Can’t Add a Google My Business Appointment URL? Try This Hack

In my last post I described what Google My Business “appointment” URLs are, and covered some facts and pointers worth knowing if you’d like to use one.

But what if you don’t see in your Google My Business dashboard the option to add an appointment URL?  Turns out there’s a workaround.

Based on what I’ve seen in clients’ accounts, I’d say there’s a 10% chance Google hasn’t rolled out that feature to your industry yet.  How does Google know what industry you’re in?  In this case, mainly by the categories you pick.  To get your appointment URL to show up, you need to do a little footwork with your Google My Business categories.

James Watt of James Watt Marketing in Portland described the workaround in his comment on my last post:

Hi Phil,

I’ve got one more piece of info you might want to add somewhere. I asked the GMB community manager about what to do for business owners wanting to request the appointment URL feature in the profile, and here’s what she said.

Basically, the feature is included entirely based on categories for the business. If you don’t have it available but want it, add an appointment category, set the appointment URL, and then remove the category again. I was a little surprised that that was the answer given, but there it is. Thought I’d pass it along.

So you add a category to the one(s) you’ve already specified, hit “apply,” and see if Google gives you the ability to add an appointment URL.  If not, try a different category.  If you see the option, set your appointment URL, save, and then switch your categories back to what they were.

I tried it on a client just now, and it worked like a charm.  In his case, I had to swap out the “primary” category (i.e. the first one listed), which I switched back as soon as his appointment URL showed up.

Try that workaround.  Please let me know how it goes!

P.S.  Big thanks to James.  He posts often at the Local Search Forum and GMB forum, and I suggest you follow him.

12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs

https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/14036204887/

Google wants people to make an appointment.  Businesses now can add (in the Google My Business dashboard) a link to a “book an appointment” page or similar page.  The link will show up wherever your Google My Business page shows up in the local search results.

The “appointment URL” feature has promise.  Here are a few things you may want to know before you dig in and use it for your business (as I suggest you do):

1. An “appointment” URL probably won’t show up automatically for you, unless you use online scheduling software. Even then, you may not automatically get the link, in which case you’ll probably need to add it manually (if you want it).

2. Appointment URLs are not just for restaurants and medical practices. You can also add one if you’ve got a service business, a law practice, or other type of business.

3. Pretty much every business can add an appointment URL right now. This doesn’t appear to be one of Google’s molasses-speed rollouts of a new feature.  Of the dozens of Google My Business dashboards I’ve looked at, the only ones that can’t yet add an “appointment” URL are for a couple of private schools, an auction house, and a painting company.  I’m sure I’ll see the option available to those guys soon enough.)

4. “Practitioners” can add appointment URLs, too.

5. Some businesses can add a “menu” URL, too. Whether you can add only an appointment URL or an appointment URL and a “menu” URL depends on what kind of business yours is.  But even then, it doesn’t have to be a restaurant.  (I see the “menu URL” option for a chiropractor client of mine.)  Other businesses can get a “Products and Services” URL, but I can’t yet tell how.

6. Appointment URLs don’t seem to be available to businesses outside of the US yet, although restaurants outside the US do get the other URLs.

7. Your URL will go live instantly, or within about 5 minutes.

8. Google will accept invalid URLs. You won’t get an error in your Google My Business dashboard.  You’ll just confuse and annoy customers.  So be sure to click on your link to make sure it works.

9. You can add a URL to your “Contact Us” page, or to whatever page you like. (Mine points to my contact page.)

10. The full URL won’t show up. Google won’t show the subpage (e.g. “yoursite.com/appointment”) or subdomain (e.g. “appointments.yoursite.com”) in the URL.  They’ll just show “yoursite.com.”  It’s a display URL.

11. It’s not publicly editable from Google’s knowledge panel (yet?).  So at least your competitors can’t stick you with a bogus URL (yet?).

12. The rules are ambiguous, at least for now. Experiment in the meantime.  Consider creating a “contact” page on your site that’s only accessible through the “appointment” link; see how much traffic it gets.  Track visitors’ clicking behavior on that page by hooking it up to CrazyEgg or HotJar; see where they go next.  Maybe link to a site where you’ve got a fistful of great reviews (hey, Google didn’t say anything about linking to your site).

I’m guessing Google has big plans for these new links.  Like Yelp and the other local-search players that matter, Google wants to be involved in the transaction as early as possible – as we’ve seen with Google Home Services ads (AKA the “paid Maps” results).  Speaking of which, I wonder when those links will appear in Google Home Services ads.

With Google everything’s an experiment, but the “appointment” URL is one lab chimp probably won’t let die any time soon.

Update: If you can’t add an appointment URL, try this workaround.

Can you specify other types of URLs (like “Products and Services”)?

Where do you think Google is headed with this – and why now?

Have you tried it and noticed any clear benefits?

Leave a comment!

Should You Make It a Page or a Post?

You’ve got content you want to stick on your site.  Maybe it’s about a specific service or product you offer, or it’s in-depth “educational” info, or it’s your answer to a frequently asked question, or it’s some attempt to reach people in a specific city, or something else.

You know what you want to put on your site, but aren’t as sure how best to weave it in: Should you create a static page or a blog post?

That depends on many factors – your goals, your preferences, and other specifics of the situation.  More on those in a second.

You might have heard soundbites like “Google likes fresh content,” or “blog posts are search-engine-friendly,” or “every small business should have a blog,” or “blog posts rank better” (especially if you use WordPress or are considering it).  Not necessarily.  Those statements are true to one degree or another, depending on the situation, but in my experience reality is a little more complicated.

It’s complicated partly because the goal isn’t necessarily to get a page or post to rank, but maybe instead for it to (1) drive leads, (2) to impress however many people find it, or (3) to get shared and linked-to and help make your name.  Or some combination of the above.

If you pressed me to suggest one to err on the side of using more, I’d go with pages.  At least in my experience, static pages tend to rank a little better than do blog posts, and often go farther in converting the right leads into the right kinds of customers/clients/patients.  If that’s true, I can only speculate as to why.  That’s a topic for another day.

Anyway, if the question is “Should I create a page or a blog post for this info I want to put up?” and the answer is “It depends,” then what does it depend on?  Well, here’s how I decide when to make a page vs. a post:

Make it a page if you:

  • Want to convert readers to customers/clients/patients right away (if possible). If your content has “commercial intent” it should probably be a page, rather than a post.  People expect posts to be educational.
  • Want most or all visitors to see whatever you’ve written. Posts usually are a little harder to navigate to.  Even if you have a prominent “Latest Posts” display, the posts you want everyone to see will probably get buried by more-recent posts sooner or later.

  • Plan to make it an evergreen resource – one you may significantly edit or add to later. Posts tend to have at least one indication as to when they were written.  An old post with new, up-to-date info may confuse people.
  • Want it to rank for very specific keywords. Again, people generally expect blog posts to be informational.  There’s just a little more footwork you can do on a page – and not have it look weird – from the title, to the name of the page, to the internal links you can weave in, and so on.  Even more important: it’s possible any link-rustlin’ outreach you do will result in more links, if ultimately you’re asking people to link to your “resource” rather than to your “latest blog post.”
  • Want it to rank in a specific city, or for certain city-specific search terms, or both.  (See this.)
  • Want to point AdWords traffic to it. If you’re running AdWords competently, most people who click on your ad have an imminent need for what you offer.  Don’t confuse them by using a blog post (meant to appear kinda-sorta educational) as your landing page URL.
  • Need to be able to tell people the URL verbally. Blog post URLs tend to be longer and messier (example).
  • Need people to be able to type the URL.
  • Created it as a post already and now want to revive it. Let’s say you created a post 3 years ago, and it didn’t accomplish what you wanted it to, or it’s slipped in the rankings.  Simply updating the URL and timestamp to reflect the current year won’t help you.
  • Care much which subdirectory it’s in.

  • Care much what’s in the URL slug.

  • Want it to appear as a sitelink in the search results for your brand name.

  • Don’t want people to leave comments, as they can on most blog posts.
  • Aren’t yet sure what to call it.
  • Plan to migrate to a new CMS soon.

Make it a post if you:

  • Want mostly non-customers and non-leads to consume your info. Sometimes the people who read and share and link to your posts aren’t people who will ever pay you a dime for anything.  That’s how it is on my blog, for one: Many of the people who “spread the word” about my posts, site, and business aren’t my clients.  That’s a good situation, and it’s a good situation for you, too.  You want “cheerleaders” in addition to customers.
  • Feature news or other info with a shelf life shorter than that of a Slim Jim.

  • Think it will still look good in the search results even when the timestamp is 5 years old.

  • Can’t figure out a good way to incorporate a static page into your navigation.
  • Have a dedicated audience of people who expect posts from you. That’s why what you’re reading now is a post, and not a page 🙂
  • Want to make an announcement.
  • Offer a discount or make a special offer.
  • Are just testing out an idea and aren’t sure you want it to be a permanent fixture.  A blog post can make a fine Petri dish.
  • Want to serialize your work.

What are some criteria you use to decide when to make a page vs. a post?

Do you have a resource where you’re not sure you got it right (and want a second opinion)?

Leave a comment!

Will a Tracking URL Hurt Your Local Rankings in Google?

You may have considered building a tracking URL and putting it in the “Website” field of your Google My Business Google Places page.

You’d do this so that you could see in Google Analytics how many clicks came from people how found you in the local 3-pack (as opposed to in the organic results).

But maybe you didn’t try it because you there was a chance it would mess up your rankings or a client’s rankings.

Well, no problem.  I made myself your lab rat and put a tracking URL on my Local Visibility System page.

As I suspected, it doesn’t seem to have hurt my visibility in the search results.

That’s what I see in the Google My Business “Insights,” which you have to take with a fistful of salt.  So I checked Analytics, too, and I don’t see a loss in traffic.

I don’t pretend that this is a scientific test.  Like the experiment I did back in October (“Do Longer Business Hours Help Local Rankings in Google?”), it’s just one case-study.  I could try it for other businesses and my results might vary.

But what I have concluded is that there’s no inherent harm in using a tracking URL on your Google page, so now I’m more comfortable with using tracking URLs for clients.  That squares with what Dan Leibson mentioned in his great post on the topic.

Have you tried using a tracking URL on a local page (yours or a client’s)?

If so, what have you seen?

Any concerns I didn’t address?

Leave a comment!

How to Cultivate Hearty Local SEO Genes for Your Business

 

If you’re opening a new business or considering some changes, can you make your business itself local-search-friendly?

Can you bless yourself with an inherent advantage in the local rankings – like super local SEO genes?

Yes ma’am.

It’s like with athletes.  Of course, hard work separates them from each other and from couch potatoes.  But if you’re a swimmer, wouldn’t it help at least a little if you’re like Michael Phelps and have flipper-feet, and arms longer than your legs?

Genes only get you so far.  But every bit counts in a competitive world.  If possible, you want to make the inevitable hard work easier, and you want everyone else have to work a little harder.

You’ll only find this post useful if you’re starting your business, opening a new location, or considering making major changes.

I’m going to throw out a bunch of suggestions for how you might make your business inherently more local-SEO’d.  Some of them you may have considered before.

I’m not saying all these ideas are applicable to you.  It’s more likely that only a couple of them are realistic in your case.  Just see what you can apply to your situation.

Relevance genes

Suggestion 1.  Position yourself as a specialist – or focus your whole company on a niche.

If you’re a roofer and you focus on metal-roofing jobs it’ll probably be easier to rank for “metal roofing” than for “roofing” and “roofers.”  The same is true if you’re a dentist who mostly wants to do more implants, or a mechanic who wants more transmission work.

Specializing doesn’t necessarily mean you offer fewer services.  Steakhouses serve more than steak.  It’s a marketing decision, more than anything else.

Less competition often makes it easier to rank well.  Your local visibility might also open more wallets, because you’re catering to a specific group of people and not trying to be all things to all people.

The traffic is likely to be of higher quality.  The more specific the search term, the more likely it is the searcher has moved beyond tire-kicking and know what he/she wants.

Also, you’re in a better position to use a descriptor on your Google Places page.

 

Suggestion 2.  Name your business with a relevant keyword or two.  Like “Acme Windows & Gutters” or “Smith Accounting & Bookkeeping.”

Do it for real: make it official with the State.

Speaking of state, consider using a state name in your name, like “Acme Windows & Gutters of Maryland.”

A couple nice upshots of picking out a strategic business name are:

(1) brand-name links to your site will include relevant anchor text, and

(2) customers’ reviews are more likely to mention relevant keywords, just because there’s a good chance they’ll mention your name.

 

Suggestion 3.  Include your 1-2 main service(s) in the name of your site.

Think hard about whether to include the name of your city.  Unless you plan to focus on one city and don’t really want customers from elsewhere, don’t pick a city-specific website name.  You don’t want to force yourself into using multiple websites.

 

Suggestion 4.  Hire someone who speaks a language that many of your customers speak, or that’s widely spoken in your city or neighborhood.  For starters, that will allow you to create multilingual pages on your site, where you describe your services in that language.  That will help you rank for those services.

 

Location genes

Suggestion 5.  Get an address in a populous city, if that’s where you’re trying to rank.  (Gee, Phil, I didn’t see that one coming…)

Must your business be in the big city if you want to rank there?  Maybe not.  It depends on several factors, chief of which is how much competition you’ve got.

I have no idea how practical it is for you to move your operations, but that’s not the point.  We’re simply talking about whether a big-city address is a ranking advantage in the big city.  It is, especially since Google’s Pigeon update.

Don’t forget that in some ways the bar is lower.  Even if you only rank well in Google Places in a ZIP code or two, you might reach all the customers you need.

 

Suggestion 6.  Pick a location near the center of town, or near to your competitors.  Google may consider the “centroid” to be some place downtown, or somewhere in the main cluster of where most businesses like yours are located (Mike Blumenthal has suggested the latter).

 

Suggestion 7.  Try not to pick a location on or very near a town line.  That can confuse data-aggregators, like InfoGroup and Acxiom, which might sometimes list your business as being in City A and other times in City B.  These sites feed your business info to all kinds of local directories – citation sources.  You don’t want some of your citations to list you in the wrong city.

 

Suggestion 8.  Pick an address near a popular local landmark or destination, so you can rank for “keyword near place,” “keyword near me,” or “keyword nearby” when visitors search that way – most likely on their phones.  This seems especially important post-Pigeon.

 

Suggestion 9.  Get an office that looks good enough that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to get a Google Business View photo shoot.

No, your place of business or your photo shoot don’t need to be as cool as this.

(Hat tip to this post.)

 

Phone genes

Suggestion 10.  Research the phone number you’re considering, to make sure that the previous owner didn’t own a business with tons of citations that use that number.

Also, don’t get 867-5309.

 

Suggestion 11.  Make sure the phone number you use isn’t a number you might want to retire later – like an 800 number or your cell number.

 

It may seem odd to consider local SEO when making the most basic business decisions.  On the other hand, all the ideas I suggested also make sense from an offline, old-school-marketing standpoint.

Your local rankings and business will only really grow from hard work.  But you can give yourself some advantages from the get-go.

Are you considering any of those ideas?  Can you think of other ways to breed a local-SEO-friendly business?  Leave a comment!

Local Citation Cleanup Hack: Check BBB

This is one of the few posts I’ve done that’s probably more applicable if you’re a local SEO geek than if you’re a business owner.  But I hope it’s useful in either case.

As you probably know, having inconsistent NAP info floating around the Web can hurt your rankings (a lot).  You’ll need to correct those listings.  But first you need to find them.

That can be tricky if you’ve had different phone numbers, different addresses, different business names, and different websites.  For instance, you can’t always just Google the phone number and see all the listings you need to fix, because some of them might use other numbers.

Enter the Better Business Bureau.

Go to your BBB listing, if you have one.  (My favorite way is to type into Google “business name + BBB”.)

Then click on “View Additional Phone Numbers” and / or “View Additional Web Addresses.

 

You can’t copy and paste any phone numbers from the popup bubble, which is annoying.  You can just check the source code of the page and grab the phone numbers that way (if you find that easier than typing).

But wait – there’s more!  Scroll down the page.  You may see “Alternate Business Names” listed.

Checking the BBB page may tell you nothing you didn’t already know.  Or it may give you a list of past names, phone numbers, and website URLs that can help you unearth old citations that need fixing.

Either way, Gentle Reader, the real work has just begun.

How to Troubleshoot: Good Organic Rankings, No Google Places Rankings

Do you rank page-one in the organic results, but seem locked out of the Google Places (AKA Google+ Local) results?

If this situation looks something like yours…

…then you might have what I call “detached” local rankings.

In other words, you’ve got an organic ranking right above or right below the “7-pack,” and you’re wondering why you don’t also have a ranking in the 7-pack.

It used to very difficult to have both – long story – but now you usually can have the same page rank both organically and in Google Places.  (Emphasis on “usually”: something may be busted, or it may not even be possible in your case.)

It’s a common problem.  Business owners ask me about it all the time.

Here are what I’ve found to be the most-common explanations for why you may have good organic rankings but no Places / + Local / “7-pack” rankings:

Explanation 1:  Your business is too far from the city where you want the Places rankings.  There may be nothing you can do about this except to apply the best-practices I’m always harping on.

Explanation 2:  You show up in the Places results for other queries – just not the one you typed in.  This one’s complex: Why you’re showing up in Places for some queries but not others depends on factors like point #1, whether you include the city name in your search term, where you’re physically sitting when you’re searching, and how many local competitors you have.

Explanation 3:  Your Google listing has been penalized.  Make sure you’re kosher.

Explanation 4:  It’s too soon.  If you just created your Google Places page, just wait a couple weeks.

Explanation 5:  Your Google listing may have the wrong categories.

Explanation 6:  You may not be presenting your NAP info correctly on your site.

Explanation 7:  Your site may have no NAP info at all.

Explanation 8:  The “URL” or “website” field in your citations may be empty on some of your listings, or it may contain wrong or inconsistent URLs.

Explanation 9:  Your business may have no citations – or too few.

Explanation 10:  Duplicate Google Places listings.  Often these are caused by having messy citations.  (Hat tip to Linda for bringing up this point in her comment, below.  Also, check out this forum thread.)

Do you have any experience with “detached” rankings?  What worked for you?  Or do you have them now, and you’re stumped?  Leave a comment!

How NOT to Structure Your URLs for Local Rankings

Feast your eyes:

http://www.nickortizlaw.com/social-security-disability-and-ssi-claims/the-four-administrative-levels-of-review-in-a-social-security-disability-claim/appeals-council/what-happens-when-you-request-review-of-an-administrative-law-judges-hearing-decision/

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

/social-security-disability-and-ssi-claims

/the-four-administrative-levels-of-review-in-a-social-security-disability-claim

/appeals-council

 

Problem 2:  The page name:

what-happens-when-you-request-review-of-an-administrative-law-judges-hearing-decision

Yep.  13 words.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The consequences?

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

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

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

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

Should You Accept a Custom URL for Your Google+ Local Page?

When I got a custom URL for my personal Google+ page recently, my reaction was “Oh, cool.”  If you’re a business owner who’s been offered a custom Google+ URL for your local listing, your reaction is or was probably similar: it’s not an earth-shaker, but it’s a nice little surprise.

Google might soon ask you if you want a custom URL – if you haven’t been offered one already.  Should you accept it?

Probably not if…

a.  The URL includes the name of a city you think you might not always be located in;

b.  It’s based on a fictitious DBA (tsk, tsk) you’re using for your Google+ Local page;

c.  It’s based on a website name that you know you won’t be using long-term;

d.  You wouldn’t consider paying Google for it in the future, or

e.  You just don’t like it – to the point that that the old long string of numbers looks good to you.

If any of the above applies to you, I would click the “Not now” button, to decline (at least for the moment) the custom URL

(Update: Max Minzer answered this question in his comment (below): I have not tried clicking the “Not now” button, so I’m not sure exactly what happens when you click that: Do they offer you the URL again the next time you log in, or do they ask again in a week, or are you stuck with the messy old URL until Google maybe decides to force custom URLs on everyone?)

Once again, Google puts business owners in a pickle.  Nobody knows what the grand plan is for these URLs.

I can see them becoming part of a freemium model for Google+ Local pages, where you have to pay for your custom URL, in the same way you pay for your domain name.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Google eventually shows them on the main search results page.

By the way, as Mike Blumenthal pointed out recently, it really should be called a “custom” URL.  It’s not like you can actually customize it.  A custom suit isn’t one that the tailor says fits you, but it’s the only one in the shop, and if you don’t like it you can just take a hike.

What are your experiences with and thoughts on “custom” Google+ URLs so far?  Leave a comment!

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Tip 6:  Use dashes, not underscores.

 

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

A few notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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