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!

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!

How to Change Your CitySearch Business Categories without Breaking a Sweat

The categories you pick for your non-Google local listings also matter.  They influence your rankings within those sites, and seem to influence your Google Places rankings at least a little.

I’ve already nagged you to pay attention to your categories on Yelp, Apple Maps, and other sites.

But don’t forget about creaky old CitySearch.  It’s not a cool, up-and-coming site, but it still matters to your local visibility.  Start by making sure you’re listed under the right categories

The trouble is that the part of the site that business owners have to deal with has been half-broken for several years now.  Local SEOs have had to rely on the support staff for help with listings that need fixing.  Complicating matters is that if you email support you’ll get an auto-reply email that implies all you have to do on CitySearch is to square away your ExpressUpdate listing.

Maybe oddest of all is the fact that even if you’ve claimed your CitySearch listing you’ll have to call the support line (800-611-4827) if you want to change your categories.

The other day, fellow LocalSparker Gene Maryushenko and I were discussing a client’s case, and looking for every worthwhile tune-up we could make.  CitySearch had our client listed under the overly broad category of “Attorneys,” but we wanted to get it changed to the more-accurate “Criminal Defense Attorneys” category.

Turns out it was real easy, according to Gene:

Phil,

We discussed updating [client’s] category on CityGrid and you said you’d be interested in hearing how that phone call to support went.

As soon as I got off the Skype call with you, I gave them a call. Pressed option 2 for non-paying customer, pressed 2 to change listing info and got a rep on the line.

I told the rep I’m interested in changing the categories and he said sure, no problem. I asked to have the primary category set to Criminal Defense Attorneys and removed secondary. He said it should take 24-48 hours to process and that was it.

Call lasted less than a minute. I’m writing this the next day (10:22am my time) to let you know the change was processed.

Again, the CitySearch/CityGrid support-line number is (800) 611-4827.

I’m guessing this would work even on an unclaimed CitySearch listing, too.  Sometimes CitySearch can be buggy when you’re trying to claim or log into your listing.  Haven’t tried it on an unclaimed listing yet, though.

Any tips on dealing with CitySearch listings in general – especially the categories?

Any category-related tips on other sites?

Leave a comment!

20 Local SEO Techniques You Overlooked (Almost)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/

We local-SEO geeks talk about the same old basic principles a little too much: clean up your citations, don’t get penalized by Google, be mobile-friendly, earn “local” links, create “unique” content, deserve reviews, ask for reviews, etc.

It’s all good advice.  I’ve devoted many of my blog posts in the last 4 years to unpacking that advice so it’s easy to act on.

The trouble is we’re repetitive.  We’re almost as bad as the talking heads at CNN.  We rarely move on to what you should do once you’re pretty solid on the basics – and there is a lot you can and should do.

(In fact, many of the overlooked wins can also help you even if you just started working on your local SEO.)

Here are 20 stones I find unturned way too often:

1.  Nail the categories on your non-Google listings: Pick out the most-relevant ones, and as many of them as are applicable. Dig them up with Moz Local’s free “Category Research” area and with my category lists for Apple Maps and Yelp.

2.  Do a second round of work on your citations. Do it a couple of months after the initial blob of work.  You might be amazed at how many stragglers you find.  Might be enough to motivate you for a third go-round.

3.  Try to find and possibly hire a MapMaker editor to join the Forces of Good in your local anti-spam war. Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a MapMaker editor can stop your competitors’ spam offensive, but it’s worth a shot.

4.  Become or get to know an “Elite” Yelper (like this recruit). Got a review that’s viciously personal, un-PC, or is obviously from an imposter?  The Elite Yelper may know just how to phrase the takedown request for the best chances of a takedown.  Also, because most Elite Yelpers don’t really have lives, Yelp seems to expect them to report data-errors (like wrong addresses), and usually acts on them.

5.  Embedding on your website the Google map that’s featured on your Places page. Don’t embed a map of a generic address.  You want Google to know people are looking up directions to you.

6.  Get a Google Business View photo shoot. (10 reasons here.)

7.  Pick the right itemtype for the blob of name / address / phone info that you’ve marked up with Schema.org markup. Or take a few extra minutes to go bananas with your Schema.

8.  Join a couple of local and industry associations. I’m talking about your local Chamber of Commerce and the sorts of organizations you’d find if you Google the word that describes your business + “association” or “organization.”  They’re often worth joining for the offline benefits, and you’ll probably get a good link.

9.  Diversify the sites where you encourage customer reviews. The benefits are many.

10.  Create a “Reviews” page. Use it to showcase your reviews (possibly with widgets and badges) and to ask any customers who visit the page to put in a good word.  You can pretty easily create a page from scratch, or you can make a nice one with a service like Grade.us.  Link to it in the signature of your emails, as a gentle way to encourage any customers you email to pick up a quill.

11.  Write blog posts to answer super-specific questions that a customer might type into Google. Don’t try to rank for your main keywords (“How to Pick the Best Dentist in Cleveland: a Guide by Cleveland Dentists for Cleveland Dentist Patients”).  It won’t work and you’ll look stupid.  (Refer to this post and its follow-up.)

12.  Get some barnacle SEO happening. By now, Will Scott’s concept isn’t new, but most business owners still don’t even try to do it.  But just start with the basics: if you pick out all the right categories (see point #1) and encourage reviews on a variety of sites (see point #9) you’ll be in pretty good shape.

13.  Use wildcard searches for keyword-research. (This one was new to me until very recently.)

14.  Lengthen pages that aren’t ranking well – including and perhaps especially your homepage. Yes, this sounds old-school, and about as cool as a pocket protector.  But I’m not telling you to add gibberish.  Go into detail about what makes you different, describe your service / process, address concerns the reader might have, etc.  Google likes having meat to sink its teeth into.  One-paragraph Wonder Bread pages tend not to do as well.

15.  Ask for reviews twice. People forget, and it’s a nice excuse to keep in touch.  Follow up with customers you asked for a review – especially if they said they would.  It’s easy to avoid making yourself a pest: just say you’d still appreciate their feedback, ask them if they have any questions for you, and thank them in advance.

16.  Include links to sites where you have reviews. (Be sure to have those links open into a new browser tab, so nobody’s leaving your site.)  Use review widgets and badges when you can.

17.  Cannibalize underperforming microsites, bad blog posts, or other online carcasses. Grab (and edit as need be) any content that’s redeemable, and use it to make your site bigger and better.

18.  Get listed on Apple Maps. Yes, everyone knows about aMaps by now, but I’m amazed at how many times I start working for clients and see only their competitors on Apple.

19.  Try hard to reach non-English speakers, if applicable. Don’t just stick Se Habla Español (for example) in your footer as an afterthought.  Include a paragraph in that language on your homepage and on your “Contact” page.  Maybe create a whole page geared toward those customers.  Be sure to use the hreflang tag if you have more than one version of the same page.

20.  If you’re a local SEO-er, find steps your clients might be able to do better than you can. Don’t just look for more billable hours; look for the best person for the job, or the best combination of people.  Don’t spend hours trying to dig up all their old phone numbers and addresses; ask them first.  Whenever a writing task comes up, pump your clients for info.  When you need to find link opportunities, send them my link questionnaire.  They know the business better than you do.  If you don’t get much cooperation, fine.  At least you tried, and you’re giving them options.  But I’ve found that most clients recognize when they’ve got just the right wrench for the oddly-shaped bolt.

What’s an “overlooked” local SEO tip you like?

Any that you’re considering but not sure about?

Leave a comment!

When Can Digging for Competitive Intel Help Your Local SEO?

People often ask me what kinds of competitive fact-finding I think can help their local SEO efforts.  My answer usually is, “Not what you’d think.”

The theory is solid enough: you want to know why your competitors outrank you in the local results, so you try to find out everything you can about them.  Knowledge is power, right?

But there are some problems inherent in competitive-intelligence:

  • You’ll be tempted to do whatever your competitors do, even if it’s stupid and might earn them a penalty in the future. Lemmings off a cliff.
  • You won’t know exactly why they’re ranking well now.
  • You may not know how long they’ve ranked well (for all you know, there’s a bug), and you can’t know how long it will last.
  • It’s hard to know to what extent your competitors’ search-engine visibility results in paying customers.
  • Google can see things that you can’t.

You don’t want to be the schmuck who says, “I don’t get it…I’m doing everything my competitors are doing, so why don’t I have good rankings?”  Well, because Google may not be looking for more of the same in the search results – and your would-be customers certainly aren’t.

The best thing you can do is gather the kind of competitive-intel that you can use to get ahead of your competitors, and to ignore the useless facts that only allow you to ape them.

Let’s start with the useless stuff that – in my opinion – isn’t even worth researching:

Useless competitve-intel

  • Keyword-density. Because you too can be the proud owner of a spammy site that confuses and annoys visitors.
  • Anchor text of inbound links. If you can control the anchor text it’s probably not a good link in the first place.  But in either case, the temptation to go too far is too strong.
  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one.
  • Domain name. Yes, a keyword-relevant domain is a small advantage.  But changing your name is a big deal, and not worth the hassle purely from a rankings standpoint.
  • Domain age. Same issues as with domain names, except an old domain that you buy is an even smaller advantage, and you may inherit some backlinks baggage.
  • Name of Google Places landing page. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if you use your homepage.  But there are exceptions.  If you see a competitor who’s using a city-specific landing page he / she may be one of the exceptions.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Google Places description. Your competitors probably don’t rank for every keyword in their descriptions.  Most likely neither will you.

Sometimes-useful intel

  • Inbound links. (C’mon, you know the pros and cons of looking at competitors’ links.)
  • Site structure. Your competitors’ pages may be easier for Google to crawl, and there may be more of them that conceivably could rank well.
  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one – OR, if you must look at someone else’s title tag, do it just to get the creative juices flowing.  (Thanks to Dave for reminding me in his comment that this sometimes has value.)

My favorite intel

  • What useful pages do your competitors have that you don’t?
  • Where do they have reviews?
  • How many reviewers do they have? It’s worth knowing whether your competitors have had many customers / clients / patients to review them, or they’re banking off one or a few super-fans
  • How many of their other locations rank well? You might want to pay closer attention to a company that’s 5 for 6 than one that’s 1 for 6.
  • What categories do they use on their Google Places page and on other listings?

  • What kinds of barnacle SEO advantages do they have?

  • What obvious mistakes are they making? (And how can you avoid making those mistakes?)

Pay attention only to the areas where you can do something beyond just ape what other people are doing.  Especially in the long term, that’s the only way you can use competitive-intel to pull ahead, rather than to be just another plastic-coated noggin in the peloton.

 

What’s your philosophy on researching local competitors?  What do you pay attention to or ignore?  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!

My #1 Local Citations Tip: Do Another Round

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/chrisgold/6282077864/

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!

Hear Me Blab about Categories for Local SEO

Mike Zaremba of Radical Mustache has started a great podcast series on local SEO.

It has a bent toward restaurants, because many of his clients and audience are restaurateurs.  But the subject matter applies to any kind of business.

The other day, Mike asked me some tough questions on the topic of categories.  You can listen to the podcast here:

A Guide To Proper Category Association With Phil Rozek

You’ll also find some non-audio resources.

Thanks to Mike for a great chat.  By the way, I suggest you check out his blog.

Especially if you listen to all 45 minutes, let me know what you think!

How to Troubleshoot: Good Organic Rankings, No Google Places Rankings

Do you rank page-one in the organic results, but seem locked out of the Google Places (AKA Google+ Local) results?

If this situation looks something like yours…

…then you might have what I call “detached” local rankings.

In other words, you’ve got an organic ranking right above or right below the “7-pack,” and you’re wondering why you don’t also have a ranking in the 7-pack.

It used to very difficult to have both – long story – but now you usually can have the same page rank both organically and in Google Places.  (Emphasis on “usually”: something may be busted, or it may not even be possible in your case.)

It’s a common problem.  Business owners ask me about it all the time.

Here are what I’ve found to be the most-common explanations for why you may have good organic rankings but no Places / + Local / “7-pack” rankings:

Explanation 1:  Your business is too far from the city where you want the Places rankings.  There may be nothing you can do about this except to apply the best-practices I’m always harping on.

Explanation 2:  You show up in the Places results for other queries – just not the one you typed in.  This one’s complex: Why you’re showing up in Places for some queries but not others depends on factors like point #1, whether you include the city name in your search term, where you’re physically sitting when you’re searching, and how many local competitors you have.

Explanation 3:  Your Google listing has been penalized.  Make sure you’re kosher.

Explanation 4:  It’s too soon.  If you just created your Google Places page, just wait a couple weeks.

Explanation 5:  Your Google listing may have the wrong categories.

Explanation 6:  You may not be presenting your NAP info correctly on your site.

Explanation 7:  Your site may have no NAP info at all.

Explanation 8:  The “URL” or “website” field in your citations may be empty on some of your listings, or it may contain wrong or inconsistent URLs.

Explanation 9:  Your business may have no citations – or too few.

Explanation 10:  Duplicate Google Places listings.  Often these are caused by having messy citations.  (Hat tip to Linda for bringing up this point in her comment, below.  Also, check out this forum thread.)

Do you have any experience with “detached” rankings?  What worked for you?  Or do you have them now, and you’re stumped?  Leave a comment!

Business Categories Lists for Major Local Search Sites

Categories are the forgotten child of local SEO.

Though they don’t get much attention, categories do get respect: “Proper Category Associations” is the #1 “Foundational Ranking Factor” listed on 2013’s Local Search Ranking Factors study.  (I was one of the people who ranked them up there, and I’m glad other local-searchers agree.)

Picking as many relevant categories as you can is probably the easiest way to make progress on your Google+ Local, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Yelp, and other rankings.

Choosing the right ones is sometimes easier said than done.  Google no longer allows “custom” categories.  That’s nice in a couple of ways: You can choose up to 10 categories, and it’s nice that it’s much harder now to get penalized by accidentally specifying a custom category that Google doesn’t consider kosher.

Still, the categories you want to pick are either on Google’s list or they aren’t.  Which may leave you feeling hamstrung if your business is specialized or “niche.”

Fortunately for us, the categories you can pick on other sites seem to help Google determine what type of business yours is – and what terms you should rank for.

They’re also a huge factor in your rankings on pretty much every other site worth being listed on.

The name of the game is to know your options for categories, on as many sites as possible.  Most of them don’t make it easy to browse all your options.  That’s why I’ve rounded up a bunch of category lists, so you can find the relevant ones easily.

Check out these lists and see if you’ve listed your business under the best categories possible:

Search engines

Google – Browse Mike Blumenthal’s Google Places Category Tool

Bing Places – See my list of Bing business categories (new)

Apple Maps – Dig through this monstrous list put together by Andrew Shotland

Data-aggregators

ExpressUpdate – Pick from OSHA’s Standard Industrial Categories

LocalEze – See my post on LocalEze categories

Factual – Refer to this list when submitting your Factual listing

IYPs

Yelp – Dig through Yelp’s somewhat-buried list, or see my post on Yelp categories

InsiderPages – See this

AngiesList – Here you go

Those are just the category lists I’ve found so far or put together myself.  I’m sure you or I could easily find full lists of categories for rinky-dink sites that nobody’s ever heard of.  But there are a few category lists I’d still like to have.

The sites on my wish-list at the moment are CitySearch, YellowPages, Local.Yahoo.com, and Acxiom (MyBusinessListingManager.com).  Please let me know if you find or make a list of all the categories allowed on those sites!