Content and Marketing for Local Businesses
How can local businesses use content marketing to target and attract customers? This guest post from Sebastian Socha guides local businesses through the content marketing jungle.
The buzzword “content marketing” has been filtering through the SEO scene for the past few months, if not years. Some experts claim that content is the cure-all to reach any SEO goal, while others just shake their heads, since relevant, useful and helpful content that engages and motivates readers has always been rewarded by search engines.
What’s the scoop on content marketing? How can local SMBs successfully create “good content” for their websites? What is “good content” in light of the user’s information needs within the framework of local search queries? Where is the intersection of good content, SEO and content marketing?
Good Content is Relevant Content
Let’s start with an explanation before analyzing what “good content” even is. When seen from a search engine user’s perspective, the answer in most cases is:
“Content is good when it answers the question I asked, solves my problem or gives me structured information to explore the question further.”
Creating “good content” requires putting yourself in the user’s perspective. For the written content to satisfy your visitors, you have to set priorities, which leads to:
What Questions Do Users Ask In Local Searches?
The research is pretty clear and stable, whether looking at consumer surveys or website analytics. The first place goes to these three pieces of information:
- Telephone number
- Business hours
More than two thirds of all users searching for a local business name are interested in the phone number, address and business hours of the company (Source: Local Search Usage 2012 ). It should be clear that mobile and local users need this information in a prominent, noticable and immediately visible location on the site of a local business
It’s important that this information, in the view of the user, is not solely on the company website. Industry directories, review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List and social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are all possible results from a local industry search query.
On top of that, this type of core information about a local business should be current throughout the Internet. These “local citations” create – even without a link – an important factor in consolidating good Google rankings in local search optimization. Potential customers can’t contact much less patronize local businesses if the core data isn’t correct! Incorrect, out of date or missing information is a sure-fire way to lose interested customers.
What Else Are Users Asking In Local Queries?
In industry and review directories, about half of all visitors are looking for a link to the company website. About the same proportion of users like map information, which can be easily and accurately presented as an embedded Google Map on the company site. Directions and distances to nearby cities and towns or prominent locations attract about a third of local search queries.
Users are equally interested in current customer reviews and online discounts or other special offers that are exclusively available on the website. Methods of payment accepted is also important for local search.
Now we’ve answered the question of the core information relevant to the company site of a local business. These should always and unequivocally – the first line of local SEO – be present somewhere in the content of the site.
Another study on consumer interest shows that other kinds of information attract a local searcher as well.
Along with the core information, consumers like:
- Price lists
- Services or products offered
- Contact information that’s easy to find
Less than a third of respondents in this survey liked:
- Social media
To cover these different information needs, develop navigation that structures the content to your specific user needs. High-value “teaser boxes” on the homepage should lead to the most important content.
The individual subpages feature specific content, but the central core information should be on every subpage. Remember, every URL can be a landing page for a search engine visitor. If the core information isn’t quickly visible, potential customers bounce from the page quickly – in the worst case to a competitor that has done his research and presents information well!
Companies can pull the most out of their website when the visual elements integrate with the audience, brand and company goals. It’s not just about exciting, interactive features that web design agencies love to bill for, but basic decisions that we’ve been learning about from ages of traditional print media.
This infographic from Nifty Marketing shows which content is present on the landing pages of numerous local businesses that rank well on Google. In the center of attention are the 3 core information pieces: address, phone number and business hours. The rest of the content is organized around the core.
Where Does Content Marketing Fit In?
The basic concept in content marketing is that interested users find the content via search, absorb it and share it.
Most local businesses haven’t used this concept on their sites. You don’t need the most complex SEO tactic or intense research to create this kind of content. The point is to create relevant, useful information on the website that contributes to users contacting or directly visiting a business.
Before you can start with content marketing, it’s absolutely necessary to understand keyword research.
Website Content for SEO: Keyword Research
To direct relevant users with pertinent search queries to the company website, the content on each page of the site has to match the search behavior of the user. Helpful tools for targeted keyword research include:
- Google AdWords Keyword-Tool
- Google Instant
- Google Trends
- Google “Related Searches”
- 1-2 month old Google AdWords campaign
- Search queries from a website analytics package (Google Analytics, JetPack)
With the help of these tools, you can develop a set of keyword terms. Each keyword or keyword phrase, for example, “long women’s hairstyles Las Vegas,” should have a specific landing page with content that aligns as closely as possible to the keyword phrase. While many of these terms will pertain directly to the business concept, keyword research can bring up terms that searchers and users enter but a business owner would never have dreamed of.
The goal is to provide the most complete and useful information for each search query. Address the topic from all sides, and use subheaders to organize the written content. Complete the page with high-quality images.
Website Content Optimization
For complete keyword optimization, the relevant keyword term or phrase should appear in the following areas or tags:
- Page Title <title>
- Header <h1>
- Sub-headers in the content itself <h2> to <h3>
- Sub-headers in the sidebar or footer <h4> to <h6>
- Alt tag in images
- Title tag in links
- … and, of course, sprinkled in the body of the content.
When the keyword research is complete, use your leading terms as the main navigation bar. In this example, your navigation may be “new homes for sale” and “new home builders.” The homepage should have attractive teasers linked to subpages or categories. Each sub-page or category should be optimized for one keyword or keyword phrase.
The more a user can identify with the text and navigation links on a website, the more qualified the user becomes with each click that goes deeper into the site. Qualified users show a higher chance of conversion – contacting the business.
Constructing a site with relevant search terms and corresponding subpages is a continual process. Each month, the queries change. Approximately half of all search queries are new and did not appear in that combination before. It’s worth it to create new URLs and content for seasonal search terms and growing keyword trends.
What Should I Avoid When Creating Content?
Search engines place a negative value on the following:
- Identical content on multiple URLs within the company domain, which is redundant, or on external pages, which could be considered plagiarism. This often happens with product descriptions in online shops or location descriptions for franchises.
- Using a keyword too often in a document or URL (keyword stuffing)
- Fluff or filler text with the sole goal of using a keyword in the body of the content as much as possible. This type of text doesn’t add to knowledge or insight.
- Long-winded explanations – Web users are impatient and need content that is to the point.
Keyword Optimization and Search Engine Optimization
Targeted keyword research ensures that websites will rank for search terms that consumers actually use. But true content marketing enhances SEO by delivering content that users enjoy so much that they share it, creating links that increase rankings.
Content Marketing is More than Keyword Research!
The core concept of targeted content marketing is creating content that users like to share, producing social signals: “Likes” and “Shares” on Facebook, +1 und “Shares” on Google+ and Retweets (RTs) on Twitter.
Content that is recognized by users is usually quickly indexed by Google and receives a short-term push in rankings. If the content continues to do well with users, it’s unlikely that the rankings will sink. As other sites link back to the original content, the ranking stabilizes.
As a company continues to spread high-quality content, more links from more diverse sites occur, which improves the site’s ranking. Domain rank (number of incoming links from different domains) is one of the most important off-site criteria for SEO.
Basics for Successful Content Marketing
One way to help spread content on the social web is to create a non-commercial zone, like a blog, online newsroom or industry glossary.
Relevant content and search terms should always fit the company as well. A hairdresser can write about the latest fashion trends or use celebrity photos and the new iPhone App iMadeFace to generate comic-style pictures of the hottest hairstyles in Hollywood.
A financial planner, however, may not want that fun kind of content, but aims to curate a serious, professional image. A comprehensive collection of the most common questions on saving, including deeper links to useful calculators or other tools, offers users a relevant starting point to enter the advisor’s site. Offering this neutral content builds confidence in your authority on the subject.
A catering service, on the other hand, may not have to do as much research. Instead, high-quality professional photos of previous events can be published, along with a blog entry on the event.
However, a slick infografic that shows how much of any one food equals 200 calories can be especially attractive for social networks.
How close is close enough, though? Can a shoe store, for example, handle a topic like “The 10 most-loved sneakers of all time” without being hokey?
Sometimes you won’t know until you try. Experiment with content topics and types to see what your readers and followers like and how they share it. Small steps make this process more comfortable. You won’t always go viral on your first try, but by delivering great content to your followers consistently, you prime the pump for your next effort.
This communication requires patience and sustainability. Ask yourself when you last shared content with your community. If you can’t answer clearly and distinctly, or if you’ve never shared content, review and use the systems you plan on leveraging as a “normal user” before you aim for viral content. In the long term, avoid posting too much off-topic content, which could lead to your presence being seen as random instead of a stong voice, which is what a small business is trying to achieve.
A satirical infografic of “15 best destinations to find a good screw” from a hardware manufacturer could add to the company reputation or fall flat, but a Harlem Shake video is completely off topic.
Content Marketing for Readers, “Linkerati” Or Both?
It’s optimal to share content inside a user group that can create links. Since not all users run a website or blog but almost everyone uses some form of social media, that’s the most efficient way to raise your reputation mid-term.
High-quality content, shared by fans, becomes a marketing vehicle that supports your company as the expert in your field. Expertise, quality, pertinence and passion are the main characteristics of this type of content, which is deployed specifically for social media.
How Does Content Marketing Get Links?
A two-track strategy is perfect. The first track publishes content for your target customer so that your site is found and shared. The second track is content for the “Linkerati,” bloggers and influencers who share news and current content.
Content for the second track doesn’t have to be as closely aligned with the search queries of your customer base. Here, we’re looking at a broader, “amateur” perspective on the topic. The thought should be “everything you ever wanted to know about…” and easily displayed in amusing graphics.
Articles like “10 Myths About …” or “12 Questions About … That You’ve Always Asked” or funny infographics like those of The Onion or The Oatmeal can be provocative and create more attention in a broader Web population. This tactic is to raise awareness, not drive traffic for customers looking for an immediate solution.
Publish cool, funny, relevant, helpful, provocative, useful or surprising content on the Web, receive links, raise your authority and profile, and then start the cycle over again.
Ideally, your linkbait or viral content doesn’t run contrary to your business philosophy, positively reflects on your business and easily gets shared: Flash animation, for example, only works on Flash players. Since Apple devices don’t support Flash, animated GIFs, standard movies, still photos and textual content are better mediums.
To get the most out of your content or social media campaign, make contacts on the platforms you plan on using in advance. The Linkerati can be very generous, but it helps to warm them up and build their trust by interacting with their current content before sending off your own. When you launch, you can already call on your contacts to build support for your effort.
Good Content, SEO & Content Marketing
To repeat: good content is content that users look for often. SEO helps users find that content by alerting search engines that it is present. Content marketing, in contrast, ensures that either your authority in the social web rises, increasing your link profile and your rankings, or that users can easily find the right information on your company site.
Whether it’s a photo gallery of hunters in full equipment for a sporting goods store or helpful videos of simple kitchen repairs from a local plumber, users subtly notice that the company has put extra effort into their content. The visitor processes the quality information and realizes that they can’t get it anywhere else. This is content marketing without a specific campaign – simply presenting valuable content in a good form.
Those who believe that they can run an online business without valuable, quality content will have problems getting visitors to convert to buyers. Local businesses whose web presence greets visitors with “Welcome to our site” and a few stock photos but forgets to include their contact information will have the same issue.
Without deep and comprehensive content that is structured into clear subpages, local businesses can’t compete with the ocean of other sites for the top spot. National players have already started working on local optimization, which makes competition even harder.
Sites that continually add useful content, including professional images and quality videos, and gets that content in circulation via social media will not only improve their SEO, but will provide a better experience to the user in general, leading to more return visits or recommendations.
Sebastian Socha is a SEO professional and product developer. He is the Head of Product & Social Media at WinLocal GmbH in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His blog (in German) covers local SEO for Google Places and Google Maps as well as review management and social media.