Which Local Citation Sources Offer Follow Links?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/superiornationalforest/5062843250/

Pretty much every local listing you create for your business lets you include a link to your website, so that it’s easy for visitors to learn more about you.  But most of those are nofollow links  – meaning Google’s not supposed to “count” them for or against your rankings.

Still, some sites don’t slap a “nofollow” attribute on their links.

I (with the help of my assistant, Danielle) have put together a list of the local-business and industry-specific directories where the links to your site technically count, to one degree or another.  We scoured my Definitive Citations List, plus a few additional sites.

As you might guess, some of these sites are more notable than others.  Some are prominent directories in a niche (e.g. WeddingWire), some represent a cause (e.g. GoGreenWebDirectory.com), and others might just be on your citation checklist anyway (e.g. Brownbook).  But other sites are pretty mediocre and no-name.

Why should you know about – or bother with – a list that includes some mediocre sites with mediocre links?

  • Mediocre “follow” links have their place in the world. In the early stages of a local SEO effort, they’re signs of life that Google might observe.  They might help you rank for the one obscure search term that gets you the one customer who helps keeps you in business for long enough that you can do RCS.
  • Again, some of the sites are pretty prominent, and you may want to get listed on them for non-SEO reasons.
  • In case for whatever reason you don’t want listings on local directories that offer follow links, you’ll want to know what those sites are.
  • Maybe you’re just a curious cat, like me.

This post hits on a sticky topic, so I’m going to make you read even more preamble before I get to the actual list:

  1. Don’t rely on any one type of link or one strategy to get links.
  1. Don’t expect these “follow” links to make a huge difference by themselves.
  1. Do realize that most of the links you’ll want to earn over time will take hard work.
  1. Do use your best judgment.

austin-powers-behave

Anyway, here are the general local-business directory sites that include a follow link when you create a listing:

2FindLocal.com

6QubeDirectory.com

Bizyhood.com

BrownBook.net

CBSYellowPages.com

Cylex (on request – see Imi’s comment)

DirectoryCentral.com

DiscoverOurTown.com

EventCrazy.com

GoGreenWebDirectory.com

IndependentWeStand.org

Infignos.com

Kudzu.com (sometimes)

Lacartes.com

LocalPages.com

Opendi.us

PegasusDirectory.com

SmartGuy.com

SocialRaves.com

TicketBud.com

USBDN.com

WherezIt.com

YellowOne.com

YelloYello.com

(Note that TicketBud.com and EventCrazy.com are sites you can publicize events on.  Now that can be a good way to earn links.)

Now for some industry-specific sites that offer a follow link.  Even if you ignore the first list (above), there’s a strong case to be made for these because many of them are (1) review sites and (2) have some visibility in Google. (FYI, some of these may be paid listings.)

AutoMD.com

AWDP.org

BailBond.com

CyberAtty.com

DealerRater.com

DoctorOogle.com

Frommers.com

GetMowed.com

HomeStars.com

Justia.com

LocalGranite.com

LuxuriousLandscapes.com

MenuPages.com

MyZipPlumbers.com

OpenTable.com

Sortfolio.com

SportsTavern.com

TheBestDesigns.com

TherapyNext.com

WeddingWire.com

Zagat.com

Other sites that offer follow links are “powered by Yext” – meaning probably the only way you can get a listing there and a link is to use Yext.  These sites include eLocal, Switchboard, Topix, WhitePages, Yellowise, and others.  As Dan Leibson has noted, there may be some value in those listings / links as well.  I didn’t include those.

Local Chambers of Commerce tend to offer follow links, too.

Great discussion here, by the way.

Do you know of any sites I missed?  Any that I should definitely remove?  (I’d love to keep this list up-to-date.)

To what extent do you agree with me that “mediocre links have their place in the world,” in the sense that they can help you get the ball rolling?

Other local-citation-link-related words of wisdom?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Thanks to Tony Wang, Michael Doran, and Kathy Long for contributing to the list with their helpful comments, below.

20 Local SEO Techniques You Overlooked (Almost)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/

We local-SEO geeks talk about the same old basic principles a little too much: clean up your citations, don’t get penalized by Google, be mobile-friendly, earn “local” links, create “unique” content, deserve reviews, ask for reviews, etc.

It’s all good advice.  I’ve devoted many of my blog posts in the last 4 years to unpacking that advice so it’s easy to act on.

The trouble is we’re repetitive.  We’re almost as bad as the talking heads at CNN.  We rarely move on to what you should do once you’re pretty solid on the basics – and there is a lot you can and should do.

(In fact, many of the overlooked wins can also help you even if you just started working on your local SEO.)

Here are 20 stones I find unturned way too often:

1.  Nail the categories on your non-Google listings: Pick out the most-relevant ones, and as many of them as are applicable. Dig them up with Moz Local’s free “Category Research” area and with my category lists for Apple Maps and Yelp.

2.  Do a second round of work on your citations. Do it a couple of months after the initial blob of work.  You might be amazed at how many stragglers you find.  Might be enough to motivate you for a third go-round.

3.  Try to find and possibly hire a MapMaker editor to join the Forces of Good in your local anti-spam war. Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a MapMaker editor can stop your competitors’ spam offensive, but it’s worth a shot.

4.  Become or get to know an “Elite” Yelper (like this recruit). Got a review that’s viciously personal, un-PC, or is obviously from an imposter?  The Elite Yelper may know just how to phrase the takedown request for the best chances of a takedown.  Also, because most Elite Yelpers don’t really have lives, Yelp seems to expect them to report data-errors (like wrong addresses), and usually acts on them.

5.  Embedding on your website the Google map that’s featured on your Places page. Don’t embed a map of a generic address.  You want Google to know people are looking up directions to you.

6.  Get a Google Business View photo shoot. (10 reasons here.)

7.  Pick the right itemtype for the blob of name / address / phone info that you’ve marked up with Schema.org markup. Or take a few extra minutes to go bananas with your Schema.

8.  Join a couple of local and industry associations. I’m talking about your local Chamber of Commerce and the sorts of organizations you’d find if you Google the word that describes your business + “association” or “organization.”  They’re often worth joining for the offline benefits, and you’ll probably get a good link.

9.  Diversify the sites where you encourage customer reviews. The benefits are many.

10.  Create a “Reviews” page. Use it to showcase your reviews (possibly with widgets and badges) and to ask any customers who visit the page to put in a good word.  You can pretty easily create a page from scratch, or you can make a nice one with a service like Grade.us.  Link to it in the signature of your emails, as a gentle way to encourage any customers you email to pick up a quill.

11.  Write blog posts to answer super-specific questions that a customer might type into Google. Don’t try to rank for your main keywords (“How to Pick the Best Dentist in Cleveland: a Guide by Cleveland Dentists for Cleveland Dentist Patients”).  It won’t work and you’ll look stupid.  (Refer to this post and its follow-up.)

12.  Get some barnacle SEO happening. By now, Will Scott’s concept isn’t new, but most business owners still don’t even try to do it.  But just start with the basics: if you pick out all the right categories (see point #1) and encourage reviews on a variety of sites (see point #9) you’ll be in pretty good shape.

13.  Use wildcard searches for keyword-research. (This one was new to me until very recently.)

14.  Lengthen pages that aren’t ranking well – including and perhaps especially your homepage. Yes, this sounds old-school, and about as cool as a pocket protector.  But I’m not telling you to add gibberish.  Go into detail about what makes you different, describe your service / process, address concerns the reader might have, etc.  Google likes having meat to sink its teeth into.  One-paragraph Wonder Bread pages tend not to do as well.

15.  Ask for reviews twice. People forget, and it’s a nice excuse to keep in touch.  Follow up with customers you asked for a review – especially if they said they would.  It’s easy to avoid making yourself a pest: just say you’d still appreciate their feedback, ask them if they have any questions for you, and thank them in advance.

16.  Include links to sites where you have reviews. (Be sure to have those links open into a new browser tab, so nobody’s leaving your site.)  Use review widgets and badges when you can.

17.  Cannibalize underperforming microsites, bad blog posts, or other online carcasses. Grab (and edit as need be) any content that’s redeemable, and use it to make your site bigger and better.

18.  Get listed on Apple Maps. Yes, everyone knows about aMaps by now, but I’m amazed at how many times I start working for clients and see only their competitors on Apple.

19.  Try hard to reach non-English speakers, if applicable. Don’t just stick Se Habla Español (for example) in your footer as an afterthought.  Include a paragraph in that language on your homepage and on your “Contact” page.  Maybe create a whole page geared toward those customers.  Be sure to use the hreflang tag if you have more than one version of the same page.

20.  If you’re a local SEO-er, find steps your clients might be able to do better than you can. Don’t just look for more billable hours; look for the best person for the job, or the best combination of people.  Don’t spend hours trying to dig up all their old phone numbers and addresses; ask them first.  Whenever a writing task comes up, pump your clients for info.  When you need to find link opportunities, send them my link questionnaire.  They know the business better than you do.  If you don’t get much cooperation, fine.  At least you tried, and you’re giving them options.  But I’ve found that most clients recognize when they’ve got just the right wrench for the oddly-shaped bolt.

What’s an “overlooked” local SEO tip you like?

Any that you’re considering but not sure about?

Leave a comment!

The Best [BLEEP]in’ Local Link Questionnaire

You need at least a few good links to rank well in Google Places and beyond.  Especially post-Pigeon update, and especially if you’re in a competitive local market.

But that’s easier said than done.  Where are the opportunities for a business like yours to scrounge up some good links?  Who knows enough about you and your business to know what ideas are practical and doable for you?

Look in the mirror.

Nobody knows your situation as you do.  Nobody’s business is exactly like yours, and nobody runs your business just the way you do.  You can take advantage of that fact, and get links that others cannot, will not, or would not think to get.

(Or you can ape whatever your competitors are doing for links.  If you’re lucky you’ll nip at their heels in the rankings, but you’ll probably never pull ahead.)

Get the creative juices flowing with my link-digging questionnaire.  You can use it in (at least) one of two ways:

  1. To get your creative juices flowing, as the business owner.
  1. To help your local SEO-er / “link person” dig up good opportunities that you can execute on.

You can download my questionnaire on Google Drive.

Or if you prefer, below are the 25 questions I ask my clients when it’s time to earn some links.

(I’ve added some notes below some of the questions – in case you’re wondering where I’m going with some of them.)

1.  What specific causes have you donated time or money to in the last few years?
(I ask this question because if you’ve already contributed to a cause, it’s a little easier to ask for a link.  See this example; notice how all the donors’ names aren’t hyperlinked?  Well, my client used to be one of them.)

2.  What specific causes / places / programs do you really care about?
(If you’re going to donate resources of any kind, might as well be to a cause you might see yourself getting more involved in, or that you might already be involved in.)

3.  Are your children in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or 4H, or play sports, or anything like that?
(Possible donation opportunities.)

4.  How might any employees of yours answer questions 1, 2, and 3?
(Maybe your wheels are spinning.  Not a problem.  Ask someone else.)

5.  What specific brands of equipment do you use? Any produced by a small company?
(A small company might want a testimonial.  And because anonymous testimonials like, “B. Smith – Cleveland” suck, you can include a link to your company’s site as part of your “signature.”  Unless the people receiving your testimonial are total clods, they’ll include the link.)

6.  Have you ever written a testimonial for a product, service, or business?
(If you’ve already written a testimonial you’ve probably earned a little good will, and are in a better position to ask for a link as a way of citing you.)

7.  Are there other businesses you sometimes refer customers to, for one reason or another?
(This can be tricky, because you don’t want to do a dumb old link-exchange.  But let’s say you’re a dentist and you often refer patients to a periodontist for deep-scaling treatment.  It’s reasonable to ask him/her for a link.)

8.  Do any of your family members also own a business?

9.  Where did you go to school – and do you consider yourself an “active” alum?
(Some colleges have “where are they now?” -type profiles of alums.)

10.  What are some industry directories or business associations that you are a part of, used to be part of, or have considered joining?
(Some are pretty big and well-known (e.g. NARI.org), whereas others are pretty niche (e.g. Marble Institute of America).  But there’s almost always at least one membership you can have, and the link is usually very good.)

11.  Are you willing to spend a few hundred dollars for a membership or to make a donation?
(See my Meetup.com and BBB suggestions, for starters.  Thanks to Dave O. for helping me improve the wording of this question.)

12.  What is some content that you put a lot of time into writing? Is it published online or published offline (or just collecting dust for now)?
(Maybe all you need to do is promote it.)

13.  Do you have a “little black book” of info that you put together for internal use only? Any checklists, lists of phone numbers, questionnaires, or anything like that?
(You may have the raw materials for a great piece of content that you can pimp out, in the way I mentioned in question #12.)

14.  Have you ever been interviewed? Was it in print or with a microphone?  Tell us where we can find it, if possible.
(For starters, you might be able to get another interview very easily.  Or you could cite it if you’re pitching a story or interview to someone else.)

15.  Is there a specific blog, forum, or other website that pretty much everyone in your industry reads or pays attention to?

16.  Do you offer any discounts (e.g. for seniors or veterans)? If not, would you consider offering one?

17.  Have you ever created a product, tool, or knickknack?

18.  Are you currently hiring? If so, what type of position are you trying to fill?
(There are job boards.  Also, because people are hungry for good jobs, that bit of news might have “legs.”)

19.  What are your certifications? (List everything, no matter how trivial it may seem.)
(For instance, if you’re a home inspector and you’re ASHI-certified you’ll want to make sure you’re on their “find a local inspector” page.)

20.  What awards or accolades have you won?

21.  Would you be willing to donate your products or services to worthy causes in your area? If so, what do you think you could offer?

22.  Are there any specialty schools for your line of work? If so, what are some notable ones?

23.  Would you be willing and able to host events at your business location?
(See Casey Meraz’s great post on hosting local events.)

24.  What are some “complimentary” businesses to your business? For example, a real estate agent might send business to mortgage brokers or moving companies. Do you already work with some other businesses to help each other get more business?

25.  Do you have any arrangements with other businesses where you offer promotions or deals to their customers?

I hope that got the creative juices flowing, at the very least.  Some of the questions / lines of thought will be dead-ends for you, but others will lead somewhere.  My clients usually answer at least 20 of the questions, and that always helps me dig up more and better opportunities.

Here’s the link to the more-compact version of the questionnaire – without my lovely notes: http://bit.ly/1D0LVpR

Are you in the zone now?  Do you need more?

Well, here are some more resources to help you dig up local links:

Questions & Checklist for New SEO Clients: A Collaboration – Jon Cooper

The Importance of Initial Research Prior to Link Development – Julie Joyce

The Best Darn Local SEO Questionnaire – me

Link Building Tactics – The Complete List – Jon Cooper

The Guide to Local Link Building Campaigns – Garrett French

35 Local Link Opportunities You Missed – Adam Melson

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

Thanks to Darren for nudging me to turn my questionnaire into a post.

What are some creative “local” links you’ve got?  Any that you want to get, but haven’t yet?

Can you think of any questions to add to the questionnaire?

Leave a comment!

Every Local SEO Diagnostic You’ll Ever Need to Know (Plus Some)

You may be stumped as to why you’re not ranking well (or at all)…but don’t say it’s because you tried everything and just couldn’t figure it out.

You probably didn’t try everything.

I can think of 56 diagnostics you should try if you want to troubleshoot local SEO problems or find missed opportunities.  I’ll tell you all 56 in a minute.

First, a few points about what this post is not:

It’s not a list of every tool.  That’s what this post is for.

It’s not a technical audit (although a few of my suggestions fall into that category).

It’s not a tutorial on exactly what to do about what each diagnostic may show you.  Many times the next steps will be clear, but sometimes they’re tricky.  (For maximum detail on action items, get my free guide – or consider my X-Ray service.)

By the way, this is an evergreen post, so I’ll keep adding diagnostics.  (Please leave a comment if you have any to suggest.)

Let’s get into it, shall we?  I’ve broken this up into 7 sections.  You can click on a link to jump to a section.

General

Google Places

Website

Citations

Links

Reviews

My 7-point quick checkup

…or you can just start right here at the top.

General diagnostics

Measure the business’s distance to the center of town
Look up driving directions (in Google Maps) from the business to the town where it’s located or where its owners want to rank.  Are you 20 miles from what Google considers the center of town?  Are you significantly farther away than your higher-ranking competitors are? You want a sense of whether it’s even possible to rank in your “target” city.

Search in the business’s ZIP code
Type a search term into Google, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter the ZIP or postal code that the business is located in.  Does it rank?

Search in an incognito browser window
You may see biased results if you’re logged into your Google account or if you haven’t cleared your browser’s cookies in a while.

Study Google Analytics
For now, just log in and look for any steep dips in traffic.  Then you can use these other diagnostics to figure out why the drop-off happened.  (There are tons of resources for learning about Google Analytics in-depth, and they’re easy to find, so I’ll leave that part to you.)

Check Google Webmaster Tools
Any crawl or indexation issues?

Check your Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local rankings
If you rank more visibly in those places than in Google, it’s less likely you’re looking at a technical issue on your website and more likely that you’re staring at Google’s sharp fangs.

Get my questionnaire filled out
I’m talkin’ about this.  Probably only useful if you’re the SEO person who needs all the pertinent facts from your client – although it might still be a useful exercise even if you’re doing your own local SEO.

Google Places diagnostics

Check for the Google Places pack
Are you seeing only organic results for search terms that used to pull up the Google Places 7-pack (or 3-pack) results – or vice versa?

Perform a brand-name search
Do you see the Google Places page?  Is it the correct one?  Do you see the expected listings on other sites (e.g. Yelp)?

Search from different default locations
Type in a search term, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter other cities or ZIP codes.

Check rankings both with and without city names
Do you rank for “dentist” but not for “Cleveland dentist”?

Check the “Maps” tab
Are you ranked #10?  Are you on page 5?  To find out, type in a search term, click the “Map results…” link under the Google Places results, then click the “See results in list view” link. That’s for checking your visibility in the “new” Google Maps. But, as Linda points out, you should also check your rankings in classic Maps, because you may see different results there – possibly pre-Pigeon-update results.

Search on Google Plus
Go to plus.google.com, sign in, go to the “Local” tab, and search for the business.  Can you find its Google Places page?  Is it the one you expected to find?

Check both Googles
Let’s say your business is in Canada.  Check its rankings both on Google.com and on Google.ca.  You may notice a huge difference.

Make sure the page is verified
Look for the little checkmark near the profile photo.

Make sure the page has been “upgraded”
Do you see only an “About” and “Photos” tab, or do you see 3-4 tabs (like “Posts,” “Videos,” or “YouTube”)?

See if Google has made changes without your OK
Yes, Google does that sometimes.  Log into your Google My Business dashboard and you may see a message that says Google made tweaks to your page (usually to your address or categories).

Search for your business in MapMaker
Look at the “Details” tab.  Is any info incorrect?  (By the way, don’t bother with this step if you’ve got a service-area business.)  If anything seems incorrect, don’t mess around with it without reading this post first.

Check your map-marker location
Google your address.  Now check out on the map on your Google Places page.  Does the red marker show up in exactly the same place on the map?  If not, move the marker.

Find duplicate or near-duplicate Google Places pages
Use Michael Cottam’s excellent and free tool.  Or use the old-school techniques that Joy Hawkins’ describes.

Check the Google Places landing page URL
Go to your Places page and click the link to your site.  Does it forward to a domain other than the one you just clicked on?  Does it even take you to your website at all (yes, I’ve seen typos here, sad to say)?  Please tell me you’re using your homepage as the landing page.

Double-check the business hours
I’ve seen significant traffic dips on (for example) weekends when I’ve had clients who are closed on weekends.  Is that because search volume is naturally lower on the weekend because people are taking it easy, and that’s why the businesses are closed to begin with?  Or is Google less likely to show search results that contain closed businesses?  I suspect it’s a little of both.  So make sure your hours don’t mark you as “Closed” for more hours than you really are closed.

Website diagnostics

Do a site:yourwebsite.com search
How many of your pages are indexed?  Are you seeing old, duplicate versions of pages?  Are all your title tags the same (or just terrible)?

Check your robots.txt
Go to yourwebsite.com/robots.txt.  Make sure it doesn’t contain the dreaded “Disallow: /” line.  Especially if you’re not sure how to assess a robots.txt file you’ll want to use Google’s tester.

Look for mirror sites
I’m talking about clones of the site you want to rank well: same guts, different domain name.  Slimy companies may build these for you in a misguided attempt to try to “track conversions.”  The best way to find them is to Google a few lines of text from your homepage, and to see whether another domain pops up in Google.  Or use Copyscape or Plagium.

Find any unwanted subdomains or staging sites
Search for them by typing site:yourwebsite.com -www search.  Hat tip to the Local SEO Guide guys for reminding me about this one.

Make sure the NAP info is crawlable text
Google needs to be able to read your name / address / phone (“NAP”) info.  That’s not possible if your NAP is an image.  So here’s the test: can you copy and paste it?  If so, Google can read it OK.

View the source code
Only do this if you are your own webmaster, have built websites in the past, or otherwise know what to look for.  But if you do know what to look for, you may find some real demons.

Check the site on a smartphone
If you’re in an industry where a lot of the traffic (let’s say 30% or more) is from smartphones and you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, your bounce rate may be high.  That may hurt your rankings.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool
Hat tip to Tony of Cartography Marketing for reminding me of this one.

Check the “itemtype” line in your Schema.org markup
The itemty-…huh?  I explain that one in another long post.  It’s a little technical, and it won’t explain low rankings, but it might give you a slight edge in the local roller-derby.

Citation diagnostics

Do a (free) Moz Local scan
Hands-down the best way to get a quick sense of how much work your citations need.  Oh, and don’t ignore the suggestions for categories.

Check the BBB record
I love this hack.  You can find alternative business names, old phone numbers, and more.

Make sure you’re listed on Google’s pets
Beyond Yelp and YP, what sites rank well for the terms you’re trying to rank for? For instance, Google expects you to be on HealthGrades if you’re a doctor, or Avvo if you’re a lawyer, or Houzz if you’re a contractor. I’m mostly talking about industry sites. Thanks to Gyi Tsakalakis for reminding me of this point.

Search for the phone number in the standard format
I like to search with dashes as the separators (e.g. 123-867-3509).  It’ll pull up the same results as it would if you Googled the phone number with parentheses around the area code.

Search the phone number with periods as separators
Some people think the dots look chic, so they use them in their phone number.  But Google does not treat periods the same as dashes.  You may see different search results come up when you search for the number with periods (e.g. 123.867.5309).

Search for your business name and city
Great diagnostic from Darren: “If everything is in order, you should see a knowledge panel for the business. If you don’t get one, that can indicate Google isn’t getting enough signals to identify your brand. Try working on citation audit & cleanup, and review acquisition.” (By the way, Darren’s crew can help with messy citations.)

Search for the address
What kind of address is it (e.g. residential)?  Do the expected business listings (e.g. YellowPages) come up?  Do you see unexpected phone numbers come up?  Any discrepancies as to what city / town that address might be in?

Do a USPS ZIP Lookup
What town does Uncle Sam think your ZIP is in?  Know that before you touch your citations.

Use the Local Citation Finder
Do your competitors have better local citations?  Which competitors?  Where can you go to get those citations?  The Local Citation Finder can save you hours of toiling.

Use NAP Hunter
Those madmen at Local SEO Guide created a Chrome extension to help you unearth incorrect and duplicate citations.  Another huge time-saver.  Or, if you want to take the scenic route, you can use the sitelinks search box to find duplicate citations.

Yext free scan
Ignore the eschatological “144 Errors!” warnings and just get a rough sense of how many totally wrong phone numbers, addresses, and names are floating around the web, and on what sites. Note: if you use Yext’s free scan you’ll get solicited by Yext. (Thanks to Rob Scutti for reminding me of this trade-off.)

Check the state’s Secretary of State filing
Fix any business info that’s incorrect or out-of-date.

Check THE big YellowPages-type player in your country
YellowPages.ca is the make-or-break listing if you’re in Canada.  YellowPages.com.au is huge you’re in Australia.  Yell.com is crucial if you’re in the UK.  Get your listing right and you may see progress on the Google Places side.

Check Twitter for acknowledged problems
Great resource: Bill Bean’s Twitter Handles for Local Business Citation Sources.

Link diagnostics

Check backlinks
Use OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, or Ahrefs – or some combination of the three, ideally.  Spot-check your links and decide if they’re junk.  Get any junk links removed.

Check Google Webmaster Tools for a manual penalty
A worst-case scenario (one reason you don’t want to skip the “Check backlinks” step).

Get a Toxic Links score from LinkDelete
Another one in Darren’s words: “Run their quick scan to get a sense of how many bad links you have. Don’t freak out if the number is higher than expected. They tend to over-report a bit, in my opinion.”

Look at the release history of Penguin and other algorithm updates
Does Google Analytics show a steep drop-off in traffic on or right after a day that Google released an algorithm update?

Check for links between affiliated businesses
Do your five sites merrily link to each other?  Don’t.

Review diagnostics

Type in [name of business] + reviews
Just see what – if anything – comes up.  Not having many or any reviews is bad local SEO and worse marketing.  Read this and this.

Check Google’s reviews dashboard
Sometimes buggy and won’t pick up Yelp reviews, but good for getting a quick sense of where a business has reviews.

Check YellowBot
Same goal as above.  As I’ve shown, reviews from all over the place show up on YellowBot.

Check the “More reviews” section in the knowledge graph
Yet another way to check for where a business has reviews.

Find filtered Google+ reviews
See this brilliant post by Joy Hawkins.

My 7-point quick checkup:

I can uncover probably 80% of problems in about 10 minutes, just by doing these quick tests (which I mentioned earlier):

1.  Check rankings both with and without city names

2.  Perform a brand-name search

3.  Measure the business’s distance to the center of town

4.  Do a site:yourwebsite.com search

5.  Do a (free) Moz Local scan

6.  Google the phone number(s)

7.  Check backlinks

 

Great further reading

Advanced Local Citation Audit & Clean Up: Achieve Consistent Data & Higher Rankings
– Casey Meraz

Troubleshooting Local Ranking Failures: a Beginner’s Guide
– Miriam Ellis

*Local SEO Audit Template
– Dan Leibson

(*That’s not the real title of the post, but I’m not shoehorning that 17-word monstrosity in here.  Sorry, Dan 🙂  Nice post, though.)

 

Do you have a problem you still can’t figure out after trying those diagnostics?

Is there a troubleshooting method I forgot?

What’s your favorite?

Leave a comment!

When Can Digging for Competitive Intel Help Your Local SEO?

People often ask me what kinds of competitive fact-finding I think can help their local SEO efforts.  My answer usually is, “Not what you’d think.”

The theory is solid enough: you want to know why your competitors outrank you in the local results, so you try to find out everything you can about them.  Knowledge is power, right?

But there are some problems inherent in competitive-intelligence:

  • You’ll be tempted to do whatever your competitors do, even if it’s stupid and might earn them a penalty in the future. Lemmings off a cliff.
  • You won’t know exactly why they’re ranking well now.
  • You may not know how long they’ve ranked well (for all you know, there’s a bug), and you can’t know how long it will last.
  • It’s hard to know to what extent your competitors’ search-engine visibility results in paying customers.
  • Google can see things that you can’t.

You don’t want to be the schmuck who says, “I don’t get it…I’m doing everything my competitors are doing, so why don’t I have good rankings?”  Well, because Google may not be looking for more of the same in the search results – and your would-be customers certainly aren’t.

The best thing you can do is gather the kind of competitive-intel that you can use to get ahead of your competitors, and to ignore the useless facts that only allow you to ape them.

Let’s start with the useless stuff that – in my opinion – isn’t even worth researching:

Useless competitve-intel

  • Keyword-density. Because you too can be the proud owner of a spammy site that confuses and annoys visitors.
  • Anchor text of inbound links. If you can control the anchor text it’s probably not a good link in the first place.  But in either case, the temptation to go too far is too strong.
  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one.
  • Domain name. Yes, a keyword-relevant domain is a small advantage.  But changing your name is a big deal, and not worth the hassle purely from a rankings standpoint.
  • Domain age. Same issues as with domain names, except an old domain that you buy is an even smaller advantage, and you may inherit some backlinks baggage.
  • Name of Google Places landing page. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if you use your homepage.  But there are exceptions.  If you see a competitor who’s using a city-specific landing page he / she may be one of the exceptions.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Google Places description. Your competitors probably don’t rank for every keyword in their descriptions.  Most likely neither will you.

Sometimes-useful intel

  • Inbound links. (C’mon, you know the pros and cons of looking at competitors’ links.)
  • Site structure. Your competitors’ pages may be easier for Google to crawl, and there may be more of them that conceivably could rank well.
  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one – OR, if you must look at someone else’s title tag, do it just to get the creative juices flowing.  (Thanks to Dave for reminding me in his comment that this sometimes has value.)

My favorite intel

  • What useful pages do your competitors have that you don’t?
  • Where do they have reviews?
  • How many reviewers do they have? It’s worth knowing whether your competitors have had many customers / clients / patients to review them, or they’re banking off one or a few super-fans
  • How many of their other locations rank well? You might want to pay closer attention to a company that’s 5 for 6 than one that’s 1 for 6.
  • What categories do they use on their Google Places page and on other listings?

  • What kinds of barnacle SEO advantages do they have?

  • What obvious mistakes are they making? (And how can you avoid making those mistakes?)

Pay attention only to the areas where you can do something beyond just ape what other people are doing.  Especially in the long term, that’s the only way you can use competitive-intel to pull ahead, rather than to be just another plastic-coated noggin in the peloton.

 

What’s your philosophy on researching local competitors?  What do you pay attention to or ignore?  Leave a comment!

"Will Google Devalue Local Citations?" My Short Answer

Hendrik Vos of Online Business Builders asked me a great question yesterday:

“I wonder how far off 100% is the probability that Google eventually ends up treating all these manufactured citations/ links in the same way they did manufactured backlinks to websites.”

 

The question came up because of the giant post on citations I did on the Whitespark blog the other day.   It’s come up before.  Mike Blumenthal wrote a post on this question last year, and hit the nail on the head.

But because citations have been on my mind – and on others’ minds, apparently – I just thought I’d share my off-the-cuff reply to Hendrik:

“I’d say there’s about a 5% chance that will happen.  I say that for many reasons – but just to rattle off a few:

“First of all, there’s nothing sneaky or below-board about listing one’s business on a directory of businesses.  It’s not an attempt to “game” Google, partly because there are very tangible reasons to list your business on various IYPs: you want users of those sites to be able to find you, and you want reviewers on sites other than Google to be able to review you.  As opposed to link exchanges and the like, where the links have no purpose other than to try to puff up one’s rankings.

“Second, Google needs the data that’s on the most-important sites (where you can get citations).  It relies on them in order to populate its results.  Without them, Google’s local-business data would be incomplete at best, or – more likely – an absolute train-wreck.

“Third, most businesses have citations that their owners didn’t even build: They grow naturally over time.  The citations profiles of those businesses are usually indistinguishable from those of businesses for which someone has been proactively working on citations.

“If it sounds like I’m absolutely certain Google will never treat citations differently, you might be wondering: “Where does the 5% come in?”  Well, Google is full of surprises :)”

Your thoughts?  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.)