(3 min read)
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can be all too easily dismissed by smaller businesses as 'something the big guys do'.
We're amongst the first to agree that SEO may not be the best solution in all cases (a lot of which comes down to budget, goals and your starting point) but even so, SEO undeniably has a place.
Even in 2018 amidst cries from some that "SEO is dead", the fundamentals of SEO in some ways hold truer than ever. Turning a blind eye and thinking that SEO doesn't matter or that it doesn't apply to me could end in disaster for your business.
What is SEO in 2018? (the short version)
It's not black magic or a secret science, but... what on Earth is SEO these days?
The answer is a resounding 'YES' to all of the above.
Why is SEO Important to My Local Business?
1. Customers are mobile and looking for your business
It's no secret these days that almost everyone is online and mobile.
Around 94% of people use Google to search in Australia (not Yellow Pages etc.) and around 92% worldwide in recent stats.
Is your business visible in Google for those people searching?
2. Local users expect local results
In a recent Google survey:
Is your business locally optimised for local users?
3. It's happening around you anyway
Even if you are not actively 'doing SEO', people are talking about your business, leaving reviews etc.
How would it affect your business if the first thing users saw when searching for your business by name was a series of terrible reviews and a blog post discussing how bad your products are?
Wouldn't you want to show up in Google ABOVE those negative things?
Meet Bob the Mechanic (may not be his real name)
A brief (and completely fictitious) example to explain SEO...
Case 1: Bob opens an auto repair business
Case 2: Bob opens his workshop on a busy street corner filled with cars...
Which situation would you prefer for your business?
But, Is SEO Right for My Business?
There are a lot of considerations which we cover in detail in this article.
At any level, it's important to give thought to:
Still not sure where to start? Perhaps consider seeking some unbiased, independent advice.
Using SEO to Grow Your (Small) Business
Check out our presentation on Slideshare for even more info relevant to businesses big and small along with a completely free download:
What if a customer took the time to search for your business; they found you on Google, confirmed your opening hours, looked you up on on Google Maps and drove to your store...
... only to find out that you were closed?
Don't risk losing customers this Christmas. Properly update business hours on your Google My Business page.
Seems obvious, right? You might be surprised how many businesses forget this simple step.
If not done right, this either shows a warning message for users searching, or even worse - leaves customers turning up at your door only to find out that you are closed.
We cover the essentials below in time for Christmas and New Year.
Your 'Google My Business' Hours
A Google My Business page has become an important point of contact for customers searching your local bricks-and-mortar business. Customers use the info in Google My Business to check reviews, find your store location on Google Maps, get your phone number or see your opening hours.
Importantly, local users expect local info to be up to date.
Whether it's Christmas, New Year, Diwali, or any other seasonal break, it's easy to keep your opening hours up to date. This can be done easily in Google My Business ahead of time and doesn't require scrambling around on the day to change and change back.
3 Ways to Update Your Seasonal/Special Hours
There are 3 ways you can update your hours depending on your situation:
A few additional notes from Google:
A lot of time and effort is spent on Local SEO these days.
Don't forget this simple last step and risk losing or frustrating customers this Christmas.
With over 20 years of web development experience, we often get asked... 'why on Earth did we choose Weebly to build our latest website?'
Here we set out to answer these questions, sharing our own 6 month journey from launching a brand new website to page one rankings.
The Rise of Online Website Builders
A topic that regularly has web developers up-in-arms is the debate over using a free or paid website builder versus a custom built website.
Even as recently as a few years back, this debate was much easier to win. But these days, online website builders such as Weebly are more advanced than ever. Even if going with the argument that 'some website is better than no website' - using one of these online builders is often far preferable over paying a freelancer to create a (potential) mess of HTML that could break with the next browser update or get hacked.
Even Google agree that these days 'you don't need to know how to code to build a great website'.
Along with their latest free 'website builder' offering as part of Google My Business - there are a number of website builders that make it to Google's 'recommended list' on Google Domains: Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify and Blogger.
Why We Chose Weebly Over a Custom Build
1. It's Fast to Set Up
Once we'd decided on the site structure and content, setting up the 6 page Weebly site took less than a day to get up and running (and a fair chunk of this time was spent on custom icons/images and SEO housekeeping).
2. It Just Works
Even the excellent Wordpress is far from 'plug-and-play' and requires some developer knowledge to really get the best out of it.
If you're only customising one of the base themes in Weebly, it really is difficult to break it. Also massive time savings on cross browser testing and mobile testing here.
We're targeting Wordpress* again here (perhaps unfairly), since it is often the subject of hack attempts. With builders like Weebly, the security is taken care of since the entire solution is hosted.
* It should be noted that there are secure hosted solutions available for Wordpress such as WPEngine that are an option.
And the down side...
It's not all roses though. There are definitely limitations to using a website builder like Weebly which can be frustrating. Moving the site to another provider isn't particularly easy either if you decide to go elsewhere later, so do consider all options before making a final decision.
Weebly for SEO: The Good
So what about Weebly for SEO? Is it any good?
Here are a few of the highlights:
1. Easy to access 'SEO' areas for pages and posts in Weebly allow you to add meta descriptions, SEO page titles, alt tags for images and permalinks. It's also quite simple to drop in header code for Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager (GTM) to start monitoring or tagging your site.
2. URL formatting is mostly quite SEO friendly out of the box and doesn't need much work. As mentioned above you can also tweak the permalinks for internal pages quite easily via the side panel.
3. Weebly automatically adds Facebook Opengraph (OG) code by default - making it more user friendly to share articles on Facebook (though Twitter cards are not automatically added)
4. Load times / performance grade was reasonable with a bit of basic image optimisation.
The page loaded in under 3 seconds despite being 1.4MB in size (though this did get worse once we added widgets - see below points)
Weebly for SEO: The Bad
Here are some of the areas we found that Weebly fell short:
Our site's pagespeed scores tell the story - not terrible, but 'needs work':
So what was the end result after 6 months?
Technical challenges and lack of perfect PageSpeed score aside... not many sites make it to page one in Google within the first 6 or even 12 months.
BUT - at last count in Google Search Console, machdigital.com.au was showing impressions for around 100+ non-branded phrases on page one and this is improving steadily. One of the most competitive terms is 'digital marketing help'.
Is this thanks to Weebly? Or is it due to some solid SEO principles and good quality content applied to a site?
From our experience, we'd have to suggest the latter.
Weebly SEO Tips: Get Your Weebly Site to Show Up on Google
Apart from some SEO basics (and this article is NOT) an SEO guide, here are some Weebly-specific tips we came across:
Firstly as a minimum - you must upgrade from Weebly's free website builder to the paid version in order to “get search indexing". If you plan to go anywhere with SEO in Weebly, this is a critical step.
Weebly also provide some pretty useful SEO tips and suggestions in their Help Center, complete with advice on:
For more general tips on SEO visibility, check out our articles:
The Weebly SEO Review: Final Verdict
Weebly is certainly not a magic pill from an SEO point of view. However, if good SEO practices are applied to a Weebly site, along with an understanding of how the website builder works - SEO success is certainly achievable.
Coupled with security and time-saving benefits, Weebly and other website builders are a viable option for those looking to get a decent quality website up and running quickly.
'Getting more visible in Google' is firstly a case of changing old thinking away from 'ranking for keywords' and more towards maximising a 'Page 1 share of voice', or 'share of SERP'.
(Check out our recent blog post to better understand why this is becoming so important).
Just to be clear - we're not saying that keywords aren't an important part of an earned strategy...
But in the world of SEO, where even Google suggests that it can take at least 4-12 months to start seeing tangible results and the competition is increasing every day - starting with a focus to improve Share of SERP makes sense.
Improving visibility and Share of SERP can give small businesses (and large ones) 'quick wins' and more opportunities to be in front of your most relevant customers when it's most relevant.
What are The Benefits?
Take Up More of the Room
One on-the-front-foot way of thinking about Share of SERP is as this SMX presentation puts it:
Don't Miss Online Opportunities
Or for the risk-averse, it's also a case of getting the basics right so that your business isn't potentially leaving leads on the table - or even worse - throwing them away.
11 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve
How can you work towards more 'share of SERP'?
In a number of ways - some of which you can implement easily and right away:
Note: we're assuming in this article that you've covered the basics such as submitting your site and XML sitemap to Google Search Console to ensure there are no errors and are now looking to take the next step to earn more visibility.
0. Don't Waste the Space You've Already Earned
Step '0' is to consider the very basics of on page optimisation and the bare minimum info Google displays in a search result:
Make sure these are well-written, free from typos, descriptive, relevant and ideally include a 'call to action' in your meta description. Most modern web content management systems should allow you access to these things either by default or with the help of a plugin.
In short - Don't waste the space you already have.
1. Google My Business
It might seem basic, but - ensure your Google My Business ('GMB') listing is optimised, completed, up to date and appears when you search for your business name .
I.e.: If you want people to be able to use the 'Call' and 'Navigate' options from the search results, you need to have the 'phone' and 'address' information filled out. Makes sense, right?
Get started at: https://business.google.com/
While you're there, try the brand new Google Posts feature in Google My Business to publish your events, products, and services directly to Google Search.
2. Add Structured Data
Implement and maximise your structured data (especially if you are a museum, movie theatre, musician or sports group).
Get noticed, potentially appear in the knowledge graph or even just to help your business stand out in the organic search results.
One example of structured data is starred reviews:
There are a number of ways to add structured data and countless articles online, so we won't go into detail here.
Some of the most common ways are:
3. Consistent NAP Details
Ensure your NAP details (Name, Address, Phone Number) are up to date and added to any high quality, relevant directory sites that rank for your search terms.
Consistency also helps Google and other search engines 'see' your different business listings as the same business. This strengthens your presence rather than diluting it.
Again, this one might seem obvious - but we see it all too often.
A quick word of warning:
If you have a large number of location listings to manage, or need some help claiming listings, you could consider a third party service like Yext or Moz Local to make things easier.
4. Get Creative
Check the search results for other creative avenues that appear alongside your search terms.
Think along other lines such as...
5. Look to The Community
Get active on Social Media
Participate on industry group sites and relevant online communities, aim for a citation or link.
Again, this one comes with a big 'take care' warning.
For example - Old spammy back linking techniques are high risk and mostly don't even work these days. In short - your guest post should of quality and provide value in it's own right or be highly relevant... not simply a reason to back link to your own site to 'get more links'.
Here's a video from Google's Matt Cutts which addresses the question of guest blogging (even back in 2012 it was getting into a grey area).
And here in a more recent 2017 video - Google's Marie Haynes discusses which type of links you can get that do/don't comply with Google's guidelines:
6. Buy it With Adwords
The phrase "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" comes to mind. But in reality, ads take up more space on SERPs than ever before... especially on mobile.
A few thoughts:
7. Match Content to User Intent
Don't become blinkered and optimise content for single keywords (or broad topics) - try to anticipate and solve user's needs.
In general - Write naturally, match content to the intent of the user who is searching for the page and provide a solution.
An example of keywords matched to user intent:
8. Give the Best Answer
Taking point 7 a step further...
Strive to create the very best answer to the question or solution to the problem that the user may be looking for with quality content – a great response that truly deserves to rank on page one organically.
As a bonus result, possibly earn a spot as a featured answer directly on the SERP:
9. Think Beyond Text on a Page
Google also displays info such as Videos, Images, News, Maps, Books, Products and Twitter feeds on the search results page.
Could your great answer from point 7-8 be better served as a how-to video, infographic or a PDF e-book?
10. Hijack The Knowledge Graph
Think of other ways to (respectfully) hijack the knowledge graph...
Perhaps build a glossary page or aim to achieve a '#0 ranking' in Google for answers
Here is a possible result:
11. Wear a White Hat. Don't Be That Guy...
Lastly (it needs to be said) - don't try to game or trick the search engines.
Most of those techniques have long been marked as black hat and if they aren't, it's probably not long before they end up on Google's radar.
Even if you're winning now with black hat, you might be one algorithm update away from getting a slap down and losing all of your hard work.
(12) What we haven't covered here ('other stuff')...
We'd call these separate topics in their own right and there is plenty of info online that covers these in detail:
We still see many small, medium (and some large) businesses missing the basics when it comes to visibility online, when it's more critical than ever to start from a solid foundation.
This does leave opportunities on the table for those who can adjust their thinking and start considering the way the modern SERP works and looks - ultimately, maximising their share of SERP.
We hope this guide offers some practical, actionable steps to improve your business' visibility online and improve your share of SERP.
Get the Infographic
(7 min read)
Taking a real example from our own website not long after launch we wanted to share a few tricks and techniques to stand out from your competitors in Google, no developer required!*
* Tips provided here can mostly be done by small or medium businesses through a combination of your website content management system ('CMS') if you have one, plugins and Google Tag Manager.
Disclaimer: This is a basic level introduction to search engine visibility and not an SEO guide - these are tips to improve visibility in SERPs (not rankings). Individual experiences may differ depending on your website and situation. Lastly - Nothing can be guaranteed with Google.
Step 0: Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools)
We're calling this one 'Step 0' because before moving to the other steps you should first:
Step 1: Google My Business
'Google My Business' is free. For almost all businesses, this is an essential place to start.
You can see below that we even had some difficulty ranking for our own business name initially (more on that later).
A Google search of 'mach digital' returned over 14 million results. Position 1 was initially held by the Facebook page of an unrelated printing company.
The red box on the right is where our Google business listing should have been.
Hey presto! Almost immediately after verification our business map listing started to appear:
*Note that appearing in the map/business results is different to appearing in the main/organic results of Google.
This is a common confusion point. This article explains the difference in more detail.
Step 2: Social Media
Next mission - push down that competitor's Facebook page.
We were having some issues initially verifying our business Facebook page. Since we're primarily a web-based business and don't have a phone number publicly listed, Facebook wouldn't allow us to verify the page by this phone method. We would tackle that later. Note: Facebook states in it's page settings "Verified Pages show up higher in search results."
Google+? What? You're crazy! We're hearing some people say.
For anyone who's generally lost faith in Google+ and doubting it has any effect on web results, check out Mike Blumenthal's excellent local SEO video here.
Step 3: Structured Data
As a bit of extra housekeeping, we added structured data to our page, at this stage focusing on our business details, reviews and social media pages.
There are a number of guides online for adding structured data to your site, so we won't cover it in detail here.
As a quick mention, here are some ways to go about it:
1. Via Google Tag Manager using the JSON-LD method.
This one may not be best in all cases, but it is particularly good if you already have GTM code installed on your side and/or don't want to hassle a developer every time you need something implemented.
In the case of some CMS' like Weebly where things are a bit 'locked down' at times, using GTM can also be good as a workaround to add schema to blog posts etc.
2. If your site is on Wordpress -
3. Or you can try Google's Structured Data Highlighter within Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) to apply structured data to page elements without any coding needed.
The social media structured data is to tell search engines that the social pages are the same business/entity as the website.
The social media 'sameAs' data looks like this when implemented (partial code shown only):
"sameAs" : [
Step 3.5: Reviews / Ratings Data
Working towards positive Google (and other online) reviews is important for any business online. Users rely on social proof more than ever before making a purchase decision.
Being mostly white labelled, we found that we had a number of positive reviews from other sources but couldn't directly display these online or ask our clients to post these in Google. Note: The method below is NOT a substitute or replacement for getting real, authenticated user reviews, but it can help as a start.
The code for products looks a bit like this when implemented (partial code shown only).
"@type" : "Product",
"name" : "Digital Marketing Consulting",
"image" : "http://www.machdigital.com.au/uploads/9/8/2/3/98239458/icon-fix-digital-skills-gap-1_orig.png",
"description" : "Fix your digital skills gaps - Digital Marketing Help on Demand - Training, Strategy, Consulting",
"@type" : "aggregateRating",
"ratingValue" : "4.7",
"reviewCount" : "13"
In the space of only a couple of weeks, there was quite a dramatic change:
After a bit of time we also noticed our LinkedIn page appearing in search results.
Our Next Action/s
Getting that Facebook page verified and showing about the competitor
At the time of writing, we're still fighting to get our Facebook business page verified.
Once we do, we'll post further updates.
Since it's almost impossible to get much organic visibility in Facebook these days unless you have at least a few people following you, along with micro-boosting, we ran a small Facebook paid ads campaign to increase likes and thereby reach and engagement of our Facebook posts.
It's also perfectly fine to invite a few friends and colleagues to like your business page.
This campaign resulted in around 60 page followers in 5 days for a spend of around $100. We're now getting some good engagement with our posts which is starting to work as another channel.
Once you've created some valuable content on your site, hopefully you will start to see some of this get amplified and shared via social media, which all helps.
Other Things You Could Do
The list goes on.
Most steps from here on will depend on your own business goals, the type of business you run, your industry and a number of other factors.
If you're at this stage and wondering how to get started or take it to the next step, check out our free 35 point digital marketing checklist we hope this gives you a start.
Or, check out more detailed tips and strategy around gaining more 'Share of SERP' here.
As a final note: When Googling your business name like this (or other keywords), results can vary based on a number of factors such as user location. Also, if you're logged in to Google, preferences and web history can affect search results if this is not turned off, so for better accuracy and less skewed data ideally: