What Matt Cutts Says about Local Search

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The Most Interesting Head of Google Webspam TeamI tip my hat to Matt Cutts.  The man has a tough job.  He has to explain to SEOs, webmasters, and business owners why their websites suck and shouldn’t rank well in Google.

Cutts is good at his job, and I get the sense he loves it.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes even he feels like Al Bundy at the shoe store.

Organic SEOs follow him more closely than the tabloids follow J. Lo.  Some of them pose stupid questions and try to get Matt to reveal more about Google’s “secret sauce” than he can (or should) reveal.

Matt Cutts doesn’t talk much about local search.  Nor do we local-search obsessives pester him to do so.

But Phil, if Cutts doesn’t talk about local search, why are you even bringing him up? Especially when the people in charge of Google Plus, umm…Google Places, uh…that Google local thing usually tell us what they recommend business owners do?

Well, Gentle Reader, I bring up Cutts because occasionally he does say something relevant to Google’s local search results – and to the question of how to rank well there.

Although the people “in charge” of Google+Local surely have their hearts in the right place, they pretty much just regurgitate Google’s “Quality Guidelines.”  Usually all we come away with is a tessellated picture of Google’s rules, and not much else.

True, Cutts also rehashes Google’s rules a lot, but sometimes he also yields more real-world, usable insights.  Those are what I’ve tried to round up in this post.

We local SEOs have many best-practices that we preach.  If you know these best-practices and follow them, great.  But if you don’t, at least see what Matt Cutts says.

 

People’s Exhibit “A”:

Takeaway:

  • You can’t just “target” any city you’d like.  Location matters.  Even if a city is in your “service area,” you can’t necessarily get visible in the local search results there if you’re not located there.  That can be a tough pill to swallow, but for better or worse, that’s how it is.

 

People’s Exhibit “B”:

Takeaways:

  • (5:55) “Make sure you have your business name and your address on your webpage.”  This matches what some of us wrote in 2012’s Local Search Ranking Factors – about how your business name / address / phone needs to be on every page of your site.
  • (9:00) Flash or Javascript navigation links/buttons can hurt the crawlability of your site.  (This isn’t a problem specific to local SEO, but given the importance of on-page factors to your local visibility, it’s certainly a problem that can hurt your rankings.)

 

People’s Exhibit “C”:

SEO Advice: Make a web page for each store location

Takeaway:

  • Each location/branch of your business should have its own webpage.  “If you have a lot of store or franchise locations, consider it a best practice to 1) make a web page for each store that lists the store’s address, phone number, business hours, etc. and 2) make an HTML sitemap to point to those pages with regular HTML links, not a search form or POST requests.”

(Minor point:  Marking up your name/address/phone with microformats and the like isn’t a bad idea; see the comment from well-known local SEO-er Martijn Beijk as well as Cutts’ response.)

 

People’s Exhibit “D”:

Matt Cutts and Eric Talk about What Makes a Quality Site

Takeaway:

  • (About 3/4 through interview)  Cookie-cutter pages are bad.  That is, if you have pages on your site that “target” a particular city, those pages shouldn’t be near-duplicates of each other with just the city names swapped out.  (Yes, yes, I know that sometimes pages like these can rank pretty well, but if you have them there’s a good chance you’ll get whacked by Google sooner or later.  But hey, it’s your website, your business, and your choice.)

 

Finished going through my CliffsNotes?  I suggest you also read the above posts and watch the videos in full, just for that extra bit of context.

If Cutts’ suggestions were news to you, great: you should now have a better sense of what Google is “looking for” when deciding where to stack you up in the local rankings.  If they weren’t news to you, then they should reassure you that your approach to local SEO is solid and not likely to get you whacked in any way by Google.

Have you run across any posts or videos featuring the Word of Cutts that I missed?  Leave a comment (and a link)!

P.S.  Wouldn’t it be cool if MC stopped by and commented on some of this?  :)

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Comments

  1. I love the picture. Keep listening my friends.
    My comments
    Takeaway 1: What about local services, such as a yoga instructor who offers classes at home but does not want to disclose address or phone and prefers a contact form. There are several such services.
    Takeaway 2: Unless a chain has unique content for a location, it is not a good user experience to have a separate page just for the address. The menu, hours etc will largely be identical. Typically they have a search page that lists results. Each result does not link to a separate page.
    This relates to your next takeaway.

    • Hi Kiran,

      I was trying to think of a “stay ___ my friends” line, but couldn’t think of one. Good call!

      Regarding those two takeaways:

      1. In some cases, it may be a trade-off. You really need the phone number on every page of your site, and ideally the name and address as well. If someone’s #1 priority is privacy, that may very affect rankings. I guess it would be up to the home-based yoga instructor to think of what balance might work. (BTW, I don’t know whether you saw my post on this from August.)

      2. Agreed. Cutts says any separate pages shouldn’t just be stamped-out copies of each other – so yeah, just changing the hours and contact info isn’t enough.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  2. Phil, what’s your take on hiding a home address versus using a P.O. Box as the business’ address in directories?

  3. Hey Phil Nice post. I Know of a website that has a 1000+ pages with different cities, same format the only thing that changes is the header which is city specific. That website has an affiliate hyper link in the footer to another website that ranks great on search. Do you think pointing all those city pages to another website can affect the rankings to the linking website in the footer? Seems like it gave it stable #1 rankings.

    • Hey Angel,

      Thanks for your compliments!

      I’d say both of those sites are on very thin ice. If all the recent Pandas and Penguins (and teary-eyed webmasters) are any indication, both sites risk being penalized by Google for being what it considers junk.

      The linked-to website may have good rankings now. Heck, maybe it’ll have good rankings for quite a while longer. But I doubt they’ll last. I’m not even sure how competitive are the search terms that it currently ranks #1 for. Just based on what little I know about the case you describe, I doubt the #1 rankings have much or anything to do with the 1000+ feeder pages. The site may rank well in spite of the pages, not because of them.

      I know the temptation is always NOT to rock the boat and to “keep a good thing going.” But if I were the owner of the business, the webmaster, the SEO, or anyone else involved, I’d ask myself “Is this really the best we can do?” and “Exactly what will we do if and when Google slaps us?”

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