Free SEO guide for small business owners from Rank FIirst Local

Small Business SEO: The Definitive Guide to Winning the Web

TABLE OF CONTENTS (click to jump to a chapter)

  1. Introduction
  2. Why SEO?
  3. Choosing a Platform
  4. Where to Start
  5. Tracking Your Results
  6. Keyword Research & Content Planning
  7. On-Page Optimizations
  8. Local SEO & Off-Site Optimizations
  9. Converting Visitors to Leads
  10. Backlinks
  11. How to Write the Perfect Service Page
  12. The End
  13. Ask Us Questions
  14. Additional Reading

Want to download the entire guide as a PDF? Click Here to get it!

 

Introduction

While this guide is meant to be informative to all, our small business SEO guide is extremely beneficial for small business owners in the home services industry with a website.

It’s meant to give you a full rundown of the most important, and most beneficial SEO strategies, tactics, and optimizations to get more customers, generate more contact form submissions and phone calls—and ultimately—grow revenue.

Let’s face it, number one rankings are great, but increased annual revenue and more profit is even better!

Each chapter covers an important topic in small business search engine optimization and is written to help you increase your online visibility using Google.

We know that as a small business owner, you probably don’t have a lot of free time on your hands. That’s why Small Business SEO: The Definitive Guide to Winning the Web is broken into eleven different bite-sized sections.

Some common challenges small business owners face when attacking their own SEO campaign are:

  • Knowing where to start.
  • Trusting the information and resources available to them.
  • Understanding what a worthwhile investment in their time is and what will maximize results with the least amount of effort.
  • Evaluating the work—is it working?
  • Outranking competitors in local service markets.

We’re going to accomplish all of those and then some. Ready?

Let’s get started.

Why SEO?

Let’s first start with the elephant in the room. What is SEO? Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the collection of all of the tactics to help you rank higher in search engines.

It can be called a lot of different things, but simply, the goal is to help you rank higher.

WHY CHOOSE SEO?

Why do you want to rank higher? Well – according to data from December 2015 (special thanks to Advanced Web Ranking for their study):

  • 25 – 29% of all searchers click on the #1 search ranking.
  • 16 – 18% of all searchers click on the #2 search ranking.
  • 10 – 12% of all searchers click on the #3 search ranking.

The point is – the higher on the page you rank, the more clicks you get.

The more qualified clicks you get, the more leads you get.

The more leads you get, the more sales you make.

The more sales you make, the more MONEY you earn.

Our entire guide is focused on helping give you the RIGHT tactics to increase your position in the search engines, so that you can make more money, period.

For us – the web is a zero-sum game, you’re either going to win or you’re going to lose. If you’re like all of the business owners we know then you don’t like to lose, and neither do we.

WHY YOU SHOULD INVEST IN SEO OVER OTHER DIGITAL STRATEGIES (AND NON-DIGITAL)

If you’re anything like the small business owners we know (and we know a lot of them), you’re probably thinking about WHY you need to go with SEO.

Even the smartest business owners we know also ask us why they should choose SEO versus any other marketing strategies (digital or not).

Well – since we consider you to be a smart small business owner (you are reading this wonderful guide we put together for you) – we’ll let you in on why we think SEO is so valuable for you and how it compares to other digital and non-digital marketing strategies.

Before we do that, let’s look at some of the great benefits of SEO and compare them to the other marketing strategies you could throw your dollars at.

  • SEO works 24/7/365
  • SEO (often) means high rankings, which equals a perception quality from prospects (link to study)
  • SEO puts your company in front of prospects who are looking for what you offer (link to study)
  • SEO is cheaper than paid search
  • SEO is a long-term win
  • SEO commands the lion’s share (75%+) of the search volume (link to study)

Now – SEO has its faults:

  • SEO can take time to “ramp up” (we couldn’t find research on this, but our general rule of thumb is 8-12 weeks)
  • SEO can lead to potentially unqualified leads
  • SEO can lead to high keyword competition
  • SEO puts your fate is in the hands’ of search engines
  • SEO can consume a lot of time if you’re balancing doing SEO (upwards of 20 hours/week) and running your business.

The list below compares SEO to each of the top digital marketing strategies our customers invest in often:

  1. Pay Per Click (PPC) – Your daily spending depends on your ads, your bids, your landing page experience, and the bids of others. Without a good model, you could easily overpay for leads. You also pay for every single click: good, bad, or ugly. If your sales funnel isn’t optimized, it could be a total waste of money for you.
  2. Social Media – Only 6% of your followers on Facebook will actually see your posts (link). With Twitter, it’s all noise. With Instagram, you could build a following, but will they convert? You can build an audience and a following, but it’s getting harder and harder to turn them into buyers, especially if you’re a small business. If you become one of the big boys it might be worth it.
  3. Email Marketing – Requires constant updating, checking, and a system to review if your processes are actually producing leads or not.
  4. Pay Per Lead Services – Some, like Home Advisor, are tough because you’re competing with “Chuck in a Truck” for lowest price and fastest service. They could also lead to unqualified leads and if improperly managed, could lead to overpaying for service. We’ve also heard feedback from clients that Angie’s List customers (and the like) are some of the WORST customers. They ask for everything and use the rating system to back contractors against a wall for the customer and for the small business.
  5. Yellow Pages – Do we really need to talk about these? Yes –  some of our clients (the ones who target areas dominated by customers 65 years or older) see value in YP. They’re able to squeeze enough of a discount out of their rep (since everyone is fleeing YP). Is the volume there? Absolutely not. So you might get a few jobs here or there throughout the year and the cost per acquisition is right, but if you’re in need of A LOT of leads, this probably isn’t going to be your target channel.
  6. Billboards – High cost, inaccurate tracking.
  7. Direct Mail – The amount of annual budget that you’ll need to make Direct Mail really work for you is so high that if you’re reading this article, you can’t afford it to make it work.

WHAT ABOUT DIFFERENT SEARCH ENGINES?

google-bing-yahoo-logos

Google and Bing and Yahoo, oh my!

There are so many different options to choose from, so how do you know that one digital strategy isn’t negatively impacting the other?

Well – here’s a quick rundown on the differences in ranking factors among the major search engines.

We always recommend optimizing for Google FIRST, since it commands over 64% of all search traffic.

Even if you rank #1 on Bing, which has 21% of search traffic for your target keyword, that means you’re going to have to rank at least 4 or better on Google to get the exact same amount of search volume to your website.

It’s really a matter of scale.

Since this guide is meant to be an effective and efficient use of your time, we’re going to focus all of the tactics here forward on ranking well in Google.

If you’re interested in more advanced topics for other search engines, feel free to email us at questions@rankfirstlocal.com and we’d be happy to share those with you.


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Choosing a Platform

One of the most common questions we get from prospective clients is, “What platform should my website be on?”

With the wide array of options out there and some of the different opinions on this topic, we’re going to put this quick question to bed with one word:

WordPress.

There are questions about every possible CMS (content management system) and what features and functionality come with it, but we wholeheartedly recommend WordPress for your website and search engine optimization.

With over 50% of the global CMS market share (link to report), WordPress is the de facto standard.

We actually make it a requirement of all of our new on-going customers to have their site built on WordPress – if they come to us without, we’ll transfer it on to WordPress to unleash the toolkit you’ll soon learn about.

If you’ve got a WordPress Website, you can skip the next section and head down to the section on plugins, just to make sure you’ve got the right ones setup to follow along with our guide.

WORDPRESS INSTALLATION

If you don’t have a WordPress website, it’s time to get one. Depending on your hosting provider the installation should be pretty simple.

Below are links to setup a WordPress website using the most popular hosting providers on the web. If you don’t see yours below, send us a message at questions@rankfirstlocal.com and we’ll help you find yours.

  1. GoDaddy
  2. 1&1
  3. Bluehost
  4. Dreamhost
  5. HostGator
  6. InMotion
  7. SiteGround
  8. Hostwinds
  9. Liquid Web
  10. A Small Orange

WORDPRESS PLUGINS

Plugins reveal the true power of WordPress websites. Plugins help us implement the coding and technical SEO optimizations you’ll need on your website.

Here’s the WordPress plugins we recommend:

Technical SEO Plugins:

Yoast SEO and SEO Ultimate are plugins you need to do the on-page optimizations that we’ll discuss in chapter 7.

Both of these plugins are powerful when it comes to additional technical SEO items that come across your entire website – like title tags, meta descriptions, Open Graph markup, etc.

We work with both.

Yoast SEO happens to be the de facto standard, but SEO Ultimate is also very useful to WordPress novices.

Google XML sitemaps V3 for Qtranslate

While both of the above SEO Plugins create XML Sitemaps, we really like this XML Sitemap tool and the output it provides for our clients and for easy tracking.

Tracking Plugins:

Gravity Forms

This is our favorite form plugin that allows you to easily build many different and many forms to capture leads from your website. That’s a good thing, right? Once you get someone to the site, you’ll certainly want to make sure they can get in touch with you. Gravity Forms is the way to go.

Leadin

We love Leadin because it provides great insights into those forms you’ve captured. Specifically, you can get data like which pages (in which order) did that lead take and how long they were on each page. Yes – it’s creepy, and for data junkies like us, it’s GREAT.

Yoast Analytics

Yoast happens to provide a lot of really great WordPress plugins and the Google Analytics one is really good. When we walk through setting up Google Analytics on your own, below, we’ll show you how to specifically do it with Yoast. You can put your GA code on your site however you’d like to, but your installation is on you.

Security Plugins:

Wordfence

This isn’t really much for SEO – but more for peace of mind. There are a lot of bad people out there who want to break into your WordPress installation and use it to host Viagra ads (yes – it does happen). Wordfence is a great, free, solution that will help keep a lot of those bad folks at bay.

All of our screenshots are going to include use of those specific plugins. The tips will still be applicable to whichever plugins you use or how you deploy what you’ve learned out of this guide.


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Where to Start

“Write content!”

“Get Links”

“Optimize your CTAs!”

“Build several websites!”

“Start a blog!”

We’ve heard it all. We know you don’t have any time to waste, so let’s cut to the actually effective activities that are going to get you dollars in the bank.

There is really an on-going process that happens when you’re “doing SEO”. It’s not just a one-time optimization that’s going to magically get you to rank well (although, if carefully done, a one-time optimization can certainly help). Here’s the quick three-step high-level process for SEO success:Trophy Content - Research - 1

  1. Research – In this section, we break it down into four additional steps: company research, competitor research, keyword research, and website baseline research. For our purposes – you REALLY only need to do basic keyword research. That is going to then inform your Optimization step. If you’re dealing with a SERIOUSLY screwed up website, or one that isn’t on WordPress, give us a call or send us an email and we’ll get you on the right path. We’ve provided a bonus keyword research document to help you identify your target keywords. Most of the businesses we work with are local service businesses, so it’s specifically geared towards them. If you don’t fit into that bucket, you can still use it to help organize your thoughts.
  2. Optimization – This is where you apply what you’ve got from the keyword research and begin to put it to work on all of the different parts of your website. When we talk about Optimization, there are really three component parts which all of the tactics lie: Technical SEO, On-Site Content, and Off-Site Authority. It’s really the magical combination of these three parts and having them all dialed in correctly, that allows you to rank well quickly.
  3. Analyze – It’s vitally important that you know if the work you put in during your research and optimization phases actually got you any improvements! Yes – there are people who forget to track and then want to analyze what happened in the past, don’t be one of those chuckleheads. Analysis is so important that our entire next chapter is dedicated to help you setup your tracking to make sure the data you are collecting are both accurate and precise
  4. REPEAT! – There’s a hidden step here, but you can only get so far with going around the process, instead it’s one you’ll want to repeat. Since we’re not here to waste your time, we’re going to do our best to get this all right on the first go.

So – where do you start? First – you’ve got to make sure that all of your tracking is setup correctly. When that’s done, it’s time to get onto research. If your tracking is installed correctly and showing you data with the appropriate filtering, skip the next chapter and go onto the following one. If not – take the hour to go through the following chapter and ensure that all of your tracking is setup correctly so you’re making accurate decisions.


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Tracking Your Results

Let’s get started on the setup Google Analytics to make sure that you’re ready on that end. Follow our Google Analytics quick setup guide to get a website setup to give you the correct data. We use Google Analytics because it’s the de facto standard in website analytics software, there are plenty of other ones out there, but for a small business it’s the best option.

Here are a list of common problems that occur when you’re looking at a pre-existing, and non-optimized Google Analytics account:

  1. SPAM traffic – this has been a large burden on Google Analytics accounts, especially in 2015 and early 2016. There are bad web people out there who are sending fake traffic to your website, sometimes it doesn’t even hit your website, but your Google Analytics account # is put through an automated processor. We’ve seen this account for up to 75% of a given website for some of our clients. By filtering this out, you’re going to see what real traffic you’re getting and will be able to make accurate decisions.
  2. Counting your conversions – Did you know Google Analytics can count every contact form that you’re getting from your website? This makes it incredibly easy to see how many web conversions that you’re getting. Another benefit? You’ll be able to see the path that your converters took. This allows you to do two things: get more people onto that path, or connect other parts of your website to that path.
  3. Filtering YOUR visits – How many times a day do you visit your website? How about your employees? These visits artificially inflate your stats and will give you a false reading of what’s going on.

STEP 1: Go To Google.com/analytics

STEP 2: Login

STEP 3: Sign up to start Using Google Analytics

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STEP 4: Get A Tracking Code – Agree to Terms & Conditions

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  1. Enter your company’s name in the first cell highlighted above
  2. Enter your website’s name in the second cell highlighted (this can be identical to #1)
  3. Add your website URL in the third cell
  4. Change the time zone to the one you’re in. It defaults to Pacific Time
  5. Change up the Data Sharing settings. We recommend to allow sharing with Google products & services and Benchmarking, but not with Technical support and Account specialists. We do this so you don’t get bombarded by Google folks trying to take your data.

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Now that you’ve been issued a tracking ID, it’s time to put it to good use on your website.

You can install it via your favorite analytics plugin on your website. If you’ve used Google Analytics by Yoast, we’ve got instructions for that below.

If you’re going to put it onto each webpage manually, ensure to copy and paste the entire block of tracking code above, starting and ending with <script>, </script>.

Once you’ve got it installed, come back to that page (via Admin in the top menu) to double check that you’ve got some traffic.

STEP 5: Install Google Analytics

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  1. If you’re using Google Analytics by Yoast, per our recommendation earlier, you’ll want to copy your tracking ID code from your Google Analytics setup. Then login to your WordPress Backend and navigate to the Analytics section and go into “Settings” not “Dashboard”. We like to do it this way so you’re not giving all of your hard earned (and paid for) traffic to Yoast to analyze.
  2. Paste the UA code in to the area that says “Manually enter your UA code”
  3. Select “Save Changes” and you’re done!

STEP 6: Adding Filters

As we mentioned previously, it’s important to filter out all of your data so you have a clear, accurate, and precise view of what’s going on with your website. There are several filters that we’re going to need to create to make that happen.

Here are the instructions to navigate out of the tracking code and to create an additional “filtered view” so you can have one with raw data and one that’s perfectly filtered.

Trophy Content - GA - 5Click the “back arrow” from the Tracking Code page that you’re on.

Trophy Content - GA - 6Select the “View Settings” section on the far right side of the window.

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Within the “View Settings” select “Copy view”. This is going to duplicate your view and in this NEW view, you’re going to add all of your filtering and conversion tracking.

Give it a new name and select “save” and you’re good to go. Navigate over to the new filtered view (we recommend calling it “Filtered Data” and we’re ready to start making those filters and goal tracking!

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Navigate over to “Filters” and this will be the screen that will come up. The first filter you’re going to want to create is one to remove your IP address. You’ll want to do it since you probably look at your website a lot more than you expect and you aren’t your own customer. We just want prospect data!

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  1. Name your filter, we recommend “MY IP”
  2. Create the Filter type from the existing selection and make it an “Exclude” one
  3. Make sure you change the next dropdown to “traffic from the IP addreses”
  4. You’ll want make it one that’s “equal to” so it’s an exact match.
  5. Put your IP address in the IP address filter. Don’t know what yours is? Go to http://details.bluecorona.com (our sister company) and it will show you on the top left corner of the page.
  6. Save it!

That wasn’t too bad, right? Most of the time when we explain adding filters, we get a glazed over look. It shouldn’t be that hard and again, it’s to help you see clean and clear data to make qualified decisions based on what you’re doing.

6 Spam Filters

Next up, we’re going to filter out SPAM web traffic. Yes- such a thing exists. Yes – you NEED to remove this traffic. As an aside – it took our entire analytics team nearly one week to make sure that all of our clients have all of these filters and that they’re put together well. If you don’t follow these instructions, you put your data and subsequent analysis at risk. You don’t want to make decisions based on garbage data, do you?

Hostname

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Up first is a “hostname” filter. What this means is that your analytics will only show data for hits to your website.  This is the first line of defense against SPAM traffic.

  1. Go back into the “Filters” section
  2. Select “Create new Filter”
  3. Give the Filter a name – we recommend “Hostname”
  4. The filter type is going to be a “Custom” one
  5. You’re going to want to make it an “Include” filter, not an exclude
  6. The Field your filtering is the “Hostname”
  7. The Filter Pattern is going to be your domain name, without the www and the .com (or .net or .org) at the end.
  8. Save it!

Alright – first line of defense against spam traffic, DONE.

Next up, real, focused SPAM filters.

SPAM 1

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  1. Navigate back into the filters and select “Create new Filter”
  2. Title this filter “Spam 1”
  3. It’s another “custom” Filter
  4. This time, it’s an “Exclude” filter, and the field you’re going to filter is the “Campaign Source”
  5. Add in the filter pattern (see below)
  6. Save!

SPAM 1:

Here’s the full text you’ll need to add to your filter pattern:

4webmasters.org|54.186.60.77|lomb.co|76brighton.co.uk|7makemoneyonline|adcash|adviceforum.info|alienpayday|amanda-porn.ga|anal-acrobats.hol.es|artobox|axisalternativementalhealthsharebutton.net|baixar-musicas-gratis|best-seo-(offer|solution|software.xyz)

SPAM Filters 2-5:

Repeat the process above, with additional and different filters as below.

SPAM 2:

bestwebsitesawards|blackhatworth|buttons-for-(your-)?website|get-free-(social-traffic|traffic-now)|cenoval.ru|cityadspix|click-process|darodar|depositfiles-porn.ga|descargar-musica-gratis.net|dev.curran-connors|econom.co|event-tracking.com|fbdownloader

SPAM 3:

(floating-share|free-floating)-buttons|forum69.info|generalporn.org|buy-(cheap-online.info|forum.ru)|gobongo.info|googlsucks|guardlink.org|hulfingtonpost|

humanorightswatch.org|ilovevitaly|inboxdollars|iskalko.ru|justprofit.xyz|kambasoft|lombia.co|lumb.co

SPAM 4:

ru|medispainstitute|meendo-free-traffic.ga|mpftpupload|o-o-(6|8)-o-o|paparazzistudios.au|powitania.pl|pr(iceg|log.ru)|qualitymarketzone|ranksonic.info|rapidgator-porn.ga|resellerclub|savetubevideo|tasteidea|see-your-website-here|semalt|seo-platform

SPAM 5:

simple-share-buttons|smailik.org|social-buttons|sq01|srecorder|success-seo|superiends.org|theguardlan|torontoplumbinggroup|torture.ml|traffic(2money|monetizer.org)|validclicks|video(–production|s-for-your-business)|website-errors-scanner|youporn-forum.ga

These SPAM Filters are the best we can provide as of 3/31/2016. If you have any additional questions or want a newer variation, email us and we’ll get you setup.

The last part of optimizing the filtering is to add the goals (contact form conversions) to your document and we can get into the guts of the data.

Goals:Trophy Content - GA - 12Navigate back to the admin view of your new filtered view and select “Goals” from the “View” section.

Trophy Content - GA - 13Select “New Goal”

Side Note: We recommend only create one goal per conversion point and you count hard conversions (contact forms, etc.) and not just anything you perceive a “conversion”

Trophy Content - GA - 14Make your first goal for your main contact form. Don’t have a main contact form? SHAME ON YOU. Go make one right now and then come back. Seriously, we’ll wait.

  1. Title it “Contact Form”
  2. Leave the Goal slot ID to 1/1
  3. Make it a “Destination” goal
  4. Select Continue

 It’s really important that you send all of your contact forms to a specific “thank you” page. This way you can count specific forms each time that they’re submitted. That gives you a VERY accurate and precise # when you’re looking at the reporting.

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  1. Create the destination as an “Equals to” the page name of your thank you page. For us we name our thank you page /thankyou/.
  2. Save it!

Not sure what your “thank you” page name is? The easiest way is to submit a contact form and see where it takes you! Here’s a quick screenshot of our thank you page.

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Once you’ve got those filters in your profile, now you’re ready!

Let’s get started on some real SEO work next, getting your Keyword Research done!


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Keyword Research & Content Planning

WHY KEYWORD RESEARCH IS IMPORTANT

It’s simple, there are two things that are working in your favor that, if you take advantage of, to help you rank in the search engines: search volumes and the fact that Google ranks web pages not web sites. You need keyword research to make sure that you know you’re targeting the right keywords, not the ones you think are right. Then you apply that keyword research to the existing pages on your website to figure out where the gaps are. Since Google ranks web pages and not web sites, it’s important that you adopt a 1:1, keyword to webpage strategy. Where each page on your website is specifically targeted for a keyword you’re going after.  This is the most effective and efficient use of your time.

KEYWORD RESEARCH IN A NUTSHELL

Keyword research looks much like a refining process, you’re going to a bunch of ideas at a wall, see what sticks, refine, and continue to make your way through that process until you have a list of great target keywords that you can highlight. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, for local service businesses, the formula is incredibly simple….

Target services that you provide and their variants as well as the most high level variation of the services that you provide, combined with all of the cities in your service area.

Let’s look at a quick example for one of our HVAC clients:

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TARGET KEYWORDS

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Use our  Guide! If you’re a local service company then you should use our handy guide, it’s going to help get all of the keywords on paper that you need so you can start really planning out what you need to go after. If your needs are much more complex, you can still use the guide, just realize that you’re going to have to scale it much greater than what it’s built for. Click here to download it!

CONTENT PLANNING

Now that you’ve got your keyword research complete, it’s important to start aligning what you already have with the keywords you’re going to target. One of the most important pieces of information that you should take out of this guide is that the search engines rank webpages and not websites. That little piece of information allows us to then make a 1:1 keyword – to page, content strategy. In this strategy, we focus unique pages to unique keywords that your customers are going to be searching.  We recommend you use something like our keyword research plan and content planning guide to help put all of that together. It will give you a clear map of what you currently have, and more importantly, what you DON’T have. Taking this action will be vitally important before continuing on.

Take about 20 minutes and do it, right now.

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On-Page Optimizations

One of the most common misconceptions about SEO is that Google ranks web pages, not websites.

So, simply having a badass home page won’t be enough to rank on the first page of Google for every service you offer—not to mention the other cities you service outside of where your company is physically located.

Ensuring each web page on your site is optimized for search can be difficult.

Lucky for you, we broke down on-page optimization into eight easy-to-follow steps to help your company improve its online visibility and ultimately, generate more leads from your web pages.

STEP 1: USE HEADING TAGS

Header tags break down as follows:

  • H1 tag – <h1>
  • H2 tag – <h2>
  • H3 tag – <h3>
  • H4 tag – <h4>
  • H5 tag – <h5>
  • H6 tag – <h6>

Think of H1’s as the title of a book, or in this case, the title of your web page. It’s displayed prominently to users and helps identify to search engines what exactly your page is about.

Heading tags should always be keyword-rich and specific to the page you’re writing.

Here’s what an H1 looks like to users:

h1 tag

Here’s what an H1 looks like to search engines:

view-source h1 tag

SEO experts often debate the legitimacy of heading tags’ SEO values, but there’s no doubt H1s are still a ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm.

In the most recent ranking factor study conducted by Moz, Search Engine Ranking Factors 2015, on-page elements such as heading tags still hold SEO value.

Moving on!

H2s should be used to segregate individual content sections with any given page. They also hold SEO value. H2s should be used to designate more specific content sections within a web page.

For example, on an “Air Conditioner Installation” page, as we saw in the H1 example, you might use H2s to identify sections such as:

  • Air Conditioner Installation Services
  • Special Offers
  • Why Call Us?

h2 tag on page

All of these sections are important to the user and to search engines to provide a great user experience and identify to Google what the text on your page is about.

As a general rule of thumb, stick to H1s and H2s. Although many web design firms will edit your site’s stylesheet to include the proper formatting from an H1 to an H6. Heading tags H3 and below hold very little SEO value.

If anything, use H3s to further designate content areas. However this isn’t for SEO value, it’s to provide clarity and organization to users.

h3 tag on page

Best Practices When Using Heading Tags

  1. Only use one H1 tag per page! Anything more confuses search engines and decreases a page’s SEO value.
  2. H1s should be less than 70 total characters (including spaces) and should target one line of service + service area.
  3. Use keyword-rich H2s to designate “chapters” of your web page.
  4. Make sure your heading tags read naturally. Don’t keyword stuff and make sure your heading tags actually make sense to users.
  5. Never duplicate H1s across multiple pages.

STEP 2: WRITE A UNIQUE TITLE TAG

Title tags are the blue text found on search engine result pages (SERPs). It’s probably the only thing you read when Googling something before actually clicking to another website. They should also be 100% unique to the web page they’re published on.

Not only that, but the title tag should include the most prominent keywords and service areas targeted on that page.

SERP title tags

Title tags aren’t only visible on SERPs, but also in web browsers… you know… the little text that appears in the tab of your Chrome or Firefox window:

seo trophy content - b6

Here’s what it looks like to search engines:

view-source title tags

We recommend using the following format when writing a title tag:

Primary Keyword + Service Area | Secondary Keyword + Service Area

OR

Primary & Secondary Keywords | Service Area

Best Practices When Writing A Title Tag

  1. Make it 100% unique (don’t copy/paste from another page!).
  2. Keep it under 55 characters (including spaces).
  3. Use pipes | to separate keywords.
  4. Include primary keywords (and secondary keywords, if possible).
  5. Include relevant service areas.

Read more about why title tags are important for SEO »

STEP 3: WRITE A UNIQUE META DESCRIPTION

Like a title tags, meta descriptions should be unique to every page and entice searchers to click through to your website. An effective meta description can increase click-through-rates (CTR). Although meta descriptions themselves aren’t a really significant ranking factor, CTR is.

Web pages with high CTRs often perform the best on the web and dominate the top search results.

So what do meta descriptions look like? They’re the little two-line snippets describing what the page is about:

SERP meta description

Although you see it on SERPs, here’s how crawlers view it on your page:

view-source meta description

Best Practices When Writing A Meta Description

  1. Don’t write it entirely for SEO, write for click-throughs too.
  2. Keep it shorter than 115 characters (including spaces).
  3. Include relevant keywords and service areas.
  4. Include a call to action (“…call now for a free estimate!”).

Learn how to write a meta description that make users want to click on your page.

We also recommend taking a peek at this interesting study about how meta descriptions can win your company some big business.

STEP 4: WRITE YOUR CONTENT

Let’s be honest—people want to view your home service website because they need, or want, a service. As a roofing contractor, visitors want to learn about roofs on your website—causes of a leaky roof, about your roof repair services, if you offer free estimates, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Before you can optimize your content, you must first know what content is.

Content is:

  • Text
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Buttons
  • Forms
  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • White papers
  • And so much more

For the sake of this chapter, let’s stick with text.

In the home service industry, each web page should include 750 – 1,000 words that is information-rich and presented visitors in a user-friendly manner.

In other words, give the people what they want!

  • Answer users’ questions
  • Provide detailed information about your services
  • Provide detailed information about your company
  • Tell the user why they should choose you
  • Format text in easy to read sections (paragraphs no longer than 3-4 sentences, use bulleted lists, use bolded font, use appropriate heading tags to designate different content areas, etc.)

Here’s a good example of a detailed web page containing the appropriate amount of text, organized in a friendly manner, information-rich, and SEO optimized:

SEO optimized web page

What did you notice about that page? It’s long, right? That’s the point.

Best Practices to Optimize Text

  1. Write a web page that is at least 500 words long, but aim for 750 – 1,000 words.
  2. Use keywords organically, don’t force it and don’t keyword stuff!
  3. Insert keywords approximately once every-other paragraph.
  4. Use heading tags (H1s and H2s) to add SEO optimizations and separate content areas.
  5. Internally link to other web pages on your site.
  6. Link outbound to other websites, if appropriate, 3 times.
  7. Add images to your page and optimize the images.
  8. Optimize your URL structure.

STEP 5: INTERNALLY LINK TO OTHER PAGES OF YOUR WEBSITE

One way Google’s crawlers navigate throughout your site (besides an XML sitemap) is using internal links. What is an internal link? It’s a link that sends a visitor from one page on your site to another, like this:

in-text internal links

Internal links provide SEO value to two web pages:

  1. The web page the link is found on.
  2. The web page being linked to.

Adding an internal link to a page can help direct users to other relevant, useful pages.

For example, on a page targeting “hardwood floor installation in Potomac, MD,” it might be worth mentioning the types of hardwood floors you install. Lucky for you, you already have pages published on your site about:

  • Cherry hardwood floors
  • Oak hardwood floors
  • Pine hardwood floors
  • Bamboo hardwood floors

internal links on SEO optimized web page

So, you link to those pages so customers can learn more information about each particular type of floor. As a result, visitors’ time on site increases, bounce rate decreases, and they fill out a web form to install oak hardwood floors.

Boom! You’ve just increased your pages’ SEO value, converted a visitor to a lead, and sent other positive ranking signals to Google and other search engines.

Best Practices When Linking Internally

  1. Use exact-match anchor text when possible.
  2. Link to other, relevant pages on your site.
  3. Link to relevant blog posts that would benefit the page visitors.
  4. Link deep—don’t just link to your home page.
  5. Use follow links.

Read more about best practices for internal links »

STEP 6: LINK OUTBOUND (WHEN APPROPRIATE) TO OTHER WEBSITES

Outbound linking is when you add a link on your website directing users to another website. While some business owners think this could hurt their SEO—why would you send someone away from your site?—when in fact, it helps!

An outbound link looks just like an internal link:

outbound link on SEO optimized web page

But it directs users to a third party website:

HIPAA web page

A quality outbound link is:

  • Natural (not paid or traded).
  • Backs up statistics or claims with recent data.
  • Specific pages with information that’s easy to find (not home pages).
  • Relevant to your industry and the topic of the page the outbound link appears.

Best Practices for Outbound Linking

  1. Use keyword phrases as anchor text to indicate why the link is important and show Google what your page is about.
  2. Don’t use the same anchor text repeatedly.
  3. Give the link context and relevancy on your web page.
  4. Don’t link to the same external web page on one page of your site.
  5. Use one to three outbound links per page (blog posts) and 1-2 on service pages (if relevant).
  6. Set all outbound links to open in a new tab/window.

Read more about outbound links »

STEP 7: ADD IMAGE ALT TAGS

Adding images to your web pages are a great way to showcase your work. Not only that, but images improve user-friendliness and provide positive SEO value to your web page.

One of your photos might wrap around your text, like this:

photos wrapped around text

Or maybe it’s a featured image at the top of the page:

featured image on web page

You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Well, to Google, it’s worth 8 – 10. But, an image can spice up 1,500 dull words.

What Do You Mean a Picture Is Only Worth 8 – 10 Words to Google?

Google does not see images. Rather, it crawls the source code to decipher what the image is about—making an appropriate image title and image alt tag critical to an image’s SEO value.

Giving your image a title helps Google decipher what the page is about. It’s actual text in the source code of your web page Google can crawl, understand, and rank according to its image algorithm.

In addition to image titles, an image alt tags provide high quality SEO value to search engines.

Take this image for example:

escape pod comics

The image is clearly a screenshot of a SERP for the query “escape pod comics.” The author then added a red box around one of Google’s newest features, local business cards. Based on the context of the blog, it’s obvious to readers what this image is showing—but not search engines.

That’s what an image alt tag is for.

Here’s what image alt tags look like in your web page’s source code:

source code image alt tag

It explains what the image is about to search engines, effectively eliminating any guessing left up to the crawlers.

Image alt tags also serve another purpose: to tell readers what the image is in case the image doesn’t load—ultimately improving user experience. You know, like this:

image alt tag

Best Practices for Optimizing Images

  1. Find an image that provides context to your readers. Make it relevant to the text surrounding it
  2. Choose file name that fits. If your picture is of a ductless heating system, title it, “ductless heater” or something similar.
  3. Scale the image size down proportionately to increase page load speeds.
  4. Reduce the image file size. Try using a tool like JPEGMini to reduce file size.
  5. Give your image file an appropriate title.
  6. Add a keyword-rich image alt tag that is 8 – 10 words long.

STEP 8: OPTIMIZE YOUR URL

What’s a URL? Don’t know? Neither do most business owners.

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. It’s the address of an individual webpage.

URL structure

When it comes to your company’s website, a URL should:

  1. Be keyword rich
  2. Establish page hierarchy for users and crawlers
  3. Be 100% unique

In the example above, the web page’s URL is: /services/seo-for-small-businesses/.

It also is keyword rich (target keyword: “small business SEO”), establishes hierarchy (SEO for small businesses is a service offered by us!), and is unique (no other web page on our site has this URL).

Best Practices for Optimizing a URL

  1. Organize your content into easily identifiable sections.
  2. Use forward slashes (“/”) to establish hierarchy (and organization) between web pages.
  3. Use only lowercase letters.
  4. Use hyphens to separate words in your URL, not underscores.
  5. Make your URL easy to remember.
  6. Include your target keyword.
  7. Include your service area (if possible).
  8. Keep your URL under 70 characters (including domain name!).

For additional advice, read these 10 tips to optimize your URLs »


BACK TO TOP ^


Local SEO & Off-Site Optimizations

Local SEO and off-site optimizations improve your company’s chances of showing up on the web in Google’s Local Pack.

What’s the Local Pack? The area of SERPs where Google displays a map and the three organic listings relevant to a users’ search. For example:

Google local pack

NAP CITATIONS

NAP stands for:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number

When a potential customer searches for your company on Google, what do they see? Are your business hours listed correctly? Is the correct phone number displaying, or is an old phone number that is no longer in use? What about your address?

Building a portfolio of correct NAP citations across online directories helps improve your off-site SEO and sends positive ranking signals to Google and other search engines. Incorrect citations decrease your chances of earning a spot in the Local Pack and gives searchers the wrong information about your business.

One of the most difficult tasks when building NAP citations for your company is knowing how to manage your time efficiently. More specifically:

  • What directories should I use?
  • What directories are the most important and have the most significant impact on my SEO?
  • Where are my customers looking for me?
  • How do I make the most of my time?

The answer? Use Moz Local.

Build NAP Citations Using Moz Local

Moz Local is a great NAP citation builder that allows you to easily upload, manage, and correct NAP citations across the Internet’s most-used directories.

For home services companies, these directories include:

Using Moz Local is easy. Simply follow these easy steps to build your NAP citations:

  1. Visit https://moz.com/local
  2. Enter your business and business zip code where prompted and click “Check my Business Listing:”moz local check my business listing
  3. Select your company from the list of companies provided: seo trophy content - b23
  4. Click “Improve with Moz Local:” moz local dashboard
  5. Follow the remaining directions to claim your business listing and to build your portfolio of NAP citations. This step is unique to every business, so be sure to follow the directions carefully.

There are many benefits Moz Local provides when building NAP citations:

  • Moz Local saves time – Moz Local enables you to build your business’s NAP citations once, saving you time from manually building hundreds of citations across the web.
  • Moz Local builds correct and consistent NAP citations – You don’t have to worry about inconsistencies in your listings with Moz Local. Simply type in your information exactly how you want it displayed and Moz takes care of the rest.
  • Moz Local detects incorrect citations – Moz Local actively monitors and controls your NAP citations to ensure the correct listings are verified and displayed correctly to directory users.

How to Fix Incorrect NAP Citations Using Moz Local

You might have already built out some NAP citations for your business—that’s great! But, what if the citations you built are wrong?

First, you must know what constitutes as an incorrect or inconsistent citation. Major inconsistencies we see are:

  • Wrong phone number listed
  • Wrong address listed
  • Wrong business name
  • Wrong map listing
  • Differences in abbreviations (e.g. – “Street” vs. “St.”… yes this makes a difference!)

To fix incorrect NAP citations using Moz Local, follow these directions:

  1. Log into the Moz Local dashboard.
  2. Choose whether you want to fix an Incomplete listing (grey), Inconsistent listing (red), or duplicate listing (orange): fix incorrect listings moz local
  3. Click the “Update listing” button: fixing incorrect or duplicate listings on moz local
  4. Follow the instructions until your business is updated and corrected!

GETTING REVIEWS

A lot of small businesses underestimate the value of online reviews.

Reviews send positive ranking signals to Google and other major search engines. Reviews also provide social proof to potential customers researching your products and services.

When it comes to off-site optimizations, getting reviews from satisfied customers is one of the biggest challenges companies face.

Here’s how to get more reviews online:

  1. Ask customers for reviews – Seems simple, but it’s the step most business owners skip! After a job well-done fixing a customer’s air conditioner, follow up your service by sending them a friendly email asking to leave you a Google review.
  2. Include a link to the review site in your request – If a happy customer is ready to leave you a review online, make sure it’s as easy as possible for them to do so. Forward them a link they can click to leave you a review on whatever directory you choose.
  3. Add a review platform to your site – There’s a lot of review platforms available to small business owners. One we like here at Rank First Local is Review Buzz. Review Buzz helps you increase your number of online reviews from customers in your local market.

LOCAL SEO: CREATING LOCAL CONTENT (GEO-MODIFIED CONTENT) ON YOUR SITE

Most small businesses rely on customers in their community. For home service contractors like remodelers, electricians, or HVAC contractors, you may service a 30 mile radius from your office, so tailor your website for local search!

Don’t get us wrong, consistent increases in organic traffic are great, but ultimately, you want more contact forms and phone calls—real leads from customers in your area.

So how do you drive more qualified organic traffic to your website? Create local, geo-modified content.

To do this, follow these six steps:

  1. Add your service area to your H1 and H2 heading tags.
    1. E.g. – “Heat Pump Installation, Repair & Maintenance in Raleigh-Durham:” local seo: heading tags
  2. Mention your service area in close proximity to your targeted keyword.
    1. E.g. – “…if you need air heat pump repair in Durham, NC…”
    2. E.g. – “…Company XYZ is Raleigh-Durham’s trusted heat pump installer and offers…” on page keywords
  3. Mention your service area + keyword about once every-other paragraph.
  4. Write locally-focused meta data (title tag and meta description). meta data found on SERPs
  5. Include a service area in any image alt tags.
  6. Mention specific neighborhoods or communities you service.

There’s a lot of work that goes into a successful local SEO campaign and content strategy. Simply optimizing on-page text won’t be enough to result in a number one ranking. Be sure to optimize any content found on your site—photos, videos, meta data, and more.


BACK TO TOP ^


Converting Visitors to Leads

According to Ben Landers, President of online marketing company Blue Corona, “your website’s visit-to-lead conversion rate is one of the most versatile and important metrics in the online marketing universe.”

Why?

Your website should act like a virtual salesman that never sleeps, never takes vacation, and works 24/7 to book more leads. Visit-to-lead conversion rate is the most direct way to evaluate the ROI from your website. If a salesman isn’t selling, he no longer has a job. If your website doesn’t convert visitors to leads, time for a new website.

So how do you create a conversion-friendly website and turn more visitors in your local market to leads?

Follow these five steps:

  1. Add a sidebar contact form – Sidebar contact forms are the one-step forms located to the right (or sometimes left) side of a web page. They are easy to use and provide visitors a way to contact you directly from the web page no matter where they entered on. Some sidebar contact forms have shown to increase website conversions by 73% or moresidebar contact form
  2. Use an enticing call to action (CTA) in your sidebar contact form – In the example above, the company chose to use “Contact Us.” While this is okay, we recommend using something more appealing to visitors, like their other CTA that reads “Get a Free Installation Estimate today!”Other examples include:
    a.) Get a Quote Today!
    b.) Schedule Service Now!
    c.) Request a Free Consultation!
  3. Add a phone number in the top-right area of your website’s header – Adding your phone number to the upper right corner of your website allows visitors to easily view your number and always have it within eyesight. phone number in header
  4. Use a sticky header – A sticky (or “fixed”) header is when a website menu is locked into place so that it does not disappear as you scroll down the page. This makes the main menu (and phone number!) available and within eyesight no matter where you are on the page. Sticky headers make navigating your website even easier for potential customers and ensures your phone number is always available!
  5. Add a call to action approximately once every two or three paragraphs – We’ll talk more later about how to write the perfect service page, but adding a CTA every two or three paragraphs urges visitors to take an action. From buttons to “Schedule a free estimate!” and linking to your contact page or, “…give us a call at XXX-XXX-XXX!” should be sufficient.

BACK TO TOP ^


Getting Backlinks to Your Website

One of the most commonly overlooked SEO strategies by small business owners is link building. Getting backlinks (links from someone else’s site back to yours) remains extremely important as a Google ranking factor. In fact, backlinks correlated with rankings more than any other factor, according to a study of over one million Google search results conducted by Backlinko.

Backlinks are a lot like your old high school cafeteria. If you sat with the football players and cheerleaders, chances are other students thought you were cool or popular. Likewise, websites with a lot of high authority links pointing back to their root domain are perceived as more authoritative on the web and often times given a higher search ranking.

Sit with the nerds—or get links from spammy, untrusted websites—and your popularity in the cafeteria (or when it comes to the web, your rankings on Google SERPs) decreases.

Here are our dos and don’ts of link building:

  • Do create great content that other websites will naturally want to link to. If casual website visitors—those that aren’t qualified prospects in the buying cycle—think your content is informational, they may link to it in the future. Creating great content always maximizes your chances of earning a nice, high quality backlink.
  • Do reach out to other websites letting them know when you’ve linked to them! They may reciprocate the linking and link to your site. At the very least, you’ve increased the visibility of your brand.
  • Do create a “Partners” page on your website. If you’re a local contractor, list other companies you work with, their logos, and link to their site. Doing so shows a sign of a good working relationship and leaves the door open for your partners to link back to you in return!
  • Do actively link to other websites in your blogs. We don’t recommend linking to other company’s sites on a service page. Instead, keep visitors on your site to convert them into a lead. However, in your blogs, feel free to provide “additional resources” and link to other websites to provide more information to your readers. Then, revert to step two and let them know you linked to them! We suggest at linking to at least three other websites in every blog.
  • Do conduct broken link building strategies. If you’re on a website related to your industry and find a broken link—that is, a link that 404s or simply doesn’t work—feel free to reach out to the author and provide one of your own links as a replacement! Make sure the link is relevant to their article and provides value to their article or web page.
  • Do leave informational, meaningful blog or forum comments with links to your site. Simply linking your site in a blog comment on a page with no relevancy is spammy. Don’t do it. Instead, find a blog or industry forum pertaining to your particular specialty and leave long, meaningful comments. Within these comments (between 100-200 words) add a link to your page that contributes more value to the existing page.
  • Do sponsor local sports teams, charity events, etc. – A great way to earn high quality, low-spam, local backlinks is to sponsor a local sports team or host a charity event. You might soon find local media outlets linking to you in their article about the event, or the local little league website will link to you as a proud sponsor. Whatever the case, local backlinks can go a long way towards improving your local search results.
  • Don’t ever pay for links. Google can spot spammy links, and if you’ve cheated your way to a top ranking, you could risk getting your business’s website penalized. As a small business owner, this could SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE your ROI from the web.
  • Don’t focus on quantity of links over quality. A hundred backlinks from virus-ridden sites with low domain authority scores aren’t nearly as impactful towards higher rankings as 10 average backlinks or even five extremely high quality links.
  • Don’t build link farms or work with an SEO company who does. Link farms are a set of websites or web pages designed and built with one sole intention: to link back to your website. Doing so could result in a Google penalty.
  • Don’t leave hundreds of blog or forum comments. Almost all reputable websites you’d want a backlink from set their blog comments to “NoFollow,” meaning any backlinks left in comments aren’t recognized and pass along zero link equity to your site.

BACK TO TOP ^


How to Write the Perfect Service Page

When it comes to writing the perfect service page for SEO, it’s important to include a number of factors, all organized in a thoughtful and intentional manner.

Forget things like heading tags, meta data, photos, etc. We’re talking about the actual flow of the page text. Basically, we’re going to teach you how to write the perfect service page the same way your 6th period English teacher taught you how to format your book report on To Kill a Mockingbird.

Let’s get started…

GENERAL RULES TO FOLLOW

  • Limit paragraphs to four lines of text or less (generally 3-4 paragraphs)
  • Identify call to actions using bolded font, colored font, or font of a different size to funnel visitors towards an action.
  • Add a call to action every 2-3 paragraphs (every-other paragraph seems unnatural, crowded, and just downright pushy).
  • Provide information the users want! Answer their questions, tell them about your company, etc.

SETTING THE TONE

Your entire service page should read in a professional, yet conversational tone. We recommend writing in 2nd person (“…your air conditioner,” “…our services can help you accomplish thing 1, thing 2, etc.”). Write your service page as if you were a customer service rep speaking with a prospective customer on the phone.

PAGE LAYOUT

Introduction

Your page’s introduction should be no longer than three paragraphs (with the third paragraph being the call to action) and should include the following:

  • Who – Who are you?
  • What – What service(s) do you offer? What does your company do?
  • Where – What market do you service? If you’ve done a good job with your local SEO campaign, customers should already know you’re a local company—but better to be safe than sorry.
  • CTA – Always close your service page with a CTA (call to action). Urge visitors to take an action. “Call XXX-XXX-XXX to schedule a free estimate!” or “Fill out a form for a free quote!”

A good rule to follow is to ensure your CTA can be seen above the fold—that is, visible without scrolling—like below:

optimized web page layout

Body

The body of your service page will be the meat and potatoes. The body provides the most information about your service, your company, and your service area.

The body of your service page should include:

  • Information about the service as a whole.
  • Information about your specific service.
  • Information about your company (this is a differentiator! Why should this visitor choose you instead of a competitor?)

how to write the perfect service page

Other content you may wish to include in the body section of your service page may include:

  • Benefits section – Why is your service beneficial (increased energy efficiency, government rebates, environmentally friendly, cost efficient, etc.).
  • Authority section – Client testimonials, service awards, accreditations, industry certifications, industry partnerships, etc.

Closing (Call to Action)

Now that you’ve written a badass service page, it’s time to give one last effort to convert visitors to leads (if they haven’t already!).

The closing section of your service page should:

  • Begin with a clear, easy to see CTA.
  • Detail how to take the action (call, fill out a form, click this button, etc.).
  • Include your service areas (this shows visitors what markets you service in addition to providing more local SEO value to your web page).

web page call to action

For a more detailed look at a well-written service page, read the full page here.

I Finished the Guide… What Now?

You’re done! Finished! Great job! You’ll be drowning in leads now!

Kind of, but not really.

SEO is fluid. Always changing.

Daily algorithm tweaks (and sometimes massive algorithm updates that could have serious impact on your lead generation from the web) from Google may impact the amount of organic traffic, and ultimately, the amount of phone calls and online inquiries you receive.

Working with a professional SEO and digital marketing company can be easier than trying to be a one-man-band.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Don’t Have the Time? Have Questions?

You’re not alone.

Let us show you why other small business owners are choosing Rank First Local as their digital marketing partner.

Give us a call (866-330-2917), fill out a form, or simply drop us a line at questions@rankfirstlocal.com to learn more about how Rank First Local can give your SEO campaign the jump start your business needs.

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ADDITIONAL READING

"Rank First Local is a great company that really keeps me up to date on all of my marketing/website efforts. They are truly a trusted business partner of mine!"

- Jason J., Managing Partner at Vista Homes

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