User Behavior Affects Local Rankings. Now What?

First, go check out Darren’s slides.  After you pick up your jaw, come back here.  The two presentations were an unofficial duo that kicked off the Local track at State of Search 2014.

Want to know how to get higher click-through from the Places results, and how to encourage other actions that Google may care about (like getting customers to look up driving directions)?  Enjoy!

 

Huge thanks to Greg, Mike Stewart, and to everyone else who made State of Search great.  You should go in 2015.  You’ll love it – especially if you’re serious about local search.

Questions about my slides?  Leave a comment!

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Using the Sitelinks Search Box for Your Local Business

I don’t think anyone’s talked about Google’s sitelinks search box in the context of how small-to-medium local businesses can use it.

It will probably never be a big part of anyone’s local SEO efforts.  But having a sitelinks search box might help you in a few ways:

  • People might find it easier to find what they’re looking for on your site. By “people” I’m referring to repeat customers and to people who are serious enough to search for you by name.
  • Especially if you’re not getting any autocomplete suggestions when you type in your business name, the search-box usage reports might tell you what people want to know about your business. And that might tell you what pages you need to create, give you ideas for blog posts, or alert you to brushfires you need to put out.
  • It might be a very minor factor for your rankings. That’s pure speculation on my part, although Google’s soft spot for structured data is no secret.

This isn’t going to be a long post, but I’ll break it up into two parts:

Part One is my brain-dump of everything I know about the sitelinks search box.

Part Two is some Q&A with structured-data whiz David Deering (who’s given me some great intel in other posts).

Warning: this one’s a little technical.  If you’re not the resident geek, maybe you should ask your RG to read this between Hot Pockets.

Part One: My Observations

Do any small-to-medium “local” businesses (as opposed to Home Depot) have the sitelinks search box yet?  I wouldn’t call them a small business, but here’s the smallest I’ve seen so far:

OK, that’s all I knew before writing this post.

Sad, huh?

Well, that’s why I asked David some questions about how you can get a sitelinks search box up and running and possibly helping your local visibility – before everyone and his grandma has one.

Part Two: Quick Q&A

Phil:  What are the technical prerequisites for getting a sitelinks search box to show up when someone searches for your business by name?

David:  You actually don’t even need to use Google’s Custom Site Search Engine.  Any functioning site-specific search engine is fine.  For example, WordPress websites usually come loaded with one.

 

Phil:  How long will it take and how much will it cost for the typical small-business owner to get it implemented?

David:  If a website does not have their own site-specific search engine, one can be added, such as Google’s.

To add that to a site only takes a few minutes.  Creating and adding the markup to the homepage itself also only takes a few minutes.

So all and all, a person can add the search engine feature and the markup to their site in about 30 minutes.  But they will need to edit their site files, and some people might not be comfortable with doing that.

 

Phil:  Under what circumstances will Google not show your sitelinks search box?

David:  From their documentation on the subject (found here), Google will display the search box feature for navigational queries, and when it’s relevant for users.  And, similar to other rich snippets, Google’s algorithm will look at various quality signals.  They obviously don’t want to make low quality sites more visual in the SERPs, so they likely won’t display a search box for those.

(Great post on this by AJ Kohn: The Rich Snippets Algorithm.)

 

Phil:  Besides Google’s documentation for developers, what resources should someone refer to for getting this implemented?

David:  Google’s documentation seems to cover it pretty well.  But just a couple of things to add to what they’ve written:

Many people have asked about how to mark up a sitelinks search box when the website has several different homepages for different languages or regions, such as www.example.com/us/ and www.example.com/fr/.  Currently, Google does not support search box markup for second-level domains (such as either of those example URLs).  But they are aware of the need and it sounds like they might (hopefully) begin supporting that soon.  So for now, a website owner should place the markup on the canonical version of their homepage.

Also, when Google came out with this suggestion, they demonstrated the markup in JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data) instead of microdata.  So a lot of people started adding the markup to their site using JSON-LD, even though they’ve never used (or even SEEN) the syntax before.  People can use either JSON-LD or microdata to add the markup to their homepage.  The documentation page shows examples in both syntaxes.  Also, as the doc mentioned, you only need to add it to your homepage, not to every page of your site.  Just test it out to make sure that it works.

I’ve also had people say that they do NOT want Google displaying a search box for their search result in the SERPs because they felt it was not a good user experience (?? I don’t get that, but whatever.  And you can tell Google not to display the search box for your site in the SERPs).  However, there is good reason to add the markup to the site anyway.  Google does sometimes show the search box for sites in the SERPs even if the site does not have the markup on it.

And recently, AJ Kohn wrote an article where he found that Google displays a lot of ads for competitors when someone does a site-specific search (keyword + site:example.com), whereas if a person uses the site-specific search box, Google displays results only from that website.  So there’s good reason to add the markup–it prevents others from hijacking your visitors.

Thanks to David for the intel.  This is new territory for “local” businesses, so the dos and don’ts aren’t too widely known yet.  Follow David on Google+ if you’d like to absorb some of his savior-faire – or if you’d like to hire him to help get your search box squared away.

What questions do you have about getting a sitelinks search box?

Do you even want one showing up for brand-name searches?

Leave a comment!

 

P.S.  This is post #200 on my blog.  Thanks for sticking with me this long.

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Local Citation Audit Tip: Use the New Sitelinks Search Box

One benefit of Google’s new sitelinks search box: it can help you save time on finding messy local citations.

See what I mean?

Just type in the name of the site and search for your listing(s) from within Google’s results.  It’s the equivalent of doing a site:yoursite.com search.  (For more on what exactly you should do in a citation audit, read Casey Meraz’s dynamite post.)

Like my BBB tip, it’s just a potential time-saver.  As Nyagoslav pointed out when I mentioned this to him, this won’t uncover all the listings you might need to find on a given site.  No single method can, and some listings don’t even get indexed.

Not every local-business directory site you need to check has the sitelinks search box (yet?), though.  The main data-aggregators – ExpressUpdate, LocalEze, Acxiom – don’t have it.  So those sites are still a PITA, and you’ll still have to go to those sites to check your listings.

Still, most of the big sites - like Yelp, CitySearch, and YP – already have the sitelinks search box.  So do at least some of the bigger industry-specific sites, like HealthGrades and Avvo.

I expect the sitelinks search box will get even handier over time, as more sites latch onto it.  Unless Google does with it what it often does with features that have lots of potential.

Know of any sitelinks search box hacks for auditing citations?  Do you find it easier?  Leave a comment!

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Mining Your Online Reviews: 25 Nuggets You Can Use to Get More Local Customers

A good review means it’s Miller Time and a bad review is just a black eye – right?

No.  You’ve got a little more work to do.  The better you understand your reviews, the better you understand your customers and your business.  That’s how you’ll attract more of the types of customers you want.

Sounds like a mushy goal.  But you can do it by crunching on your reviews until you chew into the bits of gold.

I’m talking about all the online reviews you have anywhere – from Google+ to Yelp to YellowPages to industry-specific review sites.

Don’t have many reviews yet?  Great.  It won’t take you long to mine them for insights.

Don’t have any reviews?  No problem.  Mine your competitors’ reviews.

Read all the reviews and try to answer these 25 questions:

Quick dig

1.  Do customers bring up the aspects of your business (especially services) that you want them to?

If not, you might need to tell them, “Hey, the more detail you can go into, the better.”  (As a bonus, this is a good and ethical way to get more keywords in your reviews.)

2.  Which service(s) of yours do your customers review most? That might tell you which customers are most likely to write a review if you ask them to.

3.  Do reviewers rave about a service that doesn’t even have its own page on your site? Create a page for it.  There’s a good chance it’ll rank – especially if it’s a niche service.

4.  Did they mention that you provided them an emergency service, a free estimate, or a discount? You might want to create a separate page on your site where you talk up that angle.

5.  What do customers love about you? Tweak your USP if it doesn’t reflect what makes your happiest reviewers so happy.  If possible, update the pages on your site and your Google Places description (and descriptions on other sites) to showcase the crisper USP.

6.  Do they mention how they found you in the first place, or whether your online reviews were a selling point? Give that piñata an extra whack.

7.  Do reviewers mention a specific person in your company? If so, what do they say?

Bonus points: do you have a whole page on your site about that person, where you play up his/her strengths?

8.  Do customers use their full names? If not, you may want to tell them you also appreciate reviews on review sites that don’t require full names.

9.  What’s the balance of men vs. women who reviewed you? Is there a balance?

How well does that reflect your pool of customers?  If not, can you say that you’re much more likely to get reviews from women or from men?

10.  Which people have profile photos (on Google+ or Yelp)? This can tell you who might be more willing to take a few minutes to write you another review on another site.  Consider asking those people for a review somewhere else – especially if they’re still customers / clients / patients.

 

Deep dig

11.  Who’s reviewed you on multiple sites? Those people are your brand-advocates – your cheerleaders.  Send them a thank-you note and a smoked pheasant.

12.  Leaf through your reviewers’ profiles: Are they habitual reviewers, or did they write a review just for you? This might tell you where they found you in the first place.

You never know what you might find.

13.  Have your absolute-best customers reviewed you? If not, ask them (or ask again).

14.  How many of your reviewers are repeat customers vs. first-timers? This will give you an idea of when customers might be most likely to act on your request.

This can tell you (among other morsels) roughly which stage of the relationship is the best time to ask for reviews.

15.  Did any of your customers also do business with or review your competitors? What do those customers like about you and dislike about your competitors, or vice versa?

16.  Which of your reviewers have written several reviews on Yelp – but haven’t written Yelp reviews of your business? Might be time to raise some awareness.

17.  Check out the spontaneous reviews. Which sites did people review you on without your having to ask?  That can tell you which sites customers find easy to use, and maybe about where they found you in the first place.

18.  Who wrote more reviews that you didn’t ask for: happy customers or unhappy customers?

19.  Are there any reviews that might be useful as testimonials on your site? (Consider each site’s policies when re-posting reviews.  Only Yelp and Google are against it, but I’ve seen so many businesses reuse reviews as testimonials that I can’t believe Yelp and Google care too much.)

20.  Is there a specific time of year that many customers reviewed you? That might be a good time to ask them in the future.

21.  How old are most of your reviewers? Do younger customers seem more likely to review you, or are the older ones more likely to?  Whose reviews are longer or more thoughtful?

22.  What cities are your reviewers from? How visible are you in those places?

23.  Are specific customers giving you the star ratings you expect from them? If you expected 5 stars from Jane and she gave you 5 stars, and you expected 3 from John and he gave you 3 stars, keep asking the Janes for reviews and figure out how you can make the Johns a little happier.

24.  Whose Yelp reviews got filtered? Consider asking those people to review you somewhere else.

25.  When did customers post reviews relative to when you asked them to review you? Do they tend to review you same-day, or is there an incubation period?  This can tell you when’s a good time to send a follow-up request.

You could spend a few minutes or a few hours mining your reviews – depending on their number and on your interest.  It doesn’t need to be a teeth-grinding ordeal.

You don’t even have to do it personally.  An employee or assistant or someone in the family could do it.  The ultimate is to mine your reviews, then ask someone else to, and then compare notes.

What have you learned from your reviews?  Have you mined them but don’t think you’ve got any nuggets?  Leave a comment!

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When Can Digging for Competitive Intel Help Your Local SEO?

People often ask me what kinds of competitive fact-finding I think can help their local SEO efforts.  My answer usually is, “Not what you’d think.”

The theory is solid enough: you want to know why your competitors outrank you in the local results, so you try to find out everything you can about them.  Knowledge is power, right?

But there are some problems inherent in competitive-intelligence:

  • You’ll be tempted to do whatever your competitors do, even if it’s stupid and might earn them a penalty in the future. Lemmings off a cliff.
  • You won’t know exactly why they’re ranking well now.
  • You may not know how long they’ve ranked well (for all you know, there’s a bug), and you can’t know how long it will last.
  • It’s hard to know to what extent your competitors’ search-engine visibility results in paying customers.
  • Google can see things that you can’t.

You don’t want to be the schmuck who says, “I don’t get it…I’m doing everything my competitors are doing, so why don’t I have good rankings?”  Well, because Google may not be looking for more of the same in the search results – and your would-be customers certainly aren’t.

The best thing you can do is gather the kind of competitive-intel that you can use to get ahead of your competitors, and to ignore the useless facts that only allow you to ape them.

Let’s start with the useless stuff that – in my opinion – isn’t even worth researching:

Useless competitve-intel

  • Keyword-density. Because you too can be the proud owner of a spammy site that confuses and annoys visitors.
  • Anchor text of inbound links. If you can control the anchor text it’s probably not a good link in the first place.  But in either case, the temptation to go too far is too strong.

icarus

  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one.
  • Domain name. Yes, a keyword-relevant domain is a small advantage.  But changing your name is a big deal, and not worth the hassle purely from a rankings standpoint.
  • Domain age. Same issues as with domain names, except an old domain that you buy is an even smaller advantage, and you may inherit some backlinks baggage.
  • Name of Google Places landing page. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if you use your homepage.  But there are exceptions.  If you see a competitor who’s using a city-specific landing page he / she may be one of the exceptions.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Google Places description. Your competitors probably don’t rank for every keyword in their descriptions.  Most likely neither will you.

Sometimes-useful intel

  • Inbound links. (C’mon, you know the pros and cons of looking at competitors’ links.)
  • Site structure. Your competitors’ pages may be easier for Google to crawl, and there may be more of them that conceivably could rank well.
  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one – OR, if you must look at someone else’s title tag, do it just to get the creative juices flowing.  (Thanks to Dave for reminding me in his comment that this sometimes has value.)

My favorite intel

  • What useful pages do your competitors have that you don’t?
  • Where do they have reviews?
  • How many reviewers do they have? It’s worth knowing whether your competitors have had many customers / clients / patients to review them, or they’re banking off one or a few super-fans
  • How many of their other locations rank well? You might want to pay closer attention to a company that’s 5 for 6 than one that’s 1 for 6.
  • What categories do they use on their Google Places page and on other listings?

  • What kinds of barnacle SEO advantages do they have?

  • What obvious mistakes are they making? (And how can you avoid making those mistakes?)

Pay attention only to the areas where you can do something beyond just ape what other people are doing.  Especially in the long term, that’s the only way you can use competitive-intel to pull ahead, rather than to be just another plastic-coated noggin in the peloton.

What’s your philosophy on researching local competitors?  What do you pay attention to or ignore?  Leave a comment!

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How to Cultivate Hearty Local SEO Genes for Your Business

If you’re opening a new business or considering some changes, can you make your business itself local-search-friendly?

Can you bless yourself with an inherent advantage in the local rankings – like super local SEO genes?

Yes ma’am.

It’s like with athletes.  Of course, hard work separates them from each other and from couch potatoes.  But if you’re a swimmer, wouldn’t it help at least a little if you’re like Michael Phelps and have flipper-feet, and arms longer than your legs?

Genes only get you so far.  But every bit counts in a competitive world.  If possible, you want to make the inevitable hard work easier, and you want everyone else have to work a little harder.

You’ll only find this post useful if you’re starting your business, opening a new location, or considering making major changes.

I’m going to throw out a bunch of suggestions for how you might make your business inherently more local-SEO’d.  Some of them you may have considered before.

I’m not saying all these ideas are applicable to you.  It’s more likely that only a couple of them are realistic in your case.  Just see what you can apply to your situation.

Relevance genes

Suggestion 1.  Position yourself as a specialist – or focus your whole company on a niche.

If you’re a roofer and you focus on metal-roofing jobs it’ll probably be easier to rank for “metal roofing” than for “roofing” and “roofers.”  The same is true if you’re a dentist who mostly wants to do more implants, or a mechanic who wants more transmission work.

Specializing doesn’t necessarily mean you offer fewer services.  Steakhouses serve more than steak.  It’s a marketing decision, more than anything else.

Less competition often makes it easier to rank well.  Your local visibility might also open more wallets, because you’re catering to a specific group of people and not trying to be all things to all people.

The traffic is likely to be of higher quality.  The more specific the search term, the more likely it is the searcher has moved beyond tire-kicking and know what he/she wants.

Also, you’re in a better position to use a descriptor on your Google Places page.

 

Suggestion 2.  Name your business with a relevant keyword or two.  Like “Acme Windows & Gutters” or “Smith Accounting & Bookkeeping.”

Do it for real: make it official with the State.

Speaking of state, consider using a state name in your name, like “Acme Windows & Gutters of Maryland.”

A couple nice upshots of picking out a strategic business name are:

(1) brand-name links to your site will include relevant anchor text, and

(2) customers’ reviews are more likely to mention relevant keywords, just because there’s a good chance they’ll mention your name.

 

Suggestion 3.  Include your 1-2 main service(s) in the name of your site.

Think hard about whether to include the name of your city.  Unless you plan to focus on one city and don’t really want customers from elsewhere, don’t pick a city-specific website name.  You don’t want to force yourself into using multiple websites.

 

Suggestion 4.  Hire someone who speaks a language that many of your customers speak, or that’s widely spoken in your city or neighborhood.  For starters, that will allow you to create multilingual pages on your site, where you describe your services in that language.  That will help you rank for those services.

 

Location genes

Suggestion 5.  Get an address in a populous city, if that’s where you’re trying to rank.  (Gee, Phil, I didn’t see that one coming…)

Must your business be in the big city if you want to rank there?  Maybe not.  It depends on several factors, chief of which is how much competition you’ve got.

I have no idea how practical it is for you to move your operations, but that’s not the point.  We’re simply talking about whether a big-city address is a ranking advantage in the big city.  It is, especially since Google’s Pigeon update.

Don’t forget that in some ways the bar is lower.  Even if you only rank well in Google Places in a ZIP code or two, you might reach all the customers you need.

 

Suggestion 6.  Pick a location near the center of town, or near to your competitors.  Google may consider the “centroid” to be some place downtown, or somewhere in the main cluster of where most businesses like yours are located (Mike Blumenthal has suggested the latter).

 

Suggestion 7.  Try not to pick a location on or very near a town line.  That can confuse data-aggregators, like InfoGroup and Acxiom, which might sometimes list your business as being in City A and other times in City B.  These sites feed your business info to all kinds of local directories – citation sources.  You don’t want some of your citations to list you in the wrong city.

 

Suggestion 8.  Pick an address near a popular local landmark or destination, so you can rank for “keyword near place,” “keyword near me,” or “keyword nearby” when visitors search that way – most likely on their phones.  This seems especially important post-Pigeon.

 

Suggestion 9.  Get an office that looks good enough that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to get a Google Business View photo shoot.

No, your place of business or your photo shoot don’t need to be as cool as this.

(Hat tip to this post.)

 

Phone genes

Suggestion 10.  Research the phone number you’re considering, to make sure that the previous owner didn’t own a business with tons of citations that use that number.

Also, don’t get 867-5309.

 

Suggestion 11.  Make sure the phone number you use isn’t a number you might want to retire later – like an 800 number or your cell number.

 

It may seem odd to consider local SEO when making the most basic business decisions.  On the other hand, all the ideas I suggested also make sense from an offline, old-school-marketing standpoint.

Your local rankings and business will only really grow from hard work.  But you can give yourself some advantages from the get-go.

Are you considering any of those ideas?  Can you think of other ways to breed a local-SEO-friendly business?  Leave a comment!

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Too Many Donuts for the Google MapMaker Anti-Spam Cops?

Google’s finest aren’t throwing the book at spammers.

I recently asked Dan Austin – a longtime buster-upper of MapMaker and other spam – to help with a project.  One of my client’s competitors was doing the following:

  • Created multiple pages for the same business at the same address
  • Created additional pages using a residential address – for a bricks-and-mortar business
  • Keyword-stuffing the description (yes, even more than you might be told is acceptable)
  • Writing sock-puppet reviews for themselves
  • Writing negative reviews of their competitors
  • Sniping at competitors in MapMaker, like by changing their business hours to showing “Closed” for most of the day

My client had gone back and forth with this slimy competitor over MapMaker edits and “Report a problem” requests, to no avail.  That’s when I decided the least-inefficient option would be to contact Sheriff Dan.

Dan reported the abuses.  Then we contacted Google and got through to the right person.

What Google did to the offending business ranged from good to (almost) laughable:

1.  They removed the descriptors from the Google Places business name(s).  That was good.

2.  They removed one of the spammy pages.  Also good.

3.  They converted one of the spammy pages into a non-local Google+ page, rather than nuke the page entirely (or merge it with the one legit page at the same address).   That’s what Google temporarily – and I now know accidentally – did to a couple of my clients last month.  Inadequate.

4.  They let the sock-puppet reviews remain.  Pathetic.

Overall, the spam situation in my client’s market is much better than it was, because that one guy has had some of the wind taken out of his sails.  But Google gave him 2 months with conjugal visits, when he should be doing 5 years in solitary.

The sad thing is, this case got more human-review than others do.  It’s not like we only went through the usual channels.

As Dan explained:

It shows that Google has multiple contradictory policies (each Geo group handles the same data differently), little inclination to enforce their vague guidelines, and are more interested in hoarding and preserving data at all costs than ensuring the integrity of the listings.

The absurdity is that you have to use extraordinary measures to get half a response.  Using the normal reporting channels (MM “Report this”/delete, Maps “Report a problem,” Google+ Local “Edit details”) yielded no response at all!

– Dan

As Dan also said, Google has developed an “inability to know what to do with spam, even when they’re clearly shown what it is via direct contact channels.”

As I mentioned in point #3, Google didn’t remove one of the obvious spam pages, but instead kept it around as a non-local Google+ page.  If they didn’t know about it or couldn’t do anything about it, even that meager change wouldn’t have been made.

Although I suppose Google could still take harsher measures against this spammer and others, what we’re seeing is a reluctance to penalize obvious violators.  Google could be cutting out the spam with a sword.  Instead they wave a Play-Doh knife.

Fortunately, spam battles like the one I described aren’t quite as common as maybe I made them sound.  They’re not an issue for the vast majority of my clients, and they might not be an issue for you.

What’s the spam situation in your market?  What has / hasn’t worked for you?  Leave a comment!

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Local Business Schema.org Q&A: Tough Questions for David Deering

If you’ve wrestled with local SEO for more than a few days, you probably know what Schema.org markup is.  (And if you don’t, read this and this and loop back here.)

You probably have questions about how to use Schema on your site.  Me too.  That’s why I’ve turned again to structured-data ace David Deering of Touch Point Digital Marketing for answers.

As you might recall, he’s the guy who brought the insights to my recent post on Schema.  In fact, it was his answers in the comments on that post that reminded me how many questions I and other people still have.  (By the way, I suggest you read that post first, if you haven’t already.)

Let’s launch into the Q&A on Schema:

 

Phil:  What sorts of businesses simply have no use for Schema markup on their sites?

David:  I honestly think that every business has a use for structured data markup.  The more that you can help search engines understand about your business, the better.

 

Phil:  What kinds of “local” businesses have the most to gain by spending a little time on Schema markup – and why?

David:  Any business that sells a product or a service.  So, I guess that would more or less describe every local business, really.

 

Phil:  As you know, I’ve said that one’s name / address / phone info is the by far the most important thing to mark up with Schema.  What else – if anything – should the typical business mark up?

David:  Marking up the NAP is a great start, but it’s only the start.  It tells search engines where you’re located, but it doesn’t tell them anything about what you do.  So, I think that every local business should mark up what exactly they do or sell, whether it’s a product or a service.  The more you can mark up and spell out for search engines, the better.

 

Phil:  Multiple locations’ NAP info on the same page: is that a problem, not a problem, or doesn’t matter?

David:  It’s not a problem at all.  Schema.org has a means to handle situations like that.  If a business has one or even several additional locations, you can use the “branchOf” or “subOrganization” properties to mark up each unique location.  The key is to use a separate LocalBusiness schema type for each location.

 

Phil:  Besides marking up NAP with Schema, what’s your advice to most “local” business owners?

David:  Most local businesses only mark up their NAP, if anything at all, and that’s a huge mistake in my opinion.  Not to sound like a broken record, but if you sell anything or offer any type of service, you can and should mark that up as well.  By getting as specific as you can with your markups, you help search engines get a clear picture about what you offer, which can only help you.  You can either spell it all out for them, or you can hope they understand what you do and sell.  Obviously, it’s better to give them all of the information on a silver platter, which is what structured data markups can help you do.  But it’s a golden opportunity that most businesses aren’t taking advantage of.

 

Phil:  Are there any ways business owners can use Schema to influence what shows up in the Knowledge Graph for their business?

David:  In itself, Schema markup won’t help a business’ information appear in the Knowledge Graph panel.  Google uses a number of authoritative sources to gather the information that’s used in the Knowledge Graph.  Schema.org markup can help, but Freebase, Wikipedia, and Google+ pages all play an even larger role.

 

Phil:  What type(s) of Schema do you deal with most often?

David:  Besides the typical NAP markup and product markups, most local businesses are interested in getting help with the rating markup, because it can generate those much sought-after stars in search results.  Unfortunately, most do-it-yourselfers do it incorrectly and their markup has either technical errors or it doesn’t meet Google’s guidelines.

 

Phil:  Does a Productontology extension have to describe what your business is, or can it describe the main service a business offers?

For example, in the last post you mentioned that you can use http://schema.org/Dentist plus http://www.productontology.org/id/Pediatric_dentistry.  But “pediatric dentistry” doesn’t “tell” search engines what the practice itself is; pediatric dentistry is just the specialty of that dental office.

[If you didn’t get the question, read the post from June.]

David:  Productontology, which was created by a team led by Martin Hepp, was created primarily to be used for products, as the name implies.  And it can also be used to mark up services as well, since according to schema.org, a product can be tangible or intangible.  But Productontology can also be used to specify other Schema types, and so that’s why we can use it along with business type markups.

 

Phil:  Besides the Structured Data Testing Tool, what tools do you use for any Schema-related work?

David:  Another good tool to use is Yandex’s structured data validator, which can be found at http://webmaster.yandex.com/microtest.xml.  It’s a great tool to use in addition to Google’s, because Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool does not always pick up every markup error.

And speaking of Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, I should mention something very important that many people don’t realize:  Just because you don’t see any error messages after testing your markup does not mean that your markup is error-free, it doesn’t mean that it meets Google’s guidelines for rich snippets, and it’s no guarantee that your rich snippets will appear in the SERPs.  The testing tool is a nice tool to use, but it’s a basic tool, and it’s not designed to catch all technical errors and it definitely won’t tell you whether or not your markup meets Google’s guidelines.  I use Google’s testing tool all the time because it is very helpful, but again, it’s just a basic tool.  Don’t take the results as law.

 

Phil:  What’s the most common mistake people make in their markup?

David:  Most mistakes I see in markups are related to improper nesting and the improper use of various properties.  Schema.org does include example markups for most of the markup types that local businesses would normally use, so it’s a good idea to try to follow those examples.  I’d recommend creating the markup first, testing it out to make sure it’s good, then implement it on the site.  Doing that can save a lot of time and headache.

 

Phil:  In what ways do some businesses use Schema as a spam technique?

David:  Well, because those rating stars are so desirable to have in the SERPs, some less-than-ethical businesses make up fake reviews and ratings and mark them up.  Google has gotten better at sniffing those out, and most of those sites end up losing their rich snippets or never get them at all.

I’ve seen other spam techniques, such as using the recipe markup for a product in order to get an image in the SERPs.  But doing things like that isn’t worth it.  Google can and will take manual action against a site that is being deceitful with their markups, and regaining their trust will be a long, hard road.  So it’s best to stick to being ethical with things.

Even if you don’t get rich snippets right now, your markups are still valuable because they help search engines understand your content much better.  If you do get rich snippets, well that’s just an added bonus.

 

 

Phil:  Some people are concerned that if they botch up their Schema markup, Google will penalize them.  How accurate is that?

David:  Personally, I’ve never seen a site get penalized for using a markup with errors.  However, if Google believes that a site is attempting to manipulate things and is being deceitful with their markups, they will take action against that site.  But for the most part, if a markup has errors, Google simply will not be able to understand it or use it.

 

Phil:  Many people think everything Google does is a grab for users’ data, and ultimately an effort to make more money off of ads.  (Often I’m one of those people.)  Just for the sake of argument, what role do you think Schema would play in that “scheme”?

David:  Some people believe that by marking up their content with structured data, it’ll make it easier for Google to “steal” their information and use it in the Knowledge Graph panel to answer questions, which in turn eliminates the need for users to visit the site.

But not all of the webpages that Google pulls information from for Knowledge Graph answers are marked up with structured data.  However, when Google does pull information from a webpage, it’s because it considers the website and page as having some authority on the topic, and it always links to the page.  So, if Google views a website and webpage as having topical authority, well that’s definitely a good thing.  And there’s also a good chance that users will click on the link to find out more, because Google can provide only so much information in the Knowledge Graph panel.

It’s also been said that Google wants to go from being a search engine to an answer engine.  By marking up your content, you help Google understand your content that much better, which in turn helps your webpages become “the answer” to relevant search queries.

 

Phil:  What advice do you have for webmasters and SEOs?

David:  Mark up as much content as you can.  Make everything as clear as possible to search engines regarding what you do, sell, offer, or have written about.

You may or may not get rich snippets for your markups right now, but the real value of the markups is that they help make things much clearer for search engines.  Google and the others love structured data and want us to use it, so feed them what they love.  And we all know how quickly Google changes things in the SERPs.  One day nothing, the next day the local carousel, this new rich snippet, that new feature in the Knowledge Graph panel.   We never know what Google is going to do or what new feature they’re going to add, but if you’ve marked up your site as thoroughly as possible with structured data, you’ll be in position to benefit from whatever happens next.

 

Phil:  Besides the Google Webmaster Forum and Schema.org’s confusing documentation, what are some resources you’d suggest?

David:  There’s a great semantic search marketing community on Google+.  There are also a lot of very smart and helpful people in the structured data community, such as Aaron Bradley, Jarno van Driel, Martin Hepp and Thad Guidry, among several others.  And of course, if you’re going to use structured data markups on your site, you want to be sure to go over Google’s guidelines for your particular markups so that they can qualify for rich snippets.

Thanks to David, once again.  If you don’t want to wrangle with Schema yourself, contact him.

Any questions or stray thoughts?  Leave a comment!

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How to Pick (or Improvise) the Right Schema.org Markup for Your Local Business

This one’s going to take a little ramp-up.  Hang with me.

What’s Schema?

Schema.org is a type of markup for your site that Google, Bing, and Yahoo promote.

The idea is it helps you tell search engines exactly what a specific piece of content on your site is.  For example, you’d use different Schema if you want to announce, “Here’s my business’s name, address, and phone number,” or “Here’s a customer testimonial, or “Look – a video.”

Some SEOs say Schema in general makes a big difference for your rankings.  I’m not one of them; I suspect it can help a little.  So let’s assume it helps a little.

How do you use it?

What is Schema’s role on your site, if your main goal is to get visible in Google Places and beyond?

For me, its main use is to highlight your basic business info – your “NAP” (name, address, phone number), which should be on every page of your site.

In some cases I also use it to mark up testimonials.  (Here’s a good post on that.)

But for now let’s just talk about using Schema on your all-important NAP info.  It usually looks like this in your code:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<span itemprop=”name”>Local Visibility System, LLC</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

And as you may know, you can use a free Schema generator to create a blob of Schema for your business – like MicrodataGenerator.com or Raven Tools’ generator.  (In fact, I suggest you use a tool to do it.)

The problem: vague “itemtype”

Notice that first line.  In your blob of Schema, it probably reads:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness“>

“Local Business” is vague.  All that tells Google & co. is that you’re not Amazon or Nike.

You should not settle for that lame “LocalBusiness” itemtype in your Schema name / address / phone blob: Either there’s an itemtype (AKA Schema) that’s specific to your business, or you can improvise one (more on this in a minute).

First, try to find a Schema that describes your business.  For example, http://schema.org/Dentist or https://schema.org/AccountingService.

That might be easy if you used MicrodataGenerator.com to generate your NAP blob.  There, you may have seen some common types of businesses:

 

If one of those categories describes your business accurately, no need to read on.  If that’s the case, go to MicrodataGenerator, select the specific Schema that describes your business (pictured above), generate your NAP blob, put it on your site, and pour yourself a cold one.

Find the right itemtype / Schema here

You’re probably 90% of the way to the perfect Schema NAP blob.  Again, the only blemish is that first line – with “LocalBusiness” in it:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness“>

All we’re trying to do is figure out what to put in that line instead of “LocalBusiness.”  We’re literally looking for one word.  Once we find it, you can make the swap and then stick that whole NAP block on every page of your site.

Finding the right itemtype was tricky – until now.

That’s why first I scraped Moz Local’s huge list of local-business categories.  (You’ll see these under “Category Research” if you’re logged into your free or paid Moz account.)

Then I cleaned up the list.  There was a lot of junk and repetition.  I cut it down to the realistic categories – the ones that might conceivably describe your business.

Then I asked structured-data markup expert David Deering for help.  He’s a Level 10 contributor at the Google Webmaster Forum, where he answers markup questions every day.  He knows Schema like I know Judas Priest songs.

David looked at The List and found the right Schema for each category.

The result?  You can open up this spreadsheet (on Google Drive) and scroll through it to find your type of business and the corresponding Schema / itemtype.

Now look in the right-hand column and grab the single word that comes after the http://schema.org/ part.  That’s what you’ll want to replace “LocalBusiness” with in your Schema blob.

Let’s say you were doing this for my business.  And let’s say I retired from the local-search biz and opened my very own beauty parlor.

Where I used to have “LocalBusiness” in that very first line, I’d put “HealthAndBeautyBusiness” instead.

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness“>
<span itemprop=”name”>Face By Phil</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

Fix that one line of code, and then put that whole blob of code (like the above) on every page of your site.  You’re done here.

But what if you still don’t find an accurate Schema?

That’s what I asked David after he sent me The List.  What if the geeks at Schema.org left your type of businesses out in the cold?

Can you still use Schema to “tell” Google & co. exactly what kind of business you’ve got?

Or what if you don’t think your type of Schema is specific enough (like if you’re a pediatric dentist and don’t want to settle for the broad “Dentist” Schema)?

You’re in luck.  And the workaround should take you less than 5 minutes, if you carefully read this bit of explanation from David

(I put the extra-important parts in italics.)

Use an additional ontology called Productontology (productontology.org).  This is great to use to specify products and even services, but it can also be used to help extend other schemas to get more specific.

In simple terms, the process involves finding the matching entity in Wikipedia and then creating a URI with Productontology.  So let’s take for example a deli.  There is no exact schema type for a deli.  So we have to use http://schema.org/FoodEstablishment.  But since that’s not very specific, we should pull in the use of Productontology.

So first, we go to Wikipedia and find the page for Deli: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen.

Now we have to turn it into a Productontology URI.  A Productontology URI begins with http://www.productontology.org/id/.  We take the last part of the Wiki URL, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen, and add it to the Productontology URI.

So the full Productontology URI for a deli becomes http://www.productontology.org/id/Delicatessen.

Next, we have to add it to the markup.  In order to do that, we have to use the “additionalType” property.  So, the markup for a deli would look something like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/FoodEstablishment”>
<link itemprop=”additionalType” href=“http://www.productontology.org/id/Delicatessen”
 />
<span itemprop=”name”>Name of Deli</span>

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>100 Main St.</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>New York</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>NY</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>12345</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(555) 123-4567</span>
</div>

Of course, more properties could be added to the above markup, but it’s just a rough example of how the “additionalType” property along with a Productontology URI can be used to help extend schemas and specify schema business types much better.

-David

So…remember a minute ago how if you found your type of business in the big spreadsheet, you just had to tweak that 1st line of code?  Well, if you didn’t find your type of business in the spreadsheet, what you’ll have to do is tweak that one line plus add an additional line to your Schema NAP blob.

Example time.  Let’s revisit my “Face By Phil” example.  (Don’t worry – it’s still fictional.)  Let’s say I didn’t run just any old beauty parlor, but specialized in laser hair removal.  I’d want Google to know that, so I’d want my Schema to make that point clear.  Here’s what my NAP code would look like:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness“>
<link itemprop=”additionalType” href=”http://www.productontology.org/doc/Laser_hair_removal” />
<span itemprop=”name”>Face By Phil</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

As you can see, you’re only customizing the parts in green – although it would be smart to change both URLs completely, so you don’t make any typos.

Examples of Schema + Productontology

Here are some examples of the info you’d use to customize those two lines:

Dermatologist:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/Physician

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Dermatology

Fertility clinic:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/MedicalClinic

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Fertility_clinic

Funeral home:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Funeral_home

Graphic designer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Graphic_designer

Home inspector:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Home_inspection

Kennel:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Kennel

Landscape architect:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Landscape_architect

Laser hair removal service:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Laser_hair_removal

Magician:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/EntertainmentBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Magician

Music school:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/School

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Music_school

Pediatric dentist:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/Dentist

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Pediatric_dentistry

Personal Trainer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Personal_trainer

Resort:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/TouristAttraction

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Resort

Tailor:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Tailor

Wedding photographer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Wedding_photography

Got the perfect Schema NAP for your site yet?  If you’re still stumped, feel free to leave a comment.

Or if you’d rather let someone else mess with it, contact David.  He offers all kinds of markup services, and has worked with small / local sites as well as with national brands.  This post wouldn’t have been possible without his know-how.  Oh, and follow him on Google+.

(By the way, here’s the spreadsheet again.)

This is the rare post where it takes longer to explain the step than to do the step.  But getting the right Schema should be a quick one-time deal for your business, and it may give you that extra little edge in the local results.

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