4 Local SEO Tools from Uncle Sam

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tool 1: USPS ZIP Lookup Tool

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

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

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

 

Tool 2:  Census.gov

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

4.  Your city’s local-business directory.

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

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

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

17 Questions with Darren Shaw – Creator of the Local Citation Finder

Whitespark.ca - home of the Local Citation FinderRecently I had the pleasure of grilling Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca about his “Local Citation Finder” – the ultra-handy local-search optimization tool he created.

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes grappling with local SEO, you’ve probably heard of the Local Citation Finder – and there’s a good chance you use it, too.  It’s one of my very favorite tools for building up my clients’ local search rankings.

I’ve used the LCF since it came out in 2010.  Since then, I’ve had some questions I’ve been itching to ask – mostly about how to use the LCF to glean every last bit of local-search visibility for my clients.  For that there’s no substitute for “insider tips.”

Plus, the LCF is a really popular tool, so I also wanted to learn more about some of the secrets behind its success.

I went straight to the horse’s mouth, and Darren was kind enough to answer my questions

In case you didn’t know, Darren is kind of a big deal.  In some parts of the world he enjoys the spoils of an emperor:

Darren Shaw: ruler...er, creator of the Local Citation Finder

If you have any interest in getting your business more visible in local search, or if you just want some tips on how to launch a successful venture…read on.

Phil:  If you were in an elevator with someone who knows nothing about local search, how would you explain the Local Citation Finder?

Darren:  The Local Citation Finder is a competitive analysis tool for finding out where the top ranking competitors are getting citations, and for seeing where you already have citations. It will automatically tell you which ones you don’t already have, and includes SEOMoz’s Domain Authority and Majestic SEO’s ACRank metrics so that you can identify the best possible citation sources that are helping your competition rank locally.

 

Phil:  Why should a business owner—as opposed to a local SEO junkie—get the Local Citation Finder?  It’s not like that person necessarily needs to build citations every day.

Darren:  Currently, I don’t think a business owner would need to use the LCF for more than a month. I think it’s pretty typical for a business owner to sign up for a month, use the tool, export a CSV for all the citation opportunities they found, and then cancel. They can then work through that list when they have time.

We are working on citation monitoring services though, so a business owner will be able to track when new citations come live, and also get notifications when their competition gets new citations. When those features roll out, a monthly subscription will make more sense for a business owner.

 

Phil:  What would you say to someone who has all the basic citations (Yelp, SuperPages, etc.) and isn’t sure why he/she needs a tool to find more?  When is “good enough” good enough?

Darren:  The basic citations are an important starting point, especially the key sites you mention and the primary data aggregators, but we find that smaller city specific and industry specific sites strengthen your business’ association with your location and your niche and provide a noticeable rankings boost. The LCF helps you find these sources.

 

Phil:  Let’s say I need to build 50 citations for my business.  How much time could the Local Citation Finder save me, roughly speaking?

Darren:  I suppose we need to think about what the tool does, and what it would take to do that manually.

First you would want to run a keyword search and record all the businesses that are ranking locally.

Then you would want to find and record all the sites that the first business has a citation on. You could do this through various Google queries and then paginate through the results

Repeat for each of the other ranking businesses. You would then combine the lists, cross-referencing to make sure you’re not listing the same site twice.

Finally, you would repeat the process for your own business and then make note of which sites you’re already listed on, and which ones are opportunities.

Oh, and then you’d also look up SEOMoz Domain Authority and Majestic ACRank metrics for each site.

For an efficient and focused worker, I’d guess that this manual process would take at least six to eight hours

Our tool typically returns results in one or two minutes, and this is just one keyword search. At our lowest plan level you can run up to twenty different keyword searches per day.

In addition, the tool provides direct links to the “add your business” form for thousands of sites that get returned in our results. No need to spend time hunting through the websites to find the place where you can submit.

So, roughly, I’d say that the tool saves days of work.

 

Phil:  A lot of great tools are created by people who are fed up and just know there’s a better way to do a particular task.  Before the Local Citation Finder, how many hours would you typically spend gathering citations for a given client?

Darren:  Surprisingly, we didn’t do much citation building prior to developing the LCF. I was just getting interested in the topic, read a post by Garrett French about a technique you could use to find citation opportunities, and figured we could build a tool to automate the process.

 

Phil:  Did you have a prototype that you used for your own clients, before you realized “Hey, this might make a good tool for sale”?  In other words, was there an “ancestor”?

Darren:  No ancestor. The first version of the tool was developed and released in three days. It was an extremely simple tool that would just email you lists of potential opportunities. You can see some screen shots of the first version of the tool on Matt McGee’s post, “Local Citation Finder: Must-Have SEO Tool”.

 

Phil:  Yeah, I remember using it at that early stage.  Why did it come along when it did (summer of 2010)?  We’d known for a couple years beforehand that citations were important.  There was a niche and a need for it before 2010.

Darren:  The existence of the tool needed Garrett French’s brilliant idea for citation finding to spark the idea. :)

 

Phil:  Roughly how long did it take you to develop the LCF— from when it was a few neurons firing in your brain to when you put the “Order” button on the site?

Darren:  The free version we developed in three days was up for about six months before we rolled out the full-blown system that exists today. A few months of solid development went into taking it from simple/free to awesome/paid. It has evolved considerably since then as well.

 

Phil:  What’s a complaint or suggestion you’ve received on at least a couple occasions about the Local Citation Finder?

Darren:  This one comes up all the time:

“Why are there so many sites that I can’t submit to?”

The answer is because the tool performs a competitive analysis to find ALL the places that the top ranked competition is getting citations. A site doesn’t have to have a “submit your business” form on it to be a good citation. In fact, just like in link building, the harder a citation is to get, the more valuable it may be.

For example, the New York Times doesn’t have a “submit your business to our local business directory form”, but if your competition has done something newsworthy and has received a citation from the NYT, that’s a great thing for you to know about so you can look at what they did to get that citation.

 

Phil:  What’s a favorite “secret tip” of yours for getting the most benefit out of the LCF?

Darren:  We use the LCF in our client work to find “hyper local/niche” citation sources that we think have a significant impact on rankings. Here’s the process:

Create a new project. Call it something like “Local-Niche citations for __business-name__”

Run a bunch of different keyword searches in your specific city and industry, and assign each search to the project you created. So, for a plumber in Denver: Denver plumbers, Denver plumbing, Denver drain cleaning, etc. Try to be exhaustive.

Go under “Your Projects”, select “view sources” for the project you created, and ALL the citation sources from all of those different queries will be listed on a single page.

Hold down Ctrl and press “f” to bring up your browser’s search function. Now search for “plumb”, “drain”, “Denver”, “Colorado”, etc. Any words, or portions of words, that are related to your location or industry. The browser search feature will find sites with these words in their domains. These are going to be some very targeted sources that should help your rankings.

 

Phil:  How much room for improvement do you see for the LCF?  Any features you’re dying to add?

Darren:  Yeah, I’m dying to add the citation monitoring features I mentioned above. We’ve been super focused on our latest project, our local rank tracker, but it’s almost done, finally! Once it has launched and is stable, we’ll be jumping back to those LCF features. I also have plans for a NAP consistency tool that will complement the LCF nicely.

 

Phil:  Tons of people in the local-search community—and many people outside of it—use or at least know about the LCF.  What’s been the most important part of your strategy for “getting the word out”?

Darren:  Honestly, it’s just been dumb luck. We built a tool that the community needed, and word spread naturally. People liked what we built and started blogging.

 

Phil:  I’ve never encountered another tool that’s specifically designed for citation-gathering.  There doesn’t seem to be much competition—or even any knock-offs, for that matter.  Why do you think that is?  Why aren’t there any Pepsis to your Coca-Cola?

Darren:  Hmm. I don’t know. I suppose it’s just so narrowly focused. Citations are just one piece of the local SEO puzzle, and local SEO is just one niche within SEO overall. People that can build quality tools probably prefer to focus on bigger opportunities.

 

Phil:  The LCF has been around for long enough that the kinks have pretty much been smoothed out.  At this point, how do you spend your time on it?  What work do you have to do regularly on the LCF?

Darren:  Our time on the LCF is mostly support and troubleshooting at the moment. Kinks and edge cases do continue to come up, and as our user base has grown we have run into minor scaling issues here and there.  There are a fair amount of behind-the-scenes processing performance and monitoring tweaks we’ve made over the past couple years. The end user doesn’t see anything different, but these tweaks keep everything running well.

 

Phil:  What’s a tool that you, personally, would love to see someone create?  (Unless it’s something you’re working on and can’t spill the beans!)

Darren:  I’ve got IDEAS man! So many tool ideas. There isn’t one tool that I would love to see someone create that I don’t eventually plan to create. Sorry, nothing I can share.

 

Phil:  What advice would you give someone who has a great idea for a local-search tool and just wants to get it off the ground?  Or, for that matter, what general advice do you have for someone who has a good idea but isn’t quite sure how to develop it?

Darren:  I’d advise anyone who has a great idea for a tool to email me with all the details. ;)

Really though, you just have to do it. Have an idea? Don’t sit on it. DO IT. Millions of people are sitting on great ideas and they’re all on the back burner because they’re busy with the regular day-to-day of their lives. Block out some time and force yourself to dedicate it to developing your idea.

 

Phil:  Whitespark offers local search optimization and a bunch of other services, but you’re not some ho-hum SEO / SEM agency.  You create tools.  That’s kind of your niche.  In general, what advice do you have for someone who’s trying to develop his/her niche and stand out from the pack?

Darren:  If you want to stand out you need to do something to stand out. Building tools is one way to do that. You can also do it by picking one specific area and becoming an expert on it. I think you have done that with reviews, for one thing. You are regularly publishing excellent advice about review acquisition and that makes you stand out. I often think of you as “the review guy.”

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Darren Shaw [applause]A HUGE thanks to Darren for his tips and insights, and for tolerating my questions :).

I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter (@EdmontonSEO) and Google Plus.  While you’re at it, it’s also worth following Whitespark on Twitter (@Whitespark).

If you’re not already a hardcore LCF user, check out the excellent free trial of it.

Any questions for me or Darren?  Leave a comment!

Best Local Search Tools – 2012

Best Local Search Tools - 2012It’s possible to get a business visible in Google Places and other local search engines without using any tools…but why would you want to?

Sure, you can drive a nail with a brick (or that poundcake your in-laws sent for Christmas), but it’s much more effective, quicker, and easier if you’ve got the right tool.

I’ve rounded up a list of the best tools that I, other local-searchers, and wise business owners use on a daily basis.  Others exist, but I consider these the cream of the crop.

There were some great lists of local-search tools last year—including an excellent one by Mike Ramsey—but none so far for 2012 (that I’m aware of).  Another year, a new lineup.

I’ve categorized the tools with 3 little symbols:

User-friendly tool= Extremely user-friendly tool.

Tool you should use on an ongoing basis= A tool that’s good to use repeatedly—both before you’re visible and after, as part of a maintenance routine.

Paid tool= Paid tool, but a heck of a good investment.  (Any tool that doesn’t have this symbol next to it is free.)

Near the bottom of the list are some tools that aren’t specific to local search, but that can indirectly help your local rankings anyway.

 

The list: best tools for local search optimization

 

GetListed.org
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGetListed.orgIn the world of local search, GetListed is handier than duct tape and a Swiss Army Knife put together.  It instantly analyzes how locally visible your business is and gives you specific recommendations for how to get more visible.  Plus, the rest of the site contains some superb resources that show you the ropes of local search.

(Once you’ve done a basic scan of your business and maybe browsed GetListed’s resources,  check out my advanced tips for GetListed scans.)

 

Local Citation Finder
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLocal Citation Finder - WhitesparkBefore Whitespark came out with this tool, getting citations was like getting your teeth pulled.  Now it’s just like a routine tooth cleaning :)

The Local Citation Finder will tell you all the business directories your top-ranked local competitors are listed on – which allows you to go out and list your business on those sites and turn the tables on your competitors.  Very user-friendly.  Absolutely essential if you’re serious about growing your local visibility.

 

Google Places Category Tool
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGoogle Places Category Tool - Mike BlumenthalBeautifully simple, yet powerful: a giant list of all the business categories you can choose for your Google Places page.  Use it to make sure you’ve picked out all the categories that may apply to your business.  It also includes synonyms corresponding to each category, which help if you’re unsure about which categories to pick.  Created by none other than Mike Blumenthal.

 

Link Prospector
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLink Prospector - Citation LabsGetting good-old-fashioned links to your website can help your Google Places rankings.  In a nutshell, this is the best link-finding tool I’ve used.  It’s made by Citation Labs.  The demo video can explain the details better than I can.  Also, I really dig their “Pay as You Go” option.

 

Local Search Toolkit
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocalSearchToolkit - SEOverflowYou can learn a lot about how to rank well in your specific local market if you spend enough time poking around on your competitors’ Places pages to find out what categories they use, which citations they have, and so forth.  Local Search ToolKit lets you gather that competitive intel instantly.

 

BrightLocal’s ReviewBiz
Best used repeatedlyReviewBiz - BrightLocalI had a brilliant idea: little buttons you could put on your website that customers simply could click to write reviews for you…but then I learned the chaps at BrightLocal had already thought of it and made it.  An awesome tool for getting an extra stream of reviews from your customers without even having to ask them.

 

MyReviewsPage
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyMyReviewsPage.comA great way to keep quick tabs on your reviews (how many and what ratings) on the most important review sites, with a really handy “dashboard” feature.  MyReviewsPage also has a number of other features for monitoring and gathering customer reviews.

 

Microformats.org
Microformats.orgGoogle’s bots like it if you add your business name, address, and phone number to the bottom of every page of your website.  But the bots are tickled pink if you can format your name, address, and phone number with a few specific lines of code before doing so.  This format is called hCard.  You can prepare the code you need at microformats.org/code/hcard/creator.  (Chris Silver Smith has a great article to help you do this.)

Another smart move is to add a few lines of a similar kind of code to any customer testimonials you have on your website.  This format is called hReview.  If you mark up your customer testimonials with this code, Google will (essentially) treat those testimonials as reviews.  This means you’ll not only get “review stars” for those testimonials, but those review stars will show up next to wherever your business is ranked in Google’s search results.  Be sure to read this excellent piece by Linda Buquet before preparing your testimonials in hReview.

 

GeoSitemapGenerator
GeoSitemapGenerator - Arjan SnaterseThe more information Google has about the location of your business, the more likely it is you’ll rank well locally.  Whereas a regular sitemap file is a way to tell search engines where the pages of your website are located, a geositemap file tells search engines where your business itself is located.  The easy-to-use GeoSitemap Generator lets you create the two files you’ll need to upload to your site.

 

David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocal Search Ranking Factors - David MihmEven the best compass isn’t much use without an accurate map.  This comprehensive, definitive study will help you at any and every stage of your push to get visible to local customers.  If you ever find yourself wondering “Gee, what do I need all these tools for?” look no farther than this document.

 

Honorable mention: Definitive Citations List
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyAn ongoing project of mine: to list every citation source I’ve found.  The Definitive List of Local Search Citations List isn’t in the same league of awesomeness as the above tools, but it’s a resource I’ve been working on for a while, which I’ll keep trying to develop and improve.  Please take a look and let me know if there are any citations you’d suggest I add to the list.

 

Tools that indirectly help local search visibility

 

CrazyEgg
Best used repeatedly + costs a littleCrazyEgg.comA simple plugin-like tool that shows you a really sexy heatmap of where your website visitors click, the traffic sources those clicks come from, how far down the page they scroll, and other crucial intel.

Whereas Google Analytics will tell you which links on your site people click on, it won’t tell you things like how many people are clicking on your giant logo at the top of the page, even though it doesn’t link to anywhere, or whether only about 2% of the visitors who came from Facebook actually click on your “Services” page.

CrazyEgg, on the other hand, will tell you all that and more.  You’ll discover that areas of your website potential customers take interest in, and which areas they don’t.  If you tweak your website according to what you learn about your customers’ worries and wants, you can better gear your site toward the specific services they’re most interested in, which will also help your chances of turning those visitors into customers.

 

WeWe Monitor
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyIs your website content focused on your customers…or on you?  There’s a big fat gray area between being customer-centric and narcissistic.  This simple tool will read the content on your site and tell you how well you focus on customers and what they care about.  I’d suggest this to anyone who runs a business.

But it can be especially handy for local-search ranking purposes, because it might help you realize that (for instance) you need to write a little more on your home page about each specific service you offer, exactly who might need those services, and how they might make your customers’ lives better, etc..  Having service-specific, on-topic content makes your site more relevant to the terms you’re trying to get visible for, and in this way can help your organic and local rankings.

 

SnagIt
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleSnagIt - TechSmithA screenshot tool and photo-editor wrapped up into one very handy bundle.  You need good photos if you want to make your Places attractive enough that visitors are compelled to click through to your site rather than to hit the “Back” button.  Some people swear by Photoshop, but SnagIt is my weapon of choice.  It will also help with some of the fairly wild things I suggest you do with your photos in order to maximize your local visibility.  It has a great free trial, by the way.

 

Google Alerts
Tool you should use on an ongoing basisGoogle AlertsWant to know where your competitors are getting publicity (and citations and links)?  Need to know if they’re talking smack about your business?  Set up some Google Alerts and you’ll receive emails from Google that let you know what’s been published on the web about you or your competitors.

It’s still very early in 2012; there’s a ton of year left for innovation.  If a new tool comes out that brings something new to the local-search table, let me know and I’ll take a look.

Got any tools to recommend that aren’t on my list—or anything you’d like to say about the tools I’ve already got?  Leave a comment!