25 Principles of Building Effective City Pages for Local SEO

So you want to create “city pages” to attract local customers in places where you don’t have an office.  How can you make those pages attract customers rather than repulse them, rank well in the organic results, and not get stomped by Google’s “doorway page” update?

I’m mostly talking about pages that target cities where you do not have a physical location.  Still, most or all of these principles also apply to pages you’d create for specific “location” or “office” pages.

City pages in general have about the same reputation that Gigli has.  The bar is low.  That’s good news for you.

By no means do you need to apply all my suggestions.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Some of my clients are killin’ it even though they’ve only put a few of these best-practices into practice (so far).

Here are 25 principles for creating the kind of city pages that Google likes, customers like, and you won’t be ashamed of.

Bedrock principles

1.  Make your city pages so good you’d be willing to pay $20 a click for PPC traffic. Think of how hard you work for your “free” online visibility.  Do you really want to send that traffic to 30 squirted-out pages?  This isn’t just a thought-exercise: It may come to paying $20 a click.  Especially if your SEO campaign doesn’t work out, you’ll probably try PPC next.  Then you’ll learn all too quickly that it’s important to send visitors to pages that are ready for battle.

 

2.  Make them unique, in every way you can. In a minute I’ll go into more detail as to what I mean.  For now, let’s just establish uniqueness as a basic rule of effective city pages.

 

3.  Think of a genuine connection to the city. Did you grow up there?  Do any of your employees live there?  Did you do your first or biggest project there?  Do an inordinate number of your clients come from that city?

Think of an angle and explain it.  If you can’t do both of those things maybe you shouldn’t target that city after all.

 

4.  Especially if you can’t think of a genuine connection to the city, mention specific features of the place, landmarks, current issues, etc. Show would-be customers and Google that at least you’ve done a little homework.

 

5.  Make a few pages and see how they fare before making a bunch more. Get 2 or 3 pages to rank and see if they bring in any customers.  If they don’t, work on them until they do.  Sounds like a pain, but it’s a lot less painful than having to send 30 pages to fat camp.

 

6.  Don’t treat all your pages the same: Put extra work into the pages for the highest-payoff cities. Sure, you want to rank in 10 nearby cities, but probably only 2 of those cities contain the lion’s share of your would-be customers.  You probably know already which few cities matter the most.

 

7.  Even if your pages rank well and bring in customers, don’t necessarily make too many more. My somewhat arbitrary limit is 10 pages.  Beyond that number, it’s hard to make good pages and to avoid spreading your time and resources thin.  There is a point of diminishing return.

 

8.  Long and detailed is good. Don’t give me that “people don’t read” hogwash.  There’s no such thing as too long; only too boring.

Lay out every reason that someone from the city you’re targeting should call you.  Explain it in plain English, but also include testimonials or reviews from past customers from that city, include pictures of jobs you’ve done there, and whatever else you can round up.  (More on this in a minute.)

 

9.  Include city-specific info that even non-customers might find useful. Non-customers are the people who might – might – conceivably link to the page, if it’s a helpful “local” resource.  That’s about the only good way you’ll ever get someone to link to your city pages.  Even if you don’t get links, you’ll have created some good “local” content.

 

10.  Avoid making “doorway” or “island” pages. Integrate your city pages into the navigation and into other pages so that people don’t have to be Jim Rockford to find them.

 

11.  Include testimonials.

 

When appropriate, mark them up with Schema or hReview when possible.  You want those golden “review stars” showing up in the search results.  You can mark up your testimonials by hand, or use a service like NearbyNow.

 

12.  It’s never too late to craft great city pages. Especially if yours suck, work on them.  But keep working on them even if they’re just pretty good.

 

13.  Recognize when your pages are fine but you’ve got other problems. Do you get plenty of leads but lose them while they’re on the phone?  Do people start to fill out your “Contact Us” form, but abandon it partway through?  Your landing pages are just one part of the funnel.

 

14.  Don’t create a page for every city-service permutation. Sometimes I see companies that offer 5 services and want to reach 10 cities end up creating 50 pages.  It’s a hot mess that looks like this:

air-conditioning-repair-cleveland.html

air-conditioning-repair-columbus.html

air-conditioning-repair-cincinnati

heating-repair-cleveland.html

heating-repair-columbus.html

heating-repair-cincinnati.html

Yeah, don’t.  You’ll spread yourself thin and create pages that bore or turn off customers, even if those pages rank at all.

Create a page for each specific service you offer.  Create a page for 5-10 of the top cities you’re trying to reach.  Just don’t multiply them like rabbits.

 

15.  Photos are good. Include them whenever you can.  Photos of specific projects in specific cities are the best.

 

 

Pro tips

16.  Scour competitors’ city pages – even their entire sites – for good ideas to use on your city pages. This is one of the relatively few ways competitive intel is useful for local SEO.

 

17.  Vary more elements than you think you “need” to. For instance, experiment with wildly different title tags, or make one page three times longer than all the others, or create a video dedicated to one of the cities.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you created a bunch of pages and just assumed you knew what works best in all cases?

 

18.  Link out. Cite resources.

Outbound linking may be a small ranking factor in and of itself for Google, and it’s a nice way to make your content more unique, but that’s not why you do it.  It’s simply more helpful to the reader.  The worst posts I’ve read are the ones that don’t link to anyone’s work – as though the deadbeat writer never learned from someone who came before.

 

19.  Consider positioning your pages as part of a “Portfolio” or “Gallery” or “Success Stories” structure. Each of your (let’s say) 5-10 city pages can show up under a “Portfolio” menu dropdown, for example.

There are at least a few benefits to this setup:

  • People who didn’t land on your city pages originally might actually go to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one factor Google looks at to determine whether a given city page is any good: do visitors only leave it to go somewhere else on the site, or is it a two-way street?
  • You’re incorporating the pages into your navigation – rather than leaving them as “doorway” pages.
  • It’s a little easier to link to pages that show off work you’re proud of – rather than link to one city page of a dozen.

 

20.  If there’s ever a time to use call-tracking numbers, this is it. Having a separate number for each page might be excessive, but having a tracking number that only appears on your city pages might help you gauge their effectiveness.

 

21.  Consider adding city-specific coupons or special offers. This is another nice way to track leads, I might add.

 

22.  Think about the subdirectory / path structure before you make the pages. Keep it simple and short, like example.com/milwaukee, rather than example.com/milwaukee-dentists.  Otherwise, it’s easy to create spammy URLs, and harder to restructure later if you need to.

 

23.  Don’t necessarily have the same person write all the pages. Especially if you’re running out of ideas and can’t think of a genuine connection to the city (see principle #3), have someone else rub some brain cells together.

 

24.  Consider hiring a pro writer. Someone like Joel Klettke comes to mind.  Even if you’ve done the legwork and even if you’re a decent writer, it’s wise to have someone who can challenge your assumptions and offer new ideas.  You need a wingman.

 

25.  Especially if you’ve got a big ol’ multi-location company, give ownership of the page to a person on your team. Give that person access to your CMS. Have him or monitor city-specific news or events and keep updating the page and building it up over time.

Make it easy for your “boots on the ground” to publish content.  That is how you make your city-page strategy scalable, if that’s a concern of yours.  (Thanks to Darren for this point.)

 

What’s the best “city page” you’ve ever seen (or made)?  How well does it rank, and how well does it bring in leads?

Any principles I missed?

Leave a comment!

12 Kinds of Duplicate Content in Local SEO: Which Ones Are Trouble?

There are two intertwined myths about duplicate content:

1: That Google is on the warpath against it, penalizing sites left and right.

2: That duplicate content is a thing – one specific problem.

Neither is true, because of one fact: there are many different types of duplicate content.  (Google says so, too.)

That’s even more true in local SEO – because to rank well in local search you’re not just dealing with your site, but also with a bunch of listings.

Some types of duplicate content hurt your rankings, whereas many are just a mild drag or are harmless.

It’s not bad SOP to try to make all your content everywhere unique.  But sometimes it’s just not necessary, and you don’t want it to suck up too much of your time and distract you from stuff that really matters.

I can think of at least 12 types of duplicate content.  Pay attention to the types that (at least in my experience) might hurt you, and don’t spend time worrying about the harmless ones.

Bad:

1. Mirror sites
Same content, different domains.  The rationale is that maybe both the sites will rank well, or that one of them will have a call-tracking number to “prove ROI!”

Google’s warnings are strongest for wholesale duplicate content between sites.  In my experience, using mirror sites never ends well.  Either one site ranks OK and the other doesn’t, or neither ranks well.  Mirror sites confuse Google and would-be customers alike.

 

2. Duplicate / near-duplicate Google listings

Google listings that have nearly identical names, addresses, and phone numbers can hurt your rankings.  Use Michael Cottam’s excellent duplicate-finder tool to uncover them.

By the way, “practitioner listings” often aren’t a problem, in my experience.  (In other words, if you’re a doctor, lawyer, real-estate agent, or insurance agent, it’s OK if you have a listing in your name and the practice or agency has one in its name.)

3. Duplicate citations
Not a big deal if you have 2 very similar listings on, say, MojoPages or Brownbook – one of those little sites.  But do you have one YellowPages.com listing named “Acme Dynamite” and another named “Acme Dynamite Company”?  Delete one of them, or else Google might scrape YP (a trusted third-party source) and create an unwanted Google Places listing for you.

Also, you should be gung-ho about removing duplicate listings on highly visible sites like YP, Yelp, and Facebook.  To the extent you get reviews on those sites, you’ll want to get the reviews piled up on one listing, rather than spread them thin between several listings.

4. Internal duplicate title tags
Does your “Services” page have the same title tag as your homepage?  Google won’t penalize you or anything; it’s just that you’ve lost an opportunity to help different pages rank for different search terms.

5. Duplicate title tags between sites
Similar problem as in point #4.

But there’s an additional problem: if you have multiple sites that include the name of your business in the title tags, you may mess mess up your brand-name search traffic.  When people search for your business by name you want one site to come up in Google, so that everyone goes to that site.  Why?  Because Google loves brands.  The more you can seem like one (i.e. popular offline and online), the better.  But you don’t want to confuse Google as to what site represents your “brand.”

6. Duplicate / near-duplicate pages on your site – particularly “city” pages
I’ve never noticed a site get penalized specifically for barfing up two dozen pages that target different cities by swapping out the city names (“HVAC Contractors Atlanta,” “HVAC Contractors Decatur,” etc.).

But a few problems remain: (1) those clone pages often don’t rank well, (2) even if they do rank well they eventually drop because users pogo-stick away from them, and (3) they usually don’t produce many phone calls.

Low-quality “city” pages aren’t as much a drag on your rankings as they are a giant lost opportunity.  Yours don’t have to suck, though.

7. Reviews cross-posted by customers
Scenario: a customer writes you a nice review on Yelp, so you ask her to write a review on Google+.  Just make sure it’s not the same review.  Make sure the words are significantly different, or the review might get filtered on both sites.  (By the way, Yelp and Google are the only sites that aggressively filter reviews – at least as far as I know.)

Not a problem:

8. Reviews that you copy and put on your site
This isn’t against Yelp’s or Google’s (or other sites’) policies, and I’ve seen so many businesses copy and paste their reviews onto their sites that I’ve concluded it’s just not a problem.

9. Duplicate descriptions between listings
You can use a different description on Yelp from the one you use on Manta, or you can have those descriptions and all your others can be pretty much the same.  (I say “pretty much” because different sites have different length requirements for your blurb, so a little variation is inevitable.)  Doesn’t matter.

10. Website content cross-posted on listings
Want to use a blurb from your homepage as your description on Angie’s List?  Harmless.

11. Google+ posts duplicated on multiple Google Places / Plus pages
If you’ve got multiple locations – each with a Google Places page – it’s OK to publish the same post in each one’s “Posts” stream.

12. Re-posting Google+ reviews
Google allows this.  Very few businesses know that they can show off their Google reviews in their “Posts” stream.

Can you think of any other types of duplicate content, in the context of local SEO?

Which ones have you found to be harmful vs. harmless?

Leave a comment!

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

Are you creating pages on your site that target specific cities where you want to rank well in the organic search results for local businesses?

If so, you’d be crazy not to spend a little time making those pages unique – that is, clearly and substantially different from each other.

I’m going to show you a bunch of ways to make your “city pages” unique.  As opposed to having a page for “city1 + keyword,” another page for “city2 + keyword,” etc.

Differentiating your pages will help you avoid (1) possibly being penalized by Google and (2) annoying and repelling your potential customers.

(If you want, you can skip right to my suggestions for how to make your pages unique.  But maybe first you need to get up-to-speed – in which case just read on.)

I’m going to assume three things about your business:

(1) You’re trying to rank for a “boring” service;

(2) You only have one physical location (but also a service area that may encompass many cities/towns), and that

(3) You haven’t been able to think of much to say about the various towns in your service area (other than that you serve customers there).

If any of the above isn’t the case with you, great.  So much the easier for you to make your pages unique.  But I’m working under the assumption that yours is a head-scratcher case, where you just aren’t sure how to make anything but cloned pages.

My suggestions are also applicable if you have multiple physical locations and aren’t sure how you can differentiate your pages (or sites) from each other.

 

Why you might need city pages

Why might you want to go after organic rankings when you can get visible in the classic local search results?  (AKA Google+Local and Bing Places.)

Because sometimes there are towns in which you just can’t rank in the local search results.

Let’s say you’re a contractor located in a little town that’s 15 miles from three bigger cities.  Maybe you rank well in the Google+Local results within 5 miles of your office, but you haven’t been able to rank in the local results in the bigger cities because you’re just a little too far from where the action is.

What do you do?

You create pages on your site that target each of those cities you want to rank in.  Your aim is to snag some rankings in the organic results – the ones for local businesses.

 

Why you need unique city pages

It’s pretty easy to get organic rankings in nearby cities, right?  Just whip together a page, clone it for as many cities as you want to rank in, swap out the city names on each page, and watch those rankings roll in – right?

Maybe you’ve seen clone pages work for your local nemesis.  That schmuck has 25 pages on his site that are nearly identical, with only the city names differing from page to page, and he outranks you.

So why shouldn’t you create a bunch of near-identical “city pages”?  Why not build your very own clone army?  For at least four reasons:

1.  There’s a good chance it won’t work.  After all, you only see the cases where Google doesn’t penalize businesses for putting out a bunch of garbage pages.

2.  Even if it works now, it’s not going to work forever.  Google is slowly but surely getting more teeth with which to penalize sites that are long on “optimization” but short on helpful info.

3.  Even if you get the rankings you want, who says your pages will bring you phone calls?  (For that matter, who says your competitors are making money off their clone pages?)  Your customers aren’t stupid.  They can tell when you’re just paying lip service to their city.

4.  It’s lame.

The good news is it can be quick and easy to make your city pages different from each other – in a way that’s Google-friendly in the long-term and customer-friendly always.

 

16 ways to make your pages unique

Here are all the ways I know of that you can make your city pages unique from each other.  Some of these (probably the first 6) will be obvious to you, whereas you may not have thought of others.

On-page elements

1. Title tags.

2.  Description tags.

3.  Page names.  Don’t have these run too long.  A name with more than 4-5 words may look fishy to Google.

4.  H1s, H2s, etc.

5.  Internal links.  For example, you could link to a blog post you wrote about a job you did in your “target” city.

6.  Outbound links.  You could link to the town’s website, to the site of a charity you support in the town, or to a blog post that someone else wrote that’s relevant to the town and to your services.

Content

7. Write a simple case-study on a job you did in your target city.  (All the credit goes to Matt McGee for this idea.)

8.  Write about what you like about working in your target city, or what you like about its residents.

9.  Write a blurb about any employees of yours from your target city.  Better yet, have them do it.  Just something that shows at least a small (but real) connection to that city.

10.  Write about any local laws or regulations that your potential customers might want to know about.  (Hat tip to Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion for this technique.)

11.  Photos.  If you don’t have pictures of jobs you did in your target city, maybe have a picture of a local landmark.  Reflect the “local” subject matter in the names of the photos, and maybe in the alt tags and title attributes.

12.  Videos.  Each city page can have a different video.  Assuming you’re the one who created the videos, you can include in your YouTube descriptions a link to your city page, and you can geotag the video.

13.  Testimonials.  Mention the city of the customers who wrote them.  Depending on what your business is and how close you are with your customers, you might also be able to weave in relevant photos (e.g. “Fred’s front yard” or “Before-and-after of Sara’s smile”).

14.  Rich snippets.  You can mark up customers’ testimonials with Schema or hReview, so as to get those nice review stars to show up in the search results.

15.  Offers or giveaways that are tailored toward the residents of your target city.  Depending on how you approach it, this might also help you to track leads / conversions.

16. Make some Google “My Maps.”  See if you can make a few custom maps that potential customers might find handy.

 

Examples of good city pages

LandscapeGuys.com/white-bear-lake-landscaping.htm
(see search results here)

AttaboyPlumbing.com
(look under “About” tab)

(Note: I’ve worked with both of the above companies; I’ve done some consulting for Attaboy Plumbing, and Palumbo Landscaping is a long-time client.)

 

Great resources

(If you don’t read anything else, at least be sure to read the first two posts.)

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update – Mike Ramsey

How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities – Matt McGee

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page – Mike Ramsey

The #1 Problem with Local Blogging – Matt McGee

The Nitty Gritty of City Landing Pages for Local Businesses – Miriam Ellis

Matt Cutts and Eric Talk about What Makes a Quality Site – Eric Enge

Guidelines on duplicate content – Google

Policies on keyword-stuffing – Google

Do you have any tips on how to make pages unique?

Any really good examples of city pages?

Any city-page woes that make you sing the blues?

Leave a comment!