International Local SEO: Nyagoslav Zhekov

Some local-search pros are narrow.  They’ve only helped business owners in one industry, or in one country.  Or maybe in a couple.

Then there are the adventurous ones, with all kinds of experience.

You won’t find a better representative of the second group than Nyagoslav Zhekov, of NGSMarketing.

Originally from Bulgaria, he learned the ropes of local SEO while studying abroad in Japan, and now he lives in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

You might even call him an “International Man of Mystery.”

I’ve gotten to know Nyagoslav over the past couple of years.  I look forward to the useful posts on his blog (one of my favorites), and to the occasional phone pow-wow.  We’ve also worked together on several projects.

And I’ve concluded that when local rankings go to sleep at night, they check under the bed for Nyagoslav.

One reason is he lives and breathes local search.  He’s a spoken at SMX West, is a Top Contributor at the Google and Your Business help forum, and contributes to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey – to name a few points.

But probably his biggest asset is he’s helped business owners in more countries than most people could find on a world map.  When you do that, you learn a lot about how to get a business visible on the “local map” in all sorts of situations.

So, I interviewed Nyagoslav about “international” local SEO.  What I wanted to know is: how does the process of getting visible in the local rankings differ from country to country, and what’s always the same?

If you want to know more about how to get a business visible locally – wherever “local” may be – read on.

Phil:  Let’s start off with some quick facts.  You’ve worked with business owners in how many different countries so far?

Nyagoslav:  I just had to count and the answer appears to be 18 (UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Sweden, Romania, Bulgaria, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Mexico).

 

Phil:  What’s the breakdown of those clients?  Put another way: if we did a pie-chart of the countries they’re from, roughly what would it look like?

Nyagoslav:  I would say about 70% are from the US, about 15% from Canada, 5% from the UK, 5% from Australia, and the other 5% (about 2-3 clients per country) are for the rest.

 

Phil:  Where were your very first clients from?

Nyagoslav:  Interestingly (or not), my first client was from Australia, the second one was from New Zealand, and the third one – from the UK. I still remember very clearly both the specifics of each of these cases, and how each of them got in touch with me.

 

Phil:  What’s the hardest part of doing local SEO for businesses in all these different places?

Nyagoslav:  I would say my biggest struggle has always been the language barrier. It is very difficult to outsource or seek help from someone who is fluent in the particular language, because they are usually not aware of the SEO aspects of the equation. I do speak/read German fairly fine, for example, but my knowledge in other languages I had to work with, such as French, Swedish, or Spanish, is at beginner level.

 

Phil:  How does citation-building differ (aside from the obvious difference in terms of which directories operate in which countries)?

Nyagoslav:  There are two main differences (besides what you mentioned):

1) There are generally lesser numbers of potential “structured” or “traditional” citation sources in many of the countries I mentioned above, as compared with the US. For instance, in New Zealand there are not more than 10-15 business directories that allow free listings. In such cases one usually needs to look for alternative solutions.  Some great suggestions on finding and using alternative citation sources are given here, here, here, and here.

2) The time for citations to work greatly varies. While for the US, a top tier citation, such as one coming from a trusted data provider, might take not more than a couple of weeks to do its job, in many other cases it takes months for citations to work. I have been observing decrease in this buffer period recently, but it is still significantly longer elsewhere than it is for the US.

(Click to enlarge.  Courtesy of David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal.)

Phil:  Local SEO tools: which ones work particularly well in some countries but not as well in others?  How does your “toolkit” change from country to country?

Nyagoslav:  Unfortunately, very few tools work in countries other than the “usual suspects.” Most of the tools are being created in the English-speaking world, and thus serve mostly English-speaking users. Bright Local’s toolkit works only in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia, for instance. GetListed used to work in Canada and the UK, besides the US, but now even the former two were cut. Yext also works only for American businesses. Tools, such as Link Prospector of Citation Labs for instance, are optimized to work for queries in English, although they could theoretically work for other languages, too. I always give the example with a query I ran on the Link Prospector for “boot Amsterdam”, which means “boat Amsterdam” in Dutch, and is one of the most competitive keywords in the local market. While the tool returned a number of relevant results, there were also a significant amount of references to shoe shops in Amsterdam. Reputation management software is also rarely available outside the US.

These are the main reasons for me to do most of the work manually, and to rely heavily on Webmaster Tools, Analytics, and Screaming Frog for my general SEO purposes, and on Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder for discovering potential citations. However, I acknowledge that some very big markets, such as the German- and Spanish-language ones, are wide open in terms of local SEO software development.

 

Phil:  Do you find that Google’s enforcement of its quality guidelines differs at all?  Have you encountered “Wild West” situations in any country?

Nyagoslav:  Yes, there are many places where Google’s rules are hardly ever being enforced. I believe the case of Dubai is interesting, as there almost every business uses P.O. boxes as their business address. Obviously, this is a big no-no for Google, but up until recently, Google had never penalized anyone for this. I can see a trend of Google getting stricter on more fronts, though.

 

Phil:  What are some sites that a business owner in any country should pay attention to?  (For instance, I know pretty much every country has a version of YellowPages, Yelp is expanding, and businesses anywhere can and should have a Facebook page.)

Nyagoslav:  While I am not too interested in the business side of the problem, I do know that the Yellow Pages ownership in almost every country is different, although the products offered are similar. You are correct that these sites are one of the major places a business owner should pay attention to.

A very notable example is Yellow Pages Canada, which is the de facto leader in the business listings data niche in Canada. They are the main data provider for Google and Yahoo in the country.  Another example is Yellow Pages Australia, part of the Sensis product basket. I would say they are even more influential than their counterparts in Canada.

In general, every country has a main business listings provider, branded Yellow Pages or not, and these still play very significant role in the small business online (and offline) marketing field, although in the US their importance deteriorates.

Yelp currently has presence in 20 countries, and in many of these they are virtually unknown, so I wouldn’t say they are as internationally important. There are very few “generic” business websites that cover significant number of countries. Some of the notable ones might be HotFrog (38 countries), Manta (every country in the world, but user-generated listings are available only in a few), Brownbook (every country), Cylex (30 countries), Factual (50 countries), Locationary (more than 100 countries), Acxiom, and others. I would suggest paying closer attention to Nokia’s Here as it is the data provider for Bing’s local listings in many markets.

[By the way, Nyagoslav did a great series of posts on international local citations a while ago.]

 

Phil:  I’m assuming that you’re often asked to optimize sites that aren’t in languages you speak or read.  Tell me a little bit about how you handle those sites.

Nyagoslav:  Indeed. I usually try to work as closely as possible with the clients in such cases. In some situations I try to use my “internal” resources, too. For instance, one of my employees has fair knowledge in Arabic. My brother is fluent in French, and I have a friend with good understanding of SEO, who is almost bilingual in Spanish. I use this tactic, because I am generally not a big fan of outsourcing and try to do practically everything in-house.

 

Phil:  In my experience, people outside the US aren’t quite as likely to leave reviews for businesses.  Based on your experience, how true is that?

Nyagoslav:  I don’t think this is entirely true for the biggest part of the world. There are, of course, countries where people are generally more conservative in regards with leaving reviews or providing testimonials, mostly because of privacy or legal concerns. However, I believe the biggest problem is unawareness, rather than unwillingness.

 

Phil:  So for your “international” clients how do you approach the task of getting reviews from customers?

Nyagoslav:  I do use a lot of your ideas and your approach, but it really depends on the type of business, because not all strategies are universal. One sad fact is that many automated tools do not serve non-US businesses.

 

Phil:  What have you learned about doing local SEO for business owners all over the globe that has helped you do it for US business owners?

Nyagoslav:  I don’t really make any significant difference between my US clients and their cases, and my non-US clients. I mean, speaking literally, the US is also considered “international” in my case.

 

Phil:  As you’ve helped business owners in more and more countries, have you gotten a better sense of the local-rankings fundamentals that matter everywhere?

Nyagoslav:  This I can answer positively. Although the majority of my experience is with US companies, it is good to know ranking factors are not very different from country to country. The main difference is probably the time it takes for Google to update their indices, i.e. the time between you, as an SEO, setting up the “hooks” and Google recognizing them and taking them into account. Another periodically encountered group of differences is the one related to Google’s general algorithm updates that are being rolled out non-simultaneously across the world.

 

Phil:  What are you trying to get better at – when working with “international” clients, specifically?

Nyagoslav:  I do not differentiate between US, UK, Dubai, or Singaporean clients. I always try to get better at every aspect of local SEO with every client and every case is an equally exciting challenge to me. What I am always trying to get better at, with every client, is conversion optimization and tracking.

 

Phil:  Let’s talk about the demand for local SEO in various countries.  Do business owners know they need more online local visibility but aren’t sure how to find someone who can help?  Or do they know the types of people to search for (like you) but want someone who’s based in the same country?

Nyagoslav:  Outside the English speaking world SEO (in general) is not as well-known, so usually awareness is what is missing. I’ve been having a lot of conversations on this topic with Ken Fagan, who targets France and the Francophone part of the world. Even in a country like France, you have to be very proactive in order to find businesses willing to spend money on local SEO. In fact, you should first start from explaining what SEO is, and then moving to demonstrating its advantages and how it could help a small business. It is definitely challenging.

 

Phil:  Outside of North America, the UK, continental Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, how much demand would you say there is for local SEO?

Nyagoslav:  The demand is low and it is mostly in the travel and entertainment industry. There is some interest from businesses in developed countries other than the ones you mentioned, such as Singapore, Japan, UAE, some cities in South America, RSA, but the demand is insignificantly low compared to in the regions you listed above.

 

Phil:  Have you noticed any “typical” profiles of business owners who contact you from one country versus another?  For example, can you say that most of the people who contact you from continental Europe are doctors or lawyers, or run bricks-and-mortars stores, etc.?

Nyagoslav:  Now that you mention it, there are indeed some differences. For instance, the legal industry in the US is very active in terms of online advertising, whereas in Europe and other parts of the world this is not really the case. Service-based businesses are active everywhere. The photography industry is extremely competitive in the UK. The countries from the British Commonwealth have some unique types of businesses that are not typical for other parts of the world.

 

Phil:  When you work with a business owner in a country you’ve never dealt with before, to what extent is there a learning curve for you?

Nyagoslav:  Learning is always there every time you work in a new niche. For me, the most interesting part of SEO, which is always unique, is to discover the typical profile of the local (country-level “local”) websites where one could get active on, interact with, or get a link/citation from. Everything outside the business’s own web properties (website, Google+ Local listing, Facebook page) is different everywhere, not just inter-country, but within the countries themselves, too.

 

Phil:  Here in the US, as you know, we local-search geeks talk about how business owners need to educate themselves at least a little bit about what different types of search-marketing can and cannot do for them, what steps we can do for them versus what steps take a team effort, etc.  Are the “awareness” issues generally the same in other countries?

Nyagoslav:  I’d say usually the awareness issues are at a lower level outside the US. One has to first start by explaining what online marketing in general and SEO in particular are, and then move to how they could aid to business’s overall marketing efforts. Just after these bases are covered, one could move on to discussing issues such as the ones you described.

 

Phil:  Are there any countries that seem to have a lot of good local SEOs who aren’t really known in English-speaking countries?

Nyagoslav:  I rarely interact with SEOs in other countries, but according to my observations, the local SEO industry in Germany is relatively well-established. There are a number of Spanish-speaking local SEOs, too. I already mentioned that this is not the case in the French-speaking world.

 

Phil:  What do you like most about working with clients all over the globe?

Nyagoslav:  I generally enjoy communicating with people from different cultures. Some cultures are, of course, easier to assimilate and understand than others. I originate from a country where ethnic diversity is not that common, so probably this enhances the interest somehow.

 

Phil:  Would you say it’s a personal goal of yours to work with clients in as many countries as possible?

Nyagoslav:  I wouldn’t say so. I don’t have such a goal set, but I must admit, I always feel rather more excited when someone from a Caribbean country contacts me, as compared to someone from North Attleboro, MA, for instance (countries and cities chosen entirely randomly).

[I’d be pretty steamed if someone from home sweet home North Attleboro contacted Nyagoslav for local SEO help!]

 

Phil:  What are some trends you predict?  For example, do you envision more business owners looking outside their country for good, ethical local SEOs?

Nyagoslav:  With the growth of the SEO industry internationally, more and more high-quality providers will also occur. In this sense, it is very possible that a trend of businesses hiring SEOs out of their country might appear. However, my current observations are that businesses, especially the ones that haven’t had any prior experience with or knowledge in SEO, prefer to hire someone as nearby to them as possible.

 

Phil:  Are there any people from whom you learned a lot about “international” local SEO – especially early on?

Nyagoslav:  Early on, I learned pretty much anything I know about local SEO from reading the answers of Top Contributors in the Google Places Forum, as well as from the blogs of Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm, Matt McGee, and Miriam Ellis. I didn’t really learn, especially early on, much about international local SEO from anyone, it was (and is) mostly based on personal experience. There are very few materials that cover the topic anyway.

 

Phil:  Let’s say I’m a local SEO who’s only worked with clients in my country but I want to work with more clients from all over the place.  What are the biggest hurdles, and what advice do you have?

Nyagoslav:  Purely SEO-wise, the biggest obstacle is the potential lack of knowledge of the local terminology. I recently had the opportunity to work with a “conveyancer” from Australia. A conveyancer is “a specialist lawyer who specializes in the legal aspects of buying and selling real property, or conveyancing.” The SEO that worked on the case before me mistook this business for a real estate agency. Soon after, Google started thinking they indeed were a real estate agency and “ranked” them for related terms. Another issue is the potential lack of knowledge of the local target audience, the way they search, and the type of content they like to see/read.

My advice would be for local SEOs to think very carefully before taking on such challenges. It will most probably require much more effort and research work than they would have to do for a known market or niche.

 

Phil:  Anything you’d really like to mention that we haven’t covered?

Nyagoslav:  Did I mention Phil is one of the best and most trustworthy local SEOs I’ve ever had the chance to know? 🙂

[You’re way too kind, but I’ll take it.]

Any questions for Nyagoslav or for me?  Observations about local SEO in whatever country?  Leave a comment!

P.S.  This is exactly the 100th post I’ve done on this blog since starting it two years ago.  I can’t think of a better #100.

Lightning Round Q&A on Local SEO

A few days ago, I asked the good people on my email list to send me their questions.

They’ve always sent me great questions, and I always take a crack at them.

But local search – and Google+Local in particular – is as messy and complex as ever.  Sometimes it helps to see a bunch of questions other people have, and the answers to those questions, all at once.

I like the Ask Me Anything rounds that some SEOs do.  Same idea here.

So, I received a ton of great questions from business owners and marketers/SEOs alike.  Some of the questions almost call for a whole blog post to answer, but I’ve tried to give quick answers – hence the “lightning round” part.  But there are so many questions that this has turned into the most epic post I’ve done yet.

I’ve organized the Q&A into a few sections:

General local search

Google+Local

Reviews

Misfits

Enjoy!


General local search questions

“What’s the #1 thing that improves rankings for local business pages?”

I’m going to focus on the “improves” part of your question: I’d say businesses see the most improvement when they clean up all their citations.

 

“Do social mentions affect my rankings if they don’t include my NAP?”

Indirectly, maybe – but only to the extent that they’re a catalyst for things that can directly help your rankings, like unstructured citations or maybe links.  Facebook activity seems to be a major factor for Bing, though.  I’m sure things like Google +1s and Circles will start counting for more in the near future, but they don’t seem to at the moment.

 

Have you noticed it being easier to rank a new local business in Bing than in Google? Any ideas why?  I am top ranked in Bing but am on page 2 in Google after 4 months.”

I’ve had clients who rank tip-top in Google but not so well in Bing.  The fundamentals are the same (e.g. consistent citations, on-page factors).  But things like Facebook activity and Yelp reviews seem to matter more in Bing.  Overall, I’d say Bing is a little easier, but if you’re ranking well in Bing, you’re probably on the right track with Google.

 

“What is the best way to identify all citations that need to be cleaned up for a given business?”

My favorite cocktail: a combination of the Local Citation Finder, GetListed.org, and my definitive list of local citations.

 

“Beyond a) creating citations, and b) having an optimized webpage and c) getting reviews, what else can be done to improve ranking?”

(1) Get more reviews, on as many sites as you can.  Never stop.

(2) Get citations from sites specific to your industry.

(3) Add as much additional info (e.g. descriptions, photos, etc.) as you can to your listings on those citation sources.

(4) Blog – the right way.

(5) Think of a small (or larger) “local event” you can host.

 

“I’ve found some towns do not return map results for local queries. I believe it’s because of their small size. What do you do in this scenario?”

Don’t neglect your Google+Local page, citations, reviews, etc., but start going more after organic rankings for those search terms that aren’t returning the Google+Local (AKA “maps”) results.

 

“What’s the best way to start cleaning up your citations after you move to a new address?”

Start by fixing your listings on ExpressUpdateUSA.com, LocalEze.com, MyBusinessListingManager.com.  Those take the longest to digest updates, so you’ll want to fix them ASAP.  Then do CitySearch, YP.com, and Yelp (if possible; it’s not always).  Then move on to your other citations, referring to my list, and/or with the aid of Nyagoslav’s excellent guide to citations.

 

“Most of my patients live in an adjacent city to where my office is.  I bought a couple domains that include the name of the nearby city that my patients live in, and then I forwarded those domain to my main site.  Can I expect those forwarded domains to rank well in the organic search results in the nearby town?”

No.  This isn’t an approach I’d suggest.  I haven’t seen forwarded domains in the search results recently, so I’m not even sure Google will rank the forwarded domains at all.  (If someone has a definitive answer to this, please chime in!)  But it’s almost certain not to work in a market that’s even a little competitive.  Having a search-term-relevant domain alone just isn’t enough.  Probably your best bet (1) to start doing AdWords, (2) or to create some pages (on any of your domains) that are geared specifically toward patients in that nearby city.

 

“If I’m targeting nearby cities to try to get organic results for my local business, do I need a separate website for each city I want to be visible in?”

No.  You can have separate websites for each city, but in most cases I wouldn’t recommend building them, because it’s hard to do so without being spammy.  You’re probably better off creating unique pages on your current site for each city (see previous question).

 

“What specific steps do you use to determine what is causing your competitor’s website to rank above yours (if it is) in the Google organic results?”

That’s a very involved question, and this is a “lightning round” 🙂  But if I had to distill it, I’d say that there are 5 main diagnostic questions you’ll need to answer:

1. Which specific pages are outranking yours, and for which search terms?

2.  How do their pages differ from yours?  Do they have a lot of meaty, useful, on-topic information on the pages that are ranking well – whereas maybe you only have a paragraph?  Try to compare apples to apples.

3.  Do your pages seem significantly more “SEO’d” than your competitors’?  If you’ve got spun content, exact-match anchor text out the wazoo, keywords stuffed into every nook and cranny of your site, etc., then your competitor may be outranking you simply by not making rookie mistakes.

4.  What do you see when you do an OpenSiteExplorer checkup on them?

5.  How unique and helpful are your competitors’ pages?

 

I wrestle with understanding organic listings.  Searching for a dentist in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there are 7 organic listings . Do how does Google determine who is on this list? There are some dentists with no Google Plus local reviews above others who have 7 reviews.  I just don’t understand this.”

That doesn’t sound quite right: It’s usually 7 Google+Local listings:

But I can say that reviews are one factor among others – the main others being  (1) your Google+Local page, (2) your website, and (3) your citations.  Need more detail?  Take a gander at the Local Search Ranking Factors 🙂

 

“What’s the best way to handle multiple categories (e.g. kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, basement renovations)?”

There’s not much of a “trick.”  Just specify them on your Google+Local page, onyour Bing Places listing, and on your third-party listings.  Follow Google’s guidelines and my best-practices for categories.

 

There are several services for citation submission. Yext comes to mind. It would seem that a service that does the bulk of the submission work would be useful, but that each listing would need manual tweaking. Is that your experience too? Do you have a preferred bulk submission tool?”

Yext is good in certain situations.  But you’re right that you also need to do at least some manual tuning-up of your listings.  No tool eliminates that necessity.

 

We have several new clients and although a listing appears when you Google their name, nothing appears in any other searches.  When should a new listing appear in keyword searches?”

Totally depends on how competitive the local competition is for those search phrases.  It can take months and months.

 

“What are you seeing in terms of search volume for searches of keyword-only vs. keyword + city?  I know Linda Buquet has talked about seeing more search volume for keyword-only and I’ve also seen this now for a few AdWords clients I have, where it’s about a 2-to-1 for keyword only vs. keyword + city.  So aside from AdWords is there a way to rank for those searches, since keyword-only is mainly going to show businesses close to searchers’ IP location?”

It’s pretty much always the case that “keyword” has more search volume than “keyword + city.”  But you shouldn’t be using different strategies to get visible for each type of search term.  If you rank well for “keyword + city,” you’ll usually also rank well when people in that city just type in “keyword.”  Google will show those people local-biz results that it deems to be local.  So the name of the game is to make it abundantly clear to Google what city you’re located in.

 

“What do I do when a company I am working with on advertising wants to use a telephone number other than the one we use on citations?”

Easy:

 

How do I break out of my immediate area to target a “region” or state? CAN it be done with Local?”

Sometimes it’s possible to appear for statewide search terms (e.g. “dentists MA”) in the Google+Local results.  This great old post from Mike Ramsey explains it nicely.  But you’ll probably have better chances of ranking for statewide searches organically.

 

Google+Local questions

“Is Google+ Local ready to go yet?”

Are we ready to terraform Mars?  Have we built a Commander Data?  No…Google still hasn’t finished the transition from Google Places to Google Plus.

 

“Does it improve rankings to create a Google+ Local page for your company and then ‘merge’ it with Google Places?”

Not to my knowledge.  I’ve noticed that businesses with “merged” pages tend to rank more highly, but I think that’s only because their owners tend to be proactive about their local visibility in general.  So I’d say there’s correlation but not causation.

 

“I’ve got a client that has a spa.  She’s got like 8 rooms for tanning, sauna, etc.  She’s renting one room to another business that does a related service.  I’ve instructed my client to NOT share the phone line and instead to have the new person get a new line.  I’ve spoken with the other business’s web guy and we seem to think that two businesses in the same suite – for example, suite #200 –should be fine if the business is different and the phone is different.  What’s the best way to have two or more businesses listed at the same address?”

If they are legally separate businesses, then you’re taking the right approach.  They’ll need separate phone lines, DBAs, and websites – but this is a matter of course if in fact they’re legally separate businesses.

 

“How should you handle a relocation?  Do you shut down the current Google+ Local page and create a new one?  Or do you edit the address to the new location?”

I believe the protocol du jour is for you to edit your address to the new location.  Mike Blumenthal has a fairly recent post with more detail.

 

“The ‘city centroid’: Does this still carry a lot of weight in rankings?

It depends on a lot of factors, but in general, not really.  The main thing that matters is whether your business is located in (or extremely near to) the city you want to rank well in.

 

“How can I get my location to rank if I’m on the outskirts of town but still in the town?”

Depends on what you mean by “outskirts.”  If you’re in the ‘burbs, your best bet is to go after organic rankings.  But if you’re truly located in the city proper, it’s still the same ballgame to rank well in the Google+Local results, and you probably won’t be at any disadvantage.

 

“My client has 17 locations and can’t use the main corporate site as a hub.   They’ve been building citations where the “website” field contains a URL that forwards to the sister-site of the corp brand.  On this sister site they have the locations broken down into microsites (not pages).  Their Places pages are pulling the corp site info.  Long story short: how do you build a campaign when you have to use a forwarding URL?”

You don’t.  Using a forwarded URL shouldn’t be a problem as far as your citations are concerned, but that URL needs to match the URL of your Google+Local landing page – and Google will probably whack you for using a forwarding URL.

 

“When I search for “orthodontist” within my zip code, an orthodontist colleague of mine has the first two of three positions in the Google+Local results.  I occupy the third position.  How does a duplicate listing get ranked above my listing?”

If the website for the practice is strong (i.e. lots of relevant content, maybe some good links), probably both Google+Local listings are benefiting.  If both listings have been around for more than a couple of years, there’s also a good chance that they both have consistent info on their citations.  It may also help if both listings have reviews.

 

Where is the link under the 7 pack that says “View more local results”?  How do I view page two now?  Is there a page two anymore?  I have a few clients that were happy to be on page two (very competitive markets), so now what do I tell them?”

The “more” link is gone.  No page two unless you click on the “Maps” tab – which also appears to be under the blade.  Tell your client…

 

“What your business is moving, do you update all other listings first and then Google+ Local, or the other way around?”

Update your listings first, and then (once you’ve moved) update your Google+Local listing.

 

“If you have two locations, do you link your Google+Local pages to your homepage or to landing pages on your site?  The idea being to optimize chances to get two pages to rank for queries: one next to the map and one in the standard results.”

Generally speaking, it’s best to use a different page of your website as the landing page for each Google+Local listing (that is, each location of your business).

 

“Google seems to have made changes lately.  What are the main changes in a nutshell, and what should be our response be, in terms possibly doing local SEO differently?”

1.  Better tech support (in that now it exists).

2.  New listing-manager rolling out.

3.  No page two.

No need for you to do SEO differently.  It’s still the same ingredients that go into the rankings burrito.

 

“I created a Google listing about 5 months ago.  I filled out the description, images, videos, categories, etc.  We have done all the possible citations. A lot of work.  We even paid for a “virtual tour” (which I thought Google would like and see as a “trust factor,” as you need to pay for it).  We already have 9 reviews.  However, we are still not on page one.  Our competition is not SEO-oriented and does not do much in that regard, but they still appear before us.  I know it takes time to get to page one, but still it looks to me that something is wrong here.  What am I missing?”

You somewhat answered your own question: local rankings usually take a while.  If you’ve truly got the citations under control – a big “if” – then I’d really suggest trying to get reviews on a diversity of sites (e.g. not just Google, not just Yelp, etc.).  Beef up your third-party listings (AKA citations) with as much additional info on your services as you can.  If possible, start blogging – but only if you do it according to Matt McGee’s suggestions.

 

“How do I handle the sale of a business that has been located at one address for 15 years, but that gets bought by new ownership, resulting in a name change?”

Update the business name on as many sites as you can, and as quickly as you can.  Update your Google+Local listing, too.  A good starting point would be to focus on the listings you see when you do a GetListed.org scan.  Once you’ve done that, scour the Web for listings with the old name, and try to get those fixed or removed.  Your rankings may very well take a hit in the short-term, but they should be fine in the long-term if you’re diligent about cleanup.

 

“My business is listed #1 in the local results for one search term, but number 4 for another, and not even in the top 7 for another popular search term.  How do I push my listing up in the cases where it’s listed lower?”

Ask every customer for a review, make sure your third-party listings have plenty of info (e.g. descriptions, categories, etc.) on the services you’re not ranking for, and crank out some good blog posts or articles that someone looking for those services would find useful.  Above all, take it slow and easy.  You seem to be on the right track.

 

“I received my PIN in the mail and entered it to verify my Google+ Local page.  The PIN was verified, now a few days later it’s no longer verified.  Should I request another PIN?”

Yes.  Assuming you know for a fact that your listing is 100% kosher according to Google.

 

“I know a landscaper who services a region that includes 4 cities. However, his office is in a rural location.  Can he use Google+ Local to get listed for any or all of the cities? Technically he sometimes meets clients at his office but normally he would travel to the customers’ homes to meet them.”

If he has one location, then he can have one Google+Local listing (not 4), and he’ll have to “hide” his address.  He may or may not actually rank well in all 4 cities – depends on a lot of factors – but if he’s met the two conditions I mentioned, at least it’s possible he’ll rank well in a good chunk of his service area (especially if it’s a rural area).

 

“Why would a verified Google listing (confirmed via phone or postcard) show the “We currently do not support this location” error?”

Sounds like the listing has been pulled for a violation or due to a bug.  Not much you can do about the latter.  But if you suspect the former, read Nyagoslav’s great post on troubleshooting.

 

“Your post on city pages, will that get me listed in Google Plus local?”

No.  It’s focused on “localized organic” rankings.

 

“I assume the ‘upgraded’ Google+ Local page is one in which the social and the local are combined?  I’m still lost on how this works (maybe everyone is…?).”

Correct.  Pretty soon (I hope) everyone’s Google+Local page will be upgraded to have all the “social” bells and whistles.  But, for the time being, some pages have all the features of Google+, whereas others don’t.  (More info on the differences here.)

 

“My main question has to do with a business with multiple listings.  How do you approach getting them set up on Google Plus local?  Do they need a separate listing for each location?  How do you handle citations for them?”

Yes, each physical location can have its own Google listing – and each Google listing must correspond to a physical location, or you’ll incur the wrath of the Google Gods (and rightfully so).

 

You don’t have to do a bulk upload.  All the listings don’t even need to have been created in the same Google account.  For instance, if it’s a franchise and each franchisee wants control of his/her listing, the listings can be created and/or claimed through different people’s Google accounts.

There’s no way to do the citations “in bulk.”  It’s number of locations multiplied by number of sites you want to be listed on.  Ideally you have a separate landing page URL for each location / Google+Local listing; if that’s the case, then put that URL in the “website” field on each citation site.

 

If you’re using a home address for your Google listing, can you rank well in a fairly competitive market?”

Sure can.

 

“I have a client that has a law practice with 2 distinct NAP’s, websites, and categories (ne is for DUI defense, the other is criminal defense).  That is, they have 2 local phone numbers, 2 registered business names, 2 websites, and 2 different suite #s, out of 1 main office location.  Will Google+ Local ding one listing or the other, given that both practices are housed under the same physical address?  (Again, there are 2 different suite #s.)”

If they are two officially, legally separate practices, then you’re fine.  But if it’s one lawyer who runs one practice but wants to have two Google listings for rankings purposes, then one or both listings may very well get penalized.

 

“When you choose a category from within the Google Places editor, what are your thoughts on choosing a custom category?  I have read many blogs saying you should only choose defined categories, yet, if I decide to go with a specific custom category I get a lot of impressions, whereas no other defined category would cause these impressions for a particular keyword.  I experimented removing the custom category and only having defined categories and this caused a considerable drop in impressions.  So is it OK to go with a custom category, or am I risking longer term damage?”

Google seems to be phasing out custom categories. Still, custom categories can really help your visibility, provided you follow some guidelines.

 

“I integrated Google Places into Google+ Local as a verified Local Business.  This now offers me to choose categories in Google+ Local within the “Edit Business Information” screen.  Yet I can still choose categories within my original Google Places dashboard.  I am confused by the two different places to edit categories, and I am reluctant to add categories within Google+ Local, since, it appears my Google Places Dashboard categories are working really well.  Do I risk damaging my rankings by fiddling within the Google+ Local categories?  Or, should I duplicate the categories from Google Places Dashboard here?”

Your current setup sounds fine.  I’d leave it as-is.  You’re not going to hurt your rankings by adding relevant categories on the Google+Local side, but I wouldn’t say you need to.  Google’s categories will be a mess – rather, a two-headed monster – for at least a little while longer.

 

Review questions

I have had 9/10 reviews filtered on my Yelp site.  How do you make them stick?  I have heard that if your customers aren’t active on Yelp their reviews get filtered.”

There’s nothing you can do to make more reviews stick.  What you heard is correct.  The best thing to do is to ask your customers up-front whether they’re already active on Yelp.  Yelp doesn’t want you even asking – let alone encouraging – customers for reviews.  So to the people you know to be active Yelpers, maybe you can suggest or intimate that you would not be entirely averse to their possibly considering posting a review 😉  For everyone else, I suggest you follow my “zigzag” approach.

 

“Is there ANY way to change the review filter on Yelp?  (They have an odd way of only showing the majority of the bad reviews up front, even if someone has a majority of good reviews).”

No, sad to say.  See previous answer.

 

“Aside from Google+ and Yelp, what other website should clients write reviews on?”

CitySearch, InsiderPages, and Yahoo are my picks.  If there are any sites specific to your industry, try to scare up reviews on those as well.

 

“I want to appear on Google as one of the sites on the search map.  I have my site tuned up, filled out, but still don’t appear there.  Does it really just come down to the number or reviews a site has?”

Reviews are crucial, but other factors matter quite a bit.  It’s not enough to have a “filled out” site.  You also need to put a lot of elbow grease into citations, for one thing.  Although sometimes local rankings are a game of inches, more often they depend on how well you apply the fundamentals.

 

“Is Google going to integrate reviews from Google+Local with AdWords in the next 12 to 18 months?”

No idea.  I’m not sure anyone knows.  I do know that if you’re on AdWords Express and if you have Google+Local reviews from customers, the reviews will show in your ad.  But AdWords Express isn’t as effective as classic AdWords, so it would be nice to see some integration there.

Misfit questions

“How does having a mobile website affect Google rankings?”

I don’t believe that it does affect rankings – at least not directly.  But having a mobile-friendly site may help indirectly, because visitors are less likely to bounce and are more likely to “engage” with your site and maybe share it socially.  Those things can help your rankings.

 

“What do you think about paying for Yelp ads?  The lowest the rep quoted was $200 a month.  We have a small business and an even smaller advertising budget!”

I think it’s worth testing, with two caveats:

(1) See how many of your competitors are using it, and how many businesses like yours in other cities are paying for Yelp ads.  That will give you a sense of whether anyone in your line of work might be making money from Yelp ads.

(2) You’ll need to lay some groundwork first, by beefing up your Yelp listing as much as possible, applying at least a little conversion-rate optimization to your site (no point paying for ads that lead to a dog of a site), and doing what you can to encourage Yelp reviews.

 

“I know a high-end hairdresser who is already ranking high – and three times – on most targeted keywords: Once with AdWords, once in organic, and once in the local results.  How do you get more new customers into the door when you seem to already catch all the search traffic you can possibly get?”

Never ease up in your efforts to get reviews from as many customers as possible, and from as many different sites as possible.  Make your site as “sticky” as humanly possible.  Fill it with your knowledge.  Also, I’m a huge fan of CrazyEgg and Qualaroo.

 

“Is it possible to correct bad SEO – e.g. mass linking with poor anchor text on low quality blogs?”

Absolutely – assuming you completely stop the bad SEO practices that got you into hot water to begin with, and assuming you then make an effort to stand out in some way, be it through tons of reviews, tons of helpful and relevant info on your site, etc.

 

“Some service businesses & contractors work out of their homes but don’t want their homes listed publicly on the internet.  What’s the best way to handle this?”

Read my two posts on the topic:

Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?

 

“How can I know if my web site is effective at making people take action? Lately we are getting very few calls but our analytics are showing about 10-15 views a day.”

It’s hard to know.  Your site shouldn’t try to “make” people take action.  It should answer their questions.  That’s the most important thing.  Aside from that, I can’t get into heavy-duty CRO here, but one piece of low-hanging fruit is to make sure you’ve got your address and phone number (and maybe email address) on every single page, above the fold.  Also, as I mentioned before, CrazyEgg and Qualaroo are tools that can help you learn more about your visitors and tailor your site to their needs.

 

Is it important to embed other maps besides a Google Map on the website?  (Like one from Bing?)”

Nah.  Embedding even a Google Map on your site isn’t necessarily “important”: it’s mostly a convenience for visitors, and it’s just another little way to convey to Google that you’re local.  But no need to add a Bing or MapQuest map or whatever.

“There are a lot of differing fields that you can / have to fill out on the various citation directories. Is there a universal form to fill out?”

No, although I do have a questionnaire (the second of two – here’s the first) that I ask my clients to fill out.  I’m sure I could improve it, but it covers the bases pretty well.

 

“What is a “reputation management” account – as it relates to Dex or other yellow pages companies?”

A rip-off.  Just set up some Google Alerts and If This Then That alerts, and check on the main review sites from time to time.

 

“I do my own local SEO. Often in verification calls I get a lot of sales pitches.  One last week asked whether I wanted to “renew my subscriptions” and then when I said no told me they were going to send the bill “for the previous year.”  What’s up with that?”

Sounds like a typical shenanigan.  If you’ve never paid that site for advertising, there’s no way you’re on the hook for anything now.

You’ll get a decent number of sales pitches when you list your business on a lot of these third-party sites.  It may seem like a Faustian pact, but it’s a small price to pay for being listed on sites that, ultimately, help your local visibility.

Huge thanks to everyone who sent in questions.  You rock.

Let’s keep it going: Do you have any quick questions for which you just need quick answers?  Throw me a comment!

Local SEO Posts That Inspired My Best

Many of my best ideas have come to me while I’ve been puffing on a cigar on my porch around 3am.

But even more of (what I consider) my finest posts were influenced by what other local SEOs have written.  Their insights spurred my lethargic brain cells – and my typing fingers – to start hustling.

Therefore, I’m writing this because:

(1) I’d like to say thanks to the people who wrote these posts, and because

(2) I’d like to round up and highlight their posts – which I really suggest you read and use in your quest to get more visible in the local search results.

(I wasn’t sure of the best order to present the posts in, so I’m just listing them in the order of my newest to oldest.)

 

Matt McGee’s
How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities

 

16 Ways to Create Unique “Local” Content for Cities Where You Want to Rank

 

Mike Zaremba’s
Ultimate Local SEO Guide &

Jon Cooper’s
Complete Guide to Link-Building Strategies

 

Complete Guide to Google+Local Reviews

 

Miriam Ellis’s
The Zen of Local SEO

 

Why Slow Local SEO Rules

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov’s
Interview with Dan Austin, Google Maps Spam Fighter

 

Google MapMaker 101 for Local Business Owners

 

Chris Silver Smith’s
9 Common Ways to Bork Your Local Rankings in Google

 

7 Ways to Kill Your Local Search Rankings without Touching a Computer

 

David Mihm’s
Local Search Ranking Factors

 

How Long Does Local-Search Visibility Take?

 

A conversation with my dad, Jon (ace copywriter and conversion-rate wizard)

 

50 Local SEO Lessons from 50 Clients

 

David Mihm’s
Local Search Ecosystem

 

Local Business Reviews Ecosystem in the US & Canadian Reviews Ecosystem

 

Mike Blumenthal’s
Listing a New Business – A Timeline for Launch

 

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility

(You want to know what else inspired my “12-week action plan” post?  Go here and scroll about halfway down.  I kid you not.)

What posts have you found really useful or insightful?  Leave a comment!

Why Slow Local SEO Rules

Hikers know that the best way to avoid dehydration is to drink water before you’re thirsty.

Engineers say a project can be “good, fast, or cheap – pick any two.”

I say local SEO can bring you more customers without breaking the bank…especially if you can work on it slowly, if you start before you’re desperate for business.

In most cases it’s inevitable that growing your local rankings (particularly in Google) will take a while.  Good results and more customers can never come too soon.  It’s frustrating to be patient.  (Hey, I should know.  I’m an Aries :).)

But I suggest you work on your local visibility even more slowly than you’re inclined to.  If at all possible, you should consider intentionally take a long time (say, 6-12 months) to work your plan.

Slow-but-steady local SEO is underrated.  People tend not to consider a few advantages it has over a “hustle” approach:

Advantage 1:  You’re less likely to have trouble with duplicate Google listings.  There are a few major sites that feed Google info on your business.  If your listings on those sites isn’t accurate, sometimes Google will automatically create additional listings for your business based on the (mis)information on those “trusted” sites.  Those usually hurt your rankings.

It’s easier to prevent those listings from popping up in the first place than to play the whack-a-mole game of trying to get the unwanted Google listings removed, only to have them reappear later because Google is still being fed incorrect info.  But it takes time for those major sites to start feeding your info to Google – usually 2-3 months.  So you’ll want to take the time to square away your listings on these sites first.

Advantage 2:  A slow approach makes your customers’ reviews more likely to stick.  Not all your customers will review you.  Many times your reminders to them will go in one ear and out the other, or sit in their inbox, or sit on the kitchen table.  So it’s going to take you a while to build up a good base of reviews on Google+Local and third-party review sites.  But here’s the kicker: if you rush the process and ask too many customers in too short a spam for reviews, their reviews are more likely to get filtered on sites that have (overly) strict review filters – namely Google+Local and Yelp. If you want your customers’ reviews to see the light of day, err on the side of asking a handful of customers each week, and keep it up indefinitely.

Advantage 3:  You can commit to building up the amount of helpful, useful content on your site without feeling like it’s “all or nothing.”  In some markets a good, active blog (or routine article-writing) can help you pull ahead in the rankings – in addition to helping anyone who visits your site.  But that’s not going to happen if you write or shoot videos furiously and then stop because nobody seems to notice.  Of course they won’t – at first.  It takes time.  However much time you spend on creating helpful content, make sure it’s something you can stick with for months or years. Otherwise don’t even bother.

Advantage 4:  It’s less stressful, daunting, and frustrating.  I say this for the reasons I already mentioned, and for the reason that It may actually mean you can do all the local SEO yourself without having to delegate to someone in-house, hire a third party, or give up.

If good old Jared Fogle was told he’d have to shed hundreds of pounds in the span of a couple months, he’d probably have OD’d on arugula or impaled himself on the wreckage of a stationary bike he sat on.  But trading in a Big Mac diet for a Subway diet was at least doable and seemed to work for him, although I’m guessing it took a while for him to go from XXXXXL pants to an XL.  Don’t embark on something you can’t stick with.

Advantage 5:  If you don’t rush, you’re less likely to make mistakes and to have to redo your work.  It’s Murphy’s Law.

Advantage 6:  You’ll be able to spend more of your time cultivating other sources of customers.  You never want just one source of new customers – be it Google+Local visibility, or AdWords, or Facebook ads, or word-of-mouth.  Google is unpredictable.  Being visible in Google+Local is essential, but you’re taking a risk if you spend all your time on it.  At the very least, you’ll want to be not just listed but visible on other sites. But the more doorways customers have into your business, the better.

Advantage 7:  Anyone you hire for help with local SEO will be eternally in your debt, to the extent you’re fine with a relaxed pace.  I’m grateful to my clients for so often giving me the time and breathing room to do what I’ve got to do.  It helps me help them.

I realize all of this may sound abstract, despite my getting into the details.  What do I mean by “slow”?

Well, it’s time for a little story, to illustrate an extreme example of slow local SEO that worked out well.

My second client ever – let’s call him Bryant – had a business located on the outskirts of Austin.  He wanted to rank on the first page of Google’s local results in Austin for a couple of very competitive search terms.

Bryant’s wasn’t even a “service area” business: His customers came to him, through the front door of his home – no doubt occasionally tracking dog doo on his carpet.  I told him that in a walk-in industry like his he was probably a bit too far from central Austin to be considered a “good match” by Google, but I said I’d do what I could.

We made a little progress over 4-6 weeks, but I couldn’t get Bryant to where he wanted to be.  This was in late 2009, when local SEO generally was simpler.  The steps we took were good, but there’s more I’d do and more I’d suggest if I had to do it over again.  But I was too much of a newb to know and tell him that we’d need to give it at least a few more months for the work to pay off.  Bryant was disappointed, and we parted ways.

On one or two occasions during 2010 and 2011 I checked on his rankings for the main 2-3 search terms– just out of curiosity.  He still wasn’t there.  But then about a month ago something reminded me of his situation, and I caved to my curiosity and checked on a couple of his rankings for the first time in about 2 years.  Alas, he was (is) ranking right where he wanted to be – after more than 3 years.

I’m sure Bryant didn’t completely sit on his hands during all that time.  A quick look at his Google+Local page told me he’d racked up an OK number of customer reviews.  On the other hand, his site was untouched – exactly the same as before, and still not very good.  He could probably make even more progress with just a couple hours of further work.

The bottom line is that Bryant started to work on his local search rankings when he wanted more customers but wasn’t absolutely dying.  It took 3 years for him to get good results, but he got them.  He gave it time.  At the very least, that meant he didn’t constantly meddle with his Google listing or look for shortcuts.  I’m guessing that also helped his citations to grow naturally.

I’m not saying it will take you 3 years to get from where you are to where you want to be.  You can get visible in much less time and still be taking your sweet time.  There’s an ideal middle ground: It’s called “slow and steady.”

My suggestion is very simple: go slowly if you can.  Don’t hammer away at your local SEO campaign every single day.  Maybe every week or two (?).  Also, take time to read about it (as you’re doing now – good job!).

Sure, work on your local visibility today.  Do some work now.  But consider doing it more slowly than you might be inclined to.  It can be faster than doing it the wrong way and having to redo your work.  Slow is the new fast.

Any reasons you can think of to go slow?  What’s your approach?  Leave a comment!

My 10 Favorite Local SEO Posts of 2012

I know there’s still time left in 2012 for people to write great posts on local SEO…but it’s gonna be hard to top the crème de la crème.

Much like one of those snore-fest radio countdowns, I’ve picked what I consider the 10 best posts of the year.  Except my picks are exciting and useful…and I’m not counting down (or up)…and I’m not a DJ.

What I love about these posts is they can help you no matter how much or little you know about local search.  Many of them deal with tough topics but do a magnificent job of breaking it all down into insights or steps you can easily apply to get your business more visible in the local rankings.

As you can see, I don’t include my own posts – as was the case on the only two occasions I’ve done roundups so far.

Enjoy, bookmark, apply…and grab some better local visibility.

March

Understand and Rock the Venice Update – Mike Ramsey

New Google Places Guideline – Hide Your Address or Risk Losing Your Place Page – Linda Buquet

April

The Real Meaning of the Google Places Statuses – Nyagoslav Zhekov

May

Rankings on Google+Local: Some Observations – David Mihm

Google+Local: Q’s and Some A’s – Mike Blumenthal

June

Rethinking the Title Tag for 2012 (and Beyond) – Matt McGee

September

Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse) – Mike Blumenthal

October

How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities – Matt McGee

The Zen of Local SEO – Miriam Ellis

November

Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction – Mike Blumenthal

What do you like about these posts?  Any words of appreciation for the authors?  Leave a comment!

Matchmaking Advice for Local SEOs and Business Owners

Most business owners and the local SEOs they hire get along pretty well, in my experience.

But when it doesn’t “work out,” usually the cause was avoidable.  Not that one person is unethical.  Not that one person is an Aries and the other is a Virgo.

Smooth local-SEO campaigns depend 95% on one thing: thorough communication up-front – before anyone has invested significant time or money.

I won’t bore you with the typical, trite, obvious advice, like “be communicative” or “be open and transparent.”  That’s all true, but it’s not news to you.  It’s also not helpful – way too vague.

What is good communication, in this context?


If you’re the local SEO, is it enough to answer questions you’re asked in emails, or to be available for a quick phone call?  Do you need to be more proactive?  If so, how?

If you’re the business owner, do you always defer judgment (“You’re the expert”), or do you ask some tough questions?  If it’s the latter, what are the questions you should ask – and what kinds of answers should you expect or demand?

I’m glad you asked, gentle reader, because I have a few suggestions.

I’m not really talking about how two parties should “get along” on an ongoing basis.  Rather, I’m talking about how you – whether you’re the local SEO-er or the business owner – can help ensure you’re a good fit before you begin working together.

 

Advice for Local SEOs:

1. Have a questionnaire.  Ask potential clients to fill it out either before any money changes hands, or at the very least before you do any work.  To me, this is the most important item of all. It’s what allows you to know what your client’s goals are and the extent to which you think you can help – if at all.  It’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.  You can take a look at my questionnaire.

2.  Have testimonials from or case-studies on some of your clients.  Preferably you’d have these on your site.  But if not, you definitely want them on-hand in some form – and you’ll want to let anyone know who’s thinking of working with you that you have some “references.”  Just give people some sense of what you’ve been able to do and what you’re capable of doing.  (If you’re just starting out and don’t have any testimonials or case-studies to highlight, just leave a comment on this post or email me and I’ll pitch in some ideas/alternatives.)

3.  Have a “poster-child” client (or a few of them).  Someone who doesn’t mind if you tell potential clients “OK, here’s an example of how I helped this one business…” Mike Blumenthal does this.  On and off my site I often refer to one of my long-time clients, Palumbo Landscaping.

4.  Sell a mini-product or how-to guide on your site.  Something relevant to local SEO.  Something that shows people what it’s like to pay you – even a tiny amount – and get good stuff in return.  This gives people who may become clients an idea of what you might be like to work with on a larger scale.   It’s a win-win.  Some great examples are Matt McGee’s do-it-yourself SEO guide and Nyagoslav Zhekov’s guide to citation-building. Heck, many people who ordered my humble one-page review handouts have become clients of mine, simply because they had a good experience with me and my offerings on a smaller scale.

5.  Keep a list of “good guys” to refer potential clients to for services you may not offer.  If there’s a service that someone needs but that you don’t offer, it’s better to recommend one or two good providers than to tell that person  “Umm, we don’t do that” and leave him/her frustrated.

6.  Make sure any people referred to you by word-of-mouth take a few minutes to learn about your services.  Even someone who came to you “pre-sold” based on a friend’s recommendation should know as much about your services and policies as would someone who stumbles across your site, doesn’t know you from Adam, and needs to read all about your services even to consider working with you.  If someone calls or emails me and says “Hey, my friend recommended me to you – where do I send the check?” I’ll usually ask that person to read over the pages on my site where I describe my services, or I’ll spend a few minutes describing each one.

7.  Track rankings.  Don’t go crazy with it; weekly (even monthly) rankings reports usually aren’t necessary, in my experience.  Just provide some record of your client’s rankings before you start work, and another one after a few months have gone by and you’ve done most or all of the necessary work and have given Google enough time to “digest” the changes you’ve made.  I usually fill out a good-old-fashioned spreadsheet (like this one).  It’s simple, easy for your client to make sense of, easy for you to make, and makes for a nice before-and-after picture.  It’s also another way to stand behind your work, and clients appreciate that.

 

Advice for business owners:

1. Question your local SEO-er.  Doesn’t need to turn into the next Inquisition, but asking some “hows” and “whys” is always wise.  Make your local SEO explain things at least a little bit – especially if something he/she says doesn’t quite square with your experience or expectations.

2.  Expect questions.  Nay, hope for them: If your local SEO-er never asks questions about your situation, he/she may not understand your situation well enough to help you.  I suggest erring on the side of volunteering as much detail as possible about your business and local-SEO efforts (your goals, what you’ve tried, etc.) and even grilling your SEO person a little – especially if you haven’t been asked many questions.

3.  Ask which service your local SEO-er thinks is the best fit, and why.  Most of them offer more than one “level” or package.  It’s easier on everyone if you’re not paying for work you don’t need.  This question can also be a nice little test of character: Obviously, you don’t want to work with someone whose impulse is to try to sell you on the super-duper deluxe service when the “Basic” might be all you need.

4.  Ask whether your potential local SEO has worked with clients in your industry or in one like it.  A “No” answer isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just that a “Yes” answer means your local SEO probably is a little more likely to know the ins and outs of getting a business like yours visible in local search.  In cases where I’m working with someone in an industry I’ve never dealt with before, I usually say “I haven’t worked with someone in your line of work, but I have worked with people in the such-and-such industry, which I think is pretty similar as far as local search is concerned.”

5.  Understand that Google is a “black box” in many ways.  Any local SEO who claims to have it “figured out” is a liar.  Much of what we know is a result of trial and error.  As is the case in most areas of business and life, in the SEO world there’s not “scientific” evidence for much – not that that would necessarily help you for long, if at all.  Sometimes the reasons behind our suggestions are obvious or become obvious pretty quickly – like how if you don’t follow Google’s quality guidelines, you’ll likely end up shooting yourself in the foot.  Don’t hesitate to ask the questions, but be prepared for many different species of answers.

6.  Consider buying the mini-product or guide that your local-search buff offers (like what I mentioned earlier).  Again, it’s a good way to see what it’s like to deal with that person and see how much he/she can help you on a micro scale.  If it looks like junk, well, that may also tell you a thing or two.

7.  Read this excellent post by Miriam Ellis: The Zen of Local SEO.

By the way, this stuff applies to any type of SEO/SEM work.  But I think good communication is particularly crucial to local SEO, simply because so many aspects of it are counterintuitive, and because some steps (especially optimizing one’s website and asking for customer reviews) take a little bit of coordination or teamwork.

Got any advice for local SEOs or business owners (or both)?  Leave a comment!

How Long Does Local-Search Visibility Take?

The question I get asked more frequently than any other is: “Roughly how long until my business ranks well in local search?”

(“Ranks well” usually refers to being on page one and “local search” usually means the Google+Local results.)

People have at least a basic idea of what is involved in getting a business to rank visibly in local search if they’ve talked with me for a few minutes or have been to this site or others that deal with local search.  Or, to the extent they’ve done some “homework,” they may have a very solid understanding of what the main moving parts and to-dos are.

But the question of how long a local SEO campaign takes doesn’t get nearly as much attention, and fewer people have even a rough idea of the answer.

That’s why recently I asked some of my fellow local-search aficionados how long it takes them to help get their clients visible in local search.

The following pros took the time to offer some eye-opening insights:

Mary Bowling

Linda Buquet – Admin, Local Search Forum

Miriam Ellis

Matthew Hunt

David Mihm – President, GetListed.org

Dave Oremland

Mike Ramsey

Darren Shaw – Creator, Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder

Adam Steele

Nyagoslav Zhekov

(Plus me, Phil Rozek)

I asked the above people 3 specific questions about “how long local SEO takes.”  And boy did they answer (as you’ll see in a second).

Their commentary – though superb – does not make this a “scientific” post.  There’s no such way to answer this question (or many other local-search-related questions, for that matter).

Rather, I wanted to know: to what extent is there a consensus – among people who do this stuff all day long – as to how long it takes to get good (typically first-page) local rankings?

Do you want the shortest of short answers – the “consensus” in a pistachio-sized nutshell?  Well, here you go: local SEO usually takes anywhere from a month to a year.

If all you wanted was a rough number, you just got it.  But settling for that is like going to a 5-star steakhouse and only eating the bread.

Plus, rough numbers don’t give you a sense of the particulars – like how much time it might take in your situation for your business to get more visible in local search.

So, if you’d like the insights from thousands of man-hours and woman-hours of local-SEO experience, read on.

Question 1:  When a potential client asks “Roughly when can I expect to see results?” what is your typical answer?

“I usually tell them 3-6 months, depending on the level of competition in their location and industry.”– Mary Bowling

“When I was doing optimization services I was very conservative in setting expectations with potential clients. I always try to under-promise and over deliver. But this, in a nutshell, is what I would tell Dentists:

“Ranking in Google local takes a well optimized Google+ Local page AND a well optimized web site to match PLUS the right local hooks for Google to tie it all together, so ranking is a 2 stage process. (In my process – that’s the way I did it.)

“1st I’ll optimize your Google+ Local page. For 2nd tier keywords like ‘[city] teeth whitening’, ‘[city] dental implants’, ‘[city] laser dentistry’ we can usually get significant results in less than a month because those keywords I can typically impact when I optimize your Place page. (That’s if they didn’t already have those KWs in G+ Local categories.) Most of my clients move right up to page one, but of course there are no guarantees and it depends on the competition in your market for each of those keywords.

“For your core keywords like ‘[city] dentist’ and ‘[city] cosmetic dentistry’ – just optimizing the Place page normally won’t move the needle, as those keywords are the most competitive. To impact ranking for your core keywords will take the on-site Local SEO and Local Hooks changes I need to do. After those changes are complete we normally start to see an improvement in about a month. But then rankings can gradually improve for awhile after that.

“(Note: I no longer personally do optimization – stopped a few months ago to focus on Local SEO training for other consultants, so no longer offer the above service).”
– Linda Buquet

“While this is dependent on how much work has been done by the client or other Local SEOs prior to the client becoming mine, I reply that initial gains in visibility should occur within a couple of weeks of our first work being complete, with additional gains typically being visible at the end of 6 months. By then, we can be confident of where the work has gotten us because it’s had time to settle in.”
– Miriam Ellis

“We tell clients they will see improvements immediately.  Which they will.  As for ranking guarantees, we don’t make them.  Typically we see low competition stuff ranking as fast as 30-90 days (sometimes immediately on long tail stuff, if domain is clean, and site has history/age, etc)  All our agreements are month-to-month, but we expect people to mentally commit to 6 months with us before making decision on what they think.  Brand new domains take much longer to rank than existing aged domains.  We look at that for sure before setting expectations.  Example: if you get to aggressive on link building on a brand new domain you’ll sandbox it for 6-8 months.  TIP: Never build more links than you have traffic.  I’ve seen this mistake so many times.  Business owner gets new site live.  It has like 20 unique visitors, then newbie SEO builds 400 links to site with no visitors and history.  This is not usually natural… expect to get slapped if you do this.  On brand new domains it’s best to focus on content creation and social media networking to get buzz going.  Do some light citations and PR’s.  That’s it for the first 6 months.  Then as your site starts to show 1500-2000 unique visitors then start getting links.  Nice and slow and only stuff from high quality sites.  Now if aged site with traffic, you can be more aggressive out of the gates.  Still focus on content 1st, but you can for sure have more fun with backlinking to help boost rankings.  Focus on deep linking most of your stuff.  Focus on the long tail.  Do these things and you’ll get success out of the gates.”
 – Matthew Hunt

“‘It depends’, of course, as you already acknowledged 🙂  If it’s a client in a fairly non-competitive industry who’s never done ANY optimization (e.g. claimed many listings, added custom categories to their +Local page, has no optimized Title Tags on their website), I’ve seen some substantial results in two or three weeks.  Clients in competitive industries who need to start review campaigns, dramatically revise their site architecture (for multi-location businesses), etc., it’s going to take considerably longer.

“So, if you want a full range, I’d say 0.75 – 6 months.  All clients should see *some* results within six months, in my opinion.  That makes the average time around 2-3 months, I suppose.” – David Mihm

“Somewhere in the 6 month range, give or take some months.

“Contingent issues include the following:

A.  Starting point.  Where is the client subject to competition?

B.  What is the status of existing citation/ NAP information on the web.  Clean or not clean?

C.  Willingness of the client to partner and act on substantial link building activities.  I like to build strong links.  But it is often contingent on the client’s willingness to participate.” – Dave Oremland

“I tell them that they will generally see change within the first month. I usually tell them that results are not always top position ranking but change in positions, more organic traffic, more referral traffic. That way they aren’t counting down to page one but seeing progress. Overall, I dodge the question.” – Mike Ramsey

“We typically say 3-4 months, but we assess this on a case-by-case basis. We always do a little competitive analysis before quoting the project so we can set the budget and expectations. A flower shop in a small town with no competition can be ranked easily within a month or two. A brand new hotel in New York City with a brand new website is going to need at least 6 months to a year of hard work.”
– Darren Shaw

“Typically speaking, when potential clients think ‘results’ they think in terms of rankings. With that said, I like to separate organic from Google Local. Organic I can improve in a week’s time. Local however is a different beast, and much slower to react to positive change…especially off page changes like citation building. On-page changes can push a trusted Google Local page pretty quickly, but I don’t like to make any promises here – too random. Thus, with Local I generally quote 3 months to be safe.” – Adam Steele

“I usually tell them the following: ‘It might take anything between 1 and 4 months. Biggest ranking changes in Google+ Local are observed during the business data index updates, which happen every 4-8 weeks. However, sometimes, especially if your ‘footprint’ is very messy, it might take two updates until some significant traffic/ranking increases occur.’ – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“I usually say at least 2-3 months.  Then I launch into a long-winded explanation of how there are a ton of variables, and that sometimes it can take significantly longer, depending on those variables.  Around the time I provide this ‘ETA’ (often beforehand) I usually ask my potential client to fill out my questionnaire, or (if we’re on the phone) to fill me in on some of the details of his/her situation.  The sooner we’re both clear on all the particulars, the sooner I can say whether to expect a smooth or bumpy ride.” – Phil Rozek

 

Question 2:  When your local-SEO efforts go smoothly for a given client, how long does it usually take for his/her business to reach the local rankings you set expectations for?

“When I get one that doesn’t have a lot of NAP confusion and inconsistency, 2-3 months.” – Mary Bowling

“If it’s a matter of adding categories for secondary keywords that they didn’t have listed in their Places categories before – then just 1 – 2 weeks.(Or however long the category update cycle is at the time.)

“For core KWs that require on-site SEO, normally I would get an average 10 spot jump within a month. Sometimes in 2 weeks. (Once had a site go from #16 to #2 for ‘[city] dentist’ in 2 days which is pretty rare for an organic ranking increase – that was on-site changes only.)

“(Also I have some tricks to get client sites spidered and re-indexed faster because that’s a problem for local sites. Many of these small biz sites just don’t get much traffic, therefore may not be spidered very often. So if I’m going to go to all the trouble to optimize the site, I’m not going to sit back and hope/wait for the Google spider the optimized content. I force feed her the changes, to get my client’s site re-indexed faster.)” – Linda Buquet

“I never, never promise rankings. In my own mind, I expect to see results within a couple of months, but I am very careful not to guarantee anything, due to the variables of Google’s behavior as well as competitive efforts.” – Miriam Ellis

“First 30-90 days for ranking those ego terms 😉  You know i really hate talking about rankings as a measuring stick.  Here at SBOC we always get success right away because we focus on traffic and conversions as a way to measure success.  We are experts at improving conversions and usually really easy to show success b/c most small business site’s suck and they do not do any A/B split testing.  We always increase traffic out of the gate b/c we are content publishers first before we are link builders, citation builders, etc.  Bigger sites always get more traffic. We focus on building bigger websites first and creating linkable assets.  This gets you more relevant traffic. More relevant traffic = more leads/sales.  Thus success! We do not focus on rankings as a success measuring stick nor should any agency or small business, especially with all the different search results available, between local search results, personal results, etc.  This will drive everyone nuts and (excuse my language) but it’s a piss poor way to measure success.  I am in the business to help small business make more money, I am not in the business to feed SMB’s egos on silly rankings.  Don’t get me wrong, rankings are a good signal to measure SEO, but not a good way to determine internet marketing success.  Measuring traffic and conversions is.  That is all you need to understand as a small business to decide if something is working.  SMB’s should ask: Did my traffic increase? Did my conversions increase?  Ask those questions and do not judge success by some silly ranking for some silly ego term and then you’ll know if you are getting a ROI from your internet marketing.” – Matthew Hunt

“Well, I never promise any rankings.  I try to give people a realistic assessment of where they are based on the point they’re starting from and the market they’re in.

“For a client starting from dead scratch with a brand new website and brand new location, four-six months is realistic.  I recently went through this exercise with my cousin’s group health insurance agency and she has just started to rank well across a broad range of terms (health benefits portland, group insurance portland, etc) after a full-on launch and citation campaign starting in March.  Everything here was very smooth obviously since there were no NAP conflicts and I was in complete control of the process.

“For a client starting from a pretty good position who’s just in need of a little push in the right direction, one month is realistic.” – David Mihm

“Somewhere in the 6 month range.  Always contingent on above issues [mentioned in Question 1].” – Dave Oremland

“Usually speaking we see things happen anywhere from 2-4 months. That is enough time for a lot of fixes to take effect. There are always exceptions though both on the faster and slower side.” – Mike Ramsey

“We’re usually on target with the expectations we set out at the beginning of the campaign. If things go smoothly, we sometimes get results earlier. If there are client delays (as is often the case), it can take months longer than we estimated.”
– Darren Shaw

“Funny you add ‘smoothly.’ Clearly you added this because so often Google Local throws us ridiculous, illogical curveballs. Promises are often mistaken for guarantees…and in my cautious opinion, SEOs should not be making ranking guarantees. Way too many variables, bugs, etc.

“For a semi competitive niche, top 3 rankings (for example) in Google Local will come in 3-4 months.” – Adam Steele

“If the client is a low- to mid-competitive market, it might take 3-4 weeks, but these cases are rare, because business owners that come to me are usually not in easy markets. I’d say that the average is 8-10 weeks.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“About 2-3 months.  Sometimes a month or less IF my client has already made some efforts at local SEO and doesn’t have a bunch of different addresses or phone numbers floating around the web.  However, in really competitive local markets (e.g. big-city lawyers), everything takes longer: even a “smooth” local-SEO campaign can take 4-6 months to bear fruit.” – Phil Rozek

 

Question 3:  For the “trouble cases,” when things don’t go so smoothly, how long does it usually take for your client to get the rankings you expected?

“Short answer 6 months, but it really depends on their budget and/or if they are willing and able to do a lot of the NAP cleanup (with my instructions). Updating directory listings can take an unexpectedly long amount of time, especially if they have been careless with setting up accounts, recording log ins, etc. I have cleaned up unbelievable multi-location messes in 3-4 months, but it was with a big budget.

“I also ask them about what they are doing for link building, because if their domain authority lags behind their competitors’ by very much, it’s a necessary ingredient in the ranking recipe.” – Mary Bowling

“I could almost always get clients ranked on page one with my Google Places and on-site Local SEO techniques, in the time frames above. (I don’t ever do citations or backlinks – just on-page on the Google page and web site.)

“The only exception was, if it was a really competitive market and they were really low to begin with. So let’s say I took a client from #26 to #12. That’s a nice 14 point jump – BUT not enough to get to page one. So at that point after I’d done everything I could ON-PAGE, if it wasn’t enough to get to page one, they would maybe need some off-page help which I would refer out. Only had to do that a couple times though.” – Linda Buquet

“It can take many months, or even more than a year for really bad problems to be resolved. I was just looking at a thread today in which a business owner had sent 123 emails to Google demanding resolution of his merging problem. Think of that!”
– Miriam Ellis

“30-90 days usually.  Depends on what the issue is.  Example, duplicate listing can get cleaned up in 60 days.  Deleted and black listed Google Places listing may not be able to come back at that phone and address again.  Or recent Doctor/Professional duplicates, can’t get rid of b/c Google Places is allowing the practice and the professional to each have a listing.  Local search, especially Google Places can be a hot mess and often out a Local SEO’ers hands.  Hopefully, one day Google Local will get their shit together. My guess it won’t happen until they monetize it, as we all know Google doesn’t like providing any real support unless it’s a paid product.” – Matthew Hunt

“It can honestly take years.  Mary Bowling and I have a joint client who’s had all kinds of NAP confusion and clusterf*cks that we are still trying to help about 30 months after I first started with them.  Luckily, they had a pretty good idea of how tough their situation was before they hired us, but these kinds of situations can take constant vigilance and results are not always going to happen if the cluster was corrupted a long time ago.” – David Mihm

“Cleaning bad results and building rankings could add 6 months roughly to the process.” – Dave Oremland

“We have some that have been 6 months to a year. Usually due to duplicate issues or really bad NAP information when things can’t stick. Some listings constantly hop in and out of rankings. That can happen for years at a time.” – Mike Ramsey

“This is so variable, it’s really tough to answer. I have some mystery cases where everything looks good with their website and their Google+ Local page, and they have more citations, reviews, links, etc than the competition, but they’re still not ranking in the local results a year after we started working with them. Some cases can get resolved after cleaning up problematic NAP consistency issues, and the time it takes to do this work is quite variable as well. Sorry I can’t give any solid timelines for you on this one.” – Darren Shaw

“Depending on the severity, problems that CAN be sorted out, typically take another 1 or 2 months on top of the 3-4 months.” – Adam Steele

“The only cases when it never worked smoothly were when the client was not doing what I was ‘recommending’ them to do. In these cases we usually terminate our relationships as soon as I realize there is no hope.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“6 months or more.  On the one hand, there are any number of “issues” that can throw a wrench into your local-search efforts, so sometimes even ~6 months isn’t enough time to stick in your hand and fish out all the wrenches.  But on the other hand, progress only comes really slowly if my clients for whatever reason don’t what needs to be done on the website, are unwilling even to ask customers for reviews, etc.  When my suggestions are implemented (by me or by the client – just depends on our arrangement), it’s rare for there not to be at least significant improvement in local rankings after ~4 months – if not for the rankings to reach the levels we both expect during that time.” – Phil Rozek

Additional comments from some of the experts:

“What I’ve found, working in Local Search, is that every case is different. There is no standardized template for success, not only because each business is unique, but because Google’s behavior is erratic in its local products. Imagine the different results you might expect working with a local hair salon vs. a local auto dealership. Competition and scrutiny are going on at very different levels. Some verticals are so under-served and under-optimized that you can literally take a client to the top in a couple of weeks. But not if your client is an attorney in a metropolis; in such cases, there will be many months of effort ahead to outrank competitors, if that’s even possible. So, every new client is a new and interesting challenge, and in my opinion, results should never be guaranteed. We don’t control Google. We only control our own efforts, with the expectant hope that things will turn out well and the realistic caution that, sometimes, they don’t.” – Miriam Ellis

“After all is said and done, with Google as you know, a new issue could arise with glitches.” – Dave Oremland

“Overall, I am really moving away from only selling or focusing on ranking and trying to take a much broader approach to services we offer. I don’t sell strictly Google+ local optimization anymore. We tend to want to focus on maps, organic, content, conversion, etc. I think that this allows for us to produce quick wins and constantly show progress. Diversification helps the client and also our relationship with them.”
– Mike Ramsey

“It is hard to generalize any part of the SEO process. Delivery of results is one of the variables that depends on more than one factor, and is thus largely unpredictable. In the Google+ Local world everything spins around the index pushes, though, so the 4-8 weeks period is a potential target checkpoint.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

 —

All fantastic insights.  Except for what that Phil Rozek guy said.  What a goofball 🙂

A HUGE thanks to all the great local SEO-ers who offered their time and first-hand knowledge.  Each of them is worth following and learning from (or even hiring) if you want to get some more local-search visibility for your business.

What’s been your experience so far, in terms of how long local SEO “takes”?  Leave a comment!

50 Local SEO Lessons from 50 Clients

I’ve had the pleasure of working with 50 clients so far on local SEO (as of very recently).

The best part has been helping good people make some rain.

The second-best part is I’ve been able to learn a lot and get better at what I do.

Some of these relationships have been worth five figures to me, others three figures.

Some projects have been smooth sailing, others more like go-karting through the Himalayas.

But every single one has taught me something (or many things) about local search.

In no particular order, the lessons I’ve learned from each client:

1.  Local-search visibility should be a springboard – a launching pad.  If you can get a bunch of customers as a result of it, put some of that money into building a better site or developing a good AdWords campaign (or both).  You should also ask some of those customers to review you on third-party sites.  Local SEO is most valuable when you use it to open up even more streams of potential customers.

2.  If your business is right on the town line, make dead-certain you know which town the major data-providers “think” you’re in before you build any citations.

3.  If your Google listing is fraught with bugs that you can’t figure out and that won’t go away, you may get pretty good results if you nuke the listing and start over.

4.  Sometimes getting just one good lead from your Google listing more than pays for your investment in local SEO.

5.  Things can get FUBAR for certain types of professionals (like real-estate brokers) who share a building and a street address with dozens of others in the same industry.

6.  If you’ve built several “microsites” – each focused on a specific service you want to rank for – think twice before putting them in the “website” fields of your Google+Local listings.  You probably won’t rank well for broader search terms – and even if you do, your highly-focused site will turn off most of your visitors.

7.  It can sometimes take half a year to see results.  It’s tough to be patient, but you’ve got to be.  Easy come, easy go.  But boy is it nice when the results finally do come through.

8.  Having NAP information for a bunch of different locations on the homepage is totally fine.  It’s great to have a separate page of your site corresponding to each location / Google+Local page, but by no means is it necessary to get great rankings.

9.  Think hard about what to name your business, pick a name, and DO NOT change your mind later.

10.  If you think it somehow looks “unprofessional” to ask customers/clients for reviews, be prepared to get stomped by your local competitors.  If you’re a local-search pro, try to determine beforehand whether you might be working with someone who feels that way.

11.  If you want to be visible in cities across the country, you’d better have physical offices in those cities.  Period.  Otherwise there needs to be a discussion along the lines of “should we focus on AdWords rather than local SEO?”

12.  “I’d rather have it done right than done fast” is something every local-search pro loves to hear.  Everyone’s happy.

13.  It’s possible to have #1 local rankings and not get a single new customer as a result if you’re not serious about asking your customers for Google reviews.

14.  Geography matters in competitive, big-city markets.  You probably don’t need a downtown location, but if you’re on the city limits or ‘burbs you’d better think hard about which specific local areas you want or need to get visible in.

15.  Doing a great job of getting customer reviews can make up for having a poorly optimized website…almost.

16.  If you’re a local SEO who’s offering a new service that requires a “guinea pig,” offer it at an insanely low rate and give it your absolute best.  If the results are good, you’ve made one client into a raving fan, plus you know you’ve developed a great service for which you can charge a bit more in the future.  (This idea is from the late, great copywriter Gary Halbert, and it’s just incredibly smart and common-sense.)

17.  Realize that a webmaster who’s impossible to reach and located in another country can single-handedly bring your local SEO efforts to a screeching halt.

18.  Google may very well spank you for using non-compliant categories in your listing – but will just as likely dust you off and give you a pat on the back once you fix the categories.

19.  Bloody “MapMaker wars” are waged in some local markets.  Avoid.

20.  Getting to the top of local search for competitive terms in small-town markets is smart, doable, and profitable.

21.  If you’re getting your business online for the first time in a ultra-competitive big-city market, you need to be above average in some way.  If not through tons of client reviews, then through adding tons of relevant, helpful content to your site.  Grow.  Fine, grow slow…but grow.

22.  Simply cleaning up all your citations and removing duplicate Google listings can work wonders.

23.  Simply cleaning up the spammy internal anchor-text on your site can work wonders.

24.  Get off your duff and list your business on LocalEze.  Don’t put it off.  And if you run into trouble verifying your listing with one email address, try another (Gmail accounts always seem to work).

25.  If you’re ranking in the middle of the 7-pack but want to get to the top, don’t look for “clever techniques.”  Revisit the basics.

26.  Always err on the side of using a light touch when optimizing your Google listing and site.  That may be all you need.

27.  A homepage title tag with more than 70 characters is a problem.  A title tag with more than 300 characters is a gift to at least 7 of your local competitors.

28.  If you have multiple locations and Google+Local pages and a separate landing page for each, make the landing pages significantly different from each other.  Don’t just swap out the city names.

29.  As long as business is pretty good, many people won’t implement even simple suggestions for how to get a little more visibility and business.  And that’s OK.

30.  Some business owners have more money than God.  And they may blow it on things that don’t help them one bit in local search.  Many of them aren’t such tough competitors.

31.  A keyword-stuffed description on your Google+Local page will not hurt your rankings.  Repulse potential customers and make them leave your page, maybe.

32.  The size of the “Service Area” you specify in your Google listing does not matter.

33.  Just because your Google+Local page is stuffed with keywords and you don’t seem to have been penalized doesn’t mean your rankings won’t improve from cleaning it up a bit.

34.  If you change your street address, expect good local rankings to take many months.  Be pleasantly surprised if they come within a couple months.

35.  If the last time you updated your site was in the year 2000, you may want to consider your local-search guy’s pleas and cries to make some changes to it.

36.  Don’t have a bunch of nearly identical cookie-cutter pages geared toward every single town in your service area.  Google no like.

37.  If you’re a business owner, always tell your local-search guy or gal about any organic rankings you have before any of your landing pages are tinkered with.  If you’re a local-search guy or gal, always ask about organic rankings.

38.  Even business owners with #1 rankings in tough local markets are smart to get a local SEO audit.

39.  When in doubt, re-read the Google Places Quality Guidelines.  Especially the part about how service-based businesses need to “hide” their addresses.

40.  Even if you’re in a tiny town, don’t “target” a bigger, farther-away town.  You might be surprised at the number of eyeballs you get just by being truthful about your location.

41.  Google doesn’t seem to ding you for having Flash intros.  (Potential customers may not be so forgiving, though.)

42.  Local-searchers disagree on many best-practices.  Maybe that’s because there’s a ton we don’t know.  Or maybe it’s because things don’t need to be perfectly optimized for a business to get highly visible.  Or maybe both.

43.  A watched pot never boils.  Business owners and local SEOs need to expect the process to take a while.  If you obsessively stare at your rankings and analytics stats every day, the temptation is too great to tinker and fiddle and mess things up.

44.  If you’re in a huge metropolitan area, know exactly which ZIPs you’re visible in.  Or else you can do everything really well and actually get a lot of local visibility but drive yourself bonkers thinking that you’re visible nowhere in the city.

45.  Even highly proactive business owners who’ve put serious work into their sites will stuff keywords and footer links like it’s goin’ out of style, unfortunately.

46.  Never forget Lessons 18 or 39 (having Google-compliant categories, and knowing when you must “hide” your address).

47.  If you have many locations and one of them ranks really well, see how you can optimize the others to be more like the really visible one.

48.  People love tweaking their title tags.  Dealing with other important on-page factors: not so much.

49.  Citation-building is more complicated forUS businesses than it is for businesses in other countries.

50.  Business owners who’ve done local SEO for themselves or read up on it are usually great to work with.

Local SEO “Substitutions”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

For your Google+Local listing

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

For your website

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

For citations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Explanation
Citations matter.  A lot.  ‘Nuff said.

 

For reviews

If you…
Have trouble getting Google or Yelp reviews.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Your handy-dandy local SEO "substitutions chart"

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

Best Old Posts on Local Search: the Classics

Even in local search, there's such a thing as time-tested wisdomThe trouble with most “best-of” roundups is they have a shelf life.  They’re fresh and they’re current – which is good.  But they also age fast.

Not this one.  This roundup is like Cher: Even years from now it’ll look pretty much the same.

I’ve gathered what, in my opinion, are the best old posts on how to get visible in local search – particularly in Google Places (before it was called Google Places).

Many of these I first read when I was just getting started (‘08-‘09, before I created this blog).  Technically they’re from the last decade (!).  They’re oldies but goodies.

Why do I care how old these posts are…and why should you care?  Well, because the insights in these have held up since 2006-2009 – which is a mighty long time in “local search years.”

All the idiotic “SEO is dead” –type posts have fallen by the wayside and nobody remembers them.  And rightfully so.  But many of the below posts are still frequently linked to, commented on, and read and re-read because they’re still accurate, insightful, and useful.

True: Google and the rest of the local-search world is constantly morphing, so you need to stay abreast of all the changes.  But if you want to stay afloat in the local rankings, you also need to know what’s not changing, because that’s the stuff at the very core of local search – what it is, how it works, and what steps will get you visible to local customers regardless of what year it is.

I also suggest you follow every single one of these experts if you don’t already.

So, here’s my selection of the best old posts on local search:

2006

8 Simple Steps to Make a Page More “Local” – Matt McGee
Your website and landing pages have become even more important to your local rankings since Matt wrote this – making these best-practices even more important for you to follow.

Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search – Bill Slawski
Superb breakdown of one of Google’s local-search patents, with insights into how Google determines whether your pages are “local.”

Study: Search Driving Offline Conversions for Local Service Businesses – Greg Sterling
Ever wonder exactly why you need to bother getting visible in local search – and whether it’s all worth it?

 

2007

10 Likely Ranking Factors of Google’s Local Search Algorithm – Mike Blumenthal
Before we had nifty terms like “citation,” Professor Maps explained what mattered – and still matters – in local search in super-simple terms.

Don’t Forget…Business Reviews Are Searchable – Tim Coleman
Why customer reviews matter, plus a straightforward plan for gathering them.

Is Google Filtering Reviews or Reviewers? – Tim Coleman
Tim puts his finger on some of the stuff we still don’t know about how Google deals with customer reviews.  (Note: in 2011 Google stopped including third-party reviews in the Google Places search results, so that part of it is no longer applicable, but Tim’s overall points and methodology are why this post is still a must-read.)

Anatomy & Optimization of a Local Business Profile – Chris Silver Smith
This one’s got it all: some great explanation of basic local search ranking factors, detail on some of the more-advanced and lesser-known ones, and a really straightforward layout that helps you see how it all fits together.

 

2008

How to Create Effective Local Business Landing Pages – Dev Basu
The title pretty much says it all.  Dev’s advice also holds true for any good landing page – whether or not it’s tied to your Google Places page.

Does Local Need to Be Held to a Higher Standard? Greg Sterling Responds – Mike Blumenthal
Let’s just say I agree with this.

Local vs Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is the New Link – David Mihm
This is where I first learned what a citation is.  Even after a number of years, it’s still the best explanation of what citations are and of their place in the wild world of local search.

The “BCS” for Local Search Engine Optimization – David Mihm
Do citations overwhelm you because you’re not quite sure where to begin in gathering them?   This is a superb rundown of which third-party sites affect your local rankings the most, as well as how each of these sites matters in the grand scheme of things.

SEO for Businesses with Multiple Locations in the Same City – Andrew Shotland
This very well may not apply to you, but if you do have multiple locations in one city, Andrew’s advice remains rock-solid for (1) avoiding the dreaded problem of merged Google Places listings and for (2) getting your listings highly visible in Places.

 

2009

Google Maps LBC: How to make % Complete = 100% – Mike Blumenthal: 
An awesome pie chart that shows you how to make your Google Places listing 100% complete, according to Google’s standards.

What Would a Local SEM Do? – Mike Blumenthal
Whether this anonymous letter is made-up or a true story, it’s a sad reminder of how a Google Places campaign needs to be part of an overall visibility strategy, but not the entire strategy itself.  In other words…epic fail.

The Local New Year’s Resolution I Wish Eric Schmidt Would Make – Miriam Ellis
We’ve burned through several years and a Google CEO since Miriam wrote this.  But it’s still a dead-on take on what’s wrong with local Google and why Google has an obligation to fix its problems.  Gee, maybe they’ll make a New Year’s resolution this year…you know what a sign of resolve and commitment that is…

5 Ways Negative Reviews Are Good for Business – Matt McGee
Huh?  You actually want some negative reviews?  Yes, you probably do.

Blocking and Tackling: 10 Fundamentals of Local SEO – David Mihm
David does a great job of telling you what to focus on in your local-search efforts.  He even compares it to football.  If we’re going to stick with that metaphor, the only thing I’d add is: wear a cup.

The “Other 20%” Of Local SEO: Advanced Ranking Factors – David Mihm
Kind of a follow-up to the “10 Fundamentals” post.  The focus here is on slightly more-advanced techniques for grabbing the extra edge locally.

Secret Local Search Rankings Facts for Free – Mike Ramsey
Too many different kinds of great insights to sum up here…just give it a read.

How to Do Local SEO for Your Website in Five Minutes (or So) – Andrew Shotland
So…it’ll take you about 3 minutes to read this post…which leaves you about 2 minutes to do local SEO on your site.  Can you do it?  Can Andrew explain how?  The clock starts now

 

Honorable mention: local search posts from 2010

Local-search years are like dog years.  In not too long, posts from 2010 will also become what I consider time-tested.  They’re still a little recent as of 2012, but I’m guessing the following posts will still be as useful and insightful a couple years from now as they’ve been for the past couple of years:

Transferring Google Local Business Center Accounts – Steve Hatcher

Why Local SEO Is Harder than SEOs Think – Matt McGee

An Extremely Nifty Guide to Reviews and Local Search – Mike Ramsey

The 3 Major Causes of Duplicate Listings in Local Search – Mike Ramsey

Can you think of any great posts I forgot?  Leave a comment!

(Remember: they’ve got to be old, and they’ve got to be written by someone else 🙂 )