On the Surefire Local blog, we’ve talked a lot about how the customer journey has changed in light of how technology has opened new pathways to discovering nearby businesses. These changes are most noticeably seen in local search, where consumers want to find a specific type of business, for a specific reason, and one that services their specific location.
At Surefire Local, we like to say a business’s online presence is so much more than just a website, but a complete footprint of all online channels, information, and pathways a potential customer can take and interact with a business. Simply put, your website is like your home online, and it helps connect your entire online presence together — like your business name, address, contact information, content, online reviews, paid media, business listings, social media, and communications.
When it comes to optimizing your website for results, you’re faced with an intriguing question: Should you optimize your website to be Google-friendly or User-friendly? Because each will have very distinct focuses and challenges. As you think about this question within your own organization, I’d like to make a case for why there should be a happy medium between the two. It’s less so an either-or scenario, but an and scenario. Because at the end of the day, what good is a website that gets ranked at the top of Google that visitors hate to use and it generates no results (leads, revenue, brand awareness) and what good is a website that people love to browse and converts visitors to leads at a high rate if it’s buried on page 10 of Google and no one ever naturally finds it without a referral?
Let’s first break down the characteristics that Google and consumers look for in a website and then we’ll look at 5 pillars for optimizing your website to satisfy both Google and consumers while creating a powerful marketing asset for your small business.
What Does Google Look For in Your Website?
- Mobile-friendly: First and foremost, we live in an increasingly mobile world. There are even some phones and tablets that are more powerful than laptops nowadays. The ability to go online and search from anywhere, on any device has revolutionized the way consumers seek out a local business in their neighborhood.
- Fast: Your website isn’t mobile-friendly if it is not fast. Consumers don’t want to wait around for a website page to load. They want to get the information they need immediately. Google has even gone as far as to provide more and more information directly within its local search results page, helping connect consumers directly to the information they want, rather than having to click a few times to finally discover the information.
- HTTPS privacy: Google and other search engines require your website to be secure. If you have a form on the website asking people to submit their personal information, this is an absolute necessity. When your website is not secure, Google doesn’t trust it and if Google doesn’t trust it, your website won’t be visible on Google search. Google wants to ensure its consumers have the ultimate experience, and nothing can jeopardize that.
- Local schema and structured data: Google looks for specific lines of code within your website to determine what your website is about, including the words a given page, an image, your business logo, and your service area. For service-area businesses, adding local schema and structured data is critical, because you are signaling to Google that these are the exact markets you do business in. That way Google can trust that when a searcher from your market enters a query in Google Search looking for a roofing business, for example, that they can show your website because they know you can help that searcher.
- Sitemap: Think of this as a table of contents in the beginning of a book. It’s a way to present all information about your website upfront, rather than having to look through your entire website to determine what the pages are about. This helps Google quickly know all the pages of your website, so they can serve each accordingly in local search. Without a sitemap (table of content), Google would have to read through your entire website page by page (book) to determine what it’s about. While certainly possible, that requires a lot more time and effort on their part.
- Recency of content: Google wants to be consistently accurate in the information they display in local search results. That means a blog article published one week ago about topic X could gain more visibility than a blog article published three years ago on the same topic, all things else equal. We live in a constantly changing society and new technologies and information are brought to light each day. What you wrote about in a blog article last year could no longer be the most up-to-date information, or could be entirely irrelevant now. Google wants to see small businesses maintain an active online presence by consistently publishing new content and managing their business information to ensure accuracy.
- Proximity (geolocation signals) to the person searching: Similar to a few points already mentioned above, but Google looks for location signals across your entire online presence to judge the credibility of it. That extends beyond your website too. The more content you can publish on your website and other channels like blogs, photos, and videos that include location as part of the metastructure while also getting more online reviews, the more proximity signals you send to Google that lets their algorithms know where your entire service area is.
- Prominence of your brand awareness: Prominence is another way to refer to the trustworthiness of your website and overall online presence. Do others find your website and content valuable? Do others include links to your website on their own website? The more others build your website up, the more faith Google has in your website that it really does deliver on what it promises.
- Relevancy of your website’s content to the searcher’s query: Not only is the recency of content and your online presence’s activity something Google weighs considerably, but also the relevancy of that content. Is what you’re talking about online, the same thing your potential customers are talking about? Start by asking yourself are you answering questions your potential customers are searching for? It’s one thing to think you know what your customers want to read, watch and listen to, but you’ll want to dive into customer insights to pull out specific topics you’re hearing potential customers ask while on calls with your team and create content around that.
With all of this in mind, there are clearly a lot of factors to consider when optimizing your website to meet Google’s ranking criteria.
What Do Consumers Look For in Your Website?
- Quick answers: People are busy. They don’t want to spend any more time than they have to searching for home maintenance tips, recipes, or fun hobbies to pick up.
- User experience: Part of being able to quickly find information and answers to questions is being able to navigate and move around a website easily. Consumers don’t want to guess what is on a particular page, they should know instantly what that page is going to tell them before they click there. Part of your website design should be to leverage white space and coloring in a way that it lets the content of your website “breathe” so it can quickly be consumed.
- Credibility: Can you say your customers wholeheartedly trust you, your employees, and your business? Consumers want to read online reviews and about others’ experiences with your business to judge if you’re the right fit for them. If your website doesn’t have a social proof element, by pulling in online reviews from Google, Facebook and other reviews sites or display some sort of testimonial, then consumers are going to have a hard time trusting you. They’ll be skeptical when you reach out to call them.
- Recency of content: How recent your content is not only a consideration for Google but consumers as well. If they’re in need of information asap, they’re going to look for the most recent information, assuming it’ll be the most up-to-date and offers the most effective information.
- Brand equity: People want to make personal connections with the businesses they give their money to. They want to make sure the people they allow into their homes to work on their kitchen, basement, deck, roof, etc, are good, honest people. That they can trust you and your employees. Displaying awards and local charities or organizations you are a part of or support is a good first step in building those personal relationships. Does your business stand for and support the right things?
You’ve likely noticed some similarities between the two lists, albeit with slightly different descriptions.
Now let’s talk about an action plan for optimizing your small business website.
Your Website: How to Build a Powerful Marketing Asset for Your Small Business
There are five core pillars to creating the best website you can for your small business.
- Device-optimized: Your website should be accessible from any device: laptop, desktop, phone, tablet, and voice assistant.
- Location-optimized: Your website should have geolocation signals built into the structure and code that identifies your entire service area.
- Content-optimized: Your website should contain content that is both optimized for Google search (keywords) and consumers (conversational; questions and answers).
- Design-optimized: Your website should have an elegant design and be easy to navigate. It should have clear and distinct calls-to-action that convert visitors to leads and customers to lifetime customers.
- Speed-optimized: Your website should be fast and load quickly no matter which device is being used.
BONUS: To further increase the power of your website, add a live chat / chatbot tool. That way, you’re able to engage visitors instantly and convert them even when you’re not online yourself because maybe you’re out driving to a client project, having dinner with the family, or sleeping. A chatbot allows visitors the change to interact with your business 24/7. That alone can alleviate a lot of stress and worry about potential leads going ignored. In fact, consumers prefer to engage with a chatbot rather than call and talk with someone on the phone.
Leverage Local Marketing Software and Automation
At the end of the day, you want to give everyone a great experience when they come across your website.
When they land on your website, it loads fast and can be accessed from any device.
When they browse your website, it offers a seamless user experience with navigation, design, and content.
When someone returns to your website, it delivers a personalized and relevant experience.
Managing all of this yourself or without the help of marketing automation requires skill, a lot of it, and time, which you’re already short on as it is. That’s where local marketing software comes in. You don’t have to tackle all of this yourself because let’s be honest, very few people have the skills required to maintain an optimized website.
With the right technology, you’re able to let automation do the legwork for you. That way, you can spend your time viewing website performance and learn insights like how much traffic your website is getting, what those traffic sources are, the number of leads being generated, their lead sources, and local reach; and have the ability to take immediate action based on that data, such as write and publish a new blog article, post a picture to your website and social media profiles. There’s really nothing standing in your way from building your business’s most powerful marketing asset.
Request a free demo of the Surefire Local Marketing Platform and discover an unmatched combination of software and services that enables your small business to become more productive, have transparency of marketing spend and ROI, and manage content and customers all in one place.