Good Ways and Bad Ways to Save Money on Local SEO

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Some business owners say things like, “I don’t have enough budget for local SEO.”  You may not have money to waste on work that doesn’t work, and you may not have the budget for all the conveniences you want.  But the basic activities you can always afford, if you make the right decisions for the right reasons.  Half the battle is not wasting money on stuff you don’t need, so that you have some left over for what you do need or really want.

Below are (in my experience) the bad ways and the good ways to try to save money on your local SEO effort.  I want to emphasize that they are general rules.  I don’t know your exact situation.  Sometimes your money is well-spent on something I don’t think is useful for most people.  Sometimes you don’t need and wouldn’t benefit from a tool or service I recommend to most people.  Sometimes you’re so short on time that your least-bad option is to farm it out.  And so on.

Bad ways to save money on local SEO

1. Moving to a cheaper or free website platform just because it’s cheaper or free. I won’t name names. But I will say that whatever money you save on upkeep you’ll probably lose (many times over) because you can’t make basic changes easily, or because you can’t make certain improvements at all.  Probably won’t work out the way you want it to.

 

2. Buying spammy links. May help your rankings short-term, until it doesn’t or until Google whacks you.

 

3. Working with an “SEO copywriter.” Sounds better than “professional keyword-stuffer.” You’ll end up with a site that’s optimized only skin-deep, and copywriting that makes you sound as exciting as a three-bean salad.

 

4. Buying Fiverr.com gigs of any kind for SEO-related work of any kind.

5. Working with a cheap (usually local) company.

6. Using a “listings management” SAAS solution (e.g. Yext) rather than pay for one-time manual work on your local listings. (I’m talking about services that claim to take care of pretty much all your listings. Those are different from, say, Moz Local, which often is a good way to take care of a few listings that are a pain to deal with manually.)  Hiring an outfit like Whitespark to create, correct, and de-dupe your listings usually isn’t cheap, but unless your business info changes you’ll only need to do it once.  (Even then, because you’ll have the logins to most of your listings, making changes will be easier.)  If you cancel a listings-management service, many of your listings at some point will revert back to the way they were before you signed up.  Also, many directories that matter (especially “niche” sites) aren’t covered by the listings-management service, so you’ll need to do or pay for some amount of manual work anyway.  Listings-management software can be useful if you’re a big organization with a ton of locations.  Otherwise, “renting” your listings yearly soon becomes more expensive than getting manual work done once.

7. Glad-handing experts in the hope you’ll get free advice and won’t need to pay for any help. People with expertise tend to be in-demand and a little guarded with their time. Aside from not wanting to be known as a tightwad and avoided as one, you run a couple of risks: You risk getting boilerplate advice that isn’t specific enough for you to act on, and you risk getting advice that’s based on a poor understanding of your situation.  That advice can mess you up, even if it’s from a great source.

8. Requesting a bunch of proposals just for the free input on your situation. Same issue as in the last point. RFP abusers don’t come away with much.

 

Good ways to save money on local SEO:

1. Do your own local SEO, or as much of it as you can. (That’s where an in-depth audit can help.) Even if you do only a couple of steps, you’ll make it easier to hire competent helpers later, because they won’t need to be good at quite as many things.  You’ll also want your sea legs in case the company you hire doesn’t work out, in which case you are your plan B (at least temporarily).  It’s possible you might even take a little satisfaction in it.

 

2. If you need to get third-party help, consider hiring a website developer and a stunt pen (“content writer”) or copywriter, rather than a marketing agency. With specialists often it’s clearer exactly what you’re paying for, because the scope of work is tighter and there’s less overhead. You’re less likely to pay for the catered lunches, the beanbag chairs, and the bathroom janitor.

3. Keep only one site or very few sites. If one site doesn’t rank, put time into developing it and earning links to it rather than into squeezing out another site that doesn’t rank. Five sites that almost perform don’t get you anywhere.  Five Pacers don’t equal a Mercedes.

4. Let your site develop a fine crust. A font you can’t shrink or an image you can’t align is not an emergency. Unless your site is so hard to navigate and use that you know you’re losing business, an ugly site is not why you’re struggling, so you can deal with it once your dance card is fuller and you’ve got more budget.

5. Skip reputation-management tools, unless maybe the one you want to use is supplementary to a review strategy that’s worked for you. If your whole review-encouragement strategy is to use software, you may get good results, but more likely is that would-be reviewers still ignore you. The basic issue is that most customers can tell when they’re asked for a favor by a piece of software rather than by a person they recognize.

6. Run a feeler AdWords campaign for a week rather than use keyword-research tools or SEO tools that require a monthly subscription. The difference is you can see what people do search for, rather than what they probably search for. You’ll be amazed at what you see in an AdWords “Search Terms” report and in other reports, even when you run ads just to glean data and not necessarily to try to get customers.

7. Eschew paid third-party tools in general. (I’d probably make exceptions for Ahrefs and Mouseflow, though.) Focus on building up your internal resources.

8. Skip paid local-business and industry directories. Unless you have reason to believe your listing or ads bring you customers or some other clear benefit, paid-inclusion directories are a slippery slope. Before you know it you’re shelling out for 10 of them every month.

9. Don’t get BBB-accredited just because you think you’ll get a link. These days, for better or for worse, you won’t get a link that helps you. (There are other reasons to consider getting accredited, though.)

10. Don’t pay for LocalEze. I say that not because that data-aggregator isn’t important, but because usually you can take care of your listing(s) there by using Moz Local or by using a citation-building service that has an API relationship with that site and others.

11. Avoid or wean yourself off of listings-management tools (e.g. Yext). Ideally you work on your listings in-house. The second-best option is to get manual work done once and be done with it.

 

12. Minimize the number of SEO consultants you use. Maybe get a second opinion every now and then, but don’t hire 7 different people. You won’t develop a good strategy by United Nations resolution.  If none of the SEO people seems good, don’t settle for the least-bad of the bunch.  (In that case, consider doing at least some of the work in-house.)

How have you saved money (or blown money) on your local SEO effort?

Have you had success with any of the practices on my “worst ways to save” list?

Leave a comment!

Is Your Local SEO Person Shell-Shocked, Gun-Shy, and TOO Afraid of Angering Google? How to Avoid the Phobias

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SEOs often have a hard time with moderation.  They tend to sit at extremes and take an all-or-nothing approach – to getting links, building citations, creating “content,” jamming keywords into pages, and so on.  If they were actors, they’d be William Shatner.

 

You can have too much of a good thing.  Most SEOs take practices that are good in small amounts and overdo them.  Some of the most cautious, by-the-book SEOs I’ve known once had a black hat or a gray hat, until Google penalized their sites, or until the overplayed strategies just stopped working,

Some SEO practices get an undeserved bad rap.  I think that’s mainly because some people have overused or abused those practices, and because most other people aren’t sure what’s “just right” and what’s too much, and don’t want to make a judgment call (especially with clients’ sites).

Some caution around those practices is good, but you shouldn’t be so cautious you don’t go anywhere near them.  That’s why I’ll refer to them as phobias.

Below are 10 practices I’ve found to be good in moderation, or in certain cases, or both.  The underlined parts denote my advice.  By the way, in case it’s not obvious, I want to stress that all of this is based on my experience as a full-time, long-time local SEO dweeb – on what I’ve seen work and not work.

 

Phobia 1: “Having lots of internal links is spammy.”
If they’re heavy on exact-match anchor text, or aren’t relevant to what’s on the page, or you’d waste a visitor’s time if he or she clicked on them, then I agree: You don’t want those.  But if you’re hyperlinking a search term you’d include on the page anyway, and the page you link to also is relevant and useful, then I say pile on the internal links.  I’ve found that beneficial for rankings, at least for my clients, and especially when trying to get subpages to rank in the organic results (as opposed to the homepage / Google My Business landing page in the 3-pack results).

 

Phobia 2: “Even footer links to relevant pages are spammy.”
Same response as to phobia #1: how you do it is what matters.  The type of footer link I recommend most often is a short-to-medium list of links to the pages on your most-important services (or products).  Maybe 5-20 of them, though having more is probably fine.  (If clients’ competitors and other sites are any indicators of what’s OK, then Google’s pretty forgiving even of spammy footer links.)  I’d put only the name of the service, and not include the city name in the anchor text of every link.

 

Phobia 3: “Don’t describe the service area in the footer, because that’s spammy.”
Then that’s pretty ineffective spam, because you won’t rank in all the places you mention in your footer.  You probably won’t even rank in half of them, especially if you serve a large area, and especially if you’re in an industry with a high density of local competitors (e.g. roofing).

So why do it?  Well, besides the possibility that it may still help you a little even for competitive terms, I suggest you specify your service area (or a partial one) on every page for two main reasons.  One is to make it clear to people (not Google) that you serve their city or area.  (You can’t assume they’ll go to your “Areas Served” or “Locations” page, or will want to.)  The other reason is that it does seem to help you rank for niche terms, especially in cities/towns where the density of competitors is lower.  At least for niche terms, Google doesn’t need much content to grab onto to (1) understand what you offer and (2) where you offer it.

 

Phobia 4: “Why should I describe the service area on the homepage if I have a ‘city page’ for each place?”
Because some people may want to know what your service area is.  Also because – at least in my experience – the homepage often is more likely to rank for any given search term (and for a wider variety of terms) than “city” pages and other subpages are, if the guts of the homepage make it clear what you offer and where you offer it.

Just stuffing keywords and place names onto your homepage usually isn’t enough to rank for much.  (You’ll probably also need some links from solid and relevant sites, for starters.)  But if you don’t even mention basic points like where you work, Google won’t necessarily play gumshoe, especially if your competitors have made their service areas clear everywhere.

 

Phobia 5: “Why would I link to other sites and risk bleeding off PageRank or looking spammy to Google?”
I’ve never seen that it matters either way, much or at all.  Most of my greatest-hit, most-visible posts include links to relevant other resources, and that’s also true of many of my clients best-performing pages and (sometimes) blog posts.  Does a page or post do well because of the outbound links?  I doubt it, if only because that’s too easy, and too easy to overdo at the expense of users’ attention spans.  Don’t link to another resource just because you think Google likes that, but because you think that resource is useful for your visitor.  If your page is less useful because it doesn’t lead anywhere else, it’s a dead end, and is less likely to get links or anything else that Google pays attention to.  That can limit its rankings eventually.

 

Phobia 6: “‘City’ pages are doorway pages, and doorway pages are spam, so you shouldn’t create ‘city’ pages.”
Don’t belch out pages full of boilerplate, that say nothing more than “Pay us, pay us, wherever you are.”  Create pages that show people the experience you’ve got in their city or town, or that explain why you’re in a uniquely good position to help them.  Even great “city” pages shouldn’t be your whole strategy for ranking in more of your service area, but they can be part of your strategy.

 

Phobia 7: “Play it safe and don’t let title tags go over 70 characters.”
Usually the concern is that Google will truncate a long title tag and only show a piece of it in the search results.  But that concern isn’t too applicable these days, because most of the time Google rewrites your title tags.  It dynamically generates what it “thinks” your title tag should be (based on the search term) and shows its preferred version in the search results.  Like speed limits on the road, the title tag you specified is just a suggestion.  That’s how Google handles it, anyway.

I wouldn’t let a title tag run on for 300 characters, and I’d still think hard about what to put in it.  But I’ve have never seen that pages with title tags longer than 70 characters do any worse in the search results, and many of them perform just fine.

 

Phobia 8: “Those pages need to be under a subdirectory, like ‘/services’.  It’s not OK for subpages to be at the root level.”
I’ve seen both rank just fine – on my clients’ sites and on others’ sites.

If you’re putting up a new batch of pages, or a new site, or redesigning your site, and it’s relatively easy to stick your pages under a relevantly named subdirectory, then yeah, I’d probably nest the page in a subdirectory.

But if you’ve got a page that ranks OK at a URL like yoursite.com/nameofservice, I wouldn’t change it to yoursite.com/services/nameofservice or yoursite.com/doctors/nameofdoctor  just because your person says it’s a “best-practice.”  That’s unlikely to bump you higher up page one, and it’s not worth needing to mess with your 301 redirects, or having to fix broken links,  or both.  Separate the SEO from the OCD.

 

Phobia 9: “We want the homepage to load faster, so it’s never OK to add something that may slow down the load-time.”
Too many SEOs have a fast fetish.  They won’t add the perfect photo because of its file size, or embed a YouTube video because of its iframe, or install a useful plugin because it’s another plugin.  If speed was the most important thing, Amazon’s homepage would be the fastest of all, but it’s not.  Customers need stuff to look at and interact with.

 

 

Fast-loading pages should always be a consideration and a priority, but not the only consideration or only priority.  Always see what you can cut, but that doesn’t mean you should cut everything or never add anything.

 

Phobia 10: “Don’t keep pages or posts that rank for irrelevant terms.”
Keep them around for long enough to try squeezing some benefit out of them.  I’ve had success with that on occasion, but I’ve never just deleted pages and seen the remaining pages move up.  As far as I know, you don’t get points for perfect tidiness.

 

What’s an SEO practice that gets a bad rap, but that has helped your local visibility?

Was there a time you flew too close to the sun?  What happened?

Leave a comment!

Hit Blog Post but No Local Traffic or Rankings? 7 Ways to Make That Post Help Your Local SEO Effort

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You heard you were supposed to blog or pump out other “content.”  You heard Google likes it, or local customers like it, or you can earn some links from it.  At least one of those things didn’t turn out as planned.  Now it all seems like a big waste.

But your toil in the sun did yield at least one post that may not have been a complete waste.

You can’t tell whether you’ve got a single customer or phone call or link out of it, and pretty you’re sure it hasn’t help you rank for any local search terms you care about.  But it does seem to account for a good chunk of your traffic, so you have reason to believe something is there.

Blogging seems too much like a hamster wheel for you to stick with it much longer, but you want to squeeze some benefit out of that one hit, if possible.  How can you use that one solid blog post to help your local rankings a little or to help you rustle up a few more local customers?  Below are 7 ways (most of which I’ve used to good effect for clients):

1. Put a call-to-action at or near the top of the post. Gear it to locals – people who could become customers. Consider making the call-to-action big and shameless.  Not only might that bit of content help you pick up some local organic rankings, but also any customer you get out of the deal might eventually review you – which also helps your local SEO in a variety of ways. What about the non-local readers?  Well, people who want only to read the post can keep reading easily enough.

2. Plop down internal links to relevant pages on your site. Any time you mention a service, product, location/city, or even an FAQ entry or other blog post, link to it. One recurring problem I find is a weak internal-linking game.  Outside of the main navigation menu, often there aren’t many trails of breadcrumbs to pages the site owners want people to see.  Also, I’ve found that generous internal linking can help rankings pretty significantly, in particular if your site already isn’t brand-new and has at least a few solid inbound links to rub together.  Don’t be heavy-handed, but do use a butcher’s thumb.

 

3. Analyze the stuffing out of your post with Google Search Console and Mouseflow. The former will tell you (among other insights) exactly what terms your post ranks for and gets clicks from. The latter will show you (among other insights) video replays of specific visitors’ browsing sessions, allowing you to see exactly how local visitors behave on your post.  You’ll get a sense of what brings local people to your blog post, which can tell you how to get more people like them and what you should ask them to do.

4. Create spin-off pages. Let’s say you’re an auctioneer and you’ve got a blog post with good visibility and clicks (according to Search Console) for a term like “selling Barber Quarters,” even though your post is about “appraising early 20th Century US silver coins” and only a section of it is about Barber Quarters. In that case, make a page all about Barber Quarters.  Make it clear to local readers that you can auction their coin collections.  Link to the new page it in your hit post and elsewhere on your site.

 

5. Make a “local” version of your post. (Preferably it’s a page or a YouTube video, or it could be another blog post.) Let’s say your one hit is a post called “Accused of Feline Theft: What to Do Now.”  Now consider putting together a page called “Accused of Stealing a Cat in Wisconsin: Local Laws to Know.”  You’ll get all the local cat burglars who need legal representation.

 

6. Or add a “local” section to your post. Same idea as what I described in point #5. You’d opt for this if you don’t think you’d have enough to say in local-specific spin-off version of your post.  By the way, it’s fine to add to or update your blog posts well after the publish date.  It’s not an anachronism; it’s a service to the reader.  (I even do it from time to time.  Hope you didn’t notice.)

7. If the post received some good inbound links, use it as a temporary link magnet: later on you transplant its content into another page, and 301-redirect the post URL to the page URL. I don’t expect you’ll have too many occasions to want or need to do that kind of footwork. But you’ll want to consider it if eventually you have a “money” page that you really want to benefit from the links your post has, and if you don’t think the post’s content would look to weird as part of that page.  (Of course, the reason you haul over the content is so the people who linked to the post don’t remove the links because the page you redirect to isn’t relevant anymore.)

I’d still suggest most of those practices even if you’ve got several relative “hit” blog posts, or if blogging or other content-creation consistently works pretty well for you.

Which of those suggestions has helped you turn a solid blog post into local SEO/marketing mojo?

Do you have a blog post that you wish you could translate into some local visibility?

Any strategies I didn’t mention?

Leave a comment!

Hermit Crab SEO: a Google Maps Ranking Tactic That Should Not Work

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“Hermit crab SEO” is my name for the local SEO tactic of moving to a new place of business, creating a Google My Business page at the new address, and leaving up your old Google My Business page (which still uses the old address) until Google removes it or your body assumes room temperature, whichever comes first.

The idea is to get both (or several or many) Google My Business pages ranking, or at least to keep one ranking while you do what you can to float up the other(s).   Like the hermit crab, you move to a new shell.  But unlike those scrappy little guys, you still benefit from the old shell, and you don’t have that vulnerable period when you’re between shells and a bigger critter can eat you.  To use old addresses as empty shells is safe.

It probably shouldn’t be safe, though.  Hermit crab SEO is against the Google My Business guidelines in multiple ways, particularly in the guidelines that say your address should represent your “actual, real-world location,” and that service-area businesses should have “one page for the central office or location and a designated service area.”  Whether your business is bricks-and-mortar or service-area, you’re not supposed to dot the local map with GMB pages that use addresses where someone else now works or lives.

Still, I know for a fact that it’s possible to maintain Google My Business page at an address you haven’t been at in years.  (Don’t ask exactly how I know.)  Unless maybe you’ve got overlapping service areas or use the same phone number, it’s unlikely your new page or your old page automatically will run into problems.

But Google still does the rounds to make sure everyone’s GMB address is inhabited, right?  Wrong.  At least I’ve never seen anyone comb the beach and tap on the shells.

 

That’s the task of people who do what I call “spam patrol”: do-gooders and business owners (or their SEOs) who want to make competitors work for any Google Maps rankings they get.  As I’ve written, Google has crowdsourced most of its Maps / 3-pack quality-control to you and me, giving us little besides the “suggest an edit” button.

The trouble is Google often can’t tell the good “suggest an edit” edits from the bad, so most legit edits aren’t accepted, or take too long to get accepted, or get accepted and are immediately undone by the business owner.  It doesn’t help that Google now allows anyone to “hide” his or her GMB address simply by removing the address after the page has been verified, so often there’s no way to tell what the real or current address is.  Because you can’t get the address changed, you need to try to get the page removed.

Which “Remove this place” option do you select?  I’d go with “Spam, fake, or offensive,” because in my experience Google’s most likely to approve that option.

But is it a “fake” address?  If you’re Google, that depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.  A business once did exist there – and apparently still does if you’re Google and you take into account the address listed on the other sites in the local search ecosystem, and perhaps on the business’s website.  The business itself still exists, of course.  Perhaps it even runs PPC ads for that location and gets a steady stream of customers who write 5-star reviews.  You and I know the old GMB page shouldn’t stay put, but Google sees all the right signs of life.

What can you do about hermit crabs?  Pretty much only the aforementioned spam patrol and maybe asking for volunteer beachcombers.  Even then, the tactic is hard to detect, especially if 5 of your competitors slip in 1 extra “location” apiece, rather than 50 no-longer-inhabited GMB pages.  I wish I had some surefire suggestions.  You’ll probably get some of the shells tossed into the water, but not all.

To what extent is “hermit crab SEO” a problem in your local market?

What have you tried that’s worked – or hasn’t worked?

Leave a comment!

How to Move Google Reviews between Google My Business Pages Far Apart

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Believe it or not, Google’s pretty good about transferring Google Maps reviews from one GMB page to another.  It’s hard to tell that from Google’s guidelines, which have a dash of Justice Stewart:

“If you’ve made changes to your business, your existing reviews may be kept, moved, or removed from your listing, depending on the situation. Business reviews are useful only when they’re relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. If there are significant changes to your business, reviews may be removed if they’re no longer relevant to your business.”

(Emphasis added.)

As usual, the rules seem broad on purpose, so Google can decide when reviews are relevant to the new location.  Google reserves the right to say that a bricks-and-mortar business moving from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon can’t take its reviews on the chuckwagon ride, because too much about the business will have changed.  If you own a bricks-and-mortar business and want to transfer your reviews to a new GMB page, you can assume Google at least takes into account how far your new location is from the old one.  That makes your transfer request a leap of faith.

But distance doesn’t seem to matter if you run a service-area business and want to move your reviews.  If you ask Google to “merge” the old GMB page into the new one, you can send your reviews to Timbuktu.  (The term “merge” isn’t used in Google’s guidelines, but that’s how the GMB support team refers to what you want in this case, which is for people to be redirected to your new GMB page when they search for a term that used to pull up your old GMB page.)

I know that because a client of mine moved from Miami to Los Angeles a while ago, taking his home-based business with him.  He kept the old GMB page up for a while, while he got settled into the new habitat.  Once it was clear he no longer needed the Miami GMB page for any reason, he wanted to get his Miami reviews transferred to his LA GMB page before closing down his Miami page.  That’s where we had to contact Google My Business support.

There was some back-and-forth, but because my client runs a service-area business (so there wasn’t a change of physical office or storefront), and because we wanted to remove the old GMB page, Google moved every single review over to the new GMB page.  It didn’t matter that the reviews flew 2500 miles in the process.

To me, it makes sense that distance doesn’t matter much or at all if you want to move reviews from one service-area Google My Business page to another.  The office or store or other physical location itself usually is a factor in people’s reviews of bricks-and-mortar businesses: it’s hard to park at, or it’s overheated, or it’s overrun by cockroaches, etc.  Factors like those aren’t applicable to a service-area business, so they don’t change even if the business owner moves far away.  The old customers’ experiences are relevant to what customers in the new area can expect.

It also makes intuitive sense to me that you’d need to get the old page merged into the new one.  Otherwise, some business owners would try to shuffle reviews back and forth between GMB, which could get confusing for customers.  Also, the alternative is for Google not to let the old Google reviews see the light of day, which isn’t ideal for you or for customers in the new area (who want more info on your business rather than less).

Thanks to Russ Hartstein of Fun Paw Care for his first-hand intel.

What’s been your experience in trying to get reviews moved from one GMB page to another?  Leave a comment!

10 Better Ways to Do Keyword Research for Local SEO

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3 main problems with most keyword research methods, especially for local search:

  • They tell you what searchers search for, but not what customers search for
  • They rely too much on third-party tools
  • They give you analysis paralysis

Most people’s keyword-research strategy is this (more or less):

  • Use the “Keyword Planner” in Google Ads
  • Use a third-party tool (e.g. SEMRush) to sniff around
  • Type search terms into Google and see what autocomplete belches out
  • Type a term into Google and see how many millions of search results Google touts for that term
  • Study competitors to get a sense of the keywords they abuse like rented mules

That approach – or some variation on it – isn’t terrible.  It has its place in the world, and some good resources (like this and this) can walk you through it.  It’s better than nothing, and usually it’s a good way at least to get your sea legs.  But it’s still stuck with the problems I mentioned a minute ago.

How do you pick?  How do you avoid analysis paralysis?  How do you tell a high-volume search term from one the most-relevant or best-converting term?  What if you don’t want to use only third-party tools?  How do you tell what customers really care about?

You need crunchier intel – either in addition to or instead of what you dig up with conventional methods.  At the very least, you need intel that can serve as a tiebreaker, to help you decide which specific search terms (or families of search terms) should be your highest priorities.

Below are 10 straightforward ways to research the local search terms that matter to your business.  I’m irritated by tutorials that are so step-by-step you never even finish reading them, and sometimes I over-explain things, so I’ll keep these points brief.  (Please let me know in the comments if any could use more explanation.)

1: Your reviews.  You don’t want more people to find you; you want more people to pay you.  In most cases, your reviews were written by people who paid you.  Mine those reviews.  Pay attention to the exact words those people use (especially if you know that they first found you online, rather than came to you through a referral).

2: Competitors’ reviews.  Similar reasoning as in point #1.  In many cases your competitors’ customers are the same as or much like yours – in terms of needs, knowledge, search habits, and so on – but they just hired the wrong company!

3: Non-competitors’ reviews.  I’m talking about businesses in your industry that aren’t in your immediate area.  You don’t wrestle with them in the local rankings, so you never or rarely see them, but you should go out of your way to study their reviews.

Whereas probably only a couple of your local competitors are good, if you look farther away you can find plenty more businesses high up the food chain.

4: The “Acquisition -> Search Console -> Landing Pages” area in Google Analytics.  Read my post on the topic.  You’ll probably find that you rank for (and get clicks for) terms you didn’t know you ranked for, because you don’t track them or check on them.  You may also find terms for which you already rank well, but want to get additional pages also to rank for those terms.  There’s no end to what you can find in there.

5: A “feeler” AdWords campaign.  The idea is you set up a Google Ads campaign (search network, not display) strictly to get data.  You don’t expect it to bring you a single customer, so maybe you run it only for a couple of weeks before pausing.  You scour the “Keywords -> Search Terms” report to see which exact terms people actually searched for, which often aren’t the exact terms you bid on.  You mine the data in “Reports -> Predefined reports (Dimensions) -> Locations -> User locations” to see exactly where people searched from – where the “hot spots” are.  If you get some business from your Ads campaign, great.  The data alone is worth at least few hundred bucks.

6: Google My Business “Questions & Answers.”  Not everyone who asks a question in there is a customer, but most of those people aren’t just casual browsers, either.  Look at competitors’ Q&A sections, too.

7: Names of Google My Business categories.  Just log into your GMB dashboard and sift through the list.  The phrasing of categories isn’t arbitrary.  When you research the terms a competitor uses, you learn from people who may have less intel or worse intel than you have.  When you research the terms Google uses, you learn from a Borg cube with more data than you can imagine.

8: Names of categories used in local directories and in directories big in your industry.  I’m talking about Yelp and YP, but I’m also talking about HealthGrades, Avvo, Houzz, TripAdvisor, and similar sites that cater to specific industries.  They’ve probably thrown more time and money at research than you have, and they have more data than you have, so at least see what phrasing they use.

9: Customers’ emails to you, especially their initial inquiries. Or call logs, if you record and transcribe calls. (A great point that Tony Wang mentioned in his comment.)

10: Wildcard searchesCheck out my 2015 post on wildcard searches.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a variation on the typical strategy of “type stuff into Google and see what autocomplete shows,” but at least you’ll probably see some search terms your competitors probably missed.)

What do you do with good search terms you dig up?

For starters:

  • You’ll probably want to create a page on each specific need or search term you unearthed (although that mostly takes care itself if you have an in-depth page on each specific service and/or product you offer, as I always suggest)
  • You’ll probably want to mention those needs / services / products on your homepage.
  • Consider adding to existing pages a section on whatever high-payoff search term you just learned about. You might phrase it as an FAQ, and put your answer right underneath (maybe with a link to a whole page on it).
  • Encourage more reviewers to go into detail. Don’t push keywords on them, though.  Most people will mention relevant search terms naturally, when their reviews are more than tiny blurbs.

Any great, less-obvious local keyword-research methods I overlooked?

Which methods have worked best for you?

Any questions about how to use what you find?

Leave a comment!

Google Maps Reviews Now Include “What Do You Like About This Place?” Prompts

In what is at least a test, Google now asks Google Maps reviewers to select attributes they like about the business they’re reviewing.  When I went to post a review yesterday, Google asked how I liked the “Quality,” “Value,” “Responsiveness,” and “Punctuality” of the business.

I haven’t been able to replicate that for other businesses, including for other businesses I’ve reviewed since that review.  So I also don’t know whether there are other attributes (e.g. “Reputation,” “Convenience,” etc.) that may show up under the “What Do You Like About This Place?” header, or why certain prompts might show up for one business and not the other.  I’ll need to see more to say more.

The prompts are very Yelp-like.  For many years Yelp has asked reviewers structured questions like those (e.g. “Price” or “Good for Groups”).  Google could use that info in all kinds of ways, most obviously in the search filters in Google Maps. It’s also possible that Google doesn’t care much whether reviewers click the attributes, as long as they see the prompts. In that way, maybe Google simply wants reviewers to sprinkle in more crunchy bits of detail.

Regardless of whatever way(s) Google wants to use those prompts, it’s probably a good idea to have your reviewers spoon-feed that stuff to Google.

 

Then there’s the “Tip: Let others know about the service” prompt, which may be a test or a new feature.  Thanks to Colan Nielsen for the intel (see his comment) and for the screenshot.

Have you seen the “What Do You Like About This Place?” questions when you post a Google review?  If so, when did you first notice it?

Any theories on how Google is most likely to use reviewers’ answers to those questions?

Leave a comment!

The Local SEO Data Jackpot You Missed: Google Analytics – Search Console Integration

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If you’ve never done so, log into Google Analytics, then go to “Acquisition,” “Search Console,” and “Landing pages.”  There you’ll find a mashup of (1) Google Analytics data on landing pages and (2) Google Search Console data on how specific pages perform in the search results.  Whether you do local SEO yourself or you do it for clients, you’ll the usefulness of that data in pretty short time.

You’ll need to integrate Google Analytics and Search Console first, but that’s easy, and you may have done it already.

I haven’t heard my fellow local SEOs talk about this tucked-away area in Analytics.  Not sure why.  (Maybe they did and I missed it.)  It’s an area I overlooked until more recently than I’d like to admit.  People outside of local search have discussed the Analytics – Search Console tie-in a bit (and Search Console alone to a greater extent), but not how it can benefit your local SEO campaign.

Click to enlarge

In case you’re wondering, the info you see in Search Console is not the same.  You can see a page’s click-through rate and number impressions in Search Console (“Performance” -> “Pages”).  But those metrics aren’t paired with the useful page-specific metrics you see in Google Analytics, like bounce rate, pages per session, and conversion rate, etc.   You can get similar insights by looking at Search Console and Analytics separately, and not using the integration, but that’s a hassle.

The big, obvious benefit of the Analytics – Search Console mashup is that the metrics are in one place: you don’t have to flip between Analytics and Search Console.  That’s convenient.  It also lets you sort and filter your data easily, if you want or need to.  That’s good whether or not you do local SEO.

But the GA-GSC integration is uniquely useful if you do local SEO, for reasons that include:

  • You can see how many queries contain a city name or other place name. That means less speculation on which terms your visitors typed in, and gives you a better sense of where they’re located.
  • You can identify which specific pages are chopped liver in the search results. (High impressions + low CTR.)  That will tell you which title tags and description takes may need a facelift.
  • You can tell whether your “city pages” amount to a hill of beans, or not even that. You’ll determine whether to continue or scrap that strategy.
  • If you’re multi-location, you can see which “location” page gets the most or fewest clicks (and impressions). Of course, you can map that to whatever you know about which location does worst or best in terms of getting new customers.
  • You can compare what you see in the Analytics-Search Console mashup to the data you see elsewhere: AdWords “search term” reports , Google My Business “Insights,” and any rank-trackers you might use, to name a few examples.
  • You can see how many of the queries that get people to your landing pages in the organic results also cause the local 3-pack to show up. Do you appear both in the organic results and on the map for that term?  If not, should you make your GMB landing page a little more like the one that ranks in the organic results?  Lots of questions to ponder, depending on what you find.
  • It seems to have more-complete data than what Search Console alone has. If you go into Search Console (under “Performance” -> “Pages”) you may see performance data only on a few pages.  Whereas the “Search Console” -> Landing pages” VIEW in Google Analytics may pull in data on more of your pages – more pages than you’d see data on if you just stayed in Search Console.

By the way, here’s another fun area in Analytics: “Acquisition” -> “Search Console” -> “Queries” -> “Term cloud” -> “Impressions.”

We all know Google’s propensity to kill off useful features and to make useful data harder to get at, so feast on this while you still can.

 

Anyway, you don’t need more advice from me on why you’ll find that data useful, or on what to do with it.  Just go check it out.  Again: Google Analytics -> “Acquisition” -> “Search Console” -> “Landing pages.”

Any useful resources other people have written on this (especially from a local SEO angle)?

When did you first stumble into the Analytics – Search Console integration?

What are your favorite insights to dig out?

Leave a comment!

Hardest Truths of Google Maps Spam

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It’s hard enough to keep a lid on competitors’ Google Maps / Google My Business spam.  That’s even harder if you don’t know what to expect, or or if you give up because you assume you’re doing it wrong. It’s easy to get your spirits crushed.

As with Google reviews, you know Google isn’t too concerned about Maps-spam in general.  You probably also know at least the basics of what I call spam patrol: You identify competitors who have violated the Google My Business “quality guidelines,” and you submit edits in Google Maps, in the hope that Google will correct or remove those competitors’ spammy listings.  (As I always say, if competitors are to outrank you, might as well make them work for it.)  The post I linked to describes the basic process, as does this great guide.

You’re probably less clear on what to expect if you start or continue an anti-spam effort.  How long will you need to do it?  How often?  Will it get easier?  When will Google approve your edits? What will Google tell you?  When are you wasting your time?  And so on.

Here, in no particular order, are a few things I’ve observed about Google Maps spam and the kind of anti-spam effort you might undertake:

1. Google has crowdsourced pretty much all of its quality-control to you, me, and any oaf who can set up a Google account.  Anyone can lay a hand on anyone else’s page.  We’re all prisoners in gen pop.

2. To the extent rules ever are enforced, Google also has crowdsourced most of its enforcement to Top Contributors / Product Experts at the Google My Business forum.  Those people are volunteers, with the patience of oysters.  I suspect more people have set foot on the moon than are paid to keep Google Maps clean.

3. Google will never approve all of your edits, no matter how right you are. You’re lucky to get a third of your edits approved.

4. Google never seems to take leaps of faith on edits submitted by users who have consistently submitted edits that Google ends up agreeing with.  The spammer gets the benefit of the doubt.

5. Google won’t tell you when your edit is rejected.

6. Google won’t tell you why your edit was rejected.

7. Google won’t tell you when to expect a decision on your edits.  Sometimes it takes 30 seconds.  Sometimes it takes 2 months.

8. Google doesn’t automatically or instantly approve edits it had already approved before being counteracted by a spammer.  If I keyword-stuff the name of my business, and you get the keywords removed, and I add the keywords back, you may have to wait again for Google to approve your edit (assuming Google approves it again).

9. There’s no discernible penalty for repeated offenses on the same Google My Business page.

10. Nothing prevents the same offender from putting up the same spammy page in a different Google account.

11. Google doesn’t give you a way to dispute a rejected edit.  You can plead on the GMB forum, but again, that’s staffed mostly by volunteers, and competitors can crank out spam faster than those volunteers can review it and possibly take action on it.

12. Google doesn’t give you a “comments” field or another way to provide evidence to back up your edits.  Google does give you the option to upload photos as evidence, but those photos will be publicly visible under whatever name you use on your Google account.  Also, maybe you just want to provide a link to the business’s state Secretary of State filing, for example.  No can do.  (There is this new-ish form, but I have not seen or heard that it helps at all.)

13. Google doesn’t tell business owners and other spam patrollers that their edits are anonymous. Because of that, many business owners don’t send in edits that they’re right to submit, for fear of reprisals.

14. By the same token, if you’re NOT spamming and competitors submit malicious edits on your Google My Business page, you won’t know who’s done it.

15. You don’t have much or any extra sway if you use AdWords to advertise on a phrase that’s being spammed by competitors. Determined spammers often can get for free what you have to pay for.  Whether they get any customers out of the deal is another question.  The spam often doesn’t pay off.  Just the same, Google lets them step on your Capezios.

16. In my limited and imperfect testing, advertisers are more likely to get away with Maps-spamming.

17. If you fix a keyword-stuffed or fake name of a business, the performance-enhancing effect will linger. The page will still rank – at least for a while, if not long-term.  My hunch is that if a Google My Business page with a spammy name ranks for long enough, it gets enough clicks from searchers that Google concludes it must be a relevant result.  There’s a fake-it-’til-you-make-it effect here.

18. The less info is on or associated with a GMB page, the harder it is for Google to determine whether your edit is correct, so Google is even less likely to fix the page. That’s especially the case when the “website” field is blank.  Google’s bots or staff can’t look at the site to confirm or falsify what’s on the GMB page, so you’ll usually end up with a hung jury.

19. Google seems not to know or care what kind of address a given address is.  To Google, nothing is inherently odd about a personal-injury law firm that shares an address with an Arby’s, or an excavation company with a fleet of 12 Komatsus in a high-rise apartment building.

20. In your Google My Business dashboard, you can’t reject edits definitively or easily. When you log in, you may see Google’s “suggestions.” Often those are from other users’ (probably competitors’) edits on your listing. You can reject one at a time, but they keep popping up. That’s a royal pain, especially if you manage many GMB pages. (Thanks to Justin Mosebach of Improve & Grow for mentioning this one in his comment.)

21. Review spam is the least-monitored of all types of spam, and often the most damaging.  Spammy Google My Business pages may outrank you, but they can’t tell lies about you.  Unpoliced Google reviews can do that and much more.

22. You’ll need to patrol the map and make edits for as long as you’re in business.

Any first-hand experience you’d like to share?

What are other hard truths you’ve observed about Google Maps spam? (I know I forgot something.)

Leave a comment!

10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

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There’s no shortage of info on the “ultimate” local SEO audit, and on all the checklist items big and small that people insist should be in your audit.  But there are two intertwined problems:

a. Good SEOs aren’t necessarily good at doing audits.  Most audits are overblown and disorganized.

b. Their audits often are tough for clients to act on, mostly because of how the recommendations are presented.

Whether you do your own local SEO and want to check everything out for yourself, or you’re in-house, or you’re a full-time professional SEO, your first concern should be whether you’re looking at all the moving parts.  An excruciating checklist for the website is fine, but not if you skip (or skimp on) the other parts that matter.

If you want to bake a pie, the place to start is not necessarily with granny’s super-secret recipe that took 50 years for her to perfect, if only because it’ll probably take you 30 years to get it right (if you ever do).  You’d probably prefer just a solid, straightforward recipe that you can make well today and tweak until it becomes your secret recipe.

I’ve done a lot of local SEO audits, and more often than not my clients act on the recommendations and get results.  In either case, they always understand my recommendations, partly because I structure my audits in a simple way.

Here are the 10 basic sections I usually put in a local SEO audit:

1. General comments.  Exactly how it sounds.  Any commentary you have that isn’t an action item should probably go here.  My “general comments” section is maybe half a page long.  In it, I also specify any quick wins, to the effect of, “If you do nothing else today, here are the 5 most-urgent suggestions to do.”

2. Google My Business.  Where you give your recommendations on your client’s GMB page(s), and maybe on features you think he or she should use (e.g. “Posts“).  Here’s also where you should identify any duplicate GMB pages and tell your client what to do about them.

3. Other listings (AKA citations).  I put the citation audit in a separate spreadsheet, separate from the main write-up, so this section is pretty lean.  I include any color commentary here.

4. Anti-spam.  I identify specific competitors who are spamming the local map, I explain what they’re doing, and I offer general suggestions on “spam patrol.”

5. Reviews.  In a separate spreadsheet I’ve got a “review audit,” which shows the top 8-12 review sites that matter to the specific client.  The spreadsheet also outlines my suggestions on where to focus on getting more reviews and on how to prioritize.

6. Link opportunities & strategy.  My audits include research into specific link opportunities that are realistic for the client (based on his/her answers in a questionnaire I send), and I include those link-opps recommendations in a separate spreadsheet.

7. Website: site-wide and technical.  This is where I put my suggestions on internal linking, standardizing title tags, site structure, how to improve page speed, and much more.  My audit includes several sections of website recommendations, and this the first section.

8. Homepage.  I’ve found that the homepage is important enough to call for a whole section of the audit, partly because I tend to have a lot of suggestions on the homepage.

9. Other pages.  Here’s where I put any recommendations on existing pages other than the homepage: “Services,” “Products,” “Locations,” “Service Area,” etc.  I also weigh in on concerns like whether the site has blog posts that would be better off as pages.

10. Pages to create.  This tends to be a long section, because most businesses’ sites don’t have nearly all the pages they should have, so I end up recommending many specific new pages.

Most audits I do consist of those 10 sections – give or take one or two, depending on the business.  As you can see, I didn’t tell you all the things I suggest go into each bucket, but rather the main buckets I suggest.  What you put in each bucket depends on what works for you.

Also, I always include a follow-up call to discuss any recommendations my client may want to discuss more.  I don’t consider that a section of the audit itself, but it’s an important part of the service.

Any sections I missed?

How do you structure your local SEO audits (either for a client or when reviewing your own SEO campaign)?

Leave a comment!