Small Business SEO Basics: Rank for Your Own Name!

March 29th, 2011 by Search Influence Alumni

Have you ever searched for a business by its own name and come up empty-handed? What about searching for its own name PLUS the city it’s located in and still no luck? It happens! Google definitely makes stupid choices at times, but most of the time this happens when we are not telling it the most basic information about ourselves — as redundant as it might seem.

Alligator dogs from Dat Dog's Yelp page.

As a stereotypical New Orleanian, I’m obsessed with great food. I have always noticed and been upset when a business doesn’t rank #1 for its own name, or even in the top 3. Recently I saw the phenomenon three times on the same weekend, so I had to blog about it.

I was hungry for something inexpensive, but really good and meaty, which means I had approximately 1,298,450 locations to choose from in this city. Many of these will never have websites. Somehow it came down to Courtyard Grill, Cowbell and Dat Dog (I have been to only one of these restaurants but can tell from the reviews that I’m going to love the other two). Since I only trust hours of operation posted on official websites, I searched for the restaurant names with city names behind them. These were the results (from 3/28/11):

Search Term Rank/Page
dat dog new orleans 15- About
courtyard grill new orleans 05 – About
cowbell new orleans 02 – Home

Aesthetically, most would agree that these sites are beautiful, but since Google is a robot, it does not share this opinion. Of course I don’t expect a year-old restaurant to rank #1 for the term Courtyard Grill, but including the city name should be enough to make that happen. Same goes for the other two. Why are these restaurants not ranking first for their name?

Who dat? Ain't Dat Dog.

Yes, they all are getting outranked by Yelp and Urban Spoon pages with a bunch of reviews, but the big problem here is a lack of on-site optimization. Breaking the most fundamental rule of on-site SEO, Dat Dog and Courtyard Grill both fail to include any content on the home page. Furthermore, they all lack meta-descriptions and only one has a decent title tag. Cowbell performs the best in the results because “cowbell” and “new orleans” are mentioned next to each other twice in the text of the home page; not to mention the address is in text at the top of the page.

Unless you have a unique name, or a URL that perfectly matches your business name — (Bouligny Tavern has both, as you can see here) — you will need on-site optimization to save you from these problems. On-site optimization is so important that even Google, which is secretive about their search formula, has written a guide to this which can be found here. I highly recommend it to web designers and webmasters because it expresses the minimum that you should do to be favored in search results.

Who cares if my site isn’t first? I have 4 stars on Yelp!

You should be concerned about making sure that when people are looking for YOU that they can find YOU, and not another site that is talking about you. Otherwise, why would you have a website in the first place? You want to be in control of your own destiny, and it helps to lead the conversation. Let’s say you have 4/5 stars overall on Yelp, but the most recent rating was a 1; do you want a potential customer to have this information branded in their head so early in the relationship? Even if a customer has a good experience, reading bad reviews can lead to Yelp-fulfilling prophecies. Yelp is a great site, and if you want people to see your Yelp page, link to it with a banner, just like Lock Busters did.

I know I’m not first for my name and city, but x means the same thing as my city.

Even though I am talking specifically about NOLA, it’s a lesson we can all learn: think about the words people are saying when they search for your business, and optimize based on those words. Locals often call New Orleans Louisiana “NOLA” (and it happens to be a component of the URLs for the 3 sites we are comparing), but chances are that when someone is looking for you they are not using this word. The screenshot below is from Google Insights. Not only are people searching for New Orleans a lot more than NOLA, but as you can see at the bottom of the image, people are searching for “nola jobs” and “nola news,” which undoubtedly refers to our friends at, and the term “nola restaurant” probably refers to the Emeril’s establishment called NOLA Restaurant.

Nola What? Nola Who?

On-page optimization does not guarantee you will rank for your name, but you don’t have much of a shot at ranking for anything without content and metadata on your home page. There are other ways, like being linked to via anchor text from an awesome blog, which we are glad to do for 3 great local businesses, but small business owners should go for the low-hanging fruit first.