One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers

https://www.flickr.com/photos/squeakymarmot/5111828526/

Two problems with Google My Business posts are (1) they’re not too visible anymore unless someone searches for your business by name, and (2) people without itchy mouse-fingers only see a tiny preview of the post in the sidebar.

Those are valid concerns.  Though you can use my hack to keep Google My Business posts from becoming a big time-taker, you still might wonder whether you should bother with them at all.  Or you might figure that if very few people see your posts, you might as well load them up with keywords, in case that helps your rankings on the local map.

Those also would be legitimate reasons not to do a Google My Business post for a coupon or other special offer.  “You want me to offer coupon nobody will see?  No thanks.”

What if your coupon showed up in the Google Maps 3-pack, like this?

(Thanks to Anas of Batteries Shack for the tip.)

That coupon is from a Google My Business post.  As you may have noticed, Google often grabs the content of GMB posts and sticks them in the 3-pack results, when the content of a given post is relevant to the search term someone typed in.

You can get your offer to show up in the Maps 3-pack if you create an “Offer” type of post, but it doesn’t need to be an “Offer.”  It could also be an “Event” post, for example.  Google can grab the content from any species of post and stick it in the Google Maps / 3-pack results (Brodie Clark briefly mentioned that fact in this great post he wrote with Joy Hawkins.)

Most of the benefits of that are obvious.  But I would assume that a compelling offer in the 3-pack also may help your rankings when people type in a search term, see you ranking for that term, and click on your listing because your offer is relevant.  Just a hunch.

Anyway, I suggest you try putting out a coupon or other special offer in a Google My Business post.  You may or may not get any takers, but at least your offer won’t be relegated to sidebar Siberia.  People will see your offer whenever you pop up on the local map, and for search terms relevant to the offer.

For tips on creating a solid Google My Business post, check out this post from Ben Fisher.

Have you used Google My Business posts to put up offers?

What have you noticed?

Leave a comment!

The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/32750963358/

I’m talking about a local search result like this (click to enlarge):

Local “one-box” results (as they’re called) show only one Google My Business page, alongside some organic results.  It’s good for your business to have a one-box result any time you can nab one, because of how visible you are on the page: You’re the only business on the map (on the right), and you’ve got an organic ranking (off to the left).

A one-box only pops up for a business that have a Google My Business page.  If you’re a customer/searcher, you’ll usually see a one-box result pop up in one of four scenarios:

Scenario 1: You search by name for a specific company near you.

Scenario 2: You search for specific company that isn’t near you, but that has such a distinctive name that Google knows you want to see search results for that company.

Scenario 3: Google falsely assumes you wanted to see results for a specific company, when in fact you searched for a term broad enough that you thought several local businesses would show up.

Scenario 4: Google concludes there’s only one business near you (or in a specific city or area you search in) that provides the service or product you’re looking for.

Scenarios 1 and 2 aren’t relevant to this post.  In those cases the way you show up in the one-box results is just by having more people search for the name of your business, and that’s just a matter of “brand-building.”

I won’t be talking about scenario 3, either, for two reasons.  The first reason is that one-box visibility is a fluke in that case (Google incorrectly assumes people are searching for a specific company by name).  The second reason is that usually the only way to try to confuse Google into giving your business a one-box on the local map is to use a fake name for your Google My Business page, or to stuff keywords into the name.  Neither strategy is one you want to bank on.

Scenario 4 is a card you can play: If you can appear (to Google) to be the only business nearby that offers certain services or products, you can engineer more one-box results for your business.

How, exactly, do you go about that?

Some have speculated it’s a matter of getting reviews, or of general “on-page optimization,” or that it depends only on what the search term is  But based on my experiments and dissections, I’ve found that all you need to get a Google Maps one-box result is:

1. Create a separate page on your site about each specific, preferably “niche” service or product you offer. I don’t mean a page on something broad or that’s saturated with local competitors, like “Personal Injury Law” or “Riding Mowers.” I mean you need a page on “Banana Peel Injury Law” or “Duffer 9000 EZ Riding Mower,” or on whatever is the most specific way to characterize your service or product.

2. Point some internal links to that page: maybe one in the main navigation, another in the footer, one on the homepage, one on the main “Services” or “Products” page, and wherever else seems appropriate. Don’t go crazy with the internal links, but err on the side of more rather than fewer.

3. Mention that product or service on the landing page you use for your Google My Business page. (Preferably you also link to your dedicated page on that product or service, rather than just mention it.)

That’s it.  Of course, not much will happen until Google has indexed your page, but steps #2-3 may help expedite that.  Though I doubt you need search-term-relevant links or reviews to get one-box results for niche services or products, scaring up some reviews and links wouldn’t hurt, and is a good idea anyway.

A few notes:

  • Is it possible other ingredients go into Google’s one-box sausage?  Sure.  It’s also possible that Google’s rhyme and reason will change later.  But in my experiments for clients and observations on others’ businesses, the above 3 steps are all you need to do.
  • What if you want to get a one-box for more-competitive, non-niche search terms?  That’s a tough putt (even if you take a spammy approach), because Google knows of other businesses relevant to those search terms.  In that case, you’re vying for 3-pack rankings.

  • Any Google Maps one-box results you get will be in addition to – not instead of – your organic rankings for those products or service.  It’s not an either-or deal.  Local SEO is mostly organic SEO in disguise.
  • A bonus: even if you don’t get a one-box result, but you show up alongside local competitors in a Google Maps 2-pack or 3-pack, you’ll get the “Their website mentions [service or product]” snippet showing up under your name on the map.  That may help get you more clicks from the right searchers, among other benefits.

I’ve long said that you need a page on every distinct service or product you offer – preferably in-depth pages, and preferably on your more-niche offerings.  When clients and others have asked why they should bother, my reasons have always been (a) “You’ll convert more of the people who are looking for something very specific, and (b) “You want to show up in the organic search results, especially when there’s no local map.”  But these days, more so than I’ve ever seen before, creating a solid page on each offering will also grab you more visibility on the map.

 

 

Have you tried rustling up some one-box results?  If so, what did you try, and how did it go?

Do your competitors have any one-box results you just can’t figure out?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business vs. Bing Places in a Nutshell

https://www.flickr.com/photos/spencersbrookfarm/3139409835/This example is from one of my clients, who’s got a seasonal business and had a great winter.

Two screenshots up the difference between Google visibility and Bing visibility.  The screenshots are of those two search engines’ “dashboard” stats.  I doubt either source of intel is Swiss-watch accurate, but each can give you a rough sense of how many people see you on that search engine’s local map.

Bing Places dashboard stats:

Nice spike.  Reflects how good business was.

Notice the high-water mark of 957 impressions.  Add up all the times the Bing Places page showed up in the local search results in February and you’ve got a few thousand impressions in a month, which is pretty good.  Who said Bing doesn’t matter?

Now, Google My Business stats, from a somewhat different range (more on that in a minute):

One thing you’ll notice is a high-water mark of almost 9000 impressions in a day on Google My Business, compared to high-water mark of a tenth of that in a whole week on Bing.

My little comparison is far from scientific.  You may notice the date ranges aren’t the same.  Bing’s doesn’t capture most March, which had a good amount of action.  That’s because Bing’s data is about two weeks old and doesn’t reflect more-recent data, and neither Google nor Bing lets you pick a custom date range.  The result is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Still, based on the parts that overlap, impressions on Google outnumber those on Bing by at least 10 to 1.  (Probably more like 20 to 1.)

“Hey Phil, party foul.  That’s still an unfair comparison.  Google has so much more market share than Bing has, so of course Bing’s local traffic is a gnat.”

Exactly.  It’s a good thing that Bing Places is pretty hassle-free to set up and manage, because my advice is not to lose sleep over your Bing rankings.

Google Maps Spam Patrol: Why You Need to Do It, and 10 Tips to Make It Doable

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/26943288773/in/photostream/

Why not make your local competitors work to outrank you?  They won’t have to work too hard if you assume Google keeps the Google Maps results clean, because that doesn’t happen much.

“Spam patrol” is my name for the process of identifying Google My Business pages that violate any of Google’s guidelines and that, as a result, stick out on the map more than they should.  Though anyone can send in an edit on any Google My Business page, the most likely reason you’d do that is to counteract a competitor who’s breaking the rules at your expense. You should do spam patrol whether you do your own local SEO or work with a third party on it.

If you do it right and have the patience of an oyster, spam patrol can keep some, most, or maybe even all of your local competitors from outranking you unfairly.  Like earning links and reviews, spam patrol has tons of long-term payoff if you stick with it.  But as with those other ongoing activities, few business owners approach spam patrol the right way.  Even fewer stick with it for long enough to see much benefit.

By the way, if you’re not sure how to sniff out local competitors’ spam, how to send in a Google Maps edit, or what to expect, I suggest you read this great post by Joy Hawkins, and maybe this post I did.

If you want to minimize competitors’ Google Maps spam, but you don’t want it to become another big commitment that frustrates you until you throw in the towel, follow these 10 tips to make spam patrol doable:

1. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your edits. Like this one I use. (You can download and tweak that template as you wish.) Getting all your “Wanted” posters together is a hassle at first, but will save you a lot of time in the long run. Also, spam patrol will seem less daunting, and you’ll get a better sense of what works (and what doesn’t).

2. Focus on the two types of spam Google is most likely to act on: keyword-stuffing in names, and pages that are so spammy you can’t even tell what the “real” business is. Edits to the “name” field have the best chance of a thumbs-up from Google. The type of edit with the second-best chances of approval are “Spam, fake, or offensive.”  Marking listings as “duplicates” or trying to edit things like the address is less fruitful.  (All of that’s been my experience, at least.)

 

3. Try partial or piecemeal edits. If a competitor is breaking multiple rules, try to get Google to correct one first, before you deal with the others. If you Google won’t remove all the keywords or city names in a competitor’s keyword-stuffed name, try editing out some of it.

 

4. Don’t patrol only your main search terms. Also look at who’s ranking for “niche” terms you want to rank for (or that you already do rank for). Some of the worst spammers own a niche, or many niches, often because the competitive bar is low and their competitors are less likely to pay attention.

5. If you want or need to boost your credibility with Google by becoming a higher-level “Local Guide” – as I strongly suggest you do – don’t only rack up points by reviewing businesses. Do some of the other activities on Google’s “points” breakdown.

6. Don’t build up your Local Guide track record only by making edits in your local market. Wade into other spam swamps (near and far) unrelated to your business and submit edits on spammy businesses you run across. You need at least to look like a do-gooder to get enough credibility that Google might approve your edits.  Just being right often isn’t enough, it pains me to say.

7. Use Google’s new spam-reporting form to corroborate any “suggest an edit” edits where you’ve wanted to explain to Google how you know a competitor is spamming. (See this forum thread.)

8. Don’t forget to check out competitors’ hours, and to submit edits on them if necessary. The process for that is a little different; you don’t click the usual “Suggest an edit” button, but rather need to click on the business’s hours in the right-hand sidebar (the “knowledge panel”), and then click on a different link that reads “Suggest an edit.” Why bother?  Because you don’t want competitors to get undeserved clicks and leads because they posted erroneous hours while you faithfully posted your real-world business hours.

9. Get other people involved in spam patrol. Business partners, employees, friends, family, etc. Preferably some of those people live near the hive of spam you’re trying to fumigate. Don’t have them make exactly the same edits you make.  Just get them spraying in the same direction. (By the way, if you’re working with a local SEO person or are considering it, ask him or her where spam patrol fits into the strategy.)

10. Every week or two you should go through your spreadsheet, review your edits, add any new offenders you find, and make new edits. You don’t need to do spam patrol every day, but you can’t do it just once and call it a day.

 

Spam patrol is a never-ending task, and you probably won’t gun down every bogie.  But you do it in a way that’s efficient and not overwhelming, and that doesn’t sidetrack you from your other work, you’re more likely to stick with it.  Then your other local SEO work is more likely to pay off.

Did you learn any of the above the hard way?  Any tips on spam patrol?  Any war stories?  Leave a comment!

How Many Ways Can Someone Troll Your Google My Business Page?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sounderbruce/19597247799/

What’s the difference between the Google Maps business results and middle school?  Well, at one you get lunch and the possibility that the heckling and hounding ends for the day once the bell rings.

It’s easy to get worn down in local SEO.  The work it takes for you to get visible and stay visible and get customers out of the deal is significant.  The long-term effort it takes for you to keep a lid on competitors’ cheating also adds up.  Once you add all the monitoring you need to do to make sure nobody’s sabotaged you on the Google Map or in your Google reviews, it all seems like too much.

But it’s more doable if you know exactly what your vulnerabilities are.  The Google Maps results are the Wild West partly because of all the ways competitors can spam their way to the top with their Google My Business pages, and partly because of all the ways they can try to hurt your visibility or reputation.

Below are all the ways (I know of) that disgruntled customers, bitter employees, and unethical competitors can mess up your program.  All are areas you should check on routinely, and contact Google about if necessary.

Google Maps / My Business vulnerabilities

Uploading inappropriate or unflattering photos.  Anyone can upload a photo to your Google My Business page, either unaccompanied or in a review.

Answering customers’ Google My Business “questions” falsely or deceptively.  You may get a notification when someone posts a question or an answer, but a Google bug, or an email filter, or inattention may allow a bad answer to slither past you undetected.  You can’t remove bad questions (or answers).  All you can do is flag them.

Asking unflattering Google My Business “questions.”  Same deal as above.

Messing with your “opening date.”  Apparently Google fixed the nasty bug (great find by Tim Colling) that caused Google My Business pages with future dates of opening to fall off the Google Map altogether.  Still, an incorrect opening date that sticks may confuse would-be customers.

Taking a spray-n’-pray approach to submitting erroneous Google Maps “suggest an edit” edits.  If competitors or other antagonists fire enough rounds (possibly from multiple Google accounts), some may graze you.

 

 

Providing incorrect “Know this place?” answers.  Google may ask whether you have dedicated parking and a wheelchair-accessible entrance.  You do.  Your nemesis says you don’t.  Google shows him an ugly photo and a nice one, and asks which is “more helpful” in characterizing your business.  He picks the ugly one.  Google asks your competitor (or fuming customer or ex-employee) 37 other questions.  None of the answers clearly hurts your visibility or reputation, so maybe the potshots aren’t a big deal.  On the other hand, given that Google hasn’t boarded up off the “Know this place?” mineshaft of crowdsourced data, you can be pretty confident Google finds it useful somehow.

Moving your map pin to an incorrect spot.  I haven’t run into that problem much (that I can remember), but I have it on good authority that an incorrectly placed marker can mess up your rankings.

Google review vulnerabilities

Re-posting bad reviews or ratings.  Even if you get an illegitimate review removed – a big “if” – little to nothing stops the perp from posting the same review again, under the same name or a different name.

Updating or adding to bad reviews.  Even if you get that illegitimate review removed, the foul brigand can always write a differently-nasty review or a review that’s dialed down just enough.

Posting 4-star reviews.  If your average rating is closer to 5 stars – let’s say 4.8 stars – a 4-star average rating is a big step down for you.  Because a 4-star review by nature isn’t extreme, it’s less likely to get filtered by Google, and you’re less likely to suspect that it’s the work of a crooked competitor.

Posting reviews under the name of another competitor.  That probably breaks a law or two, but if you blame the wrong competitor for the smear, who will ever know the real culprit?  Pretty devilish trick.

 

Putting “thumbs up” on negative reviews repeatedly.  There seems to be no limit to how many times you can do a thumbs-up.  Thumbs-upped negative reviews may make some people think twice before calling you, and for no good reason.  Worse, those reviews may rise to the top when your Google reviews are shown by “Most Helpful” at the top, which is how they show by default.

Flagging positive, valid reviews.  I’m speculating here, because I have no way to know whether a perfectly good review gets removed because someone flagged it and not because Google filtered it automatically.  What I do know is you usually get Google’s attention if enough people flag a review.

Writing bad reviews on unpoliced non-Google review sites, so a bad “average” rating shows up in your knowledge panel.  I’m talking about the “Reviews from the web” section.  As badly policed as Google Maps reviews are, other sites are even worse.  Often Google scrapes those reviews and shows your average rating in the right-hand sidebar, which people see whenever they click on you in the 3-pack or Maps results, or whenever they search for you by name.

What are other ways people can mess up your Google My Business page?

Any you’ve experienced first-hand?

Leave a comment!

When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?

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You know the good reasons and bad reasons to hire a local SEO person or company.  The pros and cons of doing it yourself are clear, too.  What you’re less sure of is: when has the do-it-yourself option piled up enough pros that it’s clearly the better choice for you?

It’s a sliding scale.  You don’t need to be a whiz at anything to handle your business’s local SEO to great effect, but you need to have or develop certain qualities.  The more of those boxes you can check, the better.

Below are the factors that – in my opinion – determine whether doing your own local SEO is a good idea.  The more of these questions you say “yes” to, the more likely it’ll go the way you want it to.

1. Do you assume local SEO will take long-term effort? Local SEO is not a one-time process. If you do it right, you’ll get to the point where you don’t spend much time on it day-to-day, but you constantly inch it forward.  It’s great if you can do some basic fix-ups and get results, but often it takes more grinding.

2. Do you assume you’ll take some wrong turns? That’s inevitable. Google is a slippery surface, your competitors change over time, and you’ll know more next year than you will this year.  Keep learning and keep working and you’ll do fine.

 

3. Will you get your hands dirty on your website? You don’t need to be a developer, you don’t need to know much about sites other than your site, and it’s OK if your site is far from “perfect.” If you’re able and willing to make some changes to your site in-house, you create some options.  Those options include paying an SEO person only for his/her advice on your site (and not also for implementation), hiring a developer only for the toughest tasks, and maybe not hiring anyone at all.

4. Will you do more than work on your site? Though crucial, the site is one moving part of several that sway your visibility in the local results. The other big moving parts are your local listings, reviews, and links.  You will have to work on all those things sooner or later, particularly on links and reviews long-term.  (Your visibility also may depend on how clean the local map is.)

Even if you did not or do not need many or any good links to outrank your competitors, you’ll probably want to knock in some insurance runs.  If your competitors rank well but only have so-so reviews, you’ll want to get ahead by having better reviews.  If they rank well AND have great reviews, then you’ll have no choice but to try to match or surpass them.

5. Will you put in work your competitors won’t? Only if you do what they won’t do can you achieve what they can’t achieve. The main areas where sustained hard work pay off are (1) in earning links, (2) in earning reviews, and (3) in the amount and quality of info on your site about exactly what you do and exactly what makes it the best choice for customers / clients / patients.

6. Have you been frustrated by the third parties you’ve hired? Maybe they were the problem. Maybe you were the problem.  I can’t say.  What I do know is you’re not good at picking out SEO companies if you’ve had 9 of them.

7. Are you willing to get help piecemeal? Trying to find a company to “handle it all” often isn’t realistic, so you should be willing to delegate part of the implementation, if necessary. Maybe you want a stunt pen, or help on your site, or help on your local listings.  That doesn’t mean you no longer “do your own SEO,” or that you’ve entrusting someone else to plan or execute your whole strategy.  You’re still the captain of the ship even if you enlist an extra swabbie or two.

 

8. Will you study? Both up-front and long-term? Get your sea legs if possible, but don’t try to get “comfortable” with all the concepts of local SEO, because that won’t happen (for a variety of reasons).  Don’t try to understand everything before you do anything.  Nobody has all the answers anyway.  Learn a little, work a lot, and repeat.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/christoph_straessler/10142017736/
 

9. Do you know you can’t measure everything? Many things you can track.  Many more you can’t.

You won’t be able to find out how many people discovered you in the Google Maps results, rather than heard about you some other way and pulled up your Google My Business page. If you get a great link, you won’t be able to attribute a bump in rankings (let alone ROI) to it.  If you get a review on a site that shows up when someone Googles your business by name, the referrer traffic you see in Google Analytics won’t tell you how many would-be customers saw that review in the search results.  If your site is full of keyword-stuffed gibberish, and you clean it up, and your rankings go down a little, but you get more or better leads, was the clean-up a good choice?  Don’t hire a third party just because you assume it can answer questions like those, because it can’t.

10. Can you weigh lots of conflicting suggestions? It’s great to learn about local SEO from people who do it.  But you’ll still get conflicting advice on all kinds of questions.  What constitutes spam?  Which page should be your Google My Business landing page?  Is that link opportunity worth the trouble?  When should you create a microsite?  How much citation work is enough?

I assume you’re the kind who likes to balance out what you hear with a little skepticism, with common sense, with what you know about your customers, and with non-rankings concerns (like branding and conversion-rate optimization).  If so, you probably don’t need a local SEO person or company to make most or all of the calls for you.

11. Is your business on the newer side? You might argue that because you have so many other things to do, you don’t have time to do your own local SEO. That may be.  But does that also mean you have time to pay someone else to do it wrong and set you back (in terms of money, time, and missed-opportunity costs)?  I say better to strike while the iron’s hot – to see what you can do while you’re still gung-ho.  Later on, if and when you’re even busier, you may see even more reasons not to try DIY.  Don’t expect to make easy progress at any stage, but at least in the earlier stages of your local SEO effort the next steps probably are clearer.

12. Will you be as cautious online as you are offline? Most SEO companies aren’t. Most have cocooned themselves away from the consequences of what they do and say.  One result is they suggest some crazy stuff for your business, in the name of rankings.

Would you tell employees to answer customers’ questions with a 10% keyword-density?  Then don’t put keyword-stuffed gibberish on your site.

Would you commission a Banksy-type mural of your business on the side of a building, in the hopes that people pass by it and call you before the mural is scrubbed off?  Then don’t create fake Google My Business pages.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/malinki/2464171421/

Would you pay for a shoebox of leads – and you can’t peek in the box?  Then don’t buy links.

Also, what you do online will follow you around.  Do something unethical and you can get sued, scare away your customer base, or worse.

If you think hard about your local SEO, but not to the point of analysis paralysis, sooner or later you’ll make the right choices and get good results.

What was the factor that tipped you toward (or away from) doing your own local SEO?

Any points I missed?

Leave a comment!

10 Types of Ninja Pages You Can Sneak up the Local Search Results

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People who do local SEO are pretty resourceful at rubbing keywords all over pages they want to rank. They’re less creative with the types of pages they try to get to rank.

Often those pages are limited to the homepage, a few “service” pages, and maybe some doughy “city” pages.  Those types of pages matter – as do other good standard types of pages – but other kinds can surprise you.  “Ultimate guides” and infographics and other kinds of theoretical link-bait are fine, but even if they rank well, the people who click on them tend not to be local to you.

Here are 10 kinds of pages that can rank better (and maybe more easily) than you might think, and that you might want to create on your site:

1. “Service Areas” or “Location Finder.” Don’t just plop down a list of cities and ZIPs. Also describe your service area in at least a couple of paragraphs, describe your experience in some of the communities on the list, link to your pages on specific services, link to any “city” pages you might have made, maybe include reviews from a few customers, and see if you can work a “near me” angle.

2. “About” or “Bio.” Usually you can optimize them for “Attorney” or “Doctor” or “Agent” or “Master Carpenter” or “Expert” or similar local search terms. Describe in detail the person’s experience, and exactly what makes him or her at whatever line of work, and link to relevant other pages on the site.  Don’t just describe hobbies and preferred breakfast foods.

3. “Certified” or “Licensed.” In some fields certification or licensure isn’t applicable, or nobody cares about it. But if you’re a home inspector, a hypnotist, an arborist, an electrician, or pretty much any kind of contractor (to name a few examples), the chances are good that at some point some of your customers will search for who’s qualified – not just for who’s nearby.

 

4. “[Service] for [person].” Think “massage for pregnant women,” “divorce attorney for men,” “cosmetic dentist for kids,” etc.

5. “Reviews.” Some people add “reviews” or “reviews of” to whatever local search term they type in. You’ll want to create a page that shows off your reviews anyway, so you might as well try to get it to rank for something.  (Note: this page should be different from your “Review Us” page.)

6. “Voted Best.” The catch is you probably need to win some distinction first. But if you do, you can probably snag some “best ____ in [place]” rankings.

7. Photo gallery. Depending on your niche, you may be able to get some rankings for “photos of ____” or “examples of ____” terms, but I mention photo galleries here because if you play your cards right you might make one that ranks for broader search terms, too. Especially if you don’t only slap up photos, but also describe what’s in the photos.

8. “Bilingual ____” or “[Language]-Speaking _____.” If you or someone who works for you speaks more than one language, and whips out that language when helping customers / clients / patients, create a page all about that.

9. “Discount” or “Coupons.” You could have one for each service, if you wanted to. It could be paltry.  Or if it’s not paltry, maybe you don’t offer it to everyone.  (Maybe you only offer it to veterans, or students, or seniors, for example.)

10. “Commercial” versions of “residential” pages, or vice versa. Let’s say you’re an electrician who offers 20 different services. You’ll want a page on each specific service, of course, but if you also serve business owners and if a residential customer has different needs from those of a business-owner customer, you’ll probably want 20 pages on your residential services, and another 20 on your commercial services.  Each can be your secret weapon.

Can you think of other “ninja” pages that can quietly climb up the local search results?

Any good examples of ninja pages that seem to work well for your competitor(s)?

What’s an overlooked kind of page that’s worked well for you?

Leave a comment!

How Can You Tell a Competitor Does Effective Local SEO?

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It’s trickier than you think.

You can monitor competitors’ rankings and links until you’re cross-eyed.  You can study them with SEMRush, Moz, Alexa , and other tools until hens grow teeth.  The insights you get from those activities can have value, and may be a good use of your time, but trying to dissect a competitor’s rankings is pointless unless first you’ve determined the right competitor to dissect.

First you need to figure out who’s most likely to rank well long-term, and who probably gets customers from that visibility.

I suppose there’s no way to know for certain how effective competitors’ local SEO efforts are unless you see several years of their ledgers and Google Analytics numbers.  Still, I’ve been part of local SEO efforts that have amounted to nothing more than blips and bumps in rankings/traffic, and I’ve had my hand in efforts that also brought big and lasting gains in business and profit.  High-payoff local SEO campaigns tend to have some qualities in common.

Below are some ways you can be pretty sure a competitor is doing local SEO that works in the ways that you’d want yours to work.  I doubt any single competitor of yours checks all the boxes, but an SEO-smart competitor will meet many of the criteria.  That competitor is worth grabbing ideas from and maybe trying to reverse-engineer.  The below points will give you a sense of which local competitor(s) you can follow up the rankings rather than into a rabbit hole.

Your competitor’s probably doing effective local SEO if your competitor has:

1. Ranked well for more than a couple of months. Newly-opened businesses or businesses that appear out of the blue often get some visibility in the Google Maps results for no apparent reason other than they’re new. But those businesses often don’t stay up there long-term.

 

2. Good visibility for search terms that aren’t too similar to the name of the business. For better and for worse, the business name does affect local rankings. If your competitors rank for terms stuffed into their Google My Business names, you can probably undo that advantage.  If they rank for terms that are part of their real businesses names, good for them, but that doesn’t mean the rest of their local SEO is worth studying.

3. Good visibility for a range of search terms. Unless you only care about ranking for one service, product, or category of search term, you probably can’t glean much from a one-hit wonder.

4. More than one page that ranks well. A page on a business’s site can bob up and down in the search results constantly. You don’t want all your visibility riding on one page, so you’d probably like more than one page on your site to ride high.  You may learn the most from the competitor who’s most consistent.  Which Olympic athlete would you rather be: the one with one gold medal, or the one who’s always somewhere on the podium, event after event and year after year?

5. Solid organic rankings – not just rankings on the local map. If your competitors seem to have only Google Maps / 3-pack rankings, much of that visibility may be based on their locations (specifically their distance to customers). The location is a big factor.  Now, maybe they have a more-prime address than you’ve got, and that may help them on the local map, but that doesn’t mean their local SEO effort has much else to tell you.  Sometimes the organic results are where the real action is.

6. “Conversion” (or “money”) pages that rank well. If your competitors have crusty blog posts from 2009, or “Ultimate Guides,” or rogue PDFs, or category pages that rank for competitive search terms, more power to ‘em. I’m not saying that counts for nothing, or that you can’t learn anything from whatever muck floats to the top of the pond.  But you can’t assume most people who click on that thing plan to become customers.  Spend more time looking at the high-ranking pages that only a local customer would want to click on, and that might compel him or her to pick up the phone.

7. Made it clear who they are. People want to know whom they’re calling and possibly paying. If your competitors don’t have a discernible brand or if you can’t find any info on who runs the business, they may get more customers you’d like them to, but not nearly as many customers as they hoped.  An anonymous, generic-looking business that ranks well today is on a hamster wheel.  If the owners aren’t making a name and building word-of-mouth power while the rankings are good, they will be in serious trouble when the rankings dip.

8. Not become a household name. Big brands tend to have tons of good links, often due to brand-building they did over the course of many years, possibly pre-Web. Not to take any glory away from enterprise SEO people, but a big, aged, stacked link profile can absolve many local-search sins (like no review strategy, messy listings, thin content on the site, and lazy on-page work).  Their non-SEO activities will probably tell you more about how you can improve your rankings.

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9. Increased their visibility over time. Be less concerned about the competitor who crashes onto page one, and more concerned about the competitor who crawls onto page one. That person probably isn’t there because of dumb luck, a fluke, heavy-duty spam, or Google’s latest test.

10. A site that’s not full of gibberish. It’s usually not difficult to get a keyword-stuffed monstrosity to rank in the local results, even for competitive terms. But to rank well long-term and get customers out of the deal is the real challenge.  Your site must make it clear exactly what you do, but try to get the message across with at least a little charm.

 

11. Not flouted the Google My Business guidelines. It’s pretty easy to spam the local map and get some good rankings (at least for a little while). For that visibility to result in customers and hold up over time is another question.  You probably don’t know for sure whether a competitor spams because it’s profitable, or in a last resort.  Most often people spam because they’ve got nothing left in the golf bag.  In any case, you don’t know how spammy tactics would work for your business, or whether your competitors will just out-spam you in reaction.

12. Outranked at least a few other local businesses besides yours. Outdueling one business doesn’t mean much. A competitor who’s outgunned several or many other local business owners – including you – is more worth watching.

 

13. Not caused you to think, “I could do all of that easily,” or “Duh! Why didn’t I think of those tricks?” when you try to figure out why they rank well. If you can tell that they’ve put in real work somewhere, and you’re not sure you want to put in that much work, at least you’re probably reverse-engineering the right local competitor.

14. Continued to outrank you even though you’ve emulated them in some ways. You’ve tried to do what they did, but you haven’t gotten the same results. That’s good.  Easy come, easy go.  Means if you eventually do get similar good results, it’ll be a little harder for your other competitors to ape you and expect good results.

15. Reviews that sound like reviews from your best customers. The ultimate goal of your local SEO effort should be to attract customers who make the rest of your marketing more effective, and your local rankings less necessary to maintain. Effective local SEO should take a little pressure off.  A super-happy customer’s review does that when it’s visible in Google Maps or on other review sites, and maybe on the business’s site.  You may have those sorts of reviews already.  Your competitors may have more.  Local SEO isn’t a “marketing channel.”  It’s the GI tract of a business.  Watch what comes out the other end.


Besides link/rankings/“SEO score” metrics, what are other signs of a local competitor worth grabbing ideas from?

Do you have a competitor who checks most or all of those boxes?

Any points you disagree with?

Leave a comment!

Should You Bother Using That New Google My Business Feature?

Google adds, changes, and kills off features at a puke-inducing pace.  With the possible exception of AdWords, nowhere is the pace of change faster than in Google My Business.

For local SEOs and others who (try to) keep up with this stuff, one school of thought says you should use every new Google My Business feature early and often, because those doo-dads provide clues as to what Google “likes.”  The other school of thought says (1) it’s never that easy, (2) everything is a trade-off, (3) you have to pick your battles, and (4) the local search results never really change.

I tend to fall into the latter group.

Whenever clients ask whether I suggest spending time on a new Google My Business bell or whistle – or whenever I give them unsolicited advice – I ask a few questions.

Given Google’s long history of changes to the local search results, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself next time a new Google My Business feature rolls out and you consider using it.

1. Do you assume Google probably will take it away?  Sooner or later, that new feature may meet the same fate as custom categories, “Best Ever” badges, tags, “descriptors,” vanity URLs, Helpouts, and Google+, to name a few dead homies.

2. Will you need to skip or dial down another activity to make time for Google’s gizmos?  If you already work on the tough, daunting, open-ended activities with more-definite payoff, then knock yourself out.  Otherwise, you’re pinning your hopes on an “easy win” that’s easy for your competitors to do, too.

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3. Will you use it even if your competitors start using it?  Can you be an “early adopter” and maybe notice some benefits?  Yeah, maybe.  But then what?

4. Will you keep using it even if it doesn’t seem to help your rankings at all?  If you can think of a plausible scenario in which your use of the new Google My Business feature might impress a customer, then it’s probably a good use of time.

5. Do you have a way to keep your work, so you can repurpose it later if you want to?  I’m thinking of Google+, and how you could post on the Plus page that was “connected” to the page that showed up on Google Maps, and how then Google slowly switched over to posts on Google My Business before shuttering Google+ altogether.   The only thing that’s more of a hassle than filing away whatever content you might post on a Google-owned property is to have to recreate it.

6. Are you content to play by Google’s rules?  If not, you’ll probably get away with misusing or overusing that super-secret new feature in Google My Business – at least for a little while, if not for a good long while.  The big problem is you probably can’t or won’t out-slime your competitors, and you won’t be in a good position to do what (relatively) little you can to get someone with latitude to do anything about your less-ethical competitors.

7. Would a customer understand it, and would it not create questions?  If the new place you can stick a keyword, a slogan, a photo, or a link would not make customers wonder what your business does or if you’re struggling for business, then it probably falls into the bucket of “smart marketing.”

What’s a Google My Business feature you wish Google didn’t kill off – because you got mileage out of it?

What’s your approach to using (or skipping) new GMB features?

Did I overlook something?

Any current feature you think is a waste of time?

Leave a comment!

Which Local Citation Sources Let You Specify a Service Area?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/8468633942/

Just because you set your sights on a region doesn’t mean you’ll rank well there.  That’s always been true of the service area you pick for your Google My Business page, so why should you care about the service-area settings on local-search sites much smaller than Google?

A few reasons:

1. You might improve your visibility on those sites. Places like Yelp, YP, BBB, Angie’s List, and others have a decent headcount, partly because those directories tend to rank well in Google’s local results.

2. The service-area settings in Google My Business changed recently, and in ways that may make your info on third-party sites more important to your rankings on Google’s local map. For service-area businesses you don’t need to specify a street address. The other big change is you can’t target a radius anymore (like 30 miles around your address).  The main upshot of those changes is now you can tell Google you serve the entire state, or 5 counties, or a similar chunk of territory.  How will Google determine how you rank within that region?  I don’t know, but it’s possible Google factors in the info you’ve put on third-party local directories, so you should try to use that to your advantage.

3. Maybe you just care about the details on your local listings, but don’t want to log into every single site to check whether you can define a service area.

It might help to know which local listings – besides Google My Business – let you specify a service area.  I looked at about 20 of the better-known and (usually) more-important sites for service-area businesses.  About half of them let you define your service area.  Most of those sites let you choose a service area even if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business – which is also what Google My Business does now, by the way.

Here are the non-Google “local” sites (mostly for US businesses) that let you set a service area:

AngiesList: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Apple Maps: no

BBB: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Bing Places: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar, but it’s based on the category you select

CitySearch: no

ExpressUpdate.com (AKA InfoGroup): no

Facebook: no

Factual.com: no

FourSquare: no

HomeAdvisor: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Houzz: yes

LocalEze: no

Manta: no

MerchantCircle: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar, but you have to pay

MyBusinessListingManager.com (AKA Acxiom): no

SuperPages: yes

Thumbtack: no

YellowBook: no

YellowPages: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Yelp: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Zillow: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Most of those sites also let you hide your address, if you want to.

How has Google’s recent change to service-area settings tied in with your business or your strategy?

How do you show your service area on your non-Google listings?

Did I miss any other sites where you can specify a service area?

Leave a comment!