Archive for the ‘Search Engine Optimization(SEO)’ Category

Fasten Your Seatbelts – Google Changed Again

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Just as we were enjoying our summer, Google went quietly about making some significant changes to its algorithm that heavily impacts local businesses. If you want to understand how to keep being “seen” in Google, these new changes must be adapted in your practice’s online marketing program.

First Change: Google Search Results Went Hybrid

This past year, when we used Google for an online search, the results would show paid advertising at the top or far right (which only 25% of people click on), with local search results shown next — listed in packs of 7 or 10 and accompanied by corresponding map markers starting with the letter “A,”, followed by organic (non-local) results. Google has now integrated organic and local search results together, which currently display on the search results page in varying ways — in packs of 3, 5 or 7 for example, depending on the search query. Search results are still formatted with paid advertising at the top or right under the map on the results page, but you’ll now see organic results listed BEFORE, and blended with, local search results. How does a business become listed in this new hybrid format and at the top of local search results? What we have learned is to focus on the following:

  1. It is crucial to have a custom-designed website that can be optimized (coded) down to the page with local search terms, specific relevant industry keywords (funeral, cremation, obituary.), and appropriate geographic regional terms.
  1. When choosing location keywords, check how close your business is to the center of the city. To do this, go to Google Maps ( and type in your city and state; e.g., Minneapolis MN. Google will then display a marker on the map with the letter “A” — where it considers the center of the city to be located. This letter “A” is what Google calls the “centroid.” The closer your business is to the this centroid, the more “votes” your local business listing receives toward being near the top of local search results for that city. With this approach, Google is attempting to make the search experience most relevant to the searcher’s query.
  1. Plentiful (five or more) positive online reviews help maintain good positioning in Google Local Search. Google purchased the Zagat review site and is now incorporating these reviews into Google local listings. Reviews are becoming increasingly important. Having reviews associated with your business listing is yet another key ranking factor and one of the many signals Google looks for.

Second Change: Google Changed Mobile Search

Estimates indicate that by 2014–2015, more searches for information will be conducted on mobile devices then on a computer. Google has already started to adapt to this change by integrating online reviews with local search results for mobile devices. To see how this works, pick up a smart phone and search for your town, state, and funeral homes (example: Maple Grove MN funeral homes). Google shows a list of search results for this query. When a searcher clicks on one of the businesses listed, Google sends the searcher to information that is from the Google+ Local pages, including associated reviews for this business listing.

Many funeral homes I have seen are struggling with online reviews, claiming their Google+ Local page, and actively monitoring and engaging with people in this format. However, Google just forced your hand from reluctance to action. If your business doesn’t take control of it’s local listing page, encourage positive reviews, and interact with your customers in this arena, then searchers will see whatever Google happens to display on this page. Whether it is accurate, positive, engaging, or not — searchers will make their decision on credibility based on what they view. What does your listing say about you? The first step is to claim your business listing at

Third Change: Google Merged Google Places, Google+, and Zagat

Google recently began changing Google Local listings to Google+ Local, meaning it’s in the process of merging the Google+ interface with Google Places/local search listings. In addition, Google has now integrated Zagat and it’s way of rating businesses. Reviews on Google formerly used a star rating from 1 to 5 stars. The rating system has now changed to Zagat’s method, which is based on  a number system of 0 to 3 for individual reviews. Google takes these ratings, averages them, and then multiplies by 10 to arrive at an overall score.

These major changes are all happening at the same time. What does it mean for your business?

  1. Take the time to set up your Google+ page, since it also affects your Google+ Local area. Keep an eye on this area, as Google will continue making modifications as it rolls out the integration of these three platforms.
  1. Make sure you’ve chosen the most relevant category for your business listing, add any appropriate information as well as photos,, encourage positive reviews, and respond in a professional, educational fashion to negative reviews.

Finally, remember that your online marketing program is like driving a car. You need to know how to drive the car and fill it with gas, as well as know when to take it in for an oil change — but you’re not expected to build the car.

Content – Treat It Like Royalty

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Yawn—content is so boring, right? Why should we care about content? Throw a few words up on the page, call it good, and move on. Hold on! Not so fast. Content is the star player in any online marketing program. Key functions of content are:

  1. Search Engine Optimization Placement: Content plays a major role in how/where your website is placed on Google. In February 2011, Google made a change to its algorithm, emphasizing high-quality content as a key search engine optimization requirement. This change was called Panda. Bottom line—template content is out and original content–-trea…t-like-royaltyis now “in.”
  2. Education: As consumers, we know about cars, food products, cleaning products, and beer because of the amount of advertising we have seen on these subjects. However, we know minuscule amounts of information about funeral homes and their services and why we should pay for it. We just know as a family member that we “sorta need it.” The job of content is to educate people about what the service is, the benefits of the services, and, frankly, why people should pay to have that service conducted.
  3. Engagement: If the content on your Internet marketing platforms is stale, boring, flat, and so on, then why should the consumer read it? The content needs to be written correctly in the proper style for the platform (website, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, eNewsletter, YouTube, newsletters, and so on) where it is placed, and it needs to ENGAGE the reader. If the content is not compelling, why should the consumer read it and, more importantly, why should they come back?

Placement for Engagement

Multiple times I have been asked: “Can I write the content once and copy and paste it across all my platforms?” No. Resist this urge to write material once, check the box, and just plaster it out there willy-nilly. You will lose your audience. Each platform has its own style and guidelines for the way content should be displayed, the length, and the tone of how it is delivered. Sure, the message across all the platforms can and should be the same, but the exact content in each place needs to be avoided. General guidelines are as follows:

  1. Online Review Areas: Everywhere people can leave you reviews online must be managed and monitored. The content on these pages needs to be accurate and updated on a regular basis. Once a review is left, then a thank you note needs to be given for positive reviews and an educational note placed for a crabby review. Each thank you/educational note needs to be unique to the post and should not be a standard reply.
  2. Website: Most funeral directors websites I see fall down on the job when explaining the services they offer and why people should use them. Website content needs to be 400 to 500 words per page, needs to educate the family member on what the facility does and why they provide those services, and it needs to be optimized (coded) to be found in Google. The content style needs to be informative and educational in nature. Because protocols do not change every week in the funeral home, do not expect to change content about what services you provide on a constant basis. Instead, a blog should be used for weekly educational updates. 
  3. Blog: Confusion reigns over what in the heck a blog is. Think of it as an online magazine that is educational in nature. Resist putting cute updates about the office pet on a blog (those type of updates go on Facebook/social media). Focus on short paragraphs, bullet points, and easy to understand educational topics that are timely. For example, during the holidays would be a post about reaching out to loved ones especially the elderly.
  4. Social Media Platforms: A good framework for the tone and style of social media is a coffee shop. Conversations on social media areas are fun, chit chatty, ongoing conversations with a hint of education thrown in for flavor. Numerous times I have heard funeral directors say they wrote a beautiful article that is educational in nature and are disappointment nobody thought it was useful on Facebook. However, the picture of the office cat doing something cute went viral. The educational piece is great but needs to be placed on a blog. Correct placement is everything with content.

Monitor Its Success

Marketing needs to be monitored to make sure it is generating the results that are desired. Are people engaging with the content? Are they reading it? Is the post/page/tweet being passed to other people? To find out, monitor the statistics. Each platform mentioned above has its own statistics program that is included or can be added to determine the success of the created content. Monitoring, adjusting, and changing the content based on results is an ongoing process—but a necessary one.

Do you own your domain?

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Most people think they own their own domain name but they do not. A quick and easy way to check is to go to  and type in your domain name in the box in the middle of the page.

Another page will come up saying the domain name is already taken. In tiny letters next to the name it will tell you that you can view the domain’s WHOIS listing. Click this link. GoDaddy then will display the information about the domain name and who owns it. (If multiple requests are made at some point an intermediary page will come requesting that you enter the letters seen in the graphic box. This is a spam filter protection).

Look for the word REGISTRANT. Under or next to this word should be the name of the business or one of the owners name’s. If someone else’s name or business name is listed here then your company does not own its domain name. The company/individual that is listed there owns your domain name instead.

Don’t own your domain name? There are a few options open to you. First, you can ask nicely to have the domain name returned to your ownership. Some companies will say then they can’t manage your domain name without it being in their name. There isn’t anything to manage except to pay the Registrar (GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Etc.) when your domain name is about to expire. Another myth that is perpetuated by some website vendors is that they cannot manage your website without being in control of the domain name. This is false. Your domain name should always be in your own name.

If the vendor will not turn over the domain name to you then you need to see if your business name is trademarked. If it is then you have a high chance of getting it back. By law the vendor has to sell your domain name back to your company for cost if certain criteria are met (For more information go to If your business name is not trademarked then the only other recourse you have is through legal action or the selection of a new domain name.

It’s All About Content

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

ContentContent is an such important word. It refers to the star player in all online marketing programs, and the success of your brand relies on it. Here’s a breakdown of why it’s important.

  1. SEO (Search Engine Optimization):Content dictates how and where your website is ranked on Google. Fresh, original content helps you rank higher.
  2. Education: Content educates people about funeral homes and funeral services. It teaches people about your offerings and explains why they should pay for your assistance.
  3. Engagement: Content needs to be compelling and interactive. It should foster dialogue, so you can have meaningful experiences with your current and potential clients.

Different Platforms, Different Content

Resist the urge to cut and paste the same content across all of your marketing outlets. Each platform, from websites and blogs to social media and eNewsletters, has its own guidelines. Your message can always be the same, but shape your content to fit its intended channel.

Online Reviews: Content must be accurate, timely, and courteous. We recommend responding to positive reviews with prompt thank-you messages and to negative reviews with action-oriented, heartfelt messages.

Websites: Content should consist of 400-500 words per page, be highly informative, detail services rendered, and be optimized for funeral and local keywords.

Blogs: Content should take the shape of short paragraphs, bullet points, and easy-to-understand funeral and grieving topics.

Social Media: Content should mirror the style of a relaxed coffee shop conversation. Mix funeral and grieving topics with community events and other general interest items.

Curious about how well your content represents your business? Contact Melissa Neff for a free content consultation at 877-244-9322, ext. 100 or email

Google Places: How to Sign Up and How It Can Help Your Business

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Google Places for business is a free promotional platform for local businesses. Your Google Places listing can help your business get found in local Google search results. Claiming your listing enables you to make your services stand out by giving you control of your profile. You can add photos, videos, and offers to show customers why they should choose you. You’ll also be able to post updates and respond to reviews that are submitted about your business. Monitoring your Google Places account will also help you learn more about your customers: How many times did searchers show interest in your listing? What are the top search queries that they are using to search for you? But first, you need to create your account…

  1. Go to to sign up. (Free!)
  2. You will need to create a Google account first, if you don’t already have one. Best to not use a personal one and just create one for the business. Google has pretty clear instructions that walk you through the process.
  3. Many businesses that have been around awhile already have Google Places listings that can be pulled in from various sources such as online data aggregators. If you type in Your Business Name, City, State in Google Maps search [] and see a listing link to the left of Google Map search results with red map pinpoint next to business name, this should indicate if one exists or not. Also, Google can check for you—when you go to the “Google Places for Business” page, Google searches to see if you have a listing when you type in your business phone number, and then walks you through the process of claiming or editing your listing. However, it’s best to take advantage of any existing listing with good reviews and conduct a manual search as mentioned above, so you can be sure of which listing is being claimed. If you have a brand new business, needless to say, this won’t be an issue and new businesses can sign up directly at
  4. If you DO have a listing that already exists, click on the business name link, which will take you to your listing. Once you are on the actual listing page, click on the link in the upper right that says “Business Owner?” You will be prompted to sign in to Google in order to edit info in your listing. (Once you have verified your listing, that same link will change to “Owner Verified Listing.”)
  5. At the end of the process, Google will prompt you with a verification code that can be sent via mail or phone. The mail option can take a number of weeks and gets tossed inadvertently. Best to choose the phone option and have someone standing by at your main business number, because the verification process is automated and the call will be sent immediately. (New businesses that are creating a listing from scratch will only have the mail option.) Google is using your business number to verify you are indeed a real business and you’re not misrepresenting yourself and trying to rip off someone else’s listing. Once you have the verification PIN #, plug that number into the field where Google prompts you to, and you’re done. You now can edit away, consolidate any duplicate listings, and add information.
  6. Best to add service keywords about your business to the “Category” section, as well as add specific services to the business description section. Google has streamlined the listing display, so some information in the admin area of your listing may not show up in the public display.
  7. Consider asking satisfied customers if they might be willing to share their thoughts online at Google (and other sites). It’s always best to “capture the moment” when a client offers positive feedback and inquire if they would be willing to “digitize” their comments, which can then help others just like themselves…  Plentiful positive reviews is one factor that can help your Google Places listing rise to the top of local search results. Some businesses put up a review page on their website with links to online listings to help precipitate action on this; others also offer an incentive (raffle entry or similar offer) to encourage follow through, so you might consider these options to help gain good reviews. A raffle entry is considered a better incentive, as direct discounts for each review posted is considered less ethical (like buying reviews).
  8. Keep your Google Places listing current to show how your practice stands out from the rest. You can post information about your business, monitor website traffic, post coupons, and so on. Check out the Google Places YouTube channel  and Google Places Support to find out more about how this can work for your business.


Google’s ‘Plus 1′ Feature Enhances Social Search

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Google is taking their social search model a step further by incorporating a “+1″ button alongside every link in their search page.  This feature gives you, the searcher, the ability to recommend something to your entire Google network* with a click of the mouse.  It is similar, if not exactly, like Facebook’s “Like” icon.  As a consumer, I think it will be helpful to know that a contact has +1′d a restaurant when deciding where to eat for dinner.  As a marketer, I immediately want to know… how can this “+1″ feature pay off in terms of SEO, reach, and my bottom line.

Google hasn’t directly said if/how these recommendations will affect the overall search rating for the link; that may come later.  Its goal (for round 1) is to make search results more relevant to individuals by showing them that someone they know has given it their thumb’s up.  It’s an interesting development and for now, a ”watch-this-space” moment for SEO and Google search results.

Tip:  In order to use Google’s “+1″ feature, you need to have a Google Account.  If you already have one, you’ll need to upgrade it.  From your account, you’ll be able to see all the items you’ve “+1″, so you can delete your endorsements should choose to.

*Google may add other signals, like your Twitter connections, in the future.