Is Your Local SEO Person Shell-Shocked, Gun-Shy, and TOO Afraid of Angering Google? How to Avoid the Phobias

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SEOs often have a hard time with moderation.  They tend to sit at extremes and take an all-or-nothing approach – to getting links, building citations, creating “content,” jamming keywords into pages, and so on.  If they were actors, they’d be William Shatner.

 

You can have too much of a good thing.  Most SEOs take practices that are good in small amounts and overdo them.  Some of the most cautious, by-the-book SEOs I’ve known once had a black hat or a gray hat, until Google penalized their sites, or until the overplayed strategies just stopped working,

Some SEO practices get an undeserved bad rap.  I think that’s mainly because some people have overused or abused those practices, and because most other people aren’t sure what’s “just right” and what’s too much, and don’t want to make a judgment call (especially with clients’ sites).

Some caution around those practices is good, but you shouldn’t be so cautious you don’t go anywhere near them.  That’s why I’ll refer to them as phobias.

Below are 10 practices I’ve found to be good in moderation, or in certain cases, or both.  The underlined parts denote my advice.  By the way, in case it’s not obvious, I want to stress that all of this is based on my experience as a full-time, long-time local SEO dweeb – on what I’ve seen work and not work.

 

Phobia 1: “Having lots of internal links is spammy.”
If they’re heavy on exact-match anchor text, or aren’t relevant to what’s on the page, or you’d waste a visitor’s time if he or she clicked on them, then I agree: You don’t want those.  But if you’re hyperlinking a search term you’d include on the page anyway, and the page you link to also is relevant and useful, then I say pile on the internal links.  I’ve found that beneficial for rankings, at least for my clients, and especially when trying to get subpages to rank in the organic results (as opposed to the homepage / Google My Business landing page in the 3-pack results).

 

Phobia 2: “Even footer links to relevant pages are spammy.”
Same response as to phobia #1: how you do it is what matters.  The type of footer link I recommend most often is a short-to-medium list of links to the pages on your most-important services (or products).  Maybe 5-20 of them, though having more is probably fine.  (If clients’ competitors and other sites are any indicators of what’s OK, then Google’s pretty forgiving even of spammy footer links.)  I’d put only the name of the service, and not include the city name in the anchor text of every link.

 

Phobia 3: “Don’t describe the service area in the footer, because that’s spammy.”
Then that’s pretty ineffective spam, because you won’t rank in all the places you mention in your footer.  You probably won’t even rank in half of them, especially if you serve a large area, and especially if you’re in an industry with a high density of local competitors (e.g. roofing).

So why do it?  Well, besides the possibility that it may still help you a little even for competitive terms, I suggest you specify your service area (or a partial one) on every page for two main reasons.  One is to make it clear to people (not Google) that you serve their city or area.  (You can’t assume they’ll go to your “Areas Served” or “Locations” page, or will want to.)  The other reason is that it does seem to help you rank for niche terms, especially in cities/towns where the density of competitors is lower.  At least for niche terms, Google doesn’t need much content to grab onto to (1) understand what you offer and (2) where you offer it.

 

Phobia 4: “Why should I describe the service area on the homepage if I have a ‘city page’ for each place?”
Because some people may want to know what your service area is.  Also because – at least in my experience – the homepage often is more likely to rank for any given search term (and for a wider variety of terms) than “city” pages and other subpages are, if the guts of the homepage make it clear what you offer and where you offer it.

Just stuffing keywords and place names onto your homepage usually isn’t enough to rank for much.  (You’ll probably also need some links from solid and relevant sites, for starters.)  But if you don’t even mention basic points like where you work, Google won’t necessarily play gumshoe, especially if your competitors have made their service areas clear everywhere.

 

Phobia 5: “Why would I link to other sites and risk bleeding off PageRank or looking spammy to Google?”
I’ve never seen that it matters either way, much or at all.  Most of my greatest-hit, most-visible posts include links to relevant other resources, and that’s also true of many of my clients best-performing pages and (sometimes) blog posts.  Does a page or post do well because of the outbound links?  I doubt it, if only because that’s too easy, and too easy to overdo at the expense of users’ attention spans.  Don’t link to another resource just because you think Google likes that, but because you think that resource is useful for your visitor.  If your page is less useful because it doesn’t lead anywhere else, it’s a dead end, and is less likely to get links or anything else that Google pays attention to.  That can limit its rankings eventually.

 

Phobia 6: “‘City’ pages are doorway pages, and doorway pages are spam, so you shouldn’t create ‘city’ pages.”
Don’t belch out pages full of boilerplate, that say nothing more than “Pay us, pay us, wherever you are.”  Create pages that show people the experience you’ve got in their city or town, or that explain why you’re in a uniquely good position to help them.  Even great “city” pages shouldn’t be your whole strategy for ranking in more of your service area, but they can be part of your strategy.

 

Phobia 7: “Play it safe and don’t let title tags go over 70 characters.”
Usually the concern is that Google will truncate a long title tag and only show a piece of it in the search results.  But that concern isn’t too applicable these days, because most of the time Google rewrites your title tags.  It dynamically generates what it “thinks” your title tag should be (based on the search term) and shows its preferred version in the search results.  Like speed limits on the road, the title tag you specified is just a suggestion.  That’s how Google handles it, anyway.

I wouldn’t let a title tag run on for 300 characters, and I’d still think hard about what to put in it.  But I’ve have never seen that pages with title tags longer than 70 characters do any worse in the search results, and many of them perform just fine.

 

Phobia 8: “Those pages need to be under a subdirectory, like ‘/services’.  It’s not OK for subpages to be at the root level.”
I’ve seen both rank just fine – on my clients’ sites and on others’ sites.

If you’re putting up a new batch of pages, or a new site, or redesigning your site, and it’s relatively easy to stick your pages under a relevantly named subdirectory, then yeah, I’d probably nest the page in a subdirectory.

But if you’ve got a page that ranks OK at a URL like yoursite.com/nameofservice, I wouldn’t change it to yoursite.com/services/nameofservice or yoursite.com/doctors/nameofdoctor  just because your person says it’s a “best-practice.”  That’s unlikely to bump you higher up page one, and it’s not worth needing to mess with your 301 redirects, or having to fix broken links,  or both.  Separate the SEO from the OCD.

 

Phobia 9: “We want the homepage to load faster, so it’s never OK to add something that may slow down the load-time.”
Too many SEOs have a fast fetish.  They won’t add the perfect photo because of its file size, or embed a YouTube video because of its iframe, or install a useful plugin because it’s another plugin.  If speed was the most important thing, Amazon’s homepage would be the fastest of all, but it’s not.  Customers need stuff to look at and interact with.

 

 

Fast-loading pages should always be a consideration and a priority, but not the only consideration or only priority.  Always see what you can cut, but that doesn’t mean you should cut everything or never add anything.

 

Phobia 10: “Don’t keep pages or posts that rank for irrelevant terms.”
Keep them around for long enough to try squeezing some benefit out of them.  I’ve had success with that on occasion, but I’ve never just deleted pages and seen the remaining pages move up.  As far as I know, you don’t get points for perfect tidiness.

 

What’s an SEO practice that gets a bad rap, but that has helped your local visibility?

Was there a time you flew too close to the sun?  What happened?

Leave a comment!

Hit Blog Post but No Local Traffic or Rankings? 7 Ways to Make That Post Help Your Local SEO Effort

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You heard you were supposed to blog or pump out other “content.”  You heard Google likes it, or local customers like it, or you can earn some links from it.  At least one of those things didn’t turn out as planned.  Now it all seems like a big waste.

But your toil in the sun did yield at least one post that may not have been a complete waste.

You can’t tell whether you’ve got a single customer or phone call or link out of it, and pretty you’re sure it hasn’t help you rank for any local search terms you care about.  But it does seem to account for a good chunk of your traffic, so you have reason to believe something is there.

Blogging seems too much like a hamster wheel for you to stick with it much longer, but you want to squeeze some benefit out of that one hit, if possible.  How can you use that one solid blog post to help your local rankings a little or to help you rustle up a few more local customers?  Below are 7 ways (most of which I’ve used to good effect for clients):

1. Put a call-to-action at or near the top of the post. Gear it to locals – people who could become customers. Consider making the call-to-action big and shameless.  Not only might that bit of content help you pick up some local organic rankings, but also any customer you get out of the deal might eventually review you – which also helps your local SEO in a variety of ways. What about the non-local readers?  Well, people who want only to read the post can keep reading easily enough.

2. Plop down internal links to relevant pages on your site. Any time you mention a service, product, location/city, or even an FAQ entry or other blog post, link to it. One recurring problem I find is a weak internal-linking game.  Outside of the main navigation menu, often there aren’t many trails of breadcrumbs to pages the site owners want people to see.  Also, I’ve found that generous internal linking can help rankings pretty significantly, in particular if your site already isn’t brand-new and has at least a few solid inbound links to rub together.  Don’t be heavy-handed, but do use a butcher’s thumb.

 

3. Analyze the stuffing out of your post with Google Search Console and Mouseflow. The former will tell you (among other insights) exactly what terms your post ranks for and gets clicks from. The latter will show you (among other insights) video replays of specific visitors’ browsing sessions, allowing you to see exactly how local visitors behave on your post.  You’ll get a sense of what brings local people to your blog post, which can tell you how to get more people like them and what you should ask them to do.

4. Create spin-off pages. Let’s say you’re an auctioneer and you’ve got a blog post with good visibility and clicks (according to Search Console) for a term like “selling Barber Quarters,” even though your post is about “appraising early 20th Century US silver coins” and only a section of it is about Barber Quarters. In that case, make a page all about Barber Quarters.  Make it clear to local readers that you can auction their coin collections.  Link to the new page it in your hit post and elsewhere on your site.

 

5. Make a “local” version of your post. (Preferably it’s a page or a YouTube video, or it could be another blog post.) Let’s say your one hit is a post called “Accused of Feline Theft: What to Do Now.”  Now consider putting together a page called “Accused of Stealing a Cat in Wisconsin: Local Laws to Know.”  You’ll get all the local cat burglars who need legal representation.

 

6. Or add a “local” section to your post. Same idea as what I described in point #5. You’d opt for this if you don’t think you’d have enough to say in local-specific spin-off version of your post.  By the way, it’s fine to add to or update your blog posts well after the publish date.  It’s not an anachronism; it’s a service to the reader.  (I even do it from time to time.  Hope you didn’t notice.)

7. If the post received some good inbound links, use it as a temporary link magnet: later on you transplant its content into another page, and 301-redirect the post URL to the page URL. I don’t expect you’ll have too many occasions to want or need to do that kind of footwork. But you’ll want to consider it if eventually you have a “money” page that you really want to benefit from the links your post has, and if you don’t think the post’s content would look to weird as part of that page.  (Of course, the reason you haul over the content is so the people who linked to the post don’t remove the links because the page you redirect to isn’t relevant anymore.)

I’d still suggest most of those practices even if you’ve got several relative “hit” blog posts, or if blogging or other content-creation consistently works pretty well for you.

Which of those suggestions has helped you turn a solid blog post into local SEO/marketing mojo?

Do you have a blog post that you wish you could translate into some local visibility?

Any strategies I didn’t mention?

Leave a comment!

Hermit Crab SEO: a Google Maps Ranking Tactic That Should Not Work

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“Hermit crab SEO” is my name for the local SEO tactic of moving to a new place of business, creating a Google My Business page at the new address, and leaving up your old Google My Business page (which still uses the old address) until Google removes it or your body assumes room temperature, whichever […]

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How to Move Google Reviews between Google My Business Pages Far Apart

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10 Better Ways to Do Keyword Research for Local SEO

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3 main problems with most keyword research methods, especially for local search: They tell you what searchers search for, but not what customers search for They rely too much on third-party tools They give you analysis paralysis Most people’s keyword-research strategy is this (more or less): Use the “Keyword Planner” in Google Ads Use a […]

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Google Maps Reviews Now Include “What Do You Like About This Place?” Prompts

In what is at least a test, Google now asks Google Maps reviewers to select attributes they like about the business they’re reviewing.  When I went to post a review yesterday, Google asked how I liked the “Quality,” “Value,” “Responsiveness,” and “Punctuality” of the business. I haven’t been able to replicate that for other businesses, […]

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The Local SEO Data Jackpot You Missed: Google Analytics – Search Console Integration

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Hardest Truths of Google Maps Spam

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10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

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Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button

It may not happen soon – or suddenly or permanently – but the chances are good that sooner or later Google will monetize more of the Map.  Maybe all of it will become ad space, or maybe certain features of your Google My Business page will require you to load quarters into them.  Probably a […]

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