Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

The Google search algorithm update known as ‘Pigeon’ rolled out on July 24, 2014. It affected both local and natural search results with some of the most notable changes being an increase in the amount of large local directory websites and decrease in the amount of the ‘local pack’ map listings. And when local map listings appear, increasingly directories are present.

The update continued a trend that has been going on for the past couple years in the search results – a flight towards larger brands. In the local search space, this means seeing more page one results for Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, local magazines, newspapers, Yahoo local pages, Google business pages, and niche directories.

We aren’t talking about spammy ‘SEO friendly’ directories. In the restaurant space, it’s seeing more of sites like TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon. For lawyers, it’s directories like Avvo an Lawyers.com instead of individual lawyer listings. In real estate, it’s Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com showing up more rather than real estate brokerage or individual agent websites.

trip advisor Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

Why the Shift to Local Directories

In 2008, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt famously said, “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool (of the Internet).” Identifiable brands tend to be more trustworthy and these larger directories have more user-generated content than small business websites are viewed as being more impartial. After all, Google does want to yield the most useful results for searchers. And if pushing small-to-medium sized business websites off the first page makes them more apt to do a paid search listing, that’s a nice side benefit.

But it’s not just that bigger is more trusted. Three other reasons for the shift to local directories being more prominent in the search results are:

1. Provide Better Answers and Information for Users

Most people who search a phrase like ‘ Restaurant’ aren’t necessarily wanting to see primarily individual restaurant websites. They want choices with pictures, users reviews, and menus. Users can be better served by clicking on the Yelp result as it may provide more of the information the user is seeking.

7314722180 4608b05398 z Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

2. Better Experience on Mobile

These large local directory websites are more likely to perform better on mobile devices. Many small business websites still aren’t mobile friendly and can provide a lesser user experience. With the amount of mobile search results increasing, Google doesn’t want to show mobile users a Web page where the content is cut off and doesn’t fit their screen size.

3. Better Performance.

Large directory websites are more likely to have better on-site optimization with quicker page load times with more development work and testing involved to produce better results.

What You Can Do About It

1. Better Provide the Information Users are Seeking. Have a content-rich website that has detailed pages on the products and services your business offers and the communities you serve. Have testimonials and customer reviews for trust signals and to provide more user-generated content. And answer frequently asked questions about your business. In short, make your website the go-to resource in your industry.

2. Get the Technicals Right. While what users see on the page is critical, it’s also important to implement Schema markup language to allow search engines to more easily capture and show the information on your site.

3. Focus on the Visuals. Unique, original high quality images and graphics can really make a website stand out. They provide valuable content and are more likely to shared on social media and linked to than words alone.

4. Make Your Website Mobile Friendly. While mobile websites can still have their place, responsive web design makes for a more enjoyable user experience. Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal have both done a good job with this in their recent redesigns.

website speed Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

5. Speed Up Your Website. No one wants to be on a website that has pages load slowly. Use an experienced Web developer who can help you minify image files along with other coding techniques and use a CDN to speed up the delivery of the website.

6. Complete Your Online Profiles. Make sure your profiles are complete and optimized on your Google business page, Bing Places, Yelp, and other directories in your business’ niche. This can help your position on these websites and the last thing you want is for people to get incomplete information about your business online. This can also be a good time to evaluate advertising on directory websites to capture more the traffic they are garnering.

7. Be Forward Thinking. Industry leaders are out in front. They stay ahead of the competition by adopting and implementing practices that give them a leg up. One example of this is the Web realm is to make your website secure. Web security is likely to become a larger issue over time (it already is a Google ranking factor) and being out in front and instituting https security shows a company’s commitment.

Conclusion

In the end, if your website can provide the most useful information for a local search query, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be prominently included in the search results. By providing more long-form content, high quality images and graphics, and optimizing the performance and usability your site, you can compete no matter how big your competition is.


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Getting Started With Bing Advertising

It’s lonely being second – in search. Despite being the 2nd and 3rd largest search engines in the U.S., respectively, combined Bing and Yahoo only account for about 30% of all search engine traffic.

Microsoft, which owns Bing and operates Yahoo search, has a lot to gain by increasing it’s share of search engine traffic. Each percentage point they gain in search share is tens of millions in additional revenue.

bing ads vs google adwords  Getting Started With Bing Advertising

Why Bing and Yahoo?

Google’s the big dog in search with nearly 2/3 market share so when most people think about pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising, they think Google AdWords and Bing/Yahoo are overlooked. However, with hundreds of millions of visits from U.S. searchers each month, Bing Ads (combines Bing & Yahoo) can still be a valuable source of traffic and customers.

While demographics and usage behaviors have subtle differences from Google, Bing and Yahoo still have the same targeted buyer intent that has made search engines so profitable for advertisers.

The Benefits of Bing Ads vs. AdWords

First and foremost, advertising on Bing and Yahoo and their search partners tends to be less expensive than on Google search. While not always the case, this can make it a good value in contrast to AdWords, which seems to be increasingly more expensive.

Bing also provides fantastic service. They are more engaged in the search engine community and if you would like help with your account, Microsoft’s reps are easy to reach and committed to addressing customer questions and meeting their needs.

bing search  Getting Started With Bing Advertising

Bing also makes it easy for advertiser’s to get started. It’s interface is easy to use and campaigns are easy to setup. There aren’t as many options to confound new users such as AdWords Express vs. regular AdWords. And if you already have campaigns up on AdWords, Bing offers an import feature to import AdWords campaigns into Bing Ads. This feature also allows you to ‘sync’ the campaigns – a nice feature when you have a successful PPC campaign.

One drawback in advertising on Bing Ads. vs. AdWords is that there is obviously less volume on the networks than on Google. But if you are looking to keep your ad costs lower and test out new campaigns, ad copy, or keywords in a less expensive environment, Bing Ads is a great alternative or complement to advertising on AdWords.

Additional Bonuses

If you have advertised on AdWords, you know that AdWords has a 25 character ad title limit. This can be pretty limiting in some verticals. For example, Personal Injury Attorneys is a pretty bland title but that’s all the room you have in Google. On Bing and Yahoo, there’s a 40 character limit, offering more flexibility with your ad copy headlines.

Bing also offers clear visibility into search partner performance, and you can block sites that are not relevant to your campaign in the Search Partner Performance report. And it’s safe to say that Bing or Yahoo both offer a more engaging home page experience than Google’s Spartan home page.

bing ads  Getting Started With Bing Advertising

Differences from AdWords

At a basic level, AdWords and Bing Ads share many common features for search engine advertisers. Campaigns, ad groups, bid settings, keywords, negative keywords, quality scores, and match types are found on both platforms. Both also offer retargeting ad options, where Google calls it ‘remarketing’ and Bing Ads calls it ‘remessaging.’ However, remessaging is handled by a different Microsoft advertising team separate from Bing Ads whereas AdWords remarketing is all in the same interface.

There are also differences such as Bing Ads offers a ‘Content’ keyword match type. This applies when any word in your ad title, ad text or keyword matches the input from website pages that are part of the Bing Ads content network.

And while AdWords has a Keyword Planner Tool, the Bing Ads Intelligence Tool provides a variety of valuable insights. You can learn more about differences between AdWords and Bing Ads in this post.

$100 Free in Bing Ads

Having a properly set up and well-managed PPC campaign is critical to the profitability of the ads. As an agency that works with Bing Ads, Ascent Internet Marketing is pleased to be able to offer our clients a $100 credit on Bing and Yahoo advertising. This discount applies to our clients whom are new to Bing Ads and are using post-pay billing. Contact us to learn more and get started and give your PPC campaigns a boost.


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Creating a Customer Review Funnel

Having many positive reviews from customers is increasingly being recognized as a highly valuable tool to promote a business. In addition to building trust and being powerful word-of-mouth advertising, online reviews can also help your search engine visibility and rankings.

Simply having a profile on Google Plus, Yelp, Yahoo, City Search, influential industry review sites, other review sites or a place to capture them on your own website is great but creating a “review funnel”, a system to collect reviews about your business is the missing, all-important piece of the equation to maximize their value.

ea3dc3e34469ffde26bcde3dac8a0197b1f3 1 Creating a Customer Review Funnel

So how do you do it? Here’s a five step plan.

Laying the Groundwork

Providing outstanding service is fundamental to getting great reviews. Be helpful, be courteous, and be wary of your customer pain points that may make them disaffected with your business.

For example, if your business is appointment based such as a service business or professional service such as doctor or dentist, do all you can do minimize being unable to start the appointment on time. If you are a hotel, restaurant, or store, put up stickers and signs encouraging customers to leave reviews of your business.

In addition to helping maximizing the opportunity for positive reviews, laying the groundwork and providing excellent service also helps minimize the risk of the dreaded negative reviews. Negative reviews can look particularly unfavorable to prospective customers and drag down your overall star rating score. By gaining more positive reviews, you can push down the effect of any negative reviews received.

Implementing a Process

After providing service to a customer that exceeds expectations is the best time to gather a review. Their experience with your business will be fresh in the customers mind and they will be more likely to descriptively share it. This creates a framework for successfully getting reviews.

You want to make it easy for customers to spread the good word about your business. Have different means to request reviews and follow up on them and be sure to thank and reward customers who leave reviews.

Outreach and Collection

Typically the most effective way to garner more reviews is to ask the customer for it in person and provide them an email link or customized Google review sheet with clear instructions on how to leave a review. Having an easy to follow review form is effective and can also be a helpfu guide for customers to leave more reviews. The form can also be distributed in-person as a handout or as a mailer.

ascent google review 791x1024 Creating a Customer Review Funnel

Provide a concise, polite request with a link to the review site and be sure to thank the customer. Also have reviews links on your website including a dedicated review portal page and social media so there are additional opportunities for customers to leave reviews in addition to the direct request.

You also request reviews by phone and then send them an email with the link to the review website. This helps prime the pump for a higher capture rate. For consistency and best results, require this practice among all employees who manage customer accounts.

Below is an example email request:

Dear Client,
We appreciate the opportunity to serve you. We would be most grateful if you could take a moment and review our service on our Google business page – https://plus.google.com/+Ascentinternet/about. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

Best Regards,

Follow-Up

After sending out a customer review request, schedule a follow-up time within a week. The customer may have missed the email or it fell by the wayside. Follow-up calls and emails can help increase your success rate and the quality of reviews gathered. In addition to the above techniquest, promoting and linking to your review URLs on your social media and email marketing can also be helpful.

google reviews2 Creating a Customer Review Funnel

Promote Your Reviews

When particularly glowing reviews are received, make the most of them. With the customer permission, put them in the testimonials section of your website along with a picture. Positive reviews can also be useful for social media, email marketing, and in advertising.

If a customer is particularly pleased with your business’ service, you may want to consider asking them for a video testimonial. You may also want to consider gathering a case study from the customer, which is a longer form of testimonial and can be great content. As they say, “facts tell, but stories sell”.

Thrilled customers are fantastic for brand building and are critical for social media engagement, repeat sales, and customer referrals. Creating a customer review funnel and implementing the above processes is smart business. It can help you garner more glowing reviews for your business and is a low cost, effective form of marketing.


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The 7 Elements of Effective Websites

Web design projects can be complicated. From layout, to colors, to content, there are a myriad of choices and inputs that affect the success of a site. While the purpose of commercial websites vary greatly, at a basic level successful sites really only need seven components.

1. Technical Fundamentals.

Regardless of which type of programming language or content management system that is used, having correct code is important for a site’s utilization and optimal performance. You want your website to load quickly and have clean, condensed code helps make this happen. Fast websites help keep users on websites longer and page speed is a factor in Google’s search engine algorithm Also, setting up Schema markup language on a site can also provide an SEO boost.

web content tips The 7 Elements of Effective Websites

2. Content.

Content is the backbone of a website. Websites that are thin or provide little unique content or useful information aren’t likely to resonate with users or search engines. Providing relevant, high quality, engaging content on your site is a building block for traffic growth.

It’s also important to use a content management system that is easy to use so that authorized and trainer users can add new content to the site.

3. Easy to Use, Clear Navigation Structure.

If visitors come to your website and don’t in short order find what they’re interested in, they’re going to exit your site. Your website should make it easy for users to find the information they’re looking for. Make your most popular content prominent and intuitive and provide a logical navigational flow. What you don’t want is to have your highest converting pages to be buried deep in your site without an easy to find link from the other pages. This kills conversion and can really drag down a site’s performance.

In addition to navigation and content, user-friendly features such as images, infographics, videos, a search box, calls to action, and live chat can all make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for.

responsive web design devices The 7 Elements of Effective Websites

4. Professional Design.

Your website should be viewed as your marketing hub. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week highlighting your brand and providing information to visitors on your products or services. Why wouldn’t you want the best possible presentation? Having a professional design helps make your site a place your customers want to stay at and continue to use your business. It also helps to reduce bounce rate.

While you may be able to design your own website, it isn’t recommended. Your design should also account for your website browser usage, so it renders optimally on a smartphone, tablet, desktop, or whichever device the visitor is on.

5. Trust & Sharing.

The Web can be a pretty anonymous place where scammers and other deceitful practices can thrive. Your website should show social proof that others like your company. Awards, honors, recognitions, testimonials, reviews, social share buttons all show social proof that builds trust and confidence in your business.

trust badges The 7 Elements of Effective Websites

6. Retention, Email Sign up.

Email marketing is marketing that you own that you don’t have to pay for every time you utilize it. This is why an email capture form is a crucial element for most websites. Facebook’s algorithm can change, Google’s search results can be volatile, but email isn’t going away and the email lists are contacts that you can easily connect with.

Email isn’t reliant upon another company or media to provide you access to their and services, which is one of the many benefits of focusing on building up your email subscription lists. Some major retailers view the email sign up option with such importance that they feature it twice above the fold.

7. Capture & Convert.

A business website is largely measured by how well it converts visitors into customers. That is why it’s important to have well constructed messaging that prompts them to take a desired action. Pop-ups and live chat on a website also help boost conversion rates. Having an email subscription box, an RSS subscription button, blog comments, and social sharing buttons also help keep users coming back.

By planning, preparing and implementing these seven elements in a web design project, you can aid in setting up your site up for success on the Web.


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7 Questions to Ask an SEO Provider

Businesses understand the value in having prominent search engine rankings for keyword phrases that drive business. This makes hiring an agency or professional who can help boost a company’s search engine optimization valuable. But many don’t always know what they’re getting from an SEO provider beyond that aspirational goal.

For many businesses, rankings is their focus from the Web but talking about what’s involved with search engine optimization can seem like speaking another language. Sure, you may not understand everything you’re getting when you look to buy a new furnace but at least you know you’ll be getting a furnace that works. Nowadays that’s not always the case with SEO.

Below are questions to ask an SEO provider so that you can better understand the services offered and develop a plan for a more successful SEO campaign.

1. Do You Guarantee First Page Google Results?

Even though it may not appear this way, this is more of a filtering question that sheds light on the SEO provider’s approach. To the layman, this seems like a logical question. If you’re paying for a service, the provider should be able to commit to a guaranteed outcome. But SEO is unlike any other business service.

Since Google has a more than 65% market share of search engine traffic and they have their own algorithm, any quality SEO provider should never guarantee first page rankings. They don’t control how Google outputs the rankings. In light of Google’s ever-changing algorithm and SEO practices that used to work no longer working, any company or individual that guarantees first page rankings should be viewed suspiciously.

seo basics 7 Questions to Ask an SEO Provider

2. What Do Your Services Include?

Design, content, technical factors on a website, and links are all aspects of SEO. It’s important to understand what services your website needs and what your SEO provider will deliver.

SEO providers should offer best practices and strategies and services that improve your search engine visibility and volume and quality of Web traffic.

3. What Is Your Process for Getting Links?

Gaining quality links from other sites to your website is an important component of improving your search engine rankings. If you’re paying for SEO, it’s important to understand your SEO provider’s process for obtaining new links and the tactics involved with that.

Link building strategies such as obtaining low quality directories or guest posts on non-authoritative, not-industry related sites aren’t likely to be very beneficial for your search engine rankings in the long-run nor provide referral traffic.

4. What is Your Content Creation Process, Can You Provide Examples and Who Writes/Creates the Content?

Unique, targeted, high quality website content can be a good way to market your brand and gain a larger audience, get more social shares, and more links. But creating content just for the hope of high search engine rankings can have diminishing returns from a marketing standpoint.

Having quality writing and creative skills can allow your content to stand out from the crowd. What you don’t want is content prepared by a writer with poor skills or even worse, a machine. Low value content can really tarnish a website and even adversely affect your search engine rankings.

5. How do You Promote New Content?

Hitting publish on your blog doesn’t automatically mean your content work box is checked and it will successfully garner search rankings, traffic and links. A significant amount of time and energy should be spent to effectively promote the content. This is where having a strong following for your business and effective PR capability come into play.

Will it be promoted on social media, used in email marketing, paid content promotion, or even better is there an outreach plan and established contacts that can help get the content on high authority websites or news sites in the businesses niche? The importance of effective content promotion and PR aspects of SEO and content marketing are underrated.

deliver 7 Questions to Ask an SEO Provider

6. What Are The Monthly Deliverables and How do You Measure Success?

For local businesses that get SEO services, too many just ask is my phone ringing or are more people coming through the door? This is the simplest way to measure SEO but it’s less than scientific.

In the past, SEO services for businesses were largely based on targeted keyword rankings, Web traffic//Web sales, and the number of links built. It was easier to get rankings and show more immediate returns on investment. While these metrics may still be important, overly focusing on keywords and quantity of links can hurt your site in the long run.

Other metrics or goals that are important factors and should be considered would include: increased website page speed, bounce rate, new sources of referral traffic, new pages garnering traffic, or more online reviews. Data on social media follows, likes, and shares may also be part of more meaningful, measurable reporting.

Be wary of monthly SEO reports that provide information that is not very specific or measurable, or provide rankings reports on keywords that are low volume or of little value.

7. What’s the Cost?

There’s nothing worse than paying for something and not knowing what you’re getting. While the costs for online marketing services can vary considerably, understanding the type and level/quality of services included and the expected monthly deliverables, you can better comprehend and identify the SEO services your business needs and get better value.


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