Google My Business Posts Shelf-Life Hack: How to Keep Your Posts from Expiring Soon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/1721746230/

The jury’s out on how useful Google My Business posts are, but they have promise.  I like ‘em so far.  They’re quick and easy to create, and they show up in one of the very few areas of the brand-name search results that you can control.

The annoying thing is you have to keep adding posts.  They expire every 7 days.  What if you like the post you put up last week, and want to keep it around for longer?  Nope.

You could always re-post the same thing, but you’d lose the all-too-basic stats Google shows you on each post.  Also, an endless string of the same post would look odd to anyone who pulls up your older posts.

Having to come up with a new post every 7 days is an understandable reason not to bother with GMB posts at all.  You don’t need another hamster-wheel activity.

Isn’t there any way to keep a post afloat for longer than 7 days?

Yes, there is.  It’s a clever workaround courtesy of Brendan Bowie of My Guys Moving & Storage.  It involves choosing the “Event” type of post when you create a Google My Business post.

As some observed a while ago, the “Event” type of post does not expire after 7 days.  That’s been the case for as long as I’ve paid attention to GMB posts.  What I didn’t know were 3 facts you can use to your advantage:

(1) you can call anything you post on an “event,” (2) the end of the “event” can be months away, and (3) if you do those things your GMB post won’t look strange in the search results.

The call-to-action button can be anything on Google’s list of calls-to-action.

 

The expiration date – the day the “event” ends – can be up to a year away. (Hat tip to Ben Fisher – see his comment.)

The even-smarter part is that Brendan first tested other types of posts, with different content and calls-to-action.  The one that worked best (to date) became the “Event” type of post, with the far-off expiration date.  Also, you can edit your post after you publish it, so that you’re not stuck with exactly the same stinkin’ thing for months.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyhay/3034947087/

What type of Google My Business post has worked well (or badly) for you?

Have you tried this “hack” yet?

Leave a comment!

Want to Guess How Many Local Businesses Use Google My Business Posts?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/idletype/430895151/

Google My Business posts have been around since mid-2017.  They seem to have caught on – more than many of Google’s “local business” features have – mostly because the payoff is clear: GMB posts stick out in your brand-name search results, and can nudge people toward the next step you’d like them to take.

Should you use Google My Business posts – for your business?  On the one hand is the “Why not?” argument.  You can give GMB posts a try for a few months and see if they’re worth the (small) effort.

On the other hand, the “Why bother?” argument also has merit.  To wit:

  • If most businesses use GMB posts already, won’t customers tune them out?
  • If few businesses use GMB posts, have most business owners just concluded they’re a waste of time?
  • If few businesses use them, will Google retire GMB posts soon?

You probably don’t need another distraction – another thing to keep you from focusing on the stuff with clearer payoff to your local visibility.

This is where it helps to know specifically how many businesses use – or ever have used – Google My Business posts.  I couldn’t find any numbers on that, and when possible I like a better understanding than, “Umm, not many” or “A lot, I guess.”  So I did some research.

I looked at 2000 businesses in the Google Maps results, in 100 local markets.  Those 100 markets covered 10 cities across the US, and focused on 10 categories of businesses.  (More on my methodology in a minute.)  I counted how many businesses had created a GMB post recently – within the last 7 days – and how many businesses had ever done a GMB post.

Here’s a summary of what I found – the numbers on businesses’ adoption of Google My Business posts:

Q: How many businesses have ever created a Google My Business post?
A: About 17%.

Q: How many businesses have posted recently and seem to post regularly?
A: About 4%.

Q: How many businesses posted at least once, but seem not to keep up with it?
A: About 13%.

Q: Of the businesses that do post on GMB, how many seem to do it regularly?
A: About 1 in 4.

Q: In how many local markets has at least one business (in the top 20) ever tried GMB posts?
A: About 91% of local markets.  In only 9% of markets (that I looked at) nobody had ever posted.

Q: In an average first page of “Maps tab” results (20 local businesses), how many have ever tried GMB posts?
A: About 3 businesses.

Q: How saturated do local markets get, in terms of how many local businesses post on GMB?
A: The most I ever saw was 10 businesses out of the top 20.  There were a few nines and a few eights.  Again, the vast majority of businesses I looked at have never posted.

You can download my spreadsheet here.  If you look at it, I’d love to hear any insights you glean that I didn’t mention.

Methodology and limitations

1. I looked only at businesses in the US. I imagine the adoption of (or dabbling in) GMB posts is a little lower outside of the US, but of course it just depends on the local market.

2. I looked only at larger and medium cities in the US. In some cases Google Maps drew results from the suburbs, but I didn’t search there or in less-populated areas. In my experience, adoption of Google My Business features (and the like) is lower outside of the larger cities.

3. I searched in Google Maps – in the “local finder” – so I could look at a larger sample of businesses. The alternative was to look at the top 3 businesses on page 1 of Google’s main search results, but Google’s main search results don’t show who’s using GMB posts. I’d have to click on each listing anyway.  In the “Maps” view, I could pull up a list of 20, and very quickly check each business and see whether it had any GMB posts.

4. I focused on 10 industries, by way of 10 search terms: “dentist, “family lawyer,” “auto repair,” “roofing,” “animal hospital,” “preschool,” “electrician,” “real estate agent,” “music lessons, and “plastic surgeon.” Could I have looked at 100 industries? Sure, but I’d still be missing some categories, because there’s an infinity of them.  So I chose to focus on the more-competitive spaces, with a bent toward the brutal markets.  I’ve been in local search for 10 years, and picked the least-bad core sample I could.  (If you do a study like this one, but look at different categories, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.)

5. What about the red search terms on my spreadsheet? Those represent cases where the search term I originally chose (e.g. “Boston animal hospital”) didn’t produce a full page of 20 businesses in Google Maps. That would have shrunken the sample size a little, and skewed my data a little, so in those cases I just picked a different search term – one that did pull up 20 businesses on the first page of Maps.

6. Over time the number of businesses with a “fresh” GMB post (i.e. posted within the last 7 days) may decrease, or just not grow as quickly as the % of businesses in the “stale posts” column. The reason is simply that most businesses don’t stick with posting on GMB. Today’s business with a fresh post is next week’s business with a stale post.

7. Which categories of businesses post the most? I don’t know, because I’d need to have looked at all or at a couple hundred industries. But I can say that, of the categories I looked at, dental practices seemed the most post-happy.

8. How closely does GMB-posting activity correspond to rankings? I don’t know, because that wasn’t what I set out to find out here. That’s a discussion for another day.  In any case, it would be tough to say, because a business owner who bothers to post on GMB probably has other local SEO irons in the fire.

9. What about the businesses that didn’t even make the first page of Maps results – the businesses ranked #21 and lower? I didn’t look at those. I suspect they post a little less than do businesses on the first page of Maps.

Observations (beyond the numbers)

Most businesses don’t keep up with Google My Business posts.  Of the businesses I looked at, only 4% had posted within the past week, versus 13% that had posted at one time or another (less recently than within the last week). They don’t keep the posts coming.  Google’s mother-hen reminders don’t work too well, apparently.

Because Google sends you a reminder every time your post is about to “expire,” my guess is business owners think that creating a new post is a big chore and a pain.  Maybe they have few good photos to share, or they think a GMB post needs to be like a Facebook post.  Or maybe they choose to post every 2 weeks.  In any case, Google should add a “re-post this post” feature, or something like that.

Customers aren’t drowning in Google My Business posts (at least not yet).  Do some businesses post too often?  Yes.  Are most posts well-done and worthy of searchers’ and customers’ attention?  No.  But most businesses haven’t overdone GMB posts, because most businesses (over 82%) haven’t used GMB posts.

Given how hard Google is pushing GMB posts, if there’s ever a time to give them a try, I’d say that time is now.

Enough businesses seem to use Google My Business posts that Google probably will keep the feature around, and maybe add to it over time.  17% may not sound like a high percentage.  But if my cross-section of 2000 businesses is at all representative, then many millions of business owners have tried GMB posts at one time or another.

Google often kills off products and features both popular and unloved, so we can’t assume GMB posts will be around forever.  But when I think of how slowly most business owners adopt new features, and how (relatively) new GMB posts are, I’d say the chances are good GMB posts will stay out of the Google graveyard.

Good further info on GMB posts

How to Create a Google My Business Post That Will Win You More CustomersBen Fisher

12 Things to Know to Succeed with Google PostsJoy Hawkins

Do Google Posts Impact Ranking? A Case Study – Joy Hawkins

Any researchable numbers or facts you’d like me to cover?

If you’ve looked at my data, did you reach any different or additional conclusions?

What’s the lowdown on Google My Business posts in your local market?

Any success stories?

Leave a comment!

Why Clunky Sites (Often) Punch Above Their Weight in the Local Search Results

By “clunky” I mean a website of which you can say some or all of the following:

  • Doesn’t look smooth.
  • Not mobile-responsive.
  • Built on an old or less-common CMS, or is hand-coded.
  • Doesn’t have an SSL certificate.
  • Has some cruft, like pages with overlapping content, messy URLs, wordy title tags, etc.

At least in my experience, those sites often rank well.  Surprisingly well, and more often than you’d think.  When sniffing out a client’s local market and figuring out who’s up to what, naturally I’ll take a quick look at who’s #1 (and 2 and 3).  Half the time that business’s site is beautiful and seems to check all the boxes, perhaps because of a recent redesign.  But the other 50% of the sites are clunky.

How could that be?  Aren’t the Maps and organic rankings so competitive these days that even slight edges matter?  Why might a clunky site rank well in the local results?  A few possible explanations:

1. In-depth content hasn’t been scrubbed out (“Hey, nobody reads anymore!”) in favor of an “elegant” and more-visual design.

2. The site may have fewer slow-loading graphics, whiz-bang special effects, bloated WordPress plugins (h/t Darren Shaw), and other things that make “slick” sites load slowly. Better to be the Badwater snail than the finicky tropical fish.

3. The SEO person hasn’t wiped out or butchered the title tags.

4. The SEO person hasn’t 301-redirected any or many pages, perhaps losing inbound links in the process.

5. Google has had more time to digest the content on the site, and to evaluate how searchers behave on it. It’s not changing every day, and is more of a known quantity.

6. Most other businesses have sites that are clunky, too, and most of the few who have slick-n’-modern sites probably think that’s all they need to rank well.

7. The business owner doesn’t spend all his or her time on the site, and puts a little effort into other things that matter – like earning links, rustling up reviews, and working up enough recognition that people search for the business by name.

I’m not saying you should try to make your site clunky, or that you should never put work into it or reinvent it.  There’s a time to take it to the barber and the tailor, and there’s a time to take it behind the barn.

All I’m saying is that to rank well in Maps and in the localized organic results (1) your site doesn’t need to be perfect, (2) a redesign may not make it better, (3) the off-site work matters at least as much, and (4) tweaking your site shouldn’t be your nervous twitch when you want to improve your rankings.  Don’t be afraid of a little crust.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/61896505@N04/15267050363/

How well does your clunky site – or redesigned site – do in the local results?

Any first-hand experience that aligns or conflicts with what I’ve described?

Any war stories?

Leave a comment!

Can’t Fix a Spammy Google Maps Name? Try a Partial Edit

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Let’s say you have a local competitor with a Google My Business page with a spammy name like “Your Best HVAC Company Cleveland.”  You know the real name of their business is “Harry’s Heating,” and you’ve submitted the real name as an edit in Google Maps, but Google didn’t approve your edit.  Google is too thick to recognize the fake name is fake – and against Google’s own policies – so the spam stands, and your spammy-named competitor ranks artificially well.

What now?

Try editing out only the name of the city.  It’s a baby step.  Google is much more likely to approve your edit – and instantly – in my experience.  So, for a spammy listing like “Your Best HVAC Company Cleveland” you’d submit “Your Best HVAC Company” as the correct name of your competitor’s page.

Even if your first edit to the name has been “pending” for a few minutes or a few days (likely to be rejected by Google in the end), your newer, less-ambitious edit will be approved almost instantly if it’s approved at all.  It’s not stuck in a queue behind your earlier edit(s).

Why is a partial edit more likely to stick?  I’m sure there’s an algorithmic explanation (most edits are approved and rejected by algorithm), but I’d guess it’s simply because you’re asking Google to make a smaller decision.  You’re not asking Google to change the whole name of a business.

Wouldn’t it be better if Google fixed your spammy competitor’s name completely, so the business’s real name showed up on Google Maps, rather than the Keyword Spam Lite version?  Of course.  But there are many benefits to trying a partial edit:

1. Google may actually approve the partial edit. Clearly Google had a problem with your broader edit.

2. You’ll lessen your competitor’s exact-match-keyphrase mojo. A page with a spammy Google My Business name ranks well often not simply because it’s got “keywords” in it, but rather because Google’s terrible at telling when people are searching for a specific brand or company. Even when you type in a broad search term (e.g. “electricians in San Antonio”), Google thinks there’s a chance you’re searching for the spammy business that has a Google My Business page of that name.  Google would prefer to show you 3 businesses on the local map (including the spammer), knowing that 1-2 of those businesses won’t be what you want, rather than risk not showing you the specific company it thinks you might want to see.

3. Your competitor will have an ugly-sounding name show up in the search results. It may be more ugly or less ugly than the original version of the name (the one that included the city). But if it doesn’t rank as well (see point #2), even fewer people are likely to click, which in turn may put another damper on your spammy competitor’s rankings over time.

4. You’ll put another notch on your anti-spam belt. Your future edits will have a slightly better chance of being approved by Google.

5. Even if your competitors change their names back to include the city, you’ll become a pain in their necks. If they don’t just give up, by repeatedly adding the city back into their Google My Business name they’ll establish a longer history of spamming. That’ll be relevant information if you ever escalate the problem at the GMB forum.

6. Over time you might clean up your whole local market – at least a little bit. New would-be spammers will stick out even more, and some of the more-casual spammers may be deterred if they don’t see every other business use a spammy name. With luck, you can transform the local Superfund site into a mere town dump.

What’s a stubborn Google My Business “name-spam” case you’re dealing with?

Any war stories?

Any tips?

Leave a comment

What Kinds of “Contacts at Google” Can Local SEO Companies Have?

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Some local SEO companies tout “contacts” at Google who can straighten out problems (like competitors’ spam or a penalty you think you’ve received).  Sometimes that suggestion is plain untrue, other times it’s an exaggeration, and most times it’s irrelevant and won’t help you.

Knowing the specific type of “contact” your company has (or claims to have) at $GOOG can help you avoid wasting time, and it can help you determine how aboveboard your company or consultant is.

If your local SEO people (current or prospective) hint they’ve got any kind of “in” at Google, ask for specifics, like what department that person is in, and how your company or consultant knows him or her.  Your local SEO-er may be referring to one of several kinds of Google connections:

1. Google Analytics or AdWords Certified Partner status.  Based on the number of mangled local SEO campaigns I’ve seen run by “Certified Partners,” I can say with confidence that any benefits of working with a “Partner” company don’t translate into a better-policed Google Map.

2. Dedicated AdWords rep (unlikely).  If your SEO people do AdWords, and if they have enough ad-spend in the accounts they manage, they may have what resembles a relationship with an AdWords rep.  How’s that relevant to Google Maps and your plight there?  Well, you may have spent a chunk of dough on ads for keywords for which your competitors rank well as a result of obvious Maps-spam.  In that case, an AdWords rep might escalate the issue with the Google My Business department more quickly than you (or your SEO company) could through the usual channels.  But that may happen even without a dedicated rep (see next point).

3. Random AdWords rep.  If your SEO company doesn’t manage Rubenesque accounts, they (and you) probably will probably get a different AdWords rep every time you’ve got a problem.  So your ability to contact a rep doesn’t mean your SEO-ers have what I’d call a “contact” at Google.  Still, that Googler’s limited usefulness for Google Maps concerns is the same as what I described in my “Dedicated AdWords rep” point (above). 

4. Google My Business support rep du jourMaybe your SEO people have tweeted at Google My Business support, or posted at the forum – maybe more than once – and perhaps got some issues resolved.  That doesn’t mean they’ve got a special “in” at Google, or that he or she can or will help you now or in the future. 

5. “Top Contributor” at the Google My Business forum.  For the most part, TCs are extremely generous with their time and provide a valuable service.  But they are volunteers, and not Google employees.  TCs interact with Googlers semi -regularly, but those Googlers have very limited power to work on Maps issues big or small, partly because the Maps department sees high turnover.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenpisano/17255430203/

6. Googler acquaintance.  Does your SEO person play squash with a Google employee?  Did they go to high school together?  Did they have a 5-minute conversation at a conference?  That’s nice, but it’s not an “in” that will help you.  Google handles (or neglects) damn near every problem algorithmically, on a scale that can squash whole industries and local economies.  One lowly, Google-bus-riding employee can lob only so many thunderbolts from the skies.

7. No “contact,” but a good track record of getting Google Maps edits approved.  Even in full-on embellishment mode, your SEO people probably wouldn’t characterize a good edit-history as a “contact,” but rather as “having sway” or as “Google listens to us,” or some such thing.  Perhaps the SEO people don’t have that track record, but know someone who does.  In any case, though that kind of puffery would concern me, a good spam-fighter may be the most-useful “contact” you can have in this age of shrinking Google employees and planet-eating algorithms.

Is there a type of contact at Google I forgot to mention?

Any war stories about a Googler who was surprisingly helpful (or useless)?

Leave a comment!

5 Types of Google My Business Descriptions That Go Boom

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eggplant/6579003815/

Few business owners have used the Google My Business “description” field, now that it’s returned.  Even fewer make their description do any work.

Google wiped out businesses’ descriptions when it retired GMB descriptions a couple of years ago.  Most ranged from spam to clutter.  Given the cyclical nature of everything in Google Maps, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before every business on the local map has a Cheez Whiz description again.

Until then, you can craft a GMB description that makes more of the right people more likely to take the next step you want them to.  Also, if users’ behavior matters to Google at all, a sticky description may help your rankings over time.  (To add a description, just log into your Google My Business dashboard and go to the “Info” section.  Thanks to Paul for reminding me to mention that.)

I can think of 5 basic types of descriptions I’ve seen (or helped create), each with different approaches to the same goal.  Here are 5 species of Google My Business descriptions that might work for you:

Kill-Shot

This type of description is brief, gets across your USP, and asks the searcher to take the next step.

Different call-to-action here – a baby step:

For a bricks-and-mortar store, you might want to deploy a “come on down”:

You and Me

The “You and Me” sounds like its name: in it you don’t talk about your business or about customers in the third-person voice.  It’ll sound less stuffy, if you do it right.

Saying “we” / “us” / “our” might also work.

The above example is from Mike Blumenthal’s most-visible client – often among the first to make good use of new Google My Business features.

Strength in Numbers:

Your GMB description is a good place to wheel out impressive numbers and other specifics.

Brass Tacks

Google gives you 750 characters, and shows the first 250 characters before truncating your description, but maybe you don’t need that many characters to say exactly what you do.

In this kind of description, you assume the right searcher knows what the next step is.  That’s one difference between it at the “Kill-Shot.”  The other difference is that the “Brass Tacks” description is more matter-of-fact and less emotion-driven.

Carpe Diem (AKA “The Homepage away from Home”)

The opposite of the “Brass Tacks,” in this type of description you don’t save info for your landing page.  You don’t assume people will make it that far, so you rip through your main selling points.  You see your description (and the whole sidebar it’s in) as some customers see it and as Google wants everyone to see it: as your new homepage.

What kind of description is yours?

Any great examples you’ve run across?

Leave a comment!

Dumbest Terms and Concepts in Local SEO

You’re more likely to get the results you want out of your local SEO effort if you don’t waste time on steps that won’t help, if the work doesn’t drive you crazy and make you stop because it’s not what you expected, and if you don’t hire a company to do the wrong kind of work.

Some terms and concepts floating around the local SEO space make those tasks harder for you to do.

I’m not saying they’re myths or “scams,” or even that they’ve got no merit.  All I’m saying is those ideas might lead you down a rabbit hole unless you look at them differently.

In no particular order, here are the dumb terms and concepts that (in my experience) can make your local SEO effort a little less effective and a little more frustrating:

“SEO copywriting”

Refers to sucky writing that you’re not (too) embarrassed to have on your site, only because you think Google likes it.

I’m not saying you should ignore “keywords.”  I am saying you shouldn’t work with someone who thinks SEO is just a matter of weaving keywords into copy.  There’s effective writing, there’s weak writing, and there’s writing you weaken by making keywords go where keywords ain’t supposed to go.

“Review management”

Do you do the best job you can for customers?   Do you ask them for feedback, including in the form of online reviews?  Do you occasionally read your reviews, and write simple owner-responses where appropriate?  If so, then you’re “managing” your reviews just fine, and there’s nothing else to “manage.”

Pay a company for that and all they’ll do is send poorly timed, ham-handed emails to your customers, and write generic and unhelpful replies to reviews good and bad.

I understand that you might want to delegate some of the review-encouragement process.  That’s fine.  It’s smart to farm out certain pieces, if you can.

The mistake is to think of reviews as (1) unrelated to how you run your business, or as (2) just another chore you can hand off entirely.  You’ll get more and better reviews, and get more out of them, and probably avoid a reputation meltdown if you’re at least a little involved.  You’re in a good position (maybe the best position) to know who’s happy and who’s not, how and when to approach would-be reviewers, what to ask them to do, and how best to respond to an unhappy reviewer.

In time, someone in your organization could probably handle it all.  But you should have at least a hand in grooming that person as your “Reviews Czar.”

“Listings management”

Again, there’s little or nothing to manage.

Got your Google My Business page set up properly?  Good.  Log into the dashboard every now, deal with Google’s annoying messages, and return your attention to the hard work of local SEO.

How about your non-Google local listings (e.g. YellowPages)?  Yes, those are a lot of work to set up or to fix the first time.  You may even need to put in a few rounds of work.  Also, if you change any of your basic business info (name, address, phone #, or website URL) you’ll want to update your listings.

But to create listings and maybe update them if there’s a change in your basic info is not management.  Do you “manage” your driver’s license?

It’s smart to get help on the one-time work, or if you need to update your listings.  Just don’t pay for what happens between those milestones, because nothing happens then.  All you’ll do is pay a sinecure.

“Link building”

This term has been a piñata for some time, so I’ll just take a kiddie swing at it.  The trouble with the term “link building” is you’ll probably expect to exert control over every link you want: what domain it’s on, what URL it points to, what the anchor text reads, etc.  Most good links you can’t belch out on command like that.  If you try to hire someone who thinks that, it probably won’t end well.  There’s only so much a third party can do.

At least in my experience, the right understanding of links is:

  1. They take more work than you’d like.
  2. You can’t control them as much as you’d like.
  3. You need to engineer your activities so it’s likely you get a good link out of the deal, but so you won’t consider your efforts a total waste if you don’t.

“Price per citation”

As in, “We can build you 100 citations on local directories for $200 – which is $2 per listing, which is 50% better than what our $3-per-listing competitors offer.”

That’s the wrong way to measure it.

A citation is not a citation.  Some sites are much more important than others are, so some listings are more important to get right than others are.

What if you pay $100 less, but have to wait an extra 6 weeks for the company’s work to wrap up?

How much does it cost you to hire the lowest bidders, get sloppy work from them, and then have to pay someone else to do remedial work?

If you must get third-party help on your listings, pick the most-competent help, not the cheapest.  If the competent one is too expensive, then you probably need to do the work in-house, because the cheapo company will cost you even more in the end.

“Freshness of content”

Should your site get bigger and better every year?  Absolutely.  Should you update old content, and continually try to improve content you can make more in-depth and helpful (in what I call “content CPR”)?  I sure hope you do, because those steps can help you long-term.

But that’s not what most SEOs refer to when they say “you need fresh content.”  They’ll tell you to tweak the content on your pages – not to improve it, necessarily, but just to make it different.   Or they’ll tell you to churn out 9 blog posts every month – posts that not even mom will read.  I call it the “content hamster wheel.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/3716273172/

To many SEOs, Google just likes a dusty workshop, and doesn’t care whether you actually created something in it.  That’s easier to sell clients on, and it’s easier to bill them for.

“Local content”

 Your pages need to be relevant to what you do for customers, and not just generic info about a city you serve.

Unless you’re a professional tour guide, nobody visits your site to read a Wikipedia-flavored history of the town.  Few people care that Frank Sinatra once went to the bathroom there.

Make it relevant to your customer, to your business/services, and to the location – in that order of importance.

What’s a term or concept in local SEO that you consider crazy, and why?

Was there one you think I was too harsh on?

Leave a comment!

Use AdWords Location Extensions? Better Make Sure They Match Your Google My Business Info

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/5131195458/

Adding location extensions in AdWords is a great way to draw more nearby customers, and sometimes to muscle into the paid Google Maps results.  All you need is to have a Google My Business page, run AdWords ads in your area, and go through a pretty easy syncing process.

The trouble is good results may take more babysitting than you’d like.  Your Google My Business page doesn’t take much tending these days, but AdWords is another story.  AdWords takes more tending.  Case in point: if you set up a location extension in AdWords and then update your Google My Business page, your location extension may still show your old, incorrect business info.

Tony Wang of LocalWord described the problem and the solution briefly in this Google Plus thread, and sent me more detail after I asked; here’s a detailed rundown from Tony:

AdWords pulls location extension info from your Google My Business page, so you need link to it while creating the location extension. That “link” terminology is confusing.

One could be forgiven for thinking any changes in GMB will automatically be reflected in the AdWords extension. One would be WRONG.

Turns out the information is imported at the creation of the extension, with no other connection thereafter. If you change the information in your GMB profile, it will NOT be reflected in the extension.

I stumbled upon this by accident, after recently changing a client’s operating hours. I just happened to see the ad with location extension showing, and it had the old hours (location extensions can display hours sometimes, though more often phone #). I assume if other info changed in GMB it would also not update.

Anyway, after calling AdWords support and speaking to an overseas agent (apparently I’m not big enough to get routed to stateside support) the agent checked with his supervisor and then routed me to GMB support, claiming it was a glitch on their end. GMB support verified that all the data was correct on their end and sent me back to AdWords support. Now speaking to a second AdWords agent who was similarly stumped, he also checked with his supervisor, who correctly understood the issue, which is that GMB info does not auto update into AdWords extensions.

So the SOLUTION is to remove the extension and create a new one, thus pulling in the new info.

This is not at all obvious, and I’m willing to bet there are numerous ads out there displaying old information as a result. So the moral of the story is, if you ever update GMB info, remember to go back and re-create your location extensions.

To add insult to injury, Joy Hawkins also noted that the AdWords fields in GMB do sync, which means the capability is clearly there. I complained loudly enough to the support agent that the supervisor grabbed the phone to apologize and assure me he would bring up these issues as suggested improvements.

I’ve checked the Google My Business – AdWords location extension syncing myself, and ran into the same issue Tony ran into.  (I changed one of my client’s business hours in Google My Business.)

Have you run into syncing problems – or other problems – with AdWords location extensions?  What did you do?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

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The name’s a shameless rip-off of Wil Reynolds’s excellent presentation on “The High Cost of Free Traffic.”  One reason I’ve got no shame is that that describes the situation perfectly: Although technically your business’s visibility in Google Maps and the rest of local search is free, you run into trouble once you start treating it as you would other “free” stuff.

Business owners and their marketers often mess up and overlook enough things even when they pay $20 a click (as in AdWords) for their traffic.  Their strategies get even more ragged when they don’t have to pay for visibility in the local search results, and are confident they won’t need to any time soon.

“Free” gives you a sense of relief.  You don’t think much about how you use your water if all you have to do is dip your cup in the creek.  That’s fine as long as it’s not winter or there’s a cattle drive upstream.

What’s the “high cost” of free traffic (the one I named this post after)?  It’s not one specific high price you pay, but rather a long list of missed-opportunity costs.  They’re problems you’ll face, time you’ll waste, or wins you won’t seize.

They’re what happens when you assume “free” rankings and traffic are permanent, or unlimited, or guaranteed, or something you’re entitled to, or always easy to get more of, or always what you need more of.

Cost 1: Trying to farm out all parts of your local SEO strategy.

(Or, even worse, trying to farm out all of your marketing.)

Some parts of local SEO require a decision-maker’s personal involvement.  Doing what it takes to earn good links and reviews are two examples of that.  Though third parties can help to one degree or another, they can’t do it well and without any of your involvement.  “Your one-stop, turnkey solution” is a marketing ploy.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get visible in the local search results, and have it actually result in more business, and have it last.

Cost 2: Seeing if you can “just get your site to rank” without putting in any real effort.

If your primitive strategy of microsites / keyword-stuffing / cheap links / lousy “city” pages doesn’t work you’ve wasted time and are back to the drawing board.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to have your bare-minimum effort bring you good rankings, you’ll be one non-pushover competitor or one Google test or update away from Search Engine Siberia.

Especially when it’s early in your local SEO effort, either you need to specialize and carve out a niche, or put in a little work to differentiate yourself, or do both.

Cost 3: Only worrying about the “easy SEO wins” at first.

Isn’t it great if you can meet your goals with a minimum of effort?  Sure.  Shouldn’t you try to do that?  Yeah, probably.  But what if your quick no-brainers yield no results?  Then it’s a question of when you start putting in the hard work, and how long it takes to pay off.  Fixing up your title tags, wiggling a few keywords into the cracks, and cleaning up your local listings will only get you so far.

How long should you wait to see if your quick wins did the trick?  2 months?  6 months?  A year?  Damned if I know.  I say you start digging the well before you’re thirsty.  Start on the ongoing activities while you’re still working on the one-time stuff.

Cost 4: Using a site/CMS that makes changes difficult or slow to make.

Your Squarespace or Wix or Joomla or GoDaddy site is probably fine to keep if you can structure it correctly, create a homepage that doesn’t suck, make it more or less conducive to conversions, and do other basics.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s better to get a rough site out there early, and improve it later.  The problem is what happens if you can’t improve it later.  Because you consider your local search traffic “free,” you don’t feel it’s urgent to get a site you can work with.  You’ll let it molder until traffic dries up or something really breaks, or both.

Cost 5: Hiring hacky writers.

If you had to pay $20 for each click, would you send visitors to pages that don’t make it clear what you do, or pages that make it apparent you’re “too busy” to put any effort into your site yourself, or pages that make you look like you can’t string two sentences together?  No?  Well, doing that with “free” traffic is even worse.  At least if you pay $20 (or much more) for a click, you might eventually learn that more traffic often isn’t the answer.

With bad writing you have the online-marketing equivalent of BO.

Cost 6: Waiting too long to get serious about getting reviews.

You probably “just want to rank” first.  Once you have more customers, you’ll start encouraging reviews.  That’s backwards.  Good rankings without good reviews tend not to bring in much business.  On the other hand, good reviews will help you as soon as you start getting them, no matter how visible you are.  Go after them early.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5919180598/

Cost 7: Not replying to customers’ reviews, even when you don’t “have to.”

You probably don’t let negative reviews go unaddressed.  That’s usually wise.

What about the positive reviews?  Think of how hard you’ve worked to get however much visibility you’ve got, and to do a good enough job for customers that they wrote you those nice reviews.  Don’t you want that visibility and traffic to convert as many customers as possible, so you continue the upward spiral?  Sometimes replying to a positive review – even if only to say thanks – is a way to do that.  It shows you give a hoot, and that you still care about customers after they’ve paid you and reviewed you.

Cost 8: Assuming all your visitors saw your best reviews before visiting your site.

Given all the info Google shows IN the search results these days – especially when people search for your business by name – it’s smart to think of Google’s results as your second homepage.  To wow customers there with all your reviews is crucial, and you need to do it.  Those review sites sure are prominent.

But what if those people go even farther, and get to your site?  Those people are even deeper into your “conversion funnel,” and are this close to taking an action you want.  Don’t hold back now.   Even if they saw your “review stars” in the search results, they probably didn’t see reviews from specific customers.  If you had to pay for each click, you’d make sure your best reviews were front-and-center.  That’s smart even if you don’t pay for each click.

Splatter or sprinkle your reviews across your site.

Cost 9: Waiting too long to start earning links.

Yes, the one-time work on your site and on your listings is important.  You may see a bump from doing only that.  But sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau.  At that point you can’t just “optimize” your site more, or crank out more citations, and expect to get unstuck.  And don’t think an SEO person has some fancy maneuver for your site that will do it.  You’ll go round and round on tweaking or overhauling your site, to no effect.  7 SEO “experts” and many dollars later, you’ll realize you missed a big piece of the puzzle.  You could have spent a fraction of that time on effort on trying to earn good links, and you could have seen results sooner.  Slow process?  Sure, but not as slow as the alternatives.

Here are some relatively easy link ideas, just to get the juices flowing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

Cost 10: Fixating on ranking across your entire service area.

You want to rank in 25 more towns.  That’s a fine goal.  So you must be pretty visible in your town already, right?  If not, start there and branch out only when you’ve had some success.  Now, it may or not be possible to rank in all (or half) of the places you want to reach.  It depends on many factors, including whether you’re trying to rank in the local organic results (doable) or in the Maps results (less realistic).  I’m not even saying you should trim back your goals.  I’m saying only that you should do what it takes to build up a little visibility in the place where it’s most likely you can do so, before you try to go farther afield.

Cost 11: Creating lots of awful “city pages.”

If you won’t take the time to do them right, at least don’t spend too much time on doing them wrong.  Make 5 worthless pages rather than 50 worthless pages.  That way, you can return that much sooner to whatever you were doing that was so much more important than putting a little thought into your city pages, so that they might rank and convert.

Cost 12: Never using AdWords to learn about would-be customers or to sniff out markets.

Too many business owners think, “Why on earth should I pay for traffic when I can get it for free?”  Well, for one thing, because it’s the only practical way to sniff out people’s level of interest in specific services in specific cities/areas where you don’t rank.

Google Analytics only tells you about the traffic you already get, and nothing about the traffic you might be able to get.  Set up a quick-n’-dirty AdWords campaign, keep it on a short budgetary leash, let it run for a couple weeks, and mine the stuffing out of the “Dimensions” tab.  I know of no better way to research keywords, to get a sense of how well traffic converts for those keywords, and to find out exactly which cities/towns those searchers search from.

If you think of pay-per-click as a way to buy data (and not necessarily to get customers, at least at first) you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, you can put new vim and vigor into your local SEO effort.

Cost 13: Assuming that because your local visibility is “free” it’s also unlimited.

That may be the costliest cost of all, for many reasons.

You can always lose visibility.

You won’t have a monopoly while you have it.

Just because you got some visibility easily doesn’t mean you can get more with similar ease.

You don’t know who will become your competitor next.

Google likes to test just about all aspects of the search results.

Google likes to change policies in all areas of search.

Google likes to stuff the free search results with paid search results.

You don’t even own your local listings.  The only online thing you own is your site, and everything else is rented land.

It’s for those reasons and many others that you do not want to grow complacent.

Why do the signs at parks and nature reserves tell you not to feed the animals?

Because if you feed them and other people feed them, they’ll get conditioned to freebies, and not be as able to hunt and forage.  (Also, the tripe most people eat isn’t necessarily good for a growing critter.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/84744710@N06/14766013011/

If you’re an animal, it’s fine to catch as catch can, but you probably want to be able to feed yourself if the hands with free food ever go away.  The same is true of business owners.  Don’t be a Central Park pigeon.

What’s a missed-opportunity cost I missed?

Any cautionary tales?

Leave a comment!

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?

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I tend to suggest using a different phone number for each location of your business, but exactly what’s the downside of using the same number on all of your Google My Business pages? 

Google’s guidelines don’t tell you to use a location-specific phone number.

Merged” Google pages don’t seem to be a problem these days – and even when they were, a shared phone number probably wouldn’t have caused pages to merge.

I’ve seen businesses use one number for many locations and rank just fine – and you may have observed that, too.

Google My Business forum Top Contributors don’t indicate that a shared phone number is a big problem (though it’s “not ideal”).

Some of my fellow local-search geeks suggest using separate phone numbers – and I agree with that advice, generally.  But I haven’t seen anyone spell out exactly what might happen if you use the same number everywhere.

Here’s one possible downside: Google may not verify one or more of your pages.

That happened recently to a multi-location client of mine.  They chose to use the same phone number for their 5 (or so) Google My Business pages in different major cities across the US.  Though I’d suggested getting and using different phone numbers – one for each location – their choice also made sense in their case.  They’d had a couple of GMB pages up for a few years, and created the others in recent months.

They verified all their GMB pages without incident, except for one page.  The client got on the phone with GMB support (always a good time), and they were told that the problem was that the phone number wasn’t unique to that one location.  Of course, that was also true of the other pages, which had been verified A-OK.

After some back-and-forth and presumably a little groveling, the client got Google to wave the page through.  All’s well that ends well.

But what about your situation?  If you’re multi-location, should you use a unique number for each of your Google My Business pages?

I wouldn’t say a multi-location phone number is like giving your rankings a Kent Micronite.  If you get all your pages verified, your visibility will depend on the usual suspects.

Still, I recommend using a unique phone number, if at all possible.  You’ll make it a little more apparent to Google and to searchers that you’ve actually got people in all the places you say you do.

What’s been your experience with using the same phone number (or different numbers) on Google My Business?

Have you heard of any specific problems resulting from using the same number across the board – or heard any strong advice?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!