When I first got started in web design, a new client wanted a site that could be found not only by local prospective clients but also by visitors to the area. I shrugged and told her it was easy – all I had to do was put in tags and keywords that would show up on search engines. The same is simple and true today.
This was back in 1993 and the term “search engine optimization” (SEO) hadn’t been termed yet and Google was still just an idea in the minds of a couple of grad students. Still, there were search engines that employed “spiders” or “web crawlers” that found sites and information for listings in search pages.
Naturally, technology has evolved, as has the number of search engines and the use of SEO has become a necessity for any site on the World Wide Web. “World wide” is the key to most sites and the desire to be found by web surfers but what if you have a business that needs local business to survive? Like my first client, her business could not serve anyone who did not visit her office (she was a doctor), so her site had to be found by local, neighborhood patients and visitors who needed a doctor without having to go to a hospital emergency room.
It worked for her, in conjunction with print and Yellow Pages advertising, all of which built her ranking in search engines and that’s important to remember when trying to localize your marketing. SEO is just one part of that marketing. A recent client had the same needs and I explained to him it wouldn’t just be the SEO, although that would bring in customers who searched within area parameters. He needed other marketing avenues such as social media, which would improve his ranking in search engines. SEO is still the foundation upon which all avenues are built.
Search engines still use “spiders” (also known as “bots”) to “crawl” the web, looking for keywords and tags that help find your site and content. Keywords, it’s argued, are the best content elements for being found and helping you rank in search results.
Spiders are designed to follow links from one page to the next. As they copy and assimilate content from one page, they record links and send other bots to make copies of content on those linked pages. This process continues ad infinitum. By sending out spiders and collecting information 24/7, the major search engines have established databases that measure their size in the tens of billions, which is what makes your search efforts so fast at bringing up millions of sites in a matter of seconds.
Knowing how spiders read information on a site is the technical end of basic SEO. Spiders are designed to read site content like you and I read a newspaper or book. Starting in the top left-hand corner (in most western countries), a spider will read site content line by line, from left to right. If columns are used (as they are on most sites), spiders will follow the left-hand column to its conclusion before moving to central and right-hand columns. When a spider encounters a link it can follow, it will record that link and send another bot to copy and record data found on the page the link leads to. The spider will proceed through the site until it records everything it can possibly find there. Linking to other sites can help your site piggyback on the SEO of other sites as well.
Once a search spider finds your site, helping it get around is the first priority. One of the most important basic SEO tips is to provide clear paths for spiders to follow from point A to point Z in your website. This is easily accomplished by providing easy to follow text links directed to the most important pages on the site in the navigation menu or simply at the bottom of each page.
A recent client wanted new content for his site to help his SEO and although I wasn’t being paid to redesign his site, in all good conscience I had to point out he was ruining his own SEO efforts by having his site jump all over the map with content. Although he dealt with a specific product, he thought it was attention-grabbing to have pages upon pages of “fun facts” about Hollywood history, stars, film and other content that would act as keywords that drew attention away from his site.
You might think that the more subjects, the more searches your site will pop up in. Search engines are supposed to provide their users with lists of pages that relate to the search terms people enter in their search form. Search engines need to determine which of billions of pages is relevant to a small number of specific words. In order to do this, the search engine needs to know your site relates to those words. The more words, the less chance you can truly target your audience. There are cases where allowing spiders free access to every page on a site is not always desirable. Therefore, you’ll need to tell spiders that some site content is off limits and should not be added to their database. That is some programming your web designer should know how to do.
Titles should be written using the strongest keyword targets as the foundation. Some titles are written using two or three basic two-keyword phrases. A key to writing a good title is to remember that human readers will see the title as the reference link on the search engine results page. Don’t overload your title with keyword phrases. Concentrate on the strongest keywords that best describe the topic of the page content. Also, keep in mind that most search engines will only read up to 160 character titles. The title must almost be tweeted to be effective in SEO.
The description meta tag is also important. Search engines use it to gather information on the topic or theme of the page. A well-written description is phrased in two or three complete sentences with the strongest keyword phrases woven into each sentence. As with the title tag, some search engines will display the description on the search results pages, generally using it in whole or in part to provide the text that appears under the reference link. This can help people faced with many choices in search results decide to choose your site above others.
Using SEO for Your Local Marketing
By using all of the information listed in the previous section of this article, you can help optimize (as in SEO) your site for searches. Many think Google, for one, will not allow new websites to rank well for competitive terms until the web address “ages” and acquires “trust” in Google. This is called “the sandbox theory” filter. You can age your site and build trust by tying in social media. The more places your name, URL or content and keywords appear, the more important you will appear to bots and search engines.
While original content is king and will attract a “natural link growth” in the eyes of search engines, you should also build incoming links for web trust. How do you build valuable incoming local links?
- Does your local chamber of commerce maintain a website for businesses? Even if you have to pay for space/a listing, it is money well spent.
- Join a local business-networking group (BNI) that has a website with member’s names and website listings.
- Partner with other local websites to trade ad space.
- Encourage loyal customers to leave reviews of your business on sites such as Yelp to build trust, show positive reviews and build more incoming links.
- See if there are local business directories for listings.
If there are a few other competitors located in your city it may not be enough just to target the city within the keyword phrase, especially in a large city. Think about how many competitors there are in your city. Niche the location down even further to the neighborhood, street, area of town, zip code, what other popular businesses you are located near, etc. While these “long tail keywords” (use of two or more keywords, rather than singular keywords) might not be used as frequently, implementing them will help you rank quicker for those terms. The broad terms like “yourtown pizza parlor” can take a long time to rank, as it’s too competitive. Try “main street pizza parlor yourtown” to narrow search results if someone searches a specific location. You should also include your zip code in meta tags to help searchers find you via that search term.
Social Media for Neighbors
Many businesses still aren’t using social media to its full potential or at all! They have brand pages and post every once in awhile, but it’s the businesses that are active and actually engage with followers that have the most success. Keep in touch with customers via social media. This can also help boost referrals and improve your search presence via stronger social links and content.
Using Foursquare and Twitter to announce new products or specials will bring site traffic as well as encourage people to create inbound links via Facebook and Twitter retweets, which in turn, will build your trust factor with search engines. That trust and link numbers can place you at the top of search results over competitors.
Original content, as mentioned, is important because replacing content often brings more search results. Maintaining a blog with regular additions is a great way to create more search results as well as building customer and prospective customer traffic and, of course, with built in sharing capabilities (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, etc.), viewers will do your marketing for you and create even more inbound links.
With all social media avenues, it is of the utmost importance to interact with your followers. Answering comments left on your site or blog, thanking people for tweets and keeping a fun and helpful presence will keep bringing people back while building a strong relationship with local customers. When people love your business, they talk about it and whether it’s on the web or just word of mouth on the street, a great reputation and trust are the best things for your business.
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