7 Ways to Kill Your Local Search Rankings without Touching a Computer

There are a million online misadventures that can snuff out your business’s rankings in local search – in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results and everywhere else.

Attempts to spam or deceive Google usually backfire.  You can also destroy your rankings through sheer laziness – like if you never update any of your business information or never bother to understand Google’s quality guidelines.

You may be aware of what online actions can hurt your local rankings.  Maybe you’ve learned the hard way.

But there also are offline ways you can kill your local rankings.  Simply not doing anything stupid or naughty in your local SEO campaign isn’t enough.  You can lose local visibility and local customers without ever touching your computer (or smartphone or iPad).  To be more precise, I can think of 7 ways:


Offline Way to Die Online #1:  Relocate, rename, or use a new phone number without updating your Google+Local page or other business listings to reflect the change(s).

By “update” I mean you must do two things: (1) update all your business listings with the new info, and (2) scour the web for listings (AKA citations) that list your old info.  (By the way, doing a free GetListed.org scan can be a huge help when you get to this step.)

If you fail to do the above, you may be OK…for a little while.  After some months a major third-party data source (most likely InfoGroup) will catch wind of the change and create new listings for your business with the new info.

This will cause your business to have inconsistent info spread all over the web – which itself is a rankings-killer – and may cause Google to create unwanted and inaccurate Google+Local pages for your business (another rankings-killer).


Offline Way to Die Online #2:  Get a phony address, like a PO box, UPS box, or virtual office.  Eventually your fake-o address will enter the local-search “ecosystem” (in the way I described above) and you’ll end up with inconsistent business info all over the web, penalties from Google, or both.

(It’s likely that the only reason you’d want a phony address in the first place is so you can try to game Google – so it’s likely your rankings won’t die as a result of your offline actions alone.  More likely, you’ll try to update your business listing(s) with the fake address and end up getting flagged by a competitor or good citizen.)


Offline Way to Die Online #3:  Mistreat your customers and get slammed with bad reviews.  This probably won’t have a direct effect on your rankings unless you have dozens or hundreds of scathing reviews, BUT it may affect your rankings indirectly.

For instance, nobody knows for sure whether click-through rate (i.e. the percentage of people who see your business listed in Google and click on it) is a factor that Google takes into account when sorting out the local rankings.  But Google does “know” a bunch of user-engagement stats.  If people simply don’t click on your listing because they see a 10/30 average Google rating, or if nobody clicks your link from (say) your Yelp listing because you have a 1-star average, Google may very well take your rankings down a peg.

Bad service = bad reviews = fewer clicks = low rankings / fewer customers

Also, although “social signals” like Facebook shares, tweets, and Google +1s don’t seem to affect your local rankings much or at all as of this writing, they most likely will become a stronger ranking factor in the future.  If potential customers are scared off by bad reviews, you’ve got fewer opportunities to get social shares.

Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people to pick up the phone.  You can’t do that very well if nobody clicks on your Google+Local page or website because your reviews reek.

By the way, you get bonus idiot points if you get hammered with bad reviews but don’t write thoughtful “replies from the owner.”  Yes, you can do this: Google+Local and Yelp (and probably other sites that aren’t coming to mind now) let you respond to reviews.  It’s easy to write a reply and takes you maybe 90 seconds.  It’s even easier never to check up on the sites where you’re listed or  simply to live in ignorant bliss, oblivious to the public criticism.


Offline Way to Die Online #4:  Hire and fire an unethical SEO.  He or she has access to your Google+Local page or other listings (and maybe even your website), and may do something nefarious or simply not hand over your command codes when you need them.


Offline Way to Die Online #5:  Let your domain name or hosting expire (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for this one).  True, technically you don’t need a website to rank in the Google+Local or other search results.  But if you don’t have one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because many local-search ranking factors depend on your website.  If you’re in a competitive local market, forget it: Without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test.


Offline Way to Die Online #6:  Never grow your site.  No, I’m not talking about updating the copyright at the bottom of your website so that it no longer reads “© 2002.”  I’m talking about keeping a “static” website to which you rarely or never add useful, non-promotional info that might cause a potential customer to think “Hey, that was handy!”  A static website is a lost opportunity.

Google knows when a website is an online paperweight, and may very well reflect that fact in your rankings.  Worse, if your site is devoid of fresh, helpful info, nobody will link to you, share your site, or give you a juicy unstructured citation or review – all of which are factors that otherwise could boost your rankings.

If you’re going to rank well, your site needs to show signs of life.


Offline Way to Die Online #7:  Never check your Google+Local page and other listings.  They say a watched pot never boils.  The corollary is that an unwatched pot can eventually boil over or boil until there’s no water left.

Things will happen to your online local presence, whether you know it or not – and probably not all of those things will be good.  Sometimes you’ll need to fix or remove inaccurate info on your listings, respond to reviews, or double-check your Google+Local page or website is compliant with the Google update du jour.

But you can’t fix problems if you never know about them.

By the way, there’s no offline way to fix most of the above problems.  The solutions involve getting with the times, getting on the computer (or tablet), getting a little bit of local SEO know-how (as you’re doing now!), and getting your hands a little dirty.  That will help you become or stay visible to local customers, and it will help keep the phone ringing.

Any other offline “ways to die” you can think of?  Any questions or general suggestions?  Leave a comment!

The 1st Annual Google Places Freak Show

Welcome to the 1st Annual Google Places Freak Show!I spend a lot of time talking about what you should do to rank well in Google Places.  One way I do this is by focusing on patterns: I try to show you what qualities are most common among businesses that have top rankings in their local markets

But we haven’t spent nearly as much time discussing what you should NOT do with your Google Places listing.  Nor have we taken a good look at the businesses that just don’t do what the others do.

Hence this 1st Annual Google Places Freak Show.  It’s the fun-filled day devoted to the extremes of local Google—the strange businesses that you and I and customers across the country stumble across occasionally.

I want to point out here that I am NOT using the word “freak” pejoratively.  Some of these businesses just have some aspect about them that’s extremely unusual.  And I’m not passing judgment on the businesses that aren’t following “best practices” for attracting customers through Google Places: I’m just using them as examples of what not do.  Above all, I’m using the term simply to refer to business listings and not to people.

By the way, these businesses all rank on the first page of local search results, last I checked.  Most of the ones that are “extreme” in a bad way aren’t actually doing anything that hurts their local rankings in Google (which are usually quite good): rather, they’re doing things that simply might turn away potential customers who see these businesses in Google Places.

Anyway, grab some cotton candy and let’s check out some freaks.


—Lamest Photo

Boring Google Places photo: a manhole cover

This is tough.  If you’re a septic tank-installation service, what’s an enticing photo you can use in your Google Places listing that’s relevant to the service you provide?  These guys chose to use a picture of a manhole cover.  At least they didn’t use a picture of a toilet.

I think the lesson here is this: if you can’t think of a picture to use for your Places listing that “paints a picture” of the service you provide, don’t try to get too creative or abstract.

For example, if you’re in a service industry—particularly one that’s not necessarily glamorous—it’s perfectly fine to take a picture of your crew in front of your truck.  It’s better than taking a boring, abstract picture that doesn’t tell potential customers anything about your business or why you provide a better service than your local competitors do.

If you’re coming up dry for photo ideas, look at what other businesses use for photos.


Scariest Photo

Bad Google Places photo: a bare-chested guy with a tattoo

There are a lot of things wrong with this photo.  Many of them are obvious to both of us.  But here’s how I’d explain why it’s not a good Google Places photo:

It’s distracting.  It’s an effective photo insofar as it’s eye-catching—but that’s where the effectiveness ends.  But once it catches your eye, the gut reaction likely is “Eww,” not “Hey, cool tattoo.”

Worst of all, it showcases the canvas, not the art.  The owner should have taken a few extra minutes or spent a few extra bucks to take a crisp, up-close picture of just the tattoo. Potential customers want to see the craftsmanship.  They search in Google for local tattoo parlors by typing in “tattoo,” not “chest.”

By the way, I just can’t make heads or tails of the business name.  I have no idea what it means.  Do you?

Angriest Market

Local market with BAD average customer reviews

This is a very “tough room,” as standup comedians say.  The customers consistently dislike the businesses listed in the Google Places top-7—big time.

The average rating of these businesses is 2.75 stars.  The minimum average rating is 1-star, and the maximum is 5.  This pitiful average rating is the first thing that stands out about this market.

The other thing that’s unusual about this market is how motivated the customers are to leave harsh reviews.  These businesses have a total of 176 reviews.  That’s an average of 29 reviews for each listing that has reviews (or an average of 25 if you count the one business that doesn’t have any reviews).

I’m sure there are plenty of markets out there that have sunken even lower into the smelly pits of customer dissatisfaction.  But it’s the combination of the low average rating and the high numbers of ticked-off customers that makes this market a “freak.”

It just goes to show how sometimes the bar for ranking well in Google Places can be pretty low.  I’m just waiting for a bridal shop with impeccable customer service to hang their shingle in Google Places, drum up some 5-star reviews, and squash the local competition like roaches.


Least Loved

A 1-star average customer rating

Generally, the people who are most likely to review your business spontaneously either love it or hate it.  You and I intuitively know that nobody can please everybody—which is why just about every business has at least a few bad reviews.

If your business has a few stinkers, no big deal.  Customers are used to seeing a few bad reviews.

But people are also used to seeing at least a few positive reviews.  This cab service has none.  It has a one­-star average rating.  That’s the lowest possible rating you can receive from a customer: there is no such thing as zero stars.

Maybe this is a great cab service.  But the reviews sure don’t paint that picture (just look up their reviews to see what I mean).

Most Terrifying Review

Disturbing review from a local patient

I don’t know what happened in the doctor’s office that day.

What I do know is most of us have had less-than-pleasant visits to one doctor or another at one time or another in our lives.

Patients generally heed what other patients say about doctors.  Kind of the opposite of that Seinfeld episode where the doctor offends Elaine by telling her that she’s a “difficult” patient and Jerry agrees with the doctor.

Bottom line: this doctor needs a LOT of shining reviews to outweigh this review.  The other bottom line is that you need a way to gather reviews from your satisfied customers—because one scathing review can be a deal-killer for anyone who sees it—whether the review is true or not.


Sketchiest-Looking Business

No info in Google listing and no website

No website.  No reviews.  No picture.  No contact information or name of business owner.  No apparent business location even when you take a look at the address in “Street View.”  I’m sure they know to come to you.

The listing isn’t verified, so this Google Places listing likely isn’t the deliberate work of the business owner.  Still…would you feel comfortable calling that phone number?

To get the full effect, just search for this Baltimore, umm, business in Google.


Most Disorienting Search Result

Seemingly irrelevant local search results

Where does a lady from Long Beach, CA go when she wants a manicure?  Aboard the RMS Queen Mary, of course.

If you’re from Long Beach, you probably know that the historic Queen Mary has been converted into a hotel, which now houses a beauty salon—hence the Google Places search result.

But I’m not from Long Beach and I didn’t know that.  All I knew is that my grandfather and many other people came to America aboard the Queen Mary.

So when I first stumbled on this particular search result, I just wrote it off as a classic case of lousy Google Places categorization—like when you search for “Italian restaurant” and Google shows you the local Pizza Hut.

In a way, I guess it’s good visibility for the owners of the beauty parlor on the Queen Mary: after all, seeing the old ocean liner in Google’s local business results doesn’t happen every day, and it demands a little bit of your attention.

On the other hand, when a particular business seems out of place in the local search results, people like me might not even click on the Places Page because we think it’s just irrelevant to what we typed into Google.


Runner-Up: Freakiest Business Name

A strange name for a business and a Google Places listing

It would be one thing if “Sweet Cheeks” was a cosmetics shop that specialized in selling blush.  But no: it’s a baby-clothing store.  I find this slightly disturbing.


Winner: Freakiest Business Name

"Just Another Hole" body piercing in Broken Arrow, OK

The business is a body-piercing joint.  The location is Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

What can I possibly say about the name?  It’s brilliant.


One last thing before I turn it over to the Ringmaster

As I said, all of these “freaks” rank in the top-7 of Google Places.  At least for the time being, their visibility is pretty good—and to the extent they’ve tried to rank visibly, they’ve more or less succeeded.

But there’s more to attracting local customers than just a good local ranking.  When people click on the listing, what happens?  Are they attracted, or repulsed?  Do they want to pick up the phone or leave your Google listing?

Some businesses, like “Just Another Hole,” are deliberately strange in a clever way.  But for some of the others, I wouldn’t be surprised if their business owners called me and said they weren’t getting too many actual customers, despite their rankings.  I’d tell them to pay more attention to the gut-level first impressions their Google Places listings create.

Whatever your ranking, I suggest you pay attention to how your Google listing comes across at a gut level.  Ask friends, family, or customers who haven’t seen it to take a look and give you their first impressions.  You’ll ensure that YOUR business won’t ever make it into a future Google Places Freak Show.

Do you have a “freak” you’d like to submit?

Do you have some strong opinions about the ones you just saw?

Let me know: drop me a line or leave a comment!  (I might even include it in the next Freak Show.)