SEO and Email Marketing
November 23, 2021
Welcome to the fourth installment of our blog series on Best Practices for Marketing your Green Industry Business. In this post, we’ll cover SEO best practices and how to get the most from your email marketing campaigns.
What is SEO?
An easy way to define Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for local businesses is: “A set of practices that make your website more visible when people are searching online for goods or services that you offer.” There’s more to it for corporations or companies with a national reach, but for our purposes, this works.
Over 90% of searches are performed on Google, and they typically set the standards by which other search engines (Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, etc.) follow. Accordingly, most of this part of the post will be focused on what Google recommends as best practices.
A quick way to help you understand how Google (and other search engines) work is for you to watch this short video. It’ll take about 3 minutes, and if you’ve watched it, you can skip to the next section. If you’d rather read it, feel free to check out my explanation below.
The first thing you need to know is that when someone searches using a search engine, it isn’t searching the internet at that exact moment. There’s way, way too much information for any search engine to return results in real-time.
Instead, search engines have already searched the internet and then archived the information they found. Search engines call this “indexing” the information. Think of it as a massive library with all the information they can find on the internet in one place.
So, when someone searches for information, search engines go to their database (their “library”) and pull the information up from there.
What are Search Engines looking for?
How do they determine what information is most relevant to the searcher’s question? There are hundreds of factors that go into this. Some of the more important ones for “local search” (when someone is looking for a local business) are:
- Are the words they searched for found on your website? (If someone searches “landscaper,” does your website have that word on it?)
- Does the information on your website display, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness? Google boils this down to “E-A-T” as a way to help people remember. Is the information something Google finds trustworthy enough to show to people searching for what you do?
- It is beginning to determine this with machine-learning, also called “Artificial Intelligence.” Remember, it can – and does – search websites from other companies doing what you also do. If your website’s information is drastically different from industry best practices, you’re likely to be penalized for this. That means you won’t show up as high in search results.
- A good example is that home-remedy sites are now considered less trustworthy for information about acne or back pain than sites from the Mayo Clinic or WebMD.
- Does your site include information about what the searcher is looking for?
- A good example is the term “wedding bands.” You might get results about a band to play at your wedding or about wedding rings. Google has to try and determine “What was the searcher actually looking for?”
- Are you geographically close to where the search term AND the searcher’s physical location?
- For example, someone looking for a coffee shop in New York City might get different results if they walk ten blocks away. This is because Google uses GPS and knows their phone has changed location. By contrast, if I’m in Ohio and search for coffee shops in NYC, I’ll likely get a list of “best coffee shops” and a map with the highest-rated coffee shops.
Quality & quantity of links
- How many links are there coming into your website? Are those links from places that make sense for your business, or are they links you asked for or traded for?
- For example, if you run a tree care company and have a link to your website from Rainbow Scientific because you carry their products, that will make sense to Google. If you have a link from your brother’s guitar repair shop that doesn’t reflect your real-world business connections, Google frowns on that.
- If a consumer gets to your website and quickly leaves, that is called a “bounce.” If this happens repeatedly, this teaches Google that your site is not relevant for the search terms used. As a result, it will quit serving your website as an option.
- For example, if I ran a computer repair business called “The PC Mechanic,” my website might show up if someone in my area searched for “mechanic near me.” What they really wanted was car repair services. Eventually, Google would learn, because of multiple searchers “bouncing” when they saw a computer repair shop’s website, that this URL should not be offered when someone is looking for auto repair.
As I mentioned, literally hundreds of these factors determine where you show up (or even whether you show up) in a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). These are just some of the factors, but it’s a good starting point.
On-Site SEO (Your Website)
One of the things search engines look at is your website. Your website used to be your “digital billboard” on the internet, but that way of thinking has become dated. Your website must be more than an “info dump” about all the stuff your business does and offers.
The information has to be laid out in a way that’s thoughtful, easy for people to digest, and easy for consumers to use. If not, it may lead to a high bounce rate for that search term, and that’s not what you want. If you run a pruning and removal tree company, the last thing you want is people being confused by your website or leaving to find one that’s easier to use. That will train Google to understand that people don’t see what they’re looking for (i.e., “tree pruning near me”) on your website.
So, the content on your website is the most important thing. It needs to be thoughtfully organized, written with expertise, and follow industry best practices.
You would also be very well served if you had someone with good credentials in User Experience (also called “UX”) design look at your website. See if you can find someone reputable to conduct an audit for you. You may want to check with your web developer and see if they offer this. If they do not, ask if they can make a recommendation.
Pro tip: Any UX professional should start the conversation talking about “heat mapping.” There’s code you can install on a website to see how people use it. These programs also show you where people get hung up and lose interest or leave your website too. If the UX professional you contact tries to skip this step, keep shopping.
There are some other best practices you need to think through as well. It would be best if you worked with a reputable website developer to discuss these issues.
Title tags & meta descriptions
- Title tags are what each page is named. Meta descriptions are descriptions of the pictures on your website. These are both important because they tell search engines what the page is about and what the images on the page represent. (Note: meta descriptions are also crucial for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.)
Core Web Vitals
- Core Web Vitals are a metric that Google uses mainly to determine two things. First, how quick a website will load. Secondly, what a person will experience when using your website. The main components are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), and First Input Delay (FID).
- The Largest Contentful Paint measures how long it takes for the largest image to load on your page.
- The First Input Delay measures the time from when a person first interacts with your site (clicks a link, taps a button, etc.) to when the site responds and completes that action.
- The Cumulative Layout Shift is how much the page “jumps” when people are trying to use it. Have you ever clicked on a link you didn’t intend to because the page “shifted” since it wasn’t done loading? That’s bad CLS, and Google frowns on that.
- Are headings properly used to mark different sections of content (information) on your website? Having the same headings on a piece of content means there is no distinction between the main idea and subordinate content.
- There are ways to check this, but basically, do all the links that Google can find on your website work? If so, Google will call this a “200” page.
- If there’s a problem with a link and it’s broken or missing, that’ll give you a “400” error. (Ever clicked on a link that doesn’t exist anymore and got a “404 error” message? That’s what I’m talking about.)
- How many links come into your site?
- From what websites are those links coming?
- Do these links reflect real-world connections (as opposed to virtual) to your business?
- Are there any links on your website that are labeled “no-follow” links? (“No-follow” links tell Google’s software “Don’t follow that link from my website to wherever it goes.” Having a lot of those makes Google somewhat suspicious that you’re up to no good!)
Schema Mark-up (AKA Structured Data)
- This is a bit of code that lives on your website in the background. You’ll never see it, and your customers will never see it. It’s there for Google and other search engines, and its whole purpose is to tell them how they should interpret the information on your website.
- It’s taking the “machine learning” part out of the equation. You’re not making Google read your website and try to figure out what you do. You’re providing the information it needs right there.
- You can indicate what industry you’re in, information about your location, hours of operation, years in business, and links to your physical location and social media platforms right in this code.
- Schema helps Google learn much more quickly what you want it to know about your business.
Off-site SEO (Other websites)
There are some things you need to know and do that don’t involve your website directly but DO impact your website’s ability to show up in search results. Mainly, this involves what are called “directories.” These websites store information about local businesses, and search engines check them to see if the information about a company is consistent.
The most important one for you to nail is your Google Business Profile (GBP) listing. (Note: this was recently changed from “Google My Business” to Google Business Profile.) This listing is free to any business, and you can populate it with information about your business. You can add hours, a link to your website, your phone number, define your service area, list out what services you offer (called Service Tiles), and update any special offers you have running.
The advantage of filling out your GBP is that you, as the business owner, are providing this information directly to Google. Like Schema Mark-up, you’re providing this information so that Google’s machine-learning doesn’t have to try and connect the dots on its own – you’re making those connections for Google.
There are some other directories with which you should be doing likewise. Below is a shortlist of these directories that you absolutely should claim. Once claimed, make sure you add all the same information to these directories that you added to your GBP listing.
What Other Directories should I focus on?
Directories to claim and populate with information:
- Bing Places
- Apple Maps
- Yelp! (Don’t send people here to leave reviews; we’ll cover that in a later blog post.)
- City Search
- Super Pages
Some of these will require verification that the business exists (send a postcard to the company or make a phone call). You’ll want to prepare your office staff for this, so they don’t hang up thinking it’s a sales call!
If you’re not comfortable with this, you can probably find a good SEO firm in your area looking for one. I would recommend you look for someone who specializes in Local SEO. As I mentioned, there are different types, and a firm that deals primarily with franchises or national-level searches won’t help. You want someone who specializes in helping small, local businesses become visible.
Email marketing can be one of the most effective tools you use when setting up your marketing plan for the year. When done correctly, it will undoubtedly produce sales. Here are some tips and best practices to ensure you get the most from your email marketing efforts.
Clean up your list
Before you even begin considering email marketing, you must ensure you have a “clean” list. By that, I mean that the people on your list know they’ll be getting emails from you, and they’ve opted-in to this. If you’ve collected email addresses but never tried marketing to them, you may need to send a simple email that basically says, “Hey! We’re going to start sending you emails. Click here to opt-out” and provide them with a link to unsubscribe.
Don’t be afraid of doing this. You’ll lose people that would only have complained about getting your emails anyway, and if they stay, that means they want to be informed about your services and when to do them.
The alternative is to send it without permission. That’s a huge “no-no;” the people on that list can report you for sending emails without permission, and that can get escalated to the FCC, resulting in massive fines. It’s worth losing the dead weight on your email list.
You should send out information that provides value to people. Email copy that educates people on the “Why” before asking for business produces the best results. This is also most effective when used to upsell your existing customers rather than soliciting new business.
If you’ve got a decent blog on your website, you can include links to articles explaining this “Why.” If you don’t, take a few minutes to craft articulate, thoughtful copy explaining the issue and why people should buy this service from you. Keep copy relatively short. You want people to be able to read this in about 3 minutes or less.
For example, if you run a tree care company in a market with tons of Ash trees, you want to start emailing clients with persuasive copy about treating their trees in March or April (depending on where you live in the country). Your email should explain (at a high level) the life cycle of EAB, the lack of natural predators, and what damage their galleries cause to the tree.
Creating urgency by educating your customers before you ask them to spend additional money will pay dividends.
Pictures in an Email
Yes, you should include pictures in an email. Like your print ads, the pictures should help tell the story you’re trying to convey.
In the above example, you might lead with a picture of an Emerald Ash Borer on a penny (lots of Universities with that picture out there – just ask for permission to use one). That gives them a sense of why they might not see the EAB on their property due to the small size. You might follow that later in the copy with a side-by-side of trees that have been treated next to trees that have not been treated against EAB.
The goal is to break up the copy slightly with images that help convince the client that they should spend more money with you.
Last thing to note: pay attention to the size of the image file. If it’s too large, the images may not load properly in the email, or it might overwhelm someone’s inbox. Use the smallest file size you can where the point you’re trying to convey is still clearly visible. Some email platforms let you re-size the image or shrink the file size to prevent this issue.
When to send it?
In my experience working for both a landscape company AND at a marketing agency, I think late morning in the middle of the week works best. I found the best open rates to be between 10 am and 12 noon on Tuesday through Thursday. My personal preference is on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
And that makes sense. Mondays are for digging out your inbox after the weekend, and Fridays, people are getting mentally prepped for the weekend.
There you go! You’ve got the basics of getting your website and directories optimized for search engines and your email marketing producing leads. It is our hope that this blog series is informative and helps you to grow your Green Industry business!
Go back and read Part 3 – Best Practices for Print Advertising for great advice on ad layout and design. These principles work for print ads like magazines and direct mailers as well as online display ads!
Stick around for the next installment, where we cover Social Media and Online Advertising!