Welcome to 2019! If it seems like marketing has barely slowed down to take a breath, you’re right. Competition remains fierce and the end of the holiday selling season seems like one more reason to dig in and work harder.

Fortunately, there is a method that allows you to get some help. With Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you can leverage the popularity of Google and other search engines to get in front of customers who are looking for what you sell.

We’d go so far as to say that SEO is the number one way to grow your local business this year.

What is SEO? How can you take advantage of it? Let’s dive in!

Understanding the Elements of SEO

Search engine optimization involves several parts of your website. 

First, there’s on-page optimization, which improves your web pages so they will rank more highly in Google and other search engines. Techniques include using the right keywords, proper formatting, having the right URLs and navigation, and responsive web design.

Next, businesses can do a lot with off-page optimization. This allows you to influence how your website is seen based on external factors. Techniques involve link-building, social media, business profiles, and publicity. 

You may hear about local SEO as well. Local SEO involves steps to make your business more noticeable online to people who are geographically close to you. Google favours local content and will give you a boost for providing extra value to users nearby. 

As a small business, you can get an edge over established competitors simply by taking advantage of long-tail keywords (which consist of more than two words). Work with local SEO services to create content around these local niche terms and you’ll be more visible to searchers who use them.

CAPTION: Proximity to the user is a top ranking factor in local search optimization.
Credit: Moz’s Local SEO State of the Industry Report

The good news about all these efforts is that SEO success is measurable. With tools like Google Analytics, you can discover who is visiting your site, how long they are staying, and what search terms bring them to you. These tools allow you to focus on the keywords that work while moving away from ones that don’t. 

Why SEO is Important for Your Business

You already put a lot of time and money into a variety of advertising avenues. Why is SEO so important? 

Many times it becomes a major focus because an organic search is the primary source of website traffic. You want people to come to your website so they can learn more and find their way to your physical location or make a purchase online. Either way, they need to be able to discover you. SEO makes that happen.

SEO also builds trust and credibility. When you have quality links coming to your site, positive engagement from visitors, and optimized content, Google will reward you with a higher rank in search results. Considering that Google’s first page gets 75% of all clicks, you want to get to page one if you can. 

A page one ranking signals to potential customers that your business is trustworthy; they see your information first and that your site is focused on what they need. This makes those visitors much more likely to engage with your site and ultimately buy from you.

Strong SEO allows you to impact the buying cycle. Your online content educates visitors about what you do and why your product or service is the right choice for them. You can stand out from competitors and encourage potential customers to buy from you instead of someone else. 

Finally, SEO is a relatively inexpensive way to build your brand and it’s the most effective way to do so online. It’s a long-term strategy that pays dividends for months and years to come (as long as you maintain your work and stay up-to-date with current trends). 

What is Local SEO?

If you have a physical location in a specific city, one of your key focuses for 2019 is local optimization. As mentioned earlier, local SEO focuses on being especially relevant to potential customers in a specific geographical area.

For instance, if you sell carpet cleaning services in Nashville Tennessee, you won’t be focusing your content and keywords on simple terms like “house cleaning” or “carpet cleaning.” Instead, you’ll be using longer, geographically-focused phrases like “Nashville carpet cleaning” or even “East Nashville carpet shampooing.” 

When someone from your area gets on Google to find a local carpet cleaner, they will most likely use the neighbourhood name and “carpet cleaning.” To appear in their search results, you will need to optimize your web pages and content using those same search terms.

CAPTION: Google’s knowledge panel impacts local rankings.
Credit: Moz’s Local SEO State of the Industry Report

The Google knowledge panel is an important part of local optimization. The knowledge panel shows up as a large box to the right of the search engine results and is especially prevalent in local searches. If someone types in “East Nashville carpet cleaning,” and that’s your business, you want to make sure you show up there! Be sure you’re aware of knowledge panel features and take full advantage of them.

The best local optimization practices involve using a variety of tools to stand out and get attention so that Google will rank you highly and put you in the knowledge panel. You also want web searchers who see your information to trust you, take an interest in what you offer, and click through to learn more. 

Google My Business and a Good NAP

One of the primary tools for excelling in local SEO in 2019 is filling out your Google My Business page fully. This is one of the most important listings for building your business online, and is an essential step to boost your rankings.

As you fill out Google My Business, you’ll start to understand the importance of a great NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number). These are the core pieces of your business information online. You should also include your website URL. (Some marketers refer to this as NAP+W.)

For consumers and search engines to know who you are and trust your information, it’s vital that your NAP+W be consistent across every platform and service. Platforms include Yelp, Facebook, Bing, Superpages, Yellow Pages, and any niche directories where your business is listed. As long as your NAP is consistent, the goal is to spread it as widely across the web as possible.

Inconsistencies with your NAP+W cause confusion among customers, problems in search results, and ultimately lost revenue for your business. Variants cause search engines to trust your website and business information less, which can lower your ranking. Be sure you audit all places that mention your business online and correct any errors in your NAP+W.

Fortunately, SEO companies in Canada have a variety of tools that can automate this process so that it takes far less time. Automation is one of the best local optimization practices because it helps you avoid missing important listings and making mistakes in your corrections.

The Importance of Reviews

Reviews are one of the most influential pieces of information you can have online. 91% of people online read reviews, and 84% trust them just as much as a personal recommendation. You can have the best local SEO in the world, but without great reviews it will fall flat. It’s important to have a strategy that encourages your customers to leave reviews on a variety of sites. 

You can do this by including an invitation to leave a review on every receipt. Digital receipts can also include a link to a review site; give customers several options by having easy-to-use profiles on a variety of platforms like Yelp, Google Local, Facebook, and more. Make it as easy as possible for someone to leave a review.

You can also provide an incentive for writing a review. Obviously, you can’t bribe customers for specific statements, but you can give them a discount or other promotion simply for leaving a review—any review. As long as you’re providing great products and services followed up by excellent customer service, the number of positive reviews received should outweigh any negative concerns. If you do get a negative review, follow up! Leave a public comment so others can see that you care.

CAPTION: Social proof matters! 
Credit: Convert via Neil Patel

The number of reviews you have has a big impact on your ranking in Google’s search results as well. Having a significant number of positive sentiments in those reviews can directly impact your click-through rates, revenue, and new customer acquisition. These benefits are a result of social proof—a powerful psychological phenomenon where people want to be doing what others are doing.

Of course, follow the guidelines of each review platform and don’t break any rules. Trustworthy reviews build your business, but being underhanded about it only hurts your reputation in the long term. 

Build Your SEO Through Publishing

Every website needs consistent new content to do well in search results. You might think to yourself, “Where am I going to find the time?” Fortunately, there are local SEO services that can help. You certainly don’t have to do all of this work alone!

You have a lot of options when it comes to your publishing strategy. Do you want to have written blogs, on-site videos, or a combination of both? Make sure that every piece of content engages customers and brings out interaction of some kind. When you can produce high levels of user engagement, search engines notice. Google and other engines will rank sites with excellent user engagement higher than other websites.

CAPTION: Get the keywords you need to rank well.
Credit: Wokandapix

Keyword Research
As you publish content on your website, do keyword research to make sure you’re optimizing your content. Focus on what people might be searching for, as well as what their intentions are when using a specific search term.

Certain search terms indicate that someone is in the research phase of a purchase; you want your content with those keywords to focus on education. For instance, “how much does carpet cleaning cost” is a very different search than “carpet cleaning service in East Nashville.” 

Link Building
To bring additional attention and credibility to your website, you’ll want to work on building up links on high-quality sites that point to your website. Link building is a technique that you can do well or very poorly. Make sure to keep everything ethical and truly earn the mentions you get. You can use things like sponsorships, guest posting, contests, events, and more to get your business and website mentioned outside your own pages. 

Blogging and Social Media
Creating fresh content on your website doesn’t have to mean publishing a new article every day. You can create a written blog post or video blog (vlog) once or twice a week and be in good shape. As long as you have the right keywords included and you’re creating relevant, interesting content, your efforts will boost your website. 

Monitor Your Results
Remember how we mentioned at the beginning that SEO is a measurable strategy? You can consistently monitor your website traffic and search engine rankings to see how things are going. Of course, you don’t want to get impatient, but keep on eye on what’s working and what’s not.

The SEO Trends that Matter in 2019

SEO is constantly changing, and Google releases updates all the time. Strategies can shift a lot in a single year, so it pays to know what’s going on now. Here are the things that are important this year:

Mobile-First Indexing
52% of website traffic in 2018 was accessed through mobile phones, and the trend is not slowing down. Google introduced an update that penalized websites that were not mobile-responsive, and this emphasis on mobile content continues. 

Google now uses the mobile version of your web pages for indexing and ranking. If you’re curious how search engines see your mobile pages, you can use a mobile bot like Website Auditor to find out. If your website is not yet mobile responsive, it’s time to make it happen! 

CAPTION: Most people do web searches using mobile phones.
Credit: Edho Pratama

Page Speed and User Experience
If there’s one thing Google hates, it’s a poor user experience (UX) on a website. If the search engine decides you have poor UX as a result of low user engagement, slow load times, or other metrics, you’ll struggle to be seen in search results at all. 

Optimize your site and fix any issues that could cause slow loading. Google gives a great list of recommendations, but working with a company that does local SEO in Canada can make it even easier. 

The Impact of GDPR
Changes to Europe’s recent privacy law (General Data Protection Regulation) affected a lot of U.S. companies that have European customers. It also altered how Google stores data in Analytics, which can impact your ability to track your website’s SEO performance.

The new default is that all personal user data expires after 26 months since it was collected, including demographic and affinity data. However, you can control this setting yourself and delete the data of specific users if they request it.

If you have European customers, make sure you comply with all aspects of GDPR. If you don’t, you can set your Google Analytics data not to expire, but be aware that additional privacy law changes may impact that setting in the future.

Amazon and E-Commerce

Did you know that 56% of potential consumers go straight to Amazon? If you sell physical products and aren’t on Amazon, you’re missing out on a huge market. If you are active and selling through Amazon (as many major brands already are), then you want to optimize your listings on that site. Do Amazon-based keyword research to make sure you’re targeting the right phrases and that both the title and description are efficient and helpful. Finally, use high-quality images and track your reviews. 

CAPTION: Are you losing out on Amazon sales traffic?
Credit: Hello I'm Nik

Don’t Be Short-Sighted in 2019

SEO is a long-term game; unfortunately, some business owners get frustrated and give up before they see results. That means there’s a great opportunity for business owners like you who are patient and take the long view. 

SEO is a big project for any company. If you’re concerned that you don’t have the staff or time to tackle it yourself, reach out to a company that’s experienced in local SEO in Canada. Local SEO Search can help you create a strategy to build your business and your brand in 2019.