The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yxo/189594544/

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?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikedixson/14602606799/

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!

Can’t Add a Google My Business Appointment URL? Try This Hack

In my last post I described what Google My Business “appointment” URLs are, and covered some facts and pointers worth knowing if you’d like to use one.

But what if you don’t see in your Google My Business dashboard the option to add an appointment URL?  Turns out there’s a workaround.

Based on what I’ve seen in clients’ accounts, I’d say there’s a 10% chance Google hasn’t rolled out that feature to your industry yet.  How does Google know what industry you’re in?  In this case, mainly by the categories you pick.  To get your appointment URL to show up, you need to do a little footwork with your Google My Business categories.

James Watt of James Watt Marketing in Portland described the workaround in his comment on my last post:

Hi Phil,

I’ve got one more piece of info you might want to add somewhere. I asked the GMB community manager about what to do for business owners wanting to request the appointment URL feature in the profile, and here’s what she said.

Basically, the feature is included entirely based on categories for the business. If you don’t have it available but want it, add an appointment category, set the appointment URL, and then remove the category again. I was a little surprised that that was the answer given, but there it is. Thought I’d pass it along.

So you add a category to the one(s) you’ve already specified, hit “apply,” and see if Google gives you the ability to add an appointment URL.  If not, try a different category.  If you see the option, set your appointment URL, save, and then switch your categories back to what they were.

I tried it on a client just now, and it worked like a charm.  In his case, I had to swap out the “primary” category (i.e. the first one listed), which I switched back as soon as his appointment URL showed up.

Try that workaround.  Please let me know how it goes!

P.S.  Big thanks to James.  He posts often at the Local Search Forum and GMB forum, and I suggest you follow him.

Getting or Providing a Local SEO Consultation? Make Sure You Touch on These Points

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hisashiv/7309441292/

Feel like you forgot to check something?

Whether you’re the client or the consultant, you need strong intel-sharing for your consultation on local SEO to amount to more than a hill of beans.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to local rankings/traffic/visibility/business woes.  If you’re sick, the doc needs to diagnose you.  If your car makes a new squeak, the mechanic will ask you some questions.  Similar deal here.

For me to do a good consultation and maybe figure out what my dance partner needs to do next, I need to ask a LOT of questions.  Some of the more-basic, “name, rank, serial number” questions I try to get out of the way first with my preliminary questionnaire, so we don’t eat up time on those during the call, and so I might do a few minutes of fact-finding beforehand.

Whether or not there’s an exchange of basic intel before your call, the “Eureka!” moment will probably come only once you’ve discussed a pretty short list of super-important questions.  Those questions shed light.  Whether you’re the local SEO-er or the person who just paid one for a consultation, you should hit on as many of these points as possible:

 

1. Did you book a consultation with me because of an incident that concerns you, or because you just want to see how to keep improving?
This question can help narrow the scope of the conversation, sooner rather than later.  It may expand into other topics again, even if there’s one specific problem you try to figure out, but at least you’ll start with a clearer goal in mind.

2.  IF there’s been a drop-off in rankings or traffic, has it corresponded to a drop in customers and/or leads?
For starters, this one gives a sense of how dependent the business is on search-engine visibility.

3.  What do you see in Google Analytics?
Helps to determine how bad a possible drop-off really was, or whether.

4.  How do you currently get most of your customers / clients / patients?

5.  What SEO work have you done so far? If you hired an SEO company, what work did they do, specifically?
You need to know of skeletons in the closet.

6.  What are you working on now, exactly?

7.  What work do you plan to do, but haven’t gotten around to yet?
For instance, “I know I need to rustle up some good links, but am not sure where to start.”  This question is always telling.

8.  Are there any activities you’ve stopped or slowed down on?
Sometimes the best move is to resume X and not to bother with Y.

9.  Have you changed any of your basic business info? Name, address, phone number, or URL?
Changes like those can jostle your rankings, particularly in Google Maps.

10.  Have you recently redesigned your site, or do you plan to?
Visibility / traffic rarely improves after a redesign.  Usually it’s followed by (a) more of the same or (b) a drop-off.  This is a good time to run down my quick checklist.

11.  What’s been your process for earning links?
You may want to bring this up very early in the call.  It’s usually one of the problems – if not the problem.  Especially if a big goof-up is not apparent.

12.  What’s been your process for encouraging reviews?
Bad reviews or a lack of reviews often explains (at least partly) why the rankings see-saw but business is always down.  See this.  Rankings without reviews don’t amount to much, usually.

13.  Does one location outperform the other?
Often one location uses a more-ideal landing page, or has more/better reviews, or significantly cleaner citations, or more good links relevant to it. 

What questions do you think are the most crucial?

What’s a “Eureka” moment you had during a consultation?

Leave a comment!

David’s Bridal’s SEO Person Deserves a Raise

Longtime competitor Alfred Angelo goes belly-up without warning, so what does David’s Bridal do?  Make an irresistible offer on an expertly-optimized page that a panicked bride will click on if she sees it in the search results.

In its coverage of Alfred Angelo’s demise The Washington Post mentioned David’s Bridal’s well-timed tweet.

Less-covered has been the quick thinking on the part of their SEO guy or gal.

Just look at that description tag (above).  The “wedding of their dreams” is no mistake; that’s what Alfred Angelo promised, and what now only another, solvent company can deliver on.  The click-through rate on that page must be insane.

The URL is named relevantly: http://www.davidsbridal.com/Content_Bridal_alfredangelo

The content of the page is clear and on-topic – no gimmicks.

What’s interesting is that the page itself doesn’t have a lot of links (yet?).

(Yet another reason I don’t believe Google’s claim that they “don’t have anything like a website authority score.”)

It just goes to show some of the practices that separate a smart SEO person from a hack:

  • Pay attention to the news. “But I’m not a publicist!”  Yeah, that’s what the SEO chief at Alfred Angelo, Sports Authority, and Blockbuster probably said.
  • Do the basics well, but don’t overdo them. Notice the lack of keyword-stuffing on the page.
  • Work all the channels – to get customers onto the page BEFORE it ranks. Remember the early-morning tweet? Google seems to notice that kind of activity.  WaPo certainly did.
  • Wordsmithing. The David’s Bridal’s search result (particularly their description tag) is sticky, and the page is well-written – for people, not for Google.

The only way (I can think of) that David’s could do even better is if they updated all their store-locator pages (example) to include a banner for the Alfred Angelo special offer.

Your competitors don’t need to be large corporations that fail spectacularly and suddenly for you to make a kill-shot like this one.  Next time a competitor screws up enough to make the local rag, see what kind of special offer you can make to help his/her disappointed customers.  It’s got to help them out of a bind (as David’s did), or you won’t look much better than the other company.

Any other lessons from David’s Bridal?  Similar stories?  Leave a comment!

Secret Weapon of Effective Local SEO: Wordsmithing

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kdwood2/6873448363/

I almost channeled my inner Cosmo editor and called this something like, “17 Ways Writing Can Spice up Your SEO Life!”

But that would have made me almost as bad as many local SEOs (and their clients).  They often treat writing as an afterthought in their work – or as something to farm out to the cheapest keyboard-slapper they can find.

Wordsmithing doesn’t get enough respect in this business.  Many people look at the relationship between writing and SEO in one of three ways:

“Writing?  We’ll take care of that after everything’s optimized.”

“We already took care of the writing.  Now we’ll SEO it.”

“What are you, like, an English professor?  I said we’re doing S-E-O…for search engines! ”

SEO that sticks and writing that sticks aren’t as separate as most people think.  You can rank well even if your writing is as crappy as everyone else’s is.  But would you really be satisfied with that?  Wouldn’t you rather have your writing help you at every turn?

I can’t tell you exactly what to write, and where.  I can’t tell you exactly whom to hire if you need help.  I won’t try to define “effective” writing.  I sure as thunder won’t tell you that your site will rank well just because your writing is solid.

The point I want to make simply is that you need a wordsmith as much as you need a webmaster.

Here are some benefits of writing with oomph – some ways it can help your visibility in the local search results, and help you get more/better customers out of the deal:

  1. Stickier title tags. Those can compel more people (and maybe more of the “right” people) to click on you.  In my experience that higher click-through helps your organic rankings over time.

 

  1. Stickier description tags. Same benefit as above.

  1. You can get more content onto a given page and not make it a miserable read in the process. Ineffective writers just assume everything’s clear, and never bother to lay it out.  Serious people – the ones who might hire you – want detail.  (They can always skim.)  Google prefers crunchiness, too.

  1. Stickier pages. Google knows who hits the “back” button and who sticks around.  I don’t think anybody knows exactly how Google uses on-site behavior to sort out rankings, but I can’t imagine they don’t use it.
  1. More reviews. Your requests will be more effective – more likely to end in 5 stars.
  1. Better reviews. A well-crafted written request is less likely to annoy customers, more likely to compel them to bring up any problems before they write a review, and more likely to compel them to go into plenty of detail about what they like.  Also, if the writing on your site makes your USP clear, you’re more likely to get happy customers, who become happy reviewers.

 

  1. Better replies to your reviews. Your replies (on Yelp and Google) to reviews can help you win over more of the kinds of customers who care about reviews enough to review you.  They don’t need to be Shakespeare, but they should be personal and not boilerplate.

  1. Your “link bait” is more likely to result in some solid links. It’ll have legs.
  1. You’ll be ignored less in your email outreach.
  1. If you do a guest-post it’s more likely you’ll be invited back to do another one.
  1. Your guest-post is more likely to lead to other opportunities – if your post was useful to someone other than you, or useful to a business other than yours.
  1. You’re more likely to get a “seed audience” for your blog. I may write a whole post on that term some time, but in the meantime, here’s all I mean by “seed audience”: a small group of people who were already paying close attention to you, and who become the first regular readers of your blog.  They’re your first fans.  You need to provide them enough free, helpful info that they bring you more fans over time (or you go back to the drawing board).  My favorite example of a seed audience is people who get your email newsletter, who then also read and benefit from your posts.
  1. Higher likelihood of getting local-listing-related issues resolved if you have to contact “support.”
  1. Your photos will be more useful, interesting, relevant, and SEO-friendly, because you’ll be able to write better captions, alt tags, and title attributes. Some people swear by “optimized photos” as a major ranking factor.  I don’t.  I suspect there’s a little benefit, though, and of course well-integrated photos are good to have anyway.

  1. Any YouTube/video optimization is less likely to be a complete waste of time. Your video titles will make people want to watch, and your “description” will add flavor and maybe compel watchers to take the next step on your site.

  1. Clearer communication on action items that affect your SEO, visibility, and overall ability to make rain. Whether you’ve got an in-house team or are working with a third party, everything will go your way a little more if you can make your points clearly and not make people hate you.
  1. People who found you as a result of your local SEO campaign will be more likely to take whatever next step you want them to.

You know how some wise people have said that SEO isn’t a separate marketing channel, but rather should seep into everything you do.  Well, I say wordsmithing should seep into every part of your SEO.

Just spend more time writing or editing the areas I mentioned.  You’ll be surprised what you can do.

 

Any SEO benefits of writing I missed?  Any stories about how strong writing has helped you?  Any examples?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO Fairy Tale: No Problems = Good Rankings

https://www.flickr.com/photos/25960995@N04/5345165982/

In SEO, fixing problems is only half the challenge.  The other half is to become notable in some way.

Once in a blue moon I get an audit client who says something like:

“Phil, helpful action plan there, but I’m a little disappointed you didn’t find more problems!”

That’s understandable.  You’ve put a ton of work into your business and marketing.  It seems likely there’s one thing (or a combination of a few things) holding you back – something you overlooked.

Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean the problem is something is broken.  Google’s local search results are, essentially, a list of business it recommends.  Why should Google recommend a business simply because it exists and the owner hasn’t screwed up?

Even a brand-new car in factory condition won’t get far without gas.  You have to give it fuel.  It’s something you add continually.  You know that.  If your mechanic told you otherwise, you’d probably look for another mechanic.

But what if most mechanics told you the only way to make your car move is to pay for more repairs, no matter how much the car has been “repaired” already?  That’s what happens in the SEO world, especially in the local SEO space.  The explanation is always that your site isn’t “optimized” enough, or that you don’t have 300 citations on local directories nobody’s heard of.

When did problem-solving become problem-scavenging?  How did SEO become OCD?

One cause is that website tweaks and citation-slinging are easy for marketing companies to bill for, and easy to delegate for cheap.  Very scalable.  Looks like a lot on paper.  Nobody experienced or skilled has to be involved.  Endlessly tweaking the site and building listings on local directories listings is part and parcel of what I call drive-by SEO.  If and when that doesn’t work, you fire the old SEO company and find a new one, where the new people claim the last SEO people didn’t “optimize” enough.

https://garmentdistrict.com/protect-and-serve-well-try/

Then the cycle repeats.  Eventually you conclude nobody’s managed to “optimize” your site and listings properly, but it didn’t occur to you that maybe you’re solid on those already and the problem is something else.

The other causes are the anecdotes you’ll hear around the local SEO water cooler.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“We did a little citation clean-up and the rankings shot up!”  That can happen, but only when you’ve got other things going for you, like having great links, or being a well-known brand, or specializing in a niche.  Also, citation work tends only to bring at most a one-time benefit.  Do it once, do it right, enjoy whatever benefits it brings you, but move on after that.

“We disavowed some bad links and the rankings shot up.”  That only helps if you also had or have good links to offset the bad ones.  A penalized site minus a penalty does not equal a promotion.  You get visible by putting in work your competitors can’t or won’t.

“We just created a Google My Business page and saw a surge in traffic.”  That can happen, too, but only if you were already doing well on organic SEO, or if you’re just in an uncompetitive local market.

“We did basic on-page optimization and our rankings went way up.”  For what search term(s)?  Does anybody besides you actually type in those terms?  Do you get customers from those rankings?  Did you have anything else going for you before the optimization (e.g. lots of good links)?  Sometimes simple on-page optimization is enough to rank well, but there’s usually more to the story than that, and over time it’s become less likely to be enough.

In my experience, those types of stories are especially common among enterprise SEOs, whose clients (or employers) are big corporations that already have links, reviews, and brand-recognition out the wazoo.  To go back to my car metaphor, their car has plenty of gas and mostly new parts, but blew a fuse or just needs new transmission.  If you fix whatever part(s) gave out, you deserve all due credit and praise.  But that doesn’t mean your fix is what the next car needs.

Sometimes the problem is that your business seems unremarkable to Google.  Doesn’t mean it IS unremarkable; it’s just that what’s online doesn’t reflect how great your business really is.

Fine, Phil, so local SEO isn’t just a matter of fixing “problems,” but also of taking advantage of opportunities.  Got it.  What do I do now?

In general, work your tail off to earn more and better links than your competitors have, more and better reviews than they have, and more-in-depth content about your services on your site.  The benefits might not come right away, but that’s what you need to do.

Gee, that’s broad advice, Phil.

Yup.  It sure is.  That’s because I don’t know anything about your business at the moment.  I don’t know what you’ve done, or haven’t done, or how well it’s worked.  If you’d like a clear action plan, you might want to start with my free guide and this.  Today I just wanted to establish that although the time you spend fixing SEO “problems” is time very well-spent, you can’t just stop there.

Do you have a different take?

Have you had a “eureka” moment?  If so, what was it?

Have you ever “fixed all the problems” and still found that wasn’t enough to rank well?

Leave a comment!

What Exactly Is a “Fake” Google Maps Business Listing These Days, Anyway?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sonofgroucho/4459543154/

When Google claims it has made “fake” Google My Business listings a rare sight, you’d better check your definition of “fake” or Google’s, because both can’t be right.

Yes, those things above your thing on the local map probably are fake listings.  Your competitors are taking one potshot or another, one after another.

But Google published a research paper that showed it can’t be so!  According to it, “fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings.”

You and I probably agree that Google either (a) hired strip-mall statisticians who goofed, or (b) hired crackerjack researchers who made Google’s claims look credible.  I favor the second conclusion.  (Mike Blumenthal did an excellent job of showing the holes in the research.)

Unless my reading comprehension has failed me, Google never clearly defined what a “fake” or “abusive” listing is, exactly.  Their definition only seemed to include different kinds of invalid addresses, as well as hijacked listings.  I found their definitions to be both too mushy and too narrow.

It’s worth defining what a “fake” Google My Business page is, exactly.  My best nutshell definition is: a listing that goes beyond bending Google’s rules to the point of misleading real people – something so artificial it simply shouldn’t exist.

But there are many specific types of bogus listings, which Google seems to have conveniently tuned out – either in their research or in their presentation of it.  Some types of skullduggery are obvious, or are clearly defined in Google’s My Business guidelines, but others aren’t.  Joy Hawkins did a good job yesterday of defining some of them.

Who cares how you define a fake listing?  Well, for one thing, because if some combination of Google’s guidelines and common sense tells you a competitor has a clearly manipulative Google My Business page, you can probably get it removed sooner or later.  (I’ve had some success in getting spam removed recently, so at least to me there’s a glimmer of hope.)

Also, you’ll want to know whether you have a fake listing.  I hope you’d fix whatever issue there is, but short of that, you’ll want at least to form a plan for what you do if Google re-accommodates your listing.

Anyway, here are all the types of fake pages that Google will totally let you get away with might get a business into trouble:

Completely false names.  Not “Louie’s Plumbing,” but “Emergency Plumbers Dallas.”

Unstaffed “satellite” addresses.  Louie lives in the suburbs, but rented a virtual office in the big city, just so he can have a Google My Business page there.  He’s been sued a couple times, and is close enough to his attorney that they talk shop and exchange marketing ideas.  That’s how Louie got the idea.  What’s wrong with a pied-à-terre?

Employees’ residential addresses.  Google lets you use your home address if you don’t have an office or other physical location your business operates from.  But you can’t use employees’ home addresses, too.  Contractors, tutoring companies, and music schools abuse this all the time.

Intentional duplicates.  Louie the one-truck plumber moved 2 years ago.  His Google page ranked well for some terms, so he didn’t want to rock the boat, and simply created a 2nd page that uses his new address.  His ex-wife won’t forward him any checks sent to the old address, but the phone number still goes to Louie, so he’ll leave that page up until Google flushes it down.

Incorrect licensure.  Louie has been properly licensed in recent years, so he can plumb legally and have a Google My Business listing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/thiesson/3555845248/

Hijacked pages.  Hey, it’s just a different phone number and a different site URL – what’s the difference?

Warehouse addresses.  Valid if you conduct business there.  Not valid (and potentially very misleading to customers) if you just store things there.

Rental units.  Let’s say you own an apartment complex.  You can have one Google My Business page: for the office.  The units aren’t eligible, nor should they be: They’re all at the same address, and most occupants probably won’t want visitors.

Spec homes.  Real-estate developers and homebuilders sometimes do this.

E-commerce businesses.  Fannie the florist sells flowers online in addition to in her store.  She can have a Google My Business page – for the store.  She can’t have a 2nd, separate Google page for flowersbyfannie.com.

Of course, there are other types of shenanigans, like keyword-stuffing the “name” field of your Google My Business page.  I’ve tried to focus on the types of violations that constitute what you might call a fake listing, as opposed to one that just bends the rules.

Any other types of fake listings you can think of?

Any “Hall of Shame”-worthy examples?

To what extent have you been able to get Google to clean them up?

Leave a comment!

Dumbest Reasons to Hire a Local SEO Company or Person

I’ll never say you need to hire me or anyone else.  If your goal is to reach more customers/clients/patients in the local search results, you may or may not benefit from a third party.  I often tell clients and others that they should farm out as little of their local SEO as possible.

Still, if you feel you must hire a third party to help on your local SEO, at least do it for the right reason.

You should trust them to do a few things: to sniff out problems, to fix them, and to find missed opportunities and help you take advantage of them – all in a way that doesn’t risk putting you in Google’s doghouse or scaring away customers.  To do that, you’ll have to work together long-term to do things like build a better and more informative site, create and fix your local listings, earn links that take a little work to get, and earn glowing reviews.

I trust them to help me plan the work and work the plan” is the right reason to pick one local SEO person or company over another

But that good reason is outnumbered by a mangy pack of bad reasons.

If you pick a local SEO-er chiefly because of any one of the following reasons, you’re doing your business a disservice:

“They’re near me.”

A “local SEO company” does not mean “an SEO company near you.”  Rather, it refers to what they should specialize in: helping improve your business’s visibility in the local search results.

Now, maybe both points are true of them; maybe they are a local local SEO company.  Fine, but who cares if you can sit in their office and shake their hands?  You can do that at the local used-car lot, too.  Does that mean you should buy a car from them?  Only pick an SEO company if you have a way to determine whether they’re any good.  If they’re good, it doesn’t matter whether they’re even in your country.

“I just don’t want to handle it anymore.”

Which do you care about more: convenience or good results?  Effective SEO takes teamwork – whether it’s time to write good content for your site, or to earn links, or to get more and better reviews.

If you’ve done your own SEO so far and have gotten poor results, you’ve set a low bar for your SEO company: now all they have to do is not make things even worse and not pester you!  If you’ve gotten good results by doing it in-house, you may be handing it over to shakier hands.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rikkis_refuge/15320584918/

I’m not saying you should micromanage whomever you hire.  Do your research, find someone you trust, give that person opportunities to earn (and to lose) your trust, and then let him or her work for you.

But you still need to be in the loop, and need to help on steps that may require you.  If you’re” too busy” to be bothered now, what makes you think you can handle more business if your SEO effort actually works?

“They can optimize the Google My Business thingy!”

That’s the easiest part of all.  There is no “optimization” to be done.  Years ago, arguably.  These days, no.  Your Google page has had all the sharp edges beveled and sanded off.  It’s been mostly childproofed.  Descriptions are gone.  Custom categories are long gone.  If you fail to “hide” your address when in fact you’re supposed to, Google will simply hide it for you.

As long as you remove or “mark as closed” any unnecessary Google My Business pages, enter a valid address, your real business name, and the most-accurate category (or a few of them), you’re all set on Google My Business.  Very quick and easy.  Hire outside help only if you need help on the real work.

 “They can optimize my meta tags!”

One sure would hope they can – though often the worst title tags and description tags I’ve seen were written by so-called SEOs.  Your metas need to be relevant to the guts of the page, of course, and they need to be compelling enough that searchers want to click on your page in the search results.  Still, it’s not hard to get them right, and getting them right doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll rank well.  Don’t have that be a major reason to hire an SEO company (though you should reconsider anyone who writes crappy title tags).

“I want them to handle all the link-building.”

Oh, they’ll handle it, all right.  They’ll build worthless links on worthless sites.  Either it won’t help your rankings a pinch, or it’ll help you temporarily – until Google drops its boot.  But hey, the company “built” links for you, which is what you wanted.  You need to be at least a little involved in planning the work and working the plan.

“I need help on my local listings.”

Real yeoman’s work.  Also, it’s one-time work, for the most part.  Only a few dozen listings seem to affect your local rankings and overall visibility in any way.  After your business (or each location of it) is listed on those sites with generally correct info on your business, you won’t get much or any benefit from creating listings on even more sites.  If you hire an average local SEO company chiefly for help on listings, they’ll bill you for busywork citation-building until you fire them.  If you hire a good local SEO company largely because you want “help on local listings,” you’ll overpay and not put their expertise to the highest and best use.

Citations should be part of what your local SEO-er can help you on, but not the focus.

“They handle my website and ads, and I just want one-stop shopping.”

They may do a great job on those other things, but what makes you confident they can help you on local SEO?

“I need someone to take care of my site.”

If that’s the main thing you need, then hire a dedicated webmaster.  They’re out there.  Your local SEO pro should be able to sniff out problems on your site and fix most or all of them personally, but a crackerjack local SEO isn’t necessarily a development whiz.  (And if he/she is, then that person might – might – be too narrow and might not be good at helping you put all the pieces together, on-site and off-site.)  Largely separate disciplines.

“My friend recommended them.”

Sure, give more credence to what a friend says than to what a stranger says.  But you need to draw your own conclusions, too.  Who or what works for someone else may not work for you.

“We’re friends.”

What will they say at the country club when you fire him?

“I need more customers NOW!”

You can probably get them now, but probably not solely from the work of an SEO company – even a good one.  “Free” local visibility takes time – time not only to do the work, but also for Google to digest it and to rank you accordingly.  The time to dig the well is not when you’re parched, cross-eyed, and thought you just saw Elvis.

“They’re cheaper than my current company.”

And they may be even worse than your current company.

Think One .edu Link Will Move the SEO Needle?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/frnetz/26024570852/

I often tell clients that they’ll only benefit from a pile of good, relevant links – not necessarily from any single backlink.  Growing your rankings, traffic, and business isn’t quite as simple as getting that one unicorn link.

Some business owners don’t like to hear that.  “Well, my competitor who’s outranking me only has 1 good link,” or, “Are you telling me we busted our hump to get a ‘great link’ that won’t clearly help us?”

It’s complicated.  On the one hand, without at least some good links you won’t be competitive, and Google surely values some more than others (80/20 rule).  On the other hand, you can’t say exactly how much Google values a specific link, or if and when it starts “paying off.”  That’s why people who use a single strategy – like “scholarship link-building” – as their only way to earn good links are in for a disappointment, in my experience.

As I often do, I decided it was time for a little experiment.

My site has tons of authoritative links, but until recently it didn’t have one from a .edu domain.  I think that’s because my audience consists mainly of business owners and other SEOs and marketers.  Not as many professors.

In a roundabout way, I found that a school affiliated with my alma mater wanted donations for a robotics competition between the kids.

The Boston University Academy sure had an inviting “Sponsors” page on BU.edu, with a “follow” image link for each sponsor.

BU Academy isn’t the one shaking me down for money every month, and I thought their robotics competition sounded like a good cause, so I was glad to donate a few bucks – and in the name of SEO (pseudo)science, no less.

I reached out to the coordinator, mailed in my check, and a few days later got my logo/link down near the bottom of the page, where all the cool businesses hang out.

What happened then?

Did my traffic “EXPLODE!” or “SKYROCKET!!” (a la Warrior Forum infoproduct)?

Not that I noticed.  Traffic stayed pretty much stayed the same after getting that nice .edu link.

Now, as with most experiments, there may have been some “noise” in this one.  To wit:

1.  Local Visibility System already had a heavy-duty link profile, and got even more good ones after the .edu. I suppose it’s possible there would have been a more-noticeable effect if I hadn’t had many or any good links before the .edu, or didn’t continue to get them afterwards.

2.  Of course, there is other dust flying. For instance, the highest peaks in my traffic come when I do a blog post that I announce to the people on my email list.  Of course, it often is the case that a business has other marketing activities going on.

3.  I’m not a “local” business. Boston University is relevant to Boston, and I live near Boston, but most of my traffic comes from all over the place.  Perhaps ironically, I don’t give a hoot about my local rankings.  Maybe my local rankings benefited from the geographically-relevant .edu link, but the point is my numbers in Analytics don’t show a clear before-and-after.

4.  There was no anchor text. I got an image link (i.e. my logo was hyperlinked).

5.  The link went up only 3 months ago. Maybe it takes longer to notice a “pop,” but I’d have no way of attributing that to that one link, with everything else I’ve got swirling around.

I’m sure this isn’t the last word on “the potential payoff of one backlink,” of course.  Other people may have data that contradicts mine.  Maybe you have data that contradicts mine.  I’d love to hear.

Still, I feel more confident in saying (1) there isn’t necessarily any magic in a .edu link, and that (2) a great backlinks profile is more than the sum of its parts.