Local Business Schema.org Q&A: Tough Questions for David Deering

If you’ve wrestled with local SEO for more than a few days, you probably know what Schema.org markup is.  (And if you don’t, read this and this and loop back here.)

You probably have questions about how to use Schema on your site.  Me too.  That’s why I’ve turned again to structured-data ace David Deering of Touch Point Digital Marketing for answers.

As you might recall, he’s the guy who brought the insights to my recent post on Schema.  In fact, it was his answers in the comments on that post that reminded me how many questions I and other people still have.  (By the way, I suggest you read that post first, if you haven’t already.)

Let’s launch into the Q&A on Schema:

 

Phil:  What sorts of businesses simply have no use for Schema markup on their sites?

David:  I honestly think that every business has a use for structured data markup.  The more that you can help search engines understand about your business, the better.

 

Phil:  What kinds of “local” businesses have the most to gain by spending a little time on Schema markup – and why?

David:  Any business that sells a product or a service.  So, I guess that would more or less describe every local business, really.

 

Phil:  As you know, I’ve said that one’s name / address / phone info is the by far the most important thing to mark up with Schema.  What else – if anything – should the typical business mark up?

David:  Marking up the NAP is a great start, but it’s only the start.  It tells search engines where you’re located, but it doesn’t tell them anything about what you do.  So, I think that every local business should mark up what exactly they do or sell, whether it’s a product or a service.  The more you can mark up and spell out for search engines, the better.

 

Phil:  Multiple locations’ NAP info on the same page: is that a problem, not a problem, or doesn’t matter?

David:  It’s not a problem at all.  Schema.org has a means to handle situations like that.  If a business has one or even several additional locations, you can use the “branchOf” or “subOrganization” properties to mark up each unique location.  The key is to use a separate LocalBusiness schema type for each location.

 

Phil:  Besides marking up NAP with Schema, what’s your advice to most “local” business owners?

David:  Most local businesses only mark up their NAP, if anything at all, and that’s a huge mistake in my opinion.  Not to sound like a broken record, but if you sell anything or offer any type of service, you can and should mark that up as well.  By getting as specific as you can with your markups, you help search engines get a clear picture about what you offer, which can only help you.  You can either spell it all out for them, or you can hope they understand what you do and sell.  Obviously, it’s better to give them all of the information on a silver platter, which is what structured data markups can help you do.  But it’s a golden opportunity that most businesses aren’t taking advantage of.

 

Phil:  Are there any ways business owners can use Schema to influence what shows up in the Knowledge Graph for their business?

David:  In itself, Schema markup won’t help a business’ information appear in the Knowledge Graph panel.  Google uses a number of authoritative sources to gather the information that’s used in the Knowledge Graph.  Schema.org markup can help, but Freebase, Wikipedia, and Google+ pages all play an even larger role.

 

Phil:  What type(s) of Schema do you deal with most often?

David:  Besides the typical NAP markup and product markups, most local businesses are interested in getting help with the rating markup, because it can generate those much sought-after stars in search results.  Unfortunately, most do-it-yourselfers do it incorrectly and their markup has either technical errors or it doesn’t meet Google’s guidelines.

 

Phil:  Does a Productontology extension have to describe what your business is, or can it describe the main service a business offers?

For example, in the last post you mentioned that you can use http://schema.org/Dentist plus http://www.productontology.org/id/Pediatric_dentistry.  But “pediatric dentistry” doesn’t “tell” search engines what the practice itself is; pediatric dentistry is just the specialty of that dental office.

[If you didn’t get the question, read the post from June.]

David:  Productontology, which was created by a team led by Martin Hepp, was created primarily to be used for products, as the name implies.  And it can also be used to mark up services as well, since according to schema.org, a product can be tangible or intangible.  But Productontology can also be used to specify other Schema types, and so that’s why we can use it along with business type markups.

 

Phil:  Besides the Structured Data Testing Tool, what tools do you use for any Schema-related work?

David:  Another good tool to use is Yandex’s structured data validator, which can be found at http://webmaster.yandex.com/microtest.xml.  It’s a great tool to use in addition to Google’s, because Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool does not always pick up every markup error.

And speaking of Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, I should mention something very important that many people don’t realize:  Just because you don’t see any error messages after testing your markup does not mean that your markup is error-free, it doesn’t mean that it meets Google’s guidelines for rich snippets, and it’s no guarantee that your rich snippets will appear in the SERPs.  The testing tool is a nice tool to use, but it’s a basic tool, and it’s not designed to catch all technical errors and it definitely won’t tell you whether or not your markup meets Google’s guidelines.  I use Google’s testing tool all the time because it is very helpful, but again, it’s just a basic tool.  Don’t take the results as law.

 

Phil:  What’s the most common mistake people make in their markup?

David:  Most mistakes I see in markups are related to improper nesting and the improper use of various properties.  Schema.org does include example markups for most of the markup types that local businesses would normally use, so it’s a good idea to try to follow those examples.  I’d recommend creating the markup first, testing it out to make sure it’s good, then implement it on the site.  Doing that can save a lot of time and headache.

 

Phil:  In what ways do some businesses use Schema as a spam technique?

David:  Well, because those rating stars are so desirable to have in the SERPs, some less-than-ethical businesses make up fake reviews and ratings and mark them up.  Google has gotten better at sniffing those out, and most of those sites end up losing their rich snippets or never get them at all.

I’ve seen other spam techniques, such as using the recipe markup for a product in order to get an image in the SERPs.  But doing things like that isn’t worth it.  Google can and will take manual action against a site that is being deceitful with their markups, and regaining their trust will be a long, hard road.  So it’s best to stick to being ethical with things.

Even if you don’t get rich snippets right now, your markups are still valuable because they help search engines understand your content much better.  If you do get rich snippets, well that’s just an added bonus.

 

Phil:  Some people are concerned that if they botch up their Schema markup, Google will penalize them.  How accurate is that?

David:  Personally, I’ve never seen a site get penalized for using a markup with errors.  However, if Google believes that a site is attempting to manipulate things and is being deceitful with their markups, they will take action against that site.  But for the most part, if a markup has errors, Google simply will not be able to understand it or use it.

 

Phil:  Many people think everything Google does is a grab for users’ data, and ultimately an effort to make more money off of ads.  (Often I’m one of those people.)  Just for the sake of argument, what role do you think Schema would play in that “scheme”?

David:  Some people believe that by marking up their content with structured data, it’ll make it easier for Google to “steal” their information and use it in the Knowledge Graph panel to answer questions, which in turn eliminates the need for users to visit the site.

But not all of the webpages that Google pulls information from for Knowledge Graph answers are marked up with structured data.  However, when Google does pull information from a webpage, it’s because it considers the website and page as having some authority on the topic, and it always links to the page.  So, if Google views a website and webpage as having topical authority, well that’s definitely a good thing.  And there’s also a good chance that users will click on the link to find out more, because Google can provide only so much information in the Knowledge Graph panel.

It’s also been said that Google wants to go from being a search engine to an answer engine.  By marking up your content, you help Google understand your content that much better, which in turn helps your webpages become “the answer” to relevant search queries.

 

Phil:  What advice do you have for webmasters and SEOs?

David:  Mark up as much content as you can.  Make everything as clear as possible to search engines regarding what you do, sell, offer, or have written about.

You may or may not get rich snippets for your markups right now, but the real value of the markups is that they help make things much clearer for search engines.  Google and the others love structured data and want us to use it, so feed them what they love.  And we all know how quickly Google changes things in the SERPs.  One day nothing, the next day the local carousel, this new rich snippet, that new feature in the Knowledge Graph panel.   We never know what Google is going to do or what new feature they’re going to add, but if you’ve marked up your site as thoroughly as possible with structured data, you’ll be in position to benefit from whatever happens next.

 

Phil:  Besides the Google Webmaster Forum and Schema.org’s confusing documentation, what are some resources you’d suggest?

David:  There’s a great semantic search marketing community on Google+.  There are also a lot of very smart and helpful people in the structured data community, such as Aaron Bradley, Jarno van Driel, Martin Hepp and Thad Guidry, among several others.  And of course, if you’re going to use structured data markups on your site, you want to be sure to go over Google’s guidelines for your particular markups so that they can qualify for rich snippets.

Thanks to David, once again.  If you don’t want to wrangle with Schema yourself, contact him.

Any questions or stray thoughts?  Leave a comment!

How to Pick (or Improvise) the Right Schema.org Markup for Your Local Business

This one’s going to take a little ramp-up.  Hang with me.

What’s Schema?

Schema.org is a type of markup for your site that Google, Bing, and Yahoo promote.

The idea is it helps you tell search engines exactly what a specific piece of content on your site is.  For example, you’d use different Schema if you want to announce, “Here’s my business’s name, address, and phone number,” or “Here’s a customer testimonial, or “Look – a video.”

Some SEOs say Schema in general makes a big difference for your rankings.  I’m not one of them; I suspect it can help a little.  So let’s assume it helps a little.

How do you use it?

What is Schema’s role on your site, if your main goal is to get visible in Google Places and beyond?

For me, its main use is to highlight your basic business info – your “NAP” (name, address, phone number), which should be on every page of your site.

In some cases I also use it to mark up testimonials.  (Here’s a good post on that.)

But for now let’s just talk about using Schema on your all-important NAP info.  It usually looks like this in your code:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<span itemprop=”name”>Local Visibility System, LLC</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

And as you may know, you can use a free Schema generator to create a blob of Schema for your business – like MicrodataGenerator.com or Raven Tools’ generator.  (In fact, I suggest you use a tool to do it.)

The problem: vague “itemtype”

Notice that first line.  In your blob of Schema, it probably reads:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness“>

“Local Business” is vague.  All that tells Google & co. is that you’re not Amazon or Nike.

You should not settle for that lame “LocalBusiness” itemtype in your Schema name / address / phone blob: Either there’s an itemtype (AKA Schema) that’s specific to your business, or you can improvise one (more on this in a minute).

First, try to find a Schema that describes your business.  For example, http://schema.org/Dentist or https://schema.org/AccountingService.

That might be easy if you used MicrodataGenerator.com to generate your NAP blob.  There, you may have seen some common types of businesses:

 

If one of those categories describes your business accurately, no need to read on.  If that’s the case, go to MicrodataGenerator, select the specific Schema that describes your business (pictured above), generate your NAP blob, put it on your site, and pour yourself a cold one.

Find the right itemtype / Schema here

You’re probably 90% of the way to the perfect Schema NAP blob.  Again, the only blemish is that first line – with “LocalBusiness” in it:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness“>

All we’re trying to do is figure out what to put in that line instead of “LocalBusiness.”  We’re literally looking for one word.  Once we find it, you can make the swap and then stick that whole NAP block on every page of your site.

Finding the right itemtype was tricky – until now.

That’s why first I scraped Moz Local’s huge list of local-business categories.  (You’ll see these under “Category Research” if you’re logged into your free or paid Moz account.)

Then I cleaned up the list.  There was a lot of junk and repetition.  I cut it down to the realistic categories – the ones that might conceivably describe your business.

Then I asked structured-data markup expert David Deering for help.  He’s a Level 10 contributor at the Google Webmaster Forum, where he answers markup questions every day.  He knows Schema like I know Judas Priest songs.

David looked at The List and found the right Schema for each category.

The result?  You can open up this spreadsheet (on Google Drive) and scroll through it to find your type of business and the corresponding Schema / itemtype.

Now look in the right-hand column and grab the single word that comes after the http://schema.org/ part.  That’s what you’ll want to replace “LocalBusiness” with in your Schema blob.

Let’s say you were doing this for my business.  And let’s say I retired from the local-search biz and opened my very own beauty parlor.

Where I used to have “LocalBusiness” in that very first line, I’d put “HealthAndBeautyBusiness” instead.

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness“>
<span itemprop=”name”>Face By Phil</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

Fix that one line of code, and then put that whole blob of code (like the above) on every page of your site.  You’re done here.

But what if you still don’t find an accurate Schema?

That’s what I asked David after he sent me The List.  What if the geeks at Schema.org left your type of businesses out in the cold?

Can you still use Schema to “tell” Google & co. exactly what kind of business you’ve got?

Or what if you don’t think your type of Schema is specific enough (like if you’re a pediatric dentist and don’t want to settle for the broad “Dentist” Schema)?

You’re in luck.  And the workaround should take you less than 5 minutes, if you carefully read this bit of explanation from David

(I put the extra-important parts in italics.)

Use an additional ontology called Productontology (productontology.org).  This is great to use to specify products and even services, but it can also be used to help extend other schemas to get more specific.

In simple terms, the process involves finding the matching entity in Wikipedia and then creating a URI with Productontology.  So let’s take for example a deli.  There is no exact schema type for a deli.  So we have to use http://schema.org/FoodEstablishment.  But since that’s not very specific, we should pull in the use of Productontology.

So first, we go to Wikipedia and find the page for Deli: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen.

Now we have to turn it into a Productontology URI.  A Productontology URI begins with “http://www.productontology.org/id/”.  We take the last part of the Wiki URL, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen, and add it to the Productontology URI.

So the full Productontology URI for a deli becomes http://www.productontology.org/id/Delicatessen.

Next, we have to add it to the markup.  In order to do that, we have to use the “additionalType” property.  So, the markup for a deli would look something like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/FoodEstablishment”>
<link itemprop=”additionalType” href=“http://www.productontology.org/id/Delicatessen”
 />
<span itemprop=”name”>Name of Deli</span>

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>100 Main St.</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>New York</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>NY</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>12345</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(555) 123-4567</span>
</div>

Of course, more properties could be added to the above markup, but it’s just a rough example of how the “additionalType” property along with a Productontology URI can be used to help extend schemas and specify schema business types much better.

-David

So…remember a minute ago how if you found your type of business in the big spreadsheet, you just had to tweak that 1st line of code?  Well, if you didn’t find your type of business in the spreadsheet, what you’ll have to do is tweak that one line plus add an additional line to your Schema NAP blob.

Example time.  Let’s revisit my “Face By Phil” example.  (Don’t worry – it’s still fictional.)  Let’s say I didn’t run just any old beauty parlor, but specialized in laser hair removal.  I’d want Google to know that, so I’d want my Schema to make that point clear.  Here’s what my NAP code would look like:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness“>
<link itemprop=”additionalType” href=”http://www.productontology.org/doc/Laser_hair_removal” />
<span itemprop=”name”>Face By Phil</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

As you can see, you’re only customizing the parts in green – although it would be smart to change both URLs completely, so you don’t make any typos.

Examples of Schema + Productontology

Here are some examples of the info you’d use to customize those two lines:

Dermatologist:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/Physician

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Dermatology

Fertility clinic:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/MedicalClinic

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Fertility_clinic

Funeral home:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Funeral_home

Graphic designer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Graphic_designer

Home inspector:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Home_inspection

Kennel:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Kennel

Landscape architect:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Landscape_architect

Laser hair removal service:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Laser_hair_removal

Magician:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/EntertainmentBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Magician

Music school:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/School

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Music_school

Pediatric dentist:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/Dentist

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Pediatric_dentistry

Personal Trainer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Personal_trainer

Resort:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/TouristAttraction

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Resort

Tailor:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Tailor

Wedding photographer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Wedding_photography

Got the perfect Schema NAP for your site yet?  If you’re still stumped, feel free to leave a comment.

Or if you’d rather let someone else mess with it, contact David.  He offers all kinds of markup services, and has worked with small / local sites as well as with national brands.  This post wouldn’t have been possible without his know-how.  Oh, and follow him on Google+.

(By the way, here’s the spreadsheet again.)

This is the rare post where it takes longer to explain the step than to do the step.  But getting the right Schema should be a quick one-time deal for your business, and it may give you that extra little edge in the local results.

Local Citation Cleanup Hack: Check BBB

This is one of the few posts I’ve done that’s probably more applicable if you’re a local SEO geek than if you’re a business owner.  But I hope it’s useful in either case.

As you probably know, having inconsistent NAP info floating around the Web can hurt your rankings (a lot).  You’ll need to correct those listings.  But first you need to find them.

That can be tricky if you’ve had different phone numbers, different addresses, different business names, and different websites.  For instance, you can’t always just Google the phone number and see all the listings you need to fix, because some of them might use other numbers.

Enter the Better Business Bureau.

Go to your BBB listing, if you have one.  (My favorite way is to type into Google “business name + BBB”.)

Then click on “View Additional Phone Numbers” and / or “View Additional Web Addresses.

 

You can’t copy and paste any phone numbers from the popup bubble, which is annoying.  You can just check the source code of the page and grab the phone numbers that way (if you find that easier than typing).

But wait – there’s more!  Scroll down the page.  You may see “Alternate Business Names” listed.

Checking the BBB page may tell you nothing you didn’t already know.  Or it may give you a list of past names, phone numbers, and website URLs that can help you unearth old citations that need fixing.

Either way, Gentle Reader, the real work has just begun.

How to Troubleshoot: Good Organic Rankings, No Google Places Rankings

Do you rank page-one in the organic results, but seem locked out of the Google Places (AKA Google+ Local) results?

If this situation looks something like yours…

…then you might have what I call “detached” local rankings.

In other words, you’ve got an organic ranking right above or right below the “7-pack,” and you’re wondering why you don’t also have a ranking in the 7-pack.

It used to very difficult to have both – long story – but now you usually can have the same page rank both organically and in Google Places.  (Emphasis on “usually”: something may be busted, or it may not even be possible in your case.)

It’s a common problem.  Business owners ask me about it all the time.

Here are what I’ve found to be the most-common explanations for why you may have good organic rankings but no Places / + Local / “7-pack” rankings:

Explanation 1:  Your business is too far from the city where you want the Places rankings.  There may be nothing you can do about this except to apply the best-practices I’m always harping on.

Explanation 2:  You show up in the Places results for other queries – just not the one you typed in.  This one’s complex: Why you’re showing up in Places for some queries but not others depends on factors like point #1, whether you include the city name in your search term, where you’re physically sitting when you’re searching, and how many local competitors you have.

Explanation 3:  Your Google listing has been penalized.  Make sure you’re kosher.

Explanation 4:  It’s too soon.  If you just created your Google Places page, just wait a couple weeks.

Explanation 5:  Your Google listing may have the wrong categories.

Explanation 6:  You may not be presenting your NAP info correctly on your site.

Explanation 7:  Your site may have no NAP info at all.

Explanation 8:  The “URL” or “website” field in your citations may be empty on some of your listings, or it may contain wrong or inconsistent URLs.

Explanation 9:  Your business may have no citations – or too few.

Explanation 10:  Duplicate Google Places listings.  Often these are caused by having messy citations.  (Hat tip to Linda for bringing up this point in her comment, below.  Also, check out this forum thread.)

Do you have any experience with “detached” rankings?  What worked for you?  Or do you have them now, and you’re stumped?  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!

4 Local SEO Tools from Uncle Sam

The US Government is dysfunctional.  Congress is corrupt.  It’s so bad that, even in these times of spiraling deficits, lawmakers are still earmarking precious funds so that Uncle Sam can help you with…your local SEO.

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

I don’t know that The Man has appropriated precious resources specifically to help your business grow its local rankings.  But he does have some resources that you might be able to use to your advantage.

Of course, they’re free.  (Actually, you’re paying for them…but let’s not go there 🙂 )

Here are 4 government-issued tools that can come in handy for your local-search-visibility campaign:

 

Tool 1: USPS ZIP Lookup Tool

Is your business in a small town, near a city line, or in a big city with a bunch of tightly-packed ZIP codes?  Better double-check what ZIP the Post Office thinks you’re in (or, for that matter, which city they think you’re in) – before you do any citation-building for your business.

If you don’t “measure twice, cut once,” you’ll probably be in for a nasty surprise if the Post Office lists you at an address other than the one you use for your listings.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdate.com (AKA InfoGroup) feeds off of Post Office address data, and in turn feeds business data to a ton of directory sites where your address needs to be listed consistently across the board.  There will be conflicting info on your business, hurting your Google rankings.  You’ll feel like going postal.

(By the way, I’d known about the USPS checkup for quite some time, but I must tip my hat to Mary Bowling for reminding me by way of her great SMX Advanced presentation / slide deck.)

 

Tool 2:  Census.gov

Want to know more about the people (AKA potential customers) in the city you’re targeting?  The Census is the great-granddaddy of big data.

If you rummage around the site for long enough you’ll probably find out whatever you want to know, but I’d say following two areas are the best starting points:

http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/

http://www.census.gov/econ/susb/

 

3.  OSHA’s Standard Industrial Category (SIC) Tool

If you’re listing your business on ExpressUpdate.com for the first time, OSHA’s category-search tool can help you pick out the best category to list your business under.  (More detail on this in my recent post on the new ExpressUpdate.)

 

4.  Your city’s local-business directory.

If you suspect some of your competitors are using fake business info – like a keyword-stuffed Google+Local business name or a phony address – you might want to look up their official business info.  From there, you’ll probably be in a better position to draw a conclusion as to what to do about it – like possibly reporting them to Google through the “Report a problem” button on their Google listing, or reporting them to the MapMaker fuzz.

You should be able to find your local-business register by searching Google for the name of your city/town + “local business directory,” “business register,” or “chamber of commerce.”  (Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.)

Do you know of any government-issued resources that might be handy for local SEO?  Anything local-business-related that you wish our tax dollars would go toward?  Leave a comment!

Google MapMaker 101 for Local Business Owners

Google MapMaker is like the NSA: Many people know it exists or at least have heard of it in passing.  But few know much about it or what goes on there.

MapMaker is one head of a two-headed monster.  It’s oddly intertwined with the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results.  The accuracy of much of the “local” info about cities and businesses depends on thousands and millions of little changes that people make to Google’s maps.  Many of those changes are made in MapMaker.

These little changes can determine whether your business is listed accurately in Google.  Ultimately, they can determine how visible your business is in the Google+Local search results.  That’s why you should care about MapMaker – or at least know a little bit about it.

MapMaker won’t help you win the potato-sack race with your local competitors.  But knowing about how it works can help you avoid a faceplant that can cause you to lose that race.

The only trouble is that practical, real-world info on MapMaker is hard to come by.  It doesn’t get much attention even in local-SEO circles.

Because of that and simply out of my curiosity, I decided to interview two people who know a lot about MapMaker: Andrew Sawyer and Saikrishna Arcot.

These guys are “Regional Expert Reviewers.”  Also known as “RER’s” or “editors” or “reviewers,” they’re among the people who volunteer their time to make the endless number of changes to Google’s maps – and to the local-business info in them.

I did my best Mike Wallace, and they did a phenomenal job of answering my questions and providing a TON of insights.

To get the inside scoop on how MapMaker affects your business’s visibility in Google+Local and what you can and cannot do with it, read the interview.  You’ll want to pull up a chair for this one.

How would you describe MM to someone who’s never heard of it before?

Andrew:  MM is a way for people to provide their local knowledge to update physical features in Google Maps. This takes the form of parks, roads, shopping malls, rivers, etc. MM is the public editable version of Google Maps that is incorporated to provide accurate and up-to-date information from users.

Saikrishna: Map Maker is a tool for users to either correct incorrect features (roads, business listings, parks, schools, shopping centers, etc.) or to add new roads or features that they may not own.

 

Under what circumstances would a business owner EVER need to deal with MM personally?  To what extent should a business owner care about what goes on there?

Andrew:  Business owners should take care in using MM, especially if they are looking to use it to gain an edge on their competition. MM should be used by those who feel comfortable using it to make accurate edits that affect physical features. Some reasons a business owner would want to use MM:

Providing an accurate address – Places/Community Edits will abbreviate addresses which is not the format desired for Maps. MM feeds/edits the addresses, road names, cities, states, countries for Maps (some of these are locked from editing). While abbreviations may be rendered on the map, the full name is used and required for addresses.

If there is an issue with an address, a new geolocated point for the address can be manually entered via MM. By adding a point feature in MM with the category “Address” can be used with just the street address (no names of features) to help set where a particular address is. If an address is already present, but uses abbreviate names “Rd.” the full name of the street name/state/etc. should be selected from the drop down when editing to help locate the place.

Checking on the history/troubleshooting their businesses’ feature – Most edits, even those from Community Edits and Google editors, will typically show up allowing any user to view if a feature had anything which would cause issues with bots or other automated edits. Some things that can affect a feature are duplicates/merges, improper name change and/or hijacking another business feature, changing a professional listing (person) to a business feature,  issues finding when and/or who made a change to the feature. The Places/G+L cid# it can be used to find the MM feature associated with the one in their dashboard.

Adding/editing physical features nearby the business – By watching the MM YouTube videos, reading some MM Help Center articles and asking for help in the MM forum you can quickly gain the knowledge to make edits that will provide more detail about the area surrounding a business. Some features that can be added are parking lots, shopping centers, buildings, access roads, paths, etc. Many businesses are located in a shopping center/strip mall/etc. and if the shopping center is added to the map with a boundary drawn on the map features will be associated with the shopping center in Maps. When a business owner isn’t comfortable making an edit, they can always seek out experienced MM users to help/make the necessary changes.

Saikrishna: Business owners should generally stick to Places, since they have a lot of control over their place in Places. In most cases, the only reason a business owner would absolutely need to go to Map Maker is possibly to delete incorrect names that are showing up in Google+ Local.  However, in some cases, if their business disappears from either Places or Google+ Local, they may need to go to either the Places forums or the Map Maker forums or to their feature in Map Maker to find out why their business might have disappeared. If there are sudden changes between what they had and what is there now, or if what they see in their Places dashboard is significantly different from what they see in their Google+ Local page, then they might want to go to their Map Maker feature to see recent edits made.

That being said, there are a couple of features that are in Map Maker, but may or may not be in Places. One of these is the ability to associate their feature with a building. If the business is located inside a building, and the building is mapped in Map Maker, then they can edit their feature to indicate that their business is located in a building. If the building isn’t mapped, they can draw a new building, and after that is approved, link their feature to the building. Currently, this will have no effect in Places or Google+ Local, but I’m hoping that one day, we’ll be able to tell the businesses that are in a specific building.

Some business owners may see in Google+ Local that their addresses were changed to expand all abbreviations and have the suite number (if applicable) places at the start of the address instead of right after the street name. The reasoning for this is that Map Maker has defined data fields for the address line (where the suite number goes), street name, city, state, and zip code, and Places doesn’t follow this format. In addition, when editing, Places / Google+ Local abbreviates where possible, whereas the data (street name, state name, etc.) is not abbreviated. In order to follow this format, the addresses are changed in Map Maker to match existing data.

[Phil: If you’ve wondered why the address that you see when you visit your business’s Google+Local page doesn’t look like it has the same formatting as what you entered in the “Street Address” field(s) of your Google Places dashboard, the above answer explains why.]

 

For whom or what is MM most useful? 

Andrew: MM is most useful for addressing/routing in Maps; changes in MM will eventually affect Maps (this ranges from days to weeks depending on the type of edit and the different iterations of Google the change impacts)

MM is also most useful for making changes to one’s local area to convey the most accurate information; marking a business as closed, adding a new name for a street (or part of one), correcting the location of a business to its front door, etc.

Saikrishna: In my opinion, Map Maker is most useful for general Maps users who have some spare time on their hands, who are fairly familiar with a region, and who are willing to improve features in that region.

In addition to end-users, Google Trusted Photographers also use Map Maker either to add a business that is not already on Maps or to correct information about a business in preparation for a photography tour for the business.

 

Other than editors and people trying to spam Google, who uses MM?  Tell me a little bit about the typical end-user.

Andrew: MM is typically used by people who have a love for maps (Geo majors, Scouts, backpackers), people who rely on maps for their job (public safety personnel, truckers, taxi drivers) and technically inclined people who want to see their “home area” properly mapped in Google

Saikrishna: From what I see, the typical end-user are those who want to make a few changes to businesses here or there.

[Phil: Hey, maybe you could make it onto this list.]

 

Can people also use it to create “personal maps?

Andrew: MM should never be used to make personal maps, that should be limited to “My places” in Google Maps.

Saikrishna: Actually, if users want to create a map that only relates to them, but is not for anyone else, or the feature they are adding is personal or private, they will need to use My Places in Google Maps instead.

 

What type of person generally becomes a “trusted” (AKA “Regional”) MM editor?  What does it take to become one?

Andrew: Regional Expert Reviewers, those with enhanced publishing powers for Review (not edits), are typically selected from the most active editors using MM, in the forum and demonstrate a commitment to reviewing/mapping in accordance with MM guidelines.

Saikrishna: A trusted Map Maker editor should be familiar with Map Maker guidelines and know how to do things in Map Maker. He/she should also be familiar with his/her area enough to be able to review other people’s edits.

 

Has someone ever hired you specifically for your help in fixing a MM problem?

Andrew: No, as a MM user and RER I feel a personal obligation to help people map in a way that improves the map and is in accordance with Google’s policies. While I already have helped many people on the MM, Google for Business and other forums fix problems for free, I am available for consultation.

Saikrishna: No (unless you count those asking for help on how to do something in the forums).

 

How do MM problems usually come to your attention?

Andrew: I learn of “Problems,” which I define as bad data, from my own personal use of Google Maps and MM, friends who tell me they can’t find an address/business or that it’s mislocated, the MM forum, the Google for Business (“Places”) forum, the Local Search Forum, and news articles.

Saikrishna: Mainly through both forums and Map Maker itself. I typically edit businesses in my area and sometimes find problems with features.

 

What kinds of local search -related problems have their roots in MM?

Andrew: Merges and/or duplicates.  This is one of the big offenders I see with business owners claiming a feature thinking it is “Dentistry Unlimited” because that’s what the primary name on Maps said it was, or marking that feature as a duplicate of the existing “Dentistry Unlimited” feature associated with a claimed feature in Places. Google allows dentists to have ‘Professional Listings’ as a way for people to locate the doctor directly instead of the business; unfortunately people or bots will place the business name in the name of the feature instead of the person’s name which sometimes will be modified in a manner that conflates the professional listing with a business listing.

Because name changes to businesses, etc. require closing a feature and creating a new one, bots will mistakenly add information to what should be a professional listing but has been claimed by someone representing a dental practice. This is especially problematic when someone retires and another professional comes into the same practice and the same professional listing is used. Business owners and others should take the time to check a feature’s history in MM to go all the way to the beginning to see if it was improperly renamed or marked as a duplicate in a manner that would present problems with bots.

Saikrishna: If their business is not appearing in the search suggestions, it may be that the business has been marked as a duplicate of another feature or marked as closed. However, this could be attributed either to Map Maker or to Places, as a bot there may have marked a business as a duplicate of another.

If their business is not appearing in Maps at all, then it could be that their business was removed, either from Places or Map Maker.

 

What checks can a business owner perform in MM to tell whether there’s a problem that affects his/her business?

Andrew: See earlier comments [answer to question #2].

Saikrishna: A business owner could check to see if there have been major changes to their feature (if their feature is removed, marked as closed, or marked as a duplicate of another feature). These three changes could be an indication that their place may no longer be searchable in Google Maps. If their feature is removed, it may be because the feature was in violation of Places guidelines. If their feature is marked as a duplicate, or if your feature is not appearing at all in Maps, then I would recommend going to either the Map Maker forums or the Places forums.

 

If a business owner has concluded that his/her business has a problem in MM, what course of action would you suggest for that person?

Andrew: Business owners should only turn to MM when using the Places Dashboard is ineffective or MM is better at accomplishing the desired result (in accordance with Places and MM guidelines).

For business owners wishing to use MM, the best course of action is to start their own thread in the MM forum, including the city/state/country in the subject line. They should describe their issue in a factual manner (avoiding blame accusations, etc) and being straightforward about their business and the feature.

The MM forum is largely user-to-user, and more experienced users like myself only have a certain amount of time and energy to contribute. If someone is being belligerent and/or shady they are likely going to not receive as much assistance as if they were honest and forthcoming. I have helped give people advice on how to bring their non-compliant features into compliance because they were able to provide me the information I needed to give them proper advice. Others, I just moved onto the next person and/or just reported their feature to Google for internal review.

Saikrishna: If it’s a simple change (incorrect address number, incorrect marker location, etc.), and their Places Dashboard is correct, then editing in Map Maker would probably be fine. If it is more complex (missing in search results, marked as a duplicate, etc.), then I would recommend going to either the Map Maker forum or the Places forum.

 

The rest of Google’s maps / local search system is notoriously full of problems.  What are the big problems in MM?

Andrew: Bots making edits that combine information from a variety of places into one feature and/or merging features incorrectly. This is predominant on college campuses with the main college feature having the names and phone numbers of departments and organizations added to the main feature.

Saikrishna: Some of the problems in Map Maker (which is also shared in Places) is that a feature may be marked as a duplicate of another feature by either a Places bot or a Map Maker bot when it’s really not, possibly because of similar names or similar phone numbers. This causes the “duplicate” feature to eventually disappear from Maps, and a new feature may have to be created.

 

What are some common shenanigans that some people – particularly business owners or marketers/SEOs – try to pull in MM?

Andrew:

  • Hijacking features of competitors and changing the name or phone number to their own/someone else.
  • Having multiple features at different addresses for one business.
  • Using a UPS store, USPS post office, Private Mailbox location, or Virtual/Rented Office location like Regis as their physical address.  [Be sure to review the list of acceptable locations in MapMaker.]
  • Trying to game the system by making edits/reviews in MM to build trust within MM to gain an advantage. Power users and other experienced editors usually spot these pretty easily and report them to Google. Such schemes usually result in someone having their trust level manually reset by Google or their account suspended/deactivated.

Saikrishna: While this isn’t specific to Map Maker, one fairly common shenanigan is having too many categories. Some businesses type in categories that are not among Google’s list of categories. Some businesses also have the name of the city as part of a category, which isn’t allowed. There are very few cases in which a business should have a category that’s not already included in Google’s list of categories.

Another shenanigan I occasionally see is business owners not entering the proper name of their business in the name field. For example, instead of entering “Remax,” they enter “Best Real Estate Office.” This is not allowed, and may lead to problems down the line in regards to their visibility in Map Maker.

Another “attempted” shenanigan I see is people entering information about the business in the Description box in Map Maker. They may believe that the description they enter will be visible in the Google+ Local page; however, the description box is essentially notes that don’t go anywhere. The description that is in Google+ Local can only be edited in the Places Dashboard.

 

What do you think the average business owner should do with MM?

Andrew: Learn how to use MM before jumping in with both feet; reading the Help Center articles, watching the YouTube videos for MM and reading the forums is a great place to start. Use MM only to accurately fix issues that cannot be done via their own Dashbord or Community Edits (address, name types, or others).

Saikrishna: They can keep an eye on their Map Maker feature to make sure that there are no major changes that are incorrect. If there are any incorrect changes, some of them may be easy to fix, while the others may or may not be able to be fixed.

 

What do you like most about MM?

Andrew: I like the ability to make changes that update Google Maps allowing its users to get directions, locate a business or discover what is around them more efficiently and effectively. As an RER, I also enjoy the ability, to quickly push through edits in order to keep Maps up-to-date as possible.

Saikrishna: I like the idea of Map Maker itself, that the common man can help in making a better map for their neighborhood, either by adding new roads or adding a new store that’s recently opened.

 

How do you see MM evolving in the future?  (Pure speculation is OK!)

Andrew: In the future I see Trusted Reviewer being added for smaller areas (cities, college campuses) to people in those communities such as planning officials, police dispatchers, etc. who demonstrate proficiency in MM to have better control over correcting inaccurate or abusive edits. Currently most RERs have enhanced publishing powers for reviews on a country-wide basis.

 

Any other comments you’d like to add?

Andrew: Android users should go sign up for Ingress, which is currently in beta. It reportedly is a fun game and will help improve Google Maps!

About the MapMaker Experts:

Andrew Sawyer

Google+

MapMaker Regional Editor profile

Saikrishna Arcot

Google+

MapMaker Regional Editor profile

 

MapMaker resources referred to in the interview:

YouTube channel

Forum

Help Center

 

Great posts on MapMaker:

Interview with Dan Austin, a Google Maps Spam Fighter – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Google +Local NAP Info Pulling From Mapmaker (not Places?) – David Mihm

A Step By Step To Recover Your “We Currently Do Not Support This” Location in MapMaker – Mike Blumenthal

What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker – Mike Blumenthal

Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible? – Nyagoslav Zhekov

MapMaker Bots and What They Do – Mike Blumenthal

Any questions for Andrew or Saikrishna (or me)?  How about a great big thank you to these guys for taking the time to share some insights?  Leave a comment!

What Matt Cutts Says about Local Search

The Most Interesting Head of Google Webspam TeamI tip my hat to Matt Cutts.  The man has a tough job.  He has to explain to SEOs, webmasters, and business owners why their websites suck and shouldn’t rank well in Google.

Cutts is good at his job, and I get the sense he loves it.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes even he feels like Al Bundy at the shoe store.

Organic SEOs follow him more closely than the tabloids follow J. Lo.  Some of them pose stupid questions and try to get Matt to reveal more about Google’s “secret sauce” than he can (or should) reveal.

Matt Cutts doesn’t talk much about local search.  Nor do we local-search obsessives pester him to do so.

But Phil, if Cutts doesn’t talk about local search, why are you even bringing him up? Especially when the people in charge of Google Plus, umm…Google Places, uh…that Google local thing usually tell us what they recommend business owners do?

Well, Gentle Reader, I bring up Cutts because occasionally he does say something relevant to Google’s local search results – and to the question of how to rank well there.

Although the people “in charge” of Google+Local surely have their hearts in the right place, they pretty much just regurgitate Google’s “Quality Guidelines.”  Usually all we come away with is a tessellated picture of Google’s rules, and not much else.

True, Cutts also rehashes Google’s rules a lot, but sometimes he also yields more real-world, usable insights.  Those are what I’ve tried to round up in this post.

We local SEOs have many best-practices that we preach.  If you know these best-practices and follow them, great.  But if you don’t, at least see what Matt Cutts says.

 

People’s Exhibit “A”:

Takeaway:

  • You can’t just “target” any city you’d like.  Location matters.  Even if a city is in your “service area,” you can’t necessarily get visible in the local search results there if you’re not located there.  That can be a tough pill to swallow, but for better or worse, that’s how it is.

 

People’s Exhibit “B”:

Takeaways:

  • (5:55) “Make sure you have your business name and your address on your webpage.”  This matches what some of us wrote in 2012’s Local Search Ranking Factors – about how your business name / address / phone needs to be on every page of your site.
  • (9:00) Flash or Javascript navigation links/buttons can hurt the crawlability of your site.  (This isn’t a problem specific to local SEO, but given the importance of on-page factors to your local visibility, it’s certainly a problem that can hurt your rankings.)

 

People’s Exhibit “C”:

SEO Advice: Make a web page for each store location

Takeaway:

  • Each location/branch of your business should have its own webpage.  “If you have a lot of store or franchise locations, consider it a best practice to 1) make a web page for each store that lists the store’s address, phone number, business hours, etc. and 2) make an HTML sitemap to point to those pages with regular HTML links, not a search form or POST requests.”

(Minor point:  Marking up your name/address/phone with microformats and the like isn’t a bad idea; see the comment from well-known local SEO-er Martijn Beijk as well as Cutts’ response.)

 

People’s Exhibit “D”:

Matt Cutts and Eric Talk about What Makes a Quality Site

Takeaway:

  • (About 3/4 through interview)  Cookie-cutter pages are bad.  That is, if you have pages on your site that “target” a particular city, those pages shouldn’t be near-duplicates of each other with just the city names swapped out.  (Yes, yes, I know that sometimes pages like these can rank pretty well, but if you have them there’s a good chance you’ll get whacked by Google sooner or later.  But hey, it’s your website, your business, and your choice.)

 

Finished going through my CliffsNotes?  I suggest you also read the above posts and watch the videos in full, just for that extra bit of context.

If Cutts’ suggestions were news to you, great: you should now have a better sense of what Google is “looking for” when deciding where to stack you up in the local rankings.  If they weren’t news to you, then they should reassure you that your approach to local SEO is solid and not likely to get you whacked in any way by Google.

Have you run across any posts or videos featuring the Word of Cutts that I missed?  Leave a comment (and a link)!

P.S.  Wouldn’t it be cool if MC stopped by and commented on some of this?  🙂

Local SEO “Substitutions”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

For your Google+Local listing

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

For your website

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

For citations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Explanation
Citations matter.  A lot.  ‘Nuff said.

 

For reviews

If you…
Have trouble getting Google or Yelp reviews.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Your handy-dandy local SEO "substitutions chart"

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

The 2011 Google Places Slangbook

The 2011 Google Places SlangbookFine, so maybe it’s not yet a book of Google Places slang.  But “book” just sounds better than “compendium.”

Whatever you want to call it, I’ve written it for two purposes:

Purpose 1: To show that we Google Places visibility specialists aren’t just a bunch of geeks: We have our own culture—even our own language!  I’d like to take you on a cross-cultural adventure, to allow you to bask in the richness of another language, and…eh, who am I kidding.  The real point of it is:

Purpose 2: To clarify what these terms mean.  Some Google Placers (should that be a new slang term?) use this specialized slang more than others do.  Maybe you’ve checked some of their blogs, articles, or videos.  Much of it is excellent stuff, but the slang can occasionally hold you up—especially if you don’t spend all day grappling with Google Places and its nomenclature.

In other words, I’d like to help make all the stuff that’s written by and for Google Places obsessives a little easier for you to digest and apply to your business, so that you can get more visible to local customers.

Some of these terms are pretty new (circa 2010-2011), whereas others have been around for a while.

By the way, this is NOT a glossary.  I’m not going to define terms like “canonicalize.”  You can look up technical jargon easily enough.  I’m just dealing with the stuff that’s somewhat harder to look up.

In alphabetical order:

3-pack:  When people type in a local search term and see 3 local businesses listed on the first page of Google Places, they’re seeing the “3-pack” local results.  You typically see this in less-competitive markets, where there aren’t a ton of businesses competing with each other in the same local market.  But they could become more common in the future: As I wrote back in June, Google seems to have tested 3-pack local search results on at least one occasion.

7-pack:  That coveted list of 7 local businesses on the first page of Google Places.  It’s where you want your business to rank and be seen when local customers type what you offer into Google.

10-pack:  As you probably recall, you typically used to see 10 local businesses when you’d type in a local search term.  But in April of 2010, Google chopped it down to just 7 local businesses that rank on the first page of local results.  (That’s also when Google Places started being called “Google Places,” and no longer “Google Local Business Center.”)

Algo:  Short for “algorithm.”  As you probably know, this just refers to the giant, messy orgy of factors that Google weighs when determining how your business (and others) will rank.

Centroid:  I know it sounds like something you take for an upset stomach, but it actually means the geographical center of a city or town, as defined by Google.  How close your business is to your city’s “centroid” affects your ranking: all other things being equal, a business that’s located closer to downtown generally holds a ranking advantage over others.  Some people used to think that the “centroid” was the location of the downtown USPS post office, but this wasn’t and isn’t true.  Where’s the “centroid” of your city?  To find out, type the name of your city into Google, click on the “Maps” tab at the top of the page, and zoom in: the “A” map pin marks what Google sees as the geographical center of your town.

The city "centroid"

Google Love:  When the owner of a business / Google Places page sweeps Lady Algo off her feet by following her official guidelines, being a responsible category-picker, a sensitive citation-gatherer, a charming conversationalist, and someone who enjoys long walks on the beach.  Said business owner is then invited upstairs—up to a higher local ranking, that is.

IYP:  Short for “Internet Yellow Pages.” Any local-business directory sites, like Yelp, AngiesList, SuperPages, CitySearch, etc.

NAP:  Stands for “Name, Address, Phone”—which itself isn’t particularly clear.  It usually refers to the practice of including the name of your business, your business address, and your business phone number at the bottom of each page of your website.  This info should appear as crawlable text (not as an image!) at the bottom of your webpages exactly as it appears on your Google Places listing—and with the same formatting.  Even more info about NAP here.

One-box (also written “1-box”):  Any time you type in a local search term or search for a specific business by name and see only ONE local-business result on the first page of Google, you’re looking at a “one-box.”  It contains a website OR Google Places search-result for that business, the red Google Places map pin, links to the Places page, usually at least one photo that the business owner uploaded, and sometimes sitelinks.  It also used to contain a little map, but I haven’t seen this recently.  It’s excellent if your business shows up as a one-box when you type in a local-search term (rather than search for your business by name), but this isn’t likely to happen if you’re in a competitive local market.

The "one-box" local search result in Google Places

Places Purgatory:  When your Google Places listing supposedly is active, and should be highly visible in the search results, but instead is NOT—and for no apparent reason.  You don’t know what (if anything) you’re doing wrong, and the Google Gods have not descended to tell you how you must change your ways.  Mike Blumenthal describes Places Purgatory excellently.

Snippets:  Before July 21 of 2011, Google would grab little excerpts of reviews and other info from third-party sites (see “IYPs,” above) and display them prominently on your Places page.  The purpose of this was to supplement whatever info a business owner put on his or her own Places page with a bunch of info culled from other sites.  Google has since removed these because of the whole antitrust case that’s been brewing.

 

I must have forgotten some terms.  Which ones am I missing?

Leave a comment and hit me with your best slang suggestions (and even your definitions, if you’re feeling generous).  If I like your slang, I’ll update this post to include it.  Just don’t bother telling me technical jargon: I know it, and anyone who doesn’t can easily look it up.

By the way, if you’ve coined any Google Places-related terms, do let me know.  Maybe this slangbook is where they’ll catch fire…