What Matt Cutts Says about Local Search

The Most Interesting Head of Google Webspam TeamI tip my hat to Matt Cutts.  The man has a tough job.  He has to explain to SEOs, webmasters, and business owners why their websites suck and shouldn’t rank well in Google.

Cutts is good at his job, and I get the sense he loves it.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes even he feels like Al Bundy at the shoe store.

Organic SEOs follow him more closely than the tabloids follow J. Lo.  Some of them pose stupid questions and try to get Matt to reveal more about Google’s “secret sauce” than he can (or should) reveal.

Matt Cutts doesn’t talk much about local search.  Nor do we local-search obsessives pester him to do so.

But Phil, if Cutts doesn’t talk about local search, why are you even bringing him up? Especially when the people in charge of Google Plus, umm…Google Places, uh…that Google local thing usually tell us what they recommend business owners do?

Well, Gentle Reader, I bring up Cutts because occasionally he does say something relevant to Google’s local search results – and to the question of how to rank well there.

Although the people “in charge” of Google+Local surely have their hearts in the right place, they pretty much just regurgitate Google’s “Quality Guidelines.”  Usually all we come away with is a tessellated picture of Google’s rules, and not much else.

True, Cutts also rehashes Google’s rules a lot, but sometimes he also yields more real-world, usable insights.  Those are what I’ve tried to round up in this post.

We local SEOs have many best-practices that we preach.  If you know these best-practices and follow them, great.  But if you don’t, at least see what Matt Cutts says.

 

People’s Exhibit “A”:

Takeaway:

  • You can’t just “target” any city you’d like.  Location matters.  Even if a city is in your “service area,” you can’t necessarily get visible in the local search results there if you’re not located there.  That can be a tough pill to swallow, but for better or worse, that’s how it is.

 

People’s Exhibit “B”:

Takeaways:

  • (5:55) “Make sure you have your business name and your address on your webpage.”  This matches what some of us wrote in 2012’s Local Search Ranking Factors – about how your business name / address / phone needs to be on every page of your site.
  • (9:00) Flash or Javascript navigation links/buttons can hurt the crawlability of your site.  (This isn’t a problem specific to local SEO, but given the importance of on-page factors to your local visibility, it’s certainly a problem that can hurt your rankings.)

 

People’s Exhibit “C”:

SEO Advice: Make a web page for each store location

Takeaway:

  • Each location/branch of your business should have its own webpage.  “If you have a lot of store or franchise locations, consider it a best practice to 1) make a web page for each store that lists the store’s address, phone number, business hours, etc. and 2) make an HTML sitemap to point to those pages with regular HTML links, not a search form or POST requests.”

(Minor point:  Marking up your name/address/phone with microformats and the like isn’t a bad idea; see the comment from well-known local SEO-er Martijn Beijk as well as Cutts’ response.)

 

People’s Exhibit “D”:

Matt Cutts and Eric Talk about What Makes a Quality Site

Takeaway:

  • (About 3/4 through interview)  Cookie-cutter pages are bad.  That is, if you have pages on your site that “target” a particular city, those pages shouldn’t be near-duplicates of each other with just the city names swapped out.  (Yes, yes, I know that sometimes pages like these can rank pretty well, but if you have them there’s a good chance you’ll get whacked by Google sooner or later.  But hey, it’s your website, your business, and your choice.)

 

Finished going through my CliffsNotes?  I suggest you also read the above posts and watch the videos in full, just for that extra bit of context.

If Cutts’ suggestions were news to you, great: you should now have a better sense of what Google is “looking for” when deciding where to stack you up in the local rankings.  If they weren’t news to you, then they should reassure you that your approach to local SEO is solid and not likely to get you whacked in any way by Google.

Have you run across any posts or videos featuring the Word of Cutts that I missed?  Leave a comment (and a link)!

P.S.  Wouldn’t it be cool if MC stopped by and commented on some of this?  🙂

Local SEO “Substitutions”

I’ve always liked the part of cookbooks with the “substitutions” chart.  It’s a life-saver for those of us who buy all the right ingredients at the market but gobble up half of them before we can cook anything.

One reason I like the substitutions chart is it reminds me that good cooking isn’t necessarily perfection.

Sure, you can’t substitute every ingredient in a recipe.

But if you’re a little short on time or ingredients and need to improvise, the finished product still will turn out great (usually).

 

The same is true of local search. Some people seem to think that local search “optimization” means “everything’s got to be perfect.”  It doesn’t.  There isn’t just one correct way to do the steps that will make your business visible to customers in the Google+Local search results and beyond.

Granted, for some steps in your local-search campaign there’s no such thing as “good enough.”  For instance, you must follow Google’s “Quality Guidelines,” or you risk having your business flicked off the local map entirely.

But for other steps “close counts.”  (No, it’s not just in horseshoes and hand-grenades, as the saying goes.)

If you’ve had a tough time of implementing some of the local SEO best-practices you’ve heard from me or from other people, check out my list of “substitutions,” below.

By definition, a substitution isn’t perfect.  These are no exceptions.  Think of them in terms of “if you can’t do this, do that.”

 

For your Google+Local listing

If you…
Can’t include all your main services as categories in your Google listing (you can list yourself under a maximum of 5 categories).

Then…
Have a separate page of your website devoted to each specific service you offer.  This page should tell potential customers all about that particular service. Then make sure you’re linking to these pages from your homepage (or whatever is the landing page you use for your Google+Local listing).

Explanation
Categories are the best way to tell Google, “Yoo-hoo, over here…OK, these are the services I want to rank for.”  But probably the next-best way to do this is to have distinct, focused pages that describe in detail each specific service you offer (e.g. one for heating, another for air-conditioning, etc.).  That makes it easy for Google to scour your site and determine exactly what kind of business you’re in and what you offer.

Have a page for each service you offer - esp. if you run out of categories

 

If you…
Can’t think of any eye-catching (but relevant) photos to upload to your Google+Local page

Then…
Upload screenshots or photos that aren’t necessarily eye candy but that are relevant to your services and informative in some way.  Things like handwritten testimonials, “fan mail,” your BBB accreditation, or documents that show you’re certified to do whatever it is you do.

Explanation
I haven’t found that photos affect local rankings.  But good photos will make people more likely to click through to your site or pick up the phone.  Which is what it’s all about. And which means it’s perfectly OK to upload photos that aren’t flashy but that tell potential customers something they might want to know about you or your services.

 

For your website

If you…
Don’t have a keyword-relevant domain name.

Then…
Create a page (or subdomain) on your site with a keyword-relevant page name, and use it as the landing page for your Google+Local listing.

Explanation
Let’s say your competitor’s website is AcmeChiropractic123.com.  He ranks well locally for search terms that contain “chiropractic.”  Your website is DrJohnDoe.com.  Consider building a page named “Doe-Chiropractic” that talks all about your chiropractic care.

Then use “http://www.DrJohnDoe.com/Doe-Chiropractic” as the landing page for your Google+Local listing (in other words, enter that URL into the “Website” field of your Googl+Local listing).  That should make you a little more likely to rank well locally for “chiropractic” and similar searches.

In lieu of a keyword-relevant domain, try a keyword-relevant name for your landing page

 

If you…
Can’t or don’t want to use hCard or Schema.org to mark up the name/address/phone (“NAP”) block of text that should be on every page of your site

Then…
Put the NAP on every page of your site without marking it up with hCard or Schema.

Explanation
I haven’t seen any evidence or noticed first-hand that marking up your name/address/phone number with search-engine-friendly code (AKA rich snippets) helps your rankings significantly.

Sure, we know Google pays attention to rich snippets.  If you or your webmaster can implement them, great (one easy way to do it is with this excellent Schema generator).  But it’s OK if you can’t or don’t want to use the markup for some reason.  Just make sure the name, address, and phone number of your business is on every page of your site.

 

For citations

If you…
Can’t claim your business listing on a given third-party site (Yelp, CitySearch, etc.).

Then…
Make sure that the listing at least has the correct info on your business – regardless of whether you’ve claimed that listing – and make sure you get any listings with the wrong info removed.

Explanation
In my experience, the consistency of your basic business info (name, address, and phone) as it appears all across the web is the biggest factor in how well you’ll rank locally.  Getting this consistency needs to be at the top of your priority list – and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.

If for any reason you can’t claim a given listing for your business, that’s OK: I haven’t found that Google will give you any brownie points for having done so.  But if the listing has incorrect info, you’re in trouble.  The good news is there’s almost always an area on these business-directory sites where you can suggest corrections.

 

If you…
Aren’t using the Local Citation Finder but want to get all the citations your competitors have.

Then…
Use this neat citation-discovery technique or my Definitive Citations List, or some combination of the two.

Explanation
Citations matter.  A lot.  ‘Nuff said.

 

For reviews

If you…
Have trouble getting Google or Yelp reviews.

Then…
Get some CitySearch or InsiderPages reviews (or other sites).

Explanation
Google reviews are central to your local-vis efforts, but there have been serious problems with them recently.  The filters are WAY too strict.  Legitimate reviews from real customers in many cases won’t “stick” on your Google+Local page.  Similar story with Yelp, although their review “filters” have always been pretty draconian.

But even if you have loads of Google and Yelp reviews, you’d still be smart to get customers to review you on CitySearch and InsiderPages.  (For a little more detail on this, see my “Local Business Reviews Ecosystem”.)

 

If you…
Can’t get reviews because it’s nearly impossible to do so in your particular industry – to the point that even your competitors don’t have reviews.

Then…
Put a Google +1 button on your site and ask customers to “+1” you, or ask them to email you (or even handwrite) a testimonial that you could feature on your site.  Preferably ask them to do both.

Explanation
Reviews help your rankings.  Most likely so will having “+1’s” – at least in the near future.  Reviews are great “social proof” that show potential customers why your services are worth their attention and possibly some of their hard-earned money.  Testimonials can do that, too.

In case you want something to slap on your fridge, here’s a little chart that sums up all of the above:

Your handy-dandy local SEO "substitutions chart"

Any other local SEO “substitutions” you can think of – or have actually used?  Leave a comment!