A few days ago, I asked the good people on my email list to send me their questions.
They’ve always sent me great questions, and I always take a crack at them.
But local search – and Google+Local in particular – is as messy and complex as ever. Sometimes it helps to see a bunch of questions other people have, and the answers to those questions, all at once.
I like the Ask Me Anything rounds that some SEOs do. Same idea here.
So, I received a ton of great questions from business owners and marketers/SEOs alike. Some of the questions almost call for a whole blog post to answer, but I’ve tried to give quick answers – hence the “lightning round” part. But there are so many questions that this has turned into the most epic post I’ve done yet.
I’ve organized the Q&A into a few sections:
General local search questions
“What’s the #1 thing that improves rankings for local business pages?”
I’m going to focus on the “improves” part of your question: I’d say businesses see the most improvement when they clean up all their citations.
“Do social mentions affect my rankings if they don’t include my NAP?”
Indirectly, maybe – but only to the extent that they’re a catalyst for things that can directly help your rankings, like unstructured citations or maybe links. Facebook activity seems to be a major factor for Bing, though. I’m sure things like Google +1s and Circles will start counting for more in the near future, but they don’t seem to at the moment.
“Have you noticed it being easier to rank a new local business in Bing than in Google? Any ideas why? I am top ranked in Bing but am on page 2 in Google after 4 months.”
I’ve had clients who rank tip-top in Google but not so well in Bing. The fundamentals are the same (e.g. consistent citations, on-page factors). But things like Facebook activity and Yelp reviews seem to matter more in Bing. Overall, I’d say Bing is a little easier, but if you’re ranking well in Bing, you’re probably on the right track with Google.
“What is the best way to identify all citations that need to be cleaned up for a given business?”
My favorite cocktail: a combination of the Local Citation Finder, GetListed.org, and my definitive list of local citations.
“Beyond a) creating citations, and b) having an optimized webpage and c) getting reviews, what else can be done to improve ranking?”
(1) Get more reviews, on as many sites as you can. Never stop.
(2) Get citations from sites specific to your industry.
(3) Add as much additional info (e.g. descriptions, photos, etc.) as you can to your listings on those citation sources.
(4) Blog – the right way.
(5) Think of a small (or larger) “local event” you can host.
“I’ve found some towns do not return map results for local queries. I believe it’s because of their small size. What do you do in this scenario?”
Don’t neglect your Google+Local page, citations, reviews, etc., but start going more after organic rankings for those search terms that aren’t returning the Google+Local (AKA “maps”) results.
“What’s the best way to start cleaning up your citations after you move to a new address?”
Start by fixing your listings on ExpressUpdateUSA.com, LocalEze.com, MyBusinessListingManager.com. Those take the longest to digest updates, so you’ll want to fix them ASAP. Then do CitySearch, YP.com, and Yelp (if possible; it’s not always). Then move on to your other citations, referring to my list, and/or with the aid of Nyagoslav’s excellent guide to citations.
“Most of my patients live in an adjacent city to where my office is. I bought a couple domains that include the name of the nearby city that my patients live in, and then I forwarded those domain to my main site. Can I expect those forwarded domains to rank well in the organic search results in the nearby town?”
No. This isn’t an approach I’d suggest. I haven’t seen forwarded domains in the search results recently, so I’m not even sure Google will rank the forwarded domains at all. (If someone has a definitive answer to this, please chime in!) But it’s almost certain not to work in a market that’s even a little competitive. Having a search-term-relevant domain alone just isn’t enough. Probably your best bet (1) to start doing AdWords, (2) or to create some pages (on any of your domains) that are geared specifically toward patients in that nearby city.
“If I’m targeting nearby cities to try to get organic results for my local business, do I need a separate website for each city I want to be visible in?”
No. You can have separate websites for each city, but in most cases I wouldn’t recommend building them, because it’s hard to do so without being spammy. You’re probably better off creating unique pages on your current site for each city (see previous question).
“What specific steps do you use to determine what is causing your competitor’s website to rank above yours (if it is) in the Google organic results?”
That’s a very involved question, and this is a “lightning round” 🙂 But if I had to distill it, I’d say that there are 5 main diagnostic questions you’ll need to answer:
1. Which specific pages are outranking yours, and for which search terms?
2. How do their pages differ from yours? Do they have a lot of meaty, useful, on-topic information on the pages that are ranking well – whereas maybe you only have a paragraph? Try to compare apples to apples.
3. Do your pages seem significantly more “SEO’d” than your competitors’? If you’ve got spun content, exact-match anchor text out the wazoo, keywords stuffed into every nook and cranny of your site, etc., then your competitor may be outranking you simply by not making rookie mistakes.
4. What do you see when you do an OpenSiteExplorer checkup on them?
5. How unique and helpful are your competitors’ pages?
“I wrestle with understanding organic listings. Searching for a dentist in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there are 7 organic listings . Do how does Google determine who is on this list? There are some dentists with no Google Plus local reviews above others who have 7 reviews. I just don’t understand this.”
That doesn’t sound quite right: It’s usually 7 Google+Local listings:
But I can say that reviews are one factor among others – the main others being (1) your Google+Local page, (2) your website, and (3) your citations. Need more detail? Take a gander at the Local Search Ranking Factors 🙂
“What’s the best way to handle multiple categories (e.g. kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, basement renovations)?”
There’s not much of a “trick.” Just specify them on your Google+Local page, onyour Bing Places listing, and on your third-party listings. Follow Google’s guidelines and my best-practices for categories.
“There are several services for citation submission. Yext comes to mind. It would seem that a service that does the bulk of the submission work would be useful, but that each listing would need manual tweaking. Is that your experience too? Do you have a preferred bulk submission tool?”
Yext is good in certain situations. But you’re right that you also need to do at least some manual tuning-up of your listings. No tool eliminates that necessity.
“We have several new clients and although a listing appears when you Google their name, nothing appears in any other searches. When should a new listing appear in keyword searches?”
Totally depends on how competitive the local competition is for those search phrases. It can take months and months.
“What are you seeing in terms of search volume for searches of keyword-only vs. keyword + city? I know Linda Buquet has talked about seeing more search volume for keyword-only and I’ve also seen this now for a few AdWords clients I have, where it’s about a 2-to-1 for keyword only vs. keyword + city. So aside from AdWords is there a way to rank for those searches, since keyword-only is mainly going to show businesses close to searchers’ IP location?”
It’s pretty much always the case that “keyword” has more search volume than “keyword + city.” But you shouldn’t be using different strategies to get visible for each type of search term. If you rank well for “keyword + city,” you’ll usually also rank well when people in that city just type in “keyword.” Google will show those people local-biz results that it deems to be local. So the name of the game is to make it abundantly clear to Google what city you’re located in.
“What do I do when a company I am working with on advertising wants to use a telephone number other than the one we use on citations?”
“How do I break out of my immediate area to target a “region” or state? CAN it be done with Local?”
Sometimes it’s possible to appear for statewide search terms (e.g. “dentists MA”) in the Google+Local results. This great old post from Mike Ramsey explains it nicely. But you’ll probably have better chances of ranking for statewide searches organically.
“Is Google+ Local ready to go yet?”
Are we ready to terraform Mars? Have we built a Commander Data? No…Google still hasn’t finished the transition from Google Places to Google Plus.
“Does it improve rankings to create a Google+ Local page for your company and then ‘merge’ it with Google Places?”
Not to my knowledge. I’ve noticed that businesses with “merged” pages tend to rank more highly, but I think that’s only because their owners tend to be proactive about their local visibility in general. So I’d say there’s correlation but not causation.
“I’ve got a client that has a spa. She’s got like 8 rooms for tanning, sauna, etc. She’s renting one room to another business that does a related service. I’ve instructed my client to NOT share the phone line and instead to have the new person get a new line. I’ve spoken with the other business’s web guy and we seem to think that two businesses in the same suite – for example, suite #200 –should be fine if the business is different and the phone is different. What’s the best way to have two or more businesses listed at the same address?”
If they are legally separate businesses, then you’re taking the right approach. They’ll need separate phone lines, DBAs, and websites – but this is a matter of course if in fact they’re legally separate businesses.
“How should you handle a relocation? Do you shut down the current Google+ Local page and create a new one? Or do you edit the address to the new location?”
I believe the protocol du jour is for you to edit your address to the new location. Mike Blumenthal has a fairly recent post with more detail.
“The ‘city centroid’: Does this still carry a lot of weight in rankings?
It depends on a lot of factors, but in general, not really. The main thing that matters is whether your business is located in (or extremely near to) the city you want to rank well in.
“How can I get my location to rank if I’m on the outskirts of town but still in the town?”
Depends on what you mean by “outskirts.” If you’re in the ‘burbs, your best bet is to go after organic rankings. But if you’re truly located in the city proper, it’s still the same ballgame to rank well in the Google+Local results, and you probably won’t be at any disadvantage.
“My client has 17 locations and can’t use the main corporate site as a hub. They’ve been building citations where the “website” field contains a URL that forwards to the sister-site of the corp brand. On this sister site they have the locations broken down into microsites (not pages). Their Places pages are pulling the corp site info. Long story short: how do you build a campaign when you have to use a forwarding URL?”
You don’t. Using a forwarded URL shouldn’t be a problem as far as your citations are concerned, but that URL needs to match the URL of your Google+Local landing page – and Google will probably whack you for using a forwarding URL.
“When I search for “orthodontist” within my zip code, an orthodontist colleague of mine has the first two of three positions in the Google+Local results. I occupy the third position. How does a duplicate listing get ranked above my listing?”
If the website for the practice is strong (i.e. lots of relevant content, maybe some good links), probably both Google+Local listings are benefiting. If both listings have been around for more than a couple of years, there’s also a good chance that they both have consistent info on their citations. It may also help if both listings have reviews.
“Where is the link under the 7 pack that says “View more local results”? How do I view page two now? Is there a page two anymore? I have a few clients that were happy to be on page two (very competitive markets), so now what do I tell them?”
The “more” link is gone. No page two unless you click on the “Maps” tab – which also appears to be under the blade. Tell your client…
“What your business is moving, do you update all other listings first and then Google+ Local, or the other way around?”
Update your listings first, and then (once you’ve moved) update your Google+Local listing.
“If you have two locations, do you link your Google+Local pages to your homepage or to landing pages on your site? The idea being to optimize chances to get two pages to rank for queries: one next to the map and one in the standard results.”
Generally speaking, it’s best to use a different page of your website as the landing page for each Google+Local listing (that is, each location of your business).
“Google seems to have made changes lately. What are the main changes in a nutshell, and what should be our response be, in terms possibly doing local SEO differently?”
1. Better tech support (in that now it exists).
2. New listing-manager rolling out.
3. No page two.
No need for you to do SEO differently. It’s still the same ingredients that go into the rankings burrito.
“I created a Google listing about 5 months ago. I filled out the description, images, videos, categories, etc. We have done all the possible citations. A lot of work. We even paid for a “virtual tour” (which I thought Google would like and see as a “trust factor,” as you need to pay for it). We already have 9 reviews. However, we are still not on page one. Our competition is not SEO-oriented and does not do much in that regard, but they still appear before us. I know it takes time to get to page one, but still it looks to me that something is wrong here. What am I missing?”
You somewhat answered your own question: local rankings usually take a while. If you’ve truly got the citations under control – a big “if” – then I’d really suggest trying to get reviews on a diversity of sites (e.g. not just Google, not just Yelp, etc.). Beef up your third-party listings (AKA citations) with as much additional info on your services as you can. If possible, start blogging – but only if you do it according to Matt McGee’s suggestions.
“How do I handle the sale of a business that has been located at one address for 15 years, but that gets bought by new ownership, resulting in a name change?”
Update the business name on as many sites as you can, and as quickly as you can. Update your Google+Local listing, too. A good starting point would be to focus on the listings you see when you do a GetListed.org scan. Once you’ve done that, scour the Web for listings with the old name, and try to get those fixed or removed. Your rankings may very well take a hit in the short-term, but they should be fine in the long-term if you’re diligent about cleanup.
“My business is listed #1 in the local results for one search term, but number 4 for another, and not even in the top 7 for another popular search term. How do I push my listing up in the cases where it’s listed lower?”
Ask every customer for a review, make sure your third-party listings have plenty of info (e.g. descriptions, categories, etc.) on the services you’re not ranking for, and crank out some good blog posts or articles that someone looking for those services would find useful. Above all, take it slow and easy. You seem to be on the right track.
“I received my PIN in the mail and entered it to verify my Google+ Local page. The PIN was verified, now a few days later it’s no longer verified. Should I request another PIN?”
Yes. Assuming you know for a fact that your listing is 100% kosher according to Google.
“I know a landscaper who services a region that includes 4 cities. However, his office is in a rural location. Can he use Google+ Local to get listed for any or all of the cities? Technically he sometimes meets clients at his office but normally he would travel to the customers’ homes to meet them.”
If he has one location, then he can have one Google+Local listing (not 4), and he’ll have to “hide” his address. He may or may not actually rank well in all 4 cities – depends on a lot of factors – but if he’s met the two conditions I mentioned, at least it’s possible he’ll rank well in a good chunk of his service area (especially if it’s a rural area).
“Why would a verified Google listing (confirmed via phone or postcard) show the “We currently do not support this location” error?”
Sounds like the listing has been pulled for a violation or due to a bug. Not much you can do about the latter. But if you suspect the former, read Nyagoslav’s great post on troubleshooting.
“Your post on city pages, will that get me listed in Google Plus local?”
No. It’s focused on “localized organic” rankings.
“I assume the ‘upgraded’ Google+ Local page is one in which the social and the local are combined? I’m still lost on how this works (maybe everyone is…?).”
Correct. Pretty soon (I hope) everyone’s Google+Local page will be upgraded to have all the “social” bells and whistles. But, for the time being, some pages have all the features of Google+, whereas others don’t. (More info on the differences here.)
“My main question has to do with a business with multiple listings. How do you approach getting them set up on Google Plus local? Do they need a separate listing for each location? How do you handle citations for them?”
Yes, each physical location can have its own Google listing – and each Google listing must correspond to a physical location, or you’ll incur the wrath of the Google Gods (and rightfully so).
You don’t have to do a bulk upload. All the listings don’t even need to have been created in the same Google account. For instance, if it’s a franchise and each franchisee wants control of his/her listing, the listings can be created and/or claimed through different people’s Google accounts.
There’s no way to do the citations “in bulk.” It’s number of locations multiplied by number of sites you want to be listed on. Ideally you have a separate landing page URL for each location / Google+Local listing; if that’s the case, then put that URL in the “website” field on each citation site.
“If you’re using a home address for your Google listing, can you rank well in a fairly competitive market?”
“I have a client that has a law practice with 2 distinct NAP’s, websites, and categories (ne is for DUI defense, the other is criminal defense). That is, they have 2 local phone numbers, 2 registered business names, 2 websites, and 2 different suite #s, out of 1 main office location. Will Google+ Local ding one listing or the other, given that both practices are housed under the same physical address? (Again, there are 2 different suite #s.)”
If they are two officially, legally separate practices, then you’re fine. But if it’s one lawyer who runs one practice but wants to have two Google listings for rankings purposes, then one or both listings may very well get penalized.
“When you choose a category from within the Google Places editor, what are your thoughts on choosing a custom category? I have read many blogs saying you should only choose defined categories, yet, if I decide to go with a specific custom category I get a lot of impressions, whereas no other defined category would cause these impressions for a particular keyword. I experimented removing the custom category and only having defined categories and this caused a considerable drop in impressions. So is it OK to go with a custom category, or am I risking longer term damage?”
Google seems to be phasing out custom categories. Still, custom categories can really help your visibility, provided you follow some guidelines.
“I integrated Google Places into Google+ Local as a verified Local Business. This now offers me to choose categories in Google+ Local within the “Edit Business Information” screen. Yet I can still choose categories within my original Google Places dashboard. I am confused by the two different places to edit categories, and I am reluctant to add categories within Google+ Local, since, it appears my Google Places Dashboard categories are working really well. Do I risk damaging my rankings by fiddling within the Google+ Local categories? Or, should I duplicate the categories from Google Places Dashboard here?”
Your current setup sounds fine. I’d leave it as-is. You’re not going to hurt your rankings by adding relevant categories on the Google+Local side, but I wouldn’t say you need to. Google’s categories will be a mess – rather, a two-headed monster – for at least a little while longer.
“I have had 9/10 reviews filtered on my Yelp site. How do you make them stick? I have heard that if your customers aren’t active on Yelp their reviews get filtered.”
There’s nothing you can do to make more reviews stick. What you heard is correct. The best thing to do is to ask your customers up-front whether they’re already active on Yelp. Yelp doesn’t want you even asking – let alone encouraging – customers for reviews. So to the people you know to be active Yelpers, maybe you can suggest or intimate that you would not be entirely averse to their possibly considering posting a review 😉 For everyone else, I suggest you follow my “zigzag” approach.
“Is there ANY way to change the review filter on Yelp? (They have an odd way of only showing the majority of the bad reviews up front, even if someone has a majority of good reviews).”
No, sad to say. See previous answer.
“Aside from Google+ and Yelp, what other website should clients write reviews on?”
CitySearch, InsiderPages, and Yahoo are my picks. If there are any sites specific to your industry, try to scare up reviews on those as well.
“I want to appear on Google as one of the sites on the search map. I have my site tuned up, filled out, but still don’t appear there. Does it really just come down to the number or reviews a site has?”
Reviews are crucial, but other factors matter quite a bit. It’s not enough to have a “filled out” site. You also need to put a lot of elbow grease into citations, for one thing. Although sometimes local rankings are a game of inches, more often they depend on how well you apply the fundamentals.
“Is Google going to integrate reviews from Google+Local with AdWords in the next 12 to 18 months?”
No idea. I’m not sure anyone knows. I do know that if you’re on AdWords Express and if you have Google+Local reviews from customers, the reviews will show in your ad. But AdWords Express isn’t as effective as classic AdWords, so it would be nice to see some integration there.
“How does having a mobile website affect Google rankings?”
I don’t believe that it does affect rankings – at least not directly. But having a mobile-friendly site may help indirectly, because visitors are less likely to bounce and are more likely to “engage” with your site and maybe share it socially. Those things can help your rankings.
“What do you think about paying for Yelp ads? The lowest the rep quoted was $200 a month. We have a small business and an even smaller advertising budget!”
I think it’s worth testing, with two caveats:
(1) See how many of your competitors are using it, and how many businesses like yours in other cities are paying for Yelp ads. That will give you a sense of whether anyone in your line of work might be making money from Yelp ads.
(2) You’ll need to lay some groundwork first, by beefing up your Yelp listing as much as possible, applying at least a little conversion-rate optimization to your site (no point paying for ads that lead to a dog of a site), and doing what you can to encourage Yelp reviews.
“I know a high-end hairdresser who is already ranking high – and three times – on most targeted keywords: Once with AdWords, once in organic, and once in the local results. How do you get more new customers into the door when you seem to already catch all the search traffic you can possibly get?”
Never ease up in your efforts to get reviews from as many customers as possible, and from as many different sites as possible. Make your site as “sticky” as humanly possible. Fill it with your knowledge. Also, I’m a huge fan of CrazyEgg and Qualaroo.
“Is it possible to correct bad SEO – e.g. mass linking with poor anchor text on low quality blogs?”
Absolutely – assuming you completely stop the bad SEO practices that got you into hot water to begin with, and assuming you then make an effort to stand out in some way, be it through tons of reviews, tons of helpful and relevant info on your site, etc.
“Some service businesses & contractors work out of their homes but don’t want their homes listed publicly on the internet. What’s the best way to handle this?”
Read my two posts on the topic:
Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?
Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?
“How can I know if my web site is effective at making people take action? Lately we are getting very few calls but our analytics are showing about 10-15 views a day.”
It’s hard to know. Your site shouldn’t try to “make” people take action. It should answer their questions. That’s the most important thing. Aside from that, I can’t get into heavy-duty CRO here, but one piece of low-hanging fruit is to make sure you’ve got your address and phone number (and maybe email address) on every single page, above the fold. Also, as I mentioned before, CrazyEgg and Qualaroo are tools that can help you learn more about your visitors and tailor your site to their needs.
“Is it important to embed other maps besides a Google Map on the website? (Like one from Bing?)”
Nah. Embedding even a Google Map on your site isn’t necessarily “important”: it’s mostly a convenience for visitors, and it’s just another little way to convey to Google that you’re local. But no need to add a Bing or MapQuest map or whatever.
“There are a lot of differing fields that you can / have to fill out on the various citation directories. Is there a universal form to fill out?”
No, although I do have a questionnaire (the second of two – here’s the first) that I ask my clients to fill out. I’m sure I could improve it, but it covers the bases pretty well.
“What is a “reputation management” account – as it relates to Dex or other yellow pages companies?”
A rip-off. Just set up some Google Alerts and If This Then That alerts, and check on the main review sites from time to time.
“I do my own local SEO. Often in verification calls I get a lot of sales pitches. One last week asked whether I wanted to “renew my subscriptions” and then when I said no told me they were going to send the bill “for the previous year.” What’s up with that?”
Sounds like a typical shenanigan. If you’ve never paid that site for advertising, there’s no way you’re on the hook for anything now.
You’ll get a decent number of sales pitches when you list your business on a lot of these third-party sites. It may seem like a Faustian pact, but it’s a small price to pay for being listed on sites that, ultimately, help your local visibility.
Huge thanks to everyone who sent in questions. You rock.
Let’s keep it going: Do you have any quick questions for which you just need quick answers? Throw me a comment!
Great post Phil. Lots of info going on here! What’s the bet way to keep up with the changes in google plus local?
Thanks, Polly – and once again, I appreciate the question you sent in!
Given that you’re already a die-hard reader here, I’d say the best way to keep up with the changes is to follow Mike Blumenthal’s blog, Nyagoslav’s blog, and Linda Buquet’s forum – at least for starters.
Extraordinary round up, Phil. It’s always great to go through your Q&As, every round reveals few more aspects of local SEO, I had been taking to little into consideration. Here’s a question that came to my mind while I was reading: what can an SEO do if a competing company messes up their NAP consistency? For a person without morals it’s a pretty simple thing to do and, while building citations can be easy, removing/correcting them can be very time consuming and, in some cases, even impossible.
Great question, Dorothea. I actually did a post on “negative local SEO” before (I believe) it was even a term. I’d say that there are a few things you could try – none of which is surefire, but which together might get the job done:
1. Contact the business owner. (Don’t point fingers, though.)
2. Keep working on your citations. Your competitors can’t create phony listings on sites that require phone-verification. If your citations are consistent enough, Google should ignore the phony ones.
3. If they’re resorting to tactics like trying to create fake/harmful citations for you, the chances are good they’re also using tactics that can get them penalized. Fake addresses, fake DBAs, etc. If you know Google’s rules and report your crooked competitors via MapMaker, the chances are they’ll get penalized or whisked off the map entirely – forcing them to focus on their own business for once, and to leave you alone.
David Deering says
Great info as always, Phil. Nice round-up of probably the most frequently asked questions about Local. Regarding the question about using a keyword-rich URL in your Google+ Local listing (such as keyword+city.com) and then forwarding it to another domain, I totally agree with you–don’t do it.
First of all, as you mentioned, Google+ Local does not like nor trust URLs that are redirected to a different domain. Secondly, it really won’t help much at all. The best strategy, as you pointed out, is to create unique pages for each specific city within the main website of the business. Use the keyword and the city name in the URL (… .com/keyword-in-city). It’s also important to make sure that the content for each city page is different and unique. In other words, don’t just copy and paste content from another page of your site and change the name of the city. That’s considered duplicate content and Google hates duplicate content. Make sure that each page’s content is unique and valuable and of course include the keywords and city name in the content, but don’t overdo it. And lastly, make sure you build backlinks to THAT specific page as well.
All things you already know, Phil, but I thought I’d just share these tips for others who weren’t quite sure.
Very well-said, David. Thanks for weighing in!
Just thought I would chime-in here and let you know what an awesome job you have done here!
I will utilize some of these tips in my quest to pinpoint why all G Local listings have suddenly vanished for one of my clients. Thankfully, organic listings remain strong.
Hey Dino, thanks for stopping by and for the compliments!