30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop

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No, this isn’t one of those dreadful “274 Local SEO Tools” posts.  Most of those lists suffer from bloat, or come from a seller with an ulterior motive, or are stuffed with affiliate links.  Also, because of the constant changes in Google and in the rest of the local-search ecosystem, most “tools” roundups  have the shelf life of sushi.

You should be able to do effective local SEO (for your business or for clients) without a single third-party piece of software or other tool.

I am not saying you should go tool-free.  Some tools sure make life easier.  I’m saying that you should have the ability to go old-school, and that simply using a tool doesn’t mean you’ll do good work.

It’s also nice not to nurse on a tool that can break or become useless or be taken from you.

Long way of saying I’m all about internal resources.  They help me understand my own processes and stay on-track, they make work easier for my helpers and me, and they clarify problems and action items for my clients.  Many of them double as deliverables I give clients.

You probably have a couple of home-brewed resources already.  But you’re probably missing at least a few that can reduce work, thinking, or repetition on your part, and that can make your life easier.

Below are the 30+ internal resources I’ve found useful to cultivate and use for local SEO.  I’ve provided links or examples where possible.  You’re free to adapt or improve on any of them.

General

1. Preliminary questionnaire. For getting the basic facts before you start on a project.

2. Questionnaire for consultations/troubleshooting. Helps you remember the most-important questions to ask.  It’s especially useful if your client can fill it out before you get on the phone, so you can troubleshoot beforehand.

3. “Swipe file”: real-life examples that reflect every suggestion you make. It’s nice if you’ve also got real-life examples of what you don’t   I try to do that in my posts (where appropriate), but I also wheel out other examples for clients.

4. “Lab chimp” client: one who’s open to the occasional experiment, as long as it’s not spammy or otherwise unethical.

5. Old local SEO audits you did. They’ll serve as starting points or templates for future audits you do – for those clients or for others.  Eventually they’ll become like yearbook photos.  You’ll be surprised at how your audits grow over time.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/15851977331/

6. “Rules of writing” document for anybody who writes for you. If you’re not even willing to write down your SOPs or preferences, it’s a little harder to expect your hired stunt-pens to meet the challenge.  (Feel free to email me if you’re interested in seeing mine.)

7. Spreadsheet for checking rankings manually. Yep, without tools.  If you’re like me, it’s not something you’ll use often, but it’s good to have around.

8. Written guide to your basic approach to local SEO. Doesn’t need to be for anyone else’s eyes, but you should have the basic workflow written down somewhere.  You can get mine.

9. “Brain trust” to answer clients’ questions: either a list of posts you did on clients’ questions, or resources other people created that address those concerns. (The origin of half my posts is that I got sick of re-explaining the same point over and over, and just wanted to write my best answer once and for all, so all I’d have to do is send a link.)

Local listings

10. “Intake form” for citations: a spreadsheet your clients can fill in to give you (and any helpers) the info you need to work on their local listings. Here’s Whitespark’s form.

11. Citation worksheet: a spreadsheet you/your helpers can use to work on local listings. Here’s what I use as a starting point for US businesses.  You should have one for each country where you have clients or locations.

12. Place to keep login info for any listings you work on. Ideally that’s part of the “citation worksheet” (pictured above).

13. List of relevant and notable “niche” citation sources. Can be a mashup of resources like this, this, this, and this.  You’ll probably need to sift through the list to identify the most-important niche listings any given client should have. Add any keepers to your aforementioned citation worksheet for that client.

14. “Black book” of all the support departments at local-business directories and similar sites. Lists of contact info are here and here.

15. Local listings for your business. Just so you know how to handle listings on most of the sites you might work on for a client.

16. Google Maps user-profile with a solid track record of making edits (particularly anti-spam edits) that Google approves.

 

17. Yelp account with a solid track record: a history of reporting reviews that end up getting removed, or suggesting edits that end up being approved.

Site

18. Site-audit spreadsheet. Here’s mine.

19. Real-life example of every element or practice you want (or don’t want) on a site. A homepage that covers all the bases, a “city page” that ranks well and brings leads, an irresistible title tag, a great job of incorporating all the services into the menu and internal linking, etc.

20. A migration checklist short-n’-sweet, or exhaustive.

21. Schema.org markup for every occasion you use Schema. You don’t want to rely on plugins.  Also, if and when you hand-code and test it, you probably won’t want to do it all over again next time.

22. Your own site. For your business.  Kind of looks bad if you don’t have one (though most SEOs’ sites are about as useful as a Sears-Roebuck catalog).

23. A site you can experiment on freely. That may rule out all but your site.

(Of course, there are many paid and/or third-party tools that can help you on the site audit, and even more to help you work on the site.  Those have been covered in other posts, though.  I’m not here to remind you that you need your own FTP client.)

Links

24. Link questionnaire for your clients to fill out. Gives you a sense of what types of link-earning ideas your clients are most interested in, and any current link opportunities.

25. Spreadsheet for collaborating with clients on link opportunities. How you should lay this out is just a matter of taste, and of what works for you. I like to include several tabs: “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “in the bag.”  Any given link opp goes on one of those tabs.

26. Spreadsheet for collaborating with any helpers of yours on link-huntin’.

27. Copies of successful outreach emails – emails that helped you eventually get hard-to-get links. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time, though you do want to take time to customize each email, of course.

28. Copies of your link-opportunities reports: the list of link opportunities you found and suggested to clients. Probably some of them will be relevant and useful in the future, and at the very least they’ll get the creative juices flowing.

Reviews

29. Spreadsheet for auditing clients’ reviews: which 5-12 review sites they should care about, how many reviews they’ve got on each site, how you’d suggest prioritizing, and the next steps you’d suggest. You can use it to plan your long-term work together on rustling up reviews.

30. List of questions you can use to figure out why your clients aren’t getting reviews. Maybe a shorter version of this.

31. Template for an initial review-encouragement email – for clients to send to their customers/clients/patients. Customize and tweak as necessary.

32. Template for a follow-up review-encouragement email. A friendly reminder, in case your client doesn’t get a review after sending the first email.

33. Written outline of the general review-encouragement strategy you suggest to clients. You can and should customize it to any given client’s specific situation.

34. Spreadsheet the client or designated “reviews person” can use to stay on top of the outreach for reviews. Who’s been asked, what happened, what’s next, etc.

35. Template for customizing review handouts. Like this or this.

Any internal (non-third-party) local SEO resources you’d add?

Any you’d like to share – maybe resources you created?

Which one(s) do you find the most useful?

Leave a comment!

10 Ways Local SEOs Can Start Helping Their Clients Get Reviews

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Most local SEOs don’t help clients on reviews, much or at all.  They can’t outsource it, it doesn’t look like a lot of billable hours on paper, it takes tough love, and they’re not even sure what they’re supposed to do.

That’s a shame.  Few things can prove your worth as much as helping clients get dialed-in on reviews.  Having good rankings without good reviews is good only for one’s competitors.

Besides setting up the review tool du jour (usually a waste of time) and maybe creating some printouts (usually a good move), what can local SEOs do for clients on reviews?

Plenty.

1. Help troubleshoot their current review strategy. You will find problems – and ways to improve.

2.  Do a “review audit.” I like to do a quick “just the facts, ma’am” -type audit, with an emphasis on niche review sites.

But if you’ve got your client’s ear for broader business advice, you might also do this very different type of review audit, which Miriam Ellis suggests.

3.  Do a bulk “Find Friends” lookup on Yelp – as a way of identifying which customers are active on Yelp and there most likely to write a review there. Also, explain to your clients that they can easily look up new customers / clients / patients one at a time, as they come in, if that’s easier.

4.  Find the waste. Does your client have 200 DemandForce “reviews” but none on Google?  Does your client ask everyone for a Facebook “like,” but not even a Facebook review?  Has your client sent 50 people into Yelp’s meat grinder, only to have their words and goodwill extruded out as 50 filtered reviews?

5.  Critique and improve your client’s outreach emails. There should be two requests: one in-person, and a friendly email follow-up a few days later.  A personalized, friendly, brief, not-pushy email that offers customers a couple choices of review sites is an easy way to pick up stragglers who otherwise would’ve forgotten to put in a good word online.  Write a version that you think will do better than what your client currently sends, and test it out.

6.  Mine the reviews.

7.  Showcase your client’s reviews on the site. That’s not a problem with Yelp or with Google; they won’t get filtered.  But you still want them on the site, because [BLEEP] happens, and because you can’t assume that would-be customers saw all the good reviews in the search results before visiting the site.  Also, it’s relevant on-page content that you don’t have to write.

8.  Build a “Reviews” page.

This is one place to do #7, although you can and perhaps should show off your reviews elsewhere on the site, too.  By the way, the page doesn’t have to come across as “having your mom as a reference on your resume.”

9.  ALSO build a separate “Review Us” page. That’s different from the “Reviews” page, which you’d build mainly to impress would-be customers (and maybe even to rank for some “reviews” local search terms).  Only current and past customers see the “Review Us” page.  You’re no longer trying to impress them; now you’re encouraging them to write the kind of review that probably was why they chose your client in the first place.

10.  Discuss review strategy – continually. You won’t get dialed-in after one phone call, or even after a couple of months.  You need to help your clients diversify.  You need to keep them from bribing customers or making it too easy, so that the reviews your clients get are impressive and not bare-minimum or fishy.  You may need to replicate your success in other locations of your client’s business.  If you just don’t forget about all the ways you can help, you’ll become indispensable.

How do you help clients earn more and better reviews?

Any suggestions I’m missing?

Leave a comment!

Best Search Operators for Digging up Duplicate Local Citations

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To claim your seat at the Local Feast, your citations need to be more or less correct.  But you can’t fix those listings if you can’t find them.

Tools are unreliable.  Even the excellent Moz Local should just be a first sweep in your search for all the listings you need to fix.

Meanwhile, searching in the sites can be slow going.  You usually have to search several times to see find all the listings you want to find.

Let Google help you.  Use search operators to dig up duplicates faster.

Search operators won’t work on every site you need to deal with (more detail on this in a minute).  But they’ll save you time and frustration – partly because they do work on many of the packrat sites where the duplicate listings pile up.

Here are the best search operators I know of for uncovering duplicate listings:

 

Google

site:plus.google.com name of business “about”

site:plus.google.com (###) ###-#### “about”

You’ll probably find any Google Places duplicates with Michael Cottam’s duplicate-finder tool, but it’s worth popping in those two operators just to be sure.

(Yes, I know we don’t call Google Places a “local citation” source, as the title of the post would suggest, but that was the first title that popped into my head.)

 

Yelp

site:yelp.com/biz name of business

Hat tip to Nyagoslav for the Yelp operator, which he mentioned in a discussion on Google+.

 

Facebook

site:facebook.com (###) ###-####

site:facebook.com (###) ###-#### “reviews” -m. -m2

Try the 2nd one if the 1st one gives you more results than you’d like to sift through.  (That might happen if your business name isn’t too unusual.)

 

YellowPages

site:yellowpages.com (###) ###-#### intitle:”business name

site:yellowpages.com intitle:”business nametwo-letter state abbreviation

CitySearch

site:citysearch.com “name of business” two-letter state abbreviation

site:citysearch.com intitle:”name of businesstwo-letter state abbreviation

As with Facebook, try the 2nd one if the 1st one returns too many results.  Also, for the 2nd one you may want to try a couple common variations of the business name.

SuperPages

site:superpages.com (###) ###-####  intitle:”business name

Better Business Bureau

site:bbb.org (###) ###-#### “business review in” two-letter state abbreviation

site:bbb.org name of business “business review in”

Angie’s List

site:angieslist.com (###) ###-####

 

A few notes

  1. Swap out only the underlined parts with your business info or your client’s.
  1. Keep the quotation marks exactly where they are.
  1. By “two-letter state abbreviation” I mean “MA” for Massachusetts, “NY, for New York, and so on. Hope that was obvious, but it’s an important point.  Without the state name you may unearth a bunch of listings for your namesake business 2 time zones away.

Where search operators don’t (seem to) work

https://www.flickr.com/photos/compujeramey/80010576

Remember how I mentioned search operators don’t work on all the sites that you’ll need to deal with?  Well, here are the bad kids:

Apple Maps

Bing Places

ExpressUpdate.com

Factual

FourSquare

LocalEze

MyBusinessListingManager.com (Acxiom)

Some of those sites (like Bing and LocalEze) appear not to let Google index their listings.  Listings on other sites (like Factual) seem to be indexed, but impossible to find with search operators.  At least you now have a short list of sites you know you’ll have to stick a whole arm into.

Also, those search operators will work on many other sites where you can and possibly should have citations.  I listed only the most-important sites, because you may have other things you’d like to accomplish today.  But you can check out my list of citations if you’d like to use search operators to sniff out duplicates on other sites.

By the way, here’s my bread-and-butter search operator, which works pretty reliably from site to site:

site:nameoflocaldirectory.com (###) ###-####

(Of course, you’ll want to try it with every phone number that the business has used.)

 

More resources

Google Search Operators – Google Guide

NAP Hunter Lite – Local SEO Guide

Top Local Citation Sources by Country – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Advanced Local Citation Audit & Clean Up: Achieve Consistent Data & Higher Rankings – Casey Meraz

Local Citation Audit Tip: Use the New Sitelinks Search Box – me

Local Citation Cleanup Hack: Check BBB – me

Do you know of any reliable search operators I didn’t mention?  (I’d love to keep adding to the list.)

Any hacks for quickly finding listings on those tough sites (e.g. ExpressUpdate)?

Leave a comment!

Local Citation Audit Tip: Use the New Sitelinks Search Box

One benefit of Google’s new sitelinks search box: it can help you save time on finding messy local citations.

See what I mean?

Just type in the name of the site and search for your listing(s) from within Google’s results.  It’s the equivalent of doing a site:yoursite.com search.  (For more on what exactly you should do in a citation audit, read Casey Meraz’s dynamite post.)

Like my BBB tip, it’s just a potential time-saver.  As Nyagoslav pointed out when I mentioned this to him, this won’t uncover all the listings you might need to find on a given site.  No single method can, and some listings don’t even get indexed.

Not every local-business directory site you need to check has the sitelinks search box (yet?), though.  The main data-aggregators – ExpressUpdate, LocalEze, Acxiom – don’t have it.  So those sites are still a PITA, and you’ll still have to go to those sites to check your listings.

Still, most of the big sites – like Yelp, CitySearch, and YP – already have the sitelinks search box.  So do at least some of the bigger industry-specific sites, like HealthGrades and Avvo.

I expect the sitelinks search box will get even handier over time, as more sites latch onto it.  Unless Google does with it what it often does with features that have lots of potential.

 

Know of any sitelinks search box hacks for auditing citations?  Do you find it easier?  Leave a comment!

My #1 Local Citations Tip: Do Another Round

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A recent conversation with my LocalSpark amigos Darren and Nyagoslav got me to thinking:

Yes, there are dozens of things to remember do when working on your citations.  I offered 43 bits of advice in my giant post on citations from a year ago.

But you don’t want all the details – major and minor – to get in the way of one crucial step.  It’s perhaps the only practice that makes building or fixing your citations less daunting, and more likely to get completed.

It is:

Do at least one follow-up round of work on your citations.

Do it 30-90 days after the first occasion you work on them.

Better yet: do a third round of work a month or two after the second.

That’s it.  If you’re no stranger to citations, you probably know what follow-up work would involve.  But if you’d like a little more explanation, just read on.

 

Why do follow-up work on citations?

  • Because some of your listings or edits probably didn’t stick after the first attempt.
  • Because the remaining listings are probably on the tougher sites, which usually also means they’re the listings that Google really trusts.
  • Because you probably can (and always should) fill out more info on your current listings – like any fields labeled “Services,” “Description,” “Keywords,” and especially your categories.

  • Because you may stumble across more sites where you should list your business.

 

What to do, exactly?

You’re doing 5 main things:

1.  You’re checking the sites you’ve already submitted to, to make sure they published your info correctly.  To the extent they haven’t, you’re resubmitting your edits, or trying again to claim your listing, or whatever the situation seems to dictate.

2.  You’re checking on any listings that you tried to remove before, to make sure they’ve actually been removed.  If they haven’t been removed, make your request again.  You may also need to see where those sites are getting their (mis)information in the first place – if there’s an “upstream” problem.

3.  You’re bulking up any citations that only have your basic info.  Again, you’ll want to fill out as many fields as possible – especially the ones where you have the chance to describe your services in more detail.  Until very recently, Google would scrape those fields and put the relevant services MapMaker custom categories.  It’s likely they still use that info in some way.

4.  You’re taking another pass at finding more citation sources.

 

Fine, but how do you fix up the citations?

Read this superb post by Casey Meraz.

 

Which sites most need double-checking?

Yelp, YellowPages, ExpressUpdate, and Acxiom – for starters.  In my experience, those are the most stubborn sites.

 

Why doesn’t everyone do follow-up work?

Because it’s extra work.

Even if people know that there’s still work to be done, it’s never a priority.  If the rankings are bad and it’s because of messy citations, it’ll usually take months for the fixes to count for anything.  And disheveled citations sure as heck aren’t a priority when rankings and spirits are high.

Also, most citation “builders” won’t bother, because it’s easier to bill you for the first several-dozen easy sites than for the 5-10 toughies.  (Sure, the tough sites usually require owner-verification, but someone’s at least got to tell that to the business owner.)

 

It’s part of a bigger strategy

Local SEO usually takes time – months – to bear fruit.  You need to start working on it before you’re starving for visibility and phone calls.  As I’ve written, the slower you can take it, the better.

If you try to get all your citations perfect in a sitting or even within a week, you’ll probably end up frustrated.  But if you revisit them every now and then as part of your long-term push, they’ll get as close to “done” as you can get.

The nice thing is that the more rounds of work you put into your citations, usually the less there is to do each time.

What’s your #1 tip on citations?

#1 frustration?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Local Citation Cleanup Hack: Check BBB

This is one of the few posts I’ve done that’s probably more applicable if you’re a local SEO geek than if you’re a business owner.  But I hope it’s useful in either case.

As you probably know, having inconsistent NAP info floating around the Web can hurt your rankings (a lot).  You’ll need to correct those listings.  But first you need to find them.

That can be tricky if you’ve had different phone numbers, different addresses, different business names, and different websites.  For instance, you can’t always just Google the phone number and see all the listings you need to fix, because some of them might use other numbers.

Enter the Better Business Bureau.

Go to your BBB listing, if you have one.  (My favorite way is to type into Google “business name + BBB”.)

Then click on “View Additional Phone Numbers” and / or “View Additional Web Addresses.

 

You can’t copy and paste any phone numbers from the popup bubble, which is annoying.  You can just check the source code of the page and grab the phone numbers that way (if you find that easier than typing).

But wait – there’s more!  Scroll down the page.  You may see “Alternate Business Names” listed.

Checking the BBB page may tell you nothing you didn’t already know.  Or it may give you a list of past names, phone numbers, and website URLs that can help you unearth old citations that need fixing.

Either way, Gentle Reader, the real work has just begun.

Considering a Local SEO Audit? Do These 6 Things First

By a “local SEO audit” I mean a list of suggestions that tell you (a) what’s wrong with your visibility in local search and (b) exactly what needs to be fixed.  It’s like getting a physical for your business.

Lots of business owners pay me to show them how to fix their local presence.  If you’re considering that, why would I say anything to you other than “Hey, hop on board”?  (Besides the fact that my inner Eagle Scout wouldn’t approve.)

Because within each local SEOer lurks a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde:

On the one hand, we love finding simple, relatively obvious solutions to problems.

On the other hand, we dig a challenge.  It’s always nice to uncover problems that might be hidden to most people who don’t wrangle with Google & Co. every day.

More importantly, it’s nice for you not to have to pay for something you may not even need.  Which means you should spend a few minutes to determine how many gaps a local SEO audit would fill that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) fill yourself.

If you’re considering having someone “audit” your local-search presence and offer suggestions, take these 6 steps first:

(By the way, I suggest doing these even if you’re not considering outside help.)

To-do Item 1:  Be in business for at least a couple of months.  Have something for us to critique.  Give Google and other sites the chance to rank you well.  That means you at least need to have a website, and really should have a Google+ Local (AKA Google Places) page that you’ve claimed.

To-do Item 2:  See if the “local map” comes up for the terms you want to be visible for.  If it doesn’t, try searching for those terms in other cities.  If no map comes up then, think of search terms that are relevant to your business that do trigger the Google+ Local results.  If you can’t even think of those, then local SEO probably isn’t what you need to reach more customers.

To-do Item 3:  Do a GetListed.org scan of your business.  You can get some crucial next steps handed to you on a platter.  (Bonus points if you do scans on your competitors’ businesses and see where they might have an advantage.)

To-do Item 4:  Read Google’s rules – and make sure your Google listing complies with them.  (Bonus points: Have an employee or friend also read the rules and look at your Google listing and see if you seem to be breaking any of them.)

To-do Item 5:  Snoop on your competitors.  Are they doing anything (within Google’s guidelines) that you’re not?  What are they doing (or not doing) that you can try?

To-do Item 6:  Ask yourself some questions about exactly what you want out of the audit:

Assume that you get the rankings you want…but your phone doesn’t ring more than it has been.  Then what?  What would you do to turn that visibility into more calls?  Beef up your site with more and crisper info on your services?  Get more reviews?  Get a couple of “success stories”?  Whatever it might be, can you possibly get started on it before you work on your rankings – so that you’re not just pouring more water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom?

Are you OK with receiving good news – a relatively “clean bill of health”?  Sometimes my main advice – after looking over everything – is “Keep doing what you’re doing – you’ll get there.”  Would you value that kind of input?

What are you not willing to do to get more visible?  If your local SEOer tells you that you need to clean up your backlinks profile, would you do it?  Asking more customers for reviews?  Doing away with the giant and slow-loading “ego shot” photo on your homepage?  What if I told you that you need to stop paying YellowPages or CitySearch for call-tracking programs?

Who will implement the suggestions you get?

In a nutshell, my advice is: do your own quick SEO audit first.  You may not uncover much, in which case it would probably be time to get a local-SEO geek to help.  But hey, you might be surprised at what you can discover on your own in 30-40 minutes.