SEO. Search engine optimization. The phrase that every business owner knows enough about to understand they need it, but rarely truly understands the nuts and bolts that make the SEO machine work. By the end of this blog post, I want you to be in a place where you understand:
Why SEO is a crucial part of success in digital marketing
What search engine optimization can do for local businesses
What local business owners should focus on in order to achieve good rankings for keywords that will affect their bottom line
Why do people make such a big deal about SEO?
Are you old enough to remember the significance of the phone book? More specifically, the “Yellow Pages” within the phone book? Before we could ask a talking box in our home like Siri or Alexa about the best plumber near us, we had to seek this type of information out on paper… manually… in a book with hundreds of pages…daunting, right?!
For those that aren’t familiar with the Yellow Pages, the process went something like this:
- You know you need a local service provider, but you have no idea who provides that service in your area
- You open the phone book, flip to the yellow pages, and look for the service you need
- On that service-based yellow page, you’ll find plenty of plumbers who are able to serve your area
- You make as many calls to as many businesses as you care to, vetting/comparing prices of different providers. You might even make a few more calls to ask a friend if they have any good or bad experiences with any of the providers you narrowed down
- You make your decision, call your provider, and schedule your appointment
The process worked great for years until the internet came along and disrupted the entire system. Even if you can’t ask a talking box in your home for this information, you can hop on the internet, do a quick search, and you’ll see the top providers in your area next to their reviews. All of a sudden, you’re one click away from scheduling your appointment!
If you were a plumber, wouldn’t you like to be “in play” for searches like these? Wouldn’t you like your business and your awesome reviews to show up on the first page of the search results when “ready-to-buy” customers are searching for the service you provide?
THAT’s why SEO is the big deal that it is!
So now you know the value of search engine optimization, you’re probably wondering how to actually pull it off, right? Going back to the plumber example, there are probably a dozen plumbers in your service area and they’re all competing for a handful of valuable placements on the SERPs (search engine result page). So how do Google and other search engines decide which businesses get the prime digital real estate?
Time for the good stuff… time to list the 3 most important pieces of Local SEO, explained as “non-techy” as humanly possible (though some tech jargon is inevitable 🤷♂️)
The 3 most important factors in winning the local SEO battle:
1.) On-site optimization
What is on-site optimization?
In layman’s terms, this means getting your website set up correctly so that search engines like Google know:
- Who you are
- What you do
- Where you serve
Have you ever wondered how search engines are able to serve the results they do to searchers? They do it by creating “bots” that scrape the code of your website looking for signals that pertain to the three things listed above. Want to know what to focus on so you can avoid majoring in the minors? Here are the goods (warning, a little bit of tech-jargon awaits, but I’ll break it down for you the best I can).
- Your domain name or URL
- Brands in URLs are great, but if you can get a keyword in there, while still keeping it short, that’s even better!
- Title tags of your pages
- This is one of the strongest signals you can give the search engines that explains what any given page on your website is about.
- Structured headings (<h1><h2>, etc.)
- Aside from your URL and Title Tag, structured headings are the single most overlooked or under-utilized aspect of SEO.
- The words you use on your webpages
- This probably seems obvious, but the content on your site should talk about the products/services you provide, as well as your service area. I think you’d be very surprised at how many people get this wrong.
- Linking from one page to another page within your website when it makes sense.
A citation is any time that your company’s name, address, phone number, and website are listed together on a web page. Your Facebook page is a citation. Your BBB listing and your Chamber of Commerce listing are both citations. There are hundreds of different opportunities across the web for you to list your company information (a lot of times, absolutely free of charge).
Why are citations important for local SEO?
If you own a search engine, it’s in your best interest to make sure every “searcher” on your platform gets the search result they’re looking for. When this happens, that searcher is more likely to come back to your platform and use it again. The more traffic your search engine gets, the more ads you can sell. That’s the business model of the search engine game.
Now that you have that piece of information, how would you make sure your search engine displays the best business for any given search for a local service provider? You would probably want to make sure you’re directing your searchers to businesses that are, first of all, real (not just spam listing), businesses that provide the product/service your searcher is looking for, and businesses that are established and capable of performing the service being requested of them.
Citations are a great way for the “bots” out there collecting information to gauge a business’s validity. The more times your company name, address, phone number, and website address are listed correctly and consistently across the web, the more trust these “bots” attribute to the said business. Think about it. Would you rather hire a company that only has a Facebook page, or would you rather hire a company that has social profiles on every platform, a verified BBB listing, member of a Chamber of Commerce, etc.? The answer is easy for a variety of reasons. This is why citations are crucial to the “local SEO” game. They help the “bots” determine how much trust their search engines have in your company’s ability to serve the person searching on their platform.
What’s a backlink?
A backlink is when a website creates a link that sends visitors to a page on your site. A backlink is the same as a hyperlink, and the actual words used in the link are called link anchor text. You now know the meaning of all “tech jargon” you may encounter in this final section. Congrats to you!
Let’s get away from the internet for a second and go back to the days of searching local service providers in the yellow pages of the phone book. Let’s say you’ve done your research and you found five different service providers in your area. Now what? Would you go with one based on price alone? A lot of people do. A lot of people are also willing to pay a bit more for a job that will be done correctly and is completed on time, hopefully by a technician with great customer service and communication skills to match! The problem is, how did you get this kind of information before you could look up reviews online? You probably asked a friend, family member or neighbor if they’ve had any experience, good or bad, with any vendor on the list you’ve created, right?
Let’s hop back to the internet. Consider each backlink to your site as equal to a referral from that friend or family member we just mentioned in the paragraph above. Think about it – why would one site link to another site at all? In the eyes of Google and other search engines, a “backlink” is essentially a “vote of confidence” that one website gives to another site.
How did backlinks become so valuable in the SEO world?
Before Google became the 800 lb. gorilla in the search engine world, there were several decent enough search engines you could choose from. Yahoo!, WebCrawler, AskJeeves. Are these ringing any bells? What happened that made Google the king of search and left all these other search engines in the dust? Google doubled down on the importance of backlinks as the main ranking signal. While SEO has figured out how to spam keywords on a given page to rank well in the lesser-used search engines of today, Google decided to put most of the weight of their search results in the quantity and quality of backlinks a website received from other websites on the internet.
Backlinks are the biggest opportunity for gains in the SEO world today. They are also the biggest area where a website can screw up and get themselves kicked out of the SEO game altogether. Yes, Google loves backlinks, but more specifically, they love quality backlinks.
When it comes to links, should I shoot for quality or quantity?
After a quick search, you could easily find a vendor that can promise to send thousands of links to your site overnight. However, doing something like that is very easily noticed by the “bots” doing the scraping and reporting that influences search rankings. Hiring this type of vendor is the quickest way for your site to get hit with what is called a “manual penalty,” where Google basically kicks you out of their search index altogether because they caught you trying to manipulate their system.
On the flip side, if a website like Wikipedia, Forbes, or Amazon sends a backlink to your website, what kind of signal do you think that sends to a search engine like Google? One link from a site like this could single-handedly rank a site if the circumstances are right.
How do I get backlinks to my website?
Now that you’re sold on backlinks, you’re probably wondering where to get them. As mentioned in the citation section above, there are backlinks available from certain directories that you’re already in. Other than directories, there are also backlinks available through certain affiliations, accreditations, and other groups, etc. that you’re already involved in (think chamber of commerce, BBB, Certified ‘fill in the blank’, Licensed ‘insert affiliation here’). BE SURE that you’re obtaining every backlink you’re entitled to. After all, you earned them!
Another way to obtain quality backlinks is to explore sponsoring local initiatives that list their sponsors on your website. For instance, if you’re a service provider in Indianapolis and you sponsor an Indianapolis City Cleanup initiative, the backlink you could stand to receive from that sponsorship would definitely strengthen your backlink profile.
Pro tip: avoid reciprocal backlinks – “if you link to my site, I’ll link to yours!” Google’s algorithm is managed by Artificial Intelligence these days, and reciprocal links are extremely easy to spot and completely ignore, which is exactly what will happen. So don’t waste your time!
We hope that helped you get a better understanding of SEO and efficiently winning in your SEO efforts. But at the same time, we understand that there is a lot more to SEO that can influence your bottom line. Don’t know where your website currently ranks in Google yet? We will run an SEO audit on your website. Submit a free SEO audit request here. If you are looking for more insights into ranking your business above your competitors, contact our SEO specialist here.