23 Things That Won’t Hurt Your Local Search Rankings

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Ranking well in local search is a matter of doing 3 things at once:

1. Working on the factors that help you;

2.  Avoiding getting hurt by the factors that can hurt you, and

3.  Not wasting time and effort on the stuff that doesn’t count.

I talk about the first point all the time.  It gets a lot of attention in general.

The second one involves following the rules and not making blunders.

The third doesn’t get much airtime, even though people constantly ask me, “Phil, will I be shooting myself in the foot if I do such-and-such?”

That’s why I’m going to talk about the harmless stuff – the factors that, in my experience, don’t affect how your business ranks in local search (particularly in the Google+Local results).

Here are 23 items that won’t hurt your local rankings:

Google+Local listing

 1.  Using your home address, if you run your business out of your home rather than in a bricks-and-mortar building.

 2.  “Hiding” your address from appearing publicly on your Google+Local listing.

 3.  Having the same street address as other businesses.  This might be the case if you’re in a strip mall.

 4.  Not being located in or near the center of town (AKA the “centroid”).

5.  Seeing discrepancies between the way your address is formatted when you’re on your Google listing and when you’re looking at it through the Google Places “dashboard” or Google Plus page-builder.  For instance, sometimes you’ll enter your address as “Ave.” but it shows up as “Avenue.”  That’s OK.

 6.  Using a cellphone number as the “primary” phone number for your listing.

 7.  Specifying a secondary phone number (in the “alternate phone number” field).

8.  Specifying a “contact” email address that isn’t associated with your website.  It can be a Gmail address, a Yahoo address…whatever.

9.  Having near-duplicate Google listings for individual people.  (You probably don’t even have to worry about this situation in the first place unless you run a law practice, medical practice, real-estate agency, or insurance agency.)

10.  Having some parts of your listing that aren’t 100% Google-compliant but that get “grandfathered” in because they’re not grievous offenses.  For instance, if for the past 2 years your listing has had your suite number in the 1st address field (rather than in the 2nd) you probably don’t need to change it.

11.  Using the same page on your website as the landing page for multiple Google listings, if you have multiple locations.  Ideally you have a landing page specific to each location, but in my experience it’s totally fine to use the homepage as the landing page for multiple Google listings / locations.

12.  Not “merging” your Google Places and Google Plus for Business pages.

Website

13.  Using CSS to format a rich snippet that contains your business name, address, and phone number (“NAP”).

14.  Running your website off an un-fancy platform (like GoDaddy’s “Website Tonight”).  I love WordPress, but you can optimize your site just fine on a more-primitive CMS.

15.  Using non-crawlable phone numbers on your website – like in the form of images.  Doesn’t matter if they’re call-tracking or toll-free numbers; Google can only read text.

16. Having domains that forward to the landing page that you use for your Google listing.

Third-party listings (AKA citations)

17. Not claiming your business listings on third-party sites like SuperPages, YP, Manta, etc.  The only reason you’d need to claim them is if they’ve got incorrect info on your business.  Beyond that, you might want to claim your listings in order to add as many photos, descriptions, etc. as possible.  So it’s worth taking a couple minutes to claim them, but your rankings won’t suffer if you don’t.

18.  Seeing minor formatting discrepancies between your listings on various sites.  Various citation sources have their little rules about formatting: MapQuest might use “123 Main St” for your listing, whereas SuperPages might use “123 Main Street.”  One site might want parentheses around your area code, whereas another might not.  There’s nothing you can do about these little variations, but they don’t hurt your Google rankings.

19. Concealing your street address on your listings.

20. Building citations quickly.  It’s not like with links, where Google might penalize you if you get too many links in too short a period of time.

21. Using the same “additional info” from listing to listing.  For instance, it’s OK to use the same 300-character description on every site that allows you to include a description of your business.

Reviews

22. Having negative reviews.  I’m sure if you’ve got hundreds of one-star reviews on a variety of sites (not just Google), your wings might be clipped in terms of how well you can rank locally.  But short of that, a few negative reviews won’t hurt you (at least from a rankings perspective; customer-acquisition is another matter entirely).

23. Losing reviews to the “anti-spam” filters used by Google and Yelp.

Can you think of anything else that simply doesn’t affect your local rankings?  Any first-hand experience with the above?  Leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. Phil–what about “performing well in organic search.” ?
    There’s been some chatter, and we see some anecdotal evidence, that there is a tradeoff between a local and an organic listing. In other words: ranking well for local drives down one’s organic ranking. Am I off base?

  2. Awesome Phil – this is so helpful. I’ve always wondered about #3; glad to hear it’s a non-issue.

  3. I’m surprised location away from centroid isn’t hurting you any more? How long would you say that it hasn’t been affecting rankings?

  4. Love it, Phil!

    Tons of helpful tips in this.

    One question: what about a business that has specific departments in one location? E.g. An eye care center that has optical, cosmetic, lasik, etc. Like you mentioned.

    Before I have advised the client to DBA with a suite number (as they already had a dedicated phone line) with the title of the department “biz name + cosmetic center”.

    Is this beneficial, is there a better way to do that, OR is it something that can be ignored?

    • Thanks for the excellent comments, gents!

      @Peter
      Great question. There’s a lot of overlap between organic, “localized organic,” and Google+Local rankings. Long story short, there’s a good chance you’ll rank well in Google+Local if you rank well organically.

      @Eric
      Thanks a bunch!

      @Jason
      Yeah, Google just doesn’t play up “distance from centroid” the way it used to. In certain circumstances it may still be a factor, like if someone who’s sitting / standing downtown types in “restaurant,” or something else that (1) returns a ton of results and that (2) doesn’t include a city name in the query and that is IP-based. So, for certain almost pedestrian-oriented businesses and search terms, it probably still matters. But aside from that, the main thing that Google seems to look at is simply whether you’re located in or within a couple miles of the city you’re trying to get visible in.

      @Mike
      That’s a gray area, but I think you’re OK, based on what you describe. There’s a post from Mike Blumenthal from February that covers this. I would think that the variable here is whether the eye-care center actually has separate physical areas – like different waiting rooms – for its different “departments.” By contrast, I would think that if it’s one big happy family, where everyone goes in through the same door, goes to the same front desk, waits in the same area, sees one of the same handful of doctors, and calls the same number (even though technically there are others), then that may not be kosher. I’m not sure what Google’s hard rules are on this one – or whether there even are any – but it seems to be a “know it when I see it” deal.

  5. Thanks for this Phil – another terrific post.
    I have questions/comments on more than a few but I’ll pare it down.
    #2 – It now appears google local is going to be more map specific so I’m more than a little concerned. I’ll be doing testing to find out for myself
    #6 Mike Blumenthal recently commented and you were involved in the conversation about the process Localeze uses to verify #’s and specifically mentioned that cell #’s are a drawback – for Localeze anyway
    #11 By the time I got around to building dedicated landing pages with matching NAP the clients were already in the A spot so that probably proves you are right. I’m thinking of the day the competition finally catches up.
    #21 Google doesn’t like duplicate content so they won’t show listings with identical content on page 1. Please let me know if you have evidence to the contrary because my goal is Early and Often so I do use unique descriptions and have many clients who cover page 1 at 90% – 80% – etc

    Love your stuff Phil keep it comin

    • Hey Chris – great points, and thanks for weighing in.

      Some thoughts:

      #2: How come you’re concerned about hiding the address? If anything, Google’s going to be more strict about making sure that service-area businesses hide their addresses. I’m just saying that of the dozens of service-area-business clients I’ve had since that rule came out, not one has taken a hit for hiding his/her address.

      #6: Sure, using a cell number may mean that either (1) you have to wait for your listing (and number) to find its way into LocalEze’s system, or that (2) you’ll have to pony up if you want your LocalEze listing verified sooner than that. But Google won’t penalize you for using a cell number, regardless of how well-circulated it is in the “ecosystem.”

      #11: Yeah, separate landing pages are nice to have, but by no means essential.

      #21: Google doesn’t like duplicate content – on websites. If you search for a company by name, you’re going to see a bunch of the IYPs it’s listed on – and some of the content on those listings will be the same as what’s on other listings. Not all the info will be the same: all the IYPs are different, in that they allow and don’t allow you to add different bits of info. Are you saying that you currently are able to type a non-branded search term into Google (e.g. “divorce lawyer,” “remodeling,” etc.) and have your clients not only appear in Google+Local on the first page, but also have their IYP listings take up space in the organic results?

  6. Hi Phil,
    Nice article!

    Can I ask for further clarification on #3:

    3. Having the same street address as other businesses. This might be the case if you’re in a strip mall.

    Not sure what you mean by this. Would 2 businesses sharing an identical address not lead to potential merging issues and other problems? Maybe I’m not reading your point correctly.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Miriam!

      Businesses at the same address – like in a strip mall – should never be at risk of merging if they’re unaffiliated with each other and not in the same industries. If you’ve got a bunch of real-estate agents at the same address, that might be a problem. But if it’s the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, Google just isn’t going to merge their listings. At least I can’t recall ever seeing it happen.

  7. Thanks for the great tips. I shared it on my companies facebook fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/founduhere

  8. Phil – Love your content – very helpful. Trying to figure out Google is nearly impossible unless you have a team who measures the effects. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you and your partners sharing your findings.
    What surprised me was 3. and 5. below.
    3. Having the same street address as other businesses. This might be the case if you’re in a strip mall. I spent more money and time on trying to correct

    5. Seeing discrepancies between the way your address is formatted when you’re on your Google listing and when you’re looking at it through the Google Places “dashboard” or Google Plus page-builder. For instance, sometimes you’ll enter your address as “Ave.” but it shows up as “Avenue.” That’s OK.
    I heard from others for a long time that Name Address Phone number has to be exactly the same and unique for it to count and add Google” juice” for your SEO.

    Many thanks,
    J.R . Ryan — 2 More Profits

    • Thanks, Joe. Good question regarding #5. What’s important is to be consistent in how you enter your name/address/phone into third-party sites. You can only control how you feed it to them, but not how they chew it up.

  9. Thanks for the info… Just curious why we got deleted 3 times for not hiding our address but all of our competition shows their address and google does nothing??? We are carpet cleaners… And our rankings dropped Bigtime when we hid our address !!

    • Google isn’t consistent in its enforcement, and it’s frustrating, as you know. You should be able to report your competitors and get them whacked if they’re not playing by the rules, by the way.

      Something else must be going on that would explain your drop in rankings. Hiding the address doesn’t cause that.

  10. This is a great resource. I can see why people would think that hiding the address would cause a ranking drop. But that’s just not the case. Like you, I’ve also never seen a case where ranking dropped after hiding it.

    “You can only control how you feed it to them, but not how they chew it up.” Now that’s a great line!

    • Hey Colan, thanks for stopping by! Yeah, the “hiding” is absolutely a non-issue – at least in terms of rankings.

  11. I have been at Google plus and places now for about 4 months and a 3 months ago I set upmy structured data. When I set it up it was working perfect. I saw my business jump up to a very high ranking first page. Then I changed my picture on my Google plus profile, added a few key works and edit my listing multiple times. Not sure what it was but my listing has dropped off the chart? also I have 2 business listings. Can you tell me what I did wrong or how to fix my structured data. Or how long does it take to get my edits from not pending. I did this 2 weeks ago. Thanks

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