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

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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

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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!

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

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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

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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!