3 Key Tactics for Local SEO Success

Whether you have a retail presence or not, local search engine optimization is good for your business. Why? Big brands with big budgets have won the Internet, by and large. Certainly, there are a fair number of unicorns (startups with billion dollar valuations) but compared to the vast number of total companies, most startups competing for search engine placement against large brands don’t do well at the global level.

This scale advantage can be partially mitigated by becoming excellent at local search; Google has made numerous statements that local search, particularly on mobile devices, can give some advantage to smaller businesses that are closer to the querant. Thus, if you’re searching for, say, coffee, a small coffee shop that’s well optimized for local search could reasonably compete with nearby mega-brand franchises.

The same is true of any business that doesn’t serve customers at its location. If you are, say, an email marketing company, having appropriate geographic and local business data will help you win searches in your home city.

In order to effectively compete, at least on Google, for local search, you need to do three activities.

First, set up a My Business account with Google and populate it with the appropriate data. You’ll want to specify your mailing address, phone number, website URL, and any other business data you can provide. This will tell Google where you are located and bind your website URL to your physical location:


Second, tag your geo-data on your website appropriately with schema.org microdata. This involves making relatively simple edits to any postal address text on your website that declares the contents are geographic data:


Once you’ve implemented your microdata, you’ll want to verify in a few days that Google has detected it by looking in the Structured Data menu in Webmaster Tools/Search Console:


When you log in, if you don’t see the above entry, your markup data may not be correctly formatted.

Third, ensure your Google Maps listing is correct. If it’s not, use the Suggest an Edit function to fix your listing:


These three tactics must be done together in order to achieve maximum local search impact. Most organizations and competitors do one or two of them, but rarely do companies do all three. Do them well, and you’ll level the playing field a little when someone searches for you on any geo-aware device.

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Do you know how to measure assisted search?

What’s behind the recent resurgence of interest in search engine optimization, SEO?

Shown above: large spikes of mentions in SEO over the last 2 years

Is it because companies feel like the only channels they have control over any more are search and email? Perhaps. Certainly, moves by social networks to undercut companies’ non-paid reach have reduced confidence of marketers in social channels.

Is it because Google’s changing the rules behind search results at an ever-increasing pace? Perhaps. The menagerie of pandas, penguins, and hummingbirds certainly keep webmasters and content marketers on their toes.

There might be a third, harder to see reason: assisted search.

What is assisted search? In Google Analytics, there’s a concept called assisted conversions, things that impacted the final conversion but were not the last touch. A Tweet might not be the last thing that someone saw prior to converting into a lead, but it certainly might have helped.

Assisted search is a similar idea. Something else could have contributed to search without being the search query itself:

  • You might have driven by a billboard.
  • You might have heard about it on a podcast.
  • You might have seen a mention of a brand on a TV show.
  • You might have talked to a friend or colleague who told you to check something out.

Any of those things might have been the impetus for you to search, but no web analytics tool in existence will be able to detect it.

We all assume that SEO is once again super-important because organic search traffic is going up. What if it’s not SEO? What if it’s assisted search instead?

There’s only one way to know the answer to this question: ask people when they get to your website how they heard of you. Don’t wait for them to go buy something or fill out a form – ask up front:


This is a little 1-question custom survey I’ve got running on my site. I can take the results of this survey and compare it to my web analytics to see just how much of my organic search traffic can be attributed to assisted search. Here’s an example of the early results:


Obviously, the above is statistically invalid, laughably so, but it’s a start. I already see one out of three responses are word of mouth. One is referral, likely from the interview I did with Michael Stelzner. One is social media. Over time, more of this data will tell me just how much of my traffic is from assisted search.

Consider setting up this kind of survey (can be done with a popup or third party services like Google Consumer Surveys for Websites) on your own website so you can start measuring assisted search!

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Is your site mobile-friendly? Now your SEO depends on it!

Google made very large waves recently by announcing that the mobile-friendliness of your site is going to significantly impact search results. From the Official Google Webmasters Blog:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

In the rest of the post, Google recommends that you use Webmaster Tools to make your site more mobile-friendly. How do you get started doing this?

First, log into Webmaster Tools and find the Mobile Usability report in your site’s settings:


What you ideally want to see is this:


What you are more likely to see is this:


Above is the Marketing Over Coffee site. It’s got some problems. Let’s look at them.

The first problem is that it lacks a viewport definition. This is a simple HTML fix that can be done in your website’s theme or code. Google has simple, explicit instructions on how to fix the viewport here, but it’s literally a matter of just adding a line or two of code to your website’s design to start. You can then go and tweak it later; the bare minimum will meet their standards for usability.

The second problem is small font size. Google’s definition of small font size is body text under 16 CSS pixels (roughly 12-point fonts). Anything smaller than that is going to get flagged. Have your website designer or developer adjust your fonts accordingly. Full recommendations on fonts can be found here.

The third problem is touch elements are too close. Google defines this as any significant touchable element (buttons, etc.) on site that are less than 48 CSS pixels wide and there should be a border of at least 32 CSS pixels between touchable elements on page. This is less easy to fix and will, for most people, require your designer’s help to get right. (if you need a great design team, we have one at my employer, SHIFT Communications) If in doubt, make buttons big and leave lots of space around them. Here are the rest of the touch elements guidelines.

The last problem is Flash. Google has said for a while Flash is bad. It looks like, from an SEO perspective, you’ll be penalized for its usage. Remove it and replace it with HTML5 options instead. Got video on site? Switch out your proprietary Flash player with something from Vimeo or YouTube. Got audio on site? Switch out from Flash to Soundcloud’s HTML5 player.

If you want your site to rank well, follow Google’s guidelines. Ignore them at your organic search traffic’s peril. You have until April 21, 2015 to make your decision!

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