ten months ago, either. While SEO might be able to retain a very basic definition – the process of making your website more visible to search engine users – the steps and strategies surrounding SEO changes with every Google update and every advancement in technology.
SEO isn’t a cure-all. If you have bad web design or low-quality content, bringing in an SEO expert to optimize your pages isn’t going to fix the whole problem. Your goals shouldn’t just be to get more traffic to your website, they should also include helping those people and getting those people to take the next step and contact you. If you have great SEO but other aspects of your online marketing stink, the great SEO don’t matter one bit.
Do you want to find out more about the state of your SEO, and how your SEO can work harder for you? Call The Search Ninjas today to request a free SEO audit: (410) 929-5610.