Five SEO Mistakes Limiting Jackson Hole Businesses
By Pat Chadwick
There are a lot of benefits to living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – two national parks, the trout-rich Snake River and a top-ranked ski resort to name a few – but being at the forefront of the internet isn't one of them.
The ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft only recently became available in the Tetons, five years after becoming popular in U.S. cities. Similarly, there was a long lag time before Tinder's app cornered the Jackson Hole rutting – err, dating – scene. (That's an elk joke.)
And don't even get me started about our local internet provider.
For a Jackson Hole business though, there is no other online site or app more important than Google. Your customers may come to the Tetons to get lost in the natural beauty, but when they want to find something – anything – they likely turn to the most popular search engine in the world.
You want them to find your business first when they search on Google for the products or services that you offer.
Below are five reoccurring mistakes I've seen Jackson Hole businesses make with search engine optimization (SEO). By fixing these basic issues, your business can increase its rankings for relevant Google searches, attract more qualified site traffic and convert more paying customers.
1. Thinking SEO Is Too Technical
When I tell other Jackson Hole residents that I work in SEO, they often don't know what that is, and that's understandable. "Search engine optimization" sounds like a field that requires a computer science degree. Many marketing and SEO agencies deepen this misconception by using jargon (ex. "our proprietary algorithm," "our cutting-edge platform," etc.) that makes SEO seem more complicated than it is.
In reality, SEO is anything that helps your business appear higher in search results for keywords used by your potential customers. For example, the keyword "Jackson Hole architects" is searched on Google about 70 times per month, so local architecture firms obviously want to rank No. 1 for that keyword.
Businesses used to be able to rank on Google by simply "stuffing" their site with a top keyword, or by buying thousands of links to their site from low-quality websites. Today, Google is much better at identifying the sites that are most relevant for each user's search.
This is good news for Jackson Hole businesses that develop online content that answers customer questions and clearly describes their products and services.
While technical factors like site loading speed, URL structure and mobile friendliness do matter in search rankings, many of Google's more than 200 ranking factors come down to good marketing and the amount of time you're willing to invest. Some of the most impactful SEO tactics are the simplest ones, and there are great SEO guides out there: I recommend starting with Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO.
2. Neglecting Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Your eyes may have glossed over while reading "title tags" and "meta descriptions," but these are basic parts of a web page's meta data that can completely transform your site's organic (free) traffic.
Whether you use pre-built site templates on Squarespace or Wix, or a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla!, it's usually pretty easy to edit the titles tags and meta descriptions on your site. (They may be called something slightly different in your site builder or CMS. Google it.)
The Title Tag
The title tag, also known as the meta title, is arguably the most important SEO factor on each of your web pages. Ideally set between 50 and 60 characters in length, the title tag typically shows as the first line of your search result for relevant keywords on Google. It also usually appears at the top of the site visitor's browser tab when they are on your web page.
The title tag is an opportunity to tell Google and other search engines what your page contains. If a massage therapist in Jackson, Wyoming – let's call them "Serenity Wellness" – has a default title tag of "Home | Serenity Wellness" on their home page, they are missing an opportunity to send a more specific signal to Google.
By instead writing a title tag like "Massage Therapy in Jackson Hole | Serenity Wellness," this massage therapist will be much more likely to rank for the roughly 90 people who search for "Jackson Hole massage therapy" each month.
For another example, let's look at the search results for the 320 or so people who search for "Jackson Hole art galleries" on a monthly basis.
The top three art galleries in the search results have both "art gallery" and "Jackson Hole" in their title tags:
On the other hand, three of the art galleries found on the second page of Google results – where traffic drops off dramatically – do not.
The Meta Description
If the title tag tells Google what your page is about, then the meta description tells your customers why they should click through to your site. Between 155 and 160 characters long before it is cut off by Google, the meta description generally appears below the title tag and page URL in search results.
The meta description should be a concise summary of your page that makes your potential customers want to learn more. While keyword use in the meta description is less important than within the title tag, Google will often bold the words that customers searched for within your meta description. This can encourage click-through to your site.
Here's an example of an optimized meta description for the keyword "Jackson Hole catering" (Searched about 30 times per month):
A common issue for Jackson Hole businesses is that certain web pages have no meta description at all. In these cases, Google will pull text that it deems relevant from the body of the page, and many times, this text is disjointed.
A not-so-optimized (nonexistent) meta description for the keyword "Jackson Hole catering":
As you get more advanced with SEO, there are other on-page factors to consider, including H1 and H2 tags, alt tags, internal linking, and the text in the body of each page. However, if you focus on creating content with the customer in mind, it's likely that you will naturally target some keywords in these areas.
There are a lot of beautiful visuals associated with Jackson Hole, whether it's the mountains, the rivers, the wildlife, the art, the real estate, or the food, but Google cannot yet analyze these visuals for use in its search results. You need to accompany striking website design with text that vividly describes your products and services.
Don't overlook these basic nuts and bolts of SEO by focusing exclusively on killer visuals.
3. Not Completing Google My Business and Other Local Listings
Jackson Hole's economy is largely service based, so customers are often searching for local businesses with a physical location. For these types of searches, Google has created a Local 3-Pack that appears above its typical organic search results.
To appear in a Local 3-Pack, as well as in Google Maps, a business must submit their free listing on Google My Business as a first step. A surprising number of Jackson Hole businesses haven't done this, and many others have incomplete listings.
Here's an example of a Local 3-Pack for the roughly 320 monthly searches for "white water rafting Jackson Hole." (Whitewater is one word, but more people Google it as two words.)
Once your business is verified on Google My Business, you should create a mechanism for garnering positive reviews from customers. This could be a follow-up email with a link to your Google review page or an in-store kiosk where customers can write an online review after experiencing your products or services.
Google also wants to see your business on other popular listing sites – with a consistent name, address and phone number (NAP) – to verify that you're an active and legitimate local business. In addition to the social media sites that your business uses, I typically recommend submitting free profiles to the following listing sites.
4. Missing Out on Easy Links Back to Your Site
The number of links pointing to each website was once the majority of Google's search algorithm. The search engine is now much more sophisticated at identifying the quality and intent of those links, but link building is still a big factor in your search rankings.
While Google's algorithm is private, SEO professionals estimate that these link signals currently account for 29 percent of the algorithm for organic results in local searches, and 17 percent for Local 3-Pack results.
This means you should always consider opportunities for backlinks in your day-to-day marketing efforts. Are you a board member at a local nonprofit that would link back to your company's website? Are you an interior designer who frequently works with a local builder that would link to you as a partner?
If you're a member of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, is your business listed and properly linked to in its local business directory? You could also provide an online testimonial for another local business that you support, with a link back to your website in the testimonial.
The same thinking applies to any positive publicity your business receives. If Homestead Magazine profiled your Jackson Hole real estate brokerage, did you kindly ask that they link to your site from your company name in the article? That Buckrail post on your new ski-tuning service is cool, but if there is no backlink within it, Google may not assign much value back to your business.
5. Not Answering the Questions Your Customers Are Asking Online
Before they even realize they need the product or service you're offering, your potential customers are performing research online. Similarly, after their initial search for your product or service, your customers are looking for more in-depth information to help them make their purchasing decision.
Does your website satisfy these online searches at the top and bottom of your typical customer's purchasing funnel?
Suppose you're a Jackson Hole lawyer who helps clients navigate the asset protection in a Wyoming dynasty trust. Before potential clients decide that they need a lawyer for this, they likely search for more information about the tax benefits of a Wyoming dynasty trust.
Roughly 50 people search "Wyoming dynasty trust" each month, and given that the settlors of these trusts tend to be wealthy, it's fair to assume that many are searching from Teton County, the second-richest county in the U.S.
To rank for these searches, you would need to create a page dedicated completely to Wyoming dynasty trusts, explaining what they are, their tax benefits and how a lawyer can help. A look at the actual Google search results for "Wyoming dynasty trust" indicates that only two Jackson Hole law firms have put some effort toward this.
The first of these pages is missing a meta description, and the second one is lacking other basic SEO signals. There's an opportunity for another Jackson Hole law firm to create superior content that will rank No. 1, bringing highly targeted customers to their website naturally and consistently.
Creating specific or niche content like this is a great way for Jackson Hole businesses to attract organic search traffic in industries that are otherwise very competitive. While a new real estate agent won't be able to instantly rank No. 1 for "Jackson Hole real estate" (about 2,400 searches a month), they could jump to the top of search results for "luxury log homes in Wyoming" (about 70 searches a month) by creating an optimized page dedicated to that topic.
The mistakes and related fixes above only cover the basics of SEO. There's much more that Jackson Hole businesses can do if they have the time or budget. But, in a market where SEO is often a low priority, a local business can see big results by tackling these small issues.
Have a question about SEO? Ask it in the comments section and I'll respond.
Don't have the time to do this SEO work for your site? Contact me through this form, and let's discuss how I can help.