Top Local SEO Myths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mike Blumenthal – Blumenthal’s Blog

Myth One-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth Two-

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

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

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

Myth Three-

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

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

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

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

Myth Four-

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

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

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

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

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

 

Darren Shaw – Whitespark

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

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

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

 

Mary Bowling – MaryBowling.com

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

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

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

 

David Mihm – Moz

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

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

Implementing Schema.org will improve your rankings.

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

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

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

 

Don Campbell – Expand2Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Greg Gifford – AutoRevo

Myth 1) Links are the most important ranking factor.

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

Myth 2) Domain age is powerful.

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

Myth 3) Bounce rate is a ranking factor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth 7) You don’t have to do social.

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

 

Andrew Shotland – LocalSEOGuide

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

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

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

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

 

Mike Ramsey – NiftyMarketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Linda Buquet – Local Search Forum

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

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

(Example screenshot here.)

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

 

Adam Steele – LeanMarketing

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov – NGSMarketing

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

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

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

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

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

Please, stop it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Phil Rozek

Myth: you need a lot of citations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Long Does Local-Search Visibility Take?

The question I get asked more frequently than any other is: “Roughly how long until my business ranks well in local search?”

(“Ranks well” usually refers to being on page one and “local search” usually means the Google+Local results.)

People have at least a basic idea of what is involved in getting a business to rank visibly in local search if they’ve talked with me for a few minutes or have been to this site or others that deal with local search.  Or, to the extent they’ve done some “homework,” they may have a very solid understanding of what the main moving parts and to-dos are.

But the question of how long a local SEO campaign takes doesn’t get nearly as much attention, and fewer people have even a rough idea of the answer.

That’s why recently I asked some of my fellow local-search aficionados how long it takes them to help get their clients visible in local search.

The following pros took the time to offer some eye-opening insights:

Mary Bowling

Linda Buquet – Admin, Local Search Forum

Miriam Ellis

Matthew Hunt

David Mihm – President, GetListed.org

Dave Oremland

Mike Ramsey

Darren Shaw – Creator, Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder

Adam Steele

Nyagoslav Zhekov

(Plus me, Phil Rozek)

I asked the above people 3 specific questions about “how long local SEO takes.”  And boy did they answer (as you’ll see in a second).

Their commentary – though superb – does not make this a “scientific” post.  There’s no such way to answer this question (or many other local-search-related questions, for that matter).

Rather, I wanted to know: to what extent is there a consensus – among people who do this stuff all day long – as to how long it takes to get good (typically first-page) local rankings?

Do you want the shortest of short answers – the “consensus” in a pistachio-sized nutshell?  Well, here you go: local SEO usually takes anywhere from a month to a year.

If all you wanted was a rough number, you just got it.  But settling for that is like going to a 5-star steakhouse and only eating the bread.

Plus, rough numbers don’t give you a sense of the particulars – like how much time it might take in your situation for your business to get more visible in local search.

So, if you’d like the insights from thousands of man-hours and woman-hours of local-SEO experience, read on.

Question 1:  When a potential client asks “Roughly when can I expect to see results?” what is your typical answer?

“I usually tell them 3-6 months, depending on the level of competition in their location and industry.”– Mary Bowling

“When I was doing optimization services I was very conservative in setting expectations with potential clients. I always try to under-promise and over deliver. But this, in a nutshell, is what I would tell Dentists:

“Ranking in Google local takes a well optimized Google+ Local page AND a well optimized web site to match PLUS the right local hooks for Google to tie it all together, so ranking is a 2 stage process. (In my process – that’s the way I did it.)

“1st I’ll optimize your Google+ Local page. For 2nd tier keywords like ‘[city] teeth whitening’, ‘[city] dental implants’, ‘[city] laser dentistry’ we can usually get significant results in less than a month because those keywords I can typically impact when I optimize your Place page. (That’s if they didn’t already have those KWs in G+ Local categories.) Most of my clients move right up to page one, but of course there are no guarantees and it depends on the competition in your market for each of those keywords.

“For your core keywords like ‘[city] dentist’ and ‘[city] cosmetic dentistry’ – just optimizing the Place page normally won’t move the needle, as those keywords are the most competitive. To impact ranking for your core keywords will take the on-site Local SEO and Local Hooks changes I need to do. After those changes are complete we normally start to see an improvement in about a month. But then rankings can gradually improve for awhile after that.

“(Note: I no longer personally do optimization – stopped a few months ago to focus on Local SEO training for other consultants, so no longer offer the above service).”
– Linda Buquet

“While this is dependent on how much work has been done by the client or other Local SEOs prior to the client becoming mine, I reply that initial gains in visibility should occur within a couple of weeks of our first work being complete, with additional gains typically being visible at the end of 6 months. By then, we can be confident of where the work has gotten us because it’s had time to settle in.”
– Miriam Ellis

“We tell clients they will see improvements immediately.  Which they will.  As for ranking guarantees, we don’t make them.  Typically we see low competition stuff ranking as fast as 30-90 days (sometimes immediately on long tail stuff, if domain is clean, and site has history/age, etc)  All our agreements are month-to-month, but we expect people to mentally commit to 6 months with us before making decision on what they think.  Brand new domains take much longer to rank than existing aged domains.  We look at that for sure before setting expectations.  Example: if you get to aggressive on link building on a brand new domain you’ll sandbox it for 6-8 months.  TIP: Never build more links than you have traffic.  I’ve seen this mistake so many times.  Business owner gets new site live.  It has like 20 unique visitors, then newbie SEO builds 400 links to site with no visitors and history.  This is not usually natural… expect to get slapped if you do this.  On brand new domains it’s best to focus on content creation and social media networking to get buzz going.  Do some light citations and PR’s.  That’s it for the first 6 months.  Then as your site starts to show 1500-2000 unique visitors then start getting links.  Nice and slow and only stuff from high quality sites.  Now if aged site with traffic, you can be more aggressive out of the gates.  Still focus on content 1st, but you can for sure have more fun with backlinking to help boost rankings.  Focus on deep linking most of your stuff.  Focus on the long tail.  Do these things and you’ll get success out of the gates.”
 – Matthew Hunt

“‘It depends’, of course, as you already acknowledged 🙂  If it’s a client in a fairly non-competitive industry who’s never done ANY optimization (e.g. claimed many listings, added custom categories to their +Local page, has no optimized Title Tags on their website), I’ve seen some substantial results in two or three weeks.  Clients in competitive industries who need to start review campaigns, dramatically revise their site architecture (for multi-location businesses), etc., it’s going to take considerably longer.

“So, if you want a full range, I’d say 0.75 – 6 months.  All clients should see *some* results within six months, in my opinion.  That makes the average time around 2-3 months, I suppose.” – David Mihm

“Somewhere in the 6 month range, give or take some months.

“Contingent issues include the following:

A.  Starting point.  Where is the client subject to competition?

B.  What is the status of existing citation/ NAP information on the web.  Clean or not clean?

C.  Willingness of the client to partner and act on substantial link building activities.  I like to build strong links.  But it is often contingent on the client’s willingness to participate.” – Dave Oremland

“I tell them that they will generally see change within the first month. I usually tell them that results are not always top position ranking but change in positions, more organic traffic, more referral traffic. That way they aren’t counting down to page one but seeing progress. Overall, I dodge the question.” – Mike Ramsey

“We typically say 3-4 months, but we assess this on a case-by-case basis. We always do a little competitive analysis before quoting the project so we can set the budget and expectations. A flower shop in a small town with no competition can be ranked easily within a month or two. A brand new hotel in New York City with a brand new website is going to need at least 6 months to a year of hard work.”
– Darren Shaw

“Typically speaking, when potential clients think ‘results’ they think in terms of rankings. With that said, I like to separate organic from Google Local. Organic I can improve in a week’s time. Local however is a different beast, and much slower to react to positive change…especially off page changes like citation building. On-page changes can push a trusted Google Local page pretty quickly, but I don’t like to make any promises here – too random. Thus, with Local I generally quote 3 months to be safe.” – Adam Steele

“I usually tell them the following: ‘It might take anything between 1 and 4 months. Biggest ranking changes in Google+ Local are observed during the business data index updates, which happen every 4-8 weeks. However, sometimes, especially if your ‘footprint’ is very messy, it might take two updates until some significant traffic/ranking increases occur.’ – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“I usually say at least 2-3 months.  Then I launch into a long-winded explanation of how there are a ton of variables, and that sometimes it can take significantly longer, depending on those variables.  Around the time I provide this ‘ETA’ (often beforehand) I usually ask my potential client to fill out my questionnaire, or (if we’re on the phone) to fill me in on some of the details of his/her situation.  The sooner we’re both clear on all the particulars, the sooner I can say whether to expect a smooth or bumpy ride.” – Phil Rozek

 

Question 2:  When your local-SEO efforts go smoothly for a given client, how long does it usually take for his/her business to reach the local rankings you set expectations for?

“When I get one that doesn’t have a lot of NAP confusion and inconsistency, 2-3 months.” – Mary Bowling

“If it’s a matter of adding categories for secondary keywords that they didn’t have listed in their Places categories before – then just 1 – 2 weeks.(Or however long the category update cycle is at the time.)

“For core KWs that require on-site SEO, normally I would get an average 10 spot jump within a month. Sometimes in 2 weeks. (Once had a site go from #16 to #2 for ‘[city] dentist’ in 2 days which is pretty rare for an organic ranking increase – that was on-site changes only.)

“(Also I have some tricks to get client sites spidered and re-indexed faster because that’s a problem for local sites. Many of these small biz sites just don’t get much traffic, therefore may not be spidered very often. So if I’m going to go to all the trouble to optimize the site, I’m not going to sit back and hope/wait for the Google spider the optimized content. I force feed her the changes, to get my client’s site re-indexed faster.)” – Linda Buquet

“I never, never promise rankings. In my own mind, I expect to see results within a couple of months, but I am very careful not to guarantee anything, due to the variables of Google’s behavior as well as competitive efforts.” – Miriam Ellis

“First 30-90 days for ranking those ego terms 😉  You know i really hate talking about rankings as a measuring stick.  Here at SBOC we always get success right away because we focus on traffic and conversions as a way to measure success.  We are experts at improving conversions and usually really easy to show success b/c most small business site’s suck and they do not do any A/B split testing.  We always increase traffic out of the gate b/c we are content publishers first before we are link builders, citation builders, etc.  Bigger sites always get more traffic. We focus on building bigger websites first and creating linkable assets.  This gets you more relevant traffic. More relevant traffic = more leads/sales.  Thus success! We do not focus on rankings as a success measuring stick nor should any agency or small business, especially with all the different search results available, between local search results, personal results, etc.  This will drive everyone nuts and (excuse my language) but it’s a piss poor way to measure success.  I am in the business to help small business make more money, I am not in the business to feed SMB’s egos on silly rankings.  Don’t get me wrong, rankings are a good signal to measure SEO, but not a good way to determine internet marketing success.  Measuring traffic and conversions is.  That is all you need to understand as a small business to decide if something is working.  SMB’s should ask: Did my traffic increase? Did my conversions increase?  Ask those questions and do not judge success by some silly ranking for some silly ego term and then you’ll know if you are getting a ROI from your internet marketing.” – Matthew Hunt

“Well, I never promise any rankings.  I try to give people a realistic assessment of where they are based on the point they’re starting from and the market they’re in.

“For a client starting from dead scratch with a brand new website and brand new location, four-six months is realistic.  I recently went through this exercise with my cousin’s group health insurance agency and she has just started to rank well across a broad range of terms (health benefits portland, group insurance portland, etc) after a full-on launch and citation campaign starting in March.  Everything here was very smooth obviously since there were no NAP conflicts and I was in complete control of the process.

“For a client starting from a pretty good position who’s just in need of a little push in the right direction, one month is realistic.” – David Mihm

“Somewhere in the 6 month range.  Always contingent on above issues [mentioned in Question 1].” – Dave Oremland

“Usually speaking we see things happen anywhere from 2-4 months. That is enough time for a lot of fixes to take effect. There are always exceptions though both on the faster and slower side.” – Mike Ramsey

“We’re usually on target with the expectations we set out at the beginning of the campaign. If things go smoothly, we sometimes get results earlier. If there are client delays (as is often the case), it can take months longer than we estimated.”
– Darren Shaw

“Funny you add ‘smoothly.’ Clearly you added this because so often Google Local throws us ridiculous, illogical curveballs. Promises are often mistaken for guarantees…and in my cautious opinion, SEOs should not be making ranking guarantees. Way too many variables, bugs, etc.

“For a semi competitive niche, top 3 rankings (for example) in Google Local will come in 3-4 months.” – Adam Steele

“If the client is a low- to mid-competitive market, it might take 3-4 weeks, but these cases are rare, because business owners that come to me are usually not in easy markets. I’d say that the average is 8-10 weeks.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“About 2-3 months.  Sometimes a month or less IF my client has already made some efforts at local SEO and doesn’t have a bunch of different addresses or phone numbers floating around the web.  However, in really competitive local markets (e.g. big-city lawyers), everything takes longer: even a “smooth” local-SEO campaign can take 4-6 months to bear fruit.” – Phil Rozek

 

Question 3:  For the “trouble cases,” when things don’t go so smoothly, how long does it usually take for your client to get the rankings you expected?

“Short answer 6 months, but it really depends on their budget and/or if they are willing and able to do a lot of the NAP cleanup (with my instructions). Updating directory listings can take an unexpectedly long amount of time, especially if they have been careless with setting up accounts, recording log ins, etc. I have cleaned up unbelievable multi-location messes in 3-4 months, but it was with a big budget.

“I also ask them about what they are doing for link building, because if their domain authority lags behind their competitors’ by very much, it’s a necessary ingredient in the ranking recipe.” – Mary Bowling

“I could almost always get clients ranked on page one with my Google Places and on-site Local SEO techniques, in the time frames above. (I don’t ever do citations or backlinks – just on-page on the Google page and web site.)

“The only exception was, if it was a really competitive market and they were really low to begin with. So let’s say I took a client from #26 to #12. That’s a nice 14 point jump – BUT not enough to get to page one. So at that point after I’d done everything I could ON-PAGE, if it wasn’t enough to get to page one, they would maybe need some off-page help which I would refer out. Only had to do that a couple times though.” – Linda Buquet

“It can take many months, or even more than a year for really bad problems to be resolved. I was just looking at a thread today in which a business owner had sent 123 emails to Google demanding resolution of his merging problem. Think of that!”
– Miriam Ellis

“30-90 days usually.  Depends on what the issue is.  Example, duplicate listing can get cleaned up in 60 days.  Deleted and black listed Google Places listing may not be able to come back at that phone and address again.  Or recent Doctor/Professional duplicates, can’t get rid of b/c Google Places is allowing the practice and the professional to each have a listing.  Local search, especially Google Places can be a hot mess and often out a Local SEO’ers hands.  Hopefully, one day Google Local will get their shit together. My guess it won’t happen until they monetize it, as we all know Google doesn’t like providing any real support unless it’s a paid product.” – Matthew Hunt

“It can honestly take years.  Mary Bowling and I have a joint client who’s had all kinds of NAP confusion and clusterf*cks that we are still trying to help about 30 months after I first started with them.  Luckily, they had a pretty good idea of how tough their situation was before they hired us, but these kinds of situations can take constant vigilance and results are not always going to happen if the cluster was corrupted a long time ago.” – David Mihm

“Cleaning bad results and building rankings could add 6 months roughly to the process.” – Dave Oremland

“We have some that have been 6 months to a year. Usually due to duplicate issues or really bad NAP information when things can’t stick. Some listings constantly hop in and out of rankings. That can happen for years at a time.” – Mike Ramsey

“This is so variable, it’s really tough to answer. I have some mystery cases where everything looks good with their website and their Google+ Local page, and they have more citations, reviews, links, etc than the competition, but they’re still not ranking in the local results a year after we started working with them. Some cases can get resolved after cleaning up problematic NAP consistency issues, and the time it takes to do this work is quite variable as well. Sorry I can’t give any solid timelines for you on this one.” – Darren Shaw

“Depending on the severity, problems that CAN be sorted out, typically take another 1 or 2 months on top of the 3-4 months.” – Adam Steele

“The only cases when it never worked smoothly were when the client was not doing what I was ‘recommending’ them to do. In these cases we usually terminate our relationships as soon as I realize there is no hope.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“6 months or more.  On the one hand, there are any number of “issues” that can throw a wrench into your local-search efforts, so sometimes even ~6 months isn’t enough time to stick in your hand and fish out all the wrenches.  But on the other hand, progress only comes really slowly if my clients for whatever reason don’t what needs to be done on the website, are unwilling even to ask customers for reviews, etc.  When my suggestions are implemented (by me or by the client – just depends on our arrangement), it’s rare for there not to be at least significant improvement in local rankings after ~4 months – if not for the rankings to reach the levels we both expect during that time.” – Phil Rozek

Additional comments from some of the experts:

“What I’ve found, working in Local Search, is that every case is different. There is no standardized template for success, not only because each business is unique, but because Google’s behavior is erratic in its local products. Imagine the different results you might expect working with a local hair salon vs. a local auto dealership. Competition and scrutiny are going on at very different levels. Some verticals are so under-served and under-optimized that you can literally take a client to the top in a couple of weeks. But not if your client is an attorney in a metropolis; in such cases, there will be many months of effort ahead to outrank competitors, if that’s even possible. So, every new client is a new and interesting challenge, and in my opinion, results should never be guaranteed. We don’t control Google. We only control our own efforts, with the expectant hope that things will turn out well and the realistic caution that, sometimes, they don’t.” – Miriam Ellis

“After all is said and done, with Google as you know, a new issue could arise with glitches.” – Dave Oremland

“Overall, I am really moving away from only selling or focusing on ranking and trying to take a much broader approach to services we offer. I don’t sell strictly Google+ local optimization anymore. We tend to want to focus on maps, organic, content, conversion, etc. I think that this allows for us to produce quick wins and constantly show progress. Diversification helps the client and also our relationship with them.”
– Mike Ramsey

“It is hard to generalize any part of the SEO process. Delivery of results is one of the variables that depends on more than one factor, and is thus largely unpredictable. In the Google+ Local world everything spins around the index pushes, though, so the 4-8 weeks period is a potential target checkpoint.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

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All fantastic insights.  Except for what that Phil Rozek guy said.  What a goofball 🙂

A HUGE thanks to all the great local SEO-ers who offered their time and first-hand knowledge.  Each of them is worth following and learning from (or even hiring) if you want to get some more local-search visibility for your business.

What’s been your experience so far, in terms of how long local SEO “takes”?  Leave a comment!