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11 Ways To Improve Rankings

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11 Ways To Improve Rankings

How would you rate your small business SEO performance, and what should you focus on next for greater success?

SEO is the process of optimizing your site to rank higher in search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.

Your goal is to get in front of the searchers who could become your customers.

It’s important that your business appears in different types of search results, too – Google Maps, organic, Featured Snippets, images and videos, and more – in order to maximize your visibility.

Small business SEO is uniquely challenging in that you probably don’t have a dedicated SEO team or a lot of time to stay up to date on all the latest developments in search.

You’re competing not only against other small businesses but also publishers, big brands, and all kinds of other informational sources that appear in search results.

And, you definitely don’t have the budget those larger rivals do.

What’s a small business to do?

In this article, you’ll find an 11-point SEO checklist for small businesses that help you prioritize and focus on those SEO tasks that will really move the needle for you, including:

  • What to address.
  • Why it’s important.
  • The tools to use.
  • The time commitment involved.

1. Nail Down What Problems You Solve For Customers

Before jumping into SEO, you must first understand how people search. You can waste a lot of money in paid search targeting the wrong people, or delivering the right people the wrong message.

Knowing who you’re trying to reach and what problem you’ll solve for them is essential.

Start by asking yourself questions like:

  • How, when, and where do customers determine they need your product or service?
  • Is it away from home, using their cell phone? Is it at home using a desktop computer or tablet?
  • Is it driven by a personal desire, like good food to eat or a great place to spend some time?
  • Or is it caused by a disruptive event like a home or personal issue?

These questions color the language your customers will use to find your business.

This information will drive your keyword research and content creation, among other tasks.

(You can use these free keyword research tools to get you started.)

2. Fix Your Technical SEO Issues

Your small business website might look fine on the outside, with great graphics, colors, and fonts.

But if there are technical problems “under the hood,” it will likely impact your rankings and traffic.

Before embarking on a content or link campaign, spend time fixing the foundation.

You need a solid website structure so search engines can properly crawl and index your webpages.

Some of the most common technical SEO problems have to do with:

You’ll learn more about what it takes to conduct a technical SEO audit here.

3. Optimize Your Pages

On-page optimization is more than just putting a target keyword in strategic places on the page.

It’s important to develop properly structured, high-quality content written in natural language that incorporates your targeted keywords.

Use every reasonable (i.e., non-spammy) opportunity to add your targeted keywords appropriately on your website.

Otherwise, you’re missing important ranking signals. In other words, you must optimize your:

  • Title tags and subheadings.
  • Images and videos.
  • Meta description.
  • Body content.
  • Internal links.
  • And more – get the On-Page SEO Guide to learn more.

4. Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Your GBP strategy should be a focal point for any small business. It’s free, easy to update, and can make a big impact.

Screenshot from search for [san diego candy shop], Google, January 2022

Ideally, your Google Business Profile will provide all of the information a potential customer needs to call you, get driving directions, order online, or otherwise convert directly from the listing.

The first step toward optimizing your Google business listing is claiming and verifying it.

Be sure to fill out as many fields as you can and include photos and videos to enhance your listing.

Your category selection is super important. Be sure to choose the correct categories for your business.

The primary category guides which attributes and other features are available to you.

If you want to get more advanced with your Google Business Profile, take the time to create questions and answers.

What does that mean?

In local search results, there is a section on your listing where people can ask questions and get answers.

As a small business, it is important that you stay on top of these questions.

You can even create your own questions and provide the answers to proactively provide information that might help searchers convert.

Read The New Google Business Profile: A Complete Guide to learn more.

5. Find Out What Competitors Are Doing & Do It Better

Competitors online might be different than the competitors within your local area.

For SEO purposes, we are the most concerned with the websites that are showing up in the top five to 10 positions of Google search results for your targeted keywords.

Those are the competitors you want to analyze.

When doing a competitive analysis, use tools to find out:

  • What those sites are ranking for.
  • How many pages they have indexed.
  • Their website structure.
  • The quality of their backlink profile.
  • Whether they’re ranking for long-tail keywords you could target.

Also, we know page speed is a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm.

Run their landing pages through page speed tools. Look for areas of weakness.

Google’s own Page Speed Insights is a great place to start.

An analysis by Google's PageSpeed Tool.Screenshot from PageSpeed Insights, January 2022

For example, are their pages running slow? Are there keywords they have missed that you can target?

See 3 Ways to Quickly Compare Your Website With Your Competitors for more helpful tips.

6. Manage Local Business Listings & Citations

In addition to Google My Business, you need to control the accuracy of your local business data.

Consistency is crucial.

Data aggregators (e.g., Neustar Localeze, Factual) share information about local businesses, including the name, address, and phone number (NAP).

Make sure your business’s NAP information is consistent and accurate. Local business listings and citations (i.e., online mentions of a business) can help improve your local presence.

It can be helpful to sign up for a service or use a local citations tool that will distribute your NAP information and monitor for inaccuracies.

7. Get Links From Websites In Your Local Area

Most small business owners never think about links.

However, getting links to your site can help improve your rankings.

That can mean more sales and more customers.

My approach to “link attraction” has always been more of a publicity angle.

What can we do to spread the word about our business, educate others, and get involved in the community?

You’ll find lots of tips and suggestions for local link building here.

8. Add Schema Markup

Schema markup helps search engines signals better understand different page components, such as:

  • Business name.
  • Address.
  • Phone number.
  • Ratings.
  • Business hours.
  • Currencies accepted.
  • Area served.
  • Number of employees.
  • And a lot more.

Using this markup can help you appear in rich snippets in the SERPs.

Local schema markup example.Screenshot from https://schema.org/LocalBusiness, January 2022

Check out all of the different types of schema available for local businesses here.

9. Focus On Getting Reviews

Even my kids are conditioned to look up reviews before making a purchase.

Local reviews were one of the leading local search ranking factors in 2021, according to Whitespark’s Local Search Ranking Factors report.

Plus, you can improve your conversions by putting effort into getting reviews and feedback from your customers.

Platforms can help you organize and manage a review campaign.

Or, you can simply encourage customers to leave reviews on the major online review sites.

These techniques can help you get more local reviews.

Make sure you respond, too. Your answer (or lack thereof) is not only visible to the person who asked the question but to all other local searchers who see the review in the future, as well.

Even negative reviews are an opportunity to connect with the customer and show others you care.

10. Create Videos & Images For Competitive Keywords

Websites need content, which means words, so that search engines understand what they are about.

Content goes beyond words, though, and should include images and videos.

In fact, if you are struggling to show up for competitive keywords, why not try a properly optimized video or an image?

As SEJ’s Anna Crowe wrote recently in her image optimization guide:

“Image optimization creates many advantages such as better user experience, faster page load times, and additional ranking opportunities.

And, it’s becoming an increasingly more important role.”

11. Mix Paid With Organic To Get Going

If you’re just starting out with SEO, it can take a while to see results.

SEO is a great long-term play, but sometimes you need to start generating leads right away. That is where paid search can really help.

While you are building up your SEO work, set aside a budget for paid, so that you can keep the leads coming in.

Even after you have a steady flow of organic traffic to the website, you might still consider running a paid search campaign in conjunction.

PPC ads can help augment your organic presence by giving you placement where you just haven’t been able to break into the top organic search results due to the competition.

Read more and find 10 tips for local paid search success here.

Summary

Even if the list of things to do seems overwhelming, the important thing is to just get started.

Begin with the first goal you know you can accomplish.

In time, you’ll discover local SEO tools that can make quicker, easier work of the tactics that are making a difference for you.

You’ll build more inbound links from relevant, reputable local sources.

You’ll add new blog posts and other content to your website, helping you rank on a greater variety of search terms.

And, once you’ve worked through the introductory items on this checklist, you’ll be ready to take your SEO strategy further.

I highly recommend Maddy Osman’s Complete Local SEO Checklist when you’re ready for that next level.

More resources:


Featured Image: Deemka Studio/Shutterstock




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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It’s Unlikely.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It's Unlikely.

I studied the correlation between rankings and content scores from four popular content optimization tools: Clearscope, Surfer, MarketMuse, and Frase. The result? Weak correlations all around.

This suggests (correlation does not necessarily imply causation!) that obsessing over your content score is unlikely to lead to significantly higher Google rankings.

Does that mean content optimization scores are pointless?

No. You just need to know how best to use them and understand their flaws.

Most tools’ content scores are based on keywords. If top-ranking pages mention keywords your page doesn’t, your score will be low. If it does, your score will be high.

While this has its obvious flaws (having more keyword mentions doesn’t always mean better topic coverage), content scores can at least give some indication of how comprehensively you’re covering the topic. This is something Google is looking for.

Google says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality contentGoogle says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality content

If your page’s score is significantly lower than the scores of competing pages, you’re probably missing important subtopics that searchers care about. Filling these “content gaps” might help improve your rankings.

However, there’s nuance to this. If competing pages score in the 80-85 range while your page scores 79, it likely isn’t worth worrying about. But if it’s 95 vs. 20 then yeah, you should probably try to cover the topic better.

Key takeaway

Don’t obsess over content scores. Use them as a barometer for topic coverage. If your score is significantly lower than competitors, you’re probably missing important subtopics and might rank higher by filling those “content gaps.”

There are at least two downsides you should be aware of when it comes to content scores.

They’re easy to cheat

Content scores tend to be largely based on how many times you use the recommended set of keywords. In some tools, you can literally copy-paste the entire list, draft nothing else, and get an almost perfect score.

Scoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draftScoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draft

This is something we aim to solve with our upcoming content optimization tool: Content Master.

I can’t reveal too much about this yet, but it has a big USP compared to most existing content optimization tools: its content score is based on topic coverage—not just keywords.

For example, it tells us that our SEO strategy template should better cover subtopics like keyword research, on-page SEO, and measuring and tracking SEO success.

Preview of our upcoming Content Master toolPreview of our upcoming Content Master tool

But, unlike other content optimization tools, lazily copying and pasting related keywords into the document won’t necessarily increase our content score. It’s smart enough to understand that keyword coverage and topic coverage are different things.

Sidenote.

This tool is still in production so the final release may look a little different.

They encourage copycat content

Content scores tell you how well you’re covering the topic based on what’s already out there. If you cover all important keywords and subtopics from the top-ranking pages and create the ultimate copycat content, you’ll score full marks.

This is a problem because quality content should bring something new to the table, not just rehash existing information. Google literally says this in their helpful content guidelines.

Google says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the tableGoogle says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the table

In fact, Google even filed a patent some years back to identify ‘information gain’: a measurement of the new information provided by a given article, over and above the information present in other articles on the same topic.

You can’t rely on content optimization tools or scores to create something unique. Making something that stands out from the rest of the search results will require experience, experimentation, or effort—something only humans can have/do.

Enrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your contentEnrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your content

Big thanks to my colleagues Si Quan and Calvinn who did the heavy lifting for this study. Nerd notes below. 😉

  • For the study, we selected 20 random keywords and pulled the top 20 ranking pages.
  • We pulled the SERPs before the March 2024 update was rolled out.
  • Some of the tools had issues pulling the top 20 pages, which we suspect was due to SERP features.
  • Clearscope didn’t give numerical scores; they opted for grades. We used ChatGPT to convert those grades into numbers.
  • Despite their increasing prominence in the SERPs, most of the tools had trouble analyzing Reddit, Quora, and YouTube. They typically gave a zero or no score for these results. If they gave no scores, we excluded them from the analysis.
  • The reason why we calculated both Spearman and Kendall correlations (and took the average) is because according to Calvinn (our Data Scientist), Spearman correlations are more sensitive and therefore more prone to being swayed by small sample size and outliers. On the other hand, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient only takes order into account. So, it is more robust for small sample sizes and less sensitive to outliers.

Final thoughts

Improving your content score is unlikely to hurt Google rankings. After all, although the correlation between scores and rankings is weak, it’s still positive. Just don’t obsess and spend hours trying to get a perfect score; scoring in the same ballpark as top-ranking pages is enough.

You also need to be aware of their downsides, most notably that they can’t help you craft unique content. That requires human creativity and effort.

Any questions or comments? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

One of the most essential aspects of a profitable Google Ads strategy is reaching the right people, with the right message, while they’re searching.

To do this correctly, you need to know exactly how your ads are doing and what words potential customers are using to search.

This is where the Google Ads search terms report comes in handy.

This report is a goldmine and an invaluable asset to every Google Ads account.

With insights into exact phrases being used to trigger your ads, the search terms report can help:

  • Significantly refine your keyword strategy.
  • Enhance your targeting.
  • Boost your return on investment (ROI).

Let’s get into why the Google Ads search terms report is not only helpful but essential for maximizing Google Ads profitability.

What Is The Google Ads Search Terms Report?

The search terms report is a performance tool that shows how your ad performed when triggered by actual searches on the Google Search Network.

The report shows specific terms and phrases that triggered your ad to show, which helps determine if you’re bidding on the right keywords or using the right match types.

If you find search terms that aren’t relevant for your business, you can easily add them to your negative keyword list repository.

This helps you spend your budget more effectively by ensuring your ads are only triggered for relevant, useful searches by potential customers.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a search term and a keyword:

  • Search term: Shows the exact word or phrase a customer enters on the Google Search Network to trigger an ad.
  • Keyword: The word or phrase that Google Ads advertisers target and bid on to show their ads to customers.

How To Create A Search Terms Report

Creating a search terms report in your Google Ads account is simple, and better yet – it can be automated!

To view your search terms report, you’ll need to:

  • Log into your Google Ads account.
  • Navigate to “Campaigns” >> “Insights & reports” >> “Search terms”

Below is an example of where to navigate in your Google Ads account to find the search terms report.

Screenshot taken by author, April 2024

After running this report, there are multiple actions you can take as a marketer:

  • Add top-performing searches to corresponding ad groups as keywords.
  • Select the desired match type (e.g. broad, phrase, exact) if adding new keywords.
  • Add irrelevant search terms to a negative keyword list.

3 Ways To Use Search Terms Report Data

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can use the search terms report data to optimize campaign performance.

Let’s take a look at three examples of how to use this report to get the best bang for your buck.

1. Refine Existing Keyword Lists

The first area the search terms report can help with is refining existing keyword lists.

By combing through the search terms report, you can find areas of opportunities, including:

  • What searches are leading to conversions.
  • What searches are irrelevant to the product or service.
  • What searches have high impressions but low clicks.
  • How searches are being mapped to existing keywords and ad groups.

For searches leading to conversions, it likely makes sense to add those as keywords to an existing ad group or create a new ad group.

If you’re finding some searches to be irrelevant to what you’re selling, it’s best to add them as negative keywords. That prevents your ad from showing up for that search moving forward.

If some searches have a high volume of impressions, but very few clicks, these will take further consideration. If it’s a keyword worth bidding on, it may indicate that the bid strategy isn’t competitive enough – meaning you’ll have to take action on your bid strategy.

If a search term is being triggered by multiple keywords and ad groups, this is a case of cross-pollution of keywords. This can lead to lower ROI because it’s essentially having multiple keywords bid on that search term, which can drive up the cost. If this happens, you have a few options:

  • Review and update existing keyword match types as necessary.
  • Add negative keywords where appropriate at the ad group or campaign level to avoid cross-pollution.

Ultimately, using the search terms report in this way allows you to determine what is performing well and eliminate poor performers.

2. Understand How Your Audience Is Actually Searching For Your Product

Something I often see is a mismatch of how a company talks about its product or service vs. how a customer is actually searching for it in the real world.

If you’re bidding on keywords you think describe your product or service but are not getting any traction, you could be misaligning expectations.

Oftentimes, searches that lead to conversions are from terms you wouldn’t have thought to bid on without looking at the search terms report.

One of this report’s most underutilized use cases is finding lesser-known ways customers are searching for and finding your product.

Finding these types of keywords may result in the creation of a new campaign, especially if the search terms don’t fit existing ad group structures.

Building out campaigns by different search themes allows for appropriate bidding strategies for each because not all keyword values are created equal!

Understanding how a customer is describing their need for a product or service not only helps your keyword strategy but can lead to better-aligned product positioning.

This leads us to a third way the search term report can help your campaigns.

3. Optimize Ad Copy and Landing Pages

As discussed in #2, customers’ language and phrases can provide valuable insights into their needs and preferences.

Marketers can use the search terms report to better tailor ad copy, making it more relevant and appealing to prospective customers.

And let’s not forget about the corresponding landing page!

Once a user clicks on an ad, they expect to see an alignment of what they searched for and what is presented on a website.

Make sure that landing page content is updated regularly to better match the searcher’s intent.

This can result in a better user experience and an improvement in conversion rates.

How Using The Search Terms Report Can Help ROI

All three examples above are ways that the search terms report can improve campaign ROI.

How so?

Let’s take a look at each example further.

How Refining Keywords Helps ROI

Part of refining existing keywords is negating any irrelevant search terms that trigger an ad.

Having a solid negative keyword strategy gets rid of “unwanted” spending on keywords that don’t make sense.

That previously “wasted” spend then gets redirected to campaigns that regularly drive higher ROI.

Additionally, adding top-performing search terms gives you better control from a bid strategy perspective.

Being able to pull the appropriate levers and setting proper bid strategies by search theme ultimately leads to better ROI.

How Understanding Audience Intent Helps ROI

By understanding the exact language and search terms that potential customers use, marketers can update ad copy and landing pages to better match those searches.

This can increase ad relevance and Ad Rank within Google Ads.

These items help with keyword Quality Score, which can help reduce CPCs as your Quality Score increases.

More relevant ads likely lead to higher click-through rates, which leads to a higher likelihood of converting those users!

How Updating Ad Copy And Landing Pages Helps ROI

This example goes hand-in-hand with the above recommendation.

As you start to better understand the audience’s search intent, updating ad copy and landing pages to reflect their search indicates better ad relevance.

Once a user clicks on that relevant ad, they find the content of the landing page matches better to what they’re looking for.

This enhanced relevance can significantly increase the likelihood of conversion, which ultimately boosts ROI.

Use This Report To Make Data-Driven Decisions

Google Ads is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, often accounting for a large portion of your marketing budget.

By regularly reviewing the search terms report, you can refine your marketing budget to make your Google Ads campaigns more effective.

Using this report to make data-driven decisions that fine-tune multiple facets of campaign management leads to more effective ad spending, higher conversions, and ultimately higher ROI.

More resources: 


Featured Image: FGC/Shutterstock

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