As should be the case with any SEO professionals, we’re constantly on the lookout for new information and ideas that can aid us in helping our clients improve their results. While at a recent event, we had the luxury of speaking with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far.
The conversation sparked us into looking further into Google itself as a source of knowledge for how best to “win” at the local SEO game.
From live conversations to published tips, blogs and videos, we’ve gleaned some useful insights from a variety of Google employees. While each person looked at local SEO from a different angle, there were two very consistent themes that emerged over and over again.
Following is a summary of these two themes with some specific ways to achieve them.
This might sound like a “duh” item, but it just cannot be stressed enough, in part because there may be so many different ways to ensure that a particular business is actually findable online. Some things that should be utilized to increase findability include:
Create Schema Markup
Pierre Far pointed out that schema markup itself is not a ranking factor but that it is critical for its ability to affect other ranking factors, namely the crawlability of a site.
Schema markup makes content easier for search engines to parse and index, therefore improving the chances that it will get noticed appropriately.
Leverage XML Sitemaps and Atom/RSS Feeds
Similar to schema markup, these sitemaps and feeds optimize sites for search crawling. Google Feeds Team member Alkis Evlogimenos recommends adding the URL of any new or significantly changed page to these, along with the time that a modification was made. To disseminate information broadly and efficiently, he recommends using the PubSubHubbub protocol to indicate that a feed has been updated.
Look Beyond Websites
In a six-video series, Google Developer Programs Tech Lead Maile Ohye reminds us that local SEO is not just about a website. Things like reviews, local directory listings, social media and networking sites possess great power to aid in local SEO results.
In her videos, Maile also discussed the importance of being found on mobile devices, something that we consistently hear from Google if we are paying attention.
John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst, recently made a post about the new Mobile Usability Features in Google Webmaster Tools and the importance it can offer to businesses looking to boost mobile SEO results.
Traditional logic might tell us that step #1 is to be found online and step #2 is to offer usable information once found.
However, you could argue that offering that usable information is really step #1, because your site content is a huge part of what determines your search engine rankings (and thus your “findability”).
No matter which way you look at it, the need to provide the right information — complete information and consistent information — across all channels is a must. This includes NAP data (Name, Address & Phone Number) at a minimum.
Consistency of information should be thought of in two ways: consistent for the customer and consistent for search engines.
According to Pierre Far, NAP information can be displayed “normally” on local business pages, social sites, websites and other customer-facing vehicles. However, within schema markups, phone numbers should consistently be entered in full international format beginning with the country code (1 for U.S. numbers) and then the rest of the phone number.
From a customer perspective, businesses are urged to consider the full customer journey in Maile Ohye’s videos. Even with sales channels that may be initiated by word of mouth, online sources are commonly used as the means by which potential customers verify the credibility and trustworthiness of businesses before they actually solicit them.
This research can take a customer from a Google+ page to a review site to a Facebook page and then maybe to a website. At all stops along the way, the customer should receive a consistent view of the company with all information needed in order to proceed to the next phase in the journey with that business.
Once again, a special word about mobile here is needed. Google would not have released special Webmaster Tools targeted at mobile search if it was not an important factor.
These new tools give insights into valuable customer experience metrics such as the presence of Flash content, the placement of clickable elements, font size and viewports. Weaving these into the analytics and planning mix should be standard procedure.
From technical tips like how to create schema markups to marketing philosophies involving the customer journey, Google’s employees are urging us to help our customers take the steps needed to make it easy for crawlers to find them and easy for customers to contact them.