How Likely Is Google Maps to Approve That Anti-Spam Edit?

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Fighting competitors’ spam in Google Maps is an unpredictable, mushy part of local SEO, and it requires the patience of a monk.  Competitors ethical and unethical come and go, their rankings bob up and down, and Google flip-flops on policies, enforcement, and safeguards.  The least-predictable part of all is: what happens to the anti-spam “edits” you submit to Google in your attempt to clean up the map?

That depends.  An edit is not an edit.  You can make many kinds of anti-spam edits on Google Maps.  Whether Google rejects or accepts yours depends on the specific type of edit you make, on the particulars of the business in question, and on your history of submitting edits that Google ends up accepting.

Most Google Maps edits (or other requests) you can make are more likely to be approved if the business’s Google My Business page is unclaimed, if you’re a mid-to-high-level “Local Guide,” or if the page you’re trying to edit has a checkered past.  It also helps if your edits are based on the truth and you make them in good faith, rather than in an effort to hurt competitors who play fair and square.

Still, in fighting Mapspam there’s always a “I wonder what this button does?” component, which you probably want to avoid as much as you can.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/marklohmann/27521356233/

You’re more likely to get some of the results you want if you know where your patience is most likely and least likely to pay off.  I’ve observed a few things, based on many hours of making anti-spam edits on behalf of clients and businesses I’ve encountered in the wild.  My observations are based strictly on my experience. Here’s a breakdown of the different kinds of Google Maps anti-spam edits, and the general likelihood that each will stick:

Edits Google is most likely to approve

Remove a stuffed-in keyword from the “business name” field.

If a keyword or search term is not part of a business’s real name, and that’s obvious to you, there’s a good chance Google will agree.

Remove a stuffed-in city/place name from the “business name” field.
As with extraneous keywords / search terms in the name, you can probably get Google to remove the city name or other place name if it’s clearly tacked-on.

Remove a pile of keywords and/or place names from the “business name.”
Sometimes it’s obvious which part of the business name is “real.”  Often the spammy competitor will put the real business name first, and stick a bunch of keywords and maybe city names after it – perhaps separated by a dash or similar character.

If all the extraneous words are lumped together and you edit them out, Google is more likely to approve your edit.  If the real name is mixed into the keywords, your chances are still good, but Google is less likely to approve your edit right away, and slightly less likely to approve it at all.  That’s been my experience, at least.  My guess is Google has a harder time separating the wheat from the chaff.

Toss-ups: edits Google might approve, but might not

Remove a listing so spammy it could serve only as a lead-gen method for a “real” business.
If its name is an exact-match search term, and it’s got an exact-match domain name, and especially if the address is elusive or hard to find or you can’t pull up its business license, there’s a good chance it’s a lead-gen listing for a “real” business.  You may not know which competitor that is unless you call (and pretend to be a customer).  Just the same, Google may approve your request to remove the listing.

Change the site URL or landing page URL field.
Not an edit you’d need to make often.  Probably the most likely scenario is your competitor puts his/her Facebook page URL or other third-party URL in the “website” field.  (That’s an old way to game the Maps rankings, and it’s against Google’s “quality guidelines.”)

Flag down a negative review of your business from a non-customer.
Only expect Google to do something if the text of the review makes it clear the reviewer is a competitor (rare), or if it’s very un-PC, or if the reviewer has a fishy pattern of reviewing other businesses in your industry.  Getting other people to flag down the review seems to help get Google’s attention.

Mark a business as “Permanently closed”
This one’s murky.  I don’t know how* Google would corroborate or reject a claim that a business has closed.  I’d be tempted to say it depends on how many other people flag a business as “permanently closed,” if not for the fact that Google often approves that kind of edit instantly after I make it.

(*Unless the business is, say, Toys R Us.  RIP.)

Flag down irrelevant or inappropriate photos.
This is a rare time you can give Google specific details as to why you want the photo(s) removed.  Perhaps that’s why, on the relatively few occasions I’ve reported photos, Google’s pretty good about removing them.

Edit the “business name” field significantly, or change it completely.
Even if the name is complete BS, Google seems to consider complete name-changes major surgery, and usually won’t approve your edit right away.  Whether Google ends up approving it at all (days or weeks later) is a coin-toss.

Edits Google is least likely to approve:

Remove stuffed-in keywords or city/place names from the “business name” field when online branding is consistent.
If it doesn’t appear to be a pure lead-gen listing for a “real” business (see earlier point), getting the name fixed is a tough putt.  In my experience, it works out that way even if the name used on Google My Business differs somewhat from the name on the business’s license.  Probably the best time to escalate your request at the forum.

Remove a fake/questionable ratings-only review of your business.
Unless the reviewer has a pattern of crooked behavior, Google  probably will leave the rating up.

Remove a fake/questionable ratings-only review of competitor’s business
This one’s the inverse of the situation I just described: that 5-star rating of your competitor’s business probably will stand, unless the same reviewer left negative ratings of other businesses in the same line of work (like yours).  You can see the other businesses someone reviewed or rated by clicking on his or her username in the review.

Remove a listing at an ineligible address (e.g. employee’s home, UPS store, virtual office, etc.)
Google has all kinds of rules on the addresses you should and should not use, but does little to enforce those rules.  Unless you can upload a photo that makes it plain as day to the uninterested stiff at Google that your competitor is not at his/her stated address, that listing will probably stick.

Edits I can’t yet comment on (yet)

Move map pin.
I can’t remember the last time I needed to move a map pin, so I can’t say how likely Google is to accept that kind of edit.

Change categories.
Because most business owners get the categories basically correct, because you can only choose from a list (and not specify custom categories anymore), and because Google often “fixes” the categories automatically, very rarely do I ever suggest a different category.  Don’t remember what happened the last time I did, so I’d appreciate any fresh intel on this one.

Further reading

Can’t Fix a Spammy Google Maps Name? Try a Partial Edit – me

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews – me

Interview with Bryan Seely: Google Maps Spam Fighter and Ethical Hacker for the Little Guy – me

How to Remove Fake Google Reviews – Jessie Low / Whitespark

The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps – Joy Hawkins

The Proper Way to Deal with Duplicates in Google My Business – Joy Hawkins

Local SEO Spam Tactics Are Working: How You Can Fight Back – Casey Meraz / Moz

Review Spam – Which Google Categories Are Worst? – Mike Blumenthal

The Largest Review Spam Network Ever or…Who Is Shazedur Rahman and Why Should You Care? – Mike Blumenthal

Spam in, Garbage out – Why Google’s Recent Paper on Map Spam Is Flawed – Mike Blumenthal

Any types of edits I missed?

What’s been your success with different types of edits?

What about the types of edits I couldn’t remark on?

Leave a comment!

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms

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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!

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links

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Too many local SEOs and their clients take an all-or-nothing approach to link-earning, and that’s a shame.

Most SEOs casually take the “nothing” approach and don’t help their clients with links at all, and wonder why their clients’ visibility doesn’t improve.

Most of the others – the SEOs who know how much good and relevant links matter – assume the only way they can help is with a swashbuckling approach that involves hundreds of outreach emails and thousands of dollars spent on “content” that people may or may not even glance at.

Business owners often fall into those traps, too.  Even if they know they need to rustle up links, they assume a third party can or should handle all of it.  It usually takes at least a little teamwork to earn the kinds of links that can help your local rankings and overall visibility.

If you do local SEO for a living, you need to be able to help your clients in ways other than “Pay us to handle everything” or “We’ll skip links and just focus on crappy citations and spammy city pages.”

If you’ve hired a local SEO person or company to help, it’s reasonable to expect help on links other than on an all-or-nothing basis.

To that end, here are 11 ways a local SEO-er can and should help a business scare up some good links – without necessarily pouring infinite time and resources into “content” or outreach:

1. Research specific link opportunities. (As opposed to “just write great content.” Not real helpful.)  This questionnaire can help you determine what’s practical.  Beyond that, where you do look?  Some practical ideas here, here, and here.  Work together on as many of the link opps as you can.  Once you’ve exhausted those, research more.  Repeat every few months for as long as you work together.  Even if you do nothing else, at least dig for doable link opps for your client.  Whether all your other local SEO work actually pays off may depend on it.

2. Keep an eye out continually for PR opportunities, and pass them along. If you’re not sure how, start by monitoring the Google News feed and HARO. In general, keep your ear to the ground, pass along anything you see, and do what you can to help your client chase down any opportunities.

3. Look at the business’s current publicity efforts/stunts and offer suggestions on how you might get links out of the deal. Most businesses don’t do much to get publicity, but the ones who do are already doing the hard part. If you simply know what’s going on, you’ll probably see a way to finagle a relevant link or two.

4. Create a Google Drive or similar collaborative spreadsheet to keep track of the link opps you’ve dug up and might be working on. Each tab can be just a big ugly list of URLs, maybe with a column for “next step” and another column for “who’s working on it?”  Then you might categorize the link opps by creating a few tabs, like “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “got.”  That’s just an example.  You should use whatever works for you.  Even if you don’t use it much personally, it may help your client (if your client is the hands-on type).

5. Look for unlinked profiles, lapsed memberships, and broken inbound links. Does the Chamber of Commerce “member” page not include a link to the site? Did your client forget to re-up this year?  Did you find a great link with a typo in the URL?  A link saved is a link earned.

6. Offer feedback on your client’s link ideas, and always be available to kick around ideas. There’s a chance your client is the type to keep an eye out or birddog for link opps, and maybe to ask you what you think. That’s a great situation, and it’s something you should encourage.  Always offer your professional opinion on whether it’s relevant and worth pursuing, and on what might be involved in doing so.  (Also, check to see whether it’s a nofollow.)

7. Pull Ahrefs or Majestic reports on the business’s link profile and on competitors’ link profiles. Probably a no-brainer if you help people with SEO for a living. What may be less obvious is that you should not go after any and all of the crappy links your competitors have.  Just because they have a certain link doesn’t mean it’s helping them, or won’t hurt you.  Anyway, pass along to your client whatever you find, if your client is interested in that sort of thing.

8. Track the business’s and competitors’ links in Ahrefs or Majestic. Just to keep tabs on new links and lost links. It’s a good way not to forget about links, and to keep your antennae out.

9. Consolidate sites and pages that don’t do well, but that may have a few decent links. If you conclude you’re spreading your content and efforts thin, you might want to claw back those links by pointing them to whichever site or page you want to keep and focus on.  301-redirects may come in handy here.

10. Help the client to stop wasting time on dead-end or dumb link strategies. Citation-building will not get you any or many good links. Nor will squirting out 16 blog posts (that nobody reads) every month.  Nor will “To hell with it – I’m buying some Fiverr gigs.”

11. Twist your client’s arm to get him or her motivated and maybe more involved. Much easier said than done, of course. How you should go about it depends on whom you’re working with, and I don’t know that person.  All I can say is you should try to impart that without good links good rankings tend to be one Google update, Google test, or one tough competitor away from disappearing.  Easy come, easy go.  Also, try to set the bar low at first, so that initially the goal is just to get a few links that are relevant to your client’s industry or area (or both).  More likely than not, those’ll help the rankings/visibility just enough that your client gets motivated and starts gunning down link opps right next to you.

What are some other ways a local SEO can/should help with links?

Any success (or failure) stories you’d like to describe?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO for Multiple States: a Case-Study in How to Expand Your Reach

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You probably want to reach more customers/clients/patients outside your immediate area.  The question is: how?

In general, what I recommend is to specialize as much as possible, work your tail off to earn relevant links over time, and maybe create great “city”/location pages or “state” pages.  Spend most of your time on those things and you’ll do well.

But that’s general advice, and it doesn’t necessarily address what work you might need to put into your site, which is a big part of the equation.  A real-life example might come in handy.

Joe Dillon of Equitable Mediation Services has provided me with a good case-study of a “local” business owner who expanded his reach, mostly just by nailing the on-site content.  Joe and his wife, Cheryl, are divorce mediators.  They work in-person with clients, but fly all over the country to do it.  They didn’t need visibility in Google’s non-local organic results, but needed to get visible in specific local markets.  In their case, they wanted to get more visible in specific states, for certain state-specific search terms.

We worked together at the beginning of 2017, when Joe and Cheryl had me do an X-Ray – meaning I did a comprehensive audit of their situation and gave them an easy-to-follow report with all my specific suggestions.

As of this writing, Joe and Cheryl haven’t taken all of my suggestions.  Also, they were doing a number of things very well even before the audit.  Still, they’ve taken enough suggestions to see results, put in serious work, and are a great example of how to cast a wider net.

Because every situation is different, you probably can’t do the exact steps Joe describes and expect the same results.  Local SEO is not a paint-by-numbers deal.  But at the very least his case-study will give you some ideas, and should make your next steps a little clearer.

Here’s Joe on how he broadened his local SEO strategy to reach people in more states:

Our blogging strategy helped, but wasn’t enough

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (well, New Jersey in 2008), my wife / business partner and I decided to start a divorce mediation firm to help people in NJ and Illinois get a divorce – if they want one – without lawyers. Like any small business that is strapped for cash when it first starts out, we had to be efficient with our marketing dollars. Which meant having to be even smarter with how we spent our time.

So we decided we would try to get clients by blogging. It was free, there was a lot to write about, and since the phone wasn’t ringing yet, we had the time. Blogging served us quite well. Before we knew it, traffic to our site had quadrupled over the course of two years, and we were getting clients. Life was good.

One day, I decided to take a closer look at Google Analytics to see exactly where in the state these people were coming from. Much to my surprise, I found our traffic was no longer coming from only New Jersey and Illinois, but from all over the US.

 

Our blog posts didn’t get us in front of many local people

Divorce is a state-specific issue, because the guidelines that govern how a settlement is reached change significantly from state to state. So there is little sense in a visitor from California reading an article about “Alimony in New Jersey.” Yet that described most of our visitors.

All that traffic was an ego and morale boost. But since we didn’t practice in 48 out of 50 States, essentially we were saying to all these visitors, “Hey thanks for coming, but please go away now.”

So my better half and I reviewed the data, and decided to start serving clients in three additional states: California, New York, and Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a decision we made casually, because we had to think out the logistics, and we knew we’d be in for a certain amount of work. We decided to expand our “service area” for two reasons. First, we were already getting some visitors from those three states. Second, divorce in those states is handled similarly to how it’s handled in Illinois and New Jersey (where we’d already seen clients).

Before we could begin helping people in these states, we knew we needed to change the structure of our website in a pretty significant way, as it was targeted exclusively to New Jersey and Illinois visitors.

Where we started from, and what changes we wanted to make

Before the big revamp, our approach had been to welcome everyone in the front door (the homepage) and then funnel them through the site depending on where they were in the process, or what information they were looking to find.

The new plan was to have more visitors land deep into the site, on a state-specific blog post or page, so that they got the sense right away we knew the issues in their state and could help them where they lived.

From there, we would encourage them to visit a state-specific hub page (so they could see where we could meet with them), and from there to encourage them to book an initial meeting. In effect, we wanted to reverse the path visitors used took through our website.

Getting the right visitors to the right “state” page: the challenges

Our goal was simple enough, but as with many things in SEO and in life, it’s easier said than done. Our situation had a few complexities: 

  1. How could we rank for three new states without hurting our existing rankings in New Jersey and Illinois?
  1. How could we convey to visitors that we weren’t some big corporation or franchise, but rather the same husband-and-wife team we’d always been?
  1. How could we convince visitors who live far from one of our office locations that we could help them negotiate the terms of their divorce virtually AND get them the same good results as if they met with us face-to-face?
  1. How could we show any given visitor that we had expertise specifically in his or her state?

First, we wrote nine new blog posts to show our state-specific expertise 

As I said, divorce laws and processes differ from state to state. So it’s a good fit for state-level local SEO, and there is plenty of helpful content one could create on how child support or alimony and things like that work in each of the new states we were practicing in. The one thing we did not want to do was write thin content, or simply duplicate content, just to add blog posts for the three new states we wanted to target.

We chose to write blog posts instead of pages for two reasons:

First, we didn’t want visitors to see right away that we practice in five states. By putting up blog posts, we were able in effect to “hide” them until visitors were ready to see them. That may seem counterintuitive, but we didn’t want to scare visitors off right away thinking we were some large corporation.

Second, writing blog posts instead of pages allowed us to use state-specific category tags. That way, when a visitor reads our blog and searches posts by category, they can choose the state they live in and be served content relevant to where they live.

For example, a California visitor can choose the “California” tag and read an article about Child Support in California.

 

Then we built five new “state” hub pages for each of the states we were practicing in – and put SERIOUS work into those pages. This was the biggest challenge, as we had to come up with even more state-specific content that wouldn’t overlap with the blog posts we created. Here too, we wanted to give visitors a sense that we knew their state, and weren’t some faceless corporation.

So we wrote unique intros for each state hub page to show our local knowledge and to drop some state-specific references.

We created a high-level overview of the four main topics of divorce in each of the five states, with links to the state-specific blog posts.

We also put ON our “state” pages some frequently asked questions that address head-on who we are and why we practice all over the place.

Believe it or not, there are divorce “franchises” out there, and we did NOT want to be perceived as one of them. (No disrespect to anyone who owns a franchise.)

We also fielded inquiries from visitors in each state regarding their most frequently asked questions, and answered them right on the page. Those FAQs were in addition to the more-general ones we added to each state page. That process gave us a bunch of new content ideas. And since it addressed a question from a specific visitor in a specific state, our logic was that if one person had that question, maybe other visitors in that state did too.

We made our internal links do more work

Once we had the new, detailed, state-specific content (described above), we could take links from our blog posts and point them to the state hub pages, and vice versa. Google seems to like internal linking, and visitors who landed on one resource might find other relevant and valuable, so we figured a two-way trail of breadcrumbs could only help.

Also, once we had the “state” pages we linked to each one in our footer.  Again, we figured both Google and people would find those helpful.

The scary parts: surgery on our title tags and H1/H2 tags, and transplanting content into and out of our homepage 

Phil advised us not to try to “optimize” the homepage for 5 different states, but rather to make it describe in more detail our services, with just enough info about each state to make it clear to Google and clients where we work. Before, we struggled with how to “optimize” for New Jersey and Illinois on the same page. Stuffing in state modifiers everywhere got awkward.

The first place we had to work that out was in the homepage title tag. Using state modifiers everywhere worked well when we were only practicing in two states, but when practicing in five, it would have looked like this: 

Divorce Mediation in New Jersey | Illinois | California | New York City | Pennsylvania | Equitable Mediation Services

117 characters, in case you’re curious. Ouch.

And the homepage welcome paragraph would have been:

“If you or your spouse live in New Jersey, Illinois, California, New York, or Pennsylvania you can mediate your divorce with us.”

Not exactly helping with the whole “we’re a small, two-person husband and wife team and not a franchise” vibe.

Also, if we were going to get our state hub pages to rank for the state-specific terms we wanted, we were going to have to move those tags, and the related state-specific content, over to those pages. This was the scariest part of the plan, because we weren’t sure how well it would be received by Google, and whether we’d mess up the rankings we already had and not pick up additional rankings.

Anyway, to give it our best shot, we did some keyword research for the state-specific “head terms” and used that as the focus of our our title tags and H1 tag. For example, in California, the term “Divorce Mediation California” had the highest search volume. So our title tag became “Divorce Mediation California | Our Locations | Get Started | FAQs” and our H1 became “Divorce Mediation California – Locations, How to Get Started, and FAQs.”

Then we had to deal with the substance of the pages themselves. As previously mentioned, we wrote lots of state-specific content for each of the hub pages. Once we had it on those state pages, we removed it from our home page. For example, here is a section on how divorce mediation is conducted in a particular state. In this case, Illinois:

Part of the restructuring between the homepage and state pages was to move the really detailed, state-specific content from the homepage to the state pages. But we still wanted some location-specific info on the homepage, so we added to the homepage a section on each state.

We kept our fingers crossed 

Making this kind of jump required a significant leap of faith.

Faith that our plan was the right plan, as you never know with the search engines if what you’re doing will help or hurt.

Faith that our state hub pages, and state-specific blog posts, would more than make up for any potential lost traffic to our homepage.

Faith this wasn’t just a big waste of time.

Faith that our visitors would respond to our messages, get to know us as humans and not some faceless corporation, and respond by booking a meeting with us.

If things didn’t work out as planned, we would simply revert back to practicing exclusively in Illinois and New Jersey as our business was fine as it was. But given the traffic we had from visitors from other states, and the fact that people throughout the United States get divorced, we felt we had to stick our necks farther out of the shell.

So what happened?

While it’s only been a few months since everything has gone live, so far the effort has been worth it.

  • We’ve climbed up the rankings for state-specific, divorce-related terms in our three new states, cracking the top 10 in Google for a few keys terms, and flirting with page one, for a number of others
  • We’ve shifted our search volume for our original two states from the homepage to their respective state hub pages with no loss of ranking (whew!)
  • We’ve increased the number of page views on our site by 71% year over year
  • We’ve increased the number of initial meetings booked with us by 38%
  • And most importantly, grown our bottom line revenues by 17% with that growth coming exclusively from the three new states we added to our practice – and reached by changing our strategy.

We believe that once we have a full year of these pages being live, and our ranking climb into the Top 10 for our key search terms, that contribution to our bottom line will grow.

Here is a screenshot of visitors from California from February 1st thru November 30th.

It wasn’t easy for us, and it won’t be easy for you 

My partner and I are not the best multi-taskers. We prefer to work on one thing at a time, and see things through from start to finish, sometimes at the detriment of other tasks or priorities. So finding the time to write blog posts, create new pages on our site, and monitor our results while servicing our current clients was challenging for us to say the least.

But despite the significant increase to our workload, and competition among multiple priorities this new project would create, we felt it was important to do it ourselves. Given the proliferation of “content marketing and creation professionals” separating the good from the bad from the ugly has become far too time-consuming for a small business like us. You would think with all the “writers” out there it would be easy to find someone good to help, and that that person would be a net time-saver. Neither of those is an outcome you can count on.

And given that this project took more than 5 months to complete (that’s 100’s of hours of man and woman power) we had to take the long view and key our eye on the prize, as results were not quick to come. Especially as we worked on it in-between our day jobs! 

Big-picture takeaways

I’ve described the finer points of what we did to expand our geographical footprint. Those exact steps may or may not be exactly what you need to do. So I’d like to sum up the broader “lessons” I’ve learned, which I’m more certain will be applicable to your situation:

Key Takeaway #1: Don’t just wing it. If possible, hire a professional to help you build a plan. Or plan yourself. Just plan! 

As business owners, we’re sometimes too close to our businesses and miss things that others can more easily see. Bringing in someone from the outside can give you a fresh perspective on what you’re doing well, and what areas you could improve on. An experienced professional can also give you peace of mind, and can be a sounding board for ideas.

We could have pumped out 50 more blog posts, or gone crazy trying to optimize our homepage for 5 different states, and it may or may not have worked out. We were tempted to try, but we’re glad we were able to reach more states after all by using less ham-handed methods.

Even if you choose not to work with a professional, there are many resources you can tap into to put together an action plan of you own to follow. One site I find helpful is the U.S. Small Business Administration and their “Small Business Guide” section in particular.

When you think about it, expanding into a new territory or market is kind of like starting a new business. You need to do market research, competitive analysis, write a business plan, calculate your costs to expand into that new market, and put together a plan. It’s probably not your idea of fun, but it’s better than launching into a strategy that you just have to abandon.

Key Takeaway #2: Decide what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do to make it happen. 

I’d love it if I could just snap my fingers and grow by business. Wouldn’t that be great? The reality is it takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work to grow. And if you’re not willing to commit 100% to the process, forget about taking on a new project in the first place.

So before you decide to make yourself crazy, or set yourself up for failure, ask yourself these questions:

Do I have the time in my day to commit to a new project? If you are already burning the candle at both ends, you’ll only stress yourself out by piling even more work that you simply won’t have time to do. Make sure you can commit the time needed to give your idea the best chance at success.

Do I have the emotional bandwidth to commit to a new project? You ever have one of those days where you just don’t feel like getting out of bed? Yeah, me too. Imagine feeling that way every day. And adding a new project to your mix. You might have the time for a new project but not the drive. And it’s the drive that’s going to get it done. Not just how many hours in the day you have free to work on it. 

Why am I considering this new project? Is it because I’m bored and I’m looking for something to do? Is it because I don’t want to address a significant concern in my business? Am I chasing some trend with no idea if it will help me or my bottom line? (Hello, social media!) If it doesn’t grow your business or move it forward in some way, don’t do it. Period. 

Is my plan solid? Do I even have a plan? How many clichés would you like me to throw at you here? How about “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” or the one about SMART goals. You may think of these as clichés but the fact is they’re universal truths. I’m guessing you don’t have unlimited time and money to waste so you better have a plan and be measuring your progress and results against it. 

Do I have the resources in-house to accomplish this? Or do I have to outsource some or all of it? As I previously mentioned, finding a competent professional to help you can be a real challenge. If you can’t find someone to help you execute the plan, can you and your team do it yourself? Or will the unfinished work become an albatross around your neck? 

What if my project doesn’t succeed? You shudder at the thought, but you’ve got to think about it. As small business owners we want to believe that our ideas are always right on the money because we know our customers and our crafts. But you must consider the possibility that your idea may not work out. And you’ll be left standing in the very same spot you are right now. You OK with that? You can afford to have it work out and reach and serve more customers, maybe even ones from another city or state. But can you afford for it not to work out? Can you take the hit?

Many business owner friends of mine have dozens of irons in the fire but never manage to complete a single project. They’ve got no time, no plan, and no resources assigned to it. They might try easy “fixes,” but nothing more. That leaves them mentally drained, stressed out by all the undone work, and frustrated that their business isn’t growing.

“I’m doing all I can!” they say. As they post pictures of themselves at the beach. On a Tuesday. At 2:30 in the afternoon. Actions speak louder than words.

If you want to grow, you need to make sure your actions are aligned with your desires. You can’t just speak the words and revenue will flow. You need to do work no one else is willing to do. Take the chances that no one else is willing to take. And pursue your goals with laser-like focus.

I’ve found this is the only way to get things done as there are lots of other distractions out there competing for my attention. If I don’t put my head down, and execute my plan, I can easily find myself playing fetch with my dog, playing the guitar, or doing one of a hundred other things that don’t contribute to my bottom line.

And if you don’t want to grow, that’s OK too. I know plenty of business owners who are content exactly where they are. They work as hard as they want, and balance their business growth with other, perhaps higher priorities. For instance, I have a friend who runs a small mortgage business, but his focus is on “being there” for his two high-school aged sons. Sure, he could grow, because there are lots of people who buy houses and need mortgages, but he’d rather spend the time it would take to grow doing other things. That’s perfectly fine.

Key Takeaway #3: There’s more to local SEO than your Google My Business pages!

 You might think that these days Google and other search engines are so hung up on providing users with hyper-local results that there’s no room for businesses that operate state-wide. Or that don’t have physical office locations near the searcher. Though that may be true to a certain extent, there are still opportunities to create local content and have searchers find you, as we did with our state hub pages.

Here are some elements you may want on a “state” or other type of location-specific page:

Introduction. A great opportunity to let visitors know upfront you can help them where they live, and that you speak their lingo. Also lets you work in some state-specific search terms. 

General FAQs. The job of any good website page or post is education and action. Sharing FAQs upfront tells your reader you know why they’re there and that you can help. And if you don’t know what FAQs to address, ask your visitors and customers. Or just listen to them a little more closely. 

Locations. Let people know your office locations, or the areas you serve. More opportunities for SEO by using state or location-specific terms. 

An in-depth look at your service, and how it’s geared to the place you’re targeting. Share with visitors how your service works in their particular area. Is there something different about pest-control in Florida from how it’s done in North Dakota? Something tells me there is. Write about it so they know you know what you’re doing. Mention specific cities and landmarks and so on where appropriate. 

Call to action. Depending on how long your page is, you may want to have multiple opportunities for a call to action. But at a minimum, tell the reader what it is you want them to do next.

Key Takeaway #4: A project with payoff is not “set it and forget it.”

 Just because you’ve completed your project doesn’t mean it’s over. In fact, the work has only begun.

Major changes like the ones we undertook required us to first set a baseline of where we were so that we could know if what we were doing was helping or hurting. We also had to put in place a system to monitor the changes we made, to ensure we were still getting the results we wanted.

Yep, after all that writing and restructuring, we created even more work for ourselves. 

Undertaking significant projects like these can seem overwhelming. But if you’ve got a plan, maybe a team of professionals who can help, and the drive to see it through from start to finish, you can do it too.

Joe and Cheryl have done a good job of avoiding the content hamster wheel, where you write 10 blog posts a month that not even mom reads, just because you heard that “Google likes fresh content.”  Instead, Joe and Cheryl focused on the one-time, permanent content on their site: mostly the homepage and the “state” pages, with blog posts that are (1) designed to be helpful and that (2) have a long shelf life.

They didn’t try to optimize every page for every state/region, and instead carved out specific pages to do that.

They didn’t try to “optimize” every crack of the homepage for every state, and instead used it to describe their services in-depth, while adding just enough location-specific content for Google and visitors to sink their teeth into.

They put in a ton of work, and have seen some very nice results, but are nowhere near “done.”  They didn’t mistake a simple plan for an easy plan.

What’s something you learned from Joe’s case-study?

Any particular step you’re eager to try?

How would you adapt it to your situation?

Leave a comment!

How to Feed the Google My Business Messaging Feature into Your Landline

https://www.flickr.com/photos/101951515@N07/17356259048/

If you enable Google’s new “messaging” feature, customers who pull up your business in Google Maps can contact you via their favorite chat app.  Whether that’s a good thing for your business (or it drives you crazy) is for you to decide – maybe after a test drive.

But let’s assume for a minute that you want to use the Google My Business messaging feature.  Let’s assume some customers/clients/patients you want to attract would find it useful.  Do you now have to carry around an extra phone, or stay glued to another screen, or task someone who works for you to do so?

No.

This post is from Dr. Emily Beglin, an general dentist whose husband is an orthodontist in Carson City, Nevada, and who runs the orthodontists’ directory SelectBraces.com.  Here she describes a MacGyver-like way to feed the Google My Business messaging feature into your existing landline, so you can stay on top of any “messaging” leads without having to stay on top of more devices.

 

In the last decade, there has been a massive shift towards people of all ages using their mobile phones for just about anything, and texting is a huge part of this. It, therefore, makes business sense to add some type of texting capability to your business to make communicating with current and potential new customers faster and easier. I’m going to tell you about two great options that can work well together or separately.

When we started using two-way messaging in our orthodontic practice, our primary objective was to improve our overall patient experience by engaging patients in the manner that best suits their needs and desires. This allows us to provide them with customer service that sets us apart from our competition and the response has been stunning. Our patients love the feature and tell all their friends about it. In a round-about manner, this has led to an unexpected increase in word-of-mouth referral business to our practice.

Our practice was already engaging in Facebook messaging, which is how we came to realize people’s desire to message us, rather than pick up the phone. There are many advantages to allowing your customers to communicate with your business via text and I think just about any type of business that currently communicates directly with customers via phone will benefit from it.

After evaluating a couple of platforms, we chose to go with Text Request. Text Request makes it easy for any business to manage live, two-way text conversations by text-enabling a business’s existing, local landline number to send and receive texts, all from an online account. Text Request is cloud-based so you can send texts through a web browser or from your smartphone.

(One of the other platforms we looked at is zipwhip. The people there are friendly and professional and the product seems sound. However, we found the zipwhip software to be far too complicated for our purposes. At the time of our evaluation, they offered the features we liked the most (custom signatures, group texting, multiple users, saved responses and the widget embed for our website) but only with the higher priced plans. With Text Request, a business can enjoy all the features and instead pay only by the volume of texts they use each month.)

Besides the functionality of two-way texting with our patients, by far my absolute favorite feature is the “embed” widget we use on our website.

On desktop, it displays in the header like this:


When displayed on a smaller screen (like on a tablet or smartphone), the user sees this:

  

Clicking on the, “Click to Text,” button, opens the user’s texting app with the default number to your business:

It’s human nature in the text-o-sphere to expect an immediate response, so we use a customizable autoresponder that looks like this:

 

For businesses with HIPPA-compliance requirements who do not use a server configuration or software that ensures HIPPA compliance, an autoresponder message stating not to relay personal health information(PHI), would be advisable. This is an ever-increasing issue for healthcare providers. If you really want a scare, check out this article about the penalties for non-HIPPA compliance. Yikes! In any case, don’t take my word for it. Make sure your business is HIPPA-compliant in all communications.

Google My Business Messaging feature 

Messaging with customers is a relatively new Google My Business (GMB) feature that has recently been made available in select countries. To configure this feature is pretty straightforward.

  1. On mobile, the GMB listing looks like this before enabling messaging:

 

  1. After logging into your GMB dashboard, click the blue edit button on the upper right:

 

  1. Then click Messaging on the left menu:

  1. You will then be asked to verify your number:

 

  1. Then click Save:

 

  1. It is immediately live on mobile, with the option to message in two places!

The beauty of adding messaging to your GMB listing is that it is seamless. If your business already has a text-enabled number through Text Request or another service, you don’t need to configure anything else.

If you don’t have a text-enabled landline, a business can verify and use a personal or business mobile number.  If you don’t have either a text-enabled landline or a mobile number, Google does say you could use their Allo app, rather than a mobile SMS, but to do that, you will have to download the app and your customers would also have to use it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not an option and will only complicate, rather than simplify the process.

Although there are other services like Text Request, I love the fact that they have different plans depending on how many messages you send per month, starting from as few as 400, all the way up to 20,000. This means that you only pay for what you use, yet can scale it up as your business grows and as more of your customers choose to reach you via messaging. I also like the fact that there is no monthly contract. That way, if it’s not working out for your business, you’re not on the hook paying for something long-term that your business is unable to use.

We love having two-way messaging for our practice and adding it to our Google My Business listing is the frosting on the cake! It would be useful for all types of businesses, albeit for different reasons, but it works very well for orthodontists and for dentists, or any kind of business where customers make appointments for specific times. For dentists, it’s perfect for filling cancellations. Staff can send out a blind group text to everyone on their waiting list for a specific procedure such as a cleaning. This is a faster way to get the word out about an opening on the schedule and gets a much quicker response than sending emails and leaving a bunch of voicemail messages and then waiting to hear back. This dramatically frees up staff time and easily fills same-day cancellations, which can be costly to any business.

Another benefit of accepting text messages at our business is it allows patients to conveniently reach out to us when the thought is fresh on their mind to contact us. They don’t have to think, “Oh, they’re closed now – it’s Sunday. I need to remember to call them when I get to work tomorrow.” We all know how that goes…

Anyway, I look forward to hearing how messaging works for your business!

Emily Beglin, DDS

Any questions for Doc Beglin (or for me)?

Have you tried the GMB messaging feature yet – and maybe even set it up to feed to your landline with something like TextRequest?  Why or why not?

Leave a comment!

Did Your Local Rankings Really Sink, or Are You Just Looking at Them Wrong?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pioilo/11053027603/

You wanted a fresh look at your local rankings, but now you need fresh pants.

It’s bad.

Or maybe it’s not – at least not the rankings.  Of course, it’s possible somebody involved in your SEO/visibility effort messed up, or that many people joined in a carnival of errors, or that Google got bored.

But it’s also likely you haven’t taken an accurate look at your rankings, and are still OK.  It’s possible your rank-tracker goofed (despite their merits, they often do), or that you’re searching in Google in a way that skews results.

So before you let out a Klingon death scream, check a few more things.  Use this checklist to confirm whether your rankings did in fact take a hit:

Did you:

  • Look beyond your rank-tracker? As in, actually search in Google.  Maybe look in another rank-tracker, too.  (Or in Ahrefs, if you use that.)
  • Sign out of your Google account? Personalized search history works in strange ways.
  • Search in an incognito browser tab?
  • Strip out any parameters in the URL? (Probably won’t be necessary, but it just takes a second.  In the address bar, just remove everything after the search term you typed in.)
  • Empty your browser cache? Then try searching again
  • Check the AdWords “Ad Preview & Diagnosis Tool”? In my experience, it’s not a perfect reflection of your rankings, but it’s pretty accurate.  Be sure to specify your search location.  (FYI, you don’t need to advertise on AdWords to use the tool.)
  • Use the same device you usually use to check your rankings?
  • Try slight variations on your search term? Like by making it plural or singular, or by specifying the state as well as the city.
  • Check Google Analytics? If you used to rank for any terms that brought you any appreciable traffic, you should see some corresponding drop-off in Analytics.
  • Check Google Search Console? Same idea as with Google Analytics, but Search Console will also show you impressions – how many people saw you in the search results (but maybe didn’t click through).  That will probably only help you if you’re concerned about a site-wide rankings nosedive, rather than a drop-off for just a couple search terms.

  • See whether the Google Maps 3-pack still shows up at all? If for a given search term you only had rankings in the local 3-pack, and no organic rankings for that term, and Google stopped showing the 3-pack for that search term, then it’s not exactly a drop in rankings.  Rather, it’s a high-level change you can’t control, didn’t benefit from, and now must adapt to.

  • Make sure your browser’s still using the correct search engine – the one for your country? If you’re in the US, for example, you probably use Google.com and not Google.co.uk.  If you messed up your browser settings or stepped in some malware, you’ll have to reset your settings.  Once you’ve done that, check your rankings again.

If you checked all those items and you still see a drop-off in rankings, you’re probably seeing the real story – and it’s bad news.  But even so, it’s not the end of the world.  Maybe you ranked for useless keywords to begin with, and business is no worse for the wear.  Or maybe you need to fix up your local SEO strategy (see this and this), or need to get professional help.

Any items you’d add to the “before you freak out” checklist?

Any stories about your eyes deceiving you?

Leave a comment!

Should You Make It a Page or a Post?

You’ve got content you want to stick on your site.  Maybe it’s about a specific service or product you offer, or it’s in-depth “educational” info, or it’s your answer to a frequently asked question, or it’s some attempt to reach people in a specific city, or something else.

You know what you want to put on your site, but aren’t as sure how best to weave it in: Should you create a static page or a blog post?

That depends on many factors – your goals, your preferences, and other specifics of the situation.  More on those in a second.

You might have heard soundbites like “Google likes fresh content,” or “blog posts are search-engine-friendly,” or “every small business should have a blog,” or “blog posts rank better” (especially if you use WordPress or are considering it).  Not necessarily.  Those statements are true to one degree or another, depending on the situation, but in my experience reality is a little more complicated.

It’s complicated partly because the goal isn’t necessarily to get a page or post to rank, but maybe instead for it to (1) drive leads, (2) to impress however many people find it, or (3) to get shared and linked-to and help make your name.  Or some combination of the above.

If you pressed me to suggest one to err on the side of using more, I’d go with pages.  At least in my experience, static pages tend to rank a little better than do blog posts, and often go farther in converting the right leads into the right kinds of customers/clients/patients.  If that’s true, I can only speculate as to why.  That’s a topic for another day.

Anyway, if the question is “Should I create a page or a blog post for this info I want to put up?” and the answer is “It depends,” then what does it depend on?  Well, here’s how I decide when to make a page vs. a post:

Make it a page if you:

  • Want to convert readers to customers/clients/patients right away (if possible). If your content has “commercial intent” it should probably be a page, rather than a post.  People expect posts to be educational.
  • Want most or all visitors to see whatever you’ve written. Posts usually are a little harder to navigate to.  Even if you have a prominent “Latest Posts” display, the posts you want everyone to see will probably get buried by more-recent posts sooner or later.

  • Plan to make it an evergreen resource – one you may significantly edit or add to later. Posts tend to have at least one indication as to when they were written.  An old post with new, up-to-date info may confuse people.
  • Want it to rank for very specific keywords. Again, people generally expect blog posts to be informational.  There’s just a little more footwork you can do on a page – and not have it look weird – from the title, to the name of the page, to the internal links you can weave in, and so on.  Even more important: it’s possible any link-rustlin’ outreach you do will result in more links, if ultimately you’re asking people to link to your “resource” rather than to your “latest blog post.”
  • Want it to rank in a specific city, or for certain city-specific search terms, or both.  (See this.)
  • Want to point AdWords traffic to it. If you’re running AdWords competently, most people who click on your ad have an imminent need for what you offer.  Don’t confuse them by using a blog post (meant to appear kinda-sorta educational) as your landing page URL.
  • Need to be able to tell people the URL verbally. Blog post URLs tend to be longer and messier (example).
  • Need people to be able to type the URL.
  • Created it as a post already and now want to revive it. Let’s say you created a post 3 years ago, and it didn’t accomplish what you wanted it to, or it’s slipped in the rankings.  Simply updating the URL and timestamp to reflect the current year won’t help you.
  • Care much which subdirectory it’s in.

  • Care much what’s in the URL slug.

  • Want it to appear as a sitelink in the search results for your brand name.

  • Don’t want people to leave comments, as they can on most blog posts.
  • Aren’t yet sure what to call it.
  • Plan to migrate to a new CMS soon.

Make it a post if you:

  • Want mostly non-customers and non-leads to consume your info. Sometimes the people who read and share and link to your posts aren’t people who will ever pay you a dime for anything.  That’s how it is on my blog, for one: Many of the people who “spread the word” about my posts, site, and business aren’t my clients.  That’s a good situation, and it’s a good situation for you, too.  You want “cheerleaders” in addition to customers.
  • Feature news or other info with a shelf life shorter than that of a Slim Jim.

  • Think it will still look good in the search results even when the timestamp is 5 years old.

  • Can’t figure out a good way to incorporate a static page into your navigation.
  • Have a dedicated audience of people who expect posts from you. That’s why what you’re reading now is a post, and not a page 🙂
  • Want to make an announcement.
  • Offer a discount or make a special offer.
  • Are just testing out an idea and aren’t sure you want it to be a permanent fixture.  A blog post can make a fine Petri dish.
  • Want to serialize your work.

What are some criteria you use to decide when to make a page vs. a post?

Do you have a resource where you’re not sure you got it right (and want a second opinion)?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO for State-Level Search Terms

A good local SEO effort gets you some rankings and customers in your city.  A great effort might get you results from some adjoining cities, too.  But few local SEO campaigns result in new business from across an entire state.

Even rarer is for someone in this industry to write about state-level searches.  There’s this great piece by Mike Ramsey from 2010, but that’s about it.  I’d like to share what I’ve observed about how businesses can widen the net on their local visibility.

What’s a “state-level” local search term?

Any search term that contains the name of a state (or province).  It can be either fully written-out (e.g. “Texas”), or the two-letter abbreviation (e.g. “TX”).

“home inspector NJ”

“mortgage broker MA”

“Florida eyelid surgeon”

And so on.

It doesn’t matter whether the state name is at the beginning or end of the query.

A “state-level” search does not include a city.  If you search for “dentist Denver CO,” you’re telling Google that you want to see dentists in Denver.  Google doesn’t need to grab results from across the state (more on that in a second), so it typically handles that kind of query similarly to how it would handle a search for “dentist Denver” (without the “CO”).

Why would you try to rank for state terms?

1. Some people search statewide. Either they’re in an adorable little state (like Rhode Island), or they want to cast a wider net because they didn’t like what they found nearby.

2. Because of point #1, the quality of the search traffic might be surprisingly good (though lower). I suspect people who search on a state level are farther along in the research process than if they were still searching for whomever or whatever is closest.  So I suspect they’re more willing to drive.

3. Fewer competitors will think to try to rank for state-level terms.  They won’t know what hit ’em.

4. It beats trying to optimize your pages for 5 different cities you think you can target on one page, or by cranking out several separate pages.

5. It can supplement your city-level visibility. You’ll still probably rank in (and maybe around) your city, if you’ve put in the work..  Ranking statewide won’t somehow “water down” your relevance to your city.

How does Google handle state-level searches?

A state-level search may pull up Google’s local 3-pack, or it may not.

 

When it does pull up a map, Google often draws results from the big cities – usually from the biggest urban area in the state – but not always.  Sometimes you’ll see results from all over the state.  Why the variation?  Good question.  I haven’t figured out the rhyme or reason (yet?).

Google’s a little more predictable in how it handles search terms that strictly pull up organic results – that is, with no “local map.”  Usually, Google will show the sites or pages with the strongest link profiles or – for less-competitive search terms – the sites simply with the best (or spammiest) on-page optimization.

How do you rank for them?

First, some big-picture things that you may or may not be in your control, but that seem to affect your ability to rank for state terms:

1. Specialize in a niche, if you can. As I’ve written, it’s often easier to rank for specialized services, and perhaps even more so if you’re targeting a state when most people only think to target a city.  Also, in some ways it’s just smarter marketing (you’re not trying to be all things to all people).

2. Try it for services where people are willing to travel, or where they don’t have to travel, or where they don’t have to pay extra if you travel.  If you’re a plumber, customers won’t pay you to travel 100 miles to be a plumber.  But if you’re the only plumber in the state who specializes in repairing their high-end European-made tankless water heater that always seems to break – and they know that because you actually talked about it on your site – they might just put you up in the Ritz.

3. Be in geographically small state, or at least in one where most of the big population-centers are pretty close to each other. Think Maryland, New Jersey, or Massachusetts.

Mind you, I wouldn’t expect you to join me in the Massachusetts mayhem for minor local SEO considerations (though perhaps you would for my charm chahm).  It’s just that if you’re not in one of those major population centers, at least you’re not so far outside of them that Google has to stretch the map just to include you.

Now for the nuts n’ bolts.  Much of this is similar to the advice I’d give if you had no interest in state-level search terms.  But it’s especially germane to “state local SEO.”  Also, you’ll need to put a state-oriented twist on some of it.

4. Go for a granular site structure. Having, for example, an in-depth page on each specific service you offer is smart anyway.  But it’s extra-important if you’re trying to scoop up some visibility on the state level.  Why?  Because if a given page is focused on a highly specialized, “niche” service it’s more likely to rank without too much heartache.  Google and visitors usually prefer a clear focus over a “big happy family” -type page that lists 10 different services.  Combine that topical focus with a focus on the state – rather than on the city where all your competitors also try to rank – and you’ll have either some state-level rankings already, or you’ll be well on your way.

5. Rack up the good links – especially ones relevant to your area. Be on the prowl for links that are relevant to your state, like statewide industry associations you can join.  Of course, get some strictly “local” links (some ideas).  Keep in mind: Google will draw from a bigger pool of competitors, from across the state, to determine who should rank for state-level search terms.  Be the site that benefits from a Google that cherry-picks.

6. Consider your business name. That still matters more than it should. You’re probably not in a position to rename your business.  On the off-chance you are, consider making the state part of your official, legal business name.

7. Pile on the reviews – especially more Google reviews. If you’re going for state terms, reviews seem to matter even more than usual, at least in my observations.  The businesses that rank for state terms typically have more reviews than do businesses that rank well in one city or another.

Now, let’s assume that’s not simply because those businesses are better at all aspects of marketing, and that good rankings and lots of  reviews aren’t just two sides of the same coin.  To me, it makes sense intuitively that reviews would matter more than usual.  I suspect that when customers search state-wide, Google is even more clueless than usual as to what search results to show.  So Google would probably want to identify “the best,” and might rely even more than usual on factors like where reviewers live and what cities or regions they mention in their reviews, and probably a hundred other factors.  Again, just speculation.

8. Describe your service area in detail – on your homepage, on important landing pages, on “city pages,” and maybe on a main “Service Areas” page. Don’t just list cities and ZIPs.

9. Do not underestimate the humble title tag. The two-letter state abbreviation is a high-payoff element to include in there anyway.  But it’s a no-brainer if you’re specifically aiming for state terms.

10. Create free resources that anyone in the state would find useful – not only potential customers/clients/patients.

state-search-term5

Any luck in ranking for state-level search terms?

Any that you’ve worked toward but haven’t ranked for?

Tips?  Questions?

Leave a comment!

Online Scheduling: on the Rise in Google and a Local Search Ranking Factor?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/far/372421220/

I want to emphasize that I have not tested this – even to the extent you can “test” anything in local search.

Rather, I’ve just observed a couple things:

1.  Google seems to integrate online “Make an appointment” software into local businesses’ knowledge graphs more often than it used to.

2.  Businesses with the “Make an appointment” feature in their knowledge graphs often seem to outrank businesses without it.

A few visuals, just to show what I’m talking about:

The scheduling services I’ve seen pop up again and again – and more and more as of late – are:

DemandForce / Intuit (since August)

MyTime

Genbook

Zocdoc

Booker.com

I’ve also seen FullSlate and PatientConnect365.com pop up on a few occasions. Also, Jesse Palmer of LoveandScience has shown me an example of a HealthGrades scheduler appearing in the knowledge graph.

Use one of those services and you’ll probably get the “Make an appointment” feature showing up in Google when people search for you by name.

It’s not only for doctors.  I’ve seen it for accountants, massage therapists, and even cryotherapy saunas.  It’s for anyone who wants to give clients / patients / customers the ability to book an appointment online using a third-party scheduler.

That’s nice, but why might it be a local ranking factor?  We local SEOs can be a superstitious bunch, and sometimes throw around that 6-letter F-word with abandon.

Some reasons it’s not totally crazy to think Google might use online booking as a minor local ranking factor:

1.  Google cares at least enough to have a whole “support” page on “Local business orders and appointments.” And they’ve even got standards, and make it clear that not every business gets the “Make an appointment” bling:

Links to booking options will appear automatically for eligible businesses. There’s not currently a way to request this service for your business.

2.  The knowledge graph has replaced the local Google page as the place to find info on local businesses in Google. seems to care about what’s in it and it’s shoved in your face, whereas your Google Places Plus My Business page is very hard to get to.

3.  As Big Brother, Google must know whether and how searchers use with the online scheduling interface. One thing I’ve noticed is that a business using online scheduling only tends to outrank other businesses if it’s got reviews (Google reviews and others).  As with Google Maps driving-direction lookups, a combination of online bookings and an influx of reviews might suggest to Google that customers do business with you and live to tell about it.

4.  Like Google Business View, it implies a few things about your business:

  • Unlike most spammers – you’re serious enough to fork over.
  • People can actually meet you, probably at your place of business.
  • Clients / patients / customers think your business looks good enough to book an appointment, and possibly to write a review post-appointment. (Some booking sites encourage reviews after the appointment.)

By the way, on the off-chance you own an online-scheduling site, you can apply to be included.

Have you noticed more instances of “Make an appointment” lately?

Did I miss any appointment-scheduling services that cause that to pop up?

What do you think about the theory that online scheduling might be a minor ranking factor?

Leave a comment!

The Most Obscure “Rule” in Google My Business – a Nasty Surprise

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jayvee/6317802466/

A few days ago I wrote about a tricky issue I seem to have figured out based on a hunch: that having two or more Google My Business pages in the same service area can cause problems if you need to owner-verify one of the pages.

When I was troubleshooting with my client, I couldn’t remember where I saw that overlapping service areas might be an issue for Google.  That bugged me.

Turns out I hadn’t gone totally senile (yet), and that at one point I must have seen this MapMaker thread (or one like it), where MapMaker editor Gregg “Flash” Gordon wrote that:

It is important to note that there is only one listing permitted per SAB per urban area and per location. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge).

As of today (April 4, 2016), that “per urban area” part is not in the Google Places Quality Guidelines:

Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas.  If you wish to display your complete business address while setting your service area(s), your business location should be staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your inputs as well as inputs from other sources

Nor is it in the Google My Business Quality Guidelines, nor in “Service-area businesses on Google” guidelines, nor in “Address entry guidelines,” nor in any other document I know of.  It’s certainly not in any documentation a business owner will ever run across.

It’s not even mentioned by any of the Google My Business Forum “Top Contributors” in my 2014 post on “What’s Missing from the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

Apparently, the only people who know about this dumb, buried “urban area” rule are Googlers, MapMaker editors, and maybe Top Contributors at the GMB forum.  Fine.  Whatever.

But what in tarnation constitutes an “urban area”?

Is it a small town?  Is it Manhattan, or the Five Boroughs of New York City, or the Tri-state area?

What if you’ve got two locations of a business in the middle of nowhere – where the definition of “urban” is the dirt road between the church and the general store?

Oy.

If it’s a rule that’s actually enforced – especially a mushy-worded one like this – it should be present and visible in the rules that Google expects the average business owner to read.  Period.

I guess Google has had bigger fish to fry, like Mic Drop.

Did you know about the “urban area” rule?  If so, where did you read it or hear about it?

Have you seen it enforced?

Leave a comment!