Google Algorithms and Local Search

Help Google, and Google Will Help You

Search giant makes changes to help consumers find local businesses

By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.

Home comfort companies should have an easier time connecting with new customers in 2015, thanks to new developments at Google that are changing the rules of local search engine marketing for the better.

The search giant is on a mission to safeguard its 67 percent market share by improving the performance of its search engine, so that users will remain loyal and not take their searches elsewhere. The strategy is designed to make Google search so effective that competitors won’t be able to gain traction.

In the process, Google is creating a nice synergy for local businesses such as home comfort providers, because the same information assets that attract new customers to the site will also boost the site’s performance in Google search.

Google is trying to tighten its grip on the search market the right way – by delivering a better service that engenders loyalty through superior performance. One area of intensive focus is local search – the kind that people use to find when they are looking for something nearby, such as a restaurant, a specialty store or… a home comfort provider.

Google’s ultimate goal is to have its search engine produce precisely the local search results that is the user is seeking. Carving out a spot at the top of the Google search pile is a tremendous benefit to a business, and Google wants to ensure that its algorithm rewards the companies that are mostly highly regarded for the specific work – instead of rewarding companies that have figured out how to game Google’s system.

Successful search engine optimization, or SEO, has until recently been dependent on a lot of behind-the-scenes coding and tricks that SEO specialists have used to make a site perform well in searches for the site’s most important “keywords.” The Web pages that had the best SEO tricks grabbed the top spots in search results, while Web pages for companies that actually were the perfect match could entirely miss being included on the all important first results page. That’s a bad outcome, because both the Google users and the legitimate providers vying for their attention were thwarted. As such, it’s easy to understand why Google is so driven to improve its processes.

Through a series of updates to its algorithm, including the unnamed but critical 2014 update that the search community calls “Pigeon,” Google has invalidated many of the popular coding tricks that fooled the search engine, while elevating the importance of other factors that encourage precise, accurate search.

Without getting too technical, let’s take a look at some of the factors that Google is rewarding and the steps that home comfort companies can take to trend upward in search performance. I’ll follow that up with a couple of technical pointers at the end of the article.

Domain AuthorityA perfectly designed search engine would meet the user’s needs by delivering the best responses to their query at the top of the search results. No poor matches would be at the top, and the most relevant matches would never be buried on the second or third page. To separate the wheat from the chaff, Google strongly considers what Moz.com calls a site’s “domain authority.” This metric gauges the site’s credibility by looking at several factors, the most important being the external links that point to the site.

Domain Authority is diminished by a site’s less-credible links, particularly links from sites with no legitimate authority of their own, which exist solely to fool the search engines. To increase Domain Authority, sites can add more links from credible sites, which Google views as signs of legitimate authority.

By giving a lot of weight to Domain Authority in the algorithm, Google is encouraging site operators to eliminate questionable links. If your Website developer has not ready eliminated any dubious links to your site, ask them to do so right away, as those links can drag search performance way down. In cases of egregious abuse, Google can even punish a site by deliberately reducing its search rank.

At the same time, identify the most helpful informational resources on your Website and see who has linked to those pages – and who else might find them useful. Make a list of websites that might find your content useful, and then reach out directly to operators of those sites and tell them what you have. For example, if you publish a blog that provides great information about energy conservation, alert all the media outlets in your area and ask them to link to the blog (as well as any related articles or videos) from their websites.

Going forward, make a point of publishing valuable information on a regular basis that truly answers people’s real questions about energy savings and energy choices. Display the information prominently on your site, and announce it in your blog so that others can find it and link to it.

Don’t waste any opportunities to add linkable content to your website. If you have published valuable information in one channel, such as the company newsletter, repurpose it as an article on your website that can attract inbound links.

Google’s emphasis on Domain Authority creates great opportunities for local marketers who publish information to attract new business. Not only will you make great impressions on the readers who find your articles, videos or graphics, you’ll also elevate your website’s search performance. The same investments that make the company more attractive will also make it more visible, so your investments in informational content will do double duty and deliver greater ROI.

Pictures & Videos – Google increasingly rewards the use of photos and videos. Make your site more visually pleasing and engaging by illustrating it with photos of your work and videos about important topics like energy efficiency and different types of heating and cooling equipment. These materials not only improve search; they also also make the company look better to prospects, particularly if you are catering to high-end customers.

Customer Reviews – Google is giving more weight to customer reviews from online services such as Yelp and Google+, which is excellent news for companies that are meticulous about satisfying their customers. If you do right by your customers every day but have fewer online reviews that you’d like, it’s time to ask for more. Create an online reviews page where customers can find the review sites for your company, and then tell customers about it in the newsletter or a customer letter, and ask them to post reviews.

This is another Google search improvement that aligns perfectly with company goals, because customer reviews support customer acquisition directly, and now they support it indirectly as well by improving your site’s search performance.

Emphasize Your Service Area – Google is trying to excel in local search by delivering results that match the user’s query precisely. Help the search engines understand your service area by making it abundantly clear where it is. Use Google Maps to show your location. List the communities you serve. Publish pictures of local installations and events and tag them with the locations where they were taken. If you have multiple locations, give each one its own website, or at least its own distinct identity and information within the company website.

Get Listed – Links from legitimate local directories and business sites send important signals to Google. Seek out every credible directory and site and make sure your company is listed, with accurate, consistent information.

Mind the Details – If you take all these steps and ensure a steady flow of fresh information and updates to your website, you’ll position the company to excel in local search. As you go, be sure to also attend to some very important technical details. First, create one perfect version of your company’s name, address and phone number (known in search terms as NAP) and check every single online reference to the company to ensure that the information is exactly the same in every instance. When you make your NAP consistent across the Internet, Google considers your domain more authoritative, and there are strong indications from many search experts that inconsistent NAP usage is highly detrimental to your site’s Domain Authority.

And while Google is working hard to discourage cheap SEO tricks, proper coding of web pages, images and videos remains extremely important to your site’s performance. Be sure to use best practices for URLs and tags throughout your website and other online assets.

Finally, commit to website maintenance and updating on a regular basis, and use Web analytics to check your work and troubleshoot the site. It is essential that your site perform well in searches for all core services and products in your region. Be vigilant in monitoring site performance, and fix any problems you detect right away.

If you would like help improving your website and online presence, PriMedia is happy to help. To get started, please call me at 800-796-3342 or e-mail me at rrutigliano@primedian.com.

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