One of the biggest requests I receive from clients is: “How do I rank higher on Google?”
That’s an understandable question. We often think that a high Google ranking equals more business. And that is sometimes true.
However, I want to point out that if you haven’t gotten your other areas of marketing squared away, then your Google ranking isn’t your biggest problem at the moment. But that isn’t to say it is unimportant.
Let’s presume you have your offers, direct marketing, and customer racetrack (i.e. customer journey) squared away. And now you want to tackle your place on Google (or Bing or DuckDuckGo). How do you do it?
The answer is Search Engine Optimization, aka SEO.
Before we start, note that this guide is written with local service-based companies in mind. Though 95% of this applies to ANY business website, do realize that this focus drives the approach for this guide.
Remember, for local searches, i.e. “plumbers near me”, LOCATION is going to play a HUGE factor. If your office is in an industrial area, well, that does stink, but given very few companies optimize their SEO, you can still make it work (see step 4 for dealing with this situation).
Let’s stop messing around and jump into what you need to DO.
Step 1: Google Business Profile
We are going to be operating on the premise that you want to rank high on Google, given it is the source of vast majority of internet searches. The upshot to this is that Google has a few unique ways to make it happy. The first is to maximize your Google Business Profile.
Yep. That actually helps how you rank.
How do you do this? To start, double and triple check to make sure ALL your contact information is correct. Many local services businesses will make a move (or three) over their lifetime and sometimes forget to update the Google Business profile page.
Also, make a BIG note of how you FORMAT your Google Business information, because that is going to come into play in the next step.
But we move on, there are one other quick thing I should mention:
Make sure to max out your profile as much as possible. There is a lot of stuff you can put into your profile, so do it! And don’t forget there are secondary categories you can select for your business. This can be a big deal to highlight less common services.
Step 2: Master Your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number)
Let’s talk about NAP. No, I’m not talking about falling on your couch for a brief rest. I’m talking about your Name, Address, and Phone Number.
One of the biggest ways to lose traction with Google (and other search engines) is an inconsistent NAP listing on websites.
“But Brandon, I have it right on my website and Google Business profile!” you might say.
That’s nice, but what about all the OTHER websites that mention your business? You know, like local directories, Chamber of Commerce websites, etc. Are all of them correctly listing your NAP?
If not, it’s hurting your SEO.
And remember my mention of your FORMAT in the previous step. This is key as well. If you have your address listed as 123 Apple Pie Blvd on one website and “123 Apple Pie Boulevard” on another website, then you are hurting your SEO. The formatting of the address needs to be EXACTLY THE SAME.
Key action point: if you have any previous addresses that your business was located at, GOOGLE them. And see if your old address pulls incorrect information about your company. The same goes for telephone numbers. Stuff can last a LONG time on the Internet.
Here are some software tools that can make the clean-up and management of your NAP much easier:
Step 3: Rocking Your Reviews
This might not surprise you, but reviews have a HUGE impact on how high you rank. And it really boils down to 2 parts:
- Getting the reviews (duh!)
- Responding to reviews
Of the two, the second is the most neglected, which is sad, as it is such an easy win. Google likes to see companies interact with their Google reviews. Make it a daily or weekly task for yourself or an office admin. For good reviews, it is as simple as thanking the person for their patronage. For bad reviews, it’s about negating it by offering to solve the problem. In fact, bad reviews alone are worth taking time to monitor and respond to your Google reviews.
For getting reviews, here is a fun tip.
- Enter location
- Get place id
- Then, add your place ID to this URL:
#2: Login to your GMB account and head over to the “Get more reviews” card.
Using those methods to get reviews ties the review to your location, which helps make it more “legit”.
Step 4: Basic Website Changes
While most discussion of SEO focuses on one’s website, this guide saves it for step 4. Why? Because I’m realistic enough to know that just doing the first 3 steps are going to be difficult enough. And I wanted to order these steps for you to score “easy wins” before you dive into the “roll up your sleeves” work required to tame your website.
First, let’s address the obvious: you want to optimize your website for a “service + city” keyword combo. What do I mean by this? Things like “plumber in Metropolis” or “HVAC in Arkham City.” Which means you need to be sure those keywords are prominently featured on your website.
This does NOT mean you say the words 50 times. It DOES mean you feature it in your header and “above the fold” (the section of your website you can see without scrolling down).
Now one place you might not think to put this keyword is in your meta description. Don’t neglect this. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just, “24/7 Plumber in Metropolis, Arkham, Bludhaven area.” Not sure how to put it in the meta description? Talk to whoever handles your website; they should know. (If they don’t, it is probably time to find someone else to take care of your website. Just saying.)
Next, you want to make a specific page for EACH SERVICE AREA. So if you were a plumbing company you would have your main page, plus a page for “Plumber in Metropolis” and “Plumber in Arkham City” and “Plumber in Bludhaven” pages.
Why? Because this helps you rank high for areas that your physical location might not be in. If your business in in the outskirts of Arkham City but you service several towns, you want to make sure Google knows that you do. And the BEST way to do this is to have a separate page for each significant city/town your service.
Now, before you start cutting and pasting webpages and changing the name, there is something you need to know. You CANNOT have duplicate content among the service area pages. Google hates duplicate content.
What do you do? You write up some special content for each page. Talk about the city. And have a section about one of your services, or answer a question related to your service. Get creative. Just ensure the words aren’t the same.
Finally, if you have taken care of keywords and service area pages, you need to deal with the hardest issue of them all: PAGE SPEED.
I can’t go into the nitty gritty of what it would take to boost your page speed in this guide. But I can recommend this.
Go to this website and enter your website address: https://pagespeed.web.dev/
If it is in the green, you are good to go. (Make sure to check both your mobile AND desktop scores!) If not, you’ll need to either be tech savvy, or get someone who IS tech savvy to fix it.
Fortunately, the report lists out what changes you can make. You can give the list to whomever takes care of your website to fix it.
You can embed a Google Map straight into your website. I’ve seen mixed feedback on how well this helps SEO, so that’s why this is a bonus tip. But we know Google loves Google so it can’t hurt, and it isn’t too difficult to do. How-To Tutorials abound on the Internet, so do a quick search and get it done!
Step 5: Backlinks, aka SEO Karma
Honest Mechanic Time: As I mentioned in the introduction, there are lots of other things you need to take care of before you stress out over SEO. Are you set up on Google Local Services? If not, STOP READING and go get squared away with Google Local Services! You time is finite, so it is in your best interest to focus on the big wins.
But if you have taken care of the critical essentials, then let’s talk about how to inject more “SEO juice” into your website while also improving your karma at the same time!
Backlinks are simply links to your websites from other websites. There are good backlinks, bad backlinks, and great backlinks. The “goodness” or “badness” of the backlink is based on the quality/authority of the website that links to your site. A shady website linking to your website isn’t so great. A link from Harvard or the New York Times on the other hand lends a lot of credibility to your website.
All of this begs the question: How do I get people to link to my website?
You could Google long lists of ideas, and feel free to do so. But this guide is supposed to be about getting the biggest bang for your buck so I want to encourage you to pursue the following actions:
- Take care of the directory essentials—as mentioned in the section on NAP, get yourself in all the directories you can: Chamber of Commerce, Industry Associations, etc. Many of these will also feature a link to your website.
- Charity/Charity Work—I can’t think of a more amazing way to get backlinks than to engage in volunteer/charity work and get featured by the news. You can often get backlinks by donating to charities as they will have a donor page. Just be sure to ask them to link to your website. But getting featured in the news is the most important aspect as news websites tend to add more “authority” to backlinks.
- School—similar to charities, getting involved in schools is huge because links coming from “.edu” website often are considered better than other domains. Schools will often have a page of donors or a news page featuring people who helped them in some capacity. This goes from both primary and secondary educations. (Colleges often can use money and/or help, just ask around.)
Of course, the list of potential backlink resources is nearly infinite, but if you can start with these three you are well on your way to getting the “backlink boost” that you need.
Warning! This next section gets somewhat technical. While it is extremely helpful for SEO, I don’t want anyone to get bogged down by it at this moment. If you are tech savvy, or employ someone who is, then by all means look. But don’t sweat the following to steps until you’ve knocked out the ones listed above. That said, these are great next steps for “tuning” your “SEO engine.”
Step 6: Bonus Stuff
The following is a group of things you can do to improve your SEO once you’ve taken care of the previous 5 steps.
Bonus 1: Add Video
If you haven’t already, you need to get video on your website. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine on the Internet. (Probably…at worst it’s 3rd. Amazon very well may be the 2nd largest, but it doesn’t really apply to our situation, does it?)
What do you do? First, embed a video on your homepage! It’s that simple. Shoot a nice “Welcome to our <name of your company> website video”. It doesn’t have to be super-complex. Just do it.
The next step would be to start adding videos regularly to YouTube. (And you might as well repost them on Facebook while you are at it. Maximize your efforts.)
What type of videos should you make? The sky is the limit, but I recommend starting off with simple “FAQ” type videos related to your service. Google (and YouTube) love content that answers questions. Speaking of which…
Bonus 2: Add Awesome Content
The heart of Google is to give people the information they are looking for…fast.
If you make content that gives genuinely good information, then Google will reward you for it in your rankings.
But here is the problem. You have a day job. And you probably don’t have time at 9PM to work on a blog post every day. What should you do?
I recommend focusing on handful of GREAT content pieces that you update once or twice a year. And there are two types of content pieces that are “easy” to pull off.
- FAQ Page
It kills me how many service companies I’ve seen that have crappy blogs that NO ONE READS. But they don’t have a solid FAQ page. Do yourself a favor and make an AMAZING FAQ page. It isn’t hard and you can make it part of your company culture. Have a game than every employee who brings a great question for the FAQ page gets entered into a drawing for a gift card. (Or if you are magnanimous, just offer an $5 gift card for every good question they bring.) Your employees interact with your customers and they know what questions the customers are asking them. Use that to your advantage.
And if you followed my advice on shooting video, you can embed a video response for every question (but also include a written type up as some people prefer to read, rather than watch a video.) This will let your FAQ page back a HUGE “SEO” punch.
- Research Content
If you work with 100+ customers/clients a year, you know what you have? DATA. Which is a fancy word for untapped research content.
During your slow season, I recommend reviewing all the data you have about your work and seeing if there are any interesting patterns you can turn into a “research piece” to publish to your website (and then push out on social media…this sort of content does REALLY well on social media).
“What type of things?” You may ask. Here are some examples:
- (HVAC company) The percentage breakdown of the types of HVAC units owned by customers
- (Plumbing company) The most common source of a clogged pipe broken down by types (hair, toys, etc)
- (HVAC company) The Top 10 Weirdest Things Cleaned Out of a Dryer Vent
- (Private Investigator) The Top 10 Places Cheaters are Caught Meeting At
You get the idea. There are interesting tidbits about life that you know, that others don’t. And human beings are a curious bunch. Take advantage of that curiosity and BOOST YOUR SEO!
Bonus Tip: If you are going to publish a research piece, it is great to hire a graphic designer to lay out the information into a cool “infographic”, to make it easier to share on social media. You can find an affordable one on Fiverr.
Tuning Step 1: Clean-up your Site Structure
What is this step all about? It’s about your SITE STRUCTURE. Yep. It’s all about how you organize your website.
This step is not overly complex at face value, but can sometimes be difficult to implement if your website hasn’t been “cleaned up” in a while. Many new websites (1-3 years old) are often fine, but it is still worth double-checking.
Here is the key rule for having an SEO-friendly website: make sure that no page is more than 3-4 clicks away from the homepage—PERIOD.
Not sure how your pages fall? There are two software tools that can help you check:
Action Step: If any of your pages are more than 3 or 4 clicks away from the home page, then FIX IT.
Bonus Step: Add breadcrumb navigation to your website. What is breadcrumb navigation? It’s where you have a chain of links at the top of the page that help you get back to the previous pages.
Tuning Step 2: Clean up Technical Stuff
This step is the most technically complex, so be warned. There are lots of different technical parts of your website that affect SEO. In fact, this is often a lumped together into what’s called “Technical SEO.” Let’s talk about the essentials.
Part 1: HTTP/HTTPS
This one can be simple to fix if you know how. The key is you need to make sure that you only have ONE website address that works for your website (and I recommend it to be HTTPS). Quick way to find out if you’ve got this set up correctly: Type in your web address and see if HTTP or HTTPS pops up. Then either remove or add the “S”. If it redirects back to the original page, then you are good. If not, that means you have two versions of your website address out there, and that’s bad for SEO business.
This setting is almost always handled in your website hosting admin panel. If you don’t know what that is, find the technically inclined person who does and have them fix it for you.
Part 2: Reserve Header Tags for Relevant Keywords
If I’m guilty of any sin, it is my misuse of header tags. Don’t be like the old me and learn to respect header tags for what they are—indicators to search engines of what a page is all about.
What does this mean? It means you don’t use H1/H2/etc tag to format the content on your page. Use formatting tags instead. You use H1/H2/etc to call attention things you want to let the search engine know is important about your page.
For some people this is common sense. But for those of us who have spent far too many day typing words in Microsoft Word, old habit can die hard.
Part 3: Accidental Nofollow/Noindex
This part is both easy and potentially tedious if you don’t use an indexing tool (see next part for recommendations). It boils down to the fact that sometimes a page on your website gets tagged “Nofollow” or “Noindex”, which means that Google and other search engines will ignore it and not show it in search results.
Now there are valid reason to add a nofollow tag to a page. But you need to make sure it is a page you legitimately DON’T want to show up in a search result. Because some web tools allow you to check a box to add this tag to a page, occasionally someone will accidently check it.
Action Step: review your pages and make sure no pages you WANT to rank on Google are tagged with a “Nofollow” or “Noindex” tag.
Part 5: XML Site Map and Indexing
Getting your website properly indexed is key to making it SEO-friendly. Two tools that can help are Google Search Console and Screaminfrog’s SEO Spider.
And while you are checking your index, I recommend making sure your XML sitemap is squared away. While in Google Search Console, you can check this by going to Index>Sitemaps. If it says “processed successfully” you’re good. If not, time to get some tech help.
If you are a scanner and have jumped to the end. Let me toss in my warning, make sure you have your other marketing essential taken care of before you tackle SEO.
If you HAVE taken care of the essential, then this guide is a great place to start getting your SEO “engine” running at full capacity.
Is there more? Of course, but make sure to take care of these essentials first. Master the basics and you will be ahead of your competition. The difference between a pro athlete and a semi-pro athlete is their mastery of the basic. Not fancy moves.
And just like in sports, you don’t need fancy moves. You just need solid mastery of the basics of SEO. Now go get er’ done!
And until next time, STOP WASTING MONEY ON BROKEN MARKETING!