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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our blogging strategy helped, but wasn’t enough

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We made our internal links do more work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the homepage welcome paragraph would have been:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We kept our fingers crossed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big-picture takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any particular step you’re eager to try?

How would you adapt it to your situation?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO Fairy Tale: No Problems = Good Rankings

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In SEO, fixing problems is only half the challenge.  The other half is to become notable in some way.

Once in a blue moon I get an audit client who says something like:

“Phil, helpful action plan there, but I’m a little disappointed you didn’t find more problems!”

That’s understandable.  You’ve put a ton of work into your business and marketing.  It seems likely there’s one thing (or a combination of a few things) holding you back – something you overlooked.

Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean the problem is something is broken.  Google’s local search results are, essentially, a list of business it recommends.  Why should Google recommend a business simply because it exists and the owner hasn’t screwed up?

Even a brand-new car in factory condition won’t get far without gas.  You have to give it fuel.  It’s something you add continually.  You know that.  If your mechanic told you otherwise, you’d probably look for another mechanic.

But what if most mechanics told you the only way to make your car move is to pay for more repairs, no matter how much the car has been “repaired” already?  That’s what happens in the SEO world, especially in the local SEO space.  The explanation is always that your site isn’t “optimized” enough, or that you don’t have 300 citations on local directories nobody’s heard of.

When did problem-solving become problem-scavenging?  How did SEO become OCD?

One cause is that website tweaks and citation-slinging are easy for marketing companies to bill for, and easy to delegate for cheap.  Very scalable.  Looks like a lot on paper.  Nobody experienced or skilled has to be involved.  Endlessly tweaking the site and building listings on local directories listings is part and parcel of what I call drive-by SEO.  If and when that doesn’t work, you fire the old SEO company and find a new one, where the new people claim the last SEO people didn’t “optimize” enough.

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Then the cycle repeats.  Eventually you conclude nobody’s managed to “optimize” your site and listings properly, but it didn’t occur to you that maybe you’re solid on those already and the problem is something else.

The other causes are the anecdotes you’ll hear around the local SEO water cooler.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“We did a little citation clean-up and the rankings shot up!”  That can happen, but only when you’ve got other things going for you, like having great links, or being a well-known brand, or specializing in a niche.  Also, citation work tends only to bring at most a one-time benefit.  Do it once, do it right, enjoy whatever benefits it brings you, but move on after that.

“We disavowed some bad links and the rankings shot up.”  That only helps if you also had or have good links to offset the bad ones.  A penalized site minus a penalty does not equal a promotion.  You get visible by putting in work your competitors can’t or won’t.

“We just created a Google My Business page and saw a surge in traffic.”  That can happen, too, but only if you were already doing well on organic SEO, or if you’re just in an uncompetitive local market.

“We did basic on-page optimization and our rankings went way up.”  For what search term(s)?  Does anybody besides you actually type in those terms?  Do you get customers from those rankings?  Did you have anything else going for you before the optimization (e.g. lots of good links)?  Sometimes simple on-page optimization is enough to rank well, but there’s usually more to the story than that, and over time it’s become less likely to be enough.

In my experience, those types of stories are especially common among enterprise SEOs, whose clients (or employers) are big corporations that already have links, reviews, and brand-recognition out the wazoo.  To go back to my car metaphor, their car has plenty of gas and mostly new parts, but blew a fuse or just needs new transmission.  If you fix whatever part(s) gave out, you deserve all due credit and praise.  But that doesn’t mean your fix is what the next car needs.

Sometimes the problem is that your business seems unremarkable to Google.  Doesn’t mean it IS unremarkable; it’s just that what’s online doesn’t reflect how great your business really is.

Fine, Phil, so local SEO isn’t just a matter of fixing “problems,” but also of taking advantage of opportunities.  Got it.  What do I do now?

In general, work your tail off to earn more and better links than your competitors have, more and better reviews than they have, and more-in-depth content about your services on your site.  The benefits might not come right away, but that’s what you need to do.

Gee, that’s broad advice, Phil.

Yup.  It sure is.  That’s because I don’t know anything about your business at the moment.  I don’t know what you’ve done, or haven’t done, or how well it’s worked.  If you’d like a clear action plan, you might want to start with my free guide and this.  Today I just wanted to establish that although the time you spend fixing SEO “problems” is time very well-spent, you can’t just stop there.

Do you have a different take?

Have you had a “eureka” moment?  If so, what was it?

Have you ever “fixed all the problems” and still found that wasn’t enough to rank well?

Leave a comment!

Your Google My Business Page in 2017: How Hard Is It to Mess Up?

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Google’s local-business pages of yore offered many ways to blow up your rankings – in the good sense or the bad sense.  Lots of customizable fields you could stuff full of keyword powder and watch go “boom.”

In recent years, though, Google has childproofed businesses’ pages.  Usually, when you don’t fill out your page quite the way Google wants, Google simply changes your info for you.  In that way, with the glaring exception of not keeping an eye on what you put in the “business name” field, Google has mostly eliminated the ways you can hurt yourself.  The edges are rounded, the paint doesn’t taste good, and the candy doesn’t make you look cool.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/3079557294/

That’s why I say the term “Google My Business page optimization” is a misnomer at best and deceptive at worst.  There’s very little to “optimize.”  Generally, it’s very easy to get your Google My Business page(s) squared away and then to move on.  (That’s not a good reason to hire a local SEO person.)

In the days of Play-Doh-knife Google My Business pages, getting your GMB page right is mostly a matter of not messing it up.  To that end, here’s my 12-point quasi-checklist of things you should look into:

More-obvious stuff

1. Basic eligibility. Are you taking liberties with the Google My Business guidelines (like using a fake address, or using employees’ home addresses)? If so, you’ll probably get away with it in the short-term, if not longer-term.  But even if your scheme works, you’ll check your rankings every morning to make sure they’re still there.  It’s not worth it.  Play by the rules – and remember that there’s plenty of local SEO without the “map,” and that most of it is just organic SEO anyway.

2. Correct and complete info. Don’t be concerned about minor formatting quirks in the “address” field. Do use the real, official, legal name of your business.  Do make sure your hours are listed on there.

3. Claimed page. An unclaimed page can still rank well, but you want to be able to make changes easily, and you probably don’t want other people’s public edits to be approved easily.

4. No duplicate pages. What constitutes a “duplicate” Google My Business page – especially one that’s harming your rankings – is tricky. Generally, my rule is that if you can (1) pull it up on the Maps tab and (2) it’s not a page for a specific licensed professional (e.g. doctor or lawyer or agent) in your organization and (3) you don’t want it to be the page people see in search results, you should mark it as “permanently closed.”  If you really want to bury it, claim the page and strip out as much of the business info as you can (particularly the phone number and site URL).

5. Categories. Which categories you should pick is a tricky question, but I suggest you pick as few as possible and don’t include any that seem to be a stretch or seem broader than other categories you might pick. Note: Google may change your categories for you if they don’t like them.

6. Accurate service-area settings. If you indicate to Google that you always travel to your customers (rather than meet all of them at your place of business), Google won’t show your address on your Google My Business page. Google used to be touchy if you owned a service-area business and didn’t hide your address for any reason.  Now, whether or not you “hide” your address is not a big deal.  If Google doesn’t want your address showing on your page, they’ll simply change it for you (rather than whisk your page off the map).

7. Map pin in correct place. It should be on your building, and preferably on the specific part of the building your business is in.

Less-obvious stuff

8. Best landing page URL. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if your Google My Business landing page is your homepage, rather than another page on your site. If you’ve got multiple locations and want to point each to a city-specific landing page, that’s fine, but you’ll probably need to rustle up some good links to those subpages.  If you’re not willing to go to that effort, you’re probably better off using the homepage on all your Google My Business pages and on most or all of your other local listings.

9. No overlapping service areas. Let’s say you’re a contractor with two valid addresses 10 miles apart. Both locations probably serve customers in some of the same cities, because those locations are pretty close together.  Fine, but don’t include any one city in the “service area” settings of both your Google My Business pages.  Google has a strange rule about that.  You’ll want to carve up the service area between the two locations, or simply not “hide” your address on one of your pages.

10. Google Street View indoor photo shoot. If you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar store or office, it’s bigger than a closet, and doesn’t look like hell inside, consider hiring a Google-trusted photographer to shoot a virtual tour. If you’ve got multiple locations, consider getting a photo shoot for each.  It’s smart marketing and may be a ranking factor.

11. “HTTP” vs. “HTTPS” in the “website URL” field. If you’ve got an SSL certificate for your site (not necessary for most “local” businesses), it’s probably a good idea to update the “Website URL” field of your Google My Business page and maybe your important other listings (e.g. Yelp, Facebook, YP) to point to the “https” version.

12. Transferred Google reviews. Do you have Google reviews showing on an old page, or on an otherwise incorrect page? Ask Google to transfer them.  (In my experience, they’re pretty good about it.)

Did I forget any important checkup points?

Any points you learned about the hard way on your Google My Business page?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

How to Structure Your Site for Local Search Visibility That Lasts

The Ise Shrine is pretty cool.  The Emperor of Japan had it built in the 7th Century.  It’s made of untreated wood, yet it’s stood for over 1300 years.  How?

Because master carpenters rebuild the whole thing – board by board – every 20 years.

Your site won’t have to serve you for quite that long, but you can build it to last.  If you structure it according to a few best-practices, it’s more likely to rank well in the local results, and to be easy for customers to use.  It will also be easier to make changes later on if you need to.

I’m not talking about internal link structure (how your pages should link together).  Other posts deal with that nicely.  Nor am I talking about what should be on your pages.  I’ve talked about that, too.

I’m talking about where to put stuff.  Simply having “content” on your site isn’t enough.  You need to organize it in a way that Google and customers can understand all your business offers.

For my clients’ sites, there are some points I really harp on, and some that I don’t consider crucial – but wise to do.  Let’s go through the former – my “hard rules” – first.

My hard rules:

1.  Have one site – or as few as possible.  Avoid microsites.  Avoid mirror sites.

2.  Put your blog on the same domain.  Preferably it’s at yoursite.com/blog.  You want your posts and any links to benefit the site you’re trying to rank.  (By the way, if you don’t have a blog because your wheels are spinning, see this and this.)

3.  Your page structure should be granular: Have a page for each service, each location, each practitioner or employee.

4.  Form a “bulls’-eye” pattern with your content.  You should have an area of your site – like your blog – where you’re concentrating useful content, but you should also have “content” spread throughout the rest of your site.  That stuff can rank.  Think FAQ pages, bio pages, or city pages.

5.  Your homepage should be a static page, rather than feature your latest blog posts.  One reason (of many) is that Google needs a consistent picture of what your business offers, if you’re to rank for those services.  The blog post du jour won’t necessarily do that.

My softer rules:

6.  Your navigation should be dummy-simple.  You want to avoid pogo-sticking.  If you want people to see your “Products” page, it should probably be in your top menu.

7.  Avoid “island” pages – pages that have no internal links to them, or only links that are buried in pages few people see.  This is in the same vein as point #6.  Everything should be findable in 1-2 clicks from your homepage.  Google needs to be able to crawl those pages easily.  And if you don’t want people to find those pages easily, you should reconsider whether they even should be on your site.

8.  Use as few subdirectories as possible.  (Or else you get this.)

OK, time for a quick break.

Now, you may want to check out some examples of well-structured sites.  Here are a few keepers:

CohenWintersPlasticSurgery.com

NOVAChiroWellness.com

PringleLaw.ca

It’s also worth checking out these relevant posts (including a couple of mine):

Intelligent Site Structure for Better SEO – Joost de Valk

Site Architecture & Search Engine Success Factors – SearchEngineLand

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

Location pages for local businesses and organizations – Google Developers

Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons – me

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

How do you suggest structuring a site for maximum local visibility?

Did I forget any big no-nos?

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

They’ve got a homepage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurance accepted – If applicable.

Financing – If applicable.

“Why us?”Here’s an example.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the action items…

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

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

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

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

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

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

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

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update – Mike Ramsey

And a few relevant posts from me:

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

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

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

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

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

March into battle with more weapons.

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