There are a million online misadventures that can snuff out your business’s rankings in local search – in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results and everywhere else.
Attempts to spam or deceive Google usually backfire. You can also destroy your rankings through sheer laziness – like if you never update any of your business information or never bother to understand Google’s quality guidelines.
You may be aware of what online actions can hurt your local rankings. Maybe you’ve learned the hard way.
But there also are offline ways you can kill your local rankings. Simply not doing anything stupid or naughty in your local SEO campaign isn’t enough. You can lose local visibility and local customers without ever touching your computer (or smartphone or iPad). To be more precise, I can think of 7 ways:
Offline Way to Die Online #1: Relocate, rename, or use a new phone number without updating your Google+Local page or other business listings to reflect the change(s).
By “update” I mean you must do two things: (1) update all your business listings with the new info, and (2) scour the web for listings (AKA citations) that list your old info. (By the way, doing a free GetListed.org scan can be a huge help when you get to this step.)
If you fail to do the above, you may be OK…for a little while. After some months a major third-party data source (most likely InfoGroup) will catch wind of the change and create new listings for your business with the new info.
This will cause your business to have inconsistent info spread all over the web – which itself is a rankings-killer – and may cause Google to create unwanted and inaccurate Google+Local pages for your business (another rankings-killer).
Offline Way to Die Online #2: Get a phony address, like a PO box, UPS box, or virtual office. Eventually your fake-o address will enter the local-search “ecosystem” (in the way I described above) and you’ll end up with inconsistent business info all over the web, penalties from Google, or both.
(It’s likely that the only reason you’d want a phony address in the first place is so you can try to game Google – so it’s likely your rankings won’t die as a result of your offline actions alone. More likely, you’ll try to update your business listing(s) with the fake address and end up getting flagged by a competitor or good citizen.)
Offline Way to Die Online #3: Mistreat your customers and get slammed with bad reviews. This probably won’t have a direct effect on your rankings unless you have dozens or hundreds of scathing reviews, BUT it may affect your rankings indirectly.
For instance, nobody knows for sure whether click-through rate (i.e. the percentage of people who see your business listed in Google and click on it) is a factor that Google takes into account when sorting out the local rankings. But Google does “know” a bunch of user-engagement stats. If people simply don’t click on your listing because they see a 10/30 average Google rating, or if nobody clicks your link from (say) your Yelp listing because you have a 1-star average, Google may very well take your rankings down a peg.
Also, although “social signals” like Facebook shares, tweets, and Google +1s don’t seem to affect your local rankings much or at all as of this writing, they most likely will become a stronger ranking factor in the future. If potential customers are scared off by bad reviews, you’ve got fewer opportunities to get social shares.
Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people to pick up the phone. You can’t do that very well if nobody clicks on your Google+Local page or website because your reviews reek.
By the way, you get bonus idiot points if you get hammered with bad reviews but don’t write thoughtful “replies from the owner.” Yes, you can do this: Google+Local and Yelp (and probably other sites that aren’t coming to mind now) let you respond to reviews. It’s easy to write a reply and takes you maybe 90 seconds. It’s even easier never to check up on the sites where you’re listed or simply to live in ignorant bliss, oblivious to the public criticism.
Offline Way to Die Online #4: Hire and fire an unethical SEO. He or she has access to your Google+Local page or other listings (and maybe even your website), and may do something nefarious or simply not hand over your command codes when you need them.
Offline Way to Die Online #5: Let your domain name or hosting expire (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for this one). True, technically you don’t need a website to rank in the Google+Local or other search results. But if you don’t have one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because many local-search ranking factors depend on your website. If you’re in a competitive local market, forget it: Without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test.
Offline Way to Die Online #6: Never grow your site. No, I’m not talking about updating the copyright at the bottom of your website so that it no longer reads “© 2002.” I’m talking about keeping a “static” website to which you rarely or never add useful, non-promotional info that might cause a potential customer to think “Hey, that was handy!” A static website is a lost opportunity.
Google knows when a website is an online paperweight, and may very well reflect that fact in your rankings. Worse, if your site is devoid of fresh, helpful info, nobody will link to you, share your site, or give you a juicy unstructured citation or review – all of which are factors that otherwise could boost your rankings.
If you’re going to rank well, your site needs to show signs of life.
Offline Way to Die Online #7: Never check your Google+Local page and other listings. They say a watched pot never boils. The corollary is that an unwatched pot can eventually boil over or boil until there’s no water left.
Things will happen to your online local presence, whether you know it or not – and probably not all of those things will be good. Sometimes you’ll need to fix or remove inaccurate info on your listings, respond to reviews, or double-check your Google+Local page or website is compliant with the Google update du jour.
But you can’t fix problems if you never know about them.
By the way, there’s no offline way to fix most of the above problems. The solutions involve getting with the times, getting on the computer (or tablet), getting a little bit of local SEO know-how (as you’re doing now!), and getting your hands a little dirty. That will help you become or stay visible to local customers, and it will help keep the phone ringing.
Any other offline “ways to die” you can think of? Any questions or general suggestions? Leave a comment!
Estar Holmes says
RE: …Failing to update contact info. YP Tracking service phone numbers have pros and cons. Hadn’t thought of this as another potential con. Looks like it could be an issue when the number appears in the online version of the directory.
As far as #2 – This is irritating because many people run their businesses out of their homes and use a PO Box the address, for obvious reasons.
Yes, IYP-specific phone numbers can kill your rankings.
Re. #2…yes, in some cases the rule against PO boxes may unfair. Doesn’t mean Google won’t put you in the doghouse for using one, though.
People who use a PO box don’t have to register they business as LOCAL, since they don’t have an established office, where they provide direct services to their customers.
Phil George says
without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test….
Very Funny, and very true. I know in tests, rankings fell rapidly when the link to the primary website was removed from Google Plus Local pages, and rankings returned, shortly after adding website again
Great point, fellow Phil. Sometimes the Google+Local page and website get disconnected unexpectedly – usually a huge blow to the rankings, as you say.
Thanks for the great observation!
Excellent post Phil. At the moment, I’m specifically dealing a lot with the “static site” issues: clients that have websites (sometimes newly built ones) that resemble the haunted manor house photo that you showed, and have no aspirations of being anything more than a brochure website. Unfortunately, there are still old school web developers that sell “bespoke static sites” because of so called “clean code” (not entirely true). Or maybe they want to earn a little extra on the charge-able time for making updates.
The “watched pot never boils” always makes me smile and should probably be written on my Local SEO tombstone. It’s tempting to keep an eye on the rankings after a lot of work has been done, but the changes (such as citations) take time to filter through.
In terms of things to add to the list, I would say “NOT verifying the listing in the first place” can kill the ranking as an unethical business could do it instead.
Thanks for weighing in!
You can call me Bill Clinton, because “I feel your pain.” Business owners who blog or create content at all are few and far-between. Even rarer are people who actually create good stuff that isn’t keyword-stuffed (like with every post title containing the same exact-match search term).
And I’m guilty of checking on rankings a little too often in some cases.
By the way, I love your “bespoke static site” term. Straight from Savile Row, eh old boy?
Because tools like Places Scout are so great to use, it’s easy to constanty be checking the rankings. You’ve got to be patient though. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Yeah, I love “bespoke suits” from Savile Row, but that’s fine as it’s not a technical requirement for them to be updated and dynamic. They just need to look dam good!
Pete Kici says
Nice job here.
I want to hear your thoughts on tracking numbers for your different assets, videos,articles,offers and so forth all online how does this effect your rankings.
we use tracking numbers on everything crazy how we want to know what’s working please tell me your feelings on this..:)
I don’t use tracking numbers, and I tell all my clients not to. Having different phone numbers for the same business spread all over the web is the #1 rankings-killer, in my experience. I don’t even suggest using one tracking number for a business across all its different assets: although using a # with a local area code in and of itself doesn’t seem to incur a penalty from Google (it’s against the “quality guidelines”), I wouldn’t rule it out. Also, Google gets more sophisticated over time, so I REALLY wouldn’t assume that even a local-area-code tracking number is safe long-term.
There’s just no good way to track leads in Google+Local. I wish it weren’t that way, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. Maybe eventually Google will be OK with tracking numbers. But in the meantime, I err on the side of long-term safe for my clients.
Here’s a great thread over at Linda Buquet’s forum with more info:
Pete Kici says
Mark Watts says
Fantastic post as always Phil.
You and all the experts in your sidebar recommended list are my go to people for all things local. Keep up the good work in 2013.
Thanks, Mark! Glad you liked it. Hope 2013 has gotten off to a great start for you.
Nikhil Deshpande says
I particularly liked point no 6, kudos!
The website should show signs of life…..
Fresh content is the only way out to make a website feel lively, in the eyes of any search engine & also users.
Thanks for the feedback, Nikhil! Yes, fresh content is definitely one of the key places where the “human” meets the “mechanical.” Important for local SEO and organic SEO and local customers and non-local customers alike.
Freddie Fulton says
My top two would be your #3 and #7.
3 – Reviews are everything these days and you need to take them seriously.
7 – not checking your Google+local page can be costly. Too many times I’ve seen Google+local pages with wrong emails, wrong phone #’s and wrong addresses. I have a friend who is a golf pro who last summer couldn’t figure out why an old folks home (with a very similar name) was getting the golf course phone calls! Google+local page had the wrong number! Luckily the nice lady at the old folks home gave the people on the phone the right number. Check your page.
Thanks for your compliments. Great points. Love the story about the golf course.
Thanks Phil! The second item on your list is a definite killer for SABs, especially when they have a three digit suite number, a red flag for Google.
You’re welcome, Kathy!
Mistreating customers will really hurt your business man. SEO or not. I’ve done a SEO campaign for a local business one time, and it was really doing well, but even if we ranked well in our targeted keywords, the business just sucked. They had poor service and all, people would write bad reviews. It really affected the campaign. But #4 is just savage. It really shows you’re an unethical person, not just an unethical SEO if you jeopardized your clients upon releasing you.