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5 Changes to Make to Your Google My Business Profile Before 2019

There was never a dull moment in local SEO this year, with new updates to coming to Google My Business at a rapid-fire pace throughout 2018. Now’s the time to log in and make sure your Google My Business page is current and ready for the new year.

Let’s get straight to it. The biggest updates to Google My Business in 2018 were:

  1. New dashboard for businesses with multiple locations
  2. Separate fields for Service Area and Business Address (and removing the ability to set a distance-based service area around the business address)
  3. Service menu for service-based businesses and product menu for retailers
  4. Letting businesses set ‘factual’ attributes in addition to the crowdsourced ‘subjective’ attributes (including the veteran-led and women-led attributes)
  5. Videos on the photo dashboard

5 changes to make to google my business profile

These changes affected some types of businesses more than others (some local service-based companies will have a lot of catching up to do) but all of them matter when it comes to understanding how to optimize Google My Business for a stronger local presence.

Here’s how to ensure you’re up-to-date with Google My Business in 2019.

1. Scrutinize Your Suggested Changes

In March of 2018, Google rolled out a new Google My Business dashboard for business owners with two or more listings or locations. It’s much faster and easier to navigate than the old one.

The downside? The new dashboard makes it more difficult to track and respond to Suggested Changes in a timely manner.

A Suggested Change is an addition or change to your listing that either comes from:

  1. A user manually editing your listing information; or
  2. Google’s algorithm finding information about your listing (often from third-party directory sites).

Here’s the trouble: the name ‘Suggested Changes’ is a bit misleading, since the changes don’t always require your approval before they go live.

As the listing owner, you should receive an email from Google whenever there’s a ‘suggestion’; however, those notifications don’t always make it through to your inbox.

Because of this, it’s important that you log in to check your Suggested Changes periodically, especially since the new dashboard makes it harder to notice them.

To see Suggested Changes for a Google My Business listing in the new dashboard:

  1. Log in to Google My Business.
  2. Click Back to GMB Classic in the left-hand menu.
  3. Click Google Updates in the centre column.
  4. Make sure the box next to ‘Google updates’ is set to display All.
  5. Click Resolve updates in the rightmost column to see the Suggested Changes and other updates to a listing.

2. Specify Your Ever-Growing Service Area

Before the update, local businesses could define only their service area as a kilometer/mile radius around their business address. Google realized this was a shortcoming (who actually has a perfectly circular service area?) and turned it around late in 2018.

Now, Google My Business lets you edit your business address and service area separately. Businesses can specify their service area by region, city, or ZIP/Postal Code.

If you haven’t gotten around to updating your service area, here’s how to do it:

  1. Log in to Google My Business.
  2. Click the location you’d like to edit.
  3. Click Info in the left-hand menu.
  4. Click Edit in the Service Area section.
  5. Click the X next to a service area to delete it.

3. Promote Your Outstanding Services

Early in 2018, Google began to allow businesses in select industries to list their services in detail right on the page. Later, they expanded the feature to almost all service businesses, including creative industries and the trades.

The service menu is simple, consisting of just a name, description, and optionally a price for each item. It’s a vast improvement over the previous version of Google My Business’s services, which was limited to keywords like ‘repair services’ and ‘installation services.’

Adding services to your Google My Business page is quick and easy. All you need to do is:

  1. Log in to Google My Business.
  2. Click Info in the left-hand menu.
  3. Click Edit in the Services section.

Recently, Google has begun testing a product menu feature for Google My Business as well. Chances are this will expand to more companies next year, so keep an eye out!

4. Add Appealing Factual Attributes

Attributes are Google’s name for small bits of descriptive information about a business. They include things like:

  • Service offerings (pick-up or drive-thru)
  • Atmosphere (casual, noisy, family-friendly, private)
  • Customer/clientele demographic (popular among students, business travellers, tourists)

Originally, the algorithm compiled a business’s attributes based solely on user reviews and feedback via the GMB Q&A feature – businesses couldn’t edit them.

In 2018, Google refined the attributes system by splitting them into factual and subjective attributes. Now, businesses can directly edit certain attributes. The attributes available (which include acceptable payment types, accessibility options, and whether the business is LGBTQ-friendly) vary depending on the business’s category.

Even if you’re not a GMB geek, you might have heard about the release of the women-led and veteran-led attributes – two socially-conscious tags designed to help customers support local vets, businesswomen, and even businesswoman vets.

There’s also a lesser-known family-led attribute, which could help win the favour of locavores in search of a good old-fashioned family business.

In any case, it pays to take a moment to set up factual attributes that will help customers get to know you. It doesn’t take long:

  1. Log in to Google My Business.
  2. Click Info in the left-hand menu.
  3. Click Edit in the Attributes section.

5. Upload an Excellent Video

Video is one of the most powerful mediums available to us as marketers and you as a business owner.

Online video consistently grabs more views and engagement than still images, and 90% of customers now say that video influences their buying decisions.

The addition of 30-second videos to Google My Business shows Google is serious about getting customers to convert (whether it’s making a purchase or booking an appointment) directly on the GMB platform. For businesses, it’s an opportunity to make a huge visual impact just around the corner from the search engine results page.

What’s Next for Google My Business?

Make no mistake: Google My Business will continue to extend its influence in local SEO in the year to come.

Don’t let the imminent demise of Google+ fool you into thinking GMB is on its way out. In fact, part of the reason Google is sunsetting G+ is because GMB has effectively taken over its function as a hub for customer-brand interactions.

So, what does the future have in store? Based on this year’s developments, you can expect to see even greater emphasis on conversions directly from the Google My Business platform in 2019. Additionally, you ought to pay close attention to your business’s attributes – chances are, they’ll fuel increasingly precise local search results based on ‘intangibles’ like a business’s character and atmosphere.

It’s cool stuff.

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Reputation Management SEO: Why Branded Keywords Should Be On Your Radar

Online reputation management involves more than establishing a website and social media profiles. Conversations about brands are happening at various channels around the web, and the loudest of these discussions converge at one important place: the search engine results page. This post covers the basics of reputation management SEO, including the relationship between reputation and search engines, branded keywords, and strategies to dominate page one.

Branded Keywords

What is Reputation Management SEO?

Have you ever Googled yourself?

Not everyone might admit to it, but it’s doubtful anyone could resist Googling their name at least once or twice.

For most people, the results are typical: a few social media profiles, a company “About Us” page, maybe a quote in a local newspaper. Depending on your name’s popularity, the top results might be about an entirely different person; someone you’ve never met, but with whom you share a search engine results page.

You might’ve Googled yourself out of curiosity, or boredom, or because we put the thought in your mind just now. But there could be a time in your life where someone makes that inquiry with more significant intentions: a manager thinking of hiring you, a college weighing your application, or a potential partner scoping you out before a date.

In that case, the search engine results could have very real and lasting impact on your reputation.

The same goes for brands.

What shows up on page one of the results for branded keywords (searches that include the name of the brand) has a measurable effect on that brand’s reputation. That’s the importance of reputation management SEO, which is search engine optimization strategies and tactics to influence the results for branded search inquiries in order to preserve and improve a brand’s reputation online.

How the Search Engine Results Effect a Brand’s Reputation

It’s Friday night, and you’re decidedly too exhausted to make dinner. But you’re not feeling like any of your go-to restaurants, either. So, you pull out your phone and Google the name of that new place in town.

The first result is the restaurant’s homepage; the second is a link to their menu. Perfect. But there, in place three, is a preview of their Yelp rating:

Rating: 2.5 – 63 reviews – Price range: $40-$60

 In an instant, your opinion has turned; there’s no way you’re paying 5-Star prices for a 2-Star meal.

Review sites like Yelp can have an enormous impact on a brand’s reputation online. So can Google reviews, news stories, blog posts, forum discussions, directory pages, career sites, and all the other third party websites that rank for branded search inquires.

The problem is that brands can’t control the content on these sites as they rule their own domains. A well-optimized homepage will usually outrank third party sites for branded inquiries, but customers aren’t as likely to click through if it’s surrounded by negativity on the SERP.

You can ask the authors to remove negative pages, but that can easily backfire and result in an even worse reputation.

So, what can be done about it?

Reputation Management SEO Strategies

Rarely do brands have the power to remove negative search engine results outright. However, it is possible to:

  • Use search engine optimization (SEO) to influence the results for branded search inquiries
  • Influence the content of third-party review sites
  • Publish new types of content to claim more above the fold space on the results page

The goal is to enhance the ranking of positive items in favour of negative ones, either by displacing the negative content or improving it. There are several ways to go about this; we’ll briefly cover three strategies in the sections below.

1. Encourage Positive Reviews

Third party review sites like Yelp (along with industry-specific sites like G2Crowd for B2B software, or HomeStars for trade contractors) are crucial when it comes to reputation management SEO for local service industries.

These sites tend to rank well because they provide relevant information consumers want to see. Authentic customer reviews tend to carry more weight than curated testimonials on a brand’s own website.

It might not always be possible to outrank them, but it is possible to turn these sites into an asset:

  • Most third-party review sites allow brands to “claim” and modify their profiles. Take this step and fill out the profile completely, using it as a platform to speak to potential customers.
  • Upload enticing, high-quality photos that put products and services in the best possible light.
  • Encourage happy customers to leave positive reviews on the site to bolster the score. Great reviews are the most effective way to diminish the weight of negative ones.

2. Publish New Content

With proper placement and optimization, quality blog posts, videos, and images that utilize branded keywords can rise in the rankings to displace negative pages.

YouTube videos are especially powerful in this way, since they can even claim the coveted position zero ranking, claiming valuable above-the-fold real estate.

It’s worth utilizing off-site publishing platforms as well as those on the brand’s domain. Industry-specific news sites, as well as pop news sites like The Huffington Post, can be valuable both for back-linking and reputation management.

3. Get Others to Write About the Brand

Journalists, bloggers, editors, and video creators are always on the hunt for great content. Pitching positive stories about the brand helps to seed the web with a variety of content relevant to branded search inquiries.

Over time, these stories can gain enough traction to rise in rank and claim a spot previously occupied by negativity.

Managing Your Reputation Online

Reputation management SEO takes time. Positive stories cannot displace negative ones overnight; high-quality links need to be developed over time; and legitimate customer reviews don’t always come easy.

But at this day and age, reputation management SEO is absolutely worth the time and effort.

The search engine results page serves as a brand’s first impression to many, many people. Negative results can stop potential customers in their tracks.

It’s like the old saying about planting a tree. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. Change takes time, so there’s no better time than the present to work on your brand’s online reputation.

Get in touch with us if you’d like to chat about where your brand stands in the digital marketplace.

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Blog Optimization Checklist: 10 Clear-Cut Ways to Boost SEO

When you’ve poured time and energy into a great blog post, you want it to reach as much of your audience as possible. Small changes matter when it comes to boosting blog SEO. Take a run through this blog optimization checklist before you post — it won’t take long, and it’ll help your blog get seen by the right people.

Blog Checklist

1. Keywords

Keywords are words or short phrases that encompass what the blog post is about (see our blog: What Are Keywords and Why Do They Matter?). When you use them well, keywords can help the post rank for search queries that include those words.

Why Blog Keywords Matter for SEO

Search engine algorithms use repeated words and phrases as clues to what a webpage is about. Placing relevant, natural-sounding keywords in the blog content, title, meta description, and URL can contribute to a blog post’s search engine ranking.

How to Optimize for Keywords

Incorporate your chosen keywords into the blog:

  • Title
  • Headings (one or more)
  • First paragraph
  • Meta description
  • URL

2. Length

There’s no perfect word count for SEO, but the length of a blog can factor into its ranking.

Why Blog Length Matters for SEO

Search engine algorithms often deem pages with less than 300 words inadequate to rank in the search engine results. However, longer isn’t necessarily better; a 3,000-word post stuffed with irrelevant content will fare just as poorly as a short one.

Optimizing Length for SEO

Aim to write at least 500 words per blog post. Beyond that, the ideal blog length will depend on your audience. Pay attention to how your blogs perform and look for trends related to page length.

3. Readability

It’s in the writer’s interest to make a blog post as easy to read as possible. Spacing, formatting, and writing style all weigh on a blog’s readability.

Why Readability Matters for SEO

Making your content easy to digest will increase the time people spend reading it and encourage them to share it with others. It can also increase the likelihood the content will rank in Featured Snippets, which is a huge boost to blog SEO.

How to Optimize Blog Readability

  • Add informative headings and subheadings to make the post easier to skim.
  • Format lists or step-by-step instructions as numbered or bulleted lists.
  • Break large paragraphs into shorter chunks. Single-sentence paragraphs are common in the blog world.

4. Title

The title is your chance to convince the reader to click in 50-60 characters or less. A good title:

  1. Is short (search engines cut off titles longer than 60 characters);
  2. Is compelling (but not clickbait); and
  3. Promises readers something of value if they click.

Why Blog Titles Matter for SEO

A great title will drive more traffic to the blog, which significantly impacts its rankings. As mentioned above, the title should also include relevant keywords.

How to Optimize Blog Titles

Craft your title around keywords and the value readers receive from the blog. Shorten it 50 characters or less and add compelling adjectives to make it pop.

5. Call to Action

The title succeeds in persuading readers to click on your blog post. What do you want them to do once they’re there? Whatever the goal, readers are more likely to do it if you guide them in the right direction with a clear call to action.

Why a Call to Action Matters for SEO

An effective call to action keeps people on your site and discourages them from bouncing back to the search engine results page (see our blog: Understanding Bounce Rate, Long Clicks and Pogo-Sticking).

How to Optimize Call to Action

Place the call to action prominently on the blog post (the best spot will vary audience-to-audience, so consider testing different placements). It should be relevant to the subject matter of the article and the user’s pain points.

6. Internal and External Links

Internal links are links to content that is within the same domain as your content: other blog posts, product pages, contact pages, and so on. External links are the opposite: they point to other websites.

Why Internal and External Linking Matters for SEO

Interlinking helps search engine algorithms to understand the website’s structure. Links to credible, authoritative external sources help build your site’s credibility within the eyes of the all-seeing search algorithm. Both are an important part of boosting blog SEO.

How to Optimize Links

Be picky about the links you include! Credible external sites will bolster your blog’s credibility, but poor sites will do the opposite. Insert internal links should in a logical way that benefits the reader.

7. Anchor Text

Anchor text refers to the clickable text of an internal or external link. On most sites, anchor text is underlined and highlighted in blue.

Why Anchor Text Matters for SEO

Search engine algorithms use anchor text another clue to what a web page is about, both regarding your blog and the page you’re linking to.

How to Optimize Anchor Text

Good anchor text is succinct, informative, and relevant to the target page. Incorporate keywords where it sounds natural to do so.

8. Images

Images are a necessity in any blog post, no matter the length or the topic. Along with their visual appeal, original images can help boost your blog’s SEO.

Why Images Are Good for SEO

Images make the blog easier to read, increasing the chance people will share it and explore the rest of your site. Keywords in image titles and file names can help give the algorithm context on your blog’s topic. Images also allow the site to rank in image searches.

Optimizing Images for SEO

Upload high-quality images with keyword-rich titles and file names. Avoid adding overly-large images, as they can bog down your site’s loading speed (see our blog: Why Page Speed Matters.

9. Meta Description

The meta description is a 160-character summary of the blog that can display below the headline on the search engine results page.

Why Meta Descriptions Matter for SEO

The meta description can be a huge factor in a reader’s decision to click through to your blog from the search engine results page. Like blog titles, meta descriptions are a chance to pique the reader’s curiosity and promise something worth clicking for.

How to Optimize Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions that exceed 160 words will be cut off, so be sure to include the good stuff in the first 160.

10. Proofreading

Spelling and grammar checkers have come a long way, but they’re still not perfect! Take time to proofread your blog before posting it.

Why Spelling and Grammar Matters for SEO

Poor spelling and grammar will stop some readers in their tracks. Few people will share an error-ridden blog with their friends, let alone peruse the rest of the site. Proofreading keeps readers on the page and preserves your credibility.First, give the blog a once-over yourself. Then, pass it to a colleague for a second look. If no one’s available to help, a free proofreading tool like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor beats no proofreading at all.

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7 Universal Content Strategies to Increase Audience Engagement

Content is a contest. Whether you’re writing blog posts or cutting videos, there’s always someone else out there who wants to win over your audience as bad as you do. These content strategies can help increase audience engagement across a variety of mediums to help get your message out there.

Content Strategy

1. Gauge the Competition

Who’s winning the race for your important keywords?

Finding ways to outrank those competitors will help bolster your share of the audience.

One important step in increasing engagement is finding (and fixing) gaps in your current keyword strategy.

You could be falling behind in areas where your competitors already have plenty of content. There could also be high-volume keywords the competition hasn’t covered yet, leaving an opportunity for your site to fill in the gap.

Conducting a keyword gap analysis requires a strong grasp of your site’s current standing and where you want to improve: how people are finding your site now, which keywords are most valuable to you now, and what your competitors are doing better.

Tools like SEMRush’s Keyword Gap Analysis can help, but it’s only useful if you understand what keywords are and which keywords matter to your business.

2. Optimize Metadata

To most people, metadata is an afterthought.

For anyone with a website, it shouldn’t be.

Metadata refers to two types of information: basic descriptions of digital files (file author, date crated, file size, etc.) and descriptions of webpage content. Both types of metadata play a role in your content’s search engine visibility.

Search algorithms use metadata to help determine what a webpage is about. When metadata contains relevant keywords, it gives the page a better shot of ranking for those search queries.

Optimized metadata may not increase audience engagement alone, but it can help give well-crafted content the boost it needs.

3. Increase Page Speed

Slow loading speed is one of the biggest barriers to audience engagement.

Nearly half of all internet users will not wait longer than three seconds for a page to load. It doesn’t matter how great a blog or video is if it’s dragged down by a slow-loading site.

If you’re not sure of your site’s speed (or can’t figure out why it’s slow), Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool can give answers. Beyond that, there are lots of big and small fixes to increase page speed.

4. Boost Presentation

Looks matter, at least when it comes to boosting audience engagement.

The nicer the page presentation, the more likely people are to view the content, share it with others, and link back to it — all important ingredients of attracting and engaging an audience

Overall site design plays a big part in this (which is one reason to redesign your site periodically). But there are also many smaller steps you can take to make your content easier and more enjoyable to consume.

  • Break blog posts into short paragraphs with a logical flow, adding bullet points and lists where applicable.
  • Add relevant images. Blog posts with images get an average of 94% more views than those without.
  • Embed a video. Video increases the average time people spend on a site by 105%.

If you do add supplementary videos and images, be sure to optimize them with keyword-rich metadata.

Speaking of different mediums…

5. Use a Variety of Content Mediums

Radio didn’t bring an end to libraries. Film wasn’t the death knell for radio.  And the Internet hasn’t dampened the popularity of video (only changed how we see it).

Why? Because different people like to consume information in different ways.

Some of your audience will always prefer a long-form blog post or whitepaper to a video; others won’t give text the time of day when there’s a visual alternative.

Using a variety of content broadens the appeal of your site to a wider audience. Blogs, eBooks, videos, case studies, infographics, and podcasts can all help to build different segment of an engaged following.

6. Be an Authority

Authority is one of the biggest factors in how search engine algorithms choose which sites make the front page. To increase audience engagement, you’ll have to show that you’re an authority in your industry.

Being an authority doesn’t mean you’re the be-all and end-all for your industry. Rather, it means you have a take on the topic that is more in-depth, more authentic, and more current than the competition.

For future content, focus on quality and relevance over quantity. As for older content that still performs well? Keep it current!

7. Send the Right Content to the Right Audience

Instead of blasting all your content to everyone at once, take a precision approach. Aim for where you know it’ll connect.

There are lots of ways to make sure your content reaches the right people and get them to engage with it:

  • Starting an email list is a great initiative for anyone looking to build an army of loyal followers.
  • A/B testing provides guidance when it comes to making the best possible first impression on visitors.
  • Retargeting visitors with content you know matches their interests brings wayward audiences back into your sights.

The point is, different content will resonate best at different points in the marketing funnel. Once you’ve figured out your funnel, you can begin to weave it into your content strategy.

 Getting Audiences to Engage with Your Content

No content creator can produce a viral masterpiece every time, but these steps will help put it on the screens of audiences that matter.

It all starts with strategy. We’d love to help you find yours.

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5 Reasons Why Voice Search is Relevant to Local SEO in 2018

Voice search is set to become one of the top ways people find local products and services online. ComScore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be made using voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. With the majority of voice searches being local queries, there are tons of reasons why voice search is relevant to local SEO.

Voice Search

These are some of the voice search trends in 2018 we’re eager to explore:

  1. Use of voice search is increasing in all age groups, including seniors.
  2. The hospitality industry is experimenting with voice-enabled devices in hotel rooms, which is a boon to retailers and restaurants who invest in local SEO.
  3. Voice-enabled devices are becoming more common in college dorms, giving local businesses another route to the lucrative student market.
  4. All signs point to pay-by-voice as a major e-commerce force in coming years.
  5. New schema markup can tell Google that your website’s text is perfect for voice search queries.

Let’s look at why these rising voice search trends are relevant to local SEO and discuss how to prepare for them

1. Voice Search is Not Only for Millennials

Millennials were the first generation to adopt voice assistant tech, and they’re still the biggest age group of voice search users. But voice search is increasingly used by people across age demographics.

In 2017, 10.9% of Americans used a voice-assisted device at least once, a 128.9% increase over the number in 2016.

One of the most surprising aspects of this increase is the number of adults over 65 who are eagerly purchasing and using voice assistant technology. Seniors aren’t usually early adopters of new tech, but voice search is different: it comes onboard familiar devices like thermostats and takes barriers like small text and complicated user interfaces out of the equation.

This trend presents a novel opportunity for businesses to speak to a demographic that has historically been tough to reach online.

2. Amazon Wants Alexa in Hotel Rooms

Until recently, the hospitality industry has struggled to integrate voice assistant devices into the guest experience. Many hotels have existing automation systems that don’t interface with new crop of smart home devices, while others lacked the information infrastructure to support them.

But as voice assistants have become ubiquitous, more brands are testing out voice-enabled tech in hotel rooms. The latest experiment comes from a collaboration between Amazon and Marriot. The companies plan to place Echo devices with specialized Alexa for Hospitality software in hotels, vacation rental spaces, and other hospitality locations.

Why is this exciting for Local SEO? Because tourists spend more than natives in local categories like restaurants and retail, and 33% of local search business comes from tourists.

When visitors land in an unfamiliar place, they turn to the internet for recommendations on where to eat and where to shop. In a future where voice-enabled devices are a hotel room standard, more and more of those valuable local queries are going to arrive via voice search.

3. Voice Assistants Are Becoming a Part of College Life

Today, smart speakers are still primarily used for entertainment purposes: playing music, reading audiobooks, and so on. But there’s a huge marketing push underway to frame voice-enabled smart speakers as a tool for college and university success.

Last year, Amazon partnered with four major universities to provide free Amazon Echo Dots to students, along with funding for schools to develop Alexa-related curriculums. Other schools are experimenting with smart speakers in dorm rooms to help students transition to college life.

Regardless of whether students will actually use their devices to keep track of class schedules and due dates, voice-enabled devices on campus are good news for local businesses.

Off-campus student spending accounts for as much as $17.5 billion in local economic activity. If voice assistants become a part of college life, businesses who invest in local SEO for voice search can reap even more of those benefits.

4. You Will Soon Be Able to Pay By Voice

In 2018, just about every major payment platform is working on enabling transactions through voice commands with voice-enabled devices.

Mastercard is looking to bring its Masterpass online payment platform into Amazon and Google’s voice systems. Google recently enabled peer-to-peer transactions through voice commands to Google Assistant, and Amazon has announced plans to let users make purchases with Amazon Pay directly through Alexa.

Once people can easily pay-by-voice, businesses who claim top local listings for voice search queries could see their conversions soar. It would also make calculating the return on investment for Local SEO easier and more accurate than ever.

5. Google Has Started Looking for ‘Speakable’ Text on Websites

Google recently announced a new form of markup called Speakable, which web publishers can use to indicate bits of text that are ideal for text-to-speech conversion.

To briefly summarize, schema markup is code on a website that speaks directly to search algorithms. It’s designed to provide information that helps search engines deliver better results to searchers. Speakable is a new kind of schema code that is meant to tell the algorithm which parts of a web page (if any) might be good answers to voice searches.

Essentially, Google wants to know which parts of your site are perfect for voice queries. That’s a huge opportunity for local businesses.

Speakable is still brand-new, and Google is currently only using it for news-related searches in the US. But its relevance is likely to expand over time, and it could become an important piece of the local SEO puzzle for businesses who want to rank in voice searches.

Preparing for Voice Search in Local SEO

The rise of voice search presents a world of opportunity for businesses who invest in local SEO.

Voice search optimization is still in its infancy. As voice search trends evolve, so will the tactics for optimizing a site for voice queries. However, there are steps you can take now to prepare for rising voice search trends in 2018 and beyond:

  • Optimize your site for mobile. 20% of voice search queries come from mobile devices. Many users will follow up a voice search with a trip to the site that comes up in the answer. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it’s time to change that.
  • Start paying attention to While Google is the leading search engine overall, Bing owns a huge share of the voice search market thanks to Amazon’s Alexa. Make sure your site has a complete and accurate Bing Places page and a strong presence in its rankings.
  • Focus on long-tail keywords. The biggest difference between voice and text search is the tone, phrasing and words used in searches. Voice queries use natural language and a more conversational tone. They’re also usually phrased as questions. Keep this in mind when targeting long-tail keywords.

For more on voice search optimization, read our post on the key differences between voice search and text search.

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How Local SEO Services Can Increase Inquiries and Drive Foot Traffic to Local Businesses

Local search engine optimization refers to tactics that increase a website’s visibility in local search queries. Search engines have become the primary directory people use to shop local (64% of customers use search engines as their main way to find local businesses), and Local SEO services are meant to ensure a business ranks in the search engine results for localized inquiries.

Small Business

The bare basics of local SEO are things most business owner can do on their own: creating a complete and current Google My Business profile, encouraging customers to write positive reviews, and writing timely Google My Business posts. However, outranking competitors in a crowded local market requires a deeper optimization strategy.

How Google Determines Local Rankings

Search engine algorithm are built to recognize when a user is searching for results specific to a certain geographical location. These queries often include the name of a city or town (“donuts in Guelph”) or another geographical marker (“donuts near me”).

When someone makes a local query in Google, the search engine algorithm tailors its results to the specified location. In 93% of local queries, the top of the results page includes a box called the Local Pack, which highlights three local results for the query.

The Local Pack is a coveted spot in the rankings. It’s the first thing people see on the page, placing above even the top-ranking search result, which bolsters the business’s visibility and credibility.

Whether the query produces a local pack or not, local SEO is essential for businesses that want to reach new potential customers through search. On average, only the top three search results have a clickthrough rate above 10%.

Local search results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. Distance is just as it sounds how far away the potential results are from the location specified in the search. Relevance refers to how well: a local listing matches the search query, drawing from information the business provides in its Google My Business profile. Prominence is more complex.

Although Google has not released the full details on how its algorithm determines prominence in local results, we know it includes:

  • How well-known the business is in the “real world” (famous landmarks or well-known store brands are likely to be prominent)
  • Backlinks to the business’ website
  • Number of Google Reviews
  • Overall star-rating in Google Reviews
  • Business’s ranking in web results (Google states that, “SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization”)

Return on Investment of Local SEO Services

Local SEO services provide a high return on investment for businesses focused on dominating a specific geographical market. No other advertising channel is as successful in targeting the most people who are currently looking for your product or service.

Local SEO is:

  • Highly Targeted
    Local SEO tactics are designed to increase exposure to people who are already searching for the business’s products or services and thus more likely to convert. Unlike traditional advertising channels, there is little exposure wasted on people who aren’t interested.
  • Able to Reach Massive Potential Audience
    Google says that 46% of the 3.5 billion searches it processes each day are local queries. Local SEO is increasingly important as more and more people embrace search engines as their primary business directories.
  • In the Moment
    Local search tactics position a business to reaching local customers who are looking for that product or service right now. Half of all local queries from mobile devices are searching for basic information like a company’s hours, address or phone number; 78% of those result in an offline purchase. No other advertising channel is as effective at capturing customers at the exact moment they’re ready to make a purchase.

Local search tactics and strategies are particularly effective in reaching prospective customers in the middle of the marketing funnel. They have already decided they want a certain product or service; all businesses have to do is help them choose between local options.

Blogging For SEO

Blogging may seem simple, but there’s a lot more to content SEO than just putting words to a page. Just because you’re able to write doesn’t mean your content will do well on the internet. Years ago all that mattered was what you said (i.e., keywords), but modern SEO needs you to pay close attention to how you say it.

If you want your content to rank, of course it needs to be optimized, but search engines are getting smarter every day. Google can tell when content is well-written, engaging, and informative by analyzing your content and monitoring how people interact with it. If you take nothing else away, remember this one key: content SEO relies on good writing.

Blogging for SEO

Long tail Keywords

Before getting started, you need to decide on the key words you want your content to rank for. The best way to think about this is to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and think about what they would type into their search box.

Of course, some key words will be harder to rank for than others. If you sell t-shirts, you’ll never rank for the term “t-shirts,” but you might rank for longer keywords more relevant to your business. These are called “long-tail” keywords.

Instead of “t-shirts,” your long-tail keywords could be “custom designed t-shirts in Toronto.” The longer the search input, the more unique it is and the easier it is to rank for it.

Titling Your Blog Articles

There are two things that you need to think about when deciding on a title for your blog article:

  1. Making it catchy and attention grabbing
  2. Optimizing it for search engines

The best written blog is nothing if no one stops to click on its title. To grab your readers’ attention and make them want to click, figure out what would be appealing to somebody stumbling around on your site. Try to pique your readers’ curiosity with catchy words and a captivating concept.

Optimizing your title is relatively simple: just make sure your long-tail keyword is present. Search engines, not surprisingly, put more weight into a title when deciding where your content fits.

And don’t forget about subtitles. While not as important as the title, Google also uses the subtitles to decide what your article is about.

Writing a Blog Introduction

The introduction of your article is, arguably, the most important part. Unfortunately, it’s also often the weakest for new writers.

The introduction needs to set up your entire article, and be interesting and captivating enough to get someone to decide to continue reading. The best advice is to figure out why someone will stop to read your blog, and quickly tell them exactly what they want to hear. If you’re writing about how to clean a

carburetor but begin your article with a history or guide of all the engine components, you’re going to quickly lose your reader.

If there’s any part of your blog that you should focus on, it’s the introduction. Unless you can read it and picture a reader saying, “and then what?” or “oh wow, this is going to tell me exactly what I need,” you need to go back and rewrite.

In terms of SEO, Google also weighs the introduction of your blog heavier than any other paragraph in your article

Writing the Body

This is usually the easiest part for a writer. You already know what needs to be there, you just need to get it on the page in a way that’s easy to read and absorb.

Here are some quick tips for SEO writing:

  • Avoid being wordy. This is a sign of an inexperienced writer. Sentences that are too long or have unnecessary words are extra work for the reader. Be short and to the point.
  • Do NOT keyword stuff. Keyword stuffing is using the same key terms over and over again. This is not only bad SEO, it’s bad writing. Writers will always try to avoid using a word more than once. Why limit yourself when there are so many words in the English language? If you’re hyper-focusing on optimizing every word— don’t. Google and other search engines are smart enough to know that different words can have the same meaning. Your keywords should be in your blog organically. If they aren’t, your blog article has taken a wrong turn somewhere.
  • Use your subtitles as an outline. Without an outline, it’s easy for a blog post to go off the rails. Keep yourself on track by creating an outline and sticking to it.
  • Longer is not always better. Yes, longer content is better for Google, but not at the expense of readership. If you’re saying the same thing repeatedly, consider cutting out the fluff.

Proof Your Articles

It’s incredibly easy to write the last sentence of an article then sit back and think you’re done. Just read over a piece you’ve done this with after a few days or so and you’ll see the error of your ways. No writer has ever been happy with their first draft, and for good reason. A first draft of anything will always have errors, omissions, and poor wordings.

Editing and proofing is an absolute must. Not only will Google spot your errors, online readers are notoriously ruthless for jumping on any errors they find. Read over your writing out loud. It’s the best way to catch spots that don’t sound quite right or sections that seem to ramble on.

And if possible, get someone else to read it over. It’s not an easy task to catch all your own mistakes. That’s why even professional writers have editors.

Improve Your Writing with Practice

If you’ve finished high school, you’re probably confident in your ability to write. But even though we’ve all learned the nuts and bolts of writing, as with any other skill, you won’t just be good at something because you know how to do it. Do you think Tolstoy just decided to start writing one day and put together War and Peace?

Being a good writer takes practice, and becoming a great writer requires a lifetime of writing.

YouTube Optimization: How to Make Your Video Stand Out in a Sea of Content

YouTube is the second largest search engine on the internet behind Google. If you are not utilizing this medium to share content about your brand, you are missing out on a massive marketing opportunity.

YouTube Optimization- How to Make Your Video Stand Out in a Sea of Content

Video is an extremely rich medium that generates high user engagement. According to Hootsuite, 70% of marketers plan to use social videos in the next twelve months. Video makes up 60% of online content, and Google reserves space on the first page of results for video related to search queries.

The positives of the medium are endless. However, before you jump the gun on creating a new video, check out these optimization tips to make sure your hard work lands on the right eyes.

Content

As with all social marketing efforts, content is king. Previously, YouTube ranked the validity and quality of a video based on the number of views. Now, the length of time a user watches a video is what primarily determines its rank. The more captivating and quality your content, the better it ranks.

Aim to make your content engaging, entertaining, informative, and shareable. Staying on top of trends and focusing on valuable content will get viewers to watch longer.

There are few practical things that will encourage longer views. To start, give a summary or thesis of your video in the first few minutes. People stay longer when they know exactly what they are about to watch. Longer videos always rank better than shorter ones, so aim to make every video at least five minutes long.

The highest ranked videos on Google are How-To videos, reviews, tutorials, fitness or sports related videos, and funny videos. You can help your video succeed by capitalizing on these already high-ranking content styles.

Title

The title of your video has a big impact on SEO. Incorporating keywords into the title phrase will significantly increase its ranking.

Titles are max 100 characters, so be as descriptive and accurate as you can. Keywords should be at the very beginning of the phrase – the closer to the front, the better. Be as specific as possible and include niche keywords into your title.

For consistency and increased SEO, use the same keyword optimized phrase in the name of the video file itself. Be sure to separate each word in the file name with a hyphen

Description

YouTube cannot always read and comprehend the audio and visual content in a video. Instead, the algorithms make sense of the video using its description.

Don’t make the description a company plug. Write unique, descriptive and keyword-rich content that explains what your video is about. It can be up to 980 words long, so take advantage of this space – it is there for a reason!

Include the keyword you are trying to rank for in the first 25 words, and include it 3-4 more times throughout the description. This is an essential place to rank for long tail keywords.

The description is also an excellent place to add URLs that link to other content you have produced. Always add a link to your website, specifically to relevant content such as a blog or another video.  Add a call to action that encourages viewers to click-through. You should also include links to your social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. This will provide easy access for a viewer to look at your other content and networks.

Tags

Tags are what make your video discoverable on YouTube. To improve ranking, classify and associate your video with tags that are related to your target keywords. YouTube allows 500 characters in tags, and you should fill the space with anything that is relevant to the video. Don’t just describe the video with tags – describe the problem your video solves.

Don’t be afraid to create tags specific to your brand. Tagging your videos with that keyword will help promote them in the sidebar and view next card. Tags are the easiest way to categorize your videos. You should take full advantage of them!

Language and Closed Captioning

Adding closed captioning to your video is also a great way to increase optimization. Transcribing and uploading closed captions gives YouTube access to exactly what is in your video, providing information in multiple formats which can aid varying needs and preferences. YouTube also offers translating functions, which should be utilized if you are trying to reach a specific target audience.

Thumbnail

The thumbnail provides a small preview image of your video. This is a great way to catch a browser’s attention and drive them to view your content.

Thumbnails should be bright, captivating and interesting. Try using bright backgrounds, contrast and outlines, text, and a logo or brand. Strong emotions and close-ups of people making eye contact can also catch a viewer’s eye.

Call to Action Card

Although viewer retention is the biggest factor in YouTube’s ranking system, user engagement comes in close second. The ranking algorithm considers a video’s comments, the number of subscriptions directly after watching, shares, favourites, and likes.

The best way to achieve this kind of engagement is to directly ask viewers to engage, but a call to action card can also be effective. For the last 10 or 20 seconds of the video, insert a card that has links to social media channels, other videos, and the subscription button through the overlay function.

Check out YouTuber Grace Helbig’s call to action card below as an example.

300 hours of video are posted to YouTube every minute. Optimizing your video will help it stand out the hours of footage that are constantly uploaded. Video is a great medium to show your brand off, and utilizing the inherently captivating medium to your advantage will pay off in the long run.

Image: grinvalds / 123RF Stock Photo

 

On-Page and Off-Page SEO: A Quick Guide

You have a website for your company, but is it performing as well as it should? Putting up content related to your business and creating an aesthetically pleasing look is essential in the beginning stages, but there are many factors beyond information and design that determine how a website will perform. You must incorporate both On-Page and Off-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO)  to gain traffic and success for your website.

Seo

The importance of SEO lies in the impact it has on your website’s appearance to Google. Google is constantly crawling websites to algorithmically rank their relevance, authority and usefulness, providing a status that will determine where your website shows up in the search engine.

At first glance, SEO can be complicated and technical, but as long as you follow a procedural and intentional approach, a few simple changes can significantly boost your ranking.

On-page and off-page SEO work together to improve both the user experience and the Google impression. One is not more important than the other, and both must be optimized to ensure the success of your page.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-Page SEO refers to improving and optimizing everything that a user can see on the web-page. This includes providing relevant and engaging content, properly coding HTML tags and meta-tags, optimizing system functions like page-load time and URL names, and editing CSS layout and tags.

All of these features will impact the user experience on your website and will encourage readers to either stay and explore your site, or cause them to leave. Think of the user experience on your website as an indicator of customer service for your brand. If a user experiences slow page loading or finds your content boring they are likely to be unsatisfied with their experience.

On-Page SEO is essential for user experience, which in the end will impact your ranking. The more people enjoy your content and are impressed by your website, the more likely it will be shared and engaged with, therefore increasing the visibility and social clout of your brand and website.

What is Off-Page SEO?

Off-Page SEO deals in the “behind-the-scenes” of a website. It can be summarized in one word: links. The more that your website is linked to, the higher the authority of your domain will be.  If you have a great deal of valuable links pointing to your site, search engines can assume that you are providing good content.

Getting other websites to link to your website increases traffic and signals to Google that the content you are offering on your website is useful and relevant, and therefore should have a higher ranking.

Off-Page SEO tells Google what others think of your site.

This concept is often referred to as “backlinks”, and the better your backlinks are rated, the better your website will rank. Without backlinks pointing to your website, it is almost impossible for Google to figure out the usefulness of your page. Natural links from authoritative and relevant websites act as votes of confidence that help search engines trust your website.

However, it is important to note: link quality is much more important than link quantity.

In the past, the number of links you had was extremely important but as Google algorithms have become more complex, they have shifted to value quality links higher. At this point, On-Page SEO becomes relevant. High quality, fresh, and relevant content and positive user-experience make you more shareable. With awesome content, lots of social media shares, and support from bloggers and influencers,  you will build backlinks to your website.

Tips on improving SEO

Typically on-page SEO is taken care of first, then off-page follows. You don’t want to share a page that isn’t ready for users.

Here are some tips to make sure that your web page is ready for sharing.

  • Organize your internal pages. Having a good flow and layout to the pages on your website ensures that the “SEO juice” will keep moving throughout your whole website. Make sure you create a homepage or landing page that has links to the other pages of your website through tools like drop-down menus. No internal page should stand alone, but rather be connected with seamless navigation.
  • Keyword Target thematically. Do some research on Google Keyword Planner (hyperlink)  to figure out the best keywords for your company to try to rank for.  Avoid popular keywords that massive corporations are ranking for because you will never be able to compete.Don’t be afraid to brand your keywords for ultimate specificity.  Pick a few that are thematically related and this will signify to Google what you do and are all about.
  • Place Keywords throughout your website.  Once you have your keywords, ensure they are present throughout your website, especially on the landing page. This will tell Google the most important and informative page of your site. Make sure your Keywords are in the title tag of your page. The closer the keywords are to the start of the title the better, as this has more weight with search engines.
  • Don’t Overload Keywords. While it is tempting to put keywords everywhere, have restraint when making content for your webpage. Google penalizes websites who try to overload keywords; Remember, quality over quantity. Use tools like LSIgraphic.com for ideas on variations of keywords.
  • For a list of 12 additional things you should do optimize on-page SEO click here. http://backlinko.com/on-page-seo.

So your website is ready to share, what now?

  • Fix broken links: When links on a website are broken they lead to a 404 error page. This is unappealing to the user. These problems pop up over time as the result of hosting expiration, pages upset during file transfer, typos or URL changes. Check that all the links on your website are functioning, and replace or get rid of those that are broken. This will improve the speed and function of your website.
  • Distribute Quality Content: Blogs, and other high-quality media like pictures, videos or infographics are great ways to engage users and are easy to share. Infographics tend to have a great deal of success online as they are visually appealing and can share a lot of information easily.
  • Share content with bloggers and influencers. Get your content out to as many people as possible. The more eyes the better! If you can be shared on a website that has a pre-existing high authority domain, it will significantly increase your ranking.

The most important things to consider when it comes to SEO are user experience, user intent, and valuable content.  Optimize for users and create content that will be relevant to them and you will be sure to increase your ranking.

Be consistent and methodical and you will grow in Google’s rank system.

Image: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

4 Ways to Connect With Your Audience Using Visuals

Storytelling can take on many forms. A blog post, a social media announcement, a website, an email blast, a presentation or a book. Whether your purpose is to inform, educate or entertain, adding visual content is core to how you can connect with your audience. People respond more to what they see than any other form of stimulation.

The brain processes visual content

1. Break up text

In this age of “Big Data”, we are literally bombarded with information. Visual assets such as videos, photography, infographics and illustrations cut through all the noise and leave a powerful impact.

Are people just lazy readers?

Many readers will scan through large sections of text, picking out words, here and there, stopping at headlines, and maybe at an image or video that captures interest. It’s not that people are lazy readers or would not find your writing interesting. It’s just that there is such a large volume of available information, they have to move quickly to capture what is relevant to them. A reader will be more willing to read an article when colourful images are used.

Infographic People Retail information

2. Be more memorable

Blog posts with images and videos are more engaging to visitors.

  • Web pages with more visual content rank better
  • Tweets with images receive 18% more clicks and 150% more retweets

With 90% of information transmitted to the brain being visual, and a retention rate at 80%, it only makes sense to use visuals to their advantage.

Using visuals across all the major social platforms—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, increases the:

  • Number of visitors,
  • Level of participation, and the
  • Reach of your post.

What makes an effective visual?

A good visual will reach out on an emotional level and leave a long-lasting impression. When you connect with your audience on an emotional level, they associate it with your brand and it nurtures a feeling of trust.

Effective visuals are relatable and sharable. The right infographic can transform a complex or large amount of data into a more manageable format.

3. Set a tone

Sketchy, trendy, artistic, dark or funny—the right image will set the tone or mood for your writing. Open the door and invite your reader in.

A brand’s values and unique personality can be defined by:

  • Logos
  • Use of colour
  • Typography
  • Use of icons and relatable imagery

4. Implement a visual content strategy

Keep in mind that competition for your audience’s attention is high. A strong visual content marketing strategy is key to attracting internet users and building brand credibility. Just as important as headlines, and calls to action, visual content deserves more than a second thought.

Remember to:

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Use testimonial videos
  • Share feedback
  • Show customer reviews as images
  • Drive content production with polls

Engage employees

  • Share behind-the-scenes activities
  • Encourage sharing of staff picks
  • Capture celebrations of your big moments

Increase reach and visibility

  • Use social media cover images
  • Design your call-to-action
  • Offer downloadable white papers, or e-books
  • Make your images sharable
  • Use a feature box on your blog

Optimize

  • Change your visual’s file name
  • Add a text transcript of your visuals
  • Optimize file size
  • Watch your embed code strategy </>