There is a reason why SEO is such a thriving industry that virtually every type of business can leverage it for growth, and it's a rather simple reason: Google controls an estimated 40 percent of all internet traffic, and 67.5 percent of search traffic. While exact numbers are hard to come by, I have a sneaking suspicion that the number is actually quite a bit higher than that (Bing and Yahoo traffic has always been rather paltry in my analyses).
Furthermore, studies show that of all the search traffic, clicks to paid results (Google AdWords and PPC) only take up something like 5 to 20 percent, depending on industry. While plenty of businesses thrive off of PPC alone, the numbers don't lie: Not targeting organic search is leaving lots of money on the table – potentially 80 to 95 percent.
But that's not the point of this post. What I want to cover here is why it's important to take up as many spots as you can on the Google SERPs. With Google organic being the distributor of commercial traffic on the internet, getting visibility everywhere you can in those results is the key to success and growth.
Ranking No. 1 is the obvious goal, but what if it will take you 4-12 months to achieve those rankings? What if you are stuck at No. 4 with a pesky Yelp listing sticking in the No. 1 spot?
Let's take a look at how you can attack this opportunity.
Step 1: Google Maps
I will include this right off the bat because it's often cited separately from organic results, although I've come to view them as being somewhat equivalent. The Google Maps pack has become so prevalent with local searches that some have now simply referred to it as local SEO.
Google My Business (formerly Google Places, Google+, Google Maps and more names I'm sure I'm forgetting) is the back-end area where you can verify and optimize your listing. Running an NYC SEO firm, I see clients all the time that mishandle or under-optimize their GMB listings, and I've put together a short list of some elements to tackle.
If you don't want to bother implementing these on your own, or don't even know where to start with Google My Business or SEO in general, consider reaching out to a local SEO professional. However, these tips are still effective if you want to DIY:
- Upload lots of pictures, with relevant file names.
- Reach out to your customers for reviews (automated email follow-up works great for this).
- Include your Maps Embed or link to your Maps listing on your website and social profiles (get relevant with the anchor text).
- List your business in several relevant categories, not just your primary one.
Your GMB listing is tied to your website, so why is this different from the other "organic" listings? Note a few points:
- Proximity to the searcher is much more important and granular than local organic listings. In fact, when possible, it's best to have multiple listings spread throughout a given city.
- Reviews are a ranking factor. Leverage your positive experiences with customers to gain positive reviews, which can help your ranking naturally. This doesn't happen with organic search.
- Ranking can be influenced by organic search, but they aren't necessarily directly correlated. This means you can start ranking in maps even before you break the top three of organic. Similar to the Answer Box, you can get inserted into Position 0 just by breaking into the top 10.
GMB optimization is not optional for local businesses. It's so prevalent in all local searches that it's an absolute must-have for any local website.
Step 2: "Free" listings on authority sites
Once you've conquered GMB, the next step in getting exposure throughout the SERP is to analyze what other sites are ranking. Let's take a look at the websites returned for "roofer San Antonio" (a term, by the way, for which advertisers are paying upward of $40 for a single click):
Highlighted in bold are authority sites that are basically lists of other companies. Five out of 10 results in Google are taken up by these sites, including the first two spots.
Of course, most of these sites are not trying to send traffic to companies without getting some money in return (especially Angie's List and Thumbtack, which try their hardest to obfuscate the view of the actual companies they list), but they can still be leveraged using "free listings."
This is especially true of Yelp, which clearly displays "free" listings. It also has a ranking algorithm of its own. This means you can achieve prime location without paying for Yelp ads. I'll share a few of the factors I've found to be effective:
- Fill out all the possible content on your profile, including history, specialties and owner bio.
- Enable "request for quote" options to encourage inbound messages. Active profiles tend to rank better.
- Encourage reviews (as with GMB, automated email follow-up works great for this).
- Have lots of images, especially user-uploaded ones (consider encouraging that in your email follow-up as well).
- Use keywords in your company name, reviews and descriptions (don't go overboard, though).
All these elements will not only help your ranking in Yelp itself, but will fill out your Yelp profile URL, which can rank in Google on its own.
Note: All these review-style sites also serve as handy "social proof" on your website, fliers or print brochures (a BBB Accredited badge, for example). In this way, gaining positive reviews can help you land clients even if you don't end up ranking on those sites.
Step 3: Parasite SEO
This strategy has an ugly name and a somewhat ugly past, but it's still a very much legitimate way of optimizing for search engines.
The strategy is simple:
- Publish your company profile page on large authority sites like Facebook and Yelp.
- Optimize that page as you would any other (text, metadata, images, keyword mentions and backlinks).
- Attempt to rank for target "money" terms in search engines.
This sometimes happens naturally. A popular company on Yelp that has gained lots of reviews and natural popularity might see its Yelp profile page start to rank.
Why does this have an ugly past? Well, spammers found that hammering Yelp or Facebook with thousands or millions of spam links was less risky than doing so to their own sites, so they went at it.
The spammy strategies have become less effective over time, so I don't recommend them. However, these pages are still legitimate resources that Google can and will favor in the SERPs.
These are some more acceptable strategies for optimizing:
- Link from your website (perhaps with some creative anchor text or alt text).
- List your Yelp or Facebook pages along with your website when publishing guest posts, articles, etc.
- Push happy customers toward these pages to leave reviews or share on social.
- Make sure the page itself is optimized, especially title tags, images and content.
With Google pretty much delegating where all commercial traffic on the web goes, it's obviously crucial to get your company's properties to rank No. 1. However, with lots of other real estate on those SERPs, it's more and more important to leverage other spots as well. These tactics will allow your company to more fully dominate the first page, and in doing so, you will dominate your niche and beat out your competition.