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Search Engine Guide : Small Business Search Marketing
Search engine marketing news and information you can use to grow your business.

Search Engine Guide
  • Do you have enough pages in the search index?

    by Mike Moran

    More pages in the search index means more chances to be found. So maybe you never really have enough pages--since every extra page is a lottery ticket in the search sweepstakes. You've gotta be in it to win it. But this does not really offer us any answers. There are obviously some amount of pages that seem OK and other amounts that are probably Bad, like, zero would be bad. How do you determine how many pages you have in the search index, and if your number is enough?

    First off, you need to understand that there is no single search index-each search engine has its own search index. Google has its own, Bing has its own, and so do many other search engines. So, you need to know which search engines are worth worrying about-in the U.S., it's Google and Bing.

    So how do you find out how many pages are in Google's index and how many are in Bing's?

    Both Google and Bing have a tool called the "site:" command. You can just enter into each one the word "site:" along with your domain name (Such as "site:biznology.com").  For some sites, this handy command works just fine and you can see how many pages are stored in each index. If your results look right, great. But sometimes the results just look nuts. For example, "site:ibm.com" yields 2.8 million pages on Bing but a crazy 12.2 million pages on Google.

    To avoid such inaccuracies, use each search engine's Webmaster Tools sites. Both Google and Bing will tell your Webmaster exactly how many pages are in the index and will even let you know which pages they are having trouble grabbing. It's possible that the IBM Webmaster is aware that there actually is a big discrepancy between Google and Bing, which might be just fine or might be something they are working on.

    I've spoken to a few experts and they have varying theories. One told me that Bing stops crawling when more than 1% of the pages get errors-the Bing Webmaster site will clue you in on this. Another speculated that Bing is only returning counts of pages that get search visits, not every page in their index. No one I spoke with knew for sure why this is happening, but it shows you the importance of checking your numbers.

    Likewise, big swings in indexed pages (1,000 pages indexed in Google today vs. 5,000 yesterday) mean that you should look into it. And, in general, an inclusion ratio (pages indexed divided by actual pages) below 70% is something that should give you pause, although with these Bing errors who knows what a good inclusion ration is for Bing right now.

    Regardless. knowing how many pages are indexed is the first step to seeing if you have a problem.

    Originally posted on Biznology

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • 5 Technical Factors to Check When Your Search Rankings Take a Dive

    by Jayson DeMers

    In an ideal world, your SEO strategy would be on a constant, steadily forward-moving trajectory. As you invest more time and effort into your online presence, your rankings would gradually increase--with no interruptions. However, this is almost never the case. Eventually, no matter how careful or experienced you are, you'll run into a ranking drop that leaves you frustrated and confused.

    The problem is, SEO and online visibility are such complicated topics that they're impossible to reduce to single variables. Everything, from the type of hosting you use to the type of social media marketing you pursue, can affect your organic search rankings.

    Where do you start when troubleshooting a ranking dive?

    Technical vs. Non-Technical Issues

    Generally, there are two categories of factors that can cause a dive:

    • Quantitative, technical factors. Sometimes, there's a simple, technical factor affecting how your site is ranking. On many levels, Google's algorithm is simple and mathematical in its approach. For example, if your site isn't structured in a way that Google can see and readily interpret, it won't be able to index your site, and your rankings will drop. These tend to be obvious once spotted, but they require a degree of technical expertise to solve.
    • Qualitative, non-technical factors. Other times, you'll be dealing with more subjective, non-technical factors. Google has a number of qualitative evaluating segments to its algorithm, such as Panda, which evaluates the quality of your content, and Penguin, which evaluates the quality of your inbound links. Sometimes, a drop in content quality--which is hard to objectively identify--can be responsible for your ranking drop.

    Technical Factors to Check When Your Rankings Drop

    Your first course of action, after seeing a major drop in your rankings, should be to check for technical factors that might be affecting your positions. These are plain to see and often simple to fix--and once repaired, there's a good chance your positions will be restored quickly (if not instantly).

    Here are things to check:

    1. Your hosting.

    The first place you should look is your hosting. A lot of things can happen with your hosting provider--your site may be temporarily unavailable, or your site may not be served properly. You might even be experiencing page loading problems because of your hosting provider. Run an audit on your hosting situation and consider switching if you're not receiving consistent service.

    2. Your robots.txt file.

    The robots.txt file is a meta data file that instructs Google how to view and index your site. You can use it to prevent certain pages from being indexed, which is highly useful for canonizing duplicate content pages. However, many people end up making mistakes in the robots.txt file, masking the entire site (or entire sections) from being indexed.

    3. Improperly set up 301 redirects.

    301 redirects are an important and powerful tool in online visibility, but they're often misused. If you set up a 301 redirect improperly, it could result in a number of different errors, such as duplicate indexing or the complete loss of certain pages of your site. Be sure you're actually using 301 redirects, and not 302 (temporary) redirects or any other means of forwarding traffic.

    4. A content loading issue.

    Sometimes, technical hiccups are simple and easy to identify. If some of your content isn't loading properly, it could cause your rankings to tank. For example, if none of the images or videos on your site are loading on mobile devices, you could suffer a massive blow to your mobile rankings and traffic.

    5. Functional errors.

    You may also find functional errors throughout your site, which can influence how your site is ranked. These can range from very small, such as broken internal links, to very large, such as entire sections of your site that aren't loading or running properly. Some of these functional errors can bleed into qualitative factors, such as pages not loading quickly enough, or poor user experience factors. Run performance tests on multiple devices to check for these errors proactively.

    If none of these technical factors seem to be affecting your site, you'll have to start looking for qualitative, non-technical issues that might be wrong with your site. Or, if there's a specific type of ranking drop you've seen (like a drop in local rankings), you can seek your next troubleshooting targets accordingly.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • 6 Tips for Managing Local SEO With Multiple Locations

    by Jayson DeMers

    Local SEO holds tremendous potential for almost any business with a physical location (and even some without). Because local SEO functions on an algorithm separate from Google's national search, you'll face less competition, higher relevance among your local audience, and even higher visibility, thanks to Google's local 3-pack listings. Unfortunately, most conventional local SEO tactics cater to businesses that have only one physical location - what happens if you have multiple locations?

    The Trouble With Multiple Locations

    Having multiple locations means you'll have multiple streams of revenue, and it's a valuable way to increase brand recognition and your potential pool of customers. However, much of the power of local SEO is derived from associating your business with a single location. If you try to split your efforts inefficiently, you could end up only weakly optimizing for your target cities, but if you only focus on one city, you'll miss out on the visibility potential of your other locations. What are you supposed to do?

    Strategies for Success

    Try using these strategies to succeed with multiple locations in local SEO:

    1. Create a separate landing page for each city your business operates in.

    Your first job is to create a separate landing page for each of your locations. It's possible to create a new domain for each of your sub-locations, but this is inadvisable, as you'll lose out on the cumulative authority you'll gain from all of your sources. For example, you could create a page for a specific city location, complete with location information and any specific unique features that this location offers--for example, US Storage Centers has a designated page for San Antonio, with hours, directions, and unit availability.

    2. Create city-specific content for each city you operate in.

    Next, you'll want to fill those pages with content specific to that location. Don't leave your landing pages as empty shells! Instead, write rich, descriptive content about the unique features each of your locations offers that particular area. If you get hard-pressed, write about some of the features of the city, such as surrounding landmarks or things to do.

    3. Split your social media pages.

    If you only have two or three locations, you can probably get away with having one "master" social media presence, but if you have more locations than that, you'll want to split your social media profiles into individual locations. Create a designated contact for each location to manage their respective pages, and keep one "master" brand page to help people find the social media page most relevant to them. This will help you connect more specifically with your target demographics, especially if your locations are around the country.

    4. Segment your link building strategies.

    As long as all your locations are under the same domain, you'll gain collective domain authority with any links you build. However, remember that inbound links pass page authority as well as domain authority, and any links you have pointing to city-specific pages will help those individual pages rank higher. This is valuable if you want to promote one location more than another.

    5. Manage your third party profiles and local reviews separately.

    Each of your locations should have a separate entry in each third-party review site you leverage (such as Yelp). This will ensure that Google lists your businesses separately for each respective location, and will enable you to monitor and manage local reviews more efficiently. Again, you'll want to designate a responsible contact for each of your locations to take charge of this duty.

    6. Produce ongoing blog content for each city.

    Finally, you'll want to produce ongoing content for each of your locations that's specific to that city. For example, if you have locations in San Antonio and Kansas City, you could write a post about the "top attractions in San Antonio" one week, and "top attractions in Kansas City" the next week. Rotate these geographic-centric terms in and out of your content strategy (always making sure they're natural) to increase your relevance for each location.

    With these six strategies, you'll be able to optimize your web presence for each of your physical locations without sacrificing your potential to rank for any other location. It requires a careful balance, and you may find yourself wanting to optimize for one location more than another.

    This is perfectly acceptable, especially if you have a "main" location, so feel free to evaluate your strategy and balance your efforts accordingly.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • The 6 Ways Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive in SEO

    by Jayson DeMers

    Search engine optimization (SEO) is more popular than ever as a marketing strategy these days, and one of the biggest reasons for its mass appeal is its scale and sheer potential. There are billions of searches per day, performed by people all over the world, so optimizing your site to rank higher for these searches has practically unlimited potential. But can small businesses hope to capitalize on this potential when there are so many big businesses competing with them?

    Popularity and Time

    There are two problems with this "infinite potential" model. First, SEO has become incredibly popular--most businesses now have an online presence, and the vast majority of them are actively competing for more visibility online. Second, SEO has been around since the dawn of the Internet, and major corporations who have been pouring millions of dollars into their online strategies are pretty much untouchable in terms of rankings.

    These two issues make it seem practically impossible to many small business owners--with limited resources and little existing domain authority--to break onto the scene. But it is possible for small and local businesses to gain an edge with these six strategies:

    1. Zero in on a specific niche.

    Your first job is to cut down the competition. Not all search terms get the same amount of search volume, and not all terms carry the same amount of competition. If you're worried about squaring off against major national competitors, refine your target market to a more specific niche. This will cut down the amount of competition you face, and increase your relevance for that specific niche--you'll be working with lower search volume, but you'll rank faster and become more relevant for your audience. For example, you could focus on one specific demographic, or target a specific point in the buying cycle.

    2. Target overlooked long-tail keywords.

    There are two main "types" of keywords, with a bit of gray area in between. "Head" keywords are short, like "bike tire," and feature high volume and high competition. "Long-tail" keywords are long, often using conversational sentence structures like "how do I change a flat bike tire," and feature lower search volume but correspondingly lower competition. You can rank for these search terms easily because of how specific they are. Refine your keyword targeting strategy to focus on more long-tail keyword terms.

    3. Prioritize local optimization.

    Local search results rely on a different algorithm than Google's national search framework. You may notice when you perform a local search that the top three relevant brands for your search appear in a box (with links to a website, directions, and a prompt to call on mobile devices) above typical organic search results. It's possible to optimize your site to appear for these local searches; not only will you get a "free pass" by getting featured above the typical national search results, but you'll face far less competition in the process. As an added bonus, you'll get more locally relevant traffic for your site.

    4. Use the power of personal brands.

    Personal brands have a number of advantages over corporate brands. They're instantly more trustworthy, they have a higher likelihood of being featured in offsite publishers, and if used independently from your local business, they'll provide an additional potential route of traffic and visibility for your corporate brand. Start developing your key leadership and personnel through content and social media, and tie those personal brands back to your core corporate brand.

    5. Work with local publishers.

    Major corporations will have more power and resources to force an increase in their content's visibility (through things like paid advertising), but as a small business owner, you'll have more relevance in local publications, like local newspapers, blogs, and forums. Work with those publishers to build more of a reputation for yourself, and get involved in more local projects and volunteer opportunities to help your community impact grow. The more connected you are, the more potential search visibility you're going to receive.

    6. Build up a reputation with reviews and social media.

    A big part of local SEO depends on the quality and quantity of the reviews you receive, but you can also generate independent buzz by cultivating more reviews (especially on offsite directories and social media). Work with your existing clients and regular customers to start developing better reviews and more visibility for your business. In turn, you'll get more visibility and more peripheral traffic (bypassing and complementing the organic search route), but you'll also get more inbound links and more "real estate" throughout the web, which can increase your overall organic search visibility.

    The truth is, small businesses can be just as competitive as big businesses when it comes to SEO. They aren't able to reach the same number of people, but they can receive huge increases in visibility, reputation, traffic, and eventually sales.

    Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a small enterprise means avoiding competing in areas where you're outclassed, and instead focusing on where you can make the biggest impact.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • Five Essential Qualities to Look for in an SEO Agency

    by Jayson DeMers

    It's almost impossible to run an SEO campaign by yourself - at least if you want to grow beyond the initial setup phase. However, at the same time, you may be reluctant to hire an SEO agency. After all, you know that there are a number of agencies that do shoddy work, putting you at higher risk for manual or algorithmic penalties.

    Furthermore, many agencies are prohibitively expensive. But if you know what to look for, you can find an agency that's affordable, reliable, and capable of giving you an incredible return on your investment.

    Why an SEO Agency?

    First, let's take a look at your options. You can't do this alone, so your two main options (other than an agency) are to hire someone full-time or leverage independent contractors to handle the bulk of your work. While each of these options has merits, full-time workers tend to be more expensive than contracting with an agency, though you do get more control over how they spend their time. Quality contractors are hard to find and hard to manage, but are typically the least expensive option.

    Essential Qualities

    If you're looking for an SEO agency that can give you the best results and the easiest working experience, these qualities are absolute musts:

    1. Knowledge of the latest trends and updates.

    SEO is a field that changes constantly, so you need an SEO agency that's able to keep up with the latest trends. If you're still using tactics that were only effective 10 years ago, you aren't going to see much in the way of results, and you might even set yourself back by incurring a penalty. Pay attention to how up-to-date your chosen agency's strategies are, and don't be afraid to ask some critical questions about their procedures and tactics.

    2. Experience in multiple areas.

    Most SEO agencies are generalists, able to offer you services in multiple categories, such as on-site content writing, on-site optimization, and link building. However, there are also specialists, such as specialized link builders or on-site optimizers. These aren't necessarily bad; however, SEO is a complex and multifaceted strategy. If your agency only has experience in one area, they may have a hard time connecting that area to all of the other significant SEO realms. If you need a niche specialist, a contractor may be a better option.

    3. Transparency.

    When it comes to building trust with an agency, transparency is the most important quality to look for. Pay attention to how revealing your chosen agency is with basic information. Are they open about how they do their work? Are they honest about any risks or setbacks that might be involved? Are they focused on making steady progress toward conservative, long-term gains rather than trying to sell you on a package as fast as possible?

    4. Communicativeness.

    SEO requires a significant amount of back and forth communication, so look for an agency with which you're able to communicate smoothly. You need to be able to call them up to talk when you have a question or discover a problem, and they need to listen to you carefully if they're going to produce content and to optimize your site in a way that accurately characterizes (and benefits) your brand. If you can, speak with the account manager with whom you'll be working directly, and see how well they communicate with you.

    5. Verifiable history.

    It's also a good idea to look at an SEO agency's past clients and references. A credible history is solid proof that your agency is one worth doing business with.
    Red Flags

    There are also some major red flags to watch out for, so if you notice any of these qualities, you may want to keep looking:

    • Promises and guarantees. Nothing in SEO can be guaranteed. It takes research, effort, timing, and a bit of luck to see early results - and even then, further refinement and tweaking are necessary to keep that momentum going. Any promise of specific growth is probably a lie.
    • Difficulty making a connection. If you have problems getting in touch with the agency - if it takes a long time to respond to your emails, or if there's no phone number to call - walk away. You need open communication to have an effective campaign.
    • Suspicious pricing. Suspicious pricing can go either way. Too cheap, and the work is likely do more harm than good, putting you in a worse position than when you started. Too expensive, and you'll have a hard time seeing a positive return on investment.
    • Lack of references. If an agency refuses to provide references or can't name any clients, it's a red flag. See if you can find any reviews of the agency online.

    Choosing an SEO agency isn't easy because there are so many options, but there are a handful of reliable, respectable options out there. If you look long enough and keep these traits in mind, you'll find a partner within your budget who can get you the results that you need. Don't think of your agency search as a product purchase; instead, think of it as seeking a relationship. You'll be with this agency for a while (presumably months or even years), so your priorities need to lie in how you'll work together.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

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