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How to Do Local SEO During the Holidays

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We’ve all got our favorite holidays scattered throughout the year.

I know plenty of people who begin planning their next Halloween costumes on November 1.

Others wait all year for Black Friday to roll around to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

When it comes to local SEO around the holidays, that word “season” is paramount.

You know you want to boost your rankings, generate more online sales, and, most importantly, increase foot traffic in your brick-and-mortar for the holidays.

But you obviously can’t expect much of that to happen if you start marketing the weekend before the holiday.

Many customers out there push themselves to complete all their holiday shopping well before the special days themselves, and you’d better be ready to receive them when they come calling!

Luckily, the holiday seasons do afford business owners enough time to optimize their local SEO before the mad rush begins, but there are smart ways to go about this.

In this chapter, I’m going to detail some common-sense local SEO tips that can really help you take full advantage of the marketing opportunities that are the holidays!

I call these tips “common sense” specifically because you don’t have to be a digital-marketing guru to figure them out, but nonetheless, you may not have considered them before.

1. Ensure Your NAP Information Is Updated & Accurate

This one is a no-brainer, right?

Well, you might be surprised at how many local businesses I myself have searched online that didn’t reflect accurate NAPs (names, addresses, and phone numbers) or business hours, including holiday hours!

It is important to ensure this information is available and correct across all digital platforms, including:

  • Google My Business.
  • Social media.
  • Moz Local.
  • Any other local-business directories you use.

While you’re at it, make sure you also update any on-site landing pages that contain outdated company information.

You can see the problems that may arise from any of your business’s online information being wrong – customers:

  • Call an old phone number.
  • Travel to a location you moved out of years ago.
  • Show up when you’ve already closed for the day.

The trouble isn’t only that none of these actions would convert to a sale.

You are actually in danger of losing those customers forever, as they may develop a negative image of your brand and see your business as unreliable.

Taking the time to update and correct your NAP, business hours, and any other relevant company information will go a long way toward getting yourself into a prime organic-search position.

2. Optimize On-Page Content for Holiday Keywords

Another local holiday SEO guideline is to optimize your on-page content for holiday keywords.

Use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Keyword Planner, and SEMrush to see what keywords are driving users to your website, and what pages people are going to after they arrive.

It’s always important to remember that SEO is not an evergreen product.

“Holiday window decals” may have been a top-performing keyword for you last year, but many things may have changed in the last 365 days.

Maybe holiday decoration trends have changed.

Maybe there’s a brand new Easter decoration product out there that’s become the new craze in springtime window adornments.

You must stay current on seasonal keywords from year to year, or you’ll risk becoming stale, and users simply won’t find your site.

The other element to keep in mind here is that typical holiday shoppers likely have some idea of what they’re looking for.

Perhaps they’ve collected wish lists from their family members and are simply looking for a specific product from the company with the best price and most convenient location near them.

In that case, you may want to optimize your landing pages for a good mix of general holiday and brand-specific keywords that will lead organic searchers directly to your site.

3. Stand Out from the Crowd

As long as we are talking about standing out from your competitors, don’t forget that unique content alone can’t generate your holiday sales.

People will be more likely to bring their business to your website if the site itself is easy to use and appealing to look at.

Yes, you will need some solid, optimized content on your pages, but if the pages themselves are cluttered with flash material, ads, blocks of text, or problems with your JavaScript, it will neither load quickly nor look attractive.

And the data shows that problematic webpages tend to lead to higher bounce rates and, of course, reduced sales.

Instead, keep your webpages relatively simplistic, with visually striking images that do just about as much to communicate with your customers as your written content does.

The optimized content should be to-the-point and broken up visually to create a kind of hierarchy of images and words.

Users should immediately know where to look for the most relevant information, and each successive element should contrast with the element closest to it to make for a smooth flow of content segments.

A basic example: suppose your holiday decoration store is gearing up for the Fourth of July.

You may want to use a large image on your homepage that shows an assortment of picnic and patriotic items you offer for sale.

Then display some visually contrasting buttons that users can click on to access certain categories of decorations.

As an aside, remember to update your site with holiday-appropriate images and other visuals. Showing customers you are engaged with the current holiday season will make them feel good about buying from your store.

Keyword-optimized content near these visuals can use pleasant, succinct language to inform users of what is available and also link them to additional items in your inventory.

Just remember to keep things simple.

A novella-sized piece of content is neither needed nor wanted. Customers want to know what you have and why your website is the best place to buy it, be it for your large product selection or competitive prices.

4. Don’t Forget the ‘Local’ Factor

Remember when I called these holiday-themed local SEO tips “common sense”?

Nowhere is that more applicable than in this final pointer: to remember that you are a local business trying to optimize your online presence for local SEO.

While it’s important to make the online checkout process easy for internet users, you’re also going to have a significant percentage of the population that actually prefers shopping in-store than online.

In March, Forbes contributor Greg Petro cited a First Insight study finding that 71% of survey respondents stated they tend to spend $50 or more when shopping in a brick-and-mortar location, as compared to only 54% of respondents who said they usually spend $50 or more online.

Petro goes on to say this is likely due to the simple fact of the brick-and-mortar offering more of a human element to the shopping experience. And it’s hard to argue with that logic.

People like browsing in stores. You can see the latest products up close and personal. You can read their details and specs and hold them in your hands.

When you’re in-store, you are better able to see yourself owning that product, and you may very well become emotionally attached to it.

Given this human psychological dynamic, it is of the utmost importance that any and all website users know that you do in fact have a physical location.

I mentioned in the first point that your NAP has to be updated and accurate across all directory platforms and on your webpages.

You may want to consider having a separate “Contact Us” or “About Us” page to call attention to your location, provide all your contact information, and show an image of your store.

As far as actual SEO goes for emphasizing your local presence, use Google Analytics, Search Console, Keyword Planner, and SEMrush to find high-volume, long-tail keywords such as “madison wisconsin christmas trees” or “father’s day gifts carlsbad california.”

Then, of course, optimize your on-page content with such keywords, and do this well in advance of the holiday to give search engines time to pick up on your freshly revamped SEO.

Try to drive customers into your physical store with incentives such as an in-store-only coupon discount, or a limited-edition item available only to the first 100 customers through the doors on a given day.

Feel free to get creative with this. You are a local business and proud of it! Run with this fact.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen, there are numerous steps you can take to do local SEO during holiday seasons.

The steps range from the administrative, such as adjusting incorrect NAP information and updating your website with holiday themes, to the more cerebral, such as devising ways to become more noticeable among your competitors and getting online shoppers to visit your store.

If you’d like, you can also do yourself a PR favor by quoting some positive Google reviews of your business on your website (with permission) and responding positively to any online criticism and negative feedback.

Ensure that everyone who comes into contact with your business knows that you appreciate praise and care about complaints.

Take all these tips into account when optimizing your business for local SEO. Like I said at the outset, there’s no need to be a marketing mastermind.

Anyone can follow these steps, or at least understand them enough to request them of your digital marketing agency.

Just work hard at it, and you may see your holiday sales are better than they have ever been.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita



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Restaurant app Tobiko goes old school by shunning user reviews

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You can think of Tobiko as a kind of anti-Yelp. Launched in 2018 by Rich Skrenta, the restaurant app relies on data and expert reviews (rather than user reviews) to deliver a kind of curated, foodie-insider experience.

A new Rich Skrenta project. Skrenta is a search veteran with several startups behind him. He was one of the founders of DMOZ, a pioneering web directory that was widely used. Most recently Skrenta was the CEO of human-aided search engine Blekko, whose technology was sold to IBM Watson in roughly 2015.

At the highest level, both DMOZ and Blekko sought to combine human editors and search technology. Tobiko is similar; it uses machine learning, crawling and third-party editorial content to offer restaurant recommendations.

Tobiko screenshots

Betting on expert opinion. Tobiko is also seeking to build a community, and user input will likely factor into recommendations at some point. However, what’s interesting is that Skrenta has shunned user reviews in favor of “trusted expert reviews” (read: critics).

Those expert reviews are represented by a range of publisher logos on profile pages that, when clicked, take the user to reviews or articles about the particular restaurant on those sites. Where available, users can also book reservations. And the app can be personalized by engaging a menu of preferences. (Yelp recently launched broad, site-wide personalization itself.)

While Skrenta is taking something of a philosophical stand in avoiding user reviews, his approach also made the app easier to launch because expert content on third-party sites already existed. Community content takes much longer to reach critical mass. However, Tobiko also could have presented or “summarized” user reviews from third-party sites as Google does in knowledge panels, with TripAdvisor or Facebook for example.

Tobiko is free and currently appears to have no ads. The company also offers a subscription-based option that has additional features.

Why we should care. It’s too early to tell whether Tobiko will succeed, but it provocatively bucks conventional wisdom about the importance of user reviews in the restaurant vertical (although reading lots of expert reviews can be burdensome). As they have gained importance, reviews have become somewhat less reliable, with review fraud on the rise. Last month, Google disclosed an algorithm change that has resulted in a sharp decrease in rich review results showing in Search.

Putting aside gamesmanship and fraud, reviews have brought transparency to online shopping but can also make purchase decisions more time-consuming. It would be inaccurate to say there’s widespread “review fatigue,” but there’s anecdotal evidence supporting the simplicity of expert reviews in some cases. Influencer marketing can be seen as an interesting hybrid between user and expert reviews, though it’s also susceptible to manipulation.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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3 Ways to Use XPaths with Large Site Audits

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When used creatively, XPaths can help improve the efficiency of auditing large websites. Consider this another tool in your SEO toolbelt.

There are endless types of information you can unlock with XPaths, which can be used in any category of online business.

Some popular ways to audit large sites with XPaths include:

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly how to perform these audits in detail.

What Are XPaths?

Simply put, XPath is a syntax that uses path expressions to navigate XML documents and identify specified elements.

This is used to find the exact location of any element on a page using the HTML DOM structure.

We can use XPaths to help extract bits of information such as H1 page titles, product descriptions on ecommerce sites, or really anything that’s available on a page.

While this may sound complex to many people, in practice, it’s actually quite easy!

How to Use XPaths in Screaming Frog

In this guide, we’ll be using Screaming Frog to scrape webpages.

Screaming Frog offers custom extraction methods, such as CSS selectors and XPaths.

It’s entirely possible to use other means to scrape webpages, such as Python. However, the Screaming Frog method requires far less coding knowledge.

(Note: I’m not in any way currently affiliated with Screaming Frog, but I highly recommend their software for web scraping.)

Step 1: Identify Your Data Point

Figure out what data point you want to extract.

For example, let’s pretend Search Engine Journal didn’t have author pages and you wanted to extract the author name for each article.

What you’ll do is:

  • Right-click on the author name.
  • Select Inspect.
  • In the dev tools elements panel, you will see your element already highlighted.
  • Right-click the highlighted HTML element and go to Copy and select Copy XPath.

2 copy xpath

At this point, your computer’s clipboard will have the desired XPath copied.

Step 2: Set up Custom Extraction

In this step, you will need to open Screaming Frog and set up the website you want to crawl. In this instance, I would enter the full Search Engine Journal URL.

  • Go to Configuration > Custom > Extraction

3 setup xpath extraction

  • This will bring up the Custom Extraction configuration window. There are a lot of options here, but if you’re looking to simply extract text, match your configuration to the screenshot below.

4 configure xpath extraction

Step 3: Run Crawl & Export

At this point, you should be all set to run your crawl. You’ll notice that your custom extraction is the second to last column on the right.

When analyzing crawls in bulk, it makes sense to export your crawl into an Excel format. This will allow you to apply a variety of filters, pivot tables, charts, and anything your heart desires.

3 Creative Ways XPaths Help Scale Your Audits

Now that we know how to run an XPath crawl, the possibilities are endless!

We have access to all of the answers, now we just need to find the right questions.

  • What are some aspects of your audit that could be automated?
  • Are there common elements in your content silos that can be extracted for auditing?
  • What are the most important elements on your pages?

The exact problems you’re trying to solve may vary by industry or site type. Below are some unique situations where XPaths can make your SEO life easier.

1. Using XPaths with Redirect Maps

Recently, I had to redesign a site that required a new URL structure. The former pages all had parameters as the URL slug instead of the page name.

This made creating a redirect map for hundreds of pages a complete nightmare!

So I thought to myself, “How can I easily identify each page at scale?”

After analyzing the various page templates, I came to the conclusion that the actual title of the page looked like an H1 but was actually just large paragraph text. This meant that I couldn’t just get the standard H1 data from Screaming Frog.

However, XPaths would allow me to copy the exact location for each page title and extract it in my web scraping report.

In this case I was able to extract the page title for all of the old URLs and match them with the new URLs through the VLOOKUP function in Excel. This automated most of the redirect map work for me.

With any automated work, you may have to perform some spot checking for accuracy.

2. Auditing Ecommerce Sites with XPaths

Auditing Ecommerce sites can be one of the more challenging types of SEO auditing. There are many more factors to consider, such as JavaScript rendering and other dynamic elements.

Sometimes, stakeholders will need product level audits on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes this covers just categories of products, but sometimes it may be the entire site.

Using the XPath extraction method we learned earlier in this article, we can extract all types of data including:

  • Product name
  • Product description
  • Price
  • Review data
  • Image URLs
  • Product Category
  • And much more

This can help identify products that may be lacking valuable information within your ecommerce site.

The cool thing about Screaming Frog is that you can extract multiple data points to stretch your audits even further.

3. Auditing Blogs with XPaths

This is a more common method for using XPaths. Screaming Frog allows you to set parameters to crawl specific subfolders of sites, such as blogs.

However, using XPaths, we can go beyond simple meta data and grab valuable insights to help identify content gap opportunities.

Categories & Tags

One of the most common ways SEO professionals use XPaths for blog auditing is scraping categories and tags.

This is important because it helps us group related blogs together, which can help us identify content cannibalization and gaps.

This is typically the first step in any blog audit.

Keywords

This step is a bit more Excel-focused and advanced. How this works, is you set up an XPath extraction to pull the body copy out of each blog.

Fair warning, this may drastically increase your crawl time.

Whenever you export this crawl into Excel, you will get all of the body text in one cell. I highly recommend that you disable text wrapping, or your spreadsheet will look terrifying.

Next, in the column to the right of your extracted body copy, enter the following formula:

=ISNUMBER(SEARCH("keyword",A1))

In this formula, A1 equals the cell of the body copy.

To scale your efforts, you can have your “keyword” equal the cell that contains your category or tag. However, you may consider adding multiple columns of keywords to get a more accurate and robust picture of your blogging performance.

This formula will present a TRUE/FALSE Boolean value. You can use this to quickly identify keyword opportunities and cannibalization in your blogs.

Author

We’ve already covered this example, but it’s worth noting that this is still an important element to pull from your articles.

When you blend your blog export data with performance data from Google Analytics and Search Console, you can start to determine which authors generate the best performance.

To do this, sort your blogs by author and start tracking average data sets including:

  • Impressions – Search Console
  • Clicks – Search Console
  • Sessions – Analytics
  • Bounce Rate – Analytics
  • Conversions – Analytics
  • Assisted Conversions – Analytics

Share Your Creative XPath Tips

Do you have some creative auditing methods that involve XPaths? Share this article on Twitter or tag me @seocounseling and let me know what I missed!

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, October 2019



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When parsing ‘Googlespeak’ is a distraction

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Over the almost 16-years of covering search, specifically what Googlers have said in terms of SEO and ranking topics, I have seen my share of contradictory statements. Google’s ranking algorithms are complex, and the way one Googler explains something might sound contradictory to how another Googler talks about it. In reality, they are typically talking about different things or nuances.

Some of it is semantics, some of it is being literal in how one person might explain something while another person speaks figuratively. Some of it is being technically correct versus trying to dumb something down for general practitioners or even non-search marketers to understand. Some of it is that the algorithm can change over the years, so what was true then has evolved.

Does it matter if something is or is not a ranking factor? It can be easy to get wrapped up in details that end up being distractions. Ultimately, SEOs, webmasters, site owners, publishers and those that produce web pages need to care more about providing the best possible web site and web page for the topic. You do not want to chase algorithms and racing after what is or is not a ranking factor. Google’s stated aim is to rank the most relevant results to keep users happy and coming back to the search engine. How Google does that changes over time. It releases core updates, smaller algorithm updates, index updates and more all the time.

For SEOs, the goal is to make sure your pages offer the most authoritative and relevant content for the given query and can be accessed by search crawlers.

When it is and is not a ranking factor. An example of Googlers seeming to contradict themselves popped this week.

Gary Illyes from Google said at Pubcon Thursday that content accuracy is a ranking factor. That raised eyebrows because in past Google has seemed to say content accuracy is not a ranking factor. Last month Google’s Danny Sullivan said, “Machines can’t tell the ‘accuracy’ of content. Our systems rely instead on signals we find align with relevancy of topic and authority.” One could interpret that to mean that if Google cannot tell the accuracy of content, that it would be unable to use accuracy as a ranking factor.

Upon closer look at the context of Illyes comments this week, it’s clear he’s getting at the second part of Sullivan’s comment about using signals to understand “relevancy of topic and authority.” SEO Marie Haynes captured more of the context of Illyes’ comment.

Illyes was talking about YMYL (your money, your life) content. He added that Google goes through “great lengths to surface reputable and trustworthy sources.”

He didn’t outright say Google’s systems are able to tell if a piece of content is factually accurate or not. He implied Google uses multiple signals, like signals that determine reputations and trustworthiness, as a way to infer accuracy.

So is content accuracy a ranking factor? Yes and no. It depends if you are being technical, literal, figurative or explanatory. When I covered the different messaging around content accuracy on my personal site, Sullivan pointed out the difference, he said on Twitter “We don’t know if content is accurate” but “we do look for signals we believe align with that.”

It’s the same with whether there is an E-A-T score. Illyes said there is no E-A-T score. That is correct, technically. But Google has numerous algorithms and ranking signals it uses to figure out E-A-T as an overall theme. Sullivan said on Twitter, “Is E-A-T a ranking factor? Not if you mean there’s some technical thing like with speed that we can measure directly. We do use a variety of signals as a proxy to tell if content seems to match E-A-T as humans would assess it. In that regard, yeah, it’s a ranking factor.”

You can see the dual point Sullivan is making here.

The minutiae. When you have people like me, who for almost 16 years, analyze and scrutinize every word, tweet, blog post or video that Google produces, it can be hard for a Google representative to always convey the exact clear message at every point. Sometimes it is important to step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself, Why is this Googler saying this or not saying that?

Why we should care. It is important to look at long term goals, and as I said above, not chase the algorithm or specific ranking factors but focus on the ultimate goals of your business (money). Produce content and web pages that Google would be proud to rank at the top of the results for a given query and other sites will want to source and link to. And above all, do whatever you can to make the best possible site for users — beyond what your competitors produce.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.



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