Small Business SEO – The Basics

There is little doubt small business SEO best practice has changed dramatically in recent years and the rate of change is accelerating. There is a mass of information on search engine optimisation (SEO) available online but much of it is contradictory (or plain wrong).

In basic terms, the www is simply links between documents (pages). It is a huge, and ever expanding network. Search engines are tools that help users find information among the mass of information (pages) within the network.

Given a search phrase the search engine companies (Google, Bing, Yahoo) prime mission is to deliver the most relevant results.Returning search results which do not match the search phrase or are of poor quality is against their interests.

When a user types in a phrase a search engine must select the pages that match the users intent and rank them accordingly. It is important to note it is the page that ranks, not a website.

Google uses several algorithms to determine the most relevant results. It is estimated over 200 interrelated factors influence page ranking.

You may find many commentaries online suggesting factor X is more important than Y which is in turn more important than Z. Almost all of them are complete rubbish, based on guesswork.

Occasionally, you may read a report on an experiment that shows that all any SEO person needs to concentrate on is X to see results (yeah right). In any valid scientific experiment, one factor is changed while keeping everything else constant. With the www and over 200 factors in play that is impossible.

So what do we know? We know a search engine compares words on a page with the words in the search phrase. We know that many pages will have those words and the search engine algorithm must use a range of ranking factors to decide which page to rank.

We know that inbound links to pages are relevant. We don’t know which links count or if they are weighted in some way. If links are weighted we don’t know how that weighting works. All we can do is make an educated guess based on experience.

It is obvious that some pages will always tend to outrank the rest. It does not appear that ranking is simply based on the number of inbound links. It is also clear there are many technical issues with web pages (and websites) setup that can significantly reduce the ranking of that page regardless of how good the content and link profile may be.

All any small business SEO specialist can do is assess the limited information published by the search engine companies, and call on their own experience of what works and what does not. Even then the job is not finished as the best practice will evolve over time.

For a small business with a local customer base the task can be made easier by concentrating on the subset of factors related to local SEO.

How Small Business Customer Service Reviews Build Credibility

To understand the link between small business customer service reviews and more sales consider your own behaviour for a second. When you last purchased a major item what information sources did you evaluate? You probably compared the specifications of the various alternatives and searched out the best price. I guess you also checked the reviews of those who had bought or used the product.

After making a choice you may have then checked reviews to validate the decision. I suggest poor reviews may force a re-think. Evaluating reviews is a powerful driver of human behaviour labelled ‘social proof’ by the psychologist Dr Robert Cialidini.

So how to capitalise on the impact of testimonials, recommendations and reviews to generate more sales. The first step is to actually ask the customer for a review. It is important to ask for a review or testimonial as soon as possible after the customer has a positive experience of the business.

Customers are unlikely to take the time and trouble to provide a review unless it is simple for them to do so. There are many internet based and hard copy testimonial/review collection systems available. They are often relatively low cost items and simplify the process for both the customer and the business.

Reviews should be placed where potential customers are most likely to see them, both online and offline. If potential customers visit the business then the best testimonials may be framed and strategically placed. Online it is important to place reviews on the business website, on social media and most importantly on Google my Business.

Reviews And Google My Business

Any search query such as ‘service’ in ‘location’ will return the Google 3 pack near the top of Page 1 Google. As the name suggests, the panel lists three businesses, their name, address and telephone number. The listing also delivers a website and directions link and a star rating based on positive (or negative) customer reviews. For customers making a decision between three similar listings, the star rating is often the deciding factor.

A click on the business name opens a new window with more information including reviews. Google uses a number of criteria to decide which businesses show in the 3 pack. One factor is thought to be the number (and rating) of reviews.

A place in the 3 pack gives a business the advantage of a listing near the top of page 1 Google. It also delivers the potential to maximise credibility by listing customer reviews and a star rating. The business website may have a much lower position in search (page 2 or below) for the same search term.

There are three main ways to secure customer reviews on a Google my Business page. The first is to ask the customer to log into their Google My Business account and leave a review on the business. Of course, this assumes the customer has a good understanding of Google products and how to use them.

The second method assumes the customer has a smart phone but it is a simpler alternative. In this case, the customer clicks on the Google Maps app and this provides the facility to easily leave a review. The third method is to email the customer a link. Clicking the link allows the customer to place a review on the Google my Business page of the business

However, there are two important points to remember. First, the testimonials must be genuine as false ones can be spotted a mile off and destroy credibility in an instant. Second, the odd bad (not too bad!) review mixed in with the good is not a bad thing as research shows prospects trust reviews more when they see some balance.

Search Engine Optimisation Costs – The ROI Calculation

Recently, while working for a small business client, I received a cold call from an SEO agency. I am always interested in what services may be available in the marketplace so I allowed the agency to go through their pitch. I agreed to accept a monthly search engine optimisation quotation.

Based on the phone conversation I was not expecting much but when the quote came in it was a bit of a shock. To deliver a list of basic SEO services the cost was approximately £2,100 a month!

Obviously, the SEO agency had their targeting all wrong as £2,100 a month is way beyond the budget of my client but the offer got me thinking.

SEO Costs – The Numbers

Let’s assume you install kitchens and your average sale price is £1,000. Assume your profit margin is 40% then you need to make approximately five sales per month to cover (break even) the £2,100 charged by the SEO agency.

How many leads (enquiries) do you need to achieve five sales? The SEO agency is only concerned with driving visitors to your website so to obtain a fair assessment we should only include leads generated by that website.

let’s be optimistic and assume you can have a reasonable conversation with (perhaps even quote) 50% of the leads received. Assume 50% of those conversations/quotes convert to a sale then you need around twenty website generated leads per month to break even.

Again, let’s be optimistic and assume 1 in 75 of those landing on your website make an enquiry then you need 1,500 (75×20) website visits per month to hit the breakeven point. How many visits do you receive now, do you know?

What increase in website visitors is required on where you are now 2x? 5x? 10x? Is that realistic? Think of it in business terms. If someone told you they could double your sales in 12 months you may believe them, if they could present a strong argument but 5x? 10x? I think not.

Now, it is true, the above is oversimplified. If you have a strong website, or nurture campaign, then the 74 website visitors who do not make an immediate enquiry may come back at a later date. Those 74 website visitors are at least aware of your business so the effort involved in driving them there is not entirely wasted.

Branding and awareness are all very well but they are difficult to measure. Vanity numbers such as website visits, social shares, impressions clicks throughs are no more than indicators. All you can really judge on is leads generated, the quality of those leads and ultimately sales.

The SEO Agency Pitch – Smoke And Mirrors

Three other important points to note when assessing if search engine optimisation services will deliver a return for your business. They are, measurement and analytics, the time taken to generate first results and your level of involvement in the process.

The most common tool used to record website visitors is Google analytics. Not all website visits are valid and if you look at only the top level numbers a large proportion of the total may be complete junk. It is relatively easy for an unscrupulous SEO agency to deceive a business owner who does not have a basic understanding of organic, direct and referral traffic.

To generate SEO results takes time and you should not expect any significant results within three months. Remember you need to factor the monthly search engine optimisation costs during this ramp up time into your calculations.

Let’s say you keep spread the total cost of the SEO agency over 12 months. If 3 of those months are the ramp up time (25% of the total) then you need 25 leads per month and around 1,900 website visits per month during the remaining 9 months to break even.

Finally, there is the issue of content. At this point, the discussion can get a little complicated and is covered in greater detail in previous posts. In short, you need to assess what resources your business will need to allocate to the SEO process. Hiring an SEO agency is no longer a ‘hire and forget’ situation and whatever resources your business needs to allocate needs to be factored into the cost model.

Rounding Up

The above does not mean the right type (and size) of business, in the right market, with the right SEO agency in place cannot generate a return on investment on SEO services because they can. If your business can deliver the fuel for the process (content) if you can obtain good quality search engine optimisation services at a reasonable cost and most importantly if you can continue to fund the costs to the point you see a return then SEO can be worth the cost and resources.

There is no recognised qualification in SEO, there is no accepted approach that will work for every (or any!) business. There are some excellent SEO service providers out there but it can be difficult for those with no background in the subject to separate them from those who can simply talk a good game. It is important to remember good SEO takes time and effort and that costs. Often, that cost can be beyond the reach of small and micro businesses. It is, therefore, always best to work costs of what offered back to the number of sales required to break even.

What is a small business in need of more sales but unable to justify search engine optimisation costs to do? If that business only deals with customers in a relatively small geographic area then local SEO may be an alternative. This we will cover in future posts.

Website And Google My Business integration For Local Marketing Success

The challenge for many small businesses with a local customer base is how to secure more sales without relying completely on referrals and repeat work. In this post, we discuss one key element of any local business marketing plan – Website and Google my Business integration.

Research shows that 85% of consumers search for local businesses online (source). Worldwide over 80% of all organic website traffic is generated by Google. According to Advanced Web Rankings,  67% of clicks go to the first five listings on Page 1 Google.

So a relevant page1 presence on Google is of increasing importance to any business attempting to secure new customers in their local area. The key word here is relevant, There is no point at all ranking in a high position for search queries that have no relevance to the business

Google My Business And Website Integration

 The first page of search results for any location based business search such as Accountant location or Plumber location tends to be dominated by directories (such as Yell). Worse still, the top of the page is taken up by paid listings, the Google My Business listings and perhaps also a featured snippet.

To rank a small business website above the directories on page 1 can be difficult (and costly). However, a prominent position in the Google my Business listing pack delivers a position near the top of the page with an obvious link to the business website. For many small businesses with websites languishing down on page 2 or below this is a real bonus as the Google my Business listing effectively delivers a page 1 presence for the website. 

So if it is possible to achieve a position towards the top of Page 1 of the search results with an effective Google My Business listing why have a website at all? The two main reasons are credibility and nurture.

What is a prospect going to do when they first find a potential supplier online? If they have any initial interest they are going to check the business out. If there is no website is that going to raise suspicions? Is the business real? Are they a credible supplier?

The information available from a Google my Business listing is limited. It is not possible to deliver the depth of information required for a nurture campaign or to tempt customers to keep coming back for more.

Although testimonials and reviews available on a Google my Business listing are powerful they cannot deliver the same level of credibility as appropriate content published on a regular basis on a website.

Google My Business – An Overview

Any business can claim a free Google My Business listing and significantly increase their chances of appearing near the top of page 1 Google. In fact, a listing for a business may already exist as Google often creates a listing based simply on the information found on the web.

Google usually displays three local businesses (known as the 3 pack) in a panel, with a map, near the top of page 1 of the search results. Which local businesses are included and their relative positions are decided by a Google algorithm. The algorithm is based on many factors including how near the business is to the centre of the location used in the search query.

There is no guarantee a business will always appear in the three pack but it is possible to optimise a listing to ensure it has the best chance of display. The first step should be to claim a Google My Business listing if one already exists (the information pulled into the listing by Google can be incorrect) or to create a new listing.

The Business Website 

A proportion of prospects will find a business and make contact immediately but a much larger proportion are likely to make multiple visits over an extended period of time before making a decision. A Google my Business listing is effective in securing enquiries from those ready to make an immediate decision but it has limitations when it comes to building a longer term relationship.

A website is therefore required to build a profile and content that will engage with prospects and build a relationship over time. Content added to a website on a regular basis that either builds credibility (like case studies) or ads some value to the customer can potentially bring prospects back to the website when they are ready to buy.

The content may be in the form of text, video or graphics the key point is it must develop and change over time. Possible sources of information could be how to guides, before and after videos, industry news and comment and product photography (particularly if it shows product applications). 

There is little doubt every business with a local customer base should make online marketing one of its priorities. A Google local listing is a quick and relatively easy way to quickly obtain a page 1 listing on the search engines. When used in conjunction with a locally optimised website and best practice content and search engine marketing then more sales leads can be expected to follow.

NEWS – Of A Google Update Plus A Short Rant

You may have read some chatter about an update to the Google search algorithms over recent weeks (it was jokingly christened FRED). Bit of a strange one this as Google denied any update had taken place initially but later (sort of) confirmed it.

The update was sometime around 7th / 8th March so if you have noticed a drop in rankings, and more importantly traffic to your site, at or around this date it could be as a result of the update. According to Barry Schwarz, who tracks these things closely the update appears to have targeted poor quality sites populated with more than an average number of Ads.

Now here’s the problem, there may (or may not) have been a major update to the search algorithms that may (or may not) have impacted on the traffic to your site but how do you really know. Was the drop due to the update or one of the other (could be as many as 200) factors that impact on a site position in Google search.

Much of the talk about algorithm updates is irrelevant to the average business website owner. It is best just to ignore the chatter and continue to implement best practice. It may not be quick, but it is safer and much more likely to deliver results in the medium to long term


Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Your Small Business Reputation

Compromise your small business reputation just once and it will be almost impossible to recover. Building a consistent, long term small business lead generation process is a marathon not a sprint. It is all too easy to get impatient and inject a pushy sales message or two but to do so can destroy all your hard work up to that point.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. I always set aside time every day to read blogs and articles from authors I have grown to trust over the years. For many months I had regularly read the blog of one company (let’s call them Company X). I was evaluating the company as a potential supplier of a marketing tool and I found their blog informative on a number of marketing issues.

Recently it was obvious Company X had decided to cut down on the resources required to keep their blog up to date and guest posts were more and more common. Given the amount of resources required to run a content marketing process that was understandable, to a point. Unfortunately for them they had not allocated the resources to quality check those blog posts.

On reading the blog one day it was obvious the guest post author had very little actual experience of the subject. He was simply regurgitating the standard information (much of it actually incorrect)  that could be found online. A quick check of his various online profiles and, his website destroyed his credibility further. It left me feeling disappointed and more than a little annoyed that a company I had trusted until then could serve up such rubbish. The damage was done and, as it transpired, irreparable.

When the posts from Company X appear in my blog reader they are now routinely deleted. I could be deleting the best, most relevant information out there. It could be the last piece of the jigsaw that persuades me to buy, it does not matter. As their business reputation is destroyed. they now have no opportunity to even get out of the starting gate, and yes I did buy that marketing tool I mentioned but from their competitor.

Are Company X going to lose sleep over my lost sale, well no but I would bet I am not the only one. A huge amount of effort obviously went into their blog before they tried to take short cuts and lost their quality control. The results of much of that effort, I guess will now dissipate over time.

It can be tempting to cut corners or to slip in a pushy sales message but next time you are tempted think long and hard about the potential damage to your small business reputation and its potential long term impact on sales.

NEWS: Google Local Search Rankings – From Pigeon To Possum

If you have noticed changes in your Google local search rankings recently it may be as a result of a major update to the ranking algorithm in early September 2016.

This is the first major update to the Google local search algorithm since the so called ‘Pigeon’ update of 2014. Early evidence appears to show the update only affects the 3 pack (not organic results) and was intended to take out spam results.

Nicknamed ‘Possum’ the update appears to have impacted on some businesses with multiple offices that the algorithm finds it difficult to distinguish. It also appears to have helped businesses with a location based keywords (City / Town name) that are located outside the city limits and / or more than 10 miles from the centroid.

The full impact of the update is still under review so it is worth keeping an eye on the local search ranking for your business over the coming weeks. Also, watch this space for more news.

Take Your Search Engine Marketing In House – Tips and Advice Part3

In the last in the series of posts on how to take Using content to boost SEOyour search engine marketing in house we cover the importance of producing appropriate content. That is, generating information of benefit to potential customers that engages those customers and builds credibility.

There is a vast amount of information online covering inbound (content) marketing. Most of the discussion either relates to larger businesses, is misleading, or just plain wrong. In this post we discuss specifically how content marketing can deliver benefits for the smaller business and include some resources to read more.

In the first post in the series we outlined the importance of persuading the MAXIMUM number of prospects to take a desired ACTION. We outlined the importance of the website, keyword choice and how to ensure a website page has the best chance of ranking on Google if a prospect searches for a chosen keyword phrase.

In the second post we developed the keywords discussion (it is not as straightforward as it may seem) and introduced the concept of semantic search. We also discussed in some detail the importance of backlinks. In this post we develop the discussion to cover the importance of content and how that content may be used to generate high quality backlinks.

So let’s start with an overview of content and inbound marketing. The concept behind inbound marketing makes perfect sense in principle. It states that prospects have become tired of information being pushed their way via advertising, direct mail and (worse still) telemarketing. When they need a product or service they now tend to do their own research long before engaging with a supplier or service provider.

The principle behind inbound (content) marketing suggests that the best way forward for anycontent markeing ralationship to content business is to deliver useful and engaging content to the prospect that will be found during their research process. When found that information identifies your business as a potential supplier, builds credibility and gently guides the prospect down the path to sale.

More detail may be found in the following resources:

What is content marketing – From CMI

The benefits of content marketing – From MarketingTech()

There are three further major advantages of building a number of information resources (content) and posting them to your website.

  1. It builds your base of keywords significantly.
  2. It raises the profile of your site on Google.
  3. Content may be used to build backlinks.

Building Your Keyword Base

The standard SEO advice states that each page of your website should be optimised around a single keyword. With the more recent impact of semantic search it is now possible to also rank for derivatives of that keyword phrase but with only a limited number of website pages the number of keywords is severely limited.

Now try to get inside the head of your prospects. Are they likely to search for the keyword chosen for your website pages or are they more likely to search for information and/or answers? How do you add those answer type keywords to your website? The answer is to develop blog posts, video, slideshare and other content written around their own keyword phrase that will rank in their own right on Google. The following resource gives more details:

A keyword driven approach to content marketing

How Content Marketing Boosts SEO

Increased Profile On Google

There are many elements that determine your websites rank on Google and most have already been mentioned in this series of posts but there is no substitute for publishing quality content on a regular basis.

This guide gives a short and punchy guide on the basics.

If new information (content) is added to your website regularly and that information is interlinked appropriately with other information on your site that will be recognised as a positive ranking factor by Google, and the other search engines.

Build Backlinks

In post 2 we talked about the importance of backlinks in some detail. There are many legitimate ways to build backlinks but using quality content is one of the most effective. Why? Because links generated to quality content are likely to be highly relevant to your website and that is important. The following resources provide more background on the issue.

How content marketing boosts SEO

This excellent guide from Cory Collins

Unfortunately, much online commentary glosses over the issue of how to build these backlinks. Most seem to focus on the ‘build it and they will come strategy’, which is complete nonsense.

The first step is to take a long hard look at your content and decide if it is likely to be something someone else may link to. If it is linkable the next step is to establish who may link to it and why; then reach out to them and suggest your content without being pushy.

This is a far from simple process that requires time and effort. One method is to type your contents keyword phrase into Google, look at the other similar content on page one and two of the search results, research who has linked to them and use this information to build a list of who to approach. This post from SEMRush may help.

Types of content 

Content may take many forms. For a tradesman it may simply be some before and after photography of a job well done but there are many other types of content including:

  • Formal case studies
  • Blog posts
  • Videos (How to…, Before and after)
  • Slideshares
  • Testimonials
  • Photography

The trick is to choose the content that has the best chance of engaging the required prospects and leading them down the point to sale. However, building the content is only part of the battle as, once built, the content needs to be distributed to the point it has the best chance of being found. This is a major topic that is covered in detail in our free in house search engine marketing guide.

Word of mouth recommendation may remain the most effective marketing tool for any small business trying to attract more customers in a specific geographic area but once that recommendation has been made it is likely the prospect will check out the business online. They will expect to find the company website relatively easily and once there will seek confirmation that the business is credible and can deliver the required product or service. When created and utilized correctly content delivers on both objectives.


Think Before Investing In A New Small Business Website

When trying to take your business to the next level don’t believe all you need is a new small business website and the customers will flood in. As a stand-alone item a new (or updated) website can be a complete waste of time and money.Small business website design is not enough

If you think it through the new business website pitch is fundamentally flawed. It assumes your potential customers will naturally find the website when they search for your products or services. It assumes all your prospects are using a traditional search engine. It ignores the power of word of mouth.

A website has a role but it is important to establish the small business marketing process before designing the website as any mismatch will simply waste time, resources and (worse still) your hard earned cash.

How many website visitors do you actually need to achieve your goals and from what geographic areas? For many websites <2% first time visitors actually convert to customers.

It is often worth taking a step back and really thinking through what it is you offer, what sets you apart, what type of customer you want to attract, how many of those customers you need and, finally, how you are going to attract them to your business. What is your marketing process?

If a website has a role in the marketing mix then a proportion of the funds available need to be kept back to work on activities that ensure it is found. Research from Chitika shows >90% of searchers on Google never go beyond page 1 of the search results.

It is important to research your customers, their information needs and where they look for that information. How are they likely to search and what search phrases are they likely to use. If target prospects are all within the local area a Google My Business may be all that is required instead of investing in a website.

Even then the battle is not over as there is so much misinformation peddled on how to ensure your website is found in search that it is too easy to waste even more cash on poor quality search engine marketing companies that fail to deliver results.

A well thought out new small business website that fits within a robust marketing process can without doubt pay for itself many times over. However, it is important to remember that on its own it is unlikely to deliver the required result for most small businesses.

Related posts you may like:

4 small business marketing myths

Build a joined up marketing process

The key elements of a good website

Google+ Local Vs Google My Business

Have you heard about Google my Business and are you worried about what impact it may have on your existing Google+ Local listing? In short, there is no major need for concern but if you want to know more about Google my business vs Google + Local and the advantages (and disadvantages) of one over the other then read on.

The history behind the changes of Google places to Google+ local to Google my business is long and complex. If you want the detail it is available in this excellent post from WrightIMC so I don’t intend to cover it here. All I cover are the key features of Google my business and how it differs from Google+ Local.

For any business with a local customer base Google My Business is a powerful promotional tool. You can read more about its benefits here but in summary it offers:

– A presence on Page 1 Google (location based).

– A products and services showcase.

– Increased credibility.

Often a small local business can dispense with the need for a business website altogether. All they need is a Google My Business page.

The major change is to the dashboard. It is now much easier to update the primary company contact information. The addition of an Insight, Reviews, Analytics, You Tube and Adwords box delivers all key data in one place.

The new Insights box allows you to track engagement with your Google My Business page by visibility, engagement and audience in some detail. However, the reviews box is perhaps even more powerful for any business with a local customer base. Reviews and testimonials are a powerful promotional tool when trying to distinguish a business from the competition in a crowded marketplace.

The reviews box shows you your Google reviews and where other reviews for your business have originated from around the web. The analytics show the number of reviews and (crucially) the average rating on Google. Potential customers may quickly use this rating to check your business against the competition in the 7 pack. It is also thought to influence Google on their decision to display your listing (or not)

The other boxes are optional to an extent. If enabled, the key stats from the Google Analytics account attached to your website will display in the analytics box. The stats from your You Tube account, if enabled, will show in the next box, followed by the key stats from the Adwords account associated with your website, if you have one.

The move to Google Your Business then has simply tidied up some of the long standing mess associated with the move from Google Places to Google+ local and delivered a more user friendly dashboard. The long standing benefits of a Google My Business account to small business with a local customer base remains unchanged.