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!

Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons

Image credit Stephen Chiang (stephenchiang.com)

Image courtesy of Stephen Chiang Photography

Some business owners think the best way to rank in many cities in the local search is to have many websites.  That’s a losing strategy.

They build microsites – by which I mean a bunch of small, usually almost identical sites with names like:

            PlumbingCompanyCambridge.com

            PlumbingCompanySomerville.com

            PlumbingCompanyWatertown.com

            PlumbingCompanyMalden.com

            PlumbingCompanyCharlestown.com

            PlumbingCompanyWinthrop.com

            PlumbingCompanyLynn.com

            PlumbingCompanyChelsea.com

            PlumbingCompanyRevere.com

There are two main scenarios where business owners feel tempted to use microsites:

Scenario 1.  They’ve got a single-location business that serves customers in a wide area – like within a 50-mile radius.  They know they probably can’t get visible in Google Places across that much terrain, so they want to pick up organic rankings in all those neighboring towns.

Scenario 2.  They’ve got several locations – using addresses that Google considers legitimate – and want each Google Places page to lead to a website that has the city in the domain name.

Microsites are a bad wager in both situations.  (They’re even a dumb move for ecommerce.)

That’s not to say some businesses don’t grab some OK local visibility with them – and maybe even some customers.  But it’s relative: I can’t think of a situation when those businesses wouldn’t be better off using fewer sites.

Here’s my assessment of using microsites for local SEO:

Pros

  • You can stuff the same city name into every greasy little crevice of the site, including the domain name.

 

Cons

  • You’re spreading your content thin.  Let’s say you have 8 sites and you bust your hump to create great info.  Either you kinda-sorta help 8 sites, or you give them all boilerplate content, or one site gets all the benefit.  Your desire to build good sites is caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
  • It’s a similar challenge with any links you earn.  (Not that you can create a bunch of sites with identical link profiles, unless they’re garbage links.)  You’ll have multiple sites with mediocre link profiles, rather than one strong lineup.
  • Even if all your sites saw an equally good boost from the content and links, you can’t help but imagine how much one site (or even a couple) would have benefited.
  • If you only have one location it’s hard to figure out which site – if any – should get a crack at Google Places.  Let’s say you’ve got 10 microsites.  That probably doesn’t correspond to 10 physical locations or separately registered businesses.  It’s more likely you’ve got just one location, in which case Google insists you can only have one Google listing.  (Although there are a few exceptions).
  • If you only have one location, you’ll be able to put your address info – an important ranking factor – on only one of the sites.
  • If you do have multiple locations, there is no good reason you can’t just have location-specific landing pages.
  • It’s easy to overdo the interlinking between your sites.  You’ll always be tempted to add one more keyword-rich link from one keyword-rich URL to another.  That’s a bad idea because…wait, quiet…I think I can hear Penguins waddling over to you.
  • Higher costs: More domain names, hosting, and development expenses.  That also makes you more likely to skimp on important investments – like help with local SEO, which you may need bad.
  • It’s harder to manage all the sites.  If you make a mistake, chances are you’ll end up needing to fix it 8 or 9 or 10 times.  Sometimes pain has a purpose.  Then there are those times you step on a Lego.
  • You’re probably creating a bad user-experience.  Your content likely will be thin.  Or you’ve “geotargeted” your content with cutting-edge techniques like repeating 15 times on the page that your company is the leading “plumbers Dallas TX.”  Would-be customers will know you’re just paying their city or town lip-service.
  • It’s harder to tell people you talk with offline which website to check out.
  • Are you really going to have 7 Facebook pages, 7 Twitter handles, 7 Google+ pages, etc. – that you don’t simply build, but also develop?
  • What if you already have one “main” site that all your customers are used to going to?
  • With nothing to differentiate your site other than a possible small advantage in the name, you’re one Google algorithm update away from the fiery pits of page 37.

 

My rule is simple: Have as few sites as possible.

Even if you think that number will end up being more than a handful of sites, figure out your exact reasons for having that many sites.  If your reasons begin with “Because Google…” then you’re probably headed for trouble sooner or later.

Ideally you have one site that you grow into a beast, through focus and sustained effort.

But however many sites you have, you’ll get out of them exactly what you put into them.

What’s been your experience with microsites?  Anything you want to say in favor of them?  Leave a comment!

21 Pages a “Small Local Business” Site Needs for Tip-Top Local Visibility

What pages on your site can help you snag some better local rankings – and customers?  And do you have those pages on your site?

May seem like basic questions.  But if most of the sites I see are any indication, most business owners haven’t lost sleep over them.

They’ve got a homepage.

There’s a “Contact” page with a phone number on it.  (The number has a typo.)

There’s an “About Us” page that doesn’t identify “us” or anything about “us” but does tell you how great the company is.  Maybe it even has a stock photo of office workers with clip-on ties high-fiving each other.

The better sites might even have a “Services” page, plus maybe a “Testimonials” page with a one-liner from JJ in Chicago and Anna Karenina penned by Martha in Florida.  Now that’s marketing gold.

Let’s put aside the fact that most small-business sites don’t include a good blog or have any way to grow bigger this year than they were last year: The slim number of pages alone makes most sites online paperweights.  If a business is doing OK for customers, it’s despite the site, not because of it.

Fewer pages on your site means there’s less info for visitors to grab onto.  Each page you create is a chance to answer a question a potential customer might be wondering.

And don’t give me that “but people don’t read” hogwash.  They read…when you address their problems and questions.  You want them to have the option of reading more if they want to.

Creating more pages is also a chance to pick up some local-organic rankings, if you play your cards right.  Most sites are so thin that the only page that might – might – rank well in the local results is the homepage.  A meatier site gives you – if nothing else – more opportunities to grab some organic rankings.

Not all of these page-types will apply to your business, but I’m guessing most will.

See if you can create these 21 types of pages on your site:

“Locations” – If you have locations in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, you might have an “Ohio Locations” page with a short blurb on each of those locations, plus links to pages where you say a little more about each location.  Or you might have a “service areas” page.  Same idea, but you’d be pointing people toward “city pages” for the main cities you serve.

Individual location – You’d have a page for your Cleveland location, a page for your Columbus location, and another one for your Cincinnati location.

“Services” – List all your services, have a blurb on each, and link to a page for each.  Do the same if you offer products, rather than services.

Individual service – The more detail you can give on each service, the better.

“Our Team” or “About Us” – This is a page everyone expects to see.  It’s also one that you can pretty easily optimize: It can be “Our Electricians” or “About Your Surgeons” or “Meet Your Attorneys.”  Here’s an excellent example.

Individual bios – Have a page for each employee, technician, agent, doctor, nurse, lawyer, paralegal, etc.

FAQs – You could have a general FAQ and one (or several) for more-specialized questions.  You could have “Dental Insurance FAQs,” “First-Time Home Buyer FAQs,” “Common Questions on Tankless Water Heaters” – whatever.

Testimonials – Ideally you’d mark them up with Schema or hReview-aggregate.

“In the Media” – Have you been featured in the local paper, or did the local news reporter stick a mic in your face for 15 seconds?  Show or mention it here.

“Community” or “Giving Back” – Describe what you do for charity.  (Do something, if you’re not already.)

Photos – Be sure to name the photos relevantly, and try to include captions.  Don’t overdo it.

Videos – Embed your videos on the page.  See if you can name your page something like “Videos on How to ____.”

Awards or Recognition – It’s fine to mention little stuff until there’s bigger stuff.

Company History – Stick to the story; on other pages you can talk about what makes you great.  If there’s not much of a “history” yet, consider doing a “Values” page.

“Qualifications” or “Certifications” – Same idea as with the “Awards” or “Recognition” page.  Use what you’ve got.

Insurance accepted – If applicable.

Financing – If applicable.

“Why us?”Here’s an example.

Case-study – Describe what you did for a specific customer or client (with his/her permission, of course).  Include pictures if you can.

“Learning Center” – Define relevant, useful, and unavoidable jargon terms you think customers should know.  Explain concepts you’d like your customers to grasp – for their sake and for yours.  Even cannibalize some of your FAQs and use them here.  Here’s an example of a good “learning center.”

“Portfolio” – Most applicable if you’re a contractor, designer of any kind, or consultant.

A late addition, #22: “Coupons” or “Savings” – Thanks to Zac Palmer of Divot Agency for this suggestion (see his comment, below).

By the way, you’ll notice I didn’t mention some common types of pages.  I didn’t mention boilerplate pages like “Contact” or “Privacy Policy,” because those just aren’t going to rank for any search terms, and pretty much every business has one already.

Anyway, back to the action items…

What if you already have those pages on your site?  See how you can beef them up.

What if you like the “minimal” look?  Then get used to minimal rankings and phone calls.  (Or just work on your navigation and menu structure.)

It’s up to you to create the lumps of clay – and yes, that involves writing.

But once you get to the sculpting stage, you’ll want to refer to these handy posts on on-page optimization:

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

Designing Business Location Website Pages: Part One – Single Location Business – Aaron Weiche

Designing Business Location Website Pages, Part 2: Multiple Location Business – Aaron Weiche

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update – Mike Ramsey

And a few relevant posts from me:

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

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s) – me

50 Examples of Title Tags That Rock at Local SEO – me

Maybe the best thing about a bigger, more-detailed site is that it’s a reliable way to get found by local customers even if / when something bad happens to your Google+ Local (or Bing Places) rankings.  Relying on the “maps”-style rankings is just stupid.

While we’re on the topic, I have found that bigger, beefier sites tend to rank better in the Google+ Local (or Bing Places) rankings.  Even when they don’t have many or any links.  Don’t ask me why.  It just seems to work out that way.

March into battle with more weapons.

Can you think of any types of pages that (1) customers want to see and that (2) might actually rank well?  Leave a comment!

The One Truth about Local SEO I Wish Everyone Understood

…is this:

You can’t define what “local” is, in terms of where you rank.

In other words, you can’t pick exactly which cities you’ll rank in.

 

You might know that there are two types of “local search”: (1) the Google+ Local, AKA Google Places (and Bing Places and Apple Maps and Yahoo) results, and (2) the organic results for local businesses.  I want to say a few things about the first type of results – Google+ Local.

Googlers have stated that the “local” algorithm looks at 3 overarching factors when determining where to rank your business, what terms to rank it for, and how highly to rank it relative to other businesses: relevance, prominence, and distance.

The first two you can control: My understanding has always been that your “relevance” depends on things like which business categories you’ve chosen for your Google listing and your citations, and how much info your site has on your specific services, and that your “prominence” depends on your citations, reviews, and (in some cases) links.

But the “distance”…that’s something you only control when you’re deciding where to rent office space, where to build your HQ, or – if you work out of a residential address – where you want to live.  Once you’ve planted your stake in the ground, Google decides which tent it’ll be attached to.

You can’t fool Google as to what city you’re in.  For instance, don’t put your “target” city in the address field on your Google listing if that’s not the city you’re technically located in.  (You can tell that this doesn’t fool Google, because if you go to your Google+ Local listing and click the map on the right, you’ll probably see that Google has you at the correct address anyway.)

Sure, in some cases you can (but should not) use a fake location to rank in a city where you want to rank, and because Google has been toothless about enforcing its rules lately.  But the teeth will grow back, at which point the fake address won’t seem like such a smart move.

What if you’re in a small town or suburb (or exurb) and want to be visible in the big city?  Unless you’re in a niche market and there aren’t many businesses like yours nearby, then it’s probably not going to happen.  As the density of local competitors increases, the amount of “map” you’re visible in decreases.  The more businesses Google has to pick from, the pickier it can be about which ones to show and under which conditions.

If you’re a dentist in New York City, you’re probably doing real well if you rank on the first page of Google+ Local results in your ZIP code.  If you’re a dentist in the middle of Montana, you’re probably visible in a number of towns.  That’s why, in most cases, being in a small town isn’t such a bad thing – even if you wanted to be visible in the big town.

If there’s a city where you want to be visible attract local customers, there’s always a solution – but you may not like the solution.  A situation I’m asked about frequently goes something like this:

Phil, I paint houses and I work out of my home address, which is 25 miles from the “rich town” with all the big houses I want to paint.  What should I do?

My answer to a question like that is: don’t bank on being visible on the “local map,” unless maybe you’re one of half a dozen house-painters between you and the “rich town.”  If you absolutely must be visible in the Google+ Local results in the “rich town,” move your business there.  Oh, and you’ll still hard to put in the work on your site, citations, reviews, and so forth.  (See?  I knew you wouldn’t like the solution.)

But let’s say you’re not moving your business, and you realize that you can’t pick how much of the local map you’re visible in.  How do you play your hand?

My advice is: make sure Google understands your “distance” – that is, exactly where your business is located.  You may not like the maximum amount of local turf Google gives you, but at least make sure they have enough information to give you some turf.  Therefore:

  • Have your business name, address, and phone number on every page of your site.  (Make sure it’s text you can copy and paste; it can’t be a photo, for instance.)
  • Put your city somewhere in your title tag(s).
  • Nail the citations.
  • Embed a clickable, interactive Google Map on your site, where appropriate.  (Embed the map that you see on the right-hand side of your Google listing.)

Beyond that, to the extent you need to fill in the gaps, I suggest at least dipping your toes into AdWords and working on your local-organic rankings (read this post and this one).

In the long run, it doesn’t matter much exactly where you set up shop.  If you take advantage of the many things you can control, you’ll get more customers.

“Can I Get a Temporary Location to Rank in Google Local Search?”

 

A client of mine asked me a great question the other day:

He owns a water-damage-restoration service in the part of Colorado that’s had major flooding.  He wanted to know to what extent he could get visible in the Google+ Local (AKA Google Places) results in one of the hardest-hit cities – Boulder – using a temporary business location.

My client – let’s call him Pat – phrased the question this way:

“We had a lot of flooding here and we have been busy.  I am going to open another temporary location in Boulder and I wonder if that is an opportunity to get on the Google maps?”

Here was my quick response:

“Getting visible in Google+ Local there might be a stretch, just because it usually takes at least a couple of months to get anywhere in local search.  If you do want to go that route, I’d suggest whipping together a landing page specifically for Boulder, renting a real office (not a PO or UPS box), and using that landing page and address for Google+ Local.  Depending on how much you want to invest in it, how long you’d want to be in town, and whether there’s any chance that location would ever become permanent, you might also want to get the basic citations squared away or hook your Boulder location up to Yext.

“Again, the above isn’t surefire, but it’s what I’d suggest if you wanted to give Google+ Local (in Boulder) the old college try.  No matter what, I’d definitely suggest doing a Boulder page on your site and running AdWords.”

Google is fine with your using a location that you won’t necessarily use for the long-term provided you aren’t breaking the rules, like by using a fake address.  In that sense, you can get visible on the “local map” with a temporary location.

The bigger question is: will you rank well locally?  As you probably know, it usually takes months.  It really just comes down to how many local competitors there are who offer what you offer.  If there are lots of more-established businesses in the area, don’t expect much.  On the other hand, if you’re offering a semi-niche emergency-related service, the bar may be pretty low.

So if you play by the rules and have a good reason for using a temporary location – like that you’re serving a disaster area – then I say go forth and hang your shingle.  But don’t have lofty expectations, and definitely do have other sources of visibility.