Locus Pocus

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What’s with the name?  It’s a portmanteau of local and hocus pocus.

Just my way of referring to semi-common local SEO practices that I think are superstition.

We talked about “Local SEO Myths” in 2013.  But there’s even more to say.  In that post, I and other local-search geeks focused on myths that lead business owners way off-track.

Now I’d like to talk about what I see as practices that just waste time and effort.  They won’t kill you, but I can’t say they’ll help you.

Probably worth emphasizing now rather than later that this post is my opinion.  It’s based on a big ugly pile of first-hand experience.  But it’s still an opinion.  Let’s argue in the comments.

OK, now that my lawyer’s meticulously worded disclaimer is out of the way…

There are the local-rankings factors I’ve seen move the needle for clients and others, time and time again.  I’m talking about things like accurate categories, consistent citations, many reviews, good title tags, and meaty sites.

Then there are the factors that may matter to your local rankings.  These are steps I usually suggest to clients, because they’re good to do even if they don’t help rankings in the slightest: using Schema markup for your NAP, picking good H2 tags, embedding a Google map on your site, adding lots of photos to your Google listing, etc.

And then there’s the Locus Pocus.

These practices have done little to deserve my wrath.  I’ll spare you my theories about why I don’t think they matter.

My best indictment of them is simply that in 5 years I haven’t seen a whit of evidence that they help your local rankings in Google or anywhere else.

Here’s the stuff I wouldn’t suggest spending any time on:

  • “Geotagging” photos.  Sure, pick relevant names for the files, and try to pick relevant alt tags when appropriate.  But metadata?  Fugettaboutit.
  • Including city names in the “keyword” fields on your various business listings.  If MerchantCircle asks you to stick 10 keywords in a box, put in 10 services you offer (and maybe their synonyms).
  • Getting hundreds of structured citations.  Lots of unstructured citations (e.g. newspaper mentions), great.
  • Giant blocks of text where you mention all the towns you serve.
  • Keyword tags.
  • Making cheapo slideshow videos and uploading them to every video site you can find.
  • Setting a large “Service Area” in your Google Places dashboard.
  • Putting your “target” city in the Google Places address field, for fear that you won’t rank well there if you enter your real city.  If you want any shot at ranking where you want to, you need to help Google understand where you’re really located.
  • Seeking that extra edge by trying to outsmart all the sites where you can list your business. Just five more little keywords in your description, writing just one review for your own business, etc. Thanks to Aaron Weiche for mentioning this point (below).

Maybe these practices aren’t so harmless after all.  Spending your time and energy on them and expecting results just means it’s longer before you’re visible in the local rankings.

Hat tip to Darren for weighing in on several of the points.

What have you found to be “locus pocus”?  Did you ever have some miraculous experience with any of the practices I mentioned?  Leave a comment!


  1. Phil – agreed on all points except for the “cheapo slideshow videos” in which I might slightly disagree.

    I’ve had a few cases where a client is ranking well in organic and/or local and still wanted a bigger presence. A couple of hours spent creating a simple video slideshow and optimizing it on YouTube gave them another page one result with a video snippet. I think that’s well worth the time spent.

    In fact, I pitch it quite a bit and more clients would do it, but oftentimes they don’t have any pictures to use and won’t go through the small amount of effort to get any…which is a real shame!

    • I can see what you mean, Eric. FWIW, I was mostly referring to Google Places rankings.

      • I think the emphasis here is on the “cheap” part of cheapo, i.e. not well done at all. You know, not just still photos, but out-of-focus ones, low-res graphics pulled from a website and just thrown together, terrible voice-overs, and so on. This goes not just for slideshows but full videos too. I’ve seen many cases where sure, it ranks well on YouTube for that business or it’s services in that city, but the actual video drives me away from the business.

        • That’s an excellent point, Greg. A decent video that’s poorly optimized or not optimized at all is still an asset (albeit an underdeveloped one). But it does more harm then good when you have it the other way around.

  2. Auto generated “Web 2.0” citations

  3. avatar David Faltz says

    Great post as usual Phil. I totally agree with every point. I have tried every one of them, to try a gain that edge. Studied the results with and without, on many clients. I will say, geo – tagging categories used to work 2 or 3 years ago.At least in my opinion.

    The rest is complete nonsense, and a big waste of effort — Especially when it comes to local rankings.

    Just to clarify. When you refer to local, you are referring to the “places” or “maps” pages, not A-G (for instance) on the web page. Correct?

    Thanks for keeping it real, and sharing useful, actionable tips and advice. It has come in handy more then once.


    • Hey David, thanks for weighing in.

      I’m mostly referring to Google Places (aka Google+ Local, aka “A-G”). But I haven’t noticed that these practices – with the possible exception of the videos – help organic visibility at all.

  4. Dang it, I was hoping this post had all of the latest and greatest tricks in it. So disappointed. 😉

    I’d add spending time trying to “out think” the guidelines for any any site, local or reviews. Surely thinking you have the magic powers to outsmart or dupe the game is time well spent!

    • Hey Aaron, thanks for stopping by.

      Yeah, I’m keeping all the good Locus Pocus tricks to myself 🙂

      Great point. I’ve added it.

  5. Very good info. I appreciate this article a lot. You offer of lot of great info for local businesses.

  6. Awesome one Phil. A lot of myths out there.
    I have never spent time on Geotagging photos before, although at one point did include company name or city name. One thing though with descriptions – I prefer to have slightly different descriptions on a company’s different listings (especially if it’s in different cities) but I do mean slightly.

    Otherwise really good. Locus Pocus . Love the title 🙂

    • Thanks, Chris!

      Yeah, I’d definitely name photos relevantly. But that’s it.

      As for the descriptions, most of the sites have different lengths they allow or require. So some variation is unavoidable. My point is just that I’ve never seen benefit in mixing them up intentionally. OTOH, I doubt it hurts. Tomato, tomahdo.


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