Your Google My Business Page in 2017: How Hard Is It to Mess Up?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/51764518@N02/14550044470/

Google’s local-business pages of yore offered many ways to blow up your rankings – in the good sense or the bad sense.  Lots of customizable fields you could stuff full of keyword powder and watch go “boom.”

In recent years, though, Google has childproofed businesses’ pages.  Usually, when you don’t fill out your page quite the way Google wants, Google simply changes your info for you.  In that way, with the glaring exception of not keeping an eye on what you put in the “business name” field, Google has mostly eliminated the ways you can hurt yourself.  The edges are rounded, the paint doesn’t taste good, and the candy doesn’t make you look cool.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/3079557294/

That’s why I say the term “Google My Business page optimization” is a misnomer at best and deceptive at worst.  There’s very little to “optimize.”  Generally, it’s very easy to get your Google My Business page(s) squared away and then to move on.  (That’s not a good reason to hire a local SEO person.)

In the days of Play-Doh-knife Google My Business pages, getting your GMB page right is mostly a matter of not messing it up.  To that end, here’s my 12-point quasi-checklist of things you should look into:

More-obvious stuff

1. Basic eligibility. Are you taking liberties with the Google My Business guidelines (like using a fake address, or using employees’ home addresses)? If so, you’ll probably get away with it in the short-term, if not longer-term.  But even if your scheme works, you’ll check your rankings every morning to make sure they’re still there.  It’s not worth it.  Play by the rules – and remember that there’s plenty of local SEO without the “map,” and that most of it is just organic SEO anyway.

2. Correct and complete info. Don’t be concerned about minor formatting quirks in the “address” field. Do use the real, official, legal name of your business.  Do make sure your hours are listed on there.

3. Claimed page. An unclaimed page can still rank well, but you want to be able to make changes easily, and you probably don’t want other people’s public edits to be approved easily.

4. No duplicate pages. What constitutes a “duplicate” Google My Business page – especially one that’s harming your rankings – is tricky. Generally, my rule is that if you can (1) pull it up on the Maps tab and (2) it’s not a page for a specific licensed professional (e.g. doctor or lawyer or agent) in your organization and (3) you don’t want it to be the page people see in search results, you should mark it as “permanently closed.”  If you really want to bury it, claim the page and strip out as much of the business info as you can (particularly the phone number and site URL).

5. Categories. Which categories you should pick is a tricky question, but I suggest you pick as few as possible and don’t include any that seem to be a stretch or seem broader than other categories you might pick. Note: Google may change your categories for you if they don’t like them.

6. Accurate service-area settings. If you indicate to Google that you always travel to your customers (rather than meet all of them at your place of business), Google won’t show your address on your Google My Business page. Google used to be touchy if you owned a service-area business and didn’t hide your address for any reason.  Now, whether or not you “hide” your address is not a big deal.  If Google doesn’t want your address showing on your page, they’ll simply change it for you (rather than whisk your page off the map).

7. Map pin in correct place. It should be on your building, and preferably on the specific part of the building your business is in.

Less-obvious stuff

8. Best landing page URL. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if your Google My Business landing page is your homepage, rather than another page on your site. If you’ve got multiple locations and want to point each to a city-specific landing page, that’s fine, but you’ll probably need to rustle up some good links to those subpages.  If you’re not willing to go to that effort, you’re probably better off using the homepage on all your Google My Business pages and on most or all of your other local listings.

9. No overlapping service areas. Let’s say you’re a contractor with two valid addresses 10 miles apart. Both locations probably serve customers in some of the same cities, because those locations are pretty close together.  Fine, but don’t include any one city in the “service area” settings of both your Google My Business pages.  Google has a strange rule about that.  You’ll want to carve up the service area between the two locations, or simply not “hide” your address on one of your pages.

10. Google Street View indoor photo shoot. If you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar store or office, it’s bigger than a closet, and doesn’t look like hell inside, consider hiring a Google-trusted photographer to shoot a virtual tour. If you’ve got multiple locations, consider getting a photo shoot for each.  It’s smart marketing and may be a ranking factor.

11. “HTTP” vs. “HTTPS” in the “website URL” field. If you’ve got an SSL certificate for your site (not necessary for most “local” businesses), it’s probably a good idea to update the “Website URL” field of your Google My Business page and maybe your important other listings (e.g. Yelp, Facebook, YP) to point to the “https” version.

12. Transferred Google reviews. Do you have Google reviews showing on an old page, or on an otherwise incorrect page? Ask Google to transfer them.  (In my experience, they’re pretty good about it.)

Did I forget any important checkup points?

Any points you learned about the hard way on your Google My Business page?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

The Most Obscure “Rule” in Google My Business – a Nasty Surprise

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jayvee/6317802466/

A few days ago I wrote about a tricky issue I seem to have figured out based on a hunch: that having two or more Google My Business pages in the same service area can cause problems if you need to owner-verify one of the pages.

When I was troubleshooting with my client, I couldn’t remember where I saw that overlapping service areas might be an issue for Google.  That bugged me.

Turns out I hadn’t gone totally senile (yet), and that at one point I must have seen this MapMaker thread (or one like it), where MapMaker editor Gregg “Flash” Gordon wrote that:

It is important to note that there is only one listing permitted per SAB per urban area and per location. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge).

As of today (April 4, 2016), that “per urban area” part is not in the Google Places Quality Guidelines:

Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas.  If you wish to display your complete business address while setting your service area(s), your business location should be staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your inputs as well as inputs from other sources

Nor is it in the Google My Business Quality Guidelines, nor in “Service-area businesses on Google” guidelines, nor in “Address entry guidelines,” nor in any other document I know of.  It’s certainly not in any documentation a business owner will ever run across.

It’s not even mentioned by any of the Google My Business Forum “Top Contributors” in my 2014 post on “What’s Missing from the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

Apparently, the only people who know about this dumb, buried “urban area” rule are Googlers, MapMaker editors, and maybe Top Contributors at the GMB forum.  Fine.  Whatever.

But what in tarnation constitutes an “urban area”?

Is it a small town?  Is it Manhattan, or the Five Boroughs of New York City, or the Tri-state area?

What if you’ve got two locations of a business in the middle of nowhere – where the definition of “urban” is the dirt road between the church and the general store?

Oy.

If it’s a rule that’s actually enforced – especially a mushy-worded one like this – it should be present and visible in the rules that Google expects the average business owner to read.  Period.

I guess Google has had bigger fish to fry, like Mic Drop.

Did you know about the “urban area” rule?  If so, where did you read it or hear about it?

Have you seen it enforced?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Mails Verification Postcard to the Wrong Address: What to Do

Did your Google My Business verification postcard end up in the wrong neighborhood?

(goo.gl/S6DEks)

Yesterday I did a consultation for a guy whose client – an HVAC contractor – had a problem with duplicate Google pages.

Just two pages – one for each office location.  Each location served mostly different cities, with a little overlap.

Page A was set up fine.  Page B was also fine, except it used the same street address as Page A.  The client didn’t want it that way.  He entered the right address into the dashboard, but when it came time to seal the deal by owner-verifying Page B, Google put the street address of Page A – the other location – on the postcard.

The client was creating Page B for the first time, and didn’t see a way to make Google send the postcard to the correct address, so he went ahead and had it sent anyway, and owner-verified his page.  Soon after that, his local 3-pack rankings dried up, and his SEO/marketing dude booked a consultation with me.

Somehow, Google was messing up the addresses between when the client entered the correct address in the dashboard and when it showed him the preview of where the postcard would be mailed.

If you’ve run into a similar problem, you probably want to know what’s going on.

The problem seems to be overlapping “service area” settings, if you’ve got a service-area businesses with multiple Google My Business pages.

Let’s say you’re a plumber in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  You’ve got a location in Dallas, and your plumbers there travel up to 20 miles for a job.  But your plumbers in Fort Worth also travel up to 20 miles for a job.  So for each Google page you set a service area with a 20-mile radius.  The trouble is now the service areas overlap.

It gets worse if you get greedy.  If you’re like many owners of service-area businesses I’ve spoken with, you probably picked a 70-mile-radius service area, thinking that you’ll rank throughout that huge swath of land.  You will not.  It’s like putting 30 gifts on your Christmas wish-list.  You’ll be lucky if Google Claus gets you 3 of them.

We finally got Google to send the postcard to the correct address once I went into the Google My Business dashboards of both pages, removed all the service-area targeting, and un-hid the address of Page B.

(No, Google doesn’t care about un-hidden addresses anymore, and only did for a year or so.)

Maybe your case is different, and all you’ll have to do is change the service-area radii, for example.  Who knows.  But now you know what to tinker with.

Have you run into this problem – of Google mailing the postcard to the wrong address?  Did my solution do the trick?

Leave a comment!

Who Provides Facebook’s Local-Business Data?

I’ve never created a Facebook page for Local Visibility System, LLC:

Sure, I created a Facebook page for myself about 10 years ago (and haven’t spent any time there in probably 7-8 years).  But I didn’t make one for the business, because I prefer my site and email list to be home base.  Call me crazy.

Some years ago I created listings on the basic sites.  Lest the shoemaker’s son go unshod, every now and then I do a quick check on my basic listings / citations.  As a true local SEO geek, I like to see which listings are new, which have changed, which have gone the way of tie-dye and free love, etc.

My first stop was (as always) Moz Local, where I noticed that seemingly new, threadbare Facebook page for the first time.

The first thing I noticed about the Facebook page was that it didn’t include the “LLC” at the end of my business name.  I always include the “LLC” in my business name (not that it matters for SEO purposes).  That tells me that Facebook is probably grabbing my business info from a place where I’m listed simply as “Local Visibility System.”

So I checked out the usual suspects.  Turns out I’m not on Acxiom or LocalEze.

Then I checked InfoGroup.  I’ve been listed there for a long time, but the name doesn’t match.

So what site caused Facebook to squirt out a business page for me?

The answer is…Factual.

It was a Moz Local scan that alerted me to the name-match in the first place.

If I was paying attention a couple months ago I might not have had to do any gumshoeing.  Turns out Factual announced (quietly) its local-data partnership with Facebook.

I know I didn’t have a business Facebook page before then, so it all makes sense now.

According to David Mihm’s Local Search Ecosystem graphic, it’s possible that other sources still feed Facebook directly.  But the Factual-Facebook partnership is so new that maybe it’s now exclusive.

Anyway, on a practical level, why should you care that Factual feeds business info to Facebook?

  1. It can help you clean up duplicate Facebook pages – which are a common burr in the saddle.
  1. If you’re having problems making changes to or removing a Facebook page, try to update Factual (manually, or through one of its trusted partners, or through their API if you’re a hardcore geek).
  1. If you do not want a Facebook page for your business, try to squash it at Factual.
  1. If you don’t want your address showing on your Facebook page, try to get the address concealed at Factual.
  1. In general, Factual may be more important than you’d think. (It’s long been a data-provider for Apple Maps, for instance.)

Any Facebook or Factual fiascos you’d like to share?

Do you know of any other little-known data-feeding relationships between sites?

Questions?

Leave a comment!

What’s Missing from the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

The rules governing Google Places (or “Google My Business”) have never quite done their job.  They’re thick, short on examples, and wide open to (mis)interpretation.

The Google Places Quality Guidelines doc doesn’t even contain all the rules you need to follow.  Between the scattered letters of the law, gray areas abound.

It’s harder than it used to be to mess up and get a Places penalty, and the rules are slowly getting crisper.  But you’d still better understand and follow the rules, or your visibility to customers can go up in a puff of smoke.

Worst of all, it’s never clear how serious Google is about enforcing the rules – not only in terms of which rules are enforced, but also in terms of what happens to business owners who disregard them.

Maybe it’s only fitting that Google’s local-business guidelines are a mess.

But Google’s mess is your problem.  You need more than a basic understanding of the rules if you want to navigate the rubble and stay out of trouble.

Nobody understands the rules as well as the 5 Google My Business Forum Top Contributors I’ve asked for guidance: Mike Blumenthal, Linda Buquet, Joy Hawkins, Colan Nielsen, and Nyagoslav Zhekov.  (Technically Nyagoslav isn’t a Top Contributor anymore, but he knows the rules as well as anyone.)

I asked them a two-part question:

How can Google’s guidelines be more helpful?  What would you add or clarify?

They dissected the rules and left the guts hanging out on the table – just for you.

Read on if you’d like a crisper understanding of Google’s rules, fewer run-ins, and better local visibility.

 

 

Mike Blumenthal

At the highest levels there are several issues with the Google Local business information quality guidelines.

First and foremost is that since Local is now part of Google Plus there are additional rules and guidelines that apply but are not explicitly stated in this document. The business needs to also comply with the rules of this document: https://www.google.com/+/policy/pagesterm.html and nowhere that I can see is that stated. The second set of rules is at least two clicks away from these guidelines but in reality there should be one set of rules not two.

Secondly the rules are not uniformly enforced. Either the rules should be enforced or they shouldn’t be there. Let’s take this rule as an example: “Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title”. These spammy names are often approved and then even when they are reported they are hard to get removed.

Thirdly the outcomes of rule violations should be explicit and consistent. That is not the case with these rules. In the worst case not only is your listing banned but you can lose your YouTube videos as well. I do not see where that is mentioned at all in these rules.

Fourthly the rules often chose ambiguity rather than clarity in the face of reality. Are virtual offices acceptable? Or are they not? In the case of the rule that states, “Your business location should be staffed during its stated hours” it makes sense that Google would want a user to be able to find a person when they chose to visit, but does that make virtual offices acceptable or no? (See issue #2 as to how Google deals with this question.)

Finally – and this has much to do with the My Business Dashboard and the lack of precision with which phrases are used in various situations – I think that whatever happens to a listing, Google’s “penalty state” should be clear and it should relate to some stated rule. However in the case of the penalty state “Suspension” that could just mean that the listing is still active in a different account that you control (or not) and could just be due to the fact that it is against the rules (but nowhere stated) that a listing can no longer be verified in multiple accounts.

From where I sit it is long past time for Google to have a single, consistent, clear (and single) policy that articulates the obligations of the page owner and the penalties they will suffer if they are violated. And if they are imposed they should be done with explicit and specific language so that the problems can be fixed.

 

 

Linda Buquet

1st I want to offer up some of the reasons that I think the guidelines are as vague as they are.

Many of the rules are purposely vague, because I think Google feels like if they totally spell everything out and draw a firm line in the sand, it just gives the spammers a road map of exactly what to avoid. Additionally there are so many different types of business cases. In one case XYZ would be allowed, but in another it would be a clear violation. So it’s just hard to spell everything out without painting yourself into a corner.  The guidelines are so much clearer than they used to be though – so we need to give the team credit for that.

It’s funny though, because some of the guidelines and unwritten rules I’m going to bring up, the new Pigeon algo does not seem to mind as much and it even seems to be rewarding some of the spammy behavior. But that bird has not landed yet and the algo is still in major flux, so I’ll bring the issues up anyway. Because hopefully when Pigeon settles in, it will be a more fair algo to honest businesses that do play by the rules.

What specific parts of the guidelines could be clearer?

The rule that says “Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.” That one is way too vague and subject to interpretation.

It really needs to be spelled out better, but again there are so many types of issues that come up, that I’m not sure how to best explain in Google’s brief, subtle style. I guess the easiest would be to say “it must be your DBA.” But then spammers would just get a DBA for their KW stuffed name. And then again on the flip side, for a legit business the DBA might be some formal version of a name that’s never used publicly and it’s an established company that’s well branded with the less formal name. So again, tough call and part of the reason I think maybe that guideline is so vague.

Spammy listings with keyword stuffed names are way too prevalent and when reported often don’t get dealt with. It’s like they either don’t have time or depends on who looks at the spam and how well they are training.  But for the reasons I mentioned in point #2 it’s tough to keep the spammers in line, yet give legit businesses the flexibility that is sometimes needed for various business situations.

One unwritten rule – well it’s not even really a rule, but it causes problems, is to avoid redirects.  It’s just common sense and best practice – but business owners often don’t think of it and even pro consultants sometimes miss this as well and it can cause ranking problems. (Although this is another thing that changed with Pigeon, and currently one version of Pigeon does not mind too much.)

Google HATES re-directs! Redirects in general (not so much in local), often take the user to an adult or malware site or somewhere else they did not intend to go. When I do ranking troubleshooting, one of the things I always double check is whether the URL on the Google Local page is correct. Sometimes www version is entered, but redirects to the non www version. (Or vice versa.)  Or the url is healthysmiles.com, which is the nice new branding domain they bought. But when you click it, it redirects to drsmith.com, the original aged domain. So they are not only using a redirecting URL, but they aren’t direct linking to the URL that is mature, has authority and ranks.

Another unwritten rule is excessive city and keyword repetition in the description. For awhile you would get a rank penalty if you mentioned city 3 times in the description. That’s another thing that seems to have loosened up with Pigeon. Some listings with pretty spammy descriptions are ranking on top now unfortunately.  But hopefully that won’t last.

The last guideline issue I hate to even bring up because it’s so problematic and has been beat to death, often by me – is the “hide your ass”… err… I mean, “hide your address” rule. 😉

I totally understand Google’s reasons for that guideline. They don’t want a user finding a business on maps, driving across town, only to find an apartment with no one home – because service area business owners are normally out servicing clients. But this one guideline was so poorly executed and has caused problems on so many levels, it’s just hard to fathom.

My advice to service area businesses is to read that section of the guidelines with a fine tooth comb. And when in doubt, don’t even risk it. Just hide your address, if you value your listing.

 

 

Joy Hawkins

The rule that I see broken the most is to do with business location.

Virtual Offices – Google doesn’t say anywhere specifically that they are against the guidelines and the rules are extremely grey.  They simply state:

Do not create a page or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist.

Many businesses will get virtual offices so they can have a presence on Google Places in multiple cities. The business owners would argue that virtual offices are a real representation of their business since they will travel to them to meet clients and drop off paperwork for clients there. So the question is always “how often”? If a business only drops in to their virtual office once a year, is it okay to have a listing for it?

Although I would like to believe that not using a virtual office on Google Places is the way to go, it seems that no one is enforcing this rule, if it is even a rule at all. Businesses using PO Boxes get taken down all the time but listings using virtual offices are everywhere online currently and don’t seem to be disappearing at any substantial rate.  I can see why lawyers constantly use virtual offices. If it gets them more business and Google isn’t enforcing this grey area, what is the risk?

 

Appointment-Only Businesses – it is also an unwritten rule that Google wants appointment-only businesses to hide their address

The idea behind this is that they don’t want people randomly showing up at someone’s house if they aren’t there all the time accepting business. A perfect example of this would be a massage therapist who has clients come to their house, but only if they book an appointment first. Listings that fall into this category will get suspended for not hiding their address but yet there is nothing written explaining to them why it needs to be hidden. (Recent example here.)

It should be written in the guidelines that suite numbers belong on the second address line. I’m constantly seeing businesses put them on the first address line which often causes the address to not carry over correctly to MapMaker and can cause mapping or ranking issues.

The category rule should be removed since custom categories no longer exist, so it’s irrelevant.

 

 

Colan Nielsen

I see a lot of business owners and consultants asking why the photo displaying in the Local Knowledge Graph, Carousel, or in the info card in the new Google Maps isn’t the main profile photo they set-up for their Google+ Local page. Nine times out of ten, the profile photo that they are using is of a logo, text, stock photo, or something not related to the business. Google addresses this specific issue in the Photo Guidelines, but it’s a little hard to find (https://support.google.com/business/answer/3060029?hl=en&ref_topic=4540086).

Google says to:

Represent the real-world business location. Google may choose to favor real-world photos over logos or stock images.

How would I rephrase that? I’m not too sure. It’s not that they aren’t clear, it’s just that the user has to go on a treasure hunt to find the guideline.

One component of the Google+ Local page that Google doesn’t even mention in the guidelines is the business description (or “introduction,” as it’s now referred to). There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not Google uses the description as a ranking factor. The subject of the business description rarely comes up at the GMB Forum but it’s a fascinating part of the Google+ Local page that gets a lot of attention amongst us consultants.

What makes this even more interesting is the influx of incidents where Google My Business Support reps are giving out ranking tips related to the business description. (Check out the great post that Phil wrote on the subject if you haven’t already.)

I’ve always found the wording on one rule interesting – it’s classic Googlespeak:

Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business.

This one has a dual meaning. I’ve discussed this one with Joy and Linda on several occasions and they tend to agree. Interpretation at face value is clear; don’t link to a URL that isn’t for your business. Reading between the lines it could be telling us not to use a URL that redirects, period. We know that Google doesn’t like sneaky redirects, so I think it’s a smart move to play it safe and try to avoid using redirects on your Google+ Local page, period.

I also think it’s interesting that Google still lists the “is, not does” guideline that applies to custom categories, which don’t exist anymore with Google My Business. My guess is that they haven’t removed it because a small % of listings are still in the old Places Dashboard. However, like all Google guidelines, perhaps there is some hidden reason for leaving it up. According to the guidelines:

Categories should depict what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or products it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description.

It would be great if Google provided clarification on Virtual Offices, Regus Executive suites, and similar types of setups in the guidelines. We know that Virtual Offices are a no-no, but there are many different types, so it would be nice to have an official word on what is allowed and what isn’t.

I think that Google needs to put more emphasis on the importance of verifying a Google+ Local page with an account that has an e-mail on the company’s domain – e.g. listing@Google.com. In fact, Google did address this at the top of the guideline page until very recently. In fact, it wasn’t until just now that I’m noticing that it’s not there anymore. (Are you seeing the same thing?)

Two questions that seem to come-up a lot lately at the Google My Business Forum are:

1: “I entered my verification pin and it doesn’t accept it!”

The GMB Dashboard seems to be particularly sensitive to any edits that are made during the time when the business owner is waiting on the pin to arrive. Historically, it was normally only changes to the NAP that would invalidate the pin, but there are reports that editing any piece of data would void the current pin.

2: “My listing fell off the first page, help!”

This has been very common since the Pigeon left its nest. One quick way to tell if the drop is related to Pigeon is to do the search from Google.ca. Since the update hasn’t hit Canada, yet, you can see a pre-Pigeon result.

 

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov

I think the number one thing that is missing in the “Local Business Information Quality Guidelines” (talk about a mouthful of name) is examples. This is obviously not a legal document and as it is targeted to a very large and diverse group of people, I have always felt like it should be less formal, and more actionable.

In addition, the examples provided within the guidelines are actually rather confusing. I myself cannot make full sense of the following examples:

Examples of acceptable titles with descriptors are “Starbucks Downtown” or “Joe’s Pizza Delivery”. Examples that would not be accepted would be “#1 Seattle Plumbing”, “Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery” or “Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas”.

At the same time, an example of a guideline that could use a few examples is the following:

Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a local page on Google My Business.

It tries to tackle the problem of online-only businesses, but the explanation is insufficient for an average reader to understand what is meant.

Another problem is that the guidelines have originally been written heavily from a user’s viewpoint, with little thought given to all the different scenarios which they were supposed to be covering – business relationships (for instance, mother-daughter businesses), types of businesses, business operation practices, etc. They have never been fully rewritten and parts of them wouldn’t make sense to someone that enters the world of local search today. A notable example is the following categories-related guidelines:

Categories should depict what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or products it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description.

This rule is useless with the current dashboard, as custom categories are not allowed anymore, and the pre-approved categories pool has been cleared of all the categories that were naturally against this rule.

Based on these imperfections, common misconceptions have occurred over the years. One of the longest withstanding ones is that ONLY local area phone numbers are allowed as the primary phone numbers for listings. Another, more recent one, is that it is required for each practitioner within a practice to have unique phone number. While both of these (having a local area phone number as the main phone number and having unique phone numbers for each practitioner within a practice) are good practices, this is not always possible and is most certainly not obligatory.

Overall, I feel like the quality guidelines should be rewritten through and through, and the emphasis should be on the business owners (because they are supposed to be targeted to them), and not the end users.

Huge thanks to Mike, Linda, Joy, Colan, and Nyagoslav for their insights, and for being Virgil to my Dante.  You’d be wise to follow them on your social network(s) of choice, and even wiser to hire any of them for help.

Any questions – or Guideline gripes?  Leave a comment!

How to Cultivate Hearty Local SEO Genes for Your Business

 

If you’re opening a new business or considering some changes, can you make your business itself local-search-friendly?

Can you bless yourself with an inherent advantage in the local rankings – like super local SEO genes?

Yes ma’am.

It’s like with athletes.  Of course, hard work separates them from each other and from couch potatoes.  But if you’re a swimmer, wouldn’t it help at least a little if you’re like Michael Phelps and have flipper-feet, and arms longer than your legs?

Genes only get you so far.  But every bit counts in a competitive world.  If possible, you want to make the inevitable hard work easier, and you want everyone else have to work a little harder.

You’ll only find this post useful if you’re starting your business, opening a new location, or considering making major changes.

I’m going to throw out a bunch of suggestions for how you might make your business inherently more local-SEO’d.  Some of them you may have considered before.

I’m not saying all these ideas are applicable to you.  It’s more likely that only a couple of them are realistic in your case.  Just see what you can apply to your situation.

Relevance genes

Suggestion 1.  Position yourself as a specialist – or focus your whole company on a niche.

If you’re a roofer and you focus on metal-roofing jobs it’ll probably be easier to rank for “metal roofing” than for “roofing” and “roofers.”  The same is true if you’re a dentist who mostly wants to do more implants, or a mechanic who wants more transmission work.

Specializing doesn’t necessarily mean you offer fewer services.  Steakhouses serve more than steak.  It’s a marketing decision, more than anything else.

Less competition often makes it easier to rank well.  Your local visibility might also open more wallets, because you’re catering to a specific group of people and not trying to be all things to all people.

The traffic is likely to be of higher quality.  The more specific the search term, the more likely it is the searcher has moved beyond tire-kicking and know what he/she wants.

Also, you’re in a better position to use a descriptor on your Google Places page.

 

Suggestion 2.  Name your business with a relevant keyword or two.  Like “Acme Windows & Gutters” or “Smith Accounting & Bookkeeping.”

Do it for real: make it official with the State.

Speaking of state, consider using a state name in your name, like “Acme Windows & Gutters of Maryland.”

A couple nice upshots of picking out a strategic business name are:

(1) brand-name links to your site will include relevant anchor text, and

(2) customers’ reviews are more likely to mention relevant keywords, just because there’s a good chance they’ll mention your name.

 

Suggestion 3.  Include your 1-2 main service(s) in the name of your site.

Think hard about whether to include the name of your city.  Unless you plan to focus on one city and don’t really want customers from elsewhere, don’t pick a city-specific website name.  You don’t want to force yourself into using multiple websites.

 

Suggestion 4.  Hire someone who speaks a language that many of your customers speak, or that’s widely spoken in your city or neighborhood.  For starters, that will allow you to create multilingual pages on your site, where you describe your services in that language.  That will help you rank for those services.

 

Location genes

Suggestion 5.  Get an address in a populous city, if that’s where you’re trying to rank.  (Gee, Phil, I didn’t see that one coming…)

Must your business be in the big city if you want to rank there?  Maybe not.  It depends on several factors, chief of which is how much competition you’ve got.

I have no idea how practical it is for you to move your operations, but that’s not the point.  We’re simply talking about whether a big-city address is a ranking advantage in the big city.  It is, especially since Google’s Pigeon update.

Don’t forget that in some ways the bar is lower.  Even if you only rank well in Google Places in a ZIP code or two, you might reach all the customers you need.

 

Suggestion 6.  Pick a location near the center of town, or near to your competitors.  Google may consider the “centroid” to be some place downtown, or somewhere in the main cluster of where most businesses like yours are located (Mike Blumenthal has suggested the latter).

 

Suggestion 7.  Try not to pick a location on or very near a town line.  That can confuse data-aggregators, like InfoGroup and Acxiom, which might sometimes list your business as being in City A and other times in City B.  These sites feed your business info to all kinds of local directories – citation sources.  You don’t want some of your citations to list you in the wrong city.

 

Suggestion 8.  Pick an address near a popular local landmark or destination, so you can rank for “keyword near place,” “keyword near me,” or “keyword nearby” when visitors search that way – most likely on their phones.  This seems especially important post-Pigeon.

 

Suggestion 9.  Get an office that looks good enough that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to get a Google Business View photo shoot.

No, your place of business or your photo shoot don’t need to be as cool as this.

(Hat tip to this post.)

 

Phone genes

Suggestion 10.  Research the phone number you’re considering, to make sure that the previous owner didn’t own a business with tons of citations that use that number.

Also, don’t get 867-5309.

 

Suggestion 11.  Make sure the phone number you use isn’t a number you might want to retire later – like an 800 number or your cell number.

 

It may seem odd to consider local SEO when making the most basic business decisions.  On the other hand, all the ideas I suggested also make sense from an offline, old-school-marketing standpoint.

Your local rankings and business will only really grow from hard work.  But you can give yourself some advantages from the get-go.

Are you considering any of those ideas?  Can you think of other ways to breed a local-SEO-friendly business?  Leave a comment!

Crackdown on Service-Area Businesses: the Untold Story of Google’s Local “Pigeon” Update?

 

Since the “Pigeon” algorithm update last week, we’ve seen a decline in Google Places 7-pack results, plus local rankings reshuffled at least a little bit in most markets.

Has all that commotion covered up a crackdown by Google on service-area businesses (businesses, like contractors, that travel to customers rather than the other way around)?

I’m beginning to think so.

One long-time client of mine suddenly got the red light on a residential (and properly “hidden”) address.

Then I post on Linda’s forum, and hear the same thing from other people.

Then Holly Pedit emails me to say Google has put the kibosh on all her service-area clients.

I know Google isn’t penalizing all – or necessarily even many – residential or service-area businesses.  The question is whether they’re whacking more of them than usual.

Does your business operate in a “service area,” and has your Google Places page been suspended in the last week?

10 Guidelines for Putting NAP Info on Your Site for Local SEO

Peanut (our cat) - the nap expert.

Peanut (our cat) – the nap expert at work.

Putting your business’s NAP info – name, address, phone – on your site is a basic step you take if you want to rank well in the local results.

It’s also common sense if you’re trying to attract local customers.

Still, I get questions all the time – questions about all the details.  I’m hoping to answer them all in one breath.

Here are my 10 guidelines for putting NAP info on your site:

1.  Must be crawlable text – that is, “readable” by Google and other search engines.  That means it’s not OK to have it only as an image (for instance).  My rule of thumb is if you can copy and paste it, it’s readable by the search engines.

2.  Must match what’s on your Google Places page and citations – more or less.  Don’t worry about little formatting differences – like “Ave” versus “Avenue,” or whether there’s a period after “Ave.”

3.  Doesn’t have to be in Schema or in hCard, although there’s no reason not to mark up your NAP info that way.  Still, plain old HTML is fine.

4.  When in doubt about the formatting, refer to a Schema generator:

Schema-Creator.org

MicrodataGenerator.com

The one by TVS Internet Marketing

5.  The NAP info can go pretty much anywhere on your pages / in your code.  If you’re using WordPress or a similar platform, it can go in footer.php (my favorite), or in a sidebar widget.  It can go in the table your content is in, or in the footer area.  I wouldn’t suggest adding it to your title or description tags, though – usually a waste of space.

6.  Don’t include links to pages on your website – unless doing so helps usability, like if you have a “Our Locations” page where you list all your locations.

7.  If you have multiple locations, you can have all your NAPs on each page, or you can have just the NAP for Location A on the page for Location A, and so on.  I’ve never seen problems with using NAPs on the same landing page or site-wide.

8.  You can have the same NAP blob appear more than once on the page.  I wouldn’t have it appear 8 times on a page.  But 2 or even 3 times, sure.

9.  It’s OK to style it with CSS, or to have it on one line.

10.  If you run a home-based business and are extra-concerned about privacy, just leave off the street address – if you feel you must.  But you should still include your business name, city, ZIP, and phone number.

Any questions about NAP?  Tips?  Leave a comment!

The One Truth about Local SEO I Wish Everyone Understood

…is this:

You can’t define what “local” is, in terms of where you rank.

In other words, you can’t pick exactly which cities you’ll rank in.

 

You might know that there are two types of “local search”: (1) the Google+ Local, AKA Google Places (and Bing Places and Apple Maps and Yahoo) results, and (2) the organic results for local businesses.  I want to say a few things about the first type of results – Google+ Local.

Googlers have stated that the “local” algorithm looks at 3 overarching factors when determining where to rank your business, what terms to rank it for, and how highly to rank it relative to other businesses: relevance, prominence, and distance.

The first two you can control: My understanding has always been that your “relevance” depends on things like which business categories you’ve chosen for your Google listing and your citations, and how much info your site has on your specific services, and that your “prominence” depends on your citations, reviews, and (in some cases) links.

But the “distance”…that’s something you only control when you’re deciding where to rent office space, where to build your HQ, or – if you work out of a residential address – where you want to live.  Once you’ve planted your stake in the ground, Google decides which tent it’ll be attached to.

You can’t fool Google as to what city you’re in.  For instance, don’t put your “target” city in the address field on your Google listing if that’s not the city you’re technically located in.  (You can tell that this doesn’t fool Google, because if you go to your Google+ Local listing and click the map on the right, you’ll probably see that Google has you at the correct address anyway.)

Sure, in some cases you can (but should not) use a fake location to rank in a city where you want to rank, and because Google has been toothless about enforcing its rules lately.  But the teeth will grow back, at which point the fake address won’t seem like such a smart move.

What if you’re in a small town or suburb (or exurb) and want to be visible in the big city?  Unless you’re in a niche market and there aren’t many businesses like yours nearby, then it’s probably not going to happen.  As the density of local competitors increases, the amount of “map” you’re visible in decreases.  The more businesses Google has to pick from, the pickier it can be about which ones to show and under which conditions.

If you’re a dentist in New York City, you’re probably doing real well if you rank on the first page of Google+ Local results in your ZIP code.  If you’re a dentist in the middle of Montana, you’re probably visible in a number of towns.  That’s why, in most cases, being in a small town isn’t such a bad thing – even if you wanted to be visible in the big town.

If there’s a city where you want to be visible attract local customers, there’s always a solution – but you may not like the solution.  A situation I’m asked about frequently goes something like this:

Phil, I paint houses and I work out of my home address, which is 25 miles from the “rich town” with all the big houses I want to paint.  What should I do?

My answer to a question like that is: don’t bank on being visible on the “local map,” unless maybe you’re one of half a dozen house-painters between you and the “rich town.”  If you absolutely must be visible in the Google+ Local results in the “rich town,” move your business there.  Oh, and you’ll still hard to put in the work on your site, citations, reviews, and so forth.  (See?  I knew you wouldn’t like the solution.)

But let’s say you’re not moving your business, and you realize that you can’t pick how much of the local map you’re visible in.  How do you play your hand?

My advice is: make sure Google understands your “distance” – that is, exactly where your business is located.  You may not like the maximum amount of local turf Google gives you, but at least make sure they have enough information to give you some turf.  Therefore:

  • Have your business name, address, and phone number on every page of your site.  (Make sure it’s text you can copy and paste; it can’t be a photo, for instance.)
  • Put your city somewhere in your title tag(s).
  • Nail the citations.
  • Embed a clickable, interactive Google Map on your site, where appropriate.  (Embed the map that you see on the right-hand side of your Google listing.)

Beyond that, to the extent you need to fill in the gaps, I suggest at least dipping your toes into AdWords and working on your local-organic rankings (read this post and this one).

In the long run, it doesn’t matter much exactly where you set up shop.  If you take advantage of the many things you can control, you’ll get more customers.

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

 

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

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

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

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

Here was my quick response:

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

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

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

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

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