10 Benefits of a Disappointing Local SEO Effort

You’re the business owner.  You’ve paid for help.

You’re the local SEO.  You’ve been paid to help.  Maybe you did help – just not quite enough.

Both of you were expecting boom.  But all you got was poppssffftt.

Effective local SEO takes hard work and time.  The benefits are obvious when it all works out.  But even when it doesn’t – or doesn’t seem to – there are some less-obvious benefits.  More on that in a second.

One point that I hope you took as a given: I’ve messed up my share of local SEO campaigns.

Of course, I wish I did things differently in many of those cases.

But without the hard knocks I don’t think I would have learned some important lessons.  Without them I also don’t think I could have had some of the successes.  You learn from mistakes.

Especially on those occasions the rankings haven’t come, I’ve asked myself: what good did I do? 

Put another way: if you subtract good rankings from an otherwise solid local SEO effort, what’s left?

Plenty, in my opinion:

Benefit 1: Avoid mistakes
An experienced local-search geek will keep you from making real stupid moves (or just wasting time).  And if you weren’t going to do anything stupid, well, then you’ve got yourself a trusted wingman.

Benefit 2: Avoid snake oil
Your local SEO-er will steer you away from wasting money on products or services that would be useless or harmful to you.  (I won’t name names here; feel free to email me if you’re curious.)  He / she will usually favor “sweat equity” and will try to help you build yours.

Benefit 3: Citations: check
You’ll have a solid foundation of correct, complete citations.

Also, many of those listings will have been claimed, and you’ll have the logins to most or all of them.  A real local-search pro wants you to have the reins.

Benefit 4: On-page: check
Your site will have just the right amount of on-page optimization: you’re not pretending search engines don’t exist, but you’re not overdoing it.

Benefit 5: More stickiness
At least when I do work for clients, their businesses are always at least a little more “optimized for humans” – on-site and off-site.  (See this, this, and this.)  What you do with your traffic matters more than how many eyeballs you get.

Benefit 6: Wake-up call
You may discover that you should at least dip a foot into other marketing media (like AdWords) – and that you shouldn’t rely exclusively on your visibility in local search.

Benefit 7: Trial by fire
Challenges are a good test of your SEO’s character.  You can ask tough but constructive questions.

Why hasn’t the needle moved enough?  What can we do to get it to move?  Is there anything extra we should do that we didn’t originally plan on?

Your trusty helper will not only give you the unvarnished truth, but may also be able to help you in other areas (e.g. building an email list) while you’re getting your local SEO efforts figured out.

Benefit 8: Easy come, easy go
Not getting results easily is a sign that good local visibility might be worth something in your market.  If it’s too easy to rank, the market may not be competitive – and that may be for a good reason (that there’s no money in it).

Benefit 9: Results may just be slow
Even if your local search efforts don’t seem fruitful at first, there’s a good chance the plan will come together just fine.  Slow local SEO is underappreciated.

Benefit 10: You get a consigliere
You’ll be able to lean on your local SEO-er for advice later on.  If / when you run into an issue, or have a question, or notice a change in Google, you’ll have someone you can ask.

Can you think of other benefits of a well-executed “local” campaign – even when the rankings are underwhelming?  Any real-life cases you’d like to share?  Leave a comment!

What 8 Years of Pay-per-Click Has Taught Me about Local SEO

Most people don’t know I also help clients with pay-per-click advertising – mostly AdWords.

I’ve been doing PPC for longer than I’ve been monkeying around in local search – since mid-2006.

I’ve used it for some clients’ businesses, and for mine (early on).  My first clients and readers may recall clicking on an AdWords ad to find my waifish one-page site, around 2009-10.  That was the only way they could find it, for a time.  I’ve had skin in the game.  (If I couldn’t write ads, you might not be reading this.)

Why should you care about pay-per-click and me?  You shouldn’t.

But PPC and local SEO…now that’s a little more interesting and relevant to you.  They’re alike.  Different ballgames, sure.  But you can learn a lot about one from the other.

It’s useful to know how similar paid and local search are, especially if you rely on one form of visibility but want belt and suspenders.  Let’s say you do pretty well in the local rankings but want a foothold in the paid results – or vice versa.  You’ll want to know what strategies can help you in both places.

Here’s what many “Web years” of PPC has taught me about local SEO:

Basic truths

You need to stand out in some way.  Or else you’re wasting your time.  What is it about your little blob of pixels – your PPC ad or local search result – that makes customers want to click on it?

It takes time to become profitable.  In AdWords it takes weeks or months to test which keywords, ads, and landing pages bring home the most leads.  Any work you do on your local SEO also usually takes months to pay off.  Don’t start when you’re desperate.

 

You’re only as good as your website.  It doesn’t matter how many clicks you get or how you get them – paid or for free.  If you don’t get people to take the next little step, you’ve failed.

Simply reaching more people isn’t necessarily better.  Your first priority needs to be getting visible to the people who know what they’re looking for – not the tire-kickers.  Be visible for “transmission repair” before worrying about “mechanic” or “auto repair.”

There’s always room to improve.  A 21% click-through rate can become 23%.  If your rankings are as good as they can get, keep racking up reviews and adding useful content to your site.  As Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s) once said, “If my competitor was drowning, I’d stick a hose down his throat.”

The 80/20 rule is king.  With PPC it’s more like 95/5: probably 5% of your keywords will bring you 95% of your leads, 95% of the progress you’ll make will result from spending time on that 5%, etc.  It’s less-pronounced with local SEO, but still true: 80% of the citations you could get don’t matter much, 20% of the tune-ups you could make to your site affect your rankings, 20% of your customers will end up writing you a review, but those reviews are visible to 80% of the people who find you online…I could go on.

Strategy lessons

1 minute of extra work up-front saves you 2-3 minutes later on.  Don’t want to build separate adgroups or landing pages for each of the specific services you’re advertising?  Just want to launch?  Fine, but you’ll be overpaying for clicks – at best.  More likely, you won’t get any phone calls and will have to restructure anyway to revive your campaign.  It’s similar with local SEO.  For example, if you don’t fix your listings at the main data-providers, you’ll have a never-ending amount of clean-up to do on your citations.

You pay for ego.  If your ad must be #1, expect to pay twice what ad #2 costs.  If you’re ranked #2 in the local results and you think you can move up that one slot just by making quick tweaks, you may lose that #2 spot.  You’ve just got to grind some more.

Your landing pages need to be “local.”  If people can’t tell that you serve their region both before and after they click, they’re probably hitting the “back” button.

Bing is tiny by comparison.  Do not spend as much time on it as on Google.

Constant tinkering is unwise.  In PPC you need to let your ads run head-to-head until you’ve concluded statistically that one ad pulls better than the other.  To get visible in the local results you need to do a bunch of work and let the dust settle before you do more.

Change is constant.  Whenever Google rolls out something like enhanced campaigns in AdWords or the “new” Places dashboard, you can’t be in the dark. 

Hard knocks


You play by Google’s rules.  If you don’t want to, that’s your call, but nobody at Google will field complaints like, “But that’s where all my customers find me!”

It can be good, cheap, or fast.  Pick any two.  In the case of PPC it can only be so cheap.  In the case of local SEO it can only be so fast.

You should learn a little about how your paid or free visibility works.  Or be vulnerable – vulnerable to people who know more than you do, but who can’t or won’t do a good job for you.  For PPC I suggest learning from Perry Marshall, Howie Jacobson, and Brad Geddes.  Unless this is the first post of mine you’ve read, you probably know who I recommend for local search.

It’s dangerous to rely on one form of visibility.  PPC and local SEO can also make one heck of a combination.

Many business owners only see the obvious costs – the costs per-click, or what a local-search pro charges to help.  They aren’t as good at crunching the costs of missed opportunities, or the costs of relying on other ways to get visibility and leads, or the costs of hiring the lowest bidder.

Too many business owners fixate on the click.  Not as much on what happens after the click.  Do you say at the very top of the page what services you offer, and what you don’t offer?  Is it clear how potential customers can find the other pages they might want to see?  Is it impossible to miss your contact info?  If they don’t want to pick up the phone today, can people stay in touch by leaving their name and email – and are you giving them a good reason to?

Pep rally

Many or most or all of your competitors suck.  They don’t know about split-tests or negative keywords, or they don’t know about local citations or even Google’s rules.  To the extent they may (temporarily?) be more visible than you, it’s despite their actions or inactions, not because of them.

Many business owners would sooner pay out the nose than spend a little time learning.  If you invest that bit of time, you can take the reins if you need to, or better ensure that your PPC helper brings his/her A-game.

The Big Boys only get the basics right.  They leave opportunities open.

There’s often a point when less work is needed month to month.  The business owner can (and maybe should) ease into learning the ropes, and managing the campaign and not feel overwhelmed.

You win whenever you use your antennae.  If you’re always trying to understand your customers better, you’ll know what they want to see in the search results and on your site.

Where do you see overlap between PPC and local search?  Big differences?  Leave a comment!

Local SEO Hotseat: My Talk at the Worcester Web Marketers Meet-up

Just wanted to share my presentation from last night’s gathering of the Worcester Web Marketers group. Here you are, Gentle Reader:

Thanks to Anthony Fors of Absolute Clean for volunteering for the “hotseat,” to Ted Ives and everyone else for the great questions and conversation, and most of all to Dan Shure for putting on an awesome event.

I hope you’ll come to the next one if you’re in Massachusetts in March / April.

Any questions or thoughts on the “hotseat”?  Leave a comment!

Should You Hire an Industry-Specialist Local SEO?

A few local SEOs I’ve consulted for have asked me whether they should specialize.  In other words, should they offer their services only to business owners in a specific industry?

 

Here’s what I said to them:

Know exactly why you want to specialize – and be able to explain it clearly to potential clients.  If you can’t articulate it or think the reason would sound bad if you did, now isn’t the time to specialize.

Figure out how you’ll get into a position where you can offer something to your clients that “general practitioner” local SEOs can’t.

Now I’m going to flip the question upside-down to get at the real issue:

In what cases might you – a business owner – want to work with a local SEO who specializes in your field?

By the way, keep in mind that I’m not an industry-specialist (although I’ve worked with some types of businesses more than others).  I think being an all-industries local SEO guy is the better fit for me, so in one sense I’ve already voted with my feet.  But I want to present a balanced view here, and part of doing that means you know where I’m coming from.

It might be a good idea or a bad idea to work with a local SEO who specializes in your industry.  Here are the factors worth considering:

(Please excuse all the “he” references.  Just makes for a smoother read than “he/she,” or “they.”  Some of the very best SEOs are women, but this industry is still like The Expendables, unfortunately.)

 

Pros

1.  He may have a lot of experience in helping businesses just like yours.

2.  He may have been an in-house SEO for a big company in your industry – which might be good to the degree it means he knows what works on a large scale and can either repeat it or scale it down.

3.  He may have worked in your industry.  He might the same ins and outs you know, and speak the same lingo you speak.

4.  He probably knows the regulations and restrictions that apply to your industry.

 

Cons

1.  He may not have the wide range of experience that a non-industry-specific local SEO would be more likely to have.  He hasn’t necessarily helped business owners in all sorts of situations.

2.  He could have been an in-house SEO for a big company – and that might not be such a good thing if he’s only had success with tons of budget and HR at his disposal.  He may not know how to bootstrap, which could be an issue if you’ve got limited resources.

3.  If you hire him to help with “content,” there’s a chance you’ll get boilerplate, non-unique stuff that’s been used on others’ websites (maybe even on your competitors’ sites).  Not only does your site

4.  You may discover that he only specializes in your industry because he thinks there’s “lots of money in it.”  He doesn’t have a particular affinity for business owners like you, and has no special ability to help them.

 

How do you figure out the pros and cons of the specialist local SEO you’re thinking of ?  I’d ask as many of the following questions as you feel like asking:

“Why are you a specialist?”  Get a concrete answer.  If it’s “I’m good at helping businesses in this niche,” ask how.  If it’s “I like this industry,” ask why.

“How many businesses in my industry have you worked with?”  There’s no “right” answer here, as long as the answer is straightforward and not mush-mouthed.  If you’re the first one your SEO will have worked with as a specialist, hey, that’s fine if he comes out and says so.  If the answer is “oh, hundreds,” you need to ask, “Why so many?”

“How are you better-equipped to help my business (better-equipped than a local SEO who doesn’t specialize)?”  Again, you’ll want to drill down until you hit specifics.

“What’s your exclusivity policy?”  Has your potential SEO-er worked with business you’d consider competitors?  Under what circumstances would he work with or not work with them in the future?

“Do you have a ‘core’ list of citation sources that matter in my field?”  The only bad answer to this: “What’s a ‘citation source’?”

“Where can I see some stuff you’ve written on local SEO for my industry?”  This one could answer many of the other questions.  Here’s an example of the sort of thing you’d want to see.

“What do you know about marketing in my industry that I might not know – or that my old SEO guy maybe didn’t know?”  This is a toughie.  You’ll know a good answer if you hear one.  Personally, I’d say something like, “Well, you probably know a lot more about your field than I do, but here are some things I’ve learned about your field over time….”

“Are there other local SEOs who specialize in this industry, too?  If so, how are you different from (or better than) them?”  It’s OK if the answer is, “Well, we’re not fundamentally different, but I think we’ve invented a better mousetrap, and here’s how….”

You should scrutinize anyone you hire, for any kind of work.  An industry-specialist local SEO doesn’t necessarily warrant more questions on your part – just a slightly different battery of questions.

Considering a Local SEO Audit? Do These 6 Things First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will implement the suggestions you get?

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

Top Local SEO Myths

It may not be springtime, but it’s time for a little housecleaning.  Local SEO – like its organic cousin – is filled with myths.

By “myths,” I mean misinformation and other junk that’s piled up over time.

One reason for the myths is local SEOs can be superstitious.  Many among us are like pro baseball players – who believe they won’t play a good game unless they eat Taco Bell the night before, or who must wear the lucky pair of underwear they’ve worn since Little League.

The other big reason for all the misinformation is that local search is complex.  It’s hard to separate what actually helps a business get visible from what doesn’t.  “Scientific” tests are a red herring.  (Correlation doesn’t equal causation, remember?)

Pretty much all we have to go on is experience.  The good news is that can be extremely useful – provided we get insights from others’ experience and not just from our first-hand observations.

If you round up enough people who wrangle with local search all day and every day, you can get some insights – which you can use to help your business get in front of more customers.

That’s why I’ve asked my fellow local-search aficionados what they think are the myths that hurt businesses.

Mike Blumenthal, Mary Bowling, Linda Buquet, Don Campbell, Greg Gifford, David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Darren Shaw, Andrew Shotland, Adam Steele, and Nyagoslav Zhekov were kind enough to weigh in.

Here are what some very knowledgeable people consider the top local SEO myths:

(FYI, I’ve ranked the responses in the order I received them in.  My thoughts are at the very end, because I’m a big procrastinator :).)

 

Mike Blumenthal – Blumenthal’s Blog

Myth One-

When you verify your listing data in Google (Places, Places for Business Dashboard, Google Plus) you are claiming your page.

Fact: Google views local as a syndicated service that uses local data stored in and retrieved from a canonical record in their Knowledge Graph. The data that you provide to them is stored in that record along with data that they get from MapMaker, Community Edits, third party sources, web scrapes of your website etc etc etc.

The data that your provided them may or may not be considered the authoritative data in this scenario and the page that you thought you owned may show data that they think more trustworthy than what you provided.

Google will take any of the authoritative data that they have in this canonical record and show it where they think it makes the most sense. Some will show on the front page of Google search results, some will show on the Google Plus Page for your business, some will show in Maps, some will show Glass. What shows is determined by them.

Moral: Your local data is seen in Google’s main search results seen many orders of magnitude more often than your data shows on any other Google local output. In fact it might be more than the total of all of the other views in their other products and services. Thus you should focus on what your data looks like there.

You own nothing in this environment, least of all “your page”.

Myth Two-

When you verify your listing in the Places Dashboard (old or new) it creates a Places page and when you verify it in Google Plus it creates a Plus Page and somehow these are viewed differently by Google.

Fact: As noted above Google syndicates data from their Knowledge Graph to the many local services they provide via software. The page about any given business that shows in the Google Plus is viewed by Google pretty much the same whether it was claimed via the Places for Business Dashboard or via Google Plus. The only differences are whether the page also shows videos, a social stream and a verification mark. Regardless it is a Google Plus Page for the local business.

Moral: A business listing is a business listing at Google Plus. It is either claimed or unclaimed and may have social features but it is still just a Google Plus business listing. And these days, it is one that very, very few people ever see directly.

Myth Three-

That Google reviews are somehow worth more than reviews at (insert your third party site here).

Fact: Google is data agnostic in their evaluation of a business. Google looks far and wide to gather as much information as they can about your business and that includes reviews. A read of their patent language would indicate that review site diversity is equally if not more important of a ranking factor.

Certainly having at least 5 reviews at Google leads to stars showing on your business  and that visual eye candy can’t hurt click through rates. There is some research that indicated that hitting the benchmark of 5 reviews also correlated with a single position gain in ranking. That same research indicated that having more than 5 reviews showed no correlation with any additional ranking gain.

Moral: focus on garnering reviews at sites that your clients are comfortable with not the ones that you think are important.

Myth Four-

Data changes to your business listing in MapMaker are faster and more powerful than data changes from the Google Dashboard.

Fact: From early 2012 until now Google has been in the process of first changing the underlying architecture of their local data and then changing both the UI front ends garnering that data on their site AND upgrading the pipelines that fed that data into the canonical local record in the Knowledge Graph.

MapMaker was one of the first products that received both a UI refresh and a pipeline update in early 2012. As such at the time it was faster at updating a listing than data coming from the old Places for Business Dashboard.

However with the rollout of the Google Plus Page for Local and the subsequent rollout of the new Google Places for Business Dashboard meant that those two products now have the new improved data pipeline that can update listing data in hours not days. One of the advantages of these products is that it is likely that the changes will be moderated more quickly than in MapMaker.

Moral: If you are still in the old Places Dashboard using the old, slow data pipeline then yes using Mapmaker will speed data changes. However so will data changes made from either the new Places for Business Dashboard or the Google+ Pages Dashboard.

 

Darren Shaw – Whitespark

1) Claiming your Google+ business page will help your rankings. You might notice that the people with claimed listings tend to rank better, but that’s just because people that take the time to claim their profile are going to be more active in all areas of their online marketing. Claiming will give you the ability to enhance your categories, which WILL help, but just the act of claiming won’t make a difference to your rankings.

2) Address formatting on your citations must be 100% consistent everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, consistent citations are super important, but you don’t need to worry about minor discrepancies like Suite vs Ste, Street vs St., or Northeast vs NE. Google will normalize the addresses it finds around the web to a standard version before trying to associate it with your business in the local cluster. This tool can help you see what kind of discrepancies still normalize to your correct address: http://aus-emaps.com/bulk_geocoder.php

3) Call tracking numbers are always bad. They’re USUALLY bad, but if executed properly, they’re not going to cause problems. The best way to implement them is to display the call tracking number on your site in an image, and then put the real phone number in the image ALT attribute. Google won’t see the tracking number and it won’t get scraped and distributed all over the web. The second best way is to load the number on the page with Javascript and put the real number into a <noscript> tag. While Google can and does parse Javascript, in all cases I’ve seen, they are not picking up tracking numbers obfuscated through Javascript.

 

Mary Bowling – MaryBowling.com

Your website doesn’t matter in Local Search. While this is still true in non-competitive markets, if you expect to rank in Local Packs in competitive niches and locations, you cannot ignore the quality and domain authority of your business’s website.

You should use an exact match domain name for your website in order to rank well. This tactic used to work like magic, but Google will not reward your website with good rankings, even with an exact match domain name, unless it also has unique, useful content and good quality links pointing to it.

You should do internet marketing through your local phone company or newspaper. These are both dying industries that are trying to survive by transitioning into internet marketers. Unfortunately, most of them are much better at making sales than they are at understanding how search works and adapting to the on-going changes in local search. In fact, some of the tactics they use can actually hurt your local search marketing and make you dependent upon paid advertising going forward.

 

David Mihm – Moz

You should worry about NAP details like “St.” vs “Street”, “Ave.” vs “Avenue,” etc. in an effort to make your citations consistent.

The fact is that Google has gotten very smart about clustering business information.  They’re smart enough to realize the similarity between these types of abbreviations. You should focus on higher-level inconsistency issues (such as different business titles, street numbers, or ZIP codes) and then move onto other priorities.

Implementing Schema.org will improve your rankings.

Schema is really intended as a mechanism to increase the confidence in the authoritative NAP info for your business. And associating that NAP with an authoritative (canonical) domain.  While at some level increased confidence at Google will improve the rankings of your business, schema primarily makes it more likely that your information will be shown correctly, and may give you an expanded search result visually, much more than it will improve your rankings.

Claiming your page at Google Places for Business will ensure that the data you enter there appears at Google.

The reality is that your Google Places for Business (or Google+ Local) account is just one of many datapoints Google uses to surface information about your business. 99 times out of 100, Google will trust the information provided by the business owner, but if it sees other authoritative data sources (such as government entities, major data aggregators, utility companies, etc.) providing different information, your trusted information may become subsumed by these other trusted sources.

 

Don Campbell – Expand2Web

Myth #1: The one with the most reviews wins.

Online reviews help with rankings and conversions. So the more the better, right?

As turns out, it’s not the number of reviews that matters so much. What you are really looking for – and what Google is looking for – is a diverse, natural review profile. You should be consistently getting reviews over time, from a variety of sources that matter in your industry. This type of review profile  performs much better in terms of search results and conversions.

Myth #2: The one with the most citations wins.

It’s common knowledge that you need “citations” or mentions of your business name, address and phone number throughout the web to get good local search results. And your information should match across all of these citations.

So some businesses go to work building as many citations as they can from as many sites as they can. This is time intensive, labor intensive work.

But in many cases, having one really good high quality citation from a locally relevant site can make all the difference in your rankings. My advice is to look for that “killer citation” and spend time getting that before trying to obtain tons of citations from medium quality sources across the web.

Note: This is after you’ve claimed your business in Google and the other key citations for your type of business.

Myth #3: Having lots of websites is better than having one website.

Imagine having a network of websites, all linking to each other, providing tons of traffic and back-links for your business. How cool would that be?

Well, that’s great – if you have the resources to pull it off. But most small businesses simply do not have the resources to build and maintain lots of websites. Heck – most businesses don’t have the resources to maintain one website properly.

For each website you build, you have to cultivate and maintain it if you want it to be effective. This means creating unique content regularly, obtaining links into the site and interior pages, and maintaining it with backups, security updates, etc.

I’ve seen so many businesses create a ton of low value sites only to leave them sit out there and stagnate. Better to create one website and focus your energy and resources on making that site great – by publishing new content regularly, building quality links over time, and keeping it backed up. Create a page with great content for each product or service you offer, for each location or area that you serve, and update it regularly by blogging about the questions your customers ask you.

That site will be far more valuable to you than a bunch of thin sites that never get updated.

 

Greg Gifford – AutoRevo

Myth 1) Links are the most important ranking factor.

We’ve had dealers outrank competitors who have 5x the links with solid content and awesome citations.

Myth 2) Domain age is powerful.

A guy called us asking how his competitor is outranking him, assuming it’s because he’s only 5 months old and competitor has been around for years. Turns out it was because his citation data was messy, once we cleaned it up and added a few, he jumped ahead.

Myth 3) Bounce rate is a ranking factor.

Motorcycle dealer in Minnesota was/is obsessed with it, and was sure that his high bounce rate was hurting his rankings. Turns out it was incredibly messy citation data (he had changed his business name 3 times in the last 2 years). Plus, his site very clearly pushed customers to call, so many times he got a call off the first page visit – customer got exactly what they wanted, and he got the conversion, but it registered as a bounce.

Myth 4) Having your address and phone number on your home page is all you need to rank locally.

You’ve got to have NAP on every page of your site, not just the home page… and not just in the content, you need city/ST in the title tags, H1, and meta description as well – if you get a page to rank, you want to boost your chances of ranking higher and getting more clickthroughs by doing everything possible. Putting your address and phone only on the home page and trying to rank locally is like entering the Indy 500 in a beat up Prius.

Myth 5) 800 numbers are better for local businesses because of call tracking!

Local numbers are one of the most important elements – your number has to be local, and it’s got to be all over your website. That local area code is a huge signal of local relevancy – if you care about ranking locally, a local number is much more important than tracking calls.

Myth 6) Your business will only show in local SERPs if the person searching is within X radius of your business.

If you’re in Austin and you’re wanting someone to see you in local results in Dallas, you’re out of luck… but if you’re in a suburb, it’s totally possible to outrank businesses that are closer to the user if you’re highly optimized for that city. It’s all about relevancy, so if you’ve got great citations, awesome content, and a few good links, you can blow away guys that are “closer” to the user.

Myth 7) You don’t have to do social.

If you have any doubts left about social, check out the 2013 Local Search Ranking Factors by David Mihm. Social plays a huge part – but even outside of whatever effect it has on local ranking, you NEED to do social. Your customers are there, and your customers turn to social media before making a purchase. Just because you personally don’t use social media doesn’t mean your customers don’t… Maximize every avenue and get in the social game!

 

Andrew Shotland – LocalSEOGuide

1. Google+ Pages can’t pass Page Rank.

G+ pages are similar to other Web documents.  They can absolutely pass PageRank (or at least the Google+ version of PageRank) and help your rankings

2. Posting a lot on Google+ will help your rankings.

Just like G+ pages are similar to other Web pages, building up their ability to affect rankings is the same as building up any URL’s authority.  Even if you get thousands of followers on Google+, if they are “low quality” followers (i.e. inactive, don’t have a lot of connections, etc.) and your posts don’t attract interest inside of G+ (e.g. +1s, shares, etc.), your G+ efforts will have little effect on your rankings.

 

Mike Ramsey – NiftyMarketing

Myth #1: Local SEO is easier than Organic SEO.

Fact: Local is usually more difficult because not only do you need to have your Name, Address, and Phone information correct across the local search ecosystem but you also need to take in account most organic factors as well. For a business that cares about local you can’t get away with just dealing in maps or just dealing on the website or with link building. You need them all.

Myth #2: Google has really bad support for Local.

Fact: This used to be the case. Now, Google not only keeps the forum full of Top Contributors but they have phone and email support that is quite responsive and helpful compared to most free products. While there is always room for improvement local support has came a long ways.

Myth #3: All that matters in Local Search is Google Places for Business rankings.

Fact: Local search marketing is much more than just a Google map listing. Companies can take advantage of a local organic strategy, local AdWords advertising, reviews, and local outreach. People search in more places than just map listings.

 

Linda Buquet – Local Search Forum

Myth: The “centroid” is city center and proximity to city center affects ranking.

I need to give credit to Mike Blumenthal for blowing this myth wide open during our 1st InsideLocal webinar.  He explained the centroid is not always city center as most assumed. It’s the center of the wherever Google determines the cluster of the most prominent businesses are – in that particular industry and city.

(Example screenshot here.)

If your client was a Dentist located near city center in Atlanta or just south of downtown, they would have a hard time ranking for “Atlanta Dentist” as they would be out of the centroid radius for that particular search. Very obvious when doing car dealer searches in most cities as dealers are normally clustered in an area away from downtown. (Thanks for giving me inspiration back in July for a myth to share today, Professor!)

 

Adam Steele – LeanMarketing

Myth: Organic SEO isn’t important in influencing local rankings. Blended or not, organic is a part of the local algorithm. Sure, in some small cities, and non-competitive niches you can get away with little organic, but in today’s landscape, that is rare. It has long been my opinion: 50% organic, 50% local. Regardless of the dominant algo at play for your keywords, you should put forward a strong, equal effort.

Myth: Citations are local business directories. If you search for the definition of a local citation, you will quickly realize that is hardly exists in the confines of a local directory. A local directory is simply the most popular example of property to submit a citation to. It was somewhere between testing Scrapebox to blog comment NAP, and my review citation research that this really hit home. Consider this, whenever you are asking for a link, submitting a link, guest posting, or whatever it may be, why wouldn’t you include your NAP?

Myth: Local SERPs are updated in the same manner/frequency as organic SERPs. I can update a title tag, or build a backlink, and my client’s website will move organically. However, if I build a citation, make an edit in the Google+ Local dashboard, or remove NAP from website (just some examples), my Google+ local profile won’t move today, probably not this week, and maybe not for at least a month. I am not sure I am qualified, or understand the specifics, but Google updates their local index much more slowly than their organic index.

Not-Myth: Google+ local pages have domain authority. No, perhaps not in a Moz sort of way, but in a history sort of way. Similar to an aged domain, an aged listing is a trusted listing and is something that tends not to come quickly. Protip: if you are creating a new listing, and are a new business, spend some time building up your citation profile. When you create that listing, you do not want Google to try and connect the dots (ie. find that you have no citations). What signal do you think that sends them? Give them a reason to trust you, and you will gain trust quicker.

Myth: Keyword rich reviews do not help rank. By no means am I a proponent for writing, and publishing your own, keyword stuffed reviews, but it wouldn’t hurt to point your customers in the right direction when they are writing them for you. Suggest that they be specific. What service did you perform? Tire repair? Bookeeping? In what city?

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov – NGSMarketing

Myth #1: You can rank only by using citations (similar to: “you don’t need a website to rank high in local”).

Many people seem to think that getting a bunch of citations can still rocket you to the top. While this worked for some time in the past, it doesn’t anymore. You need a combination of strong website, strong citations profile, and strong social profile in order to achieve positive results in local nowadays. In this sense, citations are just one piece of the puzzle.

Myth #2: You need to have your city of business mentioned everywhere on your site.

This is really unnecessary and could even be harmful. I sometimes see sentences such as “Our Chicago law firm helps people in Chicago get their Chicago cases successfully closed (in Chicago).” You need to think of Google as if it was a human user of your website. Think about how many times, or even better – how, your business location or the city where your business is in should be mentioned in order for a user to understand it, without getting annoyed of the repetition.

Myth #3: You need to have meta keywords on each and every page of your site.

Please, stop it.

Myth #4: Your location needs to be next to the city center in order to rank high.

This, or at least some version of this, had been the fact for some time and this is the main reason for this myth to still be discussed around the community even nowadays. Unfortunately, there are still people hiring virtual offices or using post office boxes to try and get an “advantage” by making Google believe they are closer to the city center than they are.

Myth #5: Your NAP should be EXACTLY (with a big stress) the same everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, your NAP must be as accurate as possible. However, it is not necessary to sweat too much on differences such as St vs. Street or # vs. Suite. Google is too smart to see that these two are the same.

Myth #6: You must have a local phone number for your business.

This myth is so popular nowadays that there are even people that buy local phone numbers just for the sake of using them for their Internet marketing (these numbers just forward calls to their regular phones, which are mobiles or toll-free). Mobile phone numbers and toll-free phone numbers are perfectly fine as long as these are the actual phone numbers used for business.

 

Phil Rozek

Myth: you need a lot of citations.

Reality: consistency matters more than anything else.  Get your listings right on all the big sites and you’ll be OK in the citations department.  We’re talking about a few dozen, not a few hundred.  Quality over quantity.

Myth: “local SEO = optimizing a Google+ Local listing.”

Reality: when you’re working on your Google listing, you have two jobs: (1) don’t break Google’s rules, and (2) pick out as many categories as describe your business.  Aside from that, there’s not much to optimize; your rankings will come down to the other factors.

Myth: you can rank well locally if you just work hard enough.

Reality: yes, you’ll probably need to work at it.  But it also takes time.  In fact, I suggest you work on it a little more slowly than you might be tempted to.

A huge thank-you to everyone who weighed in.  You guys and gals rock.

Any questions or thoughts on the local SEO myths?  Conclusions you’ve drawn from seeing all the myths?  Leave a comment!

Boss Jobs in Local SEO

I’m talking about the specific tasks in a local SEO campaign that the boss of the company must do personally.

boss-jobs

The boss: the one person who can’t quit or get fired, who most wants more customers, and who ultimately has to fix any problems that keep customers away.

The tasks: few in number and pretty easy stuff, but stuff that only one person can do.

Everyone wants a 100% hands-free solution to getting visible in Google’s local search results and beyond – a way to get the phone to ring without his/her involvement.  I offer something mighty close to that, but it’s 90% hands-free; there’s that 10% that the person in-charge must do, or there’s a logjam and the crucial to-dos don’t get done.

I walk my clients through that 10%, and I’m going to lay out those tasks for you right now.

If you’re not the boss, I suggest you saunter over to the corner office now, interrupt your boss’s mini-golf, and have a read-aloud.

If you’re the boss, read on.  Because if you don’t personally do the below, you’re hurting your local rankings and visibility, limiting your ability to attract new customers, and letting down any employees who depend on you for a paycheck.

Boss Job #1:  Understand how long a good local SEO effort can take to bring results, and work on growing other sources of visibility/customers in the meantime, if necessary.  I’m the biggest local SEO advocate there is.  But building a business on one source of visibility is like building a chair with one leg.

Boss Job #2:  Be or hand-pick the person at your company who will do the phone-verifications for the really important listings.

I’m talking mainly about ExpressUpdate, LocalEze, CitySearch, YellowPages, and Yelp.  (And FourSquare, if you’re gung-ho.)

Those sites require someone who works at your company to pick up the phone at the number you use for your local listings and enter a spoken PIN into the site where you’re trying to create/claim your listing.

If you use call-forwarding, that person will need to disable the forwarding so that he/she can pick up the phone at the number that’s displayed on your listings.

If you can do the phone-verifications personally, great.  But if not, hand-pick the person who will.  You’ll want to know exactly whom to take out to the toolshed if it doesn’t get done.

Boss Job #3:  Buy the domain name and hosting of your site(s) personally.

As in not through a third party, even if you pay that third party to do work on your site.

Same reason as for Boss Job #2.

Boss Job #4:  Have personal control of the Google account used to create/claim your Google+ Local listing, your Bing listing, and your citations.

If someone quits or is fired, you should still have access to all your listings.

Boss Job #5:  Oversee the process of asking customers for reviews.

Nobody outside of your company can or should do it.  It’s a question of who in-house should do it.  It should either be someone high-up – so that the customer doesn’t feel like a non-priority – or it should be the person who actually performed the service for the customer.

If you aren’t that person or pick the person who will ask customers, either the reviews won’t come because it’s “someone else’s” job to ask for them, or the results won’t be good.

Boss Job #6:  Oversee the writing of any blog posts or “content” that’s put on your site.

I do NOT mean you should write each piece (or any) personally, nor do I mean that you should even critique or proofread more than a few of them from time to time.

What I am saying you need to do is make sure the person who does the writing (1) won’t pump out keyword-stuffed drivel that’s laden with anchor text and that might win you a black eye from Google, (2) won’t plagiarize, (3) won’t incur photo-copyright violations, and (4) won’t write stuff that’s so bad that would-be customers hit the “back” button.

The good news is everything else you can delegate to employees or to people with the necessary skills.  Yep, I’m referring to that other 90% of the work that goes into a good local SEO campaign.

Any other “boss jobs” that you can think of?  Questions about how to do any of them?  Leave a comment!

The Best Darn Local SEO Client Questionnaire

If you’re a business owner who needs more local visibility, you want to make sure the person helping you has all he/she needs to deliver the goods.

Or, if you’re a local-SEO pro, you want to make sure you have all you need to deliver the goods.

The questionnaire I send to potential clients helps do both of those things.  It tells me what I need to know in order to be able to help, and to be able to say up-front how I can help.  Oh, and it helps me avoid mistakes.

I’ve refined my questionnaire over several years.  My experiences – smooth and rough – have taught me what info I need before I can or should do any work.

In 2010 I didn’t have a questionnaire (tsk, tsk…bad idea, Phil).  In 2011 it had maybe 10 questions.  In 2012 it had 14-19.  Now…well, I’ll let you count ‘em if you want to.

Below are all the questions (I can think of) that the person working on your local SEO – even if that person is you – will need the answers to before any work is done:

(You can also download the questionnaire on Google Drive.)

1.  Best email address and phone number at which to reach you:

2.  Official / legal name of your business:

3.  Business name you plan to use for your Google Places page:

4.  Your business address. Please specify what type of address it is: office, store, home, virtual office, PO Box, etc.

5.  Do you share this street address with any other businesses (including any other businesses you own)?

6.  Is that the only location of your business?  If not, please list the addresses of your other locations and what types of addresses they are (office, storefront, etc.).

7.  Where do you do business with your customers: at your address or at theirs?

8.  Roughly how long has your business been located at that address?

9.  Office phone number:

10.  Do you use this phone number for any other locations or other businesses?

11.  Please list all former / alternate business names, addresses, and phone numbers for the location(s) you’d like my help on.

12.  Your website URL:

13.  Is this the only website you use for this business?  If not, please list your other sites.

14.  Do you have the ability to make changes to your website whenever you’d like?

15.  Who bought your website hosting and domain name?

16.  Have you ever experienced sudden and steep drops in traffic or rankings in Google? If so, please describe.

17.  Do you have any plans to redesign your site, rename your website, rebrand your business, or move to a new business address in the foreseeable future?

18.  Has your Google Places page ever “disappeared” or taken a severe hit in rankings, to your knowledge?

19.  Do you have access to your Google Places page?  (In other words, could you make edits to your page right now?)

20.  What are 1-10 keywords for which you’d most like to rank in Google?

21.  If you had to pick ONE most-important service or search term to get visible for, what would it be?

22.  What is the specific city / geographical area you’d like to be visible in, ideally?

23.  How do you currently attract most of your customers / clients / patients?  (E.g. word-of-mouth, AdWords ads, etc.)

24.  Do you have any notable rankings in Google?  If so, please list at least a few keywords you currently rank for.

25.  Have you listed your business on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.?  If so, who has the login info for those listings?

26.  If I said that you should ask some of your customers / clients / patients to write reviews for you, how willing would you be to ask them?  (Let’s use a scale of 1-10: 1 meaning you refuse to ask, 10 meaning you’re totally motivated.)

27.  If I suggested that you write a few pages of info about your services, would you or someone in your company be willing to write those pages (with my guidance)?

28.  Have you ever tried to “build links” to your website, or paid someone else to do so?

29.  Have you worked with any SEO companies in the past?  If so, what was your experience?

30.  What keeps you up at night?  What’s been your biggest marketing challenge?

31.  How urgently do you feel you need more customers / clients / patients?  (Let’s use a scale from 1-10: 1 being fairly comfortable, 10 being desperate.)

32.  What made you want to contact me, and contact me today?

If the questions seem like a lot of work to answer – even though they’re not, and should take maybe 15 minutes to fill out – think of each one as hours, dollars, and heartache you’re saving.

Any questions on the questions?  Any you’d add to the list?  Leave a comment!

10 Best Local Search Posts: January – June 2013

Why should “best of the year” roundups only come out once 12 months have passed?  Why are they all in December – and none in July?

And why are they always so retrospective?  “OK, here’s the stuff that mattered in case you were backpacking through the Gobi for the entire year – but you’d better absorb it fast, because it’s all going to be old news in a few days when the calendar flips to the new year.”

The first 6 months of 2013 have been pretty eventful in the world of local search.

In terms of “news,” a few highlights have been Google’s improved support system, the rollout of Facebook Graph search, the new Google Places dashboard, the Bing Places rebranding, the new Google Maps, and Google’s local “carousel.”

Even more important are the insights that many of my fellow local-search obsessives have offered.

I think all of that calls for at least one tally before December – don’t you?

Below are 10 of my top picks.  They’re posts that are really useful and actionable, or that give you a better sense of the current local-search “landscape” and how it’s changing (or both)

Starting from January and going through June:

Is the Google+ Local Dashboard Moving Towards a Freemium Model? – Mike Blumenthal

Facebook Graph Search and Local From Across the Web- Let the Fight Begin – Mike Blumenthal

Determining the Best Local Citation Sources for Any Market – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Google: Your NAP Should Be Consistent Both Online and in the Real World – Nyagoslav Zhekov

The Nitty Gritty Of City Landing Pages For Local Businesses – Miriam Ellis

The Place of Review Filters in Local Search – David Mihm (via Moz blog)

What is Local Search? – Mary Bowling (via LocalU blog)

A Guide to Call Tracking and Local Search – Mike Blumenthal

A Tour of the New Google Maps [15 Screenshots] – Matt McGee

Google’s Local Carousel – Trapped in Google’s World? – Mike Blumenthal

What are some other really important, insightful, or useful posts?  Leave a comment!

4 Local SEO Tools from Uncle Sam

The US Government is dysfunctional.  Congress is corrupt.  It’s so bad that, even in these times of spiraling deficits, lawmakers are still earmarking precious funds so that Uncle Sam can help you with…your local SEO.

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

I don’t know that The Man has appropriated precious resources specifically to help your business grow its local rankings.  But he does have some resources that you might be able to use to your advantage.

Of course, they’re free.  (Actually, you’re paying for them…but let’s not go there 🙂 )

Here are 4 government-issued tools that can come in handy for your local-search-visibility campaign:

 

Tool 1: USPS ZIP Lookup Tool

Is your business in a small town, near a city line, or in a big city with a bunch of tightly-packed ZIP codes?  Better double-check what ZIP the Post Office thinks you’re in (or, for that matter, which city they think you’re in) – before you do any citation-building for your business.

If you don’t “measure twice, cut once,” you’ll probably be in for a nasty surprise if the Post Office lists you at an address other than the one you use for your listings.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdate.com (AKA InfoGroup) feeds off of Post Office address data, and in turn feeds business data to a ton of directory sites where your address needs to be listed consistently across the board.  There will be conflicting info on your business, hurting your Google rankings.  You’ll feel like going postal.

(By the way, I’d known about the USPS checkup for quite some time, but I must tip my hat to Mary Bowling for reminding me by way of her great SMX Advanced presentation / slide deck.)

 

Tool 2:  Census.gov

Want to know more about the people (AKA potential customers) in the city you’re targeting?  The Census is the great-granddaddy of big data.

If you rummage around the site for long enough you’ll probably find out whatever you want to know, but I’d say following two areas are the best starting points:

http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/

http://www.census.gov/econ/susb/

 

3.  OSHA’s Standard Industrial Category (SIC) Tool

If you’re listing your business on ExpressUpdate.com for the first time, OSHA’s category-search tool can help you pick out the best category to list your business under.  (More detail on this in my recent post on the new ExpressUpdate.)

 

4.  Your city’s local-business directory.

If you suspect some of your competitors are using fake business info – like a keyword-stuffed Google+Local business name or a phony address – you might want to look up their official business info.  From there, you’ll probably be in a better position to draw a conclusion as to what to do about it – like possibly reporting them to Google through the “Report a problem” button on their Google listing, or reporting them to the MapMaker fuzz.

You should be able to find your local-business register by searching Google for the name of your city/town + “local business directory,” “business register,” or “chamber of commerce.”  (Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.)

Do you know of any government-issued resources that might be handy for local SEO?  Anything local-business-related that you wish our tax dollars would go toward?  Leave a comment!