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.

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.

 

Take Your Search Engine Marketing In House – Tips and Advice Part2

In our previous post on taking your search engine marketing in house we discussed strategy, on site SEO (including Meta tags) and the importance of keywords. We also provided a list of resources to help you get started. In this post we expand on the keyword discussion and discuss the importance of backlinks. This topic is closely related to content that will be discussed in the last post in the series (coming soon). So on with the show.

Keywords in SEO – What’s changed?

In our last post we discussed the importance of keywords (or more to the point keyword phrases) and the allocation of one phrase per page. We also introduced some keyword research tools. Although it is first important to understand the basics it is no longer quite as simple and search has moved on.

Two years or more ago the single keyword (or phrase) per page was enough to rank well but no more. The Google algorithm now takes a more sophisticated approach to deciding what a page is about and ranking it accordingly. This topic can become highly technical but this excellent post from Cyrus Shepard gives a simplified overview of what is required.

The Google algorithm now looks beyond the keyword phrase to consider related words distributed through the page text, related concepts and synonyms. Position of words and phrases and their interrelationship are also important.

The Importance Of Backlinks

At this point I could go off at a tangent and rant about the amount of hogwash that is published online about backlinks but I will restrain myself. Suffice to say (to paraphrase Mark Twain) reports about the death of backlinks are greatly exaggerated. How Google interprets backlinks has changed (to a point) but that is all.

A backlink is a link from another webpage to your website. They come in two variants follow and no follow. It is generally accepted that the follow variants are the most important when the Google algorithm is deciding how to rank a site but nofollow links also have some relevance (how much relevance is a subject of some debate). Google has long taken the view if a web page links to your website it must consider the content of value and therefore that website deserves a higher rank.

Backlinks remain of critical importance to how Google ranks a website online. Yes content is important (see next post), yes onsite factors like site speed are important, yes keywords are important but without quality backlinks a website is not going to rank well.

It appears Google may be intent on devaluing the backlink element in their algorithm but it will take time. Remember Google has relied on backlinks as a key ranking factor in their algorithms for many years and even Google, with all their resources, cannot change tack overnight.

Millions of words have been written about bad quality backlinks and the Penguin and Panda Google algorithm changes designed to penalise sites that had high numbers of bad links. A bad link is one that is unnatural, it has been automated in some way and not earned. Bad links should be avoided at all costs, relevance and quality of the link are now key.

How To Earn Quality Backlinks

There is no substitute for experience and no quick fix as quality link building takes time to learn and is a resource intensive activity. One route is to earn quality backlinks using valuable and engaging content (covered in next post) but that takes time and considerable effort. To cover all the possible link earning opportunities would take a whole series of posts to so below are some options with resources to read more.

One important point to keep in mind when reading back linking information on line is this quote from Michael Martinez ‘Stop taking link building ideas from SEO websites. It should be obvious by now that if you read about a great linking idea or resource on a forum or blog it will be quickly crushed and devalued by overuse.’ Be careful with what you read.

Some methods to consider

  1. Raid your competitors’ links: Check out how your competitors have built their link profile and try to utilize the same route. This document from Robbie Richards .
  2. Find dead links and replace them with your content. In my humble opinion this is one that falls into the overuse category (see above) but read more in this guide from Greenlane
  3. Contribute to and drop links in relevant Forums. This tactic was overused in the past and has become associated with bad links but is still valuable if used correctly
  4. Answer questions – Sites like Quora are a good place to start. This guide from Kelsey Jones may help

There are several more but they are more associated with content and are covered in the next post on content and its importance to SEO – coming soon.

Do It Yourself SEO – Tips And Advice 1

Good quality SEO services are increasingly expensive and beyond the reach of many small businesses. One possible solution is the do it yourself SEO approach. In this three part article series we provide some tips and resources to get you started.

Advantages of SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is rapidly becoming an outdated term but it may be defined as “a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.” (Source – Webopedia). There is little point investing in a website if it cannot be found online when a prospect types a relevant search phrase into a search engine. Statistics show that 92% of users don’t continue their search beyond page 1 of the Google search results (source Chitika).

Stage 1 of aSEO - the keyelements required for successn online marketing process is to drive prospects (traffic) to a website whereas stage 2 involves persuading the maximum number of those prospects to take some appropriate action (conversion). SEO is relevant to Stage 1 only and should be based on maximising traffic, as without traffic there can be no conversion. SEO is concerned with progressing so called organic results (those that are not paid for) to as high a position as practical.

The alternative is Pay Per Click which can deliver a consistent ROI but if not professionally managed can burn through cash reserves at an alarming rate. Pay per Click results are the ads at the top and right side of the page. Research shows that the click rate is much higher on the organic listings (94% v 6% – Source Nielsen and Group M-UK) than it is on the PPC ads.

Forget The SEO Hype – The Reality

Not so long ago it seemed everyone from the one man band web developer, to the local IT company, to print companies were offering SEO services. A quick look on the internet will show that all that has changed. Apart from the inevitable spammy Emails from India and China the number of offers has dropped significantly, and for good reason

From early 2012 onwards a number of Google search algorithm updates wiped out the impact of many dubious (Black Hat) and automated Search Engine Optimisation techniques. Of course this change is to the long term benefit of everyone but it significantly increased the complexity of SEO and, without automation, the time involved. This change both took out those with little actual SEO expertise and increased the costs of those good SEO’s employing sound (but time consuming) best practice that remained.

 The DIY SEO Option

A large proportion of SEO work is not particularly difficult but it is time consuming and it does require a consistent approach. The main issue, however, is best practice search engine marketing can take a significant amount of time to learn. Worse still, as the process is continually evolving it is not possible to learn once then forget. With any do it yourself SEO process it is necessary to commit time and resources to ongoing education or risk being left behind.

With SEO costs rising (see above) the only alternative for many business owners is the DIY option.The issue is where should a business turn to for quality advice on how to take on their own search engine marketing efforts forward. Books on SEO are often out of date on the day they are published and although there is a vast amount of information online it can be difficult to determine what is current, what is valid and what is completely wrong. A few useful, and up to date resources to start a do it yourself SEO process are:

Multiple author sites:

Search engine watch

Search engine land

A useful starting out resource

Traffic Generator Cafe

Some people to follow on Twitter (or G+)

@kikolani

@dannysullivan

@randfish

SEO – Where To Start

The starting point is to define exactly what a website should achieve (in most cases it is sales leads), define precisely what is on offer, why it should be of interest to the market and what makes the offer different from all the rest. The target customers for the product should be precisely defined, resisting the temptation to try to market to everyone, as should the geographic reach (local, country wide, worldwide).

Strategic elements of SEO to considerWithout a marketing strategy and plan in place a large amount of SEO activity (and marketing activity in general) will be wasted. Although I will contradict myself to an extent in the next post in the series on semantic search, the next step is to decide on keywords or phrases that match with the offer. The idea is to find a phrase (avoid single words) that has a large enough number of prospects searching for that term with a relatively low level of competiion.

As an example if you offer used BMW cars then to use the keyword BMW cars will have a high potential level of interest (traffic) but also I high level of competition. You may be competing for a page 1 position on Google with BMW corporate website, New BMW car dealers and major price comparison sites all of which have significant resources to throw at SEO activity and all will outrank your site.

Using the keyword phrase Used BMW Cars reduces the competition (and the traffic). The phrase Used BMW Cars in Nottingham significantly reduces competition (and traffic) further so a balance needs to be struck. For businesses with a local potential customer base Google+ Local is an important part of the SEO mix that should not be ignored. There are many free keyword analysis tools and paid versions available, a selection of which are:

Google Adwords Keyword Planner

Keyword Spy

Wordstream

Jaaxy

Choosing keywords is a time consuming, but essential task, and these resources deliver some useful introductory guidance the first from Rand Fishkin and another from KissMetrics. There should be one keyword phrase per page and be certain to always keep in mind relevance. The keyword phrase must match with the content theme of your page.

Meta Tags and Site Speed

With a solid selection of keywords in place the next step is to allocate one per page of your website and to set the meta titles and descriptions. Of course, this assumes your website has an appropriate content management system that allows access to the tags. Kristine Schachinger provides some useful advice on best practice.

Website load times are an increasingly important website ranking factor so it is worth checking the speed of your website at Pingdom which gives both the loadtime and an indication of how that loadtime rates against the average. If it is poor then it is worth considering employing an expert to clean up the code or to consider a new website on a more current website design platform.

The above only covers the do it yourself SEO basics, in the next post we will develop the keyword concept further and discuss semantic search and schema  markup we will then conclude the series with some notes on the importance of content and backlinks to SEO.

Related posts you may like:

Search engine marketing – there is no quick fix

Why website content is so important

Effective local business search engine marketing

Best practice search engine marketing

 

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The Value Of Small Business Local Link Building

Small business local link building is essential if a website is to rank at a high position(page1?) on the major search engines. Building high quality links may be difficult and time consuming but there is no realistic alternative. In this post we discuss some of the best places to look for linking opportunities.

The major search engines rank websites based on what they perceive as thelocal SEM and the value of link building websites authority. For many years a key element involved in measuring this authority has been the number and quality of links (references) from other sites pointing at the website. Over the past 18 months there has been much discussion on the value of backlinks (more below) but there is no doubt they remain a major ranking factor.

Over the years many dubious linking techniques have been clamped down on by Google (lately via the so called Penguin and Panda updates) and today it is not the number of backlinks that is important but the quality and relevance of those backlinks.

There are those that suggest the focus should no longer be on backlinks at all but on writing and distributing relevant information (content marketing). They argue people will naturally link to this content and these links will have very high quality and relevance. It may be one to watch for the future but not today.

The online marketing world is highly competitive and it is difficult for a small business to compete and build customer awareness online. However, given that many small businesses have a potential customer base situated in a relatively small geographic location area specific marketing presents an opportunity. The challenge is simply to build prospect awareness of the business (online or offline) in a local area, reducing the potential competition considerably.

Local marketing includes a number of elements, one of which is a locally optimised website. Backlinks are an essential element involved in ensuring that website is found online should a prospect perform a geographic based search (e.g. Accountant in York). For local marketing purposes the backlink is best if it comes from a local source.

There are many opportunities for small business local link building. They include

  • The major (good quality) directories
  • Local sites that link to local resources
  • Create a local guide
  • Testimonials and reviews
  • Networking events
  • Offer yourself as an expert
  • Sponsor an event or local charity

Directory entries are perhaps the simplest to implement the only issue is to ensure that the business details (telephone, address etc.) are consistent across all directories and exactly match those on your website. Sites that link to resources are a variation on the directory but require some work to produce a guide or resource that is worthy of the link.

Writing a glowing review (including a link) of one of your local partners or suppliers (only if it is genuine) is another possible approach while offering yourself as an expert to local newspapers or publications can secure many local links over time. Local face to face networking is often a useful tactic for small businesses ensuring they are recognised in the local area. Looking for link opportunities makes networking time more worthwhile. Is there another local business it makes sense for you to link to and visa versa?

Finally, sponsoring an event can be a good source of local links if organised correctly and a great way to raise general awareness of the business. There are many more potential opportunities that just need a little thought and creativity. The value of local link building may be measured in raised business awareness and enquiries as a result of the business website ranking on Page 1 of the search engines for location based searches.

Avoid A Google Penalty – Is All The Hype Justified?

Much has been written about how to avoid a Google penalty but is it all hype? Is there really an issue? There are many banner ads and spam Emails proclaiming they have the solution to so the called toxic links issue but are they simply using fear and misinformation to generate sales.

Google panda penaltyOf course it is true Google implemented their now famous Panda and Penguin algorithm updates to clamp down on dubious backlink practices. Just recently they also announced updates to counteract fake rich snippet schemes but does this mean generating backlinks and creating rich snippets should be avoided – absolutely not.

Historically, Google (and the other major search engines) used the number and quality of incoming links (backlinks) to a website as a key measure of the authority of that site. However, generating relevant (high quality) links to influence a website search ranking is difficult and time consuming. This resulted in the rise of many dubious (link wheels, purchased links, reciprocal links etc.) schemes designed to game the system and gain an advantage.

If a website used one or more dubious link schemes in the past then, if spotted by the Google algorithm, the site may receive a penalty (a significant drop in the position on the search pages). If this happens recovery in the short term is difficult and in some cases impossible. Does this mean link building is no longer a valid practice? The opposite is in fact true, all that has changed is that Google has clamped down on automated link building schemes and moved the emphasis to quality of link versus quantity.

Link recovery schemes (methods to identify and remove penalised links) can help but to clean up a website that has used links schemes can take significant effort and they therefore come at a considerable cost. On the other hand a website that inadvertently picks up a few poor quality links is unlikely to be penalised and paying to have those links identified and removed is not cost effective.

Much of the comment on backlinks is over hyped as is the more recent chatter about rich snippets. The issue is exactly the same, there is nothing wrong with rich snippets but to indulge in automated / spammy rich snippet processes to try to obtain an unjustified position on the search engines is likely to be picked up by Google and penalised.

So in conclusion the so called Google penalty does exist and it can have a serious impact on a website position on the search pages but the solution is simple – don’t indulge in quick fixes or automated processes. New, bright shiny objects are to be avoided and if someone offers some quick fix in search engine marketing then it is almost certainly going to have a significant negative impact in the medium to long term. Ignore the hype, ignore the quick fixes, ignore those trying to make a quick buck by spreading fear and misinformation and build success based on best practice over the medium to long term.

Best Practice Small Business SEO – What’s Changed?

Much has been written about current best practice small business SEO after the major Google search algorithm updates of the past 18 months but has that much really changed? We review the changes, the mass of bad (and plain wrong) information written on the subject and consider what really is best practice.

The Changes To SEO

The Panda and Penguin search algorithm Google search algorithm updates clamped down on what Google considered were dubious back linking practices. The number of backlinks to a website (other websites linking to the site) have long been considered a major factor considered when deciding where to rank a website on the search engines.

Many bad linking practices were developed by those seeking manipulate the search engine rankings and gain an unfair advantage. Google tried to address this issue via Panda and Penguin by clamping down on bad practice and by considering link quality rather than quantity. Hummingbird was somewhat different and slipped under the RADAR to some extent but has the potential to be more significant in the longer term if, as seems likely, it was a sign of things to come.

The Myths Surrounding Small Business SEO

Perhaps the largest and potentially most damaging myth is that content is all important and that back linking and other technical aspects of SEO are no longer relevant.

While is it true the Google search algorithm is more focussed on the content (and quality of that content) on a website and how often that content changes than ever before to state that all that is needed for a website to rank well on the search engines is regularly updated content is plain wrong

To state that back links are no longer relevant is a mistruth. Back links are still of vital importance to website ranking all that has changed is the quality of back links is more important than ever before and dubious linking practices are to be avoided at all costs.

What is clear that best practice small business SEO is based on an appropriate mix of activities. Back links remain vitally important as does quality content that changes regularly but so are over 200 other factors that impact on the position of a website in the search engines.

The best way forward is to continue to focus on long established page factors such as Meta tags and backlinks but to also focus on the user experience. A user is likely to find a site slow load speed frustrating, they will find poor site navigation a turn off and when they do reach the required page they want their questions answered via information (content) that is useful and engaging.

What is Google Local And The 7 Pack

In recent months Page 1 of Google has changed to feature a local element. This post considers what is Google Local and the 7 pack and how they can help a business with a local customer base secure more enquiries.

Google+ Local provides business details and information on what Google defines as a local businesses. This information shows up in search results and is directly linked with the Google Maps listing for the business and the main business website (if one exists).

A Google Local page is effectively an mini website and includes information on the business Address, phone number, and reviews. Once a listing has been verified it also includes business descriptions, images, videos, and latest business news.

Google displays local listings on Page 1 according to a number of ranking factors. In the following example all the businesses shown with a letter are displayed whereas all those shown simply as red dots are other businesses that match the search criteria but are not shown. Up to seven businesses are displayed in the local panel on page google local map example1.

 

 

Part of a typical panel is shown below. A click on the business name takes the user to the main business website. The business contact details are clearly shown with the number of reviews (if any exist) a rating and star system. There are a number of ranking factors used by Google when deciding which listings to display but it is highly likely a claimed listing that has a appropriate content and reviews has a much higher chance of display.

Example of Google local listing

 

 

 

No charge is currently made by Google for the service and any local business is free to claim and set up a listing. There is a simple verification process to follow that can take a week or two to complete but once verified any business can go ahead and update the listing. The one critical point to consider during initial set up is the address and telephone details for the business during the verification process must precisely match those given on the business website.

As a standalone entity a Google local listing raises the profile of a business and builds the business credibility via content and its ability to post reviews and testimonials. It can be even more effective as an element of an integrated local marketing process built around a locally optimised website, a formal review collection process, best practice content marketing and a local linking strategy. Future posts will cover set up of a professional Google+ Local listing.

Effective Local Business Search Engine Marketing

Internet marketing, particularly search engine marketing can be confusing for small local search engine marketingbusiness with a local customer base. There is plenty of information available online but much of it is contradictory (or just plain wrong). In this post I try to summarize the key elements of search engine marketing for small business and provide some guidance on how best to proceed.

It is estimated that Google uses at least 200 ranking factors in the algorithm they use to determine where a website should be positioned on the search pages. SEO is all about working these factors to deliver the highest possible position for a website but nobody (apart from the search engine businesses) knows for certain which factors are the most important.

All any local business search engine marketing specialist can do is assess the limited information published by the search engine companies, establish what has worked well for others and call on their own experience of what works and what does not. Even then the job is not finished as best practice is continually evolving.

Some search engine optimisation techniques are however universally recognised as effective, they are:

  • Meta title
  • Meta description
  • Quality content published on a regular basis
  • H Tags

These are the ones that should be focussed on as a minimum. Keyword (or words) is of vital importance. These are the words or phrases which when typed in as a search phrase the website should be listed against (preferably on Page1).

For a business with a local business the following factors are also important.

  • Quality local links
  • Reviews

Meta title, Meta description and H tags are all technical aspects related to the website design and coding. When trying to secure customers in a local area it is vital to employ a website company that has a firm understanding of both website design and local SEO to ensure the correct keywords are chosen and these technical aspects are addressed correctly. It is important to remember a website is of little use if it is not found when a prospect types in a relevant search term and all website designers do not necessarily understand SEO or local marketing.

Content And Search Engine Marketing

Any local business can influence content, local links and reviews using their own in house resources or by hiring a specialist if necessary. Content is now of vital importance to effective search engine marketing. The search engine algorithms will promote websites they find that change often and publish relevant and useful information up the search engine listings. Information may take many forms including case studies, how to guides, blog posts, just come into stock, before and after videos or photography and much more. The key is to continue to publish information on a consistent basis.

Quality Local Links To The Website

Link building can be both difficult and time consuming and involves establishing a link from the website of a quality and relevant local business back to your website. Potential businesses to approach to request a link are local directories, local charities, chambers of commerce, local vendors or service providers. Before securing a link some work is normally required to build relationships. Reach out to the local community and get your business known. Offer to be a source of information on your topic to local journalists.

Local Reviews And Testimonials

Relevant and genuine reviews and testimonials on your website are viewed as important by the search engines so every opportunity should be taken to collect reviews. Google provides a review collection process (see below), and there are various online and card based systems.

The Importance Of Google+ Local

A free marketing tool from Google can be of significant assistance for any business looking for more local customers. Basically, a mini website a Google+ Local listing gives any local business the opportunity to obtain a high position on Page 1 of Google (and link to their main website), publish reviews and testimonials and raise the profile of the business.

Effective local business search engine marketing is then based on a locally optimised website that is updated regularly with relevant content and contains reviews and testimonials coupled with a professional Google+ Local listing. Given the time then most small business owners can build their own local marketing system using the many low cost tools that are now available. Keyword research and the technical aspects of SEO can cause some difficulties but these can be learned with time and patience.

Organic SEO for small business – Why there is no quick fix

Don’t shoot the messenger but when engaged in organic SEO for small business there is no quick fix. It is true, for a small business website targeted on a local customer base a lot can be achieved in a relatively short period of time but with the initial surge over what follows takes time and effort. That said, the medium to long term returns on that effort should not be underestimated.

Google is the largest search engine and what they (and the other search engines) are looking for is quality content that helps, informs or educates. They are trying to interpret searcher intent and rank pages that satisfy that intent in a high position on Google.

A valid view could be that it has taken the search algorithms some time to catch up with this stated aim and quality content is far from the only ranking signal, the basics are still vitally important but Google has made major strides over the past 18 months (Penguin and Panda) with Penguin 2.0 due within days

Dubious organic SEO practices – particularly related to link building – have, and will continue to be penalised. The way forward is to create quality content (as defined above) and to publish that content on your own site while not forgetting quality local link building and the value of reviews and citations.

If sub-contracting small business SEO activity the implications for search engine optimisation service providers are profound. It will no longer be possible for a business to hire a SEO agency to improve the position of their website on the search engines then simply leave them to it. What will be required going forward is a partnership between the business and the SEO agency where they both contribute to the production of valuable information (content) in all its forms.

There is little doubt a Google update is coming and there is evidence it will again go after dubious link practices and poor quality content, demoting sites using these practices and promote those delivering quality content.

Without content it is difficult to build high quality links. Content can be used to fuel EMail and nurture campaigns. High quality content distinguishes a small local business form its competitors, it builds trust and keeps the business front of mind. All positive marketing activities but the time and effort involved should not be underestimated.

When introducing a new small business website there is always an initial surge of interest and activity. In the early days organic SEO for small business can all seem relatively easy with positive short term results but as discussed above ,beyond that initial surge the only real way forward is based on the creation of content. Results will come but it takes time. It is important not to become discouraged.