Search engine ranking algorithms continue to change, but 3 top local SEO ranking factors continue to be the most impactful way to boost your rankings in search results as we roll into 2018. These key factors are content, backlinks, and engagement. And they all go hand in hand. You can’t be successful with one, without the others. Think about it:
First, you need content to optimize. Then once you have your content, you can build links. And once you have links, you can engage with your audience to get views, shares, likes, and comments on your content.
In this post, we’ll look at how you can leverage these 3 top local SEO ranking factors to have the biggest impact on your business’s visibility and bottom line.
Top Local SEO Ranking Factor #1: Content
Content refers to the text, video, audio, images, and graphics that your company creates online. This includes content on your website and across off-page sources like directories or guest blog posts. Really, it’s any content in any format that your company creates and publishes online.
Content Best Practices
To help you make the most of your content, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
- Always put Humans First: Create content for humans, not for bots. Remember that bots don’t have credit cards, they won’t be making any purchases. Put customers first, always.
- Content Topics: Focus on content topics before you get into the nitty gritty keywords. Not only are search engines much smarter than they were in early SEO days (thanks to updates like Google’s RankBrain), but topics are more intuitive to us humans. Using topics helps you create collections of valuable content, instead of just one-off pieces that aren’t as helpful to your audience.
- Don’t be a Spammer: Avoid any spammy tactics. Google (and its search engine friends) have come a long way. Black hat tactics like keyword stuffing will only harm you. Make sure you avoid them, all together.
- Duplicate Content: Watch for duplicate content on your website, and remove it when you see it. Search engines can easily spot recycled content. It can cause confusion, and it doesn’t work in your favor. You can perform a manual review of your site, or there are several duplicate content checker tools available that can be really useful for large websites.
- Blog Categories & Tags: Use topic & keyword appropriate categories & tags for your blog. They provide yet another explanation to the search engines what your content is about, and what search terms your content may be most appropriate to rank for.
- H1 Tags: A Header 1 (or H1) tag is usually the title of the page. You only want one H1 tag per page. You can use supporting tags like H2, H3, H4, etc. for other sub-headings throughout your pages or blog posts.
- Keyword Optimization: Be sure to optimize your title, tags, and copy for topics and keywords. When possible, use the target keyword (or phrase) near the beginning of the title, and within the first 100 words of your page.
Make Your Content Stand Out
Once you have the basics covered, you should consider trying some different ways to go above & beyond with your content. The more helpful, unique, and enjoyable the content, the better.
- Diversify Your Content Mix: Consider what type of content (text, audio, video, graphics, etc.) is most helpful to your audience, and provide some variety. Use a mix of content formats and find out what your audience finds most helpful by tracking clicks, views, shares, likes, and comments.
- Content Purpose: Aim to entertain or educate with your content. Make the content worth your audience’s time.
- Request Feedback: Ask your audience for feedback. Learn more about what they find helpful, and what content holes your business can help fill that currently are missing online.
- Influencer Outreach: Consider networking with others in related fields to your business, to find other companies or individuals with complimentary reach or influence. You can partner with these influencers to expand your company’s reach and engagement levels on social channels and in your local community.
Top Local SEO Ranking Factor #2: Backlinks
Links connect one online destination to another. Internal links link from one page on your website to another page on your same domain. While external links connect one domain to another. Search engines, like Google, view links as a kind of “vote”. Where a web page that has many links pointing to it, can indicate the page is extremely valuable or desirable to searchers.
Backlink Best Practices
Here are some best practices to help you make the most of backlinks for your website.
- Internal & External Links: Add internal links throughout your website to help search engine crawlers navigate your site and understand which pages are most important. Also, focus on increasing the number of links to and from your website’s domain. Some examples of link building methods are included in the next section.
- Anchor Text: Use anchor text for your links, instead of writing out the URL. Make sure the words or phrases you highlight as the anchor text are intuitive and not always the same. Keep in mind what’s most helpful to your audience.
- Metadata: Use meta descriptions and titles to make your website more enticing when it shows up in search results. Unless you create optimized titles and page descriptions, search engines will generate their own. Sometimes they do a fairly good job, but other times they miss the mark. So be sure to take control over the information that’s displayed in search results by feeding this information to the search engines.
- URL Structure: Maintain a clean and consistent URL structure across your website. This will help search engines better understand your website structure, and also provide a better experience to your website visitors.
Link Building Pointers
As you work on building links to and from your website, keep in mind that not all links are created equal:
- “Follow” vs. “No-follow”: Remember that search engines don’t count all links. Rather, “follow” links are recognized and monitored by search engines. But “no-follow” links aren’t tracked.
- Example “No-follow” Links: Social media, comments on blogs or news sources, and open forums (like Quora, YouTube, Reddit, etc.).
- Quality Matters: For any “follow” links pointing to or from your website, quality matters. The search engines don’t like to see spammy, low quality, unrelated domains associate with your website. Rather, they want to see links that relate to your business from other reputable sources. So the key takeaway here is that you shouldn’t go wild on trying to get a bunch of links from just anywhere, that is bound to do more harm than good.
- Sources & Methods to get “Follow” links: Links pointing to your site that search engines view favorably may include mentions by the press or news, reputable blogs (via guest blog post or a mention), or cited source on another domain. Also keep in mind that once you have links in place, you don’t want them to break. Monitor your links, and fix or claim broken links when you spot them.
Directory listings are online platforms that provide search-and-discovery service to their users. Being present in directories helps your visibility in search results. But arguably even more important, citations (another common name for these business listings) can help bring business in your door. Maintaining accurate, consistent, and complete citations is especially important for local businesses. Here are some helpful tips for managing your listings:
- Local & Industry Listings: Get your business listed in local and industry-specific directory listings. This is viewed favorably by search engines, since it gives further verification of your business’s location or industry. To help you get started with finding some industry-specific directory listings that are right for your business, check out our list of over 300 citation examples.
- Leading Listings: Get your business listed in “leading listings” like Google My Business (which is far more than just a listing tool, but more on this another time), Yelp, YellowPages, Bing, and Yahoo.
- Matching NAP: Closely monitor your business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) across the web. You want to make sure it’s always the same. If there are discrepancies (especially mismatched phone numbers or street addresses), you may significantly hurt your search rankings.
Top Local SEO Ranking Factor #3: Engagement
Engagement is the interactions your business has with your audience online. It includes activity on your website, as well as other domains like third party review sites and social media networks.
First, let’s consider what kind of website experience signals your site is giving off to the search engines:
- Mobile Friendliness: Make sure your website is mobile friendly because more than half of all searches are done on a mobile device. If you’re not sure whether Google considers your site “mobile friendly”, find a step-by-step guide in our mobile first impression eBook.
- Bounce Rate: Bounce rate tells you what percentage of visitors are leaving your website after viewing just one page. This metric is especially important if you want to guide visitors to other pages like an appointment scheduling tool, shopping cart, etc. Generally speaking, you want your bounce rate to be as low as possible.
- Pages per Session: This metric tells you how many pages a visitor viewed when they arrived on your website. Higher pages per session indicate to the search engines that your audience can find an abundance of valuable information on your site. This is a positive engagement signal that can help give your rankings an extra boost.
- Web Design: Web design includes the layout of your website, the amount of text & images on each page, and the ease of use to find specific information visitors want to find. If visitors can’t quickly find what they’re looking for, they’ll likely jump right back to the search results which doesn’t help your engagement metrics.
Engagement Activity Signals
Beyond your website, there are other engagement activity signals that can impact your search engine results rankings.
- Website Traffic: More traffic to your site is a positive ranking signal. It hints to the search engines that searchers find value in your site. As a result, you may be ranked higher in other similar searches.
- Click-through Rate: The more searchers that click on your website in the search results, the better. Remember to update those metadata fields (title /H1 and meta description), like we covered in the backlinks section above. You want your links to be as enticing as possible so they’re clicked more often.
- Customer Interaction: Ask your customers for reviews, encourage comments & shares, respond to comments, address concerns & complaints. Simply show your audience and the search engines that your business is customer-focused and present.
- Content Freshness: Search engines like to see fresh content. Try to create new, unique, helpful content on a regular basis (for example, a monthly blog post). Or if a more frequent posting schedule is possible, that’s even better so long as you can maintain the quality & consistency.
- Social Media: Be present & engaged on social channels. While social media doesn’t directly boost your search rankings (since social links are “no follow” links), it can help you build brand awareness and drive more traffic to your site. So indirectly, social media can have a big impact on your SEO efforts when you consider the engagement metrics that search engines monitor.
Getting your business ranked as high as possible in search engine results is impacted by a lot of factors that constantly change. For example, many SEO predictions for 2018 say voice and mobile search will continue to be on the rise. And that the search engines will continue to personalize search results, and reward sites with lightning fast load times.
But even with these constant changes like the type of content that’s searched for, or the best ways to engage with your audience – content, backlinks, and engagement continue to be at the root of any successful SEO strategy. So to make the most of your SEO efforts for your small business in 2018, stay focused on these 3 top local SEO ranking factors and how they evolve over time.
Infographic: SEO 101 – 3 top local SEO ranking factors to boost your small business’s online visibility & bottom line in 2018