Local SEO Optimization Tips for SMBs

Local SEO Optimization Tips for SMBs: 6 Tips To Improve Internet Search Presence

Many small and medium business (SMBs) owners wish to rank their business on Google Search. Here are six local SEO optimization tips that are crucial for ranking your business.

Tip #1: Avoid duplicate listings

Over the years, business owners change their office locations, or their phone numbers. Since businesses are listed on multiple platforms–––Google My Business (GMB), Yelp, and Facebook––it’s vital that business owners update their information.

As an example, consider Dr. Rob, who has an office location on Pine Drive in San Jose, CA. After ten years, Dr. Rob moves to a new location, and instead of updating his office location, he creates a new GMB listing. Aside from misdirecting his clients, since they do not know which location is actually his, Dr. Rob’s Google Search rankings will also be affected.

Google Search dislikes duplicate content. The search engine may treat these duplicate listings as spam, consequently dividing search equity between the two listings. In short, duplicate and inaccurate listings affect not only customer trust, but they also significantly impair your search rankings on Google.

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Tip #2: Target local keywords for your business

Most small and medium businesses provide their services in specific geographic locations. If I’m in need of a back specialist to relieve pain in my back, I’ll search for “San Jose chiropractors” on Google rather than for “chiropractors in the United States.” If my need is more specific, and I seek holistic approaches to pain relief, I’ll probably search “San Jose holistic chiropractors.”

In the Bay Area, keyword searches can go in multiple directions. For a chiropractor in San Jose, I can search “Bay Area chiropractors,” “Santa Clara County chiropractors,” “Silicon Valley chiropractors,” or “San Jose chiropractors.” Because one geographical area can be described by four different geo-tags, it’s vital that business owners target keywords not only particular to their practice but also to their geographical vicinities.

Larger cities have more variation in their searches because of a larger population. If you’re a chiropractor in San Francisco, consider that many people search for the additional geographical area of “South San Francisco” (see the image below). This would be an additional keyword that you should target.

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Tip #3: Consider reviews for GMB in addition to Yelp and Facebook

Most businesses invest in automation software that prompts their customers to leave reviews on Facebook, Yelp, or other review platforms. Yet most businesses fail to consider the importance of reviews on their GMB page. In fact, many businesses do not ask their customers to leave reviews on their GMB page. Since Google reviews directly appear in the search results, it’s usually the best place to organically attract new customers.

If you’d like to see more data on this, take a look at a 2018 report documenting local search result ranking factors. Reviews account for 15.44% of ranking factors in location-based searches.

In terms of search rankings, the more GMB reviews you have, the more likely Google will place you at the top of local search rankings. In other words, Google trusts your customers and places a lot of faith in their comments. Though the quantity of reviews alone will not determine your local search rankings, it’s important to keep in mind that––search rankings aside––a business with more reviews will most likely get more clicks. And ask yourself, which search engine are your customers using most often for location-based searches?

Tip #4: Think about writing quality, evergreen content for your audience

I think quality content is one of the more defining factors in overall content strategy. By “quality” I mean content that offers your customers value, creates a dialogue, and focuses on delivering information relevant to the target audience. This strategy is sometimes called inbound marketing, or content marketing.

To continue the example of the holistic chiropractor––if you’re seeking to boost your search rankings, consider writing relevant and informative content for your target audience. If you specialize in treating back pain, use your expertise to write an informative article on what it takes to successfully treat back issues. Perhaps you know that most of your clients have gone to several specialists, and those specialists have failed to treat their pain. Use this information to target your audience while listing the most important steps patients can take to treat their pain. Within this article you may stress the benefits of using a holistic approach to back pain.

Evergreen content can take the form of “how-to” articles. Since a how-to article does not necessarily age (the content will always be relevant), you can ensure that this content will drive traffic.

In the end, quality content provides value for the customer, builds brand awareness, and establishes a relationship with the customer. Useful content also leads to conversions in the form of more visits to your website, or more calls to your office.

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Tip #5: Simplify and condense technical information so that it’s relatable to your audience

You should know your target audience and know how well they understand the technical nature of your job. Take a look at two previous articles I wrote about how to simplify language to make it more manageable and to make it more relatable.

If you’re a chiropractor, your audience  may not know the minute intricacies of the human body to understand what’s leading to their back pain. In order to fully explain how they may receive the full benefits of holistic treatment, you may need to examine the knowledge that is standard to you but not to your patients. Content is informative but to relay certain types of information you may need to educate along the way.

In this case, know your audience is the best truism there is. If your target audience is composed of doctors and fellow chiropractors, then it’s safe to assume they know the standard knowledge base particular to your field. However, they may not know the ins and outs of holistic treatments options, and here is where you must educate as well as inform once again.  

Tip #6: Consider working with a marketing agency to boost the growth and reach of your business

As a small and medium business owner, you’re probably very busy. The days you’re away from the office are perhaps the days that you do not want to think about your business; your off-days are devoted to other priorities in your life. Marketing takes time, and it’s often the time that you don’t have, or simply cannot devote to your business. This is where marketing agencies can help.

Marketing agencies specializing in SMBs can help take care of all your advertising, promotion, distribution, and internet presence. Good agencies will help you remove duplicate listings of your business, update your website to make sure that all local keywords will rank your website on Google Search, examine your social media, create citations to websites popular in your area (Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc.) to boost your search presence, and write quality content that captures the particularites of your business.

Marketing agencies can also help with the 4Ps of marketing: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. Perhaps you have price figured out, but what if there are more Places where buyers can look for your product. Maybe you’re not using all the right distribution channels for your business.

Conversely, marketing agencies specializing in content can help you with Promotion by researching and understanding where, when, and how to drive your message to your target audience. If you have many competitors and some of them are doing a better job of reaching the audience you compete for, it’s worth researching your competitor’s tactics to get ahead.

If you find yourself offering a service in a field with multiple service providers, then it’s worth considering how to position your name, brand, and service. Having clear messaging that communicates your value proposition can play a significant role for customers that fall outside your referral or word-of-mouth network. Your value proposition is what makes you unique and attracts new customers.

What’s at stake when using colorblind and gender-blind language

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I’ve worked with employers in the past who have wanted to write corporate mission statements and leadership thought-pieces that avoid the “political topics” of race and gender. Rather than mention women or historically underrepresented groups in the workplace, these companies wanted to use colorblind and gender-blind language as a way to avoid discussing gender and race.

Working with these companies, I frequently encountered their impulse to promote equality in the workplace by underscoring their egalitarianism while inadvertently neutralizing and marginalizing issues of gender and race. “We don’t see color,” they may say. “It doesn’t matter who you are, man or woman.”

In some cases, when companies use colorblind and gender-blind, they do so to emphasize that the person who will be hired or receive a promotion will do so because of their merit. One of the core ideas that these companies try to express is that a person receives a promotion regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity. The company’s thinking is that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is; if you have what it takes, you will succeed. In some cases, this statement is true, but there are also many ways that race and gender influence such decisions that we may not even be aware of on conscious levels.

Looking at the facts and figures, it sometimes does matter who you are. In some industries, women occupy high-level roles, making them great candidates for executive positions––CEOs, COOs, and other top-level leadership positions. But among Fortune 500 companies, the number of women in these positions is surprisingly low. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies fell from 6.4% in 2017 to 4.8% in 2018, with 32 women leading major firms in 2017.

For some, colorblind language in particular is directly associated with racism, as it “allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination.” As Monnica T. Williams explains in a frequently cited article in Psychology Today, “In a colorblind society, White people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society.”

People who agree with Williams’s view often see a larger and longer narrative of discrimination in the United States. A few examples illustrate this point: there’s the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that “ended the era of free immigration and stigmatized an entire race,” as historian Jonathan Bean explains. Before this event, Protestants had issues to pick with Irish and German Catholic immigrants before the Civil War. Then there’s the Dawes Act and Plessy v. Ferguson––and on the examples go.

Yet there’s a side that critiques Williams’s view. Conor Friedersdorf, a journalist at The Atlantic, suggests that “encouraging whites to be color conscious and to think of themselves in racial terms would encourage the nativism embraced by some Donald Trump supporters—that a heightened awareness of whiteness would produce a sense of persecution, and encourage some to rally in defense of white rights.”

Regardless of where one may stand on the debate (though knowing the debate is helpful), I think it’s more instructive to consider the individual and their experience. For some, gender and race are integral aspects of their identity. When someone says, “we don’t see color,” they may be discounting the experience of an individual or a group who did go through discrimination or persecution.

On a company-wide, the implications of colorblindness and gender-blindness allow for the perpetuation of implicit biases that affect hiring and promotions and other facets. As UCLA Professor of Law Jerry Kang explains, “These social cognitions, whether they be attitudes or stereotypes, can be either implicit or explicit. Similar to its usage in cognitive psychology, the term ‘implicit’ emphasizes our unawareness of having a particular thought or feeling.” Implicit biases of race, gender, and ethnicity “affect social judgments but operate without conscious awareness or conscious control.” The onus is then on companies to change their internal policies to expel  internal biases.

In today’s time––and putting aside whether the allegations are scurrilous or true––scandals abound on issues of race and gender: New York Times CEO Mark Thompson faced a discrimination lawsuit; Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky had to act quickly when his company was accused of bias; and UBER Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey resigned following allegations of ignoring discrimination complaints. For some, “color” and/or “gender” are important issues and conflicts that do relate to race, ethnicity, and culture. To ignore it, or say “we don’t see color,” is one way to discount the experience of a group of people who do see gender and color in their lives.

When companies want to write leadership thought-pieces that lean in the direction of “it doesn’t matter who you are,” one of my suggestions to them is to focus on the specific achievements people accomplished. Regardless of the view companies take on the colorblind and gender-blind debate, by focusing on accomplishments companies reinforce their commitment to equality on the basis of performance.

Measuring performance also means recognizing merit amongst all employees. And while noticing an employee’s merit, in some cases it’s helpful to recognize their unique experiences. Noticing each person’s experience contributes to a diverse workplace.

The irony is that focusing on performance metrics and accomplishments alone feed into what colorblind and gender-blind policies have done in the past: ignore gender and race and focus instead on merit and accomplishments. It’s not the best solution. As recent examples have shown, the best way to avoid colorblind and gender-blind issues is to have efforts that bring all people together, equip leaders and employees with educational tools to lead, and have action plans that lead to behavioral change.*

*The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the companies mentioned.

How to simplify language for marketing (Part 2): The case of Slack and the passive voice [Updated].

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This is Part 2 of a four part series. See Part 1 on simplifying language.

We’ve all heard of the active and passive voice in writing. “Use the active voice” is often the first critique we receive on our writing in college English courses. But the rules for using passive and active often seem arbitrary. To aid in sentence clarity, we’re told to use the active voice, but no one provides us with the rules for using the passive voice.

The easiest way to identify passive voice in a sentence is to search for auxiliary forms of the verb to be and the past participle of the action verb (walked, eaten, stood, ate). Forms of to be include am/are/is; was/were; have been/has been/had been; will be/will have been. For example: The deal was brokered by the team. Here the auxiliary form of to be is “was” and the action verb is “brokered.” Passive constructions will be paired with past participles in sentences.

If we use the active voice, we make our sentences more direct by naming the action undertaken by the subject of the sentence. For example: The team brokered the deal. In this active sentence, the action of brokering the deal is directly transferred to the subject, the team. If we use the passive voice, the subject expresses the end result of an action. For example: The deal was brokered by the team. Here the subject reveals the result of an action, which appears before the subject in the sentence.

When deciding between the active and passive voice, it’s helpful to consider word count. In the above example, the active sentence contains 5 words while the passive contains 7. Imagine a document filled with 20 sentences––between passive and active the difference can potentially be 40 words. And 40 words can be the difference between clear or murky messaging.

Yet passive voice has its place. If in a longer piece of writing the subject stays the same, then it’s okay to use the passive because the reader will know that you’re referring to the same subject. You can also use the passive to avoid stating responsibility. For example: The employees who are indicted on charges of fraud can be sent to prison. In this example, the sentence does not directly state who is responsible for the action, merely that some employees have the possibility of going to prison as a result of their fraud charges. Passive voice can also be used to avoid using all-male pronouns and first person-singular pronouns; it can also be used to deflect responsibility or conceal information.

How companies use the passive and active may communicate different ideas. Consider Slack’s main message on their home page, as of March 25, 2019: “Slack is a collaboration hub for work, no matter what work you do. It’s a place where conversations happen, decisions are made, and information is always at your fingertips. With Slack, your team is better connected.” Breaking down the sentence by passive/active we get: Slack is a collaboration hub (passive). It’s a place where conversations happen (passive), decisions are made (passive), and information is always at your fingertips (passive). With Slack, your team is better connected (passive).

For comparison, let’s convert the entire message into the active voice: “Slack provides a hub for collaboration, no matter what work you do. With Slack, conversation happens, decisions occur, and information moves. Slack connects your team.” There’s a big difference between the two. The passive construction contains 36 words while the active contains 25––a difference of 11 words. The passive construction emphasizes what Slack is  while the active emphasizes what Slack enables teams to do. Last, the passive emphasizes all the work that happens on Slack’s platform, while the active underscores how using Slack leads to different levels of productivity.

As a company, Slack decided to use the passive voice to underscore the existential qualities of its platform. If we remove the passive voice, the message underscores the mere instrumentality of Slack: Slack provides X; Slack does Y; and Slack connects Z. The active has the effect of making Slack appear invisible. Using a verb form of to be (“is”), Slack manages to highlight not only the expedient uses of its platform but also its unique cultural characteristics that will meld and merge within a given company. In my view, the passive construction highlights the right properties of Slack in its messaging, but the addition of some active sentence constructions may have made the message more concise while not diminishing its characteristics. In the end, there’s always a choice (and choices) to make that will affect various components of the message.*

*The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the companies mentioned.

How to simplify language for marketing (Part 1) [Updated]

a yellow pineapple to represent content marketing simplified

This is Part 1 of a four part series. See Part 2 on simplifying language.

In content marketing, clear and precise language translates into a powerful and resonant message. Clear language is often simple, but it’s not simple in the sense of being basic or subpar. We call language simple when it’s easy to understand and when it presents no difficulty of comprehension to the intended reader or audience. The audience can instantly grasp the message. Yet how an audience embraces this message often depends on their prior knowledge of the subject.

English grammar and usage manuals often use the terms clarity and grace in place of simplicity. Language that has clarity is coherent and intelligible, and as readers we do not need to strain our minds to understand a key idea or concept. The late English professor Joseph M. Williams argued that prior knowledge of a subject usually influences how we interact with a given idea or concept. As he says, “What counts most in comprehending a text is how much we already know about its content.” Text and message are interchangeable. If we know a lot about a subject, chances are we interact positively with the message because we understand its argument, whether we agree or disagree with its overall message. If we know little about the subject, and we’re reading a text that assumes we know a lot, we usually respond with irritation and confusion. We ultimately fail to comprehend the message because the writer assumed too much.

The amount we comprehend about a company and its message depends on our prior knowledge of not only the brand but the industry and its accompanying technical knowledge. When I land on Uber’s main home page, I see the following message: “Move the way you want.” The message uses freedom to appeal to both drivers and riders. As consumers we can hail an Uber ride whenever we want; as drivers we have the flexibility and freedom to work at our convenience. We comprehend Uber’s message because we know that Uber offers transportation, and when we connect freedom with transportation, we have a message that communicates convenience and ease.

When a product or service is more complex and technical, prior knowledge becomes a key pivot point because writers have to estimate how much information their readers need in order to understand a message. Yet when there is no product or service, but rather a technology, the issue magnifies the implications. Take cryptocurrency, for example, an innovative technology built on blockchain, which is a decentralized ledger recording all transactions across a peer network. I’m not an expert in cryptocurrency, but after reading about crypto and the industry, I find myself fixating on the idea that cryptocurrency is often defined as an encrypted string of data, at its most basic level. Go further into the construction of cryptocurrency, and the tech jargon piles up: algorithms, hash functions, and Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance (PBFT). Fittingly, the prefix “crypto” means secret or hidden.

If I don’t have a knowledge of encryption—or even a generalized conception of it—then it’s much harder for me to grasp a company’s message or white paper about cryptocurrency, particularly when they emphasize its encryption methods. In other words, my lack of prior knowledge hindered my comprehension of a fundamental concept operating in cryptocurrency.

Companies face a fundamental issue in their messaging materials when deciding how much knowledge their target audience must possess. Each community or target audience will possess unique bodies of knowledge, or “characteristic ways of thinking about problems, of making and evaluating arguments,” as Joseph M. Williams says. A doctor will confidently discuss with another doctor how a virus replicates within the human body because the doctor can safely assume that the other doctor attended medical school and knows that viruses are obligate intracellular pathogens that need a host cell to replicate. Both doctors are part of the same interpretive community.

If a doctor discusses the biology behind virus replication with a patient, chances are the patient does not have the same background to instantly (and I specifically say “instantly”) understand the full scope of the main message. The doctor would have to go back to basics to make sure the main message and concept of virus replication relay to the patient. To drive the cryptocurrency example home: a strong writer must juggle a concise but in-depth explanation of encryption while not diminishing or foregoing the main value points of cryptocurrency.

Each audience possess different knowledge sets that vary in scale. While people in IT most likely will have a deeper understanding of various encryption methods, and will better relate to a cryptocurrency message touting some unthinkable advantage over others, a different audience may not. The marketing fundamental, know your audience, is commonplace for a reason. And to those that say cryptocurrency does not have a target audience because it is a global currency, I would then put forth the argument that the audience is everyone. For crypto to become global and widespread, people with various backgrounds would need to know what it is.

In marketing a product or service, the ability to predict how much our audience knows can mean the difference between a sale and a bust. In other words, the rate at which we process a message is key. If an audience can quickly and almost instantly comprehend a company’s message in marketing collateral, then the message forges a strong identification with potential customers. And given that an audience’s attention span has decreased dramatically in the last decades as research has shown, there’s a limited window to craft a resonating message. Williams rightly says “that learning to write clearly can help us think and feel and see.” While there are other components to clear writing, the fundamental idea is that we want our audiences to hopefully use as many human senses as possible to experience a brand and message with clarity, despite the varying amounts of technical information needed to understand a given product and its industry.

Finding the right balance between knowing how much to assume as a writer is vital. Given that this balance is often different when writing a slogan or white paper, and varies according to each industry’s specifications and target audience, the right balance is often the difference between confusion and comprehension.*

*The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the companies mentioned.