Using the Home Page to Improve Local Search Rankings
Marketers obsess about website home pages for many reasons. They are considered the “front door” of sites, so they’re kept particularly spic-and-span to make the best first impression on visitors. For local businesses, there is another reason to focus on the home page: search engines use the home page more than any other page in determining whether a business may be relevant for local searches.
After Google began presenting blended search results — also known as “universal search” — incorporating local business listings embedded into the regular keyword search result listings, the home page became much more important. Prior to that, any page from a local business site could potentially be presented in the search results for local queries. But, the business listings in local search results only link to the businesses’ main pages — their home pages. And, the local listings now occupy space on search results pages that were previously occupied by organic results.
For local businesses, the home page ideally needs to be considered relevant for most of the company’s main keyword search combinations, and it needs to be well optimized for local search. Here are some basic search engine optimization tips for your site’s home page.
Before you do anything at all, I recommend that you do a little keyword research. You need to know what your keywords should be before you can weave them into your webpages. Too often, companies assume they know how consumers search for their products, services, and type of business. But missing one of your prime keyword phrases will translate into missing a lot of potential sales.
First, make a list of keywords and keyword phrases that you believe consumers most likely use in trying to find you online. For instance, a florist might list “flower shops,” “florists,” “bouquets,” and “flower stores.” If unsure of whether you have a good comprehensive list, check a thesaurus, and also check what your competitors are using on their websites. Once you have a list, which phrase is the most important? One of the best ways to determine this is to compare them using Google Insights for Search. Be sure to filter by your geographic location since different terms are popular in different places across the country. Here’s how the florist list measures up for Minneapolis, Minn.
Notice that “florists” is the most frequently used term, followed by “flower shops.” So, your home page will need to emphasize “florists.” However, there’s room on the home page to also build some relevancy for “flower shops” and “bouquets” as well. Be sure to also scroll to the bottom of the Insights page to see what related “Top searches” and “Rising searches” there are. This is a great way to discover some phrases you weren’t already targeting.
Title Text of Web Page
The title text of a web page is one of its top most influential elements. The title appears at the top of your browser window when visiting a page, and it’s frequently used as the link text for the page when it appears in search engine results. As the name of a page, it’s one of the strongest indicators to search engines as to what the subject matter of the page is about. For local business sites it’s one of the strongest indicators as to what the business does. To optimize your title, it should include your top keyword phrase that describes your type of business, your city name, and your company’s name. If you can include two of your main phrases without overdoing it, it’s worthwhile. I once doubled traffic to a dermatologist’s website by getting him to include both “dermatology” and “dermatologist” in his home page’s title. Here’s an effective title tag, for example: “Florist for Minneapolis | Flower Shop | Jane’s Petals.”
The meta description should be a succinct description of your page. It is typically only visible to consumers when your page is listed in search engine results. Google displays meta descriptions as preview snippet text below page links for local listings in search results under certain instances, while other times it may not. Here’s how some local listing snippets appear for a couple of high-ranking law firms in Albuquerque, N.M.
There is ample evidence that the meta description text can influence consumer click-through rates from search results, so craft yours carefully. Aim for 25 words or less, and state what your business is and searchers they should choose you. Round it out with a call-to-action or other attractive selling points like “Free estimates,” “Voted best in City!,” “Lowest prices,” or “Family-owned and operated.” While meta description text won’t help your rankings directly, improving your click-through rates with it will help, since Google likely factors in click-throughs to popular listings, along with requests for driving directions and other conversion activities.
The logo image is highly influential since search engines pay particular attention to it, and the image’s alternate text — used for audio browsers and by search engines to interpret images — is highly valuable in the site-wide logo for further telling the search engine what the business is. But, be careful to only include text or description that is very conservatively representative of the image. If your company logo was a decorative text treatment like “Acme Products, Inc.,” your alt text should be the same: “Acme Products, Inc.” However, if you cleverly design your site logo image to include a tagline that targets your valuable keywords, the alt text could include those as well. Since all the pages of your site should include the logo, linked back to your home page with that same alt text, this can search engines determine your home page is even more relevant for your core keywords.
Include a brief sentence or short paragraph that describes your company’s products and services in a prominent, central place on your home page, below the header area. This should be created in regular HTML text and not embedded into a graphic image or splashy Flash animation.
It’s ideal to include your address on your home page in HTML text as well. Don’t make your customers or search engines have to hunt it out. It’s acceptable to include a link below or beside the address to your “Locations,” “Directions,” or “Contact” page. But the street address needs to appear on the home page itself to be especially effective for ranking purposes. Behind-the-scenes, in the code, use Schema.org‘s icrodata protocol for your type of business to format the address. This will further ensure that search engines interpret it properly.
I frequently see businesses that have embedded their phone numbers into their sites in Flash or within a graphic, instead of using plain HTML text that can be interpreted by search bots. You can have a phone number in a big header image, but also include it elsewhere in HTML text to ensure it works for you. Write it in the telecommunication E.164 standard format — used commonly outside the U.S, in Europe, and by companies that do a lot of international business — or else write it formatted in one of the two top options with parenthesis and a dash or just with dashes: (123) 456-7890 or 123-456-7890. Using unusual formatting, or a “vanity number” — such as “1-800-1CALLME” — that combines letters with numbers will not work for local search. I also recommend on my blog against tracking phone numbers for local SEO as Google continues to state in its guidelines that they should be avoided.
Other images that are compelling and that illustrate exactly what your customers would be seeking from a business like yours can be highly effective on home pages. Selecting one or two photos that illustrate your company’s work can provide immediate gratification for a searcher and can increase conversion rates. Further, these valuable pieces of content can also enhance your search rankings if you incorporate your relevant keyword content into their alt parameters, just as with your site-wide logo. However, keep such text descriptions brief, and make sure that they are accurate descriptions of the photo contents. Otherwise, you’ll risk search engine algorithms considering them to be keyword-stuffed. If you want to further optimize your pictures using more advanced techniques, geotag the images, as I described in this article in Search Engine Land.
Businesses operating in large metro areas are often at a loss as to how to optimize their sites to rank well for many of the city names in their areas or for multiple neighborhoods or districts. On the home page, it’s ideal to include a text sentence or brief paragraph that states you offer services to each of the location names you’re targeting. For example: “Offering service to the greater Dallas area including: Addison, Arlington, Carrollton, Farmers Branch, Garland, Irving, and Richardson.”
Including “trust seals” or badges on your page may also result in more conversions, particularly for businesses involving services like contractors or for sites that accept payments online. Since these signals can be important for obtaining consumer trust, they’re also something that Google might well use for ranking determinations. So, consider getting a badge from the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign, McAfee Secure, or similar trusted organizations.
Endorsements and Testimonials
Testimonials also persuade consumers to become customers, so you might include a few choice ones on your home page. Further, formatting these using structured data like Schema.org protocol can sometimes result in Google incorporating the text as a review when displaying local listings. Google describes how to do this and recommends it for local search.
Using these basic local SEO techniques can help improve your rankings in search, and your conversion rates as well. Make your home page a priority to have the best chance for optimal results.