Local SEO for Multiple States: a Case-Study in How to Expand Your Reach

https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomas_gremaud/8060749561/

You probably want to reach more customers/clients/patients outside your immediate area.  The question is: how?

In general, what I recommend is to specialize as much as possible, work your tail off to earn relevant links over time, and maybe create great “city”/location pages or “state” pages.  Spend most of your time on those things and you’ll do well.

But that’s general advice, and it doesn’t necessarily address what work you might need to put into your site, which is a big part of the equation.  A real-life example might come in handy.

Joe Dillon of Equitable Mediation Services has provided me with a good case-study of a “local” business owner who expanded his reach, mostly just by nailing the on-site content.  Joe and his wife, Cheryl, are divorce mediators.  They work in-person with clients, but fly all over the country to do it.  They didn’t need visibility in Google’s non-local organic results, but needed to get visible in specific local markets.  In their case, they wanted to get more visible in specific states, for certain state-specific search terms.

We worked together at the beginning of 2017, when Joe and Cheryl had me do an X-Ray – meaning I did a comprehensive audit of their situation and gave them an easy-to-follow report with all my specific suggestions.

As of this writing, Joe and Cheryl haven’t taken all of my suggestions.  Also, they were doing a number of things very well even before the audit.  Still, they’ve taken enough suggestions to see results, put in serious work, and are a great example of how to cast a wider net.

Because every situation is different, you probably can’t do the exact steps Joe describes and expect the same results.  Local SEO is not a paint-by-numbers deal.  But at the very least his case-study will give you some ideas, and should make your next steps a little clearer.

Here’s Joe on how he broadened his local SEO strategy to reach people in more states:

Our blogging strategy helped, but wasn’t enough

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (well, New Jersey in 2008), my wife / business partner and I decided to start a divorce mediation firm to help people in NJ and Illinois get a divorce – if they want one – without lawyers. Like any small business that is strapped for cash when it first starts out, we had to be efficient with our marketing dollars. Which meant having to be even smarter with how we spent our time.

So we decided we would try to get clients by blogging. It was free, there was a lot to write about, and since the phone wasn’t ringing yet, we had the time. Blogging served us quite well. Before we knew it, traffic to our site had quadrupled over the course of two years, and we were getting clients. Life was good.

One day, I decided to take a closer look at Google Analytics to see exactly where in the state these people were coming from. Much to my surprise, I found our traffic was no longer coming from only New Jersey and Illinois, but from all over the US.

 

Our blog posts didn’t get us in front of many local people

Divorce is a state-specific issue, because the guidelines that govern how a settlement is reached change significantly from state to state. So there is little sense in a visitor from California reading an article about “Alimony in New Jersey.” Yet that described most of our visitors.

All that traffic was an ego and morale boost. But since we didn’t practice in 48 out of 50 States, essentially we were saying to all these visitors, “Hey thanks for coming, but please go away now.”

So my better half and I reviewed the data, and decided to start serving clients in three additional states: California, New York, and Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a decision we made casually, because we had to think out the logistics, and we knew we’d be in for a certain amount of work. We decided to expand our “service area” for two reasons. First, we were already getting some visitors from those three states. Second, divorce in those states is handled similarly to how it’s handled in Illinois and New Jersey (where we’d already seen clients).

Before we could begin helping people in these states, we knew we needed to change the structure of our website in a pretty significant way, as it was targeted exclusively to New Jersey and Illinois visitors.

Where we started from, and what changes we wanted to make

Before the big revamp, our approach had been to welcome everyone in the front door (the homepage) and then funnel them through the site depending on where they were in the process, or what information they were looking to find.

The new plan was to have more visitors land deep into the site, on a state-specific blog post or page, so that they got the sense right away we knew the issues in their state and could help them where they lived.

From there, we would encourage them to visit a state-specific hub page (so they could see where we could meet with them), and from there to encourage them to book an initial meeting. In effect, we wanted to reverse the path visitors used took through our website.

Getting the right visitors to the right “state” page: the challenges

Our goal was simple enough, but as with many things in SEO and in life, it’s easier said than done. Our situation had a few complexities: 

  1. How could we rank for three new states without hurting our existing rankings in New Jersey and Illinois?
  1. How could we convey to visitors that we weren’t some big corporation or franchise, but rather the same husband-and-wife team we’d always been?
  1. How could we convince visitors who live far from one of our office locations that we could help them negotiate the terms of their divorce virtually AND get them the same good results as if they met with us face-to-face?
  1. How could we show any given visitor that we had expertise specifically in his or her state?

First, we wrote nine new blog posts to show our state-specific expertise 

As I said, divorce laws and processes differ from state to state. So it’s a good fit for state-level local SEO, and there is plenty of helpful content one could create on how child support or alimony and things like that work in each of the new states we were practicing in. The one thing we did not want to do was write thin content, or simply duplicate content, just to add blog posts for the three new states we wanted to target.

We chose to write blog posts instead of pages for two reasons:

First, we didn’t want visitors to see right away that we practice in five states. By putting up blog posts, we were able in effect to “hide” them until visitors were ready to see them. That may seem counterintuitive, but we didn’t want to scare visitors off right away thinking we were some large corporation.

Second, writing blog posts instead of pages allowed us to use state-specific category tags. That way, when a visitor reads our blog and searches posts by category, they can choose the state they live in and be served content relevant to where they live.

For example, a California visitor can choose the “California” tag and read an article about Child Support in California.

 

Then we built five new “state” hub pages for each of the states we were practicing in – and put SERIOUS work into those pages. This was the biggest challenge, as we had to come up with even more state-specific content that wouldn’t overlap with the blog posts we created. Here too, we wanted to give visitors a sense that we knew their state, and weren’t some faceless corporation.

So we wrote unique intros for each state hub page to show our local knowledge and to drop some state-specific references.

We created a high-level overview of the four main topics of divorce in each of the five states, with links to the state-specific blog posts.

We also put ON our “state” pages some frequently asked questions that address head-on who we are and why we practice all over the place.

Believe it or not, there are divorce “franchises” out there, and we did NOT want to be perceived as one of them. (No disrespect to anyone who owns a franchise.)

We also fielded inquiries from visitors in each state regarding their most frequently asked questions, and answered them right on the page. Those FAQs were in addition to the more-general ones we added to each state page. That process gave us a bunch of new content ideas. And since it addressed a question from a specific visitor in a specific state, our logic was that if one person had that question, maybe other visitors in that state did too.

We made our internal links do more work

Once we had the new, detailed, state-specific content (described above), we could take links from our blog posts and point them to the state hub pages, and vice versa. Google seems to like internal linking, and visitors who landed on one resource might find other relevant and valuable, so we figured a two-way trail of breadcrumbs could only help.

Also, once we had the “state” pages we linked to each one in our footer.  Again, we figured both Google and people would find those helpful.

The scary parts: surgery on our title tags and H1/H2 tags, and transplanting content into and out of our homepage 

Phil advised us not to try to “optimize” the homepage for 5 different states, but rather to make it describe in more detail our services, with just enough info about each state to make it clear to Google and clients where we work. Before, we struggled with how to “optimize” for New Jersey and Illinois on the same page. Stuffing in state modifiers everywhere got awkward.

The first place we had to work that out was in the homepage title tag. Using state modifiers everywhere worked well when we were only practicing in two states, but when practicing in five, it would have looked like this: 

Divorce Mediation in New Jersey | Illinois | California | New York City | Pennsylvania | Equitable Mediation Services

117 characters, in case you’re curious. Ouch.

And the homepage welcome paragraph would have been:

“If you or your spouse live in New Jersey, Illinois, California, New York, or Pennsylvania you can mediate your divorce with us.”

Not exactly helping with the whole “we’re a small, two-person husband and wife team and not a franchise” vibe.

Also, if we were going to get our state hub pages to rank for the state-specific terms we wanted, we were going to have to move those tags, and the related state-specific content, over to those pages. This was the scariest part of the plan, because we weren’t sure how well it would be received by Google, and whether we’d mess up the rankings we already had and not pick up additional rankings.

Anyway, to give it our best shot, we did some keyword research for the state-specific “head terms” and used that as the focus of our our title tags and H1 tag. For example, in California, the term “Divorce Mediation California” had the highest search volume. So our title tag became “Divorce Mediation California | Our Locations | Get Started | FAQs” and our H1 became “Divorce Mediation California – Locations, How to Get Started, and FAQs.”

Then we had to deal with the substance of the pages themselves. As previously mentioned, we wrote lots of state-specific content for each of the hub pages. Once we had it on those state pages, we removed it from our home page. For example, here is a section on how divorce mediation is conducted in a particular state. In this case, Illinois:

Part of the restructuring between the homepage and state pages was to move the really detailed, state-specific content from the homepage to the state pages. But we still wanted some location-specific info on the homepage, so we added to the homepage a section on each state.

We kept our fingers crossed 

Making this kind of jump required a significant leap of faith.

Faith that our plan was the right plan, as you never know with the search engines if what you’re doing will help or hurt.

Faith that our state hub pages, and state-specific blog posts, would more than make up for any potential lost traffic to our homepage.

Faith this wasn’t just a big waste of time.

Faith that our visitors would respond to our messages, get to know us as humans and not some faceless corporation, and respond by booking a meeting with us.

If things didn’t work out as planned, we would simply revert back to practicing exclusively in Illinois and New Jersey as our business was fine as it was. But given the traffic we had from visitors from other states, and the fact that people throughout the United States get divorced, we felt we had to stick our necks farther out of the shell.

So what happened?

While it’s only been a few months since everything has gone live, so far the effort has been worth it.

  • We’ve climbed up the rankings for state-specific, divorce-related terms in our three new states, cracking the top 10 in Google for a few keys terms, and flirting with page one, for a number of others
  • We’ve shifted our search volume for our original two states from the homepage to their respective state hub pages with no loss of ranking (whew!)
  • We’ve increased the number of page views on our site by 71% year over year
  • We’ve increased the number of initial meetings booked with us by 38%
  • And most importantly, grown our bottom line revenues by 17% with that growth coming exclusively from the three new states we added to our practice – and reached by changing our strategy.

We believe that once we have a full year of these pages being live, and our ranking climb into the Top 10 for our key search terms, that contribution to our bottom line will grow.

Here is a screenshot of visitors from California from February 1st thru November 30th.

It wasn’t easy for us, and it won’t be easy for you 

My partner and I are not the best multi-taskers. We prefer to work on one thing at a time, and see things through from start to finish, sometimes at the detriment of other tasks or priorities. So finding the time to write blog posts, create new pages on our site, and monitor our results while servicing our current clients was challenging for us to say the least.

But despite the significant increase to our workload, and competition among multiple priorities this new project would create, we felt it was important to do it ourselves. Given the proliferation of “content marketing and creation professionals” separating the good from the bad from the ugly has become far too time-consuming for a small business like us. You would think with all the “writers” out there it would be easy to find someone good to help, and that that person would be a net time-saver. Neither of those is an outcome you can count on.

And given that this project took more than 5 months to complete (that’s 100’s of hours of man and woman power) we had to take the long view and key our eye on the prize, as results were not quick to come. Especially as we worked on it in-between our day jobs! 

Big-picture takeaways

I’ve described the finer points of what we did to expand our geographical footprint. Those exact steps may or may not be exactly what you need to do. So I’d like to sum up the broader “lessons” I’ve learned, which I’m more certain will be applicable to your situation:

Key Takeaway #1: Don’t just wing it. If possible, hire a professional to help you build a plan. Or plan yourself. Just plan! 

As business owners, we’re sometimes too close to our businesses and miss things that others can more easily see. Bringing in someone from the outside can give you a fresh perspective on what you’re doing well, and what areas you could improve on. An experienced professional can also give you peace of mind, and can be a sounding board for ideas.

We could have pumped out 50 more blog posts, or gone crazy trying to optimize our homepage for 5 different states, and it may or may not have worked out. We were tempted to try, but we’re glad we were able to reach more states after all by using less ham-handed methods.

Even if you choose not to work with a professional, there are many resources you can tap into to put together an action plan of you own to follow. One site I find helpful is the U.S. Small Business Administration and their “Small Business Guide” section in particular.

When you think about it, expanding into a new territory or market is kind of like starting a new business. You need to do market research, competitive analysis, write a business plan, calculate your costs to expand into that new market, and put together a plan. It’s probably not your idea of fun, but it’s better than launching into a strategy that you just have to abandon.

Key Takeaway #2: Decide what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do to make it happen. 

I’d love it if I could just snap my fingers and grow by business. Wouldn’t that be great? The reality is it takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work to grow. And if you’re not willing to commit 100% to the process, forget about taking on a new project in the first place.

So before you decide to make yourself crazy, or set yourself up for failure, ask yourself these questions:

Do I have the time in my day to commit to a new project? If you are already burning the candle at both ends, you’ll only stress yourself out by piling even more work that you simply won’t have time to do. Make sure you can commit the time needed to give your idea the best chance at success.

Do I have the emotional bandwidth to commit to a new project? You ever have one of those days where you just don’t feel like getting out of bed? Yeah, me too. Imagine feeling that way every day. And adding a new project to your mix. You might have the time for a new project but not the drive. And it’s the drive that’s going to get it done. Not just how many hours in the day you have free to work on it. 

Why am I considering this new project? Is it because I’m bored and I’m looking for something to do? Is it because I don’t want to address a significant concern in my business? Am I chasing some trend with no idea if it will help me or my bottom line? (Hello, social media!) If it doesn’t grow your business or move it forward in some way, don’t do it. Period. 

Is my plan solid? Do I even have a plan? How many clichés would you like me to throw at you here? How about “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” or the one about SMART goals. You may think of these as clichés but the fact is they’re universal truths. I’m guessing you don’t have unlimited time and money to waste so you better have a plan and be measuring your progress and results against it. 

Do I have the resources in-house to accomplish this? Or do I have to outsource some or all of it? As I previously mentioned, finding a competent professional to help you can be a real challenge. If you can’t find someone to help you execute the plan, can you and your team do it yourself? Or will the unfinished work become an albatross around your neck? 

What if my project doesn’t succeed? You shudder at the thought, but you’ve got to think about it. As small business owners we want to believe that our ideas are always right on the money because we know our customers and our crafts. But you must consider the possibility that your idea may not work out. And you’ll be left standing in the very same spot you are right now. You OK with that? You can afford to have it work out and reach and serve more customers, maybe even ones from another city or state. But can you afford for it not to work out? Can you take the hit?

Many business owner friends of mine have dozens of irons in the fire but never manage to complete a single project. They’ve got no time, no plan, and no resources assigned to it. They might try easy “fixes,” but nothing more. That leaves them mentally drained, stressed out by all the undone work, and frustrated that their business isn’t growing.

“I’m doing all I can!” they say. As they post pictures of themselves at the beach. On a Tuesday. At 2:30 in the afternoon. Actions speak louder than words.

If you want to grow, you need to make sure your actions are aligned with your desires. You can’t just speak the words and revenue will flow. You need to do work no one else is willing to do. Take the chances that no one else is willing to take. And pursue your goals with laser-like focus.

I’ve found this is the only way to get things done as there are lots of other distractions out there competing for my attention. If I don’t put my head down, and execute my plan, I can easily find myself playing fetch with my dog, playing the guitar, or doing one of a hundred other things that don’t contribute to my bottom line.

And if you don’t want to grow, that’s OK too. I know plenty of business owners who are content exactly where they are. They work as hard as they want, and balance their business growth with other, perhaps higher priorities. For instance, I have a friend who runs a small mortgage business, but his focus is on “being there” for his two high-school aged sons. Sure, he could grow, because there are lots of people who buy houses and need mortgages, but he’d rather spend the time it would take to grow doing other things. That’s perfectly fine.

Key Takeaway #3: There’s more to local SEO than your Google My Business pages!

 You might think that these days Google and other search engines are so hung up on providing users with hyper-local results that there’s no room for businesses that operate state-wide. Or that don’t have physical office locations near the searcher. Though that may be true to a certain extent, there are still opportunities to create local content and have searchers find you, as we did with our state hub pages.

Here are some elements you may want on a “state” or other type of location-specific page:

Introduction. A great opportunity to let visitors know upfront you can help them where they live, and that you speak their lingo. Also lets you work in some state-specific search terms. 

General FAQs. The job of any good website page or post is education and action. Sharing FAQs upfront tells your reader you know why they’re there and that you can help. And if you don’t know what FAQs to address, ask your visitors and customers. Or just listen to them a little more closely. 

Locations. Let people know your office locations, or the areas you serve. More opportunities for SEO by using state or location-specific terms. 

An in-depth look at your service, and how it’s geared to the place you’re targeting. Share with visitors how your service works in their particular area. Is there something different about pest-control in Florida from how it’s done in North Dakota? Something tells me there is. Write about it so they know you know what you’re doing. Mention specific cities and landmarks and so on where appropriate. 

Call to action. Depending on how long your page is, you may want to have multiple opportunities for a call to action. But at a minimum, tell the reader what it is you want them to do next.

Key Takeaway #4: A project with payoff is not “set it and forget it.”

 Just because you’ve completed your project doesn’t mean it’s over. In fact, the work has only begun.

Major changes like the ones we undertook required us to first set a baseline of where we were so that we could know if what we were doing was helping or hurting. We also had to put in place a system to monitor the changes we made, to ensure we were still getting the results we wanted.

Yep, after all that writing and restructuring, we created even more work for ourselves. 

Undertaking significant projects like these can seem overwhelming. But if you’ve got a plan, maybe a team of professionals who can help, and the drive to see it through from start to finish, you can do it too.

Joe and Cheryl have done a good job of avoiding the content hamster wheel, where you write 10 blog posts a month that not even mom reads, just because you heard that “Google likes fresh content.”  Instead, Joe and Cheryl focused on the one-time, permanent content on their site: mostly the homepage and the “state” pages, with blog posts that are (1) designed to be helpful and that (2) have a long shelf life.

They didn’t try to optimize every page for every state/region, and instead carved out specific pages to do that.

They didn’t try to “optimize” every crack of the homepage for every state, and instead used it to describe their services in-depth, while adding just enough location-specific content for Google and visitors to sink their teeth into.

They put in a ton of work, and have seen some very nice results, but are nowhere near “done.”  They didn’t mistake a simple plan for an easy plan.

What’s something you learned from Joe’s case-study?

Any particular step you’re eager to try?

How would you adapt it to your situation?

Leave a comment!

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review

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Let’s say you had a bad experience at a local business with half a dozen locations, and you feel the need to review the business.  How many bad reviews do they deserve from you?

a. One bad review on one site. You’re one customer.  You had one poor experience.  You can’t remark on their other 5 locations, but don’t plan to visit them.  You’ll pick a site where people will probably see your review, you’ll say your piece, and that will be that.

b. A few bad reviews: one on each major review site. Normally you stick to one site, but your experience was so awful you feel you’d be a Bad Samaritan by not spreading the word.  Your 3-4 bad reviews should do the trick.  You know they’ve got 5 other locations you didn’t deal with, but you can’t comment on those, and 15-20 bad reviews from one customer seems crazy (and sounds like a lot of work for you).

c.Unlimited bad reviews: you’ll write a scathing review on as many sites as you feel like, and for every location they’ve got. Who cares that you didn’t deal with their 5 other locations?  The owners should have thought of that before mistreating you so.  No such thing as a bad review they didn’t earn!  If they had 100 locations you’d be justified in writing 100-200 bad reviews.

As a reasonable person, you’d probably pick A or B.  Choice C seems excessive.  It’s also less credible: Your criticism is more believable if it’s clear you’ve stuck to the locations you’ve dealt with.  Won’t seem as much like a personal crusade to destroy the business.

Yelp doesn’t care.  Apparently, any given customer can review as many locations of your business as he or she would like, as long as each review is at least a little different.  Just regurgitate n’ reuse.

To Yelp, if you’ve got 3 locations and 1 angry customer, that customer is entitled to 3 nasty reviews.

Recently, I reported a redundant Yelp review of one of my clients, a doctor with 2 practice locations.  He’s got solid reviews: mostly good reviews, with a few bad ones.  One patient wrote a review of his main office location, and that review seemed legitimate, but then she reviewed his other location.  Admittedly she didn’t even go there.  She said, in effect, “Check out all the bad reviews of the doctor’s main location.  As I said in my review of that one, he’s terrible because…blah blah blah.”

I’ve had some success in reporting unfair and non-compliant Yelp reviews, and getting them removed.  In the past, I’ve been able to get them to remove reviews that are exact copies: a customer writes a 1-star review of one location, and does a simple copy-and-paste for the other location(s).  Yelp has always removed carbon-copies.

Why should redundant, near-duplicate reviews be any different?  Why should customers be able to “spin” the same review and reuse it against you?

They shouldn’t be able to.  I don’t know how to explain why Yelp HQ thinks that (other than by pointing out the obvious: they’re idiots).

Yelp’s review-writing guidelines (like Google’s) appear deliberately broad, so as to allow for a “know it when we see it” judgment when one party flags a review for removal.  I suspect one reason Yelp doesn’t remove redundant, near-duplicate reviews is that Yelp doesn’t know which one is the “correct” review, and doesn’t care to make a call.  For a company with a motto of “Real People, Real Reviews,” Yelp never has paid much attention to basic facts of the reviewer-business relationship, like whether the reviewer has had experience with 12 locations or 1 location or 0 locations of a business.

The other reason, I suspect, is that if Yelp lets fly more bad reviews than they should, business owners are more likely to feel the pinch and try Yelp’s advertising out of desperation.  Just a guess.

Anyway, besides reporting redundant reviews from the same customer, what should you do?  Fill out this somewhat-buried form.  Explain that you don’t dispute the reviewer’s right to review one of your locations – just not all of your locations.  Highlight any language that makes it clear the customer didn’t deal with those other locations.  Your request may still be ignored, but it’s a stone to turn over.

Also, get dialed-in on your review strategy before this kind of thing happens.

Any experience in getting redundant Yelp reviews removed?

How about getting other types of Yelp reviews removed?

No need to tell me how much you hate Yelp in general, but please do leave a comment on your experience with reporting reviews.

Top 10 Ways Local Business Owners Botch the All-Important Homepage, and How You Can Get Yours Right

http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/507925-you-had-one-job

It’s a shame so many business owners spend more time chasing shiny new objects than they do nailing the fundamentals.

Mess up your homepage and your local rankings won’t be all they can be, or you’ll scare away people, or both.  It’s of outsize importance to Google and to customers/clients/patients.  Craft an excellent homepage and you might give yourself wiggle room to mess up in other areas – and maybe for it not to matter as much.

In helping business owners make rain, I see and get to work on more homepages than your average bear.  Here are what I’d consider the 10 most-common homepage mistakes, and how you can avoid making them:

Homepage mistake 1: It’s wafer-thin on content.

Most homepages skimp on info about specific offerings (services, products, treatments, or practice areas).  Have at least a blurb on each offering you care about, and include links to the pages where you describe them in more detail.

Homepage mistake 2: There’s little info about the service area or locations.

You don’t want Google and customers to have to guess or dig to determine where you are or what areas you serve.  Make it as plain as day.

Homepage mistake 3: It’s got no or too-few links to important subpages.

If you’ve got other pages you want visitors to see and for Google maybe to rank well, you’d best link to them.  Maybe your most-important 5-10.  I like bullet-point lists.

Homepage mistake 4: It’s been colonized by a slider.

Most sliders slow down the load-time of your page, push your strongest material below the fold, and are ignored by visitors.  Consider taking yours behind the barn, or at least replacing it with a static image.

Homepage mistake 5: There’s nothing unique or compelling in the title and/or description tag.

Having your keyword(s) + city is not enough.  Be a giraffe among zebras.  Weave in as much of your USP as you can.

Homepage mistake 6: Not tracking visitors’ clicking and scrolling behavior.

Use a tool like CrazyEgg or HotJar to determine which parts of your page visitors care about and which they ignore.

Homepage mistake 7: Clear calls-to-action aren’t in all the places they should be.

Having one call-to-action at the top and bottom of the page is a no-brainer.  If it’s a long page, have a call-to-action somewhere in the middle.  Because you’re tracking clicking and scrolling behavior (see above point), in time you’ll probably know which one pulls the most weight.

Homepage mistake 8: A functional Google Map isn’t embedded.

If you’ve got an office or bricks-and-mortar location, your would-be customers probably want to be able to pull up directions easily.  Google may like to see driving-direction look-ups.

Homepage mistake 9: It’s filled with knickknacks for non-customers.

Links to social profiles, a “recent blog posts” section, etc.  Eschew them – unless you want people to pay attention to those doodads and not call you.

Homepage mistake 10: It assumes the visitor saw the reviews.

Will your homepage impress a word-of-mouth referral or others who might have gone directly to your site without Googling you first?

Hhomepage mistake 11 (bonus): It’s too reserved.

Don’t assume everyone will even see other pages on your site.  Make it very clear where visitors can get more in-depth info on you and your services if they want it, but don’t assume they’ll click or scroll.  Say your piece, say it early, and say it plainly.

Any homepage mistakes I forgot?

Any you don’t think are mistakes?

What do you consider the most or least serious issue, and why?

Leave a comment!

Distance to Business Now Showing in Google’s Local Knowledge Panel

Google a business by name and you’ll see something new in the knowledge panel on the right: your distance to the business, from the number of miles, down to the number of feet if you’re real close.

I didn’t see this even earlier today.  The above screenshot is from desktop, but clearly it’s another “mobile-first” update.  It shows in the Google Maps app – and may have been showing there for some time – but does not show in the Google app.

Google has loaded up the knowledge panel continuously, with “critic reviews,” the return of “Reviews from the web,” and “Send directions to phone” having popped up just in 2016.  Google had been adding features to it before then, too, like “peak hours.”

Who knows where Google is headed with this?  I wouldn’t be surprised if “distance to business” went away for a while, and then got reincarnated as an AdWords extenstion.

This addition is many things, but if nothing else, it goes to show how much Google knows about you and your location.  Kinda unnerving.

What do you make of the “distance to business” addition?

Do You Really Need a Facebook Page for Each Location of Your Business?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ecastro/4936469618/

Last year a client of mine with multiple locations asked me whether she really needed to bother creating a Facebook page for each location.  She wanted to have just the mothership page, for her flagship location.  Simpler.  Less hassle.

Less benefit, too.

I suggested creating a Facebook page for all locations (which we did), and mothballed away my long answer for the next person who asked.

Then the question came up again on Google+.  I offered a chopped-down answer there, but figured it was time to release the director’s cut.

Here’s why you should have a Facebook page for every location of your business (or at least for the locations you care about):

1.  Customers want and expect to find a Facebook page for the location nearest them.

2.  Google is more likely to show the Facebook page for your nearest location when would-be customers people in that area search for you by name. People in NYC see your NYC page, people in New Jersey see your Jersey page, etc. – even if they type exactly the same thing into Google.  Google is pretty location-sensitive, and your strategy shouldn’t be any less so.

3.  It’s an excellent “barnacle SEO” opportunity.

4.  People don’t want to feel like they’re working with a satellite office, or with “corporate.”

5.  You’ll have a chance at ranking well in Facebook – which is important to the extent that would-be customers go there and actually use Facebook’s search box to find what they’re looking for. Most people don’t do that, but you want to be visible to the ones who do.

6.  It’s another place to get reviews, and a mighty important one at that. You don’t want only your “flagship” location to have Facebook reviews.

7.  Want to use Moz Local? For verification and anti-spam purposes, it requires you to have a Facebook page or a Google My Business page for each location you want to load into Moz Local.  Now, the tool isn’t always good at verifying you by looking at your Google page (for instance, you’ll run into problems if your address is hidden).  That’s when your Facebook page may come in handy.  Belt and suspenders.

8.  It’s a good local citation.

9.  Even you don’t create a Facebook page for a given location, one might be auto-generated for you anyway. If Factual gets it meathooks on your local-business data, it will feed that data to Facebook, which will pump out an “unofficial” page.  You may or may not want that page, which may or may not even have the correct info on your business.

10.  Wouldn’t you want the option of posting content that’s specific to one local market or the other? Rather than generic piffle that everybody’s supposed to like but that nobody really likes.

11.  You don’t even have to spend time being active on all your Facebook pages (or any of them, for that matter). It’s nice if you do, but not essential.  The page just needs to exist, if only for the people who expect to find it, and as a vessel for reviews.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/evenkolder/16555476280/

 

12.  It’s quick and easy to create each page. Don’t do it if you have a good reason that I didn’t address, but don’t skip it out of laziness.

13.  You can always set up “Locations,” if you want what Facebook used to call a parent-child structure between your “main” page and your pages for specific locations. Here’s a great guide on Facebook “Locations” from Sweet IQ.

Can you think of reasons I didn’t mention?

Any arguments against creating a Facebook page for each location?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Monetizes the Description?

Justin Mosebach of YDOP has noticed a new paid offering in some of his multi-location clients’ Yelp dashboards: the ability to add a description with “Specialties, History, Meet the Owner/Manager, Business Recommendations.”

Whoa, whoa…hold on: haven’t those kinds of business descriptions been showing up for years now on free Yelp listings?  Yes.  But the prompt to “contact Yelp sales” to add one appears to be new, which suggests that Yelp might be phasing out free rich descriptions for new listings.  Existing descriptions will probably be grandfathered in and stay put, at least for a while.

A few notes from Justin, based on a few questions I asked him:

1. He first noticed this on Friday.

2. It’s not showing up in all clients’ dashboards.

3. He didn’t use Yelp’s bulk-upload feature here.

4. He found a loophole / workaround to get a rich description for a new listing up for free.  (Justin asked that I not post it and prompt Yelp to close the loophole.)

Are you seeing this offer?  If so, when did you first notice it?

Have you noticed any other changes in Yelp?

Leave a comment!

 

Top-3 Local SEO “Content” Wins for People Who Hate to Write

You shudder at the thought of having to write content for your site or pay someone to write it until the day you sell your business or buy Depends.

Don’t get me wrong: writing and sharing your best info over a period of months or years can have enormous payoff.  My post “100 Practical Ideas for Small-Business Blog Posts” and its follow-up can help you on that.

You’ll probably find a way, if that’s what it takes for better local rankings and more customers.  But must creating “content” feel like a trip to nowhere?

Img. credit Ratha Grimes https://www.flickr.com/photos/ratha/4833010513/

No.

Is there another way to make progress?

Yes.

Focus on one-time content first.  Build on the content you have, the knowledge you have, and the site you have.

You’ll still have to write or get someone else to, but the point is you’re focusing on the highest-payoff work.

So, before you worry about what to create and share long-term, here’s what you should do on your site to make the most of a limited tolerance or budget for writing:

Priority 1: Perform “content CPR.”

Find short, undetailed pages on your site and beef them up with all the info a potential customer might want to know.  Focus on pages where you describe a specific service you offer.  If possible, find pages that rank very low on page 1 or somewhere on page 2.  Those pages may just need a little life breathed into them to start moving in the rankings.

Not sure what to put on those pages?  My post on “25 Principles of Building Effective City Pages for Local SEO” might get the juices flowing (even if you’re not creating “city” pages).

Priority 2: Fill in the gaps.

For example, do you have a giant “Services” page with one paragraph on each service you offer?  Break it up.  Create a separate page for each service, and go into more detail on each of those pages.  You can keep the main “Services” page if you want: just add some links to the more-specific subpages.

In general, is there a service you want to promote that doesn’t have a page you’re really proud of?

That’s low-hanging fruit, especially if it’s a less-popular search term.  The benefits of getting really granular with your pages are that (1) it’s an easy way to pick up rankings for niche terms (e.g. “blower door test Atlanta”), and that (2) the people who’d type in those niche terms probably aren’t tire-kickers, know exactly what they want, and are just looking for the right person or company.

(For more suggestions on busting out more pages, this other post of mine might help: 21 Pages a “Small Local Business” Site Needs for Tip-Top Local Visibility.)

Priority 3: Cannibalize your other resources.

Do you have underperforming microsites or old websites that have some decent info in them?

Did you put a lot of time into writing a blog post that not even your mom would read?

Did posters on your Facebook page ask questions that you get asked all the time, and that should maybe go on an FAQs page?

Do you have customer reviews that would be a shame not to show off on your site?  (As I’ve explained, it’s OK to do that.)

Was the “about us” section on your Yelp page a labor of love?

If you think your site would be a higher-payoff place for anything you’ve written, online or offline, bring it on home.

Only once you’ve taken those 3 steps as far as they’ll go should you turn to creating blog posts, videos, or whatever other content on an ongoing basis.  The timing matters.  At least the one-time stuff can start paying off while you’re wrestling with the ongoing content-creation.  Or you can just conserve your energy.

What are your “content priorities”?

Any you’d add to the list?

Leave a comment!

 

25 Principles of Building Effective City Pages for Local SEO

So you want to create “city pages” to attract local customers in places where you don’t have an office.  How can you make those pages attract customers rather than repulse them, rank well in the organic results, and not get stomped by Google’s “doorway page” update?

I’m mostly talking about pages that target cities where you do not have a physical location.  Still, most or all of these principles also apply to pages you’d create for specific “location” or “office” pages.

City pages in general have about the same reputation that Gigli has.  The bar is low.  That’s good news for you.

By no means do you need to apply all my suggestions.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Some of my clients are killin’ it even though they’ve only put a few of these best-practices into practice (so far).

Here are 25 principles for creating the kind of city pages that Google likes, customers like, and you won’t be ashamed of.

Bedrock principles

1.  Make your city pages so good you’d be willing to pay $20 a click for PPC traffic. Think of how hard you work for your “free” online visibility.  Do you really want to send that traffic to 30 squirted-out pages?  This isn’t just a thought-exercise: It may come to paying $20 a click.  Especially if your SEO campaign doesn’t work out, you’ll probably try PPC next.  Then you’ll learn all too quickly that it’s important to send visitors to pages that are ready for battle.

 

2.  Make them unique, in every way you can. In a minute I’ll go into more detail as to what I mean.  For now, let’s just establish uniqueness as a basic rule of effective city pages.

 

3.  Think of a genuine connection to the city. Did you grow up there?  Do any of your employees live there?  Did you do your first or biggest project there?  Do an inordinate number of your clients come from that city?

Think of an angle and explain it.  If you can’t do both of those things maybe you shouldn’t target that city after all.

 

4.  Especially if you can’t think of a genuine connection to the city, mention specific features of the place, landmarks, current issues, etc. Show would-be customers and Google that at least you’ve done a little homework.

 

5.  Make a few pages and see how they fare before making a bunch more. Get 2 or 3 pages to rank and see if they bring in any customers.  If they don’t, work on them until they do.  Sounds like a pain, but it’s a lot less painful than having to send 30 pages to fat camp.

 

6.  Don’t treat all your pages the same: Put extra work into the pages for the highest-payoff cities. Sure, you want to rank in 10 nearby cities, but probably only 2 of those cities contain the lion’s share of your would-be customers.  You probably know already which few cities matter the most.

 

7.  Even if your pages rank well and bring in customers, don’t necessarily make too many more. My somewhat arbitrary limit is 10 pages.  Beyond that number, it’s hard to make good pages and to avoid spreading your time and resources thin.  There is a point of diminishing return.

 

8.  Long and detailed is good. Don’t give me that “people don’t read” hogwash.  There’s no such thing as too long; only too boring.

Lay out every reason that someone from the city you’re targeting should call you.  Explain it in plain English, but also include testimonials or reviews from past customers from that city, include pictures of jobs you’ve done there, and whatever else you can round up.  (More on this in a minute.)

 

9.  Include city-specific info that even non-customers might find useful. Non-customers are the people who might – might – conceivably link to the page, if it’s a helpful “local” resource.  That’s about the only good way you’ll ever get someone to link to your city pages.  Even if you don’t get links, you’ll have created some good “local” content.

 

10.  Avoid making “doorway” or “island” pages. Integrate your city pages into the navigation and into other pages so that people don’t have to be Jim Rockford to find them.

 

11.  Include testimonials.

 

When appropriate, mark them up with Schema or hReview when possible.  You want those golden “review stars” showing up in the search results.  You can mark up your testimonials by hand, or use a service like NearbyNow.

 

12.  It’s never too late to craft great city pages. Especially if yours suck, work on them.  But keep working on them even if they’re just pretty good.

 

13.  Recognize when your pages are fine but you’ve got other problems. Do you get plenty of leads but lose them while they’re on the phone?  Do people start to fill out your “Contact Us” form, but abandon it partway through?  Your landing pages are just one part of the funnel.

 

14.  Don’t create a page for every city-service permutation. Sometimes I see companies that offer 5 services and want to reach 10 cities end up creating 50 pages.  It’s a hot mess that looks like this:

air-conditioning-repair-cleveland.html

air-conditioning-repair-columbus.html

air-conditioning-repair-cincinnati

heating-repair-cleveland.html

heating-repair-columbus.html

heating-repair-cincinnati.html

Yeah, don’t.  You’ll spread yourself thin and create pages that bore or turn off customers, even if those pages rank at all.

Create a page for each specific service you offer.  Create a page for 5-10 of the top cities you’re trying to reach.  Just don’t multiply them like rabbits.

 

15.  Photos are good. Include them whenever you can.  Photos of specific projects in specific cities are the best.

 

 

Pro tips

16.  Scour competitors’ city pages – even their entire sites – for good ideas to use on your city pages. This is one of the relatively few ways competitive intel is useful for local SEO.

 

17.  Vary more elements than you think you “need” to. For instance, experiment with wildly different title tags, or make one page three times longer than all the others, or create a video dedicated to one of the cities.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you created a bunch of pages and just assumed you knew what works best in all cases?

 

18.  Link out. Cite resources.

Outbound linking may be a small ranking factor in and of itself for Google, and it’s a nice way to make your content more unique, but that’s not why you do it.  It’s simply more helpful to the reader.  The worst posts I’ve read are the ones that don’t link to anyone’s work – as though the deadbeat writer never learned from someone who came before.

 

19.  Consider positioning your pages as part of a “Portfolio” or “Gallery” or “Success Stories” structure. Each of your (let’s say) 5-10 city pages can show up under a “Portfolio” menu dropdown, for example.

There are at least a few benefits to this setup:

  • People who didn’t land on your city pages originally might actually go to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one factor Google looks at to determine whether a given city page is any good: do visitors only leave it to go somewhere else on the site, or is it a two-way street?
  • You’re incorporating the pages into your navigation – rather than leaving them as “doorway” pages.
  • It’s a little easier to link to pages that show off work you’re proud of – rather than link to one city page of a dozen.

 

20.  If there’s ever a time to use call-tracking numbers, this is it. Having a separate number for each page might be excessive, but having a tracking number that only appears on your city pages might help you gauge their effectiveness.

 

21.  Consider adding city-specific coupons or special offers. This is another nice way to track leads, I might add.

 

22.  Think about the subdirectory / path structure before you make the pages. Keep it simple and short, like example.com/milwaukee, rather than example.com/milwaukee-dentists.  Otherwise, it’s easy to create spammy URLs, and harder to restructure later if you need to.

 

23.  Don’t necessarily have the same person write all the pages. Especially if you’re running out of ideas and can’t think of a genuine connection to the city (see principle #3), have someone else rub some brain cells together.

 

24.  Consider hiring a pro writer. Someone like Joel Klettke comes to mind.  Even if you’ve done the legwork and even if you’re a decent writer, it’s wise to have someone who can challenge your assumptions and offer new ideas.  You need a wingman.

 

25.  Especially if you’ve got a big ol’ multi-location company, give ownership of the page to a person on your team. Give that person access to your CMS. Have him or monitor city-specific news or events and keep updating the page and building it up over time.

Make it easy for your “boots on the ground” to publish content.  That is how you make your city-page strategy scalable, if that’s a concern of yours.  (Thanks to Darren for this point.)

 

What’s the best “city page” you’ve ever seen (or made)?  How well does it rank, and how well does it bring in leads?

Any principles I missed?

Leave a comment!

How to Cultivate Hearty Local SEO Genes for Your Business

 

If you’re opening a new business or considering some changes, can you make your business itself local-search-friendly?

Can you bless yourself with an inherent advantage in the local rankings – like super local SEO genes?

Yes ma’am.

It’s like with athletes.  Of course, hard work separates them from each other and from couch potatoes.  But if you’re a swimmer, wouldn’t it help at least a little if you’re like Michael Phelps and have flipper-feet, and arms longer than your legs?

Genes only get you so far.  But every bit counts in a competitive world.  If possible, you want to make the inevitable hard work easier, and you want everyone else have to work a little harder.

You’ll only find this post useful if you’re starting your business, opening a new location, or considering making major changes.

I’m going to throw out a bunch of suggestions for how you might make your business inherently more local-SEO’d.  Some of them you may have considered before.

I’m not saying all these ideas are applicable to you.  It’s more likely that only a couple of them are realistic in your case.  Just see what you can apply to your situation.

Relevance genes

Suggestion 1.  Position yourself as a specialist – or focus your whole company on a niche.

If you’re a roofer and you focus on metal-roofing jobs it’ll probably be easier to rank for “metal roofing” than for “roofing” and “roofers.”  The same is true if you’re a dentist who mostly wants to do more implants, or a mechanic who wants more transmission work.

Specializing doesn’t necessarily mean you offer fewer services.  Steakhouses serve more than steak.  It’s a marketing decision, more than anything else.

Less competition often makes it easier to rank well.  Your local visibility might also open more wallets, because you’re catering to a specific group of people and not trying to be all things to all people.

The traffic is likely to be of higher quality.  The more specific the search term, the more likely it is the searcher has moved beyond tire-kicking and know what he/she wants.

Also, you’re in a better position to use a descriptor on your Google Places page.

 

Suggestion 2.  Name your business with a relevant keyword or two.  Like “Acme Windows & Gutters” or “Smith Accounting & Bookkeeping.”

Do it for real: make it official with the State.

Speaking of state, consider using a state name in your name, like “Acme Windows & Gutters of Maryland.”

A couple nice upshots of picking out a strategic business name are:

(1) brand-name links to your site will include relevant anchor text, and

(2) customers’ reviews are more likely to mention relevant keywords, just because there’s a good chance they’ll mention your name.

 

Suggestion 3.  Include your 1-2 main service(s) in the name of your site.

Think hard about whether to include the name of your city.  Unless you plan to focus on one city and don’t really want customers from elsewhere, don’t pick a city-specific website name.  You don’t want to force yourself into using multiple websites.

 

Suggestion 4.  Hire someone who speaks a language that many of your customers speak, or that’s widely spoken in your city or neighborhood.  For starters, that will allow you to create multilingual pages on your site, where you describe your services in that language.  That will help you rank for those services.

 

Location genes

Suggestion 5.  Get an address in a populous city, if that’s where you’re trying to rank.  (Gee, Phil, I didn’t see that one coming…)

Must your business be in the big city if you want to rank there?  Maybe not.  It depends on several factors, chief of which is how much competition you’ve got.

I have no idea how practical it is for you to move your operations, but that’s not the point.  We’re simply talking about whether a big-city address is a ranking advantage in the big city.  It is, especially since Google’s Pigeon update.

Don’t forget that in some ways the bar is lower.  Even if you only rank well in Google Places in a ZIP code or two, you might reach all the customers you need.

 

Suggestion 6.  Pick a location near the center of town, or near to your competitors.  Google may consider the “centroid” to be some place downtown, or somewhere in the main cluster of where most businesses like yours are located (Mike Blumenthal has suggested the latter).

 

Suggestion 7.  Try not to pick a location on or very near a town line.  That can confuse data-aggregators, like InfoGroup and Acxiom, which might sometimes list your business as being in City A and other times in City B.  These sites feed your business info to all kinds of local directories – citation sources.  You don’t want some of your citations to list you in the wrong city.

 

Suggestion 8.  Pick an address near a popular local landmark or destination, so you can rank for “keyword near place,” “keyword near me,” or “keyword nearby” when visitors search that way – most likely on their phones.  This seems especially important post-Pigeon.

 

Suggestion 9.  Get an office that looks good enough that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to get a Google Business View photo shoot.

No, your place of business or your photo shoot don’t need to be as cool as this.

(Hat tip to this post.)

 

Phone genes

Suggestion 10.  Research the phone number you’re considering, to make sure that the previous owner didn’t own a business with tons of citations that use that number.

Also, don’t get 867-5309.

 

Suggestion 11.  Make sure the phone number you use isn’t a number you might want to retire later – like an 800 number or your cell number.

 

It may seem odd to consider local SEO when making the most basic business decisions.  On the other hand, all the ideas I suggested also make sense from an offline, old-school-marketing standpoint.

Your local rankings and business will only really grow from hard work.  But you can give yourself some advantages from the get-go.

Are you considering any of those ideas?  Can you think of other ways to breed a local-SEO-friendly business?  Leave a comment!

10 Guidelines for Putting NAP Info on Your Site for Local SEO

Peanut (our cat) - the nap expert.

Peanut (our cat) – the nap expert at work.

Putting your business’s NAP info – name, address, phone – on your site is a basic step you take if you want to rank well in the local results.

It’s also common sense if you’re trying to attract local customers.

Still, I get questions all the time – questions about all the details.  I’m hoping to answer them all in one breath.

Here are my 10 guidelines for putting NAP info on your site:

1.  Must be crawlable text – that is, “readable” by Google and other search engines.  That means it’s not OK to have it only as an image (for instance).  My rule of thumb is if you can copy and paste it, it’s readable by the search engines.

2.  Must match what’s on your Google Places page and citations – more or less.  Don’t worry about little formatting differences – like “Ave” versus “Avenue,” or whether there’s a period after “Ave.”

3.  Doesn’t have to be in Schema or in hCard, although there’s no reason not to mark up your NAP info that way.  Still, plain old HTML is fine.

4.  When in doubt about the formatting, refer to a Schema generator:

Schema-Creator.org

MicrodataGenerator.com

The one by TVS Internet Marketing

5.  The NAP info can go pretty much anywhere on your pages / in your code.  If you’re using WordPress or a similar platform, it can go in footer.php (my favorite), or in a sidebar widget.  It can go in the table your content is in, or in the footer area.  I wouldn’t suggest adding it to your title or description tags, though – usually a waste of space.

6.  Don’t include links to pages on your website – unless doing so helps usability, like if you have a “Our Locations” page where you list all your locations.

7.  If you have multiple locations, you can have all your NAPs on each page, or you can have just the NAP for Location A on the page for Location A, and so on.  I’ve never seen problems with using NAPs on the same landing page or site-wide.

8.  You can have the same NAP blob appear more than once on the page.  I wouldn’t have it appear 8 times on a page.  But 2 or even 3 times, sure.

9.  It’s OK to style it with CSS, or to have it on one line.

10.  If you run a home-based business and are extra-concerned about privacy, just leave off the street address – if you feel you must.  But you should still include your business name, city, ZIP, and phone number.

Any questions about NAP?  Tips?  Leave a comment!