The Dark Side of Local SEO

Visibility in the local rankings is a good thing.  If I didn’t think so, I’d do something else for a living.  And if you didn’t think so, you wouldn’t be reading this 🙂

But even high rankings in Google Places and beyond can create side-effects you didn’t expect.

Most business owners won’t experience that mostly-good problem.  Even the with-it ones who actually try will do a faceplant along the way.  Google is fickle, the rest of local search won’t stay still, and the world is a competitive place.

I’m trying to answer a different question:

“Do only good things happen when your local SEO works?”

Not always.

The point of this post is to help you get more out of your local visibility – however much you get and whenever you get it – and to help you stay visible.

Here are 10 unintended results of successful local SEO that you need to avoid:

Possibility 1:  You think you’re done.  Your let your citations get messy, or your site won’t grow from one year to the next, or you get lazy about encouraging reviews.  Or you may think Google and other local-search players are known quantities and don’t change.  Next thing you know, you’re face-down in the mud with arrows in your back.

Possibility 2:  The opposite of #1: greed, or death by tinkering.  You get some nice rankings, but don’t know what to do next.  So you mess with your title tags, or page names, or maybe you try to get a more-keyword-rich domain name.  Then…whoops.

Possibility 3:  You think you’ve figured it all out.  I wrangle with all things local search all day, every day.  I have as many questions as anyone.  Sure, the basic steps can be straightforward.  But the devil is in the details – and in the execution.

Possibility 4:  You have plenty of visibility but not enough calls.  Probably a result of not enough or good enough reviews, a Google page that isn’t sticky, and a site that isn’t sticky.

Possibility 5:  You think you’ve maxed out your traffic just because your local rankings are tip-top.  That’s what happens when you don’t see local SEO as an effort that can buy you time and resources that you can reinvest into other traffic sources – like AdWords, blogging, and good ol’ RCS.

Possibility 6:  You become so dependent on Google Places visibility that you panic when (not if) it takes dips.  How deep and long those dips are depends on whether you start blindly tinkering, or you instead figure out what you’re already doing well so you can find the areas where you can improve.

Possibility 7:  You give credit to the wrong actions or people.  Let’s say your rankings are rock-solid, then your local SEO helpers correct 5 of your citations, then the next day your rankings drop.  That sure looks bad – but those citations are not what hurt your rankings, so don’t start saying, “Well, citations are just a bad idea.”  Or maybe you replace your longtime local-search person for one you think will do a better job – and a week later your rankings go up.  Don’t just assume it’s because of the 2nd person.

Possibility 8:  You think that local SEO is a verb – one specific thing to do.  It’s not.  It’s a bunch of little steps – and a lot of moving parts.  Some of them – many of the most-important steps – must involve you personally.  If you don’t realize all that goes into a successful local SEO effort, any success you have is probably a result of luck, and may not last long.

Possibility 9:  You grow too reliant on new customers.  Which of these is easier: to find a total stranger who needs your help, or to reconnect with someone who’s already paid you to help?

Did I just convince you not to work on your local rankings?  I hope not.  They’re worth working on.

It’s simply that to stay visible and to get customers from that visibility you’ll also need to:

  • Learn at least a little – and keep learning.  Even if you’re not the “read the manual” type, at least understand the basic principles of what you’re paying people to help you with.  If those people suck, you don’t want to be taken for a ride.  If they’re good, you should be able to chime in with suggestions that might help them help you.
  • Don’t do anything only “for SEO.”  If something wouldn’t be a good idea to do for other reasons, it probably won’t help your rankings – and almost certainly won’t get you more phone calls.
  • Always think of stickiness.  Think of what customers want and expect to see – from when they Google your company by name, to when they’re on your site and trying to think of reasons not to hit the “back” button.
  • Develop sources of visibility other than local search.

What are some side-effects of successful local SEO that you’ve noticed?

How about ways to make sure that it plays nice and gentle-like with the rest of your marketing?

Leave a comment!

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility

Action is awesome - but smart action is even betterUnless you’re Arnold, furious bursts of action alone probably won’t get you very far.  You need a plan for the action.

This is especially important if you’re trying to get your business visible in local search – and particularly important if you want to boost your visibility in the ever-finicky Google Places results.

That’s why I’ve sketched out a 12-week action plan you can follow to climb up a little higher on the local totem pole.

This is a timetable that’s worked really well for me and my clients, though I recognize there’s more than one way to skin a cat (figuratively speaking, of course…I like cats).

12 weeks may sound like a long time.  But I’ve found that’s about how long it takes to implement everything you need to implement – especially if you have a business to run and have your hands full.

I always have a heck of a time trying to explain this verbally, but, as you can see, it’s actually pretty simple.

(Click below to see larger version of the timetable, or download it as a PDF)


Here’s a little more detail on each step:


 Claiming Places page

What you’re doing – First editing your Google Places page to make sure all the info is accurate, and then claiming your page so any edits you made actually stick.  This is also when you should try to remove any duplicate Places listings for your business, and it’s when you should do any basic optimization, like picking your business categories.

Explanation of timing – It usually takes 7-12 days for Google to send you the postcard with the PIN that allows you to claim your Places page.  Sometimes there are hang-ups, so it’s best to get started on this ASAP.


 Tuning up website

What you’re doing – Making your site at least somewhat local-search-friendly.  Optimize your title tag (with a light touch on the keywords), add a footer with your business name / address / phone number to each page of your site, and make sure your homepage (or whatever you use as your Google Places landing page) contains detail on the specific services you’re trying to get visible for.  Also, make sure your site isn’t “over-optimized.”

Explanation of timing – What’s on your site has a huge influence on how you’ll rank in Google Places, especially in the ever-more-common “blended” local rankings.  Therefore, if there’s even a chance you’re in trouble for keyword-spamminess, bad links, etc., you’ll want to start crawling out of the doghouse ASAP.  Later on (like in weeks 5 & 9) is a good time to do some general housekeeping (like scanning for and fixing dead links), to see how you can beef up your pages with more service-relevant content, to put out a couple of blog posts, or maybe to do some link-building.


 Submitting to data-providers

What you’re doing – Listing your business on ExpressUpdateUSA and LocalEze, or – if you’re already listed there – making sure you’ve claimed those two listings.  If possible, also claim your listing at MyBusinessListingManager and make sure it’s accurate.  If you’ve got a few extra bucks, consider listing yourself on

Explanation of timing – It generally takes about 2 months for these data-providers to feed your business info to Google Places and to third-party sites (CitySearch, SuperPages, etc.).  Because your rankings really depend on how consistent your business info is from site to site, it’s important to deal with these sites at the very beginning.


 Gathering citations

What you’re doing – Getting listed on as may directory sites as you can.  Start with the most important sites (like all the ones you see when you do a scan) and eventually try to get on some of the sites nobody’s heard of (like some of the sites on my Definitive Citations List).  If possible, also try to list your business on (1) “hyperlocal” sites that are specific to your city/town and on (2) directory sites that are focused on your industry (i.e., your “vertical”). You can find these citation sources with the help of the Local Citation Finder, or by doing it the old-fashioned way.

Explanation of timing – You’ll be dealing with dozens of sites.  Not only does it take time on your part to list yourself on them, but it also often takes weeks for these sites to list your business or process any edits you’ve made.  You’ve got to start early.  Plus, the more citations you can rack up over time, the better.


 Fixing 3rd-party data

What you’re doing – Checking the data-providers (see yellow) and at least some of your citation sources (see green) to make sure all your business info is 100% accurate – and fixing any inaccurate info you find.  You should also check to make sure no duplicate Google Places listings have popped up – and remove any that have.

Explanation of timing – Making sure your citations don’t get FUBAR is an ongoing task, but there’s no need to check on them every day, because many of them take a while to update.  Just check on them every few weeks (at least during the 12 weeks).


 Getting Google reviews

What you’re doingAsking customers to write reviews directly on your Google Places page.  As you probably know, they’ll need Google / Gmail accounts to do this.  I suggest you ask about half your customers to write Google reviews, and ask the other half to write reviews through 3rd-party review sites (see below).

Explanation of timing – If you haven’t claimed your Places page, or if your business has a bunch of duplicate Places pages floating around, it’s possible Google will erase your reviews.  It’s best to hold off on requesting reviews until the Places pages aren’t being created, claimed, deleted, and otherwise jockeyed around.  Plus, you’ll have your hands full anyway during the first couple of weeks.


 Getting 3rd-party reviews

What you’re doing – Asking customers to write reviews on non­-Google sites.  CitySearch, InsiderPages, JudysBook, etc. (and Yelp, but Yelp has rules against requesting reviews).  I’ve found that having reviews on a variety of sites helps your Places rankings, and of course it’s a great way to attract the users of those sites.

Explanation of timing – You can start asking for 3rd-party reviews even while your Places page is up in the air.  But I suggest focusing on the other steps first – namely, having accurate and plentiful citations, a tuned-up website, and no duplicate Places pages.  On the other hand, getting 3rd-party reviews is another ongoing task, which means it’s worth starting fairly early…hence why I say start around week 3.


You might be wondering a few things…

What if you’ve been wrangling with Google Places and local search in general for a while?  I suggest you still follow the timeline.  If one of the steps no longer applies to you – for example, if you’ve already submitted your info for the data-providers – then cross that one off and focus on the others.

What if you already have a bunch of citations or reviews?  Keep racking ‘em up.  Sure, don’t pour as much time into them as you would if you were starting at Square One.  But don’t stop at “good enough” – especially if you’re in a competitive market.

What should you do after the 12 weeks?  Given that you’ll likely be much more visible to local customers, it’ll largely be a matter of maintaining your visibility by continuing to work on all the steps (except red and yellow), but at a significantly slower pace.  (For more, see my post on how to maintain your Places rankings.)

How does this action plan stack up with yours?  Leave a comment!

The Face of Google Places

Edward A. Murphy, Jr. - AKA "Mr. Murphy"Google Places isn’t a person.  Why would it have a “face”?

First of all, who’s in the picture?

It’s not a yearbook photo of any of the moderators at the Google Places Help Forum.

It’s not a goofy doppelganger of Carter Maslan, the former head honcho of Google Places.

And it sure as heck isn’t Marissa Mayer, current VP of Google’s “Local & Maps” division.

Fresh out of guesses?

It’s Edward A. Murphy, Jr.

AKA the original “Mr. Murphy.”  Of Murphy’s Law fame.

You know Murphy’s Law—the saying that goes “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

You’re all too familiar with how it works in real life: the one day you decide you don’t need to pack an umbrella, it rains.

But you also need to remember that the same principle applies to your local rankings in Google Places—big-time.

For example, as soon as you tell 5 of your best customers to go to your Places page to write a review, they can’t find it because of Google’s latest “We currently do not support this location” bug.

Or a week after you finally get your Places listing into the top-3 for your big search term, Google shakes up its algorithm…and you’re back down to position #8.

Or you discover that a bunch of duplicate listings are draining your mojo, and you’ve reported the problem to Google (as you should)…but weeks go by and nothing happens.

I am not a pessimist.  You and I know that things often go well in life and even in the crazy world of local search—including Google Places.  When things do go right, we get more customers and prosper a little more.

But, for better or worse, we usually don’t notice the things that go well, or we don’t give them too much thought.  They’re not what frustrate us or keep us up at night.

Focusing on the obstacles in your way is not a bad thing.  Even worrying about potential problems—stuff that hasn’t happened to you—is extremely useful (within reason).

Without either of these faculties, you never would have been able to build or maintain your business in this competitive world.

Granted: you don’t need to do well in Google Places to get more local customers.  But if you aren’t visible there, you’d better have serious word-of-mouth attraction, a robust ad campaign, or an uncle who’s a Senator and who can pull strings for you.

It’s also true that complete bozos can rank at the top of Places—despite their ignorance, carelessness, or lack of ethics—but only IF they get lucky.  Easy come, easy go.  One reason you’re better than them is you don’t trust your business and your family’s finances to luck.

So…if you want to attract more customers through Google Places reliably, you need to stay concerned, constantly on-alert—even downright paranoid.  That’s the only way you can consistently avoid or get past some of the hurdles that Google, your competitors, and Chance will drop in your path when you least expect them to.

In this sense, how do you stare Mr. Murphy in the face and make it really hard for him to pull a fast one on you?  Here are a few ways:

  • Check your Places page and log into your Places account every few days, just to make sure everything looks OK.
  • Spot-check your Google Places rankings every week or so.
  • Sign up for emails from and pay attention to all the stuff related to local search.
  • Cultivate relationships with at least a couple of knowledgeable people you can talk with if and when you have a problem you really need to solve, a problem you really want to avoid, or a burning question you need answered.
  • Realize that even though Google Places is a “free product,” you probably won’t get many customers out of it unless you invest a little time, money, or both.
  • Remember that Google Places is constantly changing.  Even if you’ve been #1 for the past year, that may change any minute—in which case you’ll need to set aside at least a few chunks of time in order climb back up.  You should never feel too comfy.
  • Know that you never can completely avoid bad luck.  It’s always possible to get the short end of the wishbone.  But it’s also true that you can sway your fortunes by being smart (see above points).
  • Above all, keep hammering away at improving your local visibility constantly—even when you don’t immediately need a better ranking or more customers.  The time to start caring about local search is NOT when you desperately need visibility there.  Constantly beef up your website, ask customers for reviews, and stay abreast of what’s happening in and to the “local landscape.”  It’s easiest and most rewarding and most profitable if it’s a habit.

The only thing I can guarantee you is that getting and staying visible in local Google will always be a bumpy ride (though arguably not as bumpy as most forms of advertising).

But if you set aside a little time to learn about it, put work into it, and never get comfortable, my guess is you’ll do great and attract all the customers you need.