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Why Online Reviews are Vital for Better Search Rankings

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We discuss the findings from LocalSEOGuide’s latest report, which confirm that online reviews are now heavily contributing to better search results.

LocalSEO Guide released its 2017 Local Ranking Factors study earlier this month. Working closely with the University of Carolina, PlacesScout and Irvine, its aim was to review over 200 ranking factors in conjunction with 100,000 local businesses to find out which approaches really contribute the most to great organic rankings in local search.

For years now, SEOs have suspected that online customer reviews can help boost visibility. Now, however, we’ve received concrete proof that this is the case. The LocalSEOGuide report explicitly says that:

“At a high level, having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of a city you are working to rank in, in reviews has a high correlation with high ranking Google My Business results.”

It’s not enough to simply have the reviews present, though. Optimising them with relevant service keywords and mentions of a particular region is crucial, too.

The latest ranking factors survey from Moz backs up this opinion, too – albeit to a lesser degree. It states that review signals, ie the quantity, velocity and diversity of the reviews your website receives, make up 13% of the active ranking factors that lead to success in the Local Maps Pack. In Moz’s opinion, review signals sits above click-through rates, personalisation and social signals in terms of what’s really going to generate great local visibility for a brand. We already knew that 90% of consumers read reviews before visiting a business, but now there are extra benefits to be had from curating this user-generated content.

And as Search Engine Land has mentioned, citations and reviews on third party sites are also listed as bringing value to your domain. This is great news for companies that are regularly mentioned elsewhere on the web (as long as their details are correct and consistent, of course).

So if you needed more convincing that reviews are a great online marketing tool for your business, you’ve just found an extra reason to take the plunge and open up feedback for your organisation.

Which reviews platform should you use?

There are plenty of platforms that will help you collect and share online reviews, but it’s important that you choose one that has lots of authority in the online community, otherwise your reviews may fall under the radar in terms of SEO. You also want to work with a reviews engine that will feed your star rating through to the Google listings by collecting seller ratings from across the web. is highly rated for ease of use, and it’s our platform of choice. You could of course collate native Google reviews via Google + Local or others such as Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare (and, of course, industry-specific sites).

Reviews are important… but don’t neglect other vital ranking factors

Other ranking factors are still very important, of course. Links, citations, onsite optimisation and UX improvements will still go a long way to ensuring your website is ranked well. If you need advice on how to set up online reviews, or want to learn how you can tie reviews management into a broader search engine optimisation or reputation management strategy, contact the SEO consultants at Freelance SEO Essex today.


Mobile-First Index Set to be the Way Forward for Google

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According to industry chatter, Google has been testing its mobile-first index live within its search results in the last few weeks.

The company first announced the new index back in November 2016, as documented by Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land. In a Google Hangout on 3rd October, John Mueller announced that Google is rolling out the first phase of the new index and is starting to experiment with live results.

What does ‘mobile-first’ mean?

Google is always working around the clock to improve its UX, and in recent years part of their mandate has been to acknowledge – and act upon – the shift towards mobile search.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll be more than familiar with the latest stats surrounding desktop vs mobile searches. To recap, Google itself has claimed that more than 50% of search queries on a global scale now come from mobile devices; an independent report conducted by Hitwise claims that this figure is actually nearer 60%. Either way, mobile is changing the way we search for information, and as it’s Google’s job to cater for the majority, it seems logical that they should update their algorithm to better service mobile users. Part of this involves evaluating the usefulness of a page according to what can actually be seen by a mobile user.

Google has traditionally always crawled web pages as if it were viewing them from a desktop browser. But at some point in the near future, bots will only look at page content as if it were being accessed from a mobile phone or tablet.

What’s interesting is that, up until now, Google was reassuring webmasters that if they didn’t have a mobile version of their website, the algorithm will automatically consider the content in the desktop version instead. Now, it’s becoming clear that their long-term plan is to shift to a mobile-only rating system and do away with desktop indexing completely.

This potentially has huge implications for webmasters, and specifically companies, who have not yet invested in a responsive design for their website.

How the index will be introduced by Google

As you can imagine, this move has sent some website owners into meltdown, but there’s really no need to panic. Yet.

Google is renowned for keeping schtum about its updates these days. However, in this case, company figureheads such as Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes have not only been confirming that mobile-first is happening, but they’ve also giving SEOs an idea of when we can expect it to happen. This transparency has already gone some way to easing anxiety amongst publishers (and, perhaps more importantly, online businesses who rely on search for sales and enquiries).

Responding to concerns that webmasters may not have time to adjust their websites before the changes come into play, Illyes has been quick to emphasize that the roll-out won’t immediately hurt sites that are not yet mobile friendly.

“[It could be] several years – maybe five years – before we reach an index that is only mobile-first,” he said at the recent SMX Advanced conference in Seattle, USA. He also mentioned that Google’s engineers’ initial goal for the launch was 2017, but this is now more likely to be 2018.

Barry Schwartz has suggested that “Google will roll out the first batch to pages that are equivalent between desktop and mobile,” softening the below further. And when it comes to talking to the web about what’s in development, his opinion is that “Google will likely begin some level of communication, be it via blog posts, direct communication and/or Google Search Console notifications for those who have issues.”

So, the mobile-first index is definitely on its way, but Google is going to be actively walking us through the changes.

Why is this important for businesses?

This long-overdue change in the way that Google assesses and ranks websites means that having a mobile-responsive platform is no longer a matter of choice – it’s absolutely essential if you want to perform well in organic search.

The official advice from Google is to prepare for the rollout by following the below steps:

  1. Get your responsive site ready.
  2. Configure 301 redirects on the old mobile URLs to point to the responsive versions (the new pages). These redirects need to be done on a per-URL basis, individually from each mobile URL to the responsive URL.
  3. Remove any mobile-URL specific configuration your site might have, such as conditional redirects or a Vary HTTP header.
  4. As a good practice, set up rel=canonical on the responsive URLs pointing to themselves (self-referential canonicals).


Depending on the state of your current website, these steps may just represent the tip of the iceberg. If you need help developing (or redeveloping) a responsive website, Freelance SEO Essex can help.

Our team will be happy to talk you through your options and make sure your business is 100% ready for Google’s new mobile-first index.

Visit our web design page for more information, or contact us directly.


Is Bing Really Threatening Google?

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Microsoft’s Search Engine is Increasing in Popularity

The latest statistics show that Bing is gaining increasing traction in desktop search. What are the implications for your SEO strategy?

For many people, Google and internet search are synonymous terms. In the same way as you hoover the carpet, you Google something on the internet. The idea that any other search engine could seriously threaten Google’s dominance might seem ludicrous. After all, who has ever Binged anything?

The latest statistics released from comScore could, therefore, raise some eyebrows. They show that 26 percent of searches on UK desktops are now performed on Bing – put into context, that represents just under a billion searches every month.

The news came as no surprise to our analysts at Freelance SEO Essex, who have noticed an increase in leads from Bing over the course of 2017 to date. Here, we take a look at where this growth is coming from and what it might mean for your SEO strategy.

The Windows 10 effect

One of the first things that needs to be noted is that the statistics relate to desktop search only – we will look at mobile in a moment – and herein lies the first clue to Bing’s increase in popularity.

The vast majority of laptops sold today are running Windows 10, and its virtual assistant Cortana is ever present. All Cortana searches are automatically conducted on Bing.

The fact that Microsoft is also offering rewards for using Bing is another factor that certainly won’t hurt its market share, too.

Is Google in decline?

Before we write Google off as being the Hoover to Bing’s Dyson, there are a few things worth bearing in mind. The first is that although Desktop search statistics are interesting, these days, the majority of searches are carried out on mobile devices. Here, it is a different story, Google still dominates with 95 percent of searches.

The other point worthy of note is that the statistics show increased use of Bing in the UK and the USA, but globally, its market share is just ten percent. Across mainland Europe, and particularly in Asia, Google’s position is largely undiminished.

Also, the rise of voice search is shaking up the industry. The latest news, however, puts Google ahead – Apple has chosen to replace Bing with Google as the default Siri search engine.

Implications for SEO

Many businesses make the same mistake as individuals when it comes to assuming that “search” means Google, but we can see that from a UK and USA perspective, at least, this is a dangerous assumption to make.

Broadly speaking, Bing is interested in many of the same factors as Google when it decides where to rank your website. That means good quality, unique content, with well crafted titles that accurately reflect the content.

When it comes to assessing authority, Bing places weight on the age of your domain, with longer-established domains given higher priority. Bing is less interested in blogging when ranking sites, but does look at links and social media shares.

Depending on your market intelligence, Bing PPC is also worth considering. Of course, despite the rising popularity, it still has a vastly smaller audience than Google, but cost per click rates are also far lower – typically 60 to 70 percent, but varying according to the sector.

As such, if your target demographic is UK or US based and you see significant desktop traffic, it could be a valuable strand to incorporate in your SEO strategy.


Introducing the South East Bloggers Club!

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Here at FSE, we do everything we can to encourage stronger collaborations between businesses and bloggers. We know first-hand the importance of a solid content marketing strategy – and what better way to promote your products or services than to ask a popular blogger with a large audience to mention you in their next piece?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re encouraging with the South East Bloggers Club (SEBC).

As a joint project between our agency, PR experts Voice Communications and content development company Indy Consultancy, SEBC’s aim is to introduce forward-thinking brands to talented bloggers (and vice versa) for exciting joint ventures.

When they sign up to our blogging network, brands get more exposure from bloggers who are in touch with relevant online communities; whereas bloggers get an enhanced following, increased engagement with businesses that want to work with bloggers, and invitations to exclusive events. Throw in all the SEO and marketing benefits of highly targeted blogging and it’s a win-win agreement for everyone involved!

The inaugural networking event…

SEBC is hosting its first networking evening on 28th September 2017 at the beautiful Layer Marney Tower near Colchester, Essex.

The benefits for brands

If you’re based in the South East, have an infectious passion for what you sell and are a big believer in the benefits of content marketing, we’re pretty sure you and your business would be a great fit for this event.

So what can we offer?

For just £50, we’ll put brands in touch with dozens of established bloggers on the night. All companies that attend will receive a free stall and will have the opportunity to contribute a small product to the free goody bag which will be handed to all bloggers in attendance.

There’s no obligation to work with any of our writers – just have a chat, establish some common ground and see where the conversation takes you! On the flip side, if you have ideas in mind for your next content marketing campaign, our bloggers will be more than happy to discuss them in more detail.

We’ll be providing free-flowing prosecco and some tasty nibbles for our lucky guests, and you’ll benefit from tonnes of social media exposure before, during and after the event.

The benefits for bloggers

The event is completely free of charge for bloggers. Simply turn up with an open mind and enjoy getting to know some of the most vibrant businesses in Essex. You’re likely to find some great ideas for future posts and will come away with some lovely freebies, too!


For more information on the SEBC or to express interest in September’s event, please contact [email protected].

And, of course, if you’re looking for content for your SEO or broader marketing campaign, remember we offer specialist B2B web copywriting services.


WordPress To Go HTTPS Only

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secure wordpressWordPress is planning to go HTTPS only this year. Matt Mullenwag, the founder of WordPress, announced in December 2016 that certain features of WordPress will soon require that WordPress is installed on a secure server. So, what does this mean for web developers, businesses and users?

If your business website is hosted on WordPress, there is no immediate cause for concern. In fact, you may already have an HTTPS website, in which case, this news does not affect you – and well done for adopting the latest standard early! It is highly likely that WordPress will release an HTTPS only version, but this will probably be a major release. The latest WordPress version is 4.8 “Evans”, and our guess is that WordPress 5.0 will be the HTTPS version. Everybody hosted on non-secure sites will receive upgrades up to this version, and security patches will no doubt still be issued for 4.X.X versions.

HTTPS Everywhere

We talked about HTTPS Everywhere on our FSE Online blog in February this year. This is an initiative, driven by Google, to encourage a totally secure Internet. Web security is becoming more important every week, with new reports of hacking, cyber attacks and data breaches becoming standard.

The Google Chrome browser started warning users of unsecured websites some time ago, and Google Search has suggested on multiple occasions that it will start to rank SSL secure sites higher to encourage businesses and web developers to build a stronger and more secure internet. Finally, “not using HTTPS” was listed as a common ecommerce fail. The writing has been on the wall for a long time already – it’s only a matter of time before we see a 100% secure WordPress.

Why WordPress?

WordPress is a double edged sword. It provides a very easy way for web developers to create modern business websites (it is largely responsible for so many small businesses getting online), but it is also prone to vulnerabilities.

WordPress itself is no worse than other CMSes in that matter, but due to its huge popularity (there are over 75 million websites built on WordPress today, which represents around 25% of all websites) hackers tend to target it.

As the software is released under an open source, creative commons licence, it is very easy for hackers to thoroughly investigate and analyse the latest versions. WordPress therefore has a duty to encourage its users and customers to adopt a safer, more secure way to host websites.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), with a Secure layer added to it – either SSL or TSL. HTTPS encrypts any data that is passed between the web server and clients, and the end users, i.e. the web browser. Without HTTPS, cybercrimonals can access private data over insecure connections. For example, if you use an open public WiFi connection to view a website, it is possible for a hacker to monitor the information that passes between your phone or laptop and the web server, if there is no protective secure layer in place.

The great thing about HTTPS is that you do not need to change your website as such, as it is the web hosting platform that is updated. There will be changes to website URLS, but with the help of a technical SEO consultant, it is relatively straightforward to redirect all old non-secure pages to the new https formats.

It’s also worth noting that users are getting more savvy with regards to website security, and many are demanding HTTPS – it is becoming normal to check that any ecommerce website is secure before heading the checkout, and this is helping to create a much safer Internet.

The Advantages of HTTPS

So, there are two main advantages of HTTPS. First, your website data is better protected – a serious data breach can ruin a company. Second, both users and Google like HTTPS, and this means that by adopting this standard you could gain higher rankings in Google and be more appealing to customers.

Don’t Get Complacent

HTTPS is a massive improvement over HTTP, however, do not assume that using HTTPS makes you or your business website immune to hacking. A lot of work still needs to be done to make client accounts more secure. Only recently, hundreds of UK politicians had their accounts blocked after a massive brute force attempt was made on MP’s computer accounts. Simple usernames and passwords are still just as big a threat to your privacy and security than secure web connections.

A few years ago changing to HTTPS was a huge and expensive challenge for web developers, but it’s reasonably straightforward today. If you need help setting up a secure WordPress website, speak to our technical SEO team and we’ll audit your site and advise you of your options. Don’t ignore web security.

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