Locus Pocus

What’s with the name?  It’s a portmanteau of local and hocus pocus.

Just my way of referring to semi-common local SEO practices that I think are superstition.

We talked about “Local SEO Myths” in 2013.  But there’s even more to say.  In that post, I and other local-search geeks focused on myths that lead business owners way off-track.

Now I’d like to talk about what I see as practices that just waste time and effort.  They won’t kill you, but I can’t say they’ll help you.

Probably worth emphasizing now rather than later that this post is my opinion.  It’s based on a big ugly pile of first-hand experience.  But it’s still an opinion.  Let’s argue in the comments.

OK, now that my lawyer’s meticulously worded disclaimer is out of the way…

There are the local-rankings factors I’ve seen move the needle for clients and others, time and time again.  I’m talking about things like accurate categories, consistent citations, many reviews, good title tags, and meaty sites.

Then there are the factors that may matter to your local rankings.  These are steps I usually suggest to clients, because they’re good to do even if they don’t help rankings in the slightest: using Schema markup for your NAP, picking good H2 tags, embedding a Google map on your site, adding lots of photos to your Google listing, etc.

And then there’s the Locus Pocus.

These practices have done little to deserve my wrath.  I’ll spare you my theories about why I don’t think they matter.

My best indictment of them is simply that in 5 years I haven’t seen a whit of evidence that they help your local rankings in Google or anywhere else.

Here’s the stuff I wouldn’t suggest spending any time on:

  • “Geotagging” photos.  Sure, pick relevant names for the files, and try to pick relevant alt tags when appropriate.  But metadata?  Fugettaboutit.
  • Including city names in the “keyword” fields on your various business listings.  If MerchantCircle asks you to stick 10 keywords in a box, put in 10 services you offer (and maybe their synonyms).
  • Getting hundreds of structured citations.  Lots of unstructured citations (e.g. newspaper mentions), great.
  • Giant blocks of text where you mention all the towns you serve.
  • Keyword tags.
  • Making cheapo slideshow videos and uploading them to every video site you can find.
  • Setting a large “Service Area” in your Google Places dashboard.
  • Putting your “target” city in the Google Places address field, for fear that you won’t rank well there if you enter your real city.  If you want any shot at ranking where you want to, you need to help Google understand where you’re really located.
  • Seeking that extra edge by trying to outsmart all the sites where you can list your business. Just five more little keywords in your description, writing just one review for your own business, etc. Thanks to Aaron Weiche for mentioning this point (below).

Maybe these practices aren’t so harmless after all.  Spending your time and energy on them and expecting results just means it’s longer before you’re visible in the local rankings.

Hat tip to Darren for weighing in on several of the points.

What have you found to be “locus pocus”?  Did you ever have some miraculous experience with any of the practices I mentioned?  Leave a comment!

Top Local SEO Myths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mike Blumenthal – Blumenthal’s Blog

Myth One-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth Two-

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

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

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

Myth Three-

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

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

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

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

Myth Four-

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

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

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

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

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

 

Darren Shaw – Whitespark

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

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

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

 

Mary Bowling – MaryBowling.com

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

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

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

 

David Mihm – Moz

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

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

Implementing Schema.org will improve your rankings.

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

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

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

 

Don Campbell – Expand2Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Greg Gifford – AutoRevo

Myth 1) Links are the most important ranking factor.

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

Myth 2) Domain age is powerful.

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

Myth 3) Bounce rate is a ranking factor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth 7) You don’t have to do social.

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

 

Andrew Shotland – LocalSEOGuide

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

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

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

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

 

Mike Ramsey – NiftyMarketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Linda Buquet – Local Search Forum

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

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

(Example screenshot here.)

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

 

Adam Steele – LeanMarketing

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov – NGSMarketing

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

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

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

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

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

Please, stop it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Phil Rozek

Myth: you need a lot of citations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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