Category Archive of online marketing

Reclaiming Online Visibility in 2019 [3 Critical Strategies]

“We want to rank first for that keyword.”

If you run a small business, I’m sure you’ve had that thought. It’s a great goal to have. And yes, ranking first for a specific term has its advantages.

But it also doesn’t mean what it used to. Take a quick look on Google today, and you’ll find that first position organic search results are now pushed down the page and below the fold by ads, local map packs, and other Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features. It’s likely your prospects could search Google for a keyword you rank well for, but never see your company’s listing!

To show you how dramatically this has changed, let’s take a look at a comparison of page one search results for the keyword “pool tables” back in 2008 versus the same search today, in 2019.

In the screenshot below, you can quickly see the first organic search result is highlighted in red for the 2008 search.

Back in 2008, Google served the top-ranking organic listings well above the fold, directly under three sponsored links (which are set apart by the beige background).

That’s a totally different story in 2019.

The screenshot below shows the same exact search for the keyword “pool tables” in 2019. Notice how the user now has to scroll past four ads, a map, and three local map results before ever seeing the true, first organic search result. In the example below, the first organic search result now shows up in the eighth position on the page!

Why This Matters

Google’s top focus is helping its users find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. When you do a search now, Google has developed a very convenient way to display the information you’re looking for “front and center” right in the search results. Clicking on the search results is no longer required in most cases to get the answers you are looking for. As a result, this has dramatically decreased the click-through-rate for organic search results.

Earlier this year, SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin and Jumpshot released data showing the decrease in click-through-rate for organic searches and the number of searches that yielded “zero clicks” on organic links or paid ads. On desktop searches in the US, the organic click-through rate (CTR) decreased by 2%. The story on mobile is even worse, with CTR going down 11% and zero-click searches (searches where none of the results are clicked) increasing from 55% to 62%.

It’s hard to foresee a future where these trends change, and one thing is clear when digging into the numbers (or just simply via the eye test), organic search should only represent a single aspect of your digital marketing strategy.

What You Can Do About It

If your goal is to increase visibility, your strategy needs to include more than just organic SEO. In order to do this, here are a few tools you need to have in your digital outreach strategy.

Google Ads

The best place to start regaining visibility on Google’s SERP is by claiming a space among the ad links that are pushing organic search results down the page. If Google shows ads when users search for keywords that are important to your business, there is virtually no way to outrank them organically. Businesses pay good money for this above-the-fold real estate, and if being among the first shown results is important to you, then there is no other option but to join them.

Google Ads are now a quintessential part of any digital marketing effort. What Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs) hope to achieve over time with organic optimization, Google Ads can achieve overnight. With the correct budget and a list of curated keywords to target, a business can begin appearing at the top of search results in mere hours. This means your business experiences instant brand exposure and immediate lead flow. If you are a local business hoping to expand your reach beyond the city you are located in, you can instantly appear in searches outside of your locality with Google Ads.

Google My Business

When Google launched Google My Business (GMB) in 2014, it served as a great opportunity for both local and national businesses to manage their online presence and communicate key information to their customers. Now, a well-maintained Google My Business page is a crucial aspect of ensuring your business is positioned to rank well, not only in organic results but also in the local map packs (shown below) that appear for people around you who are searching for your products or services.

How do we know that? Google tells users directly! According to their Improve Your Local Ranking on Google page,

“Providing and updating business information in Google My Business can help your business’s local ranking on Google and enhance your presence in Search and Maps.”

First, it’s important that you have claimed and verified your listing on Google. Verifying your business online helps both Google and people conducting searches online know that the information presented in the listing is accurate. Once your listing is set up, you will want to ensure the accuracy of all of the information on the listing, respond to any reviews that are left (even the negative ones), and utilize Google My Business’s post functionality regularly.

Want a real-world example of how Google My Business activity can impact search visibility? At North Star, we started to leverage GMB’s post functionality for one of our clients. We created two posts a month from July to February. When we went back and compared traffic coming to their website through organic search from the same period in the previous year, we noticed a 34% increase after implementing the GMB posts!

Want more information about how to optimize your Google My Business listing? Check out our blog post outlining how to win more local searches using this great tool.

Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Feature Optimization

Google has introduced several new SERP features in recent years, from shopping carousels and knowledge cards to featured snippets and the local map pack. They serve a wide variety of audiences and search intents, but they all have one thing in common; users see them before they see almost any organic search results. Their existence has spawned an entirely new arm of SEO, On-SERP SEO. The gallery below shows some examples of SERP features Google uses to present relevant information to searchers right on the results page.

Shopping Results: Shopping results are considered a sponsored SERP feature. Companies pay for placement in an image carousel, populated with rich information like pricing and customer ratings.

Stock Direct Answer: If you search for a specific stock or index, Google serves the stock direct answer SERP feature which allows users to quickly see a stock’s performance for the day.

Featured Snippet: The featured snippet SERP feature gives a brief preview of the contents of an article that Google believes may answer the searcher’s query.

Knowledge Card: Knowledge cards present a quick look at data relevant to a specific query. This includes semantic, user-generated data to data extracted from the Google Index.

Sports Direct Answer: The sports SERP feature can serve several purposes, from showing users scores and schedules to presenting information regarding standings and playoff brackets.

Due to their visibility, SERP feature placements (like the examples above) are coveted real estate. It’s important to identify which of these SERP features Google delivers for your targeted keywords so that you know how to optimize for them. If you want people to find your bakery on Main Street, your website will need to be optimized for placement in the local pack feature. If you are putting together a list article on tips for salvaging a burnt cake, you will want to develop content optimized for the featured snippet.

While optimizing for SERP features may not necessarily yield a higher click-through-rate (remember, these features are the reason zero-click searches are on the rise), regularly appearing for users in SERP features on a particular topic will increase.

Putting it All Together

None of this is to say that ranking first for important keywords in your industry shouldn’t be a significant portion of your online marketing strategy. On desktop, 61% of searches still result in a click to an organically ranking site. But if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, it is going to take more than showing up in the ten blue links on Google SERPs.

If you are interested in seeing what audiences you are and are not currently reaching and what strategies could have the most impact on your marketing efforts, reach out to us! At North Star Marketing, we offer a wide array of online marketing services, from local SEO to paid search management to content strategy development.

To get started, fill out this form to request a free local search audit. We can provide you with an audit and recommendations for ensuring that local prospects can find your business.  

How to Win Local Searches with Google My Business in 2019

Google My Business Set UpWhether investigating private school options or searching locally for quality running socks, the first place people go to is Google. Your school or company may provide the exact service or product someone is searching for, but without an accurate and optimized Google My Business listing, there’s a chance you’ll be invisible when they look for you online.

The presence and quality of your Google My Business (GMB) local listing has become a vital differentiator to gain visibility in Google search results. If Google recognizes your business as a top contender in the search, the GMB listing appears at the top of a search result on mobile or the right-hand side of a desktop search result.

Your GMB information goes beyond the listing itself; it also connects other places your business is listed online and is seen as the main hub of your business’s official online presence. For instance, Google now displays and provides a direct link to your Facebook reviews or Yelp pages. An accurate and optimized GMB listing gives your business credibility and visibility. In this post, we’ll talk about how to set up your business’s GMB listing and what information you can and should include in your listing.

How to Claim or Create Your GMB Listing for a Single Location

Create Your Google Account

The first thing you need is a Google account. You can create a Google account either by setting up a new Gmail account, or you can request a Google account using your existing email address. If you already have one, you’re all set!

Claim or Create Your GMB Listing

Once you have a Google account, you need to find out if your business already has a GMB listing. Google may have already created one that no one owns, or someone may have claimed your listing at some point in the past. Find out by searching in Google My Business for your business name and address using the directions below.

  1. Go to Google My Business. If you’ve never logged in to Google My Business, you can follow these steps to sign up for free. 
  2. Search for your business using its name and address.Google My Business Setup
  3. If you see a dialog box letting you know that someone else has verified the business, follow these steps.Google My Business Set Up
  4. If you don’t see your business listed in the menu, click No, these are not my businesses or I’ve correctly entered the business. You’ll then be asked to enter some of your business details. Make sure you enter an accurate, complete street address, and a phone number which reaches your business directly.
  5. Click Submit.

If you’re setting this up through your mobile device, you can use the mobile directions.

5 Essential Details You Need in Your Google My Business Listing

Your GMB listing is often the first thing prospects will see when searching for your products or services. For many, they will see your listing before visiting your website.  Here are the things you should include in your GMB listing to improve your chances of being seen by potential new customers:

1. Your Business Name, Address, Phone Number, and Website

Your business name, address and phone number, otherwise known as NAP, should be consistent across all your business listings on the web. In other words, your business NAP should be listed the same way everywhere, to avoid confusion for search engines and your visitors.Google My Business Set Up

Your business name should reflect the real-world name your customers use. Don’t add extra information to your business name (like your city or services), as that will already be displayed in your map location and services description.

See Google’s guidelines for how to list your business name, address, and phone number accurately.

On top of your NAP, adding your main URL to Google My Business is imperative as users on Google Maps will be able to quickly navigate to your website from your GMB listing.

Note: If your business has multiple locations, they should all be set up as separate listings, but under the same GMB account.

2. Business Category

The business category you select for your Google My Business listing will contribute to how you rank in Google’s search results. There may be multiple categories you feel are a match, but Google will view the first one you select as your primary category. So, select the category that most broadly and accurately describes your service(s).

See more from Google on how to decide which category you should list and what to do if you feel multiple categories describe your business.

3. Photos & Videos

Photos that illustrate your business’s service, products, and location will help enhance your Google My Business presence. It’s important to make sure the photos attached to your listing are up-to-date, high quality, and feature aspects of your business you’d like potential customers to see.Google My Business Setup

In 2018, Google enabled a new feature that allows video uploads to your Google My Business listing. This is a great opportunity to showcase your business before a prospect even gets to your site. Product and service overview videos, customer testimonial videos, and other audience-ready video content are all great ways to engage users. Check out Google’s guide on types of photos and file specification requirements.

4. Reviews

The reviews section of your Google My Business listing is one of the main things prospective customers will look at. Studies show that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as their friends. So, it’s imperative that you have a strategy in place to build a regular influx of reviews from new and loyal customers.

Note that Google does display a roundup of reviews they find from other places on the web (e.g. Facebook), but prioritizes their own reviews, so getting reviews submitted directly to Google should be a priority. See some tips from Google on how to get GMB reviews.

5. Hours

Google displays your businesses hours prominently on your GMB listing. You can set them so that they update to let visitors know when you’re open or closed, or if your hours might vary on a holiday. Make sure your hours are accurate for all seven days of the week and update them any time your hours may change.

Add-Ons To Make Your Google My Business Listing Stand Out


One of the newer features on GMB, Google Posts, offers a new way to highlight your business to searchers. You can add events, offers, pictures and videos to make your listing stand out.

Google also allows you to add calls-to-action (CTAs) to your posts. Are you highlighting a product? Add a “Buy Now” button to your post. Introducing a new service you are offering? Use the “Learn More” button to link to a service overview page.  See how to create a post on your GMB listing. Here is an example of how one of North Star Marketing’s school clients leverages Google My Business to promote their annual open house.Google My Business Setup

Questions & Answers  

GMB now has a Questions and Answers section that lets people ask questions about your business on the listing. The answers can be provided by you or others familiar with your business. Business owners or listing managers should ask and answer questions customers might have, such as, “Does your restaurant have high chairs?” or “What is the student-to-teacher ratio at your school ?”  Here are some tips from Google on how to keep these questions and answers on track and helpful to potential customers.

Payment Types

Google lets you list what payment methods are accepted, including types of credit cards, and even new payment methods like Apple Pay. Keep your payments section up-to-date as technology changes so that customers know how they can buy your products or services.


Google My Business has a messaging feature which allows people to contact you in real-time. This allows you to connect with a customer within seconds of them reaching out and answer whatever questions they might have. One important note – you should only enable messaging if you or someone else at your business is able to respond. Customers expect quick responses, and Google My Business includes your average response time to customers in your listing. Learn how to let customers message you through GMB.

Note: Messaging through Google My Business is only available in select countries.

Booking Button

For specific categories, Google offers a booking button that appears on your GMB listing. This allows customers to book an appointment directly from the listing. Learn more from Google about how the booking button can help your business.

Your GMB listing brings online credibility to your business and as a result, helps you reach your target audience who is searching for products or services you offer. There are a lot of ways to optimize your GMB listing depending on your products or services. Optimizing well can help your business get great exposure on Google.

Ready to Maximize Your Google Presence?

Are you ready to take control of your Google presence and start winning local search traffic through Google My Business? You can walk through the steps outlined above to claim and build out your listing.  Or, if you’re curious about the current status of your local search presence, you can request a free local search audit from North Star’s team of experts. If you have any additional questions about improving your Google My Business listing, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment. You may also contact us at 336.229.6610 or to speak with one of our marketing specialists!


Facebook Fears and How Your Business Should Respond

facebook fears for businessesFacebook seems to be making plenty of headlines lately. And for businesses that advertise, it’s concerning.  From algorithm changes that reduce brand visibility, to recent data breach accusations, it’s hard to ignore. Both issues have caused reactions among businesses and investors as stocks have fallen sharply in both circumstances. As with any news cycle, these issues won’t be the end of the story.

For businesses and content producers, this news should give us reason to pause. It should cause us to consider how this impacts the kind of content we produce, the kind of engagement we desire, and how to track our audience through social media platforms.

Yet Facebook isn’t the only reason we should be evaluating our strategies. In fact, focusing on any one specific external factor that is tied to our marketing can lead us down the wrong path. We should be looking at the broader picture.

Is a digital marketing strategy that involves digital ads reaching places where customers are spending their valuable time important? Sure. But I would suggest that if businesses are more concerned about reaching customers with Facebook, they’re focused on the wrong prize.

Creating brand advocates, developing incredible experiences, and delighting people should be priority one.

We should be evaluating how our digital strategies foster those priorities. Here are three approaches that will help you weather the storms of social media and stay focused on important, overarching marketing goals.

Reevaluate Your Goals

Ever since Facebook became a viable communication platform, businesses and marketers have been doing their best to leverage it to reach current and potential customers. Advertisers are able to segment their content to specific users, and this has been extremely valuable to boost audience engagement.

But your goals should always take precedence over your tactics. For example, if your goal is to increase enrollment in your school, increasing likes or shares on your Facebook posts is not likely to have any impact on leads or enrollment. It may increase visibility, but driving engagement toward an actionable step (i.e. phone call, email, visit, etc.) will provide a metric that directly connects to the goal of growing enrollment.

In this example, what drives enrollment for your school? Is it a family tour? Is it a conversation with teachers? What are the steps and actions that typically lead to an enrollment?

Reevaluating your goals will inform how you should be using social media to engage and connect with your target market. It’s possible that engaging your audience by asking questions is a better approach than positioning ads.

Additionally, goals are not a set it and forget proposition. We should constantly be evaluating whether specific social media goals, that are tied to broader marketing objectives, are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). Is our goal to grow followers? Or, is it to increase engagement and interaction with our content? Each of our goals should directly impact our broader marketing objectives.

Communicate Your Value:

It’s tempting to assume that our target audience is on Facebook looking specifically for our content while scrolling through their feed. The reality is that the customer journey is filled with many stops at many different stages. To truly bring value to our audience, we must be constantly listening to and responding to their needs.

Sometimes we should step back before we can step forward. We achieve this by gaining a better understanding of what our customers value through asking and observing. Market research can take time. But the result will give you and your business incredible insight. Inevitably, you’ll find that your customers value different things at different stages. Sometimes they will want advice and other times facts and data.

“…the secret to appealing to customers, stakeholders, audience members and anyone you care about is to understand who they are and what they want.” Alison Davis

Once we have a solid understanding of what our customers value, we can develop content and communication that will speak directly to the customer need.

Reconsider the Buyer Journey:

The buyer journey is something that has been discussed in marketing circles for years. But have we invested time and resources into evaluating the way our customers use Facebook to influence their purchase decisions at these various stages?

Let’s first explore the foundations of a buyer journey. In its most basic form, the buyer journey is comprised of the stages before, during, and after a purchase. Those stages are usually identified by your customer as:

  • Being aware there is a problem
  • Considering what products or services will meet their needs
  • Making a decision, or purchase
  • Becoming an advocate/repeat customer

Your audience is at various stages of this journey. The value you provide through digital channels like Facebook should consider these stages and meet the right need. For example, if your audience is not aware they have a problem that your product/service solves, how do you educate them? If they have already purchased your product/service, are there benefits they would be willing to share with their friends?

Your customers use Facebook for a variety of reasons. It’s imperative that we walk a mile, or two in our customers’ shoes to understand their journey. Not only the problem they are solving, but how they use social media to meet those needs. What information are they looking for? Do they rely on specific resources or people to help inform their decisions?

The Ultimate Goal: Bringing Value to Customers

Platforms like Facebook will continue to change; however, you’ll be able to weather changes and develop a smart social media strategy with these three tactics. Ultimately, you want to bring value to your customers in a truly meaningful way.

Is your business using Facebook to reach your marketing goals? Has it made a positive impact on your business? What metrics are you tracking that are impacting your goals? Share your thoughts and ideas. We’d love to hear from you.

The Social Tool Your Company May Be Missing – Google+


The world of social media often fosters confusion rather than traction. Businesses simply don’t know where to invest their time and energy. If you’re like most, you’ve probably explored at least one of the widely-used platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. But if you have limited time to invest in social media, there’s one platform you don’t want to overlook – Google+. With more than 343 million active users, you’ll want to join the party.

With a vast majority of web searches taking place on Google, your Google+ page can have huge SEO implications. A lot of the information that Google indexes about your company can be controlled by keeping this social media platform up to date. Additionally, Google+ integrates easily across other Google platforms, like Gmail and YouTube, and offers a unique combination of both social and SEO opportunity.

A verified and up-to-date Google+ page can improve both your organic search results, as well as your local rankings. This will allow your business to be more prominent on a page of search results, and increase the number of times you show up on a page. 

Google+ may not be the most well known social media platform, but its vital role in boosting your SEO value should not be overlooked. If you want to learn how to effectively use your Google+ page to drive more traffic and find new leads, contact North Star Marketing today to learn how we can help you take advantage of this powerful social tool.



Overwhelmed by Online Marketing? 4 Reasons to Outsource Your Online Marketing for Better Results

Clark Morgan - Online Marketing DirectorYou look at the clock … 1:07 am. Half asleep, it’s time to call it a night. As you close your laptop, you slump back in your chair, head spinning. Despite hours of hard work, you feel more overwhelmed and frustrated than when you started. Unanswered questions flood your mind.

“Why don’t we show up for these keyword searches? Is what I’ve been doing the past three hours actually SEO, or am I just wasting my time? Should we try a pay-per-click strategy? Maybe blogging or adding more website content? Using social media? Ugggh.”
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Five Ways to Get Google’s Attention

Remember the Attention-Getter in junior high? You know…the class clown, the flirt, the show-off?

What about the Worker-Bee – another common junior high species? While the Attention-Getter was busy soliciting stares and laughs – along with the well-deserved ire of the teacher – the Worker-Bee dutifully finished homework, handed out papers for the teacher and kept his/her pencil razor sharp at all times.

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