Dig deeper into gaining more leads from search engines in the second of our four-part series. In this episode, Michael and Chris cover best practices in search engine marketing including images, image alt text and file names, meta descriptions, title tags, headings, retiring content, external links, and localization of your content and website. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from SearchPrimer.com.
Chris Raines: What is SEO, and what does it mean for your business? Part two. This is episode two of grow your painting business.
Speaker 2: Welcome to grow your painting business. A podcast for commercial, residential, and industrial painters, to grow their businesses in their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters and other trades. And this is a show to share our experience with you. Grow your painting business is a free podcast from searchprimer.com, the experts in digital marketing for the trades.
Chris Raines: And welcome back to episode two of grow your painting business. I’m joined, as always, by the great Michael Utley, who is … I put great in front of your … the great, because you told me to, because you pay me to do that.
Michael Utley: Yep. It’s on my title.
Chris Raines: We’re gonna talk today about, this is the podcast really for modern ways to grow your painting business. So we’re not gonna talk about stuff like billboards. We’re not gonna talk about television spots. What else are we not talking about?
Michael Utley: Yeah, probably TV, radio, billboards, print, newspaper. None of those are gonna get covered here.
Chris Raines: Yeah. Un-traceable, unaccountable media, where you don’t know which half of your marketing budget you’re wasting. We’re talking about digital marketing here. This is episode two, part two, of our SEO focused series on how to properly optimize your painting contract or site with SEO best practices. And this stuff comes directly from searchprimer.com’s well-worn battle tested, best practices document.
Michael Utley: Oh, yeah, totally. Yeah. We’re going through the SEO best practices for 2018 from Go Epps. This is a document that I created for the parent company of Search Primer, Go Epps. I’m Michael Epps Utley. Go Epps is named after … It’s my middle name. But yeah, this has been our checklist for a few years and we update it every year. Sometimes we have to update it in the middle of the year. Something changes with the search engines. But we’re going through, we’re … Episode one, we covered the first five, some big things around content and keyword research and how to think about pages. And now we’re gonna dig into some more nuts and bolts that really affect every page on your website.
Chris Raines: Perfect, let’s get right into it. Let’s talk about images. Now, images are different because Google can’t necessarily read or know the content of an image. We obviously want to use images on our website, ’cause it’s more immersive, it’s a better experience for the user. It can communicate emotion better and all those sorts of things. But we have a problem. Google doesn’t quite know what to do with images. They can’t look at a picture of a painting, a wall painting or an GYPB-EP002 (Completed 12/06/18) Transcript by Rev.com Page 2 of 10 exterior paint job, and know that, that’s what it is. So let’s talk about how we should take our images that we’re going to be using on our painting contract or site, and really make those usable for Google and good for search engine optimization.
Michael Utley: Yeah, that’s right. Images are a great way visually for people to understand your company, your brand, the quality of the work. If you have, for example, a recent commercial structure that’s been pressure-washed and painted or maybe even industrial flooring that’s been completed, maybe an epoxy install or maybe some concrete polishing. Using images to sort of demonstrate the quality of your work, you can tell people all day long, “Hey, we’re great, trust us.” But images give you a way to demonstrate that. Give you a way to just show people. Before and after shots are always good, and you know, these don’t have to be professionally produces photos. They can be a good, clear, steady iPhone photos all the way up to just, get a decent digital camera into a project manager’s hands and say, “Hey, buddy. Here’s the deal. Every project. Before, during, and after. Give me some action shots. Show what’s happening. And this is part of your job now. You’re a media manager and a concrete floor polishing team manager. But yeah. So some things that are important. There are a lot of stock photo sites out there, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting somebody just grab whatever they can get and use for free.
Chris Raines: But people can see through that. You always know when you’re looking at a stock image. It’s a little bit too perfect, it’s a little bit … And just from a ethical standpoint, you want to show your own work if it’s painting. You want to show stuff that you’ve done.
Michael Utley: That’s right. Yeah, anything that can ring true. Authenticity is the number one watch word for content and images on your website. So equipping folks who are out in the field to capture those and get them in, in a timely basis. Maybe it’s they have a little process where they flip out the SD cards and hand them in to an admin or support person in the office who can dump those and have SD cards ready to go. Whatever it is, make it easy and make it a part of the routine. But capturing project images, getting them stored up into either a Dropbox or some other application so that your marketing team has access to a large wealth of different images. Going through and naming the images for back office purposes with what it is. What am I looking at? It may be abundantly clear to you, but to a writer or a marketer, they might need a little big of guidance. But creating those libraries of images that you can have on your own, gets you out of the stock photo trap, gets you out of the risk of using an image that you don’t have the rights to use, which can be costly and a real mistake. So for us, authentic, original images captured on-site, always a winner.
Chris Raines: Let’s talk about image, alt text, and the file name of the image. So what is … That term is probably Greek to a lot of people. What do we mean when we say, “Image alt text,” and why is it important?
Michael Utley: Best practices number six, seven, and eight, here in the Go Epps checklist is, images, image alt text, and image file name. Search engines are always looking for independent sources of information to determine what a page is about. Back in the day, if you were a user of the internet who is vision impaired, alt text was the only way to know and have read to you what a page image was about. And so alternate text is just a little bit of HTML associated with the image, and depending on what platform your website’s built on or how you’re creating your website, you can just select text that describes what’s in the image, and load that, along with the image. And then same thing for the image file name. That you know, if you save an image to your desktop, you can see what the image is named. Well, that image name goes with the image when you load it to your website. 1005.JPG doesn’t have any keywords. So what we do-
Chris Raines: You mean no one’s searching for 100-
Michael Utley: Yeah. So what we do, is we make sure that when we’re creating alt text for an image, and we’re creating file names for an image, that we’re loading those with lots of good keywords. The alt text will just create a straight line of either a sentence or title case text. And then for the file name, we’re using the keywords typically all in lower case, just because that’s our habit. But separated by hyphens. We’re separating those keywords by hyphens. Another, one last thing, on both of those that we’ll often do, if we’re working really hard to show up for a particular market, we will add the city and state as additional keywords to the end of the alt text and the file name for images. So if you have a blog post and it’s about a recent project you did, throw in that city and state. It’s a good couple of keywords to add to the end of whatever else you have to tell people what the image is about.
Chris Raines: Yeah. That’s good stuff. Let’s talk about inter page linking between the site. Now we’re gonna … Within your website, we’re gonna do another episode. Episode four is gonna be all about off-page signals so it links back to your site. But you also need to be linking in-between pages of your site. So Michael, talk to us about best practices for inter-site linking.
Michael Utley: Yeah, so number nine on our checklist. Key word, rich links between pages. Any time we end a blog post, typically, it’s usually a call to action. But it’s also, go to the Contact Us page. Maybe you’re selecting Contact Us and linking that, or Get a Free Quote. That’s typically the text of a link. And those are okay. That’s better than Click Here or Learn More, which don’t really tell search engines anything about the target page. But often, what we’ll go through and do, is select phrases in the body of the content that are relevant to particular services that we offer. And we’ll highlight and link those keywords and point to the services pages. We’re generally thinking of blog posts as servicing service pages, so we’re generally linking to services pages throughout any blog post. And then sometimes what we’ll do, to build out large banks of interlinked pages, is if we have a series, for example, if we maybe realize, “Wow, we’ve got six different posts now on sandblasting.” Why don’t we add a block at the end of this, after our call to action, that says, “Hey, if you’re interested in this, check out our other pages.” And then go ahead and build out a little block that lists the title of each of those pages. Now, you might be saying, isn’t that what category and tags are for in WordPress? Yeah, sure. But that’s getting one keyword, sandblasting. And you can have that on the page too. But we’re also getting a large block just by using our page titles, which if you listen to episode one, we’ve thought about good keywords in our page titles. We’re getting those extra keywords associated with the target pages for search engines. So this is just a good way to tie everything together on the site. It speaks well to people for usability. It also speaks well to search engines and how they try to understand websites.
Chris Raines: And really understand what’s the most important part of the website. So if you really want to push your sandblasting service page, and you’ve got five different blog posts pointing back to sandblasting, that tells Google we really want … This page is an important page because it’s getting a lot of links. It’s not necessarily getting a lot of links out, but it’s got a lot of links, pages pointing to it. That tells Google, this page is a prominent page on the website.
Michael Utley: That’s right. And this is true not just for maybe a big commercial painter with a whole sandblasting crew. But it’s also true for residential painters. If you’ve got a service that’s, hire a painter for a day, well that’s something you can kind of pepper throughout a lot of your blog posts and your supporting pages to ascribe value. So when someone’s searching for, “Hire a painter for a day,” “Hire a painter for one room,” “Hire a painter, single bedroom.” You’ve got an option for them, and you’ve kind of optimized to show up for those sorts of searches. That’s right.
Chris Raines: Perfect. Up next, meta descriptions. Now Michael, what in the world, that sounds really techy and geeky. What is a meta description? Why should I care about a meta description?
Michael Utley: So yeah, meta descriptions are, they’re important. So when someone searches for your website, or they do a search in a search engine, the see a bunch of ads and they see a bunch of natural search results. Search engines are typically just going out and trying to guess at what the page is about and show a little snippet of text under the link for the page. You can actually, on most website systems, control that for each page. And so it’s actually worth taking the time to create a meta description for each separate page on your website.
Chris Raines: So to be clear, to interrupt here, if you don’t create a meta description, Google’s just gonna scrape your page and wherever it thinks it wants to, it will grab a piece of content. Which may or may not be what you want to show in search results.
Michael Utley: That’s right. I’ve seen sidebar content that was pulled in and was supposed to tell you what the page was about. And typically, Google’s pretty good at it. But, you don’t want pretty good. Pretty good’s not really good enough, is it? You want to be competitive. And then you’re really doing two things here. The most important thing you’re doing is aligning, and this is sort of a philosophical thing. So I’ll just back up for a second here. A really good SEO aligns the problem the individual has, the keyword they’re searching, the search result page information they see on Google, and then the landing page. It’s really a spine that goes from top to bottom, all the way through all those touch points. And so what they see on the search results page, that’s something you can control typically. A lot of websites will have the same meta description site-wide. A lot will just not have anything in there and then maybe Google is just looking and trying to find the earliest, unique content on the page and piece that together. Sometimes it’s a mix of the earliest unique content and what they think the page is about. Maybe because of the appearance of a keyword that was searched. But you don’t have to leave all that to chance. If you’re offering a specific service, you can make sure that keywords for that specific activity are included in the meta description.
Chris Raines: And one quick thing to point out about meta descriptions is, they’re not necessarily a ranking factor, but they ar a click through factor. Talk a little bit about, you don’t want to just stuff your keywords in your meta. Google doesn’t really scan that to figure out who should rank. But it does affect the user and which result they’re gonna click on.
Michael Utley: That’s right. A lot of what we’re thinking about with SEO is not just to talk to search engines. It’s to do a better job talking to people. So if someone sees the phrase that they searched for in the page title on a search results page, or in the meta description under the page title in a search result listing, they’re gonna resonate with that. Even if there’s an abstract connection that’s just as good, having that actual, literal same keyword between the search and the title and the meta description, and then like I said, the landing page content, it improves the way that people engage with your company.
Chris Raines: Right. Let’s talk about, our next item here, is title tags. Now, we want to draw a distinction between a title tag and an on page element. So a lot of people might say, title tag, like, “Oh, that’s the title of the page. That’s what’s written at the top when a user comes to the website. They’ll see a big piece of text at the top.” That’s not necessarily what a title tag is. So let’s differentiate between what people actually see and what a title tag is.
Michael Utley: Yeah. So part of what we’re doing is we’re making sure that every time, and this is important for a couple of touchpoints. One is the URL of that page. Often, there’ll be some really short URL, because you want to be able to share a service in a link and an email. And that’s okay. But it’s also good to have a handful of keywords in your URLs. Same thing with a title tag. It’s good to have whatever your CMS is, however your website is built, to make sure that the title tag is populated with a good complete clear title. It’s good to keep that under 55, 65 characters. Google’s changed it recently as they got rid of a sidebar, they’ve expanded character count on title tags. So we are going up above 55 some these days. But it’s good to make sure that your title tag has relevant keywords. Something else that we’re doing is making sure that relevant keywords show up early in the title. And then whatever titles you have in your content, whether it’s pulling it in using the same field in your CMS or it’s a separate one, you want to make sure that’s also relevant, clear, and includes keywords early in the title. And then the same thing for headings on the page. We’re often using an H1 for the page title, and then using additional subheaders as H2s, Heading two, to break up a page and make it more readable. It’s good to use keywords in those, and it’s good to have those keywords appear early in each row of text. So yeah, for title tags and titles and headings, keywords yes, and keywords early.
Chris Raines: Yeah, and one last thing on title tags. If you’re not technically oriented, you don’t want to bust open the code of the website, the really easy way to find out what a title tag is on your site or really any site, is to open up in a browser, go up to the tab, hover over the tab. Whatever is listed on that tab, that’s what the title tag is.
Michael Utley: Right. There are a lot of little easy ways for non-technical people to kind of see what’s being served, and that gives you a little insight. Sometimes if you hover over that on a website that may be kind of dated or old, you might see just a hyphen. You might see a couple of dots. You might see some blank space or something that’s not really relevant. That’s a technical problem. You need help. You need to work on that.
Chris Raines: And Michael, that makes me cry when I see that. What a missed opportunity, ’cause that’s an important part of the page. Okay. Let’s talk about retiring content. So most of what we hear is, you gotta add content. But there are moments in time where you want to take a look at what’s on your site and actually unpublish or delete content. Michael, why would you ever want to do that after you spent all your hard work and maybe hard-earned money to create this content. Talk to us about why you might want to do that.
Michael Utley: Yeah, it’s tough. It’s hard to kill our darlings. Whatever service it is. Wallpaper, faux texture painting, these things that maybe were part of a business during the early days that maybe have fallen by the wayside because of changing tastes or just not being a profitable activity to be in. Maybe technically, there are even things that you still offer if the phone rings. It’s just not something you’re going after. These are hard decisions. But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been in, how many war room meetings we’ve had where someone said, “Hey, I saw this is on our services page. Shouldn’t we take that off? We’re not really doing that anymore.” And we check, and we do a quick Google search for the brand name and that service, and we find that there are five or ten old blog posts related to that service, going back for years. And we say, “Hey guys, that’s great. We’d also recommend taking off these other pages.” Then it’s a tough decision. Whoa, we’re not just de-listing it from our service page. The owner might say, “I remember how much it cost to create those pages. Hang on a second. Should we just keep it for the traffic? Because we’re showing up as a bigger footprint of topics, or should we delete it because it’s not something we want to get leads on anymore?” The answer is, delete it. The answer is to retire the content. And here’s why. Search engines are trying to figure out what you should show up for, and exclude you for everything else. And the best thing you can do is help them. So if something’s old and confusion and you don’t really offer it anymore, you don’t want to be associated with that. You wan to just keep it clean and light. We’re not in the days of the early days of the web, when more was always better. Now it’s about being more of a shark and less of a tuna. We want to be strong and we want every molecule to matter. Every bit of strength to be focused and purposeful. So the tough news is, retire that old content. If it’s something that’s not part of your core mission, not something you offer, not something you’re looking for, unless it’s a gateway to other services, delete it.
Chris Raines: Yep. And sometimes you can actually resurrect. So just as a sidebar to that, if Search Primer wrote an article called, “2016 Best SEO Practices,” You don’t have to delete that if it’s already got links to it or if it already has good stuff on it. But what you might want to do is update it, take out the stuff that’s not relevant anymore, add some new stuff for 2018, and you can resurrect that and make it current. Instead of just deleting it or unpublishing.
Michael Utley: That’s right. And typically, we’ll throw a redirect on if we’re changing a URL, updating things year by year. Which we do quite often for eBooks. But for good landing pages that have gotten good traffic, yeah. Those things can be cleaned up and changed. And that’s another alternative and a different way to retire content, is to repurpose it, redirect it. But yeah, absolutely.
Chris Raines: Perfect. Next item. External links. And when we say external links, what we mean is, not people linking to you, that’s in a future episode, but areas of your page where you’ve created a text link that links out to another page. How should we handle those?
Michael Utley: Yeah. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve opened up a website where we’ve been asked to do our evaluation to see what someone needs to do, where they need to go to show up better in their market. And we’ve seen things like, a link in the footer to, for example, their LinkedIn page that takes them away from the website. It’s best practice, if you’re gonna take somebody away from the website, open it in a new tab. And typically, some of the problems we see, will be even items in the top nav that go to, for example, an Angie’s List listing. We need to either take that to a landing page on the site, and then offer a link there, or at a minimum have it open in a new tab. But typically in a top nav, we never ever want to have something take someone out of the user experience of being on the website. This is all about, what are people expecting? They’re not expecting to be taken away to another website from your website without a new tab opening, and they’re never expecting that to happen from a top nav or any sort of high-level link. Like a logo that’s in the header, or gosh, even a log that’s in the footer, unless you can contextualize it, by it being, for example, in a block in a footer of contact information and social profiles. And in that case, they are expecting it and it’s okay. But yeah, pop it open in a new tab. And that’s an easy bit of code for your web developer or whoever’s responsible for that. It’s an easy bit of code for them to manage that. It’s just a user experience thing, that for us is important.
Chris Raines: Yeah, it gives them the option. You can always close a tab. But if you’re taken to another website, and you wanted to keep the other one open, then you gotta go back and figure out Control Click or open a new tab, and that’s making the user do too much.
Michael Utley: Yeah. Any time a user is expected to use a back button, you’ve made a mistake in your user design.
Chris Raines: Oh, that’s good.
Michael Utley: Crafting the user experience. You never want them to have to remember something. You never want them to have to go back a certain number of clicks to get back to where your phone number was on the header of every page. You want to keep that present until they’re either shutting the window because they’re done or closing the tab, or they’ve called you, and they’re setting up an appointment.
Chris Raines: Hopefully, yeah. All right, last item. This is the last item for content. The content part of our SEO series. This is the last item, and then we’ll move on to other things. Localization. We’ve talked about this in episode one. Localization pages. So if you have a service area that’s large, you want to create individual localization pages for different communities and regions within that larger region. GYPB-EP002 (Completed 12/06/18) Transcript by Rev.com Page 9 of 10 Michael, talk about why that’s important. And a lot of this, we’ve covered in episode one, but talk about why it’s so important for painting contractors to have these local service pages.
Michael Utley: Absolutely. And this is a good one because it’s so often overlooked. This is number 15, localization, on our master checklist here. We work with companies who are in densely populated areas. And sometimes there are pockets of those regions or cities that are specifically valuable. They could be manufacturing districts for commercial and industrial painters. They could be more desirable residential areas where there are a lot of first or second time repaints happening on pretty good-size homes. So developing landing pages and making sure that those localization areas are listed. And typically, we’ll do city and state, even if it’s a little bit redundant, because we’re creating a little keyword entry. So if it’s Nashville, Tennessee, Brentwood, Tennessee, or even Greenwood, Indiana, Indianapolis, Indiana, we’re listing a city and then usually a two-letter state abbreviation. Because we’re creating additional keywords that search engines can see. So yeah, where all do we use localization on our website? Well, we’re creating localization pages, landing pages, that are all about what’s going on in that community. Not necessarily in a Spam-y way of just finding some free chunk of content from Wikipedia, but maybe like a sample project. Something that was done in an area and can be highlighted. And then saying, “Hey we also offer these services in this area. And having a page that’s all about that one neighborhood, or that one district or borough or city. And this gets really important when you have companies that straddle state lines. Because search engines just struggle to know where your service area is. You can tell them and they still just really don’t have an easy time relating all of your content. And here’s part of why. If you’re like a lot of the companies that Search Primer works with, you’re growing. Sometimes that means that you’re putting trucks out a little further than you did in the past. Sometimes that means you’ll drive around the harbor for a commercial job that you wouldn’t have a few years ago. And so, you’re a bit of a moving target yourself and search engines are trying to keep up with you best they can. We’ve found that localization of specific pages, specific chunks of content on pages, it’s a good way to sort of shortcut the challenge and to show up. For us, what we’ve seen, is that once these localization pages go live, new leads are coming in from those areas and it’s pretty much a 30-day turnaround. It’s pretty dramatic and pretty interesting and really one of the most overlooked tactics and something we’ve really gotten a lot of mileage out of.
Chris Raines: And it really relates to … And we’ll do, I’m sure we’ll do a future episode on this, but as Google continues to emphasize local, particularly with Google My Business listings and map listings, that becomes really important to get that local information. But we’ll cover that in a future episode.
Michael Utley: That’s right, but for on-site factors, creating more pages and making sure that specific markets are listed. Tri-state area’s really … It’s really important to get something from every side of every border. If you’re like some of our clients in the New England area, you’re serving three or four states, and you’ve just gotta find a way to do it without a wall of … you know, you don’t want to list of 50 cities in your footer, but there are ways to shortcut this and to show up with a large silhouette for search engines, but still protect the user experience. So they’re not having to navigate some drop-down menu that’s crazy.
Chris Raines: Perfect. Michael, that’s all the time we have. We got two more episodes to go in our initial series on, basically SEO best practices for your painting contracting business. So we’ll see you next time when we talk about site architecture. So this is the way that content is arranged on your site. A lot to talk about there, and we’ll see you then.
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