Top-3 Local SEO “Content” Wins for People Who Hate to Write

You shudder at the thought of having to write content for your site or pay someone to write it until the day you sell your business or buy Depends.

Don’t get me wrong: writing and sharing your best info over a period of months or years can have enormous payoff.  My post “100 Practical Ideas for Small-Business Blog Posts” and its follow-up can help you on that.

You’ll probably find a way, if that’s what it takes for better local rankings and more customers.  But must creating “content” feel like a trip to nowhere?

Img. credit Ratha Grimes


Is there another way to make progress?


Focus on one-time content first.  Build on the content you have, the knowledge you have, and the site you have.

You’ll still have to write or get someone else to, but the point is you’re focusing on the highest-payoff work.

So, before you worry about what to create and share long-term, here’s what you should do on your site to make the most of a limited tolerance or budget for writing:

Priority 1: Perform “content CPR.”

Find short, undetailed pages on your site and beef them up with all the info a potential customer might want to know.  Focus on pages where you describe a specific service you offer.  If possible, find pages that rank very low on page 1 or somewhere on page 2.  Those pages may just need a little life breathed into them to start moving in the rankings.

Not sure what to put on those pages?  My post on “25 Principles of Building Effective City Pages for Local SEO” might get the juices flowing (even if you’re not creating “city” pages).

Priority 2: Fill in the gaps.

For example, do you have a giant “Services” page with one paragraph on each service you offer?  Break it up.  Create a separate page for each service, and go into more detail on each of those pages.  You can keep the main “Services” page if you want: just add some links to the more-specific subpages.

In general, is there a service you want to promote that doesn’t have a page you’re really proud of?

That’s low-hanging fruit, especially if it’s a less-popular search term.  The benefits of getting really granular with your pages are that (1) it’s an easy way to pick up rankings for niche terms (e.g. “blower door test Atlanta”), and that (2) the people who’d type in those niche terms probably aren’t tire-kickers, know exactly what they want, and are just looking for the right person or company.

(For more suggestions on busting out more pages, this other post of mine might help: 21 Pages a “Small Local Business” Site Needs for Tip-Top Local Visibility.)

Priority 3: Cannibalize your other resources.

Do you have underperforming microsites or old websites that have some decent info in them?

Did you put a lot of time into writing a blog post that not even your mom would read?

Did posters on your Facebook page ask questions that you get asked all the time, and that should maybe go on an FAQs page?

Do you have customer reviews that would be a shame not to show off on your site?  (As I’ve explained, it’s OK to do that.)

Was the “about us” section on your Yelp page a labor of love?

If you think your site would be a higher-payoff place for anything you’ve written, online or offline, bring it on home.

Only once you’ve taken those 3 steps as far as they’ll go should you turn to creating blog posts, videos, or whatever other content on an ongoing basis.  The timing matters.  At least the one-time stuff can start paying off while you’re wrestling with the ongoing content-creation.  Or you can just conserve your energy.

What are your “content priorities”?

Any you’d add to the list?

Leave a comment!


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What If Yext Gobbles up More Local Directories?

Yext has formed tight partnerships with some notable directories in recent years: MapQuest, InsiderPages, and CitySearch, among other bigger sites (and some rinky-dink ones).

The core feature of Yext’s “PowerListings” offering is that you can standardize your business info on a bunch of local directories (AKA “publishers”) at once.  On some of those sites Yext is one of several ways to update your info.  On other sites it’s now the only way to update or add a listing – which is what I’m referring to when I say Yext has “gobbled up” a site.

The number of sites Yext has partnered with – in some cases exclusively – has been growing.  (To the dismay of some.)

Does the expanding Yext network mean trouble for business owners and local SEOs?


Yext users (especially at the enterprise level) will continue to save time to one degree or another on their citation-work.  But the basics of local SEO won’t be changed in any significant way – for the worse or for the better.

Here’s why I say Yext’s expansion won’t hurt you:

  1. All the sites that matter will maintain manual / free ways to add or edit your listing, or at least they’ll keep sourcing their data from places where you can control your business info. They’ll want to continue to collect business info in the way they’ve always collected it, and not limit their sources of fresh info to what’s in Yext’s pipeline.  They’ll want to keep growing their data-assets.
  1. Major industry-specific directories (e.g. HealthGrades, Avvo, etc.) seem less likely to partner with Yext, at least in large numbers. They wouldn’t be applicable to every Yext user, and some of them require proof of license if you want to claim your listing.  You’ll always be able to fix up your listings on industry sites.
  1. I’m guessing Google starts devaluing a citation source once it stops building its database of local businesses organically. The info gets stale and limited (at least for businesses that aren’t using Yext).
  1. As Andrew Shotland said recently, there’s plenty of room for competing services.
  1. Organic and behavioral factors will continue to influence your rankings more than citations do. (I’m talking about qualities like having tons of info about your services on your site, a few good links, and more and better reviews than your competitors have.)

The only people who might be harmed by Yext’s expansion are the ones who will sign up because they think it’s a silver bullet for rankings, or even that it will fix all their citations.  It won’t do either of those things, although Yext does work as promised on the sites in its network, and that can be valuable.

Yext’s marketing people don’t do enough to correct the “silver bullet” misconception, but some business owners (and lots of local SEOs) don’t do their due-diligence, or they just don’t know what they need.  The marketing question remains a gray area.

I totally understand why many business owners and local SEOs let out a sigh every time Yext gobbles up a directory.  But if all the sites where you want to work on your citations are Yext-exclusive, you’re focusing on the wrong sites.  (See this.)

Yext’s expansion is not a good thing or a bad thing for your local-visibility efforts, in the grand scheme.  Yext is a nice time-saver in certain situations.  It’s simply a tool that’s available to you.

Business owners who want or need to take the manual approach will always be just fine.  Especially because those are the sorts of people who realize that citations are just one aspect of local SEO, and are willing to work on the tough stuff.

What do you think happens if Yext’s network continues to grow?  Any points I overlooked?

Leave a comment!

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How to Change Your CitySearch Business Categories without Breaking a Sweat

The categories you pick for your non-Google local listings also matter.  They influence your rankings within those sites, and seem to influence your Google Places rankings at least a little.

I’ve already nagged you to pay attention to your categories on Yelp, Apple Maps, and other sites.

But don’t forget about creaky old CitySearch.  It’s not a cool, up-and-coming site, but it still matters to your local visibility.  Start by making sure you’re listed under the right categories

The trouble is that the part of the site that business owners have to deal with has been half-broken for several years now.  Local SEOs have had to rely on the support staff for help with listings that need fixing.  Complicating matters is that if you email support you’ll get an auto-reply email that implies all you have to do on CitySearch is to square away your ExpressUpdate listing.

Maybe oddest of all is the fact that even if you’ve claimed your CitySearch listing you’ll have to call the support line (800-611-4827) if you want to change your categories.

The other day, fellow LocalSparker Gene Maryushenko and I were discussing a client’s case, and looking for every worthwhile tune-up we could make.  CitySearch had our client listed under the overly broad category of “Attorneys,” but we wanted to get it changed to the more-accurate “Criminal Defense Attorneys” category.

Turns out it was real easy, according to Gene:


We discussed updating [client’s] category on CityGrid and you said you’d be interested in hearing how that phone call to support went.

As soon as I got off the Skype call with you, I gave them a call. Pressed option 2 for non-paying customer, pressed 2 to change listing info and got a rep on the line.

I told the rep I’m interested in changing the categories and he said sure, no problem. I asked to have the primary category set to Criminal Defense Attorneys and removed secondary. He said it should take 24-48 hours to process and that was it.

Call lasted less than a minute. I’m writing this the next day (10:22am my time) to let you know the change was processed.

Again, the CitySearch/CityGrid support-line number is (800) 611-4827.

I’m guessing this would work even on an unclaimed CitySearch listing, too.  Sometimes CitySearch can be buggy when you’re trying to claim or log into your listing.  Haven’t tried it on an unclaimed listing yet, though.

Any tips on dealing with CitySearch listings in general – especially the categories?

Any category-related tips on other sites?

Leave a comment!

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Hauling in More Local Customers…Even When Your Wheels Are Spinning

That’s the name of the talk I gave at MN Search yesterday.  I covered 25 quick wins for attracting more local customers when you don’t know what to do next.  Some of my suggestions are for local rankings, some for PPC, some for review strategy, and more.

Here’s my slide deck:

Thanks to Scott Dodge, Susan Staupe, Aaron Weiche, and everyone at MN Search for an incredible event.  And thanks to Spyder Trap for hosting it.

Especially if you’re in the area, GO to their next event.  You’ll learn plenty, and get to know some great people.

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10 Benefits of a Disappointing Local SEO Effort

You’re the business owner.  You’ve paid for help.

You’re the local SEO.  You’ve been paid to help.  Maybe you did help – just not quite enough.

Both of you were expecting boom.  But all you got was poppssffftt.

Effective local SEO takes hard work and time.  The benefits are obvious when it all works out.  But even when it doesn’t – or doesn’t seem to – there are some less-obvious benefits.  More on that in a second.

One point that I hope you took as a given: I’ve messed up my share of local SEO campaigns.

Of course, I wish I did things differently in many of those cases.

But without the hard knocks I don’t think I would have learned some important lessons.  Without them I also don’t think I could have had some of the successes.  You learn from mistakes.

Especially on those occasions the rankings haven’t come, I’ve asked myself: what good did I do? 

Put another way: if you subtract good rankings from an otherwise solid local SEO effort, what’s left?

Plenty, in my opinion:

Benefit 1: Avoid mistakes
An experienced local-search geek will keep you from making real stupid moves (or just wasting time).  And if you weren’t going to do anything stupid, well, then you’ve got yourself a trusted wingman.

Benefit 2: Avoid snake oil
Your local SEO-er will steer you away from wasting money on products or services that would be useless or harmful to you.  (I won’t name names here; feel free to email me if you’re curious.)  He / she will usually favor “sweat equity” and will try to help you build yours.

Benefit 3: Citations: check
You’ll have a solid foundation of correct, complete citations.

Also, many of those listings will have been claimed, and you’ll have the logins to most or all of them.  A real local-search pro wants you to have the reins.

Benefit 4: On-page: check
Your site will have just the right amount of on-page optimization: you’re not pretending search engines don’t exist, but you’re not overdoing it.

Benefit 5: More stickiness
At least when I do work for clients, their businesses are always at least a little more “optimized for humans” – on-site and off-site.  (See this, this, and this.)  What you do with your traffic matters more than how many eyeballs you get.

Benefit 6: Wake-up call
You may discover that you should at least dip a foot into other marketing media (like AdWords) – and that you shouldn’t rely exclusively on your visibility in local search.

Benefit 7: Trial by fire
Challenges are a good test of your SEO’s character.  You can ask tough but constructive questions.

Why hasn’t the needle moved enough?  What can we do to get it to move?  Is there anything extra we should do that we didn’t originally plan on?

Your trusty helper will not only give you the unvarnished truth, but may also be able to help you in other areas (e.g. building an email list) while you’re getting your local SEO efforts figured out.

Benefit 8: Easy come, easy go
Not getting results easily is a sign that good local visibility might be worth something in your market.  If it’s too easy to rank, the market may not be competitive – and that may be for a good reason (that there’s no money in it).

Benefit 9: Results may just be slow
Even if your local search efforts don’t seem fruitful at first, there’s a good chance the plan will come together just fine.  Slow local SEO is underappreciated.

Benefit 10: You get a consigliere
You’ll be able to lean on your local SEO-er for advice later on.  If / when you run into an issue, or have a question, or notice a change in Google, you’ll have someone you can ask.

Can you think of other benefits of a well-executed “local” campaign – even when the rankings are underwhelming?  Any real-life cases you’d like to share?  Leave a comment!

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The Lazy Man’s Way to Find Local Link Opportunities (in 5 Seconds Or Less)

Has your local SEO person nagged you to earn a few good links?

I hope so, because that’s good advice.  Especially since the Pigeon update, your ability to do RCS and earn links – like from local media and local causes – has become key to ranking well in competitive markets.

Maybe your local SEO-er specifically told you to “sponsor a local meetup, like on”  That’s a good thing to do, and a good link.

But where do you start?

Here’s what you do…you type this into Google verbatim: “this group does not have sponsors right now”

To narrow the search results, stick your state or a city (any city) at the end, like: “this group does not have sponsors right now” CA

Or: “this group does not have sponsors right now” Fullerton


Why does this work?  Because all groups without sponsors have a page with the same boilerplate wording:

Now get in touch with the organizer(s) and see how you can help.  Be sure to read’s guidelines first.

Update 12/8/14: Jon Cooper was nice enough to add this tip to his unequaled link-building strategies resource.  You’ll want to look at the other strategies in there, and see how they can fit in with the one for sponsorships. By the way, his course is some of the best money you can spend on your local-SEO education.

Any success sponsoring meetups?

What are your favorite easy local-link-finding techniques?

Leave a comment!

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10 Reasons to Get a Google Business View Photo Shoot

Since 2010 Google has let business owners hire a “Google Trusted Photographer” to come to their store or office, take a bunch of photos, and splice them together into a virtual tour.  That tour is called Google Business View.

The walkthrough tour and photos get uploaded to your Google Places page.  You can also feature them elsewhere, like on your website or Facebook page.

You can’t get a Google Business View photo shoot it if you’re a service-area or home-based business.

It may not be a good idea if you know your place of business just gives off the wrong vibes.

But otherwise, you’d be smart to fork over a few hundred dollars to have a photographer come out.

Here are 10 reasons you should get a Google Business View shoot:

1.  Potential customers, clients, or patients want to know what your place looks like. If it’s a nice environment, it can be a selling point.  But even an dingy little hovel can have a certain charm, and it’s usually wise to let people know what they’re in for.

2.  The photo shoot may encourage more people to click through to your Places page or website. It shows up in your knowledge graph and in the Maps tab.


3.  It may be a ranking factor. Trusted photographer Jeff Finkelstein explored that possibility in a nice Moz post last year, and he offered some good insights in my follow-up post.  My guess is that a Google Business View photo shoot by itself is at most a very minor ranking factor, but can help your rankings more indirectly, because it can get more people to click (and Google knows when someone clicks).  Again, just a hunch.

4.  The “See inside” view is front-and-center when you view the Google Places page on a smartphone. (It’s even more prominent than it is on desktop.)

5.  You can embed the photo shoot on your site.

6.  You get 10 professionally-taken still photos.

7.  Someone else is taking the time to take photos. That saves you time – especially if you’re picky about your photos.  To take good photos is rarely quick or easy, because it’s a numbers game.

8.  You can reuse the still shots elsewhere – on your site and on your non-Google business listings. You own the photos for good.  You can do whatever you’d like with them.  And if you don’t have a good cover photo yet, maybe you just found one.

9.  It can be the start of a quid pro quo with your photographer. Google Trusted Photographers often have other online-marketing skills, so especially if you like the photo shoot and them personally you can probably get their help in other areas.  It’s also possible you could get a link and/or a citation from the photographer.

10.  Google seems to have plans for Business View. It’s been around for almost 5 years now – which is about 68 in Google product years.

It’s getting phased in, not phased out.  In the “Google My Business” rebrand / facelift they put a pitch for it right at the top of your dashboard (unless you’re a service-area or home-based business).

Maybe someday they’ll integrate it with product feeds, so that you could “walk” through a store and click on the inventory and actually order it right from within the tour.  Who knows what the Big G will think of next?

Bonus – reason #11.  This one comes from Greg T’Kint of  You can send potential customers “a link to a specific location within the virtual tour, in order to show a specific product or display within email communications.”  (See Greg’s comment, below.)

Update (11/10/14): David Deering just told me about a Google service called PhotoSphere.  Maybe it’s well-known in some circles, but I hadn’t heard of it.  It’s an app that lets you take and embed your own panoramas.  Those have been around for a while, but this one’s from Google.  Obviously, you wouldn’t get some of the benefits of an”official” Google Business View photo shoot (see points 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10), but in some ways it might be a nice DIY alternative.

What’s been your experience with Google Business View?

Can you think of other reasons to get a photo shoot (or not to)?

Leave a comment!

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Who Stretched Google’s Map?

Here’s a question that’s relevant to my post from last week on competitive-intel:

Which of your local-search competitors is most worth learning from?

One obvious answer would be, “Whoever’s #1, Sherlock.”

A lot of times I’d agree that – all other things being equal – you should probably pay more attention to the King of the Hill than to the Prince of the Pile.

But what I’d really want to know is: Who’s stretching Google’s map?

Dig that D-ranked lawyer.  Pretty much all the other attorneys in Jackson, TN are right in the middle of town.  If not for that one guy, the map would be centered on central Jackson.  But he causes the whole map to pull north – by 5 1/2 miles.

I’ve seen this kind of thing for years, and probably so have you.  Much ink has been spilled on the “distance” topic.  But yesterday a conversation in the Local U forum (worth joining, by the way) made me think about it in a new way.

Ben Walsh of Baseline SEO asked a great question about the “attorney Jackson TN” example I just showed.

Then Dana DiTomaso said something that I thought was brilliant:

Find out whatever D is doing – they’ve managed to drag the map which means that they’re doing something right.

(Joy Hawkins of Imprezzio coined the “stretch the map” term.)

Turns out that the attorney who stretches that particular map isn’t doing anything extraordinary.  On the one hand, he’s got clean citations, a page for every case type, a good homepage title tag, and no toxic links.  But on the other hand, he’s got no Google reviews, no noteworthy links, and he doesn’t seem to be listed on many attorney-specific sites.

But being solid on the fundamentals is usually all you need to rank pretty well – if not to stretch the map.

I’ve had clients in that nice position, and I’ve had clients up against stretchy competitors.

Pay attention to businesses that stretch the map (in your market and in others).  They’re easy enough to spot.

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Hijacking Google’s Local Knowledge Graph

I was just going about my business, monkeying around in the local results.  Then something caught my eye:

Given that Google just started testing green review stars, I could only draw 2 conclusions:

1.  Google must think it’s St. Patrick’s Day, OR

2.  I just stumbled across a crafty business owner.

Looks like it’s the latter.  Here’s what I saw when I clicked on the green-bordered photo in the knowledge graph:

Kind of stands out in that local carousel, doesn’t it?

I finally check out the business’s Google Places page.  Doesn’t even have a profile photo.  Our lucky green photo was simply the first and only one uploaded under the “Photos” tab.

Yup, it’s just a photo with a border around it.  Not a layout change or pay-to-play scheme that Google’s testing.

As I’ve written, I’m convinced that user-engagement factors – especially how many people click on your listing – affect your rankings.  What if people search for one business by name and immediately search for another by name (which is what a click on a “People also search for” image does)?

If I’m Big Brother Google and I’m looking at who clicks where so that I can figure out which search results are relevant, I might give an edge to the 2nd business.

Should you go as far as a fat, lime-green border on your photo(s)?  Probably not.  Just consider dolling up your photos a little, so they look good in that “People also search for” section.

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7 Mental Traps That Keep Businesses Down in the Local Rankings

Yes, it’s tough to build a site that’s more than an online paperweight, and improve your rankings, and get reviews, and so forth.  If you’re not visible in Google Places and beyond but you’re trying, at least you’re headed in the right direction.

But many business owners talk themselves into not doing enough to get the customers they need.  They hurt themselves with weak excuses.

You don’t want be one of those people.

I’ve heard every excuse you can shake a stick at.  They all seem to fall into at least one of seven categories.


Mental Trap 7:  “I can’t handle too much business.”

Not the worst problem to have, is it?  But I’ve got a few possible solutions:

Pay someone $10 / hour to answer the calls and fill up your calendar.  (And read Perry’s book.)

Or turn away some customers.

Or raise your rates.

Or work out a referral deal in which you refer customers to someone else and get to wet your beak.


Mental Trap 6:  “I don’t have the time to learn about Google.”

Then pay someone to help.


Mental Trap 5:  “I don’t have the money.”

Then spend a little time learning how to improve your visibility yourself.

Don’t have time or money?  Well, you can’t get something for nothing, so get creative – like by drafting your family into doing some of the work.


Mental Trap 4:  “I’m already spending a fortune on advertising.”

Do you want to continue spending a fortune on ads?  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as your ads attract people who eventually convert and become customers.  If I hand the bank teller $1 and she hands me back $5, I don’t say, “Hey, I don’t like spending all this money.”  No – I stick my arms between the couch cushions to find every penny and quarter that I can turn into a dollar that I can turn into $5 at the bank.

Or if the advertising isn’t effective, then stop the madness at once and work on your free visibility in Google Places and elsewhere.


Mental Trap 3:  “How do I know I’ll actually get visible?”

Depends on how realistic your goals are:

If you’re trying to get visible in a city your business isn’t located in or very near, I’ll tell you right now that your chances aren’t good.  Location matters.  In this case, you should add paid options, like AdWords, to your arsenal.

If you’re in a cutthroat local market, like for “Los Angeles divorce lawyers” or “New York City jewelry,” you can get highly visible if you really want to.  But you’ll have to find a way to stand out, and it’ll take longer.

But if you’re in a “normal” market but just aren’t ranking well, a little time or money can take you far.


Mental Trap 2:  “I’m not good with computers.”

You don’t have to be. (Re-read answer to Excuse #6: have someone else do it.)


Public Enemy #1:  “Now isn’t a good time.”

When is a good time?  When business is good, you’re busy with customers and day-to-day upkeep.  When business is slow, you’re busy scrambling for customers.

Keep doing what you’ve been doing, and you’ll get what you’ve been getting.

Is your local visibility what you’d like it to be?  Why – or why not?

What’s a mental trap you’ve been in?

Leave a comment!

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