Local SEO “Substitutions”

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I’ve always liked the part of cookbooks with the “substitutions” chart.  It’s a life-saver for those of us who buy all the right ingredients at the market but gobble up half of them before we can cook anything.

One reason I like the substitutions chart is it reminds me that good cooking isn’t necessarily perfection.

Sure, you can’t substitute every ingredient in a recipe.

But if you’re a little short on time or ingredients and need to improvise, the finished product still will turn out great (usually).

The same is true of local search. Some people seem to think that local search “optimization” means “everything’s got to be perfect.”  It doesn’t.  There isn’t just one correct way to do the steps that will make your business visible to customers in the Google+Local search results and beyond.

Granted, for some steps in your local-search campaign there’s no such thing as “good enough.”  For instance, you must follow Google’s “Quality Guidelines,” or you risk having your business flicked off the local map entirely.

But for other steps “close counts.”  (No, it’s not just in horseshoes and hand-grenades, as the saying goes.)

If you’ve had a tough time of implementing some of the local SEO best-practices you’ve heard from me or from other people, check out my list of “substitutions,” below.

By definition, a substitution isn’t perfect.  These are no exceptions.  Think of them in terms of “if you can’t do this, do that.”

 

For your Google+Local listing

If you…
Can’t include all your main services as categories in your Google listing (you can list yourself under a maximum of 5 categories).

Then…
Have a separate page of your website devoted to each specific service you offer.  This page should tell potential customers all about that particular service. Then make sure you’re linking to these pages from your homepage (or whatever is the landing page you use for your Google+Local listing).

Explanation
Categories are the best way to tell Google, “Yoo-hoo, over here…OK, these are the services I want to rank for.”  But probably the next-best way to do this is to have distinct, focused pages that describe in detail each specific service you offer (e.g. one for heating, another for air-conditioning, etc.).  That makes it easy for Google to scour your site and determine exactly what kind of business you’re in and what you offer.

Have a page for each service you offer - esp. if you run out of categories

 

If you…
Can’t think of any eye-catching (but relevant) photos to upload to your Google+Local page

Then…
Upload screenshots or photos that aren’t necessarily eye candy but that are relevant to your services and informative in some way.  Things like handwritten testimonials, “fan mail,” your BBB accreditation, or documents that show you’re certified to do whatever it is you do.

Explanation
I haven’t found that photos affect local rankings.  But good photos will make people more likely to click through to your site or pick up the phone.  Which is what it’s all about. And which means it’s perfectly OK to upload photos that aren’t flashy but that tell potential customers something they might want to know about you or your services.

 

For your website

If you…
Don’t have a keyword-relevant domain name.

Then…
Create a page (or subdomain) on your site with a keyword-relevant page name, and use it as the landing page for your Google+Local listing.

Explanation
Let’s say your competitor’s website is AcmeChiropractic123.com.  He ranks well locally for search terms that contain “chiropractic.”  Your website is DrJohnDoe.com.  Consider building a page named “Doe-Chiropractic” that talks all about your chiropractic care.

Then use “http://www.DrJohnDoe.com/Doe-Chiropractic” as the landing page for your Google+Local listing (in other words, enter that URL into the “Website” field of your Googl+Local listing).  That should make you a little more likely to rank well locally for “chiropractic” and similar searches.

In lieu of a keyword-relevant domain, try a keyword-relevant name for your landing page

 

If you…
Can’t or don’t want to use hCard or Schema.org to mark up the name/address/phone (“NAP”) block of text that should be on every page of your site

Then…
Put the NAP on every page of your site without marking it up with hCard or Schema.

Explanation
I haven’t seen any evidence or noticed first-hand that marking up your name/address/phone number with search-engine-friendly code (AKA rich snippets) helps your rankings significantly.

Sure, we know Google pays attention to rich snippets.  If you or your webmaster can implement them, great (one easy way to do it is with this excellent Schema generator).  But it’s OK if you can’t or don’t want to use the markup for some reason.  Just make sure the name, address, and phone number of your business is on every page of your site.

 

For citations

If you…
Can’t claim your business listing on a given third-party site (Yelp, CitySearch, etc.).

Then…
Make sure that the listing at least has the correct info on your business – regardless of whether you’ve claimed that listing – and make sure you get any listings with the wrong info removed.

Explanation
In my experience, the consistency of your basic business info (name, address, and phone) as it appears all across the web is the biggest factor in how well you’ll rank locally.  Getting this consistency needs to be at the top of your priority list – and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.

If for any reason you can’t claim a given listing for your business, that’s OK: I haven’t found that Google will give you any brownie points for having done so.  But if the listing has incorrect info, you’re in trouble.  The good news is there’s almost always an area on these business-directory sites where you can suggest corrections.

 

If you…
Aren’t using the Local Citation Finder but want to get all the citations your competitors have.

Then…
Use this neat citation-discovery technique or my Definitive Citations List, or some combination of the two.

Explanation
Citations matter.  A lot.  ‘Nuff said.

 

For reviews

If you…
Have trouble getting Google or Yelp reviews.

Then…
Get some CitySearch or InsiderPages reviews (or other sites).

Explanation
Google reviews are central to your local-vis efforts, but there have been serious problems with them recently.  The filters are WAY too strict.  Legitimate reviews from real customers in many cases won’t “stick” on your Google+Local page.  Similar story with Yelp, although their review “filters” have always been pretty draconian.

But even if you have loads of Google and Yelp reviews, you’d still be smart to get customers to review you on CitySearch and InsiderPages.  (For a little more detail on this, see my “Local Business Reviews Ecosystem”.)

 

If you…
Can’t get reviews because it’s nearly impossible to do so in your particular industry – to the point that even your competitors don’t have reviews.

Then…
Put a Google +1 button on your site and ask customers to “+1” you, or ask them to email you (or even handwrite) a testimonial that you could feature on your site.  Preferably ask them to do both.

Explanation
Reviews help your rankings.  Most likely so will having “+1’s” – at least in the near future.  Reviews are great “social proof” that show potential customers why your services are worth their attention and possibly some of their hard-earned money.  Testimonials can do that, too.

In case you want something to slap on your fridge, here’s a little chart that sums up all of the above:

Your handy-dandy local SEO "substitutions chart"

Any other local SEO “substitutions” you can think of – or have actually used?  Leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. Another great post Phil. Just posted about it over at the Local Search Forum and said:

    “Not sure if I’ve told you guys how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE Phil’s blog post ideas and writing style, but I do! He hits it out of the park again today with another thought provoking post.”

    Tweeted it, Scooped.it and Plussed it. Thanks for sharing the great ideas.
    (Also added onto one of your ideas.)

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks for the compliments and shares, Linda! You’re way too generous :)

      I like your suggestion about how to get even more mileage out of the page names.

      (To anyone reading who hasn’t seen Linda’s suggestion regarding one of my “substitutions,” you can find it here. I also highly recommend you register at Linda’s Local Search Community forum while you’re at it, if you haven’t already.)

  2. Hey Phil,
    As you are aware, I am experimenting with Schema markup at the moment on various levels, including
    location data. I will drop you a line if I notice any significant effects upon rank positioning.

    I would also like to echo Linda’s “great post” accolade :-)

    • Hey Dino,

      Good call regarding Schema. It’s really a hard thing to test head-to-head (a client who doesn’t use Schema vs. one who does), so I’d be really interested in hearing what you find.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the accolade!

  3. Great stuff Phil. I wonder if you have any suggestions on how to get more +1s on local sites. I find that very few average local users actually use Google+ at this point, and I agree that it is likely going to become more and more important.

    • Hey Casey,

      I probably don’t have any insights into how to get +1s that didn’t occur to you already. Obviously the first thing is to add the button to your site. After that, I’d just find a way to ask customers whether they have a Google Plus account – yes or no. Most won’t. But if you know for a fact that a customer does, I’d just tell that person to go to your site and click the +1 button. Pretty much all there is to it.

      Of course, right now this is a distant second to getting reviews. But, as you said, it should become more important over time.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  4. Hi Phil,
    I’m agree with Linda – you write the best blog posts! They are informative and entertaining at the same time. Thanks for another great one!!

    I love the substitution for “Don’t have a keyword-relevant domain name” and plan to do this on the eSue site. You also have the best free resources on your website.

    Also, what Casey asks about getting more +1’s on local sites and do you suggest putting them on every page of your website? This would make for a good post.

    Keep ‘em coming!
    Susan

    • Hi Susan,

      Thanks for your super-nice compliments! I always look forward to your posts, too.

      This was a fun one to write, although I spent half my time looking for just the right picture from that episode of I Love Lucy!

      Putting +1 buttons on every page of the site certainly wouldn’t hurt. Most +1s will probably be for the homepage and for any blog post, though. I’d only suggest adding the button insofar as it’s easy to do so and looks natural; it’s not like most subpages will get a ton of 1+s.

      I’m no expert on +1s, though. They’re something I’d probably rather read about than write about!

  5. Phil:

    As a standard practice, I always include images of the BBB badge or any other relevant “social proof” badges. As you mentioned, there is little proof that photos play a significant role in rankings so I try to include images that will appeal (i.e. convert) to the user.

    I haven’t done this yet for clients, but you could also create images for important articles or posts on your website (think Pinterest).

    Travis Van Slooten

    • Hey Travis,

      Good call. I don’t recall whether I mentioned the BBB badge in any of my posts, but I do exactly what you’re describing with my clients. Plus, in some cases we’ll even add the BBB badge to the site and have it open up the accreditation page in a new tab when clicked on. Just to get a relevant outbound link in there, and (more importantly) to provide a nice cred element for any potential customer who’s curious.

  6. Rock on, Phil. You can take the keyword-relevant page to a whole other level by really pushing the on-page SEO. Your target keyword(s) can be in your:
    Page name, page title, (heading tag), on-page content (of course), on-page image name (target-keyword.jpg), and then one or two links on related pages on your site back to the page you are optimizing, using your target keyword as anchor text.

    • Hey Asa,

      Rock on – right back at ya! I definitely agree about how it’s crucial to pay attention to the overall on-page elements. As long as it’s not overdone – as long as the page looks right and reads smoothly to a human – then you’re in great shape.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  7. Nice work Phil. Love your work :-)

  8. avatar Bryan Bledsoe says:

    Great post Phil. Raven Tools announced a free schema creator plugin in for WordPress last month that some might find useful. You can read about it here http://raventools.com/blog/schema-wordpress-plugin/

    • Hey Bryan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the link. I did see that. Looks like a great plugin, indeed. Makes it that much easier to do Schema markup properly – and to avoid having to use a substitution :)

  9. Fantastic post Phil! – And, I will indeed stick the substitution chart on the fridge – I’m sure my girlfriend will understand :).

    I have one question about the “Exact Match Domain” substitution – Do you think this is always “100% essential” to create a new landing page (keyword included URL) if you don’t have an exact match domain name? Is it a big advantage?

    • Hey, who wouldn’t like a bunch of local SEO stuff plastered all over the kitchen? Turns a house into a home :)

      No, the separate landing page is by no means essential. It sure as heck doesn’t have to be an exact-match name. What I was driving at was simply that insofar as a search-term-relevant domain name is an advantage some of your competitors have, you can even the playing field a bit by having a search-term-relevant name for your landing page. Neither of the above is a big advantage, though.

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