PostHeaderIcon The Step-By-Step Guide to Testing Voice Search Via PPC



Posted by purna_v

I was conned into my love of cooking by my husband.

Never having set foot in the kitchen until the grand old age of 22, my husband (then boyfriend) — a former chef — said he’d teach me some simple recipes. I somewhat enjoyed the process but very much enjoyed the lavish praise he’d bestow upon me when eating whatever I whipped up.

Highly encouraged that I seemingly had an innate culinary genius, I looked to grow my repertoire of recipes. As a novice, I found recipe books inspiring but confusing. For example, a recipe that called for cooked chicken made me wonder how on Earth I was meant to cook the chicken to get cooked chicken.

Luckily, I discovered the life-changing power of fully illustrated, step-by-step recipes.

Empowered by the clear direction they provided, I conquered cuisine after cuisine and have since turned into a confident cook. It took me only a few months to realize all that praise was simply a ruse to have me do most of the cooking. But by then I was hooked.

When it comes to voice search, I’ve talked and written a lot about the subject over the past year. Each time, the question I get asked is “What’s the best way to start?”

Today I’ll share with you an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to empower you to create your own voice search test. It’s sure to become one of your favorite recipes in coming months as conversational interfaces continue their rapid adoption rate.

Testing voice search? But it’s not monetized.

That’s correct. It’s not monetized as of yet. However, the usage rates have been growing exponentially. Already search engines are reporting that:

  • One out of ten searches are voice (per Baidu)
  • Twenty percent of all mobile Android searches are voice (Google)
  • Usage spans all age ranges, as we discovered at Cortana (which is owned by Microsoft, my employer):

1_Cortana.png

With Cortana being integrated into Windows 10, what we’re seeing is that age range demographics are now comparable to what eMarketer is reporting for overall smartphone usage. What this means: Using digital assistants is becoming more and more common. It’s no longer an edge case.

More importantly, voice searches done on the search engines can often have PPC ads in the resultant SERPs — as you’ll see in my examples below.

Why a PPC test?

It’s easier to get started by testing voice search via PPC since you can get more detailed reporting across multiple levels.

I would recommend taking a teeny-tiny budget — even $50 is often good enough — and putting it toward a voice search test. (Don’t fret, SEOs, I do have some tips in here for you as well.)

Before we start…

Here’s a quick reminder of how voice searches differ from text searches:

  1. Voice has longer queries
  2. Natural language means more question phrases
  3. Natural language reveals intent clearly
  4. Voice search has high local value
  5. And greatly impacts third-party listings

You can read about it in more detail in my previous Moz article on the subject.


Let’s get cooking!

Step 1: See what, if any, voice activity exists for you currently

Goal: Find out what voice-related activity exists by identifying Assumed Voice Queries.

Estimated time needed: 30 min

Tools needed: Search Query Reports (SQRs) and Excel

A good place to start is by identifying how your audience is currently using voice to interact with you. In order to do this, we’ll need to look for what we can term “assumed voice queries.”

Sidebar: What are Assumed Voice Queries?

Since the search engines do not currently provide separate detailed reporting on voice queries, we can instead use the core characteristics of these queries to identify them. The subtle difference between keyboard search and voice search is “whom” people think they are interacting with.

In the case of keyboard search, the search box clearly ties to a machine. Searchers input logical keywords they think will give them the best search results. They generally leave out filler words, such as “the,” “of,” “a,” and “and.” They also tend not to use question words; for example, “bicycle store,” rather than “what is a bicycle store?”

But when a searcher uses voice search, he is not using a keyboard. It’s more like he’s talking to an actual human. You wouldn’t say to a person “bicycle store.” You might say: “Hey Cortana, what is the best place to buy a bicycle near me?”

The key difference between text and voice search is that voice queries will be full thoughts, structured the way people speak, i.e. long-tailed queries in natural language. Voice searches tend to be approximately 4.2 words or longer on average, according to research from both Google and Microsoft Cortana.

Thus, assumed voice queries would be keywords that fit in with these types of queries: longer and looking like natural language.

Caveat: This isn’t going to be 100% accurate, of course, but it’s a good place to start for now.

Even just eight months ago, things were fairly black and white. Some clients would have assumed voice queries while others didn’t. Lately, however, I’m seeing that most clients I look at have some element of assumed voice queries, indicative of how the market is growing.

Okay, back to step 1

a.) Start by downloading your search term report from within your Bing Ads or Google AdWords account. This is also commonly referred to as the search query report. You want to run this for at least the past 30 or 60 days (depending on volume). If you don’t have a PPC account, you can pull your search term report from Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools.

2_SQR.png

b.) Open it up in Excel, so we can get sorting.

3_Excel sheet.png

c.) Sort the columns to just the essentials. I usually keep only the search term, as well as the impression columns. For larger accounts, you may prefer to leave on the campaign and ad group name columns as well.

4_SortColumns.png

d.) Sort by query length to isolate the search queries that are 5+ keywords in length — I’m going with 5 here simply to increase the odds that these would be assumed voice queries. A simple Excel formula — taught to me by my colleague John Gagnon—- can help count the number of words:

5_Formula.png

Replace A1 with the actual cell number of your search term, and then drag that formula down the sheet. Here it becomes C2 instead of A1:

6_formulainaction.png

e.) Calculate and sort, first by query length and then by impressions to find the assumed voice search queries with the most impressions. The result? You’ll get your final list — success!

7_finallist.png


Step 2: Extrapolate, theme, sort

Goal: Find additional keywords that could be missing and organize the list based on intent.

Estimated time needed: 45 min

Tools needed: Keyword tools of choice and Excel

Now that you can see the assumed voice queries, you’ll have handy insights into your customer’s motivation. You know what your audience is searching for, and also important, what they are not searching for.

Next, we need to build upon this list of keywords to find high-value potential queries we should add to our list. There are several helpful tools for this, such as Keyword Explorer and Answer the Public.

a.) Go to the keyword research tool of your choice. In this example, I’ve used SEMRush. Notice how they provide data on organic and paid search for our subject area of “buy (a) bicycle.”

8_SEMRUSH.png

b.) Next, let’s see what exists in question form. For any given subject area, the customer could have myriad questions along the spectrum of motivation. This output comes from a query on Answer the Public for “buy a bicycle,” showing the what, when, where, why, and how questions that actually express motivational intent:

9_answer the publix.png

c.) These questions can now be sorted by degree of intent.

  • Is the searcher asking a fact-based question, looking for background information?
  • Are they farther along the process, looking at varieties of the product?
  • Are they approaching making a purchase decision, doing comparison shopping?
  • Are they ready to buy?

Knowing the stage of the process the customer is in can help tailor relevant suggestions, since we can identify core themes and sort by intent. My brilliant colleague Julie Dilleman likes to prepare a chart such as this one, to more effectively visualize the groupings:

10_Intentsort.png

d.) Use a research tool such as Bing Ads Intelligence or your demographic reports in Google Analytics to answer core questions related to these keywords, such as:

  • What’s the searcher age and gender breakdown for these queries?
  • Which device is dominating?
  • Which locations are most popular?

These insights are eminently actionable in terms of bid modifications, as well as in guiding us to create effective ad copy.


Step 3: Start optimizing campaigns

Goal: Review competitive landscape and plan campaign optimizations.

Estimated time needed: 75 min

Tools needed: PPC account, NAP listings, Schema markup

To get the lay of the land, we need to look at what shows up for these searches in the voice platforms with visual interfaces — i.e., the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and Digital Personal Assistants — to see what type of results show up. Does the search provide map listings and reviews? Where are they pulling the data from? Are ads showing?

a.) Run searches across multiple platforms. In my example, I am using Siri, Google app and Cortana on my desktop.

Near me-type searches:

12_NearME.png

These all had map listings in common — Apple maps, Google maps, and Bing maps, respectively.

Research-type queries:

13_Research.png

Siri got it wrong and led me to a store, while both Google and Bing Ads provided me with SERPs to answer my question.

Quick answer-type queries:

While Siri pulled up multiple results from a Bing search, both Google and Cortana found what they considered to be the most helpful answer and read them aloud to me while also providing the option for looking at additional results.

14_quickanswer.png

b.) Optimize your NAPs. Make sure you have listings that have an accurate name, address, phone number, and open hours on the top business listings such as Apple Maps, Google My Business, and Bing Places for Business.

15_NAP.png

c.) Ensure you have proper Schema markup on your site. The more information you can provide to the search engines, the more effectively they can rank and display your site. Be sure to add in:

  • Contact info
  • Reviews
  • Articles/Events/Content

d.) Optimize your PPC campaigns.

  1. Choose a small handful of voice search queries from your list across different intents.
  2. Add to new ad groups under existing campaigns. This helps you to take advantage of historical quality score benefits.
  3. Adjust bid modifiers based on your research on age, gender, and device.
  4. Adjust bids based on intent. For example, the following keywords demonstrate completely different levels of purchase intent:
    • Do I need a hybrid or mountain bike? – More research-based.
    • Who invented the bicycle? – Zero purchase intent. Add this as a negative keyword.
    • When does bike store XYZ open today? – High likelihood to purchase. Bid up.

Step 4: Be the best answer

Goal: Serve the right message at the right time in the right place.

Estimated time needed: 60 min

Tools needed: Creativity and Excel

Make sure you have the relevant ad for the query. Relevance is critical — the results must be useful or they won’t be used.

Do you have the right extensions to tailor toward the motivational intent noted above and the consumer’s ultimate goal? Make it easy for customers to get what they want without confusion.

Voice searches cover a variety of different intents, so it’s important to ensure the ad in your test will align well with the intent of the query. Let’s consider this example:

If the search query is “what’s the best waterproof digital camera under $500?” then your ad should only talk about digital cameras that are waterproof and around the $500 range. Doing this helps make it more seamless for the customer since the selections steps along the way are much reduced.

A few additional tips and ideas:

a.) Voice searches seem to frequently trigger product listing ads (PLAs) from the search engines, which makes sense since the images make them easier to sort through:

16a_Goog.png16b_Bing.png

If you can but haven’t already done so, look at setting up Shopping Campaigns within your PPC accounts, even just for your top-selling products.

b.) For results when the SERPs come up, be sure to use ad extensions to provide additional information to your target audience. Consider location, contact, conversion, and app information that is relevant. They make it easy for customers to find the info they need.

17_extensions.png

c.) Check citations and reviews to ensure you’re showing up at your best. If reviews are unfavorable, consider implementing reputation management efforts.

18_citations.png

d.) Work to earn more featured snippets, since the search engines often will read them out as the top answer. Dr. Pete has some excellent tips in this Moz article.

e.) Your helpful content will come to excellent use with voice search — share it as a PPC ad for the higher-funnel assumed voice queries to help your test.

19_SEOContent.png

f.) Video has been getting much attention — and rightly so! Given the increased engagement it can provide, as well as its ability to stand out in the SERPs, consider offering video content (as extensions or regular content) for relevant assumed voice queries.

20a_Goog.png20b_Bing.png


Step 5: Analyze. Rinse. Repeat.

Goal: Review performance and determine next steps.

Estimated time needed: 60 min

Tools needed: Analytics and Excel

Here’s where the power of PPC can shine. We can review reporting across multiple dimensions to gauge how the test is performing.

Quick note: It may take several weeks to gather enough data to run meaningful reports. Remember that voice search volume is small, though significant.

a.) First, determine the right KPIs. For example,

  • Lower-funnel content will, of course, have the most conversion-specific goals that we’re used to.
  • Research-type queries will need to be measured by micro-conversions and different KPIs such as form fills, video views, and leads generated.

b.) Pull the right reports. Helpful reports include:

  • The keyword performance report will show you the impressions, clicks, CTR, quality score, conversions, and much more about each individual keyword within your campaigns. Use the keyword report to find out which keywords are triggering your ads, generating clicks, and leading to conversions. You can also identify keywords that are not performing well to determine whether you want to delete them.
  • Ad performance reports show you the impressions, clicks, spend, and conversions for each ad. Use this report to help you determine which ads are leading to the most clicks and conversions, and which are not performing. Remember, having underperforming ads in your campaigns can pull down the quality of your campaign.
  • Filter by device and by demographics. This combination telling us what devices are dominating and who is converting can help us to adjust bids and create more effective ad copy.
  • Create a campaign report looking at your PLA performance. Do tweaks or major overhauls to close gaps versus your expectations.

c.) Determine where you can personalize further. AgilOne research indicates that “more than 70% of consumers expect a personalized experience with the brands they interact with.”

21_personalized.png

Carefully pairing the the most ad messaging with each assumed voice query is incredibly important here.


Let’s recap

Step 1. See what, if any, voice activity exists for you currently.

Step 2. Extrapolate. Theme. Sort.

Step 3. Start optimizing campaigns.

Step 4: Be the best answer.

Step 5. Analyze. Rinse. Repeat.

Pretty do-able, right?

It’s relatively simple and definitely affordable. Spend four or five hours completing your own voice search test. It can open up worlds of opportunity for your business. It’s best to start testing now while there’s no fire under us and we can test things out in a low-risk environment — an ideal way to get a leg-up over the competition. Bon appétit!

Have you tried some other tests to address voice search queries? Please do share in the comments below.

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PostHeaderIcon SEO Rankings Drop: A Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery



Posted by KristinaKledzik

A few weeks ago, rankings for pages on a key section of my site dropped an average of a full position in one day. I’ve been an SEO for 7 years now, but I still ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, panicked that I wouldn’t be able to figure out my mistake. There are so many things that could’ve gone wrong: Did I or my team unintentionally mess with internal link equity? Did we lose links? Did one of Google’s now-constant algorithm updates screw me over?

Since the drop happened to a group of pages, I made the assumption it had to do with our site or page structure (it didn’t). I wasted a good day focused on technical SEO. Once I realized my error, I decided to put together a guide to make sure that next time, I’ll do my research effectively. And you, my friends, will reap the rewards.

First, make sure there’s actually a rankings change

Okay, I have to start with this: before you go down this rabbit hole of rankings changes, make sure there was actually a rankings change. Your rankings tracker may not have localized properly, or have picked up on one of Google’s rankings experiments or personalization.

Find out:

  • Has organic traffic dropped to the affected page(s)?
    • We’re starting here because this is the most reliable data you have about your site. Google Search Console and rankings trackers are trying to look at what Google’s doing; your web analytics tool is just tracking user counts.
    • Compare organic traffic to the affected page(s) week-over-week both before and after the drop, making sure to compare similar days of the week.
    • Is the drop more significant than most week-over-week changes?
    • Is the drop over a holiday weekend? Is there any reason search volume could’ve dropped?
  • Does Google Search Console show a similar rankings drop?
    • Use the Search Analytics section to see clicks, impressions, and average position for a given keyword, page, or combo.
    • Does GSC show a similar rankings drop to what you saw in your rankings tracker? (Make sure to run the report with the selected keyword(s).)
  • Does your rankings tracker show a sustained rankings drop?
    • I recommend tracking rankings daily for your important keywords, so you’ll know if the rankings drop is sustained within a few days.
    • If you’re looking for a tool recommendation, I’m loving Stat.

If you’ve just seen a drop in your rankings tool and your traffic and GSC clicks are still up, keep an eye on things and try not to panic. I’ve seen too many natural fluctuations to go to my boss as soon as I see an issue.

But if you’re seeing that there’s a rankings change, start going through this guide.

Figure out what went wrong

1. Did Google update their algorithm?

Google rolls out a new algorithm update at least every day, most silently. Good news is, there are leagues of SEOs dedicated to documenting those changes.

  • Are there any SEO articles or blogs talking about a change around the date you saw the change? Check out:
  • Do you have any SEO friends who have seen a change? Pro tip: Make friends with SEOs who run sites similar to yours, or in your industry. I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been to talk frankly about tests I’d like to run with SEOs who’ve run similar tests.

If this is your issue…

The bad news here is that if Google’s updated their algorithm, you’re going to have to change your approach to SEO in one way or another.

Make sure you understand:

Your next move is to put together a strategy to either pull yourself out of this penalty, or at the very least to protect your site from the next one.

2. Did your site lose links?

Pull the lost links report from Ahrefs or Majestic. They’re the most reputable link counters out there, and their indexes are updated daily.

  • Has there been a noticeable site-wide link drop?
  • Has there been a noticeable link drop to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
  • Has there been a noticeable link drop to pages on your site that link to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
    • Run Screaming Frog on your site to find which pages link internally to the affected pages. Check internal link counts for pages one link away from affected pages.
  • Has there been a noticeable link drop to inbound links to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
    • Use Ahrefs or Majestic to find the sites that link to your affected pages.
      • Have any of them suffered recent link drops?
      • Have they recently updated their site? Did that change their URLs, navigation structure, or on-page content?

If this is your issue…

The key here is to figure out who you lost links from and why, so you can try to regain or replace them.

  • Can you get the links back?
    • Do you have a relationship with the site owner who provided the links? Reaching out may help.
    • Were the links removed during a site update? Maybe it was accidental. Reach out and see if you can convince them to replace them.
    • Were the links removed and replaced with links to a different source? Investigate the new source — how can you make your links more appealing than theirs? Update your content and reach out to the linking site owner.
  • Can you convince your internal team to invest in new links to quickly replace the old ones?
    • Show your manager(s) how much a drop in link count affected your rankings and ask for the resources it’ll take to replace them.
    • This will be tricky if you were the one to build the now-lost links in the first place, so if you did, make sure you’ve put together a strategy to build longer-term ones next time.

3. Did you change the affected page(s)?

If you or your team changed the affected pages recently, Google may not think that they’re as relevant to the target keyword as they used to be.

  • Did you change the URL?
    • DO NOT CHANGE URLS. URLs act as unique identifiers for Google; a new URL means a new page, even if the content is the same.
  • Has the target keyword been removed from the page title, H1, or H2s?
  • Is the keyword density for the target keyword lower than it used to be?
  • Can Google read all of the content on the page?
    • Look at Google’s cache by searching for cache:www.yourdomain.com/your-page to see what Google sees.
  • Can Google access your site? Check Google Search Console for server and crawl reports.

If this is your issue…

Good news! You can probably revert your site and regain the traffic you’ve lost.

  • If you changed the URL, see if you can change it back. If not, make sure the old URL is 301 redirecting to the new URL.
  • If you changed the text on the page, try reverting it back to the old text. Wait until your rankings are back up, then try changing the text again, this time keeping keyword density in mind.
  • If Google can’t read all of the content on your page, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Communicate that to your dev team. (I’ve found dev teams often undervalue the impact of SEO, but “Googlebot can’t read the page” is a pretty understandable, impactful problem.)

4. Did you change internal links to the affected page(s)?

If you or your team added or removed internal links, that could change the way link equity flows through your site, changing Google’s perceived value of the pages on your site.

  • Did you or your team recently update site navigation anywhere? Some common locations to check:
    • Top navigation
    • Side navigation
    • Footer navigation
    • Suggested products
    • Suggested blog posts
  • Did you or your team recently update key pages on your site that link to target pages? Some pages to check:
    • Homepage
    • Top category pages
    • Linkbait blog posts or articles
  • Did you or your team recently update anchor text on links to target pages? Does it still include the target keyword?

If this is your issue…

Figure out how many internal links have been removed from pointing to your affected pages. If you have access to the old version of your site, run Screaming Frog (or a similar crawler) on the new and old versions of your site so you can compare inbound link counts (referred to as inlinks in SF). If you don’t have access to the old version of your site, take a couple of hours to compare navigation changes and mark down wherever the new layout may have hurt the affected pages.

How you fix the problem depends on how much impact you have on the site structure. It’s best to fix the issue in the navigational structure of the site, but many of us SEOs are overruled by the UX team when it comes to primary navigation. If that’s the case for you, think about systematic ways to add links where you can control the content. Some common options:

  • In the product description
  • In blog posts
  • In the footer (since UX will generally admit, few people use the footer)

Keep in mind that removing links and adding them back later, or from different places on the site, may not have the same effect as the original internal links. You’ll want to keep an eye on your rankings, and add more internal links than the affected pages lost, to make sure you regain your Google rankings.

5. Google’s user feedback says you should rank differently.

Google is using machine learning to determine rankings. That means they’re at least in part measuring the value of your pages based on their click-through rate from SERPs and how long visitors stay on your page before returning to Google.

  • Did you recently add a popup that is increasing bounce rate?
  • Is the page taking longer to load?
    • Check server response time. People are likely to give up if nothing happens for a few seconds.
    • Check full page load. Have you added something that takes forever to load and is causing visitors to give up quickly?
  • Have you changed your page titles? Is that lowering CTR? (I optimized page titles in late November, and that one change moved the average rank of 500 pages up from 12 to 9. One would assume things can go in reverse.)

If this is your issue…

  • If the issue is a new popup, do your best to convince your marketing team to test a different type of popup. Some options:
    • Scroll popups
    • Timed popups
    • Exit popups
    • Stable banners at the top or bottom of the page (with a big CLICK ME button!)
  • If your page is taking longer to load, you’ll need the dev team. Put together the lost value from fewer SEO conversions now that you’ve lost some rankings and you’ll have a pretty strong case for dev time.
  • If you’ve changed your page titles, change them back, quick! Mark this test as a dud, and make sure you learn from it before you run your next test.

6. Your competition made a change.

You may have changed rank not because you did anything, but because your competition got stronger or weaker. Use your ranking tool to identify competitors that gained or lost the most from your rankings change. Use a tool like Versionista (paid, but worth it) or Wayback Machine (free, but spotty data) to find changes in your competitors’ sites.

  • Which competitors gained or lost the most as your site’s rankings changed?
  • Has that competition gained or lost inbound links? (Refer to #2 for detailed questions)
  • Has that competition changed their competing page? (Refer to #3 for detailed questions)
  • Has that competition changed their internal link structure? (Refer to #4 for detailed questions)
  • Has that competition started getting better click-through rates or dwell time to their pages from SERPs? (Refer to #5 for detailed questions)

If this is your issue…

You’re probably fuming, and your managers are probably fuming at you. But there’s a benefit to this: you can learn about what works from your competitors. They did the research and tested a change, and it paid off for them. Now you know the value! Imitate your competitor, but try to do it better than them this time — otherwise you’ll always be playing catch up.

Now you know what to do

You may still be panicking, but hopefully this post can guide you to some constructive solutions. I find that the best response to a drop in rankings is a good explanation and a plan.

And, to the Moz community of other brilliant SEOs: comment below if you see something I’ve missed!

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PostHeaderIcon Local SEO & Beyond: Ranking Your Local Business in 2017



Posted by Casey_Meraz

In 2016, I predicted that ranking in the 3-pack was hard and it would continually get more competitive. I maintain that prediction for 2017, but I want to make one thing clear. If you haven’t done so, I believe local businesses should start to look outside of a local-SEO-3-Pack-ONLY focused strategy.

While local SEO still presents a tremendous opportunity to grow your business, I’m going to look at some supplementary organic strategies you can take into your local marketing campaign, as well.

In this post I’m going to address:

  • How local search has changed since last year
  • Why & how your overall focus may need to change in 2017
  • Actionable advice on how to rank better to get more local traffic & more business

In local search success, one thing is clear

The days of getting in the 3-pack and having a one-trick pony strategy are over. Every business wants to get the free traffic from Google’s local results, but the chances are getting harder everyday. Not only are you fighting against all of your competitors trying to get the same rankings, but now you’re also fighting against even more ads.

If you thought it was hard to get top placement today in the local pack, just consider that you’re also fighting against 4+ ads before customers even have the possibility of seeing your business.

Today’s SERPs are ad-rich with 4 paid ads at the top, and now it’s not uncommon to find paid listings prioritized in local results. Just take a look at this example that Gyi Tsakalakis shared with me, showing one ad in the local pack on mobile ranking above the 3-pack results. Keep in mind, there are four other ads above this.

If you were on desktop and you clicked on one of the 3-pack results, you’re taken to the local finder. In the desktop search example below, once you make it to the local finder you’ll see two paid local results above the other businesses.

Notice how only the companies participating in paid ads have stars. Do you think that gives them an advantage? I do.


Don’t worry though, I’m not jaded by ads

After all of that gloomy ad SERP talk, you’re probably getting a little depressed. Don’t. With every change there comes new opportunity, and we’ve seen many of our clients excel in search by focusing on multiple strategies that work for their business.

Focusing on the local pack should still be a strong priority for you, even if you don’t have a pay-to-play budget for ads. Getting listed in the local finder can still result in easy wins — especially if you have the most reviews, as Google has very handy sorting options.

If you have the highest rating score, you can easily get clicks when users decide to sort the results they see by the business rating. Below is an example of how users can easily sort by ratings.

But what else can you do to compete effectively in your local market?


Consider altering your local strategy

Most businesses I speak with seem to have tunnel vision. They think it’s more important to rank in the local pack and, in some cases, even prioritize this over the real goal: more customers.

Every day, I talk to new businesses and marketers that seem to have a single area of focus. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to do one thing really well, the ones that are most successful are managing a variety of campaigns tied to their business goals.

Instead of taking a single approach of focusing on just free local clicks, expand your horizon a bit and ask yourself this question: Where are my customers looking and how can I get in front of them?

Sometimes taking a step back and looking at things from the 30,000-ft view is beneficial.


You can start by asking yourself these questions by examining the SERPs:

1. What websites, OTHER THAN MY OWN, have the most visibility for the topics and keywords I’m interested in?

You can bet people are clicking on results other than your own website underneath the local results. Are they websites you can show up on? How do you increase that visibility?

I think STAT has a great tracking tool for this. You simply set up the keywords you want to track and their Share of Voice feature shows who’s ranking where and what percentage of visibility they have in your specific market.

In the example below, you can see the current leaders in a space I’m tracking. Notice how Findlaw & Yelp show up there. With a little further research I can find out if they have number 1–2 rankings (which they do) and determine whether I should put in place a strategy to rank there. This is called barnacle SEO.

2. Are my customers using voice search?

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it strange to talk to my computer. That being said, I have no reservations about talking to my phone — even when I’m in places I shouldn’t. Stone Temple recently published a great study on voice command search, which you can check out here.

Some of the cool takeaways from that study were where people search from. It seems people are more likely to search from the privacy of their own home, but most mobile devices out there today have voice search integrated. I wonder how many people are doing this from their cars?
This goes to show that local queries are not just about the 3-pack. While many people may ask their device “What’s the nearest pizza place,” other’s may ask a variety of questions like:

Where is the highest-rated pizza place nearby?
Who makes the best pizza in Denver?
What’s the closest pizza place near me?

Don’t ignore voice search when thinking about your localized organic strategy. Voice is mobile and voice can sure be local. What localized searches would someone be interested in when looking for my business? What questions might they be asking that would drive them to my local business?

3. Is my website optimized for “near me” searches?

“Near me” searches have been on the rise over the past five years and I don’t expect that to stop. Sometimes customers are just looking for something close by. Google Trends data shows how this has changed in the past five years:
Are you optimizing for a “near me” strategy for your business? Recently the guys over at Local SEO Guide did a study of “near me” local SEO ranking factors. Optimizing for “near me” searches is important and it falls right in line with some of the tactical advice we have for increasing your Google My Business rankings as well. More on that later.

4. Should my business stay away from ads?

Let’s start by looking at a some facts. Google makes money off of their paid ads. According to an article from Adweek, “During the second quarter of 2016, Alphabet’s revenue hit $21.5 billion, a 21% year-over-year increase. Of that revenue, $19.1 billion came from Google’s advertising business, up from $16 billion a year ago.”

This roughly translates to: “Ads aren’t going anywhere and Google is going to do whatever they can to put them in your face.” If you didn’t see the Home Service ad test with all ads that Mike Blumenthal pointed out, you can check it out below. Google is trying to find more creative ways to monetize local search.
Incase you haven’t heard it before, having both organic and paid listings ranking highly increases your overall click-through rate.

Although the last study I found was from Google in 2012, we’ve found that our clients have the most success when they rank strong organically, locally, and have paid placements. All of these things tie together. If potential customers are already searching for your business, you’ll see great results by being involved in all of these areas.

While I’m not a fan of only taking a pay-to-play approach, you need to at least start considering it and testing it for your niche to see if it works for you. Combine it with your overall local and organic strategy.

5. Are we ignoring the featured snippets?

Searches with local intent can still trigger featured snippets. One example that I saw recently and really liked was the snowboard size chart example, which you can see below. In this example, someone who is interested in snowboards gets an answer box that showcases a company. If someone is doing this type of research, there’s a likelihood that they may wish to purchase a snowboard soon.
Depending on your niche, there are plenty of opportunities to increase your local visibility by not ignoring featured snippets and creating content to rank there. Check out this Whiteboard Friday to learn more about how you can get featured snippets.

Now that we’ve looked at some ways you can expand your strategies, let’s look at some tactical steps you can take to move the needle.


Here’s how you can gain more visibility

Now that you have an open mind, let’s take a look at the actionable things you can do to improve your overall visibility and rankings in locally centric campaigns. As much as I like to think local SEO is rocket science, it really isn’t. You really need to focus your attention on the things that are going to move the needle.

I’m also going to assume you’ve already done the basics, like optimize your listing by filling out the profile 100%.

Later last year, Local SEO Guide and Placescout did a great study that looked at 100+ variables from 30,000 businesses to determine what factors might have the most overall impact in local 3-pack rankings. If you have some spare time I recommend checking it out. It verified that the signals we put the most effort into seem to have the greatest overall effect.

I’m only going to dive into a few of those factors, but here are the things I would do to focus on a results-first strategy:

Start with a solid website/foundation

What good are rankings without conversions? The answer is they aren’t any good. If you’re always keeping your business goals in mind, start with the basics. If your website isn’t loading fast, you’re losing conversions and you may experience a reduced crawl budget.

My #1 recommendation that affects all aspects of SEO and conversions is to start with a solid website. Ignoring this usually creates bigger problems later down the road and can negatively impact your overall rankings.

Your website should be SEO-friendly and load in the 90th percentile on Google’s Page Speed Insights. You can also see how fast your website loads for users using tools like GTMetrix. Google seems to reduce the visibility of slower websites, so if you’re ignoring the foundation you’re going to have issues. Here are 6 tips you can use for a faster WordPress website.

Crawl errors for bots can also wreak havoc on your website. You should always strive to maintain a healthy site. Check up on your website using Google’s Search Console and use Moz Pro to monitor your clients’ campaigns by actively tracking the sites’ health, crawl issues, and domain health over time. Having higher scores and less errors should be your focus.

Continue with a strong review generation strategy

I’m sure many of you took a deep breath when earlier this month Google changed the review threshold to only 1 review. That’s right. In case you didn’t hear, Google is now giving all businesses a review score based on any number of reviews you have, as you can see in the example below:
I know a lot of my colleagues were a big fan of this, but I have mixed feelings since Google isn’t taking any serious measures to reduce review spam or penalize manipulative businesses at this point.

Don’t ignore the other benefits of reviews, as well. Earlier I mentioned that users can sort by review stars; having more reviews will increase your overall CTR. Plus, after talking to many local businesses, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that consumers are actively using these scores more than ever.

So, how do you get more reviews?

Luckily, Google’s current Review and Photo Policies do not prohibit the direct solicitation of reviews at this point (unlike Yelp).

Start by soliciting past customers on your list
If you’re not already collecting customer information on your website or in-store, you’re behind the times and you need to start doing so immediately.

I work mainly with attorneys. Working in that space, there are regulations we have to follow, and typically the number of clients is substantially less than a pizza joint. In pickles like this, where the volume is low, we can take a manual approach where we identify the happiest clients and reach out to them using this process. This particular process also creates happy employees. :)

  1. List creation: We start by screening the happiest clients. We then sort these by who has a Gmail account for priority’s sake.
  2. Outreach by phone: I don’t know why digital marketers are afraid of the phone, but we’ve had a lot of success calling our prior clients. We have the main point-of-contact from the business who’s worked with them before call and ask how the service they received was. The caller informs them that they have a favor to ask and that their overall job performance is partially based off of client feedback. They indicate they’re going to send a follow-up email if it’s OK with the customer.
  3. Send a follow-up email: We then use a Google review link generator, which creates an exact URL that opens the review box for the person if they’re logged into their Gmail account.
  4. Follow-up email: Sometimes emails get lost. We follow up a few times to make sure the client leaves the review…
  5. You have a new review!

The method above works great for low-volume businesses. If you’re a higher-volume business or have a lot of contacts, I recommend using a more automated service to prepare for future and ongoing reviews, as it’ll make the process a heck of a lot easier. Typically we use Get Five Stars or Infusionsoft integrations to complete this for our clients.

If you run a good business that people like, you can see results like this. This is a local business which had 7 reviews in 2015. Look where they are now with a little automation asking happy customers to leave a review:

Don’t ignore & don’t be afraid of links

One thing Google succeeded at is scaring away people from getting manipulative links. In many areas, that went too far and resulted in people not going after links at all, diminishing their value as a ranking factor, and telling the world that links are dead.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you need good links to your website. If you want to rank in competitive niches or in certain geographic areas, the anchor text can make a big difference. Multiple studies have shown the effectiveness of links to this very day, and their importance cannot be overlooked.

This table outlines which link tactics work best for each strategy:

Strategy Type Link Tactic
Local SEO (3-Pack) Links to local GMB-connected landing page will help 3-pack rankings. City, state, and keyword-included anchor text is beneficial
Featured Snippets Links to pages where you want to get a featured snippet will help boost the authority of that page.
Paid Ads Links will not help your paid ads.
“Near Me” Searches Links with city, state, or area anchor text will help you in near me searches.
Voice Search Links to pages that are FAQ or consist of long-tail keyword content will help them rank better organically.
Barnacle SEO Links to websites you don’t own can help them rank better. Focus on high-authority profiles or business listings.

There are hundreds of ways to build links for your firm. You need to avoid paying for links and spammy tactics because they’re just going to hurt you. Focus on strong and sustainable strategies — if you want to do it right, there aren’t any shortcuts.

Since there are so many great link building resources out there, I’ve linked to a few of my favorite where you can get tactical advice and start building links below.

For specific tactical link building strategies, check out these resources:

If you participate in outreach or broken link building, check out this new post from Directive Consulting — “How We Increased Our Email Response Rate from ~8% to 34%” — to increase the effectiveness of your outreach.

Get relevant & high-authority citations

While the importance of citations has taken a dive in recent years as a major ranking factor, they still carry quite a bit of importance.

Do you remember the example from earlier in this post, where we saw Findlaw and Yelp having strong visibility in the market? These websites get traffic, and if a potential customer is looking for you somewhere where you’re not, that’s one touchpoint lost. You’ll still need to address quality over quantity. The days of looking for 1,000 citations are over and have been for many years. If you have 1,000 citations, you probably have a lot of spam links to your website. We don’t need those. But what we do need is highly relevant directories to either our city or niche.

This post I wrote over 4 years ago is still pretty relevant on how you can find these citations and build them with consistency. Remember that high-authority citations can also be unstructured (not a typical business directory). They can also be very high-quality links if the site is authoritative and has fewer business listings. There are millions of listings on Yelp, but maybe less than one hundred on some other powerful, very niche-specific websites.

Citation and link idea: What awards was your business eligible or nominated for?

One way to get these is to consider awards where you can get an authoritative citation and link to your website. Take a look at the example below of a legal website. This site is a peanut compared to a directory like Yelp. Sure, it doesn’t carry near as much authority, but the link equity is more evenly distributed.


Lastly, stay on point

2017 is sure to be a volatile year for local search, but it’s important to stay on point. Spread your wings, open your mind, and diversify with strategies that are going to get your business more customers.

Now it’s time to tell me what you think! Is something I didn’t mention working better for you? Where are you focusing your efforts in local search?

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