Locus Pocus

What’s with the name?  It’s a portmanteau of local and hocus pocus.

Just my way of referring to semi-common local SEO practices that I think are superstition.

We talked about “Local SEO Myths” in 2013.  But there’s even more to say.  In that post, I and other local-search geeks focused on myths that lead business owners way off-track.

Now I’d like to talk about what I see as practices that just waste time and effort.  They won’t kill you, but I can’t say they’ll help you.

Probably worth emphasizing now rather than later that this post is my opinion.  It’s based on a big ugly pile of first-hand experience.  But it’s still an opinion.  Let’s argue in the comments.

OK, now that my lawyer’s meticulously worded disclaimer is out of the way…

There are the local-rankings factors I’ve seen move the needle for clients and others, time and time again.  I’m talking about things like accurate categories, consistent citations, many reviews, good title tags, and meaty sites.

Then there are the factors that may matter to your local rankings.  These are steps I usually suggest to clients, because they’re good to do even if they don’t help rankings in the slightest: using Schema markup for your NAP, picking good H2 tags, embedding a Google map on your site, adding lots of photos to your Google listing, etc.

And then there’s the Locus Pocus.

These practices have done little to deserve my wrath.  I’ll spare you my theories about why I don’t think they matter.

My best indictment of them is simply that in 5 years I haven’t seen a whit of evidence that they help your local rankings in Google or anywhere else.

Here’s the stuff I wouldn’t suggest spending any time on:

  • “Geotagging” photos.  Sure, pick relevant names for the files, and try to pick relevant alt tags when appropriate.  But metadata?  Fugettaboutit.
  • Including city names in the “keyword” fields on your various business listings.  If MerchantCircle asks you to stick 10 keywords in a box, put in 10 services you offer (and maybe their synonyms).
  • Getting hundreds of structured citations.  Lots of unstructured citations (e.g. newspaper mentions), great.
  • Giant blocks of text where you mention all the towns you serve.
  • Keyword tags.
  • Making cheapo slideshow videos and uploading them to every video site you can find.
  • Setting a large “Service Area” in your Google Places dashboard.
  • Putting your “target” city in the Google Places address field, for fear that you won’t rank well there if you enter your real city.  If you want any shot at ranking where you want to, you need to help Google understand where you’re really located.
  • Seeking that extra edge by trying to outsmart all the sites where you can list your business. Just five more little keywords in your description, writing just one review for your own business, etc. Thanks to Aaron Weiche for mentioning this point (below).

Maybe these practices aren’t so harmless after all.  Spending your time and energy on them and expecting results just means it’s longer before you’re visible in the local rankings.

Hat tip to Darren for weighing in on several of the points.

What have you found to be “locus pocus”?  Did you ever have some miraculous experience with any of the practices I mentioned?  Leave a comment!

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How NOT to Structure Your URLs for Local Rankings

Feast your eyes:

Problem 1: 3 subdirectories (in this case, parent pages):





Problem 2:  The page name:


Yep.  13 words.


Problem 3:  Most of the URL won’t show in the SERPs.


Problem 4.  Even if there was a gun pointed at your head, you couldn’t tell someone over the phone how to go directly to the page:

Go to slash social dash security dash disability dash and dash ssi dash claims – yes, that’s “claims” with an “S” – slash THE dash four dash administrative…


Problem 5.  Your breadcrumbs might not improve the user-experience much:


The consequences?

Google won’t re-crawl your page until you’re wearing Depends.

And you know which page(s) will get penalized first, if and when Google revisits the question of how much on-page “optimization” is too much.

Keep it simple.  1 or at most 2 subdirectories.  Short names for those.  Short names for your pages, too.

Hat tip to Darren Shaw for telling me about that page and other good ones.

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What 8 Years of Pay-per-Click Has Taught Me about Local SEO

Most people don’t know I also help clients with pay-per-click advertising – mostly AdWords.

I’ve been doing PPC for longer than I’ve been monkeying around in local search – since mid-2006.

I’ve used it for some clients’ businesses, and for mine (early on).  My first clients and readers may recall clicking on an AdWords ad to find my waifish one-page site, around 2009-10.  That was the only way they could find it, for a time.  I’ve had skin in the game.  (If I couldn’t write ads, you might not be reading this.)

Why should you care about pay-per-click and me?  You shouldn’t.

But PPC and local SEO…now that’s a little more interesting and relevant to you.  They’re alike.  Different ballgames, sure.  But you can learn a lot about one from the other.

It’s useful to know how similar paid and local search are, especially if you rely on one form of visibility but want belt and suspenders.  Let’s say you do pretty well in the local rankings but want a foothold in the paid results – or vice versa.  You’ll want to know what strategies can help you in both places.

Here’s what many “Web years” of PPC has taught me about local SEO:

Basic truths

You need to stand out in some way.  Or else you’re wasting your time.  What is it about your little blob of pixels – your PPC ad or local search result – that makes customers want to click on it?

It takes time to become profitable.  In AdWords it takes weeks or months to test which keywords, ads, and landing pages bring home the most leads.  Any work you do on your local SEO also usually takes months to pay off.  Don’t start when you’re desperate.

You’re only as good as your website.  It doesn’t matter how many clicks you get or how you get them – paid or for free.  If you don’t get people to take the next little step, you’ve failed.

Simply reaching more people isn’t necessarily better.  Your first priority needs to be getting visible to the people who know what they’re looking for – not the tire-kickers.  Be visible for “transmission repair” before worrying about “mechanic” or “auto repair.”

There’s always room to improve.  A 21% click-through rate can become 23%.  If your rankings are as good as they can get, keep racking up reviews and adding useful content to your site.  As Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s) once said, “If my competitor was drowning, I’d stick a hose down his throat.”

The 80/20 rule is king.  With PPC it’s more like 95/5: probably 5% of your keywords will bring you 95% of your leads, 95% of the progress you’ll make will result from spending time on that 5%, etc.  It’s less-pronounced with local SEO, but still true: 80% of the citations you could get don’t matter much, 20% of the tune-ups you could make to your site affect your rankings, 20% of your customers will end up writing you a review, but those reviews are visible to 80% of the people who find you online…I could go on.

Strategy lessons

1 minute of extra work up-front saves you 2-3 minutes later on.  Don’t want to build separate adgroups or landing pages for each of the specific services you’re advertising?  Just want to launch?  Fine, but you’ll be overpaying for clicks – at best.  More likely, you won’t get any phone calls and will have to restructure anyway to revive your campaign.  It’s similar with local SEO.  For example, if you don’t fix your listings at the main data-providers, you’ll have a never-ending amount of clean-up to do on your citations.

You pay for ego.  If your ad must be #1, expect to pay twice what ad #2 costs.  If you’re ranked #2 in the local results and you think you can move up that one slot just by making quick tweaks, you may lose that #2 spot.  You’ve just got to grind some more.

Your landing pages need to be “local.”  If people can’t tell that you serve their region both before and after they click, they’re probably hitting the “back” button.

Bing is tiny by comparison.  Do not spend as much time on it as on Google.

Constant tinkering is unwise.  In PPC you need to let your ads run head-to-head until you’ve concluded statistically that one ad pulls better than the other.  To get visible in the local results you need to do a bunch of work and let the dust settle before you do more.

Change is constant.  Whenever Google rolls out something like enhanced campaigns in AdWords or the “new” Places dashboard, you can’t be in the dark. 

Hard knocks

You play by Google’s rules.  If you don’t want to, that’s your call, but nobody at Google will field complaints like, “But that’s where all my customers find me!”

It can be good, cheap, or fast.  Pick any two.  In the case of PPC it can only be so cheap.  In the case of local SEO it can only be so fast.

You should learn a little about how your paid or free visibility works.  Or be vulnerable – vulnerable to people who know more than you do, but who can’t or won’t do a good job for you.  For PPC I suggest learning from Perry Marshall, Howie Jacobson, and Brad Geddes.  Unless this is the first post of mine you’ve read, you probably know who I recommend for local search.

It’s dangerous to rely on one form of visibility.  PPC and local SEO can also make one heck of a combination.

Many business owners only see the obvious costs – the costs per-click, or what a local-search pro charges to help.  They aren’t as good at crunching the costs of missed opportunities, or the costs of relying on other ways to get visibility and leads, or the costs of hiring the lowest bidder.

Too many business owners fixate on the click.  Not as much on what happens after the click.  Do you say at the very top of the page what services you offer, and what you don’t offer?  Is it clear how potential customers can find the other pages they might want to see?  Is it impossible to miss your contact info?  If they don’t want to pick up the phone today, can people stay in touch by leaving their name and email – and are you giving them a good reason to?

Pep rally

Many or most or all of your competitors suck.  They don’t know about split-tests or negative keywords, or they don’t know about local citations or even Google’s rules.  To the extent they may (temporarily?) be more visible than you, it’s despite their actions or inactions, not because of them.

Many business owners would sooner pay out the nose than spend a little time learning.  If you invest that bit of time, you can take the reins if you need to, or better ensure that your PPC helper brings his/her A-game.

The Big Boys only get the basics right.  They leave opportunities open.

There’s often a point when less work is needed month to month.  The business owner can (and maybe should) ease into learning the ropes, and managing the campaign and not feel overwhelmed.

You win whenever you use your antennae.  If you’re always trying to understand your customers better, you’ll know what they want to see in the search results and on your site.

Where do you see overlap between PPC and local search?  Big differences?  Leave a comment!

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Local SEO Hotseat: My Talk at the Worcester Web Marketers Meet-up

Just wanted to share my presentation from last night’s gathering of the Worcester Web Marketers group. Here you are, Gentle Reader:

Thanks to Anthony Fors of Absolute Clean for volunteering for the “hotseat,” to Ted Ives and everyone else for the great questions and conversation, and most of all to Dan Shure for putting on an awesome event.

I hope you’ll come to the next one if you’re in Massachusetts in March / April.

Any questions or thoughts on the “hotseat”?  Leave a comment!

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“Can I Get a Temporary Location to Rank in Google Local Search?”

A client of mine asked me a great question the other day:

He owns a water-damage-restoration service in the part of Colorado that’s had major flooding.  He wanted to know to what extent he could get visible in the Google+ Local (AKA Google Places) results in one of the hardest-hit cities – Boulder – using a temporary business location.

My client – let’s call him Pat – phrased the question this way:

“We had a lot of flooding here and we have been busy.  I am going to open another temporary location in Boulder and I wonder if that is an opportunity to get on the Google maps?”

Here was my quick response:

“Getting visible in Google+ Local there might be a stretch, just because it usually takes at least a couple of months to get anywhere in local search.  If you do want to go that route, I’d suggest whipping together a landing page specifically for Boulder, renting a real office (not a PO or UPS box), and using that landing page and address for Google+ Local.  Depending on how much you want to invest in it, how long you’d want to be in town, and whether there’s any chance that location would ever become permanent, you might also want to get the basic citations squared away or hook your Boulder location up to Yext.

“Again, the above isn’t surefire, but it’s what I’d suggest if you wanted to give Google+ Local (in Boulder) the old college try.  No matter what, I’d definitely suggest doing a Boulder page on your site and running AdWords.”

Google is fine with your using a location that you won’t necessarily use for the long-term provided you aren’t breaking the rules, like by using a fake address.  In that sense, you can get visible on the “local map” with a temporary location.

The bigger question is: will you rank well locally?  As you probably know, it usually takes months.  It really just comes down to how many local competitors there are who offer what you offer.  If there are lots of more-established businesses in the area, don’t expect much.  On the other hand, if you’re offering a semi-niche emergency-related service, the bar may be pretty low.

So if you play by the rules and have a good reason for using a temporary location – like that you’re serving a disaster area – then I say go forth and hang your shingle.  But don’t have lofty expectations, and definitely do have other sources of visibility.

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How to Get Good Karma at LocalVisibilitySystem

What other people share with me is the lifeblood of this blog/site, and of my business.

To whatever extent I’ve been able to help business owners and contribute to the local-search “community,” it’s been because of others’ questions, ideas, and suggestions.  They get me to think and to act.

Whether you’re new here, or you’ve read every post I’ve done, or you’ve been on my email list since 2009, or you’re a client, there are many ways to win brownie-points with me.

If you’re inclined to do any of the following, I’d be most appreciative:

  • Give me a fresh idea for a blog post.  (Though I’m already up to the ears in ideas!)
  • Tell me how to improve an evergreen post (like this or this).
  • Let me know how I can improve this site.  (I’m only looking for big-picture suggestions – not “I think your logo should have a telescope instead of a lighthouse.”)
  • Ask me to test-drive a local SEO tool you’ve made.
  • Leave insightful and relevant comments or questions on my posts.
  • Describe for me in-detail a local-SEO “win” or “fail” you experienced.
  • Show or tell me something I may not already know about reviews.
  • Tell me about citation sources that I don’t already have on my Definitive Citations List.  (Note: I’m not looking for city-specific business directories.)
  • Describe to me a service you think I should offer, and why I should offer it.
  • Tell a business-owner friend of yours about any posts or other resources of mine that might help him or her.

I’ll reciprocate.

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Authorship Photo Next to Google’s Own Search Results: Dogfooding or Bug?

I just saw something weird in the search results:

Weird, huh?  I’ve never seen authorship photos appear next to any search results for Google’s pages.

I’m even more stumped why the authorship photo is of a guy who seems not to be affiliated with Google.  Granted, +Matthew Rappaport is a power user and knows his way around a Hangout.  But if anyone’s photo were to show up in the search results for Google’s properties, I’d expect it to be of Matt Cutts’s smiling visage, or maybe a photo of whomever has the corner office in the Local/Maps department these days.

I’m also seeing the same authorship photo in the results when I type in “Google local support,” “Google + Local,” and other terms.

Is Google wetting its beak in its own authorship action?  Is it just a bug?

What are you seeing?  Am I missing something obvious?  Any ideas as to what’s going on here?

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Lightning Round Q&A on Local SEO

A few days ago, I asked the good people on my email list to send me their questions.

They’ve always sent me great questions, and I always take a crack at them.

But local search – and Google+Local in particular – is as messy and complex as ever.  Sometimes it helps to see a bunch of questions other people have, and the answers to those questions, all at once.

I like the Ask Me Anything rounds that some SEOs do.  Same idea here.

So, I received a ton of great questions from business owners and marketers/SEOs alike.  Some of the questions almost call for a whole blog post to answer, but I’ve tried to give quick answers – hence the “lightning round” part.  But there are so many questions that this has turned into the most epic post I’ve done yet.

I’ve organized the Q&A into a few sections:

General local search





General local search questions

“What’s the #1 thing that improves rankings for local business pages?”

I’m going to focus on the “improves” part of your question: I’d say businesses see the most improvement when they clean up all their citations.


“Do social mentions affect my rankings if they don’t include my NAP?”

Indirectly, maybe – but only to the extent that they’re a catalyst for things that can directly help your rankings, like unstructured citations or maybe links.  Facebook activity seems to be a major factor for Bing, though.  I’m sure things like Google +1s and Circles will start counting for more in the near future, but they don’t seem to at the moment.


Have you noticed it being easier to rank a new local business in Bing than in Google? Any ideas why?  I am top ranked in Bing but am on page 2 in Google after 4 months.”

I’ve had clients who rank tip-top in Google but not so well in Bing.  The fundamentals are the same (e.g. consistent citations, on-page factors).  But things like Facebook activity and Yelp reviews seem to matter more in Bing.  Overall, I’d say Bing is a little easier, but if you’re ranking well in Bing, you’re probably on the right track with Google.


“What is the best way to identify all citations that need to be cleaned up for a given business?”

My favorite cocktail: a combination of the Local Citation Finder,, and my definitive list of local citations.


“Beyond a) creating citations, and b) having an optimized webpage and c) getting reviews, what else can be done to improve ranking?”

(1) Get more reviews, on as many sites as you can.  Never stop.

(2) Get citations from sites specific to your industry.

(3) Add as much additional info (e.g. descriptions, photos, etc.) as you can to your listings on those citation sources.

(4) Blog – the right way.

(5) Think of a small (or larger) “local event” you can host.


“I’ve found some towns do not return map results for local queries. I believe it’s because of their small size. What do you do in this scenario?”

Don’t neglect your Google+Local page, citations, reviews, etc., but start going more after organic rankings for those search terms that aren’t returning the Google+Local (AKA “maps”) results.


“What’s the best way to start cleaning up your citations after you move to a new address?”

Start by fixing your listings on,,  Those take the longest to digest updates, so you’ll want to fix them ASAP.  Then do CitySearch,, and Yelp (if possible; it’s not always).  Then move on to your other citations, referring to my list, and/or with the aid of Nyagoslav’s excellent guide to citations.


“Most of my patients live in an adjacent city to where my office is.  I bought a couple domains that include the name of the nearby city that my patients live in, and then I forwarded those domain to my main site.  Can I expect those forwarded domains to rank well in the organic search results in the nearby town?”

No.  This isn’t an approach I’d suggest.  I haven’t seen forwarded domains in the search results recently, so I’m not even sure Google will rank the forwarded domains at all.  (If someone has a definitive answer to this, please chime in!)  But it’s almost certain not to work in a market that’s even a little competitive.  Having a search-term-relevant domain alone just isn’t enough.  Probably your best bet (1) to start doing AdWords, (2) or to create some pages (on any of your domains) that are geared specifically toward patients in that nearby city.


“If I’m targeting nearby cities to try to get organic results for my local business, do I need a separate website for each city I want to be visible in?”

No.  You can have separate websites for each city, but in most cases I wouldn’t recommend building them, because it’s hard to do so without being spammy.  You’re probably better off creating unique pages on your current site for each city (see previous question).


“What specific steps do you use to determine what is causing your competitor’s website to rank above yours (if it is) in the Google organic results?”

That’s a very involved question, and this is a “lightning round” :)  But if I had to distill it, I’d say that there are 5 main diagnostic questions you’ll need to answer:

1. Which specific pages are outranking yours, and for which search terms?

2.  How do their pages differ from yours?  Do they have a lot of meaty, useful, on-topic information on the pages that are ranking well – whereas maybe you only have a paragraph?  Try to compare apples to apples.

3.  Do your pages seem significantly more “SEO’d” than your competitors’?  If you’ve got spun content, exact-match anchor text out the wazoo, keywords stuffed into every nook and cranny of your site, etc., then your competitor may be outranking you simply by not making rookie mistakes.

4.  What do you see when you do an OpenSiteExplorer checkup on them?

5.  How unique and helpful are your competitors’ pages?


I wrestle with understanding organic listings.  Searching for a dentist in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there are 7 organic listings . Do how does Google determine who is on this list? There are some dentists with no Google Plus local reviews above others who have 7 reviews.  I just don’t understand this.”

That doesn’t sound quite right: It’s usually 7 Google+Local listings:

But I can say that reviews are one factor among others – the main others being  (1) your Google+Local page, (2) your website, and (3) your citations.  Need more detail?  Take a gander at the Local Search Ranking Factors :)


“What’s the best way to handle multiple categories (e.g. kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, basement renovations)?”

There’s not much of a “trick.”  Just specify them on your Google+Local page, onyour Bing Places listing, and on your third-party listings.  Follow Google’s guidelines and my best-practices for categories.


There are several services for citation submission. Yext comes to mind. It would seem that a service that does the bulk of the submission work would be useful, but that each listing would need manual tweaking. Is that your experience too? Do you have a preferred bulk submission tool?”

Yext is good in certain situations.  But you’re right that you also need to do at least some manual tuning-up of your listings.  No tool eliminates that necessity.


We have several new clients and although a listing appears when you Google their name, nothing appears in any other searches.  When should a new listing appear in keyword searches?”

Totally depends on how competitive the local competition is for those search phrases.  It can take months and months.


“What are you seeing in terms of search volume for searches of keyword-only vs. keyword + city?  I know Linda Buquet has talked about seeing more search volume for keyword-only and I’ve also seen this now for a few AdWords clients I have, where it’s about a 2-to-1 for keyword only vs. keyword + city.  So aside from AdWords is there a way to rank for those searches, since keyword-only is mainly going to show businesses close to searchers’ IP location?”

It’s pretty much always the case that “keyword” has more search volume than “keyword + city.”  But you shouldn’t be using different strategies to get visible for each type of search term.  If you rank well for “keyword + city,” you’ll usually also rank well when people in that city just type in “keyword.”  Google will show those people local-biz results that it deems to be local.  So the name of the game is to make it abundantly clear to Google what city you’re located in.


“What do I do when a company I am working with on advertising wants to use a telephone number other than the one we use on citations?”



How do I break out of my immediate area to target a “region” or state? CAN it be done with Local?”

Sometimes it’s possible to appear for statewide search terms (e.g. “dentists MA”) in the Google+Local results.  This great old post from Mike Ramsey explains it nicely.  But you’ll probably have better chances of ranking for statewide searches organically.


Google+Local questions

“Is Google+ Local ready to go yet?”

Are we ready to terraform Mars?  Have we built a Commander Data?  No…Google still hasn’t finished the transition from Google Places to Google Plus.


“Does it improve rankings to create a Google+ Local page for your company and then ‘merge’ it with Google Places?”

Not to my knowledge.  I’ve noticed that businesses with “merged” pages tend to rank more highly, but I think that’s only because their owners tend to be proactive about their local visibility in general.  So I’d say there’s correlation but not causation.


“I’ve got a client that has a spa.  She’s got like 8 rooms for tanning, sauna, etc.  She’s renting one room to another business that does a related service.  I’ve instructed my client to NOT share the phone line and instead to have the new person get a new line.  I’ve spoken with the other business’s web guy and we seem to think that two businesses in the same suite – for example, suite #200 –should be fine if the business is different and the phone is different.  What’s the best way to have two or more businesses listed at the same address?”

If they are legally separate businesses, then you’re taking the right approach.  They’ll need separate phone lines, DBAs, and websites – but this is a matter of course if in fact they’re legally separate businesses.


“How should you handle a relocation?  Do you shut down the current Google+ Local page and create a new one?  Or do you edit the address to the new location?”

I believe the protocol du jour is for you to edit your address to the new location.  Mike Blumenthal has a fairly recent post with more detail.


“The ‘city centroid’: Does this still carry a lot of weight in rankings?

It depends on a lot of factors, but in general, not really.  The main thing that matters is whether your business is located in (or extremely near to) the city you want to rank well in.


“How can I get my location to rank if I’m on the outskirts of town but still in the town?”

Depends on what you mean by “outskirts.”  If you’re in the ‘burbs, your best bet is to go after organic rankings.  But if you’re truly located in the city proper, it’s still the same ballgame to rank well in the Google+Local results, and you probably won’t be at any disadvantage.


“My client has 17 locations and can’t use the main corporate site as a hub.   They’ve been building citations where the “website” field contains a URL that forwards to the sister-site of the corp brand.  On this sister site they have the locations broken down into microsites (not pages).  Their Places pages are pulling the corp site info.  Long story short: how do you build a campaign when you have to use a forwarding URL?”

You don’t.  Using a forwarded URL shouldn’t be a problem as far as your citations are concerned, but that URL needs to match the URL of your Google+Local landing page – and Google will probably whack you for using a forwarding URL.


“When I search for “orthodontist” within my zip code, an orthodontist colleague of mine has the first two of three positions in the Google+Local results.  I occupy the third position.  How does a duplicate listing get ranked above my listing?”

If the website for the practice is strong (i.e. lots of relevant content, maybe some good links), probably both Google+Local listings are benefiting.  If both listings have been around for more than a couple of years, there’s also a good chance that they both have consistent info on their citations.  It may also help if both listings have reviews.


Where is the link under the 7 pack that says “View more local results”?  How do I view page two now?  Is there a page two anymore?  I have a few clients that were happy to be on page two (very competitive markets), so now what do I tell them?”

The “more” link is gone.  No page two unless you click on the “Maps” tab – which also appears to be under the blade.  Tell your client…


“What your business is moving, do you update all other listings first and then Google+ Local, or the other way around?”

Update your listings first, and then (once you’ve moved) update your Google+Local listing.


“If you have two locations, do you link your Google+Local pages to your homepage or to landing pages on your site?  The idea being to optimize chances to get two pages to rank for queries: one next to the map and one in the standard results.”

Generally speaking, it’s best to use a different page of your website as the landing page for each Google+Local listing (that is, each location of your business).


“Google seems to have made changes lately.  What are the main changes in a nutshell, and what should be our response be, in terms possibly doing local SEO differently?”

1.  Better tech support (in that now it exists).

2.  New listing-manager rolling out.

3.  No page two.

No need for you to do SEO differently.  It’s still the same ingredients that go into the rankings burrito.


“I created a Google listing about 5 months ago.  I filled out the description, images, videos, categories, etc.  We have done all the possible citations. A lot of work.  We even paid for a “virtual tour” (which I thought Google would like and see as a “trust factor,” as you need to pay for it).  We already have 9 reviews.  However, we are still not on page one.  Our competition is not SEO-oriented and does not do much in that regard, but they still appear before us.  I know it takes time to get to page one, but still it looks to me that something is wrong here.  What am I missing?”

You somewhat answered your own question: local rankings usually take a while.  If you’ve truly got the citations under control – a big “if” – then I’d really suggest trying to get reviews on a diversity of sites (e.g. not just Google, not just Yelp, etc.).  Beef up your third-party listings (AKA citations) with as much additional info on your services as you can.  If possible, start blogging – but only if you do it according to Matt McGee’s suggestions.


“How do I handle the sale of a business that has been located at one address for 15 years, but that gets bought by new ownership, resulting in a name change?”

Update the business name on as many sites as you can, and as quickly as you can.  Update your Google+Local listing, too.  A good starting point would be to focus on the listings you see when you do a scan.  Once you’ve done that, scour the Web for listings with the old name, and try to get those fixed or removed.  Your rankings may very well take a hit in the short-term, but they should be fine in the long-term if you’re diligent about cleanup.


“My business is listed #1 in the local results for one search term, but number 4 for another, and not even in the top 7 for another popular search term.  How do I push my listing up in the cases where it’s listed lower?”

Ask every customer for a review, make sure your third-party listings have plenty of info (e.g. descriptions, categories, etc.) on the services you’re not ranking for, and crank out some good blog posts or articles that someone looking for those services would find useful.  Above all, take it slow and easy.  You seem to be on the right track.


“I received my PIN in the mail and entered it to verify my Google+ Local page.  The PIN was verified, now a few days later it’s no longer verified.  Should I request another PIN?”

Yes.  Assuming you know for a fact that your listing is 100% kosher according to Google.


“I know a landscaper who services a region that includes 4 cities. However, his office is in a rural location.  Can he use Google+ Local to get listed for any or all of the cities? Technically he sometimes meets clients at his office but normally he would travel to the customers’ homes to meet them.”

If he has one location, then he can have one Google+Local listing (not 4), and he’ll have to “hide” his address.  He may or may not actually rank well in all 4 cities – depends on a lot of factors – but if he’s met the two conditions I mentioned, at least it’s possible he’ll rank well in a good chunk of his service area (especially if it’s a rural area).


“Why would a verified Google listing (confirmed via phone or postcard) show the “We currently do not support this location” error?”

Sounds like the listing has been pulled for a violation or due to a bug.  Not much you can do about the latter.  But if you suspect the former, read Nyagoslav’s great post on troubleshooting.


“Your post on city pages, will that get me listed in Google Plus local?”

No.  It’s focused on “localized organic” rankings.


“I assume the ‘upgraded’ Google+ Local page is one in which the social and the local are combined?  I’m still lost on how this works (maybe everyone is…?).”

Correct.  Pretty soon (I hope) everyone’s Google+Local page will be upgraded to have all the “social” bells and whistles.  But, for the time being, some pages have all the features of Google+, whereas others don’t.  (More info on the differences here.)


“My main question has to do with a business with multiple listings.  How do you approach getting them set up on Google Plus local?  Do they need a separate listing for each location?  How do you handle citations for them?”

Yes, each physical location can have its own Google listing – and each Google listing must correspond to a physical location, or you’ll incur the wrath of the Google Gods (and rightfully so).


You don’t have to do a bulk upload.  All the listings don’t even need to have been created in the same Google account.  For instance, if it’s a franchise and each franchisee wants control of his/her listing, the listings can be created and/or claimed through different people’s Google accounts.

There’s no way to do the citations “in bulk.”  It’s number of locations multiplied by number of sites you want to be listed on.  Ideally you have a separate landing page URL for each location / Google+Local listing; if that’s the case, then put that URL in the “website” field on each citation site.


If you’re using a home address for your Google listing, can you rank well in a fairly competitive market?”

Sure can.


“I have a client that has a law practice with 2 distinct NAP’s, websites, and categories (ne is for DUI defense, the other is criminal defense).  That is, they have 2 local phone numbers, 2 registered business names, 2 websites, and 2 different suite #s, out of 1 main office location.  Will Google+ Local ding one listing or the other, given that both practices are housed under the same physical address?  (Again, there are 2 different suite #s.)”

If they are two officially, legally separate practices, then you’re fine.  But if it’s one lawyer who runs one practice but wants to have two Google listings for rankings purposes, then one or both listings may very well get penalized.


“When you choose a category from within the Google Places editor, what are your thoughts on choosing a custom category?  I have read many blogs saying you should only choose defined categories, yet, if I decide to go with a specific custom category I get a lot of impressions, whereas no other defined category would cause these impressions for a particular keyword.  I experimented removing the custom category and only having defined categories and this caused a considerable drop in impressions.  So is it OK to go with a custom category, or am I risking longer term damage?”

Google seems to be phasing out custom categories. Still, custom categories can really help your visibility, provided you follow some guidelines.


“I integrated Google Places into Google+ Local as a verified Local Business.  This now offers me to choose categories in Google+ Local within the “Edit Business Information” screen.  Yet I can still choose categories within my original Google Places dashboard.  I am confused by the two different places to edit categories, and I am reluctant to add categories within Google+ Local, since, it appears my Google Places Dashboard categories are working really well.  Do I risk damaging my rankings by fiddling within the Google+ Local categories?  Or, should I duplicate the categories from Google Places Dashboard here?”

Your current setup sounds fine.  I’d leave it as-is.  You’re not going to hurt your rankings by adding relevant categories on the Google+Local side, but I wouldn’t say you need to.  Google’s categories will be a mess – rather, a two-headed monster – for at least a little while longer.


Review questions

I have had 9/10 reviews filtered on my Yelp site.  How do you make them stick?  I have heard that if your customers aren’t active on Yelp their reviews get filtered.”

There’s nothing you can do to make more reviews stick.  What you heard is correct.  The best thing to do is to ask your customers up-front whether they’re already active on Yelp.  Yelp doesn’t want you even asking – let alone encouraging – customers for reviews.  So to the people you know to be active Yelpers, maybe you can suggest or intimate that you would not be entirely averse to their possibly considering posting a review ;)  For everyone else, I suggest you follow my “zigzag” approach.


“Is there ANY way to change the review filter on Yelp?  (They have an odd way of only showing the majority of the bad reviews up front, even if someone has a majority of good reviews).”

No, sad to say.  See previous answer.


“Aside from Google+ and Yelp, what other website should clients write reviews on?”

CitySearch, InsiderPages, and Yahoo are my picks.  If there are any sites specific to your industry, try to scare up reviews on those as well.


“I want to appear on Google as one of the sites on the search map.  I have my site tuned up, filled out, but still don’t appear there.  Does it really just come down to the number or reviews a site has?”

Reviews are crucial, but other factors matter quite a bit.  It’s not enough to have a “filled out” site.  You also need to put a lot of elbow grease into citations, for one thing.  Although sometimes local rankings are a game of inches, more often they depend on how well you apply the fundamentals.


“Is Google going to integrate reviews from Google+Local with AdWords in the next 12 to 18 months?”

No idea.  I’m not sure anyone knows.  I do know that if you’re on AdWords Express and if you have Google+Local reviews from customers, the reviews will show in your ad.  But AdWords Express isn’t as effective as classic AdWords, so it would be nice to see some integration there.

Misfit questions

“How does having a mobile website affect Google rankings?”

I don’t believe that it does affect rankings – at least not directly.  But having a mobile-friendly site may help indirectly, because visitors are less likely to bounce and are more likely to “engage” with your site and maybe share it socially.  Those things can help your rankings.


“What do you think about paying for Yelp ads?  The lowest the rep quoted was $200 a month.  We have a small business and an even smaller advertising budget!”

I think it’s worth testing, with two caveats:

(1) See how many of your competitors are using it, and how many businesses like yours in other cities are paying for Yelp ads.  That will give you a sense of whether anyone in your line of work might be making money from Yelp ads.

(2) You’ll need to lay some groundwork first, by beefing up your Yelp listing as much as possible, applying at least a little conversion-rate optimization to your site (no point paying for ads that lead to a dog of a site), and doing what you can to encourage Yelp reviews.


“I know a high-end hairdresser who is already ranking high – and three times – on most targeted keywords: Once with AdWords, once in organic, and once in the local results.  How do you get more new customers into the door when you seem to already catch all the search traffic you can possibly get?”

Never ease up in your efforts to get reviews from as many customers as possible, and from as many different sites as possible.  Make your site as “sticky” as humanly possible.  Fill it with your knowledge.  Also, I’m a huge fan of CrazyEgg and Qualaroo.


“Is it possible to correct bad SEO – e.g. mass linking with poor anchor text on low quality blogs?”

Absolutely – assuming you completely stop the bad SEO practices that got you into hot water to begin with, and assuming you then make an effort to stand out in some way, be it through tons of reviews, tons of helpful and relevant info on your site, etc.


“Some service businesses & contractors work out of their homes but don’t want their homes listed publicly on the internet.  What’s the best way to handle this?”

Read my two posts on the topic:

Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?


“How can I know if my web site is effective at making people take action? Lately we are getting very few calls but our analytics are showing about 10-15 views a day.”

It’s hard to know.  Your site shouldn’t try to “make” people take action.  It should answer their questions.  That’s the most important thing.  Aside from that, I can’t get into heavy-duty CRO here, but one piece of low-hanging fruit is to make sure you’ve got your address and phone number (and maybe email address) on every single page, above the fold.  Also, as I mentioned before, CrazyEgg and Qualaroo are tools that can help you learn more about your visitors and tailor your site to their needs.


Is it important to embed other maps besides a Google Map on the website?  (Like one from Bing?)”

Nah.  Embedding even a Google Map on your site isn’t necessarily “important”: it’s mostly a convenience for visitors, and it’s just another little way to convey to Google that you’re local.  But no need to add a Bing or MapQuest map or whatever.

“There are a lot of differing fields that you can / have to fill out on the various citation directories. Is there a universal form to fill out?”

No, although I do have a questionnaire (the second of two – here’s the first) that I ask my clients to fill out.  I’m sure I could improve it, but it covers the bases pretty well.


“What is a “reputation management” account – as it relates to Dex or other yellow pages companies?”

A rip-off.  Just set up some Google Alerts and If This Then That alerts, and check on the main review sites from time to time.


“I do my own local SEO. Often in verification calls I get a lot of sales pitches.  One last week asked whether I wanted to “renew my subscriptions” and then when I said no told me they were going to send the bill “for the previous year.”  What’s up with that?”

Sounds like a typical shenanigan.  If you’ve never paid that site for advertising, there’s no way you’re on the hook for anything now.

You’ll get a decent number of sales pitches when you list your business on a lot of these third-party sites.  It may seem like a Faustian pact, but it’s a small price to pay for being listed on sites that, ultimately, help your local visibility.

Huge thanks to everyone who sent in questions.  You rock.

Let’s keep it going: Do you have any quick questions for which you just need quick answers?  Throw me a comment!

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Why Slow Local SEO Rules

In local SEO, sometimes slow is fasterHikers know that the best way to avoid dehydration is to drink water before you’re thirsty.

Engineers say a project can be “good, fast, or cheap – pick any two.”

I say local SEO can bring you more customers without breaking the bank…especially if you can work on it slowly, if you start before you’re desperate for business.

In most cases it’s inevitable that growing your local rankings (particularly in Google) will take a while.  Good results and more customers can never come too soon.  It’s frustrating to be patient.  (Hey, I should know.  I’m an Aries :).)

But I suggest you work on your local visibility even more slowly than you’re inclined to.  If at all possible, you should consider intentionally take a long time (say, 6-12 months) to work your plan.

Slow-but-steady local SEO is underrated.  People tend not to consider a few advantages it has over a “hustle” approach:

Advantage 1:  You’re less likely to have trouble with duplicate Google listings.  There are a few major sites that feed Google info on your business.  If your listings on those sites isn’t accurate, sometimes Google will automatically create additional listings for your business based on the (mis)information on those “trusted” sites.  Those usually hurt your rankings.

It’s easier to prevent those listings from popping up in the first place than to play the whack-a-mole game of trying to get the unwanted Google listings removed, only to have them reappear later because Google is still being fed incorrect info.  But it takes time for those major sites to start feeding your info to Google – usually 2-3 months.  So you’ll want to take the time to square away your listings on these sites first.

Advantage 2:  A slow approach makes your customers’ reviews more likely to stick.  Not all your customers will review you.  Many times your reminders to them will go in one ear and out the other, or sit in their inbox, or sit on the kitchen table.  So it’s going to take you a while to build up a good base of reviews on Google+Local and third-party review sites.  But here’s the kicker: if you rush the process and ask too many customers in too short a spam for reviews, their reviews are more likely to get filtered on sites that have (overly) strict review filters – namely Google+Local and Yelp. If you want your customers’ reviews to see the light of day, err on the side of asking a handful of customers each week, and keep it up indefinitely.

Advantage 3:  You can commit to building up the amount of helpful, useful content on your site without feeling like it’s “all or nothing.”  In some markets a good, active blog (or routine article-writing) can help you pull ahead in the rankings – in addition to helping anyone who visits your site.  But that’s not going to happen if you write or shoot videos furiously and then stop because nobody seems to notice.  Of course they won’t – at first.  It takes time.  However much time you spend on creating helpful content, make sure it’s something you can stick with for months or years. Otherwise don’t even bother.

Advantage 4:  It’s less stressful, daunting, and frustrating.  I say this for the reasons I already mentioned, and for the reason that It may actually mean you can do all the local SEO yourself without having to delegate to someone in-house, hire a third party, or give up.

If good old Jared Fogle was told he’d have to shed hundreds of pounds in the span of a couple months, he’d probably have OD’d on arugula or impaled himself on the wreckage of a stationary bike he sat on.  But trading in a Big Mac diet for a Subway diet was at least doable and seemed to work for him, although I’m guessing it took a while for him to go from XXXXXL pants to an XL.  Don’t embark on something you can’t stick with.

Advantage 5:  If you don’t rush, you’re less likely to make mistakes and to have to redo your work.  It’s Murphy’s Law.

Advantage 6:  You’ll be able to spend more of your time cultivating other sources of customers.  You never want just one source of new customers – be it Google+Local visibility, or AdWords, or Facebook ads, or word-of-mouth.  Google is unpredictable.  Being visible in Google+Local is essential, but you’re taking a risk if you spend all your time on it.  At the very least, you’ll want to be not just listed but visible on other sites. But the more doorways customers have into your business, the better.

Advantage 7:  Anyone you hire for help with local SEO will be eternally in your debt, to the extent you’re fine with a relaxed pace.  I’m grateful to my clients for so often giving me the time and breathing room to do what I’ve got to do.  It helps me help them.

I realize all of this may sound abstract, despite my getting into the details.  What do I mean by “slow”?

Well, it’s time for a little story, to illustrate an extreme example of slow local SEO that worked out well.

My second client ever – let’s call him Bryant – had a business located on the outskirts of Austin.  He wanted to rank on the first page of Google’s local results in Austin for a couple of very competitive search terms.

Bryant’s wasn’t even a “service area” business: His customers came to him, through the front door of his home – no doubt occasionally tracking dog doo on his carpet.  I told him that in a walk-in industry like his he was probably a bit too far from central Austin to be considered a “good match” by Google, but I said I’d do what I could.

We made a little progress over 4-6 weeks, but I couldn’t get Bryant to where he wanted to be.  This was in late 2009, when local SEO generally was simpler.  The steps we took were good, but there’s more I’d do and more I’d suggest if I had to do it over again.  But I was too much of a newb to know and tell him that we’d need to give it at least a few more months for the work to pay off.  Bryant was disappointed, and we parted ways.

On one or two occasions during 2010 and 2011 I checked on his rankings for the main 2-3 search terms– just out of curiosity.  He still wasn’t there.  But then about a month ago something reminded me of his situation, and I caved to my curiosity and checked on a couple of his rankings for the first time in about 2 years.  Alas, he was (is) ranking right where he wanted to be – after more than 3 years.

I’m sure Bryant didn’t completely sit on his hands during all that time.  A quick look at his Google+Local page told me he’d racked up an OK number of customer reviews.  On the other hand, his site was untouched – exactly the same as before, and still not very good.  He could probably make even more progress with just a couple hours of further work.

The bottom line is that Bryant started to work on his local search rankings when he wanted more customers but wasn’t absolutely dying.  It took 3 years for him to get good results, but he got them.  He gave it time.  At the very least, that meant he didn’t constantly meddle with his Google listing or look for shortcuts.  I’m guessing that also helped his citations to grow naturally.

I’m not saying it will take you 3 years to get from where you are to where you want to be.  You can get visible in much less time and still be taking your sweet time.  There’s an ideal middle ground: It’s called “slow and steady.”

My suggestion is very simple: go slowly if you can.  Don’t hammer away at your local SEO campaign every single day.  Maybe every week or two (?).  Also, take time to read about it (as you’re doing now – good job!).

Sure, work on your local visibility today.  Do some work now.  But consider doing it more slowly than you might be inclined to.  It can be faster than doing it the wrong way and having to redo your work.  Slow is the new fast.

Any reasons you can think of to go slow?  What’s your approach?  Leave a comment!

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What Matt Cutts Says about Local Search

The Most Interesting Head of Google Webspam TeamI tip my hat to Matt Cutts.  The man has a tough job.  He has to explain to SEOs, webmasters, and business owners why their websites suck and shouldn’t rank well in Google.

Cutts is good at his job, and I get the sense he loves it.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes even he feels like Al Bundy at the shoe store.

Organic SEOs follow him more closely than the tabloids follow J. Lo.  Some of them pose stupid questions and try to get Matt to reveal more about Google’s “secret sauce” than he can (or should) reveal.

Matt Cutts doesn’t talk much about local search.  Nor do we local-search obsessives pester him to do so.

But Phil, if Cutts doesn’t talk about local search, why are you even bringing him up? Especially when the people in charge of Google Plus, umm…Google Places, uh…that Google local thing usually tell us what they recommend business owners do?

Well, Gentle Reader, I bring up Cutts because occasionally he does say something relevant to Google’s local search results – and to the question of how to rank well there.

Although the people “in charge” of Google+Local surely have their hearts in the right place, they pretty much just regurgitate Google’s “Quality Guidelines.”  Usually all we come away with is a tessellated picture of Google’s rules, and not much else.

True, Cutts also rehashes Google’s rules a lot, but sometimes he also yields more real-world, usable insights.  Those are what I’ve tried to round up in this post.

We local SEOs have many best-practices that we preach.  If you know these best-practices and follow them, great.  But if you don’t, at least see what Matt Cutts says.


People’s Exhibit “A”:


  • You can’t just “target” any city you’d like.  Location matters.  Even if a city is in your “service area,” you can’t necessarily get visible in the local search results there if you’re not located there.  That can be a tough pill to swallow, but for better or worse, that’s how it is.


People’s Exhibit “B”:


  • (5:55) “Make sure you have your business name and your address on your webpage.”  This matches what some of us wrote in 2012’s Local Search Ranking Factors – about how your business name / address / phone needs to be on every page of your site.
  • (9:00) Flash or Javascript navigation links/buttons can hurt the crawlability of your site.  (This isn’t a problem specific to local SEO, but given the importance of on-page factors to your local visibility, it’s certainly a problem that can hurt your rankings.)


People’s Exhibit “C”:

SEO Advice: Make a web page for each store location


  • Each location/branch of your business should have its own webpage.  “If you have a lot of store or franchise locations, consider it a best practice to 1) make a web page for each store that lists the store’s address, phone number, business hours, etc. and 2) make an HTML sitemap to point to those pages with regular HTML links, not a search form or POST requests.”

(Minor point:  Marking up your name/address/phone with microformats and the like isn’t a bad idea; see the comment from well-known local SEO-er Martijn Beijk as well as Cutts’ response.)


People’s Exhibit “D”:

Matt Cutts and Eric Talk about What Makes a Quality Site


  • (About 3/4 through interview)  Cookie-cutter pages are bad.  That is, if you have pages on your site that “target” a particular city, those pages shouldn’t be near-duplicates of each other with just the city names swapped out.  (Yes, yes, I know that sometimes pages like these can rank pretty well, but if you have them there’s a good chance you’ll get whacked by Google sooner or later.  But hey, it’s your website, your business, and your choice.)


Finished going through my CliffsNotes?  I suggest you also read the above posts and watch the videos in full, just for that extra bit of context.

If Cutts’ suggestions were news to you, great: you should now have a better sense of what Google is “looking for” when deciding where to stack you up in the local rankings.  If they weren’t news to you, then they should reassure you that your approach to local SEO is solid and not likely to get you whacked in any way by Google.

Have you run across any posts or videos featuring the Word of Cutts that I missed?  Leave a comment (and a link)!

P.S.  Wouldn’t it be cool if MC stopped by and commented on some of this?  :)

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