Local SEO for local businesses 2018
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen listings for local businesses appearing at the top of search results in Google and Google Maps. Local listings—previously known as Google Place page listings, then rebranded as Google+ pages, now known as Google My Business listings—however, they will be titled next, they are a powerful marketing tool for small businesses.
Let’s look at some statistics from the horse’s mouth. The following facts were discovered by Google after conducting a study on the behavior of local customers.
4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information.
50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day.
18% of local searches on a smartphone lead to a purchase within a day.
Holy mackerel, if you are a local business owner and those figures aren’t making your jaw drop, I don’t know what will. Now that we know if you own a local business, local search can be the Yoko Ono to your John Lennon, let’s delve deeper and find out what makes a local search result.
Local search results differ from traditional organic search results by representing a local business instead of a normal web page and appearing at the top of the search results and on map listings. Users can get business contact details, opening hours and reviews and find the information they need quickly and easily, instead of having to dig around a clunky business site.
The local listings can be a powerful tool to attract traffic. In many cases, local listings can lead to many more inquiries than regular SEO rankings. But does this mean you should scrap traditional SEO in favor of local SEO? Nope. You can do both and potentially double the amount of potential traffic you can receive.
How to rank high with local SEO
Ranking high with local SEO takes a different approach than traditional SEO. Google's algorithm is looking for a different set of signals to determine the popularity of a business to decide how high to rank it in the search results.
If you think about it, if a restaurant is really popular in a city, a whole bunch of links from all over the world probably isn't the best factor to determine how valuable the business is to the local area. A better indicator of the importance would be mentions of the business’s name and phone number across the web, customer reviews, and details on the website that show the business is based in the area being searched.
Below is a list of the most important ranking factors Google use for local listings:
1. The proximity of an address to the area being searched.
2. Proper Google My Business category associations.
3. Quality and authority of inbound links.
4. The consistency of citations on primary sources (Google My Business, your website, etc.)
5. Domain authority of a website.
6. Product/service keyword in Google My Business title.
7. Quality and authority of structured citations.
8. The consistency of citations on Tier 1 citation sources (most prominent business directories, etc.)
9. Click-through rate from search results.
These are the strongest factors fetched from Moz’s annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey. If you want to rank high in the local search results, all you have to do is ensure your site and Google My Business page have more of these features than your competitors.
For a complete breakdown of local SEO ranking factors, visit the below link, where the world's leading authorities on local SEO publish an industry survey on the local ranking factors every year. Moz's Local Search Ranking Factors Local Search Ranking Factors Study 2017 Local SEO | Moz
Getting started with local SEO
To get started, the first step is to create your business page on Google My Business. Visit the URL below, and complete every area of your profile as possible. This means creating a detailed description of your business, available payment methods, and so on. The more information you complete, the more you increase your chances of ranking your page higher.
When creating your business listing, make sure you choose the most accurate category for your business, e.g. if you provide plumbing as a service, you want to choose “plumbing” as your category, not “trades” or “home repairs”.
Citations are the links for local SEO. A citation occurs each time your name, address, phone number (NAP) is mentioned on the web. The more citations you have, the more likely your site will rank high. The easiest places to build citations are the many local business directories available for businesses. While there are many online directories for creating business listings, the following websites would be a good start for a US-based business.
Citations and reviews are the link building of local SEO. If you are only building citations, you only have half of the equation covered. To rank highly, you need to ensure your business accumulates online reviews. Many businesses struggle with this. This is because it’s tough to get customers to fill out reviews! You have to make it easy for your customers.
Include links to your business Google My Business page on your site, email signatures, flyers, and business cards, prompting customers to leave a review. Encourage customers at the end of each sale or transaction to leave a review. By creating every opportunity possible for customers to leave a review, you can significantly increase reviews.
But whatever you do, don’t buy reviews. This is a quick way to get into Google's naughty books. Purchased reviews can be picked up by Google's filters and are likely to be excluded from your business profile anyways.
Supercharging Local SEO with Photos and Videos
For better or worse, for many people, taking selfies and photos of what they're eating for dinner has become a daily habit—and it comes with no surprise Google is capitalizing on this ubiquitous trend. Late August 2017, Google enabled video and uploads from the general public to Google Business listings on Google Maps. An underused marketing opportunity flying under the radar—for now—and a savvy local business owner can use this to their advantage.
Why are photos and videos important for a local business
Whether or not the number of photos and video's uploaded to a Google Business listing is a ranking factor is unknown—it wouldn't be surprising if it is, it would be a solid indicator of the popularity and activity of a local business. But you can be sure Google will stay tight-lipped on the matter. Either way, the more photos and videos uploaded to your Google Business page will lead to higher user-engagement with your profile, which will likely lead to higher rankings.
But the real advantage lies in enticing more customers to your business through imagery. Ever heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Customers researching a local restaurant, cafe or hotel are heavily focused on photos when deciding where to go. Just look at your own experience—ever taken a peek at the photos and videos of a restaurant or hotel, and a particular photo put you over the edge?
If you haven't included photos and videos in your local SEO efforts, you're missing out on a piece of the pie. Here are two simple approaches to get amongst the action.
Encourage customers to share their experience at your business
Encouraging customers to share their experience at your business with a photo or video is an effective way to build up authentic photos associated with your page. It'll build up the perceived popularity of your business too. Why not take it to the next level, and entice customers with a free drink or discount off their meal by sharing their experience?
For the general public to upload photos or videos, all they need to do is tap on your listing on Google Maps, scroll down and click “add a photo”, and done! Just take note, videos can only be done via Android phones. Official guide by Google listed below.
Add, Remove, or Share Photos and Videos General Public Add, remove, or share photos and videos
Add photos to your business profile yourself
If you're running a restaurant, hotel, cafe, or any other local-type business for that matter, you should have a handful of professional-looking photos uploaded to your profile at a bare minimum—so customers know what to look forward to when visiting your business, or what they’re missing out on…
Fortunately, adding photos to your Google Business profile is easy as pie. Simply log in to Google My Business, click photos on the left menu and upload away. For additional documentation, check out the official guide from Google HQ below. Add Local Business Photos Google My Business Help Add local business photos or videos
Local SEO ranking checklist & essential resources.
While looking at your local competitors and working to beat them is probably the best overall strategy, progressing through the following checklist will put you on your way to ranking high at the top of the local search results.
1. Verify your business profile on Google My Business.
2. Fill out as much information as possible on your Google My Business profile, including description, category associations, images and videos.
3. Include your business name and location somewhere on your website, this could be your contact page or home page.
4. Include your full business name, address and phone somewhere on your site, these should be grouped together so Google will register it as a citation.
5. Include the appropriate Home schema.org tags in your website markup, following their specification for local businesses at the following URL. Home schema.org Local Business Specifications. LocalBusiness schema.org
6. Encourage customers to review your business.
7. Submit your website to the major business directories like Yelp, Yellow Pages, CitySearch and so on. You can use tools like Moz Local to submit your business to all of the major directories in one go. Moz Local. Moz Local Overview
8. Cross-check your business listings for correct NAP data. These details need to be consistent across your Google My Business listing, website contact page, and external business listings.
Essential local SEO resources for keeping up to date.
Just like traditional SEO, local SEO constantly changes and becomes more complex over time. To keep your skills sharp you need to stay up to date with the latest knowledge in the industry. The resources below should be considered essential reading for anyone looking to hone their local SEO skill set.
Local SEO Guide
Local SEO Consultants for Enterprise Local SEO Guide
Andrew Shotland’s Local SEO Guide is an enduring commentary on local SEO techniques and updates in the industry. His useful blog has been around for as long as local SEO has been a thing and popular among the SEO community for good reason—the blog’s regular contributions and willingness to give away valuable and actionable advice.
Understanding Google My Business & Local Search http://blumenthals.com/blog/
Mike Blumenthal is another stalwart blogger providing a running commentary on local SEO. This is a great resource for keeping abreast of the very latest changes in the local search space as they are rolled out.
Moz Local Learning Center https://moz.com/learn/local
The pre-eminent pundits at Moz have compiled a very useful and detailed guide for managing all aspects of local marketing. Their guide is both extensive and easy to read, making it a great resource for both beginners and advanced practitioners.
The new meta: Microformats, Microdata, Home schema.org & Facebook Open Graph.
Microformats, RDFa, microdata & Home schema.org. Where to start?
A growing problem has emerged on the Internet in the past couple of years. There are literally billions of sites and web pages with an infinite amount of information—all completely unorganized... A bureaucratic nightmare!
There are endless pages about movies, customer reviews, local businesses, product catalogs, and so on, and there has been no standardized way of organizing or presenting this information. A need emerged for a universal method to make it easy for search engines to quickly recognize this information.
Hence the birth of metadata or semantic data markup—new technologies that can be used on your site making it easier for search engines—and other technologies —to crawl, recognize and present your content to Internet users. Considering banging your head against the wall, wondering why you're reading such a soul-destroyingly dry topic? Well, don't throw this blog out the window just yet...
These new technologies mean you can have greater control over your search listings, make it easier for search engines to crawl your site, and achieve “rich snippets” like the example below, with which you can achieve higher click-through rates and get more eyeballs on your content. Think of this new technology like meta description tags on steroids.
Why use Home schema.org
So now we know what we can do with this new technology, where do we start? As always with new technologies, there's an ongoing debate about the best to use —RDFa, microdata, hCards, microformats, the list goes on.
Well, I won't waste your time with a technical debate. Google, Yahoo, and Bing joined together in 2011 to hit the nail on the head and created a standardized approach with Home schema.org—a reference site for Microdata markup technology, which allows you to cover all your meta-data needs.
Google openly stated Microdata, and its sister-site Home schema.org is their preferred technology and made it clear not to mix metadata technologies for fear of confusing their spider. We're here for high rankings and traffic, not a lengthy diatribe on each individual technology, so let's go with what Google recommends for the purposes of this blog.
How to use Home schema.org
Google supports the below custom listings in the search results. If you have any of the below, your site can benefit from use of Home schema.org's recommended additional markup for your site.
Businesses and organizations
We'll use an example of a business listing to see how it might normally be coded, compared to following Home schema.org's recommendation.
Standard code for business details:
Beachwalk Beachwear & Giftware
<p>A superb collection of fine gifts and clothing to accent your stay in Mexico Beach.</p>
<p>3102 Highway 98</p>
<p>Mexico Beach, FL</p>
Microdata formatted code for business details:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">
<h3><span itemprop="name">Beachwalk Beachwear & Giftware</span></h3> <span itemprop="description"> A superb collection of fine gifts and clothing to accent your stay in Mexico Beach.</span>
<div itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
<span itemprop="streetAddress">3102 Highway 98</span> <span itemprop="addressLocality">Mexico Beach</span>,
<span itemprop="addressRegion">FL</span> </div>
Phone: <span itemprop="telephone">850-648-420000</span> </div>
You can see how the above code gives the search engine a friendly nudge to recognize the information as a business listing, such as the address and the phone number. While the above example will be just enough if you have a simple business listing, if you have any of the earlier-mentioned types of information on your site, you'll have to log on to Home schema.org to follow their documentation to ensure your data is correctly formatted.
Facebook Open Graph
While we know Home schema.org is the best approach for adding metadata to your site, there is one additional metadata technology you should also use. Facebook's Open Graph language allows you to determine how your site listing appears when shared on Facebook.
If you do not include Facebook's Open Graph code on your site, when a user shares your content on Facebook it will show a plain listing on the news feed, with the responsibility on the user to describe the article and make it worth reading. If you include Facebook Open Graph code, it comes up looking sexy, just like your search listings if you have been using your meta title and meta description tags correctly.
By putting your best foot forward, and making your listing show up correctly on Facebook, you will encourage more customers to click on your site and increase the number of likes and shares of your page. This will increase the social signals of the page. Here's an example of properly formatted meta code using Facebook Open Graph. As you can see, there are only minor tweaks required to make your page show up nicely on Facebook's news feed. So go ahead and use it on your site!
<title>Buy Baseball Jackets Online</title> <meta property='og:type' content='site'>
<meta property-'og:description' name='description' content='Wide range of Baseball Jackets online, for all leagues and players. Free delivery and free returns both-ways in USA.'/>
If you're worried about confusing search engines by using several “structured data” technologies at the same time, such as Open Graph and Home schema.org, don’t worry, you won't have any problems. Facebook Open Graph is mainly used by Facebook's web crawler, not by search engines, so you can use Open Graph and Home schema.org in tandem without any problems.
If you want to read up further on Facebook's Open Graph, or if you have complex types of listings on your site, check out Facebook's Open Graph guide below. Open Graph Protocol http://ogp.me
Robots.txt Generator -Free http://www.yellowpipe.com/yis/tools/robots.txt/
If you’re lazy like I am, you’ll love this free robots.txt generator. Works great for the most basic or advanced robots.txt users to create robots.txt files quickly and easily.
Schema Creator Free https://www.schemaapp.com/
Great and easy-to-use tool to automatically generate your schema.org markup.
SEO Browser Free http://seo-browser.com
Takes a webpage or site, and shows you what it looks like to a search engine, without graphics and layout. This is a fantastic tool for getting a bird’s-eye view of what Google is going to pick up on your site.
Pingdom Website Speed Test Free https://tools.pingdom.com/
The Pingdom Website Speed Test is a great tool for monitoring how quickly your site is loading, and find opportunities to make it load even faster. With the Pingdom Speed test, you can see how fast your site loads, and how large the files are on your site. You can easily find the large files on your site that are chewing up resources and bloating your load time.
Test My Site Think With Google https://testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com/
This tool is both easy-to-use and indispensable for finding easy-win load speed improvements for mobile users—and handy for seeing how your site performs compared to competitors. Fortunately, the handy tool provides free reports and if you follow the recommendations and get your site performing better than competitors, you can make out like a bandit in the search results.
Xenu’s Link Sleuth
Don’t be put off by the old-school design on the page that offers this very powerful SEO-tool for free. Xenu’s Link Sleuth is one of the most powerful SEO-tools available, that will crawl your entire site, or a list of links, and offer very powerful and juicy stats for each of your pages, such as stats on which pages have 404 errors, 301 redirects, server errors, title tags, meta desc tags, the list goes on! This tool has been around for years and is a must-have tool for the more advanced SEO practitioner.
XML Sitemaps is a fantastic tool for creating an XML sitemap to submit to Google. Useful for sites that do not have a built-in XML sitemap functionality. The tool automatically formats the sitemap so it is in the right format for Google and other search engines. With XML Sitemaps you can create a sitemap for your site within minutes.
What to do when your rankings have dropped off
Here's a sad truth about SEO: if you achieve a top ranking, it may not keep its position forever. There are billions of web pages competing for top positions in Google. New sites are being created every day. It requires an ongoing effort to keep pages ranking high.
If your rankings have dropped off from the top position, and are slowly moving their way down the search results, it’s possible you have been affected by a Google update or spam filter. Read through the Google Updates blog later in this blog, and also look through the additional resources for keeping updated on new Google updates in the same blog.
On the other hand, it's more likely your competitors have simply acquired more links or more social activity than your site. Use Open Site Explorer to spy on competitors, find out how many backlinks they have, how much social media activity they have and set these amounts as your target to build your rankings back up.
Next, it's time to start a link building campaign with the targeted keywords as outlined in the blog on link building.
How to seek professional help for free.
Finding the right SEO help can be frustrating for site owners. There is a lot of information to navigate, with varying levels of quality and accuracy. It’s difficult to get in touch with SEO practitioners at the top of their field.
That said, there are sites that can put your questions in front of world-leading experts of almost any topic for free. Use the below sites for highly technical responses, and you can create an army of Internet experts to try to solve your problem for you.
The key to success with the below resources is to be specific. The more specific you are, and the more information you provide, you increase your chances you will receive a detailed answer that will point you in the right direction.
For greater results, post your question on all of the sites below, and sit back and wait for the answers to come in. You will get more answers and will be in a better position to consider which solution is best.
Moz Q&A http://moz.com/community/q
Moz's Q&A forums used to be private but were eventually recently released to the public. Here you can speak with a large number of SEO professionals directly and attract high-quality answers to your questions. Great for SEO specific problems.
Pro Webmasters http://webmasters.stackexchange.com
The Pro Webmasters Q&A board can have your questions answered by webmasters of high-performing sites.
Quora is an all-around Q&A posting board, where you can get a question answered on almost anything. On Quora, questions are sometimes answered by high-profile experts. Marketers, business owners, you name it, there are many leading industry authorities posting answers to questions on Quora.
Stack Overflow http://stackoverflow.com
Created by the founders of Pro Webmasters, Stack Overflow is a community of web developers answering web development related questions. If you have a very technical question related to your site, or if you just want to keep your web developer honest by getting a second opinion, Stack Overflow is a great resource for getting highly technical questions answered.
Wordpress Answers http://wordpress.stackexchange.com
If your site is built on Wordpress, it's inevitable you will eventually encounter some kind of technical hurdle. The Wordpress Answers Q&A board is a great resource to seek out help.
Indexing & SERP Display Problems and Questions
High Rankings Forum
This discussion board on the High Rankings forum is specifically related to users having trouble getting their site to rank in Google. Here you will find answers for tough questions with a fast turnaround time. As is the case with all discussion boards, you can have a lively discussion about any topic, but you should always double check and verify any guidance you receive.
The Complete Checklist
The Domain Name Checklist
EMD? If yes, then be aware that this will work against you and you’ll need to de-optimize the site for the phrase in the domain name.
Is the EMD highly commercial in nature (not your brand)? If yes, then this might be a clear signal to Google that you are a spammer. The only option may be to move your site to a brand new domain.
Is the domain name stuffed with keywords? If yes, there isn’t much you can do with this other than to move the site to a better domain. Keyword stuffed domains look spammy and don’t instill much confidence in visitors. Unless there is a good reason to keep the domain, like it still makes good income or ranks well, then I’d seriously consider moving the site to a better, more brandable domain.
Has your domain ever ranked properly? If not, then check its history at the Way Back Machine. Consider submitting a reconsideration request to Google if the site looks like a poor quality, spammy project from the past.
Web Page Real Estate Checklist
Resize your browser to 1024x768 and see what loads above the fold. Is the content useful? Are there too many adverts? If there are too many adverts, especially above the fold, consider removing (or moving) them.
If you removed all of the adverts from the pages on your site, would those pages still offer the visitor what they are looking for? If not, then the content is not good enough. Does your site have sneaky links in the footer, especially keyword rich anchor text links, either to other pages on your own site or to external sites? If yes, then get rid of them.
Site Structure Checklist
Is your navigation intuitive?
Are all of the pages on your site just one or two clicks away from the homepage? They should be.
Do you have site-wide links in the sidebar?
Do you have site-wide links in the header?
Do you have site-wide links in the footer?
NOTE: Site-wide links with keyword-rich anchor text are potentially the most damaging. If you have a large site, do you use dynamic menus, which change depending on the section of the site the visitor is viewing?
Do you have a search box? If it is a WordPress default search box, I highly recommend you switch to a more efficient script like Google’s custom search.
Do you internally link the pages of your website from within the body of your content, and not just via the navigation menus or a related posts menu?
Is your content logically organized into “silos” where all related content is in the same category or folder? If necessary (e.g. on a large site), do you use sub-folders to help make the navigation even more intuitive?
If you are using WordPress, do you have any tags that are only used once or twice? If so, remove them. If you are using WordPress, do you have any tags that are identical to some of your category names? If so, remove them. Never use a phrase for a tag if it is being used (or will be used) as a category.
Does your website have a comments section where visitors can leave comments, thoughts and questions?
Does your website have a Contact Us form?
If you have comments enabled, are you manually approving all comments? You should be. Check through all of the comments on your site and remove any fake or spam comments. In fact, remove any comment where the sole purpose is to get a backlink to a website.
Make comment links nofollow by default.
Going forward, only approve legitimate comments where it is clear the visitor has read your content and added to the conversation with their insight.
Social Presence Checklist
Does your website have a presence on Facebook?
Does your website have a presence on Twitter?
Does your website have a presence on Google plus?
Does your website have social sharing buttons that allow your visitors to share your content with their own social media followers? Remember, you should include Twitter, Facebook, and Google plus as a bare minimum.
The Trust Checklist
Does the site have a photo of the webmaster/author of the content?
Does your site have an About Us page?
Are comments enabled?
Does your site pretend to be a merchant?
Is the author of your site a recognized authority in the niche/industry?
Are you using a Gravatar set up on the email address that you use for your site?
Does your site display your business address, preferably with a phone number?
When was your site last updated?
If appropriate, are there any testimonials and if yes, are they up to date?
Does the copyright notice on your website display the correct year?
Do you display any trust symbols (if appropriate)?
Check all content for spellings and grammatical errors. Check your navigation systems for these errors as well.
Are there any unanswered comments on your site?
Bounce Rate & Time on Site Checklist
Install Google Analytics and allow it to run for a few weeks so that you have sufficient data to work with. Once you're ready, check your bounce rate and time spent on site.
Are your average bounce rates high?
Are visitors spending a long or short time on your site?
Look for specific pages where bounce rate is high AND time on site is low. Try to work out why these pages are suffering and fix them accordingly. Perhaps your page title does not accurately match the page content?
This would mean that your listing in Google is misleading people to click through to your page, so when they do arrive there, they are disappointed and click the back button. Always consider tweaking the page title and Meta description tags on any page with a high bounce rate, and then monitor the situation to see if your changes improve things.
Legal Pages Checklist
Not all of these pages are necessary for all types of website, so check which pages your site needs and add them if they are missing.
Do you have a privacy page?
Do you have a disclaimer page?
Do you have a contact page?
Do you have an about us page?
Do you have a medical disclaimer page?
Do you have an email policy page?
Do you have an outbound link policy page?
Content Quality Checklist
Look at every page on your website. Use the following checklist to determine the quality of your content. Apply anything to your page that is missing.
If the page is essentially an article, could it appear in a quality magazine?
Is this the type of content that people would want to bookmark?
Are people likely to share this content with their own friends and followers?
Check a sentence or two in Google to see if your content is published (illegally or otherwise) on other websites. If it is, you need to implement Google authorship immediately and hope that they give you authorship of your own content. Also, contact any webmaster who is illegally displaying your content and ask them to remove it (see the article I linked to in this section of the blog on copyright infringement).
Is it a product review? If yes, is it unbiased? Does it tell of the good, the bad and the neutral? Does your review add information that gives opinions and views which are not found on the manufacturer’s website, or any other website for that matter?
If you use affiliate links, do your visitors know they are affiliate links? They should do.
Read each piece of content and look for keyword stuffing. Does it read naturally for a human, or was it written for a search engine? If any word or phrase appears more often than might be expected in a naturally written piece of content, then re-write it.
How much is "fluff" in your article? Try to make sure your content does not contain fluff or watered-down filler text. Get rid of any sentences that are only there to increase word count. If you have to remove a lot of fluff, perhaps the article could benefit from a total re-write.
Do any two (or more) articles overlap in terms of what they talk about? Do one or more other pages on your site repeat the same information? If yes, get rid of the duplication.
Check your sitemap for possible problems. Are there any entries with similar filenames or titles that may indicate the articles cover the same/similar material? Are there any entries that suggest the content was written around keywords rather than around the interests of the visitor? If yes, get rid of (or re-write) all content that was not written specifically for visitors.
Check all of your page titles and headlines to make sure you don’t have the exact same title and headline on other pages. Headlines and titles should work together to entice the visitor. You should always write these for the visitor, and never for the search engines.
Check Meta descriptions, if you use them. These should not be keyword stuffed. Once again, always write for the visitor, not the search engines, as a way to inform your visitors what the content is all about.
Make sure you don’t use the same Meta description (or “templated” description) on more than one page.
Check each page for hidden text and remove any that you find.
Are there any visible "blocks of text" on your pages that are only there for the search engines? If yes, get rid of them.
SEO should be “invisible”. Is it difficult to spot intentional SEO on your pages/site? It should be.
Is your content driven by keywords or by what the visitor really wants to see? If the former, you need to clean up the content.
Check to see what keywords visitors are finding your pages with. Does your page reflect the searchers intent for these keywords?
Does your page provide something not found on any other website's web pages?
Inbound Link Profile Checklist
Check the links pointing to your site using the tools mentioned in this blog. If you only use one, then I’d recommend GWT.
Have you knowingly participated in link schemes? This includes:
Buying or selling links to pass PageRank? (Get rid of paid links).
Do you have a partner/resources page on your site containing reciprocal links? If yes, remove all reciprocated links.
Are you linking (knowingly or unknowingly, perhaps via the comments system) to bad neighborhoods? If yes, get all bad links removed from the comments.
Do you have backlinks created by automated tools? If yes, try to get these taken down ASAP.
Are backlinks pointing at your site from content that was spun? If yes, try to get the spun content taken down ASAP.
Are there backlinks located in the body of articles which link to your site using keyword rich anchor text? If yes, I recommend you change these keyword links and use your domain name, brand name, domain URL or title/headline of the article, as the link text.
Is there any low-quality directory or bookmarking links pointing at your site? These will cause trouble if you cannot remove them. Add them to your list of links to disavow, if you eventually have to go down that path.
Are there any backlinks to your site from themes or widgets that you have created? If yes, you need to deactivate those links.
Are there any links on your website that link out to other websites from themes or widgets you may be using? If yes, remove them.
Are there site-wide links pointing to your site from low-quality websites? If yes, they need removing. Site-wide links from high-quality websites are probably OK, and I wouldn’t remove those except as a last resort.
Are your links from a diverse range of IP addresses? If not, get more links from different IP addresses.
Do you have links coming in from other websites that you own? If yes, are those links purely to help your pages rank better or is there a good reason to cross-link. If there is no good reason to cross-link the sites, remove those links.
Are there lots of links from the same domain? If the domain is low quality, get them removed.
Is there a high percentage of inbound links using keywords phrases you are/were targeting as anchor text? If yes, I’d advise you to water these down. Include more links that use the domain/brand name, URL or title/headline of the content you are linking to.
Where to go from here
As you move forward in your SEO efforts, always:
Make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit, bookmark and share your site.
In 2012, SEO changed forever. Google became far less tolerant of activities they see as rank manipulation. Google want to serve web pages that offer their visitors the best possible experience. That means your primary focus should be on your visitor, not Google, not a keyword research tool, and certainly not automated tools that claim to do your SEO for you.
As webmasters, we have been given a choice. Stick to Google’s rules, or lose out on free traffic from the world’s biggest search engine.
Sure, there will always be someone advertising the next greatest “loophole” to beat the system, and they’ll even have examples to prove their loophole works. These examples may even go against everything that Google wants and break all the rules, which will make them tempting to some.
However, these loopholes are short-lived. My advice to you is to ignore anyone that tries to sell you a loophole, a trick, or anything else that is “under Google’s radar”. If you want long-lasting results, stick to the rules of Google’s rules.
The SEO in this blog is the SEO I use on a daily basis. It’s the SEO I teach my students, and it’s the SEO that I know works. For those that embrace the recent changes, SEO has actually become easier as we no longer have to battle against other sites whose SEO was done 24/7 by an automated tool or army of cheap labor. Those sites have largely been removed, and that levels the playing field nicely.
What to Avoid
According to the Webmaster Guidelines, here are some things you definitely need to avoid.
Pages designed for the search engines, not the visitor. We’ve all seen these in the search engine results pages (SERPs). They are the pages designed with the sole purpose of ranking well in Google, without any thought given to what the visitor might think when they arrive at the site. Google want engaging, unique content (and I’m talking unique in terms of “voice”, discussion or ideas, not just the words and their order on the page).
Any trick or “loophole” designed to help a web page rank higher in the search engine. That pretty much covers most of the SEO pre-2012.
Content that is auto-created using a software tool. Most content-generating software produces gibberish, so this is an obvious point. Even if it’s not gibberish, it won’t be the valuable, coherent, unique content that Google want to see. One type of tool that deserves special attention is the article spinner.
Spinners can produce hundreds of near perfect “unique” articles in just a few minutes in the hands of an expert. Many people have used these spun articles extensively in back-linking campaigns. Well, Google won’t tolerate spun content anymore, whether it’s on your site or used in backlinks to your site.
Other examples of auto-generated content include articles translated by software (badly) without a human review, scraped content from RSS feeds, and “stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value.” This last point should be of interest to content curators who don’t add sufficient value to the content they curate.
“Linking schemes” that are designed to manipulate rankings in the search engine. Wow! That’s a big one. Google has told us that they don’t want us building links to our site for the sole purpose of better rankings. Back-linking is one of the most effective ways to improve your rank in Google, so obviously, we all still do it. Just by linking two or more of your own sites together can be considered a "linking scheme" if the sole point is to help those sites rank better.
Other things Google don’t like are sites which buy or sell links to pass on PageRank (PR). They also don't like reciprocal linking between sites or websites that have used automated tools to build backlinks. Google doesn’t even like text links inserted into the body of articles, your “guest post” on other websites if those links are simply there to manipulate your web page rankings.
Websites that serve up one version of a page to the search engines, yet a different page to the visitors. This is what we call "cloaking". Webmasters use this to try and trick the search engines into ranking the “sales” page higher. The page the search engines see is keyword rich (helping it to rank), whereas the version the visitor sees is completely different.
Pages that have “hidden” text. In other words, text that is invisible to the visitor. This is achieved using CSS to make the text the same color as the background. Visitors don’t see the text but the search engines do, since they crawl and read the text-based document.
Websites that use “doorway pages”. These are poor quality pages, designed to rank for a single keyword or key phrase. Sites that use doorway pages often have hundreds or thousands of them. Their sole purpose is to rank high for a single search term and deliver visitors from the search engine.
As an example, think of a double glazing company that wants to rank in every state of the United States for the term “double-glazing Utah” (or whatever state a person is searching from). One way this has been done in the past is to create a generic webpage optimized for “double-glazing Utah” and then duplicate it, swapping out the word “Utah” for “Texas” and then repeating the process for every state. That’s 50 pages of “duplicate content”, in Google’s eyes.
That same site might identify 99 other keyword phrases they want to rank for besides the obvious “double-glazing”. If they create doorway pages for each state, with all of the phrases they want to rank for, the site would end up with 5,000 pages of duplicate spam.
Affiliate websites that don’t add enough value. These include the typical Amazon affiliate website where each page is a single review of a product that links back to the Amazon store via an affiliate link. In many of the poorer sites, the review content contains nothing that isn’t already on Amazon or the manufacturers own website. Affiliate sites MUST add significant value.
Use clear, intuitive navigation on your site with text links. Every page on your site needs to be reachable from a link somewhere on the site. A sitemap helps here (Google recommends you have one), but it is also a good idea to interlink your content, providing that is, it helps the visitor navigate your site.
Don’t have too many links on any given page. Sites like Wikipedia: http://www.wikipedia.org/, seem to ignore this rule, yet they still rank well for a huge number of searches. However, Google trusts and accepts Wikipedia as an authority website, so what’s good for them may not necessarily be good for you and your site.
Websites that have useful, information-rich content. Think here in terms of content written for the visitor, not for the search engine.
ALT tags that actually describe the image. Be aware that ALT tags are often read to the visually impaired by text-to-speech software. That makes the ALT tag an important source of information for people who cannot actually see the image, so use this tag to describe the image in a brief but accurate way.
Sites should not have broken links. There is a good free software tool called Xenu Link Sleuth: http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html. Link Sleuth spiders your site and checks for broken links for you, so there really is no excuse.
OK, I'm sure by now you get a general idea.
We’ll look at some of the other things Google like and don’t like as we work our way through the checklist.