Google's Got Your Back, Columbia

The web is a big place for the little guys to make their mark, but Google is helping to prevent small, local businesses from being overshadowed thanks to their algorithm updates.

Sitting smack dab between Kansas City and St. Louis, Columbia is sort of the little guy in comparison. We’re a town full of local businesses and are passionate about maintaining a prosperous business community. But when it comes to competing against the big guys across Missouri, local Columbia businesses tend to have a tougher time getting their fair share of representation on the web.

Luckily, Google has our back.

We recently shared some awesome news about how Google is rewarding small businesses for generating valuable reader content. Now, we’re able to dive even deeper into the subject matter after interviewing a few experts in the area.

Google’s 2014 Search Algorithm Updates Lend a Hand to Local Columbia Businesses

When we talk about Google’s search algorithm updates, understand that they impact your search engine optimization (SEO). It’s a common misconception for business owners to think competing with other businesses for the #1 spot on a results page is like competing to be first chair in junior high band because that would mean you’re the best.

Well, that’s not really how it works. Sitting in that #1 spot doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best, it just means you made it to the front of the line. How sites make it to the front of the line will determine if they’re truly the best. Some sites use black hat SEO techniques to weasel their way up the rankings for short-lived fame while others earn their spot for the long haul by engaging white hat techniques.

The Lowdown on Headmaster Google’s Smack Down

2014 was a big year for Google algorithm updates in their effort to weed rule-breaking, dirty SEO technique cheaters out of the top rankings and boost local businesses that emit quality content to their well-deserved spots.

The 2014 Panda and Pigeon updates were biggies for businesses.

  • Panda: First introduced in 2011, the Panda release has undergone 27 updates. In a nutshell, Panda updates help boost small, local business websites in search engine rankings based on the quality content they produce.
  • Pigeon: This portion of Google’s search algorithm rolled out in July 2014. Considered their “local algorithm,” it takes into account the location of the searcher and provides search results based on that location. For instance, if you’re in Columbia, Missouri and search for “web design,” your search results page will list out web design companies in Columbia even though you didn’t include the city in your search.

The Expert Take on Why You Should Care

Striving for that reserved first chair among your band mates (a.k.a., to get your website on the top of the list on a search results page)? Well, given these updates, writing and publishing good, quality content on your site is your ticket to success.

Or is it?

After talking with some local SEO gurus, we can synthesize that quality content is important, but other factors play into the ranking system as well.

Ellis Benus, a local Columbia business owner, emphasized the important role backlinks play in getting to that #1 spot. A backlink is when another website links to your site. The more of these backlinks other sites have directing traffic your way, the higher Google is going to rank your site.

But Mark Prokell, another SEO expert and owner of Ventra Marketing, noted a few more key pieces to the SEO puzzle. In addition to what he called a “solid link portfolio,” your website will rank better when it has:

  • NAP - Name, Address, Phone Number

    Google search result pages display your name, address and phone number off to the right.

    crawlable content,

  • quality content,
  • strategic keyword placement, and
  • NAP.

NAP stands for your company’s Name, Address and Phone, three pieces of information businesses should include on their marketing materials, including their website. Prokell said, “In regards to local SEO, NAP consistency across all local directories and choosing the correct categories are very important.”

Prokell has testified to the fact that his clients have benefitted from Google algorithm updates in terms of earning higher rankings, considering they “reward best-practices and penalize poor practices.” The same goes for our clients; those who blog and add quality content to their site in that format receive more traffic and better rankings in comparison to their competition.

Google Updates: A Double-Edged Sword?

But the updates haven’t been all rainbows and butterflies for Columbia’s local businesses.  The search engine results pages have undergone a facelift that reduces the number of listings displayed in the “local-packs”. The search results show the business’ name, address, phone number and map, generally located near the top of the page under the paid advertisements.Local Packs

Benus is skeptical about the new page design, stating: “Local search has been a two edged sword with Google. While Google has increased the relevancy of local specific search terms, the proliferation of Google Maps and Google My Business results have pushed “organic” search results farther down the page.”

Prokell also weighed in on the results display, explaining: “One thing to note regarding a Google change is that it has moved away from the Local Carousel, which specifically affects restaurants and hotels.” (You may remember the local carousel, it was the black bar displayed across the top of your screen with thumbnail images and information for businesses matching your search criteria.)

But when all is said and done, these 2014 updates are good news for small, local folks. Keep rolling out the quality content to claim your spot at the front of the stage.

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