SEO For Florists 2: Evaluating Your Search Engine Performance
Evaluating your search performance (where you appear in the results for a specific search) seems easy... just do a few Google searches for the terms you are interested in and look at the results. Unfortunately that is unlikely to tell the complete story for a couple of reasons...
What you search for probably isn’t what your customers search for.
Florists are usually interested in searches for their name and their local area.
Name search is interesting. If your shop is called “McGonigal’s Floral Creations” and your url is “mcgonigalsfloralcreations.com” then good placement in a search for “McGonigal’s Floral Creations” is basically yours to lose. You should expect to rank well for that, and don’t pay too much attention to an SEO consultant that claims it as a testament to their incredible skill.
The problem is that there probably aren’t too many people searching for that. It will happen, and you want to perform well when it does, but other less specific searches are likely to be more common.
What are those searches? It is hard to say. A lot of them are likely to involve location like “city name florist”. They are less likely to involve terms used primarily by florists and other people within the industry like “high style”. A huge part of this is thinking like a customer and trying to optimize for the terms they are likely to search. An SEO expert with experience and access to that information will be a huge help to you.
Once you start trying to evaluate the searches your customer are more likely to use you run into a new problem:
What you see may not be what your customers see.
The goal of the search engine is to provide relevant results. The words you type into the search box are just one part of the equation. Other things, like your location and past behavior, also play a huge part in the results that you see.
Location is interesting. The most extreme example would probably be something like a search for "Greenville florist" because there are 50 different places (cities, towns, boroughs and CDPs or Census Designated Places) in the US called Greenville. How does this affect search?
If someone in one of the many Greenvilles searches for “Greenville Florist” the search engine is likely to place local matches higher. If for example you have a flower shop in Greenville IL and search for “Greenville florist” you are likely to see more IL matches in the results - the search engine is using your location to return matches it thinks you will find more useful.
This is good. It means that a local customer searching for “Greenville florist” is more likely to see you in the results than a florist in (for example) Greenville New Mexico. It’s worth considering that a local customer is also very likely to be more specific in their search - perhaps looking for a specific neighbourhood or area within Greenville - but that is a different story and we can talk about it later.
But what about the customers from outside Greenville? Presumably you are also trying to get the business of the university student in Florida, or the husband travelling in Europe, that want to send flowers back to their loved ones in Greenville IL. The results they see when they are outside of Illinois are likely to be very different than what you see.
What about past behavior? To help provide relevant results search engines try and learn what you really want based on what results you click.
Let’s say you have a flower shop in Chicago called “Mary’s Flowers” and you type “Chicago florist”. The search engine presents you with a list of matches that includes Mary’s Flowers. If you click on Mary's Flowers you are effectively telling the search engine that when you search for “Chicago florist” what you really want is Mary’s Florist. In future searches Mary’s Flowers is likely to appear higher in the results. And, if you are like most business owners, you are likely to spend a lot of time clicking through to your own site and really skewing your results.
Why is that bad? Because your customers are very likely to be seeing different results that have not been skewed by repeated clicks. Your site is probably not performing as well at is appears when you search yourself.
How do you see what your customers see? You can’t, not exactly, as their results will be influenced by their specific locations and past behavior.
You can however see more neutral results that are not as biased by your own past actions. One option is to change your browser settings. Typically this involves purging your browser cache and going in to what is often called “private” mode. This means that your browser will send as little information to the search engine as possible. Not knowing where you are or what you have clicked on in the past you should see more neutral, less personalized, results.
Making these adjustments to your browser can have unintended consequences so you might want to try something like StartPage. StartPage describes their service like this:
Major search engines now "personalize" or "pre-screen" the search results they serve you, based on what they know about you from past searches and other services you use. With StartPage, you get clean, anonymous, non-filtered results every time, because nobody knows who you are.
There are also specific SEO tools used by professionals. These tend to be expensive and complicated.
The best solution is to hire an expert - a dedicated SEO professional that can help you first determine what terms your potential customers are actually searching for, and then evaluate your performance for those terms.