10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

There’s no shortage of info on the “ultimate” local SEO audit, and on all the checklist items big and small that people insist should be in your audit.  But there are two intertwined problems:

1. Good SEOs aren’t necessarily also good at doing audits.

2. Their audits often are tough for clients to act on, mostly because of how the recommendations are presented.

If you want to bake a pie, the place to start is not necessarily with granny’s super-secret recipe that took 50 years for her to perfect, if only because it’ll probably take you 30 years to get it right (if you ever do).  You’s probably prefer just a solid, straightforward recipe that you can make well today and tweak until it becomes your secret recipe.

I’ve done a lot of local SEO audits, and more often than not my clients act on the recommendations and get results.  In either case, they always understand my recommendations, partly because I structure the audit in a simple way.

Here are the 10 basic sections I usually put in a local SEO audit:

1. General comments.  Exactly how it sounds.  Any commentary you have that isn’t an action item should probably go here.  My “general comments” section is maybe half a page long.  In it, I also specify any quick wins, to the effect of, “If you do nothing else today, here are the 5 most-urgent suggestions to do.”

2. Google My Business.  Where you give your recommendations on your client’s GMB page(s), and maybe on features you think he or she should use (e.g. “Posts”).  Here’s also where you should identify any duplicate GMB pages and tell your client what to do about them.

3. Other listings (AKA citations).  I tend to have the citation audit in a separate spreadsheet, separate from the main write-up, so this section is pretty lean.  I include any color commentary here.

4. Anti-spam.  I identify specific competitors who clearly are spamming the local map, I explain what they’re doing, and I offer general suggestions on “spam patrol.”

5. Reviews.  In a separate spreadsheet I’ve got a “review audit,” which shows the top 8-12 review sites that matter to the specific client, and outlines my suggestions for each in terms of where he or she needs to get more reviews.

6. Link opportunities & strategy.  My audits include research into specific link opportunities that are realistic for the client (based on his/her answers in a questionnaire I send), and I include those link-opps recommendations in a separate spreadsheet.

7. Website: site-wide and technical.  This is where I put my suggestions on internal linking, standardizing title tags, site structure, how to improve page speed, and more.

8. Homepage.  I’ve found that the homepage is important enough to call for a whole section of the audit, partly because I tend to have a lot of suggestions on the homepage.

9. Other pages.  Here’s where I put any recommendations on existing pages other than the homepage.

10. Pages to create.  This tends to be a long section, because most businesses’ sites don’t have nearly all the pages they should, so I end up recommending many specific new pages.

That’s a total of 10 sections, in most audits I do.  Give or take one or two, depending on the business.  As you can see, I didn’t tell you all the things that should go into each bucket, but rather the main buckets I recommend.  What you put in each bucket just depends on what works well for you and for your clients.

Also, I always include a follow-up call to discuss any recommendations my client may want to discuss more.  I don’t consider that a section of the audit itself, but it’s an important part of the service.

Any sections I missed?  How do you structure your local SEO audits (either for a client or when reviewing your own SEO campaign)?

Leave a comment!

10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit
Source: Local Visibility System

Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button

Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gizmo_bunny/15630823870/

It may not happen soon – or suddenly or permanently – but the chances are good that sooner or later Google will monetize more of the Map.  Maybe all of it will become ad space, or maybe certain features of your Google My Business page will require you to load quarters into them.  Probably a little of both, plus something we can’t foresee.

If and when that happens, you’d better have your pants on.  One leg is to determine how willing you are to pay for any aspect of your Google Maps visibility.  The other leg is to be in a good enough position that pay-to-play is optional for you.

I first pecked out some of the advice in this post in 2015, when Google took the advertising shoehorn to the map.  If nothing else, that should tell you that even Google’s most-obvious plans can take years to unfold, and that the local map probably won’t change overnight (as some SEOs and others might have you believe.

Some of my advice here may be obvious to you.  Some of it you should do anyway, regardless of Google’s moneymaking schemes.  But I’ll always be a Boy Scout, so my advice always is “Be Prepared.”  I hope this post serves as a checklist of things you’ll do before the shotgun wedding.

1. At least try every Google My Business bell and whistle and get a sense of which features (1) you might use longer-term, and (2) seem to help your business in some way. That’s good to do in case Google monetizes only some features in Google My Business, and not the whole thing. I’m not saying you should carve out a lot of time for Google’s knickknack du jour.  I’m saying that if you haven’t used a given Google My Business feature when it was free, you probably won’t try it if and when it’s paid.

2. Decide now whether you’ll become more specialized any time soon. The time to start trying to own a more-specific niche is not after you’ve been squeezed on some of your more-competitive local search terms.

3. Copy, paste, and save your Google reviews, and note down the names of the customers who wrote them. That’s always been a good idea, but your reviews are not safe if they all live in one of Google’s data centers. If a major change is on the way, Google’s even more likely to leave your reviews in the cargo hold and let them freeze to death on the flight.

(By the way, if you have so many Google reviews that saving them all sound tedious, don’t you suppose it will be even more tedious to ask everyone to review you again?  You’ll be lucky if 40% of them follow through.)

4. Take a screenshot of what shows up in the knowledge panel you see on the right-hand side when you search for your business by name. If you’ve got multiple locations, take a screenshot of what you see in each location’s sidebar.

5. Grab a few Google Analytics reports, or at least take screenshots. Get a sense of your organic-only traffic , referral sources, and maybe pull a “Geo” report. If you can sock away data for the last few years, great, but get recent intel at least.  If Google monetizes more of the map, your traffic will probably be affected in one way or another, and you’ll want to understand how (if possible).  You’ll also want to know if Google’s potential pay-to-play move doesn’t affect your visibility much.  You’ll be in a better position to know those things if you know what your baseline is.

6. Cultivate other sources of traffic: not only non-Google Maps visibility (especially organic rankings), but also non-Google visibility. That’s just common sense, bordering on “Duh” advice. So rather than explain what may be obvious, I’ll point you to these two posts: “Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?” and “Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram.”

7. Consider tracking every Google My Business URL field with UTM codes. I say “consider” only because I don’t bother doing that for clients, because it doesn’t change our action items or other decision-making. Still, you might find it useful to know more about who clicks where, so you can see what effect a more-monetized map might have.

8. Get familiar with AdWords (sorry, “Google Ads”), if you’re not already into it. At the very least, just run a quick-and-dirty campaign with a small budget, maybe with a focus on relatively niche keywords. Unless you’ve got good PPC chops, you probably shouldn’t expect to get many or any customers from it, but you will get useful data.  You can find out the exact search terms people use, exactly where they search from, what calls-to-action they respond to, and other things that can also affect your local SEO strategy.

9. Get cracking on Google Maps “spam patrol” before your spammy free-visibility competitors become spammy advertisers, and possibly even more entrenched.

 

 

What’s part of your “bunker plan” for possible paid or freemium Google Maps results?

Has the pay-to-play possibility changed your local SEO/visibility strategy in any way (and if so, how)?

Leave a comment!

Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button
Source: Local Visibility System

Does Google Look the Other Way When a Local Pack Advertiser Spams the Google Maps Results?

Does Google Look the Other Way When a Local Pack Advertiser Spams the Google Maps Results?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/m00by/2980859986/

For better or for worse, you can “buy” your way to the top of Google’s local 3-pack if you have a Google My Business page that already ranks OK, and if you use AdWords, enable location extensions, and meet a few other criteria.

In my observation, that’s how you can also buy wiggle room to spam the Google Maps results.

I say that for a simple reason: I’ve had one hell of a time getting Google to approve edits to Google My Business pages that spam blatantly (by keyword-stuffing their names) and that show in the “paid” 3-pack.  So far, Google has approved my edits much less consistently than when I’ve made the same kind of edits to non-advertisers’ listings.

The two kinds of anti-spam edits Google is most likely to approve are (1) changes to spammy business name, and (2) the removal of listings that use fake addresses or are for fake businesses.  Recently I submitted edits to the keyword-spammy names of 15-20 Google My Business pages that showed up in the paid section right above the local 3-pack.

Google only approved 2 changes, and it approved them instantly.  The other 15-or-so changes it rejected after only a few hours or by the following night, when I checked.  Google usually approves more of my edits to business names  – I’d estimate about 30-40% – and leaves “pending” for days or weeks the changes it may or may not accept.  Google made the wrong decision more decisively than usual.

My “test” (if you can call it than) was anything but scientific.  It’s also a work-in-progress, because I’ll continue to nibble at spammy advertisers and non-advertisers.  If I learn anything new, I’ll update this post, or do a follow-up, or both.  There’s a lot I don’t know yet.  So far, about the only thing I can say with confidence is that Google doesn’t scrutinize local-pack advertisers more than it scrutinizes businesses that don’t run ads.

Maybe the easiest way to wrap up my quick, in-progress observations is with a quick Q&A:

Q: Is there Google Maps spam in the paid 3-pack results?
A: Yes.

Q: Is there more spam or less spam in the advertiser’s slot above the 3-pack?
A: About the same.

Q: Can you get edits approved on AdWords advertisers’ spammy listings?
A: Yes, occasionally.

Q: Is Google as likely to approve an edit to an advertiser’s listing?
A: No, apparently.

Q: If the business stops advertising, is Google more likely to approve the edit?
A: I don’t know.

Q: Does Google hold advertisers to higher standard?
A: Sure doesn’t look that way.

Q: Is Google likely to fix the spam situation in general?
A: No.

I’ve never thought the “paid” slot above the 3-pack is inherently bad – as long as it’s clear to searchers that it’s an ad, and as long as it doesn’t colonize the whole page.  AdWords often is a good way in for businesses that aren’t ranking well, and the free results often are a good way in for businesses that aren’t dominant advertisers.  There’s a balance, and I think it’s generally good.

My concern is businesses can spam their way into the 3-pack, flick on AdWords, and maybe – just maybe – be more likely to get away with that spamming.  The jury’s still out on this, but AdWords shouldn’t make spamming more effective and tempting.

What’s been your experience in dealing with Google My Business spam by businesses in the “ad” section of the 3-pack?

Leave a comment!

Does Google Look the Other Way When a Local Pack Advertiser Spams the Google Maps Results?
Source: Local Visibility System

Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts

Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/18981094996/

I always like when Google drops a subtle hint about what it wants you to do.

If you haven’t done a Google My Business post recently, and if you have a good-sized pile of Google reviews, there’s a good chance Google will auto-generate a “Suggested Post” that quotes one of your Google reviews.  (As of this writing, I call this feature “Suggested Review,” because the only type of post Google seems to suggest is a somewhat-bland excerpt of a review.)

You may see it when you log into your Google My Business dashboard.  It will look something like this.

The “suggested” review seems to be an offshoot of the “Small Thanks” program, in which Google tries to charm you into making your Google reviews more visible on Google.

I’m not the first to spot this.  Cordell Crowley posted on this at the Local Search Forum last month.  I hadn’t seen the “Suggested Post” feature then.  Because I haven’t heard anything about it since then – or seen this new kind of GMB post in the wild – I assume most other people also haven’t seen hide or hair of it in their Google My Business dashboards.

If you’ve done a Google My Business post recently (within the last 7 days, or you used my workaround), you won’t see the “Suggested Post” option.  Likewise if you don’t have many reviews (I’m trying to get a bead on the number), or if you see a “suspended” message in the GMB dashboard.

It doesn’t appear there’s a way for you to see Google’s “Suggested Post” if you have been active in posting to GMB, which is a shame.  Apparently, there’s also no way to pick a different review for Google to excerpt.  The spirit of Henry Ford lives on.

Not a game-changer feature by any means, but a handy new capability.  Hope it stays around for long enough to determine whether it’s useful.

Do you see the “Suggested Post” option in your dashboard?

Have you tried it out?

Leave a comment!

Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts
Source: Local Visibility System

One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers

One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers

https://www.flickr.com/photos/squeakymarmot/5111828526/

Two problems with Google My Business posts are (1) they’re not too visible anymore unless someone searches for your business by name, and (2) people without itchy mouse-fingers only see a tiny preview of the post in the sidebar.

Those are valid concerns.  Though you can use my hack to keep Google My Business posts from becoming a big time-taker, you still might wonder whether you should bother with them at all.  Or you might figure that if very few people see your posts, you might as well load them up with keywords, in case that helps your rankings on the local map.

Those also would be legitimate reasons not to do a Google My Business post for a coupon or other special offer.  “You want me to offer coupon nobody will see?  No thanks.”

What if your coupon showed up in the Google Maps 3-pack, like this?

(Thanks to Anas of Batteries Shack for the tip.)

That coupon is from a Google My Business post.  As you may have noticed, Google often grabs the content of GMB posts and sticks them in the 3-pack results, when the content of a given post is relevant to the search term someone typed in.

You can get your offer to show up in the Maps 3-pack if you create an “Offer” type of post, but it doesn’t need to be an “Offer.”  It could also be an “Event” post, for example.  Google can grab the content from any species of post and stick it in the Google Maps / 3-pack results (Brodie Clark briefly mentioned that fact in this great post he wrote with Joy Hawkins.)

Most of the benefits of that are obvious.  But I would assume that a compelling offer in the 3-pack also may help your rankings when people type in a search term, see you ranking for that term, and click on your listing because your offer is relevant.  Just a hunch.

Anyway, I suggest you try putting out a coupon or other special offer in a Google My Business post.  You may or may not get any takers, but at least your offer won’t be relegated to sidebar Siberia.  People will see your offer whenever you pop up on the local map, and for search terms relevant to the offer.

For tips on creating a solid Google My Business post, check out this post from Ben Fisher.

Have you used Google My Business posts to put up offers?

What have you noticed?

Leave a comment!

One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers
Source: Local Visibility System

The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming

The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/32750963358/

I’m talking about a local search result like this (click to enlarge):

Local “one-box” results (as we call them) show only one Google My Business page, alongside some organic results.  One-boxes pop up only for businesses that have a Google My Business page.  If you’re a customer/searcher, you’ll usually see a one-box result pop up in one of four scenarios:

Scenario 1: You search by name for a specific company near you.

Scenario 2: You search for specific company that isn’t near you, but that has such a distinctive name that Google knows you want to see search results for that company.

Scenario 3: Google falsely assumes you wanted to see results for a specific company, when in fact you searched for a term broad enough that you thought several local businesses would show up.

Scenario 4: Google concludes there’s only one business near you (or in a specific city or area you search in) that provides the service or product you’re looking for.

Scenarios 1 and 2 aren’t relevant to this post, because in those cases the way you show up in the one-box results is just by having more people search for the name of your business, and that’s just a matter of “brand-building.”

I won’t be talking about scenario 3, either, for two reasons.  The first reason is that one-box visibility is a fluke in that case (Google incorrectly assumes people are searching for a specific company by name).  The second reason is that usually the only way to confuse Google into giving your business a one-box on the local map is to use a fake name for your Google My Business page, or to stuff keywords into the name.  Neither strategy is one you want to bank on.

Scenario 4 is a card you can play: If you can appear (to Google) to be the only business nearby that offers certain services or products, you can engineer more one-box results for your business.

How, exactly, do you go about that?

Some have speculated it’s a matter of getting reviews, or of general “on-page optimization,” or that it depends only on what the search term is  But based on my experiments and dissections, I’ve found that all you need to get a Google Maps one-box result is:

1. Create a separate page on your site about a specific, preferably “niche” service or product. I don’t mean something broad or saturated with local competitors, like “Personal Injury Law” or “Riding Mowers.” I mean you need a page on “Banana Peel Injury Law” or “Duffer 9000 EZ Riding Mower,” or on whatever is the most specific way to characterize your service or product.

2. Point some internal links to that page: maybe one in the main navigation, another in the footer, one on the homepage, one on the main “Services” or “Products” page, and wherever else seems appropriate. Don’t go crazy with the internal links, but err on the side of more rather than fewer.

3. Mention that product or service on the landing page you use for your Google My Business page. (Preferably you also link to your dedicated page on that product or service, rather than just mention it.)

That’s it.  Of course, not much will happen until Google has indexed your page, but steps #2-3 may help expedite that.

A few notes:

Is it possible other ingredients go into Google’s one-box sausage?  Sure.  It’s also possible that Google’s rhyme and reason will change later.  But in my experiments for clients and observations on others’ businesses, the above 3 steps are all you need to do.

Any Google Maps one-box results you get will be in addition to – not instead of – your organic rankings for those products or service.  It’s not an either-or deal.

A bonus: even if you don’t get a one-box result, but you show up alongside local competitors in a Google Maps 2-pack or 3-pack, you’ll get the “Their website mentions [service or product]” snippet showing up under your name on the map.  That may help get you more clicks from the right searchers, among other benefits.

I’ve long said that you have a page on every distinct service or product you offer – preferably in-depth pages, and preferably on your more-niche offerings.  When clients and others have asked why they should bother, my reasons have always been (a) “You’ll convert more of the people who are looking for something very specific, and (b) “You want to show up in the organic search results, especially when there’s no local map.”  But these days, more so than I’ve ever seen before, creating a solid page on each offering will also get you more visibility on the map.

Have you tried rustling up some one-box results?  If so, what did you try, and how did it go?

Do your competitors have any one-box results you just can’t figure out?

Leave a comment!

The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming
Source: Local Visibility System

Google My Business vs. Bing Places in a Nutshell

Google My Business vs. Bing Places in a Nutshell

https://www.flickr.com/photos/spencersbrookfarm/3139409835/This example is from one of my clients, who’s got a seasonal business and had a great winter.

Two screenshots up the difference between Google visibility and Bing visibility.  The screenshots are of those two search engines’ “dashboard” stats.  I doubt either source of intel is Swiss-watch accurate, but each can give you a rough sense of how many people see you on that search engine’s local map.

Bing Places dashboard stats:

Nice spike.  Reflects how good business was.

Notice the high-water mark of 957 impressions.  Add up all the times the Bing Places page showed up in the local search results in February and you’ve got a few thousand impressions in a month, which is pretty good.  Who said Bing doesn’t matter?

Now, Google My Business stats, from a somewhat different range (more on that in a minute):

One thing you’ll notice is a high-water mark of almost 9000 impressions in a day on Google My Business, compared to high-water mark of a tenth of that in a whole week on Bing.

My little comparison is far from scientific.  You may notice the date ranges aren’t the same.  Bing’s doesn’t capture most March, which had a good amount of action.  That’s because Bing’s data is about two weeks old and doesn’t reflect more-recent data, and neither Google nor Bing lets you pick a custom date range.  The result is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Still, based on the parts that overlap, impressions on Google outnumber those on Bing by at least 10 to 1.  (Probably more like 20 to 1.)

“Hey Phil, party foul.  That’s still an unfair comparison.  Google has so much more market share than Bing has, so of course Bing’s local traffic is a gnat.”

Exactly.  It’s a good thing that Bing Places is pretty hassle-free to set up and manage, because my advice is not to lose sleep over your Bing rankings.

Google My Business vs. Bing Places in a Nutshell
Source: Local Visibility System

Google Maps Spam Patrol: Why You Need to Do It, and 10 Tips to Make It Doable

Google Maps Spam Patrol: Why You Need to Do It, and 10 Tips to Make It Doable

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/26943288773/in/photostream/

Why not make your local competitors work to outrank you?  They won’t have to work too hard if you assume Google keeps the Google Maps results clean, because that doesn’t happen much.

“Spam patrol” is my name for the process of identifying Google My Business pages that violate any of Google’s guidelines and that, as a result, stick out on the map more than they should.  Though anyone can send in an edit on any Google My Business page, the most likely reason you’d do that is to counteract a competitor who’s breaking the rules at your expense. You should do spam patrol whether you do your own local SEO or work with a third party on it.

If you do it right and have the patience of an oyster, spam patrol can keep some, most, or maybe even all of your local competitors from outranking you unfairly.  Like earning links and reviews, spam patrol has tons of long-term payoff if you stick with it.  But as with those other ongoing activities, few business owners approach spam patrol the right way.  Even fewer stick with it for long enough to see much benefit.

By the way, if you’re not sure how to sniff out local competitors’ spam, how to send in a Google Maps edit, or what to expect, I suggest you read this great post by Joy Hawkins, and maybe this post I did.

If you want to minimize competitors’ Google Maps spam, but you don’t want it to become another big commitment that frustrates you until you throw in the towel, follow these 10 tips to make spam patrol doable:

1. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your edits. Like this one I use. (You can download and tweak that template as you wish.) Getting all your “Wanted” posters together is a hassle at first, but will save you a lot of time in the long run. Also, spam patrol will seem less daunting, and you’ll get a better sense of what works (and what doesn’t).

2. Focus on the two types of spam Google is most likely to act on: keyword-stuffing in names, and pages that are so spammy you can’t even tell what the “real” business is. Edits to the “name” field have the best chance of a thumbs-up from Google. The type of edit with the second-best chances of approval are “Spam, fake, or offensive.”  Marking listings as “duplicates” or trying to edit things like the address is less fruitful.  (All of that’s been my experience, at least.)

 

3. Try partial or piecemeal edits. If a competitor is breaking multiple rules, try to get Google to correct one first, before you deal with the others. If you Google won’t remove all the keywords or city names in a competitor’s keyword-stuffed name, try editing out some of it.

 

4. Don’t patrol only your main search terms. Also look at who’s ranking for “niche” terms you want to rank for (or that you already do rank for). Some of the worst spammers own a niche, or many niches, often because the competitive bar is low and their competitors are less likely to pay attention.

5. If you want or need to boost your credibility with Google by becoming a higher-level “Local Guide” – as I strongly suggest you do – don’t only rack up points by reviewing businesses. Do some of the other activities on Google’s “points” breakdown.

6. Don’t build up your Local Guide track record only by making edits in your local market. Wade into other spam swamps (near and far) unrelated to your business and submit edits on spammy businesses you run across. You need at least to look like a do-gooder to get enough credibility that Google might approve your edits.  Just being right often isn’t enough, it pains me to say.

7. Use Google’s new spam-reporting form to corroborate any “suggest an edit” edits where you’ve wanted to explain to Google how you know a competitor is spamming. (See this forum thread.)

8. Don’t forget to check out competitors’ hours, and to submit edits on them if necessary. The process for that is a little different; you don’t click the usual “Suggest an edit” button, but rather need to click on the business’s hours in the right-hand sidebar (the “knowledge panel”), and then click on a different link that reads “Suggest an edit.” Why bother?  Because you don’t want competitors to get undeserved clicks and leads because they posted erroneous hours while you faithfully posted your real-world business hours.

9. Get other people involved in spam patrol. Business partners, employees, friends, family, etc. Preferably some of those people live near the hive of spam you’re trying to fumigate. Don’t have them make exactly the same edits you make.  Just get them spraying in the same direction. (By the way, if you’re working with a local SEO person or are considering it, ask him or her where spam patrol fits into the strategy.)

10. Every week or two you should go through your spreadsheet, review your edits, add any new offenders you find, and make new edits. You don’t need to do spam patrol every day, but you can’t do it just once and call it a day.

 

Spam patrol is a never-ending task, and you probably won’t gun down every bogie.  But you do it in a way that’s efficient and not overwhelming, and that doesn’t sidetrack you from your other work, you’re more likely to stick with it.  Then your other local SEO work is more likely to pay off.

Did you learn any of the above the hard way?  Any tips on spam patrol?  Any war stories?  Leave a comment!

Google Maps Spam Patrol: Why You Need to Do It, and 10 Tips to Make It Doable
Source: Local Visibility System

How Many Ways Can Someone Troll Your Google My Business Page?

How Many Ways Can Someone Troll Your Google My Business Page?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sounderbruce/19597247799/

What’s the difference between Google My Business and middle school?  Well, besides lunch and the likelihood that the heckling and hounding ends for the day once the bell rings, I can’t think of much.

It’s easy to get worn down.  The work it takes for you to get visible and stay visible and get customers out of the deal is significant.  The long-term effort it takes for you to keep a lid on competitors’ cheating also adds up.  It all seems like too much once you add all the monitoring you need to do to make sure nobody’s sabotaged you on the Google Map or in your Google reviews.

It’s more doable if you know exactly what your vulnerabilities are.  The Google Maps results are the Wild West partly because of all the ways competitors can spam their way to the top, and partly because of all the ways they can try to hurt your visibility or reputation.

Below are all the ways (I know of) that disgruntled customers, bitter employees, and unethical competitors can mess up your program.  All are areas you should check on routinely, and contact Google about if necessary.

Google Maps / My Business vulnerabilities

Uploading unflattering photos.  Anyone can upload a photo to your Google My Business page, either unaccompanied or in a review.

Answering customers’ Google My Business “questions” falsely or deceptively.  You may get a notification when someone posts a question or an answer, but a Google bug, or an email filter, or inattention may allow a bad answer to slither past you undetected.

Asking unflattering Google My Business “questions.”  Same deal as above.

Messing with your “opening date.”  Apparently Google fixed the nasty bug that caused Google My Business pages with future dates of opening to fall off the Google Map altogether.  Still, an incorrect opening date that sticks may confuse would-be customers.

Taking a spray-n’-pray approach to submitting erroneous Google Maps “suggest an edit” edits.  If competitors or other antagonists send in enough edits, and from enough Google accounts, some may stick.

Providing incorrect “Know this place?” answers.  Google may ask whether you have dedicated parking and a wheelchair-accessible entrance.  You do.  Your nemesis says you don’t.  Google shows him an ugly photo and a nice one, and asks which is “more helpful” in characterizing your business.  He picks the ugly one.  Google asks your competitor (or fuming customer or ex-employee) 37 other questions.  None of the answers clearly hurts your visibility or reputation, so maybe the potshots aren’t a big deal.  On the other hand, given that Google hasn’t boarded up off the “Know this place?” mineshaft of crowdsourced data, you can be pretty confident Google finds it useful somehow.

Moving your map pin to an incorrect spot.  I haven’t run into that problem much (that I can remember), but I have it on good authority that an incorrectly placed marker can mess up your rankings.

Google review vulnerabilities

Re-posting bad reviews or ratings.  Even if you get an illegitimate review removed – a big “if” – little to nothing stops the perp from posting the same review again.

Updating or adding to bad reviews.  Even if you get that illegitimate review removed, the foul brigand can always write a differently-nasty review or a review that’s dialed down just enough.

Posting 4-star reviews.  If your average rating is closer to 5 stars, a 4-star average rating is a big step down.

Posting reviews under the name of another competitor.  That probably breaks a law or two, but if you blame the wrong competitor for the smear, who will ever know the real culprit?  Pretty devilish trick.

 

Putting “thumbs up” on negative reviews repeatedly.  There seems to be no limit to how many times you can do a thumbs-up.  Given how people get can caught up in the herd mentality, thumbs-upped negative reviews may make some people think twice before calling you, and for no good reason.  Worse, those reviews may rise to the top when your Google reviews are shown by “Most Helpful” at the top, which is how they show by default

Flagging positive, valid reviews.  I’m speculating here, because I have no way to know whether a perfectly good review gets removed because someone flagged it and not because Google filtered it automatically.  What I do know is you usually get Google’s attention if enough people flag a review.

Writing bad reviews on unpoliced non-Google review sites, so a bad “average” rating shows up in your knowledge panel.  As badly policed as Google Maps reviews are, other sites are even worse.  Often Google scrapes those reviews and shows your average rating in the right-hand sidebar, which people see whenever they click on you in the 3-pack or Maps results, or whenever they search for you by name.

What are other ways people can mess up your Google My Business page?

Any you’ve experienced first-hand?

Leave a comment!

How Many Ways Can Someone Troll Your Google My Business Page?
Source: Local Visibility System

When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?

When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/phirschler/6403499411/

You know the good reasons and bad reasons to hire a local SEO person or company.  The pros and cons of doing it yourself are clear, too.  What you’re less sure of is: when has the do-it-yourself option piled up enough pros that it’s clearly the better choice for you?

It’s a sliding scale.  You don’t need to be a whiz at anything to handle your business’s local SEO to great effect, but you need to have or develop certain qualities.  The more of those boxes you can check, the better.

Below are the factors that – in my opinion – determine whether doing your own local SEO is a good idea.  The more of these questions you say “yes” to, the more likely it’ll go the way you want it to.

1. Do you assume local SEO will take long-term effort? Local SEO is not a one-time process. If you do it right, you’ll get to the point where you don’t spend much time on it day-to-day, but you constantly inch it forward.  It’s great if you can do some basic fix-ups and get results, but often it takes more grinding.

2. Do you assume you’ll take some wrong turns? That’s inevitable. Google is a slippery surface, your competitors change over time, and you’ll know more next year than you will this year.  Keep learning and keep working and you’ll do fine.

 

3. Will you get your hands dirty on your website? You don’t need to be a developer, you don’t need to know much about sites other than your site, and it’s OK if your site is far from “perfect.” If you’re able and willing to make some changes to your site in-house, you create some options.  Those options include paying an SEO person only for his/her advice on your site (and not also for implementation), hiring a developer only for the toughest tasks, and maybe not hiring anyone at all.

4. Will you do more than work on your site? Though crucial, the site is one moving part of several that sway your visibility in the local results. The other big moving parts are your local listings, reviews, and links.  You will have to work on all those things sooner or later, particularly on links and reviews long-term.  (Your visibility also may depend on how clean the local map is.)

Even if you did not or do not need many or any good links to outrank your competitors, you’ll probably want to knock in some insurance runs.  If your competitors rank well but only have so-so reviews, you’ll want to get ahead by having better reviews.  If they rank well AND have great reviews, then you’ll have no choice but to try to match or surpass them.

5. Will you put in work your competitors won’t? Only if you do what they won’t do can you achieve what they can’t achieve. The main areas where sustained hard work pay off are (1) in earning links, (2) in earning reviews, and (3) in the amount and quality of info on your site about exactly what you do and exactly what makes it the best choice for customers / clients / patients.

6. Have you been frustrated by the third parties you’ve hired? Maybe they were the problem. Maybe you were the problem.  I can’t say.  What I do know is you’re not good at picking out SEO companies if you’ve had 9 of them.

7. Are you willing to get help piecemeal? Trying to find a company to “handle it all” often isn’t realistic, so you should be willing to delegate part of the implementation, if necessary. Maybe you want a stunt pen, or help on your site, or help on your local listings.  That doesn’t mean you no longer “do your own SEO,” or that you’ve entrusting someone else to plan or execute your whole strategy.  You’re still the captain of the ship even if you enlist an extra swabbie or two.

 

8. Will you study? Both up-front and long-term? Get your sea legs if possible, but try to get “comfortable” with all the concepts of local SEO, because that won’t happen (for a variety of reasons).  Don’t try to understand everything before you do anything.  Nobody has all the answers anyway.  Learn a little, work a lot, and repeat.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/christoph_straessler/10142017736/ 

9. Do you know you can’t measure everything? Many things you can track.  Many more you can’t.

You won’t be able to find out how many people discovered you in the Google Maps results, rather than heard about you some other way and pulled up your Google My Business page. If you get a great link, you won’t be able to attribute a bump in rankings (let alone ROI) to it.  If you get a review on a site that shows up when someone Googles your business by name, the referrer traffic you see in Google Analytics won’t tell you how many would-be customers saw that review in the search results.  If your site is full of keyword-stuffed gibberish, and you clean it up, and your rankings go down a little, but you get more or better leads, was the clean-up a good choice?  Don’t hire a third party just because you assume it can answer questions like those, because it can’t.

10. Can you weigh lots of conflicting suggestions? It’s great to learn about local SEO from people who do it.  But you’ll still get conflicting advice on all kinds of questions.  What constitutes spam?  Which page should be your Google My Business landing page?  Is that link opportunity worth the trouble?  When should you create a microsite?  How much citation work is enough?

I assume you’re the kind who likes to balance out what you hear with a little skepticism, with common sense, with what you know about your customers, and with non-rankings concerns (like branding and conversion-rate optimization).  If so, you probably don’t need a local SEO person or company to make most or all of the calls for you.

11. Is your business on the newer side? You might argue that because you have so many other things to do, you don’t have time to do your own local SEO. That may be.  But does that also mean you have time to pay someone else to do it wrong and set you back (in terms of money, time, and missed-opportunity costs)?  I say better to strike while the iron’s hot – to see what you can do while you’re still gung-ho.  Later on, if and when you’re even busier, you may see even more reasons not to try DIY.  Don’t expect to make easy progress at any stage, but at least in the earlier stages of your local SEO effort the next steps probably are clearer.

12. Will you be as cautious online as you are offline? Most SEO companies aren’t. Most have cocooned themselves away from the consequences of what they do and say.  One result is they suggest some crazy stuff for your business, in the name of rankings.

Would you tell employees to answer customers’ questions with a 10% keyword-density?  Then don’t put keyword-stuffed gibberish on your site.

Would you commission a Banksy-type mural of your business on the side of a building, in the hopes that people pass by it and call you before the mural is scrubbed off?  Then don’t create fake Google My Business pages.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/malinki/2464171421/

Would you pay for a shoebox of leads – and you can’t peek in the box?  Then don’t buy links.

Also, what you do online will follow you around.  Do something unethical and you can get sued, scare away your customer base, or worse.

If you think hard about your local SEO, but not to the point of analysis paralysis, sooner or later you’ll make the right choices and get good results.

What was the factor that tipped you toward (or away from) doing your own local SEO?

Any points I missed?

Leave a comment!

When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?
Source: Local Visibility System