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

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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?

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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

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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!

Google My Business Mails Verification Postcard to the Wrong Address: What to Do

Did your Google My Business verification postcard end up in the wrong neighborhood?

(goo.gl/S6DEks)

Yesterday I did a consultation for a guy whose client – an HVAC contractor – had a problem with duplicate Google pages.

Just two pages – one for each office location.  Each location served mostly different cities, with a little overlap.

Page A was set up fine.  Page B was also fine, except it used the same street address as Page A.  The client didn’t want it that way.  He entered the right address into the dashboard, but when it came time to seal the deal by owner-verifying Page B, Google put the street address of Page A – the other location – on the postcard.

The client was creating Page B for the first time, and didn’t see a way to make Google send the postcard to the correct address, so he went ahead and had it sent anyway, and owner-verified his page.  Soon after that, his local 3-pack rankings dried up, and his SEO/marketing dude booked a consultation with me.

Somehow, Google was messing up the addresses between when the client entered the correct address in the dashboard and when it showed him the preview of where the postcard would be mailed.

If you’ve run into a similar problem, you probably want to know what’s going on.

The problem seems to be overlapping “service area” settings, if you’ve got a service-area businesses with multiple Google My Business pages.

Let’s say you’re a plumber in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  You’ve got a location in Dallas, and your plumbers there travel up to 20 miles for a job.  But your plumbers in Fort Worth also travel up to 20 miles for a job.  So for each Google page you set a service area with a 20-mile radius.  The trouble is now the service areas overlap.

It gets worse if you get greedy.  If you’re like many owners of service-area businesses I’ve spoken with, you probably picked a 70-mile-radius service area, thinking that you’ll rank throughout that huge swath of land.  You will not.  It’s like putting 30 gifts on your Christmas wish-list.  You’ll be lucky if Google Claus gets you 3 of them.

We finally got Google to send the postcard to the correct address once I went into the Google My Business dashboards of both pages, removed all the service-area targeting, and un-hid the address of Page B.

(No, Google doesn’t care about un-hidden addresses anymore, and only did for a year or so.)

Maybe your case is different, and all you’ll have to do is change the service-area radii, for example.  Who knows.  But now you know what to tinker with.

Have you run into this problem – of Google mailing the postcard to the wrong address?  Did my solution do the trick?

Leave a comment!

Will a Tracking URL Hurt Your Local Rankings in Google?

You may have considered building a tracking URL and putting it in the “Website” field of your Google My Business Google Places page.

You’d do this so that you could see in Google Analytics how many clicks came from people how found you in the local 3-pack (as opposed to in the organic results).

But maybe you didn’t try it because you there was a chance it would mess up your rankings or a client’s rankings.

Well, no problem.  I made myself your lab rat and put a tracking URL on my Local Visibility System page.

As I suspected, it doesn’t seem to have hurt my visibility in the search results.

That’s what I see in the Google My Business “Insights,” which you have to take with a fistful of salt.  So I checked Analytics, too, and I don’t see a loss in traffic.

I don’t pretend that this is a scientific test.  Like the experiment I did back in October (“Do Longer Business Hours Help Local Rankings in Google?”), it’s just one case-study.  I could try it for other businesses and my results might vary.

But what I have concluded is that there’s no inherent harm in using a tracking URL on your Google page, so now I’m more comfortable with using tracking URLs for clients.  That squares with what Dan Leibson mentioned in his great post on the topic.

Have you tried using a tracking URL on a local page (yours or a client’s)?

If so, what have you seen?

Any concerns I didn’t address?

Leave a comment!

10 Ways to Use CrazyEgg for Smarter Local SEO

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CrazyEgg is like night-vision for your website.  It’s an inexpensive, easy-to-install tool that shows you where visitors click, how far down the page they scroll, and much more.  I’ve used it years, on my site and on clients’ sites.  I recommend it in my audits, and to anyone with a site that’s supposed to support a business.

It shows you that intel in a heatmap for each page you want to track.  You study those heatmaps to make decisions as to how to improve your site – how to make it better at giving visitors what they’re looking for.

But CrazyEgg’s insights on clicks can also help you improve your local visibility in Google and elsewhere.

You can discover content ideas, which review sites your visitors care about most (or want to review you on), how visitors who found you through Google Places behave once they’re on your site, and much more.

By the way, there are other great click-analytics tools, like the up-and-coming HotJar, but I’m focusing on CrazyEgg because I’ve got the most experience with it and it’s been good to me for a long time.  (No, I’m not an affiliate.)

Here are all the insights (I know of) that CrazyEgg can give your local SEO campaign:

Insight 1:  Do your pages compel visitors to go deeper into your site?

You want a low bounce rate, “long clicks,” and in general for people to use your site the way Google expects they would.  The jury is out on this as a ranking factor, but in my experience it does matter.

Study CrazyEgg’s heatmaps, starting with your most-important / most-trafficked pages.

Do most visitors click where you expect and want them to?

Do they click on links / buttons for specific services you want to promote (and if so, which services)?

Do they even scroll far enough down the page to see what you want them to see?

You may have some surgery to do.

Oh, and don’t forget to re-launch your CrazyEgg test on a page once you’ve made any changes to that page.

 

Insight 2:  What FAQs-page questions are the most popular?

Knowing which questions visitors click on most can tell you what content you might be missing, and which pages you should beef up so as to answer those questions.

Create a giant FAQs page (here’s a great example), and make the questions clickable links that take visitors to the answers.  Either the answers expand, or you put them lower down on the page.  If you’re using WordPress, consider a plugin like jQuery Collapse-O-Matic.

Then let the CrazyEgg test run, until you’ve got a couple hundred clicks.  See which questions people click on the most.  Then create more content or tweak what you’ve already got (or both).

 

Insight 3:  See how your Google Places traffic behaves.

Use Google’s URL builder to create a tracking URL and add it to the “Website” field of your Google Places page.  (More detail in this post from Dan Leibson.)

Then set up a CrazyEgg test for your landing page (without the tracking parameter).  Let it run for at least a couple weeks.  Then pop open the “Confetti” view in CrazyEgg and see where your Google Places visitors tend to click.

You can even compare the types of traffic you get from practitioner Google Places pages (e.g. “John Doe DDS”) and practice pages (“Doe Dental Center”), if you’ve claimed those Google pages and added different tracking URLs to each.  This may tell you whether you should try to bury that practitioner page or spruce it up and get reviews on it so as to develop it into more of a traffic source.

 

Insight 4:  Are your “city pages” effective?

If nobody seems to click or scroll, Google may consider them garbage, too.  Help those little guys.

 

Insight 5:  Are your microsites or exact-match-domain sites just online paperweights?

(Spoiler alert: probably.)

 

Insight 6:  How many visitors show interest in your reviews?

Do they click on links to your reviews, or click on your review widgets or badges?  That might tell you a few things, like that:

(1) They probably came straight from Google.

(2) They probably didn’t see enough of your reviews in the search results.

(3) They care about reviews in general, and you could probably get more traffic and clicks (which seem to affect rankings) if you pile on the reviews.

(4) Maybe you should put your reviews on the page where currently you just link to them.  (They won’t get filtered.)

 

Insight 7:  How do reviewers (past and current customers) act once they’re on your “reviews” page?

Let’s say you give your customers a link (on paper or in an email) to a page where you’d like them to write you a review.  Which links do they click on – that is, which sites do they try to review you on?

If everyone clicks on the same site or whichever one’s listed first, you probably need to provide guidance (e.g. “Have a Google+ page? Please go to Google+”).  If people don’t seem to click at all, they may not know there are clickable links.  Do reviewers have to scroll down to see all the choices – and might miss some?

There’s a story there, if you’ll listen.  What you learn can help you get more reviews on the sites you want.

 

Insight 8:  How many people look up driving directions?

I’d hazard a guess and say that this matters a little, if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business.  Bill Slawski has written about this – that the combination of driving-directions lookups and an influx of reviews might be a ranking factor, according to one of Google’s patents.

Encourage visitors to look up driving directions.  Don’t forget to embed the right kind of map: a Google map of your business, rather than of a generic address.

 

Insight 9:  Does anyone actually click on your social-media “share” buttons”?

Rather than ask visitors to share on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Pinterest and LinkedIn and Reddit and create a Squidoo lens for you, you might make better use of their attention by linking them to further reading, or to your reviews, or to your contact form.

This harkens back to Insight #1 – about how you want to get visitors deeper into your site.  You also want those visitors to become customers.

 

Insight 10:  Look at each traffic source and see how those visitors behave.

Is most of your traffic from Google.com – meaning most visitors find you in the search results?

Do you have any significant traffic from sites where you’ve got reviews?  (If so, keep racking up reviews there and elsewhere.)

Do the links you’ve earned from other sites actually send you traffic – or just “link juice (you hope)?

Study the different dot-clusters.  Do all the oranges click your “Read Reviews” link?  Does it seem that none of the blue-dot visitors clicks at all?

Bonus insight: You might conclude, finally, that Yahoo Local is a total waste of time.

Can you think of other ways that click-analytics can help your local SEO?

Any tips on those – or on CrazyEgg in general – you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!

How to Pick the Best Barnacle SEO Sites: a Checklist

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

But barnacle SEO poses three challenges:

(1) It takes work.

(2) Most people overlook easy wins.

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

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

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

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

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

How to pick a barnacle SEO site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is its SEO enviable?”

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

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

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

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

Any questions about the checklist?

Leave a comment!

20 Local SEO Techniques You Overlooked (Almost)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/

We local-SEO geeks talk about the same old basic principles a little too much: clean up your citations, don’t get penalized by Google, be mobile-friendly, earn “local” links, create “unique” content, deserve reviews, ask for reviews, etc.

It’s all good advice.  I’ve devoted many of my blog posts in the last 4 years to unpacking that advice so it’s easy to act on.

The trouble is we’re repetitive.  We’re almost as bad as the talking heads at CNN.  We rarely move on to what you should do once you’re pretty solid on the basics – and there is a lot you can and should do.

(In fact, many of the overlooked wins can also help you even if you just started working on your local SEO.)

Here are 20 stones I find unturned way too often:

1.  Nail the categories on your non-Google listings: Pick out the most-relevant ones, and as many of them as are applicable. Dig them up with Moz Local’s free “Category Research” area and with my category lists for Apple Maps and Yelp.

2.  Do a second round of work on your citations. Do it a couple of months after the initial blob of work.  You might be amazed at how many stragglers you find.  Might be enough to motivate you for a third go-round.

3.  Try to find and possibly hire a MapMaker editor to join the Forces of Good in your local anti-spam war. Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a MapMaker editor can stop your competitors’ spam offensive, but it’s worth a shot.

4.  Become or get to know an “Elite” Yelper (like this recruit). Got a review that’s viciously personal, un-PC, or is obviously from an imposter?  The Elite Yelper may know just how to phrase the takedown request for the best chances of a takedown.  Also, because most Elite Yelpers don’t really have lives, Yelp seems to expect them to report data-errors (like wrong addresses), and usually acts on them.

5.  Embedding on your website the Google map that’s featured on your Places page. Don’t embed a map of a generic address.  You want Google to know people are looking up directions to you.

6.  Get a Google Business View photo shoot. (10 reasons here.)

7.  Pick the right itemtype for the blob of name / address / phone info that you’ve marked up with Schema.org markup. Or take a few extra minutes to go bananas with your Schema.

8.  Join a couple of local and industry associations. I’m talking about your local Chamber of Commerce and the sorts of organizations you’d find if you Google the word that describes your business + “association” or “organization.”  They’re often worth joining for the offline benefits, and you’ll probably get a good link.

9.  Diversify the sites where you encourage customer reviews. The benefits are many.

10.  Create a “Reviews” page. Use it to showcase your reviews (possibly with widgets and badges) and to ask any customers who visit the page to put in a good word.  You can pretty easily create a page from scratch, or you can make a nice one with a service like Grade.us.  Link to it in the signature of your emails, as a gentle way to encourage any customers you email to pick up a quill.

11.  Write blog posts to answer super-specific questions that a customer might type into Google. Don’t try to rank for your main keywords (“How to Pick the Best Dentist in Cleveland: a Guide by Cleveland Dentists for Cleveland Dentist Patients”).  It won’t work and you’ll look stupid.  (Refer to this post and its follow-up.)

12.  Get some barnacle SEO happening. By now, Will Scott’s concept isn’t new, but most business owners still don’t even try to do it.  But just start with the basics: if you pick out all the right categories (see point #1) and encourage reviews on a variety of sites (see point #9) you’ll be in pretty good shape.

13.  Use wildcard searches for keyword-research. (This one was new to me until very recently.)

14.  Lengthen pages that aren’t ranking well – including and perhaps especially your homepage. Yes, this sounds old-school, and about as cool as a pocket protector.  But I’m not telling you to add gibberish.  Go into detail about what makes you different, describe your service / process, address concerns the reader might have, etc.  Google likes having meat to sink its teeth into.  One-paragraph Wonder Bread pages tend not to do as well.

15.  Ask for reviews twice. People forget, and it’s a nice excuse to keep in touch.  Follow up with customers you asked for a review – especially if they said they would.  It’s easy to avoid making yourself a pest: just say you’d still appreciate their feedback, ask them if they have any questions for you, and thank them in advance.

16.  Include links to sites where you have reviews. (Be sure to have those links open into a new browser tab, so nobody’s leaving your site.)  Use review widgets and badges when you can.

17.  Cannibalize underperforming microsites, bad blog posts, or other online carcasses. Grab (and edit as need be) any content that’s redeemable, and use it to make your site bigger and better.

18.  Get listed on Apple Maps. Yes, everyone knows about aMaps by now, but I’m amazed at how many times I start working for clients and see only their competitors on Apple.

19.  Try hard to reach non-English speakers, if applicable. Don’t just stick Se Habla Español (for example) in your footer as an afterthought.  Include a paragraph in that language on your homepage and on your “Contact” page.  Maybe create a whole page geared toward those customers.  Be sure to use the hreflang tag if you have more than one version of the same page.

20.  If you’re a local SEO-er, find steps your clients might be able to do better than you can. Don’t just look for more billable hours; look for the best person for the job, or the best combination of people.  Don’t spend hours trying to dig up all their old phone numbers and addresses; ask them first.  Whenever a writing task comes up, pump your clients for info.  When you need to find link opportunities, send them my link questionnaire.  They know the business better than you do.  If you don’t get much cooperation, fine.  At least you tried, and you’re giving them options.  But I’ve found that most clients recognize when they’ve got just the right wrench for the oddly-shaped bolt.

What’s an “overlooked” local SEO tip you like?

Any that you’re considering but not sure about?

Leave a comment!