How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s)

 

Your landing page matters if you want to be visible in the local search results.

The landing page – also known as the URL you enter into the “website” field of your Google Places page (or Google Plus listing if you’ve “upgraded”).

Most businesses use their homepage for this – which is usually fine.

(No need to read any of this if you only have one business location and know that you want to use your homepage as the landing page for your Google listing.)

But if you have several locations or just want to use a different page as the landing page for your Google+Local listing, one of the first things you have to do is figure out what to name your page.

Or if you’re trying to snag some visibility in the organic rankings for local businesses, you still have to figure out what to name your page(s).

It’s easy to pick a page name that helps your rankings.  But it’s even easier to pick a lousy one that hurts you.

Here are my tips for how to name your page in a way that doesn’t get your site penalized, doesn’t mess up your citations, doesn’t annoy people who visit your site, and does help you rank better:

 

Tip 1:  Make sure the entire URL of the landing page for your Google+Local page is 40 characters or fewer.  The first reason is that Google will cut off your URL after that, and show an ellipsis in the search results.

The second reason – and the-more important one –is that you’ll run into problems with your citations if the URL (without the “http://www”) exceeds 40 characters.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdateUSA.com won’t allow URLs longer than that.

If ExpressUpdateUSA doesn’t give your URL the thumbs-up, the sites it feeds – AKA a bunch of your citations – won’t use the correct landing page, either.  That’s the kind of inconsistency that can hurt your rankings.

It’ll also be a problem at Yelp, where long URLs usually aren’t allowed.

 

Tip 2:  Realize that you don’t need hyphens in your page name for Google to recognize your search term(s) in it, and to display it in bold letters in the search results.  It recognizes that “carpetcleaning” is the same thing as “carpet-cleaning.”  You should still use hyphens if possible, simply because they make it easier for people to read your URL.  But if you’re pressed for space, you can get rid of them.

 

Tip 3:  Don’t repeat elements of your domain name, like location names or keywords, in your page name.  It’s a waste of space and looks spammy to Google and to humans.  Either your domain name or page name should contain a search term you’re going after, and maybe even the name of your city.

 

Tip 4:  Consider using two-letter state abbreviations.  They’re a good use of space, because they may help you snag rankings for search terms that include state names (e.g. “lawyers Orlando FL”).

 

Tip 5:  Triple-check for typos when you create your landing page.  Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen people mess this up – and I’ve done it a couple times myself.

 

 

Tip 6:  Use dashes, not underscores.

 

Tip 7:  Don’t worry too much about what to name your subdirectories.  If your page name is relevant but your URL is more than about 40 characters, Google will show an ellipsis in place of the name of the subdirectory.

A few notes

Page names don’t matter quite as much in Bing Places, at least from a “user experience” standpoint, because URLs aren’t shown in the local search results.

You won’t see spelled-out URLs if you’re looking at the Google+Local results on a smartphone.

The only way that I know of to get Google not to show “www” in the 7-pack search results is if you specify it with rel=“canonical” on your landing page.

(There seems to be another way to get the “www” not to show up; see comments below.)

But I can’t think of a good reason why you’d want to use rel= “canonical” on your landing page; if your landing page is a duplicate of another page, then you’ve got bigger problems to deal with than the length of your page name.

By the way, I’d also recommend all the above tips except #1 if you’re going after organic rankings and want to get the most out of the names of your city pages.

Any suggestions for how to name your “local” landing pages?  Leave a comment!

Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?

Update: here’s an excellent, more-current list by Whitespark.

You might be thinking that this sounds a lot like my post titled “Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

That’s because this is an unofficial “sequel” (for good reason, as you’ll see).

How about taking a few minutes to read that older post.  Then come back here.

Done?

If you just buzzed through the first post because you’re hanging on my every word in this one – or if memory is your weapon of choice today – it’s time for a quick recap of the older post on “private citations”:

1.  Some business owners want to rank well in Google’s local search results and beyond, but don’t want their street addresses to be easily findable online (most likely because they work from home).  Maybe you have these privacy concerns, or know someone who does.

2.  Unless your business is listed on a variety of online directories (AKA citation sources), you probably won’t rank well in the local search results.  But you don’t want your address to be easily findable on those sites.  Now you’re feeling stuck.

3.  Turns out you’ll probably be able to rank well locally after all, because most of the important online directories actually do allow you to “hide” your street address – that is, to keep your address from showing up publicly on your business listing.

Where to "hide" your address on a business listing (as seen on Local.Yahoo.com)

On the last point, notice that I said “most” of the important directories let you hide your street address.  In that older post I did on “private citations,” I only looked at the sites that you see when you do a free GetListed.org scan of your business.  At the time, those totaled 12 sites.  A great start, sure.

But an effective citation-building effort – again, which is crucial to your rankings – takes more than listing your business on even those 12 sites.

That’s why I’ve looked at more sites and have learned even more about where privacy fits into local search.

I’ve looked at a total of 31 of the most-important sites for your business to be listed on, and I’ve seen which sites let you keep your address private.

 

The breakdown: which sites are (and are not) “private”

(You can also get the breakdown on Google Drive, or as a PDF or Excel doc.  Just in case you want to see all the sites at a glance.)

AngiesList.com: yes.  There is not a checkbox for this; the “address” field is optional, so you can simply choose not to specify your street address.

Bing Business Portal: yes.

BizWiki.com: no.

BrownBook.net: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

City-Data.com: no.  The rules specify that the site is “only for brick & mortar businesses.”

CitySearch.com: yes.  (See my instructions for adding or claiming your CitySearch listing.)

CitySquares.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

DexKnows.com: maybe.  If you’ve hidden your address on LocalEze and suppressed your ExpressUpdateUSA listing, your address most likely won’t show up on DexKnows.

DirectoryCentral.com: no.

DiscoverOurTown.com: no.

ExpressUpdateUSA.com: no.  AKA InfoGroup, this is one of three main “data-providers” – in other words, a really important site to be listed on.  As I noted in my post from 2012, “you can’t simply ‘turn off’ the display of your address on your ExpressUpdate listing.  But you can search for your listing on the site and request its deletion, OR you can call up Customer Service and ask them to suppress your listing.”

EZLocal.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

FourSquare.com: no.  (Hiding your address would defeat the main purpose of being listed on FourSquare in the first place: getting customers to “check in” to your business on their phones.)

HotFrog.com: yes.

iBegin.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

JudysBook.com: maybe.  If you pay the monthly fee to claim your listing, you may be able to leave off your street address.  The other way to get your business listed on JudysBook is for a customer to find the hidden “submit” area and then to post a review of your business, although in this option the street address is required.

Kudzu.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

Local.BOTW.org: yes.

Local.com: yes.

LocalEze.com: yes.  (This is a major “data-provider” and an extremely important site to be listed on.  See my recent post for more detail.)

Manta.com: yes.  On one screen you’re made to provide a street address, but on the next screen you can check a “hide address” box.

MapQuest.com: yes.

MerchantCircle.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

MyBusinessListingManager.com: yes.  AKA Acxiom, this is a major “data-provider.

Nokia (here.com/primeplaces): yes.  You have to specify your street, but you don’t have to specify your number.

SuperPages.com: yes.

Yahoo: yes.

YellowBot.com: yes.  But only once you’ve claimed your listing.  (See comment below from YellowBot co-founder Emad Fanous.)

YellowBook.com: maybe.  You can only edit the address by calling 1-800-929-3556; they may allow you to hide the address if you ask.

Yelp.com: yes.

YP.com: yes.

 

A few takeaways

Takeaway 1. The biggest directories (e.g. Yelp, YP) usually let you hide your address.  If you do nothing else, make sure you’re listed on these.

Takeaway 2.  The smaller directories (e.g. BizWiki, DirectoryCentral) aren’t as likely to let you hide your address.  Whether you want to add or keep a listing on these sites depends on which you’d rather have: a little extra “citations juice” or a little extra privacy.

Takeaway 3.  Your biggest challenge in juggling citation-building and privacy is to determine how you want to handle your listings on two of the three “primary data-providers”: ExpressUpdateUSA.com and MyBusinessListingManager.com.  The other main data-provider (LocalEze.com) lets you hide your address, so that one isn’t an issue.  But the former two sites make you list your address, and they feed your business info to lots of other sites.  You should be able to strike a good balance of local rankings and privacy if you’re listed on these non-private sites but make sure your address is private elsewhere.  But if you’re really concerned about privacy, you’ll need to contact the people at ExpressUpdateUSA (AKA InfoGroup) and MyBusinessListingManager (AKA Acxiom) and ask them to suppress your listing.  (I know the former allows you to do this, but I’m not sure about the latter.)

 

Some notes

Arguably a good citation-building campaign involves your creating and managing even more than 31 listings.  So does my list only get you only partway down the road?

No, because there are two “buts” that mean now you’ve probably got all the info you need to build citations effectively but privately:

1.  Several of those 31 sites feed business info to other sites, which means that over time the number of citations your business has will grow naturally and without your needing to do anything.  Meanwhile, to the extent you’ve made sure your address isn’t listed on those sites, it won’t get spread all over the web.  Win-win.

2.  If those 31 sites are the only ones you’ve listed your business on, then you’ve got a very good citations profile.  But to take it from “very good” to excellent will probably involve digging deeper (probably with the Local Citation Finder) to find citations that Google places extra “trust” in: either directories that are specific to your industry, or specific to your city/region, or both.  Because there’s an infinity of these industry- and location-specific sites, I’ll never be able to research which ones are “private” – at least before I’m using dentures and a walker.  So I’ll leave it up to you: whether you’d rather be listed on “niche” sites that may or may not require you to list your address.

Still, I want to learn about the privacy levels of even more sites.  That’s why this is an evergreen post: I’m going to update it as I learn about more sites.

 

What about non-US sites?

One obvious limitation of my current list is that I haven’t researched all that many non-US sites.

True: some of the sites (like Manta.com) are available outside the USA, or have a network of “sister” sites (like YP.com) in other countries.

And yes, if you download the list, you’ll notice that I’ve indicated which sites are “international.”  That should help you if you’re located outside the US.

But…if you have some time to spare and want to go through Nyagoslav Zhekov’s two great posts on important non-US citation sources and want to let me know what you find, I’d more than appreciate it (and will cite you here :)).

Once again, here are the download options for the list of of “private” citations:

Google Drive
PDF
Excel

Got any questions or suggestions about juggling local rankings and privacy?  Go ahead – leave a comment.

RIP LocalEze Free Business Listings

Is your business listed on LocalEze.com?  I hope so: If you run a “local” business in the US, the site can indirectly help or hurt your local search rankings.

On a tight budget and want to list your business for free?  You’re out of luck.

As of just this month, LocalEze no longer allows businesses owners to add their listings to the site for free.

I’ve heard this from a couple of people now – including one of my clients and the guys from FireGang– which prompted me to go in and take a look for myself today.  I’ve come to the same conclusion.

Apparently, you can still claim your listing for free if it’s already listed on LocalEze (more on this in a minute).  It’s just that now you can’t add a listing (for free) that’s not already in the system.

I’m not wild about this change.

As I’ve written on several occasions, LocalEze is a very important site to list your business on if you want to rank well in the local search results – particularly in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) results.  Being listed there and listed accurately is a huge step in making sure your citations are consistent.

I think the paid package is a good deal, but business owners shouldn’t have to fork over just to have basic control of their own business information.  Especially given how many other websites LocalEze feeds your business information to.

That’s what I know so far.  There are also some things I don’t know at this stage:

  • I’m wondering whether LocalEze will remain as important a data-provider, at least as far as Google’s local-search algorithm is concerned.  No doubt it will remain important, but the move toward pay-to-play ultimately may mean fewer businesses and less-fresh info in the database – which is the last thing Google (not to mention Apple Maps) needs at the moment.
  • If you’ve already got a claimed listing, can you only update it once annually (for free)?
  • Will (and should) LocalEze continue to appear in GetListed.org scans?
  • What will we be saying a year from now?

Anyway…

What should you do now?  At least one of four things:

  • Join me in pouring a fohty for the free listings.
  • If you’re listed on LocalEze and if you haven’t already claimed your listing, claim your listing while you still can do so for free.
  • If you’re not listed and you’re not on a particularly tight budget, consider adding your listing by forking over for the paid package ($297 / year).  You can also add and gain control of your listing if you’re on Yext (which I believe is $397 / year for a single-location “small” business).
  • If you’re not listed on LocalEze but you are on a restrictive budget, you can still get listed, but it’s going to take some work and patience.  You’ll have to list your business on pretty much all the other important directories (AKA “citation sources”).  LocalEze “trusts” some of these sites, and if your business is listed on the latter, it will probably be listed on the former after some months.  You’d have to list your business on these other third-party sites anyway if you’re serious about your local SEO.  The only difference is that now – if you have more patience than money at the moment – you may want to list your business on those sites first, rather than do LocalEze first and wait for it to feed your info to the other sites

Questions?  First-hand observations?  Not sure which plan of attack might be best in your situation?  Leave a comment!

Local Citations You Do NOT Want

Citations help your local rankings and overall visibility to customers.  The more you can rack up, the better – right?

Wrong.  There are some sites you simply don’t want your business to be listed on.

If I had to categorize them, I’d call them consumer-protection / complaint-board sites.

How would you like to be the proud owner of juicy citations like these?

 

 

 

Didn’t think you’d want a piece of that action.

(Please note: I picked the above listings at random.  For all I know, the businesses listed there do a great job.)

Here are some sites I’ve found where a citation = bad local visibility:

BBB.org (if you have a bad rating there)

CompanyNameSucks.com

Complaints.com

ComplaintsBoard.com

ComplaintsList.com

PissedConsumer.com

PlanetFeedback.com

RipoffReport.com

Scam.com

ScamBook.com

TheSqueakyWheel.com (charges $5)

My guess is Google will not put a wet towel on your rankings if you’re mentioned on any of the above sites.  (But who knows…maybe.)

It doesn’t really matter, though: The goal is to attract customers.  If any of the above sites shows up in the search results when someone types in the name of your business, you’re repelling customers.

If you’re in the unenviable position of being listed on one of these sites, at least respond to the complaint.  Many sites give you (the business owner) some way to address the beef – as a way of making things right or of telling your side of the story.  Whatever you do, be wary of companies that claim to be able to remove complaints.

If angry customers are doing your citation-building for you, you’re in trouble.  But things will never get out of hand as long as you care and try to do a good job:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Local Citations / Business Directories for Specific Ethnicities and Identities (US)

Any business owner who’s tried to get visible to customers in local search has noticed the huge number and variety of citation sources out there (AKA places to list your business).

We all know that people who own businesses in America are of all different stripes – some who identify as a minority, some born in other countries, some multilingual, etc.  That’s one of the very best things about this country.

What most local business owners and local SEOs don’t know is that there’s also a variety of local-biz directories geared toward many of the different ethnicities and identities of people who’ve built businesses here.

These sites are important for two reasons: Because “local” business owners (1) want to attract the “right types” of customers and (2) need to gather as many local citations as possible in order to get visible to those customers in the local search results (mostly Google+Local and Bing).

I’ve rounded up a list of ethnicity-specific / identity-specific sites, some of which you may want to list your business on.

I didn’t know about these sites, partly because this topic gets zero attention – even in local-SEO circles.  But that doesn’t mean your customers don’t know about them and use them.  Plus, chances are good Google views them as high-quality citations, which could help your local rankings.

This post is for you if your services cater to people of a particular origin, or if you’re trying to find more customers who have a similar background to yours – and who might be looking for someone like you in the same way.

A couple of notes:

1. I’ve only included directories that are (a) free, (b) available to people in any city in America, and that (c) don’t require you to place a reciprocal link on your site.

2.  There’s no good way to categorize the sites, so I’ve simply listed them alphabetically.  Most of the site names are self-explanatory, but I’ve added little side-notes to the ones that might not be.

 

Sites:

AlbanianYellowPages.com

AmericanIndianBusiness.net (Native American)

AsianBizOnline.com

BizPronto.com (Latino)

BlackBusinessList.com

BlackDollar.org

BlackOwnedBiz.com

BlackPagesOnline.com

Chinese411.com

CopperPages.com (Indian & Southeast Asian)

DesiWebUSA.com (Indian)

DoJewish.org

FilAmBizPages.com (Filipino)

FilAmPages.com (Filipino)

GreekAmericanBiz.com

HispanicSMB.com

IndianVillage.com (Native American)

IndoUSListing.com (Indonesian)

IranianHotline.com

iZania.com (Black & African American)

Jewocity.com

LatinaMarketplace.com

Latin-Businesses-USA.com

LebaneseinAmerica.com

MakBiz.net (Macedonian)

MinorityProfessionalNetwork.com

MuslimBusinessUSA.com

MuslimDir.com

NAOTW.biz (Native American)

RUList.com (Russian)

RussianImpact.com

SaigonNet.net (Vietnamese)

SupportBlackBusinesses.com

ThaiYellowPagesUSA.com

TurkishBiz.com

US4Arabs.com

Yasabe.com (Spanish speakers)

YaSas.com (Greek)

 

And a couple of good sites for US Armed Forces veterans:

VeteranOwnedBusiness.com

VeteransDirectory.com

(If you’re a vet or know one, check out my pro bono Visibility for Veterans program.)

 

By the way, you can find paid-membership sites if you do a search in Google along the lines of “[ethnicity] american chamber of commerce”.  There are also a ton of LinkedIn groups, which you can find if you type things like “[ethnicity] American business network”

If the list doesn’t have a directory geared toward a particular type of person, it’s either because I simply couldn’t find such a directory (possible) or because I didn’t think to look (not likely – I spend 2-3 hours combing the web).

In any case, I’m sure there are some great sites out there that I missed.  And I just know there must be a lot of non-US sites similar to the ones on the list (I’ve stumbled across a few so far).  I’d really appreciate any suggestions.

How many of the above sites apply to your business (or a client’s business)?  Any thoughts on how to make the list a little better?  Leave a comment!

17 Questions with Darren Shaw – Creator of the Local Citation Finder

Whitespark.ca - home of the Local Citation FinderRecently I had the pleasure of grilling Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca about his “Local Citation Finder” – the ultra-handy local-search optimization tool he created.

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes grappling with local SEO, you’ve probably heard of the Local Citation Finder – and there’s a good chance you use it, too.  It’s one of my very favorite tools for building up my clients’ local search rankings.

I’ve used the LCF since it came out in 2010.  Since then, I’ve had some questions I’ve been itching to ask – mostly about how to use the LCF to glean every last bit of local-search visibility for my clients.  For that there’s no substitute for “insider tips.”

Plus, the LCF is a really popular tool, so I also wanted to learn more about some of the secrets behind its success.

I went straight to the horse’s mouth, and Darren was kind enough to answer my questions

In case you didn’t know, Darren is kind of a big deal.  In some parts of the world he enjoys the spoils of an emperor:

Darren Shaw: ruler...er, creator of the Local Citation Finder

If you have any interest in getting your business more visible in local search, or if you just want some tips on how to launch a successful venture…read on.

Phil:  If you were in an elevator with someone who knows nothing about local search, how would you explain the Local Citation Finder?

Darren:  The Local Citation Finder is a competitive analysis tool for finding out where the top ranking competitors are getting citations, and for seeing where you already have citations. It will automatically tell you which ones you don’t already have, and includes SEOMoz’s Domain Authority and Majestic SEO’s ACRank metrics so that you can identify the best possible citation sources that are helping your competition rank locally.

 

Phil:  Why should a business owner—as opposed to a local SEO junkie—get the Local Citation Finder?  It’s not like that person necessarily needs to build citations every day.

Darren:  Currently, I don’t think a business owner would need to use the LCF for more than a month. I think it’s pretty typical for a business owner to sign up for a month, use the tool, export a CSV for all the citation opportunities they found, and then cancel. They can then work through that list when they have time.

We are working on citation monitoring services though, so a business owner will be able to track when new citations come live, and also get notifications when their competition gets new citations. When those features roll out, a monthly subscription will make more sense for a business owner.

 

Phil:  What would you say to someone who has all the basic citations (Yelp, SuperPages, etc.) and isn’t sure why he/she needs a tool to find more?  When is “good enough” good enough?

Darren:  The basic citations are an important starting point, especially the key sites you mention and the primary data aggregators, but we find that smaller city specific and industry specific sites strengthen your business’ association with your location and your niche and provide a noticeable rankings boost. The LCF helps you find these sources.

 

Phil:  Let’s say I need to build 50 citations for my business.  How much time could the Local Citation Finder save me, roughly speaking?

Darren:  I suppose we need to think about what the tool does, and what it would take to do that manually.

First you would want to run a keyword search and record all the businesses that are ranking locally.

Then you would want to find and record all the sites that the first business has a citation on. You could do this through various Google queries and then paginate through the results

Repeat for each of the other ranking businesses. You would then combine the lists, cross-referencing to make sure you’re not listing the same site twice.

Finally, you would repeat the process for your own business and then make note of which sites you’re already listed on, and which ones are opportunities.

Oh, and then you’d also look up SEOMoz Domain Authority and Majestic ACRank metrics for each site.

For an efficient and focused worker, I’d guess that this manual process would take at least six to eight hours

Our tool typically returns results in one or two minutes, and this is just one keyword search. At our lowest plan level you can run up to twenty different keyword searches per day.

In addition, the tool provides direct links to the “add your business” form for thousands of sites that get returned in our results. No need to spend time hunting through the websites to find the place where you can submit.

So, roughly, I’d say that the tool saves days of work.

 

Phil:  A lot of great tools are created by people who are fed up and just know there’s a better way to do a particular task.  Before the Local Citation Finder, how many hours would you typically spend gathering citations for a given client?

Darren:  Surprisingly, we didn’t do much citation building prior to developing the LCF. I was just getting interested in the topic, read a post by Garrett French about a technique you could use to find citation opportunities, and figured we could build a tool to automate the process.

 

Phil:  Did you have a prototype that you used for your own clients, before you realized “Hey, this might make a good tool for sale”?  In other words, was there an “ancestor”?

Darren:  No ancestor. The first version of the tool was developed and released in three days. It was an extremely simple tool that would just email you lists of potential opportunities. You can see some screen shots of the first version of the tool on Matt McGee’s post, “Local Citation Finder: Must-Have SEO Tool”.

 

Phil:  Yeah, I remember using it at that early stage.  Why did it come along when it did (summer of 2010)?  We’d known for a couple years beforehand that citations were important.  There was a niche and a need for it before 2010.

Darren:  The existence of the tool needed Garrett French’s brilliant idea for citation finding to spark the idea. 🙂

 

Phil:  Roughly how long did it take you to develop the LCF— from when it was a few neurons firing in your brain to when you put the “Order” button on the site?

Darren:  The free version we developed in three days was up for about six months before we rolled out the full-blown system that exists today. A few months of solid development went into taking it from simple/free to awesome/paid. It has evolved considerably since then as well.

 

Phil:  What’s a complaint or suggestion you’ve received on at least a couple occasions about the Local Citation Finder?

Darren:  This one comes up all the time:

“Why are there so many sites that I can’t submit to?”

The answer is because the tool performs a competitive analysis to find ALL the places that the top ranked competition is getting citations. A site doesn’t have to have a “submit your business” form on it to be a good citation. In fact, just like in link building, the harder a citation is to get, the more valuable it may be.

For example, the New York Times doesn’t have a “submit your business to our local business directory form”, but if your competition has done something newsworthy and has received a citation from the NYT, that’s a great thing for you to know about so you can look at what they did to get that citation.

 

Phil:  What’s a favorite “secret tip” of yours for getting the most benefit out of the LCF?

Darren:  We use the LCF in our client work to find “hyper local/niche” citation sources that we think have a significant impact on rankings. Here’s the process:

Create a new project. Call it something like “Local-Niche citations for __business-name__”

Run a bunch of different keyword searches in your specific city and industry, and assign each search to the project you created. So, for a plumber in Denver: Denver plumbers, Denver plumbing, Denver drain cleaning, etc. Try to be exhaustive.

Go under “Your Projects”, select “view sources” for the project you created, and ALL the citation sources from all of those different queries will be listed on a single page.

Hold down Ctrl and press “f” to bring up your browser’s search function. Now search for “plumb”, “drain”, “Denver”, “Colorado”, etc. Any words, or portions of words, that are related to your location or industry. The browser search feature will find sites with these words in their domains. These are going to be some very targeted sources that should help your rankings.

 

Phil:  How much room for improvement do you see for the LCF?  Any features you’re dying to add?

Darren:  Yeah, I’m dying to add the citation monitoring features I mentioned above. We’ve been super focused on our latest project, our local rank tracker, but it’s almost done, finally! Once it has launched and is stable, we’ll be jumping back to those LCF features. I also have plans for a NAP consistency tool that will complement the LCF nicely.

 

Phil:  Tons of people in the local-search community—and many people outside of it—use or at least know about the LCF.  What’s been the most important part of your strategy for “getting the word out”?

Darren:  Honestly, it’s just been dumb luck. We built a tool that the community needed, and word spread naturally. People liked what we built and started blogging.

 

Phil:  I’ve never encountered another tool that’s specifically designed for citation-gathering.  There doesn’t seem to be much competition—or even any knock-offs, for that matter.  Why do you think that is?  Why aren’t there any Pepsis to your Coca-Cola?

Darren:  Hmm. I don’t know. I suppose it’s just so narrowly focused. Citations are just one piece of the local SEO puzzle, and local SEO is just one niche within SEO overall. People that can build quality tools probably prefer to focus on bigger opportunities.

 

Phil:  The LCF has been around for long enough that the kinks have pretty much been smoothed out.  At this point, how do you spend your time on it?  What work do you have to do regularly on the LCF?

Darren:  Our time on the LCF is mostly support and troubleshooting at the moment. Kinks and edge cases do continue to come up, and as our user base has grown we have run into minor scaling issues here and there.  There are a fair amount of behind-the-scenes processing performance and monitoring tweaks we’ve made over the past couple years. The end user doesn’t see anything different, but these tweaks keep everything running well.

 

Phil:  What’s a tool that you, personally, would love to see someone create?  (Unless it’s something you’re working on and can’t spill the beans!)

Darren:  I’ve got IDEAS man! So many tool ideas. There isn’t one tool that I would love to see someone create that I don’t eventually plan to create. Sorry, nothing I can share.

 

Phil:  What advice would you give someone who has a great idea for a local-search tool and just wants to get it off the ground?  Or, for that matter, what general advice do you have for someone who has a good idea but isn’t quite sure how to develop it?

Darren:  I’d advise anyone who has a great idea for a tool to email me with all the details. 😉

Really though, you just have to do it. Have an idea? Don’t sit on it. DO IT. Millions of people are sitting on great ideas and they’re all on the back burner because they’re busy with the regular day-to-day of their lives. Block out some time and force yourself to dedicate it to developing your idea.

 

Phil:  Whitespark offers local search optimization and a bunch of other services, but you’re not some ho-hum SEO / SEM agency.  You create tools.  That’s kind of your niche.  In general, what advice do you have for someone who’s trying to develop his/her niche and stand out from the pack?

Darren:  If you want to stand out you need to do something to stand out. Building tools is one way to do that. You can also do it by picking one specific area and becoming an expert on it. I think you have done that with reviews, for one thing. You are regularly publishing excellent advice about review acquisition and that makes you stand out. I often think of you as “the review guy.”

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Darren Shaw [applause]A HUGE thanks to Darren for his tips and insights, and for tolerating my questions :).

I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter (@EdmontonSEO) and Google Plus.  While you’re at it, it’s also worth following Whitespark on Twitter (@Whitespark).

If you’re not already a hardcore LCF user, check out the excellent free trial of it.

Any questions for me or Darren?  Leave a comment!

Best "Events" Sites for Local Search Citations, Links, and Visibility

People say “publicity stunt” as though it’s a bad thing.

But it can be a great thing for your local-search visibility – particularly your local rankings in Google.

Maybe stunt is too strong a word.  What I mean to say is holding any kind of public event at your business is a great way to get more visible to customers in the local search results.

I wrote this post to answer a simple question:

If I hold a public event at my business and want to spend a little time publicizing it, which “events” sites can help my local search rankings?

A public event you hold at your business can be a great source of citations and links, which can help your local rankings big-time.

It could be it a charity fundraiser, an hour-long how-to workshop, or an informal pow-wow with other business owners in your area.

Events like those are good to do anyway simply because they help people and because – even though hosting one will take a few hours of your time – they almost always end up being fun and worthwhile for everyone involved.

Still, you’ll want every quality citation and link you can get, especially if you’re in a really competitive local market.

Your event doesn’t need to be Woodstock 2012.  You don’t even need to buy a box of those irksome “Hello, my name is ___” nametags.  It can be a production that 5 people show up to.

What’s important is (1) your event actually helps people and isn’t a sales pitch, (2) you hold it at your business location, and (3) you list your event on sites that can help your local-search rankings by providing citations and (preferably) links.

I’d just like to point out that this post probably won’t apply to you if you run your business from your home address.  Then again, unless you’re related to Hef and are in line to inherit the Playboy Mansion when he croaks, you probably won’t have the space or desire to hold many “events” at home anyway.

Anyway, if I were putting on a little (or big) public event today and wanted to get the maximum local-search bang from it, here are the “local events” sites I’d try to list my event on:

Best "events" sites for local-search citations and links

(Download the Excel spreadsheet)

Here’s the list as a bunch of links – because we all know how grueling it is to type a URL into the address bar:

UpComing.Yahoo.com

EventBrite

Yelp.com/events

Patch

TicketLeap

Festivals

Schmap

EventSetter

Cityseekr

Eventseekr

Eventful

ZVents

EventCrazy

TicketBud

 

A few notes:

  • The website of your local newspaper would also be an excellent place to get your event listed.  I’ve noticed that having citations on local sites can be a boon to your Google rankings.
  • Obviously you don’t have to list your event on all the sites to get build some good citations, links, and local karma.  But the more, the better.  I’d start from the top and work my way down the list.
  • Many of them are free to list your even on, but I don’t believe all of them are.
  • My ranking of the sites is approximate, but just let me know if you want me to describe how I ordered them.  (*Of course, you can get a pretty good sense of this just by looking at the chart.)
  • Some of them have a bent toward tourist-y or nightlife events, but all of them accommodate a pretty wide range of events – and businesses hosting those events.

What should you do now?

Just think of the simplest, easiest-to-plan, most informal event you could possibly put on and make open to the general public.

If you find this daunting, think for a minute about how pathetic and lazy your competitors are compared to you, and how awesome you are for putting together an event that helps other people, wins you some old-fashioned publicity, and grows your local-search visibility.

Then actually work your plan – meaning you’ll probably need to spend a couple hours sorting out the logistics.

Submit your event to as many sites on the list as you can.

Now you’re committed, and there’s no way to wiggle out of it 🙂

By the way, if you’re not sure what type of event you could host, just ask me in a comment and I’ll see if I can come up with a couple ideas (obviously, let me know what type of business you run).

(Thanks to Zachary Palmer of DivotAgency.com for telling me about several of the sites on the list, which helped spark the idea for this post.)

Best Local Search Tools – 2012

It’s possible to get a business visible in Google Places and other local search engines without using any tools…but why would you want to?

Sure, you can drive a nail with a brick (or that poundcake your in-laws sent for Christmas), but it’s much more effective, quicker, and easier if you’ve got the right tool.

I’ve rounded up a list of the best tools that I, other local-searchers, and wise business owners use on a daily basis.  Others exist, but I consider these the cream of the crop.

There were some great lists of local-search tools last year—including an excellent one by Mike Ramsey—but none so far for 2012 (that I’m aware of).  Another year, a new lineup.

I’ve categorized the tools with 3 little symbols:

User-friendly tool= Extremely user-friendly tool.

Tool you should use on an ongoing basis= A tool that’s good to use repeatedly—both before you’re visible and after, as part of a maintenance routine.

Paid tool= Paid tool, but a heck of a good investment.  (Any tool that doesn’t have this symbol next to it is free.)

Near the bottom of the list are some tools that aren’t specific to local search, but that can indirectly help your local rankings anyway.

 

The list: best tools for local search optimization

 

GetListed.org
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGetListed.orgIn the world of local search, GetListed is handier than duct tape and a Swiss Army Knife put together.  It instantly analyzes how locally visible your business is and gives you specific recommendations for how to get more visible.  Plus, the rest of the site contains some superb resources that show you the ropes of local search.

(Once you’ve done a basic scan of your business and maybe browsed GetListed’s resources,  check out my advanced tips for GetListed scans.)

 

Local Citation Finder
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLocal Citation Finder - WhitesparkBefore Whitespark came out with this tool, getting citations was like getting your teeth pulled.  Now it’s just like a routine tooth cleaning 🙂

The Local Citation Finder will tell you all the business directories your top-ranked local competitors are listed on – which allows you to go out and list your business on those sites and turn the tables on your competitors.  Very user-friendly.  Absolutely essential if you’re serious about growing your local visibility.

 

Google Places Category Tool
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGoogle Places Category Tool - Mike BlumenthalBeautifully simple, yet powerful: a giant list of all the business categories you can choose for your Google Places page.  Use it to make sure you’ve picked out all the categories that may apply to your business.  It also includes synonyms corresponding to each category, which help if you’re unsure about which categories to pick.  Created by none other than Mike Blumenthal.

 

Link Prospector
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLink Prospector - Citation LabsGetting good-old-fashioned links to your website can help your Google Places rankings.  In a nutshell, this is the best link-finding tool I’ve used.  It’s made by Citation Labs.  The demo video can explain the details better than I can.  Also, I really dig their “Pay as You Go” option.

 

Local Search Toolkit
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocalSearchToolkit - SEOverflowYou can learn a lot about how to rank well in your specific local market if you spend enough time poking around on your competitors’ Places pages to find out what categories they use, which citations they have, and so forth.  Local Search ToolKit lets you gather that competitive intel instantly.

 

BrightLocal’s ReviewBiz
Best used repeatedlyReviewBiz - BrightLocalI had a brilliant idea: little buttons you could put on your website that customers simply could click to write reviews for you…but then I learned the chaps at BrightLocal had already thought of it and made it.  An awesome tool for getting an extra stream of reviews from your customers without even having to ask them.

 

MyReviewsPage
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyMyReviewsPage.comA great way to keep quick tabs on your reviews (how many and what ratings) on the most important review sites, with a really handy “dashboard” feature.  MyReviewsPage also has a number of other features for monitoring and gathering customer reviews.

 

Microformats.org
Microformats.orgGoogle’s bots like it if you add your business name, address, and phone number to the bottom of every page of your website.  But the bots are tickled pink if you can format your name, address, and phone number with a few specific lines of code before doing so.  This format is called hCard.  You can prepare the code you need at microformats.org/code/hcard/creator.  (Chris Silver Smith has a great article to help you do this.)

Another smart move is to add a few lines of a similar kind of code to any customer testimonials you have on your website.  This format is called hReview.  If you mark up your customer testimonials with this code, Google will (essentially) treat those testimonials as reviews.  This means you’ll not only get “review stars” for those testimonials, but those review stars will show up next to wherever your business is ranked in Google’s search results.  Be sure to read this excellent piece by Linda Buquet before preparing your testimonials in hReview.

 

GeoSitemapGenerator
GeoSitemapGenerator - Arjan SnaterseThe more information Google has about the location of your business, the more likely it is you’ll rank well locally.  Whereas a regular sitemap file is a way to tell search engines where the pages of your website are located, a geositemap file tells search engines where your business itself is located.  The easy-to-use GeoSitemap Generator lets you create the two files you’ll need to upload to your site.

 

David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocal Search Ranking Factors - David MihmEven the best compass isn’t much use without an accurate map.  This comprehensive, definitive study will help you at any and every stage of your push to get visible to local customers.  If you ever find yourself wondering “Gee, what do I need all these tools for?” look no farther than this document.

 

Honorable mention: Definitive Citations List
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyAn ongoing project of mine: to list every citation source I’ve found.  The Definitive List of Local Search Citations List isn’t in the same league of awesomeness as the above tools, but it’s a resource I’ve been working on for a while, which I’ll keep trying to develop and improve.  Please take a look and let me know if there are any citations you’d suggest I add to the list.

 

Tools that indirectly help local search visibility

 

CrazyEgg
Best used repeatedly + costs a littleCrazyEgg.comA simple plugin-like tool that shows you a really sexy heatmap of where your website visitors click, the traffic sources those clicks come from, how far down the page they scroll, and other crucial intel.

Whereas Google Analytics will tell you which links on your site people click on, it won’t tell you things like how many people are clicking on your giant logo at the top of the page, even though it doesn’t link to anywhere, or whether only about 2% of the visitors who came from Facebook actually click on your “Services” page.

CrazyEgg, on the other hand, will tell you all that and more.  You’ll discover that areas of your website potential customers take interest in, and which areas they don’t.  If you tweak your website according to what you learn about your customers’ worries and wants, you can better gear your site toward the specific services they’re most interested in, which will also help your chances of turning those visitors into customers.

 

 

SnagIt
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleSnagIt - TechSmithA screenshot tool and photo-editor wrapped up into one very handy bundle.  You need good photos if you want to make your Places attractive enough that visitors are compelled to click through to your site rather than to hit the “Back” button.  Some people swear by Photoshop, but SnagIt is my weapon of choice.  It will also help with some of the fairly wild things I suggest you do with your photos in order to maximize your local visibility.  It has a great free trial, by the way.

 

Google Alerts
Tool you should use on an ongoing basisGoogle AlertsWant to know where your competitors are getting publicity (and citations and links)?  Need to know if they’re talking smack about your business?  Set up some Google Alerts and you’ll receive emails from Google that let you know what’s been published on the web about you or your competitors.

It’s still very early in 2012; there’s a ton of year left for innovation.  If a new tool comes out that brings something new to the local-search table, let me know and I’ll take a look.

Got any tools to recommend that aren’t on my list—or anything you’d like to say about the tools I’ve already got?  Leave a comment!

How to Squeeze Maximum Google Places Love from GetListed.org Scans

GetListed.org scan - how to get even more use out of itIf you’ve ever tried to get a business more visible to local customers in Google Places, you’ve probably used or at least stumbled across GetListed.orgDavid Mihm’s ridiculously awesome free tool for analyzing and improving your local visibility.

If perchance you’ve never used GetListed, open it up in another browser tab, run a free scan of your business (takes maybe 15 seconds), and you’ll instantly see how it’s useful to you.

Done?  OK, back to what I was saying…

GetListed is handier than duct-tape because it shows you exactly how you can increase your local visibility.  Its beauty is it’s free and simple to use—not weighed down with bells and whistles.  You don’t need any tutorials to use it: you can just launch right in and immediately boost your local visibility.

However, over time I’ve found a few techniques for using GetListed to the fullest.  I’ve used it pretty much every day for my clients for the past few years.  Even though it’s as easy-to-use as ever, GetListed has steadily become more sophisticated, robust, and useful.

You obviously don’t need my advice in order to run and benefit from GetListed scans.  But I assume you’re always looking for ways to get info that you can use to get more visible in Google Places and elsewhere, and for ways to make the whole process easier and faster.

In no particular order, my tips for using GetListed.org to the max:

1)  Check out all the options on the left-hand side whenever you perform a scan.  I find the “Accuracy” and “Reviews” buttons particularly handy.  Maybe you already do this—but I know I’d used GetListed for an embarrassingly long time before I even noticed that it had features other than the basic “Snapshot.”

2)  Always click on the “View additional details” link, even if you see a green checkmark next to a given site.  Just to double-check and be positive that your info on that particular site is 100% accurate.  You can also do this just by clicking on the “Accuracy” button on the left-hand side of the screen.

How to USE all the features of GetListed.org scan

3)  Do GetListed scans semi-routinely—like every month or two.  This can alert you to a host of problems, like if (for instance) one month you score 100% and then the next month a GetListed scan indicates that you’re not listed on ExpressUpdateUSA.  This would mean that you should probably time to log into your listing there and make sure all your info is accurate, that there aren’t duplicate listings floating around, etc.  Think of GetListed as a doctor who can perform a checkup on your local visibility and alert you to problems.

4)  Take screenshots of your scan results (AKA your “score”) every month or two, or whenever you do a scan.  It’s just a good way to keep track of your progress in terms of getting your business listed on all those important sites, and it’s handy in case you run into problems (“Gee, I was at 80% last month but now I’m down to 35%…better check up on why”).  Plus, sometimes I like to give these screenshots to clients in the earlier stages of a project, before their Google Places rankings have come to fruition, because it shows that I’m actually working on their listings J and not just watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.

Keep track of your GetListed score - preferably with screenshots

5)  Perform scans on your higher-ranking competitors occasionally.  Even though you should shoot for a 100% GetListed score no matter what, checking how your competitors score up can give you an idea of the specific ranking advantages they may have over you.  If they score 40% completeness and you score 90%, then their citations may not be why they’re outranking you: in this case, I’d suggest checking the “Accuracy” and “Reviews” tabs in GetListed, to see if their info is more accurate or if they have more reviews than you do.

6)  Play around with it.  Try performing scans using neighboring ZIP codes, rather than the one your business is actually located in.  Try entering simple search terms—not business names—and seeing which local competitors pop up in the GetListed scan results.  You may find nothing valuable…or you may learn something about your local presence or your competitors’ that you didn’t know before.

By the way, GetListed.org is constantly updating, improving, and growing.  Therefore, if it changes significantly, I’ll update this post to reflect any changes.

What’s in your personal “bag of tricks” for GetListed?  If you have any suggestions, do leave a comment (and I’ll probably end up including your suggestion on this list).