SEO for Newbies: How You Can Outrank The Pros
Have you ever wondered how a humble handful of your competition are omnipresent on Google? Take, for example, Dallas Maids (left) search results. This lucky house cleaning company in Dallas, Texas appears #1 in BOTH the 3-pack local listing and organic listings; the two positions in the search results with the highest click through rates (CTR) and it cost them nothing.
It’s true! The best things in life are free.
But surely Dallas Maids must be paying some SEO business big-time bucks to boost www.dallasmaids.com to the top, right?
No, they are not and can confirm: I’m President and founder of Dallas Maids.
My business dominates the local search engine rankings. This results in loads of leads flooding in for free. It has grown Dallas Maids into a million-dollar company. No search engine optimization (SEO) professionals were hired. No extensive study of SEO tactics needed. I did this myself. And you can, too.
Here you will learn the secrets to my search engine results pages (SERPs) success. All you need to know are the SEO basics. Sprinkle on a little common sense and you’ll be cleaning up for a living in no time.
Position = Profit
The graph below, taken from smartinsights.com, shows the top organic spot yields 30% click through rate with second at 15% CTR and third with 10% CTR. The CTR quickly drops to less than 2% for the remaining results.
High position = high CTR = more paying customers = more profit. Therefore, you want the highest position possible, preferably within the top three.
When I started a maid service in 2004 the internet was quickly becoming the way people found products and services. Needing a high-ranking website to sweep in the clientele was obvious. That started with knowing my keywords.
Know Your Keywords
Your Domain Name
Noticing Google rewarded rank for domains containing keywords, I placed myself in the shoes of my customer, searching for maid services online. Writing down the keywords I used to search such as “maid service dallas”, “maids dallas”, “house cleaning dallas”, etc. it was apparent dallasmaids.com would be getting some Google love. I bought it immediately.
Google does not place as much weight on keyworded domains as before, but they are still effective. Therefore, ensure your domain name describes your business (include keywords eg). Your domain name should be short and simple, absent of non-alphanumeric characters such as hyphens and numbers.
A Quick Word on AdWords
Top ranking does not happen overnight. You may want to consider Google AdWords for lead generation until your SEO kicks in. Here is a trick to picking a profitable AdWords domain name for your business:
- Write down potential domain names.
- Buy 3 or 4 of your top choices.
- Install your website on each one.
- Set up separate, yet identical AdWords campaign for each domain (Call Google support. Their help is invaluable)
The domain that garners the highest click through rate after two months of testing is your winner.
The list of keywords also guides your website content. Include reader friendly versions of the keywords in your website. For example, use “house cleaning service in Dallas” instead of “house cleaning dallas” as in “Dallas Maids is an award-winning house cleaning service in Dallas”. Google wants well written, user friendly websites; “house cleaning dallas” is just gawd-awful grammar.
In addition to the viewable content on your website, the meta data below the surface is critical. The most important being your title tag. The title tag uses your keywords to accurately describe your business and appears in the SERPs:
What you write here WILL affect your rankings. This is where you want to be a keyword zealot! For example, an effective title tag for a maid service located in Dallas, Texas would be “Maid Service | Dallas Maids house cleaning in Dallas, Texas”
“Maid Service Dallas” is the top keyword phrase customers use to find house cleaning services; that needs to be in front followed by the second most common keyword phrase, “house cleaning Dallas”.
Pro Tip After Achieving #1
The Google results in the previous screenshot has the title tag for www.dallasmaids.com. So why ain’t I pimping the keywords to the max? The title tag appears on the search results. People see it BEFORE clicking through to your website. Therefore, it can be used as a powerful, prime-time advertising spot. Dallas Maids already held the #1 spot in Google’s organic listing. Why not use title tag to advertise instead of keyword stuffing?
The title tag, “Dallas Maids, Recommended by D Magazine & Voted Best House Cleaning in Dallas”, employs a proven advertising technique called social proof. Social proof refers to the concept customers will choose you if you have already been chosen by others. For example, it’s dinner time and you’re famished. You pass two restaurants, one pack with people, the other with bored wait staff staring off into space. Which restaurant would you choose?
The title tag presents Dallas Maids as having been preselected by a prestigious and well-trusted Dallas-based magazine, D Magazine, along with being voted best house cleaning service in Dallas. Sales substantially increased after using organic listings as an advertising medium.
For more on Social proof and other factors that are hardwired in the human brain to make (not choose, eg) people buy from you, I recommend reading “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”
IMPORTANT: Don’t do this unless you are already dominating the SERPs.
Submit Site To Google
Once finished, I submitted Dallas Maids’ website to Google with amazing results. Within ten days dallasmaids.com appeared on Google’s front page! I found out after the phone started ringing. After a month, www.dallasmaids.com raced to the top spot where we’ve enjoyed since.
Granted, there was less online competition back then. So, do not get excited, expecting exceptional results. Just focus on the basic on-site SEO we’ve just covered along with off-site SEO covered next, and you will do fine.
Google’s algorithm is based on backlinks because they are virtual votes of confidence in the value a website holds. Therefore, it would behoove business owners to build backlinks.
Directories and Lead Sites
While pretending to be a customer searching for house cleaning services, I also wrote down a list of websites that repeatedly appeared in the SERPs. Many were online directories that offered free listings while others required a one-time, nominal fee. I built backlinks from all these websites to dallasmaids.com.
Today, you’ll probably see sites such as Yelp.com, Angieslist.com, Thumbtack.com, all backlink-able to your website. Claim your business profile and complete it in full, including your keywords in the description along with mirroring your website information such as phone, email, address, etc. Google likes consistency; therefore consistency = ranking.
The more important the website, the more SEO juice the backlink will deliver to yoursite.com. Your competition knows this and are in a mad marathon for backlinks from these big-name sites. Instead, focus on the lesser known, local websites to build backlinks, preferably related to your industry. These sites may seem insignificant to your competition, but are a SEO local gold mine. Google takes into account backlinks from websites a) local to your city and b) related to your industry. Think local bloggers hungry for products to review (usually wanting a free sample), Better Business Bureau (get BBB accredited for easy social proof), or local magazines’ websites (local directory and/or a write up of your business).
Social media sites are superb sources for backlinks. Google My Business and Facebook backlinks are a major must. Having a Google My Business is required for a coveted spot in the Google 3 Pack at the top of the search results. Facebook because having an active business page with a backlink to your site not only pumps SEO juice, it also funnels leads.
Any social media you are active on are also musts. Google notes the activity and rewards you with ranking. Here is a list of the more popular social media sites you may be active on:
- Google My Business
In addition to backlinking, also add links from your website to your social media presence. Dallas Maids social media links appear at the bottom of all Dallas Maids website pages:
Ensure the information on your website (contact information, address information, etc.) matches your business profiles across the internet. Remember, Google likes consistency.
Leverage Your Network
Leverage your network and associations are an awesome opportunity to garner quality backlinks your competition can’t duplicate. For example, your Alma mater probably has several ways you can get the coveted .edu backlink. Do they give alumni updates in the university online magazine or have an alumni directory? Another method is to write a glowing review for products you use and love. Make sure to thank the company personally along with a link to the review you wrote on your blog. Many times, they will share it on their blog and/or post it on their social media along with a backlink to yourwebsite.com. I’ve even garnered a backlink directly on their website for a testimonial.
Positive online reviews are powerful social proof, pulling in people and profits. Conversely, negative reviews can kill business. Guard your online reputation with your life!
If you want to dominate Google (and I assume you do), Google My Business reviews should be on top of your list. Don’t forget about the plethora of other popular review sites (Yelp, Thumbtack, Angieslist, etc). Even if less business flows in from these other online review sites, ensure you maintain good reviews. Google will notice your consistent good reviews across the internet, rewarding you with rank.
Getting Good Reviews
Both my cleaning companies, Dallas Maids and Emily’s Maids, are rocking a 5-star averages. Here’s my secret on how to rocket your reviews to the moon:
Step 1: Provide good service – It all starts with providing and maintaining superior service because accruing reviews is playing the long game. As Warren Buffet touts, “Time is the friend of the wonderful company, the enemy of the mediocre.”
Pro Tip 1 – Reward for Review:
Great reviews are an opportunity to reward your staff. For example, each 5-star online review earned by my cleaning staff, earns them a bonus. Incredible incentive for my staff to go above and beyond to make our customers happy.
Step 2: Ask for reviews – Don’t be bashful. If you are on the phone with a customer raving about your service, thank them and ask if they could share their experience online because your business depends upon it!
Pro Tip 2 – The Tip Trick:
We tell happy customers a tip is given on their behalf to the cleaning team if they share their Dallas Maids’ experience online. This additional incentive to leave a review is a win/win/win: Customer has a free way to tip, staff earns a bonus, and your business inches higher in the SERPs.
Step 3: Remove bad reviews – It’s easier to boost your average rating by removing bad reviews than by adding good reviews. For example, you have five, 5-star reviews and one, 1-star review. To reach a 5-star average, you can either remove that 1-star or earn ten, 5-star reviews. Therefore, follow up and find a way, any way to make it right for your customer to remove that crappy review.
Pro Tip 3 – Avoid Chronic Crappy Reviewers:
Websites such as Yelp.com or Angieslist.com allow customers to send quote inquiries. Before responding with a quote, check their other reviews. If most of them are negative, avoid! Not only are you sidestepping an imminent bad review, chronic crappy reviewers tend to be the largest source of headaches anyway.
Step 4: Reply to all reviews, good or bad – For good reviews, briefly thank your customer. Bad reviews are an opportunity to apologize and empathize while tactfully explaining your side. Be positive and polite. This is an opportunity to further market your services and make a positive impression.
Pro Tip 4 – The HEARD Technique:
The HEARD technique is an effective way to deal with dissatisfied customers, developed by The Disney Institute. HEARD stands for Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, and Diagnose. Learn and implement the HEARD technique. It’s invaluable!
In the infant internet of 2004, I had no idea what SEO was. I simply relied on common sense. It is another reason why you can do a better job than SEO professionals. SEO companies constantly study the newest strategies to game Google. Granted, they may be effective in the short term however SEO is a long game. Google is adept at fighting tactics that manipulate rankings because Google’s business depends on delivering relevant search results.
Found a way to game Google? It is only a matter of time until Google discovers and changes the game. At best your ranking will drop. At worse, you’ll be kicked out of the SERPs. I’ve seen it happen a few times; a competitor inexplicably rockets to the top only to be banished.
Common sense to remember:
- Google does not like to be manipulated (their business depends on it!).
- Google is God online.
- Don’t evoke the wrath of God.
Therefore, don’t stress about learning the latest SEO strategies. All you need is some common sense: Provide a good service, have a user-friendly, well written website, earn quality backlinks (no link farms!), and don’t be evil! God, urm… Google will reward you with ascension to ranking heaven.
The professionals feel pressure to deliver results which may lead to using questionable methods. Take the case of Just Cleaning Co. In 2013 they took the top spot, supplanting dallasmaids.com (Ouch!). After some online research, I discovered they had paid a SEO professional who was implementing black hat SEO tactics.
Google’s update was not kind:
And the outcome, worse:
They paid big money to rank their website. Unfortunately, the SEO professional was unfazed by risky behavior. Afterall, it wasn’t his business. And it cost his client their maid service (Double Ouch!!).
Google likes search results that provide value for their visitors. Therefore, provide value by creating a user-friendly website with great content, offer great service, and trust your common sense.
You don’t need to pay a small fortune for a SEO company to attain top ranking. You can do a better job yourself, for free. I wasn’t a SEO expert. I simply provided a quality cleaning service, good website content, earned quality backlinks, and never used questionable SEO methods. In other words, I used common sense. As a result, Google has help grow my business to a million-dollar company. And Google can do the same for you!
If you read this far, Thank You. As a reward, I thought you might find this Free SEO Guide for Beginnners of value. It was written for an SEO Company I decided not to start for a few reason; First, it was hard to find skilled SEO gurus; their skills tended to be substandard. Second, I’ve found business owners could do a better job if they learned the basics for themselves. As a business owner you want to help your clients, not take advantage of them. Finally, the pricing small businesses were willing to pay proved inadequate in providing value they deserve. If I am going to help people with their SEO it would be better to write a book and sell it for a one time, affordable fee (which I plan one day).
Article by Greg Shepard, written for Vonigo – Feb 2019: Simple SEO Secrets from a Cleaning Business Owner