People are often confused how search engine optimization (SEO) works. I for one can understand why. The SEO world is rapidly changing world. However, you are in luck. In this guide we are going to teach you step-by-step what you need to accomplish to rank your website on the first page of Google.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Land defines search engine optimization as the “process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines.” To be more specific, search engine optimization is the process of improving your website both on-page and off-page to help it appear higher in organic searches and to be more discoverable.
The majority of searches happen on one search engine, Google. Over 3.5 billion searches happen on Google everyday. That is an insane amount of searches a day.
So how does Google work? Google uses an algorithm called pagerank. Pagerank originally worked by taking the amount of keywords on the page as well as other domains pointing to you as a signal that the content on your website was good.
You may ask, what do I mean by pointing. Websites will often link to other websites. When a website links or points to your website then it tells Google that your website is approving the content of that link. When several websites link to your website then you will go up in the search rankings.
The pagerank algorithm is constantly changing. You may have heard how some people’s websites are destroyed by updates.
The picture above shows the gut wrenching drop of traffic that one website experienced. However, if you are following best practices (white-hat techniques) then there is no need to worry.
So how do you rank your business? Follow along and by the end you will be an SEO wizard.
What is the Google 3-Pack?
Now the ultimate optimization and what we in the SEO industry want to do is to rank you as high as possible, but the best real estate in google is the local “3-pack.”
The 3-pack is this box.
It is called the 3-pack because only three local businesses make it in this ranking. Previously seven businesses were featured here, but they changed it so only 3 appear at the top.
The majority of local traffic comes from this three pack and depending on your industry it can range from incredibly easy to difficult to rank you in this prime location.
Step 0: Choosing Keywords For Your Business
Before we begin, we need to discuss what and how keywords work. A keyword is a series of words or phrase that people use to search for particular items.
For example, you may search for “cheap sunglasses”
Here we put the target keyword into Google and we can see, using this cool keyword plugin, how many searches occur for this keyword. Additionally, we see how much Google is charging if you wanted to use Google Ads to advertise for this keyword.
Every month people are searching this exact keyword over thirty thousand times a month However, what is more interesting is that Google is also charging anyone who advertises on this keyword a dollar every time you click on their ad.
So Sunglass Warehouse and Warby Parker are both willing to pay a dollar each time someone clicks on their advertisement because they know that it is worth the advertisement. However, if we scroll down more.
We come to the first listing on Google, Knockaround. Knockaround is not paying to advertise at all, but they rank number one for this keyword. That means they are getting the equivalent of almost 30,000 dollars a month in free exposure simply for ranking for this keyword. That is the power of SEO.
Now as a local business you do not want to rank for cheap sunglasses because you probably do not service the whole world. However, not targeting to whole globe is actually your advantage.
The use long tail keywords, words that are long and descriptive, can drastically change the results delivered. You can see here that only 40 people a month add the phrase los angeles.
This is great because there are two different intents for someone who is searching “cheap sunglasses” and “cheap sunglasses los angeles.” The former could be looking to buy online or could be researching their options while the second person is clearly looking for cheap sunglasses in a specific geographic area. The buyers intent of the second person is much clearer.
This is fantastic news because you as a local business owner can easily dominate these keywords!
Warby parker and the other giants do not care to rank for these hyper specific keywords. However, these specific keywords are often better converting keywords as well.
So what keywords do you want to rank for? Well this changes from business to business, but you can quickly make a list of keywords you would like to rank for.
If you enter the keyword “accountant Los Angeles” and scroll down to the bottom of the page then you can see more related and linked searches.
If you are an accounting firm you might want rank for “tax accountant los angeles” and “accounting firm los angeles”, but if you only do real estate then “real estate accountant los angeles” is a good keyword for you. In general, you want to pick 5–10 keywords you would like to rank for. If you are a bigger company with more than one location you will have a bigger keyword list.
Once we compile the list of keywords we can now begin the process of optimizing our website.
Step 1: Website Titles
On-page as you may have guessed is all the tasks you need to do on your website to improve your rankings.
On-page optimization is mainly targeted for Google’s bot. The Google bot is constantly going around the web and checking out what is new. Google rewards those who follow certain formats as it makes it easier for the bot to understand the context of the page.
Before dive into what needs to happen, the number one thing that Google cares about is the context of the website. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you have a perfectly optimized website that lacks rich and engaging content then you can be positive that your website will not perform well.
The first thing that you want to optimize is the title of the pages. In Google the titles of the pages are the top part of the search results.
Google generally will only show 60 characters or less of your title so you want to make sure that they stand out as well as include a keyword.
For example, “Name of business | Type of Service | Area Service” would be a good template for a title for a local businesses.
Step 2: Meta Descriptions
The next part of on-page optimization is meta tags. Meta tags are the two or three sentences below the title that gives more description of the page. Recently, there has been questioning whether the title and meta description are still relevant and the answer is yes.
The title and meta description help visitors decide if your content is relevant. The more that people see and click your link the more Google pushes your website up in the search ranks.
If your goal is to dominate the local searches then we recommend that you incorporate the name of the location in the title and meta description. Additionally, as we stated for the title it is also good to put your service in the meta description as well.
Step 3: Website Content
On the actual website you want to make sure that you include relevant keywords in the <h1> tags of each section. Additionally, you want to write keyword rich text in a casual manner. If you can include relevant pictures, video, and other media this will also help the quality of your website.
In the example above, Plumber and Los Angeles are both in the main title of the page. Underneath the title of the section they put a relevant picture and in the body of the page they included other relevant keywords in bold.
This is a good example of a well optimized website and we can tell that they had this professionally done.
Step 4: Mobile Optimized
If you haven’t heard yet, it is a mobile first world. In 2015 Google started penalizing websites that were not mobile friendly. Mobile friendly means that your website appears nicely on all devices.
You can check the mobile friendliness of the website with thisfree Google tool.
If your website is not mobile friendly then we do recommend that you either find a web development company if you can afford it or you can utilize free seo optimized wordpress themes.
Step 5: Website Speed
The next part you want to check is the speed of your website. You may be asking why Google requires you to have a nice and fast website. The answer is that they are also a service and they reward people who make their service better. They want people to find the information they need as easily as possible. When you have a visually appealing and fast website that signals to your visitor that this is a trustworthy website. They stay around longer on your website and this sends a signal to Google to keep pushing you higher in the ranks.
To check the speed of your website, Google also provides you with another free tool.
For the most part websites have one main problem associated with speed and that is picture size. Heavy pictures and videos destroy the speed of your website.
If your website is on wordpress then we recommend using this free plugin to reduce the size of your images. If you are not using wordpress then you can use this free website to reduce the size of your images and reload them again.
For videos you should always be using a video streaming service like YouTube or Vimeo.
Step 6: Contact Page
This might sound like a small issue, but on your website you need to make sure that the contact page has your name, address, phone number (NAP). This is important for when we start making citations. You need to make sure that your name, address, and phone number appear the same on all listings as it does on yours website.
Step 1: Claim your Google My Business
The first thing that you will want to do after optimizing your website is to setup a Google My Business listing. Having a Google Business page is a must have if you want your business to rank in the 3-Pack.
Additionally, when people search for your business then they might see this nice square in the right side of Google highlighting your business.
When you build out your Google My Business profile be sure to take your time and fill in the locations that you service, your name, phone, address exactly as you have it on your website, and the hours of operation.
Additionally, add pictures to your Google Business profile and create posts. Google rewards people that uses and engages with their platform. This creates a better experience for the people searching and you are more likely to be discovered.
Step 2: Get Reviews
Google sees reviews and testimonials as a true social signal. The single best way to get reviews in 2019 is to ask.
All you need to do is to ask your past customers and clients if they could leave a review for you.
To make it easy on them it is best to copy the link for your Google Business and send it in an email. You can also provide incentivizes for leaving reviews for your business.
However do not trick yourself that high quality reviews or the number of reviews are the only things that matter.
In the example above you can see the place that shows up in the top post has some of the worst reviews, but in this case they also have the most reviews.
If we click, “More places” you will see more businesses.
Now if we scroll down a little bit, then we can see that this business has almost twice as many reviews that are all five stars. While reviews are important there are other important aspects to appearing at the top of Google.
However, why we are on the topic of reviews, all businesses have to deal with upset customers. If someone leaves you a bad review you should always respond and be respectful to the person. Make public what the situation was, apologize that the person is not happy, and if possible make suggestions on ways to improve the situation.
Step 3: Creating Citations
You probably have never heard the word citations before. A citation is when another website mentions your name, address, phone number, and/or website.
This is why we emphasized the importance of consistency in the way in which you put your information. According to SearchEngineLand, nearly half of ranking issues are due to mismatched NAP information.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry, with WhiteSpark you can easily manage all your citations as well as find more opportunities to get your business discovered.
In addition to your to these citations you want to make and claim your social profiles.
Hubspot has put together this great resource to claim all of your social profiles and the ranking associated with each of them.
By completing all of these profiles you are one step closer to getting found on Google.
Step 4: Creating Backlinks
Oh backlinks, they are still the holy grail of SEO. As we described above a backlink is basically an upvote from another website.
According to Moz’s Local Search Rankings Factors 16% of your ranking comes from backlinks for the local 3-pack and 26% of your ranking in normal searches.
So how do you get the backlinks?
The easiest way to start is local directories.
Local directories, like Google My Business, are websites that list other businesses. There are 100s of directories to choose from but here is a list of 17 top local directories for the US to get you started.
After you submit to these 17 places you will want to search “(Insert City) Directories” and you will find more relevant places you can submit your business.
Local directories are a great place to start, but they do not provide as good of link as on page links that are surrounded by rich content describing the page.
If you look back at all the links in this article you can see that the words before and after the link often describe what the page is about. Additionally, the anchor text, the part highlighted often tells Google what the page is about and provides more relevance to your website.
The keyway to generate these backlinks is through content.
For most people making content is in the form of a blogging. Blogging is still alive and incredibly relevant in 2019.
Creating content is a whole topic on its own, but this article shows you how to create amazing content.
After you create your stellar content you will want to reach out to people and share it with them. Ideally you want to share it with two kinds of websites, industry specific and location specific.
If we wrote a killer article on making amazing InstaGram content then we might search, “How to make instagram ads los angeles.”
Immediately, I seem imprintla.la on the first page of Google. This is a local business who is not our direct competitor and is creating similar content as us. We would reach out to these websites and share our article with them as well as ask if they would like us to write a blog post for them.
The best way to get backlinks is to develop a relationship and provide value. If you offer to help out another business, they are normally more than happy to link back to your website. This also allows you the opportunity to start a long term relationship with another local business owner.
We made it! You are now equipped to take on the ranks of Google, boost your rankings, and skyrocket your business.
On a final note, local SEO is not the end all be all. It is only one key part to help you grow your business. However, it should not be your main focus and it should not be your saving grace either.
The businesses that we see perform the best are businesses that use local search to enhance a well operating and loved establishment. No amount of SEO will help a bad business. The best thing for growth is always to serve your customer better than anyone else can.