Woman working to local SEO for her small business on her laptop.

Enhancing Local SEO for your Small Business

For most digitally educated businesses, it’s no surprise that search engine optimization is essential for any size company, even when it comes to locally owned and operated businesses. Not only does Google make adjustments to its algorithms regularly, but local SEO and non-local SEO has become increasingly complicated. Having an in-house marketing team or agency partnership who understands these effects is crucial to navigating online territory. To figure out which adjustments to make, however, you’ll need to know where you want to be. Once you know where you want to be, you then can make a list of your company goals.

Make a List of Goals

Not all businesses have the same goals. But when it comes to wanting website visits from the same target audience and selling in the same industry, that’s where the competition begins. Setting up basic SEO is pretty much a requirement for launching any website today. The question then becomes, how can you continue to optimize your site to increase viewership? If everyone is doing the minimum, then the standards raise. That’s where the work and the reward of SEO come into play. Even local businesses are now at a point where they need to realize the importance of the effects of local search.

Going for Gold Doesn’t Always Mean Ranking #1

Considering your goals, try not to get caught up in the expectation of ranking #1 on Google for your industry or service. If every consumer based their buying decision on what ranks first in Google search results, there wouldn’t be any other online leads for any of the other number of businesses that follow, and that just isn’t the case. Why not? Because human behavior differs and human behavior evolves. Because consumers are so well adapted to the changes in advertisement online, they then adjust their search process to avoid it. Banner ads and paid search rankings are two significant examples of this. Research shows that online shoppers spend the majority of their time looking away from displayed ads on a page, and skip over the paid search results listed at the top of their browser.

It’s important to understand that there isn’t a “secret formula” anymore for attracting online customers. People respond to genuine company listings because they want the truth about that professional service or product. Even having a 5-star rating on Google reviews can scare away searchers because of their distrust of a perfect score. That’s why a lot of people will check out the reviews on business review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor in the quest for authenticity. The point is there isn’t one way to search, and a lot of users won’t click on the first result that pops up. And that’s why you have to stay focused on your list of goals.

Some Ingredients in a Successful Local Ranking

In a study conducted this past June on Local SEO, several listed ranking factors were identified. The top 5 factors from the study were:

1. Local businesses with more Google reviews tend to rank higher.

2. Higher Google My Business profile views rank higher.

(This is probably correlated because if your site is ranking higher, it’s more likely that you will get more page views.)

3. Sites that obtain a higher Majestic AC Rank are ranked higher in Google.

(Although even Alex Chudnovsky, creator of Majestic.com has admittedly stated AC rank is not as trustworthy as Google’s PageRank (now discontinued)… which is why Majestic is switching their domain check system to “Trust and Citation Flow” scores.) Note that there are several backlink checkers out there for you to use, this particular study only compared Moz and Majestic’s tools.

4. Referring subnets have a higher correlation with local rankings.

Referring subnets are essentially the server a website is hosted on. In other words, if all of the websites linking to your website are hosted on the same server, Google might think you are creating a bunch of websites and just having each of them link to your site, making them not as “high quality” as those on other servers. Large companies that have multiple related business units often host each site on a separate subnet so the links between will have a high-quality rank. (The third set of numbers from an IP address are the C-subnet. Having different websites with varying IP addresses containing different C-subnets are important for determining quality referral sites.)

5. Going off of the above ranking factor, having a higher number of referring IP addresses were correlated with higher rankings.

There are so many other factors that go into ranking local sites, and I suggest you check out the rest of those. The top 5, however, can give you a good indication of what to aim for when setting up your website. But let’s get back to setting up for success without having your top priority as hitting #1 in Google…

Before You Begin

To become a successful local business in the online sphere, there are some things you can do to increase your competitive advantage. Before diving into the “tips” it’s crucial that your business has first created and optimized its Google My Business listing and to have been ranking organically for its targeted keywords. Once those two things are in order – you can move onto the complex stuff. When we talk about ranking organically – we mean that you are ranking organically within the top 20 local search results.

Another thing to note is that you shouldn’t treat your search strategy separately with local and non-local. If you are ranking well in non-local, you are sure to rank well in local. So don’t stress too heavy on that form of optimization and keyword targeting.

Reviews

If both your keyword strategy and GMB page are optimized, it’s time to focus on other tactics that can increase your online presence for local search. Having online reviews for your company shows the legitimacy of your business. Even if reviews are not in the high marks, it at least indicates that you have been in business long enough to support a healthy customer base. Millennials especially are attracted to and critically analyze online reviews of businesses before making a buyer decision. Again, having a bigger number of reviews on Google for your business page will add to its ranking factor. Reviews will assist you in building trust in your business.

Consider User Experience

So a lot of local and small-sized businesses may look at SEO and think “I don’t need to pop up in the top results of search engines as long as I’m an option.” Well, the other side of this philosophy is that if you do put effort into optimizing your site for listings, you will benefit from it. It’s wrong to assume that buyers will end up choosing you when shopping online compared to another business that does put in the work to make their site look great and be functional.

For instance, let’s say someone does come across your website from a local search and clicks to enter. Once they enter though, they find that the load speed is so slow that they instantly click out and go to another site. If there are other options (and there are more than enough options online), users will gladly see what else is out there. This is why it is important to consider usability when thinking about your customer’s experience while searching online.

If your shopper is coming to your site and immediately bounces out to another, it’s probably for one of these three reasons:

1. The information they were looking for was too difficult to find.
2. The site took too long to load.
3. There were major usability problems like poor site navigation.

The truth is, every one of Google’s famed (and often feared) “algorithm changes” is intended to measure websites closer to how human users intuitively measure them. Which means, even if you show up well in search engines with a less than stellar user experience now, as Google’s algorithm continues to catch up to human behavior, your poor user experience will undoubtedly cause you to lose search presence.

Correcting and Adding Citations

One factor that probably gets overlooked by a lot of businesses new to digital marketing is the influence of citations on their site traffic. Citations (mentions of your business online with a listing of your basic company information) can affect your site in two ways.

1. Citations of your business can affect your ranking.
2. Citations from popular 3rd party sites can refer you traffic.

While I understand that it was already warned not to get too focused on your Google ranking, it is important to remain consistent with your basic business information. Having inconsistencies in address, phone number, business hours, etc. will alert Google and affect your rank negatively. This usually occurs when a company has moved to a new location or has rebranded. On the other hand, adding your business info to third party citation sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. will increase your referral traffic (so making sure people are seeing an up-to-date listing is important). Just don’t spend too much time adding your info to every referral site, focus only on the top citations that your customers are going to.

Get Some Quality Referral Links

At the end of the day, perhaps the most influential thing you can do for your online website (whether local or not) is to obtain quality backlinks. This is also probably the most difficult achievement for any site to obtain, and especially difficult for sites that are just starting out. Some advice for local business websites that want to focus on increasing their referring links:

  1. Get signed up with HRAO

    HRAO (short for Help A Reporter Out) is a digital space at HelpAReporter.com for reporters to find or look for stories to cover in their area. Getting connected with these journalists through email and pitching coverage of your business to them is one way to get a link back to your site from a local and credible source.

  2. Sponsor a Local Event in your area

    Finding an organization or cause that you believe in and sponsoring an event for it is another way to get your site featured. You will probably get listed on your community’s informational page and the organization’s page as well.

  3. Find Local Business Directories

    Again with citations, finding local directories that can point visitors in the right direction may not bring you a ton of traffic, but at least it will build your backlinks up.

  4. Give Back to the Community

    Finding a way to give back to your local community through volunteering or creating a community initiative can get backlinks. Even if these sorts of programs are not directly attributed to your business, it shows that you are active in your community and can generate great press and successful marketing both on and offline.

If you make it a priority to stay on top of your website’s maintenance and growth, you will gradually find more success and more leads out of your site.

Woman setting up email marketing and rethinking connection with personalization in emails.

Rethinking Connection with Email Marketing

When it comes to email marketing – relevance is key.

You’re a marketer and your job is to communicate with customers and potential customers about your product or service. But to do this on a mass scale can become tricky. What tends to occur is by not having that face-to-face interaction with end users, you can quickly lose sight of who you are actually communicating with. Sending mass emails starts to feel like blasting general flyers targeted towards (in your mind) faceless people. So the question then becomes how can we, as marketers, rethink connection with those end users? We need to think of those on the receiving end of our emails. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and understand their journey in relationship to us as a company.

“Personalization” Doesn’t Work Anymore

Personalization in email marketing

Let’s talk about these emails, shall we? If you’ve been in the business of email marketing, you know the basic process. You start with a list of contacts’ general information, draft your email, and set its scheduled time of delivery. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So does “personalizing” your email with their first name inserted into the greeting help? Sure… but does it “do the trick”? Does it give a personalized touch? Not by itself. Back in 2007, using personalization tokens to craft your “special offer” was incredibly appealing and distinctive against the mobs of promotional emails sent. This could increase your click through rate by 100% – but people eventually wised-up to advertisement gimmicks and that’s where we as marketers are, once again, today.

If personalization isn’t enough – then what is? Remember, you’re writing for humans and to humans. And this is the first step in rethinking connection for the successful implementation of email marketing.

Marketing Automation to the Rescue

marketing automation software

This is where marketing automation comes into play. Going back to our theme that relevance is key – using a marketing automation platform allows you to get to know where your customers are in their buyer’s journey individually. Using that information like products or pages visited, purchase history, and buying cycle, you are then able to craft a relevant email to them. Marketing automation gives you the ability to really hone in on what your customer actually wants. So rather than saying “Check out our latest additions” you can suggest “based on your interest in ___, we think you’d like ___.” giving it much more of a one-on-one feel rather than a wide-cast spammy message. One size does not fit all in the case of email marketing.

Segmenting Messages for a Better Connection

Split train tracks representing customer segmentation

But to get one thing straight – I’m not against the use of automated emails. I’m against the lazy drafting of them and the sloppy, minimal segmentation of email marketing. Because consumers don’t want to sift through the junk to get to the point. This is how segmented coupons work; I enjoy when Meijer grocery store knows I buy a particular brand of food, or laundry detergent, or toothpaste because then they know to send me discounts for those exact products. Marketing automation is a tool that, when used properly, benefits both the consumer and the business, and saves time for everyone in the process.

This is the way we, as marketers, can rethink connection with the help of new technology. Because when a user receives a well-crafted message from a company based on their actions or interests, they feel listened to. So let’s use our digital tools to become better connected to our customers in the process.

Professional photographer capturing images for marketing materials.

Photography in Marketing: Three Elements to Enhance Your Brand

Pictures speak louder than words. Images can evoke emotion that text can’t. And photography is a visual representation of a story. To most businesses, content equals text, but quality pictures and professional photography is essential if you want to attract more customers. Regardless if some individuals are visual learners or not, it’s been proven that people are drawn to pictures much more than text. This is why having a solid mix of text and photo content is essential for your marketing material.

So how can you judge what would be known as quality photography? How can you incorporate that quality photography into your marketing strategy? Three main elements will help you stay on course with that.

Authenticity

Steel worker loading delivery truck for a photography shot.

Authentic photography can evoke powerful emotion regardless of industry subject matter.

High-end cameras are available to the general public pretty easily these days. Even smartphone cameras now possess the capability to capture high-resolution images. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make whoever is holding the camera an expert in “capturing the moment.” When representing your company, you want truly authentic visual images. Images evoke emotion in viewers, so it’s important that you are displaying photography that will create the feeling you want your viewers to feel in order to attract customers. Hiring professional photographers or art directors to capture those types of images is worth the cost if you want a well designed website or well designed print content.  

Hiring an art director or professional photographer can be very helpful in evolving your brand. It’s pretty easy to tell which businesses use stock photos for their marketing. Although stock photography isn’t a distasteful means of content and certainly should be utilized at times, it does at times give off a “cheesy” feel. Website viewers may be turned off by inorganic and inauthentic photos being used to convey the actual business or product. Professionals will know how to capture the story of your business and use those pictures to develop your brand in a visual way.

Uniqueness

Machinery cutting wood with sawdust flying off.

Photography can capture the uniqueness of your brand with the simplest details.

Expanding on the idea of stock photography as a replacement for your personalized images is that stock photos are available to the rest of the online public as well. After a while, it becomes easier to identify certain stock images because they quickly become overused. The tighter niche your business is in, the more difficult it will be to find stock photos that represent what you offer. You may even find yourself asking “have we used this one before?”.

Having a cache of photography offers your marketing department a much wider array of options for marketing material. Not only that but the collection of photos that you will have will be unique to your business only. They will highlight your performance as a company, and be representative of what you specifically offer your clientele. Your own photography then becomes an extension of your brand.

Quality

High angle imagery of a steel cutting machine in a steel production warehouse.

Professional photographers use lighting and camera placement to capture quality imagery for marketing.

Because online customers are more likely to look at images as opposed to text, it’s important that quality remains central to your photography. Remember, photography is an extension of your brand, so you need to make sure your images are sending out the right messages, and that they are representing your business in the best light possible. This is why good photography is vital to a successful brand.

If you’re thinking about when you will have the opportunity to showcase these images, you must realize that there is endless amounts of possibilities to use and reuse your professional photos. Professional photography is truly an investment for your marketing efforts because the images that come from it can be used in print resources, website pages, and even social media posts. Keeping your content fresh and appealing will help build a stronger following of brand advocates and customer base.

Girl camping showing good use of customer segmentation in the outdoor retail industry.

Customer Segmentation Rules

Do you know your customer well? How do you define them? Is your target customer base women, ages 40-65 or men, ages 21-27? Is your customer a homeowner? A fisherman? A fisherman wealthy enough to own a home? In today’s evolving marketplaces, are demographics like these offering a worthy enough definition of your customer? Depending on your business, I’d argue probably not.

Demographics like those above describe who your customer is, but psychographics defines why they buy. The truth is, you need both to grasp your customer’s persona adequately.

Easier access to options and well, MORE options in general, have given significantly more power to buyers to pick and choose the option that works best for them. And what might work for the “fisherman wealthy enough to own a home” that has been fishing every weekend for ten years, may not work for the “fisherman wealthy enough to own a home” that has just begun to learn how to fish.

In today’s customer-driven markets, you must understand the power of customer segmentation to capitalize on the opportunity you have.

For an example of actual customer segmentations, let’s stick with our analogy of the outdoors-person. But let’s go a bit more broad to define potential customer segmentation within the outdoor retail space and discuss four possible personas.

1. The Native

The Native outdoorsperson doesn’t understand what the word “outdoorsperson” even means. To them, the outdoors is life. Just, life. In fact, the majority portion of their life has been spent in the outdoors. They camp regularly, backpack all the time, climb peaks, start campfires with barely anything, most likely know how to tie a figure 8 into a harness, and they are no stranger to the “squat and squeeze” maneuver (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

The Native comprises about 12% of the US population, but closer to 16% of spending in the outdoor retail space according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

When it comes to buying gear, The Native trusts only the opinion of someone with at least as many hours logged in the backcountry as them. And they won’t even venture outside of the most time-tested brands like Patagonia, Arcteryx, Osprey, Outdoor Research & Smartwool. To speak to a Native, you have to speak LIKE a Native. And good luck trying to fake it.  

2. The Weekender

If The Weekender didn’t have their damn day job, they’d be in the mountains or on the river every day. But sadly, they do. So instead, The Weekender goes hard on weekends. Nevermind the couch or Netflix for relaxation. They live for spending time in nature, even if that means hucking a 35 lb pack for 25 miles through rocky terrain in a thunderstorm. If it’s outside, they’re in.

The Weekender accounts for 10% of the population, according to OIA and 17% of outdoor retail spending.

When it comes to buying gear, The Weekender pays attention to publications like Outside Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, and buys the durable, yet affordable stuff: Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, & REI. To speak to a weekender, give advice. But stay away from the basics. They’re way beyond that.

3. The Urbanite

The Urbanite is purposefully not TOO outdoorsy. But they buy A LOT of outdoor gear for specific activities like CrossFit, or a Malibu day hike. They are intent on training for, and maybe competing in, say, an urban triathlon or running a 5k+. They may just be buying that climbing brand to look legit at the climbing gym, while they’re getting in a good workout.

Still, The Urbanite represents a HUGE Market. 20% of the population and  a whopping 33% of the buying power in the outdoor industry.

So even if your target market is the seasoned climber, you can’t ignore The Urbanite. They look to fitness magazines like Men’s Health & Shape and they appreciate gear that isn’t “too outdoorsy”.  They pay attention to brands like: Under Armour, Nike, FiveTen, & North Face. To speak to The Urbanite, point out function – and don’t ignore fit. After all, The Urbanite’s gotta look good.

4. The Leisurist

The Leisurist is the gardener, the backyard bbq’er, the weekend bike rider, the once-a-week yoga’er. In other words, The Leisurist is immersed in the outdoors, but not in a way that requires peak-level performance – literally like performance for climbing the peaks.

The Leisurist is 20% of the population and 12% of outdoor industry spending – again, according to OIA.

If you can appeal to practicality, you’ll have The Leisurist. They appreciate brands like L.L. Bean, Coleman, Teva, & Deuter. Look for an emphasis on comfort and forget everything technical you know about anything. They don’t care that much.

Why Customer Segmentation is Key

We talk so much about our “target customer” and try to fit them neatly into a single persona. By doing so, however, we’re ignoring potential customers and leaving products and services on the proverbial shelf. Break your entire customer base down not only by demographics but by psychographics as well. It may even help to create profiles similar to those I outlined above for the outdoor retail industry.

No matter what market you’re a part of, you’re a part of a buyer-driven market, and they have the power. Be sure to understand who your customer segments are, and define each one – not only with your marketing efforts but with your product/service offerings.

Knowing more about your customers’ interests and hobbies will help you know what prize to choose for your next contest, what content to write, and what images to use in your next ad. Before you know it, you’ll have embraced a whole new customer base you didn’t even realize existed.