Considering a Local SEO Audit? Do These 6 Things First

By a “local SEO audit” I mean a list of suggestions that tell you (a) what’s wrong with your visibility in local search and (b) exactly what needs to be fixed.  It’s like getting a physical for your business.

Lots of business owners pay me to show them how to fix their local presence.  If you’re considering that, why would I say anything to you other than “Hey, hop on board”?  (Besides the fact that my inner Eagle Scout wouldn’t approve.)

Because within each local SEOer lurks a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde:

On the one hand, we love finding simple, relatively obvious solutions to problems.

On the other hand, we dig a challenge.  It’s always nice to uncover problems that might be hidden to most people who don’t wrangle with Google & Co. every day.

More importantly, it’s nice for you not to have to pay for something you may not even need.  Which means you should spend a few minutes to determine how many gaps a local SEO audit would fill that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) fill yourself.

If you’re considering having someone “audit” your local-search presence and offer suggestions, take these 6 steps first:

(By the way, I suggest doing these even if you’re not considering outside help.)

To-do Item 1:  Be in business for at least a couple of months.  Have something for us to critique.  Give Google and other sites the chance to rank you well.  That means you at least need to have a website, and really should have a Google+ Local (AKA Google Places) page that you’ve claimed.

To-do Item 2:  See if the “local map” comes up for the terms you want to be visible for.  If it doesn’t, try searching for those terms in other cities.  If no map comes up then, think of search terms that are relevant to your business that do trigger the Google+ Local results.  If you can’t even think of those, then local SEO probably isn’t what you need to reach more customers.

To-do Item 3:  Do a GetListed.org scan of your business.  You can get some crucial next steps handed to you on a platter.  (Bonus points if you do scans on your competitors’ businesses and see where they might have an advantage.)

To-do Item 4:  Read Google’s rules – and make sure your Google listing complies with them.  (Bonus points: Have an employee or friend also read the rules and look at your Google listing and see if you seem to be breaking any of them.)

To-do Item 5:  Snoop on your competitors.  Are they doing anything (within Google’s guidelines) that you’re not?  What are they doing (or not doing) that you can try?

To-do Item 6:  Ask yourself some questions about exactly what you want out of the audit:

Assume that you get the rankings you want…but your phone doesn’t ring more than it has been.  Then what?  What would you do to turn that visibility into more calls?  Beef up your site with more and crisper info on your services?  Get more reviews?  Get a couple of “success stories”?  Whatever it might be, can you possibly get started on it before you work on your rankings – so that you’re not just pouring more water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom?

Are you OK with receiving good news – a relatively “clean bill of health”?  Sometimes my main advice – after looking over everything – is “Keep doing what you’re doing – you’ll get there.”  Would you value that kind of input?

What are you not willing to do to get more visible?  If your local SEOer tells you that you need to clean up your backlinks profile, would you do it?  Asking more customers for reviews?  Doing away with the giant and slow-loading “ego shot” photo on your homepage?  What if I told you that you need to stop paying YellowPages or CitySearch for call-tracking programs?

Who will implement the suggestions you get?

In a nutshell, my advice is: do your own quick SEO audit first.  You may not uncover much, in which case it would probably be time to get a local-SEO geek to help.  But hey, you might be surprised at what you can discover on your own in 30-40 minutes.

Milestones in a Google Places Campaign That’s Working

Progress in Google Places rankings is non-linear.  If you’re #6 for a given search term, the next ranking you achieve might be #2 or #19, but it probably won’t be #5 and then #4.

Your business is unlikely to inch up or down in the local rankings.  The problem is that can make it very tough to tell if you’re doing things effectively or back-asswards. You need some indicators that you’re at least headed in the right (or wrong) direction.

Here are a few milestones you’ll probably pass if you’re on your way to better Google Places rankings:

  • Milestone 1:  Everything you see when logged into your Google Places “Dashboard” reflects what’s “live” on your Places page (the stuff customers see).  If you make edits, it may take Google a while to process them, but if you see discrepancies that don’t go away after a couple weeks, you may have duplicate Google listings, which you’ll need to get removed.
  • Milestone 2:  Your GetListed.org score is 90-100%.  It takes a little work to achieve this, but it’s worth it.  It’s also a good indicator you’re listed on the major third-party sites, and accurately.
  • Milestone 3:  “At a glance” snippets appear on your Google Places page, and they’re at least semi-relevant to your services.  These snippets often tell you what services Google associates with your business—that is, what it thinks you’re “about.”  Get them by beefing up your listings on third-party sites with detailed info on your services and business.

Does your Google Places page have "At a glance" snippets, and are they relevant?

  • Milestone 4:  The green bars in your Places “Dashboard show that the search terms people are currently finding your Places page for are roughly the same terms you want to get visible for.  These stats aren’t always reliable, but they can help tell you whether you’re on the right track.

Check your Google Places "Dashboard" for which terms you're found for

 

Your trek up the Google Places rankings may be a bumpy one.  But it’s less disorienting if you know which milestones to look out for—and how to reach them if you haven’t already.

Can you think of any other “milestones” you’ve passed—or would like to pass?  Be a sport and leave a comment, will ya? 🙂

The Face of Google Places

Edward A. Murphy, Jr. - AKA "Mr. Murphy"Google Places isn’t a person.  Why would it have a “face”?

First of all, who’s in the picture?

It’s not a yearbook photo of any of the moderators at the Google Places Help Forum.

It’s not a goofy doppelganger of Carter Maslan, the former head honcho of Google Places.

And it sure as heck isn’t Marissa Mayer, current VP of Google’s “Local & Maps” division.

Fresh out of guesses?

It’s Edward A. Murphy, Jr.

AKA the original “Mr. Murphy.”  Of Murphy’s Law fame.

You know Murphy’s Law—the saying that goes “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

You’re all too familiar with how it works in real life: the one day you decide you don’t need to pack an umbrella, it rains.

But you also need to remember that the same principle applies to your local rankings in Google Places—big-time.

For example, as soon as you tell 5 of your best customers to go to your Places page to write a review, they can’t find it because of Google’s latest “We currently do not support this location” bug.

Or a week after you finally get your Places listing into the top-3 for your big search term, Google shakes up its algorithm…and you’re back down to position #8.

Or you discover that a bunch of duplicate listings are draining your mojo, and you’ve reported the problem to Google (as you should)…but weeks go by and nothing happens.

I am not a pessimist.  You and I know that things often go well in life and even in the crazy world of local search—including Google Places.  When things do go right, we get more customers and prosper a little more.

But, for better or worse, we usually don’t notice the things that go well, or we don’t give them too much thought.  They’re not what frustrate us or keep us up at night.

Focusing on the obstacles in your way is not a bad thing.  Even worrying about potential problems—stuff that hasn’t happened to you—is extremely useful (within reason).

Without either of these faculties, you never would have been able to build or maintain your business in this competitive world.

Granted: you don’t need to do well in Google Places to get more local customers.  But if you aren’t visible there, you’d better have serious word-of-mouth attraction, a robust ad campaign, or an uncle who’s a Senator and who can pull strings for you.

It’s also true that complete bozos can rank at the top of Places—despite their ignorance, carelessness, or lack of ethics—but only IF they get lucky.  Easy come, easy go.  One reason you’re better than them is you don’t trust your business and your family’s finances to luck.

So…if you want to attract more customers through Google Places reliably, you need to stay concerned, constantly on-alert—even downright paranoid.  That’s the only way you can consistently avoid or get past some of the hurdles that Google, your competitors, and Chance will drop in your path when you least expect them to.

In this sense, how do you stare Mr. Murphy in the face and make it really hard for him to pull a fast one on you?  Here are a few ways:

  • Check your Places page and log into your Places account every few days, just to make sure everything looks OK.
  • Spot-check your Google Places rankings every week or so.
  • Sign up for emails from SearchEngineLand.com and pay attention to all the stuff related to local search.
  • Cultivate relationships with at least a couple of knowledgeable people you can talk with if and when you have a problem you really need to solve, a problem you really want to avoid, or a burning question you need answered.
  • Realize that even though Google Places is a “free product,” you probably won’t get many customers out of it unless you invest a little time, money, or both.
  • Remember that Google Places is constantly changing.  Even if you’ve been #1 for the past year, that may change any minute—in which case you’ll need to set aside at least a few chunks of time in order climb back up.  You should never feel too comfy.
  • Know that you never can completely avoid bad luck.  It’s always possible to get the short end of the wishbone.  But it’s also true that you can sway your fortunes by being smart (see above points).
  • Above all, keep hammering away at improving your local visibility constantly—even when you don’t immediately need a better ranking or more customers.  The time to start caring about local search is NOT when you desperately need visibility there.  Constantly beef up your website, ask customers for reviews, and stay abreast of what’s happening in and to the “local landscape.”  It’s easiest and most rewarding and most profitable if it’s a habit.

The only thing I can guarantee you is that getting and staying visible in local Google will always be a bumpy ride (though arguably not as bumpy as most forms of advertising).

But if you set aside a little time to learn about it, put work into it, and never get comfortable, my guess is you’ll do great and attract all the customers you need.

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).