12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs

https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/14036204887/

Google wants people to make an appointment.  Businesses now can add (in the Google My Business dashboard) a link to a “book an appointment” page or similar page.  The link will show up wherever your Google My Business page shows up in the local search results.

The “appointment URL” feature has promise.  Here are a few things you may want to know before you dig in and use it for your business (as I suggest you do):

1. An “appointment” URL probably won’t show up automatically for you, unless you use online scheduling software. Even then, you may not automatically get the link, in which case you’ll probably need to add it manually (if you want it).

2. Appointment URLs are not just for restaurants and medical practices. You can also add one if you’ve got a service business, a law practice, or other type of business.

3. Pretty much every business can add an appointment URL right now. This doesn’t appear to be one of Google’s molasses-speed rollouts of a new feature.  Of the dozens of Google My Business dashboards I’ve looked at, the only ones that can’t yet add an “appointment” URL are for a couple of private schools, an auction house, and a painting company.  I’m sure I’ll see the option available to those guys soon enough.)

4. “Practitioners” can add appointment URLs, too.

5. Some businesses can add a “menu” URL, too. Whether you can add only an appointment URL or an appointment URL and a “menu” URL depends on what kind of business yours is.  But even then, it doesn’t have to be a restaurant.  (I see the “menu URL” option for a chiropractor client of mine.)  Other businesses can get a “Products and Services” URL, but I can’t yet tell how.

6. Appointment URLs don’t seem to be available to businesses outside of the US yet, although restaurants outside the US do get the other URLs.

7. Your URL will go live instantly, or within about 5 minutes.

8. Google will accept invalid URLs. You won’t get an error in your Google My Business dashboard.  You’ll just confuse and annoy customers.  So be sure to click on your link to make sure it works.

9. You can add a URL to your “Contact Us” page, or to whatever page you like. (Mine points to my contact page.)

10. The full URL won’t show up. Google won’t show the subpage (e.g. “yoursite.com/appointment”) or subdomain (e.g. “appointments.yoursite.com”) in the URL.  They’ll just show “yoursite.com.”  It’s a display URL.

11. It’s not publicly editable from Google’s knowledge panel (yet?).  So at least your competitors can’t stick you with a bogus URL (yet?).

12. The rules are ambiguous, at least for now. Experiment in the meantime.  Consider creating a “contact” page on your site that’s only accessible through the “appointment” link; see how much traffic it gets.  Track visitors’ clicking behavior on that page by hooking it up to CrazyEgg or HotJar; see where they go next.  Maybe link to a site where you’ve got a fistful of great reviews (hey, Google didn’t say anything about linking to your site).

I’m guessing Google has big plans for these new links.  Like Yelp and the other local-search players that matter, Google wants to be involved in the transaction as early as possible – as we’ve seen with Google Home Services ads (AKA the “paid Maps” results).  Speaking of which, I wonder when those links will appear in Google Home Services ads.

With Google everything’s an experiment, but the “appointment” URL is one lab chimp probably won’t let die any time soon.

Update: If you can’t add an appointment URL, try this workaround.

Can you specify other types of URLs (like “Products and Services”)?

Where do you think Google is headed with this – and why now?

Have you tried it and noticed any clear benefits?

Leave a comment!

David’s Bridal’s SEO Person Deserves a Raise

Longtime competitor Alfred Angelo goes belly-up without warning, so what does David’s Bridal do?  Make an irresistible offer on an expertly-optimized page that a panicked bride will click on if she sees it in the search results.

In its coverage of Alfred Angelo’s demise The Washington Post mentioned David’s Bridal’s well-timed tweet.

Less-covered has been the quick thinking on the part of their SEO guy or gal.

Just look at that description tag (above).  The “wedding of their dreams” is no mistake; that’s what Alfred Angelo promised, and what now only another, solvent company can deliver on.  The click-through rate on that page must be insane.

The URL is named relevantly: http://www.davidsbridal.com/Content_Bridal_alfredangelo

The content of the page is clear and on-topic – no gimmicks.

What’s interesting is that the page itself doesn’t have a lot of links (yet?).

(Yet another reason I don’t believe Google’s claim that they “don’t have anything like a website authority score.”)

It just goes to show some of the practices that separate a smart SEO person from a hack:

  • Pay attention to the news. “But I’m not a publicist!”  Yeah, that’s what the SEO chief at Alfred Angelo, Sports Authority, and Blockbuster probably said.
  • Do the basics well, but don’t overdo them. Notice the lack of keyword-stuffing on the page.
  • Work all the channels – to get customers onto the page BEFORE it ranks. Remember the early-morning tweet? Google seems to notice that kind of activity.  WaPo certainly did.
  • Wordsmithing. The David’s Bridal’s search result (particularly their description tag) is sticky, and the page is well-written – for people, not for Google.

The only way (I can think of) that David’s could do even better is if they updated all their store-locator pages (example) to include a banner for the Alfred Angelo special offer.

Your competitors don’t need to be large corporations that fail spectacularly and suddenly for you to make a kill-shot like this one.  Next time a competitor screws up enough to make the local rag, see what kind of special offer you can make to help his/her disappointed customers.  It’s got to help them out of a bind (as David’s did), or you won’t look much better than the other company.

Any other lessons from David’s Bridal?  Similar stories?  Leave a comment!

Think One .edu Link Will Move the SEO Needle?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/frnetz/26024570852/

I often tell clients that they’ll only benefit from a pile of good, relevant links – not necessarily from any single backlink.  Growing your rankings, traffic, and business isn’t quite as simple as getting that one unicorn link.

Some business owners don’t like to hear that.  “Well, my competitor who’s outranking me only has 1 good link,” or, “Are you telling me we busted our hump to get a ‘great link’ that won’t clearly help us?”

It’s complicated.  On the one hand, without at least some good links you won’t be competitive, and Google surely values some more than others (80/20 rule).  On the other hand, you can’t say exactly how much Google values a specific link, or if and when it starts “paying off.”  That’s why people who use a single strategy – like “scholarship link-building” – as their only way to earn good links are in for a disappointment, in my experience.

As I often do, I decided it was time for a little experiment.

My site has tons of authoritative links, but until recently it didn’t have one from a .edu domain.  I think that’s because my audience consists mainly of business owners and other SEOs and marketers.  Not as many professors.

In a roundabout way, I found that a school affiliated with my alma mater wanted donations for a robotics competition between the kids.

The Boston University Academy sure had an inviting “Sponsors” page on BU.edu, with a “follow” image link for each sponsor.

BU Academy isn’t the one shaking me down for money every month, and I thought their robotics competition sounded like a good cause, so I was glad to donate a few bucks – and in the name of SEO (pseudo)science, no less.

I reached out to the coordinator, mailed in my check, and a few days later got my logo/link down near the bottom of the page, where all the cool businesses hang out.

What happened then?

Did my traffic “EXPLODE!” or “SKYROCKET!!” (a la Warrior Forum infoproduct)?

Not that I noticed.  Traffic stayed pretty much stayed the same after getting that nice .edu link.

Now, as with most experiments, there may have been some “noise” in this one.  To wit:

1.  Local Visibility System already had a heavy-duty link profile, and got even more good ones after the .edu. I suppose it’s possible there would have been a more-noticeable effect if I hadn’t had many or any good links before the .edu, or didn’t continue to get them afterwards.

2.  Of course, there is other dust flying. For instance, the highest peaks in my traffic come when I do a blog post that I announce to the people on my email list.  Of course, it often is the case that a business has other marketing activities going on.

3.  I’m not a “local” business. Boston University is relevant to Boston, and I live near Boston, but most of my traffic comes from all over the place.  Perhaps ironically, I don’t give a hoot about my local rankings.  Maybe my local rankings benefited from the geographically-relevant .edu link, but the point is my numbers in Analytics don’t show a clear before-and-after.

4.  There was no anchor text. I got an image link (i.e. my logo was hyperlinked).

5.  The link went up only 3 months ago. Maybe it takes longer to notice a “pop,” but I’d have no way of attributing that to that one link, with everything else I’ve got swirling around.

I’m sure this isn’t the last word on “the potential payoff of one backlink,” of course.  Other people may have data that contradicts mine.  Maybe you have data that contradicts mine.  I’d love to hear.

Still, I feel more confident in saying (1) there isn’t necessarily any magic in a .edu link, and that (2) a great backlinks profile is more than the sum of its parts.

Niche Local Citations Don’t Get Enough Love

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/14230076900/

People who know enough about local SEO to be dangerous don’t think twice about paying some poor soul to create 200 listings on glitzy big-name local-business directories like GoPickle, MyHuckleberry, and Sphinxaur.

They heard about these things called citations.

They heard citations matter to your local visibility.

They did basic work on 20-30 important listings, saw a little boost in visibility, and figured they’d squirt out 200 citations and really show ‘em.

It must seem puzzling when all those hours of work amount to nothing more than a monster spreadsheet of listings on local directories that nobody’s ever visited except to create a free listing.

One quickly hits a wall on citation-building.  Citations are but one piece of the local-rankings puzzle.  (I sure hope you also have a strategy for getting good links and reviews.)

But let’s say you want to wring the maximum benefit from citations, without going past the point of diminishing return.  Having more listings on generic sites isn’t better.  Having listings on relevant sites is better.  In other words, you want niche local citations for your business.

What’s a “niche” local citation?

By that, I mean you’ve got your business’s name, address, phone number, and (usually) website listed on a site that’s either (1) focused on your industry or (2) focused on your city or local area, or both.

Examples of industry-specific citation sources include HealthGrades, Avvo, TripAdvisor, and DealerRater – but those are only the big names.  There’s also at least one local-business directory for pretty much any field you can think of.  Local newspapers, local Chambers of Commerce, downtown business associations, and local directories for a specific city/town are the kinds of “local” niche citation sources I’m talking about.

Anyway, local SEOs don’t talk about niche citations enough.  I’ve got a few theories as to why that is:

  • It takes research to find niche citation opportunities, and every client’s situation is a little different. That’s more work than using the exact-same list for every single client.
  • You may need to know something about the client’s industry – or learn more about it – to find places worth being listed on.
  • There aren’t as many niche citation opportunities as there are general local directories. You can’t promise to build 100+ listings, because there are probably about 10 good ones, and even fewer if the business itself is in a specialized field.
  • Some niche listings are paid. Those are harder to justify baking into your pricing, or to browbeat your client into paying for.
  • SEOs can’t spout the “This directory has a monthly reach of 7 million!” nonsense when they try to explain the value of their work. You get a good niche citation on a site with relatively fewer users, but more of them are users and not stumblers.
  • It may never even occur to some SEOs to do anything beyond what other SEOs talk about. It often becomes a color-by-numbers deal.
  • SEOs would have to explain the value of niche citations more than they would, say, an impressive-sounding but fluffed-up list of 100-200 sites.

Why you shouldn’t overlook niche local citations

Simply being listed on a niche site may help your local rankings to a degree, but how much it helps is anyone’s guess.  Rather, I’d say the main benefits of getting niche citations are:

  • They tend to rank well in Google for specific search terms – as opposed to terms that tire-kickers and other not-yet-serious customers might type in.
  • They’re more likely to offer a “follow” link (i.e. one that Google “counts”), especially if they are paid directories. (No, links from those sites won’t land you in Google’s doghouse, if they’re relevant to your field and if they’re not your only way to get links.)
  • There’s a better chance they’ll yield an additional trickle of leads, to the extent the sites cater to a specific audience.

How can you find good niche citations?

Some resources:

Brightlocal’s Best Niche Citation Sites for 41 Business Categories

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (or just have them build the niche citations)

My list of review sites

My list of citation sources (by the way, I need to prune this list)

Also, you can always just type in some of the search terms you’re trying to rank for, see what sites come up on the first couple pages of search results, and see how many of those sites you can list yourself on.

Are there any benefits of niche citations I forgot to mention?

Do you find them using different methods?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Groupon Gets (More) Serious about Local Listings: How to Get Listed without Offering a Groupon or Being Pitched

Groupon, long infamous for its daily deals, has let non-deal-offering businesses get listed for about a year now.

But Groupon’s “Merchant Pages” sounded like a real hassle to claim, and you’d have to run a gauntlet of advertising pitches that only a GoDaddy customer could bear.

Apparently it’s less painful now because Groupon is getting its [BLEEP] together, according to some intel that Corey Barnett of Cleverly Engaged Marketing sent me the other day.

It sounds like Groupon has finally got used to honoring requests for free listings, and realizes that many times it’s SEOs and other marketers calling on behalf of their clients to add a listing.  As a result, apparently now it takes less than 45 minutes, they don’t require owner-verification, and don’t pitch you on ads or to start offering a Groupon deal.

You just have to spend a few minutes on the phone talking with a live rep, who notes down your info and presumably later makes sure it’s not bogus.

Corey described the process:

I found out when I was working on a local campaign for a client of mine and noticed all of a sudden they had a Groupon merchant page for all their locations, without even doing a Groupon. Then I compared it to my other clients and same thing, I knew these clients had never done a Groupon and yet they had Groupon merchant pages.

Also, I’ve been watching this for some time and have emailed Groupon’s team if they would roll this out to all businesses. They told me they would, but never gave me a date.

Once you click on “claim a page,” you should get a phone call from a rep and can email them updates and changes. If your client isn’t listed yet, you can also email their support team and they will create a page for you.

When I claimed my client’s page, a rep contacted me and told me I needed to email him changes, a description that can be added, the website link can be updated, photos and more can be added…. He told me they literally just rolled this out late last week.

Here’s his contact info if you have questions:

Rohan Sinha
Product Specialist
600 W. Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60654
Desk: 312-459-5160

Here is what a page looks like that I have claimed and filled out; notice the description and photos:

https://www.groupon.com/biz/lubbock/mcwhorters

Corey was told that this newer, easier process is part of a larger effort on Groupon’s part to list more businesses:

[Rohan] confirmed that the data on Groupon’s site is being rolled out in batches being pulled from public sources and data aggregators (wouldn’t disclose which) and has been doing this for only the last 2 months. Groupon has not yet announced the change publicly, because it is still in beta mode. They haven’t added all businesses in the U.S. but that is their goal to offer a free merchant page for every business.

That squares with what I’ve found.  I’ve seen a couple of clients listed on there who I know for a fact haven’t offered a Groupon.  Must’ve gotten picked up from some other online source.

Some things you can add to your Groupon page now for free (through your support rep:

  • Any edits to your business details.
  • Images (under 1 MB) you’d like added to your page.
  • A short, accurate description of your business.
  • Any current specials you’re offering, such as happy hour or half-price items.

The only downside is that it seems you don’t get a “follow” link anymore just for showing up – as Dan Leibson described in his post from last year (which I mentioned earlier).  I guess it was the Groupon equivalent of apology flowers.

Have you tried getting listed on Groupon?  What do you think of the process?

Have you seen your listing on there, even if you haven’t added it or offered a deal?

Leave a comment!

How to Use Meetup Sponsorships for Local Marketing and SEO: Dave Oremland’s Tips

I’ve talked about sponsoring local meetup groups as a way of smart offline and online non-Google marketing, and as a way to earn good links.

Last December I did a post on how to find Meetup.com groups that need sponsors.  In my recent interview on the LocalU blog I mentioned it again, in the context of being a no-brainer link opportunity.  I’ve mentioned it other times, too.

Meanwhile, the gears were turning in Dave Oremland’s noggin.  He’s a long-time business owner, a proud SEO geek, and an avid reader and commenter here and elsewhere.  If you’ve been in the local-search space for any time, you probably know Dave.

He wrote about and told me all about his success with sponsoring local meetups – in and out of Meetup.com – for one of his businesses, the Professional Bartending School, and for others:

Phil, our businesses have used meetups for years.  It’s been so many years I had forgotten all we did to get those links and how well they have performed.  They perform exceptionally well.   They are tremendously local, high visibility, and serve many uses as a link, a web source, a way to expand local visibility and meet and get to know local people, let alone get business.

They really should be a cornerstone part of an effort to widen a web visibility program for all those businesses affected by Google shrinking the pack.

Dave and I had a phone pow-wow about it and decided to continue the conversation in an interview.

If you’re interested in earning good links and possibly helping to Google-proof your marketing, and you don’t mind donating at least a few hundred bucks to local groups, read on.

Phil:  I know you’re fond of sponsoring local meetup groups, and you’ve done it for a long time through the bartending school and other businesses.  What are the main benefits?

Dave:  Two parts to that question, Phil.  I started start working with them early on for all our businesses.   They made perfect sense to me.  They are natural relationships, networking, and exposure opportunities.  They are completely natural for local businesses.  All businesses should find ways to mine these groups.  There are thousands of them.  You can start your own.

Linking through meetups is a business relationship of one sort.  On a general basis those are among the best links small businesses can gain. There is some well thought out, well articulated thinking on this from one of the best, longest operating, and most renowned link builders, Debra Mastaler.  She writes about it on her website and elsewhere.  She writes knowledgeably and often about how relationship building leads to links.

Secondly prior to Meetup.com our DC bartending school was already arranging special demonstrations for “interest groups”.  This had probably been going on for some time.  The first instance through the web was probably from a web based “hiking group”.  They contacted us.  It was the early 2000’s.  We designed a “short form” example of our normal classes.  It was more for fun then to teach people bartending skills and help them get bartending work.   The first such class was a hit.  The visitors loved it.

We realized there were several benefits to this:

  • It was an additional source of income, albeit not significant
  • It widened our exposure into many different areas, beyond our normal or focused marketing and advertising methods. That part is great.
  • Some of the people who attend the “demonstration class” might become students. That is our bread and butter.

All the signs were great.  So we continued to pursue it.   This was all before Meetup.com, but there were already local “social organizations” on the web.  We started to pursue them.  We have run classes of this type for years.  They have been consistent if somewhat erratic, and they have been with other groups before the particular meetup that we do with some specific DC oriented meetups.

I actually haven’t pursued these as aggressively as I should have.  But it was your words in a post that got me to acknowledge their benefits, look at them, and get back to you on them.  Then I read the LocalU interview of you by Mike Ramsey, and you mentioned Meetup again.  So I’d say that your comments got me to look harder at them.  I sent you a funny little reference that must have spurred you to ask me to talk about meetups more.  It got me to review web and other data with some of the Meetup groups.  I was actually astonished.  The DC bartending school’s relationship with one organizer of some popular DC meetups has been ongoing for about 5 years.    It’s been a long time.

I listed the benefits of any social organization above but they are worth repeating with regard to sponsoring a meetup group.  The sponsorship provides extra benefits:

  • The meetings are local. You have a local business.  Your customers are local.  If you don’t recognize the value on that basis, start over!
  • It’s social. It’s exposure.  It offers creative ways to get your products and services in front of potential customers who might not be thinking of buying at the moment.  It is a wonderful alternative to search.
  • It allows you to put your best foot forward with regard to your products or services and outside of a directly competitive environment.

Now here are some direct benefits of sponsoring a meetup:

  • Meetup.com is a terrific website with significant web strength offering a great link opportunity.
  • A sponsorship puts you on the strongest page of the particular Meetup group, Theoretically you get the strongest link possible on the strongest page from the Meetup group.

  • Meetup traffic will go to specific event pages, to review pages, member pages, picture pages. But most will land on the main page of the Meetup group.  You will have a great chance at the most eyeballs.

 

Phil:  Are the benefits more online than offline, or vice versa?  Or if it “just depends,” what factors does it depend on?

Dave:  I think the benefits are two-fold; both online and offline.  If you “work” the meetup harder as a sponsor or as the organizer you will get infinitely more benefits.  If you don’t work it hard, but are more passive the benefits will be fewer.   I suspect the benefits can be of both kinds.

As far as your advice from the LocalU interview:   From our experience I can’t say for certain that a link from any particular meetup first page will VAULT your website in rankings in Google or Bing or elsewhere.  (You probably wouldn’t say that either.)  By the time we set up the meetups for the various businesses the particular SMB’s already had relatively healthy link profiles from varied sources.   We didn’t see huge increases.   On the other hand if a site has few links and is buried in the organic serps or buried and outside of the Pack, adding a sponsorship from a meetup group could have a HUGE impact on the SMB’s ranking.  It’s worth doing.

 

Phil:  Are all the groups that you sponsor listed on Meetup.com, or are there others that don’t have a Meetup.com page?

Dave:  As referenced above, we’ve been doing this type of thing long before Meetup.com became a featured active and powerful website.  We still do these types of things and we do them both inside and outside of Meetup.

Having read your comments, reviewed our own experiences, and seen the benefits first hand we are upping our efforts with targeted “appropriate social groups”.  Some are inside Meetup.com and others are outside of meetups.   I’d suggest other local SMB’s do the same type of research.

 

Phil:  What meetups do you sponsor?

Dave: In DC for the Bartending School; 3 at the moment:

meetup.com/30sand40sgroup/

meetup.com/20sand30sgroup/

meetup.com/20sand30sasiangroup/

Those are the only one’s sponsored by the DC bartending school…..currently.   I’m so “stoked” by the benefits we’ll look into others for this business and for the other businesses.  On the other hand we have a great relationship with the organizer of those groups.  I wouldn’t sponsor a group via the DC bartending school that in any way cannibalized on the relationships above.

 

Phil:  Do you usually know the organizers before sponsoring their groups, or do you approach them as a perfect stranger?

Dave:  For us it’s been both cases.  In most cases we don’t know the organizers.  If we don’t know them beforehand we naturally have to work through a process.  They have to like us and we have to like them.

 

Phil:  How do you find meetups you want to sponsor?

Dave:  Once we recognized the value of Meetup.com in DC and that it was in every region we started to explore the various meetup opportunities in other regions where it made sense.   We would go to the main meetup page for that city or region and explore the opportunities.   If we found some that might be appropriate for the different types of businesses than we typically emailed the meetup organizers.

In most cases we didn’t approach them initially as a sponsor.  We approached them as a participant.  If sponsorship was appropriate then we pursued it.

 

Phil:  How do you contact them, and what do you say?

Dave:  Mostly by email, unless they have an easily accessible phone number.  Again we usually approach them as someone other than a potential sponsor.   In different regions we’ve had the appropriate staff go to one of the meetings to assess it and see if it made sense for the business, in terms of topic and type and size of attendance.  We would have them speak to the organizer to get a better sense of it.  The above actions mirror exactly what is suggested by Debra Mastaler, whom I referenced.

 

Phil:  Roughly what percent of the time do they accept your sponsorship offer?

Dave:  Different businesses get different kinds of responses.  Some of the businesses we operate are bartending schools.  Some aren’t.  Sometimes because the bartending schools are associated with alcohol “link relationships” are rejected.  I couldn’t tell you the percentage or how often.  Ignore them.  Go on to the next opportunity.  I’d look at it as something one should do for their business, and continue to pursue it till you get a sponsorship.  If the sponsorship isn’t turning up enough benefits, then drop it and go to one that will get you those benefits and payback, or do more than one simultaneously.

 

Phil:  To what extent do they need to be “local” to you?

Dave:  In our cases they are ALL local.  All of them.  I suppose if we were looking to expand an existing business to nearby communities we might start or join a meetup in a different market…but we tend to set up the business then work to explore the networking and social exposure opportunities after we are in the marketplace.

 

Phil:  How much does it usually cost you to sponsor a meetup?

Dave:  In our cases it’s been very varied.  I couldn’t give you a “norm”.  Is there one?  Does anyone know?

(Phil aside: I sponsor one for $150/year.)

 

Phil:  At what point did you start noticing benefits?  (For instance, how many did you have to sponsor, and for how long?)

Dave:  Well in all of our cases, benefits accrued with specific meetups wherein the particular business was highlighted.  So the benefits spiked in relationship to a page about a particular meetup.  Following those meetings interest would wane.

It’s difficult for me to say.  I don’t have a PhD in this topic as I wish I did.  What I can say is that for the businesses that have sponsorships and appear on the first page of a meetup, such as the case with the DC bartending school, they have received consistent but small traffic that is spread out over time.  In the case of the bartending school when we are hosting an event for the local meetups we get more traffic.  It slows down after the event.

The traffic over time is interesting.  We get traffic from the sidebar sponsorship link, we get traffic if our event is on the calendar, if it hits the first page of the meetup as one of the upcoming events, we get visits from review pages, from picture pages, and from other pages.   The web traffic is pretty spread out.   We get calls from people who found out about us via the meetup all during the year, but most come in conjunction with an upcoming event, or one that just occurred.

 

Phil:  The Meetup.com groups you sponsor link to your DC school page on their “Sponsors” pages.  They probably didn’t do that spontaneously.  To what extent did you coax the organizers to link to a subpage?

Dave:  In the case of the DC bartending school sponsorship and the main organizer, there were some special circumstances.  We already knew one another.  The organizer had taken one of our programs years earlier.  He was an active part-time bartender for a period over several years.  We knew him and liked him and I assume he felt similarly about us.

Also we were running these demonstration classes with other existing social web sites.  They weren’t much different with what we started to do with the meetup group.  The  other ones were consistent and drew significant crowds.  So he was interested in doing this with us.  I suspect he initially was very interested in the relationship for that reason.

Our startup relationship was good.   Once we started we have been able to work things out with him reasonably well.  We aren’t out to skin one another.  We are mutual partners.

It’s been several years since we first started hosting events at our school for him and a few less years since we became a sponsor.  I’m afraid to tell you that getting the links to an interior page was not the result of long thought out processes.

When we started discussing sponsorship I threw out the internal page links. I’m somewhat link savvy. He agreed.  It all went smoothly.  But I think most of that had to do with prior relationships, knowing one another, and having a good working relationship.   We want to make his events at our school an ongoing success.

 

Phil:  What is some unspoken “meetup sponsorship etiquette” – for organizers and for sponsors?

Dave:  Good question for others. I don’t have a feel for a standard or a norm.

(Phil aside: please let us know in the comments if you have any “meetup etiquette” tips!”)

 

Phil:  Why don’t more business owners get involved with local meetups?

Dave:  I think there are two answers to this.  One is that business operators are way too busy in day to day events to pay attention to this.  Also Meetup gets buried under the overwhelming and large amount of hype about SEO, PPC, Facebook, twitter and every other marketing entity.  It’s worthwhile on its own.

The second point is that it needs people like yourself to push it out to the SMB’s and your clients.   They need your expertise.

 

Phil:  If Meetup.com croaked one day, how would you continue your strategy?

Dave:  The web is simply an extension of many things that operated before it came into existence.  The meetup is a local social networking phenomena.  Church groups, civic groups, neighborhood groups, business groups, etc. all offered these opportunities before the web and before meetup.

As referenced before the DC bartending school was providing these demonstration classes before Meetup.  We would presumably find other sources.

Frankly we are targeting other sources now.  Each of the separate businesses is doing that.

 

Phil:  If – hypothetically – every competitor and his granny started sponsoring a local meetup or three, how would you adjust your strategy?

Dave:  I’d moan and groan.  Then I’d look for other solutions.

(Phil aside: For example, earning links by offering scholarships.)

 

Phil:  Any other advice?

Dave: I’d suggest three other perspectives in getting involved as a sponsor in a meetup (in or out of Meetup.com).  I like the hack you suggested but there are additional considerations:

  • Specifically search for meetups that are related to your business. They are the ones where you can get a link, and get customers.
  • Consider meetups that already have sponsors. It they’ll accept sponsorship from one group, they might be willing to have multiple sponsors.
  • Search for meetups in your community for the ones that have the highest ranking and strongest pages. A sponsorship link on the strongest page will theoretically give your website and business the strongest link.  One way to do this is to simply search in google for meetups/your city.  The meetings that tend to be ranked highest are the ones that have the strongest web pages.  There are more technical ways to do this.  (It’s a good reason to hire someone like Phil to help you choose the right or most beneficial group.)

If one is a small business operator get acquainted with the marketers who write and speak out in that community.  They are working with endless other businesses.  They share examples of “best practices”.  It’s a great way to learn about what is working.

If I was a marketer to small businesses I’d read your blog and I’d read others.  There are many great pieces of advice out there.

Thanks to Dave for some great first-hand experience.

Do you have any first-hand experience with sponsoring local meetups?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

BBB Accreditation: Boring But Bumps Your Local SEO

I may be unpopular for saying this….

But here goes:

You should consider getting accredited by the Better Business Bureau.  It can help your local visibility (if you’re in the US or Canada).

Mind you, I am no fanboy.  There are a few valid reasons to skip the BBB:

  • Money (although it’s only a few hundred bucks a year).
  • Time (you do have to apply).
  • Maybe you think the BBB just peddles junk.

 

But I can think of 8 reasons your local rankings and reputation can benefit from BBB-accreditation:

1.  You get a great link. (Yes, it’s a “follow” link.)

 2.  It’s one of a few straightforward ways (that I can think of) to get good links to subpages on your site – pages other than your homepage. That’s especially useful if you’re multi-location business and use “location” pages as the landing page for your Google Places pages.  In my experience, it’s better to use the homepage as your landing page, but if you can get some good links to those “location” pages they may fare just as well in the rankings.

3.  Some segment of the population does care what the BBB says about local businesses.

4.  Ranks well for brand-name searches.

 5.  Even ranks well some broad searches.  Great for barnacle SEO.

6.  Customers can write reviews on your BBB page. I encourage you to encourage them.

7.  It’s a nice “trust symbol” to put on your site.

 8.  It’s a good citation.

I may not have made you like the BBB more, but it’s a practical way to help your local visibility a little.  Close your eyes and think of England.

What if you decide to skip it?  No big deal.  Just make sure you get other good links.

What’s been your experience with the BBB?

Know of any alternatives that help in some of the practical ways I described?

Leave a comment!

The Lazy Man’s Way to Find Meetup.com Local Link Opportunities (in 5 Seconds Or Less)

Has your local SEO person nagged you to earn a few good links?

I hope so, because that’s good advice.  Especially since the Pigeon update, your ability to do RCS and earn links – like from local media and local causes – has become key to ranking well in competitive markets.

Maybe your local SEO-er specifically told you to “sponsor a local meetup, like on Meetup.com.”  That’s a good thing to do, and a good link.

But where do you start?

Here’s what you do…you type this into Google verbatim:

site:meetup.com “this group does not have sponsors right now”

To narrow the search results, stick your state or a city (any city) at the end, like:

site:meetup.com “this group does not have sponsors right now” CA

Or:

site:meetup.com “this group does not have sponsors right now” Fullerton

BOOM.

Why does this work?  Because all Meetup.com groups without sponsors have a page with the same boilerplate wording:

Now get in touch with the organizer(s) and see how you can help.  Be sure to read Meetup.com’s guidelines first.

Update 12/8/14: Jon Cooper was nice enough to add this tip to his unequaled link-building strategies resource.  You’ll want to look at the other strategies in there, and see how they can fit in with the one for Meetup.com sponsorships. By the way, his course is some of the best money you can spend on your local-SEO education.

Any success sponsoring meetups?

What are your favorite easy local-link-finding techniques?

Leave a comment!

Low-Tech Local SEO Fix-ups for Your Site

You can’t make big or technical changes to your site, for whatever reason.  (Maybe you just aren’t sure how.)  Your options may be limited, but you still want to start ranking in Google Places and elsewhere.

Maybe your webmaster pulled a Houdini on you.  Or selfishly went belly-up at just the wrong time (before you’re ranking top-7).

Or maybe you are your own webmaster, but don’t think you can take your site apart and make it whole again.

There’s still plenty you can do to make your site local-search-friendly.

After my last post – which was a little technical – I thought it was time for something lower-tech.  Here, my suggestions would have made sense for you to do 10 years ago, and they’ll benefit you 10 years from now.  Many of them I’ve mentioned before.

You only need to be able to make basic changes to your pages.  You should be able to implement these suggestions whether you’re using WordPress, a hand-coded site, one of GoDaddy’s contraptions, or any other “website builder.”

Here are the low-tech local SEO steps I suggest you take on your site:

Structure

1.  Create a page for every specific service you offer.

2.  Create a page for each location, if you have more than one location.  (Don’t necessarily use these as your Google Places landing pages.)

3.  Create the other pages you should create.

 

Content

4.  Make sure your homepage at least mentions your specific services.

5.  Add old-school driving / walking / public-transportation directions.

6.  Describe some local landmarks.

7.  Go through every page of your site and see if you can explain your services better.

8.  Describe your qualifications, certifications, etc.  If applicable, also link to them.

9.  Describe your service area.  (Notice I said “describe” it.  Don’t just paste in all the city names in a paragraph that’s taller than Shaq.)

10.  Rework crappy blog posts.

11.  Remove or rewrite duplicate content.

 

Details

12.  Put your business’s “NAP” (name, address, phone) info on every page.  No, it doesn’t need to be in Schema.  (Some guidelines here.)

13.  Add links to your subpages – particularly pages where you describe specific services – where appropriate.  Do not overdo this.  Only add links when you realize, “Gee, maybe a visitor would want to know more about this point.”

14.  Add links to sites where customers have reviewed you.

review-links-sidebar

Maybe also create a “Review Us” page with those links on it.

15.  Add photos.  Name them relevantly, and make sure they’re relevant to whatever you’re describing on the page.

16.  Read your content out-loud.  Take note of any areas that sound clunky.  I’ll bet you a beer they’re links with keywords awkwardly inserted.  Remove or rephrase those links.

 —

Even if you nail the low-tech stuff, your site may still need work.  But you’ll be in much better shape.

How many of these fixes have you crossed off the to-do list?

Any non-technical suggestions you’d add?

Leave a comment!