Will a Tracking URL Hurt Your Local Rankings in Google?

You may have considered building a tracking URL and putting it in the “Website” field of your Google My Business Google Places page.

You’d do this so that you could see in Google Analytics how many clicks came from people how found you in the local 3-pack (as opposed to in the organic results).

But maybe you didn’t try it because you there was a chance it would mess up your rankings or a client’s rankings.

Well, no problem.  I made myself your lab rat and put a tracking URL on my Local Visibility System page.

As I suspected, it doesn’t seem to have hurt my visibility in the search results.

That’s what I see in the Google My Business “Insights,” which you have to take with a fistful of salt.  So I checked Analytics, too, and I don’t see a loss in traffic.

I don’t pretend that this is a scientific test.  Like the experiment I did back in October (“Do Longer Business Hours Help Local Rankings in Google?”), it’s just one case-study.  I could try it for other businesses and my results might vary.

But what I have concluded is that there’s no inherent harm in using a tracking URL on your Google page, so now I’m more comfortable with using tracking URLs for clients.  That squares with what Dan Leibson mentioned in his great post on the topic.

Have you tried using a tracking URL on a local page (yours or a client’s)?

If so, what have you seen?

Any concerns I didn’t address?

Leave a comment!

How to Migrate or Redesign Your Site and Not Die in the Local Rankings

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Clients and others often ask me how they can redesign their site or migrate to a new CMS and not end up committing seppuku in the local search results.

I tell them that although there are probably a hundred checklist items they might concern themselves with, only a few really matter.  Do these steps wrong or forget to do them and you will bring great dishonor to your local rankings.

If you’re considering a rebuild, make sure that at the very least you’ve done everything on this 7-point checklist:

1. Do your 301 redirects.

Do them on all pages that (a) you’ll be renaming or relocating (to a different subdirectory, for example) and that (b) have good external links pointing to them.

2.  Keep your title tags the same.

Unless they’re lousy and you want to change them anyway.  Take note of your title tags at least on your most-important / highest-traffic pages, or use Screaming Frog to grab and export all of them.

3.  Keep your content the same.

If you have 5 paragraphs on the old version of a page, make sure the new version has the same 5 paragraphs.  Short of doing that, at least keep the content as similar as possible (unless it just sucks).

4.  Make sure your Google Analytics tracking code doesn’t get butchered.

Just log into Analytics after the upgrade and get worried only if you see a flat line.

Check back again a few days later to make sure data’s still coming in OK.

5.  Remove all noindex tags from your staging site.

(At least from the pages you want Google to index.)

While you’re at it, make sure your robots.txt doesn’t disallow your entire site.

Thanks to Darren for the reminder.

6.  Make sure your local listings still point to the landing page URL you want them to.

If necessary, update those listings to point to the correct URL on your site.

7.  Don’t assume the user-experience is better.

You may like the new look.  Your turtleneck-clad designer may like the new look.  But all of that amounts to nothing in the end if your pages load too slowly or confuse customers.

As I’ve said, the “back” button is the worst enemy of local SEO. Google seems to pay attention to how visitors behave once they’re on the site. Also, all the rankings in the world don’t matter if your site makes people cuss.

Use a tool like CrazyEgg to study where visitors click and scroll – how they use the site – and use that intel to make things easier to find and to use.  Also consider getting some five-second tests, or asking your spouse or a trusty cowpoke for an unvarnished opinion.

Get those basics right and worry about smaller stuff later.  If you’ve got a big site or there’s any ecommerce going on, you’ll probably have more work to do during or after the upgrade.

Any redesign / migration horror stories?

Any tips on how to make the transition easy on your local rankings?

Leave a comment!

Quick Initial Review of Moz Local Insights (Beta)

Moz Local has come a long way in the last 20 months.  It’s a handy option for getting some of your most-important listings up and running, especially for new businesses.

It isn’t a one-stop shop for all your citation needs – nor is it meant to be – but it can often eliminate serious legwork.  It’s affordable ($84 / location / year, as of this writing.)  I often recommend it.

David Mihm just announced some new features – called Moz Local Insights.  It’s a combination of 3 dashboards that show you stats on where your business falls in the local heap.

It’s a beta release, so my initial take is probably what you’d expect: there’s a lot of promise in these new features, but they need some work.  (That’s true of any beta release.)

This post isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review, but rather just my lab notes so far.  I may add updates as I notice new things in Moz Local Insights.

Anyway, let’s go through the three new tabs, one at a time:

 

 

 

Update 11/14/15: The “Performance” area is working for me now – as a result of either Moz’s fixes or my realizing a couple senior moments I’d had, or both.

I can’t say yet what I think of the “Performance” area, because I couldn’t get it to connect with my Google Analytics accounts (where I’ve got most of my clients’ GA dashboards).

Here’s a screenshot I nabbed from David’s announcement post, just to show you what the “Performance” tab should look like:

It appears to be a slick custom Google Analytics dashboard, essentially.  Although geeks like me find it fun to sift through GA data, clients often don’t, so I think this will add value there.

It would be nice if Moz Local could attribute clicks you got as a result of your Google Places 3-pack rankings, if you’re using a tracking URL to track that stuff.

 

 

 

You’ll probably want to play around in the “Visibility” tab.  By default, Moz Local will track the categories you specified as the keywords you want to track.

The search terms you want to rank for are probably pretty different from the categories you want Moz Local to use for your various listings.  That’s why it would be nice if they sent you an email or showed a pop-up that says “Hey, update your keywords!”  (I hope you can track more than 5 of them in version 2.0.)

Maybe they emphasize that step more if you’re setting up Moz Local for a given business for the first time; I set up my clients in there pre-Insights.

The bottom line is: be sure to click that “Add and Manage Keywords” and update your keywords before you do much else in the “Visibility” tab.

 

 

 

 

The “Reputation” tab doesn’t seem to reflect accurately (yet) how many reviews the business has, and where it’s got those reviews.

Here’s one example of a client who’s got reviews on a bunch of sites, including several that show up on page one when you search for him by name:

But here’s what Moz Local shows:

The “Reputation” tab has a nice, clean layout, so I think it will be useful as a reporting tool that clients can easily log into.

At that point it won’t be too different from the Google My Business reviews dashboard, but of course the issues with Google’s dashboard are (1) many clients can’t figure out how to get in there, and (2) with Google’s new interface it’s gotten even less intuitive.  That this will be under the same roof as Moz Local’s other reporting features is nice.

One add-on I’d like to see in here is the ability to export your reviews: the text, the ratings, the reviewers’ names, where the reviews were written, when they were written – the whole burrito.  (There’s an ORM tool out there that has this export feature, but I can’t remember which one.  ReviewTrackers gives you that ability.  Thanks to Darren for reminding me.)

An export would be a handy feature partly so your reviews don’t go poof if they’re filtered or otherwise lost, and partly so it’s easy to mark them up with Schema and put them on your site (yes, even on Google+ and Yelp that’s OK).

In a nutshell: Moz has some work to do, but I like where “Insights” is headed.

What do you think of it so far?

Have you left them feedback on the beta version yet?

Leave a comment!

Do Longer Business Hours Help Local Rankings in Google?

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Sometimes I get clients whose businesses are open only a few days a week.  They often seem to get less Google Places visibility and lower traffic on those days.

To me, it’s always been a chicken-or-the-egg question: Are they closed because those days are slow to begin with, or does Google show their businesses less or lower in the local 3-pack as a result of their limited hours?

I did a quick (and possibly inconclusive) little experiment.  Based on the results so far, I’d say Google probably won’t give you an increase in local-search visibility just because you lengthen your business hours.

On October 8 – more than two weeks ago – I increased the business hours of my poor, neglected Google My Business Page.  I changed them Mon-Fri 2pm-7pm to Mon-Sun, 12am-12pm – AKA open 24/7.

Did I see any bump in the local 3-pack?

If the Google My Business “Insights” are any indication, I didn’t see any meaningful bump.

“Insights” numbers are about as reliable as the Green Line in Boston.  So what does Google Analytics tell us?

In other words, if I didn’t see an increase in 3-pack impressions, did I at least see any bump in traffic after October 8 (when I changed to open 24/7)?

Doesn’t appear so.

I wanted to see a dramatic before-and-after picture.  I wanted to see whether business hours are just a big dumb direct local ranking factor, the way the “business name” field is.  It doesn’t appear to be.  That’s good news, I say.

Of course, maybe hours do affect your local rankings / visibility in one way or another.  For one thing, this was just one down-and-dirty experiment.

Google knows your business hours and displays them prominently.  I’d guess that over time they affect your rankings indirectly, based on how click-worthy they make your business.

But for some search terms – like “emergency dentist” or “24-hour pharmacy” – I would hope that hours also directly influence when and how highly a business shows in the search results.  If that’s not already the case, I hope Google moves in that direction.

Have you noticed that business hours affect your local visibility in any way?

Any experiments you’d like to try (or want someone else to)?

Leave a comment!

10 Ways to Use CrazyEgg for Smarter Local SEO

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CrazyEgg is like night-vision for your website.  It’s an inexpensive, easy-to-install tool that shows you where visitors click, how far down the page they scroll, and much more.  I’ve used it years, on my site and on clients’ sites.  I recommend it in my audits, and to anyone with a site that’s supposed to support a business.

It shows you that intel in a heatmap for each page you want to track.  You study those heatmaps to make decisions as to how to improve your site – how to make it better at giving visitors what they’re looking for.

But CrazyEgg’s insights on clicks can also help you improve your local visibility in Google and elsewhere.

You can discover content ideas, which review sites your visitors care about most (or want to review you on), how visitors who found you through Google Places behave once they’re on your site, and much more.

By the way, there are other great click-analytics tools, like the up-and-coming HotJar, but I’m focusing on CrazyEgg because I’ve got the most experience with it and it’s been good to me for a long time.  (No, I’m not an affiliate.)

Here are all the insights (I know of) that CrazyEgg can give your local SEO campaign:

Insight 1:  Do your pages compel visitors to go deeper into your site?

You want a low bounce rate, “long clicks,” and in general for people to use your site the way Google expects they would.  The jury is out on this as a ranking factor, but in my experience it does matter.

Study CrazyEgg’s heatmaps, starting with your most-important / most-trafficked pages.

Do most visitors click where you expect and want them to?

Do they click on links / buttons for specific services you want to promote (and if so, which services)?

Do they even scroll far enough down the page to see what you want them to see?

You may have some surgery to do.

Oh, and don’t forget to re-launch your CrazyEgg test on a page once you’ve made any changes to that page.

 

Insight 2:  What FAQs-page questions are the most popular?

Knowing which questions visitors click on most can tell you what content you might be missing, and which pages you should beef up so as to answer those questions.

Create a giant FAQs page (here’s a great example), and make the questions clickable links that take visitors to the answers.  Either the answers expand, or you put them lower down on the page.  If you’re using WordPress, consider a plugin like jQuery Collapse-O-Matic.

Then let the CrazyEgg test run, until you’ve got a couple hundred clicks.  See which questions people click on the most.  Then create more content or tweak what you’ve already got (or both).

 

Insight 3:  See how your Google Places traffic behaves.

Use Google’s URL builder to create a tracking URL and add it to the “Website” field of your Google Places page.  (More detail in this post from Dan Leibson.)

Then set up a CrazyEgg test for your landing page (without the tracking parameter).  Let it run for at least a couple weeks.  Then pop open the “Confetti” view in CrazyEgg and see where your Google Places visitors tend to click.

You can even compare the types of traffic you get from practitioner Google Places pages (e.g. “John Doe DDS”) and practice pages (“Doe Dental Center”), if you’ve claimed those Google pages and added different tracking URLs to each.  This may tell you whether you should try to bury that practitioner page or spruce it up and get reviews on it so as to develop it into more of a traffic source.

 

Insight 4:  Are your “city pages” effective?

If nobody seems to click or scroll, Google may consider them garbage, too.  Help those little guys.

 

Insight 5:  Are your microsites or exact-match-domain sites just online paperweights?

(Spoiler alert: probably.)

 

Insight 6:  How many visitors show interest in your reviews?

Do they click on links to your reviews, or click on your review widgets or badges?  That might tell you a few things, like that:

(1) They probably came straight from Google.

(2) They probably didn’t see enough of your reviews in the search results.

(3) They care about reviews in general, and you could probably get more traffic and clicks (which seem to affect rankings) if you pile on the reviews.

(4) Maybe you should put your reviews on the page where currently you just link to them.  (They won’t get filtered.)

 

Insight 7:  How do reviewers (past and current customers) act once they’re on your “reviews” page?

Let’s say you give your customers a link (on paper or in an email) to a page where you’d like them to write you a review.  Which links do they click on – that is, which sites do they try to review you on?

If everyone clicks on the same site or whichever one’s listed first, you probably need to provide guidance (e.g. “Have a Google+ page? Please go to Google+”).  If people don’t seem to click at all, they may not know there are clickable links.  Do reviewers have to scroll down to see all the choices – and might miss some?

There’s a story there, if you’ll listen.  What you learn can help you get more reviews on the sites you want.

 

Insight 8:  How many people look up driving directions?

I’d hazard a guess and say that this matters a little, if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business.  Bill Slawski has written about this – that the combination of driving-directions lookups and an influx of reviews might be a ranking factor, according to one of Google’s patents.

Encourage visitors to look up driving directions.  Don’t forget to embed the right kind of map: a Google map of your business, rather than of a generic address.

 

Insight 9:  Does anyone actually click on your social-media “share” buttons”?

Rather than ask visitors to share on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Pinterest and LinkedIn and Reddit and create a Squidoo lens for you, you might make better use of their attention by linking them to further reading, or to your reviews, or to your contact form.

This harkens back to Insight #1 – about how you want to get visitors deeper into your site.  You also want those visitors to become customers.

 

Insight 10:  Look at each traffic source and see how those visitors behave.

Is most of your traffic from Google.com – meaning most visitors find you in the search results?

Do you have any significant traffic from sites where you’ve got reviews?  (If so, keep racking up reviews there and elsewhere.)

Do the links you’ve earned from other sites actually send you traffic – or just “link juice (you hope)?

Study the different dot-clusters.  Do all the oranges click your “Read Reviews” link?  Does it seem that none of the blue-dot visitors clicks at all?

Bonus insight: You might conclude, finally, that Yahoo Local is a total waste of time.

Can you think of other ways that click-analytics can help your local SEO?

Any tips on those – or on CrazyEgg in general – you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!