Local SEO Success Factors: Competitive Analysis

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
– Sun Tzu

Competitive analysis, i.e. knowing your competitors, is essential not just for SEO, but for any marketing initiative. Really any scenario where success involves doing something better than someone else requires studying the competition. Think about it, to prepare for an upcoming match athletes will watch previous game tape to structure their strategy around tendencies of the competition. Even in The Art of War, Sun Tzu agrees that knowing your enemy will help an army avoid disaster.

Competitive analysis is essential for SEO success, both at the onset of SEO and throughout the lifespan of a campaign. SEO involves improving the rankings of a website in organic search, a major obstacle being the other websites standing (or ranking) in the way. In order to beat the competition we must understand the competition, so if you want to move ahead of other websites in online search results, you must first understand why those other websites are ranking ahead of you.

Local SEO Competitive Analysis

When it comes to SEO for local businesses, evaluating and understanding the competition involves:

  • Size of industry and market. Larger markets are saturated with local businesses competing for the same page 1 rankings and competitive industries and markets often slow the SEO process. A business must have authority and a clear competitive advantage to distinguish themselves for SEO success.
  • Keyword research and development. What keywords and key phrases are most likely to drive relevant traffic to the website and attract customers for the business?
  • Relevant Google My Business categories. Ranking well in Google Map results is essential for local businesses and a lot can be learned by assessing how Google displays Map results in your industry. What categories are most relevant to your business and how do those align with your SEO keywords? Of your local competitors, which ones show up most in Google Map results and what are they doing to get all that exposure? There are a number of indicators that can be identified and used to your advantage for SEO.
  • SEO landscape assessment. Who is ranking on page 1 and why? Perform a few Google searches and see who is ranking on page 1 for the key terms for which you would like your website to rank. Click thru the search results and browse websites of businesses you are looking to surpass in the search results. How is their content formatted? How is their keyword density? How is their linking structure? A significant amount of intelligence can be gathered by simply visiting websites that rank well in local search results. Businesses should mimic (not plagiarize or infringe upon) anything that they know is pleasing to Google and other search engines.

SEO competitive analysis empowers businesses and marketers by giving us the ability to understand how Google indexes an industry and market. This enables us to determine the best course of action for any SEO campaign and ultimately outrank the competition by surpassing them in organic search results.

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Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) & Local SEO

ampIn October of 2015, Google announced its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project which aims to improve the performance of the web for people using a mobile device. AMP could potentially increase the rapidity of mobile webpage load times by 85%.

At this point the AMP project nothing more than a universal open-source initiative for anyone to use to create more mobile friendly web pages. But we should have reason to believe that the implementation of accelerated mobile pages on your website will be critical for the future of SEO; even if a website is already mobile friendly. We should certainly expect that websites providing users with AMPs will receive increased visibility in mobile SERPs. Continue reading

Online Search- We Know Our Goals, What Are Google’s Goals?

google's goalsAs an organization, Google’s mission is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s expansive territory claims 75% of the US search market online, and every month millions of unique users perform billions of searches. As users we have a pretty clear idea as to our goals when typing something in Google, but have you ever wondered what Google’s goals are?

The creation of computing machines was inspired by the desire to enhance the lives of humans, making the completion of tasks easier and the fulfillment of processes more efficient. Since the dawn of the digital age an everlasting goal of technological advancement has been to improve the symbiosis between humans and computers.

It was during his participation in the Human-Computer Interaction Group at Stanford that a grad student named Larry Page became an ardent advocate of the idea that user experience trumped all when it came to computing. He embraced the concept of user-focused design, insisting that computer interfaces should be intuitive and he openly acknowledged that the user is always right (Isaacson, (2014). The Innovators. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster). To this day the concept of user experience influences digital evolution, and it comes as no surprise that 20 years later the co-founder of Google has instilled these ideals at the core of online search.

Google’s Goal: Provide the Best Search Results

Google is universally known as a place to go to find things. Answers, facts, directions, products, services; seemingly infinite information at the tip of our fingers. The word “Google” was even categorized as a verb by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. To the best of its ability Google shows us what we ask for when we ask for it. But why? For what reason does Google give us instant answers to our questions after it sifts through a massive database filled with millions of websites, links, directories and publications just to answer a single question from an individual user? And for that matter how do we know that the answers provided by Google are the answers for which we are searching?

In 1998, a 20 page paper entitled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” was presented at an international conference, in which Larry Page and Sergey Brin concluded by declaring a single goal at hand: To provide high quality search results for online users (Isaacson, (2014). The Innovators. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster).

It’s simple conclusion aside, the paper detailed technical specifications about organic search rankings, web crawling, site indexing, PageRank and complex algorithms created by the duo that laid the foundation for what we know today as the online search engine, Google.

Google Goal #2: Eliminate Low Quality Content from SERP’s

In its unending mission to provide the highest quality search results, Google is constantly updating its algorithm to meet ever evolving user needs as well as snuff out black hat SEO. Over the past five years we have seen the most significant Google algorithm changes which aim to improve search results so that the best, most relevant content gets the exposure it deserves.

With these updates Google also intends to eliminate low quality content from search results, so penalties are administered to websites that fail to follow quality guidelines. There are a number of reasons why a site may be flagged and sometimes a penalty is deserved.

Google doesn’t penalize sites to be a tyrant and rule the online universe. Google simply rewards sites for offering high quality content and useful information, products or services. When Google rolls out an algorithm update or creates new ranking signals, it’s not to prevent sites or businesses from ranking, but rather to improve the quality of search results. Google evolves when it sees a need for improvement or when it recognizes an opportunity for enhanced UX. General rule of thumb to avoid Google penalties: Provide your audience with unique, useful, informative and relevant content that serves a purpose.

Google Goal #3: Maximize UX

Google does not rely solely on incomprehensible algorithms to determine the highest quality search results. Most would be surprised to learn that much of the daily activity each of us engages in online plays a significant role in how the search engine determines rankings. It recognizes how we interact, what we click, what we share and most importantly, what we DON’T need.

Additionally, people sharing and recommending content online is another way Google determines what’s relevant, factual and informative. This type of user behavior is similar to researchers citing other works and primary sources in a bibliography.

Since its creation and to this day Google has relied upon the study of people’s activity online to further improve the quality of the results provided by the search engine. User behavior as well as user experience have a significant impact on how Google achieves its goal of providing high quality search results.

The primary goal of Google is to provide users with the most relevant, highest quality results based on user search queries, i.e. their wants and needs when performing a search online. Google must trust a website or business before it ranks it organically. Google’s reputation is based on the quality of the information it provides and it’s not going to rank a website or business it does not trust. Google does not care about a website or business’s marketing goals. Google does not care to whom a business wants to be marketed. Google does not care where a business says they offer services. Google only cares about providing users with relevant, high quality search results as fast as possible.

Here are Ten Things We Know to be True directly from Google’s core philosophy to help guide us as well as business owners.

When Will an SEO Campaign Show an ROI

“What’s the return on investment?” is a question that constantly flows through the mind of any savvy professional. Even more so does this question plague the thinking of small business owners, often times ultimately influencing their every business decision. This mindset is especially true when it comes to evaluating marketing initiatives and this can be a difficult situation to combat for any digital marketing specialist operating an SEO program for that business. Continue reading

Confessions of an SEO Specialist: Part II

“All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

As we continue to address client misconceptions and common objections thrown at search engine optimizers, we arrive at a topic of discussion in which difficulty arises not from the explanation of SEO tactics, but how, when and why those tactics are implemented, or in some cases avoided, based on any given client’s industry, market, situation and goals.

Search Ranking Factors

As we very well know there are numerous factors that are taken into account when it comes to acquiring search engine rankings. These factors, Numbering around 200, are evaluated by means of a search algorithm, the exact equation of which is unknown. Though theoretical, SEO has taught us many things about what pleases and displeases this search engine algorithm, including some common SEO success factors. Continue reading

Confessions of an SEO Specialist: Part I

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Any SEO professional who is responsible for a client’s web presence is well aware of the endeavors that accompany acquiring rankings and search visibility for a business or organization; especially those of us handling multiple client SEO campaigns. These endeavors can be traced back to client expectations and a common misunderstanding of how search engine optimization actually works.

I have to admit that convincing some clients of the value of SEO is often more difficult than actually getting a website to rank page 1 in organic search. Not because I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but because I’m working for business savvy individuals who are either set in their traditional marketing ways, have been burned by an illegitimate SEO company in the past or are unconvinced that SEO is a worthwhile marketing expense. Continue reading

Google My Business for Local SEO

Google My Business Image for Ryan Dearth blogNow is the time for small business owners and local organizations to really optimize your online presence with a new and improved version of a classic digital marketing tool.

After months of maddening confusion and countless minutes spent on the phone with Google support troubleshooting client Google Place issues- not to mention the formidable task of having to repeatedly explain and resolve client issues (both non-ranking issues and Google Places dashboard transition failures) that I as an SEO Specialist couldn’t even really understand myself, nonetheless identify a solution. Continue reading