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Top Questions You Should Ask An SEO Consultant Before You Hire Them

Your potential customers will never know you exist if you're not showing up on the first page of Yahoo, Bing and especially Google. The better your search visibility is, the better your website and business will do. You want improved brand awareness and you want to make more sales, which is why search visibility is crucial.

It takes time and expertise to get a good rank in the search results. This is why you should hire a  search engine optimization (SEO) consultant. With that said, below are 10 get questions you should ask a prospective SEO consultant.

1. Ask For A List Of Clients - Any good SEO consultant will have no problems sharing a short list of clients they have worked with or currently working with. The reason why you want to see a list of clients is because it gives you an idea of how many people use them and trust them. However, some consultants can't show a list because of privacy issues, but the consultants should be able to tell you whether or not they helped their clients get positive results from the work they performed. If they can't tell you this or give you a straightforward answer, then find another professional to work with.

2. What Will They Do - If an SEO consultant cannot or will not tell you what kind of methods they will use, then stay away from them. Any good consultant should tell you what they plan on doing to help improve your site's ranking in the search engines. They should also provide you with an estimate of how long it will take to see results.

They should review your website and look for issues that can negatively impact your search engine rankings, and this includes looking for error pages and links that are broken. They should perform on page optimization, as this will help make your website more search engine friendly and user-friendly. On page methods include improving your website's internal linking structure and your site's URL, as well as developing tags, page titles and headings for your web pages.

Make sure to ask if the consultant will use off page strategies. Off page strategies may include creating content on other sites, such as social media and blogs. Some consultants provide both on page and off page SEO.

3. Do They Adhere To Webmaster Guidelines - Google has a list of webmaster best practices and there are prohibited common SEO tricks that are discussed. You want to make sure the SEO consultant you're considering hiring follows those guidelines because if they don't, then your site's rankings can suffer. Not only that, but there's a chance Google will just ban your site from its search results, which can have a dire impact on your business.

4. Are Page One Rankings Guarantee - Ask if the consultant guarantees first page rankings on Yahoo, Bing and Google because if they answer yes, then head in the other direction. There is noway anyone can guarantee first page rankings. However, some SEO consultants do guarantee it and they shouldn't.

It is a major red flag if an SEO professional claims they can get your site on the first page of any search engine. This is especially the case if they say Google. The bottom line is nobody can guarantee first page rankings.

5. Are They Good At Local SEO - Small brick-and-mortar stores should want to appear in the top of local search engine search results. This helps them get more local customers and increase their sales, which is why you want to find out if an SEO consultant is good at local SEO. If your site is optimized for local SEO, then people in the nearby area should have an easier time finding your business's website, when they search for relevant keywords.

6. Will Changes Be Shared - SEO often requires changes to a website, including the coding of a web page. You want to know what changes will happen before they actually take place. If you want to get permission for any changes that will occur, then tell the consultant because some consultants will just go ahead and make the changes.

For example, new title tags may be added or the existing tags may be modified. They may create new content or beef up the content you already have on your site or they may optimize all of your pages using various keywords. Whatever the consultants do or will do, you want to know about it.

7. How Will Campaigns Be Measured - In order to know whether or not SEO is working, you need to know how much traffic your site is receiving. You also need to know where that traffic is coming from. A good consultant will use tools to track campaigns. They should track things such as the number of links pointing to your site and which keywords people are using to find your site.

8. How Will Communication Take Place - Find out how the consultant will communicate with you and how often. Some people prefer to talk via Skype, in person or via texting and email. Your personal preference is what will determine whether or not the consultant will communicate with you in a satisfying way.

9. What Are Their Payments Terms And Fees - You want to know what you will pay and whether or not the consultants get paid based on per project or if they charge an hourly rate. The most common is project-based payments, but SEO consultants' fees do vary based on the size and complexity of a project. Contract projects can cost as little as $1,000 and go as high as $7,500 or more.

Find out when invoice payments are due. Ask if the consultant charges interest on payments that are late. These things are very important to know.

10. What Happens Afterwards - After your contract expires or if you want to terminate the contract early, you want to know what happens. For example, do you maintain ownership of the content that the consultant created? You must know what happens what happens when you part ways with the SEO consultant.

Have a look at the contract and see if it states what happens when you guys part ways. You want to make sure the content they added cannot be removed or change afterwards. If there is something you don't understand in the contract, then ask them to clarify it and don't do business with them if you're not satisfied with the answers they give you.

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15 SEO Tips To Help Small Business Owners

For those who are not familiar with it, SEO can appear to be a very foreign and complex world.  However, it doesn't need to be that complex.  

In fact, there is a lot that individuals and small businesses can do without being extremely knowledgeable about SEO, and without spending a lot of money as well.  

I have put together some useful tips to help small businesses with their search engine optimization efforts.

1.  Set up your Google My Business account

Get your account set up and upload your business details.  It is completely free and will allow your business to appear within the local search results for those queries that are specific for your local area where your business operates.  

Even large volume, broad queries are showing local results now, which small business owners can definitely take advantage of. Click here to get started.

2.  Build a mobile-friendly, fast website

You can easily develop mobile sites now by using simple plugins with your WordPress or other CMS, which means that you can quickly and inexpensively make your content all be mobile-friendly.

If you optimize your site for fast loading speeds (through using available plugins) it can help you stand out from your competitors due to your superior performance.

3.  Identify the gaps that exist within the marketplace by conducting extensive keyword research

If you target the same keywords as your larger competitors you won't get too far since they are more established than you are and also have more online coverage.

Use keyword research tools like Google's Keyword Planner in order to find gaps in the marketplace so that you can capitalize on them - they might also convert at a higher rate.

4.  Look at the way that results are being displayed for your niche on the search engines.  

Small businesses too often do not have any idea of what or who they are competing with in the search results.  

For example, if you'd like to focus on keywords where there are many large international companies that rank on the first page, then you need to realize that you might need to temper your expectations.

Another example is if a lot of videos or images are shown in search engine results for keywords that you would like to be visible for, then you should think about creating that kind of content instead of just focusing on text only.

Search engines also frequently display local business results.  So if this is the case, you need to adjust your efforts to focus on obtaining visibility within these kinds of search results.  

5.  Get your physical address claimed on Google Maps

If you own a local business with offline customers and a physical location, be sure to get your physical address claimed on Google Maps.

6.  Be genuine in everything you do

You might think it's a good idea to hire someone inexpensively to build links or manage your Twitter account, but the idea could definitely backfire on you.

If your marketing budget is low, do everything on your own since no one knows your customers and business better than you do.  Connect personally with people, and don't rely on others spamming on your behalf.  That never results in positive outcomes.  

7.  Don't over rely on Google

Search traffic is definitely valuable and it is definitely worth it to work on improving your rankings, but just don't have all your eggs in just one basket.

At any time, Google may change how it displays results or ranks websites, in ways that can have a negative impact on your search traffic.

Use social media and build email lists and other activities in order to attract customers from various sources.   

8.  Get a blog launched and create content

To get ranked for your target terms get content create.  Have content on your homepages, product pages and all around your website, but a blog can be helpful as well.  

You should just have a blog for SEO purposes, since they also provide you with an opportunity to discuss your services and product and related issues.

So you need to create the type of content that consumers who are interested in your service or products appreciate, to help you start building an audience.  

9.  Use a very clear URL structure

Just by looking at your URLs, visitors should be able to know what the topic of your page is.  

10.  Encourage reviews

Not only will reviews drive conversations, but they will also help to increase your local SEO visibility. A study by Marketing Land concluded that about 90% of customers make their buying decisions based on online reviews.

11.  Every page should have a unique title

You have about 55 characters on Google to make your page's topic clear to the search engines and searchers.

12.  Use some PPC

PPC can quickly deliver some traffic if you have the budget for it.

It can also provide you with information that you can use in your SEO efforts.  For example, it can help you with improving your landing pages and you can find out which of your keywords convert the best.

13.  Get Google Analytics Set Up

It is free and critical for help you to better understand your traffic sources, customer behavior and much more.

14.  Create your own copy for product pages

If you sell products that other websites have as well, having unique product descriptions will help your website stand out from the competition.

They are better for conversions as well, since manufacturer descriptions are usually not tested for effectiveness, but you can try out different variations to find out which ones work the best on your website.

15.  Don't expect to get quick results

You will get results from using these tips, but don't expect to great success overnight.  Good SEO does take time, so just stick with your process and be patient.

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Conversion Rate Optimization for Small Business Websites

Optimizing Conversion Rates On Local Business Websites

A website targeting local traffic needs to have information that clearly communicates high value. The following are 7 key points that should be incorporated into website design for local businesses.  If you implement these into your site design it will help to drive and increase conversions on your website. 

1.  Use the 2 Second Rule At All Times.  Clarity is key.  For conversions, it trumps aesthetics.  You only have 2 seconds to ensure that visitors understand who you are, where/what you do, and how they can contact you. Be sure that you make it easy and quick for visitors to find what they are looking for.

2.  Create Value.  Why should somebody want to work with you?  What are you offering?  Make sure you are specific and clean, and avoid using superlatives and general claims. For example, rather than stating "World Famous Pasta" (no one believes this anyway), opt for "Fresh Pasta Handmade Daily" (not available everywhere and believable).    

3.  Stand Out.  Be sure that all of your calls to actions, promotions and value propositions visually stand out.  On your call to action buttons, use contrasting colors and eye-catching banners.  Directional cues (such as arrows) will help to draw the attention of your visitors.  

4.  Create 3 separate 3 calls-to action and post them above the fold on your web pages.  For local business, ask them to schedule, visitor, order, email or call you in at least 3 different places and more if the page is a long sales letter style page, although no idea why would have one in the first place - but just in case.  All pages should have clear calls to actions on them.  People won't act if you don't ask.

5.  Build Trust.  When consumers perceive risk it absolutely kills sales.  Make use of trust seals like award seals, testimonials, payment forms accepted and BBB seals.  Make sure your website is modern and kept updated.

6.  Create a video.  These days a lot of people don't read much online, but they love watching videos.  Create a message with strong value and place it above the fold on the homepage of your website to give your conversions a big boost.

7.  Be Mobile Friendly.  Most than fifty percent of local searches are conducted on mobile devices these days - and that number is going to continue to increase. It is imperative to have a responsive, mobile friendly website design.  If your visitors are unable to use their phones to navigate your website, you will end up losing half of your potential leads.

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How Local SEO Is Impacted By Online Reviews

As a small business owner operating in the current digital age, how do you feel about the fact that 90% of customers state that online reviews influence their purchasing decisions?

I would think that you would either scratch your head and consider that maybe you should get a better handle on this or you are patting yourself on the back because your business has a strategy in place already for managing your online reputation and obtaining reviews.

No matter where you might fall on this spectrum, there are a number of different reasons why online reviews are very important and can have serious implications due to them being able to affect the following:

  • Your rankings within the local search engines
  • What search results get clicked on
  • Consumer buying decisions

This makes online reviews as crucial to your local SEO strategy as on-site optimization and building citations.

In this article, I will be discussing how online reviews are affected by today's consumer decision-making processes, in addition to how they fit in with your local SEO campaigns as well as how to approach obtaining them and managing your online reputation proactively.

How Online Reviews Are Used By Consumers

Before we start examining the data regarding how consumers use online reviews and how they impact their decisions, it is essential to consider where reviews fit in with consumers buying cycles for their desired services and products.

Usually, by the time that individuals have started to look at reviews, they have figured out already what they want or need, how a business might fulfill their want or need and are currently in the process of choosing a business.

The important thing to note here is that there is a very small mental gap between when a person reads a review and makes their decision to buy from a business. It usually results in an immediate yes or no decision.  What that means for you as a small business owner is that your bottom line can be directly influenced by your online reputation.

But just how many consumers read online reviews.  BrightLocal conducted a survey that shows that approximately 84% of consumers report that they read and trust online reviews.

So how many reviews do consumers need to read before they are able to make up their minds?  Fortunately, the survey had an answer for this question as well.  Around 90% of consumers read 10 or fewer reviews before they form their opinion on a specific business.

Dimensional Research conducted another survey that found that 90% of their survey respondents stated that their buying decisions were influenced by positive online reviews, while 86% stated that their decisions were impacted by negative reviews.

Hopefully that will help you better understate just how critical online reviews are from a consumer perspective in helping to influence their buying decisions either for the better or the worse.  We will next take a look at how reviews are factored into the signals for local SEO.

Why Online Reviews Are So Critical For Local SEO

There is one main reason why online reviews are loved by local search engines.  It is because consumers really love online reviews.  They provide individuals who are either at home or on-the-go with reliable information to assist them with making decisions on what to purchase.  The faster consumers are able to do that, the more they will turn to reviews.

Also, according to the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey from MOZ, it is thought that online reviews make up around 10% of how search engines such as Google determine the rankings for their search results.

Local SEO MOZ Study

We will next look at how your review acquisition strategy can be created, and then how you can manage your online reputation in a proactive manner.

How To Create Your Review Acquisition Strategy

Prior to embarking on getting a review acquisition strategy created that will work the best for your small business, you should first consider which review platforms will work the best for your company.

In order to determine that, just start at Google and do this search "[Industry] + reviews" to see which websites are displayed on the first page of the results.  One thing you should note is that there are some online review platforms that keep their reviews on their website exclusively, while others syndicate their reviews to the search engines.

Online Local Business Review Platforms

Another thing to consider before we delve into how to obtain more reviews is to understand the various review policies that each of the platforms have that you will need to comply with.  For instance, small businesses are strictly forbidden by Yelp from soliciting online reviews.  If they detect that this may be occurring, they act quickly.  In the meantime, there are other platforms that really don't have any problem with businesses asking for reviews.

The following are review guidelines for some of the major review platforms:

After you have had a chance to look through these, the following are some to help you get off to a good start:

Use the excellent "Review Handout Generator" from Phil Rozek and Whitespark that will allow you to create handouts for your customers that give them clear instructions on how to leave a review for you on Google.

On your website provide links to your review profiles.

Have print materials created that list all of the various websites where customers can leave reviews for your business.

Train both yourself and your staff to "make the ask" once a transaction is completed.  Constant Contact has a short guide that covers how to ask for referrals.

If you have not received Yelp's "People Love Us On Yelp" sticker, ask for a "Find Us on Yelp."

Managing Your Online Reputation

You might be wondering how your should respond if you receive a negative review.  Before we cover that I recommend that you get set up on Google Alerts or another service that notifies you each time your business gets mentioned online.  That way you can be proactive when it comes to managing your online reputation.

You don't want to have your blood pressure skyrocket and get all upset whenever you see that you have received a negative review.  Your first instinct may be to get in touch with the review platform and ask them to take the review down.  However, before you do that, you should consider what Google Places spokesperson Deanna Yick had to say about this.

She pointed out that reviews are a way for users to share both negative and positive opinions.  She also pointed out that Google Places doesn't arbitrate disputes and tends to leave the reviews up.

So rather than being reactive, you should try to take a deep breath, and just deal with any negative online reviews you might receive in the same way you would other types of criticism.

Just treat the review like it was a conversation, where you need to go in to diffuse the situation, attempt to make up whatever they are dissatisfied with, and end by highlighting the positive whenever possible and point out the more positive ratings and reviews.   There are of course other ways that you can manage customer complaints.

You should also consider that negative reviews can be used as catalysts to help you improve your business.  It involves pinpointing what some of the pitfalls are withing your current business operations.

How that you have a better understanding on what online reviews are and the ways that influence the decisions made by consumer, you will hopefully begin to take a more serious approach to your online reputation as well as the ways that online reviews get factors into the local SEO strategy for your business.