Will a Tracking URL Hurt Your Local Rankings in Google?

You may have considered building a tracking URL and putting it in the “Website” field of your Google My Business Google Places page.

You’d do this so that you could see in Google Analytics how many clicks came from people how found you in the local 3-pack (as opposed to in the organic results).

But maybe you didn’t try it because you there was a chance it would mess up your rankings or a client’s rankings.

Well, no problem.  I made myself your lab rat and put a tracking URL on my Local Visibility System page.

As I suspected, it doesn’t seem to have hurt my visibility in the search results.

That’s what I see in the Google My Business “Insights,” which you have to take with a fistful of salt.  So I checked Analytics, too, and I don’t see a loss in traffic.

I don’t pretend that this is a scientific test.  Like the experiment I did back in October (“Do Longer Business Hours Help Local Rankings in Google?”), it’s just one case-study.  I could try it for other businesses and my results might vary.

But what I have concluded is that there’s no inherent harm in using a tracking URL on your Google page, so now I’m more comfortable with using tracking URLs for clients.  That squares with what Dan Leibson mentioned in his great post on the topic.

Have you tried using a tracking URL on a local page (yours or a client’s)?

If so, what have you seen?

Any concerns I didn’t address?

Leave a comment!

Using the Sitelinks Search Box for Your Local Business

I don’t think anyone’s talked about Google’s sitelinks search box in the context of how small-to-medium local businesses can use it.

It will probably never be a big part of anyone’s local SEO efforts.  But having a sitelinks search box might help you in a few ways:

  • People might find it easier to find what they’re looking for on your site. By “people” I’m referring to repeat customers and to people who are serious enough to search for you by name.
  • Especially if you’re not getting any autocomplete suggestions when you type in your business name, the search-box usage reports might tell you what people want to know about your business. And that might tell you what pages you need to create, give you ideas for blog posts, or alert you to brushfires you need to put out.
  • It might be a very minor factor for your rankings. That’s pure speculation on my part, although Google’s soft spot for structured data is no secret.

This isn’t going to be a long post, but I’ll break it up into two parts:

Part One is my brain-dump of everything I know about the sitelinks search box.

Part Two is some Q&A with structured-data whiz David Deering (who’s given me some great intel in other posts).

Warning: this one’s a little technical.  If you’re not the resident geek, maybe you should ask your RG to read this between Hot Pockets.

Part One: My Observations

Do any small-to-medium “local” businesses (as opposed to Home Depot) have the sitelinks search box yet?  I wouldn’t call them a small business, but here’s the smallest I’ve seen so far:

OK, that’s all I knew before writing this post.

Sad, huh?

Well, that’s why I asked David some questions about how you can get a sitelinks search box up and running and possibly helping your local visibility – before everyone and his grandma has one.

Part Two: Quick Q&A

Phil:  What are the technical prerequisites for getting a sitelinks search box to show up when someone searches for your business by name?

David:  You actually don’t even need to use Google’s Custom Site Search Engine.  Any functioning site-specific search engine is fine.  For example, WordPress websites usually come loaded with one.

 

Phil:  How long will it take and how much will it cost for the typical small-business owner to get it implemented?

David:  If a website does not have their own site-specific search engine, one can be added, such as Google’s.

To add that to a site only takes a few minutes.  Creating and adding the markup to the homepage itself also only takes a few minutes.

So all and all, a person can add the search engine feature and the markup to their site in about 30 minutes.  But they will need to edit their site files, and some people might not be comfortable with doing that.

 

Phil:  Under what circumstances will Google not show your sitelinks search box?

David:  From their documentation on the subject (found here), Google will display the search box feature for navigational queries, and when it’s relevant for users.  And, similar to other rich snippets, Google’s algorithm will look at various quality signals.  They obviously don’t want to make low quality sites more visual in the SERPs, so they likely won’t display a search box for those.

(Great post on this by AJ Kohn: The Rich Snippets Algorithm.)

 

Phil:  Besides Google’s documentation for developers, what resources should someone refer to for getting this implemented?

David:  Google’s documentation seems to cover it pretty well.  But just a couple of things to add to what they’ve written:

Many people have asked about how to mark up a sitelinks search box when the website has several different homepages for different languages or regions, such as www.example.com/us/ and www.example.com/fr/.  Currently, Google does not support search box markup for second-level domains (such as either of those example URLs).  But they are aware of the need and it sounds like they might (hopefully) begin supporting that soon.  So for now, a website owner should place the markup on the canonical version of their homepage.

Also, when Google came out with this suggestion, they demonstrated the markup in JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data) instead of microdata.  So a lot of people started adding the markup to their site using JSON-LD, even though they’ve never used (or even SEEN) the syntax before.  People can use either JSON-LD or microdata to add the markup to their homepage.  The documentation page shows examples in both syntaxes.  Also, as the doc mentioned, you only need to add it to your homepage, not to every page of your site.  Just test it out to make sure that it works.

I’ve also had people say that they do NOT want Google displaying a search box for their search result in the SERPs because they felt it was not a good user experience (?? I don’t get that, but whatever.  And you can tell Google not to display the search box for your site in the SERPs).  However, there is good reason to add the markup to the site anyway.  Google does sometimes show the search box for sites in the SERPs even if the site does not have the markup on it.

And recently, AJ Kohn wrote an article where he found that Google displays a lot of ads for competitors when someone does a site-specific search (keyword + site:example.com), whereas if a person uses the site-specific search box, Google displays results only from that website.  So there’s good reason to add the markup–it prevents others from hijacking your visitors.

Thanks to David for the intel.  This is new territory for “local” businesses, so the dos and don’ts aren’t too widely known yet.  Follow David on Google+ if you’d like to absorb some of his savior-faire – or if you’d like to hire him to help get your search box squared away.

What questions do you have about getting a sitelinks search box?

Do you even want one showing up for brand-name searches?

Leave a comment!

 

P.S.  This is post #200 on my blog.  Thanks for sticking with me this long.

Should You Accept a Custom URL for Your Google+ Local Page?

When I got a custom URL for my personal Google+ page recently, my reaction was “Oh, cool.”  If you’re a business owner who’s been offered a custom Google+ URL for your local listing, your reaction is or was probably similar: it’s not an earth-shaker, but it’s a nice little surprise.

Google might soon ask you if you want a custom URL – if you haven’t been offered one already.  Should you accept it?

Probably not if…

a.  The URL includes the name of a city you think you might not always be located in;

b.  It’s based on a fictitious DBA (tsk, tsk) you’re using for your Google+ Local page;

c.  It’s based on a website name that you know you won’t be using long-term;

d.  You wouldn’t consider paying Google for it in the future, or

e.  You just don’t like it – to the point that that the old long string of numbers looks good to you.

If any of the above applies to you, I would click the “Not now” button, to decline (at least for the moment) the custom URL

(Update: Max Minzer answered this question in his comment (below): I have not tried clicking the “Not now” button, so I’m not sure exactly what happens when you click that: Do they offer you the URL again the next time you log in, or do they ask again in a week, or are you stuck with the messy old URL until Google maybe decides to force custom URLs on everyone?)

Once again, Google puts business owners in a pickle.  Nobody knows what the grand plan is for these URLs.

I can see them becoming part of a freemium model for Google+ Local pages, where you have to pay for your custom URL, in the same way you pay for your domain name.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Google eventually shows them on the main search results page.

By the way, as Mike Blumenthal pointed out recently, it really should be called a “custom” URL.  It’s not like you can actually customize it.  A custom suit isn’t one that the tailor says fits you, but it’s the only one in the shop, and if you don’t like it you can just take a hike.

What are your experiences with and thoughts on “custom” Google+ URLs so far?  Leave a comment!

Business Categories Lists for Major Local Search Sites

Categories are the forgotten child of local SEO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search engines

Google – Browse Mike Blumenthal’s Google Places Category Tool

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

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

Data-aggregators

ExpressUpdate – Pick from OSHA’s Standard Industrial Categories

LocalEze – See my post on LocalEze categories

Factual – Refer to this list when submitting your Factual listing

IYPs

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

InsiderPages – See this

AngiesList – Here you go

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

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