It’s a competitive world out there, especially for small and medium-sized local businesses trying to establish their brands in their local communities. When it comes to attracting more local customers, your business should be harnessing the power of local SEO. Having effective SEO strategies in place and optimising your website to its full potential are the keys to improving your online search visibility.
Local SEO – Are you in Google’s local pack?
To help customers find local businesses in their area and give businesses more exposure, several years ago Google began featuring local businesses within its top local search results. This was known as Google’s ‘local pack’, in which it promoted 7 local businesses that had face-to-face contact with customers.
Google dropped its ‘local pack’ down to only 3 websites in 2015, and recently began experimenting with showing paid adverts, making the competition to claim a top spot on search engine results pages (SERP) even more intense.
We take a look at 8 local SEO tactics that will help you to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERP) and help your business become a local household name.
Drive leads with citations and name, address, and phone records (NAP)
Local citations are references to a local business’ name, address, phone number or website (NAP+W) on the internet. You can find citations on local business directories, websites, review sites and social media pages and they help people to find businesses in their local area.
So does this mean that the more citations you have online, the more likely it is for your business to appear in search engine results? Not necessarily, as your rankings are influenced by more than just the number of citations you have: they’re affected by the accuracy of the NAP+W information as well as the quality of the platforms on which your citations are found.
Getting your citations right has never been more important, with more and more people turning to tools like voice search for instant and reliable answers. 46% of voice search users look for a local business every day, so to make your business more visible to these new customers all of your citations need to be consistent on any sites you’re listed on. This means sticking with the same format or style of presenting your citations.
Regularly checking your business’ listings and ensuring that they are accurate and consistent is an obvious solution, but this can be time-consuming especially if you have citations across the web. The good news is that you can use tools like Moz local, Yext and BrightLocal to help manage your business’ citations online and improve local search visibility:
Moz local is a business listing tool that you can use to manage your business’ NAP on different search engines, online directories and apps. Another advantage to Moz local is that it also provides this information to the major data aggregators. Currently Moz local listings are paused in the UK.
Yext is a platform you can use to manage your business’ NAP on various online directories. It automatically checks online directory listings and if it finds incorrect information about your business it will update and change this information. Yext also finds new listing opportunities for your business. There are drawbacks to Yext if you cancel your subscription, with changes made on the platform reversing to the incorrect listings and new listings made with the tool disappearing altogether.
BrightLocal offers a flexible service and allows businesses to choose whether they would like citations submitted directly to sites or through automated distribution, or a combination of both.
Claim and verify your online business listings
It’s crucial for you to claim as many of your online business listings as possible on all the various platforms and directories that list local businesses. When you claim a listing, you are verifying that you own a specific business and have the authority to maintain its information online. Although the process of claiming your listings on different sites might vary a little, here’s what you can expect:
Business listing sites will most likely ask you whether your business is already on their records, and you might be asked to enter a phone number or your business’ name to check whether there is a listing.
If there is an entry for your business, you’ll need to review the information and make sure you correct any errors as well as adding missing information. You can also set up a new listing for your business at this stage, including details about your business’ name, address, phone number, website and anything else you think is important. Remember, it is vitally important that the information you provide is consistent with what is published on your website and on other platforms.
Next, you will be asked to verify your business. Usually, you will have the choice of receiving an email with a verification link that you need to click on or a phone call where you will need to provide a verification code or pin that has been posted to your physical address to confirm that you are the business owner.
Once your business has been verified, you will then need to wait for your listing to appear online – this can take anything from a few minutes or days to even weeks depending on the approval process.
Put your local business on the map with Google My Business
To maximise your local business’ visibility online and verify that you are a legitimate company, you also need to claim your Google My Business page.
Google My Business is an online business listing directory that is free for business owners. As the most widely used search engine, Google is an important gateway to growing a business’ presence and reputation online. Having a Google My Business is a must to boost your local search rankings. If your website is optimised in the right way with schema markup (see below) you might even find your business appearing in the coveted top 3 local results:
When claiming your business page on Google, you will follow a similar process to that above but there is one big difference: Google only allows the owner of the business to claim their page (some listings allow management by third parties), although Google recently announced the launch of its Google My Business Partners Program where agencies will be able for the first time to manage client GMB pages. You can add lots of detail to your listing such as your address, business hours, categories, forms of payment you accept, your business’ logo and images of your business or products/services. Recent additions even allow users to post questions to business pages.
This information then appears across Google when someone searches for your business, including on Google Maps, and the knowledge graph, seen here on the right of the SERP.
Build up your black book of contacts
One of the simplest ways of getting the word about your business and services out into the local community is by attending networking and business events. Going to different events held locally and nationally gives you the chance to establish your business’ presence and build links with other local business owners and potential customers.
Networking allows access to a much wider network of contacts through the new people you meet. Someone you speak to at an event might be in need of the services your business offers, or maybe they will be able to refer your details to colleagues. You can also use networking events as opportunities to ask for advice from other local business owners, especially if you are just starting out or are thinking about moving into another market.
There are lots of events that take place around the UK, and you can use sites such as FindNetworkingEvents.com to find those in your region. It’s worth keeping an eye out for events held by professional associations like local chambers of commerce, conferences in your area, or breakfast community meetings. You may even have the chance to contribute or speak at a local event, which will help with new connections and raising brand awareness.
Make your brand a local household name via social media
Social media should be a core part of your marketing strategy when it comes to growing your brand. It is all about creating an online identity for your brand and reaching your target audience through content that will encourage them to interact with you and see you as a leading local business. Social media is also usually one of the first places people look for reviews on businesses, so keeping on top of your accounts online is key.
Not every platform is appropriate for all businesses, so it is wise to be selective about which platforms work best for your business and tailor your marketing approach to the users on each platform.
Review your social media accounts – take a look at who is connected with you and what kind of platforms are used most by the customers you’d like to target. Set up more social media accounts if you find there are other platforms that could benefit your business’ goals.
Research your competitors – this will give you an insight on what kinds of posts are getting the most engagement, which can help to inform your social strategy.
Connect with the contacts you make from networking and business events.
Update your business’ information and images – all of your social media pages should have up-to-date contact information for your business, including a logo and a summary about your business.
Find interesting and relevant posts to share with your target audience – this can include sharing your own content or that of other users such as links to articles, web pages, images, graphics and videos. Engaging with other users’ content also encourages them to return the favour and share or comment on your content, extending your brand’s visibility.
Use paid advertising to generate business leads – sites like Facebook and LinkedIn give you the option of running paid campaigns. They are an effective and relatively cheap way of getting your business in front of a wider audience. On Facebook, for example, you can run local campaigns where you can pinpoint the areas you want to target as well as the age, gender, job role and interests of your potential customers.
Social media campaigns require careful thought and planning to ensure you get the most out of them. Whether you need help devising an effective social media strategy or running local campaigns, Search Solihull can offer advice and support that helps you stand out from the local competition. We can help you plan and run campaigns that generate leads for your local business, increase your followers and promote your brand.
Online Reviews – The Key To Getting Noticed Locally
To celebrate the end of the working week, you decide to go out for dinner on Friday evening and are in the mood for trying out somewhere new. You start looking for restaurants in your local area online and find a few interesting options, but since you haven’t been to any of these places before you read some reviews to find out what other customers thought about the food and service.
From the reviews, it’s clear that there is one restaurant that is outperforming the others and that happens to be the one that you choose to go to. Without consciously realising it, a few online reviews have influenced your first impressions of restaurants in your local area without you even having to step foot in them.
Reviews are a powerful tool that can improve your search rankings, build your business’ reputation online and get you noticed within your local community. Since 68% of customers form an impression of a brand by reading just 1 – 6 reviews, within a matter of minutes a potential customer might have already decided whether or not your business can meet their needs.
To boost your local SEO and grow your customer base, you should be asking customers for reviews on your business and service. You should also be monitoring review sites for reviews that you haven’t asked for. The more positive reviews the better, but if you come across any problematic reviews it is a good opportunity to answer them and use the feedback constructively. The best places for reviews are your Google My Business and Facebook pages. With correct schema markup in place, these reviews can also show on search engine results pages, creating a positive call to action. Many people also turn to social media sites for reviews on businesses, so having reviews on your Facebook business page can make a big difference. You can also use third-party sites like Trustpilot and Feefo to gather and manage reviews from customers, which can also be linked to search results.
Schema Markup – Helping You Stand Out From The Competition
Schema markup (also known as structured data markup or schema.org markup) is code that you can add to your website to help search engines better understand the content on your web pages, and therefore provide users with more accurate results.
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Yandex created schema.org in order to have a universal form of structured data markup that all search engines can understand. Different types of markup exist for various categories of content – you can find a complete list of what can be marked up here.
By using schema markup you can define what certain elements on your web page mean, such as your location, reviews, opening times and the services you offer. Adding this type of structured data also enables search engines to extract the relevant parts of a web page and display them in the form of rich data in search engine results pages (SERP).
Rich data – or rich snippets – refers to extra information that is added to search results to help users find what they are searching for, such as images, star ratings, opening times and product prices. The type of rich snippets shown in SERP depends on the content of your web pages and of course whether you have used schema markup.
For example, if your business sells gardening products some of the rich data pulled from one of your web pages could include the star rating for a product (if previous customers have left reviews), a price, an image and stock availability:
Giving users extra details about your products and services through schema markup can seriously boost your local SEO and increase organic click-through rates as some big brands found:
Rotten Tomatoes saw a 25% increase in click-through rates on web pages with schema markup
Food Network reported a 39% rise in traffic to pages with schema markup
Rakuten found that users spent 1.5% more time on their pages with schema markup
Search engines want websites to use schema markup because it makes it easier for them to understand the context of your web pages. This is why Google created its Structured Data Testing Tool, which helps you to check whether your schema markup has been implemented correctly.
All you need to do is insert the URL to one of your web pages in the box that appears when you open the testing tool and click on run test:
Google will then show you your website’s code and schema markup as well as any errors it has picked up on.
Make a lasting impression with title and meta description tags
When you search for a service or product online, the first thing you see is a list of hyperlinked titles and mini descriptions that are trying to entice you to click on them. These are called title and meta description tags, which are like small adverts for each of your web pages that promote your products or services. They are important for SEO and well-written title and meta tags can make the difference between driving leads to your website or someone simply scrolling past your website.
You can customise title and meta description tags for each of your web pages, but there is a limited space in which you can really sell your business to users. When creating meta titles and descriptions:
Have a different title and description for each web page that is an accurate statement of what you are selling or promoting – this gives users an insight on whether your business can meet their needs before they even click through to your website.
Keep meta titles between 50–60 characters and descriptions should be between 160–200 characters – titles and descriptions that are too long tend to get cut short by search engines, which replace the remainder of the text with ellipses.
Have a specific keyword (or a keyword phrase) that you would like to target and place the keywords as close as possible to the start of your title and description.
Reach local customers by including in the description, the area where your business is based, a phone number and the locations that your business covers.
To test out title and meta descriptions before publishing, you can use SEOmofo to generate examples of what they will look like or if you are using WordPress you can download a Yoast plugin.
Getting your local business in front of a local customer base takes a multi-channel approach, which is something Search Solihull specialises in. With years of experience in online and offline marketing, we can create tailored strategies that will make your business a local leader.
We’ll be happy to talk through your business needs on 0121 288 4439 or feel free to send us a message and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible.
This topic appears on social media quite a lot and often results in thousands of likes and shares which is potentially dangerous. The most recent picture i seen on Facebook was this one saying that “Aspartame was brought to you by the same folks that brought you: Saccharin, Petroleum based fertilisers, rBGH, ddt, dioxin, Agent Orange, PCBs, Round Up, Polystyrene, GMOs, Terminator seeds, Atom Bomb & Nuclear Weapons.”
Aside from that being one of the most ridiculous statements i think i have ever read on the internet, it is one which could be potentially damaging for a number of reasons which i will get on to later on in the article. My aim is to explain what aspartame is, where the anti-aspartame hype came from and what the truth is backed by good scientific literature.
What Actually Is Aspartame?
The structure of aspartame
Aspartame is a low calorie sweetener which is commonly used in diet soft drinks and other low calorie foods and drinks. It is classed as a dipeptide which simply means 2 amino acids joined together. With aspartame these amino acids are aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Both of these are actually essential for various processes within the body and they are either produced in our body from other foods or found naturally in our diets.
Aspartame contains roughly the same amount of calories per gram as sugar, however, it is also around 180x sweeter, meaning you need to use much less of it to get the same sweetness.
Funnily enough, there are other commonly used dipeptides which aren’t given the same treatment as aspartame. These include carnotine and carnosyn, the latter is commonly found in a number of sports supplements but doesn’t get the same hate from “holistic nutritionists” and the like.
When it comes to being digested, aspartame is quickly and completely broken down into by-products which includes phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. These then enter our system through normal routes. It should also be mentioned that hardly any aspartame actually enters the bloodstream as it has been broken down.
It All Started In The 80’s
In 1980, several European countries approved the use of aspartame and has proved very controversial ever since. A report was published in 1996 which looked at the incidence rates of certain cancers since the approval of aspartame and was shown to be an increase. This caused people to get worried about the sweetener and it has been blamed for a number of issues.
However, this study has very little scientific basis and if you look at the incidence rates of brain tumours which is tabled in the report an approx. 12% increase is seen since the approval of aspartame. This figure could appear worrying but this is an increase of 12% NOT a 12% risk which are too entirely different things. When you look at the actual volume of incidences then it will also make you reconsider. The increase is actually from around 47 tumours per 1 million people (0.0047%) to around 53 tumours per 1 million (0.0053%). So, despite an increase of 12% it is actually only an increase of 6 people developing tumours for every 1 million which in the grand scheme of things is absolutely minute.
Think about it this way… If the odds of winning the lottery was 47 in 1 million (or 0.0047%) and they decided to increase it to 53 in 1 million (or 0.0053%) but made a massive deal about it on the TV adverts etc. saying “YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING HAVE INCREASED BY A MASSIVE 12%” you would probably be quite angry once you found out the actual odds of winning.
It has been shown that there can be health risks associated with the overconsumption of the 2 amino acids that make up aspartame which is partly where the theories surrounding it’s danger come from. However, these need to be in very high doses. So that brings me onto my next point about how some research shows it to be dangerous.
What About The Rodents?
A big issue with a lot of studies, not just on aspartame but is particularly true in this case, is that they are carried out on rodents, such as mice or rats. The main issue with this is that their bodies are not like humans, they are much, much smaller so the results are only a means of finding possible links which would then require further studies to be conducted in humans before it can be said to be true or not. Unfortunately what tends to be the case in the world of nutrition is that people jump on the bandwagon of certain things (in this case aspartame) and will reference these rodent studies to back up their claims before any human studies have been carried out.
When large doses are given to rodents during trialls and it shows a negetive effect, this same dose may not have the same effect on humans due to us being considerably larger in size which is the case with aspartame.
When people share this on social media, it makes it seem like fact as there are references, however, most people will not analyse the evidence before sharing, this will then lead to more and more people believing the hype surrounding it all.
What Does The Latest Research Say?
In 2006 a study of over half a million people by the US National Cancer Institute directly compared people who consumed aspartame containing drinks with people who did not. The results of this study conclusively found that aspartame does not increase the risk of leukemia, lymphoma or brain cancer.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a review into the safety of aspartame and has concluded that it is safe for human consumption including in pregnancy and children. If you want to read up on this review, click here to find view the 263 page report.
The acceptable daily intake is set at 40mg per kg body weight. Which put into perspective, an adult weighing 75kg would need to consume around 16 cans of diet coke a day (There are around 180mg in a can). This acceptable intake does not mean that if you drink that then it is dangerous, these are set way below what could actually cause issues which means that would would probably have to drink well over 1000 cans per day. If you were to drink that then i think you would have bigger issues than that of aspartame.
The EFSA added to a 2009 review:
Overall, the Panel concluded, on the basis of all the evidence currently available… that there is no indication of any genotoxic or carcinogenic potential of aspartame and that there is no reason to revise the previously established ADI for aspartame of 40 mg/kg [body weight].
What About Sugar?
This takes us back to sugar and the question of which is worse, diet drinks vs full sugar drinks? It is very well established that drinking too much sugar can contribute to consuming too many calories which will result in weight gain as well and the associated health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and some cancers.
As discussed previously, aspartame has been proven to be safe so if you are thinking about cutting out aspartame and having the full sugar versions instead based on a random meme going about Facebook then i would recommend considering everything i have discussed in this article and maybe let whoever shared it know the real science backed truth to help spread the made up nonsence that could damage peoples health.
The one issue that should be noted is the rare genetic condition known as phenylketonuria or PKU which is where the body is unable to breakdown the amino acid phenylalanine. When levels of this build up in the blood, it can prevent other important chemicals from getting to the brain resulting in abnormal brain development. In cases of PKU the dietary intake of phenylalanine should be severely limited.
It is usually detected by a routine blood test shortly after birth and will then require the child to follow a restricted diet. Due to phenylalanine being an ingredient in aspartame, it is important that people with PKU limit there intake of it which is why it will be listed on ingredients lists in foods.
Just to finish off I want to emphasise the point that unless you have PKU or are allergic to aspartame then you do not need to avoid it, it is not going to cause you to get cancer, it is not going to cause lupus, it is not going to cause Alzheimer’s, it is not going to cause diabetes, it is not going to cause Parkinson’s, it is not going to cause multiple sclerosis, it is not going to cause seizure… You get the point.
So next time you see someone sharing a stupid meme on social media like the one above, please feel free to share this article on the comments to provide them with the facts.
A well-planned marathon training diet to go alongside your regular training is absolutely essential if you want to achieve success in your race. Whether you are running your first marathon or have run many before and are looking to beat your PB, getting your nutrition right can be the difference between crossing the finish line or hitting the wall and not making it. It can be confusing with all the conflicting information available and it is important to understand that you should do what works for your body not what someone tells you worked for them. So what should you be doing to prepare for your big day?
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
Planning for a marathon
This may seem like a common sense thing to say, however so many people get this wrong and is probably the most important point I am will make in this article. Planning ahead will ensure you are able to get the required nutrients in every day, from macronutrients down to vitamins and minerals which all serve an important purpose within the body. The best plan of action is to write down all the meals and snacks you are going to have each day for the week, taking into account when you are going to be training, working, sleeping etc so you are able to plan appropriate times for eating and preparing food etc. There is no point in picking something to make for dinner that is going to take you 2 hours to prepare when you only have 30minutes available. I have often seen people doing this then when they realise they don’t have time to make it they will just get a takeaway which is not what you are wanting. By planning like this it will also ensure you are cutting down on food waste as you can create a shopping list based on the planned meals and only buy what you are needing.
The more things you plan for the better and more relaxed you will be when it comes to race day. Every week you should create a new plan according to your training, taking into account the increase in mileage as you get closer to the big day.
I find having a diary or notebook purely devoted to your marathon training diet will help keep you on track. In this, you can keep notes of meals/foods that work well for you, how you are feeling, timings, training logs etc to help keep you as organised as possible.
2. Remember, You Are Running a Marathon Runner
This might sound like a bit of a strange point to make but it is something that a lot of people forget about when it comes to nutrition. The
Marathon Training Diet Is essential
government puts out a lot of information regarding healthy eating and nutrition, which is good. However, this information is generalised and targeted at the general population, not marathon runners. So when you see things such as avoid salt just have a think about how this may impact on your performance. Remember salt contains sodium which is essential for a number of functions including fluid balance and muscle
contraction. So by avoiding it, you may find you are lacking a valuable requirement for your performance. It is worth noting, however when I say sodium is important this does not mean it is an excuse to be adding loads to your meals and eating high salt foods.
3. Train Nutritionally For Race Day
Your training period is not just the time to get your mileage up, it is also essential that you train nutritionally as well. Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods and timings so it is absolutely vital that you are familiar with what works for you. This is especially true for sports products such as gels which are given out for free in most races. There are so many of them on the market and a lot of people will be tempted to take the free ones on race day so they don’t need to buy and carry some. However, if you train with a different brand that is given out for free, you may not be aware that it could result in stomach issues which is the last thing you want to discover after months of hard work put in training. Make sure you familiarise yourself with everything you are going to be consuming on race day, from breakfast to fluids and anything you will be consuming during the race (if you want to use the free gels provided, buy them and use them during training runs to ensure they react ok with your body). It is much better having to stop a training session part way in due to stomach issues than having to pull out of the actual race.
You should aim to do at least one trial run of the race, where you will try and match everything as closely as possible. This will also help if you suffer from pre-race nerves as it takes away some of the uncertainty.
Get up at the same time you will on race day
Have the same breakfast at the same time as you will on race day
Set off on your run at the same time as race day (If possible train on part of the route you will be racing)
Wear the same clothes as you will on race day
Eat and drink the same things as race day
4. Remember Your Energy
Carbohydrate is a widely discussed topic at the moment and is something that people have so many different views on. Just to clear this up, there is nothing wrong with carbohydrate! I will repeat that again… There is nothing wrong with carbohydrate. The issue many people seem to have with it is that it “makes you fat”. Again, this is not true, the truth is eating too much of anything makes you fat, not carbohydrate.
For those of you who are not familiar with what it actually is here is a brief explanation: Carbohydrate is the bodies main energy source and is stored in the muscle & liver as a thing called glycogen. When you run a marathon it is absolutely vital that you begin the race with your glycogen stores full. Failure to do this could result in you ‘hitting the wall’.
I have had clients in the past who are under the impression that carbohydrate is bad and will make them fat so they avoid it. Doing this will only lead to failure in the race and also an increased risk of injury.
It is also worth noting that you might experience weight gain when you are training due to your increased carbohydrate intake. This is perfectly normal and is NOT fat. It is water associated with the storage of glycogen. For every 1g of glycogen you store, there will be around 3-4g of associated water. So don’t worry if you are gaining weight, this will go away after the race.
Don’t Forget to Recover
Recovery is so important when it comes to training and getting the most out of it. After a long training session, a lot of people just want to go home and curl up on the sofa, often forgetting to
Pasta makes a fantastic recovery meal
eat, this is a big no-no! When you have done a lot of exercise, your muscles are damaged, your energy stores are depleted and you have lost a lot of electrolytes through sweat, so it is essential that these are addressed.
Ideally, you will consume a meal/snack which is rich in both carbohydrate and protein within 20 minutes to aid the repair of muscles and help to refill energy stores for the next session. The optimum requirement for each is approximately 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight and at a ratio of 4:1 Carbohydrate: Protein. So if you weigh 75kg, you should be aiming for around 75g carbohydrate and 19g protein within 20 minutes of finishing training.