Website Designs That Kill SEO and Rankings

seo checklist imageConsidering there’s no shortage of SEO and marketing advice floating around on the internet, it perplexes me why the majority of business websites I see are missing the foundation SEO elements needed to get their website discovered online.

It isn’t the business owner’s fault if their SEO sucks – the blame falls on their SEO or website design/development firm.

Any companies who outsource their SEO needs to make certain the company they hire is fully experienced and qualified to tackle the ongoing SEO by educating themselves on the basics of search engine optimization. You can’t ask the right questions if you don’t know the right words. And don’t be shy about asking prospect providers to explain their strategy for your business – by all means, do it! Listen for a “unique” strategy built for your unique business and pass on menu pricing and automated solutions. As you go through the process, just remember what Einstein said:

“If (they) can’t explain it simply, (they) don’t know it well enough” ~ Einstein

Any SEO or web designer/developer worth considering should be able to explain in non-technical terms; your current website status, their plans to correct any technical errors as well a futures outlook. You don’t need to know how to do their job, but you desperately need to know how to negotiate and prioritize the scope of work your business needs with them. Learn the basics.

Lastly, when looking for service providers, consider where they have spoken or presented as well as where they have been published – these are litmus test items for any professional.

For those who take the DIY SEO approach to their business, focus on nailing the basics before applying more advanced SEO tactics like SCHEMA, starting a social media campaign, or opening an AdWords/PPC campaign. The website should be the focal point for all your marketing activity  – so you need to get it right.

Now that I’ve laid the foundation for my story, I’m going to pass on writing a best SEO tips article, and instead, head in the opposite direction by listing some of the most recurrent errors we see on websites that are killing search engine ranking along with tips on how to fix them.

So read along and compare the things noted on your website and make it a priority to get them fixed soon – your online visibility will be all the better for it.

1. Lack Of Keyword Focus

The days of brainstorming to capture every conceivable word (called keywords) or phrase (yep, this one would be the key-phrase) that your business could rank for than stuff those onto your website are long over (they did exist though). So too are the days of creating individual pages to target every iteration of these keywords.

Keyword research is tough, but it’s got to get done. Use Google’s Keyword Planner as a starting point and be sure to select your targeting area, so your results are geographically relevant (i.e., local). While you’re at it, selecting “Google and search partners” along with “Only show closely related ideas” under the “Customize your search” header may yield even better results.

You still should build pages based on keywords, but use them as a larger theme instead of a tight silo; macro vs. micro if you will.

Write to be read – but in a way that search engines favor

2. The Wrong Keyword Focus

There are the keywords that people type (or speak) into their keyboards or device to find answers, and there are the words that you want your business to be discovered by. While you very well may hit it out of the park with being discovered for both; at the beginning – focus on the words people are using to locate you (and maybe your competition) by. Very often businesses have a long list of terms they want to be discovered for, and very often, these don’t match the words people are using to find businesses like theirs. The solution? See tip one. The reports from Keyword Planner will give you a sense of historical search volume for keywords.

In addition to using Google’s Keyword Planner, AdWords keyword conversion data as well as “search terms” data offer great insight. As does Google & Bing webmaster tools. Having these should be the defacto standard for all websites.

3. Poor META

Here’s what you need to know – every public-facing page of your website needs a unique META Title, which also goes by the name Page Title. This is a primary and most foundational SEO element that identifies the title of every page of your website. Think of it as the chapters of a book; no two could be the same, and each should succinctly describe the chapter (page).

Here’s the fix: keep your META Title between 30-60 characters (top limit is 65 characters, and is technically measured in pixels, e.g., 200-512px). Place your keyword as close to the beginning of the narrative that you can and end with your brand. Keep punctuation to a minimum, and use dashes and pipes (this > | < is a pipe) as separators if you need to and remember to write to be read – but in a way that search engines like. Nothing on your website should read robotically. Oh yeah – it’s the opposite for the homepage (brand focus first – keyword focus last). Seriously – that’s how you do it.

As for META Descriptions (Page Descriptions) – not a ranking factor. But lead descriptions with your keyword and write to entice someone to click your link. This is your #1 conversion element, but few people actually read all 165 characters of it (that’s the limit – 932px if you will), so keyword placement for skim-reading is vital.

Lastly, META Keywords – just stop using those, they have not been useful for anything in a long time, so give it up. For real, all the search engines have depreciated them, and you’re likely to get yourself into more trouble than they’re worth. See step one instead.

4. Inconsistent Local Attributes

This one is for businesses marketing locally and impacts more than 85% of the websites we see. Read how screwing this up is easier than you think > Click Here

Be certain that your business Name, Address, and Phone Number (referred to as NAP) are on your website as text – not words within an image. Search engines can only see written text – they can’t see images – so make sure your contact information (and primary keywords) isn’t layered in an image.

Best practice would have your contact information text on every page of your website. Because the footer is a global element of a website makes it a prime location for your NAP. While you’re at it, consider adding your contact information as structured markup code (schema), it offers descriptive behind the scenes data that search engines eat up.

5. Robot Tags

In the old days, we instructed search engines to “index” a web page with a line of code called a robot META tag, but that practice isn’t necessary any longer. Here’s what Google says about it “The default values are “index, follow… and do not need to be specified.” Adding an index META tag to a site today could be perceived as being a bit pushy (forced directive) – so it’s best not to include it. Don’t worry though; the default has you covered as all pages are indexable unless noted otherwise.

Surprisingly, just like the index META code we see a lot of pre-production/in-development websites that aren’t using the “noindex” tag when using a separate URL during the website development stages (e.g., yoursite2.com). In the absence of this code, the in-development pages will show up online instead of or in-addition-to your clients existing pages. Getting caught doing this will not be a fun conversation.

We’ve also seen website developers using a subdomain on their own website to host a pre-production website. It looks something like thisclient.yourwebsite.com. Can you imagine the mess this makes when they forget to use the correct META tag?

6. Missing Image Elements

The number one thing that prevents pictures from being discovered within image searches has nothing to do with the picture. It’s a poorly structured filename that will kill any chance of an image being discoverable online.

The filename is the strongest SEO element for images – as well as for podcasts, and videos

This is a super easy fix but could take a ton of time to change. If your website is on WordPress, there are some decent file renaming extensions that do a good job with the heavy lifting, but be careful of using a fully automatic one; those are usually a compromise solution that could triple your headache.

Here’s the advice we give our clients: format the filenames in lowercase using dashes-to-separate words (not spaces or_underscores) and make sure to include the keyword of the page the image is to be placed on within the filename (e.g., a “red shoe” images that belong on the “red shoe” page of your website should contain the keywords “red shoe” or “red shoes” < remember, iterations are important). This is an overly simplified explanation, but it’s not rocket science, and most business owners can do this. If you have tons of files, set up a schedule to do a few every day, you’ll get through it.

6 1/2. Not Using Analytic & Webmaster Tools

Not a ranking factor – but as the saying goes “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” so I’ve included it. I don’t have hard data, but anecdotally, I would have to say that 1/3 of the websites we see do not have a Google Analytics tag installed or at least the most recent version of the code (it changes over the years). Fewer still have Google & Bing Webmaster Tool access(Google’s is now called Google Search Console).

Before making any change to a website, make certain you can measure the effectiveness of those changes. These tools are FREE, and the self-help and how-to articles on them are excellent.

So there you have it – six 1/2 ways to bolster the foundational elements of your website that often go missing and kill online visibility. Set a schedule to fix these and watch your rankings trend up!

Posted in SEO | search engine optimization | 1 Comment

Small Business SEO Trends for 2015

2015-seo-trends-by-sidewalk-branding-company

Quite often, the small talk we have with the businesses we meet as well as with our industry colleagues revolves around the current state of SEO best practices.

From SEO experts to DIY SEO dabblers, everyone seems focused on making 2015 the year of discovery for small business.

For us, January has always been a time to reassess our client strategies for the upcoming year. This is when we take both a retrospective assessment of what has worked in 2014 as well as a futures look at what we think will impact small business visibility on search engines in 2015.

The following SEO tips are what we predict we will be prescribing to our clients for the upcoming year (or at least until the next algorithm change). We didn’t list them in any particular order, so while you read along; try to envision how your business stacks up against these objectives.

Here’s hoping you discover yourself in 2015!

Citation Building

A citation is any mention of a company’s (complete) contact information, and for local businesses, it’s one of the most essential elements for local discovery. Citation building (think Yelp, Google Plus, YP.com) not only offers a direct link to your business, but it plays a vital role in quantifying your business contact information building online brand recognition and authority.

Content Marketing

Creating and sharing stories that drive purposeful action or provides intentful branding shouldn’t happen by chance or out of your control. The notion that social media would be the marketing bullhorn for business is so 2007. Content marketing in 2015 will need to have the end solution planned in advance of publishing. Shares and likes are too easy to game and haven’t been all that successful in driving significant monetary ROI. Effective content marketing in 15 will drive quantifiable lead generation, sales or branding.

Image & Video Optimization

Image and video sharing sites like Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo and the increasing importance in organic image/video search will continue to drive the demand for filename and property optimization. DYK: the filename of images and videos is the most important element impacting online discovery? (You’re not alone if you didn’t)

Keyword Research

As long as search engines answer search queries based on text or voice input (interpreted as text) using the right words to market your business will remain the most powerful attribute of any online marketing activity, on any channel, through any source. The axiom that “Content is King” is nearly correct for it is the (key)words of the content that truly rule the marketing world – online and in print.

Map Marketing

For brick and mortar businesses, online discovery is only half the job, driving that traffic to your door is the second part, and being listed on the most popular map and GPS services will be vital as personal-mobile, and in-vehicle connectivity usage continues to skyrocket.

Meaningful Interaction

Receiving social engagement through keyword focused intentful wording will trump likes, shares, and RTs by chance in the upcoming years. And it’s about time too – we love caturday as much as you do, but social signals are just far too easy to game, so the value of their signal potential has so far been under-realized. Social interaction needs to focus on providing customer service and driving sales, leads and branding. Meaningful marketing with calculated interaction continues to add value to social marketing in 15.

Mobile Optimization

Having viewers squint to view your website on the tiny screen of a cellphone or tablet isn’t going to work in 2015. Having a website that serves appropriately for each device (responsive) is nearly mandatory today, and Google is recognizing sites who are responsive by marking them as being “Mobile-friendly” within mobile searches. How quickly websites load is also an increasing (ranking) SEO element to focus on – especially for mobile viewing. Check your mobile stats on Google Analytic to decide how important a mobile conversion is for your business.

NAP

In our experience, we find nearly every business has errors in their business citation (above) data. The data that matters most to local businesses is their Name, Address, and (local) Phone number – aka NAP. Typical errors include business listing with old addresses and old phone numbers, call tracking numbers or inconsistent use of unit/suite numbers. Variations of a company name will also cause discrepancies in NAP. Like citation building – this is a foundational element of local marketing.

Old School is New School (again)

The essential elements of SEO never go out of style – META Title (ranking factor) and META Description (conversion element) optimization, keyword targeting, having a correctly formatted contact page, using the footer for your global address, images with unique filenames and alternate attributes, META robot usage – these (and more) need to be addressed for each primary page of a website. There are 200+ elements on each page of a site that Google uses as a ranking factor. We see hundreds of businesses each year with great looking websites and vibrant social media channels who struggle with online visibility because these 200 elements of website SEO were overlooked. Nail the basics before digging deeper into more advanced SEO techniques or digging deep into social and content marketing.

PPC & SEO Combined Strategies

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising like Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook Ads was one of our most requested service offerings last year, and we were not alone – 2014 was a banner year for the whole PPC industry. The success of PPC is mainly dependent on three factors: 1. Keyword selection 2. Compelling Copywriting 3. Synergy on the website landing page between 1&2. Managing PPC campaigns with knowledge of website SEO will continue to be a winning combination for business advertising in the upcoming year(s).

Schema

A relative newcomer and nearly unknown tool for non-professionals are structured markup code most commonly referred to as its standards name of “Schema.” This universal code works for the major search engines and adds additional data (in search engine language) for things such as contact information, products, services, product reviews, and business review ratings (think Zagat reviews). This simple code was a powerhouse for local businesses in 2014 and will continue in importance in 15.

#seo #seotrends

by Chris Sheehy

Posted in local SEO | 4 Comments

Top 10 Restaurant SEO Tips

By Chris Sheehy | Local SEO Expert
 

Sure, people will come to your restaurant for the food, ambiance, and impeccable service, but they need to find you first.

seo tips for restaurants image of blue plate special napkin stained with coffeeWord-of-mouth, newspaper, and social media marketing tactics all work at increasing brand awareness for your business, but SEO spreads your branding farther and more sustainably than anything else. It’s a marathon approach, however, so it requires a plan and a committed effort to reap any rewards.

That said, here are our Top 10 Restaurant SEO Tips taken directly from our internal cookbook that is as sure to fill your tables faster than a good ol’ blue-plate-special.

While this isn’t the Joy of Cooking equivalent to DIY SEO tips, it covers the basics that most restaurants and businesses struggle with.

1. Keyword Research: Think for a minute how you search for things online. You type words into a search bar, hit the enter key, and in half-a-second are presented ten options, maybe a map and a few paid adverts to pick from. Things work the same for voice-search like on Google Now and Siri. To have any sustainable visibility on search engines – you need to be using the right key-words throughout your website and internet assets (like Facebook, images, articles, press releases, and business listings).

Keyword research will discover the right words that will increase the visibility and discoverability of your restaurant.  Keywords are the centerpiece for all internet marketing.

2. Website Optimization: Going on the notion you’ve got your keywords cooked up, you now need to get those words into the right spots on your website so they can work for you. Here is where you need to put your primary keywords:

  • Page Title (aka META Title)
  • Page Description (META Description)
  • Words on Your Page
  • Image/Video Filename

If the administrative part of your website allows for “META Keywords” don’t use it, these aren’t used any longer by any search engine.  You’re just going to give your strategy away to SEO pros if you do… Trust me on that.  If you blog, however, do use Categories and Tags as you would META Keywords.

3. NAP: By our observations, 80 percent of businesses have errors in at least one element of their business name, address, and/or phone number (aka N A P or citation data). I’ve written about this before, so no need to detail it again – suffice to say that getting this dead-on-accurate is paramount for local search engine visibility. [See link/citation building below] In addition to this NAP, make sure your hours are prominently visible on your website.  Adding this stuff to the footer of your site will make sure your complete contact information and hours of business are listed on every page.  Search engines feast on those morsels of NAP info and can reward your business with greater visibility for optimizing it.

4. Schema: This bit of code is used for identifying things like your NAP, opening hours, payments accepted and other information to search engines in their own language (code). Agreed to by all search engines, this advanced tidbit is a must have for restaurants reliant on local marketing and/or being discovered in mobile searches. Which is all of them.

5. Map: Make sure you have a Google map on your contact or locations page – but not directions on sharing a map on a restaurant website pagejust any Google map – the map connected to your verified Google Plus (G+) profile page. Which, of course, means you need to have a verified and optimized G+ page. So once you’ve got that, look at the bottom of your new map page and click the gear icon in the lower right, then click “Share and embed map” when the menu pops up to get the code and paste it onto your website.  Easy.  You’ll now see your business name on the map instead of just your street address, and very little else (like your competition).  Google can now draw a strong correlation between your G+ map location, the information on your G+ profile and your actual business.

6. Menu: Have a menu on your website? If not – it’s a must, just make sure the navigation to the page is clear and discernible so people and search engines will easily identify it. Using a simple “menu” as the navigation text is a safe bet here, and use only text or a .pdf file to list your menu. Search engines can only see text, so if you use an image for your menu (common image file extensions .jpg .png .gif and .tif) it will not be picked up by search engines.  Consider adding a downloadable .pdf menu on your website so it can be easily shared or tucked into a kitchen or office cabinet for quick call-in ordering.  And don’t forget to build backlinks to your restaurant by posting your menu on menu sites – see below…

7. Link/Citation Building: Complete and optimized profiles on tripadvisor, yelp, and menuism are staples for restaurants. These listings should be as complete as possible, and the narrative spiced up with the keywords vetted from your research. Images used here should also have their filenames optimized with these keywords in addition to your restaurant name.  Don’t forget to add your menu to your listings as either a link or .pdf file.  Other than website optimization, building profiles on highly authoritative directories (like those mentioned) with accurate NAP/citation data is the second most important element of getting listed on search engines and discovered by people searching for you.  Link/Citation building helps people discover your restaurant on their PC as well as on a mobile device (phone/tablet).

8. Content: It’s an overused cliché, but content really is king. Make sure your content is well written, contains the high priority keywords from your keyword research and tells a story to your readers. Websites stopped being online brochures a long time ago – so make sure the tone of your site doesn’t sound like one. And don’t forget to link out from your website pages to the other pages of your site as well as to the other internet assets you use to market your business, like Facebook and Pinterest.

9. Social Media: Given all the hype social media gets – I’ve got bad news for you – social media isn’t likely to drive as much traffic to your restaurant as you hope it will. Statistically, social media will deliver a 5% revenue ROI whereas SEO drives 51%. Other marketing mediums like word-of-mouth and print drive the remaining 44%. But what social media has going for it is the ability to convey a story and post an image and have those shared by your raving fans better than any other medium or channel.  So make social media work for you by using compelling writing, inspiring images, and be sure to start your post with your primary keyword as close to the opening sentence as possible and have a link back to your website.  When linking back to your site, target the most relevant page of your site, not just the homepage. And if you use #hashtags, tag your keyword and your city or town. I advise my clients to use the 80-20 rule when using social media (or blogging).  80% of their posts should point to a keyword on their primary keyword list.

Just remember this rule – 80% of your non-website internet marketing actions should drive traffic to your website and target a keyword.  It’s not rocket science – you can do it.

restaurant review logo10. Reviews: Online reviews not only are great selling points for your business, but search engines could reward you for being such an excellent business by bumping you up in rankings for your ability to please your customers. So make sure you have a page on your website for “Reviews” and post your best ones there. Word of caution here, Google doesn’t want you to copy and paste their reviews on your website or anywhere else on the internet – so the best case for Google reviews would be to share them in a non-text format, like in an image or video. What we have done on our site was to create Pinterest pins of our reviews and add those to our website as a slideshow. It’s a different approach that is sure not to receive any warnings from Google or any other search engine should they establish the same policy.

Bonus! Whereas social media typically stays within its channel (Facebook messages stay on Facebook, Twitter on Twitter) blogging spreads throughout the internet.  We strongly recommend our clients blog first – then share these posts on their social media channels.  This strategy gives them the exposure on search engines and within social media for the same amount of effort.  Also, consider using a syndication platform for managing this like Sendible (that’s who we use – look them up), this will make short work of managing it all whether you blog alone or as a team.

And there you have it – we’ve dished out a ten-course spread of our top ways to drive traffic to your restaurant.  So turn up the heat on the notion of getting your restaurant discovered online.

Top 10 Restaurant SEO Tips
Top 10 DIY SEO tips for restaurants
Top 10 Restaurant SEO Tips 1

Posted in Citation Building, Local Citation Management, local SEO, Providence SEO, Rhode Island SEO, Rhode Island Web Marketing, SEO Quote | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,