Local Business Directories, Google Places, Part 3

Guest Post:  Adam Steele is the CEO at Nightlite Media. His expertise includes SEO, social media and email marketing. This is Part 3 of Google Local Results Changed the Game.

In my last two posts, I explained the 5 W’s of Google Places (who, what, when, where & why), as well as how to go about optimizing your own Google Places page. A year ago, this information would have been enough to earn you a first page ranking, and in some smaller niches and/or cities, this is still the case. HOWEVER, if you want to play with the big boys, and take your Google Places optimization to the next level, then your next step is to learn off page ranking factors.

Off page ranking factors covers a huge scope of potential topics. First, it is important to understand the difference between off page and on page factors. When it comes to Google Places optimization, on page factors include your website and Google Places page. For simplicity, we have only covered your Google Places page, which was the topic of my last post. Off page factors include major link building. That is, building links on other sites, and having them link to your website. In this article, we are going to focus on one type of links: citations.

Citations are occurrences of your business information online. In fact, it doesn’t matter where online it appears, as long as the citation includes your business name, address and phone number (NAP). A common misconception is that a citation is a profile on a local business directory such as Yelp, Superpages, Insiderpages, Judysbook or Citysearch. While these are excellent sources for citations there are not citations themselves. They are local business directories.

Local business directories are certainly the most common place to create citations for a lot of reasons including: it is free, easy, authoritative, of  high quality, traffic-rich etc. For all these reasons, we will focus on these directories and go over what you need to know about them.

Firstly, yes, they are FREE – well mostly. Many of these directories offer everyone a free business profile, which allows them to add their business information, pictures, videos, link to site etc. Not a bad deal! However, these directories stay in business because they hope to sell you extra incentives, including advertising, better ranking on the site and a multitude of other products and services. Do not be surprised if you receive a call or several email solicitations immediately after signup. It is a necessary evil I am afraid. For those of you who want to entertain these offers, I suggest you tread very carefully. Most aren’t worth their weight.

Creating profiles on local business directories is dead easy, but you shouldn’t take the easy, quick route. Although I haven’t proved this yet, it is my feeling that a more complete profile will lend more authority. That is, Google treats a bare bones profile differently than one that has been carefully completed. This may not be the case right now, but I have no doubt that in future this will be the case. So go ahead, add pictures, videos, great content, etc. Another good reason to create these carefully is accuracy. Any inaccuracies in your business name, address or phone number will hurt your ability to improve your Google Places rank.

Authority and quality fall in the same boat. When I say authority I am usually referring to the credibility that Google has assigned to a website, or in this case the local business directory. All the more popular directories have lots of authority, which is in part, passed off to your business when Google finds your business information on it. For all intents and purposes, it is considered a ‘vote of confidence.’ By this, I mean that a link or citation from these directories will have a positive effect on your rankings. Google has deemed them quality websites.

If a local business directory has all the before mentioned characteristics then it also will be traffic rich. What does this mean to you? Well, many of these sites attract consumers looking for local
businesses. If consumers are able to find you, and in a good light (thanks to your robust profile), you may score yourself some extra business. In fact, I find that my clients tend to receive 3-5% of their traffic from these directories. If their monthly traffic is 1000 visits, 30-50 extra visits is nothing to scoff at.

Here is a small list of the more popular local business directories:

These are just some great directories you can submit your business to. There are literally THOUSANDS. Per usual, we have a reward for your readership. We want to send you a list of 100 of the best local business directories online. This is the list that we submit our clients to and one that we have carefully cultivated over the last 18 months. Send me an email adam.steele@nightlitemedia.com and I will quickly send it your way.

Google Places Optimization Checklist, Part 2

Guest Post:  Adam Steele is the CEO at Nightlite Media. His expertise includes SEO, social media and email marketing. This is Part 2 of Google Local Results Changed the Game.

Overview

97% of consumers search for local businesses online. You definitely want to be there when they’re looking for you with Google Places for business.

Google wants to show its users the most relevant, up-to-date, quality information (including companies) possible. This is its mission and just one reason it is the biggest. As such, when it comes to optimizing your Google Places page, you should keep this in mind.

The following are some simple tips and guidelines to a successful Google Places page optimization. The quick tweaks will improve your chances of securing better positions for your business. Please keep in mind that Google Places is constantly changing, and what works at the time of this checklist may change dramatically in 30 days. Saying that, we have tried to keep to the things that have remained a constant for some time now.

Initial Process

  • Select the area/city you wish to target
  • Keyword Search: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. Put in a word that you “think” the average person would type in Google when looking for a business in your city. (NOT the name of a business, but a word or phrase.) Example: ‘Dallas electrician’. Google will suggest other popular words below that term. View the ones that are popular and record them. Make sure you deselect broad and select exact (on the left) and focus your attention on local volume/searches, not global.
  • Identify keywords you would like to dominate in your local town/city and search them for yourself. Not all keywords will trigger Google Places. So, you need to make sure the ones you go forward with bring up Google Places results when you search for them.
  • Record on a piece of paper the top 5 -10 keywords and rank them in order of priority (keep on hand).

Submission

  • Set up a Gmail account if you don’t have one already .
  • Search for your company to see if an existing Google Places page is already setup. Go to http://maps.google.com and put in your phone number with area code to see what comes up. Try more than one phone number if you have more than one for your business.
  • If after you check, you DO have a page, then you will simply want to “Edit Page” if there is anything you want to change (check below to see if your current Google Places page has the appropriate content listed below.) If you do NOT have a page after entering your phone numbers, then you will want to create one!

Creating A Google Places Page

  • After you have created a Google account, you will want to set up your Page. Answer every question (Leave nothing undone – Google views this as “incomplete”.)
  • Company Name (Without keywords) DO NOT get fancy here. Stuffing your title with keywords is just going to get you in trouble. In the past, stuffing the title offered an SEO advantage, but now it is both risky and unnecessary. Simply put your business name here as it is recognized everywhere else.
  • Street Address: Your business address as it occurs everywhere else online and offline. Consistency and accuracy are KEY. If your business has existed for some time, try and search your own address. Look for the most popular address for yourself and go with that one if it’s applicable–otherwise update it. You would be wise to go back and adjust all those addresses that are different than what you use in your Google Places page. NOTE: If later you decide to make any changes to your address, Google will very likely request to send you a post card before updating.
  • City/Town: Self Explanatory. NOTE: This is the city that you will have the best chance of ranking in for your keywords.
  • Main phone: Same principle as your street address. Take a look how your phone number appears already online. Is it in (xxx) or xxx? You want it to appear in Google Places the same way it does elsewhere online.
  • Website: Use http://www. You want it to be hyperlinked.
  • Description: I would typically suggest using the same one that occurs in your site’s meta data (description tag) for consistency. Keyword rich is fine, but don’t make it spammy. Also, consider your click through rate (CTR). Searchers will see this, and decide whether they want to click or not so don’t be afraid to be a bit ‘salesy.’
  • Category: Few things to know here. Stay the heck away from city modifiers. That is, your category should be ‘electrician’, NOT ‘Dallas electrician.’ Doing the latter will get you in trouble. Google gives you 4 custom categories and one pre-defined. Make good use of them and align them with the keywords you want to rank for. Similar to the Company/Organization field, categories are being screened and the same sensitive keywords apply. Custom categories don’t really have to be too coherent. If you have a lot of keywords you are targeting, try and combine them with other keywords, but again, not too spammy.
  • Service Area and Location Settings: Pretty self explanatory. It is commonly used if you are using an address outside of the city/cities that you want to rank in OR you want to rank in all your surrounding cities. Use this function to define your service area(s). NOTE: You aren’t going to rank in San Fran, if your address is in Austin. Obvious, I hope. However, if your address is in the suburb of San Fran and you want to rank in San Fran and its surrounding suburbs is doable. Being outside of the city you want to rank in puts you at a disadvantage. If you are trying to rank for a competitive keyword and you are not located in the city you want to rank in, you could be hooped.
  • Hours & Payment: Just make sure this is consistent with everything else that is published online.
  • Photos: Yes, you should add photos. Photos uploaded should be saved as ‘cityname-state-keyword’ and then uploaded. Google also gives you the option to “Add a photo from the web.” I like to add a picture from the website. This creates a connection between your Google Places page and your website. This is a good thing.
  • Videos: Yes, you should add video preferably of a testimonial like a customer (not you). These can be YouTube videos. Remember to make sure your files are named after a keyword.

Verification: More than likely Google will want to send a post card. The post card typically takes 5-8 business days to arrive. When it arrives, log back into your Google Places dashboard and enter a PIN code to verify and activate your listing.

Similar to my last post, there is a perk for reading. This articles perk is 3 months of FREE Google Places page optimization…a $300 value!! To enter the draw, send your answer to the following question to adam.steele@nightlitemedia.com. Also, if you like some of the tips above, follow me on twitter for more at http://twitter.com/nightlitemedia.

Question: In the categories section of your Google Places page, doing what can get you in trouble?

Google Local Results Changed the Game, Part 1

Guest Post:  Adam Steele is the CEO at Nightlite Media. His expertise includes SEO, social media and email marketing.

Search engine optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in the search engines. As an internet marketing strategy, search engine optimization considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. In this three part series, I am going to focus on local search engine optimization, otherwise known as Google Places, beginning first with a brief history and thorough explanation of what it means to you and your business. My hope is by the time you finish reading part three, you will be able to take it upon yourself to improve your businesses local presence is Google Places. At the end of each post, I will be offering a FREE game changing eBook that I have put together to help you and your business succeed online.

How Google Local Results Changed SEO

SEO—Search Engine Optimization—has been a necessary staple of website production since the invention of the search engine. Many techniques have been invented to make sure that websites appear as highly as possible when customers and audiences are looking for them. It eventually became evident that some massive websites could use these techniques to maintain their dominance indefinitely, even when users were searching for terms only dubiously related to these dominant websites. Also, these huge websites could afford massive firms to provide SEO services for them, which guaranteed them superior results over smaller websites. For this reason and several others, Google instituted local search results.

What are Google local Search Results?

Google first launched their local results system in late 2010. Simply put, local search results are an adjustment to the Google algorithm which displays results from a user’s local area before national options. For example, if someone in Seattle, WA were using Google to search for a common phrase such as “outdoor furniture” they would have once been directed to a results page filled with companies competing internationally. Now however, local results from actual businesses located in Seattle will be given priority and appear at the top of the page.

The local search results also tied in with the expansion of Google Maps. All the local businesses that appear in the search results will also have their locations and applicable reviews noted. This created a powerful incentive for local businesses to begin investing in their online presence, and gave them a reason to consider SEO services for their own needs.

Why do Google Local Results Matter?

Google Local Results or also commonly known as Google Places, are nothing less than a game changer for the world of SEO. The initial impact of the fact that small businesses could now compete with international companies created several serious changes in the way SEO is done, and how seriously businesses need to take their online presence.

Google Local Results changed SEO in several important ways. First, it shifted the focus for any local results from international businesses with massive budgets to small businesses. After all, no matter what, the small business would appear before the larger business when searching for a term that included a geographical region. Of course, only a few of the top results were dedicated to local businesses, and those spots were now fiercely competitive. New SEO firms that dedicated themselves to local results formed quickly and convinced many businesses of the necessity of updating their marketing to include internet saturation. Small Businesses, for their part, had little choice but to take internet marketing more seriously.

It is not an insider secret of marketing that customers are moving more and more of their business online, and not just when they want to order, but also when they are looking for businesses in their own area. Many services assist with this, be they GPS software, Smart Phone apps or others. The fact that Google dominates most searches on the web makes it necessary for businesses operating in limited geographic areas to begin taking their online presence seriously. Not just because they may now compete with international companies, but also because local businesses are now beginning to powerfully compete in their own areas. When a significant number of new customers are discovering businesses online, it becomes absolutely necessary that businesses take advantage of these conditions to compete.

What does this mean for the future of SEO?

Google Local Results ensured that internet marketing and SEO services are now and forever something that locally-oriented businesses should take advantage of. For small businesses, this means it will be absolutely necessary in the future to understand SEO. It may also mean that SEO positions, or a contract for SEO services becomes an important part of companies that rarely dealt with any sort of online marketing before.

Conclusion

As greater numbers of users and customers shift their lives online, more and more once-rare techniques become necessary for operating in the modern business world. SEO is one of these techniques, and has only become more relevant in the face of dramatic changes like Google Local Results. The consequences of Google Local Results are already evident. The opportunities waiting for both small businesses and specialists alike are daunting to even consider. As in every human endeavor though: Fortune favors the bold.

Now that you have read my monotonous ramble, here is a free eBook that will give you the basics to begin improving your on-page game. That is, I will be providing you with instructions to improve your visibility online simply by making a few changes to what appears on your website. NOW, this eBook is ONLY going to be useful for those who take the time to read. As such, in order to receive your free Game Changing eBook, you must answer a skill testing question, the answer of which is in this post.

Question: What is local search engine optimization or Google Local also known as? Send me your answer to adam.steele@nightlitemedia.com and I will send you your free eBook.

New Partnership with Online Marketing Company Nightlite Media

New partnership with CityMax.com
New CityMax.com partner

We are excited to announce that CityMax has partnered with Nightlite Media.

One of the most asked questions we get is: “How do I get visitors to my site?” Nightlite Media are experts at helping people successfully draw visitors to their sites using:

  • search engine optimization (i.e. getting your sites ranked highly on search engines like Google)
  • social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook)
  • email marketing

We know it’s sometimes difficult to learn and then find the time to promote your site. The reality is that for many of you, getting a company to help you is the best choice. So, our marketing team searched out the best of the best online marketing companies and then put together custom packages we thought made the most sense for our customers. Check out the special packages here.

How important is it to get your online marketing started? Here are some facts that Nightlite Media has put together:

  • 97% of potential customers are searching online first
  • 61 billion online searches were made in August 2010 alone
  • 77% of North Americans are online (that’s a huge 266 million people!)

You can contact Nighlite Media for a 100% free consultation by going to http://websitedynamics.nightlitemedia.com or by calling 1-888- 418-3839. Why not jumpstart your online marketing today!

Share Your Awesome Content Across the Web

Image by bengrey
Image by bengrey

One of the most difficult things to do for any internet business, or even any website for that matter, is to get recognition from other websites out there.  By having other sites link to you, you’re not only increasing the ability for people to get to your site from other places, but you’re also adding to your ability to rank high in search engines like Google (http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors).

Plugins to Help Share

There are many plugins out there which can help you share links to your most important pages, but we’ll focus on one of the most widely used ones out there, AddThis.com.

Read More

SEO Building Blocks: Use your Headlines

headline What you don’t know about headlines may be hurting you and your small business. No, really.

We’ve talked before about using effective headlines on your website to entice customers and state the value of your business. But they also have another valuable attribute: the H1 (or <h1>) tag.

H1 tags are one of those things that search engines look for in your website when they’re crawling your pages and trying to figure out what your site is all about. The logic behind it is that if you’re emphasizing that information on the page as a headline, it probably means something – which is why you should always include keywords in it.

H1 tags are found in the HTML code that makes up your website. If you’re using a website builder like CityMax.com, the HTML is created automatically for you and there are ways to apply the H1 tag without having to mess with any code – keep reading to find out how.

Here’s the Golden Rule:
Read More

Top 10: Our Best Small Business Blogposts

david-letterman_l

Over the last year we’ve written a few articles on running an online business (hopefully you’ve found some of them to be helpful!). We have also had a few terrific guest bloggers and reviewed some expert speakers. Because our customers often email us with similar questions – about SEO, paid search, and the like, we thought it would be helpful to compile some of this information in one place. You might want to bookmark this post for reference!

#10 How to Boost Holiday Sales

#9 How to Optimize Your Website for Local Search

#8 New Year’s Resolutions for Small Business Success

#7 10 Free Software Apps to Manage your Business and Cut Costs

#6 10 Website Mistakes to Avoid

#5 Thoughts on Customer Service with Shep Hyken

#4 3 Secrets to Getting More Customers

#3 Using Paid Search to Increase Your Traffic

#2 How to Build an Army of Brand Loyalists (guest blog by Jonathan Kay)

And presenting the #1 blogpost of the past year…. *drum roll*

Basics of Search Engine Optimization (John Lyotier of MarketingClinics.com)

**Bonus** 3 Ways to Convert Website Traffic into Customers

How to Fit Tough Keywords into Your Small Business Website

puzzleWhen you’re trying to optimize your small business website for keywords, you sometimes end up with phrases that just don’t fit in to the flow of the page.

Strange word combinations, odd plurality and missing articles can make writing for exact keyword phrases a pretty difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be impossible – you just need to start thinking of it like a puzzle.

Here are a few suggestions for fitting in those challenging keywords:

1.    Break them up
Although punctuation means a lot to me and you, search engines aren’t that fussy about it. If you’re having trouble fitting the words of a keyword phrase in one sentence, break it up into two separate sentences.

Keyword phrase: San Francisco Real Estate

Looking for a new home in San Francisco? Real Estate can be hard to come by without enlisting the help of an expert.

2.    Use bulleted lists
Not only can bulleted lists be used to simplify information for your visitor, but they can also help you use keywords less awkwardly.

Keyword Phrase: Dog Training Articles

Looking for more information? See the following:

  • “Max’s Guide to Dog TrainingArticles about teaching your dog the basics.
  • “Penelope’s Puppies: All about dog trainingArticles for owners of puppies under the age of 6 months.
  • “Jane and her Litter” Everything you need to know about dog training.

Articles can help you get a lot of the information you need as a new dog owner.

3.    Quotes
Some keywords just can’t sound natural when written from the third person perspective. In that case, try including them in a quote.

Keyword Phrase: Make my own wine

See what our customers have to say about our services!

“I wanted to make my own wine, but didn’t want to spend a fortune. Grapestompers was affordable AND my wine is fantastic!”

Fitting keywords into your small business website is often a challenge, and these are just a few ways you can do it. Try to be creative and flexible without sacrificing readability – it’s important to remember that your visitor is just as important as the search engines, so be careful not to ruin their experience for the sake of fitting in your keywords.

[image by liza31337]

Search Engine Optimization (Homepreneur Website Makeover: Part 1)

2010-02-01-marcoandheatherbarberini21Are you running a small business website? Last week, we entertained our 2009 Homepreneur of the Year winners, Marco and Heather Barberini of OvernightPetTags.com, wining and dining them with an all-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver while providing them some small business tips to help grow their already successful small business website.

This post – the first of three in a series — will share with you some of the same tips that we shared with them. Hopefully, you can use these tips and our website builder to grow your business!

Small Business SEO

Marco and Heather had a great start and had some concepts already ranking quite well. As part of a makeover of their website, I did some keyword research around ranking higher for concepts that would lead to sales. Most of the conversation focused on what I like to call the “Magic Triangle of SEO”. This Magic Triangle includes a keyword rich Title Tag, a keyword relevant H1, and anchor text for offsite links that utilize the same keywords that are found within the Title Tag and H1.

The logic behind this triangle is that your Title Tag is you describing what the page is about, your H1 is about what you are telling your website visitors what the page is about, and an offsite link is third-party validation that your page is truly about what you are describing.

For Marco and Heather this resulted in:

Homepage Title Tag: “Pet Tags | Pet ID Tags – Personalized Pet Tags for Dogs and Cats from OvernightPetTags.com
Homepage H1: “Pet Tags for $4.95.  Order your Pet ID Tag today!”
Offsite SEO/Anchor Text: Focus on link-building via blogs, Veterinarians, animal rescue centers with the “Pet Tag” and “Pet ID Tag” keywords as anchor text

A few other super-simple changes we made to their home page include:

  • Added ALT text to all images that had some of the keywords included (e.g., “Order Your Pet Tags Now” rather than simply “Order Now”)
  • Changed the text order to read “Pet Tags – $4.95, Free Shipping Special” rather than “Free Shipping Special: Pet Tags – $4.95”. This better emphasizes the core messaging. Before, the site was ranking well for “Free Pet Tags”, something that Marco and Heather were not offering. A quick snapshot of the Google Cache indicated that “Free” was the first word that Google was seeing. Now, they should see “Pet Tags”.
  • Interlinking to internal pages using on-page keywords (e.g., hyperlink “pet tags” to the catalog featuring the pet tags that they had for sale)

We made these edits together and gave the Barberinis some takeaways for more work. So far, these minor changes have already paid big dividends. Ranking for 5 of the 12 keywords being targeted have already increased significantly. The table below shows some of the top keywords and their change in rank after only 3 days:

small-business-seo-ranking

Hopefully, your small business website can experience the same success. Sometimes all it takes are a few tweaks and you can be well on your way to better search ranking.

5 Simple Tips for Driving Traffic to Your Website

Whether you make a website using a website builder or create a web page from scratch, the next question you’ll typically ask yourself is “how do I get more people to my site?” Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to deal with the challenge of bringing in visitors and customers to your new business. Here are a few to get you started:

2009-11-13-drivetrafficSubmit to Search Engines
The first thing you want to do once you make your own website is tell the search engines the site exists. The “big 3” are Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, and each one has a page that lets you submit your URL directly to them.
Google – http://www.google.com/addurl/
Yahoo! – http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit
Bing – http://www.bing.com/docs/submit.aspx

Use Your URL – Everywhere
Your URL (www.yourdomainname.com) is now just as important as your business name, so wherever your business name goes make sure your URL goes too. That means in your email signature, advertisements, letterhead, marketing pieces, shopping bags, business cards, etc.

Comment on Blogs
Chances are that if you create a web page, there’s someone out there who is blogging about a similar or related topic. Most bloggers allow comments on their posts and the comments get read by their visitors. Start contributing to the conversation with thoughtful or useful comments and make sure to include your name and URL in your signature.

Exchange Links
If there are other websites that compliment your own, without necessarily competing for business, contact them and see if they’d be willing to link to you. Not only will you then be visible to their visitors, but the link will also help your ranking with search engines.

Local Search
If your location has an impact on your business, for example as a dog walker in Seattle, make sure to include yourself in local searches. Google Local Business Center is free and all you need is a Google Account to create your listing. When people search for the right keywords, your business will come up beside a map on the search results page.