Top 10 Ways Local Business Owners Botch the All-Important Homepage, and How You Can Get Yours Right

http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/507925-you-had-one-job

It’s a shame so many business owners spend more time chasing shiny new objects than they do nailing the fundamentals.

Mess up your homepage and your local rankings won’t be all they can be, or you’ll scare away people, or both.  It’s of outsize importance to Google and to customers/clients/patients.  Craft an excellent homepage and you might give yourself wiggle room to mess up in other areas – and maybe for it not to matter as much.

In helping business owners make rain, I see and get to work on more homepages than your average bear.  Here are what I’d consider the 10 most-common homepage mistakes, and how you can avoid making them:

Homepage mistake 1: It’s wafer-thin on content.

Most homepages skimp on info about specific offerings (services, products, treatments, or practice areas).  Have at least a blurb on each offering you care about, and include links to the pages where you describe them in more detail.

Homepage mistake 2: There’s little info about the service area or locations.

You don’t want Google and customers to have to guess or dig to determine where you are or what areas you serve.  Make it as plain as day.

Homepage mistake 3: It’s got no or too-few links to important subpages.

If you’ve got other pages you want visitors to see and for Google maybe to rank well, you’d best link to them.  Maybe your most-important 5-10.  I like bullet-point lists.

Homepage mistake 4: It’s been colonized by a slider.

Most sliders slow down the load-time of your page, push your strongest material below the fold, and are ignored by visitors.  Consider taking yours behind the barn, or at least replacing it with a static image.

Homepage mistake 5: There’s nothing unique or compelling in the title and/or description tag.

Having your keyword(s) + city is not enough.  Be a giraffe among zebras.  Weave in as much of your USP as you can.

Homepage mistake 6: Not tracking visitors’ clicking and scrolling behavior.

Use a tool like CrazyEgg or HotJar to determine which parts of your page visitors care about and which they ignore.

Homepage mistake 7: Clear calls-to-action aren’t in all the places they should be.

Having one call-to-action at the top and bottom of the page is a no-brainer.  If it’s a long page, have a call-to-action somewhere in the middle.  Because you’re tracking clicking and scrolling behavior (see above point), in time you’ll probably know which one pulls the most weight.

Homepage mistake 8: A functional Google Map isn’t embedded.

If you’ve got an office or bricks-and-mortar location, your would-be customers probably want to be able to pull up directions easily.  Google may like to see driving-direction look-ups.

Homepage mistake 9: It’s filled with knickknacks for non-customers.

Links to social profiles, a “recent blog posts” section, etc.  Eschew them – unless you want people to pay attention to those doodads and not call you.

Homepage mistake 10: It assumes the visitor saw the reviews.

Will your homepage impress a word-of-mouth referral or others who might have gone directly to your site without Googling you first?

Hhomepage mistake 11 (bonus): It’s too reserved.

Don’t assume everyone will even see other pages on your site.  Make it very clear where visitors can get more in-depth info on you and your services if they want it, but don’t assume they’ll click or scroll.  Say your piece, say it early, and say it plainly.

Any homepage mistakes I forgot?

Any you don’t think are mistakes?

What do you consider the most or least serious issue, and why?

Leave a comment!

You Offer 10 Services and Serve 10 Cities, So You Create 100 City Pages? Why City-Page Proliferation Is Dumb

You want to rank for a bunch of keywords in a bunch of cities.  You don’t have a physical location in each city – which makes you ineligible for Google My Business pages in all those places – but you figure you can “optimize” as many pages you need.  Your competitors do it, so why shouldn’t you?  What have you got to lose?

Let’s say own an HVAC company in the Dallas area.  You offer 10 main services and want to reach customers in 10 cities.  You crank out 10 city pages for “heating repair,” with page names like:

/heating-repair-dallas-tx
/heating-repair-fort-worth-tx
/heating-repair-plano-tx
/heating-repair-arlington-tx
/heating-repair-richardson-tx
/heating-repair-irving-tx
/heating-repair-garland-tx
/heating-repair-mckinney-tx
/heating-repair-denton-tx
/heating-repair-grapevine-tx

Then you need pages on AC repair, so…

/ac-repair-dallas-tx
/ac-repair-fort-worth-tx
/ac-repair-plano-tx
/ac-repair-arlington-tx
/ac-repair-richardson-tx
/ac-repair-irving-tx
/ac-repair-garland-tx
/ac-repair-mckinney-tx
/ac-repair-denton-tx
/ac-repair-grapevine-tx

 And so on.

Before you know it, you’ve got 100 pages.  (Or maybe you only offer 5 services and in 5 different cities.  That’s still 25 pages.)

All the pages are nearly identical, except you swap out the city names and keywords from page to page.

Like the microsite strategy, the cities x services = number of pages strategy is shortsighted and likely to end in one kind of failure or another.

In a minute I’ll tell you what I suggest you do instead.  First, here are the problems with your rapidly reproducing pages:

  1. Even if the 100 “city” pages aren’t too good and you just squirt them out, it’s still a lot of work to build them all.
  1. What if you make a mistake in your master copy and want to fix it? Whatever it is, do it 100 times.
  1. It’s hard or impossible to incorporate the pages into your navigation – and not annoy visitors.
  1. It’s hard or impossible to incorporate the pages into your internal linking – and not annoy visitors.
  1. Do you at least want the option of writing and building the pages in-house – without spending so much time on them that you drop the ball on everything else?
  1. Google’s “Doorway Page” update – meant to keep useless “city” pages out of the search results. Now, those pages still pop up too often, so to me Google hasn’t been too serious about running them out of town.  But if and when that changes, you don’t want to be the one to find out first.
  1. What if the pages don’t rank well? Then what?  How will you make 100 pages more informative and in-depth?  What if you conclude you need to rustle up some good links?
  1. What if they rank well but don’t get any traffic? What is your plan to make more people click through to those 100 pages from the search results?
  1. What if they get traffic, but the traffic doesn’t convert? You’ll need to make 100 pages convert better.  You wanted those city-service permutation pages because they were quick to pump out.  Do you have time to fix 100 failures?
  1. What if you want to rename the pages or rework the URLs later? Lots of redirects and/or updating your internal links.
  1. What if some customers see 5 pages that all look the same except for the city? Are they more likely or less likely to call you?
  1. Do you want to be able to point customers and would-be customer to those pages easily – and verbally, if you want to?
  1. Do you want competitors, marketers, and customers alike to admire how you market yourself, or conclude that you’re just another hack?
  1. Your competitors have probably sunk to that strategy already. What makes you think you’ll do the same thing they do but enjoy more success than they’ve had?
  1. If your competitors haven’t cranked out 100 city pages yet, and they conclude your pages work great for you, how will you stay ahead of them when they follow your lead?

 

Enough for now about what you shouldn’t do.  Here’s what I do suggest:

  1. Have an in-depth page on each specific service you offer. Have some blurbs on your service area, and link to your pages on each city (see point #2, below), as appropriate.
  1. Have an in-depth “city” page on each of the main cities you serve. Apply my 25 principlesThis spreadsheet may help, too.

The idea is your service pages should have plenty of “city” info, and your city pages should have plenty of info on your services.  If you offer 10 services and serve 10 cities, that’s 20 pages.  Much more manageable, and it’s at least possible you can make each one good over time.

Any drawbacks of the “cities x services = number of pages” strategy that I missed?

Anything to say in its defense?

Any examples of great or hideous city pages?

Leave a comment!

Your Google My Business Page in 2017: How Hard Is It to Mess Up?

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Google’s local-business pages of yore offered many ways to blow up your rankings – in the good sense or the bad sense.  Lots of customizable fields you could stuff full of keyword powder and watch go “boom.”

In recent years, though, Google has childproofed businesses’ pages.  Usually, when you don’t fill out your page quite the way Google wants, Google simply changes your info for you.  In that way, with the glaring exception of not keeping an eye on what you put in the “business name” field, Google has mostly eliminated the ways you can hurt yourself.  The edges are rounded, the paint doesn’t taste good, and the candy doesn’t make you look cool.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/3079557294/

That’s why I say the term “Google My Business page optimization” is a misnomer at best and deceptive at worst.  There’s very little to “optimize.”  Generally, it’s very easy to get your Google My Business page(s) squared away and then to move on.  (That’s not a good reason to hire a local SEO person.)

In the days of Play-Doh-knife Google My Business pages, getting your GMB page right is mostly a matter of not messing it up.  To that end, here’s my 12-point quasi-checklist of things you should look into:

More-obvious stuff

1. Basic eligibility. Are you taking liberties with the Google My Business guidelines (like using a fake address, or using employees’ home addresses)? If so, you’ll probably get away with it in the short-term, if not longer-term.  But even if your scheme works, you’ll check your rankings every morning to make sure they’re still there.  It’s not worth it.  Play by the rules – and remember that there’s plenty of local SEO without the “map,” and that most of it is just organic SEO anyway.

2. Correct and complete info. Don’t be concerned about minor formatting quirks in the “address” field. Do use the real, official, legal name of your business.  Do make sure your hours are listed on there.

3. Claimed page. An unclaimed page can still rank well, but you want to be able to make changes easily, and you probably don’t want other people’s public edits to be approved easily.

4. No duplicate pages. What constitutes a “duplicate” Google My Business page – especially one that’s harming your rankings – is tricky. Generally, my rule is that if you can (1) pull it up on the Maps tab and (2) it’s not a page for a specific licensed professional (e.g. doctor or lawyer or agent) in your organization and (3) you don’t want it to be the page people see in search results, you should mark it as “permanently closed.”  If you really want to bury it, claim the page and strip out as much of the business info as you can (particularly the phone number and site URL).

5. Categories. Which categories you should pick is a tricky question, but I suggest you pick as few as possible and don’t include any that seem to be a stretch or seem broader than other categories you might pick. Note: Google may change your categories for you if they don’t like them.

6. Accurate service-area settings. If you indicate to Google that you always travel to your customers (rather than meet all of them at your place of business), Google won’t show your address on your Google My Business page. Google used to be touchy if you owned a service-area business and didn’t hide your address for any reason.  Now, whether or not you “hide” your address is not a big deal.  If Google doesn’t want your address showing on your page, they’ll simply change it for you (rather than whisk your page off the map).

7. Map pin in correct place. It should be on your building, and preferably on the specific part of the building your business is in.

Less-obvious stuff

8. Best landing page URL. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if your Google My Business landing page is your homepage, rather than another page on your site. If you’ve got multiple locations and want to point each to a city-specific landing page, that’s fine, but you’ll probably need to rustle up some good links to those subpages.  If you’re not willing to go to that effort, you’re probably better off using the homepage on all your Google My Business pages and on most or all of your other local listings.

9. No overlapping service areas. Let’s say you’re a contractor with two valid addresses 10 miles apart. Both locations probably serve customers in some of the same cities, because those locations are pretty close together.  Fine, but don’t include any one city in the “service area” settings of both your Google My Business pages.  Google has a strange rule about that.  You’ll want to carve up the service area between the two locations, or simply not “hide” your address on one of your pages.

10. Google Street View indoor photo shoot. If you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar store or office, it’s bigger than a closet, and doesn’t look like hell inside, consider hiring a Google-trusted photographer to shoot a virtual tour. If you’ve got multiple locations, consider getting a photo shoot for each.  It’s smart marketing and may be a ranking factor.

11. “HTTP” vs. “HTTPS” in the “website URL” field. If you’ve got an SSL certificate for your site (not necessary for most “local” businesses), it’s probably a good idea to update the “Website URL” field of your Google My Business page and maybe your important other listings (e.g. Yelp, Facebook, YP) to point to the “https” version.

12. Transferred Google reviews. Do you have Google reviews showing on an old page, or on an otherwise incorrect page? Ask Google to transfer them.  (In my experience, they’re pretty good about it.)

Did I forget any important checkup points?

Any points you learned about the hard way on your Google My Business page?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram

Too few people realize that local SEO is mostly organic SEO plus a few other moving parts.  I (and others) have found that without also doing what it takes to rank well in Google’s “10 blue links” results, you won’t grab as much visibility for your business on the local map.

Local visibility isn’t a lovechild of a Google My Business page + local citations + “optimized” site (+ spamming when convenient).  Rather, it’s the result of a smart, labor-intensive organic SEO campaign with a couple of twists.

I’ve had to explain that concept enough that I thought it best just to whip up a graphic to show what I mean.  Here it is:

 

Basic explanation (very basic)

As you can probably tell, the idea I’m trying to get across is that your local rankings are hollow and fragile without that solid core of organic SEO work.

Having a website and local directory listings for a business with a keyword in its name is not a strategy.  Even if that low-effort approach seems to work, the rankings likely won’t last, and if they do, you still probably won’t rank for as many search terms as you otherwise could.

Google knows where your business is located and (probably) what you offer.  But how does Google know you’re any good?  In a semi-competitive market, Google will usually cherry-pick.  It does that, above all, by seeing how good your links are and how much good in-depth info you’ve got on your offerings.

Explanation of each “circle” and of some ranking factors

Most of the ranking factors in each circle should be clear, but a few I should explain a little.  While I’m at it, I should also define each of the 3 circles.

“Organic results” circle

Work on the things in the dark-blue, innermost circle and you’ll rank well, whether or not you’re a “local” business.

Organic results are often non-local.

But sometimes they show local businesses, and show different local businesses based on your location.

Now, a couple notes on a couple of the factors in the “Organic” circle:

Note on “Business name” factor: What your business is called has some influence on what search terms you rank for in the organic results.  But, sad to say, it’s even more of a factor in how you rank on the local map.

Now, an argument could be made that I should have “Business name” in all 3 circles, because it affects your rankings everywhere.  I’ve chosen not to do that.  For one thing, it’s messy.  Also, in my opinion you shouldn’t name your business differently just because at the moment it’s an inflated ranking factor in the Google Maps 3-pack.  To me, how you name your business is part of the core strategy.

Note on “User-behavior” factor: How searchers interact with your site – both when they see it in the search results and when they’re on it – seems to matter to Google.  “User-behavior” might include things like how many people click on you vs. on a competitor, what terms they typed in before clicking on you, and whether they hit the “back” button or dig deeper into your site.  In my experience, that can help your organic rankings.

But there’s also local user-behavior that may matter, like what customers’ mobile location-tracking data tells Google, lookups of driving directions, and which businesses in the 3-pack attract the most clicks.  Again, tough call as to which circle(s) to put “User-behavior” in, because it’s really common to all 3.

“Local-organic” results circle

Since 2012, Google has shown local-business results in the organic search results.  They’re mixed in with the other “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map.  Often businesses that rank in the map also rank in the localized organic results, and vice versa.

You’ll probably show up prominently in the local-organic results if you’ve got at least some of the factors from the “Organic results” circle going for you, and you happen to be a local business – with or without a Google My Business page or other local listings.

Note on “Rough location” factor: Google’s organic results aren’t as location-sensitive as the Maps results are.  Even if your business isn’t located in or very near your target city, as long as it’s in the vicinity, it should be at least possible to rank in the localized organic results.

“Maps results” circle

Also known as the 3-pack, or Google Places results.  You’ll only appear there if you’ve got a Google My Business page and – in markets that are even a little competitive – if you’ve also got the factors from the other two circles working in your favor.

Note on “Exact location” factor: Sometimes your Maps rankings depend on whether your business is 1 mile or 1/4 mile from your customer.  Location (of customer relative to business) is usually less of a factor if you’re really dialed-in on your organic SEO (that is, if you’ve got enough good links to suggest to Google that you’re a prominent or authoritative business).

Does my diagram make sense to you?

Is it clear what each ranking factor refers to?

Any questions or suggestions?

Leave a comment!

Breakdown of Page 1 of Google’s Local Organic Search Results: Who Dominates?

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Though the first page of Google’s local results usually consists of 3 “local map” results plus 10 organic results, that doesn’t mean your business has 13 chances to rank somewhere on page one.  Nor do all pages on your site have an equal chance at ranking.  Nor does having the most-dominant site necessarily mean you’ll get the most or best visibility in the local results.

How well your business ranks in the local “3-pack” depends on many factors, including where your business is, where the searcher is, who clicks on you and other behavior, the name of your business, and – above all – on how well you rank in the local organic results (the “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map).

Your organic rankings, in turn, depend mainly on how relevant your site is to what the customer searched for and (even more so) on how good your links are.

So what are your chances of getting your business’s site to rank somewhere on page 1 of the local organic results?

One way to answer that is to know how Google usually fills up the first page of local organic results – Google’s tendencies and quotas, you might say.

Google has a very specific way of carving up the local search results.  It’s not all local businesses, nor is it a grab-bag of “something for everyone” search results.

I’ve just done a study of 500 local markets – 500 first-pages of local search results – and have some numbers on which sites and pages typically rank on page one.

Here’s the pie-chart, which sums up my findings and the dozens of hours of research that went into it.

(click to enlarge)

You may not need to know any more.  Or you may want more detail on the pie, on my methodology, and on what it all means for your local SEO strategy.  In the latter case, just read on.

What does each slice of the pie represent, exactly?

“Business: homepages”

I’m referring to the homepage of a site that belongs to a specific business.

Homepages are the biggest slice of the pie, averaging 37.62% of Google’s local organic search results.  On average, 3-4 out of 10 of the organic results consist of one homepage or another.  The homepage typically has the most link-juice (which is one reason I usually suggest using it as your Google My Business landing page).  It’s no surprise to me so much of page one goes to various homepages.

“Business: subpages:

If homepages constitute more than 3 out of 10 spots on a typical first page of results, that must mean other pages usually grab the other 7 spots – right?

Wrong.  Subpages (like yourbusiness.com/city) and subdomains (like city.yourbusiness.com) only account for 12.68% of the 5000 individual search results I studied.  In a typical first page of results, only 1-2 results are for pages on a business’s website other than the homepage.

So 37.62% of the results are for businesses’ homepages, plus 12.68% are for other pages on businesses’ sites.  That’s about half of the pie.

Who gets the other half of Google’s local organic search results?

“Directories: category search”

It probably doesn’t surprise you that local-business directories take up a lot of real estate on page one.  I’m talking about Yelp, BBB, YellowPages, and so on, and industry-specific sites like Zillow, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, etc.

Those directories’ internal search results show up more often than do other pages on their sites.  “Search results within search results” take up a whopping 36.62% of Google’s local organic results.

“Directories: business pages”

Sometimes a business’s Facebook or Yelp or BBB or YellowPages page will rank on page one for a popular search term.

Known as barnacle local SEO, it’s great if you can get an online property other than your site to rank for a main keyword.  But it’s tough to do.  Only 7.58% of Google’s search results go to directory results for specific businesses.

“News”

Local-news sites and other sources of news take up a small piece of the search results (not as much as I thought they would).  News results made up 0.64% of the results I studied.

Good coverage can drive business.  A unfavorable piece can dog you.  News stories tend to have many backlinks, usually are on authoritative sites, and tend to get clicked on often.  Because of those things, news pieces can stick around for a while.  The news isn’t always “new.”

“Other”

Google throws other results onto page one, too.  The most-common “other” sites I ran across were Craigslist listings, Indeed.com (for jobs), weird directory results (e.g. Yelp forum threads), and government sites – usually local government.

Methodology & notes

When Sydney Marchuk (of Whitespark) and I did this research, we tried to be as methodical and scientific as possible.  As with most studies, there are limitations to this one, and I’m sure there are some holes.

You can look at our raw data here, but here are some lab notes:

  • We Googled 500 different search terms – 500 different combinations of cities and keywords
  • We searched for explicitly local search terms: “city + keyword.” As opposed to typing in “keyword” and seeing what local search results Google shows you.  (Yes, Google is watching you.)  In my experience, the results differ a little between when you type in the city and when you don’t.  To do a study on that would be more technically complicated and even more of a slog, but I’d love to do one or see one some time.
  • As I said at the start, we didn’t include the Google Maps “3-pack” rankings in this analysis. Again, we just looked at the localized organic results – which usually contain all the business that rank in the 3-pack.
  • Sydney lives in Canada, but searched at Google.com (not .ca), was signed out of Google, and used an incognito browser tab. The results weren’t biased by search history or anything like that.  In any case, I live in Massachusetts, and the searches I did matched up with what Sydney found.
  • We did the research in mid-December – about a month ago. Some of the SERPs surely have changed since then, but I doubt they’ve changed significantly.  To the extent I’ve had to spot-check some of the results in the past few days, I’ve found that they’ve changed very little.
  • Of course, the breakdown will change over time. It’s Google.  They like to twist the dials.

Conclusions (very general)

What does the breakdown of a typical page one mean – especially for your business?  Some things I’ve gleaned from looking at the data (and from doing local SEO for 8+ years):

  • On average, only about 5 of the results are for specific businesses. Your other competitors are directories.  Wherever you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  You’ll get some visibility either when people click on the directories’ “search results within search results,” or if you get your listing or page itself on the site to rank on page one of Google’s local results.  That’s often just a matter of piling on the reviews.
  • Homepages dominate, especially in markets where smaller, locally-based businesses duke it out mostly with each other, and not as much with Big Ugly Corporations that happen to have a nearby branch. Again, homepages tend to have most or all of the link juice.  Assuming you’ve got at leasta few decent links, if you have some good local content on your homepage it should have a good chance of ranking well.
  • Subpages (example.com/city) tend to be more dominant in markets where big businesses tend to congregate (e.g. car rentals). I have my theories as to why that is, but that’s for another day.
  • Your crappy keyword-stuffed blog post from 2 years ago probably won’t rank on page one for any semi-competitive term. (Maybe if it attracted some good links.)
  • Given how Google splits up the real estate between directories and businesses’ sites, dominance isn’t a matter of just getting your site to rank. As I’ve said, it’s not about site vs. site; it’s reputation vs. reputation.

Here’s the pie, once again:

Any questions on my findings?

Any conclusions you’ve drawn (that I didn’t mention)?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  If for some crazy reason you want to do an (unrelated) study of your own, consider hiring Sydney to help (schedule permitting).  You can email me, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

One-Time Work vs. Ongoing Work in Local SEO

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The nature of your work on a local SEO campaign should change over time, or you’re doing it wrong.  How you’ll make progress in week 3 differs from how you’ll make progress in year 3.

You’ll do fine if you know which steps can only help you once, versus which steps can help you for as long as you work on them.  More on those in a minute.

On the other hand, your local rankings will take a dirt nap if you never do more than the one-time work.  Steps like “optimizing your website” and building and correcting your local listings can deliver impressive results – once, at most.

If that yeoman’s work is what you think local SEO amounts to, you’ll wonder why you made such fast progress and then hit a wall.  You’ll figure you just need to do more of what gave you that initial bump, so you’ll tinker with your site and build 300 citations – and still won’t see results.  You’ll conclude local SEO “doesn’t work,” throw up your hands, and watch your competitors roll by.

I blame local SEO companies (or at least some of them).  They want their SEO packages to look good on paper, to be easy to charge for, to be easy to delegate to people who can work for cheap, and not to require clients’ personal involvement (beyond writing the check) so they avoid bottlenecks and can bill until the end of time.  That’s the charitable view, by the way.

You’ll get better results if you divide the work into one-time tasks and continuous tasks.  Here’s how I like to classify each of the main steps.

One-time, foundational work:

  • Create or claim your Google My Business page
  • Create listings on the “local” sites that matter (AKA citation-building)
  • Correct and de-dupe your listings (AKA citation cleanup)
  • Fill out incomplete listings (specify your hours, categories, etc.)
  • Make technical fixes to your site
  • Do basic optimization: title tags, NAP info on every page, a page for each service, etc.
  • Create a page for each specific service and/or product you offer

Ongoing work you should NEVER stop doing:

  • Continue to do whatever else got you your best links so far
  • Research new link opportunities
  • Get those links
  • Ask for reviews on a variety of sites
  • Mine your reviews
  • Re-audit your site for new problems
  • Add more helpful content to existing pages
  • Create a new page any time you’ve got a new offering
  • Update your listings any time your basic business info changes
  • Continue your blogging or other content-creation efforts IF you know them to be effective (if they’re not effective, get help)
  • Continue any non-Google, preferably offline marketing you do
  • Keep learning about local search, SEO, and other areas of online marketing

By the way, I haven’t laid out each step sequentially.  The order varies from to case.  In general, the one-time steps you do in the early parts of your local SEO effort.  But sometimes they drag on later than you’d like them to, or you have to revisit them for one reason or another.  Also, the ongoing steps you should start as early as possible, partly because it takes time to pile up good links and reviews and to reap the benefits.

As long as you don’t fall into busywork, don’t obsess over things that are good enough (e.g. citations), and do work on hard things that your lazy competitors won’t bother with (namely earning links and reviews), you’ll continue to climb.  If you plan to get outside help, don’t hire a local SEO just to help on your listings and website.

Are you working on tasks where you think you might have hit the point of diminishing return?

Any ongoing steps I forgot?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?

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Google is still in the early stages of injecting ads into the Google Maps 3-pack.  Google never met an ad it didn’t like, so the only question is when (not if) the map pack will become Times Square.

The thought of a pay-to-play local map scares the bejeezus out of many local business owners and local SEOs.

Will you lose your seat at the Local Feast to a big dumb corporation that can shovel more money into AdWords than you can?   Or, if helping people with local SEO is your business – and you don’t do PPC – will you be lying in chalk?

No and no.  Not if you apply a strategy (more on that in a second) that’s based on a few truths:

1. As long as there are local customers, local businesses, and the Web, there will always be local SEO. It’ll just continue to morph over time, as it always has.

2. Your “Google Maps” visibility has a huge amount of overlap with other areas of online marketing – particularly with your organic-search visibility (read: your links and content) and with how good you are at earning reviews on a variety of sites.

3. The local map is not the holy grail. Keep in mind that I make a living in large part by helping businesses get visible there, so I’m the last guy to say it’s not important.  But I’ve seen people dominate the local pack and not get any new business.  Also, Google can always mess it up (even more), lose the trust of searchers, and reduce the potential payoff.  If your one source of leads is your Google local-pack rankings, you are mooning a lion.

4. Local SEO is not just about rankings (duh). When you need something, do you automatically hire whomever ranks #1?  Neither do most people.  Local searchers are not a captive audience.  Most of them will dig until they find a business they trust.  Visibility in Google is only one part of becoming that business.

Fine, but what do you do if Google’s local map becomes prohibitively expensive, or worthless, or disappears entirely?  What’s left?  Is it Van Halen without David Lee Roth?

Local SEO wouldn’t be lessened, or even all that different.  If we write off the map results, your local SEO campaign becomes a combination of your work on the following:

  • Branded search results.  When people look up your business by name, can they immediately tell your site belongs to you and not to a sound-alike competitor?  Are they impressed by your customers’ reviews of you on all the review sites that show up on page 1 for your name?  Have you received any local press?  Are you listed on niche sites?

  • Organic visibility.  It’s usually the business with the best organic visibility that ends up ranking best on the local map.  Often, that comes down to strength of your links.  But you may also want to write blog posts on extremely specific topics in your industry or city, or create good “location” or “city” pages, or both.  Arguably even now you’re not necessarily better off if you rank well in the local pack but not in the organic results; they’re neck-and-neck.  But if the local pack becomes a total trash heap, your organic visibility pays off even more, because people will go back to looking there for all non-ads search results – just as they did before Google Places came onto the scene.
  • Barnacle SEO.  Getting your Yelp, Facebook, YouTube, or other non-company-website, non-Google online properties to rank for “local” keywords can help you haul in more leads, even when your other rankings aren’t so good.
  • Facebook.  It’s slowly waded about shin-deep into the local pond, but there’s no reason to think the shirt isn’t coming off.  It’s only getting more important, and there any many ways to use it to get more local customers.
  • Other local search engines: Apple Maps and Bing Places and Yahoo.
  • Local directories or review sites. Not the rinky-dink ones, but rather places like Yelp, Angie’s List, and maybe even nasty old YellowPages.
  • Industry-specific directories or review sites. Zillow, Avvo, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, DealerRater, etc.  Those are the big names, but even small niches have directories, and you should pay attention to them.
  • Sites and apps not yet created. Local search in general has gotten bigger over the years, not smaller.  It’s become more of a part of everyone’s life, and will continue in that direction.

If Google’s local map results change significantly or go away, it’s not the beginning of the end, but maybe just the end of the beginning.

Now, I would be surprised if the local map ever becomes 100% pay-to-play, and I’m certain that it won’t change to that overnight.

But you still want a bunker plan.  That means you need to stock up the bunker with MREs and batteries and road flares and ninja throwing stars and whatever else before all hell breaks loose.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/13476480@N07/16671969110/

That’s why, even if the local map-pack remains free and a meritocracy at least in theory, I suggest you work on the things I just described no matter what.

What are some important non-Google-Maps aspects of local SEO?

What’s in your “bunker plan,” in case the local map gets too pay-to-play?

Leave a comment!

How Do Local SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization Overlap?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekilby/15278603997/

You want better local rankings.  But rankings won’t pay your bills, so you also want to do a better job of converting traffic.  One is useless without the other, so you need to do both from the start.

A few months ago I weighed in on a Google+ post where the concern was how to “balance” local SEO and conversion-rate optimization on your site.  As I mentioned there, working on your local SEO and boosting your conversions may sound like two separate projects, but they’re not.   There is a lot of overlap, and there are many ways to kill two birds with one stone.

Here are some steps that might help you boost your visibility and traffic and your ability to convert that traffic:

1. Create a separate page on each specific service you offer – or at least on the services for which you want to rank and get more customers.

For instance, until you rank at the top of the local heap for “dentist,” you’re more likely to rank for “pediatric dentist” if you have an in-depth page on how you do a great job for kids.  You’re also more likely to interest parents who are looking for that specific service – more so than if you come across as a generalist.

2.  Make those pages in-depth and detailed, with your USP info, plenty of reviews/testimonials on the page, good photos (preferably not stock), and a clear call-to-action at the end. You’ll give both Google and people more to sink their teeth into.

3.  Create in-depth FAQs pages – or, in general, just answer questions on your site Q&A-style. Not only will this help you convert more traffic, but it’s also more likely to get the right people to your site – the ones who know exactly what they’re looking for.  I’ve written on how you can do this.  Also, it’s the best way you can apply what Dan Leibson calls “Answer-box SEO.”

4.  Build city pages that don’t suck.

5.  Make your site more user-friendly. Google knows if people get to your site and just hit the “back” button, or if they venture deeper and spend some time looking around and take the next step.

Include plenty of internal links to relevant pages, create a main “Services” or “Products” page, make your contact info hard to miss, and remember that there’s no such thing as too long – only too boring.  See my post on analyzing visitors’ click-behavior.

6.  Having a mobile-friendly site. It doesn’t need to be mobile-responsive; it can be on a separate domain (m.yourwebsite.com) – like the kind you might get from Duda.  It simply needs not to frustrating for the average person who might pay you for something.

7.  Write catchy title and description tags. When done right they can get you higher click-through than the next guy gets.  That will likely help your rankings if you sustain it, and it can bring more of the right customers to your site (as opposed to tire-kickers).  You attract to the degree you repel.

8.  Embed a prominent Google Map – in a place on the site where visitors might want to know how they can get to you.

I like to customize the dimensions and put it in the footer.  Making it easy to get driving directions is smart for obvious reasons and, when combined with an influx of reviews, driving-directions lookups may be a minor ranking factor.

9.  Offer old-school driving directions. Landmarks, turn-by-turn, from the north/south/east/west, etc.  Some people prefer them, and it’s “local” content that gives Google more info as to where you’re located.  May also help you rank for some of the ever-increasing number of “near me” searches.

10.  Work like a beast to pile up online reviews on a variety of sites (even on the mediocre ones).

 Getting happy customers to speak up usually isn’t easy, but hey, few high-payoff things in life are easy.  It’s worth the trouble.

Having impressive reviews makes your website’s job easier in at least two ways: people aren’t as likely to leave your site to look up your reviews (especially if they’ve already seen the reviews, and they’re more likely to arrive at your site pre-sold on how good you are.

Your site can be a wounded animal and you’ll still probably get a surprising number of customers if your reviews stand out.  But combine them with a sticky site (see points 1-8) and you’ll win yourself a full goblet and a pile of turkey legs at the Local Feast.

Can you think of more areas of overlap between local SEO and CRO?

What’s something you did that helped you on both counts?

Leave a comment!

How to Migrate or Redesign Your Site and Not Die in the Local Rankings

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pasukaru76/5644507618/in/photostream/

Clients and others often ask me how they can redesign their site or migrate to a new CMS and not end up committing seppuku in the local search results.

I tell them that although there are probably a hundred checklist items they might concern themselves with, only a few really matter.  Do these steps wrong or forget to do them and you will bring great dishonor to your local rankings.

If you’re considering a rebuild, make sure that at the very least you’ve done everything on this 7-point checklist:

1. Do your 301 redirects.

Do them on all pages that (a) you’ll be renaming or relocating (to a different subdirectory, for example) and that (b) have good external links pointing to them.

2.  Keep your title tags the same.

Unless they’re lousy and you want to change them anyway.  Take note of your title tags at least on your most-important / highest-traffic pages, or use Screaming Frog to grab and export all of them.

3.  Keep your content the same.

If you have 5 paragraphs on the old version of a page, make sure the new version has the same 5 paragraphs.  Short of doing that, at least keep the content as similar as possible (unless it just sucks).

4.  Make sure your Google Analytics tracking code doesn’t get butchered.

Just log into Analytics after the upgrade and get worried only if you see a flat line.

Check back again a few days later to make sure data’s still coming in OK.

5.  Remove all noindex tags from your staging site.

(At least from the pages you want Google to index.)

While you’re at it, make sure your robots.txt doesn’t disallow your entire site.

Thanks to Darren for the reminder.

6.  Make sure your local listings still point to the landing page URL you want them to.

If necessary, update those listings to point to the correct URL on your site.

7.  Don’t assume the user-experience is better.

You may like the new look.  Your turtleneck-clad designer may like the new look.  But all of that amounts to nothing in the end if your pages load too slowly or confuse customers.

As I’ve said, the “back” button is the worst enemy of local SEO. Google seems to pay attention to how visitors behave once they’re on the site. Also, all the rankings in the world don’t matter if your site makes people cuss.

Use a tool like CrazyEgg to study where visitors click and scroll – how they use the site – and use that intel to make things easier to find and to use.  Also consider getting some five-second tests, or asking your spouse or a trusty cowpoke for an unvarnished opinion.

Get those basics right and worry about smaller stuff later.  If you’ve got a big site or there’s any ecommerce going on, you’ll probably have more work to do during or after the upgrade.

Any redesign / migration horror stories?

Any tips on how to make the transition easy on your local rankings?

Leave a comment!

25 Principles of Building Effective City Pages for Local SEO

So you want to create “city pages” to attract local customers in places where you don’t have an office.  How can you make those pages attract customers rather than repulse them, rank well in the organic results, and not get stomped by Google’s “doorway page” update?

I’m mostly talking about pages that target cities where you do not have a physical location.  Still, most or all of these principles also apply to pages you’d create for specific “location” or “office” pages.

City pages in general have about the same reputation that Gigli has.  The bar is low.  That’s good news for you.

By no means do you need to apply all my suggestions.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Some of my clients are killin’ it even though they’ve only put a few of these best-practices into practice (so far).

Here are 25 principles for creating the kind of city pages that Google likes, customers like, and you won’t be ashamed of.

Bedrock principles

1.  Make your city pages so good you’d be willing to pay $20 a click for PPC traffic. Think of how hard you work for your “free” online visibility.  Do you really want to send that traffic to 30 squirted-out pages?  This isn’t just a thought-exercise: It may come to paying $20 a click.  Especially if your SEO campaign doesn’t work out, you’ll probably try PPC next.  Then you’ll learn all too quickly that it’s important to send visitors to pages that are ready for battle.

 

2.  Make them unique, in every way you can. In a minute I’ll go into more detail as to what I mean.  For now, let’s just establish uniqueness as a basic rule of effective city pages.

 

3.  Think of a genuine connection to the city. Did you grow up there?  Do any of your employees live there?  Did you do your first or biggest project there?  Do an inordinate number of your clients come from that city?

Think of an angle and explain it.  If you can’t do both of those things maybe you shouldn’t target that city after all.

 

4.  Especially if you can’t think of a genuine connection to the city, mention specific features of the place, landmarks, current issues, etc. Show would-be customers and Google that at least you’ve done a little homework.

 

5.  Make a few pages and see how they fare before making a bunch more. Get 2 or 3 pages to rank and see if they bring in any customers.  If they don’t, work on them until they do.  Sounds like a pain, but it’s a lot less painful than having to send 30 pages to fat camp.

 

6.  Don’t treat all your pages the same: Put extra work into the pages for the highest-payoff cities. Sure, you want to rank in 10 nearby cities, but probably only 2 of those cities contain the lion’s share of your would-be customers.  You probably know already which few cities matter the most.

 

7.  Even if your pages rank well and bring in customers, don’t necessarily make too many more. My somewhat arbitrary limit is 10 pages.  Beyond that number, it’s hard to make good pages and to avoid spreading your time and resources thin.  There is a point of diminishing return.

 

8.  Long and detailed is good. Don’t give me that “people don’t read” hogwash.  There’s no such thing as too long; only too boring.

Lay out every reason that someone from the city you’re targeting should call you.  Explain it in plain English, but also include testimonials or reviews from past customers from that city, include pictures of jobs you’ve done there, and whatever else you can round up.  (More on this in a minute.)

 

9.  Include city-specific info that even non-customers might find useful. Non-customers are the people who might – might – conceivably link to the page, if it’s a helpful “local” resource.  That’s about the only good way you’ll ever get someone to link to your city pages.  Even if you don’t get links, you’ll have created some good “local” content.

 

10.  Avoid making “doorway” or “island” pages. Integrate your city pages into the navigation and into other pages so that people don’t have to be Jim Rockford to find them.

 

11.  Include testimonials.

 

When appropriate, mark them up with Schema or hReview when possible.  You want those golden “review stars” showing up in the search results.  You can mark up your testimonials by hand, or use a service like NearbyNow.

 

12.  It’s never too late to craft great city pages. Especially if yours suck, work on them.  But keep working on them even if they’re just pretty good.

 

13.  Recognize when your pages are fine but you’ve got other problems. Do you get plenty of leads but lose them while they’re on the phone?  Do people start to fill out your “Contact Us” form, but abandon it partway through?  Your landing pages are just one part of the funnel.

 

14.  Don’t create a page for every city-service permutation. Sometimes I see companies that offer 5 services and want to reach 10 cities end up creating 50 pages.  It’s a hot mess that looks like this:

air-conditioning-repair-cleveland.html

air-conditioning-repair-columbus.html

air-conditioning-repair-cincinnati

heating-repair-cleveland.html

heating-repair-columbus.html

heating-repair-cincinnati.html

Yeah, don’t.  You’ll spread yourself thin and create pages that bore or turn off customers, even if those pages rank at all.

Create a page for each specific service you offer.  Create a page for 5-10 of the top cities you’re trying to reach.  Just don’t multiply them like rabbits.

 

15.  Photos are good. Include them whenever you can.  Photos of specific projects in specific cities are the best.

 

 

Pro tips

16.  Scour competitors’ city pages – even their entire sites – for good ideas to use on your city pages. This is one of the relatively few ways competitive intel is useful for local SEO.

 

17.  Vary more elements than you think you “need” to. For instance, experiment with wildly different title tags, or make one page three times longer than all the others, or create a video dedicated to one of the cities.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you created a bunch of pages and just assumed you knew what works best in all cases?

 

18.  Link out. Cite resources.

Outbound linking may be a small ranking factor in and of itself for Google, and it’s a nice way to make your content more unique, but that’s not why you do it.  It’s simply more helpful to the reader.  The worst posts I’ve read are the ones that don’t link to anyone’s work – as though the deadbeat writer never learned from someone who came before.

 

19.  Consider positioning your pages as part of a “Portfolio” or “Gallery” or “Success Stories” structure. Each of your (let’s say) 5-10 city pages can show up under a “Portfolio” menu dropdown, for example.

There are at least a few benefits to this setup:

  • People who didn’t land on your city pages originally might actually go to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one factor Google looks at to determine whether a given city page is any good: do visitors only leave it to go somewhere else on the site, or is it a two-way street?
  • You’re incorporating the pages into your navigation – rather than leaving them as “doorway” pages.
  • It’s a little easier to link to pages that show off work you’re proud of – rather than link to one city page of a dozen.

 

20.  If there’s ever a time to use call-tracking numbers, this is it. Having a separate number for each page might be excessive, but having a tracking number that only appears on your city pages might help you gauge their effectiveness.

 

21.  Consider adding city-specific coupons or special offers. This is another nice way to track leads, I might add.

 

22.  Think about the subdirectory / path structure before you make the pages. Keep it simple and short, like example.com/milwaukee, rather than example.com/milwaukee-dentists.  Otherwise, it’s easy to create spammy URLs, and harder to restructure later if you need to.

 

23.  Don’t necessarily have the same person write all the pages. Especially if you’re running out of ideas and can’t think of a genuine connection to the city (see principle #3), have someone else rub some brain cells together.

 

24.  Consider hiring a pro writer. Someone like Joel Klettke comes to mind.  Even if you’ve done the legwork and even if you’re a decent writer, it’s wise to have someone who can challenge your assumptions and offer new ideas.  You need a wingman.

 

25.  Especially if you’ve got a big ol’ multi-location company, give ownership of the page to a person on your team. Give that person access to your CMS. Have him or monitor city-specific news or events and keep updating the page and building it up over time.

Make it easy for your “boots on the ground” to publish content.  That is how you make your city-page strategy scalable, if that’s a concern of yours.  (Thanks to Darren for this point.)

 

What’s the best “city page” you’ve ever seen (or made)?  How well does it rank, and how well does it bring in leads?

Any principles I missed?

Leave a comment!