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.


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?


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)





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


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?


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?


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


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)


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?

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12 Kinds of Duplicate Content in Local SEO: Which Ones Are Trouble?

There are two intertwined myths about duplicate content:

1: That Google is on the warpath against it, penalizing sites left and right.

2: That duplicate content is a thing – one specific problem.

Neither is true, because of one fact: there are many different types of duplicate content.  (Google says so, too.)

That’s even more true in local SEO – because to rank well in local search you’re not just dealing with your site, but also with a bunch of listings.

Some types of duplicate content hurt your rankings, whereas many are just a mild drag or are harmless.

It’s not bad SOP to try to make all your content everywhere unique.  But sometimes it’s just not necessary, and you don’t want it to suck up too much of your time and distract you from stuff that really matters.

I can think of at least 12 types of duplicate content.  Pay attention to the types that (at least in my experience) might hurt you, and don’t spend time worrying about the harmless ones.


1. Mirror sites
Same content, different domains.  The rationale is that maybe both the sites will rank well, or that one of them will have a call-tracking number to “prove ROI!”

Google’s warnings are strongest for wholesale duplicate content between sites.  In my experience, using mirror sites never ends well.  Either one site ranks OK and the other doesn’t, or neither ranks well.  Mirror sites confuse Google and would-be customers alike.


2. Duplicate / near-duplicate Google listings

Google listings that have nearly identical names, addresses, and phone numbers can hurt your rankings.  Use Michael Cottam’s excellent duplicate-finder tool to uncover them.

By the way, “practitioner listings” often aren’t a problem, in my experience.  (In other words, if you’re a doctor, lawyer, real-estate agent, or insurance agent, it’s OK if you have a listing in your name and the practice or agency has one in its name.)

3. Duplicate citations
Not a big deal if you have 2 very similar listings on, say, MojoPages or Brownbook – one of those little sites.  But do you have one YellowPages.com listing named “Acme Dynamite” and another named “Acme Dynamite Company”?  Delete one of them, or else Google might scrape YP (a trusted third-party source) and create an unwanted Google Places listing for you.

Also, you should be gung-ho about removing duplicate listings on highly visible sites like YP, Yelp, and Facebook.  To the extent you get reviews on those sites, you’ll want to get the reviews piled up on one listing, rather than spread them thin between several listings.

4. Internal duplicate title tags
Does your “Services” page have the same title tag as your homepage?  Google won’t penalize you or anything; it’s just that you’ve lost an opportunity to help different pages rank for different search terms.

5. Duplicate title tags between sites
Similar problem as in point #4.

But there’s an additional problem: if you have multiple sites that include the name of your business in the title tags, you may mess mess up your brand-name search traffic.  When people search for your business by name you want one site to come up in Google, so that everyone goes to that site.  Why?  Because Google loves brands.  The more you can seem like one (i.e. popular offline and online), the better.  But you don’t want to confuse Google as to what site represents your “brand.”

6. Duplicate / near-duplicate pages on your site – particularly “city” pages
I’ve never noticed a site get penalized specifically for barfing up two dozen pages that target different cities by swapping out the city names (“HVAC Contractors Atlanta,” “HVAC Contractors Decatur,” etc.).

But a few problems remain: (1) those clone pages often don’t rank well, (2) even if they do rank well they eventually drop because users pogo-stick away from them, and (3) they usually don’t produce many phone calls.

Low-quality “city” pages aren’t as much a drag on your rankings as they are a giant lost opportunity.  Yours don’t have to suck, though.

7. Reviews cross-posted by customers
Scenario: a customer writes you a nice review on Yelp, so you ask her to write a review on Google+.  Just make sure it’s not the same review.  Make sure the words are significantly different, or the review might get filtered on both sites.  (By the way, Yelp and Google are the only sites that aggressively filter reviews – at least as far as I know.)

Not a problem:

8. Reviews that you copy and put on your site
This isn’t against Yelp’s or Google’s (or other sites’) policies, and I’ve seen so many businesses copy and paste their reviews onto their sites that I’ve concluded it’s just not a problem.

9. Duplicate descriptions between listings
You can use a different description on Yelp from the one you use on Manta, or you can have those descriptions and all your others can be pretty much the same.  (I say “pretty much” because different sites have different length requirements for your blurb, so a little variation is inevitable.)  Doesn’t matter.

10. Website content cross-posted on listings
Want to use a blurb from your homepage as your description on Angie’s List?  Harmless.

11. Google+ posts duplicated on multiple Google Places / Plus pages
If you’ve got multiple locations – each with a Google Places page – it’s OK to publish the same post in each one’s “Posts” stream.

12. Re-posting Google+ reviews
Google allows this.  Very few businesses know that they can show off their Google reviews in their “Posts” stream.

Can you think of any other types of duplicate content, in the context of local SEO?

Which ones have you found to be harmful vs. harmless?

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