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Content and SEO Strategy for Service-Based Businesses




Andy Crestodina: Welcome everybody to another SEMRush Webinar. I'm Andy Crestodina. I'm here in Chicago. Every one of us is in a different part of the world. And I'm the co-founder of a digital agency called Orbit Media. We build websites. Our special guest, Kelsey, tell us a bit about yourself.

Kelsey Jones: Hey everyone. My name is Kelsey Jones and I am a digital marketing consultant. I live out of Kansas City and I have my own company called Six Stories. And I used to be the executive editor of Search Engine Journal for three years.

Andy Crestodina: Awesome to have you here.

Kelsey Jones: Thank you.

Andy Crestodina: And we have two other expert contributors, expert guests. Let's start with you, Nadya.

Nadya: Hey. I'm Nadya. I'm based in Toronto and I'm Head of Marketing at Venngage Infographics. We're in infographic and design software. So we help people visualize their ideas. And I'm excited to chat with you guys about content and SEO.

Andy Crestodina: And Ross is back. Ross, tell us a bit about your background.

Ross: Hello. My background is, I'm the managing director of Type A Media. We are a digital marketing agency based out of London Bridge. And despite the accent, I am actually Scottish. 

Andy Crestodina: You sound good. We're going to prioritize your questions so at any point, feel free to just drop a question into the comments and we'll make sure to get to everybody. 

And this is a great topic. This is about content and SEO strategy for service-based businesses. A lot of businesses. Service-based businesses have inherent challenges. We don't have product pictures to show.

Service businesses tend to be in information-rich categories with a lot of questions that people ask. These are trust-based transactions. These are often longer sales cycles. These are often multiple decision-makers. 

Search is really, really important for service-based businesses. So, Kelsey's going to walk us through some things. From content to local. 

Kelsey Jones: When we say service-based by the way, we mean something where your main product is a service. So for me, I'm a service-based business because I do digital marketing consulting, SEO, social media. 

It could also be a service when you have a plumbing company, or you are a recruiter. So best practices for those specific companies and businesses. Local SEO for these types of businesses. Call-to-actions. And then a little bit about content strategy, and I also wanted to talk about testimonials as well.

Content Best Practices for Service-Based Businesses

Of course, you want to follow all the general SEO and content best practices. Three that I thought of immediately that you want to make sure you have right out of the gate is no duplicate content. So, you don't want to have repeated content on your own pages of your site; don't just duplicate what your about page says and put it on your homepage. 

This goes for copying other people's content as well. So if you see a competitor or another company, even if they're in a different city, do not copy their content exactly and put it on your website.

If you want to see if your content is going to get flagged, you can use a service like Copyscape. It is paid, but I found that to be really useful. You can even see if anyone has ripped off your website as well. 

Another thing that's important is sitemap. That's just basically a list of all the pages on your site. If you don't know if you have one, usually most sitemaps are located at yourdomain/sitemap.xml. Because it's an XML file. If your site is on WordPress or another CMS, there are plugins that will build this automatically for you.

If your site isn't built on a CMS you can also look for a free sitemap generator online as well and build it on your own. But with that, it's not automatically going to add new pages. That's why always having a plug-in, it's automatically going to add new blog posts or new pages is likely a good idea.


Another thing is basic proper meta titles and descriptions. I am still amazed at the number of service-based companies that don't do this because it's so easy to do. So titles...that's the main title that you click on in search results. Those have to be under 70 characters and that includes spaces as well. 

And then for description, there is some debate about this because Google, I think a few years ago tested much much longer description, but I think if you're under 150 characters, you're usually fine. The thing is, with the character limits is it will get cut off in search results if you don't stick to the character limit. You can search for your own brand or competitor's brand and if you see ellipses and it cuts off the title or description, you know that it's too long.

Other things that are important to cover just as very basic best practices are making sure that your website is added to the Google Search Console, which used to be called Google Webmaster Tool. And then Google Analytics, if that's the analytics platform that you're providing. 

Also, Bing Webmaster Tools. I will explain why I think Bing is still really important a little bit later in the presentation. You should also preferably have your own domain. So instead of something like petesplumbing.weebly.com or .wordpress.com. Have your own domain. So just petesplumbing.com. 

This isn't necessarily going to guarantee you'll have better visibility in the search SERPs, but it just looks more professional, and it's going to just build a little bit more credibility for your business online.

Having Separate Web Pages for Different Services

Another thing that I recommend that surprisingly, a lot of my service-based clients don't do is they have separate service pages, instead of having all your services on one page. So what do I mean by that? 

I mean if your domain is petesplumbing.com/services, on that service page you have everything you offer even though you might offer more than just plumbing. You might offer, I don't know, frozen pipe repair, or adding new plumbing. 

Things like that you should ideally have on separate pages because they're going to be separate things that people are searching for online. You want to make sure that you have different siloed pages for each because it's going to help you with SEO and also be more useful to the users that are looking for that specific service too.

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. Such an important point. Kelsey, your point is awesome because Google doesn't rank websites. Google ranks web pages.

Kelsey Jones: Yep.

Andy Crestodina: If you want to rank for the service name, you need a page all about that service. So if you have one page about all your services, that page has no natural advantage in search because it's too general. 

You should have a page about each specific thing that you do. Key phrase, focused, for each specific service name that you offer. And that doesn't mean that they all have to be on the sitemap or in the navigation. 

What about off nav pages for the more specific, niche services? Do you ever recommend to a client that they make a page for the service that isn't necessarily featured prominently in the navigation?

Kelsey Jones: Yeah. I mean, I think if you are a very technical company or you are in manufacturing and you have 50 separate that could be considered separate services, in that case, it's a good idea. But if you have broad services, I think it is good to include it in the navigation.

Andy Crestodina: I agree. Excellent.

Ross: Just to jump in on that. If you do have a listed services page, so almost like a collection of all your services, so you can then click one and it shows the larger services page, there's things inside of schema.org, which you can actually bundle together groups of services. 

There's actually groups of service schema as well as individual service-based schema. Just make sure that if you do have a services page with ten services on it, that you're using the appropriate markup in the back end for the blocks of all of them together and then on the service page itself, making sure that you've got it all listed out there. 

Local SEO for Service Businesses

Kelsey Jones: Yeah. That's awesome. Okay, so going into local SEO. Now, I've had clients where they say, "Well I service companies nationwide or worldwide. Why do I even need to think about local SEO?"

Well, let's talk about it. So first off, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as their friends. The majority of people are going to look at online reviews just as much as they would ask a personal friend or colleague or family member for a recommendation. And this is for any type of business.


That's why local SEO among other reasons continues to be so important for service-based businesses because the profiles that they are going to use, Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp, Bing Maps and then industry portals like TripAdvisor, Angie's List. 

They are so important because they allow you to have reviews about your business which are going to show up in search results if you are looking on Google or Bing. And it's also going to show snippets from the reviews. It's also giving more visibility in the search results.

Andy Crestodina: I'm going to say just real quick because there's a question that this relates to. Neil asked the best way to solicit testimonials. If your service business has a followup feedback loop where you're asking customers did you do a good job; that moment, it's going to reveal the point at which you find those super fans and if you find out someone says “yes, wow you were great, you exceeded my expectations.” That's the moment when you ask for their review. 

Kelsey Jones: Yes. Exactly. And that's why I have a testimonials section in this presentation because it really is so important for service-based businesses to gather those reviews and then longer testimonials as well. 

A few other basics for local SEO. If you have different locations, make sure you have different listings. And also make sure that employees are not creating rogue listings. I saw this happen. 

I had a lawyer client. And different lawyer partners within the firm were creating their own Google listings, and that just created a lot of confusion because Google didn't know which one was the correct listing because they all had the same address and similar names as well.

You want to make sure that everyone that could be involved with your marketing is on the same page. You want to make sure that you have just one listing per location.

I've also seen clients that they have two listings, and so then they get reviews on both of those listings, and they can't combine them. So you might have 50 really good reviews on a listing that maybe you can't access anymore because a social media intern created it or something. Having a policy in place of who accesses these listings, who creates them is really, really important.

Another thing is if you're regional. So if you do only service companies or clients in one area, you want to make sure that that's included in your listing or profile information. I know that Google does this and I'm pretty sure Yelp does too. You can set it to, “I service customers in a 200-mile radius or a 50-mile radius or whatever it is”. Make sure that you have that set so then you're shown to people in that area. 

I wanted to touch on why Bing is so important and why Apple Maps is so important because Apple Maps is the default provider for iPhones whenever they're looking for a map or navigation service.

There is a separate page on Apple Maps that you go to submit your business. And I also think Bing is really important because Perna from Microsoft brought this to my attention at a conference. She was saying that Amazon actually uses Bing for Alexa based voice searches. 

If I am using my Echo and I say, "Hey, Alexa, what's a nearby nail salon?" It's going to use Bing to look up that information. So Bing is still very relevant, not only for normal searches but also for voice-based as well. 

And then finally we talked about this already, but adding schema to the pages for your information like your address, your hours of operation, phone numbers, e-mail address is really important. 

CTA Tips for Service-Based Businesses

Kelsey Jones: Moving on to call-to-actions, CTAs. You want to use a solutions-based approach in your call-to-actions, not service-based. And that's because people want to know how you're going to solve their problem, not what you offer. 

What I mean by this is that us in the industry might know that paid ads are going to be a really great way to increase somebody's revenue, but for someone who is a small business owner that doesn't really know anything about paid ads, for you to say we offer custom paid ad campaign management blah, blah, blah and spitting all these acronyms and keywords at them, they don't know what that is. 


You want to use call-to-actions that are really unique and are going to explain it in a way that's saying, "This is how we're getting you results”. 

A vague call-to-action which I know is something I used to do is just “call us today for a free marketing consultation”. Well, you want to be a lot more specific and show how you're going to produce those results. “Call us today to learn how our packages will increase your sales leads by 30 to 40% in 90 days”. 

Andy Crestodina: Yeah, but Kelsey even your bad one is pretty good. A lot of people have a call-to-action where they would say “contact us”. Contact us is not a call-to-action.

Look at your service pages people. Scroll to the bottom of all of your service pages and ask yourself if you give that visitor a path. If there is even a call-to-action...many service pages online, just dead end; they just stop. They're just a footer. 

A global improvement to a website is to add a footer CTA on the bottom of every page. To beat that, make it specific. To Kelsey's point, make it specific to that proposition, that value proposition on that page. 

Nadya: And just to add to call-to-actions like when in doubt, go back to the jobs to be done. What are your users? What are your audience, customers trying to achieve? 

If you can tie it back to that job that they're trying to get done and you can frame your call-to-action around that, you probably will get better at targeting the right audience and actually getting the right people to take that action, too.

Ross: Just a little one from me. If you want a great example of some CTAs in the digital world, there's a company called KlientBoost. Klient with a K. They are a PPC agency. Their CTAs are like really well put together. That's a nice one to go and have a look at later.

Kelsey Jones: Something I've seen with like plumbing services or services where somebody's only calling you if they have an emergency problem. You want to focus on that urgency because I'm not going to go and research plumbing companies until my basement's flooding. 

So, saying, "We can be there within one to two hours." That is answering my sense of urgency that I have. Sure, it's cool that you're available 24/7 but how fast can you actually get to me? 

Another quick thing that is probably a presentation in itself is A/B testing. I have seen tons of success with A/B testing your different call-to-actions. So that could be the wording, how you're structuring your offer. 

Content Strategies for Service Businesses     

Okay. Now we're going to talk a little bit at a very high level about content strategy. I think a lot of service-based businesses don't do a lot of content marketing because they think that it doesn't apply to them. 

Just think about what your customers are going to be interested in. That kind of goes back to having a solutions-based approach instead of, “here's what we offer”. So an HVAC company having a little e-book or a blog post about saving a percentage of money on your water bill or your utilities. 

Just have guides about how do you use this equipment. What are the new standards in our industry? Here, we're going to break it down and explain it to you.


How can you optimize your business processes with this equipment that we offer? So you want to make sure to position it as an actual resource and educational opportunity for your audience, not just again, explaining here's what we have like a catalog would do. Something useful.

Gathering Customer Testimonials

Kelsey Jones: Testimonials, which again, we kind of already touched on and maybe I should have put this by the local SEO section. But I think this is really important for service-based businesses because what you're offering is an experience to your users.

As a result of that, the testimonials that are good and useful are going to be about how you solved the customer's problem. How you made them feel. So how you treated them. How they could trust you. And then their results from working with your company. So, “we were able to increase conversions 20% after working with Kelsey” or whatever.


Testimonials allow potential customers to see themselves as a customer of yours. A few tips about gathering testimonials. Don't ever require or bribe customers to leave positive reviews.

Don't say, "We're only going to give you a discount if you leave a positive review." Because at the end of the day, you also want negative reviews for your business or even reviews that are lukewarm, because those are actually useful to you and it's actually useful to users as well.

I see a lot, and this is kind of going off of not service-based, but on Amazon, if you see a product that has a thousand five star reviews, I'm immediately suspicious and I go and I look at the dates they were posted. I see if it's all saying the same thing because then I'm going to think they're fake. So you do want that mixture of reviews. That is to your benefit.

Andy Crestodina: Kelsey, there's a question from Brian Patman about getting star reviews on service pages. Maybe you or Ross who's a schema pro, how can service-based companies get star reviews in SERP listings for their service pages?

Ross: I mean, that's really just schema markup. Even if you have schema on there sometimes it won't come through if your page rank is not high enough. Build some links so the domain and the page are trusted and put some schema on there. It's literally that simple. 

If you don't want to do it yourself, Kelsey I imagine you've got a lot of techniques with using plug-ins and third party providers and things like that?

Kelsey Jones: Proper schema and just working on optimizing your site and providing good quality and an easy to navigate site is enough to get into the review snippets on results.

Andy Crestodina: I had a client that did window replacement and they used a third party service called Birdeye and Birdeye aggregated reviews from all these other websites and we were able to put the Birdeye thing on their site in a way that showed reviews from other places. There are services I think that claim to help with this that you could look into. 

Kelsey Jones: Yeah. That's a good point. And that kind of goes to my third point on this slide, You can pull them using a service like that or I've seen some people and this isn't necessarily the best or prettiest way but take screenshots of reviews and put them on their site. Or in plain text, write an excerpt of the review and then link to the Yelp listing or whatever if you're worried about duplicate content. 

Another strategy is if you don't want to pull reviews from review sites, like Facebook or Yelp or whatever, you can also ask customers to leave reviews themselves and then that's going to be unique content for your website. 

You want to make it really easy. Just hit reply. Don't make them go to a separate form on your site, or call you personally or handwrite it and mail it in.

Four, if you have a really nuanced service. If you have something like interior design, or I have a client that they're professional organizers, you want to have something that's probably a little bit more detailed on your site. 

Those are usually longer-term projects that are a lot more in-depth. So think about maybe two or three sentences that your customers could give you that would really give your future customers some insight into your business.

So I also wanted to touch about, because I know people always ask this whenever I talk about testimonials or reviews. How do I even get people to leave reviews? 

Here are a few places that I've seen just with people in the industry or my own clients. Your e-mail signature; you could link to your Google listing or your Facebook page and say, this goes back to what we talked about in the call-to-action, "Please leave us a review." 

Also, thank you pages. So maybe if they confirm an appointment on your site, or they downloaded your course or your e-book, on the thank you page, ask them to leave a review, even though they just bought it, it does kind of plant the seed. 

And then in-person, over the phone, if you have that type of relationship with your clients, asking them in-person without being pushy, just kind of plants the seed like I said. 

And then finally, I see a lot of local businesses have signs in their windows and I think Yelp and Google will send you signs for free, so check us out on Yelp or leave a review on Google. And so just having those reminders just kind of passively, I think is a really good idea. 

So, that's all I have for my presentation. 

Service Pages and Website Navigation Menus

Andy Crestodina: We definitely have some questions. Chris Clark asked, "What about a menu page that directs to each service page.? No, you need a page for each service. A search-optimized page, keyword, focused page for each service. 

And Ross gave us a tip about the main page, the menu page, the page with all the services, yeah. That page isn't likely to rank for much, but sure. If it's part of good user experience and you want the visitor to flow through there. 

If you have a drop-down menu that has the menu page at the top, and then the services page in the drop-down, people are very unlikely to actually go to the top level page anyway. Look at your analytics. People might be skipping that page because drop-down navigation basically encourages people to skip the top level page.

Neil says, "Just to clarify, we shouldn't have to put all of our pages in the navigation?" No. You don't have to put all your pages in the main navigation. On our site, we do web design. We do it for different industries. We got a page about bank web design. That's not really in my main navigation, but I rank high for bank web design. Travel web design. That's not in my main navigation. Not everything has to be in your main nav.

Nadya: And a note on that too is you don't have to start with things in your main nav, but if they start ranking and you notice like through your analytics that more people are coming in through another page that maybe isn't in your nav and those are the people that are actually the highest engaged customers, then you can always make the decision to add it or switch it out with something else that isn't performing well. 

Ross: Can I put in a little tiny caveat into that? Make sure the page, although it's not in the nav, is not an orphan page on the site meaning that there are no links to it whatsoever. Use internal links from your blog posts and things like that to link it. Otherwise, it'll be very hard for it to be discovered. 

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. And then John says, "If they're off nav, how are they found?" Search. They rank. They're designed to rank.

Kelsey Jones: Well, and if you have specific pages like you were kind of talking about earlier, that aren't in the nav, they could be listed on a higher level page. 

Nadya: Yeah. And that comes to thinking also about what's the ideal user journey that you want to take people on right? The way that you structure your pages and the way that you structure the flow can take that into account. Like what is the user looking for now, versus what are they going to be looking for in a month?

Video Testimonials

Andy Crestodina: Mm-hmm. Stephanie asked a question about video testimonials. I think of it this way. You got a marketing message. “We're good at accounting or lawn care”. 

That message is a messenger which is either you saying we're good at it, or it's your audience saying you're good at it. Testimonials are just a way to upgrade the messenger. Then the format can also be upgraded from text to video. 

A testimonial video is like the upgraded format and the upgraded messenger and it's the most powerful format. I mean it's one of the most powerful pieces of content you'll ever create. But the text-based testimonial is magical in terms of search.

Key-phrase focused testimonials are both cheese and mousetrap. It can improve both search and conversion at the same time. There are only four tactics I know of in all of digital that both increase traffic and conversion at once. Everyone's service pages would be better, more search relevant and higher converting if they had three or four more keyword-focused testimonials.

Kelsey Jones: Yeah. That's a good point. And I've seen people too, they do video testimonials and then they include, depending on how long the video is, they include basically the transcription of the video below it, or at least an excerpt. Maybe a couple of sentences. So you could have both as well.

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. That's a great idea.

Neil's question is, "Is it ethical to place a customer's testimonial on a review site on their behalf?" I don't think so. I don't think you can do that. You shouldn't be posting things pretending to be your audience. That'd be more than what I would consider doing it.

My best advice on that if you search for how to write a testimonial, the page I wrote on this I think ranks first for that, and I have a template in there for asking for testimonials. Steal my template. E-mail all of your happiest clients and see what happens. Just search for how to write testimonials and you'll find that article we wrote on that topic. 

Another tip from that by the way, Kelsey you can tell me if this ... if you like this. When you post a testimonial, don't just use the text, but take the six juiciest words out of the testimonial and make it a subheader above the testimonial to increase the visual prominence on the most compelling part of that testimonial.

Nadya: And another thing on top of that, when you look at those things and you see what all these testimonials are saying, what are the common words that every single testimonial is saying, that becomes your job to be done and that can also tie into your call-to-action for the other pages that you're working on.

Andy Crestodina: Let the audience write your copy for you. We've got to hurry up if we're going to answer some of these questions. This is a Ross question, maybe. "If you don't have a plug-in or app to show reviews, is there an easy way to have schema markup display your reviews?'

Ross: No. You need to be in a dark room preferably a basement, learn how to code and then put it hard coded onto the site. No, I'm only kidding. Yeah. You want to use Google Tag Manager and then implement it via JSON-LD. 

That sounds like a bunch of words if you're not into development. If you go onto schema.org itself, a lot of the JSON-LD examples are actually there if you scroll to the very bottom.

So if you go to schema.org you can see hard examples coded into the bottom. That's the way to do it without doing plug-ins. If you're using plug-ins to add things like schema, you're going to really affect your site load times, so I would avoid plug-ins and just do it yourself through Google Tag Manager.

Andy Crestodina: That's how you know you're getting good advice is when it's: do the hard thing.

Ross: Right.

Andy Crestodina: Do more work. It tends to work out in the end. 

Key Takeaways on Content and SEO for Service-Based Businesses

Any other final thoughts, specific things. I'm a service-based business. What's your best advice for me? How would you summarize the most important content/search ideas for a service-based company hoping to generate leads in a specific geography?

Kelsey Jones: Don't copy what your competitors do even if they're ranking better than you. That doesn't mean that they're doing everything perfectly. If anything, you can look for what they're not doing or what you don't like about their site and do it on your site. 

In terms of local, you can get involved with the community. I had a client that they sponsored a bunch of nonprofit events and so then they got links and mentions on those websites. 

I've had other customers where we've shared community-based content on social media. People really appreciated that and that got a lot of engagement too because people see, oh here's a local business that's invested in the community. They care. And they know about what's happening and how that could affect me. So people like that.

Andy Crestodina: Great tip. Ross? Final thoughts? Final tips?

Ross: First let's do the obvious. NAP. Name, address, phone number. Make sure that is the same throughout the web because there's a really big trust problem when those things break. 

I'd also look into things like Wikidata. So if you put in the biggest competitor in your industry or maybe like a large business inside of your industry, it'll show up all of the identifiers which are databases that Google are using to understand you as an entity inside The Knowledge Graph. 

So if you're like a wedding business, there's this wedding directory thing but they don't want to be in it for some weird reason. Then when you look at Wikidata, Google are actually using that to define them as an entity in that location for that service type. 

So my one would be, go to wikidata.org, and start searching for a way to find out similar companies and look at the identifiers, the identifying databases. And make sure you're in them.

Andy Crestodina: Awesome. Build the foundation. You've got schema. You've got service pages. You've got good navigation. Your site makes sense to visitors. You're answering top questions. And then do interesting things online and offline.

We're at the top of the hour. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. This was a pleasure. Thanks again. Follow up with us anywhere. Nadya, Kelsey, and Ross and me, we're all online. Find us on LinkedIn or ask us anything anywhere and we'll do our best to get to any questions that we missed.

Ross: Awesome. Thanks so much, Andy.

Andy Crestodina: Thank you all for joining us.

Kelsey Jones: Thank you. Bye!

Nadya: Bye.

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