When Can Google Maps / GMB Content Cause Google Ads Disapprovals?

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Any restricted terms that find their way into your website’s source code can cause Google to disapprove your Google Ads (AdWords) ad – even if you didn’t personally add that content to your site.  That’s the short answer.

“Banned” terms that show up on your Google My Business page (like in your description) or on Google Maps (in the form of Google reviews) won’t prompt Google to pull your ads, as long as that content stays on your GMB page(s) or in your reviews.  You run into trouble only if a person or piece of software puts even one of those restricted terms onto your site.

 

By the way, I find it tiresome to call them “restricted terms” or “disallowed content” or whatever constitutes Google’s huge no-fly list of search terms in AdWords.  So from now on I’ll just refer to them as BAdWords.

Beware review widgets – at least the kind that “streams” online reviews (like Google Maps reviews) and sticks them onto your site in any way.  That was the toe-popper one of my clients and I stepped on recently.  The widget automatically embedded the content of my client’s patients’ Google Maps and Facebook reviews onto his site.  The content of the reviews wasn’t visible ON his site, but the widget would update the star rating and review count as patients wrote new reviews.  I never cared much for the functionality of that widget, but it didn’t seem to do harm, so we kept it around on the site.

This particular review widget wasn’t a problem for several years, until a patient mentioned a certain medical procedure by name in his (5-star) Google review of my client.  The BAdWord in this case was the name of a therapy that everyone has heard of, but that some people have held objections to for many years, and that some shady characters have given a bad name in recent years.  Places like the Mayo Clinic (what do they know?) offer the procedure, but that didn’t matter to Google.  Soon after the patient wrote the Google review, the widget picked it up, the BAdWord showed up in the site’s source code, Google detected a BAdWord in the source code, and 11 of our ads went to nap time.

The solution was to remove the review widget.  If you run into the issue I described, that’s probably the solution for you, too.

Also beware the difference between what’s indexed in Google and what’s in your site’s source code.  A “site:” search operator won’t necessarily turn up the phrase(s) over which Google has pulled your ads.  The source code can contain a BAdWord that isn’t in Google’s cache, but that the Ads department knows about anyway.  I found that out when a site:exampleclientssite.com search didn’t turn up the BAdWord that caused our ads to be pulled.  It was only when I viewed the source code that I found the term in the review widget that pulled in the Google reviews.  So if you’re a “local” business that just got hit with an AdWords ad disapproval you can’t figure out, and you’re checking your site for BAdWords, don’t assume a site:yoursite.com search will turn them up.  You’ll need to scour your Google Maps reviews, too.

By the way, this isn’t too related to GMB or Google Maps, but also beware your outbound links.  One of the BAdWords that caused Google to disapprove my client’s ads was in the URL slug of a site my client linked TO.  In other words, Google didn’t like the name of a page on a site we linked out to.  For Google, everything in your site’s source code is fair game, and one BAdWord anywhere can trigger a disapproval.

 

If you’re corresponding with a Google Ads support rep (as I imagine you are), be sure to ask for the specific pages on your site where restricted terms supposedly lurk.  Then view the source code of those pages.  From there, finding the culprit should be pretty easy.

Once we got rid of the review widget that pulled the BAdWord into the site, and we removed that one pesky outbound link, Google reinstated our ads (after some back-and-forth, of course).  Didn’t change a thing on the Google My Business side.

The link between GMB / Google Maps content and Ads disapprovals is your site.  Any GMB / Maps content that doesn’t find it’s way onto your site (destination URL) won’t result in an Ads slap.  I can tell you first-hand that including restricted terms in your Google My business description and “services” section doesn’t trigger a disapproval.  I assume that is also true of GMB “products” and posts, though I haven’t tempted the gods by testing out either of those.  BAdWords in Google Maps reviews also don’t trigger ad disapprovals – again, as long as those reviews don’t make it onto the website you use for Ads.

What about location extensions?  Enabling those can get your GMB page into the “paid 3-pack,” courtesy of Google Ads.  In that way, you’re pretty clearly associating your GMB page, Google reviews, website, and ads with each other.  You’d think location extensions would instantly trigger an ad disapproval, but they don’t.  At least in my experience so far.  So even if your GMB page or Google reviews mention Ads-disapproved terms, you don’t have to turn off your location extensions in Ads.  Again, Google only cares what’s on your site and in your ad text.

Last but not least, a Google Ads disapproval won’t cause a Google My Business suspension or other penalty.  Of course, it’s always possible to do something that’s against both Ads and GMB policy (like promoting an illegal product or service), in which case maybe you can manage to get yourself in trouble in both places.  But a Google Ads slap by itself won’t provoke a GMB slap.

 

As Google continues to smoosh pay-per-click and GMB together and push more “local” businesses into advertising, I expect more business owners to run into infuriating problems like this one, where you’re in the odd position of being able to promote a service or product on GMB but not in Ads, or vice versa.  On the plus side, I’ve long found the Ads support staff generally helpful , whereas GMB “support” ranges from useless to nonexistent.

Have you run into any Google Ads problems that seem to tie in with GMB, or vice versa?  Leave a comment!

Google Local Services Reviews Not Showing in Google Maps? Why That Happens and What to Do

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Many businesses use Google’s Local Services Ads (AKA “Google Guaranteed”) program to show up at the very top of the local results – above all the other ads, and above the local map (AKA the 3-pack).

Local Services Ads (LSAs) are still not an option for every business, and they’re not a good option for everyone, but they often earn their keep for the businesses that do use them – if my clients’ experiences are good indicators.  By which I mean people see the ads, click on them, and in some cases become customers.  (If you’d like to know more, Tom Waddington did a great overview of LSAs.)

Google even makes it extra easy to ask customers for reviews: Google gives you a special “write a review” link (different from the Google My Business one) and encourages you to use it to ask for reviews.  If you use that link or otherwise encourage your LSA customers to review you within the LSA interface, you’ll get reviews that show up with your ad.  Those reviews are great, as far as they go.

The trouble is your Local Services reviews don’t show up in Google Maps.  Even though your Google Maps reviews show up just fine in your ad, so you assume they’re the same thing (“a Google review is a Google review”).

You can be pretty sure you’ve run into that problem if the number of reviews you see in Google MAPS (including the right-hand sidebar) is lower than the number of reviews you see in your Local Services Ad.

So, for instance, if your ad says you have 35 Google reviews, but your Google Maps review count shows only 25 reviews, then now you know why: About 10 of your customers wrote a review exclusively in Local Services Ads (probably from your custom link), rather than on Google Maps for everyone to see.  Now would-be customers see those 10 reviews if they click on your ad.

Especially in these tough times, you need all the reviews and local SEO mojo you can get, you want would-be customers to see all your good reviews, and you’d like to minimize the amount you need to pay Google along the way.  What in tarnation is going on?

It’s not that your reviews have been filtered, or you did something wrong, or your customers/reviewers did something wrong.  Rather, LSA reviews and Google Maps reviews are not the same thing, and they don’t end up at the same place.

 

The buckets are only somewhat separate, because Google pulls customers’ Google Maps reviews into your ad and counts those reviews toward the total number displaying in your ad.  So in that sense there’s overlap: a review that someone wrote you in Google Maps shows up everywhere, including in your Local Services Ad. 

Why doesn’t Google simply pull LSA reviews into Google Maps, or just have ONE kind of review?  I wonder the same thing.  My guess is it’s some combination of 3 reasons:

1. Reviewers’ privacy. Maybe someone is willing to write a review of a Local Services Ads business, but doesn’t want his or her review to show up publicly on Google Maps and in his or her Google user profile. Google needs to balance privacy (so they don’t get sued more) on the one hand with monetizing reviews on the other hand.  If Google accepts business owners’ advertising dollars, tells them to ask for reviews, encourages customers to click on ads because of those reviews, and then makes it hard for customers to write reviews or makes them squeamish about it or filters the reviews, then that’s a problem for everyone.  Having reviews that show up only in Local Search Ads is a compromise.

2. Google probably wants to make the LSAs slightly more attractive to click on by making the total review count higher. If a customer who’s shopping around can see 25 reviews of a business or see 35 reviews of the same business, which set of reviews probably gives him or her a better snapshot of the business? I’m guessing the bigger pile of reviews gets the click much of the time.  If the person who clicks the Local Services Ad ends up booking the service via Google, of course Google gets a cut of the transaction.

3. It’s an engineering problem built up over time. Google Maps reviews were around long before Local Services Ads. Starting when Google introduced the latter in 2015, Google has had to slide the ads into the search results to do a long-term test, without screwing up the local results so much that nobody uses them or wants to advertise in them.  Also, because of that, most businesses’ Google reviews were and are left in Google MAPS, and not through Local Services Ads, yet somehow Google has to make the review count in LSAs higher than the one in Maps.  That’s why they’re not two completely separate buckets of reviews.  Eventually, if more reviews are left through Local Services Ads than in Google Maps, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google concludes, “Cool – the LSA reviews aren’t the runt of the litter anymore” and then completely separates them.  Of course, separating elements doesn’t always work.

 

The main reason Google Maps reviews are so powerful – and fudged and spammed constantly – is that almost everyone sees them sooner or later.  They show up in the 3-pack.  They show up in Google Maps, including in the app.  The review count, average rating, and little excerpts of the reviews show up in the right-hand sidebar (AKA the knowledge panel) whenever someone searches for you by name or clicks on you in the search results after finding you for the first time.  They’re nigh unavoidable, and Google often adds features to Google Maps reviews and sticks them in more places in the search results.

Not so with Google reviews left through Local Services Ads (via the special link).  They’re visible, but still avoidable.  For now, they only live in your ad.  Their main function is to get more people to click on your ad, so they book through Google, so Google gets its vig.

What’s my advice?  Ask customers to review you directly on Google Maps, rather than through Local Services Ads.  Those reviews will still show in your Local Services Ad, but won’t be limited to your ad.  Usually all customers need to do is Google your business’s name and click the “write a review” link.

The Google Maps route is only slightly harder for them and for you, and there’s still a chance their reviews will get filtered, but that’s an acceptable trade-off.  I suspect you’ll find that Google Maps reviews – the kind everyone sees – pack more of a wallop than the Local Services Ads reviews.  Partly that’s because (in my experience) LSA reviews are more likely to be dashed-off, short, and not too helpful.

By the way, what should you do about the reviews people already wrote through Local Services Ads?  Consider asking those customers to re-post their reviews in Google Maps.  At least on Maps the review will be more visible to more people.  If your customers find it easier, they can just copy and paste the review they already wrote you through your LSA request.  Now you’re thinkin’.

 

If you’ve found it tough to get people to write you Google Maps reviews, here are some economical ways to make it easier:

Especially if you also get reviews on other sites online, those Google Maps reviews can help you bring the thunder.  They can help your rankings and help you get more customers, no matter how invisible or visible you are now.  To work on getting Google reviews right is worth the heartache, and it’s about the highest-payoff use of your time I can think of. 

How do you balance Google LSA reviews and Google Maps reviews? 

Any questions?  

Leave a comment!

Want to End Your Lease But Not Your Local SEO? Factors to Consider If You Might Leave It Behind

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Now you’re looking at your lease through the local SEO lens.  A combination of the pandemic, the lockdown(s), the quasi-reopening, and other changes has made you want to save money where you can, or work from home indefinitely, or move your HQ.  The basic concern is, “Will I destroy my local rankings if I rent somewhere else or stop renting altogether?”

Your more-specific questions might include:

  • Should you stay in your current building?
  • If you stay, how long should you stay?
  • If you move, which address (old or new) should you show online?
  • Should you stop showing your address online?
  • How important is your exact address, in the grand scheme of local SEO?

The answer to those questions and others in a similar bucket is: “it depends.”  It depends on a lot of factors you need to weigh.

In recent months I’ve helped several clients transition to work-from-home, develop or reopen with virtual/online/not-in-person services, or move to a new address.  (I also did some of that pre-COVID.)  You might have similar goals.  In that case, I’m here to point out all the ways an address change can blow up in your face, so you can decide what the least-bad course of action is.

Below are some factors I suggest you include in your head math as you decide whether and when to drop your lease (or make a similar big change).  The more of these you can answer “yes” to, the better.

  1. Are you OK with the risk-reward balance of using an old address for your Google My Business page – AKA “hermit crab SEO”? If not, then you probably have little choice but to keep paying rent a while longer. If so, it might be at least a short-term way for you to cut your lease but still stick around on the map for at least a while longer.  The main risks of hermit crab SEO are (1) your Google My Business is somewhat more likely to be removed from the map at some point, and (2) it will be harder or impossible to re-verify page at that address again, if you ever need to.  By the way, a tool like Persuaded.io can tell competitors whether the USPS considers your address occupied, which may help those competitors send in a Google Maps edit that sticks.  Read my post on the pros and cons, if you haven’t already.
  1. Do you get customers / clients / patients from a variety of cities or towns or neighborhoods, rather than only from the one you’re in? You’re taking a real gamble if most or all of your business comes from one small spot. But if you get people from a variety of places – and if you suspect they found you online and aren’t all just word-of-mouth referrals – then your visibility is probably diversified enough.  Your rankings go down here and go up there, but you’re still OK.  Not all your eggs are in one basket.

 

  1. Do you rank for any important search terms outside of your immediate, hyperlocal area? In other words, how location-sensitive are the Google Maps rankings you care about? If you only rank for your important search terms within a very small patch of land (like in a few neighborhoods in your city, or in one small town), then any change of address will probably mess you up.  How do you find out how location-sensitive your rankings are?  I’d look in a combination of the AdWords Ad Preview & Diagnosis Tool, in a local rank-checker that uses a proxy, in Google My Business “insights,” and maybe in Search Console (under “Performance” -> “Queries”).  No method is perfect, but if you piece together what you see in various places you should get the picture.
  1. Do you have solid organic rankings in addition to solid Maps rankings? If not, removing or changing your address will affect your visibility on the map – probably for the worse. But if you do have that solid baseline of organic rankings, removing your address from Google My Business or changing your address is less likely to cut into your overall visibility.  How can you find out the breakdown of your Maps vs. organic visibility?  Look in the places I mentioned in point #3 (above), and maybe at a rank tracker.

  1. Do you have a plan ramp up your organic visibility fast? Easier said than done, I know. But if anything happens to your Google Maps rankings, the organic results will probably be your main or only source of “free” visibility.  (Most of your visibility on the map depends on your organic SEO strength anyway.)  Your main alternatives are (1) wait for a miracle, (2) spam the map and hope it doesn’t backfire, and (3) pay for ads as your only source of sun rays.  Not a great scenario.  How can you ramp up your organic visibility fast?  Well, short of spamming or earning a ton of good links, I’d suggest (a) getting at least a few solid and relevant links, (b) creating a separate page on every specific offering you’ve got (so as to get more “one-box” visibility), (c) working your homepage WAY more, (d) going after  “near me” terms, and (e) maybe creating the kind of “areas served” page that would bring a grin to my mug.  In general, my suggestion is to create in-depth pages (not blog posts) on very specific topics that people both nearby and farther-away research at some point in the buying process.

  1. Do you already have “virtual” or “online-only” customers, clients, or patients? Before you might make your business less bricks-and-mortar, you need to know whether the people who pay you are fine with a service that’s less bricks-and-mortar.  Not everyone will stay on that road with you, but some will need to.

 

  1. Does your “virtual” or “online-only” clientele include some people you started working with after COVID and the lockdown hit? For one thing, you need to establish that you can get new customers / clients / patients when it’s clear to them from the start that your service (at least for now) is done remotely. Also, as I mentioned, it’s great if some or most of your tribe has made the transition with you, but those people already had in-person connection to you.  That’s a kind of glue.  Can customers get attached to you even if they don’t start off with the glue?  How long do they stay attached to you before you start looking like just a floating head with a voice and an invoice?  Good questions.  The short answer is, “it depends.”  Most of my longer answer you can piece together between this post, this one, and this one.
  1. Will your service area stay pretty much the same? If so, then you may not need to wait until you’ve built up organic visibility in more of your service area. If not, you’ll probably want to fill in some gaps before you drop your lease.  Your local SEO effort needs to go beyond the map.
  1. Do you have a solid pile of non-Google reviews? Put another way: even if people never see your GMB page and its Google reviews, will they still see a rock-solid reputation and know what to expect of you? Diversify where you get reviews, whether or not you end up cutting your lease.  By the way, you’ll probably find that’s not too tough to do.  With the exception of Yelp, Google is a harder place to get reviews on that pretty much every other review site.
  1. Do you have a good way to explain PUBLICLY what your location is? If you want or need to specify it on your site, or explain it to Google My Business “support,” or clarify something in a response to an online review, you don’t want your place of business (or lack thereof) to seem dodgy.

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  1. If you use AdWords and run location extensions, do your ads without location extensions do well? If your CTRs or other important metrics are only good when your Google My Business page gets dragged along into your ad, and then you make a big change to that Google My Business page, your Google Ads visibility may become collateral damage.
  1. Are you fine with your old address (or your home address) showing up on certain local listings? Your address won’t show up on all listings (especially if you take pains to conceal it), but it will appear on some sites. Probably shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  If the address you’re leaving or the one you’re switching to is absolutely top-secret, then you’ll need to reconsider.
  1. Is your current place itself not a big selling point for most of your customers? If you don’t know already, see if you can glean any insights from your customers’ reviews of you. Maybe your possible new location or non-location is better for you and not a deal-breaker for your clientele, but how many people would miss something irreplaceable about the old location?

Lifting anchor from your lease may or may not be voluntary.  Whether it’s a change you have to make, or want to make, or that you figure you might as well make because so many other things are in flux anyway, it’s worth engineering in your favor as much as you can.  Knowing the trade-offs and blind spots is the best way to do that.

What are you considering doing with your lease or address?

Any factors you’re weighing that I did not mention?

Any unique twists in your situation?

Leave a comment!

Free SEO Help for Small, Locally-Owned Businesses Hurt by Looting & Rioting in 2020

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If you’re part of a small and locally owned business that’s been looted or trashed by rioters in recent days – or if you know someone in that situation – I’m glad to provide some pro bono marketing / SEO help.  All you’d need to do is contact me, though you’ll probably want to read the rest of this post for context.

Many problems marketing just can’t solve, of course.  But I can think of at least a few situations in which a little well-executed local SEO or other online marketing helps your business get by for at least a while longer.  For example:

  • Your store or office is boarded-up or not staffed, so you need to offer a mobile, home-based, or online/virtual service.
  • Your store is destroyed, but you can sell some of your products online and ship them.
  • You’re fully operational, but nobody’s coming to your doors due to some combination of riots, police, the COVID lockdown, or nearby peaceful protests.

No business should be looted or trashed, and larger outfits often serve a purpose in minority communities.  But any medium-sized chain (or larger) business is less likely to have been seriously hurt by the rioting.  Larger organizations are not my clients, and that’s always been true of my pro bono work, too.

That’s why my offer is geared more toward family businesses and the like.  I’m thinking particularly of (a) single-location or other very “local” businesses that are (b) owned and operated by People of Color who (c) also live in the affected community or nearby.  But there is a know-it-when-I-see it factor here.  In any case, I’ll ask you for basic info about you and your situation.

Peaceful protests are important and noble.   Violent rioters’ hostage-taking is selfish and evil.  Looting and destroying makes economic hardships even harder, and that ultimately means hungry kids, not just broken or missing “replaceable stuff.”  Anyway, if your livelihood and family’s future have suddenly become collateral damage, I’d like to do what I can to help.

Again, I am not saying online marketing can solve every problem or even can come close.  But let’s at least make it one small-to-medium factor working in your favor.  You can contact me (or pass this along) and let’s discuss what we can do pro bono.

Two quick notes:

1. My universal caveat: my time is pretty limited. Time is a limiting factor in my longstanding Visibility for Veterans program, in my offer to certain businesses early in the COVID pandemic, and in my work for my many clients.

2. If you’re an SEO or other marketer and you also would like to offer some pro bono help, please let me know. It would be great to have a few skillsets besides mine, because every business owner’s needs are a little different, especially now. (Maybe we can even get a Google Drive doc of pros who offer this or that, in this amount or that, and affected business owners can just contact whomever seems like the best fit.)

Even if you don’t have a need for pro bono local-marketing help, if you’re a business owner in a situation like the one I described, I’m still interested to hear how things are.  Do send “just a howdy” if you feel like it.

Stay frosty.

Reopening Checklist for Local Businesses: Make It Confusion-Free, Local SEO-Friendly, and Safe

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No matter how operational your business has been, or how “open” it can be now, or how your goals have changed, sooner or later your local search visibility again will be one of your sorest spots.  Whether that’s already happened or is still a while off, at the very least you don’t want your local SEO to be in worse shape than it was before the lockdown.

There’s a good chance you’ve been open in some capacity this whole time.  So when I say “reopening” I’m referring to whenever you’re (1) welcoming more in-person business and (2) focusing more of your local SEO effort on drumming up that in-person business.  My guess is you’re not emerging suddenly.

 

Of course, I don’t know your specific situation, so I assume it’s safe and legal for you to “reopen” in one manner or another.  I assume you’ll apply your best judgment.

I’ve put together a quick checklist of the main quick tasks to help you pick up your local SEO effort where you left off, and maybe even make a little progress.  Here’s my “reopening” checklist (chunked into sections for clarity):

Google My Business (“GMB”)

  1. Make sure your GMB page is not marked “temporarily closed.” The ideal situation is you never did that, because for a while marking your business as “temporarily closed” would you from the 3-pack (from what I saw). In any event, now is probably a good time to mark it as “open.”  By now, most people know to check with you if they’re unsure of your hours or SOPs.

  1. Accept or deny any auto-updates Google has made on your GMB page, depending on whether they’re accurate.
  1. Make sure your latest GMB post reflects your current status, especially if you created a sticky post or a “COVID update” post.
  1. Confirm your GMB description is up-to-date.

  1. Submit edits on any recent keyword-stuffing in competitors’ Google My Business “name” fields. (In the COVID era Google has allowed certain kinds of descriptive phrases in there, which of course certain people have used as a justification to keyword-stuff even more than they did before .)

Website

  1. Make sure your title tags reflect your status as of reopening time (if you updated any of your title tags to reflect your COVID status).  Even if your title tags are unchanged, at least your description tag (or even a sitelink) should anticipate and address the question on everyone’s mind.

  1. Make it clear whether your online or “virtual” offering is available long-term, once you’ve resumed seeing customers / clients / patients in-person. Many business owners scrambled to roll out that kind of service and to create a page for it, but many of them conflated that page with their “COVID policies” page. So you want to make it clear to people whether your virtual offering is or was strictly a spring of 2020 thing.

  1. Confirm your “contact” page reflects your current status: how open you are, your hours, willingness to offer a virtual service, etc.

Reviews

  1. Determine whether Google is allowing new Google Maps reviews through. As you may know, Google put new reviews on hold for a while, though Google been allowing some reviews through (to varying degrees) since about mid-April, from what I’ve observed. Do a dry run by asking someone you know (customer or not) to leave you a Google review.  A few hours later or maybe the next day, sign out of your Google account, open an incognito browser tab, and see if you can see the review in Google Maps.
  1. Try responding to a Google review to confirm whether Google has restored your ability to respond to reviews. (Yep, that feature also was on ice for a while.)
  1. Encourage a recent customer or other reviewer to mention your safety protocols in his or her review. That accomplishes at least a couple things: it makes it clear you’ve seen customers recently, and it gives would-be customers a sense of your business’s current SOPs.

Other

  1. If you run Google Ads (AdWords), make sure none of your ads or extensions has been pulled because you mentioned the pandemic or telehealth by name. (You can only refer to those obliquely.)
  1. If applicable, make sure HealthGrades shows correct answers in the FAQs section (which shows up because HealthGrades uses Schema FAQs markup).

  1. Send a “howdy” or low-key announcement to anyone who may have wanted to visit your business or work with you in recent months, but who couldn’t. I’m referring to people you had to turn away, people who had safety concerns you may have addressed in the meantime, etc. I’m sure your website and Facebook page will convey the message, but I’d also recommend an email blast, a one-on-one email, or even (dare I say) a piece of snail mail.  Even if your rankings are OK and you’ve got no local-visibility-related problems, it may be a while before you get any new customers through the local search pipeline. See who’s been stuck in the pipeline for the last few months.  No doubt some people have lost interest, while others are in real bad need of what you offer.

 

Once you’ve reopened, of course you’ll get back to the same challenges you had before: getting more visible than your competitors are, and getting business out of the deal.  Then you’ll be back to the same questions, like of how to earn good links, how to get good reviews, how to make your site as big and bad as it can be, how to keep a lid on competitors’ spam, and more.  In a strange way it may feel good to get back to the point where those things are the biggest problems; they might not seem as daunting.

What else is on your reopening to-do list?  Anything I forgot?

Any big decisions you’re pondering (that tie in with local search)?

Leave a comment!

Doable Examples of Online/Remote Services Offered by Local Businesses

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While everything and everyone is on lockdown, how can a “local” business still bring in a little revenue?  How can you set yourself up for a strong comeback?  And how can you do it from your yurt?

As you might guess, you do it by offering an online or “tele” version of at least one of your services.  Customers / clients / patients may need to keep their distance, but many still want or need now what you offer.  Only a video, phone, or other online option meets both of those needs.

The problem now is you’re not sure where to begin, because you don’t have examples or blueprints of online-only services that you can adapt to your situation.

I’m not saying a remote option is an option for every business.  Some businesses can only do their work in-person, and don’t have a practical online option.  (Movers, roofers, dentists, and others come to mind.)  Others can ship, or deliver, or offer gift cards or prepay options, so this post isn’t geared to those businesses as much.  But if my experience before and during COVID-19 is any indication, a solid 75% of businesses can roll out an online-only service of value to local or non-local customers.

Below are examples of non-ecommerce, mostly “local” businesses that offer an online-only service.  (Some of these examples are from current or one-time clients.)  The online or remote service they offer is an option both for people nearby and for non-locals.  As you go through the list, think of what kind of rigging might just work for you.

 

Example 1: Online mold remediation by Moldman in Chicago: moldmanusa.com/virtual-mold-consultations/

Big strength: the business makes it clear that there may be a DIY solution to a mold problem.  That may save the client a lot of money, and more than offset the small cost of the consultation.

 

Example 2: Online therapy / counseling by Heartland Counseling Center in Missouri (multiple offices): heartlandcounselingcenter.com

Big strength: the online offering is unavoidable, because it’s in the sidebar on every page.  It’s not limited to one page that you hope people see.

 

Example 3: Telemedicine for pain management by Dr. Jason Attaman and Dr. Cameron Cartier in Bellevue and Seattle, WA: jasonattaman.com

Big strength: it’s clear what the doctors can and cannot do virtually, it’s clear what the logistics are, and it’s clearly geared toward patients in areas locked down by COVID-19 restrictions.

 

Example 4: Online plumbing consultation by Lutz Plumbing in Shawnee, KS: lutzplumbing.com/about/virtual-plumbing-consultation

Big strength: an extremely clear value proposition: it’s mainly for do-it-yourselfers who want a second opinion on a project.

 

Example 5: Online dog training by Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles: funpawcare.com/pet-services/phone-consultation/

Big strength: a thorough list of very specific dog-behavior problems and concerns that a consultation can help with.

 

Example 6: Online electrical troubleshooting by RightWay Electrical Contractors in Jacksonville, FL: rwecinc.com/online-electrician

Big strength: the page has some free troubleshooting tips before the paid-consultation option.  That helps people determine whether their issue calls for an electrician at all.  If it does, then the virtual option is right there.

 

Example 7: Online patent law consultation by OC Patent Lawyer: ocpatentlawyer.com/schedule-consultation/

Big strength: a very clear rundown of what to expect, with links (lower down on the page) to posts that get clients’ feet wet before the deep dive.

 

Example 8: Online divorce mediation by Equitable Mediation (multiple offices): equitablemediation.com/divorce-mediation/online-mediation

Big strength: very solid copywriting.  That includes the FAQs, and the way the owners make it clear why many people prefer the online version.  (By the way, you can also read my case-study post on this business.)

 

Example 9: Online tutoring by Boston Tutoring Services: bostontutoringservices.com/online-tutoring/

Big strength: even though the company has a clear local focus, the very top of the page makes it clear that in-person lessons are completely optional.

 

Example 10: Online voice lessons (in Spanish) by Vox Technologies Vocal Studio in Barcelona: vox-technologies.com

Big strength: it’s implied that many students do online lessons, and that the online offering isn’t second banana.

 

A couple of examples that get an honorable mention, because although they’re not “local” businesses to begin with, they took a clever approach to offering services that bricks-and-mortar and service-area businesses usually have a monopoly on:

 

Honorable mention: Online veterinary consultation by NHV Natural Pet Products: nhvnaturalpetproducts.com/veterinarian-consultation/

 

Honorable mention: Online landscape design by Tilly: tilly-design.com

 

I hope those examples gave you some ideas for the online version of your service, whether you’re trying to ramp it up or roll it out for the first time.  Getting a blueprint is the hard part, and probably the most important part, but here are 5 principles I suggest you keep in mind when figuring out your online service:

  1. It must solve or help with a problem people have now.
  2. It must help in self-contained way, and not just serve as initial consultation or a free quote.
  3. It won’t necessarily provide all the things you can do in-person, and that’s probably OK.
  4. It should be available and helpful to non-local people, too.
  5. It should probably be a service you’ll still want to keep around as a permanent component of your business.


What do you like about those examples?  Anything you’d improve about them, if you could?

Do you know of any examples of a “local” business with a clever or well-presented online offering?

Are you trying to figure out a work-from-home version of your service?

Leave a comment!

Is COVID-19 the End of “Google As Your New Homepage”?

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Over the years, we’ve seen Google add so much stuff to the search results that we’ve concluded Google doesn’t even want searchers to click through to your website, because (Google assumes) everything people want to know is right there in the search results.  Some smart people in the local-search space have called that slow transformation “Google as your new homepage.”  Who needs to see your homepage when Google can save people a click or tap?

As with so many other things, COVID-19 will probably change that.  At least in the crazy world of search, it seems the big lesson is: we still need to click.

Google’s local search results are affected by the disruption and (to a lesser extent) contribute to it.  In the long haul, that may us a little less reliant on them and more reliant on what’s on businesses’ sites.

The main problem (as usual) is in the combination of Google Maps/My Business and the knowledge panel.  That’s where Google has really made a dog’s breakfast of things.  The rest of the search results (organic, PPC, and YouTube) are just SNAFU.

What problems do I think have ended, delayed, or complicated Google’s ability to function as the “homepage” for businesses?  What’s likely to have forced or compelled more searchers to click through to businesses’ sites?

1. The info in the local search results has been even less trustworthy since the COVID-19 outbreak started. Businesses are labeled as “temporarily closed” that may be open, and vice versa. Edits made in the Google My Business dashboard have been “pending” for longer than usual, so updates to hours (for instance) may be late to appear.  One result is people need to click through to the site to see what a business’s status really is.

2. The info is even less fresh. Google hasn’t allowed new reviews, new responses to reviews, or new Q&A. In recent days, posts have not worked properly.  (I put up some GMB posts for some clients early on in the outbreak, but since then it seems the wheels have popped off the wagon.)

3. Google My Business “support” has been on life support. In an understandable and wise effort to limit Coronavirus spread between employees, Google has used only a skeleton crew to provide support, and presumably has had some staff working remotely. The unintended consequence is there is less help for more problems.

4. Google My Business never has made accommodations for telemedicine or other virtual offerings. The list of business categories, “attributes,” or other fields in the GMB dashboard do not allow you to specify whether you offer non-in-person versions of your service.  (The Google Helpouts feature sorta-kinda used to  do that, but that feature has been gone for much longer than it was around.)  So all you and customers are left with is the Google My Business description, which you may or may not be able to update, and which you may or may not want to change.  So everyone needs to click through to your site to determine whether and how you offer a virtual option.

5. In the Google My Business description and in “posts” (when they function) there isn’t enough space to say much. Another reason people need to click through to your site.

6. Google doesn’t introduce relevant new Google My Business categories or filters quickly enough. Search for something like “Coronavirus testing near me” and you’ll see what I mean: no local map 3-pack results for that, partly because there isn’t a Google My Business category for that.  Similar deal with filters.  You can type in “urgent care clinic” and filter by rating or by hours, but you can’t filter by “offers virtual appointments” (for instance).

Google’s mission has always been to rob people blindorganize the world’s information.”  It’s somewhere in the middle of that process, or perhaps it’s the end of the beginning.  But Google doesn’t have all the world’s information, partly because some of it is in business owners’ noggins, and partly because that information changes by the hour.  That should be where business owners come in, because only they can fill in the gaps, if only Google will not get in the way.

So that’s where one’s website must come in.  The local search results have become more complete and helpful over the years, but the local results fall apart when people want to find a very specific service or product, delivered in a certain way, perhaps under unusual circumstances.  That’s why your site needs a page on every offering, many and visible internal links to those pages, and a powerhouse homepage, and you need the ability to make quick and imperfect changes fast.  Google can’t do all that for you, or for the people who want or need to find exactly what you offer.

Google’s years-long push toward showing everything in the local search results assumes that everyone has a short attention span.  Many people do, of course, but people who want to find one particular thing often will dig until they find it.

Think of when you’ve tried to buy toilet paper.  Walmart could throw a brick of 24 on the roof and someone would find it.  The supermarket could hide a roll between the frozen lima beans and the frozen Brussels sprouts, and the rolls would be on the conveyor belt 5 minutes later.  That’s because all the shoppers are basically in the right place, and not on the road or in the parking lot.  Only your website can show people where the toilet paper is.

What’s your take?

How else might the COVID-19 outbreak change the “Google as your homepage” mission?

To what extent have you found it helpful to make website changes on the fly?

Leave a comment!

Want to Help a Local Business in Tough Times? Write That Review Already

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At some point, daily life will go from FUBAR back to good old TARFU.  When that happens, do you want to continue with the businesses you love and rely on, or will you find them on Boot Hill between Sears and Toys “R” Us?  Your review might make the difference.

Supporting businesses that do a good job is always a good thing.  Whatever form that takes during this disaster (COVID-19) or in future disasters is probably helpful and welcomed.

But do you know what most business owners like even more than your prepaying for services or ordering a gift card?  Customers.  Both the fish and the ability to fish more.  That’s where reviews come in.

Any revenue businesses get now will help them now, but then they have to fulfill later.  That’s the deal, of course.  But it can create a serious pinch later, especially if a lot of customers prepaid around the time you did.

Writing a detailed and useful review – maybe one you’ve meant to write for a while – helps in at least two ways that prepaying or gift-carding can’t:

1. It can help the business get a customer now who needs the business’s services or products now. The business can probably do the work or fulfill the order now more easily than it can later, when it may be under a pinch. You may not need the service or product now, but someone out there does.

2. You may expand their customer base a little. The only thing better than a happy and loyal customer is one who also brings in more customers like him or her. That is the ultimate.  On a couple of occasions I’ve been told, “By the way, thanks for your review a few months ago.  A few customers have mentioned it as a reason they ended up choosing us.”  That’s always nice to hear.

Writing a helpful and maybe influential review takes time, and maybe you don’t have the time to help all the local businesses you want to help.  In that case, at least help a couple of businesses.  If you don’t do it for them, at least do it for selfish reasons: If it’s a business you like or rely on, you probably want it to stay in business, or else you’ll need to shop around later and still maybe not find as good a provider.

How can you write a review that packs a wallop, and at just the right time?  A few basic SOPs:

  • Go into detail, or as much as you can. Explain why you picked the business, and how it stacks up against alternatives (e.g. other businesses you may have used in the past). If possible, explain why you still use the service or brought the product even now, when times are tough, or explain why customers’ money is well-spent if they do so.
  • Post your review on a 2nd review site, or at least offer to do so. Stick your Google Maps review (for example) on another review site, or vice versa. It won’t get filtered because of the cross-posting, in my experience.
  • Ask the business owner what he or she would find most helpful. One way to do that is to ask, “Hey, I’d like to write you a review. Any particular site you want, and any points you want me to touch on?”  Another way is to say, “I just wrote you a review. Let me know if you want me to tweak anything, expand on anything, add photos, etc.”

I guess it depends on the business and on the owner, but I’ve found often that I get extra-good service after I’ve reviewed a business.  On the one hand, maybe that’s because I do my research and only work with solid companies and people, so I avoid the deadbeats.  On the other hand, most business owners remember a good word and a good deed, and try to make it worth your while.

Writing a review of a business you like is free, but it can accomplish a lot:

  • Help keep them in business for their sake, in a time of need.
  • Help keep them in business for your sake.
  • Help other customers find and pick a keeper.
  • Possibly earn you “VIP” treatment sooner or later.

Reviewing good businesses is time well-spent.

Do your reviewing habits change at all during rough times?

To what extent do you have customers come out of the woodwork when it matters most?

Any unconventional suggestions on how business owners can encourage stressed-out people to put in a good word online?

Leave a comment!

Pro Bono Local SEO Help for Businesses Locked Down by Coronavirus

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If you or someone you know is a business owner whose business has been shut down or severely hobbled by Coronavirus regulation or the like, I’m glad to offer a bit of local SEO/search/visibility advice free of charge or obligation.  All you’d need to do is read the stuff below and email me your questions.

It’s possible you’re not legally allowed to see customers / clients / patients at all, or in the way you usually do.  In that case maybe you have a plan B you want to get off the ground, or you’re rolling out a remote, “socially distanced” version of your service, or you just want to use your downtime to maximum effect so that business is OK once this has stabilized.  For goals like those I can probably help.

Some things to know – please read all of this before contacting me:

1. I can offer only a limited amount of help. My family and clients are my first priorities, and I have a full dance card.  I can’t do hands-on work for you, or spend much time.  The ideal situation is you have some specific and pressing local-search-related questions, and just want clear guidance on what to do.  I’ll email you back.  There’s a chance I’ll also suggest a quick phone call, if that’s the quickest way to convey my suggestions.

2. Your struggles need to be specifically because of Coronavirus. I’m thinking of dentists who aren’t allowed to see patients at all, doctors who can’t perform elective procedures for a while, and restaurant owners who rely on butts in the chairs more than on takeout – for example.

3. Some groups of people I can’t help. If you’re a marketer/SEO with a client who’s been clobbered by recent events, you’ve got my empathy, and you can send this to a client and he or she can contact me and CC you, but I wouldn’t send you advice that you white-label and charge for.  If you’re a competitor of one of my clients, I probably can’t help (for obvious reasons).  If your business is one that’s in a temporary slowdown, but not in a real pinch caused by COVID-19 regulation or aftermath, then I can’t offer any pro bono help, because you’re in the same situation as probably 80% of businesses.  My SOP is “I know it when I see it.”

4. You may want to check my list of posts first, to see if I’ve done a blog post that does the trick.  (I’d love to hear if that’s all you needed.)

5. Send me at least a brief rundown on the situation CV has created for your business. I will ignore “I’m here for the free help, k thx”-type requests.  I just want to make sure you truly need help, and that it’s entirely or mostly because of regulations (or similar fallout) that hit your business unusually hard.

6. If you need or want more help than I can provide pro bono, I’ll need to point you in another direction.  I’ll tell you one of three things: (1) “Just follow those suggestions and see how far you get,” or (2) “Consider such-and-such service I offer,” or (3) “Contact so-and-so, who may be able to help – though probably not for free.” I’ll still point you in the right direction on whatever questions you send me, if possible.  It’s just that I have an obligation to “flatten the curve” on the time I spend on any one situation.

7. Some problems don’t have a local search/SEO solution.

8. Feel free to send this to someone you know.

Why am I offering to help Coronavirus-clobbered businesses for free?  Just for good karma.  On the one hand, I’m stingy with my time, because I need most or all of it to meet my commitments.  But on the other hand, if in the short time left over I can help people in a pinch, that makes me feel good.  I’ve helped veterans pro bono in a similar way for many years, and that’s worked out well.  We have an understanding, and so I can offer a little help to people who can and do use it.  Should be a similar situation here.

Plus, I always like an up-close success story.

Anyway, if all that describes your Coronavirus conundrum and the fine-print sounds reasonable, feel free to email me or to pass this along to someone you know.

Other people offering pro bono local SEO help during the Coronavirus crisis:

  • Chris Barnard of Social Dental Network.  Consider contacting Chris if you’re a dentist who’s had to hunker down, consider contacting.
  • Dani Owens of Pigzilla.  I’ve worked with Dani on many client projects over the years.  Dani also builds websites, so if you were already considering a new site, but need to hold off until things settle down, now may be a good time to get to know her.

You can leave a comment on this post if you have questions about the above.  (No specific SEO questions in the comments, please.  That’s what your email is for.)

Google My Business Category Not Showing for Service-Area Businesses with Hidden Addresses

If you’ve got a Google My Business page that specifies your service area but not your address, Google won’t show your category in the sidebar (the “knowledge panel”).

You’ll still see it in Google Maps and in the 3-pack.

You’ll also see it if you’ve specified your street address.

But you won’t see it in the sidebar for a business with a hidden address in Google My Business, when you search for that business by name.  Someone asked about this at the GMB forum last year, so either nobody else noticed it until now, only I didn’t notice it until now, or it’s another test that Google made on a micro scale (last year) and then rolled out more broadly (now).

Why the change?  Who knows.  A few theories:

  1. It’s possible Google is downplaying where the business is, because when Google used to show the category it would be in a context like, “Roofing company in Peoria, Illinois.” Of course, because Google no longer requires you to specify your street address after verifying your Google My Business page, Google may not have confidence it knows where a service-area business is located.
  1. It’s possible Google is downplaying the “category” field. The list of categories is odd and full of holes, and many people pick too many or irrelevant categories, and Google long has chosen to show whichever category it thinks is most relevant to whatever a person just searched for.
  1. Maybe it’s just another test or part of a larger change, perhaps somehow tied to a scheme to stuff more ads into the local results.

Have you noticed anything odd with how Google displays categories, especially for hidden-address / service-area businesses?

When did you notice the change?

Any theories?

Leave a comment!