If you are increasingly frustrated about the decline in your search rankings and search engine traffic, you are not alone. Here are some possible reasons why:
1. You hired the wrong SEO company.
If you do any kind of research on SEO you will be familiar with the buzzwords "blogging," "content marketing," "social media" and the like. Those terms will be used against you by unethical SEO companies. They might have a nice website, and offer those services by name, but that is absolutely no indication of whether or not they can deliver targeted traffic and leads. Knowing that, however is no defense against a smooth salesperson who is offering a complex service that is an enigma to most non-technical business people. How do you choose a service provider then? I would recommend doing so completely based on a referral from a trusted source who has actually used SEO services in a similar industry to yours. If you don't know anyone now, there are probably professional networking opportunities in your local area that can get you together with the right people.
2. You are paying for advertising that is counterproductive to SEO efforts.
The biggest headaches I've had recently when working on clients' rankings have been fighting marketing companies they hired who use crawlable call tracking numbers on their directory listings. I won't mention any names... ok I will: YP. And to be fair Yelp too. Having a consistent NAP (business Name, Address, and Phone) across your Internet business listings is extremely important to good local search performance, "Mis-match NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem" has been named the second most important negative ranking factor in 2015 by a panel of SEO experts. Even so, marketing companies will use these call tracking numbers that damage your rankings, so they can attempt to show you the value of their services. They will not only change your business phone number to their call tracking number on their websites, but also on their partner websites, which can be as important a listing as Yahoo directory. I even had "a Google user" try to change my client's Google My Business listing phone number to a YP call tracking number. I wonder who would do that?
3. You aren't implementing the SEO recommendations.
If you have an SEO audit done, or are getting regular analysis and recommendations from your SEO specialist, AND you are currently not ranking where you need to be to pull in valuable traffic, you should consider approving all recommendations, or continue to be a "cellar dweller" in your target SERPs (search engine results pages). Search is extremely competitive, and if you have a lot of work to be done, you need to get to it.
4. You don't have the budget.
This is probably the main reason that #3 is an issue - you have a limited budget for SEO. Often natural search traffic is looked upon as "free traffic" (kind of like "free money"). That may have been somewhat true 10 or more years ago, but today SERPS are highly competitive and you can be sure that if there is a money search term out there, people are spending to get their websites to rank in it. SEO isn't a magic bag of tricks that if you know them, you can effortlessly apply to a website and rocket it up in the rankings. Although thorough knowledge and experience of this complex subject is required, so is a lot of hard work and elbow grease (AKA billable hours).
5. Google doesn't want you to.
Google has been taking over the natural results for years. Why? If your business doesn't rank well organically, there is a much greater chance you will pay for their Adwords program. Adwords is how Google makes money. Algorithm changes in the past few years have been pushing large directories up, and individual business websites down. Until a few months ago, being in a map pack was your best bet at getting some Google traffic if you were a small business. Then they trimmed down the 7 packs to 3 packs (also called snack packs, or crap packs, depending on who you are talking to). Now there is talk that the snack packs will become sponsored, meaning that most small businesses will need to pay to play on Google (that is, pay Google, not your SEO company).
Many business owners are afraid of the user review site Yelp, and for good reason. I've seen businesses with bad Yelp scores struggle, and even go out of business to get away from the bad reviews. Like it or not though, online reviews are here to stay. To survive, business owners need to change their practices to include proactive steps towards gaining positive reviews. They need to learn to use Yelp as a tool for growth, rather than hiding from it in fear.
So let's bust some Yelp myths:
1) Yelp is unfair. They are filtering all of my good reviews, and only showing the bad ones.
This commonly happens with small businesses. They have a few friends or regular customers who they ask to post a review. More often than not, these people are new to Yelp, only use it for this review, and therefore have no Yelp authority. Yelp's algorithm sees this as suspicious, and filters the review. The solution is to make asking to be reviewed, on Yelp or other review sites, a standard part of your customer relations process. The more people you ask, the more chance that one of them will be a diehard Yelper, and their 5 star review will stick.
2) If I get a bad review, responding will legitimize it, so I should just ignore it.
The bad review is already legitimized by being on Yelp. As a business owner you have a much different attitude towards Yelp than does someone reading your reviews to decide whether or not to do business with you. They are likely to take that one star review seriously, and if you don't give your side of the story, the reviewer's side will be all they have to go by.
3) Yelp is a bunch of BS. People don't take it seriously.
Many business owners see Yelp as a place for customers with unreasonable expectations to vent after not getting their way, or worse yet, a place for people to extort goods or services when they are unable to get them by other means. Both of these things bias business owners against Yelp. Yelp users are a different story. A recent study reported that over half of those surveyed used online reviews to select a service provider, and almost 3/4 of those people used Yelp.
4) If I pay for Yelp advertising, they will hide my 1 star reviews.
Yelp will not hide your bad reviews if you advertise with them. They will encourage you to respond to reviews in a constructive way. If you have a few one star reviews, chances are your customer relations could stand some improvement. Making the paradigm shift necessary to write a constructive response rather than flaming the reviewer is likely to be reflected in future customer interactions, and stop future 1 star reviews from happening.
What has been your experience with Yelp? Please leave a comment.
If you track the rank of your business for Google local searches, you are well aware that the local search landscape has changed greatly over the past few months. The changes manifested in the Google Pigeon update are well known, but there are some adjustments you need to make to your listing that are not as well known.
1. Choose the fewest number of categories it takes to describe your overall core business.
It used to be ok, and recommended, to list all categories that applied to your business. Now that will hurt your ranking. Listing just the basic categories will help you compete in those core categories. Check your categories and make sure they have been updated for the new algorithm.
2. Business Name - Adding unnecessary information to your name ... is not permitted.
You used to be able to get away with adding keywords to your business name, and it actually helped. It can now hurt. Again, stick to the basics. Just use the name on your letterhead, and make sure it is consistent across the web.
3. Business Address - Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location.
PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable. That means UPS Stores or virtual offices like Regus. It used to be ok, but now it is explicitly against the rules, and if Google finds out, you will be penalized.
For more information on how properly set up your listing and optimize it to rank well, check out the Google My Business Guidelines.
Create listings on review sites like Yelp, and ask clients to review your services.
One peek at recent search results should tell you why:
Google gives Yelp many, many listings in competitive, money searches in the natural results. Sometimes all 10. Most of the time these listings are stacked at the top, from #1 down. If your business is unfortunate enough to have your main target search terms in SERPs that look like this, you either have to play ball with these Yelp bandits, or look for another source for leads.
Google reviews are also very important in standing out and getting leads, just in case the searcher scrolls down past the Yelp listings to the map pack. You need to be in that pack and have a decent number of positive reviews, at least roughly equivalent to the competition in your target SERP. Reviews will help position in the map pack, as well as click-through to your listings.
It is also a good idea to get reviewed on other third party review sites, because Google does use these in its algorithm, not only to gauge popularity, but also to determine theme, which needs to be consistent with your keywords for the strongest ranking signal.
External third party sites where your business might be reviewed are displayed in the "More Reviews" section when a user rolls over your map pack listing.
You, and your potential clients can also see the keywords Google has associated your business. It grabs these terms from third party review sites, your own website, and any place your business is mentioned on the web. These keywords may not always be relevant or helpful, and can sometimes be confusing or outright wrong. That's why it pays to pay attention to your businesses web mentions, and be proactive in providing Google a strong, clean signal about your business. If Google doesn't have a lot of information, it can do some stupid, confusing and counterproductive things. Whether it makes any sense or not, whatever Google's algo comes up with will be displayed on your listing in the "People talk about" section.
And on Google Maps:
This is Tip #8 in a series of 10 SEO Tips for Small Business.
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Create listings on third-party internet directories such as Yellow Pages, Superpages and City Search, and ask clients to review your services on those listings.
Google scours the web for information about your business, compiles it, and uses it to decide what your business is all about. It doesn't even need links to your website anymore. It can also display some of this aggregated information directly on your listing.
You can make sure Google is correct in its decision regarding what your business is about by giving it a clean signal and many "citations."
A clean signal means consistent use of NAP (business name, address and phone number) as well as keywords referring to your business, both in the external listings you create, and your website.
The listings you create in directories like Yellowpages or Superpages are called "structured citations." "Unstructured citations" are also aggregated and used by Google. This would be mentions of your business on a blog, or on a news site that doesn't necessarily have a link to your website or complete contact information. You can't always control the content of unstructured citations, but consistent use of NAP and keywords in what you do have control of, can cut down the variation of terms used by those researching your business.
Reviews on third-party sites are increasingly important to not only your ranking in Google map packs, but also the conversion rate or those listings, because they can be displayed directly on your Google Local Business Listing.
* Bonus Tip: Don't stop! Create listings on directories on an ongoing basis. Use your competitive intelligence (Tip 5) to find new directories to add your listing to.
This is Tip #7 in a series of 10 SEO Tips for Small Business.
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Create local listings on search engines like Google and Bing, and ask clients to review your services on your listing.
Google business listings have a messy and confusing history. These listings used to be created and managed on a platform called Google Places. They are being transitioned to a Google Plus, however you can still manage them and create new listings on Google Places. I'd recommend just managing and creating local business listings from Google Plus, and forgetting about Google Places, because it will be going away.
Here's a video to show you how to set up a Google Plus Local Business listing.
You'll need to verify your listing by either phone or with code send via post card to your business address. In my experience the verify by phone feature is seldom available lately.
I guess because Google is abandoning the "Places" name for its local business listings, it's OK for Microsoft to use it. So Bing local business listings are now called Bing Places. Sign up is relatively easy. Like with your Google listing, your Bing listing will need to be verified by phone or postal address. Bing has a lot less traffic, so this listing is less important, but is a good way to get some traffic for those just starting out.
This is Tip #6 in a series of 10 SEO Tips for Small Business.
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