What If Yext Gobbles up More Local Directories?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/minicooper93402/9582751114

Yext has formed tight partnerships with some notable directories in recent years: MapQuest, InsiderPages, and CitySearch, among other bigger sites (and some rinky-dink ones).

The core feature of Yext’s “PowerListings” offering is that you can standardize your business info on a bunch of local directories (AKA “publishers”) at once.  On some of those sites Yext is one of several ways to update your info.  On other sites it’s now the only way to update or add a listing – which is what I’m referring to when I say Yext has “gobbled up” a site.

The number of sites Yext has partnered with – in some cases exclusively – has been growing.  (To the dismay of some.)

Does the expanding Yext network mean trouble for business owners and local SEOs?

No.

Yext users (especially at the enterprise level) will continue to save time to one degree or another on their citation-work.  But the basics of local SEO won’t be changed in any significant way – for the worse or for the better.

Here’s why I say Yext’s expansion won’t hurt you:

  1. All the sites that matter will maintain manual / free ways to add or edit your listing, or at least they’ll keep sourcing their data from places where you can control your business info. They’ll want to continue to collect business info in the way they’ve always collected it, and not limit their sources of fresh info to what’s in Yext’s pipeline.  They’ll want to keep growing their data-assets.
  1. Major industry-specific directories (e.g. HealthGrades, Avvo, etc.) seem less likely to partner with Yext, at least in large numbers. They wouldn’t be applicable to every Yext user, and some of them require proof of license if you want to claim your listing.  You’ll always be able to fix up your listings on industry sites.
  1. I’m guessing Google starts devaluing a citation source once it stops building its database of local businesses organically. The info gets stale and limited (at least for businesses that aren’t using Yext).
  1. As Andrew Shotland said recently, there’s plenty of room for competing services.
  1. Organic and behavioral factors will continue to influence your rankings more than citations do. (I’m talking about qualities like having tons of info about your services on your site, a few good links, and more and better reviews than your competitors have.)

The only people who might be harmed by Yext’s expansion are the ones who will sign up because they think it’s a silver bullet for rankings, or even that it will fix all their citations.  It won’t do either of those things, although Yext does work as promised on the sites in its network, and that can be valuable.

Yext’s marketing people don’t do enough to correct the “silver bullet” misconception, but some business owners (and lots of local SEOs) don’t do their due-diligence, or they just don’t know what they need.  The marketing question remains a gray area.

I totally understand why many business owners and local SEOs let out a sigh every time Yext gobbles up a directory.  But if all the sites where you want to work on your citations are Yext-exclusive, you’re focusing on the wrong sites.  (See this.)

Yext’s expansion is not a good thing or a bad thing for your local-visibility efforts, in the grand scheme.  Yext is a nice time-saver in certain situations.  It’s simply a tool that’s available to you.

Business owners who want or need to take the manual approach will always be just fine.  Especially because those are the sorts of people who realize that citations are just one aspect of local SEO, and are willing to work on the tough stuff.

What do you think happens if Yext’s network continues to grow?  Any points I overlooked?

Leave a comment!

10 Benefits of a Disappointing Local SEO Effort

You’re the business owner.  You’ve paid for help.

You’re the local SEO.  You’ve been paid to help.  Maybe you did help – just not quite enough.

Both of you were expecting boom.  But all you got was poppssffftt.

Effective local SEO takes hard work and time.  The benefits are obvious when it all works out.  But even when it doesn’t – or doesn’t seem to – there are some less-obvious benefits.  More on that in a second.

One point that I hope you took as a given: I’ve messed up my share of local SEO campaigns.

Of course, I wish I did things differently in many of those cases.

But without the hard knocks I don’t think I would have learned some important lessons.  Without them I also don’t think I could have had some of the successes.  You learn from mistakes.

Especially on those occasions the rankings haven’t come, I’ve asked myself: what good did I do? 

Put another way: if you subtract good rankings from an otherwise solid local SEO effort, what’s left?

Plenty, in my opinion:

Benefit 1: Avoid mistakes
An experienced local-search geek will keep you from making real stupid moves (or just wasting time).  And if you weren’t going to do anything stupid, well, then you’ve got yourself a trusted wingman.

Benefit 2: Avoid snake oil
Your local SEO-er will steer you away from wasting money on products or services that would be useless or harmful to you.  (I won’t name names here; feel free to email me if you’re curious.)  He / she will usually favor “sweat equity” and will try to help you build yours.

Benefit 3: Citations: check
You’ll have a solid foundation of correct, complete citations.

Also, many of those listings will have been claimed, and you’ll have the logins to most or all of them.  A real local-search pro wants you to have the reins.

Benefit 4: On-page: check
Your site will have just the right amount of on-page optimization: you’re not pretending search engines don’t exist, but you’re not overdoing it.

Benefit 5: More stickiness
At least when I do work for clients, their businesses are always at least a little more “optimized for humans” – on-site and off-site.  (See this, this, and this.)  What you do with your traffic matters more than how many eyeballs you get.

Benefit 6: Wake-up call
You may discover that you should at least dip a foot into other marketing media (like AdWords) – and that you shouldn’t rely exclusively on your visibility in local search.

Benefit 7: Trial by fire
Challenges are a good test of your SEO’s character.  You can ask tough but constructive questions.

Why hasn’t the needle moved enough?  What can we do to get it to move?  Is there anything extra we should do that we didn’t originally plan on?

Your trusty helper will not only give you the unvarnished truth, but may also be able to help you in other areas (e.g. building an email list) while you’re getting your local SEO efforts figured out.

Benefit 8: Easy come, easy go
Not getting results easily is a sign that good local visibility might be worth something in your market.  If it’s too easy to rank, the market may not be competitive – and that may be for a good reason (that there’s no money in it).

Benefit 9: Results may just be slow
Even if your local search efforts don’t seem fruitful at first, there’s a good chance the plan will come together just fine.  Slow local SEO is underappreciated.

Benefit 10: You get a consigliere
You’ll be able to lean on your local SEO-er for advice later on.  If / when you run into an issue, or have a question, or notice a change in Google, you’ll have someone you can ask.

Can you think of other benefits of a well-executed “local” campaign – even when the rankings are underwhelming?  Any real-life cases you’d like to share?  Leave a comment!

12 Kinds of Duplicate Content in Local SEO: Which Ones Are Trouble?

There are two intertwined myths about duplicate content:

1: That Google is on the warpath against it, penalizing sites left and right.

2: That duplicate content is a thing – one specific problem.

Neither is true, because of one fact: there are many different types of duplicate content.  (Google says so, too.)

That’s even more true in local SEO – because to rank well in local search you’re not just dealing with your site, but also with a bunch of listings.

Some types of duplicate content hurt your rankings, whereas many are just a mild drag or are harmless.

It’s not bad SOP to try to make all your content everywhere unique.  But sometimes it’s just not necessary, and you don’t want it to suck up too much of your time and distract you from stuff that really matters.

I can think of at least 12 types of duplicate content.  Pay attention to the types that (at least in my experience) might hurt you, and don’t spend time worrying about the harmless ones.

Bad:

1. Mirror sites
Same content, different domains.  The rationale is that maybe both the sites will rank well, or that one of them will have a call-tracking number to “prove ROI!”

Google’s warnings are strongest for wholesale duplicate content between sites.  In my experience, using mirror sites never ends well.  Either one site ranks OK and the other doesn’t, or neither ranks well.  Mirror sites confuse Google and would-be customers alike.

 

2. Duplicate / near-duplicate Google listings

Google listings that have nearly identical names, addresses, and phone numbers can hurt your rankings.  Use Michael Cottam’s excellent duplicate-finder tool to uncover them.

By the way, “practitioner listings” often aren’t a problem, in my experience.  (In other words, if you’re a doctor, lawyer, real-estate agent, or insurance agent, it’s OK if you have a listing in your name and the practice or agency has one in its name.)

3. Duplicate citations
Not a big deal if you have 2 very similar listings on, say, MojoPages or Brownbook – one of those little sites.  But do you have one YellowPages.com listing named “Acme Dynamite” and another named “Acme Dynamite Company”?  Delete one of them, or else Google might scrape YP (a trusted third-party source) and create an unwanted Google Places listing for you.

Also, you should be gung-ho about removing duplicate listings on highly visible sites like YP, Yelp, and Facebook.  To the extent you get reviews on those sites, you’ll want to get the reviews piled up on one listing, rather than spread them thin between several listings.

4. Internal duplicate title tags
Does your “Services” page have the same title tag as your homepage?  Google won’t penalize you or anything; it’s just that you’ve lost an opportunity to help different pages rank for different search terms.

5. Duplicate title tags between sites
Similar problem as in point #4.

But there’s an additional problem: if you have multiple sites that include the name of your business in the title tags, you may mess mess up your brand-name search traffic.  When people search for your business by name you want one site to come up in Google, so that everyone goes to that site.  Why?  Because Google loves brands.  The more you can seem like one (i.e. popular offline and online), the better.  But you don’t want to confuse Google as to what site represents your “brand.”

6. Duplicate / near-duplicate pages on your site – particularly “city” pages
I’ve never noticed a site get penalized specifically for barfing up two dozen pages that target different cities by swapping out the city names (“HVAC Contractors Atlanta,” “HVAC Contractors Decatur,” etc.).

But a few problems remain: (1) those clone pages often don’t rank well, (2) even if they do rank well they eventually drop because users pogo-stick away from them, and (3) they usually don’t produce many phone calls.

Low-quality “city” pages aren’t as much a drag on your rankings as they are a giant lost opportunity.  Yours don’t have to suck, though.

7. Reviews cross-posted by customers
Scenario: a customer writes you a nice review on Yelp, so you ask her to write a review on Google+.  Just make sure it’s not the same review.  Make sure the words are significantly different, or the review might get filtered on both sites.  (By the way, Yelp and Google are the only sites that aggressively filter reviews – at least as far as I know.)

Not a problem:

8. Reviews that you copy and put on your site
This isn’t against Yelp’s or Google’s (or other sites’) policies, and I’ve seen so many businesses copy and paste their reviews onto their sites that I’ve concluded it’s just not a problem.

9. Duplicate descriptions between listings
You can use a different description on Yelp from the one you use on Manta, or you can have those descriptions and all your others can be pretty much the same.  (I say “pretty much” because different sites have different length requirements for your blurb, so a little variation is inevitable.)  Doesn’t matter.

10. Website content cross-posted on listings
Want to use a blurb from your homepage as your description on Angie’s List?  Harmless.

11. Google+ posts duplicated on multiple Google Places / Plus pages
If you’ve got multiple locations – each with a Google Places page – it’s OK to publish the same post in each one’s “Posts” stream.

12. Re-posting Google+ reviews
Google allows this.  Very few businesses know that they can show off their Google reviews in their “Posts” stream.

Can you think of any other types of duplicate content, in the context of local SEO?

Which ones have you found to be harmful vs. harmless?

Leave a comment!

Every Local SEO Diagnostic You’ll Ever Need to Know (Plus Some)

You may be stumped as to why you’re not ranking well (or at all)…but don’t say it’s because you tried everything and just couldn’t figure it out.

You probably didn’t try everything.

I can think of 56 diagnostics you should try if you want to troubleshoot local SEO problems or find missed opportunities.  I’ll tell you all 56 in a minute.

First, a few points about what this post is not:

It’s not a list of every tool.  That’s what this post is for.

It’s not a technical audit (although a few of my suggestions fall into that category).

It’s not a tutorial on exactly what to do about what each diagnostic may show you.  Many times the next steps will be clear, but sometimes they’re tricky.  (For maximum detail on action items, get my free guide – or consider my X-Ray service.)

By the way, this is an evergreen post, so I’ll keep adding diagnostics.  (Please leave a comment if you have any to suggest.)

Let’s get into it, shall we?  I’ve broken this up into 7 sections.  You can click on a link to jump to a section.

General

Google Places

Website

Citations

Links

Reviews

My 7-point quick checkup

…or you can just start right here at the top.

General diagnostics

Measure the business’s distance to the center of town
Look up driving directions (in Google Maps) from the business to the town where it’s located or where its owners want to rank.  Are you 20 miles from what Google considers the center of town?  Are you significantly farther away than your higher-ranking competitors are? You want a sense of whether it’s even possible to rank in your “target” city.

Search in the business’s ZIP code
Type a search term into Google, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter the ZIP or postal code that the business is located in.  Does it rank?

Search in an incognito browser window
You may see biased results if you’re logged into your Google account or if you haven’t cleared your browser’s cookies in a while.

Study Google Analytics
For now, just log in and look for any steep dips in traffic.  Then you can use these other diagnostics to figure out why the drop-off happened.  (There are tons of resources for learning about Google Analytics in-depth, and they’re easy to find, so I’ll leave that part to you.)

Check Google Webmaster Tools
Any crawl or indexation issues?

Check your Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local rankings
If you rank more visibly in those places than in Google, it’s less likely you’re looking at a technical issue on your website and more likely that you’re staring at Google’s sharp fangs.

Get my questionnaire filled out
I’m talkin’ about this.  Probably only useful if you’re the SEO person who needs all the pertinent facts from your client – although it might still be a useful exercise even if you’re doing your own local SEO.

Google Places diagnostics

Check for the Google Places pack
Are you seeing only organic results for search terms that used to pull up the Google Places 7-pack (or 3-pack) results – or vice versa?

Perform a brand-name search
Do you see the Google Places page?  Is it the correct one?  Do you see the expected listings on other sites (e.g. Yelp)?

Search from different default locations
Type in a search term, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter other cities or ZIP codes.

Check rankings both with and without city names
Do you rank for “dentist” but not for “Cleveland dentist”?

Check the “Maps” tab
Are you ranked #10?  Are you on page 5?  To find out, type in a search term, click the “Map results…” link under the Google Places results, then click the “See results in list view” link. That’s for checking your visibility in the “new” Google Maps. But, as Linda points out, you should also check your rankings in classic Maps, because you may see different results there – possibly pre-Pigeon-update results.

Search on Google Plus
Go to plus.google.com, sign in, go to the “Local” tab, and search for the business.  Can you find its Google Places page?  Is it the one you expected to find?

Check both Googles
Let’s say your business is in Canada.  Check its rankings both on Google.com and on Google.ca.  You may notice a huge difference.

Make sure the page is verified
Look for the little checkmark near the profile photo.

Make sure the page has been “upgraded”
Do you see only an “About” and “Photos” tab, or do you see 3-4 tabs (like “Posts,” “Videos,” or “YouTube”)?

See if Google has made changes without your OK
Yes, Google does that sometimes.  Log into your Google My Business dashboard and you may see a message that says Google made tweaks to your page (usually to your address or categories).

Search for your business in MapMaker
Look at the “Details” tab.  Is any info incorrect?  (By the way, don’t bother with this step if you’ve got a service-area business.)  If anything seems incorrect, don’t mess around with it without reading this post first.

Check your map-marker location
Google your address.  Now check out on the map on your Google Places page.  Does the red marker show up in exactly the same place on the map?  If not, move the marker.

Find duplicate or near-duplicate Google Places pages
Use Michael Cottam’s excellent and free tool.  Or use the old-school techniques that Joy Hawkins’ describes.

Check the Google Places landing page URL
Go to your Places page and click the link to your site.  Does it forward to a domain other than the one you just clicked on?  Does it even take you to your website at all (yes, I’ve seen typos here, sad to say)?  Please tell me you’re using your homepage as the landing page.

Double-check the business hours
I’ve seen significant traffic dips on (for example) weekends when I’ve had clients who are closed on weekends.  Is that because search volume is naturally lower on the weekend because people are taking it easy, and that’s why the businesses are closed to begin with?  Or is Google less likely to show search results that contain closed businesses?  I suspect it’s a little of both.  So make sure your hours don’t mark you as “Closed” for more hours than you really are closed.

Website diagnostics

Do a site:yourwebsite.com search
How many of your pages are indexed?  Are you seeing old, duplicate versions of pages?  Are all your title tags the same (or just terrible)?

Check your robots.txt
Go to yourwebsite.com/robots.txt.  Make sure it doesn’t contain the dreaded “Disallow: /” line.  Especially if you’re not sure how to assess a robots.txt file you’ll want to use Google’s tester.

Look for mirror sites
I’m talking about clones of the site you want to rank well: same guts, different domain name.  Slimy companies may build these for you in a misguided attempt to try to “track conversions.”  The best way to find them is to Google a few lines of text from your homepage, and to see whether another domain pops up in Google.  Or use Copyscape or Plagium.

Find any unwanted subdomains or staging sites
Search for them by typing site:yourwebsite.com -www search.  Hat tip to the Local SEO Guide guys for reminding me about this one.

Make sure the NAP info is crawlable text
Google needs to be able to read your name / address / phone (“NAP”) info.  That’s not possible if your NAP is an image.  So here’s the test: can you copy and paste it?  If so, Google can read it OK.

View the source code
Only do this if you are your own webmaster, have built websites in the past, or otherwise know what to look for.  But if you do know what to look for, you may find some real demons.

Check the site on a smartphone
If you’re in an industry where a lot of the traffic (let’s say 30% or more) is from smartphones and you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, your bounce rate may be high.  That may hurt your rankings.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool
Hat tip to Tony of Cartography Marketing for reminding me of this one.

Check the “itemtype” line in your Schema.org markup
The itemty-…huh?  I explain that one in another long post.  It’s a little technical, and it won’t explain low rankings, but it might give you a slight edge in the local roller-derby.

Citation diagnostics

Do a (free) Moz Local scan
Hands-down the best way to get a quick sense of how much work your citations need.  Oh, and don’t ignore the suggestions for categories.

Check the BBB record
I love this hack.  You can find alternative business names, old phone numbers, and more.

Make sure you’re listed on Google’s pets
Beyond Yelp and YP, what sites rank well for the terms you’re trying to rank for? For instance, Google expects you to be on HealthGrades if you’re a doctor, or Avvo if you’re a lawyer, or Houzz if you’re a contractor. I’m mostly talking about industry sites. Thanks to Gyi Tsakalakis for reminding me of this point.

Search for the phone number in the standard format
I like to search with dashes as the separators (e.g. 123-867-3509).  It’ll pull up the same results as it would if you Googled the phone number with parentheses around the area code.

Search the phone number with periods as separators
Some people think the dots look chic, so they use them in their phone number.  But Google does not treat periods the same as dashes.  You may see different search results come up when you search for the number with periods (e.g. 123.867.5309).

Search for your business name and city
Great diagnostic from Darren: “If everything is in order, you should see a knowledge panel for the business. If you don’t get one, that can indicate Google isn’t getting enough signals to identify your brand. Try working on citation audit & cleanup, and review acquisition.” (By the way, Darren’s crew can help with messy citations.)

Search for the address
What kind of address is it (e.g. residential)?  Do the expected business listings (e.g. YellowPages) come up?  Do you see unexpected phone numbers come up?  Any discrepancies as to what city / town that address might be in?

Do a USPS ZIP Lookup
What town does Uncle Sam think your ZIP is in?  Know that before you touch your citations.

Use the Local Citation Finder
Do your competitors have better local citations?  Which competitors?  Where can you go to get those citations?  The Local Citation Finder can save you hours of toiling.

Use NAP Hunter
Those madmen at Local SEO Guide created a Chrome extension to help you unearth incorrect and duplicate citations.  Another huge time-saver.  Or, if you want to take the scenic route, you can use the sitelinks search box to find duplicate citations.

Yext free scan
Ignore the eschatological “144 Errors!” warnings and just get a rough sense of how many totally wrong phone numbers, addresses, and names are floating around the web, and on what sites. Note: if you use Yext’s free scan you’ll get solicited by Yext. (Thanks to Rob Scutti for reminding me of this trade-off.)

Check the state’s Secretary of State filing
Fix any business info that’s incorrect or out-of-date.

Check THE big YellowPages-type player in your country
YellowPages.ca is the make-or-break listing if you’re in Canada.  YellowPages.com.au is huge you’re in Australia.  Yell.com is crucial if you’re in the UK.  Get your listing right and you may see progress on the Google Places side.

Check Twitter for acknowledged problems
Great resource: Bill Bean’s Twitter Handles for Local Business Citation Sources.

Link diagnostics

Check backlinks
Use OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, or Ahrefs – or some combination of the three, ideally.  Spot-check your links and decide if they’re junk.  Get any junk links removed.

Check Google Webmaster Tools for a manual penalty
A worst-case scenario (one reason you don’t want to skip the “Check backlinks” step).

Get a Toxic Links score from LinkDelete
Another one in Darren’s words: “Run their quick scan to get a sense of how many bad links you have. Don’t freak out if the number is higher than expected. They tend to over-report a bit, in my opinion.”

Look at the release history of Penguin and other algorithm updates
Does Google Analytics show a steep drop-off in traffic on or right after a day that Google released an algorithm update?

Check for links between affiliated businesses
Do your five sites merrily link to each other?  Don’t.

Review diagnostics

Type in [name of business] + reviews
Just see what – if anything – comes up.  Not having many or any reviews is bad local SEO and worse marketing.  Read this and this.

Check Google’s reviews dashboard
Sometimes buggy and won’t pick up Yelp reviews, but good for getting a quick sense of where a business has reviews.

Check YellowBot
Same goal as above.  As I’ve shown, reviews from all over the place show up on YellowBot.

Check the “More reviews” section in the knowledge graph
Yet another way to check for where a business has reviews.

Find filtered Google+ reviews
See this brilliant post by Joy Hawkins.

My 7-point quick checkup:

I can uncover probably 80% of problems in about 10 minutes, just by doing these quick tests (which I mentioned earlier):

1.  Check rankings both with and without city names

2.  Perform a brand-name search

3.  Measure the business’s distance to the center of town

4.  Do a site:yourwebsite.com search

5.  Do a (free) Moz Local scan

6.  Google the phone number(s)

7.  Check backlinks

 

Great further reading

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

Troubleshooting Local Ranking Failures: a Beginner’s Guide
– Miriam Ellis

*Local SEO Audit Template
– Dan Leibson

(*That’s not the real title of the post, but I’m not shoehorning that 17-word monstrosity in here.  Sorry, Dan :)  Nice post, though.)

 

Do you have a problem you still can’t figure out after trying those diagnostics?

Is there a troubleshooting method I forgot?

What’s your favorite?

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!

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!

Locus Pocus

What’s with the name?  It’s a portmanteau of local and hocus pocus.

Just my way of referring to semi-common local SEO practices that I think are superstition.

We talked about “Local SEO Myths” in 2013.  But there’s even more to say.  In that post, I and other local-search geeks focused on myths that lead business owners way off-track.

Now I’d like to talk about what I see as practices that just waste time and effort.  They won’t kill you, but I can’t say they’ll help you.

Probably worth emphasizing now rather than later that this post is my opinion.  It’s based on a big ugly pile of first-hand experience.  But it’s still an opinion.  Let’s argue in the comments.

OK, now that my lawyer’s meticulously worded disclaimer is out of the way…

There are the local-rankings factors I’ve seen move the needle for clients and others, time and time again.  I’m talking about things like accurate categories, consistent citations, many reviews, good title tags, and meaty sites.

Then there are the factors that may matter to your local rankings.  These are steps I usually suggest to clients, because they’re good to do even if they don’t help rankings in the slightest: using Schema markup for your NAP, picking good H2 tags, embedding a Google map on your site, adding lots of photos to your Google listing, etc.

And then there’s the Locus Pocus.

These practices have done little to deserve my wrath.  I’ll spare you my theories about why I don’t think they matter.

My best indictment of them is simply that in 5 years I haven’t seen a whit of evidence that they help your local rankings in Google or anywhere else.

Here’s the stuff I wouldn’t suggest spending any time on:

  • “Geotagging” photos.  Sure, pick relevant names for the files, and try to pick relevant alt tags when appropriate.  But metadata?  Fugettaboutit.
  • Including city names in the “keyword” fields on your various business listings.  If MerchantCircle asks you to stick 10 keywords in a box, put in 10 services you offer (and maybe their synonyms).
  • Getting hundreds of structured citations.  Lots of unstructured citations (e.g. newspaper mentions), great.
  • Giant blocks of text where you mention all the towns you serve.
  • Keyword tags.
  • Making cheapo slideshow videos and uploading them to every video site you can find.
  • Setting a large “Service Area” in your Google Places dashboard.
  • Putting your “target” city in the Google Places address field, for fear that you won’t rank well there if you enter your real city.  If you want any shot at ranking where you want to, you need to help Google understand where you’re really located.
  • Seeking that extra edge by trying to outsmart all the sites where you can list your business. Just five more little keywords in your description, writing just one review for your own business, etc. Thanks to Aaron Weiche for mentioning this point (below).

Maybe these practices aren’t so harmless after all.  Spending your time and energy on them and expecting results just means it’s longer before you’re visible in the local rankings.

Hat tip to Darren for weighing in on several of the points.

What have you found to be “locus pocus”?  Did you ever have some miraculous experience with any of the practices I mentioned?  Leave a comment!

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!

Should You Hire an Industry-Specialist Local SEO?

A few local SEOs I’ve consulted for have asked me whether they should specialize.  In other words, should they offer their services only to business owners in a specific industry?

 

Here’s what I said to them:

Know exactly why you want to specialize – and be able to explain it clearly to potential clients.  If you can’t articulate it or think the reason would sound bad if you did, now isn’t the time to specialize.

Figure out how you’ll get into a position where you can offer something to your clients that “general practitioner” local SEOs can’t.

Now I’m going to flip the question upside-down to get at the real issue:

In what cases might you – a business owner – want to work with a local SEO who specializes in your field?

By the way, keep in mind that I’m not an industry-specialist (although I’ve worked with some types of businesses more than others).  I think being an all-industries local SEO guy is the better fit for me, so in one sense I’ve already voted with my feet.  But I want to present a balanced view here, and part of doing that means you know where I’m coming from.

It might be a good idea or a bad idea to work with a local SEO who specializes in your industry.  Here are the factors worth considering:

(Please excuse all the “he” references.  Just makes for a smoother read than “he/she,” or “they.”  Some of the very best SEOs are women, but this industry is still like The Expendables, unfortunately.)

 

Pros

1.  He may have a lot of experience in helping businesses just like yours.

2.  He may have been an in-house SEO for a big company in your industry – which might be good to the degree it means he knows what works on a large scale and can either repeat it or scale it down.

3.  He may have worked in your industry.  He might the same ins and outs you know, and speak the same lingo you speak.

4.  He probably knows the regulations and restrictions that apply to your industry.

 

Cons

1.  He may not have the wide range of experience that a non-industry-specific local SEO would be more likely to have.  He hasn’t necessarily helped business owners in all sorts of situations.

2.  He could have been an in-house SEO for a big company – and that might not be such a good thing if he’s only had success with tons of budget and HR at his disposal.  He may not know how to bootstrap, which could be an issue if you’ve got limited resources.

3.  If you hire him to help with “content,” there’s a chance you’ll get boilerplate, non-unique stuff that’s been used on others’ websites (maybe even on your competitors’ sites).  Not only does your site

4.  You may discover that he only specializes in your industry because he thinks there’s “lots of money in it.”  He doesn’t have a particular affinity for business owners like you, and has no special ability to help them.

 

How do you figure out the pros and cons of the specialist local SEO you’re thinking of ?  I’d ask as many of the following questions as you feel like asking:

“Why are you a specialist?”  Get a concrete answer.  If it’s “I’m good at helping businesses in this niche,” ask how.  If it’s “I like this industry,” ask why.

“How many businesses in my industry have you worked with?”  There’s no “right” answer here, as long as the answer is straightforward and not mush-mouthed.  If you’re the first one your SEO will have worked with as a specialist, hey, that’s fine if he comes out and says so.  If the answer is “oh, hundreds,” you need to ask, “Why so many?”

“How are you better-equipped to help my business (better-equipped than a local SEO who doesn’t specialize)?”  Again, you’ll want to drill down until you hit specifics.

“What’s your exclusivity policy?”  Has your potential SEO-er worked with business you’d consider competitors?  Under what circumstances would he work with or not work with them in the future?

“Do you have a ‘core’ list of citation sources that matter in my field?”  The only bad answer to this: “What’s a ‘citation source’?”

“Where can I see some stuff you’ve written on local SEO for my industry?”  This one could answer many of the other questions.  Here’s an example of the sort of thing you’d want to see.

“What do you know about marketing in my industry that I might not know – or that my old SEO guy maybe didn’t know?”  This is a toughie.  You’ll know a good answer if you hear one.  Personally, I’d say something like, “Well, you probably know a lot more about your field than I do, but here are some things I’ve learned about your field over time….”

“Are there other local SEOs who specialize in this industry, too?  If so, how are you different from (or better than) them?”  It’s OK if the answer is, “Well, we’re not fundamentally different, but I think we’ve invented a better mousetrap, and here’s how….”

You should scrutinize anyone you hire, for any kind of work.  An industry-specialist local SEO doesn’t necessarily warrant more questions on your part – just a slightly different battery of questions.

Local Citation-Building Workflow (in a Nutshell)

A smart dude once said that “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I have as many questions as anyone else about local citations, but I can explain in pretty simple terms my suggestions for how you can get yours to help your local rankings rather than hurt them.

The post I did on Whitespark in August was all about the nitty-gritty details.  This one is bigger-picture.

I’m talking about the rough sequence of steps for building local citations, which you need to do if you want to rank well in local search (Google+ Local and elsewhere).

(You might consider it a continuation of my 12-week action plan.)

This post is for you if you citation-building seems like a jumble of tiny steps without any rhyme or reason, or if you have an employee who’s handling it but seems confused by the process.

By the way, I’m making a couple of assumptions here:

1.  Your business is located in the US.  (If not, I suggest the same workflow, but you’ll be dealing with different sites.)

2.  You’d prefer to have free listings.  (If you have paid versions of any listings – like LocalEze – great: Things may go a little faster.  But I’m not assuming that.)

What to do for a new business/location

Basic principle: start with the sites where it takes a while to get a listing, do the ones where it’s quick to get a listing, wait, and work on the stragglers.

Step 1.  Submit to the sites that take a while to process your listing: ExpressUpdate.com, MyBusinessListingManager.com, and CitySearch.  (You may also want to start Bing and Yahoo now.)

Step 2.  Do the listings that you can do in a few minutes each.  I’m talking about pretty much all the sites you can name, except for the above.

(Note: Around the time you do those first two steps is when you’ll want to create your Google+ Local listing, if you haven’t done so already.)

Step 3.  Wait a month or two.  Work on other stuff.

Step 4.  See if your listing has finally appeared on LocalEze.  If so, claim it and make any corrections.  (Read this first.) If not, check back in a month, after you’ve done the next couple of steps.

Step 5.  Check on the sites you submitted to in step #1; make sure those are complete.

Step 6.  Do any straggler citations – that is, listings you couldn’t or didn’t create or fix earlier, for whatever reason.

 

What to do for a business/location that’s been around a while (a year-plus)

Basic principle: stop the spread of incorrect info on your business by fixing your existing listings, then build new listings on sites where you’ve never been listed.

Step 1. Claim and fix your listings on or submit your listings to the slow-to-digest sites (the ones I mentioned in steps 1 and 4 for a “new business,” above).

Step 2.  Fix any listings your business already has.  Remove the ones you can’t fix, or that are duplicates.  (See this and this for more detail.)

Step 3.  Now you can finally build new citations.  There are several ways to find sites worth listing your business on for the first time; you could use my list, or you could use the Local Citation Finder, to name a couple ways.)

Step 4.  Wait a couple of months before checking on all your citations and making sure they’re all correct and complete.

Questions?  Workflow tips?  Leave a comment!