Local SEO tactics and social media strategies (7/22/2020)

Office hours from July 22, 2020.

In this week’s Office Hours we talked about how you can improve your site so you can be found for people searching for your business locally. We even talked about the special keyword “near me” and how Google handles searches that include this phrase.

We also got away from purely SEO issues and talked about how you can promote content on social media networks.

Would you like to bring your SEO questions to Office Hours? To do so, you need to join The Colony. Hope to see you there!

David: Welcome, everybody, to “Office Hours.” Today is July 22nd, and we’re here to talk about SEO and all things “Curious Ants.” And last week we had a really great conversation. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a conversation because I think I waxed eloquent for almost an hour. But maybe a good question is a way of saying it from Anita, and I think, Anita, you said you had an update for us based on what we talked about last week.

Anita: Yes. So I had a conversation with my client and the result of that is now I not only have her nonprofit business, but her for-profit business as well.

David: Wow. That’s really great. Congratulations. One of the things of the purpose of “Curious Ants” is to help us all do a little bit better SEO and the other thing is if you wanted to provide it as a service, great. And so I’m really glad to hear that.

Anita: And we were talking about the needs of the content and her key words and all of that. And so she actually asked me, she said, “Can you help me with my SEO?” And I’m like, “Yes, ma’am, I can.”

David: That’s great. Well, I’m looking forward to helping you help her because I hope you continue to bring the questions that you encounter while you’re working with her to our “Office Hours” so we could all work with them together. But that makes me so happy. Good job. I was thinking about that idea and I wonder if we can make it a practice going forward in the future, if it would be fun to begin our “Office Hours” with what’s one success you’ve seen over the last week? Yeah. It can be a very scary thing. I see your look, Allie. You know, maybe the success is I finally got to get to something, right? Maybe the success is, “Oh, I just noticed that for the first time I’m seeing traffic to my site,” or, “For the first time, my client thanked me for the quality leads,” or, “For the first time, I got a client that’s really loved a blog post…” You know, let’s celebrate because I think that this could be a place for us to really encourage each other. And some of this SEO stuff can be a real slog and it doesn’t always feel like you’re making a difference. And so maybe if we can come with a exciting story of something that we were able to do over the last week, we can kind of use that to kind of encourage each other to keep going. So I won’t put us on the spot to do that this week, but over the next week, let’s start thinking about, “Oh, what’s that thing I can start with that’s like, “Oh, this was great.” And hey, you know, for some of us it’s going to be, “I finally got to this,” and that’s great because we all know that project management, time management is a struggle for all of us. And let’s not apologize for the fact that we sometimes have a victory that’s we finally got to something. But, anyway, I’m going to invite us to do it. So I’m going to put us all on the spot and I’m warning you, next week the first question I’m going to ask you is, “Give me one success story from the last week.” So, warning, I’m going to ask and you know what that means, I’m going to have to think of one too. So that’s scary too. But let’s think about that and maybe we can use that to encourage each other a little bit. So, we have one question so far in the queue for today. Allie submitted us a question. Welcome back. Your hair looks great.

Allie: Thank you. Best two hours of my life.

David: So I think you’re asking a question that is, a lot of us in the SEO world can relate to, even if we might ask it a little bit different. You’re asking, “What can we do to increase being found in specific counties?” Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

Allie: Sure. So our business isn’t, like, it’s rooted in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, which is in a specific county, but our services expand throughout the entire state. So we get a ton of interest and inquiries from people around where our office base is, but have a harder time elsewhere, because our physical location doesn’t limit what we do, but that affects people’s searches, I think. So we’re trying to figure out how we can optimize for other areas and not just the area where our address is.

David: Okay. Okay. So I’m going to restate it to you with the hopes of making sure I understand the question clearly. So you aren’t limited to a particular radius, for instance, to serve your clients. You can really serve clients all over the greater State of New Jersey.

Allie: Correct.

David: Right? And you would like those people, even if they’re not nearby your office to be able to find you. And so what’s a search strategy to reach those people? Maybe they’re in Newark, maybe they’re closer to Philly, but you could still help them, and how could they find you?

Allie: Exactly.

David: Is that it? Okay. So I think the first thing I’d say is the first thing is always when we’re trying to be found is go do keyword research. And part of the keyword research process is to modify our phrases that we think people are looking for by geography. The problem is, and you probably encountered this, is that sometimes for smaller towns, Google doesn’t have enough data to show people searching for that small town.

Allie: Yeah. And also I was thinking a lot of like the “near me” function.

David: Right, right. Near me is… I’m going to write that down because I wanted to remember to get to that.

Allie: Because it’s misleading, kind of.

David: Yes. Yes. But for what we do, by analogy, if our town doesn’t show up in the data for the keywords that we’re trying to optimize for, we assume that the phrase without the geography is searched for with our local town even if the data isn’t big enough to show our local town as part of the search there. For instance, if we did lawyer in Philadelphia or lawyer in New York City, there’s enough searches for those New York City lawyer and the Philadelphia lawyer that Google probably says, “Oh, how many people are searching for New York City, lawyer, or Philadelphia?” But if we’re talking about us smaller town, that might not be. However, we do know that because people are searching for a New York City lawyer, that they’re searching for Rock Hill, South Carolina lawyer. It just maybe doesn’t show up as much. So the first thing is we want to focus on a geography near us for our main core audience and we have to pick something for our local town. So then it becomes basic optimization practices, which we kind of talk about in the optimizing a page process, which is simply, Google doesn’t catch a drift very well. It really needs to know that you really are in that area. So explicitly mentioning places really is important. Now, that goes for like the place where you’re in, but you’re trying to go well beyond that. And there could be several strategies we could do to reach someone in Newark or someone in Princeton or something like that. For instance, if we could somehow open up an office in those areas, that would be an easier way to reach those people because then we’d have an address and then we could do local optimization. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Right? Not everybody can afford to open a location in every major town.

Anita: We all work remotely, actually, so putting an office space is just an address basically.

David: Yeah. So this is what I would want to do, pardon me, for what you do. So rather than for each services, because you’ve broken down your keyword research and you have pages you’re optimizing for services, and you’ve done the research to say this service, this is how people search for it. This is how people search for this service. And then are you modifying any of those keywords in your content by your geography?

Allie: Okay.

David: I mean, are you?

Allie: Not a lot, and that’s something that I talked to Kara about also because we… So typically when you do a search for services in New Jersey, we’re on the first page of the Google results, but we’re not in the top five. We’re probably around seven or eight. And I think that is because we don’t mention location as much. So if we narrow it down and we do a search for Central Jersey or Central New Jersey, then we actually pop up higher because not a lot of other places, I guess, are presenting that way. So we rank higher as far as the results go, but county-specific, I have to look and see what our results are. I think that is something that we need to work on because, or at least I need to look into and see are people searching County specific and then see, because also I need to understand like how the near me function works. Like, if we are mentioning specific towns or counties, is that going to affect the near me results or is the near me only affected by our business address?

David: Okay. So a couple of things, number one, we’ve got to be really careful when we start Googling ourselves, right? Because number one, just because you Google yourself and see yourself in a particular place doesn’t mean anybody else does, right? For instance, Google knows the website you prefer based on the fact that you’ve clicked on that website several times, blah, blah, blah. So Google could be personalizing the search results and showing you artificially higher. Right? I had a client one time who hired me, a week later, Googled himself, he found he was in the number one position. And he said, “Thank you, David,” and he wanted to stop paying me. But in reality, he literally every day clicked on his own search results and Google said, “Let me help you. You apparently like that website,” artificially rose it to the top. It wasn’t the case.

Allie: If you did private browsing search, would it be the same?

David: On Chrome, no. Google is still using that data. Right?

Allie: Interesting.

David: So we can’t really objectively say rank. Using anecdotal ranking things. We can get a better idea going into Google search console, but you’ll notice in Google search console, when they report rank, they report a decimal, 6.2. That’s because you don’t really rank six. You rank five sometimes, eight sometimes, nine sometimes, six sometimes. The average is 6.2, right? And so they give you an average because Google ranks things based on lots of factors, not just what you control. And so ranking can be a real slippery metric. Then, the other thing we got to worry about is just because we can think of a term, Central New Jersey, whatever, doesn’t mean anybody else thinks about it that way or anybody else is doing that search. And especially when we can’t find the data, we kind of have to assume. So that’s why we want to look at traffic because traffic has a way of averaging out rank. And if we, by ranking better, we will get more traffic. So if we’re getting more traffic, we are ranking better for some ideas. If each page has a clearly focused phrase, we kind of know what phrases are generating that traffic and what’s being successful or not. But then again, the other issue is not just do we want traffic? We want customers. So we want traffic that produces people contacting me for services. Otherwise, it could just be traffic that’s not necessarily beneficial traffic. Lookie-loos, people who are just curious about something but never will become a customer. So we’ve gotta be really careful when we’re doing anecdotal searches to definitively say, “I don’t rank in the top five,” or even, “I’m really on the first page.” You might be on the first page for yourself. But if I were to search…

Anita: I have a question.

David: Yes, please.

Anita: In regards to the near me, it’s more of a clarification point, I thought that the near me is geographical based on whoever’s doing the search and it’s only a certain mile radius. So if I’m hungry and I do a near me, I feel like I’m going to be more apt to do near me if I’m hungry and I’m out and about than if I’m researching someone that I’m looking to get some real quality service for. So when I look for a doctor, for instance, near me is great, but what’s near me may not be a good fit for me. So I don’t use it that much in that kind of scope. So I guess my question to Allie is when people are looking for your service, are they more the people that are, “Hey, I’m hungry. I need this right now,” or, “Man, I really need help with this,” or, you know, in my case, “Oh, my God, if I don’t find a new rheumatologist soon, I’m going to scream.”

Allie: So that’s a good point and I think it’s a combination of the two, because so the service we provide takes place in the home of the individual that is requesting it. So based on the data that we have, the majority of inquiries we get are from the area surrounding our business address, that would then support the fact that people are doing some kind of geographical search because we have much less inquiries the further away from our business address we get. And it is also a service that sometimes people don’t know a lot about, and so they might not know like, “Oh, I want the best, not the closest,” or, you know, they might think, “Well, I need someone close to me because it’s going to be in my home.” So I can’t call someone who’s two hours away when, really, we could because we might have a staff member that lives two hours away. So it’s sort of a complicated answer, unfortunately, which is why it’s a more complicated question than it seems, if that makes sense.

David: Yeah. So let’s talk about how Google handles near me. It’s almost a magical word. And I agree with Anita, Google is taking the consideration of where you are when you search that, right? But I think either Anita is implying this or…but I think you’re right. Near me can mean different things for different queries. Right? Pizza near me is one thing, lawyer near me is another thing, and I bet you, the lawyer near me radius is bigger than the pizza near me radius. Right? Because, like, I can’t get pizza from across Charlotte, from the university area. That’s just too far away. Why do I want pizza from that far away? I mean, unless it’s spectacularly amazing, but then I’m not searching for near me cause that’s an immediate, “I’m hungry.” Right? So we don’t know how Google interprets your business alley in terms of near me or anybody’s business for that matter. But we could infer. And so it’s are they going to treat you more like a doctor or a lawyer or a professional service near me, or are they going to treat you like a restaurant near me? I’d suggest it’s probably not like a restaurant.

Allie: Yeah, I mean, that would be my assumption.

David: So it’s probably a little bit broader, like a professional service area near me. But to be found by the near me queries, it’s a special keyword in that Google has over the years been getting a lot better at understanding the queries, not just replicating the query. So someone enters in a phrase, “I want pizza near me.” They don’t just look for the words “pizza near me” on pages and serve those pages up. Google algorithm, as much as an algorithm can, understands something, knows that it really means something. And so, it’s not looking for the words “near me” to serve near me search results. But it does have to have data to know where the business is to see if it’s relevant for the searcher’s query for a near me. So, to be found for near me, you have to have some connection to geography on your website. So, making sure the address of your business is on every page of your website, maybe in the footer or something like that, would help Google establish what near me means. Now, because you, near me is almost irrelevant because if someone was way far away, a couple of hours away maybe, you could still serve them. So you almost want to break the whole near me thing to make sure Google says, “Oh, near me isn’t really relevant to this business because you can serve anybody in the New Jersey area.” Right? On a side note, can you serve in Pennsylvania or are there certifications?

Allie: No, it’s different. Yeah.

David: Okay.

Allie: It’s complicated.

David: Yeah. I’m thinking of a radius from Central New Jersey, which would go into parts of Pennsylvania. But, yeah. So what I would do, if I wanted to be found in other areas outside of my local town or county, is I would find ways… Okay, first thing I would do I should say, is I would make sure the keyword focus for all of my terms was my state and the keyword service, not my city and the keyword service. Right? So, well, for example, what is one of the most important keywords for your homepage? Can you recall it offhand?

Allie: I mean, well, “ABA” in general is, but “provider” is also a…

David: ABA provider?

Allie: Yeah.

David: Okay. So then I would make sure my page is optimized for New Jersey ABA provider. Put in the title tag, put it in the description, make sure it’s on the page a couple of times, use it in the headlines, use it in all the basics for optimizing a page. But explicitly state New Jersey, and go through each of your services and explicitly state how you provide it in New Jersey, or you are a New Jersey ABA therapist for young adults.

Allie: Would you think it would be valuable to create a page within our website that is location specific and have things that, you know, that mention the different counties or different areas, or is it more successful to just continually add New Jersey into existing pages?

David: It used to be, and when I say used to be, I’m talking ancient history of SEO from two or three years ago. Because SEO has changed so much. But we used to do that. We used to create a page per county or a page per city and talk about… But Google has kind of started frowning on that. They’re calling them doorway pages because the explicit purpose is to get traffic to them and there’s really not a lot of user value outside of them. So what I would recommend is focus your main services on the state as a whole, right? If you have your address at the bottom, you get the near mes, and that’s bottom on every page, so every page is relevant to that. Every page is also optimized for the geography of New Jersey with your services, right? And then, this is a real great case for blogging, because then you can use your blog posts to talk about what’s different about an ABA approach in Newark. There might not be a lot that’s different, but there probably is. There’s probably something about the social services in Newark or the situation for families in Newark or the school systems in Newark, and just provide something that is relevant to Newark about a service and then write a very helpful article about navigating Newark as an autistic family. This does several things. Number one, it will be a really long post because there’s probably a lot to say. So what you’ll end up doing is being found by all kinds of crazy keywords you couldn’t even anticipate. This is where we call it long tail, right? Two, you’re going to internally link from your Newark, ABA, autistic service, whatever your page is about, your blog post is about to each of your services. That does two things.

Number one, if a user needs one of the services and they’re on the Newark page talking about Newark, they can get to that service and learn more about service and contact you. Great. But two, that internal link is an SEO factor to say to Google, “This service page is really important, and so, Google, you should weigh this heavier.” So it helps that service page rank better. But the best part is, is if you really do the research and really invest in a really good article about autism in Newark, New Jersey, you could develop an article that other websites would want to link to because you have a definitive kind of thing. People are gonna wanna link to a much better, more likely to link to a blog post that is altruistic and helpful, “Oh, and by the way, we do offer this service and you can hire us for this,” than they will be to link to, “You should hire us for the service,” page, right? Which is a little more in your face, as it should be. It doesn’t have to be obnoxious, just needs to be more direct. “We’re making a sale.” So if you have a Newark page that’s really definitive, you can get the search traffic for Newark, be very helpful, help your SEO, help attract links. And then you can really do, you know, for instance, because I’m a little familiar with your services, what if you did, like, talk about how each of the school districts in Newark handles autistic students? And so then you get the bonus. You not only mention Newark but you’re explicitly mentioning school districts. What if someone in Newark is saying, “I’m in a Jersey City school district and my kid’s struggling and I need an advocate for my child.” Well, we’re never going to be able to find the keyword research to predict that someone might search for that term. But if you’re definitively going through and doing a very complete article about the school districts in Newark and how they deal with autistic students and IEBs, and stuff like that, IEPs, I think you could accomplish this. Obviously, this is a huge undertaking because of all the different geographies in New Jersey.

Allie: Well, this actually kind of leads into something else that we started working, well, I think it’s a great idea and I really hope you don’t burst my bubble about it because you might. So we’re really trying to make the content that we post more dynamic and across different platforms. Like, we’re really under-utilizing YouTube, we really aren’t using Pinterest. So the idea is that we want to reach out to local businesses or local influencers and do collaboration videos. So like something specific, like a cooking friendly video that parents can watch to do with their kids with autism. Like, something that’s under five minutes, gets the business a plug, links back to our website, and would just generate traffic. Maybe not generating customers as much, but generating location-specific traffic and buzz. And then with that increase in share-ability of content like that, in theory, then increasing customer acquisition.

David: Yeah. I think that’s a great idea.

Allie: Okay. I’m glad you…

David: You got to watch out for certain pitfalls, right? The pitfalls are replicating content on several different pages. Each page needs to have its own unique content. So don’t copy content from a blog post and put it on a YouTube video or vice versa.

Allie: You know, that was my instinct too because a coworker of mine said, “Well, we could post our blog posts on Pinterest.” I was like, “I don’t think we should post our blog post on Pinterest. I think we should do activities and crafts and those kinds of things,” because that’s the kind of content people go to Pinterest for.

David: Right.

Anita: Bloggers get a significant amount of their traffic from Pinterest.

Allie: And that’s something that really surprised me.

Anita: It’s what you put on Pinterest.

Allie: The type of blog post.

Anita: Right, right. The actionable things that people can do. The list kind of things that, you know, like I said, actionable and even if it’s a pretty picture that links back to an informational piece, make it a different picture because that link does count. But yeah, most bloggers I know that have pretty nice incomes, they have very active Pinterest pages or very active Instagram pages, if not both.

Allie: Yeah. And that’s what I started doing. So we do have someone who basically she does all our social media posting. So what I’ve actually had her do is she’s logging the time, what she’s posting, and on what platform, and then I’m comparing it to our Google analytics to see is traffic actually coming in from this. Because if you’re posting 20 times a week and Facebook says, “Oh, this is great engagement,” but nobody is coming to the website, then it’s like, what’s the point of posting 20 times a week?

David: Absolutely.

Anita: Okay. So I’ve got on my social media manager hat now.

David: Good.

Anita: What is the purpose that you’re trying to achieve with your social media? Is it raising your brand awareness on a particular platform? Is it building an audience on a particular platform? Is it bringing people to your website? It’s all about what your purpose is. I have one client who I post Gary V like posts for this client. And when I say how Gary V posts, you know how much I post a day for this client. Thank God for automation. There’s some posts that are, yes, about fun and just really engaging on that platform. There are other posts that are designed to bring them to the website, not just to the website, but a particular thing on the website. So let’s say if you have a counseling session that you really want to make sure people know about, then some of those posts need to not go to whateverwhatever.org, but .org/whatever that is. If you’re selling a product, put pictures of the product. People with whatever, you know, if it’s a t-shirt, in the t-shirt, whatever, then link directly to where they can buy that product. So everything has a purpose, but yeah, a lot of my posts that I do for clients are simply to engage them right where they are.

Allie: And I think that that is what me stepping into this and sort of diving in, that’s what I think I have realized is that there lacks that focus in what is the goal of posting this? Or what is the goal of posting that? And so, obviously, this kind of stuff is new to me, but where my strengths lie are in organization and structure. So I think what has been happening in the past and what I need to adjust is that it’s just been posting for the sake of posting. Like, “Oh, we’re just getting our name out there.” But if that’s the case, then we need to target what kind of content has the best reaction and the best reach on social media itself? What kind of content drives traffic? And to kind of divide and conquer and then decide how much do we want to post and when? And where are we having success and where are we having failure because content for the sake of content doesn’t really help us. It makes you feel good in the moment because you’re like, “Oh, look, our social media is so active.” But if it’s not helping in any way, and I think we just need to add more purpose to what we’re posting, because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of purpose behind it other than just like, “Oh, I’ve created another blog post. I have another Instagram post.” So that is a challenge.

David: Lavonya, you were gonna say something?

Lavonya: Yes. I have a question. Since she mentioned Pinterest. She can use Pinterest for keywords just like how you taught us in the previous lesson, you know, how Google does as you’re typing it constantly… Pinterest does that too. I’m sorry?

Allie: It associates, like it auto associates?

Lavonya: Yes.

Allie: I know. I’ve searched for nail things on Pinterest. It’s the only reason I use Pinterest and my nail tech, it drives her crazy. But then I have really nice nails, so.

David: Lavonya, you were saying?

Lavonya: No, I was just saying, couldn’t she use Pinterest when she’s looking at keywords too to help with traffic from Pinterest as well, to see what people are looking for?

David: Yeah, you could. You could almost optimize your Pinterest because, I mean, and that’s kind of one of the big surprises that Facebook is kind of a search engine. People go to Facebook and they search for things. People go to Pinterest for sure, and search for things, so if you could optimize your Pinterest content to be found within Pinterest. But I think Anita was making an excellent point of let’s use Pinterest for what Pinterest is for and not just put our stuff on Pinterest and call it a Pinterest strategy.

Anita: Well, and here’s another…again, I’ve got my social media hat on here.

David: Please do.

Anita: The comment about just engagement on Facebook. Oh, my God. There are people that would kill for engagement on posts on Facebook. And if you’re engaging with your audience, having conversations with them, use it. Relationship building is my thing, y’all, okay? Use it to build relationships with these people so that when they need what you do, you’re going to be top of mind because you’ve already established some type of rapport. So even if it does nothing but drive conversation on Facebook, then you’re ahead of that person that they look at their Facebook page scrolling, okay, but they don’t engage on it. So you’re one step ahead of the competition in that. And even if people aren’t going to your page per se, but they’re learning something from your posts, they might be sharing your posts, so somebody else that needs your service will see that. So, that has immense value. But on Pinterest, another thing that will help is if, you know, are the things that are being posted there getting pinned elsewhere, or are they just on your page? And that’s the thing. If people are sharing your posts. Again, even if they’re not ultimately coming to your website, but if you’re giving five tips on this or the three of that, making a list, a visual that people can see or something that’s downloadable like a checklist or something that they could use as like a journal page or whatever, if that’s being shared, people are still getting value and your name is being recognized so that when that need is there, you’re going to be more top of mind than somebody they’ve never heard of before.

David: I’m glad you said that, Anita, because I often overlook that. And you’re right, that’s a huge value that I find really easy to overlook. So, thank you for saying that.

Allie: My initial instinct was basically to have three categories of Pinterest posts. Crafts, activities, and tips and tricks, because those are things that are easily broken down, easily engageable. They could be videos, they can be lists, they can be templates, like, those kind of things. And then we also wanted to build up our YouTube channel to have maybe more informative-based things and then linking back to the website. Because if we’re someone that you’re going to go to with your questions about, you know, like how or why or whatever, and then it links back to the site, then we’re going to be an authoritative source that then people are going to go back to for other information as well. In theory.

David: Well, this is an amazing conversation and I’m glad we kind of went in this direction. I kinda have to tie things up because I got to get going for a client meeting here. But there was one other thing I wanted to… Bringing the conversation back to SEO, there are two pitfalls I was gonna point out when it comes to sharing content on social media. One is replicating your content and putting the same stuff in another social network. Watch out for that. Google does not want to serve up pages when it’s the same as on another page. But the second thing to worry about is when we’re linking, within websites, let’s say we have a partner website that wants to talk to us and link to us, be careful about reciprocal linking, linking back to them and then us linking to them as well. That is a no, no, in Google. We can share each other’s content in social media all day long, Google doesn’t care about that. But if one website’s linking to another and that other website links back to the first website, Google considers that a bad link spam tactic. So as we’re working with partners, just bear in mind that, yes, we’re talking social media strategy here and that’s different from a SEO strategy, but the big lesson is don’t cut corners. Like, don’t just recycle content and be quick and say this is a social media strategy. I’m guilty of that. Don’t do that. Think about things differently and think about how to make it better. And yet it might mean you might not be able to do as many social networks as you’d like to do. I think it would be better to focus on one and do it really well than to try to do all of them and do half effort. Thank you very much for these great questions today and this great conversation. I’m so looking forward to hearing your success stories next week, and I hope you all have a great week in the meantime. Thanks for coming today.

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