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!

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BBB Accreditation: Boring But Bumps Your Local SEO

I may be unpopular for saying this….

But here goes:

You should consider getting accredited by the Better Business Bureau.  It can help your local visibility (if you’re in the US or Canada).

Mind you, I am no fanboy.  There are a few valid reasons to skip the BBB:

  • Money (although it’s only a few hundred bucks a year).
  • Time (you do have to apply).
  • Maybe you think the BBB just peddles junk.

 

But I can think of 8 reasons your local rankings and reputation can benefit from BBB-accreditation:

1.  You get a great link. (Yes, it’s a “follow” link.)

 2.  It’s one of a few straightforward ways (that I can think of) to get good links to subpages on your site – pages other than your homepage. That’s especially useful if you’re multi-location business and use “location” pages as the landing page for your Google Places pages.  In my experience, it’s better to use the homepage as your landing page, but if you can get some good links to those “location” pages they may fare just as well in the rankings.

3.  Some segment of the population does care what the BBB says about local businesses.

4.  Ranks well for brand-name searches.

 5.  Even ranks well some broad searches.  Great for barnacle SEO.

6.  Customers can write reviews on your BBB page. I encourage you to encourage them.

7.  It’s a nice “trust symbol” to put on your site.

 8.  It’s a good citation.

I may not have made you like the BBB more, but it’s a practical way to help your local visibility a little.  Close your eyes and think of England.

What if you decide to skip it?  No big deal.  Just make sure you get other good links.

What’s been your experience with the BBB?

Know of any alternatives that help in some of the practical ways I described?

Leave a comment!

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Keep Your Site, Lose at Local SEO: When Must You Rebuild?

Can your camel’s back take any more straw?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/darkman-visions/203715793

Take care of your camel and it’ll take care of you.  Give it plenty of food and water, be its buddy, and don’t overwork it.  When your camel gets very old, don’t ask more of it.  One camel can only bring you through so many miles of desert.

Your business will only survive the harsh conditions of the “local map” if you take care of your website – and if you get a new one when it’s gone as far as it will go.

I asked some smart local-search buffs a simple question:

When do you need a new site to move up in the local search results?

They – Mike Blumenthal, Mary Bowling, Dana DiTomaso, Adam Dorfman, Greg Gifford, Joy Hawkins, Casey Meraz, David Mihm, Max Minzer, Mike Ramsey, Darren Shaw, Andrew Shotland, Gyi Tsakalakis, and Nyagoslav Zhekov – offered some practical insights.

(By the way, this post doesn’t deal with the question of when you need to get a new domain name because you’ve got so many bad links pointing to your site.)

Not sure whether your local SEO goals simply demand a new site?  Here’s what the pros say:

Mike Blumenthal
Blumenthal’s

Flash – instant nuking.

Content – in some industries like insurance I have seen sites that contained ONLY syndicated content that was the same across thousands of sites. This relates to the next point.

On-going updates – sometimes the CMS or architecture are either so bad that it becomes nearly impossible to update or the work requires very expensive intermediaries to update the site and grow the content. This both slows down basic work and makes on-going work extremely painful and expensive.

Design Failures – Sites that don’t convert due to major design and content flaws often need to be replaced.  What good does it do sending all kinds of visitors if when they get there, they can’t or won’t become customers.

 

Mary Bowling
MaryBowling.com

The main problem with a website that can prompt me to recommend a new one is when the bones of the site – its architecture and URL structure –  are crumbling or broken.

This often occurs when a website is created without sufficient consideration of current SEO and local SEO best practices and/or has been “frankensteined” over the years by tacking on content without sufficient attention to where it belongs within the site structure.

 

Dana DiTomaso
Kickpoint

The decision generally boils down to “can this site be a success when we drive a lot of traffic to it?” Does it match with the impression you want to give new visitors, or will it drive them away? Some reasons why we’ve needed to get a site redone in the past include:

  • The site is bad on mobile and the price difference between adding a mobile version and just redoing the site to be responsive is pretty similar.
  • You need to email your web designer every time you want to change the text. At some point it just adds up.
  • The code is so bad that you have big technical issues. For example, site searches are creating duplicate pages.
  • The site might not play well with social – for example, you can’t Open Graph tags so your pages look like crap when shared on social.

 

Adam Dorfman
SIM Partners

We typically don’t work with many SMBs, but here are three issues I have repeatedly seen large brands running into that warrants jettisoning the existing strategy and starting over.

  1. No or unidexable location pages. Even today it is not uncommon with large brands trying to rely exclusively on a locator or a set of pages iFramed into a locator.
  1. Duplicate content pages existing under each location. In most cases if a business is selling services nationally, the description of the service won’t change from location to location. Unfortunately coming across a site with 500 locations and 50,000+ pages of “local” content indexed still happens. Instead of having store.com/location1link tostore.com/location1/service and store.com/location2 link to store.com/location2/service have them link to store.com/service.
  1. Microsites instead of and/or in addition to location pages on a sub-directory or subdomain. There was a time when brands could utilize microsites to drive non-branded search traffic and conversions but with domain strength becoming a much more important signal after the Pigeon update, brands are almost always better off putting their location pages in a subdomain or subdirectory under their primary domain.

 

Greg Gifford
AutoRevo

I always suggest a site update when a site looks dated, or isn’t user friendly. Many times, that just means design/organizational changes, but sometimes you get in and see that they’re on some free site builder platform, or some kind of crappy CMS. At that point, it’s time to make a change.

We see auto dealers all the time who are on flat out awful CMS systems. It’s almost unbelievable – there are thousands of dealers on a major website provider that can’t even add a page to their website! They have to create the page in the CMS (and they can only edit the H1 and content), and then they have to submit a support ticket to have the provider add the page to the site. Typically, dealers don’t know any better, so the button name, H1, and title tag all say the exact same thing.

But – they’re either required by their manufacturer to use that system, or they just don’t know there’s a better solution out there. If you’re not able to add pages, or edit the important SEO elements on any page, it’s definitely time to blow up the site and start from scratch.

 

Joy Hawkins
Imprezzio Marketing

1.  The current site has no CMS – Without a CMS it makes it really hard for any marketing company to scale the amount of work they can do on a site. Since lots of SEO companies charge by the hour, this could leave business owners paying for several hours to do a really simple task.  Thus, it’s better for the business to pay to get a new site with a SEO-friendly CMS (like WordPress).

I had a tree service business that recently paid us to redo his site and this was the main reason why. Even adding something like a Google Analytics code was really time consuming because we had to manually add it to every page of his site. Adding a new page to his site was something we had to get a higher-level web design employee to do since it involved knowing how to build a page from scratch using HTML. So getting a new WordPress site was definitely in his better interests.

2.  The current site is not responsive and has a template/structure that is not easy to convert to make it responsive. I have had some quotes come back from our web design team where it would be cheaper to build a new site based on a template that is already responsive than it would be to take the existing site and make it responsive. Having a responsive site is becoming more and more important for SEO and also for having visitors convert into customers. I also always suggest this instead of having a separate mobile version of your site because responsive design fits to any screen size (not just phones) and also makes it so you only have 1 version of your site that you need to update on a regular basis instead of 2.

3.  The current theme is outdated.  I’ve had clients that are using old WordPress themes that aren’t updated and don’t work well with some of the newer versions of WordPress. I had one that even broke the entire homepage when it upgraded to WordPress 4.0. Having the latest version of WordPress is important to help keep your site from being vulnerable to the many hacks that you hear about which can cause Google to actually remove your site from their index (for malware).

4.  The current theme doesn’t support certain types of coding necessary for Local SEO. For example, I have had several clients who have a CMS and/or theme that removes all Schema markup the second you press to save the page. Something in either the theme/CMS removes or strips the code off the page the moment it’s saved. The same thing applies to adding a simple H1 or H2 header. I had this happen with a personal injury lawyer I worked with and also a private investigator.

5.  You need a new site due to a manual penalty or Penguin issues.  After seeking advice from a manual penalty expert, a dentist I just started working with was advised to get an entire new site. It wasn’t just the domain that needed to be changed but also the content on the entire site. We also renamed all the images and changed the hosting to make sure Google didn’t associate it at all with the old site. The old site had 2 different manual penalties and also had a massive traffic drop after Penguin 3.0 in October 2014. All due to some terrible backlinks he had acquired years ago.

 

Casey Meraz
Ethical SEO Consulting

First of all, you will get the most out of your investment if you pick a system that your SEO Consultants are experts with. So in some cases it may make sense to rebuild and restart when starting a new SEO project. Moving to a commonly available CMS will give you more options for expert advice moving forward.

Also this really depends on the investment. Website design and development costs can be expensive. If you are going to pay an SEO on a monthly on-going basis for a set period you can be shooting yourself in the foot by just applying patches or minor fixes and limping along instead of fixing major root problems with your site. In my opinion its always better to start with the least imperfect base. If you do this you can rule out a lot of uncertainty moving forward.

Typically I would consider a site totaled if it meets a couple of the criteria below:

1) The theme is way too bulky and increase site load time significantly

2) The design/layout is not producing conversions when a A/B test reveals it’s an easy fix.

3) The CMS is not using SEO best practices like 301 redirects, title tags, etc. (I just saw this last week)

4) The site is not mobile friendly

5) When the architecture is so bad it takes too many clicks to find what you’re looking for

 

David Mihm
Moz

If a client is not on a standard CMS (Drupal, Joomla, Squarespace, etc) and the site is under about 30-40 pages, I’m always inclined to get them onto WordPress.  It’s a good long-term investment even if it takes a few extra hours to set the site up.

Questions I would ask myself prior to doing so:

– How bad is the formatting of the URLs?

– How many URLs are indexed (site:clientdomain.com @ Google)

– How easy is it to edit individual page title tags?

– How easy is it to add links and content to the homepage?

– How easy is it to completely rework the navigation?

If the answers all “check out” above, and the client doesn’t update content all that often, then maybe it’s OK to leave them on the current setup.

 

Max Minzer
ReEngage Consulting

In the world where marketers say “You must have a website or your business will go bankrupt” (same about social media networks) I’d start on the other side.

When considering redesign/rebuild of business website – it’s a good opportunity to reevaluate website’s role in reaching your overall business objectives.

Consumer expectations are evolving. How do you adapt your digital properties to reach potential customers?

Not every business needs a website as a critical asset (example: http://goo.gl/A1xbdt) and not every small business website has the same weight and priority for reaching objectives of each specific business. That’s not to diminish the role of website as an online extension of their business – as a digital home, business card, branding and a source of information. But when considering redesign it’s an opportunity for critical constructive re-evaluation and it comes down to three things, in my opinion:

1) website fulfilling the purpose and value it has for that business. Business owner: “Am I getting (or missing potential) conversions/calls/emails?” Or another: “Do my customers learn more about my business?”

2) customer expectations. Customer: “I didn’t expect this high-end restaurant to have website that was probably built by their nephew with Dreamweaver 10 years ago for a school project”

3) conflicting information or confusing dated material. Customer: “Hmm, I think I saw a sign yesterday on my way out saying they’ll have my favorite local band this Saturday but their website has a poster from few months ago with another band listed.” Or another one: “Look what they have on the menu on their website! Let’s go!” and then visiting and finding out that the menu wasn’t updated for years and the dish you wanted isn’t available.

With that in mind, I’d consider different approaches for each business based on their objectives.

One business might be better off without certain parts of the website, like if customers feel like they’re visiting a Twitter profile with its last tweets from 2011. Go simple.

Another business will be fine even with an archaic website because customers don’t have high expectations and business continues to get plenty of phone calls and word of mouth referrals.

Another business might want to think about rebuilding if they get Yelp messages or customer feedback saying website contact form is broken. Things are broken.

And other business is doing great but will see missing potential and do redesign/rebuild to explore new waters, not out of desperation with poorly built site in the past.

 

Mike Ramsey
Nifty Marketing

I don’t think there is an exact point that is the same for every business. I generally try to determine it based on a simple formula:

Cost of Time to Fix vs. Cost of Time to Rebuild What is Needed From Scratch

This determines if we start over or not. The hard part in both cases is the same: determining what is needed. Once you can nail that down it becomes a lot easier to determine the time each option would take.

I know this is basic but it has proven quite helpful to us in making that call.

 

Darren Shaw
Whitespark

Every website rebuild project I’ve worked on has seemed reasonable at the start, but ended up taking 3 times longer than expected, so I try to avoid them. Usually, I find it’s less work to fix the architecture issues than to rebuild a whole site, but if the site is built in Joomla, Magento, or Drupal, then I want to tear it down immediately and build from scratch. I despise those platforms.

When determining whether it’s better to start from scratch, design is more important to me than CMS or architecture.  When I land on a website with terrible design that looks like it was built in 1998, I scramble for the back button, and that will kill a business’ SEO. If the design repels potential customers, then I’ll push the client to start from scratch with a new site.

 

Andrew Shotland
Local SEO Guide

We’ve certainly had cases where client sites were overly complicated and part of our SEO recommendations led to a redesign, but that has almost always been in the “enterprise” space, not SMBs. Any time we have recommended this for SMBs is when we are pretty sure there’s a Panda issue – lots of thin, SEOish pages that are getting no traffic.

Funny thing is we had this happen recently in reverse. A new client had just redesigned their website because it had hundreds of crap SEO’d pages and they thought it had a Panda problem. So they just chucked the whole thing out and launched the new one and guess what happened? Their organic traffic went down to almost zero. Because their web dev was playing amateur SEO (“Why pay an SEO consultant? How hard is it to update a title tag?”), when traffic started dropping he cried “Panda!” but he had neglected to realize that they still had organic traffic.

In his zeal to redo the site (and probably make some $ of the client in the process) he blew out all of the pages that were still getting traffic and that’s when their SEO really tanked. Their web leads dried up instantly. A few months later they brought us in and the first thing we did was roll back to the old Panda-fied site. Within 3 weeks they went from 2 clicks/day in Google to 60.

 

Gyi Tsakalakis
AttorneySync

This is definitely one of those case-by-case situations. However, if it’s a content-focused site (i.e. not ecommerce) and it’s not on WordPress, that alone can be enough for us to justify a reboot or migration.

Working with law firms, we see a lot of proprietary and quasi-proprietary CMS implementations. There are a lot of problems here (the fact that they’re proprietary, lack of support/updates, etc).

Assuming they’re already on WordPress, we look to architecture. Most firm websites we review don’t have a clearly planned site architecture. They’re usually blog feed + static pages (i.e. bios, practice areas, etc).

Fortunately, many of these can be restructured without needing a complete tear-down and rebuild. In some instances, cases of exceptionally long/spammy url structures, we will recommend rebuild.

Finally, there’s the “excessive plugins” issue. A lot folks will try to design/feature/layout implementations via plugin. We have found that this is a source of a lot of problems (site speed, reliability, security vulnerabilities, administration, etc).

If we can’t remove most plugins without greatly impacting the site’s overall structure/layout, we’ll probably recommend a fresh start.

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov
Whitespark

I once worked with a law firm with quite a few offices in a very competitive area of practice in a very competitive geographic region of the US. The guy in charge of the Internet marketing efforts of the firm was very passionate about SEO and very eager to get results. Needless to say, this is very frequently a formula for mess, and most certainly not one that delivers good and sustainable results.

The guy had at least 4 people work on his site (WordPress) prior to me taking a look. There were literally hundreds of scripts and plugins installed, or manually coded, as well as a lot of hard coding into the theme used by the site. Additionally, there were thousands of pages of duplicate, or near-duplicate content, as well as pages with content that was near-duplicate (or badly re-written) with content from external sites. Almost none of the content on the site has been optimized neither for humans, nor for robots. The architecture of the site was chaotic – and again, we are talking about a site with thousands of pages of content. There was no inter-linking between the pages, no universal hierarchy, and worst of all – no certain way to know what had to be linked to what and where it was supposed to belong (if anywhere).

I guess the short answer to your question would be – if it would take less time (and money) to get a brand-new, well-structured and optimized site, as compared to trying to figure out what exactly has to be done with your old (and ruined by time, people you have hired, or yourself) site, and actually implementing the needed changes, then it might be better to pick the first option.

 

Phil Rozek

I have a mental checklist.  It tells me the site may need to hang up in the museum if it:

  • Looks like it was built when Gerald Ford was president
  • Drives me crazy when I try to navigate it
  • Makes noises at me
  • Uses too much Flash
  • Won’t let me add pages easily
  • Has weird pagination, like with jQuery (example)
  • Isn’t mobile-friendly
  • Isn’t on WordPress (by no means always a deal-breaker, but it’s a consideration)
  • Takes too long to load, for reasons I can’t easily remedy

I usually become a pain in my client’s neck if the site has more than about 2 of those problems.

On the other hand, some sites are so bad that I hope they stay around forever.

Huge thanks to all the contributors for all the practical, hard-learned wisdom.  I suggest you follow all of them.

Think you might need a new site?

Under what circumstances would you know your camel can’t carry more straw?

Did you have a favorite bit of advice?

Leave a comment!

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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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