Guest blogger Andy Cocker, Search Engine Marketing Consultant and founding director of Architekt Web Promotion, explains how to get ahead with your SEO.
Due to the exponential growth of the web, the process of gaining and maintaining high search engine listings - known as Search Engine Optimisation or SEO - is becoming incredibly challenging for everyone but for the smaller local business, SEO is turning into a one-sided war. Quite simply, there’s just not enough room on the first page of the search engine results pages for everyone and inevitably, the first to be frozen out are the small guys.
For small businesses, facing their industry’s big names in the search engines can be a no-win situation. Think Tesco versus a corner shop, Tony and Guy versus a small hairdresser and Stagecoach versus a local drama school. By focusing on national SEO (thanks to much smaller resources) a local business is unlikely to ever appear alongside these business behemoths at all. And we all know that it is a rare person who bothers to click onto the second page of Google. Never mind pages 3, 4 and 5.
In 2006, iProspect, a search engine marketing firm based in Massachusetts, USA, stated in their White Paper Search Engine User Behavior Study, “The importance of appearing high in the search results has increased over time… more search engine users are clicking on the first page now (62% ) than in 2004 (60%) than in 2002 (48%). Inversely, fewer search engine users are willing to click on results past the third page now (10% ) than in 2004 (13%) than in 2002 (19%). Fast-forward to 2009 - and assuming that these trends have continued, a business’ appearance in the first pages front of the search engines results, is more crucial than ever.
More recently, AOL released figures on CTR (click through rates) for the different positions in their index. The data set was sufficiently high enough to be considered accurate and thus can be expected to reflect traffic levels across most search engines - Google included. According to AOL’s results, only 10% of all searches resulted in clicks beyond page 1 of the results.
Yet, many small businesses bring SEO failure upon themselves, by not distinguishing between local SEO and national SEO. Local SEO is similar to national SEO - but with one notable difference. The keywords and content (images and information) are geographically specific. While national SEO focuses on broad keywords, such as “Plumbers”, local SEO uses local modifiers: “Plumbers, St. Albans, Hertfordshire”. And while the traffic will be lower in local SEO campaigns, they will pull in more qualified prospects. After all, a plumber in Chester is of no use to an overflowing toilet in St. Albans. Optimising locally also helps to build local relationships. In his 2008 book “The Complete SEO Copywriting Guide for Search Engine Rankings and Sales Conversion - Content Rich”, Jon Wuebben estimates that every month a billion local searches are made, and that it’s growing at a rate of 20-30% every year.
Thanks to recent algorithmic changes by Google over the last 12 months or so,the likelihood of locals finding you when they type in “Your Trade, Your Town” is now much higher. Nobody really knows precisely what Google has done, or is currently doing for that matter - we only know what works and what does not through our own exhaustive testing. What we do know, however,, is that Google is increasingly placing much more emphasis on local and geographical searches. It has even been rumoured that soon, users will be able to search Google within their own geographic parameters. So by modifying their sites to target local keyword phrases, local businesses will undoubtedly see significant improvement in their search engine placement - especially as local or geographic keyword phrases have much less competition anyway. The modifications required to optimise locally, include placing the chosen geographic keyword in the following areas:
• Meta Description Tag
• Heading Tags
• In the page content (bolding them for added weight, if possible)
• In an Alt tag or two
• In the footer of the home page
But remember NOT to keyword stuff- once or twice per tag type or content section should be sufficient.
Google’s Keyword Tool is a great tool with which to find effective keyword phrases: https://adwords.google.co.uk/select/KeywordToolExternal. Here, a business is able to generate keyword ideas in two ways - by getting Google to scan the contents of their own website, or by inserting descriptive keywords (for example, “clothes shop Bath”). Once one of these methods is selected, they insert either the URL of their website, or a few keyword phrases into the search box. The results page will reveal, not only related search terms, but also the average search volume per month.
A free Google Maps Listing will go nicely with these newly modified search terms. It’s a highly effective way for local businesses to build up an online presence. In fact, it’s a must. To make use of this powerful tool, a local business must first create an account at https://www.google.com/accounts/ With this account, the business will be able to sign into Google’s Local Business Centre http://www.google.com/local/add?hl=en-gb&gl=gb. And it is here that they can create their free listing - including their contact details, opening hours and even product images and YouTube video. Once a business has been verified and included in Google Maps, it can edit the contents at any time.
As well as making it even easier for local customers to find local companies, using this tool gives local businesses a second bite at the cherry to appear on that coveted first page. This is because, in the majority of cases, Google will stick up to 10 of these listings ABOVE the normal organic results, when a geographic keyword is used. Go try it - search Google for plumbers + your town or city and see what happens!
Yahoo Local is another excellent local SEO resource. It offers a similar service to Google’s Maps Listing. It’s not free however - the price varies according to the business location and the keyword phrase utilised. But as all BT Internet users have Yahoo as their default search engine, it comes with a huge advantage. Think of all those potential customers!
A further advantage of local SEO over national SEO, is that the popularity of famous landmarks or buildings in any given town, can be leveraged. Let’s say you have a clothes shop in Brighton. By simply embedding a picture of The Royal Pavilion on your site, for example (assuming it has been tagged appropriately), you’re likely to pull in a heap of local traffic.
Allowing customers to leave reviews on your website is another great promotional tool. As your customers are likely to know you personally, they’ll be more likely to leave favourable reviews. And as the readers of these reviews are likely to be other locals, the reviews will hold more credibility than those that appear on more corporate and national websites. In this way, local trust and credibility is built.
If you are a business that gets most of its custom from the local market, yet are still relying on broad-stroke, national SEO techniques to get you high up in the search engines, then you are risking your website disappearing into the depths of the internet altogether.
About the Author: Andy Cocker is a Search Engine Marketing Consultant, with over 10 years’ experience. He is the founder director of Architekt Web Promotion and has recently set up a dedicated Local SEO website.
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