Search engine optimization (SEO) can be one of the most complex disciplines in marketing. Between sophisticated ranking algorithms, web crawlers, keywords, tagging, backlinks, and so on, it might seem impossible for a local business to move their way to the top of Google search. Yet, as you know, if you’re not on the first page of a search, you don’t exist. With so much complexity, how can you get to the top?
In this piece, we’ll help you understand a little bit about how Google’s algorithm works, so you can use it to your advantage. We’ll also explore some strategies that will help you improve your rankings, all on your own. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to boost your rankings using some of these approaches. Let’s get to it!
Google has become just about everybody’s go-to source of information, but how is it that Google can answer just about any question you ask it? They’ve mastered the art of cataloguing a ridiculous amount of data and they do it using a sophisticated, proprietary algorithm that’s routinely changing and adapting—there were approximately 3,234 update in 2018 alone.
This constantly improving technology helps Google match a relevant website with the search term you just typed in. Google also factors in the context of your search. Your location matters because it gives you localized results, which are super important to local businesses. If I search “Mexican restaurants near me,” Google will use my search term and the context of the search (where I’m at), to match me with me a stellar place for tacos (Lonestar Tacos FTW).
And while the nitty gritty details of Google’s algorithms are kept behind closed doors, they have released information on the kinds of things that matter to them. Since Google’s customer is any consumer, their goal is to give people accurate information quickly, so consumers can make informed decisions. In order to do that, Google looks for things like relevance (is this the right business?), domain authority (is this a popular, trustworthy source for this information, product, or service?), and context (where and when did someone search?) to help them determine where a site ranks.
Why does this matter to you? Your goal is to make sure your website and online business listings are relevant to the people who want to find you. This way, when they search for the kinds of things you provide, they’ll find you. But how do you make sure Google’s algorithm pays attention? And how do you make sure you rank higher than your competition up the road?
Your business should be the answer to the question customers are asking: “who is the best [insert business/service category] near me?” You need to help Google understand why your business is the answer to this question. It seems intimidating but improving your ranking actually doesn’t require a lot of skill or resources. It does, however, require some elbow grease and some new thinking. Here are the first steps you should take.
First, let’s take a look at your website. Here are a few of the main things Google wants to see from your website, and what you can do to improve:
Most businesses have a Google My Business listing in addition to their website. If you don’t have one, create one or claim yours. Since these listings help Google provide relevant information, setting one up will often help you rank higher in search and give you more visibility. If you already have a listing, now is a great time to make sure all the information is up to date.
You may also want to add some images and other relevant content to your business listing, just to make your business look more appealing. Last, you’ll want to become familiar with the reviews people leave your business. Do you have a decent number? What’s your star rating? What are people actually saying? Understanding these things is one of the first steps in building a review collection and online reputation strategy, which leads us to the next section.
Getting reviews is one of the easiest ways for your business to improve its search rankings. As we noted, Google wants to provide consumers with an easy way to make a good decision. Because of that, Google places a lot of trust in reviews your customers leave you. Positive reviews say to Google that people trust you and that you’re an expert in your field (more domain authority, baby). With more great reviews, you’ll often see higher search rankings.
But before we get to how, there are some fundamental things you should know about online reviews and your online reputation in general.
While SEO might be difficult to understand, reviews are not. Successful brands are making online review collection and management a significant focus of their brand’s outreach. As a result, they’re improving their online reputation, improving search rankings, and getting tons of new customers. Below are the steps in a review strategy that not only gets you tons more reviews, but helps you supercharge your customer experience and sets you on a path to exponential growth. Remember, you don’t just get great reviews. You earn great reviews.
First, you need to find out what customers really think. Scary concept, right? Some businesses worry that asking for feedback might sting or make them look bad online. But as we’ve discussed, you’ll do a lot more good than harm if you take the right approach. Plus, if you do find that you’re getting more negative feedback than you anticipated, there’s probably something you need to fix. Reviews are great because they can alert you to problems you may not know your customers are having. But how do you get more feedback and reviews? Businesses usually take one of two approaches:
Note that while it’s tempting to offer an incentive like a gift card or discount to customers if they leave a review, it’s actually not a wise approach. You’re better off getting authentic reviews than reviews written for a reward. Instead of incentives, just make it super easy for customers to leave you a review.
Soliciting reviews might be automatic, but it shouldn’t be done with a “set it and forget it” attitude. Your goal is to collect feedback and open the doors of communication, so you can provide more of what your customers love and less of what they don’t. So, as you begin collecting more reviews, be ready to reply to reviews good and bad. Negative reviews give you an opportunity to show the public that you can own up to mistakes and fix them fast, and that makes you appear more trustworthy and dependable.
Actively engaging with customers that leave one and two stars can show goodwill to others. And according to Inc.com, fixing a negative experience can help you build trust with customers. For a primer on how to reply to negative reviews, check out this post.
Note also that customer engagement shouldn’t be limited to soliciting and responding to reviews. You may want to rethink your entire communication strategy. If you can’t text message customers directly and chat with them on your website, you need to modernize your approach because your customers expect both. For more info on how to make this easy, check out Swell Message.
Local business growth should be easy. When you think about it, you need to do two things: provide a fantastic customer experience then make sure everyone knows about it. If you follow the advice above, you’re not getting more reviews—you’re creating a marketing machine that harnesses the power of your customers—their reviews are literally raising your Google ranking.
You’ll constantly have a way to improve your business, because you’ll always have new feedback. That same feedback is publicly visible on a Google search, which bumps up your ranking, gives your website and listing more traffic, and helps prove to potential customers that you’re a great business to work with. From there, prospects become your next customers, and the whole cycle repeats itself. Pretty neat, right? If you’re curious about how the discover, connect, grow flywheel might work for your business, check out this page.
There’s an investment of time and effort when it comes to a review strategy, and it will take time to do some basic search engine optimization. But once you’ve developed a process, you get an incredibly effective, super-low-maintenance way to rank higher in search and earn tons of new customers. Do it right and you’ll get that coveted top-five slot, which can be worth of tens of thousands of dollars in free advertising each month.
And if you’re looking for an easy way to both solicit online reviews and reply to new reviews across multiple platforms, Swell Review is your huckleberry. It automatically texts your customers review invites and makes it a snap to reply to reviews over a variety of platforms. Plus, it comes with tools that help you survey customers, engage with them through text or WebChat, and even make it super easy for them to pay their bills. Get your custom demo today.
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