When you run a business, you always want to bring in new customers or clients. To achieve this goal, you need to optimize your company’s website so it ranks well in overall search engine results. You especially want to focus on ranking in your own city or region, otherwise known as local SEO.
To help you with this process, Namecheap brought in Duane Forrester, an expert in SEO and search engine behavior. Below, he shares his insight into how to ensure your website always finds its way to the top of Google and Bing.
Website Optimization for Local Business
The first step to optimizing a website is the accuracy of the information on the site. Typos or outdated information means everything becomes suspect to a search engine.
This should be pretty simple. Let’s consider a restaurant website. Make sure your business name, address, phone number, hours of operation, business category, and other pertinent data is all correct and current.
Next, scrutinize the website itself.
Bad user experiences on your website can cause lasting damage to your reputation. You’ve taken the time to embed a menu on your site, for example, but maybe a visitor can only see half of it. That would qualify as a failure—suddenly, your site looks cheap, your brand is tarnished, and all your work was for nothing.
Poor navigation, broken links, missing content on pages, and slow load times are also sure-fire ways to sour visitors to your site.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes, and nowhere is this truer than on your website. So dive deep to make sure there are no unwelcome surprises.
The Importance of Monitoring Reviews
Reviews are critical for a business. Online reviews can make or break the consumer’s decision to make a purchase, visit your website, or walk into your store.
When making a purchase decision, consumers often trust feedback from complete strangers more than that of family and friends. This makes sense, given it’s all about volume. Could 300 strangers be wrong about the quality of a product? It seems less likely than your father missing the mark with his singular opinion.
Cultivating high quality, legitimate reviews takes active engagement. There are a lot of forums where customers can post reviews, which means you need to track them and respond. This is a time-consuming task, but you need to touch base with positive reviews (not every single one, but enough to be seen as participating in the conversation) and you absolutely need to engage with less-positive reviews.
If you do get a bad review (and you will—this is the Internet, after all), swallow your pride, reach out to the customer, and work to make it right. Publicly addressing a problem is often as powerful as actually fixing it. Your honest effort and transparency will resonate with consumers, whose biggest fear is often that their problems won’t be heard or taken seriously.
This concept, known by the tag #hugyourhaters, has the power to change minds, opinions, and reviews. While the process of confronting your critics can be an uncomfortable and sometimes hostile experience, it can offer invaluable insight into issues that truly need attention–ones you may not have discovered otherwise–making your business better overall.
And even if you simply cannot recover that relationship, others will see your good-faith attempts, and that by itself can be powerful enough to counteract the negative review.
Where Should a Web Business Get Listed Online?
Local businesses need to be listed in Google and Bing for sure. Other local listing services (such as Yelp) can also be useful. A business does itself a disservice by taking a shortcut here. Each space has its own ecosystem of users and, by skipping the space, you miss those users.
It’s all about discoverability. The engines will crawl all the sites online where you may be listed. If you’re there, they’ll find you. More importantly, they will check the data in each space for accuracy and whether it matches the information they already have about your site.
Having a broad, accurate network of locations all saying the same thing about you (your business data and information, not reviews in this example) can provide an added layer of trust.
For multi-location businesses, however, it can be a lot of work to manage listings (and reviews) on services beyond the big two, so this is something consider when budgeting for web or customer service support staff.
The Value of Links and Citations on Other Sites
Links are exactly what you think—clickable content on other sites that lead users to your website.
Links to your business are still a primary “vote of confidence” that search engines track when determining how to rank a site. The basic idea is that a link elsewhere acts as a vote for your website. It’s a system that’s regularly abused (and the engines fight this abuse), but it remains a useful factor in ranking nonetheless.
Meanwhile, citations are when your business name gets mentioned in an article. Whether that mention is linked or not is secondary—just having your business name mentioned is useful.
Search engines actively look for these citations and seek to understand the surrounding sentiment related to the mention. Was your business mentioned in a positive or negative manner? You could think of citations as randomly-located, informal reviews.
In other instances, the citation may be nothing more than your business name appearing in a list of businesses. Though its value isn’t quite as ideal as a purely inbound link elsewhere, it’s crawlable and still helps discovery. And when it’s coupled with the data such a listing should be providing, you’ll have an additional resource. If it includes reviews, the sentiment can be tracked by the engines and applied to your business.
Ultimately, you want positive citations and earned links. And while you can influence each item, buying them is unwise. Patterns emerge when buying things like links online and the engines are extremely good at spotting these patterns. So just stick to doing good by your customers and let them do the rest for you.
How You Get Links
First and foremost, you should never buy links. That’s a dead end and one that can lead to significant penalties from search engines.
If you’re a local business, instead look to places like a local chamber of commerce. Join and get included in their business directory. It’s legit, even if you could technically argue that your membership fee “bought” the link.
Look into other community-focused websites and be an active participant. Seek interviews with local news services and blogs. All media coverage in newspaper, radio, or TV, as well as online, will generate links online for you.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other websites, too. If you think your business is complementary to another, consider asking them to link to you. Be prepared for them to ask for a link back, however, which can dilute the entire process and nets you less value. Still, you should look at this from the user’s point of view. If including the link to another site is useful for your visitors, then include it.
How Schema Helps Businesses
Marking up your content is helpful for the engines to know more about you. The accuracy of data matters a great deal to search engines, and using a system like Schema can help create a structured flow in your data that helps the engines easily and quickly understand more about your business.
Businesses should start with Schema and understand what applies in their unique cases. There are over 100 elements that can be marked up. Businesses should research what applies to them and get that code on their website.
Since the major engines support markup (indeed, they run Schema.org), it’s a good idea to align and grow trust with them. It does take some work and it may be more difficult than making other simple changes to a site, but the long-term benefits are well worth it.
And it’s not just Schema that’s useful. Several other languages exist (OpenGraph, Microformats, RDFA, etc.) that do similar work, though coverage varies between languages. To be clear here, adding markup doesn’t give you a rankings boost.
If you’re still wondering why you should do this work, the answer lies in the richness of the user experience, as much as in building trust. If you’ve ever seen reviews, star ratings, or dollar symbols in search results that help a person understand more about the result or business, those are largely powered by content that’s marked up. Schema can also play a role in getting your listings included in the first place.
Mobile is such an important factor in today’s consumer landscape that it’s a priority for all businesses.
More than ever before, how your site performs in the mobile environment informs how the engine treats you. If your site is slow to load, expect rankings to suffer. Not mobile-friendly? Expect your website not to even show up when consumers do a search on a mobile device.
When consumers are coordinating errands or planning their day, they do it on a mobile device. From there, maps serve a critical role in those consumers finding the businesses they’ll visit. So all that optimization work you did—the markup you deployed and the accuracy of your data—comes into play here, ensuring that you show up in the map environment the consumer sees.
The Next Wave of Optimization—Voice Search
Fairly new to the SEO scene, voice search currently is responsible for 20% of all interactions in Google’s own mobile apps. And that number is growing. As more voice-controlled devices come to market, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, they add to the uptake in voice assistants led by Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant.
And if you think it’s hard to rank on a search page online, try being the ONE answer spoken out loud by a device.
To win that spot requires all that technical work we touched on previously (SEO, Schema, mobile optimization, etc.), and it requires that your business is considered the most useful by a search engine. This means digging deep into what a consumer needs and building content and experience that delivers on those needs better than anyone else.
Now that you know all of the ins and outs for optimizing your website for local SEO, why not consider Namecheap as your hosting provider? Namecheap offer options for all types of companies and budgets, including shared hosting, VPS hosting, reseller hosting, and even dedicated servers.
As the VP of Industry Insights at Yext, Duane Forrester has become an expert source of information about localized online presence. His previous eight-year tenure at Microsoft included running the Bing Webmaster Program and managing Microsoft’s in-house SEO efforts. As the face of Bing at numerous conferences throughout the world, he became a valuable resource for digital marketers. He also wrote the books Turning Clicks into Customers and How To Make Money with Your Blog. He recently released an ebook on How Voice Search Changes Everything, which you can download for free on the Yext blog.