How to Improve Your Local Search Results
19/11/14 SEO

How to Improve Your Local Search Results

Search engine optimization doesn’t have to be hard, speaking from a purely technical standpoint.  It’s mostly hard work, and just using white-hat techniques Google says to use. Sure, there are some things you can do to get more out of what you do, but just remember the bottom line when it comes to SEO:  focus on providing value to people who visit your website.

Most small business owners are so time-strapped, that they just don’t do these basic things that could greatly improve their Google local search results:

Consistent NAP Use

Your name, address, and phone number (your “NAP” information) must be 100% consistent across the web.  You see, Google trusts websites and businesses that have been around longer.  They want your website to be much like your physical business location – always in the same place, and easy to find.

One mistake you might make is to use “Suite” instead of “Ste.” when entering your NAP information online.  You can use either way, but just make sure it’s exactly the same. You can check it here to see what I mean.

Regularly Produce Content

Many business owners seem to understand blogging is important.  But because they’re strapped for time, you can often visit their website and see one update made 2 months ago, one 6 months prior to that, and nothing else. I’m not criticizing here (because I am also guilty), just discussing the facts.  You don’t have to go crazy with content.  About one 800-1000 word blog post per month does the job.  But, the more you do, the better.

And if you want to get highly active social media profiles and build a community that comments on your blog, you’re going to need several blog posts per month.

Have a Nice, Clean, Modern-Looking Website

This is important for SEO for a few reasons:

If your website looks too old, people might think you’re not in business anymore.  If they click on your website, look at it 2 seconds, and then leave, in technical terms, this is called a “bounce.”  If the percentage of people who bounce off your website gets too high (greater than 50% or more), Google might think your website isn’t a match for what they’re looking for.

Then, your rankings will take a hit.

The second important aspect of a website is how fast it loads.  A second or less is ideal, while 2 seconds or less does the job.  Google views a fast-loading website as offering a good user experience, and it wants those websites at the top of its rankings.  Slow load time also affects sales.

Digital marketing thought leader KISSmetrics conducted a study, which found sites that take around 4 seconds to load lose around 22% of their sales right off the bat.  That number falls to about 10% at 2 seconds, and 3% or so at 1 second.

Third, your website should be “responsive” in design.  That means it displays perfectly on desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablet PCs.  Google’s actually endorsed responsive design publicly, and it doesn’t too often make it publicly and distinctly clear what it wants from websites and SEOs. If it’s not responsive, at least make sure you have a mobile version of your site.

Finally, you also have to use the minimum amount of code behind the scenes to make this happen.  That’s highly technical so I won’t go any further into it, but know that less is more when it comes to code, and that websites have to be designed with SEO in mind from the start.

An example of a good website would be:

Looks modern

Simple, easy to navigate menu at the top

Good use of color to keep things interesting, without going overboard

Very fast load speed

Logo in the upper left tells you who they are and what they do immediately

Claim Your Google Places Account & Get Active on Google+

Here’s an article on how to if you haven’t yet. Also, a regularly updated G+ business page with a few social media posts monthly, could help increase the number of people who have you in their circles, and also potentially help you get more social shares (which are a significant ranking factor for Google these days).  Here’s a detailed post on a simple social media strategy time-strapped SMB owners can use.

Get Online Reviews

I wrote a whole post about getting online reviews.  Not only are good reviews a booster for your search rankings, but reviews allow you to do market research and see what about your business needs to improve to make your customers happier.

If you have a misbehaving employee, long wait times, or a product that breaks too often, people aren’t afraid to let you know online.  If you ask for feedback in-person, most customers are less truthful because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

You want to be above at least 4 stars, and ideally 4.5 stars or more.

So as you can see, although the website coding tip is fairly complicated, most of these are not.  Internet marketing is more about providing value to your website visitors and doing consistent hard work than anything else.

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Need Online Business Reviews?  Read This!
19/11/14 SEO

Need Online Business Reviews? Read This!

Google’s publicly stated a number of different SEO benefits that reviews provide your website:

When you have 10-20 reviews, Google ranks your business higher – according to Higher Visibility

Reviews also offer fresh content (if you choose to post them on your site), and this helps satisfy the Google Fresh Update

Besides that, the fact that you have a good average rating encourages more people to use your business.  In fact, 52% of those surveyed by Hubspot said positive customer reviews make it more likely they’ll purchase from that business (compared to 28% who choose based on location and price alone). And, what people say in those reviews can also increase sales – and especially so if what they say is results-oriented.

If you’re not already aware, one site that really stinks for reviews is Yelp.  They’ve received tons of complaints, including allegations they filter out positive reviews, allow negative ones, and do so with more frequency when the company in question refuses to purchase advertising through Yelp.  Some also claim Yelp deletes positive reviews offered by reviewers with profiles that aren’t highly active.  So whatever you do, stay far, far away from Yelp.

There’s only about a million other business review sites online, so which are the most important?  Here are a few:

  • Google+ Local
  • The BBB
  • Angie’s List
  • Citysearch
  • Merchant Circle
  • Epinions
  • Insider Pages
  • Yellow Pages

You don’t need to be on all of them, but you should get listed on 3-4 or so to start.

Now here’s the question you really want the answer to:

How do You Create a Strategy for Getting Online Reviews?

If you’ve been wondering how to get online reviews, you don’t have to worry about it too much.  It’s actually pretty simple.

Some ideas for getting online business reviews:

Ask for them in Person.  Wait until you’ve made a customer happy, and then ask them to review your business online.  Mention the site you’d like them to use though – otherwise you might get them from an undesirable website (like Yelp).

If your customers are under 30… Consider using your social network profiles to ask for a review.  They do everything online, so it’s pretty easy to get them to take action.  Encourage unbiased, honest feedback.

Do you have an e-mail list?  If so, that’s a great way to ask for a review.

Don’t have a list, but do have the e-mail?  Send an e-mail to your customer about 3 days or so after service.  Inside the e-mail, add links to the top sites from which you’d like to receive reviews.  Better yet, just make that part of your signature so you don’t have to type the links up over and over again.

If you do most of your business by phone… Try following up with your customers using a comment card.  Use return postage on the card, attach it to your invoice, and ask for the review.

For customers that purchase in-store… Include a short note at the bottom of their receipt.

For smartphone users…  Add a QR code to your business or comment cards they can take along with them.  When scanned, this should take them directly to your desired review site.  Yeah, it costs a little, but QR codes are pretty simple, so it’s not a huge additional expense, and the business you get from the better reviews will more than offset the cost of the QR code.

Create a dedicated testimonial section on your website.  It’s as simple as can be – and you’ll get reviews from your desired site.  On that page, you could embed your reviews, which also helps your SEO.

Some Additional Tips

Now that you have some strategic ideas in place for getting more online reviews, let’s talk about some things you should and should not do.

Avoid creating fake reviews.  It’s tempting to do, but don’t do it.  Review sites are becoming aware of this and are removing the fake reviews.  And if you’re customers discover this is happening, you’ll lose a ton of trust.  If you get caught, you could also get fined for it.

Don’t offer incentives for reviews.  This could actually hurt your business more so than anything else.  Your top customers could feel hurt you’re willing to manipulate the system like this.  Additionally, you’ll also get biased information, which means you can’t make solid business decisions.

Do ask promptly.  The shorter you ask for a review after the time of service, the more likely you are to actually get the review.  An article at Search Engine Land claims you can get completion rates of 80-90% when you do this.

Fill out your business profiles.  You always want to have the appearance that your business is active, so make sure your profiles are fully filled out on all websites where you want to get reviews.  It’s a good idea to include pictures of your business, staff, products, and services as well.

Respond to as many reviews as possible.  If you’re smaller, make sure you hit every single one, at least thanking people for their feedback.  Others will notice how much you care, and that may be enough for you to choose them over another business.Address negative reviews.  If you can contact a person who makes a negative review and resolve the issue, do it.  Then, follow up the review with comments, if you were able to come to a resolution that makes the customer happy.

So if you’re wondering how to get business reviews online, that’s the short of it.  Yes, I know, more to manage, but also very necessary and helpful to take care of in today’s business environment.

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Multiple Addresses & Phone Numbers + Bad Google Rankings
19/11/14 SEO

Multiple Addresses & Phone Numbers + Bad Google Rankings

If you are having a Google ranking problem, it is critical to make sure you do not have addresses and phone numbers you don’t know about cited online creating possible Google confusion or location spam.

You can do this by searching for your company name on Google, Bing and Yahoo (and also check the local maps section of these search engines). Look for any current and past phone numbers and addresses you may have used.

If you do have multiple addresses and phone numbers that are legitimate, you MUST dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s everywhere for the sake of your Google rankings. Each address needs the following, or should be deleted from your site and everywhere else online in my opinion. From what I have seen lately, something as simple as having another address listed on your website, unless you have properly covered these bases, could be hurting you on Google (even your map placement).

Each address needs a unique phone number. Do not have multiple addresses listed with the same phone number.

Each address needs a Google Places map listing and Google+ Business page.

Each address needs to be listed on your website contact page and on the specific city location page, and you need to link out to each Google+ Business page via richsnippets code, so that it passes in the structured data markup testing tool.

Each address needs to be listed in the major local business directories like Yellow Pages, SuperPages, Yelp, etc. (I use Power Listings for this.)

Membership in the local BBB is also very important I think (because Google favors them in the rankings and refers to their database). I believe they will list your locations on your profile. The Dallas BBB will also link to you from their pages related to each city you service. I recommend contacting: Brian Reagan | District Manager 214-740-0343 – Email: to join or if you have any questions. He is VERY helpful and interested in your success online.

All your information everywhere; map listings, social sites, business directories, your website, needs to MATCH perfectly, down to the T. Your company name, address, phone number(s) and domain name need to be consistent, as in using #700 versus suite 700 or ste 700, etc.

Another big factor is, let’s say you are actually located in a suburb of Dallas, i.e. Plano, but you are targeting Dallas with your SEO, meaning your meta-tags and content all say Dallas. If this is the case, you likely have noticed a sharp decline in your placement. The reason would be that Google does not see you as actually being a Dallas company because of your address. They seem to only want to rank sites for cities where they have locations. If you want to target Dallas, you need a real Dallas office address, or need to refocus your SEO on the city where your business resides.

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6 Tips to Help Your Rankings on Google
19/11/14 SEO

6 Tips to Help Your Rankings on Google

  1. Make sure you have Google+ Authorship and Publisher code installed and working properly on your site.
  2. Install a sharebar on all your webpages so people can interact socially with your site’s content.
  3. Revisit your existing content and try to make it as unique, educational and informative as possible. Make sure you have at least 500 words per page, but 800-1,000 is better.
  4. Make sure you have a blog installed on your website and that you are socially active. Even if it’s only 1-2 posts per month, just be consistent. If you post too much people will block or tune you out. Your articles should be unique, worth posting and related to your main subject matter, not just a retelling of the news or an already existing story, not unless you add to its value with your own professional perspective and opinions. Then once posted to your own website’s blog, it needs to be pushed out to your own social sites (Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) by clicking on your own sharebar buttons and sharing them with yourself. (Pinterest too, if the article contains an infographic, which will help get it a lot more love.)
  5. Work on getting connected to as many other professionals and companies as you can on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest that are complimentary to your own subject matter, who might actually bother to read and interact with your articles. Your social efforts will fail without connections.
  6. Also share your site’s pages socially, and not just your blog articles, if they contain great informative content and are worth sharing.
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Local SEO Tips for Small Businesses
19/11/14 SEO

Local SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Hi All,

In checking and trying to install Google Authorship for some of my clients, which is what makes your picture show up next to your search engine listings, I recognized most did NOT have a personal Google+ account, only a Google+ Local (map listing) for their business. This likely applies to many of you then as well, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share some local SEO tips.

Here is how I think Google+ is going to work in the future and why:

Like Facebook, going forward, Google is not going to allow a business to have a Google+ Business page (which is equivalent to a Business Fan page on Facebook) unless it is connected to a personal Google+ profile. (Google+:

Facebook is stealing PPC revenue from Google because of their ability to serve highly targeted ads based on people’s personal interests and conversations. Not just my opinion – This is the main reason Google created Google+, to compete with Facebook. Eventually there will be paid advertising on all Google+ accounts, but first they have to get everyone to sign-up and use it. However, it is so confusing compared to Facebook (what I myself think and what others have routinely expressed to me), it’s not happening voluntarily as fast as they would like, so they are going to force us to use it by making it count towards Google rankings. Now Google +1s, which are equivalent to Facebook Likes, are definitely counting in the ranking metrics for Google (and so is Google Authorship, which is personal profile related).

Now that it counts everyone will be signing up, who has a business and cares about rankings on Google anyway… And in the future to have a business account or a local map listing even, you will have to have a personal account that your business listing is claimed under. From what I’ve heard and read, all Google+ Business pages and Google+ Local map listings NOT eventually claimed under a personal account will go away. It’s one more step to ensure authenticity, prevent spamming, and the perfect way to force as many people as possible to use Google+ personally as a social platform whether they like it or not.

Here’s what needs to happen:

You need to create a personal Google+ for yourself if you haven’t already (using your current Google login if you have one (the one you already use to manage your Google+ Local map listing, Gmail account or other Google services).

You need to claim or create a Google+ Business page under your same login and fill out both profiles as much as possible so they are 100% complete.

You need to get in as many Circles as possible and acquire Followers who will hopefully interact with the things you post, both to your personal and business profiles.

Once you have both a personal and a business page, then Google+ Authorship (personal) and Publisher (business) rich snippets code needs to be installed on your website, so that both Google+ accounts are officially connected/credited to your website and your personal profile picture can start showing up in your search engine listings. You can test your site here with Google’s Structured Data Tool.

Your Google+ Local map listing and Business page need to have your legal company name listed in the company name field and NOT a keyword phrase. Your company name needs to be established as your brand, which is partly accomplished by making sure it matches on your website, Google+ Business page and Google+ Local map listing, Twitter, Facebook Business Fan page, and LinkedIn business page… Yes, even LinkedIn now has a separate page for your business you can create which is connected to your personal LinkedIn profile. What a confusing bunch of spread out mess to have to manage (that’s me putting it nicely and not cursing). You may need help getting all this set-up properly and integrated into your website (God knows I could use some help!)… whether that be through in-house training or hiring someone to just manage it all for you.


All your citations, which are listings on directories and review sites like Yelp and Yellow Pages, likely need to be cleaned up. You can see what I mean by going here and entering in your company information – name, address, phone number, url. It will scan all the worthwhile directories Google looks at and considers to be important sources of 3rd party information, and will show you if you have mismatched company information or other local listings issues that need to be cleaned up. All information about your business – name, address, phone number, url – needs to be consistent across the web including on your website and social media sites. This applies to each and every location/address you have.

Yext has a partnership with most of the important directories and provides a convenient control panel where you can fill out one profile to sync and manage all of your directory listings from a single place. If you are my local SEO client and want me to help you with this, I can set you up under my Certified Partner account. You would still have full access to your own control panel so you can work-on and manage your own profile yourself, but the advantage would be a little cheaper pricing. As a matter of fact, only through a Certified Yext Partner can you get the option to pay monthly.

What you want is the Power Listings service, which you can learn about here. Normally the price is $527 per year (I believe). The price through me is $499 annually per address if paid in advance or $45 monthly per address (yes monthly costs a little more). This does NOT include my time for filling out and optimizing your profile. You can do that yourself pretty easily. If you are a current SEO client of mine, you have the option of paying for 1 hour of my time for set-up per address, and I’ll handle it for you (currently I’m $150 hourly). If you are on a monthly SEO services plan with me, there will be no additional charge for set-up, I will consider it included. You will just need to pay the $499 annual fee or I can add the the monthly cost to your current recurring payment. Contact me if you are a client and want to discuss it.

Now a Little About Social Signals

You should have a sharebar installed on all of your static webpages in my professional opinion, and not just on your blog pages, to make it easier for people to interact socially with all of your content. You can see what I mean if you go to my site and look in the content heading area of all my static pages.

You need to get as many people as possible to +1, Like, and Tweet your site’s content pages. For example, if you have a Facebook Fan page for your business and people go to it directly and then click Like, those Likes are not what is counting or being tallied in the ranking metrics. The ones that count are for your actual website domain itself. If you have a sharebar on your site’s pages, and I go to your home page or any page of your site and click Like, +1, or Tweet from there, those are the social signals that count towards your website’s search engine placement. At least that’s how it appears across all of the optimization reports and software I have looked at. It’s all about people socially interacting and sharing your actual website domain content.

When you write and post an article, it should be posted on your physical website, not on one of your social sites only, like Facebook directly. Once it’s posted on your site or your integrated blog, you need to then click on your own sharebar icons, i.e. Like, +1, Tweet, LinkedIn and PUSH your articles OUT to your own social sites. This way if your Friends, Circles, Connections, Followers etc. interact with it, it not only counts as a social signal for your social site, but for your website domain as well, and is how you go about creating natural links back to your website from the social sites of all those who interact with your content. When they share it, they are sharing a page that originated on and links back to your website itself. This is what you want to happen and NEED to be working on. It’s crucial to the future of your rankings and is already affecting them.

Thanks, and I hope this information helps clarify some things for you as a small business website owner! If you found this article useful, PLEASE show me some love by Liking, Tweeting or +1-ing it.

All the best,

Shelley Cates
Dallas SEO Consultant
(214) 212-2495

Follow-up to this article originally written in July 2013

Since I wrote the above, as you may be aware, Google’s Matt Cutts has put out a video stating that Google +1s do not count towards rankings on Google. It seems I was not the only SEO that formed that opinion, based on comparing numerous local top ranking sites, across a variety of industries for multiple keyword terms (after the release of the Penguin 2 algorithm update on May 22, 2013). Many of us were commenting on how sites with Google+ Authorship installed, especially those with the most Google +1s, seemed to come out of nowhere and start ranking in the top 5. It has been a huge topic of debate recently. I imagine, if +1s do count, that it might be considered an unfair trade practice (certainly seems bias to me). Bottom line, it is my own personal opinion after careful observation, but that doesn’t mean it’s fact and I do not want to publicly say anything that may be considered libel.

I am not an SEO that seeks the limelight, speaks at conferences, or frequently expresses my opinion publicly, as often times what I think is controversial and not of popular industry opinion, which Google seems to largely control concerning SEO now. They appear to me, to be pushing their own agenda(s) for the sake of profit, and not so much for their claimed reason(s) of making their results of a higher quality for end users. The things they do certainly do not always seem to serve the best interests of web surfers, small business owners, and especially not my industry, which has somewhat become their enforcement crew. To disagree with them will often times get you labeled as being “black hat” by other SEOs. It feels like they are using us, SEOs, to carry their messages of conformity to websites owners, and at the same time causing us to kill our own industry, by promoting the fear of being banned for using any kind of method to manipulate their results… which is of course what we ultimately get paid to do.

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