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.


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!

Do You Really Need a Facebook Page for Each Location of Your Business?


Last year a client of mine with multiple locations asked me whether she really needed to bother creating a Facebook page for each location.  She wanted to have just the mothership page, for her flagship location.  Simpler.  Less hassle.

Less benefit, too.

I suggested creating a Facebook page for all locations (which we did), and mothballed away my long answer for the next person who asked.

Then the question came up again on Google+.  I offered a chopped-down answer there, but figured it was time to release the director’s cut.

Here’s why you should have a Facebook page for every location of your business (or at least for the locations you care about):

1.  Customers want and expect to find a Facebook page for the location nearest them.

2.  Google is more likely to show the Facebook page for your nearest location when would-be customers people in that area search for you by name. People in NYC see your NYC page, people in New Jersey see your Jersey page, etc. – even if they type exactly the same thing into Google.  Google is pretty location-sensitive, and your strategy shouldn’t be any less so.

3.  It’s an excellent “barnacle SEO” opportunity.

4.  People don’t want to feel like they’re working with a satellite office, or with “corporate.”

5.  You’ll have a chance at ranking well in Facebook – which is important to the extent that would-be customers go there and actually use Facebook’s search box to find what they’re looking for. Most people don’t do that, but you want to be visible to the ones who do.

6.  It’s another place to get reviews, and a mighty important one at that. You don’t want only your “flagship” location to have Facebook reviews.

7.  Want to use Moz Local? For verification and anti-spam purposes, it requires you to have a Facebook page or a Google My Business page for each location you want to load into Moz Local.  Now, the tool isn’t always good at verifying you by looking at your Google page (for instance, you’ll run into problems if your address is hidden).  That’s when your Facebook page may come in handy.  Belt and suspenders.

8.  It’s a good local citation.

9.  Even you don’t create a Facebook page for a given location, one might be auto-generated for you anyway. If Factual gets it meathooks on your local-business data, it will feed that data to Facebook, which will pump out an “unofficial” page.  You may or may not want that page, which may or may not even have the correct info on your business.

10.  Wouldn’t you want the option of posting content that’s specific to one local market or the other? Rather than generic piffle that everybody’s supposed to like but that nobody really likes.

11.  You don’t even have to spend time being active on all your Facebook pages (or any of them, for that matter). It’s nice if you do, but not essential.  The page just needs to exist, if only for the people who expect to find it, and as a vessel for reviews.



12.  It’s quick and easy to create each page. Don’t do it if you have a good reason that I didn’t address, but don’t skip it out of laziness.

13.  You can always set up “Locations,” if you want what Facebook used to call a parent-child structure between your “main” page and your pages for specific locations. Here’s a great guide on Facebook “Locations” from Sweet IQ.

Can you think of reasons I didn’t mention?

Any arguments against creating a Facebook page for each location?

Leave a comment!

How Do Local SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization Overlap?


You want better local rankings.  But rankings won’t pay your bills, so you also want to do a better job of converting traffic.  One is useless without the other, so you need to do both from the start.

A few months ago I weighed in on a Google+ post where the concern was how to “balance” local SEO and conversion-rate optimization on your site.  As I mentioned there, working on your local SEO and boosting your conversions may sound like two separate projects, but they’re not.   There is a lot of overlap, and there are many ways to kill two birds with one stone.

Here are some steps that might help you boost your visibility and traffic and your ability to convert that traffic:

1. Create a separate page on each specific service you offer – or at least on the services for which you want to rank and get more customers.

For instance, until you rank at the top of the local heap for “dentist,” you’re more likely to rank for “pediatric dentist” if you have an in-depth page on how you do a great job for kids.  You’re also more likely to interest parents who are looking for that specific service – more so than if you come across as a generalist.

2.  Make those pages in-depth and detailed, with your USP info, plenty of reviews/testimonials on the page, good photos (preferably not stock), and a clear call-to-action at the end. You’ll give both Google and people more to sink their teeth into.

3.  Create in-depth FAQs pages – or, in general, just answer questions on your site Q&A-style. Not only will this help you convert more traffic, but it’s also more likely to get the right people to your site – the ones who know exactly what they’re looking for.  I’ve written on how you can do this.  Also, it’s the best way you can apply what Dan Leibson calls “Answer-box SEO.”

4.  Build city pages that don’t suck.

5.  Make your site more user-friendly. Google knows if people get to your site and just hit the “back” button, or if they venture deeper and spend some time looking around and take the next step.

Include plenty of internal links to relevant pages, create a main “Services” or “Products” page, make your contact info hard to miss, and remember that there’s no such thing as too long – only too boring.  See my post on analyzing visitors’ click-behavior.

6.  Having a mobile-friendly site. It doesn’t need to be mobile-responsive; it can be on a separate domain (m.yourwebsite.com) – like the kind you might get from Duda.  It simply needs not to frustrating for the average person who might pay you for something.

7.  Write catchy title and description tags. When done right they can get you higher click-through than the next guy gets.  That will likely help your rankings if you sustain it, and it can bring more of the right customers to your site (as opposed to tire-kickers).  You attract to the degree you repel.

8.  Embed a prominent Google Map – in a place on the site where visitors might want to know how they can get to you.

I like to customize the dimensions and put it in the footer.  Making it easy to get driving directions is smart for obvious reasons and, when combined with an influx of reviews, driving-directions lookups may be a minor ranking factor.

9.  Offer old-school driving directions. Landmarks, turn-by-turn, from the north/south/east/west, etc.  Some people prefer them, and it’s “local” content that gives Google more info as to where you’re located.  May also help you rank for some of the ever-increasing number of “near me” searches.

10.  Work like a beast to pile up online reviews on a variety of sites (even on the mediocre ones).

 Getting happy customers to speak up usually isn’t easy, but hey, few high-payoff things in life are easy.  It’s worth the trouble.

Having impressive reviews makes your website’s job easier in at least two ways: people aren’t as likely to leave your site to look up your reviews (especially if they’ve already seen the reviews, and they’re more likely to arrive at your site pre-sold on how good you are.

Your site can be a wounded animal and you’ll still probably get a surprising number of customers if your reviews stand out.  But combine them with a sticky site (see points 1-8) and you’ll win yourself a full goblet and a pile of turkey legs at the Local Feast.

Can you think of more areas of overlap between local SEO and CRO?

What’s something you did that helped you on both counts?

Leave a comment!

Effective “Review Us” Pages for Local Businesses: a Fistful of Examples

Having a solid “Review Us” page can help you rack up reviews on the local review sites that matter.

When you ask customers / clients / patients to review you, you can send them to a simple URL on your site, where you ask for feedback and give them a choice of review sites.

If it’s a page that’s visible to non-customers on your site, and if it shows off the reviews you’ve already got, it’s a great social-proof element that can win those people over.  It can also “condition” those customers to write you a review, in that they’ll probably expect you to ask later.

But of the few business owners who are gung-ho enough to put together a whole page for encouraging reviews, even fewer actually build  good pages.

That’s why I’ve rounded up a few examples of well-built “Review Us” pages.  I’ll go light on the explanation; be sure to click the links, so you can draw your own conclusions and get the creative juices flowing.


Example 1: Melvin’s Hardwood Floors


This page does a good job of showcasing other customers’ reviews / testimonials, of explaining the ins and outs of writing a Google review, of offering Facebook as a 2nd choice, and not being too pushy about filter-happy Yelp.


Example 2: McKinney Firearms Training


Several choices, links to instructions, and lots of evidence that other customers wrote reviews and that you should, too.


Example 3: Orange Restoration


Again, lots of social proof.  Also, they picked review sites that are relevant to the remediation industry: Houzz, Angie’s List, and Thumbtack.


Example 4: Commonwealth Oral & Facial Surgery


First they ask if you’re happy.

If you click the thumbs-up, here’s the page you see:

I like how they let you pick your location and doctor.


Example 5: Pet Medical Center and Spa


These guys do a great job of explaining why a review would be so helpful, and of making it seem too daunting.  The doggie photo is a nice touch, too.

Do you know of any solid examples of “review us” pages?  If so, what makes them good?

How well have they worked for you?

Leave a comment!

10 Ways to Use CrazyEgg for Smarter Local SEO


CrazyEgg is like night-vision for your website.  It’s an inexpensive, easy-to-install tool that shows you where visitors click, how far down the page they scroll, and much more.  I’ve used it years, on my site and on clients’ sites.  I recommend it in my audits, and to anyone with a site that’s supposed to support a business.

It shows you that intel in a heatmap for each page you want to track.  You study those heatmaps to make decisions as to how to improve your site – how to make it better at giving visitors what they’re looking for.

But CrazyEgg’s insights on clicks can also help you improve your local visibility in Google and elsewhere.

You can discover content ideas, which review sites your visitors care about most (or want to review you on), how visitors who found you through Google Places behave once they’re on your site, and much more.

By the way, there are other great click-analytics tools, like the up-and-coming HotJar, but I’m focusing on CrazyEgg because I’ve got the most experience with it and it’s been good to me for a long time.  (No, I’m not an affiliate.)

Here are all the insights (I know of) that CrazyEgg can give your local SEO campaign:

Insight 1:  Do your pages compel visitors to go deeper into your site?

You want a low bounce rate, “long clicks,” and in general for people to use your site the way Google expects they would.  The jury is out on this as a ranking factor, but in my experience it does matter.

Study CrazyEgg’s heatmaps, starting with your most-important / most-trafficked pages.

Do most visitors click where you expect and want them to?

Do they click on links / buttons for specific services you want to promote (and if so, which services)?

Do they even scroll far enough down the page to see what you want them to see?

You may have some surgery to do.

Oh, and don’t forget to re-launch your CrazyEgg test on a page once you’ve made any changes to that page.


Insight 2:  What FAQs-page questions are the most popular?

Knowing which questions visitors click on most can tell you what content you might be missing, and which pages you should beef up so as to answer those questions.

Create a giant FAQs page (here’s a great example), and make the questions clickable links that take visitors to the answers.  Either the answers expand, or you put them lower down on the page.  If you’re using WordPress, consider a plugin like jQuery Collapse-O-Matic.

Then let the CrazyEgg test run, until you’ve got a couple hundred clicks.  See which questions people click on the most.  Then create more content or tweak what you’ve already got (or both).


Insight 3:  See how your Google Places traffic behaves.

Use Google’s URL builder to create a tracking URL and add it to the “Website” field of your Google Places page.  (More detail in this post from Dan Leibson.)

Then set up a CrazyEgg test for your landing page (without the tracking parameter).  Let it run for at least a couple weeks.  Then pop open the “Confetti” view in CrazyEgg and see where your Google Places visitors tend to click.

You can even compare the types of traffic you get from practitioner Google Places pages (e.g. “John Doe DDS”) and practice pages (“Doe Dental Center”), if you’ve claimed those Google pages and added different tracking URLs to each.  This may tell you whether you should try to bury that practitioner page or spruce it up and get reviews on it so as to develop it into more of a traffic source.


Insight 4:  Are your “city pages” effective?

If nobody seems to click or scroll, Google may consider them garbage, too.  Help those little guys.


Insight 5:  Are your microsites or exact-match-domain sites just online paperweights?

(Spoiler alert: probably.)


Insight 6:  How many visitors show interest in your reviews?

Do they click on links to your reviews, or click on your review widgets or badges?  That might tell you a few things, like that:

(1) They probably came straight from Google.

(2) They probably didn’t see enough of your reviews in the search results.

(3) They care about reviews in general, and you could probably get more traffic and clicks (which seem to affect rankings) if you pile on the reviews.

(4) Maybe you should put your reviews on the page where currently you just link to them.  (They won’t get filtered.)


Insight 7:  How do reviewers (past and current customers) act once they’re on your “reviews” page?

Let’s say you give your customers a link (on paper or in an email) to a page where you’d like them to write you a review.  Which links do they click on – that is, which sites do they try to review you on?

If everyone clicks on the same site or whichever one’s listed first, you probably need to provide guidance (e.g. “Have a Google+ page? Please go to Google+”).  If people don’t seem to click at all, they may not know there are clickable links.  Do reviewers have to scroll down to see all the choices – and might miss some?

There’s a story there, if you’ll listen.  What you learn can help you get more reviews on the sites you want.


Insight 8:  How many people look up driving directions?

I’d hazard a guess and say that this matters a little, if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business.  Bill Slawski has written about this – that the combination of driving-directions lookups and an influx of reviews might be a ranking factor, according to one of Google’s patents.

Encourage visitors to look up driving directions.  Don’t forget to embed the right kind of map: a Google map of your business, rather than of a generic address.


Insight 9:  Does anyone actually click on your social-media “share” buttons”?

Rather than ask visitors to share on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Pinterest and LinkedIn and Reddit and create a Squidoo lens for you, you might make better use of their attention by linking them to further reading, or to your reviews, or to your contact form.

This harkens back to Insight #1 – about how you want to get visitors deeper into your site.  You also want those visitors to become customers.


Insight 10:  Look at each traffic source and see how those visitors behave.

Is most of your traffic from Google.com – meaning most visitors find you in the search results?

Do you have any significant traffic from sites where you’ve got reviews?  (If so, keep racking up reviews there and elsewhere.)

Do the links you’ve earned from other sites actually send you traffic – or just “link juice (you hope)?

Study the different dot-clusters.  Do all the oranges click your “Read Reviews” link?  Does it seem that none of the blue-dot visitors clicks at all?

Bonus insight: You might conclude, finally, that Yahoo Local is a total waste of time.

Can you think of other ways that click-analytics can help your local SEO?

Any tips on those – or on CrazyEgg in general – you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!

How to Know If Your Local Reviews Strategy Works


Your review count and average ratings are just the tip of the iceberg.

Your business might have 200 reviews and a 5-star average and your review strategy could still be a flop.

That’s because lots of other factors – I can think of 51 – determine how much your customers’ reviews help your local visibility and your ability to get more customers.  It matters which sites you’ve got reviews on, who your reviewers are, what they say in their reviews, what they don’t say, and how much marketing mojo you wring from those reviews.

You can use this post as a checklist to “audit” your reviews strategy, and you’ll probably think of ways to improve your strategy right away.  But this is not a paint-by-numbers, “Do these 51 things” type of post.  How to improve your strategy and your reviews may not be simple or easy.  The first step is to know what success looks like.

Beyond review count and average rating, here are 51 ways to know whether your reviews strategy is working.

(By the way, you’ll want a “Yes” answer to each of these questions.)


1.  Do you have reviews on the sites that show up on the first page (or two) of Google when you search for your business by name?

2.  Do you have reviews on the sites that show up on the first page or two for your main search terms?

3.  Do you have plenty of reviews on sites that are geared toward to your industry?

4.  Do you have reviews on any sites that feed your reviews to partner sites?

5.  Have you removed as many duplicate listings as possible, and tried to consolidate reviews that were spread out among duplicate listings?  (See this for Google, and this for Yelp.)

6.  Do any of your colleagues who work at your location (other doctors, lawyers, agents, etc.) also have reviews – and on a diversity of sites?

7.  Do all of your locations have reviews?

8.  Do you have at least one Yelp review?  Crucial because Yelp reviews will also show up on Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local.

9.  Have Yelp reviewers uploaded photos of your business (or your handiwork)?


10.  Are your reviewers from the cities where you want more customers?

11.  Do some of your longtime customers mention in their reviews that they’re longtime customers?

12.  Have some of your customers left reviews spontaneously – without your asking?

13.  Have some of your reviewers uploaded profile photos?  (They can upload profile photos on Google+, Yelp, and Facebook.  Can’t think of other sites at the moment – but please tell me if you know of any.)

14.  Is there roughly the right balance of women and men among your reviewers?

(Props to you if you can tell me what movie this arm-wrestle is from.)

15.  Do your reviewers’ ethnicities more or less reflect those of your customer-base?


16.  Do you have any reviews from “Elite” Yelpers?

17.  Do you have any Google reviews from “Local Guides” or other high-volume power reviewers?

18.  If your customers (or clients or patients) are concerned about associating their full names with reviews, do some of them still write you “anonymous” reviews?

19.  Do you have any reviews from non-customers (e.g. leads or peers)?

Reviews and ratings

20.  Are at least some of your reviews long and detailed?

21.  Do reviewers mention specific services?

22.  Do you have recent reviews?

23.  Do you have old reviews?  (If you don’t, I guess you can’t help it.  Just start racking ‘em up today.)

24.  Do you have at least a few less-than-stellar reviews?  (You should.)

25.  Do reviewers mention your company by name?

26.  Do customers mention the selling points you hoped they’d mention?

27.  Do reviewers ever mention exactly where they’re from, or where you performed your services for them?

28.  Is at least one review funny?

29.  Do you have a reviewer who was skeptical at first but became a raving fan – and mentioned that fact in his / her review?

30.  Are your filtered reviews (on Yelp) mostly positive?

31.  Have you tried to get removed any negative reviews that violate the site’s content policies?

32.  Do your reviews indicate what types of people should not become your customers?

33.  Have any customers updated once-negative reviews to positive reviews?

34.  Do any customers compare you favorably to specific competitors?  Bonus points if customers make a comparison in your favor in their reviews of your competitors.


35.  Do you post responses to (at least some of) your reviews?  (Read this for tips on responding to reviews.)

36.  On Yelp, do readers “vote” on your reviews?

37.  Do you have a separate “Reviews” page on your site?

(You can create one the old-fashioned way, or use a service like Grade.us.  Above is an example of its “Review Stream” plugin in action.)

38.  Does your email signature include links to where people can read your reviews?

39.  If your reviews are pretty positive on average, do you showcase them on your site in such a way that most visitors will see your reviews?  (Like with widgets and badges.)

40.  Are the review snippets that show up in the search results more or less positive?

41.  Is Google showing flattering review snippets in the knowledge graph?

42.  Do you re-share your Google Plus reviews in your “Posts” stream?

43.  Do you mention your name, role in the company (if appropriate), and contact info (if appropriate) in your responses?

Conversion power

44.  Are your Google Plus “review stars” showing up in the search results?

45.  Do you rank at or near the top of the search results within a given review site?

46.  Do reviewers mention specific people in your organization as standouts?

47.  Have you won any awards as a result of your reviews?  (E.g. Angie’s List Super Service Award.)

48.  Does one of your listings (or your “Reviews” page) rank for name of service + “reviews” search terms?  This is probably the best approach to barnacle SEO, by the way.

49.  Has a happy customer ever written a polite and unprompted defense of you in response to another customer’s negative review?

50.  Are you the obvious choice to click on in the Google Places results?

51.  Do customers ever say, “I chose you because of your reviews”?


Further reading

Did you conclude your review strategy isn’t working too well?  These posts might help:

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy – me

Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in Encouraging Customer Reviews – Mike Blumenthal

Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews – Mike Blumenthal

5 Ways Negative Reviews Are Good for Business – Matt McGee

Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution – Miriam Ellis

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites – me

Industry-Specific Local Review Sites: the Definitive List – me

Mining Your Online Reviews: 25 Nuggets You Can Use to Get More Local Customers – me

Can you think of any other signs of a winning reviews strategy?

Besides review count and average rating, what do you think is most important for attracting customers?

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:




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!

How NOT to Structure Your URLs for Local Rankings

Feast your eyes:


Problem 1: 3 subdirectories (in this case, parent pages):





Problem 2:  The page name:


Yep.  13 words.


Problem 3:  Most of the URL won’t show in the SERPs.


Problem 4.  Even if there was a gun pointed at your head, you couldn’t tell someone over the phone how to go directly to the page:

Go to NickOrtizlaw.com slash social dash security dash disability dash and dash ssi dash claims – yes, that’s “claims” with an “S” – slash THE dash four dash administrative…


Problem 5.  Your breadcrumbs might not improve the user-experience much:


The consequences?

Google won’t re-crawl your page until you’re wearing Depends.

And you know which page(s) will get penalized first, if and when Google revisits the question of how much on-page “optimization” is too much.

Keep it simple.  1 or at most 2 subdirectories.  Short names for those.  Short names for your pages, too.

Hat tip to Darren Shaw for telling me about that page and other good ones.

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s)


Your landing page matters if you want to be visible in the local search results.

The landing page – also known as the URL you enter into the “website” field of your Google Places page (or Google Plus listing if you’ve “upgraded”).

Most businesses use their homepage for this – which is usually fine.

(No need to read any of this if you only have one business location and know that you want to use your homepage as the landing page for your Google listing.)

But if you have several locations or just want to use a different page as the landing page for your Google+Local listing, one of the first things you have to do is figure out what to name your page.

Or if you’re trying to snag some visibility in the organic rankings for local businesses, you still have to figure out what to name your page(s).

It’s easy to pick a page name that helps your rankings.  But it’s even easier to pick a lousy one that hurts you.

Here are my tips for how to name your page in a way that doesn’t get your site penalized, doesn’t mess up your citations, doesn’t annoy people who visit your site, and does help you rank better:


Tip 1:  Make sure the entire URL of the landing page for your Google+Local page is 40 characters or fewer.  The first reason is that Google will cut off your URL after that, and show an ellipsis in the search results.

The second reason – and the-more important one –is that you’ll run into problems with your citations if the URL (without the “http://www”) exceeds 40 characters.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdateUSA.com won’t allow URLs longer than that.

If ExpressUpdateUSA doesn’t give your URL the thumbs-up, the sites it feeds – AKA a bunch of your citations – won’t use the correct landing page, either.  That’s the kind of inconsistency that can hurt your rankings.

It’ll also be a problem at Yelp, where long URLs usually aren’t allowed.


Tip 2:  Realize that you don’t need hyphens in your page name for Google to recognize your search term(s) in it, and to display it in bold letters in the search results.  It recognizes that “carpetcleaning” is the same thing as “carpet-cleaning.”  You should still use hyphens if possible, simply because they make it easier for people to read your URL.  But if you’re pressed for space, you can get rid of them.


Tip 3:  Don’t repeat elements of your domain name, like location names or keywords, in your page name.  It’s a waste of space and looks spammy to Google and to humans.  Either your domain name or page name should contain a search term you’re going after, and maybe even the name of your city.


Tip 4:  Consider using two-letter state abbreviations.  They’re a good use of space, because they may help you snag rankings for search terms that include state names (e.g. “lawyers Orlando FL”).


Tip 5:  Triple-check for typos when you create your landing page.  Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen people mess this up – and I’ve done it a couple times myself.



Tip 6:  Use dashes, not underscores.


Tip 7:  Don’t worry too much about what to name your subdirectories.  If your page name is relevant but your URL is more than about 40 characters, Google will show an ellipsis in place of the name of the subdirectory.

A few notes

Page names don’t matter quite as much in Bing Places, at least from a “user experience” standpoint, because URLs aren’t shown in the local search results.

You won’t see spelled-out URLs if you’re looking at the Google+Local results on a smartphone.

The only way that I know of to get Google not to show “www” in the 7-pack search results is if you specify it with rel=“canonical” on your landing page.

(There seems to be another way to get the “www” not to show up; see comments below.)

But I can’t think of a good reason why you’d want to use rel= “canonical” on your landing page; if your landing page is a duplicate of another page, then you’ve got bigger problems to deal with than the length of your page name.

By the way, I’d also recommend all the above tips except #1 if you’re going after organic rankings and want to get the most out of the names of your city pages.

Any suggestions for how to name your “local” landing pages?  Leave a comment!

Review of Grade.us (Tool for Customer Reviews)

Recently I learned of a new tool that helps business owners ask customers for reviews.  It’s called Grade.us.  From what I’ve seen so far, I like it.

How it works

You create a page (hosted on Grade.us) that contains two things: (1) a message to your customers, and (2) some buttons that they can click on to write you a review on any of a variety of sites.

Then you just send your customers to that page, from which they can choose where they’d like to review your services.

Here’s an example of a page I whipped together for a client:

As you can tell, each button links to your business listing on a given site.  Obviously, that means your business needs to have a live listing on a site, so that you can visit your listing and grab the link and paste it into Grade.us.

You can create buttons for 37 different sites:

Google+, Yahoo, Yelp, Angie’s List, CitySearch, InsiderPages, MerchantCircle, YP, SuperPages, YellowBook, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Patch, YellowBot, Tupalo, DealerRater, Cars.com, OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, Zagat, MenuPages, Vitals, HealthGrades, RateMDs, UCompare HealthCare, DROogle, Wellness, ThirdAge, SpaFinder, Zillow, Trulia, TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, Orbitz, and Travelocity.

You can also add a “custom link” – that is, create a review button for a site that’s not on the long list.

What I like

  • It has a clean, simple layout for customers.  Also, the buttons are nice and big.
  • When customers click on the buttons, they’re given a few quick site-specific instructions for how to write a review on a given site (if they don’t know how already).

  • The variety – the fact that it has review buttons for 37 different sites, and lets you create a custom link (in case there’s a different site you want reviews on).  As I explained during my talk at SMX West, giving customers choices and not shoehorning them into one review site or another is the best way to avoid having your reviews get filtered.
  • The buttons show customers which sites allow them to log in with their Facebook (or Google) usernames.

  • It doesn’t attempt to censor people who might write you a less-than glowing review.  Some review-request tools will first ask customers to indicate how many stars they’d like to leave you, and if it’s fewer than a certain number of stars, they’ll be shuttled off to a “Contact Us” form.  This is bad in several ways, but the worst part is it makes the process unnecessarily complicated for the customers who will write you a very positive review.
  • The user-interface for you is nice and simple.  You don’t even need to know any HTML.
  • It’s quick to create your page.  I created one in 10 minutes.
  • It’s affordable, at $29/month for a single location or $59/month for multiple locations.
  • It’s mobile-friendly.
  • There’s a free trial available.  (I didn’t go through the signup process for that, though; the creator of the tool, Jon Hall, was nice enough to give me a license key to try it out.)
  • It’s nicely white-labeled – as much as can be, short of having your page hosted on your site.  The Grade.us logo isn’t plastered on your page, and you can choose not to include the already-unobtrusive footer link on your page.

  • You can integrate your page with Google Analytics.

Possible improvements (AKA my gripes)

  • There are some elements that you should be able to customize, but can’t at the moment.  For instance, some might say the review buttons are too big, and that for a certain customer base (e.g. younger customers) smaller buttons would be better.
  • They need an FAQ page, and maybe a “Dos and Don’ts” resource.
  • It’s still a new tool – which means there are still a few bugs.  For instance, the “Forgot password?” option doesn’t work, if you happen to forget your password.

In a nutshell

Grade.us is nicely put together.  It’s quick and simple to set up your page, and it makes it simple for customers to post reviews.  From what I can see, it’s also ethical: You’re not dissuading less-than-beaming customers from posting a review.

It’s so new I haven’t had much of a chance to field-test it for my clients, but it’s already a very good tool, and I’m looking forward to seeing it progress further.

Any feedback on the tool?  Questions for me or for the Grade.us crew?  Leave a comment!