Every Local SEO Diagnostic You’ll Ever Need to Know (Plus Some)

You may be stumped as to why you’re not ranking well (or at all)…but don’t say it’s because you tried everything and just couldn’t figure it out.

You probably didn’t try everything.

I can think of 56 diagnostics you should try if you want to troubleshoot local SEO problems or find missed opportunities.  I’ll tell you all 56 in a minute.

First, a few points about what this post is not:

It’s not a list of every tool.  That’s what this post is for.

It’s not a technical audit (although a few of my suggestions fall into that category).

It’s not a tutorial on exactly what to do about what each diagnostic may show you.  Many times the next steps will be clear, but sometimes they’re tricky.  (For maximum detail on action items, get my free guide – or consider my X-Ray service.)

By the way, this is an evergreen post, so I’ll keep adding diagnostics.  (Please leave a comment if you have any to suggest.)

Let’s get into it, shall we?  I’ve broken this up into 7 sections.  You can click on a link to jump to a section.

General

Google Places

Website

Citations

Links

Reviews

My 7-point quick checkup

…or you can just start right here at the top.

General diagnostics

Measure the business’s distance to the center of town
Look up driving directions (in Google Maps) from the business to the town where it’s located or where its owners want to rank.  Are you 20 miles from what Google considers the center of town?  Are you significantly farther away than your higher-ranking competitors are? You want a sense of whether it’s even possible to rank in your “target” city.

Search in the business’s ZIP code
Type a search term into Google, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter the ZIP or postal code that the business is located in.  Does it rank?

Search in an incognito browser window
You may see biased results if you’re logged into your Google account or if you haven’t cleared your browser’s cookies in a while.

Study Google Analytics
For now, just log in and look for any steep dips in traffic.  Then you can use these other diagnostics to figure out why the drop-off happened.  (There are tons of resources for learning about Google Analytics in-depth, and they’re easy to find, so I’ll leave that part to you.)

Check Google Webmaster Tools
Any crawl or indexation issues?

Check your Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local rankings
If you rank more visibly in those places than in Google, it’s less likely you’re looking at a technical issue on your website and more likely that you’re staring at Google’s sharp fangs.

Get my questionnaire filled out
I’m talkin’ about this.  Probably only useful if you’re the SEO person who needs all the pertinent facts from your client – although it might still be a useful exercise even if you’re doing your own local SEO.

Google Places diagnostics

Check for the Google Places pack
Are you seeing only organic results for search terms that used to pull up the Google Places 7-pack (or 3-pack) results – or vice versa?

Perform a brand-name search
Do you see the Google Places page?  Is it the correct one?  Do you see the expected listings on other sites (e.g. Yelp)?

Search from different default locations
Type in a search term, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter other cities or ZIP codes.

Check rankings both with and without city names
Do you rank for “dentist” but not for “Cleveland dentist”?

Check the “Maps” tab
Are you ranked #10?  Are you on page 5?  To find out, type in a search term, click the “Map results…” link under the Google Places results, then click the “See results in list view” link. That’s for checking your visibility in the “new” Google Maps. But, as Linda points out, you should also check your rankings in classic Maps, because you may see different results there – possibly pre-Pigeon-update results.

Search on Google Plus
Go to plus.google.com, sign in, go to the “Local” tab, and search for the business.  Can you find its Google Places page?  Is it the one you expected to find?

Check both Googles
Let’s say your business is in Canada.  Check its rankings both on Google.com and on Google.ca.  You may notice a huge difference.

Make sure the page is verified
Look for the little checkmark near the profile photo.

Make sure the page has been “upgraded”
Do you see only an “About” and “Photos” tab, or do you see 3-4 tabs (like “Posts,” “Videos,” or “YouTube”)?

See if Google has made changes without your OK
Yes, Google does that sometimes.  Log into your Google My Business dashboard and you may see a message that says Google made tweaks to your page (usually to your address or categories).

Search for your business in MapMaker
Look at the “Details” tab.  Is any info incorrect?  (By the way, don’t bother with this step if you’ve got a service-area business.)  If anything seems incorrect, don’t mess around with it without reading this post first.

Check your map-marker location
Google your address.  Now check out on the map on your Google Places page.  Does the red marker show up in exactly the same place on the map?  If not, move the marker.

Find duplicate or near-duplicate Google Places pages
Use Michael Cottam’s excellent and free tool.  Or use the old-school techniques that Joy Hawkins’ describes.

Check the Google Places landing page URL
Go to your Places page and click the link to your site.  Does it forward to a domain other than the one you just clicked on?  Does it even take you to your website at all (yes, I’ve seen typos here, sad to say)?  Please tell me you’re using your homepage as the landing page.

Double-check the business hours
I’ve seen significant traffic dips on (for example) weekends when I’ve had clients who are closed on weekends.  Is that because search volume is naturally lower on the weekend because people are taking it easy, and that’s why the businesses are closed to begin with?  Or is Google less likely to show search results that contain closed businesses?  I suspect it’s a little of both.  So make sure your hours don’t mark you as “Closed” for more hours than you really are closed.

Website diagnostics

Do a site:yourwebsite.com search
How many of your pages are indexed?  Are you seeing old, duplicate versions of pages?  Are all your title tags the same (or just terrible)?

Check your robots.txt
Go to yourwebsite.com/robots.txt.  Make sure it doesn’t contain the dreaded “Disallow: /” line.  Especially if you’re not sure how to assess a robots.txt file you’ll want to use Google’s tester.

Look for mirror sites
I’m talking about clones of the site you want to rank well: same guts, different domain name.  Slimy companies may build these for you in a misguided attempt to try to “track conversions.”  The best way to find them is to Google a few lines of text from your homepage, and to see whether another domain pops up in Google.  Or use Copyscape or Plagium.

Find any unwanted subdomains or staging sites
Search for them by typing site:yourwebsite.com -www search.  Hat tip to the Local SEO Guide guys for reminding me about this one.

Make sure the NAP info is crawlable text
Google needs to be able to read your name / address / phone (“NAP”) info.  That’s not possible if your NAP is an image.  So here’s the test: can you copy and paste it?  If so, Google can read it OK.

View the source code
Only do this if you are your own webmaster, have built websites in the past, or otherwise know what to look for.  But if you do know what to look for, you may find some real demons.

Check the site on a smartphone
If you’re in an industry where a lot of the traffic (let’s say 30% or more) is from smartphones and you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, your bounce rate may be high.  That may hurt your rankings.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool
Hat tip to Tony of Cartography Marketing for reminding me of this one.

Check the “itemtype” line in your Schema.org markup
The itemty-…huh?  I explain that one in another long post.  It’s a little technical, and it won’t explain low rankings, but it might give you a slight edge in the local roller-derby.

Citation diagnostics

Do a (free) Moz Local scan
Hands-down the best way to get a quick sense of how much work your citations need.  Oh, and don’t ignore the suggestions for categories.

Check the BBB record
I love this hack.  You can find alternative business names, old phone numbers, and more.

Make sure you’re listed on Google’s pets
Beyond Yelp and YP, what sites rank well for the terms you’re trying to rank for? For instance, Google expects you to be on HealthGrades if you’re a doctor, or Avvo if you’re a lawyer, or Houzz if you’re a contractor. I’m mostly talking about industry sites. Thanks to Gyi Tsakalakis for reminding me of this point.

Search for the phone number in the standard format
I like to search with dashes as the separators (e.g. 123-867-3509).  It’ll pull up the same results as it would if you Googled the phone number with parentheses around the area code.

Search the phone number with periods as separators
Some people think the dots look chic, so they use them in their phone number.  But Google does not treat periods the same as dashes.  You may see different search results come up when you search for the number with periods (e.g. 123.867.5309).

Search for your business name and city
Great diagnostic from Darren: “If everything is in order, you should see a knowledge panel for the business. If you don’t get one, that can indicate Google isn’t getting enough signals to identify your brand. Try working on citation audit & cleanup, and review acquisition.” (By the way, Darren’s crew can help with messy citations.)

Search for the address
What kind of address is it (e.g. residential)?  Do the expected business listings (e.g. YellowPages) come up?  Do you see unexpected phone numbers come up?  Any discrepancies as to what city / town that address might be in?

Do a USPS ZIP Lookup
What town does Uncle Sam think your ZIP is in?  Know that before you touch your citations.

Use the Local Citation Finder
Do your competitors have better local citations?  Which competitors?  Where can you go to get those citations?  The Local Citation Finder can save you hours of toiling.

Use NAP Hunter
Those madmen at Local SEO Guide created a Chrome extension to help you unearth incorrect and duplicate citations.  Another huge time-saver.  Or, if you want to take the scenic route, you can use the sitelinks search box to find duplicate citations.

Yext free scan
Ignore the eschatological “144 Errors!” warnings and just get a rough sense of how many totally wrong phone numbers, addresses, and names are floating around the web, and on what sites. Note: if you use Yext’s free scan you’ll get solicited by Yext. (Thanks to Rob Scutti for reminding me of this trade-off.)

Check the state’s Secretary of State filing
Fix any business info that’s incorrect or out-of-date.

Check THE big YellowPages-type player in your country
YellowPages.ca is the make-or-break listing if you’re in Canada.  YellowPages.com.au is huge you’re in Australia.  Yell.com is crucial if you’re in the UK.  Get your listing right and you may see progress on the Google Places side.

Check Twitter for acknowledged problems
Great resource: Bill Bean’s Twitter Handles for Local Business Citation Sources.

Link diagnostics

Check backlinks
Use OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, or Ahrefs – or some combination of the three, ideally.  Spot-check your links and decide if they’re junk.  Get any junk links removed.

Check Google Webmaster Tools for a manual penalty
A worst-case scenario (one reason you don’t want to skip the “Check backlinks” step).

Get a Toxic Links score from LinkDelete
Another one in Darren’s words: “Run their quick scan to get a sense of how many bad links you have. Don’t freak out if the number is higher than expected. They tend to over-report a bit, in my opinion.”

Look at the release history of Penguin and other algorithm updates
Does Google Analytics show a steep drop-off in traffic on or right after a day that Google released an algorithm update?

Check for links between affiliated businesses
Do your five sites merrily link to each other?  Don’t.


Review diagnostics

Type in [name of business] + reviews
Just see what – if anything – comes up.  Not having many or any reviews is bad local SEO and worse marketing.  Read this and this.

Check Google’s reviews dashboard
Sometimes buggy and won’t pick up Yelp reviews, but good for getting a quick sense of where a business has reviews.

Check YellowBot
Same goal as above.  As I’ve shown, reviews from all over the place show up on YellowBot.

Check the “More reviews” section in the knowledge graph
Yet another way to check for where a business has reviews.

Find filtered Google+ reviews
See this brilliant post by Joy Hawkins.

My 7-point quick checkup:

I can uncover probably 80% of problems in about 10 minutes, just by doing these quick tests (which I mentioned earlier):

1.  Check rankings both with and without city names

2.  Perform a brand-name search

3.  Measure the business’s distance to the center of town

4.  Do a site:yourwebsite.com search

5.  Do a (free) Moz Local scan

6.  Google the phone number(s)

7.  Check backlinks

 

Great further reading

Advanced Local Citation Audit & Clean Up: Achieve Consistent Data & Higher Rankings
– Casey Meraz

Troubleshooting Local Ranking Failures: a Beginner’s Guide
– Miriam Ellis

*Local SEO Audit Template
– Dan Leibson

(*That’s not the real title of the post, but I’m not shoehorning that 17-word monstrosity in here.  Sorry, Dan :)  Nice post, though.)

 

Do you have a problem you still can’t figure out after trying those diagnostics?

Is there a troubleshooting method I forgot?

What’s your favorite?

Leave a comment!

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My #1 Local Citations Tip: Do Another Round

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/chrisgold/6282077864/

A recent conversation with my LocalSpark amigos Darren and Nyagoslav got me to thinking:

Yes, there are dozens of things to remember do when working on your citations.  I offered 43 bits of advice in my giant post on citations from a year ago.

But you don’t want all the details – major and minor – to get in the way of one crucial step.  It’s perhaps the only practice that makes building or fixing your citations less daunting, and more likely to get completed.

It is:

Do at least one follow-up round of work on your citations.

Do it 30-90 days after the first occasion you work on them.

Better yet: do a third round of work a month or two after the second.

That’s it.  If you’re no stranger to citations, you probably know what follow-up work would involve.  But if you’d like a little more explanation, just read on.

 

Why do follow-up work on citations?

  • Because some of your listings or edits probably didn’t stick after the first attempt.
  • Because the remaining listings are probably on the tougher sites, which usually also means they’re the listings that Google really trusts.
  • Because you probably can (and always should) fill out more info on your current listings – like any fields labeled “Services,” “Description,” “Keywords,” and especially your categories.

  • Because you may stumble across more sites where you should list your business.

 

What to do, exactly?

You’re doing 5 main things:

1.  You’re checking the sites you’ve already submitted to, to make sure they published your info correctly.  To the extent they haven’t, you’re resubmitting your edits, or trying again to claim your listing, or whatever the situation seems to dictate.

2.  You’re checking on any listings that you tried to remove before, to make sure they’ve actually been removed.  If they haven’t been removed, make your request again.  You may also need to see where those sites are getting their (mis)information in the first place – if there’s an “upstream” problem.

3.  You’re bulking up any citations that only have your basic info.  Again, you’ll want to fill out as many fields as possible – especially the ones where you have the chance to describe your services in more detail.  Until very recently, Google would scrape those fields and put the relevant services MapMaker custom categories.  It’s likely they still use that info in some way.

4.  You’re taking another pass at finding more citation sources.

 

Fine, but how do you fix up the citations?

Read this superb post by Casey Meraz.

 

Which sites most need double-checking?

Yelp, YellowPages, ExpressUpdate, and Acxiom – for starters.  In my experience, those are the most stubborn sites.

 

Why doesn’t everyone do follow-up work?

Because it’s extra work.

Even if people know that there’s still work to be done, it’s never a priority.  If the rankings are bad and it’s because of messy citations, it’ll usually take months for the fixes to count for anything.  And disheveled citations sure as heck aren’t a priority when rankings and spirits are high.

Also, most citation “builders” won’t bother, because it’s easier to bill you for the first several-dozen easy sites than for the 5-10 toughies.  (Sure, the tough sites usually require owner-verification, but someone’s at least got to tell that to the business owner.)

 

It’s part of a bigger strategy

Local SEO usually takes time – months – to bear fruit.  You need to start working on it before you’re starving for visibility and phone calls.  As I’ve written, the slower you can take it, the better.

If you try to get all your citations perfect in a sitting or even within a week, you’ll probably end up frustrated.  But if you revisit them every now and then as part of your long-term push, they’ll get as close to “done” as you can get.

The nice thing is that the more rounds of work you put into your citations, usually the less there is to do each time.

What’s your #1 tip on citations?

#1 frustration?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

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Low-Tech Local SEO Fix-ups for Your Site

You can’t make big or technical changes to your site, for whatever reason.  (Maybe you just aren’t sure how.)  Your options may be limited, but you still want to start ranking in Google Places and elsewhere.

Maybe your webmaster pulled a Houdini on you.  Or selfishly went belly-up at just the wrong time (before you’re ranking top-7).

Or maybe you are your own webmaster, but don’t think you can take your site apart and make it whole again.

There’s still plenty you can do to make your site local-search-friendly.

After my last post – which was a little technical – I thought it was time for something lower-tech.  Here, my suggestions would have made sense for you to do 10 years ago, and they’ll benefit you 10 years from now.  Many of them I’ve mentioned before.

You only need to be able to make basic changes to your pages.  You should be able to implement these suggestions whether you’re using WordPress, a hand-coded site, one of GoDaddy’s contraptions, or any other “website builder.”

Here are the low-tech local SEO steps I suggest you take on your site:

Structure

1.  Create a page for every specific service you offer.

2.  Create a page for each location, if you have more than one location.  (Don’t necessarily use these as your Google Places landing pages.)

3.  Create the other pages you should create.

 

Content

4.  Make sure your homepage at least mentions your specific services.

5.  Add old-school driving / walking / public-transportation directions.

6.  Describe some local landmarks.

7.  Go through every page of your site and see if you can explain your services better.

8.  Describe your qualifications, certifications, etc.  If applicable, also link to them.

9.  Describe your service area.  (Notice I said “describe” it.  Don’t just paste in all the city names in a paragraph that’s taller than Shaq.)

10.  Rework crappy blog posts.

11.  Remove or rewrite duplicate content.

 

Details

12.  Put your business’s “NAP” (name, address, phone) info on every page.  No, it doesn’t need to be in Schema.  (Some guidelines here.)

13.  Add links to your subpages – particularly pages where you describe specific services – where appropriate.  Do not overdo this.  Only add links when you realize, “Gee, maybe a visitor would want to know more about this point.”

14.  Add links to sites where customers have reviewed you.

review-links-sidebar

Maybe also create a “Review Us” page with those links on it.

15.  Add photos.  Name them relevantly, and make sure they’re relevant to whatever you’re describing on the page.

16.  Read your content out-loud.  Take note of any areas that sound clunky.  I’ll bet you a beer they’re links with keywords awkwardly inserted.  Remove or rephrase those links.

 —

Even if you nail the low-tech stuff, your site may still need work.  But you’ll be in much better shape.

How many of these fixes have you crossed off the to-do list?

Any non-technical suggestions you’d add?

Leave a comment!

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Local SEO Victory in 5 Minutes a Day: Doable Baby Steps

The worst part of local SEO isn’t that it’s tough or time-consuming.  The worst part is it’s daunting.

It’s easy to get paralyzed and procrastinate – or not progress at all.  That’s partly because you have to search hither and yon just to figure out what to put on your to-do list.

Maybe all you need is a to-do list that’s broken down into baby steps.  That’s why I’ve put together that list today.

Each step (below) should take 5 minutes.  And yes, unlike Andrew, I actually mean 5 minutes :)

Do one of these baby steps every single day.    You’ll make a nauseating amount of progress – and probably in less time than you think.

No need to start at the top of the list.  Just pick one of these baby steps for today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

Think of one page you’d like to add to your site.  (See this.)

Sift through the Google Places Category Tool and Moz Local’s Category Research area to see if there are any more categories you can specify for your business on any of your listings.

Ask one customer for a review.

Reply to one review.

Build a citation.

Fix or remove an incorrect citation.

Rewrite the title tag of one page that ranks in the gutter.

See if you can think of a Google Places descriptor that makes sense in your situation.

Do a Moz Local scan.

Do a Local Citation Finder scan.

Scan for and fix broken links on your site.

Write down one question that customers ask you all the time.  (There’s any number of things you can do with it.  For starters, just throw it in a document of questions to add to the FAQ page of your site.)

Write down one idea for a blog post.  (Try this list of 100 ideas, or this second list of 100.)

Log into Google Plus, go to the “Local” tab, and type in variations of your business name, and note down any duplicate listing(s) you find.

Ask Google to remove a duplicate listing, if you’ve got any.

Do whatever it takes to get a nice cover photo for your Google+ Local page.  (You don’t want people hitting the “back” button.)

 

Flip through the pages of your site and add links to relevant other pages (on your site or on others’).

Type your business name into Google and take note of anything you see that you don’t like.

Check on one of your business listings (citations) and add more info to it.

Flip through a competitor’s site.  What’s the smartest thing he/she is doing?

Google the name of your top competitors.  What are they doing that you can do better?

Type this into Google: “site:yourwebsitename.com”.  Take note of any title tags or description tags you don’t like, and change them (not necessarily today).

Find a local charity you can help out.  Email them and ask how you can pitch in.  (It’s good karma.  And if you get a link out of it, great.)

Spend 5 minutes writing a piece of one of the pages or posts you thought of, or writing stuff to add to your landing page.  Stop after 5 minutes, even if you’ve been staring at a blank screen.

Add some Schema markup to your landing page.

Read one post by Mike Blumenthal that you haven’t read already.

Write down a specific question (and the person you plan to ask).

Buy some time with a person you think can answer your questions.  (By the way, if you ever book a Mastermind session with me, let me know if your questions are from your daily “baby steps.”  I’ve got a bonus for hardcore readers :) )

Ask a quick question at Linda Buquet’s forum or at the Local Search Google+ community.

Write a to-do list for your local SEO efforts.

Do any one of the items you’ve put on your to-do list.  Cross that sucker off.

By the way, I’d like this to be an evergreen post, so please let me know if you think of any 5-minute baby steps I should add.  (Hat tip to Darren for suggesting a few steps.)

What’s the first 5-minute step you’ll do?  How ‘bout the last one you did?  Any questions?  Leave a comment!

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How to Structure Your Site for Local Search Visibility That Lasts

The Ise Shrine is pretty cool.  The Emperor of Japan had it built in the 7th Century.  It’s made of untreated wood, yet it’s stood for over 1300 years.  How?

Because master carpenters rebuild the whole thing – board by board – every 20 years.

Your site won’t have to serve you for quite that long, but you can build it to last.  If you structure it according to a few best-practices, it’s more likely to rank well in the local results, and to be easy for customers to use.  It will also be easier to make changes later on if you need to.

I’m not talking about internal link structure (how your pages should link together).  Other posts deal with that nicely.  Nor am I talking about what should be on your pages.  I’ve talked about that, too.

I’m talking about where to put stuff.  Simply having “content” on your site isn’t enough.  You need to organize it in a way that Google and customers can understand all your business offers.

For my clients’ sites, there are some points I really harp on, and some that I don’t consider crucial – but wise to do.  Let’s go through the former – my “hard rules” – first.

My hard rules:

1.  Have one site – or as few as possible.  Avoid microsites.  Avoid mirror sites.

2.  Put your blog on the same domain.  Preferably it’s at yoursite.com/blog.  You want your posts and any links to benefit the site you’re trying to rank.  (By the way, if you don’t have a blog because your wheels are spinning, see this and this.)

3.  Your page structure should be granular: Have a page for each service, each location, each practitioner or employee.

4.  Form a “bulls’-eye” pattern with your content.  You should have an area of your site – like your blog – where you’re concentrating useful content, but you should also have “content” spread throughout the rest of your site.  That stuff can rank.  Think FAQ pages, bio pages, or city pages.

5.  Your homepage should be a static page, rather than feature your latest blog posts.  One reason (of many) is that Google needs a consistent picture of what your business offers, if you’re to rank for those services.  The blog post du jour won’t necessarily do that.

My softer rules:

6.  Your navigation should be dummy-simple.  You want to avoid pogo-sticking.  If you want people to see your “Products” page, it should probably be in your top menu.

7.  Avoid “island” pages – pages that have no internal links to them, or only links that are buried in pages few people see.  This is in the same vein as point #6.  Everything should be findable in 1-2 clicks from your homepage.  Google needs to be able to crawl those pages easily.  And if you don’t want people to find those pages easily, you should reconsider whether they even should be on your site.

8.  Use as few subdirectories as possible.  (Or else you get this.)

OK, time for a quick break.

Now, you may want to check out some examples of well-structured sites.  Here are a few keepers:

CohenWintersPlasticSurgery.com

NOVAChiroWellness.com

PringleLaw.ca

It’s also worth checking out these relevant posts (including a couple of mine):

Intelligent Site Structure for Better SEO – Joost de Valk

Site Architecture & Search Engine Success Factors – SearchEngineLand

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

Location pages for local businesses and organizations – Google Developers

Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons – me

21 Pages a “Small Local Business” Site Needs for Tip-Top Local Visibility – me

How do you suggest structuring a site for maximum local visibility?

Did I forget any big no-nos?

Leave a comment!

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100 More Doable Ideas for Small-Business Blog Posts

That was not [BLEEP]-ing good enough, Private Phil!  Hit the deck and give me another 100!

I felt the burn when writing 100 Practical Ideas for Small-Business Blog Posts a few months back.  It took my pecs and triceps 3 months to shake off the soreness, but they cranked out another 100 for you.

My mission is the same as it was in the earlier post: to make it impossible for you to say, “I want to blog for my business, but I don’t know what to write about.”

It doesn’t need to be painful to write posts that (1) you enjoy, (2) showcase your expertise, and (3) customers find useful.  You just need ideas.

Here are another 100 practical ideas for blog posts.  Cherry-pick your favorites, and write ‘em.

101.  What’s the biggest change you’ve made in your business?  Why did you make it?

102.  Where’s the Mecca of your industry?

103.  What was a situation where you felt the profitable thing to do wasn’t the right thing to do?

104.  What’s a part of your service that you insist on doing personally – even when most people in your position don’t?

105.  How did your schooling / education influence what you do for a living?

106.  Why is / isn’t your business a family business?

107.  What’s the Golden Age of your industry?  (Or do you think it’s yet to come?)

108.  What are your “10 commandments”?

109.  How much money does your company spend on books, training, or any types of ongoing learning?

110.  Your year in photos.

111.  Conduct a survey / poll (like with Google Consumer Surveys).

112.  Commemorate an anniversary.

113.  Describe a time you became complacent and got a wake-up call.

114.  Describe an ethical dilemma.

115.  Do people in your position love their work so much that they never retire – and do it until they die?

116.  How was your business different before the Web?

117.  Cannibalize a page on your site nobody seems to see or care about, spruce it up, and turn it into a post.  Or vice versa.

118.  What advice have you gotten from friends or family about running your business?  Was it any good – did you do it?  Why, or why not?

119.  Discuss a mixed review you got from a customer, and what you got out of it.

120.  If you didn’t do what you do for a living, what would you do instead?

121.  What’s a piece of jargon in your industry that most people misuse or don’t understand?  (In other words, a misnomer.)

122.  Explain your “guarantee” policy (even if you don’t have one, that’s still a policy).

123.  What’s your policy on estimates / quotes?

124.  What’s an event that almost wiped out your business?

125.  Have you served multiple generations of a family – a customer, then his son, then his son (for example)?

126.  What questions do you ask possible hires in an interview?

127.  Describe why you fired the last person you fired.

128.  What do all your oldest, longest-term customers have in common?

129.  How do you benefit from writing blog posts?  What does it get you really thinking about?

130.  What are your professional regrets?

131.  What have your competitors taught you?

132.  Why do you keep the business hours you keep?

133.  Why do you have the number of locations you have?  How likely is that to change, and why?

134.  Describe the last situation where you were asked for a refund.

135.  Has your industry ever been the subject of a TV show?  How well did the show portray what you do?

136.  How many people feel ashamed or embarrassed at needing what you offer – and why should they not feel that way?

137.  What are some rules that tick off your employees, but you know are necessary for doing good work?

138.  How cutthroat is your industry?  Why?

139.  What crimes are committed by some people in your industry?

140.  Talk about the pros and cons of hiring or buying from the giant in your industry.

141.  What’s the worst advice you’ve heard or read?  Best?

142.  Write the “Complete Guide to ___.”

143.  Do you have a book in you?

144.  What are some unspoken, unwritten rules in your industry?

145.  What’s your opinion of the single most-famous person in your industry?

146.  Describe in the first-person voice the situation your customer is in right before he / she calls you.  Tell a little story.  Show that you know your customers inside and out.

147.  When did you have to take significant time off from work?

148.  How has your reputation changed over the years?

149.  What’s the lifespan of most businesses in your industry?

150.  What do you think will be the next game-changer?

151.  Do people who offer like yours tend to specialize – or do they usually offer many other services?

152.  Let’s say your industry doesn’t get much press, but there was a celebrity who recently drew some attention to it.  Talk about that.

153.  What are the barriers to entry?  What prevents many people from starting a business like yours?

154.  Why are your profit margins as thin or fat as they are?

155.  Open letter to ___.  (Doesn’t need to be a real open letter.)

156.  When have you needed the service you offer?  Who did it for you?

157.  What’s some technology that you started using (for your business) before others did?

158.  What kind of spam plagues your industry?  And how can you tell it’s spam?

159.  What kind of pro bono work is done in your industry?  Have you done any?

160.  What’s the #1 cause of burnout?

161.  What did you learn on the job today?

162.  What’s the etymology of the word that describes your business?  What does it mean in other languages?  (Do other cultures even have it?)

163.  What’s a question for which people just can’t find an answer by searching in Google – and can you answer it?

164.  Post a question you’re researching.  (Give a reason for your readers to try to answer it for you.)

165.  What’s your overhead?

166.  What kind of paperwork do you have to slog through for each job?

167.  What’s a change you made based on what your “feet on the street” told you?

168.  Why do you like your current role more than your “previous life,” in your old job?

169.  Showcase or excerpt a (nice?) testimonial from a customer.  Thank him or her, and then criticize yourself: describe how you could have done a better job.

170.  Is there a public-sector version of your business?  (And how badly does it suck?)

171.  What’s the ideal size of a business like yours?  What’s too small to be helpful, but too large to serve customers well?

172.  What’s the bond between coworkers?  Is it “work together, play together”?  Does the bond mean that your team is a well-oiled machine that’s in a better position to help customers?

173.  Rake some muck.  What’s a company that gave you a raw deal?  (Bonus points: what did you learn?)

174.  Profile a city you serve.  Talk all about the jobs you’ve done there, and what you like about doing jobs there.

175.  Do you hold any patents?

176.  Publish a sequel to one of your best posts.

177.  Is your field of expertise an art or a science?  How right-brain versus left-brain is it?

178.  How old are most people in your position?

179.  Recommend a competitor.  Think of a way to do it genuinely.  (I don’t recommend saying, “Want crappy service?  Go with Jones & Sons.”)  No need to be an altruist: Maybe there’s a service you don’t offer that your competitor does offer – and maybe you’re just sick of being asked about it.

180.  What are all the products your customers tend to buy to remedy the problems you deal with?  Which are good, and which are useless?

181.  What’s an animal (or other organism) that destroys (or creates) your work?

182.  How does the government make life hard for your business (and others like it)?

183.  What’s a fable or piece of mythology (e.g. Greek) that your customers should keep in mind?

184.  What do you keep on your desk?

185.  What are 3 things you’d love to write more about – but know you’ll never get around to?

186.  When were you the low man on the totem pole?  (Bonus points: how you got from there to where you are now.)

187.  What’s your fear?

188.  What are the all the ways businesses in your industry market themselves?

189.  Do you need your team?  Or can you be a one-musician band?

190.  What part of the job simply can’t be taught?  Are there “naturals”?

191.  Mirco-tip.  (As in a few sentences.)

192.  What questions do you have about your industry?

193.  What do you need from your customers?  To what extent do they need to help you help them?

194.  Do a photo collage – like of some recent work you’ve done.  Maybe describe what’s in the collage.

195.  What if you had a chance to redo the worst job you’ve ever done?

196.  What’s an untrue stigma associated with your industry?

197.  Post a job opening – a position you’re looking to fill.

198.  Do a Holiday-themed post.

199.  Quick history lesson.  (Make it relevant to your industry, and to your reader / customer.)

200.  If you took a year-long hiatus from the day-to-day stuff in your business, what would you do?

Still feel like you don’t know what to write about?

What’s the best post you’ve done so far?  Or a post you want to do?

Leave a comment!

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Local Search Wisdom from SearchLove Boston 2014

Darren’s talk yesterday on How to Prioritize Your Local Search Work was the most practical I’ve seen.  It was a peak among peaks at Distilled’s SearchLove conference.

Local SEO is filled with hocus pocus.  Even when people do work on important stuff, they often neglect some of the basics.  That’s because their priorities aren’t clear.

Problem solved:

Darren’s not one to read off the slide deck.  It’s packed with nuggets, but his talk itself covered even more.  Here are a few things that wouldn’t come through on the slides:

 1.  All the good advice that didn’t make the cut because it wasn’t must-do stuff.  Darren wanted to talk even more about reviews – which he cited as the highest-payoff part of local SEO (and I agree with that).

2.  How highly he recommends GetFiveStars and Moz Local.

3.  Darren gave a nice shout-out to Yext – in the context of it being handy for enterprise-level SEO.

4.  The handy cheat-sheet – which is easy to miss (on slide 90 of 99).

5.  How many questions Darren got during the Q&A and during breaks.  Local search is a pain-point for so many business owners, marketers, and SEOs.

What did you take away from the slides?

What are your local SEO “priorities”?

Questions?

Leave a comment!

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10 Classy Google+ Local Cover Photos – and How to Make Yours Better

There’s no reason you can’t have a slick and benefit-oriented cover photo on your Google+ Local page.  You don’t need to be in a “cool” industry, or have a nice building, or be in a scenic location.

The photo is one of the few parts of your page where you can get creative.  You can convey more about what you offer.  You can also create a mood or tell a story.

Why bother?  Because any rankings you have are a waste if your page doesn’t make anyone pick up the phone or click through to your site.

I’ve rounded up 10 examples of nice cover photos.  See what gets your creative juices flowing, or see what ideas you can swipe.

JAJ Lighting & Power (Woodbridge, VA)

Sure, it’s a nice house.  But the timing makes this photo.  If it were daytime the lights wouldn’t be on, and we couldn’t see the “product.”  If it were nighttime the photo would lack color and we couldn’t see how the whole house looks with the lights.

 

Goldberg Jones – Divorce For Men (Portland, OR)

Goldberg Jones know their audience and its pain-points.  By including prominent pictures of the attorneys, the message is, “Hey, we can help a brother out.”  The picture of Portland adds some sleekness, and makes it so the photo isn’t just mugshots.

 

Kennedy Painting (St. Louis, MO)

The photo isn’t just of the outside or inside of a home.  It showcases all the main services.  The labels are a nice touch, even though they’re cut off.

 

Busch Funeral and Crematory Services (Cleveland, OH)

This is a funeral home.  Most “clever” photos would offend someone.  Or bore them.  It would have been so easy not to bother.

Busch did two smart things here: (1) they didn’t take a photo that conveys what they actually do, and (2) they had the smarts to take the photo outside on a nice day.

I give them extra points for capturing a little bit of their sign in the photo – to show it’s their funeral home and not the one down the street.

 

Lang House on Main Street Bed and Breakfast (Burlington, VT)

Most bed-and-breakfast places just have a photo of the bed and its hospital corners.  If you just looked at the photo, you couldn’t tell them apart from a hotel (or no-tell motel).  These guys actually went to the trouble of preparing a nice breakfast for their photo.

 

Azul Photography (Raleigh, NC)

This one’s brilliant.  The blue sunset reflects their branding (azul).  It also doesn’t show the couple in so much detail that a potential client who’s looking at this page would think, “Oh, that doesn’t look like us.”  It’s also not overtly wedding-specific, so it wouldn’t make someone who wants a photographer for another occasion think that Azul only does weddings.  I could go on and on about this one.  It’s resourceful and effective.

 

Bill Fenwick Plumbing Inc. (Jacksonville, FL)

It’s not the plumber or his truck or a dingy photo taken under the sink.  It’s not a dripping faucet – which would highlight the problem.  It’s a running faucet – which is the solution and the plumber’s promise.

 

Ray N. Welter Heating Company (Minneapolis, MN)

This one tells a story.  To start with, the place has been in business a while, and it’s gone through at least one name-change.  But the family name is still in there.  There’s much more story in the photo, which you can extract if you look it for long enough.  Suffice it to say it adds a ton of credibility.

 

CareFirst Animal Hospital at Glenwood (Raleigh, NC)

You’ve got a healthy-looking dog, a happy kid, a friendly-looking veterinarian, and the front sign in the background.  Whoever took this photo is a pro’s pro.

 

US Hearing Aid Center Inc. (St. Augustine, FL)

Hearing aids aren’t much to look at, so this photo doesn’t focus on them.  The focus is on the people in the photo listening to the waves, and presumably talking to each other.  It shows them with dignity.  There’s a lot more going on in this one.  It may be the most resourceful cover photo I’ve seen.

You just need to think of something simple and easy on the eyes.  Then either spend a little time to do it right, or hire a professional photographer.

It doesn’t need to be stunning.  I know there are splashier photos out there than the 10 classy ones I’ve shown here.  But these are good because, although they look nice, they’re actually doable.

That’s why I tried to focus on the less-sexy types of businesses.  You’ll notice that I didn’t include restaurants, casinos, or nightclubs.  I don’t want you to have an excuse not to do this simple step.  It will help determine what you get out of your local rankings.

I’ve gleaned a few lessons from these cover photos:

Lesson 1.  It doesn’t need to be one photo.  Collages work.  They let you add color and say more.

Lesson 2.  It doesn’t need to be a photo of your product or service.  Maybe it shouldn’t be.  (See my examples of the divorce lawyers, funeral home, and hearing aid supplier.)

Lesson 3.  You can – and probably should – add some branding without letting your sign or logo hog the entire photo.

Lesson 4.  Annotations can help.

Lesson 5.  Consider black-and-white.

Enough about what I think.

Any ideas for a new photo on your page?

Know of any great cover photos?

Can you think of general rules for what makes a nice photo?

Leave a comment!

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10 Guidelines for Putting NAP Info on Your Site for Local SEO

Peanut (our cat) - the nap expert.

Peanut (our cat) – the nap expert at work.

Putting your business’s NAP info – name, address, phone – on your site is a basic step you take if you want to rank well in the local results.

It’s also common sense if you’re trying to attract local customers.

Still, I get questions all the time – questions about all the details.  I’m hoping to answer them all in one breath.

Here are my 10 guidelines for putting NAP info on your site:

1.  Must be crawlable text – that is, “readable” by Google and other search engines.  That means it’s not OK to have it only as an image (for instance).  My rule of thumb is if you can copy and paste it, it’s readable by the search engines.

2.  Must match what’s on your Google Places page and citations – more or less.  Don’t worry about little formatting differences – like “Ave” versus “Avenue,” or whether there’s a period after “Ave.”

3.  Doesn’t have to be in Schema or in hCard, although there’s no reason not to mark up your NAP info that way.  Still, plain old HTML is fine.

4.  When in doubt about the formatting, refer to a Schema generator:

Schema-Creator.org

MicrodataGenerator.com

The one by TVS Internet Marketing

5.  The NAP info can go pretty much anywhere on your pages / in your code.  If you’re using WordPress or a similar platform, it can go in footer.php (my favorite), or in a sidebar widget.  It can go in the table your content is in, or in the footer area.  I wouldn’t suggest adding it to your title or description tags, though – usually a waste of space.

6.  Don’t include links to pages on your website – unless doing so helps usability, like if you have a “Our Locations” page where you list all your locations.

7.  If you have multiple locations, you can have all your NAPs on each page, or you can have just the NAP for Location A on the page for Location A, and so on.  I’ve never seen problems with using NAPs on the same landing page or site-wide.

8.  You can have the same NAP blob appear more than once on the page.  I wouldn’t have it appear 8 times on a page.  But 2 or even 3 times, sure.

9.  It’s OK to style it with CSS, or to have it on one line.

10.  If you run a home-based business and are extra-concerned about privacy, just leave off the street address – if you feel you must.  But you should still include your business name, city, ZIP, and phone number.

Any questions about NAP?  Tips?  Leave a comment!

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Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons

Some business owners think the best way to rank in many cities in the local search is to have many websites.  That’s a losing strategy.

They build microsites – by which I mean a bunch of small, usually almost identical sites with names like:

            PlumbingCompanyCambridge.com

            PlumbingCompanySomerville.com

            PlumbingCompanyWatertown.com

            PlumbingCompanyMalden.com

            PlumbingCompanyCharlestown.com

            PlumbingCompanyWinthrop.com

            PlumbingCompanyLynn.com

            PlumbingCompanyChelsea.com

            PlumbingCompanyRevere.com

There are two main scenarios where business owners feel tempted to use microsites:

Scenario 1.  They’ve got a single-location business that serves customers in a wide area – like within a 50-mile radius.  They know they probably can’t get visible in Google Places across that much terrain, so they want to pick up organic rankings in all those neighboring towns.

Scenario 2.  They’ve got several locations – using addresses that Google considers legitimate – and want each Google Places page to lead to a website that has the city in the domain name.

Microsites are a bad wager in both situations.  (They’re even a dumb move for ecommerce.)

That’s not to say some businesses don’t grab some OK local visibility with them – and maybe even some customers.  But it’s relative: I can’t think of a situation when those businesses wouldn’t be better off using fewer sites.

Here’s my assessment of using microsites for local SEO:

Pros

  • You can stuff the same city name into every greasy little crevice of the site, including the domain name.

 

Cons

  • You’re spreading your content thin.  Let’s say you have 8 sites and you bust your hump to create great info.  Either you kinda-sorta help 8 sites, or you give them all boilerplate content, or one site gets all the benefit.  Your desire to build good sites is caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
  • It’s a similar challenge with any links you earn.  (Not that you can create a bunch of sites with identical link profiles, unless they’re garbage links.)  You’ll have multiple sites with mediocre link profiles, rather than one strong lineup.
  • Even if all your sites saw an equally good boost from the content and links, you can’t help but imagine how much one site (or even a couple) would have benefited.
  • If you only have one location it’s hard to figure out which site – if any – should get a crack at Google Places.  Let’s say you’ve got 10 microsites.  That probably doesn’t correspond to 10 physical locations or separately registered businesses.  It’s more likely you’ve got just one location, in which case Google insists you can only have one Google listing.  (Although there are a few exceptions).
  • If you only have one location, you’ll be able to put your address info – an important ranking factor – on only one of the sites.
  • If you do have multiple locations, there is no good reason you can’t just have location-specific landing pages.
  • It’s easy to overdo the interlinking between your sites.  You’ll always be tempted to add one more keyword-rich link from one keyword-rich URL to another.  That’s a bad idea because…wait, quiet…I think I can hear Penguins waddling over to you.
  • Higher costs: More domain names, hosting, and development expenses.  That also makes you more likely to skimp on important investments – like help with local SEO, which you may need bad.
  • It’s harder to manage all the sites.  If you make a mistake, chances are you’ll end up needing to fix it 8 or 9 or 10 times.  Sometimes pain has a purpose.  Then there are those times you step on a Lego.
  • You’re probably creating a bad user-experience.  Your content likely will be thin.  Or you’ve “geotargeted” your content with cutting-edge techniques like repeating 15 times on the page that your company is the leading “plumbers Dallas TX.”  Would-be customers will know you’re just paying their city or town lip-service.
  • It’s harder to tell people you talk with offline which website to check out.
  • Are you really going to have 7 Facebook pages, 7 Twitter handles, 7 Google+ pages, etc. – that you don’t simply build, but also develop?
  • What if you already have one “main” site that all your customers are used to going to?
  • With nothing to differentiate your site other than a possible small advantage in the name, you’re one Google algorithm update away from the fiery pits of page 37.

My rule is simple: Have as few sites as possible.

Even if you think that number will end up being more than a handful of sites, figure out your exact reasons for having that many sites.  If your reasons begin with “Because Google…” then you’re probably headed for trouble sooner or later.

Ideally you have one site that you grow into a beast, through focus and sustained effort.

But however many sites you have, you’ll get out of them exactly what you put into them.

What’s been your experience with microsites?  Anything you want to say in favor of them?  Leave a comment!

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