Doug Antkowiak // Oct 2 2012
Who ya gonna call for local SEO help? By now, we hope it’s us.
Two weeks ago we made an open call for questions related to Local Search. Since then, we’ve discussed the meat and potatoes of local SEO: offsite factors, social strategies and the fundamentals of local search. Now, to wrap up our Portent Local Series, we give you All The Answers.
To answer your questions, we put together our rag tag team of search experts consisting of Doug Antkowiak (me, the lead social media guy), Nick Bernard (offsite SEO guy), George Freitag (local SEO guy) and Josh Patrice, our SEO Team Lead and presenter for our upcoming webinar SEO Tips for Small Businesses. So, with that, let’s get to the Q&A.
We’ll start with the general questions about local search and go into specific parts later in the post.
Question 1: For businesses like doctors or lawyers who want to target a broad radius of cities surrounding their office, how does one effectively do this? Service area pages covering the same info seem spammy, but in most cases the information you want to provide your site visitors isn’t going to vary that much. -Mike Wilton
Answer: This is always tough since Google is going to have a bias against any business without a physical address in the city. The most successful strategies I’ve seen have been to try and target the localized organic results (the results outside of the lettered results).
So, if you can fit the target city in your title tag and homepage text, do that. If it’s a ton of surrounding areas, create a unique page targeting the nearby city and fill it with original content related to that city. You should even include directions to your business, if possible. If you can get some good links to this page, even better. You may never get in those lettered results, but at least you’ll show up on the results page.
Question 2: How do the Bing and Google local algorithms differ? -Skeeter Anderson
Answer: Google and Bing both serve localized results based on the query and the location of the searcher. The big difference is that Google’s local results are more incorporated with the organic results. So, apart from a few exceptions, Bing tends to give 5 numbered local results and 8-10 organic results below for most local searches. Google’s results, on the other hand, will typically vary from subject to city and everywhere in between. Secondly, Google tends to display business results from the company site, whereas Bing is more inclined to provide results for directory sites like Citysearch or Yellow Pages.
Question 3: How can I achieve anonymity in local search when everything is based on my address? I run my company out of my garage. -Skeeter Anderson
Answer: The best way to stay out of the local results is to not put your address anywhere. You can still target the localized organic results by mentioning your city and services in the content.
Question 4: Is there any way to advertise on local search? -Allen Yarguth
Answer: Both Google and Bing serve ads in localized results just as they do for any search result. You can bid on any local search phrase through their networks. On top of that, Google also has Google Adwords Express, which places ads as local results directly on the map.
Question 5: What is the best way to combat similar businesses that share the same exact address? -Kim Wetter
Answer: You’ll want to spend the time to make sure all of your directory listings are displaying their contact information in the exact same format. In some cases, you may even want to go so far as to help your competitor update their directory listings as well.
Question 6: How will iOS 6 affect local search? – @jana_obscura
Answer: Naturally, it’s too early to predict eveything about how Apple’s abandonment of Google Maps will affect local search, but the most significant change is that this takes Google’s local results out of most iPhones and replaces it with data primarily from Yelp. Because Yelp is also a content provider for Bing, this makes Yelp one of the most visible content providers for local business information. So businesses, if you were debating setting up a Yelp page before, now’s probably the time.
Since directory listings are so important to local search, we decided to put all those questions together in their own section.
Question 1: What is the relative importance of directory listing? -Kevin Stevens
Answer: Directory listings are the best signal search engines can use to determine your business’s popularity online. These contain the citations that contribute to your business listing’s trust in the local results. On top of that, most issues related to duplicate map listings, incorrect business information and other local problems can be traced back to an inaccurate directory listing somewhere.
Question 2: What local biz listings (Google, Yahoo, etc.) are the most important to be listed in? Should you encourage customers to leave reviews of your business on review sites? If so, which ones are the most influential? -Robert Wall
Answer: You’ve already hit the most important directories, but I’d also include Bing and Yelp. After that, it depends on your type of business. For most businesses, Citysearch, Hotfrog, and the phone directory sites are appropriate, too. After that, however, you’ll really want to focus on niche directories like Urban Spoon for restaurants or Healthgrades for medical practitioners.
As for reviews, they are definitely important. On Google, they really are encouraging customers to use Google+ so a review there is ideal. Google will also link to most other review sites below the Google reviews on the +Local listing. I’d also recommend Yelp since, apart from having their own loyal users, they are also currently a content provider for Bing’s local listings and the primary content provider for Apple’s map system.
Question 3: We work with a lot of clients trying to direct their customers to one directory over another to write their reviews. Is this worth the effort? Is one directory, like Yelp or G+ local, better or worse for leaving reviews? -Jeff
Answer: In a perfect world, all the reviews would be counted. Unfortunately, Google places such a high preference on its own reviews, that your clients should direct as many reviews as possible directly to the Google+ Local page. Like we stated earlier, Google will still link to the other reviews at the bottom of the local page, but it just won’t be displayed as prominently. Bing, on the other hand, has many different partnerships and will display reviews from Yelp, Citysearch and other popular directory sites directly in its business listings.
Also, you should also be sure to consider niche directories for your industry. Restaurants, travel, medical and other industries have very influential review sites that are looked at by both Google and Bing.
Question 4: Is it worth it to pay for a link on a directory site? -Emily
Answer: This is always a tricky situation, but it ultimately depends on your business. The phonebook’s websites, BBB and even some local directories can often be worth looking into but you generally need to pay to be included. Going back to the Portent post about Local Business Directories, it is very important to focus on the niche directories available to your business.
Johnny Wyatt had a great multi-part question that I’ve divided into separate parts:
1. When optimizing directories and local listings such as Google+ Local/Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Business Portal, Yelp, City Search, should the description field contain identical copy from site to site?
Answer: Ideally, you should write unique copy for each site since different sites often serve different markets. I do know, though, that this can be time consuming so I have not noticed any negative impact from repeating the same description on different directory sites. They should, however, be different from the copy used on your website.
2. Phone number… where we have multiple locations and where we desire tracking capability, should we have a different phone number for each location in the listings and on the locations pages of the website even if we have a central number? One example is a school with four locations. TIA/West, TIA/East and so on. One website, one central phone number, unique phone numbers for each location. Can I use a unique tracking number for each location that points to the actual number? Should that be the number on the website location page?
Answer: Tracking numbers should always be used with caution. The reason why the phone number is so important in local search is because of the importance of your NAP mention across the Internet. Referring back to The Brick and Mortar of Local SEO post, each phone number can potentially be indexed as its own business location, so if this is not what you want to happen, then you shouldn’t use tracking numbers or at least make sure they are not indexed by the search engines. Google and Bing will also allow you to use several numbers, so if you want to use a primary local number and use the main line as a secondary number, the search engines will typically understand that both are associated with your organization. Basically, only use a number if you want it to be the number you used in the phone books. If not, you should stick with the main line for everything.
Question 6: I have a client who says the road that their business is located on doesn’t even show up on Google’s mapping system yet and the pin is way off from their actual location. How do we go about fixing this? -Shaylee
Answer: The answer is the in the amazing, incredible Google Map Maker. This is a crowdsourcing site that Google uses to edit all information in its maps. You can add new roads and buildings, edit existing features and more. Pretty much any element of Google Maps can be edited through this. Changes are then reviewed by combination of peers, Google staff and automated bots before being published.
With Google+ and Google+ Local being so new, it’s understandable that we had a lot of questions related to these.
Question 1: Is there any benefit to adding custom attributes to Google+ local profiles? -Gyi Tsakaliakis
Answer: This is one of the less clear points of Google. There have been some mixed opinions on how much the content in the descriptions and additional details sections influence a listing’s ranking. My experience, though, has shown that the more information you give Google in your listing, the more legitimate your listing appears. So if anything, filling out those sections shows to Google that your listing is actively managed which adds to the trustworthiness of the listing. However, I strongly advise that you avoid any blatant keyword stuffing in any of the custom sections of your listing.
Question 2: Is there a connection between Google Plus Local rankings and Organic rankings? -Jason
Answer: Absolutely. Google looks at both the website and the local listing when ranking its local results. On top of that, it also looks for a strong connection between the two so it’s important that both support each other and use identical contact information, whenever possible.
Question 3: What are your thoughts on the Google+ Local pages transition? -Courtney
Answer: It’s currently quite a headache for businesses to have to update two separate pages – one Google+ Local page and one Google+ Business page – even if you migrated over your “Places” content. It’s changed before, and it’ll change again. For now, Google+ Local is where you want to focus your effort.
Question 4: Have you ever had to deal with Google showing a local business’s Google + local page with about 1000 reviews, the right NAP, but the wrong URL? -Joshua
Answer: This sounds like you might have multiple listings for your local business in your Google Places account. Check out our earlier post about optimizing your Google+ Local page for more information.
Question 5: In addition to connecting your social profiles to each other, you should customize each profile so that it better reflects the brand presence you have built on your website. Facebook Timeline and Google+ have allowed for larger banners, and Twitter just rolled out a more customizable profile page. The more consistent brand image you can project across your social media sites, the better brand awareness you can create. -Nick
Answer: While it’s not a question, Nick does bring up a really important point. Like I was saying in my post about optimizing social media for local business, it’s critical to reflect as much website information as possible on your social media assets. I think one of the reasons businesses overlook updating items like banners is due to limited resources and the constant changing landscape of social networks. You probably saw it, but we just profiled how to update your Twitter account with a new header image.
Question 6: When I log into FB as my PAGE I can’t Comment or Like anything on the entire web, whether within FB or on sites outside of it. If I log into FB as my PROFILE I can do all those things. Is this normal behavior? I want to add FB commenting to my website, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to reply to any comments!!!!!! Thanks for any insights… -Emily
Answer: Facebook tries to keep a strong separation between pages and profiles. Basically, pages can only comment on other pages within Facebook. To answer your question about installing Facebook commenting on your blog, Facebook allows you to moderate the commenting with your personal profile. You’ll have the power to block bad words and inappropriate users, but if you need to respond to a question you could comment as your personal profile. Another option might be to respond to a comment by posting a new update on your Facebook page wall. Check out this link for more info on the Facebook comments app.
Question 7: I “claimed” our page to update our address. Well the pin from Google finally came and I was able to update everything, but rather than fixing out-of-date info, it just turned it into an entirely separate Google+ local page which means the old one with the bad address still exists. I imagine if I try to claim that one, it will just create another duplicate. Google fail.
Answer: Try logging into your Google Places account. You should be able to see both Google+ Local pages on your dashboard. Update your original Google Places page with your new address and info. As for the new duplicated page, visit the Google+ Local page and click the “edit business details” button above the “manage this page button.” Under the headline “Is any of the following true…” mark the box that says “This is a duplicate.”
Question 8: I am thinking of hiring a guy to do optimization on my Google+ business local page. Is it worth it. He want to sign me in to a 1 year contract, with a monthly fee. Is it even possible to optimize the local page?
Answer: After checking out your site and your Google+ local business page, I can see you have a few optimization opportunities. However, I’m hesitant about the terms of your internet marketing contractor. The one-year contract sounds fishy to me, especially if he’s only offering optimization for your Google+ business page. If you’re going to hire anyone to help you do local business optimization, make sure that expert offers social optimization, directory submissions and onsite optimizations (which might be your greatest opportunity for improvement).
Question 9: Why are my reviews not posting/where did my reviews go? -Mark, Steven, Natalie, Beau and probably others online
Answer: This isn’t a specific question we received, but we tend to see enough posts related to this any time we mention Google+ or local search to make this worth mentioning. Basically, reviews on Google don’t always post and sometimes existing reviews can disappear. This is one of the more frustrating aspects of local and, unfortunately, there isn’t always a definitive reason. Essentially, Google is looking for reviews it knows to be real. That is, written by an actual customer for real life reasons. To do this, Google looks at information about the reviewer. Does he/she have a Google+ profile? Have they written reviews before? If they have, are all reviews for a specific type of business? Do they seem trustworthy? Google may even look at things like a reviewer’s Gmail activity, YouTube activity and other Google properties to make sure that the reviewer is a real person.
When reviews are removed or don’t show, it’s usually because they don’t meet one of these criteria or, for some reason, may seem untrustworthy. Maybe the business received a string of reviews from the same IP address. Maybe they got a ton of reviews from brand new users all at once. Maybe reviews seemed to be keyword stuffing. Again, these are just possible answers. The only strategy is to try and get reviews from people already active in their Google properties. I know this isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s one of the only way Google can prevent it’s local listings from being completely spammed by fake reviews.
Thanks to everyone who asked their questions – I hope we were able to get them answered for you. But, if you think we missed anything, or you have any lingering questions about local, feel free to post them in the comments below.