Let’s talk about the “Near Me” search – probably the most common type of search when looking for a local business. A near me search is when you enter a business category followed by the phrase near me – like “restaurant near me” or “hair salon near me”. Chances are you’ve done this a hundred times.
I wanted to talk about this because in a meeting with a client last week we did some Google searching and came up with some surprising results. This client owns a coffee shop, so we tried the search term coffee shop near me.
Now before I continue let me explain that local search results are based on a trimodal concept – a fancy word that simply means local search is based on three criteria:
Proximity – how close is the business you’re looking for to the physical location of the searcher?
Relevance – in addition to physical location, how relevant is the business to what the searcher is looking for
Prominence – in addition to physical location and relevance, how prominent is the business within its business category, i.e. does it have a substantial amount of online reviews? Does the business have a strong online presence on social media? Is the website content meaningful and does it reflect the business’ expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness?
Is proximity the most important criteria?
Logic would suggest that it is – after all if you’re searching for a business “near me,” then shouldn’t Google’s top result be the business closest to the physical location you’re searching from? That’s what my client thought. His reasoning was since a) he owned a coffee shop and b) we were searching from within his location that his business would be the number one result. But he didn’t come up in the top slot. In fact, there were two coffee shops that ranked above him. So, what’s going on behind the scenes at Google’s secret lab?
It’s About All Three Criteria, Not Just One
After digging a little deeper here is what we discovered:
The term coffee shop was not part of the official name of his business. The two businesses that ranked above him were called (I’m making up names to illustrate a point) 5 Star Coffee Shop and Main Street Coffee Shop. My client’s business was officially listed as a restaurant, NOT a coffee shop. The bottom line is he didn’t satisfy the relevance criteria.
Although the business that ranked number one for our search was a mile away from our location, it scored very high on the prominence scale. It had a ton of positive Yelp and Google reviews, it was listed on all the major directory sites, including and especially Google My Business. All the directory listings were filled out with accurate and current information.
What’s the Takeaway?
As with all things Google, there is no one thing so important that it outweighs everything else. To rank well for a near me search you can’t just rely on proximity. Your business is located where it’s located – you can’t change that. Control what you can control. Make sure your site gives your visitors what they are looking for – good relevant content. Remember, Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.
Just like clothes, hairstyles and cars, web design trends go in and out of style. If you saw someone wearing a 1970’s vintage polyester leisure suit you would make a judgement wouldn’t you? If your homepage is the online version of that suit, be assured that visitors are wondering if you’re out of touch or you just don’t care.
There’s just not enough useful information on your homepage. You might have lovely images, bells and whistles or any number of visual distractions. How does that help your visitors understand what you do, how you do it and why you’re different than your competitors?
Contact Information Not Prominent
Isn’t The goal to get visitors to call or email you? It should be. Make sure your contact information isn’t buried somewhere or worse, not even present on your homepage. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by giving your visitors what they want then making them hunt for your phone number.
The Lovely but Useless Image Slider
You’ve seen them. They’re everywhere – those full width sliders that entertain your visitors by displaying rotating images with bits of copy superimposed on them. Yes, they are engaging but beyond being fun to watch what value are they really providing? Unless you’re a photographer or an artist where the image is the message, you’re not doing your visitors any favors by hogging the most valuable piece of real estate on your homepage with that image slider. There are other ways to make your homepage visually appealing without wasting prime space that should be used to tell your visitors who you are, what you do, why you’re different/better than your competition – you’re USP (unique selling proposition) – where you do what you do, what areas you serve and how to get in touch with you.
The Disappearing Call-to-Action
We know about the call-to-action elements – you know those cool buttons that ask your visitor to click to download a pdf or sign up for your newsletter or make an appointment. Well it matters where those call-to-action elements are on your homepage. Make sure they are at least above the fold. If the page has lots of content, then put another one in the middle of the page. If the page is really long then put another one at the bottom. The point is that no matter where your visitors are on your homepage a call-to-action element should be visible.
Where’s the NAP?
NAP is an industry acronym that stands for Name, Address and Phone number. The NAP should be on every page but especially the homepage since that’s the page your Google Business profile links to. You can put this info in the footer, but I always like to include the phone number somewhere in the header as well. That way, when your site is being viewed on a mobile device, the phone number is right there at the top where a user can simply click on it to call you.
There are tools available that show you where your visitors are clicking and what links they are ignoring. Use the tools to learn about what area of the homepage is attracting the most attention and make changes accordingly. I use Crazy Egg1 for this but there are other tools that do the same thing. The screenshot below is a heatmap showing where users are clicking on my homepage.
1I have not been compensated in any way by Crazy Egg for endorsing their product. I just like it.
Would you like to see a thousand visitors a day to your website? Of course, you would. But what if you find out that your main competitor only gets around 200 visits a day but is selling 5 times more widgets than you are.
It’s About Conversion
It’s the classic traffic versus conversion conundrum. If your goal is simply to get more eyeballs on your website then the 1000 visits a day site is clearly more successful than the 200 visits a day site. But if your goal is to sell more widgets, get more newsletter signups, to get people to download your ebook, to fill out your contact form, make an appointment ….
So why are backlinks important? Because Google views them as a vote for your website. The thinking is: if a reputable, authoritative website considers your website worthy of linking to it, then your website must be of high quality too. Makes sense right?
So how do you get those valuable links? Well that’s a big topic – in short, you have to earn them. Here is what you should NEVER do. Buy links. Google can spot paid for links and will penalize you for it.
I‘m frequently asked some variation of the following question: “...how can you do effective search engine optimization on my website if you don’t know my business?” This question reflects a legitimate concern. I’m going to give you the answer. I use a very old technique that has, for reasons I don’t understand, fallen out of fashion. Wait for it … ready? I ask questions. Lots of questions. I listen to the answers. I take notes. When people begin to freely speak about their business it isn’t long before you hear and see the passion. But it’s more than just asking questions. It’s asking the right ones. Like what makes you different than your competitors? I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t every web designer/SEO consultant ask that question? I would hope so. But here’s the thing. The answer, I mean the real answer, often doesn’t come as a direct result of asking the question. It comes later when defenses are down and the tension has left the room. I look for eyes to light up and words to flow freely. This doesn’t always happen. But I always expect it to. And when it does I know I found the answer I’m looking for and the key to making their website stand out. I’ve found the why.
The Deep Dive
It’s also about intangibles. I call this process of asking questions and immersing myself in my clients’ business the deep dive … and my commitment to this process is how this nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn found himself in church one Sunday morning. You see I was hired by a local church to redesign their website – to bring it into the 21st Century (their term not mine). We had several meetings where I asked lots of questions and took copious notes. That’s my normal process. I heard words like welcoming, non-judgmental, accepting. I’m pretty sure that most churches these days would use the same words to describe themselves. I’m also pretty sure that the description is not always accurate. Toward the end of the meeting the Pastor turned to me and nonchalantly said “why don’t you come to services next Sunday. We start at 10.” I didn’t hesitate. “Great idea,” I answered.
Now I’m used to going to Sabbath services at my local synagogue where 10am means 10ish and those who show up usually err on the side of ish. I couldn’t assume that church goers had the same lax interpretation of time I was used to so I dispensed with the ish and arrived at 10 sharp. It was a beautiful Spring day. The Pastor, who was stationed outside as parishioners were arriving, seemed genuinely happy to see me. He seemed happy to see everyone. In fact, everyone was happy to see everyone else.
Conclusion number one: this church really was welcoming.
Inside the choir was singing. I love singing. The service this morning featured a sermon delivered by a guest pastor from Boston. Thoroughly inspiring. I was introduced to a man who had moved to the area from Texas and chose this church because he and his husband were – here is that word again – welcomed.
Conclusion number two: this church really was accepting.
After the service, we moved into the church meeting hall for coffee and pastries – and more singing. I took the liberty of wandering off by myself. I do this sometimes because it gives me the opportunity to pick up tidbits of information I can use to craft a powerful message for a client website.
Back in my office on Monday I organized all the information from my deep dive and forwarded the list to the church’s web committee. None of the ideas on the list had been discussed during any of our meetings. The committee was thrilled. So was I. So was the Pastor who kept saying, “what a great idea.” The truth is they were things I thought of during my visit. See what I mean about the deep dive?
And Now Back to You
What do you think of this deep dive idea? Did the company you worked with to build your website or do an SEO campaign take the extra step? If you’re in the middle of the process now it’s not too late to ask them to. I’d like to know your thoughts.
They’re out there, lurking in the dark corners of cyberspace ready to wreak havoc on your website – hackers. It’s a real danger with potentially grave consequences – loss of business, loss of standing with Google, erosion of trust – the list goes on.
Why Do Hackers Hack?
A lot of reasons. Because they can, to make a political statement, to make a point, to prove how smart they are, to show you how vulnerable your site is, for their amusement, and the most common reason – for money. It doesn’t matter why they do it. There are things you can do, precautions you can take to make it nearly impossible for even the most sophisticated hackers to deface your website. Here are three:
1.Use Strong Passwords
Most hackers are able to do their nasty work by guessing your password. They’re very good at this. They assume you’re using passwords that contain some variation of your birthday, your pet’s name, your spouse’s name, your street name. You get the point. Make it harder for them by using stronger passwords. There are all kinds of services out there that generate random passwords. I like to use the Norton random password generator. This tool gives you the option to specify password length. I use a minimum of sixteen characters. You can also specify whether or not to include letters, mixed case, numbers and punctuation. Choose options that make your password difficult to remember and a pain to type. If it’s hard for you, it will be hard for them. But beware! Make sure you write the password down before you change it. Obvious right? Many people forget to do this and get locked out of their own websites. Another tip. Don’t use the same password for all of your resources. Why not? Do I really have to explain?
2. Monitor Suspicious Activity
If your website is built on the WordPress platform, and all of my clients’ sites are, make sure your webmaster is using a plugin that alerts you when it detects any kind of suspicious activity on your website. This is invaluable. You can then take appropriate action like blocking IP addresses that are the source of brute-force attacks (repeated login attempts), updating old versions of WordPress and any installed plugins, identifying and deleting suspicious files that contain known viruses and more. There are several plugins that do this. Ask your webmaster if one of them is being used on your website. If the answer is no… well, use your own judgment here.
3. Double Authentication or Two Factor Login
When an attempt is made to log into your website, double authentication will send an email to the inbox of the user trying to log in prompting him/her to verify the login attempt. Since hackers don’t have an email address associated with their user account, they will never get the email and will not be able to login. If the attempted login is from a legitimate user, once the login attempt is confirmed you will then be able to designate the computer from which the login attempt was made as a trusted device and you won’t be asked to confirm logins in the future. A bit inconvenient? Yes. Worth the inconvenience? Absolutely!
A Piece of Important Advice
Make sure your site is being backed up on a regular basis. Most web hosting companies will routinely backup websites but usually only once per week. And they won’t store previous backups. What happens if your site gets hacked (or defaced – a word I prefer) before a scheduled backup? That means that the most recent backup available was done after the hack and will be totally useless. Make sure your webmaster is backing up your site more than once per week and that several backups are being stored. That way, if your site gets defaced a recent backup will be available to restore your site.
And Now Back to You
Has your site been hacked? What did you do about it? Do you have sufficient protection to prevent a site defacement? I hope so. Talk to me.