Can You Repurpose Customers’ Yelp Reviews on Your Website? An Answer from Yelp HQ

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/5923527436/

Image Credit David Berkowitz flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/5923527436/

There’s long been a concern among “local” business owners and marketers that Yelp might filter or otherwise remove your hard-earned reviews if you copy and paste them onto your site.  Yelp’s a killjoy, so there’s some basis for that assumption.

But it turns out Yelp is fine with your publishing Yelp reviews on your site (and sometimes elsewhere), under a few conditions.

I couldn’t find the official policies on that practice posted anywhere, and a recent conversation on Google+ got me wondering, so I asked.  Here’s what Lucy at Yelp HQ told me the other day:

We have a few common sense guidelines if you want to use your Yelp rating and reviews in basic marketing materials, including your own website:

DO ask the reviewers themselves before using their reviews. You can contact them by sending them a “Private Message” on Yelp through your Business Account.

DO stick to verbatim quotes, and don’t quote out of context. If a review has colorful language that doesn’t suit your needs, you should probably move on to the next review.

DO attribute the reviews to Yelp using the Yelp logo (e.g.,”Reviews from Yelp”), and do attribute the reviews to their authors and the date written (e.g.,”- Mike S. on 4/5/09″). Yelp logos can be found at http://www.yelp.com/developers/getting_started/api_logos.

DON’T distort the Yelp logo or use it in any way to suggest that Yelp or its users are affiliated with your business or helped create your marketing materials. Your business and your marketing need to stand on their own.

DON’T alter star ratings. Average star ratings change over time, so you also need to include the date of your rating nearby (e.g.,”**** as of 5/1/09″).

While we would hope not to, we reserve the right to change these guidelines from time to time or rescind our permission for any or no reason.

Reasonable enough, except for that last clause.  It also squares with what I’ve found to be true of reviews (Yelp and Google+) regardless of policy: they just don’t get filtered if you repurpose them.

What’s been your experience with reusing reviews?  Do you ask customers first?  Have you run across businesses who flagrantly go against Yelp’s reuse policies?  Leave a comment!

Keep Your Site, Lose at Local SEO: When Must You Rebuild?

Can your camel’s back take any more straw?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/darkman-visions/203715793

Take care of your camel and it’ll take care of you.  Give it plenty of food and water, be its buddy, and don’t overwork it.  When your camel gets very old, don’t ask more of it.  One camel can only bring you through so many miles of desert.

Your business will only survive the harsh conditions of the “local map” if you take care of your website – and if you get a new one when it’s gone as far as it will go.

I asked some smart local-search buffs a simple question:

When do you need a new site to move up in the local search results?

They – Mike Blumenthal, Mary Bowling, Dana DiTomaso, Adam Dorfman, Greg Gifford, Joy Hawkins, Casey Meraz, David Mihm, Max Minzer, Mike Ramsey, Darren Shaw, Andrew Shotland, Gyi Tsakalakis, and Nyagoslav Zhekov – offered some practical insights.

(By the way, this post doesn’t deal with the question of when you need to get a new domain name because you’ve got so many bad links pointing to your site.)

Not sure whether your local SEO goals simply demand a new site?  Here’s what the pros say:

Mike Blumenthal
Blumenthal’s

Flash – instant nuking.

Content – in some industries like insurance I have seen sites that contained ONLY syndicated content that was the same across thousands of sites. This relates to the next point.

On-going updates – sometimes the CMS or architecture are either so bad that it becomes nearly impossible to update or the work requires very expensive intermediaries to update the site and grow the content. This both slows down basic work and makes on-going work extremely painful and expensive.

Design Failures – Sites that don’t convert due to major design and content flaws often need to be replaced.  What good does it do sending all kinds of visitors if when they get there, they can’t or won’t become customers.

 

Mary Bowling
MaryBowling.com

The main problem with a website that can prompt me to recommend a new one is when the bones of the site – its architecture and URL structure –  are crumbling or broken.

This often occurs when a website is created without sufficient consideration of current SEO and local SEO best practices and/or has been “frankensteined” over the years by tacking on content without sufficient attention to where it belongs within the site structure.

 

Dana DiTomaso
Kickpoint

The decision generally boils down to “can this site be a success when we drive a lot of traffic to it?” Does it match with the impression you want to give new visitors, or will it drive them away? Some reasons why we’ve needed to get a site redone in the past include:

  • The site is bad on mobile and the price difference between adding a mobile version and just redoing the site to be responsive is pretty similar.
  • You need to email your web designer every time you want to change the text. At some point it just adds up.
  • The code is so bad that you have big technical issues. For example, site searches are creating duplicate pages.
  • The site might not play well with social – for example, you can’t Open Graph tags so your pages look like crap when shared on social.

 

Adam Dorfman
SIM Partners

We typically don’t work with many SMBs, but here are three issues I have repeatedly seen large brands running into that warrants jettisoning the existing strategy and starting over.

  1. No or unidexable location pages. Even today it is not uncommon with large brands trying to rely exclusively on a locator or a set of pages iFramed into a locator.
  1. Duplicate content pages existing under each location. In most cases if a business is selling services nationally, the description of the service won’t change from location to location. Unfortunately coming across a site with 500 locations and 50,000+ pages of “local” content indexed still happens. Instead of having store.com/location1 link to store.com/location1/service and store.com/location2 link to store.com/location2/service have them link to store.com/service.
  1. Microsites instead of and/or in addition to location pages on a sub-directory or subdomain. There was a time when brands could utilize microsites to drive non-branded search traffic and conversions but with domain strength becoming a much more important signal after the Pigeon update, brands are almost always better off putting their location pages in a subdomain or subdirectory under their primary domain.

 

Greg Gifford
AutoRevo

I always suggest a site update when a site looks dated, or isn’t user friendly. Many times, that just means design/organizational changes, but sometimes you get in and see that they’re on some free site builder platform, or some kind of crappy CMS. At that point, it’s time to make a change.

We see auto dealers all the time who are on flat out awful CMS systems. It’s almost unbelievable – there are thousands of dealers on a major website provider that can’t even add a page to their website! They have to create the page in the CMS (and they can only edit the H1 and content), and then they have to submit a support ticket to have the provider add the page to the site. Typically, dealers don’t know any better, so the button name, H1, and title tag all say the exact same thing.

But – they’re either required by their manufacturer to use that system, or they just don’t know there’s a better solution out there. If you’re not able to add pages, or edit the important SEO elements on any page, it’s definitely time to blow up the site and start from scratch.

 

Joy Hawkins
Imprezzio Marketing

1.  The current site has no CMS – Without a CMS it makes it really hard for any marketing company to scale the amount of work they can do on a site. Since lots of SEO companies charge by the hour, this could leave business owners paying for several hours to do a really simple task.  Thus, it’s better for the business to pay to get a new site with a SEO-friendly CMS (like WordPress).

I had a tree service business that recently paid us to redo his site and this was the main reason why. Even adding something like a Google Analytics code was really time consuming because we had to manually add it to every page of his site. Adding a new page to his site was something we had to get a higher-level web design employee to do since it involved knowing how to build a page from scratch using HTML. So getting a new WordPress site was definitely in his better interests.

2.  The current site is not responsive and has a template/structure that is not easy to convert to make it responsive. I have had some quotes come back from our web design team where it would be cheaper to build a new site based on a template that is already responsive than it would be to take the existing site and make it responsive. Having a responsive site is becoming more and more important for SEO and also for having visitors convert into customers. I also always suggest this instead of having a separate mobile version of your site because responsive design fits to any screen size (not just phones) and also makes it so you only have 1 version of your site that you need to update on a regular basis instead of 2.

3.  The current theme is outdated.  I’ve had clients that are using old WordPress themes that aren’t updated and don’t work well with some of the newer versions of WordPress. I had one that even broke the entire homepage when it upgraded to WordPress 4.0. Having the latest version of WordPress is important to help keep your site from being vulnerable to the many hacks that you hear about which can cause Google to actually remove your site from their index (for malware).

4.  The current theme doesn’t support certain types of coding necessary for Local SEO. For example, I have had several clients who have a CMS and/or theme that removes all Schema markup the second you press to save the page. Something in either the theme/CMS removes or strips the code off the page the moment it’s saved. The same thing applies to adding a simple H1 or H2 header. I had this happen with a personal injury lawyer I worked with and also a private investigator.

5.  You need a new site due to a manual penalty or Penguin issues.  After seeking advice from a manual penalty expert, a dentist I just started working with was advised to get an entire new site. It wasn’t just the domain that needed to be changed but also the content on the entire site. We also renamed all the images and changed the hosting to make sure Google didn’t associate it at all with the old site. The old site had 2 different manual penalties and also had a massive traffic drop after Penguin 3.0 in October 2014. All due to some terrible backlinks he had acquired years ago.

 

Casey Meraz
Ethical SEO Consulting

First of all, you will get the most out of your investment if you pick a system that your SEO Consultants are experts with. So in some cases it may make sense to rebuild and restart when starting a new SEO project. Moving to a commonly available CMS will give you more options for expert advice moving forward.

Also this really depends on the investment. Website design and development costs can be expensive. If you are going to pay an SEO on a monthly on-going basis for a set period you can be shooting yourself in the foot by just applying patches or minor fixes and limping along instead of fixing major root problems with your site. In my opinion its always better to start with the least imperfect base. If you do this you can rule out a lot of uncertainty moving forward.

Typically I would consider a site totaled if it meets a couple of the criteria below:

1) The theme is way too bulky and increase site load time significantly

2) The design/layout is not producing conversions when a A/B test reveals it’s an easy fix.

3) The CMS is not using SEO best practices like 301 redirects, title tags, etc. (I just saw this last week)

4) The site is not mobile friendly

5) When the architecture is so bad it takes too many clicks to find what you’re looking for

 

David Mihm
Moz

If a client is not on a standard CMS (Drupal, Joomla, Squarespace, etc) and the site is under about 30-40 pages, I’m always inclined to get them onto WordPress.  It’s a good long-term investment even if it takes a few extra hours to set the site up.

Questions I would ask myself prior to doing so:

– How bad is the formatting of the URLs?

– How many URLs are indexed (site:clientdomain.com @ Google)

– How easy is it to edit individual page title tags?

– How easy is it to add links and content to the homepage?

– How easy is it to completely rework the navigation?

If the answers all “check out” above, and the client doesn’t update content all that often, then maybe it’s OK to leave them on the current setup.

 

Max Minzer
ReEngage Consulting

In the world where marketers say “You must have a website or your business will go bankrupt” (same about social media networks) I’d start on the other side.

When considering redesign/rebuild of business website – it’s a good opportunity to reevaluate website’s role in reaching your overall business objectives.

Consumer expectations are evolving. How do you adapt your digital properties to reach potential customers?

Not every business needs a website as a critical asset (example: http://goo.gl/A1xbdt) and not every small business website has the same weight and priority for reaching objectives of each specific business. That’s not to diminish the role of website as an online extension of their business – as a digital home, business card, branding and a source of information. But when considering redesign it’s an opportunity for critical constructive re-evaluation and it comes down to three things, in my opinion:

1) website fulfilling the purpose and value it has for that business. Business owner: “Am I getting (or missing potential) conversions/calls/emails?” Or another: “Do my customers learn more about my business?”

2) customer expectations. Customer: “I didn’t expect this high-end restaurant to have website that was probably built by their nephew with Dreamweaver 10 years ago for a school project”

3) conflicting information or confusing dated material. Customer: “Hmm, I think I saw a sign yesterday on my way out saying they’ll have my favorite local band this Saturday but their website has a poster from few months ago with another band listed.” Or another one: “Look what they have on the menu on their website! Let’s go!” and then visiting and finding out that the menu wasn’t updated for years and the dish you wanted isn’t available.

With that in mind, I’d consider different approaches for each business based on their objectives.

One business might be better off without certain parts of the website, like if customers feel like they’re visiting a Twitter profile with its last tweets from 2011. Go simple.

Another business will be fine even with an archaic website because customers don’t have high expectations and business continues to get plenty of phone calls and word of mouth referrals.

Another business might want to think about rebuilding if they get Yelp messages or customer feedback saying website contact form is broken. Things are broken.

And other business is doing great but will see missing potential and do redesign/rebuild to explore new waters, not out of desperation with poorly built site in the past.

 

Mike Ramsey
Nifty Marketing

I don’t think there is an exact point that is the same for every business. I generally try to determine it based on a simple formula:

Cost of Time to Fix vs. Cost of Time to Rebuild What is Needed From Scratch

This determines if we start over or not. The hard part in both cases is the same: determining what is needed. Once you can nail that down it becomes a lot easier to determine the time each option would take.

I know this is basic but it has proven quite helpful to us in making that call.

 

Darren Shaw
Whitespark

Every website rebuild project I’ve worked on has seemed reasonable at the start, but ended up taking 3 times longer than expected, so I try to avoid them. Usually, I find it’s less work to fix the architecture issues than to rebuild a whole site, but if the site is built in Joomla, Magento, or Drupal, then I want to tear it down immediately and build from scratch. I despise those platforms.

When determining whether it’s better to start from scratch, design is more important to me than CMS or architecture.  When I land on a website with terrible design that looks like it was built in 1998, I scramble for the back button, and that will kill a business’ SEO. If the design repels potential customers, then I’ll push the client to start from scratch with a new site.

 

Andrew Shotland
Local SEO Guide

We’ve certainly had cases where client sites were overly complicated and part of our SEO recommendations led to a redesign, but that has almost always been in the “enterprise” space, not SMBs. Any time we have recommended this for SMBs is when we are pretty sure there’s a Panda issue – lots of thin, SEOish pages that are getting no traffic.

Funny thing is we had this happen recently in reverse. A new client had just redesigned their website because it had hundreds of crap SEO’d pages and they thought it had a Panda problem. So they just chucked the whole thing out and launched the new one and guess what happened? Their organic traffic went down to almost zero. Because their web dev was playing amateur SEO (“Why pay an SEO consultant? How hard is it to update a title tag?”), when traffic started dropping he cried “Panda!” but he had neglected to realize that they still had organic traffic.

In his zeal to redo the site (and probably make some $ of the client in the process) he blew out all of the pages that were still getting traffic and that’s when their SEO really tanked. Their web leads dried up instantly. A few months later they brought us in and the first thing we did was roll back to the old Panda-fied site. Within 3 weeks they went from 2 clicks/day in Google to 60.

 

Gyi Tsakalakis
AttorneySync

This is definitely one of those case-by-case situations. However, if it’s a content-focused site (i.e. not ecommerce) and it’s not on WordPress, that alone can be enough for us to justify a reboot or migration.

Working with law firms, we see a lot of proprietary and quasi-proprietary CMS implementations. There are a lot of problems here (the fact that they’re proprietary, lack of support/updates, etc).

Assuming they’re already on WordPress, we look to architecture. Most firm websites we review don’t have a clearly planned site architecture. They’re usually blog feed + static pages (i.e. bios, practice areas, etc).

Fortunately, many of these can be restructured without needing a complete tear-down and rebuild. In some instances, cases of exceptionally long/spammy url structures, we will recommend rebuild.

Finally, there’s the “excessive plugins” issue. A lot folks will try to design/feature/layout implementations via plugin. We have found that this is a source of a lot of problems (site speed, reliability, security vulnerabilities, administration, etc).

If we can’t remove most plugins without greatly impacting the site’s overall structure/layout, we’ll probably recommend a fresh start.

 

Nyagoslav Zhekov
Whitespark

I once worked with a law firm with quite a few offices in a very competitive area of practice in a very competitive geographic region of the US. The guy in charge of the Internet marketing efforts of the firm was very passionate about SEO and very eager to get results. Needless to say, this is very frequently a formula for mess, and most certainly not one that delivers good and sustainable results.

The guy had at least 4 people work on his site (WordPress) prior to me taking a look. There were literally hundreds of scripts and plugins installed, or manually coded, as well as a lot of hard coding into the theme used by the site. Additionally, there were thousands of pages of duplicate, or near-duplicate content, as well as pages with content that was near-duplicate (or badly re-written) with content from external sites. Almost none of the content on the site has been optimized neither for humans, nor for robots. The architecture of the site was chaotic – and again, we are talking about a site with thousands of pages of content. There was no inter-linking between the pages, no universal hierarchy, and worst of all – no certain way to know what had to be linked to what and where it was supposed to belong (if anywhere).

I guess the short answer to your question would be – if it would take less time (and money) to get a brand-new, well-structured and optimized site, as compared to trying to figure out what exactly has to be done with your old (and ruined by time, people you have hired, or yourself) site, and actually implementing the needed changes, then it might be better to pick the first option.

 

Phil Rozek

I have a mental checklist.  It tells me the site may need to hang up in the museum if it:

  • Looks like it was built when Gerald Ford was president
  • Drives me crazy when I try to navigate it
  • Makes noises at me
  • Uses too much Flash
  • Won’t let me add pages easily
  • Has weird pagination, like with jQuery (example)
  • Isn’t mobile-friendly
  • Isn’t on WordPress (by no means always a deal-breaker, but it’s a consideration)
  • Takes too long to load, for reasons I can’t easily remedy

I usually become a pain in my client’s neck if the site has more than about 2 of those problems.

On the other hand, some sites are so bad that I hope they stay around forever.

Huge thanks to all the contributors for all the practical, hard-learned wisdom.  I suggest you follow all of them.

Think you might need a new site?

Under what circumstances would you know your camel can’t carry more straw?

Did you have a favorite bit of advice?

Leave a comment!

Ultimate List of Review Widgets and Badges for Your Local Business Website

What good are your reviews if nobody sees them?

Whenever possible, you should show them off on your site by using a review “widget” or badge.  Many review sites offer them for the taking.

But review widgets and badges are more than flashy “trust” symbols.  They can also:

  • Encourage any current / past customers who visit your site to leave reviews
  • Help with your barnacle SEO (because you’re linking to your listings)
  • Add a little extra color and je ne sais quoi to your site

For the record, here’s what I’m talking about:

For the third part of my recent unofficial trilogy on more-advanced review strategy (see this and this), I’ve rounded up every piece of review bling I could find.

How many widgets / badges you can put on your site depends mostly on your industry and on where you already have reviews.

See which ones you can add to your site.  Here are the links:

Angie’s List

Widget: http://www.angieslist.com/angie-badge/
Industry: Any

Avvo

Widget: http://www.avvo.com/partner_with_us/syndication
Industry: Legal

Cylex

Widget: http://bit.ly/1tYUsBR
Industry: Any

HomeStars

Widget: http://bit.ly/1ERKE4Y
Industry: Home-improvement

Houzz

Widget: http://www.houzz.com/buttonsAndBadges
Industry: Home-improvement

Note: You’ll need to have reviews on Houzz and be signed-in to get your widget. Thanks to Ben Bowen of Ross NW Watergardens for pointing this out in his comment.

Martindale

Widget: http://bit.ly/1D6bPY2
Industry: Legal

Kudzu

Widget: http://www.kudzubizsuccess.com/?p=599
Industry: Any

SuperPages

Widget: http://www.superpages.com/ratings_badges/search_page.html
Industry: Any

TripAdvisor

Widget: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Widgets
Industry: Tourism and dining

Trulia

Widget: http://www.trulia.com/tools/ambassador/
Industry: Real estate

WeddingWire

Widget: http://www.weddingwire.com/shared/Widgets
Industry: Wedding-related

Wellness

Widget: http://www.wellness.com/docs/12761/wellness-provider-program
Industry: Health

Yelp

Widget: https://biz.yelp.com/bling/
Industry: Any

Zagat

Widget: http://www.zagat.com/business-owners/badge
Industry: Dining

Zillow

Widget: http://www.zillow.com/webtools/widgets/review-widget/
Industry: Real estate and home-improvement

 

A few notes:

You’ll notice I didn’t include paid review-encouragement systems – like CustomerLobby, DemandForce, or SmileReminder – although they do give you ways to showcase your reviews.

Didn’t see the site you wanted represented among the above widgets / badges?  You can always create your own badges, which you link out to places where you’ve got reviews.  That’s the only good way to show off your Google+ reviews, for instance.  (If you do this, I suggest you have the links open into new browser tabs, so that you’re not making people leave your site.)

Use CrazyEgg or a similar tool to see how many people click on your review badges – or even see them in the first place.  You may conclude that you should show off your reviews in the sidebar, or only on specific pages, or on this or that part of the page.  Tinker around until your plan comes together.

Am I missing any review widgets that you know of?

Do you use any widgets on your site?  If so, which one(s) do you like?

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!

Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons

Image credit Stephen Chiang (stephenchiang.com)

Image courtesy of Stephen Chiang Photography

Some business owners think the best way to rank in many cities in the local search is to have many websites.  That’s a losing strategy.

They build microsites – by which I mean a bunch of small, usually almost identical sites with names like:

            PlumbingCompanyCambridge.com

            PlumbingCompanySomerville.com

            PlumbingCompanyWatertown.com

            PlumbingCompanyMalden.com

            PlumbingCompanyCharlestown.com

            PlumbingCompanyWinthrop.com

            PlumbingCompanyLynn.com

            PlumbingCompanyChelsea.com

            PlumbingCompanyRevere.com

There are two main scenarios where business owners feel tempted to use microsites:

Scenario 1.  They’ve got a single-location business that serves customers in a wide area – like within a 50-mile radius.  They know they probably can’t get visible in Google Places across that much terrain, so they want to pick up organic rankings in all those neighboring towns.

Scenario 2.  They’ve got several locations – using addresses that Google considers legitimate – and want each Google Places page to lead to a website that has the city in the domain name.

Microsites are a bad wager in both situations.  (They’re even a dumb move for ecommerce.)

That’s not to say some businesses don’t grab some OK local visibility with them – and maybe even some customers.  But it’s relative: I can’t think of a situation when those businesses wouldn’t be better off using fewer sites.

Here’s my assessment of using microsites for local SEO:

Pros

  • You can stuff the same city name into every greasy little crevice of the site, including the domain name.

 

Cons

  • You’re spreading your content thin.  Let’s say you have 8 sites and you bust your hump to create great info.  Either you kinda-sorta help 8 sites, or you give them all boilerplate content, or one site gets all the benefit.  Your desire to build good sites is caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
  • It’s a similar challenge with any links you earn.  (Not that you can create a bunch of sites with identical link profiles, unless they’re garbage links.)  You’ll have multiple sites with mediocre link profiles, rather than one strong lineup.
  • Even if all your sites saw an equally good boost from the content and links, you can’t help but imagine how much one site (or even a couple) would have benefited.
  • If you only have one location it’s hard to figure out which site – if any – should get a crack at Google Places.  Let’s say you’ve got 10 microsites.  That probably doesn’t correspond to 10 physical locations or separately registered businesses.  It’s more likely you’ve got just one location, in which case Google insists you can only have one Google listing.  (Although there are a few exceptions).
  • If you only have one location, you’ll be able to put your address info – an important ranking factor – on only one of the sites.
  • If you do have multiple locations, there is no good reason you can’t just have location-specific landing pages.
  • It’s easy to overdo the interlinking between your sites.  You’ll always be tempted to add one more keyword-rich link from one keyword-rich URL to another.  That’s a bad idea because…wait, quiet…I think I can hear Penguins waddling over to you.
  • Higher costs: More domain names, hosting, and development expenses.  That also makes you more likely to skimp on important investments – like help with local SEO, which you may need bad.
  • It’s harder to manage all the sites.  If you make a mistake, chances are you’ll end up needing to fix it 8 or 9 or 10 times.  Sometimes pain has a purpose.  Then there are those times you step on a Lego.
  • You’re probably creating a bad user-experience.  Your content likely will be thin.  Or you’ve “geotargeted” your content with cutting-edge techniques like repeating 15 times on the page that your company is the leading “plumbers Dallas TX.”  Would-be customers will know you’re just paying their city or town lip-service.
  • It’s harder to tell people you talk with offline which website to check out.
  • Are you really going to have 7 Facebook pages, 7 Twitter handles, 7 Google+ pages, etc. – that you don’t simply build, but also develop?
  • What if you already have one “main” site that all your customers are used to going to?
  • With nothing to differentiate your site other than a possible small advantage in the name, you’re one Google algorithm update away from the fiery pits of page 37.

 

My rule is simple: Have as few sites as possible.

Even if you think that number will end up being more than a handful of sites, figure out your exact reasons for having that many sites.  If your reasons begin with “Because Google…” then you’re probably headed for trouble sooner or later.

Ideally you have one site that you grow into a beast, through focus and sustained effort.

But however many sites you have, you’ll get out of them exactly what you put into them.

What’s been your experience with microsites?  Anything you want to say in favor of them?  Leave a comment!

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility

Action is awesome - but smart action is even betterUnless you’re Arnold, furious bursts of action alone probably won’t get you very far.  You need a plan for the action.

This is especially important if you’re trying to get your business visible in local search – and particularly important if you want to boost your visibility in the ever-finicky Google Places results.

That’s why I’ve sketched out a 12-week action plan you can follow to climb up a little higher on the local totem pole.

This is a timetable that’s worked really well for me and my clients, though I recognize there’s more than one way to skin a cat (figuratively speaking, of course…I like cats).

12 weeks may sound like a long time.  But I’ve found that’s about how long it takes to implement everything you need to implement – especially if you have a business to run and have your hands full.

I always have a heck of a time trying to explain this verbally, but, as you can see, it’s actually pretty simple.

(Click below to see larger version of the timetable, or download it as a PDF)

 

Here’s a little more detail on each step:

 

 Claiming Places page

What you’re doing – First editing your Google Places page to make sure all the info is accurate, and then claiming your page so any edits you made actually stick.  This is also when you should try to remove any duplicate Places listings for your business, and it’s when you should do any basic optimization, like picking your business categories.

Explanation of timing – It usually takes 7-12 days for Google to send you the postcard with the PIN that allows you to claim your Places page.  Sometimes there are hang-ups, so it’s best to get started on this ASAP.

 

 Tuning up website

What you’re doing – Making your site at least somewhat local-search-friendly.  Optimize your title tag (with a light touch on the keywords), add a footer with your business name / address / phone number to each page of your site, and make sure your homepage (or whatever you use as your Google Places landing page) contains detail on the specific services you’re trying to get visible for.  Also, make sure your site isn’t “over-optimized.”

Explanation of timing – What’s on your site has a huge influence on how you’ll rank in Google Places, especially in the ever-more-common “blended” local rankings.  Therefore, if there’s even a chance you’re in trouble for keyword-spamminess, bad links, etc., you’ll want to start crawling out of the doghouse ASAP.  Later on (like in weeks 5 & 9) is a good time to do some general housekeeping (like scanning for and fixing dead links), to see how you can beef up your pages with more service-relevant content, to put out a couple of blog posts, or maybe to do some link-building.

 

 Submitting to data-providers

What you’re doing – Listing your business on ExpressUpdateUSA and LocalEze, or – if you’re already listed there – making sure you’ve claimed those two listings.  If possible, also claim your listing at MyBusinessListingManager and make sure it’s accurate.  If you’ve got a few extra bucks, consider listing yourself on UBL.org.

Explanation of timing – It generally takes about 2 months for these data-providers to feed your business info to Google Places and to third-party sites (CitySearch, SuperPages, etc.).  Because your rankings really depend on how consistent your business info is from site to site, it’s important to deal with these sites at the very beginning.

 

 Gathering citations

What you’re doing – Getting listed on as may directory sites as you can.  Start with the most important sites (like all the ones you see when you do a GetListed.org scan) and eventually try to get on some of the sites nobody’s heard of (like some of the sites on my Definitive Citations List).  If possible, also try to list your business on (1) “hyperlocal” sites that are specific to your city/town and on (2) directory sites that are focused on your industry (i.e., your “vertical”). You can find these citation sources with the help of the Local Citation Finder, or by doing it the old-fashioned way.

Explanation of timing – You’ll be dealing with dozens of sites.  Not only does it take time on your part to list yourself on them, but it also often takes weeks for these sites to list your business or process any edits you’ve made.  You’ve got to start early.  Plus, the more citations you can rack up over time, the better.

 

 Fixing 3rd-party data

What you’re doing – Checking the data-providers (see yellow) and at least some of your citation sources (see green) to make sure all your business info is 100% accurate – and fixing any inaccurate info you find.  You should also check to make sure no duplicate Google Places listings have popped up – and remove any that have.

Explanation of timing – Making sure your citations don’t get FUBAR is an ongoing task, but there’s no need to check on them every day, because many of them take a while to update.  Just check on them every few weeks (at least during the 12 weeks).

 

 Getting Google reviews

What you’re doingAsking customers to write reviews directly on your Google Places page.  As you probably know, they’ll need Google / Gmail accounts to do this.  I suggest you ask about half your customers to write Google reviews, and ask the other half to write reviews through 3rd-party review sites (see below).

Explanation of timing – If you haven’t claimed your Places page, or if your business has a bunch of duplicate Places pages floating around, it’s possible Google will erase your reviews.  It’s best to hold off on requesting reviews until the Places pages aren’t being created, claimed, deleted, and otherwise jockeyed around.  Plus, you’ll have your hands full anyway during the first couple of weeks.

 

 Getting 3rd-party reviews

What you’re doing – Asking customers to write reviews on non­-Google sites.  CitySearch, InsiderPages, JudysBook, etc. (and Yelp, but Yelp has rules against requesting reviews).  I’ve found that having reviews on a variety of sites helps your Places rankings, and of course it’s a great way to attract the users of those sites.

Explanation of timing – You can start asking for 3rd-party reviews even while your Places page is up in the air.  But I suggest focusing on the other steps first – namely, having accurate and plentiful citations, a tuned-up website, and no duplicate Places pages.  On the other hand, getting 3rd-party reviews is another ongoing task, which means it’s worth starting fairly early…hence why I say start around week 3.

 

You might be wondering a few things…

What if you’ve been wrangling with Google Places and local search in general for a while?  I suggest you still follow the timeline.  If one of the steps no longer applies to you – for example, if you’ve already submitted your info for the data-providers – then cross that one off and focus on the others.

What if you already have a bunch of citations or reviews?  Keep racking ‘em up.  Sure, don’t pour as much time into them as you would if you were starting at Square One.  But don’t stop at “good enough” – especially if you’re in a competitive market.

What should you do after the 12 weeks?  Given that you’ll likely be much more visible to local customers, it’ll largely be a matter of maintaining your visibility by continuing to work on all the steps (except red and yellow), but at a significantly slower pace.  (For more, see my post on how to maintain your Places rankings.)

How does this action plan stack up with yours?  Leave a comment!

My Caveman Painting of a Local Search Engine

Fine, I guess our cavemen ancestors didn’t have search engines to help them find the closest woolly mammoth watering hole or the finest maker of custom wooden clubs this side of Bedrock.

I’m afraid I don’t have any caveman artifacts, per se. But what I can show you is the very first thing I ever wrote on Google local search:

My 1st article on local search - July 2008

(click to enlarge)

As you can see, I wrote that for my local paper in 2008 – which is like the Triassic period in the fast-evolving world of Google and the Web in general.

Much has changed in the last 4 years:

It’s known as Google Places and not as the Google Local Business Center.

There were probably one-fifth as many people offering local-search optimization/marketing services as there are now.

No longer is there space for 10 local businesses on page 1: that number has shrunken to 7 (sometimes fewer).

At that point I hadn’t worked with a single client on local Google (I’d only provided web design and Google AdWords management and other good stuff). All I knew about local Google had come from hours and hours of studying local businesses and their rankings.

I hadn’t even built my website. The newspaper sure as heck had no reason to give me more than 400 words to write something about that “local internet thing” (as the editor referred to it).

But I digress. Once I remembered and dug up my first piece on local search the other day, the first thing that jumped out at me was that the suggestions still hold water.

It’s still the case that you’re more likely to rank well locally in Google if you have a website than if you don’t have one. It’s still best to make use of the 200-character “business description” on your Places page, and to you ask your customers for reviews.

Of course, that’s old news to you: You already know those things help your local visibility in Google Places.

But that’s exactly my point. The fundamentals haven’t changed.

True: the people at Mountain View have an insatiable itch to twist the knobs and press the buttons seemingly every other day – causing Google Places to change and your local rankings to bob up and down along with it.

Still, your tasks are basically the same: make your Places page as relevant and beefy as possible, do the same for your website, get customer reviews, and pay attention to your citations (this is the one main factor I didn’t really know about 4 years ago). If my old article can tell you anything you didn’t know already, it’s that any time and effort you spend on these core ranking factors is well-spent.

In terms of shelf life, my first article is kind of like a Twinkie or a Slim Jim. Sure, it probably won’t be good after two decades, but it can sit around for a number of years without losing much. (The only difference is your doctor won’t yell at you for consuming my article.)