Tag: seo

Local SEO Audit – How to Do a Quick SEO Audit + Free Template


Start 2021 off right with this quick local SEO website audit that Nick Pierno – Whitespark’s Director of Custom Projects – presented at our 2020 Local Search Summit. Nick runs through the importance of how assessing the SEO viability of a website can help surface potential problem areas and shares his audit checklist to get you set up for success.

Video Transcript

A Note on SEO Scan Tools

There are some good SEO scan tools (Woorank or SEOptimer) out there that I usually run sites through during my audit process to catch anything I missed or just get a kind of programmatic look at things, I’d say these scan tools work better in tandem with a manual audit, rather than as a replacement for one.

Gauging a Website’s Overall Local SEO Health

You can obviously spend a dozen hours or longer auditing every little detail of a website. And I’m sure there are even businesses out there doing that and doing fantastic work. On the other hand, someone with some SEO experience can get a pretty good read on things just putzing around a site for 10 minutes. I think this quick audit sort of sits between both extremes.

This provides some formality and structure to the process without becoming a huge expensive project unto itself. The audit scope is actually really flexible too, you can painstakingly dig into every item on the list and roll it up into a formal document, and that may take about five hours. Or you can rip through it taking a quick glance at each area, marking the checkboxes and end up with a pretty good summary (maybe for internal use or something) in about 30 minutes.

Who is this audit for?

  • SEOs
  • Developers
  • Agencies & marketers
  • Website and business owners
  • Anyone whose friend and family ask them for SEO/website recommendations

This audit is for everyone. SEOs might use this when they’re kicking off a project and making an action plan, while developers might use it before launching a site to make sure that it’s SEO ready. Agencies or marketers might use it to evaluate prospects during their sales process. Website or business owners who’ve had some SEO or development work done, may want to use it to check things over or just get a general sense of where they’re at. I personally use it pretty much any time I need to get a read on a local business’s SEO setup. I’ll spend a few hours on it when I have a client who wants it packaged up as a deliverable. Or I’ll do a 30-minute version when a friend or family member asks me to take a look at their site, which happens kind of often. So I think you can use it in pretty much any scenario.

The Audit Checklist

This audit process uses a checklist. The full version includes things like GMB, citations, and reviews, in addition to about 30 website-specific areas that it covers.

👉 Grab the full checklist and an example resource including a list of tools that will help you through the process.

To use it, just run through the list of areas to check. Each area has a priority so that once you’re done auditing, you know where to start. Feel free to tweak those priorities if you don’t agree with mine. Then there’s a status drop down with three choices, all good, heads up, or danger. Those are pretty self explanatory. Then there’s a notes column to jot down what you noticed for future reference.

Now, we don’t have time to cover every item on the checklist today, we don’t even have time to cover all the website items. So we’ll actually just go over a few of the most important areas.

Top Audit Priority Items
The areas we’re going to focus on today:

  • Current rankings
  • HTTPS and URL variants
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Indexation
  • Tile tags
  • Content
  • Backlinks

You could theoretically just use this handful of items to give a website a decent quick once over. I’ve randomly selected a website from a plumber in Austin, Texas to use for some examples. For whatever reason, I always use plumbers for my SEO examples. I completed a copy of the checklist for this site as a point of reference for you when you go back to use the template.

#1. Check the site’s current search presence

This will give you a general sense of where the site’s at. If they’re ranking number one, you might not find a lot to comment on. If they’re nowhere to be found, maybe you’ll find some simple things that will make a huge difference. How do we do this? Pretty straightforward. We’ll search their flagship or most important phrases on Google.

You’ll want to do this from an incognito or private browsing session just to prevent your search history from affecting the results. I’ll start by looking at the homepage title tag. If anyone’s even remotely attempted to optimize the site, there will be some target terms in there. If the target terms seem dumb, that’s okay. We’re more interested right now in seeing if they rank for what they’ve targeted.

Here I pulled out plumbing company from their homepage title, and I added the geo modifier Austin, TX to make sure I’m searching their region, not mine. If they’re not ranking for those flagship terms, you can also try searching for a longer string from the title tag. Like here, I’ve got Plumbing Company | Plumbing Services: Austin, TX, which is their exact homepage title without the company name. This will help determine if they can rank for a longer, more specific search even though they weren’t ranking for the shorter, more competitive terms (possibly because they’re outmatched by their competition). You might also search for phrases you think they should be targeting or ranking for. I searched plumbing, Austin, TX, (probably the most competitive term in their space) and they were on page five.

I should also mention that there are all sorts of rank tracking tools out there, shoutout to Whitespark’s Local Rank Tracker. But I think for this quick and dirty check that the manual search does the trick.

Whenever you’re searching, you’re really just looking to get a sense of whether they’re killing it or not killing it at all. Or maybe there’s something holding them back. When I search plumbing company Austin, TX. ATX is ranking at the top of the local pack for my search and they’re on page two of the organic results. To me, this indicates that the site is viable, doesn’t have any big deal breakers or impediments. In this case, maybe some content improvements, or link building are all it really needs.

Search the company name
It’s also worth searching for the company name. Sometimes you’ll need to throw in a geo modifier like the city if it’s not a super unique name. You just want to see if they have a knowledge panel, i.e. they own the top ranking spot. Maybe you want to see if their citations or their other profiles occupy the rest of the page. Ideally, it’ll kind of own as much of this page as possible.

As I mentioned before, ATX had a top local pack ranking, they were on the page two for a decent phrase, and now on the branded SERP they have the knowledge panel, so branded looks pretty good. There are no major problems with the site showing up. But there’s also a lot of room to improve and the rankings department. So, I marked this as a heads up, and we’ll press on to see how they could work towards bettering their rankings.

#2. Indexation

Why? Well, because being in Google’s index is kind of the whole point of this.

Do a Google search for site: yourdomain.com. In this case, we’re searching for site:atxplumbingcompany.com. This will show you all the pages Google has indexed for that domain. You want to make sure that all the important pages are there. If the pages are there, then nothing is overtly blocking them. If they aren’t there, check the site’s robots.txt (yourdomain.com/robots.txt). Note: If there isn’t a robots, then it’s not the culprit, though it’s a good idea to create one (most CMS generate one).

Looking at the file, you just want to see if any important pages are disallowed or if the whole site is disallowed, which happens fairly often with WordPress and is a feature they have to easily hide a site while it’s being developed. Sometimes it gets forgotten and the site gets launched, so the entire site gets ignored by Google until someone figures it out.

You can prevent this by unchecking “discourage search engines” under the reading settings in the WordPress dashboard. You can also check the HTML <head> section of your source code for a noindex tag, which acts in much the same way, just on a per page basis.

These two indexing blockers are the most common offenders. But if nothing is, blocking search engines from a page and it’s still not showing up, you can try requesting indexing through Search Console or you can just Google how to do that. You may need a deeper technical dive might need to hire a professional or do some more research into it. ATX’s pages are all present in Google’s index. So there’s nothing for them to report here. I give them an “all good”.

#3. Check for HTTPS secure connection and URL variants

Why worry about HTTPS? Google formally recommends it and it’s generally considered to be a ranking signal (albeit probably a minor one). More importantly, browsers make non-HTTPS sites look suspicious to site visitors with scary icons in the address bar and other warnings, which might make people nervous. It’s super easy to check, because all the popular browsers let you know right in the address bar. So you probably already know after the first time you visit the site whether or not it’s using HTTPS.

In order to use HTTPS, you need an SSL certificate. In the past, these were expensive and annoying to set up but you can get one for free from an organization called Let’s Encrypt, and a lot of popular hosts are offering them now with very easy setup that only takes a few clicks. That being said, you might want to consult a professional or do some really thorough research before migrating an established HTTP site. It can be a bit of a process and it does come with some risks. So just be careful.

Some sites might use HTTPS, but some of their content is not secure. You can also see this in the address bar (see below). It’s usually an image or resource on the page, that’s still using HTTP leftover from migration.

You can easily troubleshoot that kind of insecure content with your browser’s developer tools, or with online tools like why no padlock and then you can get those resources fixed up.

Check the common URL variants (HTTP, HTTPS, www, non www). I check these manually by entering them into my address bar. You want them all to end up at the same place. Not to be confused with them all resolving to a page, because they can all work by showing their own version of a page. You want each one to redirect back to a single variant.

If you enter “www.atxplumbingcompany.com” it should spit you back out at just at “atxplumbingcompany.com” or vice versa, whatever the version you want to use is. You’ll see in the image below, ATX’s site breaking when I try to use www as a sub domain, which is probably the worst case scenario. They need a redirect for this.

So ATX’s site doesn’t use HTTPS, and the www version doesn’t redirect anywhere. So that’s fairly bad. I’d consider this a “danger” item and something they should address ASAP.

#4. How does the site behave on mobile devices?

This is important because most sites today are indexed by Google Mobile First, which means your site is evaluated primarily on what the search engine sees, and a mobile viewport. Mobile usage is also massive, any given local business site is probably getting 50 to 70% of its traffic from mobile users. Ultimately, if the mobile experience of a site is really bad, or it’s just like a desktop site and people have to struggle to use it, that can hurt a website’s performance.

There are a few easy ways to check this:

  • You can plug the site into Google’s mobile friendly test. It’ll spit out a simple “yes” or “no” answer and give you a few extra details.
  • You can also just resize your browser window to its narrowest width.
    You can use your browser’s developer tools to resize your browser (this gets a little bit narrower, closer to what a phone looks like).
  • You can view the site on your mobile phone.

If Google says the page is mobile-friendly, and your visual inspection shows everything is readable and functional, you’re good to go. I give ATX an “all good” on this.

#5. Title tags

Title tags can be a pretty big ranking factor for any site. But I think the right title tag is basically mission critical for smaller websites trying to get local rankings (must read: how to build relevance in local search). They’re also one of the easiest tasks with a dramatic impact, especially if you back them up with your content. Title tags also generally determine how your pages look in the SERPs, when they’re shared on social media and instant messaging platforms, etc. Optimizing title tags is a task with what I’d call a good easiness-to-impact ratio.

First, I want to see if the title tag is updated at all, even if it just says “home” or the company name. If it is optimized to whatever degree, the next thing to look for is if it’s targeting the right phrases. If you have some SEO experience or you’re familiar with the industry you’re looking at, you can probably venture a pretty solid guess using your big brain. For less obvious situations than say, a plumber like in this situation, you can use Google Ads Keyword Planner, which is great for brainstorming keyword variations. It offers you the ability to filter by region right down to the city level. That’s really handy, because you can get region and city specific keyword volumes. It’s geared towards Google Ads, though, so the keywords it gives you may tend to have a transactional bias. I think that’s a good thing for local search most of the time, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Also note, you’ll also need a Google Ads account to use it. I do take the search volume and competition numbers that it generates with a grain of salt. They tend to be most meaningful relative to each other.

Other tools you can use include Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Google Search Console queries report, Google Analytics landing pages report and dozens and dozens of other keyword tools.

PRO TIP

The highest volume keywords aren’t always the best targets even for a homepage a service page. Sometimes you can get better results by finding lower volume lower competition phrases, because you can actually start getting traffic on them.

To measure the competition, you can quickly audit a few sites in the search results for a given phrase and get an idea of how hard they’ll be to beat.

Another thing to look for is like super long or spammy seeming title tags. Even though long title tags aren’t necessarily harmful and there are strategic uses for them, they can be a sign that someone is being spammy or inexperienced or even that the title tags are getting auto-generated by the CMS.

PRO TIP

Make title tags stand out a little by being more friendly, unique descriptive. compared to all the other blue links in the SERP. You still want to target your keywords, but you can add in a bit of warmth and charm to your snippets. I think this approach can lead to better click through rates and just generally brand better brand experience.

I think ATX’s home and service page titles could use a bit more love but there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. I give them an “all clear” and I’ll just make a note to them that it’s worth revisiting the title tags.

#6. Content

Content is a huge ranking factor and also conversion and brand experience factors. Content is hard to prescribe though and is more of an art than an exact science. Trying to define good content for SEO often devolves into word counts, keyword density, repetition, and your headings and copy. More recently, we’re looking at Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) using synonyms and different ways of saying things and so on.

But for me, especially as far as doing a quick audit goes, I think it really just boils down to having a good chunk of decent quality text that directly supports the target concept for a given page. In other words, I think you should make it substantial and relevant.

You want your content to support the target keywords or concepts for the pages on. You want it to be detailed and informative, and try to answer all the questions an average user might have about the service or product or whatever the page is talking about. It certainly doesn’t hurt to include the phrases and keywords that you’re targeting and their synonyms within the content.

Be careful to avoid cramming anything in just for SEO purposes. Write for the customer. Write about the topic at hand. By doing this, you almost always include the right phrases just by default, and the more you write, the more likely you’ll hit on those LSI terms and phrases too.

It’s also nice to try and link to your other pages as well as relevant external pages whenever it makes sense. Internal links are definitely valuable. I think the external ones can help a page look more useful and natural, among other things.

I think a hefty amount of content (assuming it hits the right notes) helps a page rank. I was eye-rolling minimum word counts earlier but I don’t know any other way to quantify it. I’d say shoot for like 800 words on an important page. That’s just a shot in the dark. I just want to shoot for like a nice big chunk of meat for the SEO that search engines can chew on basically, you can distribute that between headings, paragraphs, blurbs, lists on any other kinds of formats to avoid making a huge walls of text., which isn’t user friendly or pretty.

For the bonus round, I really like including dynamic content feeds on the homepage whenever it’s possible. This could be your latest blog posts, product inventory, recent jobs you’ve completed, and so on. As long as the content is semi-regularly updated, it means you have a semi-regularly updated homepage too. Often, home pages get neglected and are static for a long time. Dynamic content feeds show Google that the site and its content are actively maintained and cared for which I think is a good thing.

So AFX’s content is decent, it’s well-written (even if it reads a bit SEO for my taste) but the homepage falls a bit below that 800 word mark, and the way it’s laid out doesn’t really give me an informational vibe. It’s all very salesy. Nothing terribly wrong with it, I just suggest they expand on it. The service pages I spot checked are acceptable too, but definitely not enough material on them (a couple 100 words or so).

#7. Links

Why should we look at links? Assuming the relevance is established by the title tag and the page content, and assuming there’s no other major technical impediment, I’d say backlinks are the single most powerful driver of rankings in the universe.

Use a backlink checker tool to evaluate this.

Depending on where the site I’m auditing is sitting in the rankings, I’ll choose a couple sites to compare its backlink profile against. If my target site is on page two, which it is, then I might take a look at the number one ranking site and then the bottom site ranking on the first page results. That’ll basically tell me the threshold for breaking onto the front page and then the threshold for unseating the top spot.

Plug those domains into your backlink checker tool and it will give you some sort of summary metric, such as page authority and domain authority for Moz, or URL rank and domain rank for Ahrefs. (Side note: I think the page level metrics usually matter more than the domain metrics for a page’s ranking ability.) You also might want to compare the number of backlinks and the number of referring domains. A lot of the time, tons of links will come from a single domain because it’s in a sidebar, or footer, etc. 5,000 links from the same site is obviously a lot different than a link from 5,000 different sites.

It’s also worth looking at the individual sites that are linking. Those summary metrics try to factor in quality, trust, relevance, volume, etc. into their algorithms, but none of them are completely reliable. It might be worth taking a look for yourself. You should be asking, “Are a large portion of these links coming from directories?” This happens a lot with local businesses. Do you see a lot of low-quality sites or sites that aren’t relevant to the target site or lots of sites that are in a different language? Sometimes these can be signs of some sort of shady link building that they did in the past.

Just because a link tool scores one site higher than another, doesn’t necessarily mean it will rank better. Google just has way more sophisticated algorithms and way more data to work with. And of course, there are other factors that backlinks determine the rankings to.

In ATX’s case, their competitor Daniels Austin outranks another competitor Radiant Plumbing on a search for plumbing company. Even though the latter has more links and a higher score, Daniels Austin actually uses the exact phrase plumbing company in their homepage copy and Radiant Plumbing doesn’t. So, in spite of having maybe a little bit better of a link situation (according to Ahrefs anyway) a page’s content relevance can still win out. When there’s a huge gap though, the results are usually a lot more predictable, which explains why ATX is quite a ways behind these other two sites in the results. Their backlink metrics are considerably lower. ATX has a very low UR and DR due to only having 28 referring domains which are all either local directories like Yellow Pages or link building junk like Austinplumbingcompany.blogspot.com. That sounds generally pretty harmless, but they need to outweigh it with some quality links in order to get it working in their favor. I would indicate to them that this is fairly urgent area for them to work on, it’s probably the biggest thing holding them back right now.

Communicating the Audit Results

When I’m done running through the checklist, I’ll have a list of “heads up” and “danger” items that I’ll communicate to the business owner or project stakeholders. In a more formal setting, I’ll actually turn the results of this audit into a document with a section for each area and recommendations for how to fix it.

What’s covered in the audit checklist?
The audit checklist covers 90% or more of the things that would be be preventing or helping a website to rank. The full checklist includes some off-site stuff like reviews and GMB which also factor in ranking. Even if you look at the whole checklist and just rip through it quickly, you’ll find what’s working and what’s not.



Deep SEO Thoughts For 2021


When I worked at NBC in the 90’s, The Clapper spent a boatload advertising on Seinfeld, and Friends, and probably even on The Cosby Show. Of course they would spend millions in advertising on TV as would the George Foreman Grill, as would Ron Popeil and his amazing Pocket Fisherman, as would pretty much any brand that wanted to sell the entire country something. Moms spent a lot of time watching As The World Turns, so it made sense that Cool Whip would want to be there. The problem with Cool Whip is it wasn’t as entertaining as Donny & Marie*:

Then again, those adorable Osmonds couldn’t help you if last minute company was arriving in 30 minutes and you needed a tasty dessert that also signaled you were not a failure as a mother, or worse, as a hostess.

So brands kind of did their thing, solving life’s problems for you, while the media did their thing, helping you avoid all of life’s problems for as long as possible.

Enter the Internet.

I like to imagine that in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee was sitting in his office at CERN around lunchtime thinking “Damn that grilled cheese looks incredible. If only I could send a picture of it to the entire world, then everyone would see what an amazing life I am leading and I could die happy.”**

Enter Google.

Suddenly, while watching Notre Dame get their ass kicked by Bama, you could actually search for what is the best damn beer in the world instead of drinking beer-flavored water just because a team of horses gave you all the feels***.

So SEO in 2021 is not too different than SEO in 2020 or in previous years. Your SEO program will be somewhere on this graph:

The problem with beginning of the year SEO predictions posts is that most brands have already set their SEO budgets for 2021, and I guarantee 99% of them did not include building an in-studio ice rink for dancing skaters to help rank #1 for “queen sized mattress” in their Powerpoint decks.

If you are not prepared to be as entertaining as Donny & Marie, you should be prepared to be at least as informative as WikiHow****. Better yet, be prepared to be both.

Marginalia:

*Thank you Todd Mintz

**According to Herodotus, the happiest man is he who dies happy

***The origin of the Clydesdales is pretty great. Bud should do a Superbowl ad with the Clydesdales delivering Bud to quarantined homeowners; like an equestrian DoorDash.

****Full disclosure: At some point in time, LSG may have helped Wikihow figure out how to do SEO



Expert Local SEO Predictions for 2021


Now that 2020 is well and truly behind us, we can begin looking forward to bigger, better things. That’s right folks, the time is once again upon us to bring out our BrightLocal crystal ball and enlist some of the local search community’s most well-loved experts to help us with some local SEO predictions for the coming year. 

But, before we get started thinking about what’s to come for 2021, how did our experts fare with what they predicted in 2020?

Reflecting on 2020’s Local SEO Predictions

A lot happened in 2020, but how many of our experts’ local SEO predictions came true? 

Unfortunately, a lot of our pros had hoped 2020 would see a reduction in spam, but with the introduction of new Covid-19 support, resources, and features, plus limited Google My Business support, it seems Google had other things besides spam-fighting to keep them busy…

Ben Fisher

My prediction for 2020 was right — Google figured it out and eliminated spam! Just kidding — I really said that “I think spam will increase,” and it did. The legal space, garage door, and insurance space, to name a few, are still littered with spam.

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

Tim Capper

I predicted that spam would get worse for 2020 and, boy, was I right.

 

Tim Capper (Local SEO Consultant, Online Ownership

We may not have seen the back of spam, but some of our experts did successfully predict some pretty major GMB news.

Andrew Optimisey

Dan Foland

Last year my prediction was that Google was going to put more effort into monetizing GMB and local search. My prediction came true with the rollout of Local Service Ads (LSAs) for professional service industries. Google had been testing LSAs prior to the rollout for quite some time and decided to finally roll it out nationally.

Dan Foland (SEO Director, Postali)

Google My Business

Towards the end of the year, Whitespark’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey showed just how important having an active and optimized GMB profile really is. With GMB being voted the number one local search ranking factor, it’s no surprise that it was top of the list when it came to our experts’ local search predictions…

Amy Toman

The prominence of GMB listings increased in 2020, primarily during the lockdowns. Businesses used GMB to get the word out as much as possible, especially when people couldn’t get to their physical locations. They remembered how to log in, and found out how to correct misinformation. With this stark reminder, I’m hoping businesses continue their interactions with their listings to keep control of their information.

Amy Toman (SEO Analyst, Digital Law Marketing)

Claire Carlile

Backed up by what many local search experts confirmed in the 2020 Local SEO Ranking Factors survey, thorough optimization of your GMB profile will continue to be key for local pack rankings in 2021. 

I’ll be continuing to take advantage of the full gamut of features in GMB, including posts and products, and making sure that the business profile of my SMB clients look totally kick-ass and that they encourage engagement and actions. Active engagement on the business’s part will be key — monitoring user-generated content like Q&A, images, and reviews needs to be a timetabled activity. Small businesses will become more aware of how their brand displays in the SERP and how third party and UGC play a role in that. Under-utilized features like messaging, and little known features like the ‘new follower offer’, will start to gain momentum as Google pushes more interactive and social features into Google Maps.

A vibrant and fully optimized GMB profile will become table stakes in 2021 as more businesses start to explore features that were lesser-known to them — so the importance of testing and measuring what works and doesn’t work for your business in terms of GMB content will be more important than ever.

Claire Carlile (Digital Marketing Consultant, Claire Carlile Marketing)

Ben Fisher

GMB will remain at the top of the list of things you need for local search, as nearly all local intent searches return GMB profiles.

I believe there are also some major changes coming to how service-area businesses are handled from a discoverability standpoint, and the guidelines will be made more clear.

I think we will see a rise in suspensions as GMB continues to narrow its guidelines and increases the crackdown on “bad actors.”

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

Krystal Taing

For 2020, I predicted a rise in the importance of user-generated content and engagement. We did see elements of this such as the impact of reviews on local ranking. As we look to 2021, I see the trends of local search leaning towards information and convenience. Consumers want to know everything about a product or service prior to visiting a store or making a phone call. Search engines will continue to build tools to support this and brands and search marketers are going to enable this.

The shift we saw in consumer behavior in 2020 with features like live inventory, multiple ordering and delivery methods, and virtual services, will mature into 2021. These won’t be a competitive play, but a consumer expectation.

For Google My Business specifically, I imagine they will continue to explore ways to bridge the gap with e-commerce as well as bring more tools to support virtual services. 

Krystal Taing  (Solutions & Strategic Partnerships, Uberall)

Blake Denman

With posts starting to show in the ‘Explore’ tab, we should see more emphasis on full-funnel content marketing in posts.

Getting in front of potential customers towards the top of the funnel will help get them familiar with a brand and, thanks to personalization, help bottom of the funnel queries rank higher when it matters.

Google will monetize Google My Business more. The slow rollout of the Google Guaranteed Program will accelerate and let businesses get their own Google Guaranteed badge without participating in LSAs.

Blake Denman (Founder, RicketyRoo)

I think Google will continue to make changes to the Google My Business guidelines in order to accommodate different business models —Telehealth is a great example. Currently, the guidelines say you need to make in-person contact with customers to qualify for a listing. Google has opened this rule up during the pandemic to accommodate this new health model.

So the question is whether or not this will continue into the future once the pandemic is over. I think it will. I also think we will see more e-commerce style local business models being accommodated in the GMB model.

Colan Nielsen (VP of Local Search, Sterling Sky)

Jason Brown

I see a dramatic shift coming in Google ranks in GMB. There will no longer be an emphasis on the GMB title. Google will de-emphasize it in an effort to curtail the lead generation spam and keyword stuffing. Google will instead use other, more important signals, such as the age of the GMB listing, the website, and other best practices. Google posts will continue to be a non-ranking factor just like geo-tagging photos.

Jason Brown (Founder, Review Fraud)

Monetized Google My Business

Last year, one of our pros (hats off, Andrew!) correctly predicted that we might begin to see the long-standing GMB pay-to-play rumors come to fruition. As GMB’s $50/month upgraded listings test took the local SEO community by storm, is this something we can expect to see more from in the new year?

The Google badge for Google My Business pages is starting to appear in certain categories and I predict as businesses start to pay the monthly fee additional categories will open up. As hopeful as we were last year with spam decreasing, I hope with the monthly fee that this will help dilute the Google My Business guideline violators and allow the rule-following businesses to take the lead. 

Crystal Horton (Digital Account Manager, Accelerate Marketing)

Niki Mosier

My thoughts for 2021 are that we will definitely see Google continue to roll out features for GMB. This year we saw Google pivot pretty quickly with Covid-19 related features like the Covid post type and expanded attributes for delivery and pickup. We also saw the small rollout of the $50 Google Guarantee program which I wouldn’t be surprised to see expanded in the coming months. Overall, as proximity search gets even more narrow, focusing on sending all the right signals with location-specific content will be as important as ever.

Niki Mosier (Head of SEO, Two Octobers)

Andy Simpson

Now Local Search Ads (LSAs) have finally rolled out, 2021 will see Google My Business promote the upgraded business profile. For $50/month GMB will add the Google guaranteed badge (green icon) to your listing and back services your business provides with the Google Guarantee. How this will affect GMB rankings, upgraded vs standard, we shall have to wait and see but one thing it might do is help reduce the amount of GMB spam — upgraded listings could force spam to the bottom and out of the 3-pack.

Andy Simpson (Senior SEO Specialist, Digital Law Marketing)

Dan Foland

In 2021, I predict that Google is going to continue monetizing GMB and local search. For example, in 2019 Google sent out a survey to GMB users asking if (and how much) users would pay for certain “premium” features. Google is currently testing a paid model offering a Google Guaranteed badge on business profiles, among other features. I expect that Google will roll this out or something similar in 2021 while they continue monetizing local search.

Dan Foland (SEO Director, Postali)

Local Services Ads

2020 brought with a lot of changes to Google My Business, but even more prominent were Local Services Ads, which took the spotlight. There were plenty of changes to the popular paid option, but what more can we expect from it in the coming year?

I would predict that next year Google will make an aggressive push to get Local Service Ads expanded to many other verticals.  I expect it to hit the insurance industry, automotive industry, and the healthcare industry next. I think these ads can potentially lower the volume of clicks that we see for the local pack as they continue to look and operate a lot like organic listings. 

Joy Hawkins (Owner, Sterling Sky)

Ben Fisher

Google will continue to invest in Local Services Ads and continue to expand the program. I predict that the quality of LSA leads will also go down as more merchants get involved and spam the program. 

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

carrie hill

Right now we’re seeing reviews on Local Services Ads come through separately from reviews on a business’s GMB listing. They eventually seem to merge and most (if not all) reviews are shown on the LSA page, but the LSA reviews don’t always come through to the GMB listing reviews.

My prediction is Google is going to figure out how to merge these into one system, but label the reviews that come in as part of the Local Services Ads as “verified” in some way — because the lead came through the LSAs and is “Screened” or “Verified”.  The current system is a bit messy, doesn’t always connect, and freaks clients out when their LSA profiles show zero reviews for their business, while their GMB listing shows X number of reviews for that business.  When will it happen? I have no idea, but I think something significant will happen with this system sometime in 2021!

Carrie Hill (Local Search Analyst & Community Manager, Sterling Sky)

Greg-Gifford

I think Google will continue to try to monetize local, especially with the shift in consumer behavior due to the pandemic. I think there will be an expansion of LSAs (or some similar form of ad), and expansion of a “Google trusted” type of program, and potentially a paid inclusion of products in GMB (we’re already seeing extensive tests of this in automotive). GMB will always be free, but the really cool stuff that helps you stand out will likely be more of a pay-for-play situation.

Greg Gifford (VP of Search, SearchLab)

Zero-click Search

What felt like a big phenomenon last year doesn’t seem to be quite so high on our experts’ radars this year. That said, with the introduction of GMB’s direct edit, can we expect more emphasis to be placed on in-SERP actions than ever before?

Ben Fisher

Zero Click search will be the focus of 2021. Additionally, to keep you on search even longer, I think the direct edit experience’s ongoing improvement will continue.

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

Maps Spam

What would a local SEO piece be without at least some talk of spam? Well, we’ve got plenty for you here. Will it improve or could it possibly get worse? Our pros chime in to talk all things #StopCrapontheMap.

Gyi Tsakalakis

Like many of us predicted last year, in 2021 I predict that spam will continue to be a massive problem in local search, particularly with respect to Google My Business. In fact, as I sit here today on December 7, 2020, all three local pack listings for “car accident lawyer,” contain keyword-stuffed business names.

Furthermore, contrary to statements from Google’s PR team, at least two of the traditional localized organic listings contain rich review snippets generated from structured data from self-serving reviews on the firms’ pages. I predict that if you continue to blindly follow the advice of Google’s PR team you will remain at a competitive disadvantage in local search.

Gyi Tsakalakis (Founder, AttorneySync)

Tim Capper

Lead gen spam is out of control even reaching the UK and AUS with reporting and takedown being exceptionally poor. I will throw the spam team a crumb and say that Covid played a small part in the slow response to the increase in spam. API loopholes are still being exploited and no ‘bad’ address databases outside of the US on the cards.

With the benefit of some Product Expert insight, I am more optimistic for 2021 with GMB tackling spam, especially SAB spam. Unfortunately don’t get your hopes up outside of the US just yet. LSA has launched in the UK but we still have not seen any live listings. Regardless, get your applicable clients signed up now ready for rollout.

Tim Capper (Local SEO Consultant, Online Ownership) 

I predict that Google will make a significant change in its effort to combat maps spam. This year we saw an increase in suspensions of both legit and spam GMBs. I think we will continue to see Google turn this dial up from time to time in order to continue the fight. But I also think Google will do something new to combat the problem. Dial down the ranking weight attributed to the business name? Perhaps. A guy can dream, right?

Colan Nielsen (VP of Local Search, Sterling Sky)

Andrew Cock-Starkey Optimsey

I’m not sure if it’s just the year we’ve had in 2020 addling my brain or just making me outrageously optimistic but… I think a reckoning is coming. A reckoning for Google Maps spammers.

We’ve all seen #StopCrapOnTheMap and equal parts hilarious and horrifying examples that make it onto maps. This is not a good look for Google, especially when some of those locations are ‘drug rehab’ centers and the like… when in fact they’re not and are (at best) lead gen fronts.

Some of the examples are outrageous and egregious and there’s a growing swell of people getting upset by it, not least the ‘free labor’ Google gets to fight their spam problem in the shape of local SEO folks and their Product Experts.

Google has the capability and the technology to make big strides in improving this and at a stroke could help struggling small business owners, score political points (which given the number of court and anti-trust cases coming their way would help!), and appease local SEOs and Product Experts. Win-win, right?

Or maybe optimism has gotten the better of Optimisey this year…

Andrew Cock-Starkey (Founder, Optimisey)

Dan Foland

In 2021, GMB spam is going to continue to be a problem. My hope is that Google pays more attention and dedicates more resources to cleaning up spam in GMB, but I’m not sure that it’s a top priority for them.

Dan Foland (SEO Director, Postali)

Online Reviews

As the second most important local search ranking factor, it’s no surprise that reviews should remain front of mind throughout 2021. Our experts discuss how reviews might gain even more prominence in the coming year.

Amanda Jordan

I predict for 2021, reputation management will continue to be a huge factor for local performance. In addition to reviews continuing to be a ranking factor, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google made review responses a much bigger deal. This may include the number of review responses becoming a rank factor in itself or more review management options within the GMB platform. I also expect to see more attributes to be added for medical and retail business categories.

Amanda Jordan (Director of Local Search, Locomotive Agency)

Shane Barker

Reviews will become a critical local search ranking parameter. So, it’s a good time to optimize your GMB listing, perhaps by adding a messaging feature to it. You can also focus on other tier 1 directories and niche-specific directories. If you really want to step up your review game, you can create standardized review responding templates or use review management tools. It is also wise to read between-the-lines of reviews to gain deeper customer insights.

Shane Barker (Cofounder, Attrock)

Links and Link Building

Link building has stood the test of time when it comes to helping businesses rank in search results, but how can building relevant links help local businesses in 2021?

Blake Denman

Links will still be important but agencies and SMBs are going to shift more and more towards pure local links rather than relying on third-party metrics to determine the value of a link. Entity building, entity leeching, entity optimization, entity sculpting, whatever you want to call it will start becoming more popular at the local level.

Blake Denman (Founder, RicketyRoo)

Conclusion

When it comes to local, things can change pretty quickly. What do you think of our experts’ local SEO and Google predictions? Can we expect to see paid-for GMB profiles come to life? Will review responses gain even more importance as a ranking factor? And the big question: will Google finally put a stop to crap on the map?! (No shade Google, we know you’re working on it!)

Whether you agree or not, we want to hear your own search predictions for the coming year! Share your 2021 local SEO prediction with us in the comments below.

Stephanie Newton

Stephanie is responsible for managing BrightLocal’s community outreach and engagement, as well as producing and managing content to help inform and educate the local SEO community.



4 Key Tips to Improve SEO for Hotels – ShoeMoney

SEO for Hotels
Guest takes room key card at check-in desk of hotel, close up

Marketing in the hospitality industry is a very competitive task, not only are you up against other local hotels, but you are also fighting for space on the Google results page. According to research, only 0.78% of Google searchers click on the second page of the search results, which means that you need to rock at SEO for hotels, or else you are missing out on potential customers! 

SEO for the hospitality industry is a bit tricky, as you have to know how to excel at both local SEO and international SEO tactics. It is one thing to attract local customers, and it is even better if you can draw in people from around the world.

The problem is, how does SEO for hotels work? Why is it different than marketing for other types of businesses?

Thankfully, we’ve created this article to teach you how to sharpen up your SEO for hotels skills, so you can convert more sales and stay busy. Keep on reading to learn more.

1. Know Your Audience

While it may seem like it, marketing for hotels is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different hotels have different atmospheres and offer something unique to only a certain crowd. The tourism industry is worth over $1.6 billion, and there is no shortage of clients, so narrowing down on your audience will help you to bring in the right crowd.

For example, if your hotel offers fun activities and parties, then you need to narrow your SEO to target millennials. If you have luxury rooms, you need to target customers who are CEOs and high-class travelers. If you are marketing for a resort, you need to target families and offer vacations. 

2. Use All Forms of Keywords

Keywords are a crucial component of SEO for the hospitality industry, as there are endless ways people search for hotels. Begin by doing a Google search of your hotel area, and jotting down all the related search terms that show up.

Then do some research and include all the long-tailed keywords that align with your hotel. For example, instead of “hotel in Miami”, it could be, “nice hotels near the beach in Miami”. By including all forms of keywords including words and phrases, you are ensuring you are not missing out on any potential customers.

3. Optimize Your Title and Descriptions

Your blog titles, page titles, meta-descriptions, and URLs are very important for optimizing your hotels’ SEO. All of these components must include your primary keywords, location of your hotel, and feel enticing to click on. 

The meta description should be friendly, descriptive, and straight to the point. You do not have many characters, so keep it short and answer any possible questions your audience may have.

4. Use Local SEO Techniques 

Marketing for a hotel must include local SEO techniques to draw in your audience. Some of these techniques include:

  • Listing your hotel in the local business directories
  • Ensuring the hotel is updated in Google My Business
  • Including keywords with the names of your local areas
  • Using social media to include locations for visitors
  • Work with your local community
  • Ask for reviews, especially on Google

All of these techniques will help you to rock your local hotel SEO, so you can raise awareness for the hotel and draw in more customers.

Learn More About SEO For Hotels

There you have it! By following this creative SEO for hotels guide, you are on your way to a busier tourist season. 

To learn more SEO and marketing tips like these, check out the marketing section of our blog. 

Five SEO tips to dominate local search this holiday season


30-second summary:

  • 60% of consumers have been shopping online more often since COVID-19.
  • Making your local SEO strategy a top priority for small retailers and those with multiple locations.
  • Shoppers are browsing more frequently and making more purchases, although they are smaller in value.
  • Local retailers should focus on creating in-store experiences online and pick up.
  • Understanding your local audience and optimizing at the hyper-local level is key.
  • Jim Yu, Founder and CEO of BrightEdge highlights five great ways your business can use local SEO to dominate search and translate it into sales this holiday season.

A shorter than usual shopping season, last-mile shipping uncertainty, and ongoing health and safety concerns are just a few of the factors driving wild shifts in consumer behavior in the lead-up to holiday season 2020. Given how wide-reaching and long-lasting the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be, we couldn’t possibly have predicted or envisioned the circumstances we now find ourselves in. Local businesses already pushed near the brink may find this shopping season more competitive than usual, making your local SEO strategy a top priority.

This holiday season more than ever, marketers need to keep a hand firmly on the pulse of their market and opportunities. Activating as much relevant, real-time consumer data as possible is going to be key.

1. Offer payment options, COVID precautions, and other key conversion information front and center

We know what the important issues are for shoppers this season:

Consumers are browsing, researching, and shopping across online channels. They are more value-conscious than before and are looking for reassurance that their privacy and data are protected when making purchases online.

Get ahead of frequently asked questions by updating your website, social profiles, local listings, and landing pages with answers. These are critically important optimizations—so much so that Google, Yelp, and other listings platforms are highlighting this information for consumers on business profiles. If consumers can’t find what they’re looking for on your listing, they’ll simply move on to the next.

2. Really get to know your audience this holiday season

Planning campaigns based on historic data simply won’t cut it this year. Agile marketers and smart automation will come together to power the messaging and experiences it takes to convert in upended markets.

Nielsen released consumer profiles late in October based on research and surveys undertaken in different periods throughout the COVID pandemic. It’s impossible to predict just who you’ll find at your door (or in your online shopping cart) this holiday season, but expect to see each of these consumer types in the mix:

local search this holiday season - consumer expectations

You can see the very different motivations and types of shopping happening this year. Those who’ve escaped a direct impact from COVID may be compensating for luxuries they’ve forgone this year—trips that were canceled, or large purchases put on hold due to the initial uncertainty. At the other end of the spectrum, you see consumers who are affected both financially and physically, having less money to spend and also constrained by lockdown measures.

Understanding both your macro market and micro opportunities, at the individual web visitor level, is key to capitalizing on your opportunities to convert this holiday season.

3. Feed browsing behavior with high quality, engaging content that complements holiday season search

In our recent research, BrightEdge mentioned that 60% of consumers have been shopping online more often since COVID-19. It’s a behavior that 73% of those plans to continue after the pandemic. Shoppers are browsing more frequently and making more purchases, although they are smaller in value.

Feed browser behavior with engaging, quality content to rule holiday season with SEO

This holiday season, it’s critical that the content on offer is personalized and engaging; that it is an accurate reflection of their needs, intent, interests, and behavior in the moment. Activate your search insights with dynamic content optimizations to keep in step with changing consumer behaviors.

Think like your COVID-weary customer—what is giftable this year? As Nielsen points out in their recent article on the consumer types retailers can expect this year, “From a necessity that can no longer fit the budget, to a product that has been harder to get in stores this year, the definition of a ‘gift’ will look very different this year.” Help shoppers understand how your product/service delivers comfort, entertainment, security, or is otherwise a necessity for that special someone in their life.

  • Use all of the tools available to expand and add interest to your search results.
  • Upload new photos and videos often.
  • Use Google Posts to highlight promotions, in-store and virtual events, products and services, etc.
  • Make sure your on-page SEO is on point and that pages have proper schema markup.
  • Work closely with your paid search team to ensure your organic and paid strategies complement, not cannibalize, one another.
  • Keep it interesting and get more traction across channels by switching up your content types.

4. Focus on creating experiences

Consumers have been spending significantly more time watching and reading the news, participating in hobbies, and engaging with TV, movies, and games at home. They are hungry for experiences to fill at least some of the void left by closed restaurants, shuttered concert venues, canceled events, and the inability to travel.

Even outside of the influence of the pandemic, the customer experience was expected to surpass product and price as the key brand differentiator. Regardless of how much thought or planning you put into it, customers are having an experience with your business. It’s a worthwhile place to focus your efforts on the eve of this holiday shopping season.

July 2020 survey insights from YouGov show that consumers have been engaging with product demonstrations, pop-up shops, and installations. Some of these experiences translate naturally online—product demonstration videos, for example. Events you used to hold in-store could work as Facebook Lives or omnichannel promotions.

Focus on creating smooth omnichannel experiences to rule holiday season with SEO

Give traditionally local shoppers ways to engage, such as QR codes in the window to drive them to an online experience when in-store shopping is not possible (perhaps preferable for them).

Whatever the format and channel, think about the experience you are curating for your audience. How do you show them you are invested in their satisfaction and happiness? How do you facilitate their moving from one piece of content or channel to the next? How do you capture and keep their interest?

Think of your customer interactions not as touchpoints but within the context of their overall shopping journey. Grow My Store is a tool from Google that assesses any retail site, whether for an online or a physical store and brings back recommendations to help improve the customer experience.

5. Highlight your local relevance

Recent Yahoo! Small Business Research found that the vast majority of shoppers (75% of those surveyed) want to shop at and support small businesses. Another survey, this one by Alignable, found that 32% of respondents said they would be spending more money at locally owned businesses in Q4 2020.

How do you make your local relevance clear to shoppers and the search engines you rely on to get you in front of them?

  • Make sure all locations are claimed, verified, and optimized.
  • Localize your content. Engage audiences with on-location photos and video. Refer to local landmarks, get involved in local events and organizations, and build links from within the local community.
  • Do local keyword research and optimize your listings, landing pages, and website.
  • Make clear the fulfillment options you offer local customers: BOPIS, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery.
  • Make the most of your local reviews with close monitoring, rapid response, and highlighting positive reviews across other channels.

Use Google’s Local Opportunity Finder to quickly assess your local presence and get tips and hints for optimizing your GMB.

If you want to keep nearby shoppers off Amazon and away from major box stores this year, focus on meeting customers where they’re looking for products and services like yours: in local search. Keep them reading and browsing out of entertainment, not in an effort to find information that should be readily available. Proactively head off concerns about payment methods, COVID precautions, special hours, and more by keeping your site and local listings up to date.

This promises to be an unusual shopping season for many. Local essential is for small retailers and local SEO for multiple locations is vital for enterprises and Now that you can’t count on previous experience, it’s critical to tap into your search insights.

Customers are telling you what it’s going to take to win their business. Are you listening?

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, the leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform.

Does changing your business phone number affect SEO?


30-second summary:

  • Although a business phone number isn’t as tough on your SEO as a complete rebrand, changing it can have an impact on your SEO.
  • Preserving NAP consistency should be your primary goal when changing your phone number.
  • Your marketing strategy can help make the transition easier for your customers, too, as you can notify them of the change ahead of time.
  • The key goal in addition to retaining your ranking should be to not lose the trust of your customers by changing your information – hence the need to approach the process carefully.

Much like all other aspects of digital marketing and brand positioning, SEO is a constantly changing game. With so many moving pieces and evolving trends, it’s no wonder that brands aren’t quite certain which decisions will negatively impact their SEO, and which ones are safe enough to make. 

One day, it seems that one kind of behavior is perfectly fine, while the next Google will penalize it because they’ve implemented algorithm changes. Add customer expectations into the mix, and it gets even more difficult to figure out just what’s worth the effort, and what should be left alone. 

When it comes to your business details, including your name, address, and phone number (neatly packed into the notion of NAP information), change can be good. After all, entire companies have successfully rebranded without a hitch. However, changing a single piece of information such as your phone number can change the entire customer journey if not done right.

Here, we’ll tackle a few essential steps in the process to keep in mind, so that your phone number shift doesn’t impact your ranking or your brand perception negatively. 

NAP it in the bud

Local search is a vital component of your overall SEO strategy, all the more so when you’re running a strictly local business with a physical presence, such as a pastry shop, a car repair facility, or a beauty salon. Your foot traffic heavily depends on your customers’ ability to find correct information online when they search for your services.

If they stumble upon an outdated number, they’ll call the next business in their search results with solid reviews and forget that you exist. Simply put, consistency matters. Google doesn’t want to disappoint its users, so it penalizes businesses with inconsistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) information across the internet. As soon as your directories, your website and other online listings don’t show your actual phone number, your ranking will suffer.

The remedy is fairly simple. If you have decided to change your phone number or your entire communications system, for that matter, you should take the time to revise all your local business listings and directories where your company pops up. 

NAP consistency is a vital ranking factor that can either plummet your business in the eyes of search engines, or it can help you reach those topmost desirable spots in the SERPs. So, while changing your business phone number might not be a cause for worry on its own, how you distribute it will greatly matter in local rankings. 

Take care of your call tracking

Some businesses steer clear of call tracking simply because they aren’t sure how to go about it, afraid to damage their SEO in the process. Even more importantly with regards to call tracking, every business needs to adhere to those key legal requirements, such as the EU’s GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, to make sure their customers’ sensitive information is safe. But when the time comes to move from outdated landlines and change your numbers or merge them, you can also reap the benefits of this potentially SEO-beneficial process.

Wanting to unify and improve their communication systems, companies are switching to digital phone solutions such as voice over internet protocol (or VoIP for short). There are many perks of such a transition for call tracking, smarter customer support, and better customer engagement, all of which can support your SEO efforts in the long run. As you learn about VoIP and its many applications, you’ll be able to make the most of your phone-based interactions with your customers to serve your brand reputation, but also your ranking.

In addition to having more business phone numbers at your disposal if you need them, you should know that VoIP platforms come with other useful features such as call analytics, recording, emailing, and texting. Collecting all of that data and implementing SEO-safe call tracking with the help of Dynamic Number Insertion both work in favor of your SEO.

Building and preserving customer trust

When done right, changing your business phone number can be a seamless process that doesn’t do any damage to your ranking. However, it’s important to remember the reason for the ranking in the first place: search engines want to give users the best, most trustworthy results first and above all other available options online. In doing so, they reward businesses that accurately portray themselves online, and contact information is a vital component of that representation.

The basic premise goes as follows: if a customer calls you and gets a notification that the number no longer exists, they lose trust in your brand. Google and other search engines recognize that lack of trust and thus push other businesses above yours, with accurate and verified contact details available. In a sense, it’s customer trust that drives search engine ranking. 

Research has confirmed this, as 80% of surveyed respondents in BrightLocal research have stated that they would lose trust in a business with incorrect and inconsistent contact details. If you’ve decided to change your phone number, making sure it’s consistently represented across all of your digital outlets is the key piece of your SEO puzzle: to preserve customer trust and thus to preserve your ranking. 

Notifying the customer in time

Thankfully, you can make sure that your customers have the correct information in a few simple ways. If you’ve taken care of all of your business directory listings, your social media pages, messaging app presence, and your website, you can use your marketing strategy to get the word out. 

Your subscribers and return customers will want to know that your business has changed a vital piece of information. Just like you don’t want them to spend an hour going to an old address of your café only to discover a weird-looking shop for plumbing supplies, you want to have your new number added to their contacts list.

You can use your weekly/monthly newsletter to notify them of the switch, post a social media update letting customers know the new number they can reach you on, and post a little announcement on your website, too, especially if you gain plenty of call traffic from all of these outlets.

Changing a business phone number can be a simple process in itself, but its impact on your business will not be unless you prepare properly. Taking care of all the business registers where your company is listed paired with implementing search engine-approved tracking tactics as well as customer engagement will be more than enough to help you through the process. 

Emma Worden is a digital marketer and blogger from Sydney. Emma writes for many relevant, industry related online publications and does a job of an Executive Editor at Bizzmark blog and a guest lecturer at Melbourne University. You can find Emma on @EmmaRWorden.



Welcome United Search | Local SEO Guide


Dan Leibson has been a strong advocate inside LSG and on SEO Twitter for the under-represented in the SEO community. At times his advocacy has been a bit too strong for some leading to several “WTF is up with Dan?” DMs to me.

Well you know WTF is up with Dan? He has spent the past few months working with an incredible group of SEOs creating UnitedSearch, a first of its kind speaker accelerator focused on helping promote new voices in the digital marketing industry.

“By offering mentoring advice from people with real world, practical, SEO experience, we give students the skills they need to be able to deliver an amazing presentation on any stage and the network they need to land gigs.

All at no cost to the student.”

I am so proud to have one of our team playing a part in this. And I couldn’t be happier to give them what I hope is their first link.

You should do the same.



Goofiest Local SEO Metrics and Better Numbers for You to Watch


Like my post? Please share!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodrigoparedes/49888573232/

It’s hard enough to pilot your business into Google’s local search results and pick up the right customers.  That’s even harder if your instruments point you in the wrong direction, or you look at them wrong, or you look at the wrong instruments.

In local SEO it’s easy to waste precious time and energy on goals that don’t matter, problems that don’t exist, or showy numbers that obscure important numbers.  The end result is you waste time and work less on what affects your business the most, and generally achieve the opposite of what you want.

 

I spend a lot of time with clients (long-term, audit, and consultation) homing in on one thing and tuning out another thing.  Below is a rundown of what I’ve found to be most common goofy and unimportant measurements of success or trouble in your local visibility effort.  I also explain the benchmarks I suggest paying attention to instead.

Goofy metric #1: total traffic to site.

That is, total traffic as measured by Google Analytics or whatever third-party tool you might use.  Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about unique + return visitors, or only uniques.  Two basic problems with this metric:

1. Total traffic doesn’t tell you how much of your traffic goes to pages that don’t help you get customers. Let’s say you have a blog post or page with legs – one that brought you 30% of your monthly traffic until now. It’s a good resource, but its visibility never seemed to correspond to an uptick in business.  It may be that your “money” pages – the kind that local customers find in the local results and act on – still do just fine.

2. Total traffic doesn’t tell you how visible your business is. It only tells you how many people trickle through Google and onto your site (or who go directly to your site, without ever hitting Google). Keep in mind Google’s ongoing effort to keep searchers on the search results and, by extension, away from your site.

So your traffic can appear totally normal (whatever “normal” is for your business) even though your search visibility has tanked, or your visibility can still be great even though your traffic looks like it’s shriveled.

Better metric: total # of impressions, according to Google Search Console.  For your whole site, for a specific page, for a specific query, etc.  The number of impressions will tell you how many people actually SEE a page (or a whole site) in the search results, whether or not they end up clicking.  (The fact that Search Console shows you impressions, whereas Google Analytics does not, is one big reason I tend to pay more attention to Search Console, especially for troubleshooting.)

Getting more people to click on low-click-through pages is a challenge you can work on.  The same is true if you see a page that’s getting fewer clicks AND fewer impressions: In that case you can easily figure out when that trend began, whether only that page is affected, and for which search terms it’s sagging (see the “Queries” tab).

You’ll probably want to zero in on your visibility (total impressions) for search terms you’re trying to rank for, rather than for brand-name search terms.  Impressions from people who search for your business by name don’t tell you much about your overall visibility in local search.  Brand-name visibility is kind of a given – a baseline.

Of course, it’s still smart to pay some attention to total traffic, because that can alert you to the more-specific problems you’ll want or need to identify.  Just don’t fixate on it, because it never tells the whole story or helps you figure out what to do about it.

 

Goofy metric #2: “average position” in Google Search Console and in certain rank-trackers.

The reason is simple: in Search Console the “average position” not localized.  So it might say a certain page on your site ranks #117 for “Pittsburgh plumber,” even though that page ranks #4 in the organic results that people in Pittsburgh see when they type in “plumber,” and maybe you also rank #2 there in the Google Maps 3-pack for the same term.  Search Console wouldn’t tell you those two facts, nor would many “local” rank-tracking tools (I’d rather not name names).

Again, that’s a problem just because your instruments would tell you you’ve got a problem when you may in fact be OK.  That could lead you (or an easily-frightened SEO person) to mess things up by changing stuff that not only doesn’t need changing, but that also helps you get whatever visibility you’ve got.

Better metric:  either impressions in Search Console (as I described a minute ago) or the rankings you see in the Anonymous Ad Preview & Diagnosis Tool, or both.  The latter is great because you can set a default search location and see exactly where Google sticks you.  The only problem is it only shows the first page of search results, so it won’t tell you whether you rank 49 or 50 for a certain term.  But it will show you where you show up in the 3-pack and when you’re anywhere on page 1, which typically are the factoids you really want to know.

 

Goofy metric #3: how many terms you’re #1 for.

As in #1 in the Google Maps 3-pack, or in the organic results, or either or both.  In at least one sense “#1” translates to less visibility than it used to, because of where Google Ads (and sometimes Local Services Ads) have been stuffed, and how those ads have increasingly pushed down.  The other issue is how we’re so used to seeing all kinds of crap rank #1.  We rely on Google more to tell us what our options are than what options are good.

Better metric: how many terms you rank for where you’re the obvious choice to click on.  When everything else is equal, of course it’s best you’re #1.  But if you’re #2 on the map, and you’ve got the most Google reviews, and you’ve got the highest average rating, and the #1 result is lame, then you’re still in the catbird seat.  Likewise if you’re #3 in the organic results but have the most-compelling title + description, or best business name, or maybe another organic result or some Google Maps rankings or a great PPC ad on the same page that act as your backup dancers.  You’ll get more business from being the best result on a page, rather than only the highest.

 

Goofy metric #4: number of links to your site.

You can go buy thousands of links right now and tell me how much it helps your rankings.  I expect you’ll find those don’t help much.  (Possibly a little bit, but then you risk an algorithmic or manual penalty sooner or later.)  You’ll still be outranked by the same annoying competitors, both in the 3-pack and in the organic results.  one less-risky way to see what I mean is to use your backlinks checker of choice (I like Ahrefs) to check on 6 local businesses that rank for a term you consider a priority: How many links the 3 highest-ranking businesses have, and how many links do the next 3 (#4-6) have?  Does each of the top 3 have more links than each of the next 3?  You’ll probably find that the link count varies – a lot.

Better metric:  the number of relevant links to your site, particularly to specific pages you consider high priorities.  When I a link is “relevant” I mean it’s from a site that is geared toward your industry, geared toward your city or region, or both.  In my experience the relevance of a link matters more than anything else.

 

Goofy metric #5: number of reviews.

What if you have the most reviews, but your average rating is 2.9 stars?  Or you have a good average rating, but the positive reviews are so terse they look forced or fake?  Or all the reviews are old?

Better metric: for how many local search terms is your business the obvious choice to click on, in terms of review count AND average rating? 

I’m talking about both the Google Maps / 3-pack results and the search results within review sites, like Yelp, Zillow, Houzz, HealthGrades, Avvo, TripAdvisor, etc.  In cases where it’s hard to say whether the average searcher would click on your pile of reviews or on a competitor’s pile of reviews, it’ll probably be clear to you whether you need to work on your average rating, or your review count, or on something else.

 

Goofy metric #6: number of 5-star reviews.

This is a red herring for many reasons, but for one reason above all: often the 5-star reviews aren’t impressive or persuasive.  Searchers click on the list of reviews and read some of them, and often the reviewers don’t go into much detail as to why they picked and liked a business.

Better metric: number of super-reviewers: people who reviewed you on multiple sites, people who wrote almost a sales-letter-length review and included pictures, people who got a spouse or family member or friend also to review you, people whose reviews you know for a fact drive business (because customers or even reviewers said so) , etc.  I realize that’s a squishy definition, so it’s up to you to define who constitutes an online “cheerleader.”  The point is you gain more by tracking and increasing the number of those people than by fixating on the number of 5-star reviews.

 

Goofy metric #7: Page speed according to Google PageSpeed Insights.

In general, a fast-loading site is great.  But obsessing over it is not, because the fastest site isn’t necessarily the most visible or most profitable one.  If page speed was a huge factor, you’d go whole-hog and just put some strategic words on a page and get mighty close to a 100/100.  Some companies with pretty good SEO teams seem to recognize that page-speed is one goal of many, to be balanced with other goals, and that you don’t need perfect marks.

Better metric: how many formidable competitors’ sites is your site faster than?  I’m talking about sites that outrank yours or that you know for a fact drive a lot of business, or both.  Try to make your site more informative, more persuasive, easier to use, and faster than those sites, even if you’re nowhere near a perfect 100.  If a bear is chasing you through the woods, you don’t need to outrun the bear – just the other campers.

 

By the way, here are a few too-commonly-heeded“metrics” I’d generally ignore:

  • Domain Authority (Moz) or Domain Rating (Ahrefs) of your site
  • Google My Business Insights’ “last 30 days” stats
  • Moz Local “completeness” score
  • Yoast “optimization” score

They have their place in the world, but they don’t tell you much about how your local SEO effort is going.

Can you think of other nutty local SEO metrics I didn’t mention?

Am I too harsh on a benchmark that you’ve found to be useful for diagnosis – and why is that?

What’s your single favorite (or least-favorite) indicator of triumph or trouble?

Leave a comment!

Cindy Krum on Building a Mobile-first, Future-proof SEO Strategy


I’ve got something to confess.

I’m not the most technical SEO.

I mean, I have a basic understanding of how crawling and indexing works, and I’ve overseen a few technical SEO projects – from a safe distance! But when it gets down to the nuts and bolts of technical SEO… Well, let’s just say, it’s not exactly lighting my fire.

But that’s all changed, and it’s thanks to this month’s ‘Adventure in Local Marketing’ guest Cindy Krum, CEO and Founder of MobileMoxie. Cindy is not only super knowledgeable about the nitty gritty of technical SEO, she also has an amazing knack for making it really accessible and easy-to-understand.

Cindy is one of the leading experts in mobile SEO, but her knowledge doesn’t end there. She’s always at the fore when it comes to understanding (and predicting!) what Google is up to and how SEOs should be reacting.

You might have seen Google’s recent Passage-based ranking announcement? Well, Cindy was talking about that two years ago!

In this episode, Cindy gave me an absolute schooling on many of the latest SEO developments. We covered:

  • Why you can’t afford to sleep on mobile-first indexing
  • How Passage-based ranking will impact how you create content
  • The best opportunities to claim more real estate in SERPs (spoiler: it’s not blue links)
  • How to start future-proofing your SEO strategy today

Ready to get technical?

Listen to the episode

Resources

We covered A LOT of topics on this episode, so here’s some more content to feast on.

Subscribe today

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Tell us what you think

I hope you enjoyed this more technical episode. We try to cover every aspect of local marketing, so if there are any topics you’d like us to focus on in an upcoming episode, leave a comment below.

Dental SEO: The Definitive Guide [2020]


Don’t pay for dental SEO before you know what it entails

SEO stands for “search engine optimization”. In simple terms, SEO is the process for improving your visibility, rankings, and traffic within Google’s organic search results. Done correctly, SEO for dentists can be a difference-maker for a practice by bringing in more new patients and helping you beat your competitors. In this guide we’ll get into all of the details you’ll need to understand the process for creating a successful dental SEO campaign.

The importance of SEO for dentists

Traditionally, dentists, like many small businesses, have been able to rely on word of mouth, referrals, and any number of age-old marketing techniques like yellow page ads and billboards to grow their practices. But in recent years these techniques have proven less and less effective as people turn to the internet for answers. Whether someone’s trying to figure out when daylight saving time begins or where they can get dental implants near them, Google is the first place people look.

So the question you have to ask yourself is, where do you rank on Google? Knowing that potential patients are doing their research on Google and the other search engines, can you afford not to be on top of the local rankings?

Visibility

Search engines have gotten increasingly complex over the years, and that pertains to local rankings as well. If you’ve ever done a search for dental-related services in your area, you’ll likely see a number of different types of results in the Google search result. Let’s break down the different types of results and explain how, and why they appear in results.

Paid search results

For many searches, you will see top results in Google that look like those you see below. These listings are managed through Google’s AdWords interface, which allows advertisers to select broad or narrow ranges of keywords to display advertising for. Advertisers select a budget and a maximum bid for each click and Google crunches the numbers based on the bid and the quality of the ad and page to order these results. Costs are incurred only when an ad is clicked on.

Local pack results

Probably the most important type of result for dentists is local pack results. These maps typically list three local practices and display map pins of their locations.

Google’s pack listings are fed from Google Maps, the top three listings in Google Maps will appear here. There are a myriad of factors that impact these listings, some of the more prominent including:

  • The location of the business
  • The location of the person searching
  • The quality and relevance of the content on the websites
  • The number and quality of the links pointing to the websites
  • The quality and accuracy of the information associated with the map listing (which can be managed from Google My Business)
  • The number and accuracy of citations (name, address, and phone number) for each business
  • The number, quality, and frequency of business reviews

As you can see, a lot goes into Google’s decision of what ranks atop these listings. Within this guide, we’ll provide more detail on how we go about helping our dental clients improve these areas.

Standard organic search results

The most common, and longest-standing listing on Google are the standard organic results which you can see below. These typically appear in search results after paid search ads and local pack listings, though there are exceptions.

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Google’s algorithm orders these listings based on hundreds of factors. Some of the major keys to ranking well in these listings are on-site optimization and domain authority from high-quality inbound links. In this guide, we’ll go into further detail on how proper dental SEO can improve these critical factors.

SERP click-through rates

When we talk about the importance of SEO for dentists, one thing that really puts it into perspective is the importance of a top ranking. Few things do that like illustrating the click-through rate of different positions in Google’s search results. Click-through rate (CTR) is the number of clicks your listing gets divided by the number of times it appears in search results (which is known as a “search impression”). For example, if you do a search on Google, each result on that page would receive an impression. If your listing appeared in ten searches and was clicked twice, you would have a click-through rate of 20%.

No ads, no local map pack

According to the research available from Advanced Web Ranking, in a regular search result with no ads and no local map pack, the first listing receives a whopping 32.12% of clicks! Here’s the breakdown on the CTR based on top positions for this type of search result. 

  1. 32.12%
  2. 12.38%
  3. 6.62%
  4. 4.77%
  5. 3.36%
  6. 2.34%
  7. 1.94%
  8. 1.45%
  9. 1.23%
  10. 1.15%

As you can see, things drop off quickly if you’re not at or near the very top of rankings.

CTR with map packs

For most dental practices, though, you’ll be dealing with local map packs in your search results. Here’s what the click-through rates look like for these search results.

  1. 13.98%
  2. 9.54%
  3. 6.57%
  4. 4.64%
  5. 3.25%
  6. 1.43%
  7. 0.98%
  8. 1.34%
  9. 1.04%
  10. 0.87%

As you can see, the top results don’t get the massive CTRs when a map pack is inserted into the results. Still, once you get past the fifth listing you’re basically out of luck. You really want to be in the top three listings within the map pack as much as possible to maximize your clicks.

Hopefully, this makes it clear. If you want your website to be an effective component of your marketing program, you’ll need to rank highly to get new patients.

Let’s talk ROI

It would be foolish to think there’s a specific number we can use as a patient’s lifetime value that would be applicable to every practice. There are a lot of variables that go into figuring out the lifetime value of your patients:

  • Average annual value of a patient
  • Length of average patient relationship
  • Average patient referrals

How much is a new patient worth?

While every practice is different, the ADA averages in 2016 said that patients tend to stay with a dentist from seven to ten years and spend an average of $653 per year. To be conservative, we’ll use the low end of that spectrum and assume that patients don’t bring any more referrals. The lifetime value of a patient using these numbers would be 7 x $653 = $4,571.

Once you know the value of a customer you can easily figure out what it will take to turn your SEO initiative into a profitable one. Whether you’re paying a third party for your services or spending your own time and money, a quick comparison of your monthly expenses versus new patients will let you know if you’re coming out ahead or behind. If an SEO company is charging you $1,000 per month for their services, you’ll only need to average at least two new clients per month for you to have a positive ROI in the short term. 

In the long term, you need to consider the lifetime value of each of these new clients as well. That one time SEO cost to bring them in should account for six more years of revenue at $653 per year, or $3,918 of future revenue. So, in truth, if two new clients cost $1,000 as per our example, over the course of seven years they should generate a minimum of $9,142 in revenue, good for a long-term profit of $8,142.

Is dental SEO too expensive?

Dental SEO is only too expensive if you don’t come out ahead. As you can see in our example above, it typically only takes adding a couple of new patients per month to make dental SEO a profitable endeavor. If your website is currently buried beneath your competition on Google, you could certainly help your bottom line with a properly executed SEO campaign.

On-site SEO

On-site SEO is always a starting point for dental SEO. The one thing that search engines care about that you have complete control over is the website itself – what it contains and how well it works. There are two main items to consider when working on on-site SEO for your dental practice. The first is on-page optimization and the second is the experience.

Keyword research

The process of on-page optimization starts with keyword research. Keyword research is used to determine what users are most commonly searching for on Google or other search engines related to your dental practice and the dental services you offer. Each page should focus on two to three relevant keywords or phrases. You do not want to oversaturate a page by utilizing too many keywords on a single page as it will make it difficult for a search engine to determine what the focus of a page is, and it will likely make the page difficult to read.

The best free tools to help you determine the best target keywords for your practice are Google Auto Suggest and Google Search Console.

Google auto suggest

Google auto suggest can be used to determine what users are commonly searching for. As you start to type, Google attempts to complete your search for you based on what other users have searched. As you’re searching for your dental practice, your results might look something like this:

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There are some free tools that help automate the process of using Google Auto Suggest:

Google Search Console

Google Search Console helps you analyze the current performance of your dental practice’s website in Google’s search results. Search Console provides feedback directly from Google as far as what queries, or searches, your website is showing up for, how many times users click through to your website for said searches, and your average position in the search results. This data can help you determine what keywords are already popular for your site and be utilized once you start to optimize content.

You can also use paid tools to find keywords for your dental practice. Paid tools to find keywords for your dental practice include:

Once you determine your keywords for each page, you can then start on-page optimization of your dental website by making edits to the title tag, meta description and body copy of each page.

On-page optimization

Title tag

A title tag, also commonly referred to as a page title or a meta title, is typically 60 to 70 characters long. Google limits titles based on the length of pixels, with a limit of 580. The title tag appears in multiple areas. The first being in the search engine results. Below is an example of a title tag in the Google search engine results.

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A title tag often ends with the name of your dental practice so users can easily identify your practice in the search engine results. A long name can cannibalize the character count in a page title. Google will typically cut off your title after 70 characters when they display in search results. If your dental practice falls into this category, consider using a shortened but recognizable name for the interior page titles.

The second place the title tag appears is at the top of your web browser. Below is an example of a title tag displaying in a browser tab.

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Meta description

The meta description appears in the search engine results under the title tag. Since users see it before visiting your website, it can be seen as a sales pitch for the page they’re about to see.

The meta description should be no longer than 920 pixels, or about 160 characters, with the page’s keyword at least once in the description. Utilizing the keyword is beneficial because Google will bold searched words in the meta description. In the meta description below, Google bolded Netvantage Marketing which was searched for in this example. 

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You can test the length of your page titles and meta descriptions using the title and description pixel checker from ToTheWeb.

Headings

H1 tag

The main heading on a webpage should use an H1 tag. The H1 tag is commonly seen as a headline for the page. When possible, the H1 should be the most relevant keyword for the page you are optimizing or a close variation.

Subheadings

Webpages can also consist of additional headings, using H2, H3, etc. tags. These tags are an opportunity to work in secondary or long-tail keywords into the page. They are also beneficial for breaking up long sections of content. 

Dental headings example

Let’s say you have a page about braces on your dental website. “Braces,” being the most relevant term, would be the H1 for a page, but some practices will offer different forms of braces that would benefit from being a subheading. If your office offers traditional braces and clear correct or Invisalign, it would be beneficial to include these as H2s on your page.

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Body copy

A page’s body copy should be at least 300 words at a minimum. Throughout the content, you will want to use your keywords appropriately, without overdoing it. Some of the keywords may not lend themselves to being written into the content as-is, so you will want to use close variations.

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As an example, the term above “full mouth dental implants cost usa” is searched 2,900 times on average each month. If you wanted to target this phrase on a post it’s unlikely you could use it as-is without it sounding awkward. Instead, you could use a close variation such as, “For full mouth dental implants, the cost in the USA has decreased in recent years.”

When creating body copy, it is important that you are providing quality content, not only for your dental patients but for Google. Google prefers quality content over quantity. If your page contains fluffy content that isn’t beneficial, users are likely not going to read it and leave your site to find better information elsewhere. Rest assured, Google will notice this behavior and drop your page beneath others that provide more authoritative, valuable content.

Schema

Schema, or structured data, in simple terms, is code that “talks” to search engines and provides them with information. There are many forms of Schema that can be utilized by a website. For your dental practice, you will want to utilize the most basic form, which informs Google or other search engines, that you are a local dentist. It will also share the location of your practice along with your phone number and website address.

Learn more:

User experience

Crawl errors

A crawl error is when Google, or another search engine, tries to reach your dental website using a bot but is unable to. The bot is crawling your website to index all of the pages on your website to use in the search results. 

A URL error or 404 not found error is the crawl error your dental website will most likely experience. It is when the exact URL is no longer available on your website. It is easy to fix with a 301 redirect. If you have created a new page with similar dental content or changed the address of a page, you will want to add a 301 redirect from the 404 URL to the new page’s URL. 

Multiple devices

Users are searching on the go more than ever. With 68% of health industry related searches being conducted on a mobile device, your dental practice website needs to be easy to use on a phone or a tablet so you don’t lose out on business.

What makes a website mobile-friendly?

Google’s criteria for a mobile-friendly website includes:

  • Content fits the device screen
  • Text is readable without zooming
  • Links are far enough apart to easily click on them

Utilize Google’s mobile-friendly test to see if your dental website is easily accessible on a mobile device. If your website isn’t up to Google’s standards, the test will provide you with information as to why it failed. Start by addressing these items. If your website passed the test, then you should visit your mobile website yourself on different devices. Click around the site to make sure your content is easily visible, the navigation is easy to use, you can click on links, etc. 

Site speed

Not only does your website need to be accessible on a desktop and a mobile device, but it also needs to be fast. A user has a lot of information at their fingertips when they do a search online and will go to another website if the first one doesn’t load fast enough. In fact, a study shows that 40% of users will abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. Due to this, Google has put an emphasis on having a fast website.

What causes a slow website?

Every website is built differently so there is not an easy answer here. A server that you are using might be one of the main reasons you have a slow website. Too many large images can also cause a slow website. The best way to determine what is slowing down your website is to run tests.

How do I know if I have a fast website?

There are a variety of tools to test the speed of your website. A few tools we recommend using to test the speed of your dental website:

Core Web Vitals

Google uses Core Web Vitals to determine a user’s overall experience of a website. The web vitals can be broken down into three main categories for the user experience. 

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) or Loading

This category is regarding the bulk of your dental website’s content loading. To provide a good user experience, the content should be available on a page within 2.5 seconds. 

First Input Delay (FID) or Interactivity

First Input Delay is measuring your dental website’s responsiveness once an action is made. It is calculated when a user makes an action such as clicking on a link and when the browser begins to process the action. 

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) or Visual Stability

The Cumulative Layout Shift is looking for unexpected layout shifts of a page on your website. A page is visually stable if items such as a header image or menu don’t randomly shift within your display. 

To review the Core Web Vitals for your dental website, view the report in Google Search Console. These metrics are also shown when you use the Page Speed Insights tool. 

Off-site SEO

Before focusing on off-site SEO, it’s critical to make sure that your on-site SEO is taken care of. Without proper on-site SEO, Google may have difficulty categorizing your webpages and the overall context of your website.

Once your website is in good order, it’s necessary to turn your attention to the second side of the SEO coin: off-site SEO.

What is off-site SEO?

Off-site SEO relates to any SEO efforts that do not involve website modifications. The goal of off-site SEO is to increase the authority of a website. Unlike on-site SEO work that can see immediate benefits, the gains from off-site SEO work are more gradual.

For dentists operating in a local geographic area, off-site SEO typically involves the following:

  • Citation building
  • Link building (backlink building)

Citation building

Any business that operates at a regional level needs to make citation building a high priority after finalizing on-site SEO work.

What is a citation?

In the context of SEO, a citation is a mention of your business online. If your dental practice has a listing on yelp.com with accurate information about your business, that would be considered a citation.

While all information mentioned about your business is important, search engines closely pay attention to the name, address, and phone number found in a citation. These three pieces of information are referred to as your “NAP”.

Why are citations important for SEO?

Citations establish both legitimacy and popularity for your business. Google wants to display well-established businesses that are engaging in business activity. Measuring the quantity and quality of citations is an easy way for Google to measure the trustworthiness of millions of different local businesses around the world.

In the end, the more citations that your business has relative to your competitors, the more likely you will outrank them in search results.

How do I check my citations?

A great place to start when locating your own citations is by doing a Google search for your brand name while excluding results from your website. To do this, you’ll need to enter the following advanced search modifier into Google:

Google brand search

This will return any indexed pages that mention your brand name, excluding pages from your website. If you receive many results that are unrelated to your business you may need to include additional details in the search like your phone number or address.

Citation consistency is key

Google prefers to display local businesses in their search results that have accurate and consistent citations. If your citations have different addresses, phone numbers, or even names, Google will have a difficult time knowing the important details of your business, which will have a negative impact on your ability to rank well for target keywords.

As mentioned earlier, your name, address, and phone number (NAP) are what Google primarily focuses on when assessing citations. The following are some examples that cause inconsistent NAP information:

  • Moved locations
  • Use of multiple phone numbers
  • Sharing an address with another company

Moved locations

If your business moved locations at any point in time within the past ten years, it’s a good idea to see what citations exist that use your old business information.

Use of multiple phone numbers

This is a common issue when dental practices use a toll-free number in addition to a local phone number. Some directories may list your toll-free phone number while others list your local number.

While toll-free numbers may be convenient for some customers, Google is more likely to associate your business as operating in a specific geographic area if you primarily use your local phone number. Many directories allow you to list more than one phone number, which does not cause an issue.

Sharing an address with another company

If your dental practice is located in the same building as another company, you may share the same mailing address. If that is the case, you will want to use a suite number to distinguish yourself from the other business.

If your business is located at 123 Apple Avenue, Suite 101 then you will want to make sure you use the full address in all of your citations as well as on your website.

How do I get new citations?

Citations often come from a few different sources:

Large business directories

These include sites like Yellow Pages, Angie’s List, and MerchantCircle. These business directories list a large number of different business types, including dentists.

Industry-specific directories

These include niche directories that are specific for dentists or organizations that may cater to the dental and medical industry. These may include sites like Dentagama.comwellness.com, and dentists4kids.com. If you are a member of any specific dental groups or associations, you may also be able to receive a citation listing from their website.

Location-specific directories

If your dental practice is located in Florida, you may be able to find online directories that only list businesses located in the state of Florida.

Unstructured citations

These include any non-directory sites that list your citation. For example, if your business sponsors a local charity in your area, and their sponsor page lists your business along with your address and phone number, that would be considered a citation in the eyes of Google.

Citations can also be found on forums, blog posts, media mentions, and affiliate websites – just to name a few. While NAP information is important, your citation listings should include as much information as possible. When you can, you should include information like a detailed business description, hours of operation, additional services offered, images, and payments accepted.

Pro tip: search competitor brand names

Using the same advanced search modifier that you used to find your own citations, you can do the same thing to figure out where your competitors are getting their citations. This may uncover unknown websites that could potentially list your dental practice as well.

Other citation guidelines

Don’t sweat the details

You should try to make sure that all of your citations are consistent, but there’s no need for concern if there are minor differences. These are a few examples:

Greenburg Dental Group vs. Greenburg Dental Group, Inc.

Street vs. St., Avenue vs. Ave., etc.

123-456-7890 vs. (123) 456-7890

Keep descriptions unique

While it may be tempting to copy/paste a business description across all of your listings, it’s better to write unique descriptions for all of your citations. Google does not like duplicate content, and while it is not always a deal-breaker to use the same description in several locations, it can pay off to take the extra step and write unique business descriptions for each of your citation listings.

Monitor your citations for reviews

Most people will use Google itself to leave an online review of your dental practice, but this can be done in other locations as well. Yelp, Angie’s List, and the BBB are common spots that people use to write reviews of your business. Using these platforms to engage with positive reviews and respond appropriately to negative reviews can show your customers and Google that you are active and engaged.

Enhance existing citations

The more information that you can put into your citations, the better. Many directories allow you to write detailed business descriptions, provide information about each of your individual services offered, and display multiple pictures. If your directory listings seem to have bare-bones information about your business, it may be worthwhile to take the time to fill them with relevant business details. 

Create listings for each location

If your dental practice has more than one location, you will need to separately build citations for each location. For example, if you have two locations then you should have two Yelp listings for each of the locations.

Citation tools

At Netvantage, we use a number of different tools that scan citations and automatically identify inconsistent information and assist with finding new citation opportunities. The following are a few examples – All of which require paid subscriptions:

Using these tools is necessary to help streamline the citation building process and provide an extra edge in competitive markets.

Link building

Link building is the process of getting other websites to create links to your website, which are known as backlinks. 

What are backlinks, why are they important?

Backlinks are links found on another site’s webpage that point to your webpage. Google uses backlinks as a major ranking factor as it provides credibility to a website relative to its competitors.

You can think of a backlink as an endorsement. Other sites provide links to refer their website visitors to webpages that deserve attention or recognition. Google wants to provide the highest quality content to its users, so it relies heavily on these endorsements (backlinks) to determine how to rank content.

In the end, the more quality backlinks you have compared to your competitors, the more likely you will be able to rank ahead of them.

How do you see your backlinks?

In order to properly view your website’s backlink profile with enough detail to understand the overall quality and structure, you’ll need access to a premium backlink analyzing tool. Below are some of the most widely used tools currently on the market. You can also refer to our blog post on the best backlink checkers.

With the help of one of these tools, you can view and download your backlink profile data and analyze a variety of important factors like links to your domain by page, anchor text distribution, referring domains, and link authority vs. trustworthiness metrics.

Google Search Console

Assuming that you have verified your website using Google Search Console, you can find a limited report of your site’s backlinks by going to Google Search Console → Links.

GSC link report

Unfortunately, the data from these reports lack important details that paid backlink checkers provide like linking URL, anchor text, and authority scores. The data also does not indicate if a backlink may be considered spammy or manipulative of Google’s search algorithm.

How do you get backlinks?

There are a tremendous number of strategies and methods that SEOs use to get other sites to link to theirs. These are a few of the most common methods that are used for dental websites.

  • Business associations
  • Online directories
  • Link reclamation
  • Broken link building
  • Guest blogging

Business associations

If you have close ties with another business like an orthodontist, periodontist, or oral surgeon, you may want to take a look to see if they have a location on their website where they could link to you. If they have a blog or news section of their website, you could offer to write content for their website in which you can link back to your website. If you are a member of dental associations, a chamber of commerce, or local business association, you should check to see if you are getting a link from these places or not.

Online directories

Getting listed in online business directories has another benefit outside of building citations — many provide a link to your website as a part of the listing.

Link reclamation

Link reclamation involves finding unlinked mentions of your brand name or updating broken or outdated links to your site. While these instances are usually somewhat limited, news sites, articles, and directories may reference your business, but not link to it. 

Finding these instances can be done in a few different ways:

  • Search for your brand name
  • Search for your name
  • Search your logo
  • Scan your backlink profile for broken links

Search for your brand name

Doing a simple search for your brand name can return pages that mention your brand name and may or may not link to you. You can use the advanced search modifier mentioned above to narrow down results that are not your website: “your brand name” -site:yourdomain.com

Search for your name

As you would expect with dentists, their names are closely tied to their businesses. If you find mentions of your name online that are in reference to your dental practice, then the website owner may be more than happy to provide a link to your website.

Search your logo

Use Google image search to find where other sites are using your logo. If any sites are using your logo but are not providing a link, you can kindly ask them to add in a link to your site.

Google image search

Scan your backlink profile for broken links

This requires access to a backlink checking tool, but it is a great way to identify pages that are linking to a broken page on your website. For example, let’s say that your About Us page used to be located at dentistiam.com/about-us and two years ago the page was moved to dentistiam.com/about. If a 301 redirect was not created, or if it is no longer functioning, there may be websites that are linking to your old About Us page, which provides you with no SEO benefit. Backlink checking tools can help you find these instances if they exist, which provide an easy way for reclaiming broken links to your site.

Broken link building

You can also build links by finding broken content on other websites. This process, called broken link building, starts by finding a broken, or dead URL on another site that has many other sites linking to it. Ideally, you would want this to be related to dentistry or oral health. You then reverse engineer new content or a new tool that’s comparable to the broken content and pitch it to sites who are still linking to the broken page. This method works better than a standard link request because the webmasters you contact likely have more motivation to make a change on their site when they find out something is broken.

Guest blogging

Perhaps the most obvious method of link building is guest blogging. This is exactly what it sounds like, when you offer to write content that is published on other blogs who provide you a backlink within the content. Many sites will allow you to place a link in the main copy, while others may only allow it to be placed in the author biography. As more and more dentists around the country have blogs as a part of their website, there are an almost limitless amount of dental related sites to potentially guest blog for.

These are some of the most common methods for building links, but it’s always worthwhile to see how the top-ranking competitors in your area are getting their links. In order to see this information, you’ll need access to a premium website analyzing tool to view and download this data. Some of the best backlink analyzing tools include Majestic, Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMrush.

How do I know if I have bad backlinks?

If you or another SEO has engaged in manipulative link building techniques, it can result in poor keyword rankings or in extreme cases completely being deindexed from Google.

Google will inform you of any manual actions imposed on your website in Google Search Console.

Link relevancy

In 2020 and beyond, where you are getting your backlinks is more important than ever before. Many different types of websites provide links to dental practices such as a chamber of commerce, local newspaper, or a referring healthcare provider.

Websites that do not fit this description include sites related to gambling, car insurance, tourism, etc. Having too many links from sites that have little to do with dentistry can become an issue. To Google, these links were set up for the sole purpose of providing a link to your website and, as a result, manipulating their ranking algorithm.

As a rule of thumb, consider what a potential patient would think if they saw this link. If you wouldn’t want them to see the link, then it likely is not providing any benefit to your website.

Manipulative anchor text

Anchor text refers to the text used in a link. Historically, Google has used anchor text as a ranking factor as it has helped them identify the primary focus of a website.

A natural backlink profile will have a wide distribution of anchor text. The most frequently used anchor text is typically a website’s brand name followed by the URL

Link attributes

Not all links are the same – when a website assigns an attribute to a link, it will instruct web crawlers like Google to take a particular action.

One of the most common link attribute is the “no-follow” tag, which instructs crawlers to not follow a link. On the front end of the website, the link will look like a normal link, however, on the backend, it will look something like this: 

nofollow tag

Many websites like Facebook and Twitter will intentionally give all of their outgoing links a nofollow tag. This is to prevent SEOs from creating content (and links) for the sole purpose of influencing search results.

You can see if a link has a nofollow attribute either by looking at the HTML of the page or by installing a browser extension like No Follow, which will outline any links that have a no-follow tag.

Nofollow tag front end

Understanding Google My Business 

As you learn about SEO it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of terminology and tools you’re exposed to. While you may not understand all the SEO centered tools and terms, Google My Business (GMB) is one platform that you should be familiar with. So, what is Google My Business and how can it help your dental practice grow? The short answer is Google My Business is an online business listing that gives potential and current patients a snapshot of your dental practice within Google’s search results. It details important information about your practice including your business’s description, address, phone number, website address, hours, reviews, and more. The best part is that setting up a Google My Business profile for your dental practice is a free, easy, and straightforward process that you can do yourself.

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How to claim and verify?

Trust us, compared to dental school this will be a piece of cake. Getting started with your Google My Business is easy, however, the page will stay unpublished until you go through Google’s formal process of claiming and verifying your new dental listing.

Claim by computer 

  1. Open Google Maps and use the search bar to search for your business. 
  2. Once you’ve found your business, click on the business name. 
  3. From here, click “Claim this business” to begin managing. 
  4. Follow through with the instructions for the verification process. 

If your business is not already listed in Google Maps, you’ll have to use a Google account, login to Google My Business, and choose the “Add your business to Google” option.

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Verify by mail 

  1. Log into your Google My Business account. 
  2. Find the business you wish to verify and click “Verify now
  3. Ensure that your business information is displayed correctly on the postcard request screen. 
  4. From here, click “Send postcard” and you should receive it within 14 business days. 
  5. Once your postcard has been received by mail, log back into your Google My Business account. 
  6. Click “Verify now” and enter the unique 5 digit verification code in the field.
  7. Click “Submit” and you are done.

How it relates to citations

Your Google My Business listing is authoritative and can potentially be a source that feeds other citations across the web of your practice’s information. When Google displays search results with map listings, that data comes from your GMB listing. To trust your listing enough to display it, Google will compare the data you’ve provided with citations from around the web to check for consistency. If Google finds that your GMB listing has discrepancies between your practice name, address, or phone number on your website and other local directories like Yelp, they likely won’t trust your data enough to display your map listing when users do local searches. The more accurate your GMB listing is compared to third party citations across the web, the better chances you will have to appear in local rankings.

How to optimize your listing 

If you want to take your GMB listing to the next level, there are a few things that you should focus on. By optimizing your listing, your chances to be shown in the local map pack and map search results can increase greatly.

Reviews

When people search for your business on Google, one of the first things they will take a look at are the reviews. So encouraging your patients to leave a review about your dental practice can make a huge difference in whether potential patients click on your listing. In addition to getting patients to leave a review, it’s equally important to take the time to respond to these reviews whether they are good or bad. This lets patients know that you are actually acknowledging and reading what they are saying and effectively handling any negative public feedback. 

To learn more about how you can get more reviews for your practice, take a look at this post.

Images

Adding photos to your listing is crucial so that potential patients can get an idea of what your practice looks like before coming in. This will help build confidence that your office is a welcoming, professional environment before entering your practice. We recommend having high-quality photos of the exterior of your building, inside of your practice, and some photos of your dentists and staff. The goal is to use these images to help introduce your staff and build trust with potential patients. Be sure to keep photos up to date as things may change around your office. 

Categories

Typically as a dentist, you can fall within several different categories of dentistry. Maybe you provide both cosmetic dentistry and pediatric dentistry. That’s why categories can come in handy as you can list your practice in more than one category to show up in local searches related to these terms. You can easily add categories to your listing by visiting your Google My Business dashboard and locating the info tab to add categories.

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Services & descriptions

Google allows you to add services to your listing and relevant descriptions of each service. This can help your listing gain broader relevance in local search rankings. When adding these services, you can categorize them into different sections. For example, you might put “clear correct braces” as a service under the “cosmetic dentistry” category. By adding services, this helps not only patients but also helps Google better understand your practice and what you have to offer. 

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Hours & holidays 

Having accurate hours is important for your patients, and many of them will rely on Google for that information. Thus, it’s important to keep up with your hours on your listing. Google allows you to adjust these hours in your listing under “Special Hours” for holidays and other dates and times when your practice might be closed or operating under different hours. 

Reporting 

The GMB insights tool can be helpful when optimizing your listing. The insights section can provide you with data surrounding how customers have interacted with your listing. The main data points that it will provide you with include:

  • How many people have viewed your listing
  • How these people found your listing and where they came from
  • What actions to these people take on your listing
  • Any other interactions that happen with your listing

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How do you know if your SEO is working?

There are several good ways to measure whether your SEO is working. But before we get into those, let’s talk about the wrong way to measure SEO success – Googling yourself. 

One of the major complaints we hear from people is, “Our office doesn’t show up when I search.” It may seem counterintuitive, but constantly searching for yourself is a bad way to assess how you’re doing in search results. There are a number of reasons for this.

Google personalizes your results

Once you start searching and clicking on your own listing or your competitors, your experience will begin changing based on what you click. This is not the experience a new user has, nor what Google is likely presenting them.

Results change by location

Google updates results based on where you’re searching from. So, your rankings likely won’t be the same in your living room as they will be in other parts of town. Have a look at the massive variation of rankings for one dental office within a one-mile radius when searching for “dentist near me” below.

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Google is beyond simple binary rankings at this point. It’s extremely rare to consistently rank number one for a localized term throughout a whole town or city. If you are extremely concerned about your local rankings, you can pay for a localized rank checking service like Local Falcon which will allow you to generate reports like the one you see above. This will give you much more accurate reporting than trying to do it yourself.

If you can’t always be number one, how do you measure success?

For dental SEO it’s important to look at things in the aggregate. Rather than obsessing over how often you seem to show up in the first spot when you search on your own phone, you should pay attention to a handful of other metrics:

Organic search traffic

If you’re truly ranking higher, that will show itself in the number of visitors reaching your site from search. Google Analytics provides reporting on this data, and it’s 100% free.
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Search impressions

Often when starting an SEO campaign, you may have little or no traffic at all from search engines. Before you start getting clicks, you need to start showing up in search results. Every time your website appears in a result for a user, that is considered a “search impression”. Even if you don’t earn the click, tracking the trends in impressions will tell you if you’re making progress in Google. Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that tracks your impressions. If your SEO is working, you should see continued growth in impressions, followed by clicks. Bing offers a similar tool, called Bing Webmaster Tools, if you would like to get similar reporting from their interface.

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Localized metrics

In addition to the above data, Google also provides a lot of valuable feedback on your local SEO within Google My Business. This free dashboard will allow you to see how people are interacting with your Google map listing. This dashboard will give you data on how you are performing in Google’s local map packs and also when people utilize Google maps. Here you can find data for how often users click through from the map listing to your website, how often the request directions, and how many phone calls come from your local listing.

Conversions

If you’re savvy with Google Analytics, you can set up conversion tracking to see how well your website, and your various traffic sources, are performing in generating new patient leads. With this level of tracking you can see just how many new leads your SEO campaign is generating, and you can also measure other online marketing channels like paid search and email marketing.

If you’re overwhelmed by the process of dental SEO and looking for a dental marketing company, contact Netvantage today. We have experience helping dental practices with on-site and off-site SEO as well as optimizing Google My Business listings.