Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram

Too few people realize that local SEO is mostly organic SEO plus a few other moving parts.  I (and others) have found that without also doing what it takes to rank well in Google’s “10 blue links” results, you won’t grab as much visibility for your business on the local map.

Local visibility isn’t a lovechild of a Google My Business page + local citations + “optimized” site (+ spamming when convenient).  Rather, it’s the result of a smart, labor-intensive organic SEO campaign with a couple of twists.

I’ve had to explain that concept enough that I thought it best just to whip up a graphic to show what I mean.  Here it is:

 

Basic explanation (very basic)

As you can probably tell, the idea I’m trying to get across is that your local rankings are hollow and fragile without that solid core of organic SEO work.

Having a website and local directory listings for a business with a keyword in its name is not a strategy.  Even if that low-effort approach seems to work, the rankings likely won’t last, and if they do, you still probably won’t rank for as many search terms as you otherwise could.

Google knows where your business is located and (probably) what you offer.  But how does Google know you’re any good?  In a semi-competitive market, Google will usually cherry-pick.  It does that, above all, by seeing how good your links are and how much good in-depth info you’ve got on your offerings.

Explanation of each “circle” and of some ranking factors

Most of the ranking factors in each circle should be clear, but a few I should explain a little.  While I’m at it, I should also define each of the 3 circles.

“Organic results” circle

Work on the things in the dark-blue, innermost circle and you’ll rank well, whether or not you’re a “local” business.

Organic results are often non-local.

But sometimes they show local businesses, and show different local businesses based on your location.

Now, a couple notes on a couple of the factors in the “Organic” circle:

Note on “Business name” factor: What your business is called has some influence on what search terms you rank for in the organic results.  But, sad to say, it’s even more of a factor in how you rank on the local map.

Now, an argument could be made that I should have “Business name” in all 3 circles, because it affects your rankings everywhere.  I’ve chosen not to do that.  For one thing, it’s messy.  Also, in my opinion you shouldn’t name your business differently just because at the moment it’s an inflated ranking factor in the Google Maps 3-pack.  To me, how you name your business is part of the core strategy.

Note on “User-behavior” factor: How searchers interact with your site – both when they see it in the search results and when they’re on it – seems to matter to Google.  “User-behavior” might include things like how many people click on you vs. on a competitor, what terms they typed in before clicking on you, and whether they hit the “back” button or dig deeper into your site.  In my experience, that can help your organic rankings.

But there’s also local user-behavior that may matter, like what customers’ mobile location-tracking data tells Google, lookups of driving directions, and which businesses in the 3-pack attract the most clicks.  Again, tough call as to which circle(s) to put “User-behavior” in, because it’s really common to all 3.

“Local-organic” results circle

Since 2012, Google has shown local-business results in the organic search results.  They’re mixed in with the other “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map.  Often businesses that rank in the map also rank in the localized organic results, and vice versa.

You’ll probably show up prominently in the local-organic results if you’ve got at least some of the factors from the “Organic results” circle going for you, and you happen to be a local business – with or without a Google My Business page or other local listings.

Note on “Rough location” factor: Google’s organic results aren’t as location-sensitive as the Maps results are.  Even if your business isn’t located in or very near your target city, as long as it’s in the vicinity, it should be at least possible to rank in the localized organic results.

“Maps results” circle

Also known as the 3-pack, or Google Places results.  You’ll only appear there if you’ve got a Google My Business page and – in markets that are even a little competitive – if you’ve also got the factors from the other two circles working in your favor.

Note on “Exact location” factor: Sometimes your Maps rankings depend on whether your business is 1 mile or 1/4 mile from your customer.  Location (of customer relative to business) is usually less of a factor if you’re really dialed-in on your organic SEO (that is, if you’ve got enough good links to suggest to Google that you’re a prominent or authoritative business).

Does my diagram make sense to you?

Is it clear what each ranking factor refers to?

Any questions or suggestions?

Leave a comment!

Breakdown of Page 1 of Google’s Local Organic Search Results: Who Dominates?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/11513424364/

Though the first page of Google’s local results usually consists of 3 “local map” results plus 10 organic results, that doesn’t mean your business has 13 chances to rank somewhere on page one.  Nor do all pages on your site have an equal chance at ranking.  Nor does having the most-dominant site necessarily mean you’ll get the most or best visibility in the local results.

How well your business ranks in the local “3-pack” depends on many factors, including where your business is, where the searcher is, who clicks on you and other behavior, the name of your business, and – above all – on how well you rank in the local organic results (the “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map).

Your organic rankings, in turn, depend mainly on how relevant your site is to what the customer searched for and (even more so) on how good your links are.

So what are your chances of getting your business’s site to rank somewhere on page 1 of the local organic results?

One way to answer that is to know how Google usually fills up the first page of local organic results – Google’s tendencies and quotas, you might say.

Google has a very specific way of carving up the local search results.  It’s not all local businesses, nor is it a grab-bag of “something for everyone” search results.

I’ve just done a study of 500 local markets – 500 first-pages of local search results – and have some numbers on which sites and pages typically rank on page one.

Here’s the pie-chart, which sums up my findings and the dozens of hours of research that went into it.

(click to enlarge)

You may not need to know any more.  Or you may want more detail on the pie, on my methodology, and on what it all means for your local SEO strategy.  In the latter case, just read on.

What does each slice of the pie represent, exactly?

“Business: homepages”

I’m referring to the homepage of a site that belongs to a specific business.

Homepages are the biggest slice of the pie, averaging 37.62% of Google’s local organic search results.  On average, 3-4 out of 10 of the organic results consist of one homepage or another.  The homepage typically has the most link-juice (which is one reason I usually suggest using it as your Google My Business landing page).  It’s no surprise to me so much of page one goes to various homepages.

“Business: subpages:

If homepages constitute more than 3 out of 10 spots on a typical first page of results, that must mean other pages usually grab the other 7 spots – right?

Wrong.  Subpages (like yourbusiness.com/city) and subdomains (like city.yourbusiness.com) only account for 12.68% of the 5000 individual search results I studied.  In a typical first page of results, only 1-2 results are for pages on a business’s website other than the homepage.

So 37.62% of the results are for businesses’ homepages, plus 12.68% are for other pages on businesses’ sites.  That’s about half of the pie.

Who gets the other half of Google’s local organic search results?

“Directories: category search”

It probably doesn’t surprise you that local-business directories take up a lot of real estate on page one.  I’m talking about Yelp, BBB, YellowPages, and so on, and industry-specific sites like Zillow, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, etc.

Those directories’ internal search results show up more often than do other pages on their sites.  “Search results within search results” take up a whopping 36.62% of Google’s local organic results.

“Directories: business pages”

Sometimes a business’s Facebook or Yelp or BBB or YellowPages page will rank on page one for a popular search term.

Known as barnacle local SEO, it’s great if you can get an online property other than your site to rank for a main keyword.  But it’s tough to do.  Only 7.58% of Google’s search results go to directory results for specific businesses.

“News”

Local-news sites and other sources of news take up a small piece of the search results (not as much as I thought they would).  News results made up 0.64% of the results I studied.

Good coverage can drive business.  A unfavorable piece can dog you.  News stories tend to have many backlinks, usually are on authoritative sites, and tend to get clicked on often.  Because of those things, news pieces can stick around for a while.  The news isn’t always “new.”

“Other”

Google throws other results onto page one, too.  The most-common “other” sites I ran across were Craigslist listings, Indeed.com (for jobs), weird directory results (e.g. Yelp forum threads), and government sites – usually local government.

Methodology & notes

When Sydney Marchuk (of Whitespark) and I did this research, we tried to be as methodical and scientific as possible.  As with most studies, there are limitations to this one, and I’m sure there are some holes.

You can look at our raw data here, but here are some lab notes:

  • We Googled 500 different search terms – 500 different combinations of cities and keywords
  • We searched for explicitly local search terms: “city + keyword.” As opposed to typing in “keyword” and seeing what local search results Google shows you.  (Yes, Google is watching you.)  In my experience, the results differ a little between when you type in the city and when you don’t.  To do a study on that would be more technically complicated and even more of a slog, but I’d love to do one or see one some time.
  • As I said at the start, we didn’t include the Google Maps “3-pack” rankings in this analysis. Again, we just looked at the localized organic results – which usually contain all the business that rank in the 3-pack.
  • Sydney lives in Canada, but searched at Google.com (not .ca), was signed out of Google, and used an incognito browser tab. The results weren’t biased by search history or anything like that.  In any case, I live in Massachusetts, and the searches I did matched up with what Sydney found.
  • We did the research in mid-December – about a month ago. Some of the SERPs surely have changed since then, but I doubt they’ve changed significantly.  To the extent I’ve had to spot-check some of the results in the past few days, I’ve found that they’ve changed very little.
  • Of course, the breakdown will change over time. It’s Google.  They like to twist the dials.

Conclusions (very general)

What does the breakdown of a typical page one mean – especially for your business?  Some things I’ve gleaned from looking at the data (and from doing local SEO for 8+ years):

  • On average, only about 5 of the results are for specific businesses. Your other competitors are directories.  Wherever you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  You’ll get some visibility either when people click on the directories’ “search results within search results,” or if you get your listing or page itself on the site to rank on page one of Google’s local results.  That’s often just a matter of piling on the reviews.
  • Homepages dominate, especially in markets where smaller, locally-based businesses duke it out mostly with each other, and not as much with Big Ugly Corporations that happen to have a nearby branch. Again, homepages tend to have most or all of the link juice.  Assuming you’ve got at leasta few decent links, if you have some good local content on your homepage it should have a good chance of ranking well.
  • Subpages (example.com/city) tend to be more dominant in markets where big businesses tend to congregate (e.g. car rentals). I have my theories as to why that is, but that’s for another day.
  • Your crappy keyword-stuffed blog post from 2 years ago probably won’t rank on page one for any semi-competitive term. (Maybe if it attracted some good links.)
  • Given how Google splits up the real estate between directories and businesses’ sites, dominance isn’t a matter of just getting your site to rank. As I’ve said, it’s not about site vs. site; it’s reputation vs. reputation.

Here’s the pie, once again:

Any questions on my findings?

Any conclusions you’ve drawn (that I didn’t mention)?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  If for some crazy reason you want to do an (unrelated) study of your own, consider hiring Sydney to help (schedule permitting).  You can email me, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Local SEO for State-Level Search Terms

A good local SEO effort gets you some rankings and customers in your city.  A great effort might get you results from some adjoining cities, too.  But few local SEO campaigns result in new business from across an entire state.

Even rarer is for someone in this industry to write about state-level searches.  There’s this great piece by Mike Ramsey from 2010, but that’s about it.  I’d like to share what I’ve observed about how businesses can widen the net on their local visibility.

What’s a “state-level” local search term?

Any search term that contains the name of a state (or province).  It can be either fully written-out (e.g. “Texas”), or the two-letter abbreviation (e.g. “TX”).

“home inspector NJ”

“mortgage broker MA”

“Florida eyelid surgeon”

And so on.

It doesn’t matter whether the state name is at the beginning or end of the query.

A “state-level” search does not include a city.  If you search for “dentist Denver CO,” you’re telling Google that you want to see dentists in Denver.  Google doesn’t need to grab results from across the state (more on that in a second), so it typically handles that kind of query similarly to how it would handle a search for “dentist Denver” (without the “CO”).

Why would you try to rank for state terms?

1. Some people search statewide. Either they’re in an adorable little state (like Rhode Island), or they want to cast a wider net because they didn’t like what they found nearby.

2. Because of point #1, the quality of the search traffic might be surprisingly good (though lower). I suspect people who search on a state level are farther along in the research process than if they were still searching for whomever or whatever is closest.  So I suspect they’re more willing to drive.

3. Fewer competitors will think to try to rank for state-level terms.  They won’t know what hit ’em.

4. It beats trying to optimize your pages for 5 different cities you think you can target on one page, or by cranking out several separate pages.

5. It can supplement your city-level visibility. You’ll still probably rank in (and maybe around) your city, if you’ve put in the work..  Ranking statewide won’t somehow “water down” your relevance to your city.

How does Google handle state-level searches?

A state-level search may pull up Google’s local 3-pack, or it may not.

 

When it does pull up a map, Google often draws results from the big cities – usually from the biggest urban area in the state – but not always.  Sometimes you’ll see results from all over the state.  Why the variation?  Good question.  I haven’t figured out the rhyme or reason (yet?).

Google’s a little more predictable in how it handles search terms that strictly pull up organic results – that is, with no “local map.”  Usually, Google will show the sites or pages with the strongest link profiles or – for less-competitive search terms – the sites simply with the best (or spammiest) on-page optimization.

How do you rank for them?

First, some big-picture things that you may or may not be in your control, but that seem to affect your ability to rank for state terms:

1. Specialize in a niche, if you can. As I’ve written, it’s often easier to rank for specialized services, and perhaps even more so if you’re targeting a state when most people only think to target a city.  Also, in some ways it’s just smarter marketing (you’re not trying to be all things to all people).

2. Try it for services where people are willing to travel, or where they don’t have to travel, or where they don’t have to pay extra if you travel.  If you’re a plumber, customers won’t pay you to travel 100 miles to be a plumber.  But if you’re the only plumber in the state who specializes in repairing their high-end European-made tankless water heater that always seems to break – and they know that because you actually talked about it on your site – they might just put you up in the Ritz.

3. Be in geographically small state, or at least in one where most of the big population-centers are pretty close to each other. Think Maryland, New Jersey, or Massachusetts.

Mind you, I wouldn’t expect you to join me in the Massachusetts mayhem for minor local SEO considerations (though perhaps you would for my charm chahm).  It’s just that if you’re not in one of those major population centers, at least you’re not so far outside of them that Google has to stretch the map just to include you.

Now for the nuts n’ bolts.  Much of this is similar to the advice I’d give if you had no interest in state-level search terms.  But it’s especially germane to “state local SEO.”  Also, you’ll need to put a state-oriented twist on some of it.

4. Go for a granular site structure. Having, for example, an in-depth page on each specific service you offer is smart anyway.  But it’s extra-important if you’re trying to scoop up some visibility on the state level.  Why?  Because if a given page is focused on a highly specialized, “niche” service it’s more likely to rank without too much heartache.  Google and visitors usually prefer a clear focus over a “big happy family” -type page that lists 10 different services.  Combine that topical focus with a focus on the state – rather than on the city where all your competitors also try to rank – and you’ll have either some state-level rankings already, or you’ll be well on your way.

5. Rack up the good links – especially ones relevant to your area. Be on the prowl for links that are relevant to your state, like statewide industry associations you can join.  Of course, get some strictly “local” links (some ideas).  Keep in mind: Google will draw from a bigger pool of competitors, from across the state, to determine who should rank for state-level search terms.  Be the site that benefits from a Google that cherry-picks.

6. Consider your business name. That still matters more than it should. You’re probably not in a position to rename your business.  On the off-chance you are, consider making the state part of your official, legal business name.

7. Pile on the reviews – especially more Google reviews. If you’re going for state terms, reviews seem to matter even more than usual, at least in my observations.  The businesses that rank for state terms typically have more reviews than do businesses that rank well in one city or another.

Now, let’s assume that’s not simply because those businesses are better at all aspects of marketing, and that good rankings and lots of  reviews aren’t just two sides of the same coin.  To me, it makes sense intuitively that reviews would matter more than usual.  I suspect that when customers search state-wide, Google is even more clueless than usual as to what search results to show.  So Google would probably want to identify “the best,” and might rely even more than usual on factors like where reviewers live and what cities or regions they mention in their reviews, and probably a hundred other factors.  Again, just speculation.

8. Describe your service area in detail – on your homepage, on important landing pages, on “city pages,” and maybe on a main “Service Areas” page. Don’t just list cities and ZIPs.

9. Do not underestimate the humble title tag. The two-letter state abbreviation is a high-payoff element to include in there anyway.  But it’s a no-brainer if you’re specifically aiming for state terms.

10. Create free resources that anyone in the state would find useful – not only potential customers/clients/patients.

state-search-term5

Any luck in ranking for state-level search terms?

Any that you’ve worked toward but haven’t ranked for?

Tips?  Questions?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jg_photo_art/5142967906/

Google is still in the early stages of injecting ads into the Google Maps 3-pack.  Google never met an ad it didn’t like, so the only question is when (not if) the map pack will become Times Square.

The thought of a pay-to-play local map scares the bejeezus out of many local business owners and local SEOs.

Will you lose your seat at the Local Feast to a big dumb corporation that can shovel more money into AdWords than you can?   Or, if helping people with local SEO is your business – and you don’t do PPC – will you be lying in chalk?

No and no.  Not if you apply a strategy (more on that in a second) that’s based on a few truths:

1. As long as there are local customers, local businesses, and the Web, there will always be local SEO. It’ll just continue to morph over time, as it always has.

2. Your “Google Maps” visibility has a huge amount of overlap with other areas of online marketing – particularly with your organic-search visibility (read: your links and content) and with how good you are at earning reviews on a variety of sites.

3. The local map is not the holy grail. Keep in mind that I make a living in large part by helping businesses get visible there, so I’m the last guy to say it’s not important.  But I’ve seen people dominate the local pack and not get any new business.  Also, Google can always mess it up (even more), lose the trust of searchers, and reduce the potential payoff.  If your one source of leads is your Google local-pack rankings, you are mooning a lion.

4. Local SEO is not just about rankings (duh). When you need something, do you automatically hire whomever ranks #1?  Neither do most people.  Local searchers are not a captive audience.  Most of them will dig until they find a business they trust.  Visibility in Google is only one part of becoming that business.

Fine, but what do you do if Google’s local map becomes prohibitively expensive, or worthless, or disappears entirely?  What’s left?  Is it Van Halen without David Lee Roth?

Local SEO wouldn’t be lessened, or even all that different.  If we write off the map results, your local SEO campaign becomes a combination of your work on the following:

  • Branded search results.  When people look up your business by name, can they immediately tell your site belongs to you and not to a sound-alike competitor?  Are they impressed by your customers’ reviews of you on all the review sites that show up on page 1 for your name?  Have you received any local press?  Are you listed on niche sites?

  • Organic visibility.  It’s usually the business with the best organic visibility that ends up ranking best on the local map.  Often, that comes down to strength of your links.  But you may also want to write blog posts on extremely specific topics in your industry or city, or create good “location” or “city” pages, or both.  Arguably even now you’re not necessarily better off if you rank well in the local pack but not in the organic results; they’re neck-and-neck.  But if the local pack becomes a total trash heap, your organic visibility pays off even more, because people will go back to looking there for all non-ads search results – just as they did before Google Places came onto the scene.
  • Barnacle SEO.  Getting your Yelp, Facebook, YouTube, or other non-company-website, non-Google online properties to rank for “local” keywords can help you haul in more leads, even when your other rankings aren’t so good.
  • Facebook.  It’s slowly waded about shin-deep into the local pond, but there’s no reason to think the shirt isn’t coming off.  It’s only getting more important, and there any many ways to use it to get more local customers.
  • Other local search engines: Apple Maps and Bing Places and Yahoo.
  • Local directories or review sites. Not the rinky-dink ones, but rather places like Yelp, Angie’s List, and maybe even nasty old YellowPages.
  • Industry-specific directories or review sites. Zillow, Avvo, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, DealerRater, etc.  Those are the big names, but even small niches have directories, and you should pay attention to them.
  • Sites and apps not yet created. Local search in general has gotten bigger over the years, not smaller.  It’s become more of a part of everyone’s life, and will continue in that direction.

If Google’s local map results change significantly or go away, it’s not the beginning of the end, but maybe just the end of the beginning.

Now, I would be surprised if the local map ever becomes 100% pay-to-play, and I’m certain that it won’t change to that overnight.

But you still want a bunker plan.  That means you need to stock up the bunker with MREs and batteries and road flares and ninja throwing stars and whatever else before all hell breaks loose.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/13476480@N07/16671969110/

That’s why, even if the local map-pack remains free and a meritocracy at least in theory, I suggest you work on the things I just described no matter what.

What are some important non-Google-Maps aspects of local SEO?

What’s in your “bunker plan,” in case the local map gets too pay-to-play?

Leave a comment!

What If Yext Gobbles up More Local Directories?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/minicooper93402/9582751114

Yext has formed tight partnerships with some notable directories in recent years: MapQuest, InsiderPages, and CitySearch, among other bigger sites (and some rinky-dink ones).

The core feature of Yext’s “PowerListings” offering is that you can standardize your business info on a bunch of local directories (AKA “publishers”) at once.  On some of those sites Yext is one of several ways to update your info.  On other sites it’s now the only way to update or add a listing – which is what I’m referring to when I say Yext has “gobbled up” a site.

The number of sites Yext has partnered with – in some cases exclusively – has been growing.  (To the dismay of some.)

Does the expanding Yext network mean trouble for business owners and local SEOs?

No.

Yext users (especially at the enterprise level) will continue to save time to one degree or another on their citation-work.  But the basics of local SEO won’t be changed in any significant way – for the worse or for the better.

Here’s why I say Yext’s expansion won’t hurt you:

  1. All the sites that matter will maintain manual / free ways to add or edit your listing, or at least they’ll keep sourcing their data from places where you can control your business info. They’ll want to continue to collect business info in the way they’ve always collected it, and not limit their sources of fresh info to what’s in Yext’s pipeline.  They’ll want to keep growing their data-assets.
  1. Major industry-specific directories (e.g. HealthGrades, Avvo, etc.) seem less likely to partner with Yext, at least in large numbers. They wouldn’t be applicable to every Yext user, and some of them require proof of license if you want to claim your listing.  You’ll always be able to fix up your listings on industry sites.
  1. I’m guessing Google starts devaluing a citation source once it stops building its database of local businesses organically. The info gets stale and limited (at least for businesses that aren’t using Yext).
  1. As Andrew Shotland said recently, there’s plenty of room for competing services.
  1. Organic and behavioral factors will continue to influence your rankings more than citations do. (I’m talking about qualities like having tons of info about your services on your site, a few good links, and more and better reviews than your competitors have.)

The only people who might be harmed by Yext’s expansion are the ones who will sign up because they think it’s a silver bullet for rankings, or even that it will fix all their citations.  It won’t do either of those things, although Yext does work as promised on the sites in its network, and that can be valuable.

Yext’s marketing people don’t do enough to correct the “silver bullet” misconception, but some business owners (and lots of local SEOs) don’t do their due-diligence, or they just don’t know what they need.  The marketing question remains a gray area.

I totally understand why many business owners and local SEOs let out a sigh every time Yext gobbles up a directory.  But if all the sites where you want to work on your citations are Yext-exclusive, you’re focusing on the wrong sites.  (See this.)

Yext’s expansion is not a good thing or a bad thing for your local-visibility efforts, in the grand scheme.  Yext is a nice time-saver in certain situations.  It’s simply a tool that’s available to you.

Business owners who want or need to take the manual approach will always be just fine.  Especially because those are the sorts of people who realize that citations are just one aspect of local SEO, and are willing to work on the tough stuff.

What do you think happens if Yext’s network continues to grow?  Any points I overlooked?

Leave a comment!

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!

Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons

Image credit Stephen Chiang (stephenchiang.com)

Image courtesy of Stephen Chiang Photography

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

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

            PlumbingCompanyCambridge.com

            PlumbingCompanySomerville.com

            PlumbingCompanyWatertown.com

            PlumbingCompanyMalden.com

            PlumbingCompanyCharlestown.com

            PlumbingCompanyWinthrop.com

            PlumbingCompanyLynn.com

            PlumbingCompanyChelsea.com

            PlumbingCompanyRevere.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros

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

 

Cons

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’ve got a homepage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurance accepted – If applicable.

Financing – If applicable.

“Why us?”Here’s an example.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the action items…

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

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

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

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

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

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

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

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update – Mike Ramsey

And a few relevant posts from me:

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

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

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

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

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

March into battle with more weapons.

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

50 Examples of Title Tags That Rock at Local SEO

Title tags have been around forever (at least in Web years), and they’re not particularly sexy.  But they’ve always been a big influence on rankings, and probably will be for at least a while.

People ask me how I’d write a title tag.  It’s a good question, but I’d rather explain with examples than blabber on about best-practices.

I’ve rounded up 50 examples from 50 “local” businesses.  I went to all that trouble because you’ll need to go to a little trouble, too: Your title tags can affect your local rankings big-time – probably more than they should.  It’s worth taking the time to write good ones.

Some of these examples belong to clients of mine, but most examples I found just by poking around.

Most of these title tags aren’t flawless (not that there’s such a thing as a “perfect” title tag anyway).  And I’m not saying they’re the reason these businesses rank well.

But these title tags do seem to pull their weight.  All the businesses rank well as of this writing – usually both in the Google+ Local results and in the local-organic results.

By the way, all the title tags are for homepages, not that that makes a difference: You’d go about writing a title tag for a subpage in the same way.

Flip through these 50 examples of good title tags, and see how you can make yours a little better:

RJTCarpentryandTile.com
Carpentry Boston & Tile Installer – RJT Carpentry and Tile

PortlandAcupuncture.net
An Sen Acupuncture in Portland Oregon

CreativeConcreteInc.com
Concrete Driveways, Patios – New Brighton MN – Creative Concrete Inc.

PringleLaw.ca
Criminal Defence Lawyers Edmonton | Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey

NashuaDentist.com
Nashua Dentist | Todd G Pollack DMD | Cosmetic Dentistry | Nashua NH 03064

DesignSpree.com<
Furniture Store – Northern NJ, Bergen County & Princeton | Design Spree

ChandleeJewelers.com
Chandlee Jewelers: Your Trusted Source for Diamond & Gemstone Jewelry in Athens since 1980

BarbaraOliverandCo.com
Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry: Engagement Rings, Diamonds, Design, Appraisals | Buffalo Jewelers

FarzadLaw.com
Farzad Family Law – Top Orange County Divorce Lawyers & Family Law Attorneys

IceDamRemovalGuys.com
Ice Dam Removal Minneapolis & St. Paul MN | IceDamRemovalGuys.com

WestlakeDermatology.com
Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery – Austin Dermatologists

SuwaneeFamilyDentistry.com
Suwanee, GA Dentist – Suwanee Family Dentistry – General Dentist

USAMoneyToday.com
Car Title Loans in Las Vegas | USA MONEY TODAY

PortobelloDental.com
Dentist in Dublin, Award winning | Portobello Dental Clinic

Monterey-Chiropractic.com
Brunke Chiropractic | Monterey Chiropractors

DrKoziol.com
Back and Neck Center of Brick – Chiropractic & Physical Therapy, Brick, NJ

JustinDeMutiisPhotography.com
Tampa Wedding Photographer – Justin DeMutiis Photography – Tampa, FL

VECC24.com
24 Hour Las Vegas Veterinary Emergency Care

CSRoofingCompany.com
Welcome to CS Roofing | Roofing Company, Replacement and Repair

PerspectiveCareers.com
Perspective Consulting – Career & Educational Coaching – Oakdale, MN

AffordableConcreteCutting.com
Concrete Cutting | Concrete Core Drilling Contractor

SqueekyCleanWindowCleaning.com
Window Cleaning & Pressure Washing | Medford, Ashland, S. Oregon

SAEndo.com
Tucson’s premier Endodontist Root Canal Specialists

SeattleCarpetCleaning.com
Heaven`s Best Carpet Cleaning – Rug Cleaning in Seattle and Tacoma WA

WheatonFamilyDental.com
Family Dentist Wheaton IL | Wheaton Family Dental Care

LyndaleGarage.net
Car and Truck Repair Springfield, MA – Lyndale Garage Inc.

VivaDaySpa.com
Viva Day Spa | Austin, TX | Massage, Nails, Facials, Skin Care & Gift Certificates

RickDyson.com
Boulder Divorce Lawyer & Family Law Attorney | Rick Dyson | Home

RobertSarroMD.com
Dr. Robert Sarro Dermatology in Boca Raton, FL

SeptServices.com
Skilled Home Health Care in Dallas and North Texas | September Services

RoyalTuxedoAustin.com
Royal Tuxedo | Austin, San Antonio, Laredo

ElwoodsTreeService.com
Elwood’s Tree Service in Salem Oregon

Motherhood.com
Maternity Clothes, Maternity Wear & More | Motherhood Maternity

LawnPride.com
Lawn Pride | Your Indianapolis Lawn Care Company

NorthCoastPaving.com
NORTH COAST PAVING | Paving Contractor | Cleveland, Ohio

Dr-Rottler.com
Plastic Surgery St. Louis | Paul Rottler, MD, FACS

LifeCareDental.com.au
LifeCare Dental 9221 2777 Dentist in Perth Open 7 Days 8am – 8pm

BillTheDogWalker.com
Bill the Dog Walker – Premier Dog Walking Service

Avalon-Laser.com
Laser Hair Removal San Diego | Botox | Avalon Laser Medical Spa

SakstrupsTowing.com
Ann Arbor Towing | Heavy Duty Towing – Michigan Roadside Assistance

SSLimousine.com
S&S Limousine | Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse NY Limo Service

APlusCS.com
Aplus Computer Service | 10% OFF Coupon “INTERNET632” 973-483-5359

HairstonAppliance.com
Hairston Appliances – Appliances, appliance repair and parts – Akron, Ohio

LibertyTobacco.com
Liberty Tobacco, San Diego’s Destination Cigar Lounge for Cigar and Pipe Smokers

StandardKitchen.com
Custom Remodeling in Knoxville | Standard Kitchen & Bath

DebisBridal.com
San Antonio Wedding dresses and bridesmaid gowns – Debi’s Bridal

BrowardMarbleandGranite.com
Granite Fort Lauderdale | Custom Countertops | Marble | Quartz

ParkerFenceandDeck.com
Savannah’s #1 Fence and Deck Contractor

DunhamCPAs.com
Dunham Associates CPAs – Certified Public Accountants in San Jose, CA

MontecitoChimneyService.com>
Santa Barbara Chimney Cleaning – Montecito Chimney Service

Do you have any very solid examples of title tags?  Leave a comment and let me know!  (Please don’t include a link; just the name of the page.)

The One Truth about Local SEO I Wish Everyone Understood

…is this:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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