When it comes to marketing your business locally online, from Carlisle to Carnforth, or Whitehaven to Wallsend; 2014 turns out to have been a tumultuous year. You need those local buyers and visitors to your area, to be able to find you and suss you out, before they are likely to visit your premises. Google in particular made changes to the way it shows results in local searches that business owners need to be aware of. These changes in the way Google does its “stuff” were occasionally major but more frequently subtle and easily missed: if you were not vigilant. Now they have been identified and clarified in David Mihm’s Local Ranking Factors 2014 research project. This is an annual survey of the owners of some of the largest and most effective SEO and online marketing agencies who are working on local marketing for businesses.
One significant change to individual businesses’ visibility came about as the Big G seems to have decided it will show a business only once on the first page if there are competing websites. Previously it was relatively easy to dominate local results: with a pin marker on the map results (the local pack or 7 pack as it is known); a page or two of the website in the normal organic results on the same page and you perhaps a directory listing or two showing. Updates in the local part of the algorithm seem to have cut out this route to search “Domination” and if your competitors have anything remotely relevant on their website, in answer to the searcher’s query, you are only likely to grab 1 spot on page 1!
Here are some examples of what I’ve described.
Most searches in Google that have a locality focus now return the 3rd type of results page. People who are closer to buying or making a decision tend to use “long tail” keywords (i.e. longer more precise phrases) when they do their final searches. For most businesses these are the most important keywords to show up for.
What became clear in Mihm’s analysis of the data and anecdotal evidence from his 30 + contributors was that there were very different priorities depending on whether the keywords for a particular page return local pack style pages as in figure 1 or simpler purer organic results as shown in figure 2. Surprisingly for most businesses, their primary focus for local marketing & SEO purposes should be on the factors that help a page to show up for these organic results pages, when developing content .
The 2014 survey identified more than 50 separate factors that will help or hinder your page’s ability to show up on page 1 in the results for keywords that are valuable to your business. We will only look in detail at the Top 10 as their influence is crucial.
Top 10 Localised Organic Ranking Factors
1. Town (or City) and County in Landing Page Title Tag
The title tag is still a very important piece of the puzzle as it tells both searchers and Google robots what the page is supposed to be about. It sets the context very precisely. A well crafted title tag will make a big difference to your ability to be seen.
In this example David Allen have produced a title tag that has 3 out of 4 important pieces of information that define the content of their listed page and where it is relevant to. The missing ingredient is the county, while the repetition of the Town name is verging on spammy (in Google’s current value system). In a more competitive area such as Newcastle or Manchester this could be enough to push them right off the front page.
Other factors within the website still give Google the confidence to put this page up as the best result for the query “debt recovery accountant Carlisle” (much to the chagrin of their actual debt recovery website’s staff!)
2. Domain “Authority” of Your Website (How Does Your Website Stack up Against the Competition?)
Domain authority is a nebulous concept which is soon going to take over from Google’s now defunct “Page Rank”. It is a measure of how valuable your website is when factors such as amount of useful content, backlinks from other good quality websites, social voice and a number of other undisclosed measures are combined. This once nebulous measure has grown enormously in importance and is why it is now important for even local businesses to keep on top of their content marketing activities, if they even have a tiny bit of competition in their area. Take a look at your competitors who are outranking you in important searches: what are they doing that is missing from your site and your social presence.
3. Page Authority of Landing Page URL (Are You Pointing Local Listings at the Best Page of Your Website?)
The landing page in question here is the URL that you point your “Google My Business” (GMB) hyperlink to. For a shop or single location business that will simply tend to be the homepage of your website as this tends to explain what your “brand” has to offer. However, not that many businesses are quite as simple and straight forward as that. What about the shop that has an online version of that business for some of its products. What about the online business that decides to open up in physical premises as well? Or what about the bigger business that suddenly discovers they need extra premises in new locations to properly serve a growing demand? All of these scenarios can impact on the effectiveness of your local marketing efforts. In most cases it is important to have a specific page on your website which deals with each specific location rather than automatically pointing your listing at the homepage.
4. Quality & Authority of Inbound Links to Your Domain (Have You Got More Decent Backlinks Than the Competition?)
Local listings and citations are a kind of backlinking process and are very important in the overall marketing of your business. However have you been able to “deserve”, earn, beg, borrow or coerce links from other decent websites that are relevant to you? Have you got a link from a happy customer’s blog or homepage (wishful thinking!) Has the local paper run an article on you and pointed a link at the most relevant page? Have you gone out to show a website owner that you’ve got something on your blog that his visitors would find useful and thank him for? Traditional; links have crept up in the importance ratings and they are possibly the most difficult part of the puzzle to obtain. After all they are extra work for people. The message here is: you need them now!
5. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Landing Page URL
Subtly different to the previous item, if you can persuade a site owner to link to the same page as your GMB listing that helps search engines to have confidence that this page is indeed worth flagging up, in the search results.
6. Physical Address in City, Town or County of Search
A bit of a no brainer this. If your address is in the city or town (Google’s definition of this expands and deflates almost monthly!) then that makes you more relevant when the search term includes the place name. The search engines’ ability to detect the location of the searcher using mobile devices may well impact this in the near future, but currently having the target town or area in your address is a useful advantage, an extra nudge in your favour.
7. Quality & Authority of Structured Citations
Having 20 or 30 citations, listing your business, in trusted directories and listing services is an important first step. However each citation service is subtly different; whether it’s the number of photos that they allow or the size of the text box for the long description; each one has distinct possibilities for improving and individualising the entry. However, the big health warning here is that this does NOT apply to the NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) data. It is really important to make sure that those 3 identity markers are absolutely consistent wherever you put them. Creativity and good copy writing can be applied to everything else in the citation except the NAP data.
8. Product / Service Keyword in Website URL
If your business offers a particular product or service and that item features in the URL this is a significant help for those particular searches. If you have multiple offers, then the keyword in the URLs of the specific pages will benefit your performance in search significantly.
9. Click-Through Rate from Search Results
Google Analytics and Webmaster tools monitor your visitors’ activity on the page from the moment they arrive there from search results or paid ads. This tells them how effective it was, to show your web page in their search results. If they start showing your page in the results on page 1 and nobody takes the “bait” offered by the blue title tag and the descriptive snippet, it’s not going to stay there for very long! The monitoring doesn’t stop there either because what happens on the page when visitors arrive is also of growing importance. They (Google and Bing) know the signs when a visitor lands because a search result makes a promise that the landing page doesn’t deliver! Do you know what the bounce rate for the different pages of your website is? Do you know how to track visitor flow through the site? Have you set measurable goals in your analytics?
10. City, State (aka Town & County for us Brits!) in Landing Page H1 or H2 Headings
Again this is simply another flag that highlights the relevance of your answer for a problem; to a particular location. The health warning here is – DON’T slavishly stuff the keywords into headings because you think it will give you some SEO advantage! Remember that you are writing for people first and Uncle G a poor second. The headings on a page have to serve a purpose: most particularly, when people skim read the content to check relevance in their 1st 7 seconds on a new page. Make sure the headings give out a message that is going to encourage a visitor to stick around because this looks like the answer to their query!
To get results from your website to show up in Google’s local SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), the factors above need to be at the front of your mind when developing your content. Getting all 10 of these factors right is an important first step (have you noticed how social media hasn’t really been mentioned yet?) but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be the top site. Ignoring these 10 factors and doing “Frank Sinatra SEO” (My Way!) with disregard to this info will almost guarantee invisibility for your business and reduced customer numbers! In theory local SEO is easier because competition levels are much lower, but the last few years of working with businesses has taught me that local is also ridiculously easy to mess up! It provides ample opportunities to shoot yourself in the foot if you are careless or inattentive. I know because I was caught out by carelessness following a couple of House / office moves!
Listed below are 5 more factors which are the next most important items to be mindful of. If there is sufficient demand I will explain these at length too. You might be relieved to know that Consulting Cumbria Ltd offers a whole range of services that take the sweat away from meeting these criteria, so that you can get on with running your business. Give me a call!
5 More Ranking Factors to be Mindful of!
11. Diversity of Backlinks pointing to your Domain.
12. Consistency of Structured Citations: This is the NAP Data, categories and descriptions in important trusted directories and business listings.
13. Town, City or County in most or all website Title Tags (When the Competition Gets Fiercer).
14. The HTML coded NAP data on your website exactly matches the “Google My Business Page” NAP
15. Geographic keyword in website URL – Carlisle, Penrith, Cumbria, Borders or the Lakes?