Search Results for: barnacle

Scraping Gray SEO Barnacles off the Local Spam Flotilla

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hotmeteor/4082689948/

“Barnacle” SEO, or the process of getting a page other than a page on your site to rank well in Google’s local organic search results, can be a great way to grab extra local visibility.  If your competitors get barnacle SEO to work for them, more power to ‘em – if they do it in a fair and square way.  If they don’t, you shouldn’t let it stand.

Yelp is the great-granddaddy barnacle site.  Your competitors may use it in a gray-hat way, though.  If your competitors use a fake or keyword-stuffed name in Yelp, and appear to have that page ranking well in Google as a result of that name, the chances are good you can scrape off some of that visibility.  You probably know the real name of their business (or you can find out easily), and you can be pretty confident that the name has propped up their Yelp rankings artificially if they’re outranking businesses with many more or much-better reviews.

I dealt with that recently for a client of mine.  One of his competitors had a Yelp page named simply “iPhone Repair.”  That was not the real name of the business, but that didn’t stop the Yelp page from ranking #1 in the local organic results for “iPhone repair.”  Well, I submitted an edit on that Yelp page.  In the optional “comments” you can include in your edit I mentioned what the real name was and how I knew (it was on their site).

Yelp fixed the name a couple days later, and the page ranked #1 for a while longer: It took Google probably 10 days to re-index the Yelp page, at which time it dropped from #1 to #6 in the organic results, and fell off of page 1 completely a few days after that.

Sure felt good to scrape that barnacle off.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dickdotcom/13971900011/

For all of Yelp’s MANY flaws big and small, it is better at policing spam than Google is.  Plenty of spam still gets by Yelp, of course, but at least your anti-spam edits are less likely to be ignored.  As SEOs and business owners, our first impulse is to go after spammy Google My Business pages.  Which is fine and smart to do – as long as you also try to clean up spammy competitors’ Yelp pages.  May not work in your case, but your chances are better.

A few other, less-obvious upshots of trying to fix spammy Yelp pages:

1. Unlike in Google My Business, it’s harder for spammy competitors simply to change back to their fake or keyword-stuffed names. Yelp can and perhaps will lock the “name” field of their page, even if it’s been owner-verified. Less potential for whac-a-mole.

2. Those competitors are less likely to rank well IN Yelp’s search results.

3. Those competitors probably benefit from the same fake-o name in Google My Business. If you can get Yelp to fix the name, Google may be more likely to fix the Google My Business name, too.

4. Because Yelp is the main data-provider for Apple Maps and Bing Places, getting a competitor’s name fixed on Yelp may undo any ill-gotten rankings they’ve gotten in Apple or Bing. (For what that’s worth.)

Local SEO barnacles grow easily, but that also means they’re low on the food chain.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/trishhhh/2515019389/

What’s been your experience with anti-spam edits in Yelp – particularly of competitors’ names?

Any non-Yelp sites where you’ve been able to clean up competitors’ spam?

Any other war stories?

Leave a comment!

How to Pick the Best Barnacle SEO Sites: a Checklist

The concept of barnacle SEO is simple enough: get visible on a site that ranks well in Google for the local search terms you’re going after, because that’s usually easier than getting your site to rank for those terms.  (You’ll still try to do both, of course.)  I’ve also written about the most-practical ways to execute it.

But barnacle SEO poses three challenges:

(1) It takes work.

(2) Most people overlook easy wins.

(3) The payoff usually isn’t as obvious as, say, high rankings in Google.

I’ve put together a checklist of all the ways (I can think of) that you can gauge the usefulness of a “barnacle” site.  I hope it helps you figure out where to channel your efforts.

To be more specific, I hope the checklist helps you determine:

  • Which review sites bring the most payoff with the least effort
  • Which “barnacle” site(s) would be best to advertise on
  • Which listings might be worth paying for
  • Which sites you might want to publish content on (where possible)
  • How you can get more benefit from a site where you’ve already got some presence

Here’s the checklist:
(click to open PDF)

How to pick a barnacle SEO site

Of course, there’s no site that meets all the criteria.  Yelp, Facebook, and YouTube probably come closest.  But those sites are saturated, and getting visible there may or may not be practical for you.  Just use the checklist to understand how one site stacks up against another, in terms of how it might help your local visibility.

By the way, because I had to fit all those points onto one smelly old pirate scroll, some points could use a little more explaining.  Here’s a little more detail on some of the criteria:

“Does it show “review stars” if you get a review?”

I’ll be lazy and recycle the example I used in my last post:

 “Can visitors immediately see the info they’re looking for?”

The trouble with an otherwise decent “barnacle” site like Angie’s List is that you’ve got to be a paying member to read the reviews.  Even on the BBB (an overlooked place to get reviews) the reviews are a little buried.

Not a reason to ignore either of those sites, but the semi-hidden reviews detract from the payoff a little bit.

“Does it give you an extra way to stay in touch with visitors?”

You can stay in touch with Facebook fans, YouTube channel subscribers, Pinterest followers, and the like.  Maybe they’ll become customers (even returning customers) one day.

“Is its SEO enviable?”

I’m referring to the point Nyagoslav makes in this excellent post, where he shows what a rock-solid job Yelp has done with its on-page SEO, and how that can indirectly help your business.

Thanks to David Deering for helping me with the design work on the checklist.  (Contact him if you need a new site, help with SEO, or heavy-duty help with Schema markup.)

Do you have a favorite “barnacle” site (especially an often-overlooked site)?

How about a barnacle strategy that’s worked well for you / your client?

Any questions about the checklist?

Leave a comment!

Your Field Guide to “Barnacle” Local SEO

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mothernaturevideos/4388614615/

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”

Facebook

  • “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.

YouTube

  • 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! 

Which Local Citation Sources Let You Specify a Service Area?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/8468633942/

Just because you set your sights on a region doesn’t mean you’ll rank well there.  That’s always been true of the service area you pick for your Google My Business page, so why should you care about the service-area settings on local-search sites much smaller than Google?

A few reasons:

1. You might improve your visibility on those sites. Places like Yelp, YP, BBB, Angie’s List, and others have a decent headcount, partly because those directories tend to rank well in Google’s local results.

2. The service-area settings in Google My Business changed recently, and in ways that may make your info on third-party sites more important to your rankings on Google’s local map. For service-area businesses you don’t need to specify a street address. The other big change is you can’t target a radius anymore (like 30 miles around your address).  The main upshot of those changes is now you can tell Google you serve the entire state, or 5 counties, or a similar chunk of territory.  How will Google determine how you rank within that region?  I don’t know, but it’s possible Google factors in the info you’ve put on third-party local directories, so you should try to use that to your advantage.

3. Maybe you just care about the details on your local listings, but don’t want to log into every single site to check whether you can define a service area.

It might help to know which local listings – besides Google My Business – let you specify a service area.  I looked at about 20 of the better-known and (usually) more-important sites for service-area businesses.  About half of them let you define your service area.  Most of those sites let you choose a service area even if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business – which is also what Google My Business does now, by the way.

Here are the non-Google “local” sites (mostly for US businesses) that let you set a service area:

AngiesList: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Apple Maps: no

BBB: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Bing Places: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar, but it’s based on the category you select

CitySearch: no

ExpressUpdate.com (AKA InfoGroup): no

Facebook: no

Factual.com: no

FourSquare: no

HomeAdvisor: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Houzz: yes

LocalEze: no

Manta: no

MerchantCircle: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar, but you have to pay

MyBusinessListingManager.com (AKA Acxiom): no

SuperPages: yes

Thumbtack: no

YellowBook: no

YellowPages: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Yelp: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Zillow: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Most of those sites also let you hide your address, if you want to.

How has Google’s recent change to service-area settings tied in with your business or your strategy?

How do you show your service area on your non-Google listings?

Did I miss any other sites where you can specify a service area?

Leave a comment!

How Long Does It Take for a User-Submitted Yelp Page to Rank on Page 1 for a Branded Search?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonparis/4066106103/One week or less, from what I’ve seen.

A 7-Eleven opened nearby last year, but Yelp didn’t have a page for that location.  The locally-owned convenience store that used to be at that location had and still has a Yelp page.  (Nobody’s reported it as closed, and Yelp hasn’t de-duped.)  But the 7-Eleven didn’t have one for 9-10 months after opening.

I guess their SEO person is grazing in tidier pastures.

Anyway, I took it upon myself to submit a Yelp page for 7-Eleven, as I do from time to time.  I’m not big on convenience stores, and I’m even less big on pro bono enterprise local SEO, but my grand act was borne of curiosity: I had occasion to look up the hours.  Recently, a drunk guy crossed the street to ask if I knew how late the 7-Eleven was open.  I told Otis 11pm sounded right, but that I didn’t know for sure.  I looked it up when I got back from my stroll.  Turns out Google My Business didn’t have the hours, so I checked Yelp, which also didn’t have the hours.

On June 11th I created a Yelp page for 7-Eleven (minus the hours).  When I checked it on June 18th, a week later, it ranked #4 for a brand-name search. (It probably ranked on page 1 even sooner than that.  Wish I’d checked.)

So what?  Well, I suggest you patrol Yelp occasionally for “unofficial,” unclaimed, in many cases user-submitted (or competitor-planted) pages for your business.  You may or may not want that page, and it may or may not make your business look good, and it probably will be mighty visible when people search for you by name.

Keep an eye on competitors’ Yelp pages, too.  Those may rank well, even for competitive search terms, but you can probably get them removed or fixed without too much heartache.

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

You’ve noticed or heard that “near me” searches are super-popular, and that you should try to rank for those terms in Google Maps and in the rest of the local search results.

Only two burrs in your saddle:

  1. How?
  1. What happens if and when all your competitors jump on the “near me” bandwagon by doing the dumb-n’-easy on-page optimization?

There’s advice out there like, “Just put ‘near me’ into your title tags and in the anchor text of your links.”  That’s a fine start, but what are you supposed to do once all your competitors do the same?  How can you become Google’s “near me” golden child before competitors try to ruin it?

I’d be remiss not to mention right away that I haven’t autopsied “near me” searches as much as Andrew Shotland and Dan Leibson have.  You’d be remiss not to read their posts on the topic, right before or right after reading this one.

Still, I’ve stuck an arm in the “near me” search results for clients and non-clients, and have a few suggestions for you.  Some tips on how to do effective “near me” local SEO – that still works for you even after your competitors attempt to muscle in:

1. Understand that the “me” part of “near me” is a specific place, and not just another keyword to target.  The results Google shows to people who search “near” them can differ as they walk down the street.

Exactly where “near me” is changes from day to day or minute to minute, because the results that Google and other search engines (or apps) are based largely on knowing exactly where the searcher is.  That’s one reason you might optimize the stuffing out of your page or site for “near me” terms and still be outranked by a competitor who just happens to be nearer to the searcher when he/she is searching.  The reverse also is true: just because you’re the closest to the searcher doesn’t mean you’ll dominate “near me” search results.”

Location/proximity matters, but is one factor of many.  Your job is to make it clear to Google and to searchers exactly where you are, and exactly what you do.

2. Don’t necessarily use “near me” verbatim.  It’s natural for a customer to use that phrasing, but it sounds weird if you say “near me” in the first-person voice on your site.  Use “nearby” “near you” or “near [city/place]” or “in [city/place]” when doing so makes for a less-clunky read.  Google will get the idea, and you won’t confuse people.

3. Don’t just target your highest-priority search term + “near me.”  Try to be more specific.  You want to give people more reasons to pick you – reasons other than that you’re nearby.  What if your competitors are also near the searcher?  If appropriate, work into your title tag / H1 / body / URL / page name an often-searched-for variation, like one of these:

“24/7 [service] near me”

“emergency [service] near me”

“cheap [service] near me”

“best [service] near me”

“find [service] near me”

“buy [product] near [city]”

4. Latch onto the local directories that target and rank well for “near me” terms.  Usually the best way to do that is to pile up reviews on those sites, but there are other ways to practice “barnacle” SEO.

Take note of local directories that explicitly go after “near me” terms.

Some illustrative links:

homeadvisor.com/near-me/
thumbtack.com/near-me/
yelp.com/nearme/hvac

5. Say what landmarks or town lines you’re near, or which neighborhood you’re in, or which cities you serve – on your “location” or “city” or “state” pages and maybe even on your homepage.  Describe your business’s location as though you were giving a first-time customer directions over the phone.  If possible, also throw in an exterior photo or two.

Mention the specific cities or towns or neighborhoods customers come from.

If you’ve got a service-area business, you probably shouldn’t barf up a list of 75 cities.  Maybe mention the top 10 or 20 by name.

If possible, add other relevant “local” content that helps would-be customers. 

6. Flesh out your “Location Finder” or “Service Area” page.  Try to do it in the way I described in my last point, but make sure it’s also got at least a few detailed blurbs on your services and a list of the specific services you offer.  Just having a lot of “location” information isn’t enough: On top of knowing where you are and where you serve customers, Google needs to know exactly what you offer at those places.  Petco does a good job of that.

7. Provide old-school driving directions.  From the biggest city to your north, and from the biggest city to your south, and so on.  Both Google and people like those crunchy bits.

8. Assume that searchers’ behavior – both in the search results and on your site – matters even more than usual.  One of the main reasons “near me” searches have exploded in the first place is that Google’s become frighteningly good at learning about searchers and their habits, especially on mobile.  In my experience, if nobody clicks on your search result, Google will hold that against you.  If people click through to your site but don’t like what they see and hit the “back” button, that’ll drag down your rankings sooner or later.  Make your pages stickier by working on your copy.

9. Stop shooting for the “whale” links and first try to nab more links from sites relevant to your area.  

A link from the New York Times or the Smithsonian is great, but not if you ignore simpler link opps that can help you in the meantime.  Those link opps include joining a local Chamber of Commerce, joining a couple state- or city-specific professional organizations, and helping out local causes in whatever way you can.

10. Turn “Portfolio” or “Our Work” pages or posts or photos into “[type of job] near [place]” bits of content.  This is most obviously applicable to you if you’re a contractor, but you can get creative if you’re in another field.  You could do a page or post on “Remodeled Kitchen Near Kenmore Square” or “33-Year-Old Roof Replaced Near Venice Beach.”  Or you could do “April 3, 2018 Estate Sale Near Bronx Zoo” or “Walking Dachshunds Near Downtown Dallas.”  This is a twist on my recommended approach to “city” pages.

11. Don’t change your local SEO strategy too much just to grab more “near me” visibility.  It’s probably not the game-changer some say it is.  Sure, those searches are popular, and it’s important to get a piece of the action now, but it’s only a matter of time before the “near me” watering hole gets too crowded.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nevilzaveri/4380399641/

People who type in “near me” want the same things as those who don’t.  For you the mission is still the same: make it clear (on and off your site, to Google and to people) exactly what you do, exactly where you are, and exactly what makes you good at it.

What’s a “near me” visibility strategy you’ve used?

How about one you’ve seen work well?

Leave a comment!

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hardlyneutral/16119317027/

You know about the big local-business review sites.  You know about the review sites that matter most in your industry.  You probably know about the pipsqueaks, too.

But what about the review sites that matter more than you know?  Isn’t it possible there are some gaps in your online reputation?

If there aren’t, I’ll eat my hat.  There are always gaps – even for businesses with tons of reviews on many sites.  You probably know the benefits of diversifying where your customers review you.  Those benefits also extend to sites you might have dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant, or that you didn’t even think of.

I’m not saying all of these review sites are relevant to your situation, but at least some will be.

Here’s a rundown of what I consider the 10 most-overlooked local review sites:

Care.com
Why it’s overlooked: it’s not a super-established “brand.”  Partly because the name itself is mushy, and partly because it’s not a search engine or a social network or a startup run by drama queens.  It’s just a solid reviews site.  It’s also visible one.  Care.com is all over Google’s search results in the in-home care and education spaces, for example, and most “service” businesses are eligible for a listing there.

WeddingWire
Why it’s overlooked: because there’s a good chance you don’t run a bridal shop or a tux shop, or are a florist or photographer.  WeddingWire also lists businesses in all kinds of related industries: limos, venues, jewelry, and so on.  You can also get listed and reviewed there even if you own a car rental or a cryotherapy place, or if you’re a dentist, a dermatologist, or a plastic surgeon.  Maybe they’ll even allow divorce lawyers.

Zillow
Why it’s overlooked: because most people think it’s just for real-estate listings and agents.   It’s not.  Pretty much any contractor or other home-improvement professional can have a listing there – and reviews there.  Though Zillow isn’t the 800-pound gorilla in the contracting space that it is in real estate, it may just be a matter of time.  In the meantime, anyone who sees your Zillow reviews there is probably pretty close to calling you.

Thumbtack
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s got a home-improvement bent, it’s up against more-established sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Houzz.  Also, Thumbtack doesn’t seem to go out of its way to encourage reviews – for customers to write them, or for businesses to ask for them.  Still, the site is pretty visible in some niches, and can serve as a nice barnacle site – especially for “near me” search terms.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Thumbtack is acquired by an even-bigger player one day.  I’d scare up at least a few reviews there.

Groupon
Why it’s overlooked: Groupon deals can be business-destroyers.  They often attract crybaby customers.  It doesn’t help that new businesses and businesses in dry spells are the ones most likely to offer deals.  Often those businesses also are the ones least-equipped to pull off the deals without incident – or to handle an online reputation disaster well.  But if you’re a pretty established business and aren’t dying for customers (but still want to attract more of them), look under the Groupon rock.  Yes, Groupon takes a big cut of the deal, but you can get reviews that stay up long after the deal ends.  Those reviews are highly visible, because Groupon is.  Even if you don’t want to offer a deal, you can get customers to “recommend” you and write “tips.”

GlassDoor
Why it’s overlooked: customers don’t talk about it, because customers can’t write reviews there.  GlassDoor is a place for employees (past and current) to review your company anonymously.  Just the same, because customers can see what’s on GlassDoor easily enough, because it’s on Google’s local results like stink on a monkey.  If you stop short of encouraging everyone on your team to review you (anonymously), at least encourage the happy people to say their piece.  The angry ones will.  Time is of the essence.

https://youtu.be/DoQwKe0lggw

InHerSight
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s relatively new (started in 2015 or 2014, from what I can tell).  It’s similar to GlassDoor, except it’s specifically for women.  InHerSight is not exclusively a review site, but on it women can review (anonymously) places they’ve worked.  As of this writing it’s not a super-visible review site, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes off.

WebMD (doctor.webmd.com)
Why it’s overlooked: if you’re anything like me, you associate WebMD only with feeling a mysterious new pain, Googling it, reading the WebMD result, and concluding you’ve got 3 days to live.  But it’s also a giant healthcare directory.  If you’re a doctor, do what you can to rustle up reviews there.

Amazon Home Services
Why it’s overlooked: Amazon hasn’t done much in local search yet, and most business owners don’t want to wet Amazon’s beak or possibly deal with frustrating leads (a la Groupon).  Still, if you can get listed, it’s probably worth having a few reviews there, which can benefit you both before and after the sleeping giant wakes up.

Better Business Bureau
Why it’s overlooked: most business owners associate the BBB with “complaints” from customers and with questionable accreditation ratings of certain businesses.  But it’s also a local-business reviews site, in the mold of Yelp and Google and so on.

BBB results often are extremely visible in the local organic search results – maybe more so than they should be – both for brand-name terms and often for the terms you really want to rank for.  Because people can (but don’t have to) write anonymous reviews there, and because an angry customer is likely to be there anyway to lodge a complaint, bad reviews are especially likely to appear on BBB – and to stick out.  The good news is good reviews stick out there, too.  Of all the “underrated” review sites I’ve mentioned, I consider BBB the most overlooked one of all.

What’s been your experience with those review sites?

Can you think of other review sites you consider overlooked?

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Update 10/9/17: For a short list of overlooked review sites in the UK, see the comment from Caroline of Alba SEO.

The Ridiculous Hidden Power of Local Reviews: Umpteen Ways to Use Them to Get More Business

Even the obvious benefits of great customer reviews are almost too many to count.  To wit:

  • They take a little pressure off your site to “convert,” because visitors arrive largely pre-sold.
  • They can help you eat up more of page one of Google.
  • They help you cultivate non-Google Maps or non-Google sources of visibility.
  • They take some of the pressure off your local SEO and other online-marketing efforts, because they build your reputation online and offline.
  • You’ll be a little more attuned to customer-service if you know you’ll ask for a review eventually.
  • Even if your rankings stink, they help you land more word-of-mouth referrals. (Those people probably Google you, too.)
  • Whoever sees your reviews in the local search results is more likely to pick up the phone.

Those are just the beginning, though.  You can squeeze many other benefits from customers’ reviews and from the process of earning and encouraging them.  As AJ Kohn said about commenting on blog posts, the hidden power of reviews is ridiculous.

Here are some of the less-obvious ways you can use your reviews to help your local SEO and marketing even more.

1. Use them to research keywords. You might not call your services what your customers call them, and you might not search for them in the way they search for them.  Where appropriate, try to incorporate those phrases into relevant pages of your site, or create separate pages on them.

2. Mine your reviews to learn exactly what kinds of customers have reviewed you, and why. Use those insights to determine who are the other customers most likely to review you (and ask them), and to make your services better.

3. Study your competitors’ reviews. Ask the same questions as in points #1-2.

4. Use a freshly-written review as an excuse to contact the customer who wrote it. Say thanks.  Ask how he or she is doing, or just say you’d like any further feedback.  That’s good to do on principle, and sometimes you’ll get repeat business out of the deal.

 

5. Use a new review as an occasion ask for an additional review, on a different site, if the customer is willing.

6. Write owner-responses in a way that makes you look great to anyone reading your reviews.

7. Copy and paste the reviews onto your site. (Google doesn’t seem to mind, and neither does Yelp, and other sites surely don’t care.)  I suppose this isn’t such a hidden benefit of reviews, but I have to mention it because it’s so important.  Your customers’ reviews are copywriting rebar.  Your selling points are stronger if you’re not the only one touting them.   Also, if you cite the city the reviewer is from, they’re semi-“local” content you don’t have to write.  They’re particularly useful on city pages.

8. Put them on a “Reviews” or “Reviews & Testimonials” page on your site. It might even rank for keyword + reviews local search terms.

9. Use them on a “Why Choose Us?” page.

10. Add reviews badges or widgets to your site to showcase the reviews. The badges serve as third-party “trust” symbols, if you use the badge(s) provided by the site where you’ve got the reviews.

11. Create your own badge, if none is available on the site where you’ve got a pile of good reviews.

12. Allude to your reviews in your AdWords ads.

13. Include them (or excerpt or link to them) in your email signature, possibly along with a link to your “Review Us” page.

14. Use them as seeds for blog post topics. You can expand on certain selling points (or other points) a reviewer brought up.

15. Use them to reduce surprises and customer-service issues, by encouraging visitors to read your reviews before they call you. Even if that means they have to open up another browser tab and take their eyes off your site for a minute.  Say something like, “We want you to know how we made other customers happy, and we want you to be our latest happy customer, so please take a minute to read our reviews.”  When they come back, they’ll be more likely to call you, and less likely to eat up your time with questions your past customers already answered.

Any non-obvious powers of reviews I didn’t mention?

How do you leverage your reviews (the good and even the bad)?

Any great real-life examples of one of the points I mentioned?

Leave a comment!

Breakdown of Page 1 of Google’s Local Organic Search Results: Who Dominates?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/11513424364/

Though the first page of Google’s local results usually consists of 3 “local map” results plus 10 organic results, that doesn’t mean your business has 13 chances to rank somewhere on page one.  Nor do all pages on your site have an equal chance at ranking.  Nor does having the most-dominant site necessarily mean you’ll get the most or best visibility in the local results.

How well your business ranks in the local “3-pack” depends on many factors, including where your business is, where the searcher is, who clicks on you and other behavior, the name of your business, and – above all – on how well you rank in the local organic results (the “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map).

Your organic rankings, in turn, depend mainly on how relevant your site is to what the customer searched for and (even more so) on how good your links are.

So what are your chances of getting your business’s site to rank somewhere on page 1 of the local organic results?

One way to answer that is to know how Google usually fills up the first page of local organic results – Google’s tendencies and quotas, you might say.

Google has a very specific way of carving up the local search results.  It’s not all local businesses, nor is it a grab-bag of “something for everyone” search results.

I’ve just done a study of 500 local markets – 500 first-pages of local search results – and have some numbers on which sites and pages typically rank on page one.

Here’s the pie-chart, which sums up my findings and the dozens of hours of research that went into it.

(click to enlarge)

You may not need to know any more.  Or you may want more detail on the pie, on my methodology, and on what it all means for your local SEO strategy.  In the latter case, just read on.

What does each slice of the pie represent, exactly?

“Business: homepages”

I’m referring to the homepage of a site that belongs to a specific business.

Homepages are the biggest slice of the pie, averaging 37.62% of Google’s local organic search results.  On average, 3-4 out of 10 of the organic results consist of one homepage or another.  The homepage typically has the most link-juice (which is one reason I usually suggest using it as your Google My Business landing page).  It’s no surprise to me so much of page one goes to various homepages.

“Business: subpages:

If homepages constitute more than 3 out of 10 spots on a typical first page of results, that must mean other pages usually grab the other 7 spots – right?

Wrong.  Subpages (like yourbusiness.com/city) and subdomains (like city.yourbusiness.com) only account for 12.68% of the 5000 individual search results I studied.  In a typical first page of results, only 1-2 results are for pages on a business’s website other than the homepage.

So 37.62% of the results are for businesses’ homepages, plus 12.68% are for other pages on businesses’ sites.  That’s about half of the pie.

Who gets the other half of Google’s local organic search results?

“Directories: category search”

It probably doesn’t surprise you that local-business directories take up a lot of real estate on page one.  I’m talking about Yelp, BBB, YellowPages, and so on, and industry-specific sites like Zillow, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, etc.

Those directories’ internal search results show up more often than do other pages on their sites.  “Search results within search results” take up a whopping 36.62% of Google’s local organic results.

“Directories: business pages”

Sometimes a business’s Facebook or Yelp or BBB or YellowPages page will rank on page one for a popular search term.

Known as barnacle local SEO, it’s great if you can get an online property other than your site to rank for a main keyword.  But it’s tough to do.  Only 7.58% of Google’s search results go to directory results for specific businesses.

“News”

Local-news sites and other sources of news take up a small piece of the search results (not as much as I thought they would).  News results made up 0.64% of the results I studied.

Good coverage can drive business.  A unfavorable piece can dog you.  News stories tend to have many backlinks, usually are on authoritative sites, and tend to get clicked on often.  Because of those things, news pieces can stick around for a while.  The news isn’t always “new.”

“Other”

Google throws other results onto page one, too.  The most-common “other” sites I ran across were Craigslist listings, Indeed.com (for jobs), weird directory results (e.g. Yelp forum threads), and government sites – usually local government.

Methodology & notes

When Sydney Marchuk (of Whitespark) and I did this research, we tried to be as methodical and scientific as possible.  As with most studies, there are limitations to this one, and I’m sure there are some holes.

You can look at our raw data here, but here are some lab notes:

  • We Googled 500 different search terms – 500 different combinations of cities and keywords
  • We searched for explicitly local search terms: “city + keyword.” As opposed to typing in “keyword” and seeing what local search results Google shows you.  (Yes, Google is watching you.)  In my experience, the results differ a little between when you type in the city and when you don’t.  To do a study on that would be more technically complicated and even more of a slog, but I’d love to do one or see one some time.
  • As I said at the start, we didn’t include the Google Maps “3-pack” rankings in this analysis. Again, we just looked at the localized organic results – which usually contain all the business that rank in the 3-pack.
  • Sydney lives in Canada, but searched at Google.com (not .ca), was signed out of Google, and used an incognito browser tab. The results weren’t biased by search history or anything like that.  In any case, I live in Massachusetts, and the searches I did matched up with what Sydney found.
  • We did the research in mid-December – about a month ago. Some of the SERPs surely have changed since then, but I doubt they’ve changed significantly.  To the extent I’ve had to spot-check some of the results in the past few days, I’ve found that they’ve changed very little.
  • Of course, the breakdown will change over time. It’s Google.  They like to twist the dials.

Conclusions (very general)

What does the breakdown of a typical page one mean – especially for your business?  Some things I’ve gleaned from looking at the data (and from doing local SEO for 8+ years):

  • On average, only about 5 of the results are for specific businesses. Your other competitors are directories.  Wherever you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  You’ll get some visibility either when people click on the directories’ “search results within search results,” or if you get your listing or page itself on the site to rank on page one of Google’s local results.  That’s often just a matter of piling on the reviews.
  • Homepages dominate, especially in markets where smaller, locally-based businesses duke it out mostly with each other, and not as much with Big Ugly Corporations that happen to have a nearby branch. Again, homepages tend to have most or all of the link juice.  Assuming you’ve got at leasta few decent links, if you have some good local content on your homepage it should have a good chance of ranking well.
  • Subpages (example.com/city) tend to be more dominant in markets where big businesses tend to congregate (e.g. car rentals). I have my theories as to why that is, but that’s for another day.
  • Your crappy keyword-stuffed blog post from 2 years ago probably won’t rank on page one for any semi-competitive term. (Maybe if it attracted some good links.)
  • Given how Google splits up the real estate between directories and businesses’ sites, dominance isn’t a matter of just getting your site to rank. As I’ve said, it’s not about site vs. site; it’s reputation vs. reputation.

Here’s the pie, once again:

Any questions on my findings?

Any conclusions you’ve drawn (that I didn’t mention)?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  If for some crazy reason you want to do an (unrelated) study of your own, consider hiring Sydney to help (schedule permitting).  You can email me, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

BBB Dips a Toe in Answer-Box SEO, Highlighting Accredited Businesses

Love it or hate it, the Better Business Bureau has long been an SEO powerhouse.  Though not splattered all over the local search results the way Yelp has been, the BBB often ranks well – both for broad search terms and when you search for a specific company by name.  It’s also become a prominent review site.

Now the BBB may piggyback off of Google’s increasing tendency to show “answer boxes”:

I find it interesting that that category page on the BBB doesn’t even rank #1.  It’s #4.  (Sometimes that’s the case with these answer-box results.)

No particularly fancy footwork in the source code, either.

The answer box + BBB lovechild doesn’t rank for many search terms yet (that I’ve seen), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t start popping up for more. The BBB recently redesigned its business pages, no doubt with local visibility in mind. Perhaps they also made tweaks to their category pages, too, which is what’s returning an answer box in Google in the above example.

As I’ve written before, there are several good reasons to consider holding your nose and getting accredited by the BBB.  This is another one.  Classic barnacle SEO.

For more on Google’s answer boxes, see the excellent post by Dr. Pete at Moz.

Are you seeing the BBB show up in Google with answer boxes?  How about answer boxes for other local directories?

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