Archives for January 2014

Local SEO Hotseat: My Talk at the Worcester Web Marketers Meet-up

Just wanted to share my presentation from last night’s gathering of the Worcester Web Marketers group. Here you are, Gentle Reader:

Thanks to Anthony Fors of Absolute Clean for volunteering for the “hotseat,” to Ted Ives and everyone else for the great questions and conversation, and most of all to Dan Shure for putting on an awesome event.

I hope you’ll come to the next one if you’re in Massachusetts in March / April.

Any questions or thoughts on the “hotseat”?  Leave a comment!

Your Field Guide to “Barnacle” Local SEO

You know when you type in a local search term (like “auto repair”) into Google and you see a business’s Facebook page or Yelp page or YouTube video or channel (or even its YellowPages listing)?  Well, if your business has good rankings for one of those, you’ve just pulled off a bit of “barnacle” local SEO.

Will Scott coined the term “barnacle SEO” and explained the basic strategy back in 2008 (!).  It’s a clever but very doable strategy based on a fact you probably know already: that there are certain sites that Google consistently ranks really well for local searches.  It has favorites.

Of course, the Google+ Local and AdWords results take center stage.  But there are always the organic rankings.  A few of them belong to local businesses.  Most or all of the rest of them typically point to Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, CitySearch, even Yahoo, and other third-party sites.  In a way, you can mooch off their popularity (and the good job of SEO they do).

Your goal – as a humble barnacle – is to latch onto those big ships.  They can take you places.  There are a few ways to go about doing that.

I’m going to rattle off the approaches I’ve seen work for a few of my clients and for others.

(By the way, I’d like this to be an “evergreen” post.  So I’ll be adding strategies here as I discover more good ones.)

Let’s go over some basic strategy before getting into more-specific strategies:


Two species of barnacles

There are two basic types of barnacle local SEO:

(1) Get a given page for your business to rank well in the organic search results, or

(2) Be at the top of the rankings in a site that ranks well.

I like the example of Yelp:

So one opportunity is to get your business’s page in the organic results.  The other opportunity is to rank well within that high-ranking site’s search results (which, again, themselves rank visibly in Google).  Ideally you do both.


Three basic steps

The first step is just to have pages / accounts on all the sites that matter.  I’m talking about having basic and industry-specific citations.  And a local Facebook page for each location, and a YouTube channel with a few videos you created for your business, if at all possible.  Probably not news to you.

The second step is also pretty simple: Beef up those pages as much as possible.  First and foremost, pick every relevant category you can.  Add as much relevant “additional” info as you can: a short description, a long description, as many services as you’re allowed to mention, photos, etc.

The third step is the trickiest.  You have to activate each page (or listing, or profile, or whatever you want to call it).

I’m mostly referring to doing a combination of things with those pages: drumming up some followers / fans / shares, getting some reviews, and (to a lesser extent) getting a few links to those pages.


The best “ships”


  • “Engage” with your customers and others.  I hate using that word, because it’s so clichéd.  I want to take a shower.  But I think it conveys my advice.  You want stuff on your page, you want people on your page, and you want the people to be consuming and commenting on and “liking” the stuff.  So my advice is to use your Facebook posts and the rest of your page not to talk about how great you think your company is, but to share useful info, even if it’s just an occasional morsel.  (Read this if you don’t know how to do that.)
  • Ask some customers to write you a Facebook review.  Yes, there is such a thing now.  (No, it’s not the same thing as a “like.”)
  • Link to your page whenever possible.  You probably already do so from your site, and that’s a good idea, as long as you have the link open into a new browser tab (you don’t want people leaving your site to see your Facebook page).  Also, many sites where you can get a citation ask you to specify your Facebook URL.  Do so.  Be on the lookout for other occasions to link to or get a link to your page, but don’t embark on some big link-building effort.

Yelp and other IYPs

  • Get reviews.  I talk all the time about how to do this, so I won’t dwell on it here.  I’ll just refer you to these posts:

Comparison of Local Review Sites: Where Should You Focus Now?

GetFiveStars Review-Encouragement Tool Goes from Good to Great

Get More Reviews without Becoming an Outlaw

  • Link to your more-important profiles.  Let’s say you’ve got some good HealthGrades reviews and you want HealthGrades to be your barnacle.  Link to it from your site, from the “Links” section of your  Google+ page (“personal” or non-local “business”), and wherever allowed on other listings of yours.
  • Get creative.  Let’s say you have a few microsites (tsk, tsk) and realize you shouldn’t link them to your main site.  Try linking them to one of those profiles – maybe use ol’ YellowPages as your test-dummy – and see what happens.
  • Encourage other activity.  Like check-ins, in the case of Yelp or FourSquare.  I wouldn’t put a lot of effort into this.  It also depends on your demographics.  But just see what you can do – how you can get customers to use your various pages.


  • Name your video relevantly.  Yeah, that means there should be a keyword in there.  But it also means it should read smoothly.  If the video title sucks – if it’s written for Google and not for humans – nobody will click on it.  It needs to be catchy.
  • Feature them wherever possible.  Embed some videos on your site.  Upload them to your Google+ Local listing, if possible.  Link to them on your other local listings, where possible (many sites ask you for links to your videos).  Post them on Facebook, as appropriate.

Paid directories

  • Pony up.  You’ll have to use your discretion, of course.  Many paid listings aren’t worth it.  But depending on your local market, there may be a site in your industry that ranks well, and that might itself be a place where a lot of potential customers search.  If your more-visible competitors seem to be listed there (one way to see this is with the Local Citation Finder), consider throwing a few dollars at it in the name of science.


Great posts on barnacle local SEO

Barnacle SEO – Local Search Engine Optimization for The Sam’s Club Crowd – the great original post by Will Scott

Barnacle SEO for Local Search Success – Mary Bowling

Learning Local SEO from the Ones That Do It Best – Nyagoslav Zhekov

10 Tips For Using YouTube To Kill At Local SEO – Chris Silver Smith

What ships have you latched onto?  What are some “barnacle” strategies you think are worth trying?  Leave a comment! 

Great Book: “Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business”

If you give a hoot about your business’s online reviews, you’ll want to pick up a copy of a great book that just came out today.  As the name suggests, Five Stars is all about reviews – particularly “local” reviews (Google+, Yelp, etc.).

Five Stars was written by Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone – the two super-sharp gals who wrote SEO: An Hour a Day.  They’re well-known SEOs and experienced marketers…and easy-to-follow writers.

It’s published by Wiley/Sybex – the same crew that brought you heavyweights like Avinash Kaushik’s books on Google Analytics and Brad Geddes’s Advanced Google AdWords.  Like those, Five Stars is a definitive field guide.

I can say from first-hand experience that Gradiva and Jen nailed the approach you need to take if you want more and better reviews: I was the technical editor for the book.  You might find a Phil fingerprint or two.

If you want actionable, doable suggestions for how to get more and better reviews, local visibility, and customers, this is the best few bucks you’ll invest all year:

Do let me know how you like Five Stars (and how you like your reviews).

By the way, feel free to ask me any questions you might have, or to offer a suggestion on the book.  Just leave a comment!

100 Practical Ideas for Small-Business Blog Posts

Right now I’d like to nuke the two most-common excuses I hear business owners make for not putting a little of their expertise into blog posts:

Excuse 1: “I don’t have time,” and

Excuse 2: “I don’t know what to write about.”

There are a few good reasons not to want to blog, like having as many customers as you want and not feeling the need to have your website bring you more.  Heck, if you don’t need online visibility at all, more power to you.

Or if you just think blogging is dumb, I won’t try to change your mind.  (‘Course, I’d wonder why you’re reading this in the first place.)

But you probably know exactly why it’s smart to keep a good “small business” blog.  Customers like it, and so does Google.  I’ve mentioned examples.

The trouble is you’re concerned about time.  There’s not enough of it.

It’s true that you don’t have time to stare at the screen and peck away at something that bores and frustrates you.

But if there’s something you want to write, it won’t even be a matter of “finding” the time: You’ll just hammer it out.  Why?  Because it’ll come to you naturally.

It’s the same as when you’re talking: When you know what you’d like to say, you just say it.

So if you have any desire whatsoever to blog for your business, but just feel short on ideas, this one’s for you.

It’s the third part of my unofficial, unintentional trilogy of posts (from this month) about what needs to happen on your site for you to become the big kid on the block.

Not sure of good blog posts you can do?  Here are 100 ideas:

1. Answer a recent question – “mail bag”-style.

2. FAQs.

3. Confess a weakness.

4. Showcase a new “toy” for your business.

5. Profile an employee (new or old).

6. Profile your typical customer – or a handful of common types.

7. Discuss a relevant current event.

8. Rant.

9. Answer fan mail.  (Don’t just be self-congratulatory.)

10. Answer hate-mail.

11. Review a product.

12. Compare multiple products.

13. Explain a law or regulation.

14. Expose a scam.

15. Showcase a job.

16. Interview someone.  (A competitor, a customer, or someone else.)

17. Roundup of others’ posts or resources.

18. Cool photo(s) or video(s).

19. Pose questions to anyone who’s reading – ask for feedback, suggestions, questions.  Get a little conversation going.

20. News in your industry or city.

21. Riff off of a competitor’s post, article, or public statement.

22. Talk about your heroes.

23. Give a rallying cry for a charity.

24. Other than making money and providing good service, what’s your “mission”?

25. How will you know if you’ve succeeded or failed at your “mission”?

26. What’s a book that’s helped your business – and that might help your customer / reader?

27. Is there a disproportionately busy season in your business – and if so, why?

28. Is your work becoming a “lost art” – or are new practitioners (good or bad) popping up left and right?

29. How close are you to your 10,000 hours?

30. Tell a piece of family lore.

31. Describe your training in-detail – and preferably tell a story about it.

32. Commission an artist to draw a comic (that you think of).

33. Tell how your business got its name (assuming it’s an interesting story and not an SEO move).

34. Share a (former) secret.

35. Describe a local / community event you went to.

36. Describe an industry event you went to.

37. Tell the story of how you got into the business you’re in.

38. A wish-list of tools that haven’t been invented for your industry.

39. Describe your hiring process.

40. In what ways are you totally paranoid (in a good way) about safety?

41. Describe regulations you wish there were.

42. Typical conversation between you and ___.

43. How to pick out a ___.

44. Changes you’d love to see in your industry.

45. To what extent are there marketers who specialize in marketing businesses like yours?  What do you think of them?

46. What have you learned in the past year?

47. What’s hard or impossible to know about a job, project, or customer until you start?

48. How did you turn an unhappy customer into a happy one?

49. What are some services you’d like to offer?

50. Complain about a storm or other recent weather event.

51. What’s something about your work that drives you crazy every day?

52. In what ways are some businesses like yours really behind-the-times?

53. When do you refer a customer (or potential customer) to someone else?

54. If you were to retire today, what words of advice would you give your #2?

55. What’s the first thing most potential customers ask you?

56. Open letter.

57. Run a contest.

58. Lessons from __ years in the business.

59. Describe your typical day (or have an employee do it, if his/hers is more interesting).

60. Show internal documents – stuff you use in your organization.

61. Your industry predictions (or speculation).

62. Recap a year.

63. What’s a horror story or “close call”?

64. How you’ve addressed common complaints – your customers’ or just in your industry.

65. Regional differences between businesses in your industry.

66. Myths in your industry.

67. Common misconceptions customers have about your industry.

68. Checklist.

69. Your family-history in the industry.

70. Talk about your technology, equipment, tools, or techniques.

71. If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently?

72. How your customer might justify the short-term costs of your services (to a spouse, employee, or partner).

73. Why, exactly, are your costs higher or lower than others’?

74. Good habits and bad habits of business owners in your industry.

75. Pros and cons of working with a specialist in your industry (whether or not you are one), versus with a “jack of all trades.”

76. Mistakes customers make in choosing a company like yours.

77. Common clean-up jobs: what are messes caused by other companies that you’ve had to remedy?

78. How long do employees stay in companies like yours?  What’s the churn rate?  Why?

79. How does your type of business differ in other countries?

80. Different schools of thought in your industry.  (What’s yours?)

81. Legislation that you support or oppose – and why.

82. Questions you ask your customers (or potential customers).

83. When you turn away a potential customer.

84. Insurance coverage of your services.

85. Financing options for your services.

86. What’s the toughest or easiest part of your work?

87. What do your customers have a hard time doing?

88. Describe your Customer from Hell.

89. Describe your ideal customer.

90. To what extent do customers expect to work with you?  (Or do they think, “Oh, I’ll never need that”?)

91. What’s different between people who’ve been in your industry forever and those just starting out?

92. What part(s) of your character did you have to overcome to become good at your work?

93. What’s a way your customers can barter with you?

94. What’s the best suggestion you’ve ever gotten from a customer?

95. How do you “take your work home” with you?  (Do you talk about it over dinner, do you stay up late reading about it, etc.?)

96. Describe a time you did some public speaking on your industry.

97. What questions do your kids ask you about your work?

98. How has the economy of the last few years affected your industry?

99. Who was the first person in history to do what you do (the “mother” or “father” of your field)?

100. What do you want to accomplish with your blog?

These are not 100 paint-by-numbers suggestions.  Crafting some of these posts will require perspective and know-how that only you can supply.

But if you’ve read through the 100 ideas and still don’t know what to write about…well, then you may have “issues.”

By the way, just as a little party favor, I’ve listed these in a spreadsheet, where you can sort all the ideas by which ones (1) are quick to write, (2) may give you more than one post, and (3) may be ideas you can have someone else in your company write.  This might help you cherry-pick.

I’d also suggest promoting your posts a little, like by applying the suggestions in this great post by Larry Kim.

Go ahead: hammer out a couple of blog posts today, and give your customers (and Google) more reasons to choose you.

(Update) Once you’ve burned through those, check out my 2nd list of 100 ideas.

What are some good post “angles” you’ve read or written (or thought of just now)?  Leave a comment!

21 Pages a “Small Local Business” Site Needs for Tip-Top Local Visibility

What pages on your site can help you snag some better local rankings – and customers?  And do you have those pages on your site?

May seem like basic questions.  But if most of the sites I see are any indication, most business owners haven’t lost sleep over them.

They’ve got a homepage.

There’s a “Contact” page with a phone number on it.  (The number has a typo.)

There’s an “About Us” page that doesn’t identify “us” or anything about “us” but does tell you how great the company is.  Maybe it even has a stock photo of office workers with clip-on ties high-fiving each other.

The better sites might even have a “Services” page, plus maybe a “Testimonials” page with a one-liner from JJ in Chicago and Anna Karenina penned by Martha in Florida.  Now that’s marketing gold.

Let’s put aside the fact that most small-business sites don’t include a good blog or have any way to grow bigger this year than they were last year: The slim number of pages alone makes most sites online paperweights.  If a business is doing OK for customers, it’s despite the site, not because of it.

Fewer pages on your site means there’s less info for visitors to grab onto.  Each page you create is a chance to answer a question a potential customer might be wondering.

And don’t give me that “but people don’t read” hogwash.  They read…when you address their problems and questions.  You want them to have the option of reading more if they want to.

Creating more pages is also a chance to pick up some local-organic rankings, if you play your cards right.  Most sites are so thin that the only page that might – might – rank well in the local results is the homepage.  A meatier site gives you – if nothing else – more opportunities to grab some organic rankings.

Not all of these page-types will apply to your business, but I’m guessing most will.

See if you can create these 21 types of pages on your site:

“Locations” – If you have locations in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, you might have an “Ohio Locations” page with a short blurb on each of those locations, plus links to pages where you say a little more about each location.  Or you might have a “service areas” page.  Same idea, but you’d be pointing people toward “city pages” for the main cities you serve.

Individual location – You’d have a page for your Cleveland location, a page for your Columbus location, and another one for your Cincinnati location.

“Services” – List all your services, have a blurb on each, and link to a page for each.  Do the same if you offer products, rather than services.

Individual service – The more detail you can give on each service, the better.

“Our Team” or “About Us” – This is a page everyone expects to see.  It’s also one that you can pretty easily optimize: It can be “Our Electricians” or “About Your Surgeons” or “Meet Your Attorneys.”  Here’s an excellent example.

Individual bios – Have a page for each employee, technician, agent, doctor, nurse, lawyer, paralegal, etc.

FAQs – You could have a general FAQ and one (or several) for more-specialized questions.  You could have “Dental Insurance FAQs,” “First-Time Home Buyer FAQs,” “Common Questions on Tankless Water Heaters” – whatever.

Testimonials – Ideally you’d mark them up with Schema or hReview-aggregate.

“In the Media” – Have you been featured in the local paper, or did the local news reporter stick a mic in your face for 15 seconds?  Show or mention it here.

“Community” or “Giving Back” – Describe what you do for charity.  (Do something, if you’re not already.)

Photos – Be sure to name the photos relevantly, and try to include captions.  Don’t overdo it.

Videos – Embed your videos on the page.  See if you can name your page something like “Videos on How to ____.”

Awards or Recognition – It’s fine to mention little stuff until there’s bigger stuff.

Company History – Stick to the story; on other pages you can talk about what makes you great.  If there’s not much of a “history” yet, consider doing a “Values” page.

“Qualifications” or “Certifications” – Same idea as with the “Awards” or “Recognition” page.  Use what you’ve got.

Insurance accepted – If applicable.

Financing – If applicable.

“Why us?”Here’s an example.

Case-study – Describe what you did for a specific customer or client (with his/her permission, of course).  Include pictures if you can.

“Learning Center” – Define relevant, useful, and unavoidable jargon terms you think customers should know.  Explain concepts you’d like your customers to grasp – for their sake and for yours.  Even cannibalize some of your FAQs and use them here.  Here’s an example of a good “learning center.”

“Portfolio” – Most applicable if you’re a contractor, designer of any kind, or consultant.

A late addition, #22: “Coupons” or “Savings” – Thanks to Zac Palmer of Divot Agency for this suggestion (see his comment, below).

By the way, you’ll notice I didn’t mention some common types of pages.  I didn’t mention boilerplate pages like “Contact” or “Privacy Policy,” because those just aren’t going to rank for any search terms, and pretty much every business has one already.

Anyway, back to the action items…

What if you already have those pages on your site?  See how you can beef them up.

What if you like the “minimal” look?  Then get used to minimal rankings and phone calls.  (Or just work on your navigation and menu structure.)

It’s up to you to create the lumps of clay – and yes, that involves writing.

But once you get to the sculpting stage, you’ll want to refer to these handy posts on on-page optimization:

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

Designing Business Location Website Pages: Part One – Single Location Business – Aaron Weiche

Designing Business Location Website Pages, Part 2: Multiple Location Business – Aaron Weiche

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update – Mike Ramsey

And a few relevant posts from me:

16 Ways to Create Unique “Local” Content for Cities Where You Want to Rank – me

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s) – me

50 Examples of Title Tags That Rock at Local SEO – me

Maybe the best thing about a bigger, more-detailed site is that it’s a reliable way to get found by local customers even if / when something bad happens to your Google+ Local (or Bing Places) rankings.  Relying on the “maps”-style rankings is just stupid.

While we’re on the topic, I have found that bigger, beefier sites tend to rank better in the Google+ Local (or Bing Places) rankings.  Even when they don’t have many or any links.  Don’t ask me why.  It just seems to work out that way.

March into battle with more weapons.

Can you think of any types of pages that (1) customers want to see and that (2) might actually rank well?  Leave a comment!

50 Examples of Title Tags That Rock at Local SEO

Title tags have been around forever (at least in Web years), and they’re not particularly sexy.  But they’ve always been a big influence on rankings, and probably will be for at least a while.

People ask me how I’d write a title tag.  It’s a good question, but I’d rather explain with examples than blabber on about best-practices.

I’ve rounded up 50 examples from 50 “local” businesses.  I went to all that trouble because you’ll need to go to a little trouble, too: Your title tags can affect your local rankings big-time – probably more than they should.  It’s worth taking the time to write good ones.

Some of these examples belong to clients of mine, but most examples I found just by poking around.

Most of these title tags aren’t flawless (not that there’s such a thing as a “perfect” title tag anyway).  And I’m not saying they’re the reason these businesses rank well.

But these title tags do seem to pull their weight.  All the businesses rank well as of this writing – usually both in the Google+ Local results and in the local-organic results.

By the way, all the title tags are for homepages, not that that makes a difference: You’d go about writing a title tag for a subpage in the same way.

Flip through these 50 examples of good title tags, and see how you can make yours a little better:
Carpentry Boston & Tile Installer – RJT Carpentry and Tile
An Sen Acupuncture in Portland Oregon
Concrete Driveways, Patios – New Brighton MN – Creative Concrete Inc.
Criminal Defence Lawyers Edmonton | Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey
Nashua Dentist | Todd G Pollack DMD | Cosmetic Dentistry | Nashua NH 03064<
Furniture Store – Northern NJ, Bergen County & Princeton | Design Spree
Chandlee Jewelers: Your Trusted Source for Diamond & Gemstone Jewelry in Athens since 1980
Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry: Engagement Rings, Diamonds, Design, Appraisals | Buffalo Jewelers
Farzad Family Law – Top Orange County Divorce Lawyers & Family Law Attorneys
Ice Dam Removal Minneapolis & St. Paul MN |
Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery – Austin Dermatologists
Suwanee, GA Dentist – Suwanee Family Dentistry – General Dentist
Car Title Loans in Las Vegas | USA MONEY TODAY
Dentist in Dublin, Award winning | Portobello Dental Clinic
Brunke Chiropractic | Monterey Chiropractors
Back and Neck Center of Brick – Chiropractic & Physical Therapy, Brick, NJ
Tampa Wedding Photographer – Justin DeMutiis Photography – Tampa, FL
24 Hour Las Vegas Veterinary Emergency Care
Welcome to CS Roofing | Roofing Company, Replacement and Repair
Perspective Consulting – Career & Educational Coaching – Oakdale, MN
Concrete Cutting | Concrete Core Drilling Contractor
Window Cleaning & Pressure Washing | Medford, Ashland, S. Oregon
Tucson’s premier Endodontist Root Canal Specialists
Heaven`s Best Carpet Cleaning – Rug Cleaning in Seattle and Tacoma WA
Family Dentist Wheaton IL | Wheaton Family Dental Care
Car and Truck Repair Springfield, MA – Lyndale Garage Inc.
Viva Day Spa | Austin, TX | Massage, Nails, Facials, Skin Care & Gift Certificates
Boulder Divorce Lawyer & Family Law Attorney | Rick Dyson | Home
Dr. Robert Sarro Dermatology in Boca Raton, FL
Skilled Home Health Care in Dallas and North Texas | September Services
Royal Tuxedo | Austin, San Antonio, Laredo
Elwood’s Tree Service in Salem Oregon
Maternity Clothes, Maternity Wear & More | Motherhood Maternity
Lawn Pride | Your Indianapolis Lawn Care Company
NORTH COAST PAVING | Paving Contractor | Cleveland, Ohio
Plastic Surgery St. Louis | Paul Rottler, MD, FACS
LifeCare Dental 9221 2777 Dentist in Perth Open 7 Days 8am – 8pm
Bill the Dog Walker – Premier Dog Walking Service
Laser Hair Removal San Diego | Botox | Avalon Laser Medical Spa
Ann Arbor Towing | Heavy Duty Towing – Michigan Roadside Assistance
S&S Limousine | Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse NY Limo Service
Aplus Computer Service | 10% OFF Coupon “INTERNET632” 973-483-5359
Hairston Appliances – Appliances, appliance repair and parts – Akron, Ohio
Liberty Tobacco, San Diego’s Destination Cigar Lounge for Cigar and Pipe Smokers
Custom Remodeling in Knoxville | Standard Kitchen & Bath
San Antonio Wedding dresses and bridesmaid gowns – Debi’s Bridal
Granite Fort Lauderdale | Custom Countertops | Marble | Quartz
Savannah’s #1 Fence and Deck Contractor
Dunham Associates CPAs – Certified Public Accountants in San Jose, CA>
Santa Barbara Chimney Cleaning – Montecito Chimney Service

Do you have any very solid examples of title tags?  Leave a comment and let me know!  (Please don’t include a link; just the name of the page.)