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25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/7172214803/Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: they’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them).  The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have.  But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know.  It helps to know some “inside baseball.”

Here are some hard truths of Google reviews.  Some will be old news to you.  Others will be news.  Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.

Google exercises little oversight.  The sheriff is out of town.

Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews.  You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons.  For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.

Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work.  Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work.  More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).

Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should.  Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).

Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).

You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business.  Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.

Google fixates on quantity.  “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written.  Even if they’re bogus, unfair, or unhelpful (or some combination thereof).

There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews.  One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him.  (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)

You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack.  The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up.

Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are.  Photos never seem to get filtered automatically.  Often they’re not removed even once you report them.

Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think.  A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t  mean you’ll rank well.  You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is.  The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.

Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently.  Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.

Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times.  A good review is never “safe.”  A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.

Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts.  The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.

There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site.  But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.

Reviewers must use their own Google accounts.  Even it’s a hassle for them and for you.  They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.

Your “star rating” may not make sense.  If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.

Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers.  Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.

There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much.  Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address.  But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.

There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness.  Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter.  The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners.  Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake and announce as much, too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.

The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes.  Google plays with the dials often.

Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time.  That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not so good if you’ve taken a drubbing.

Google reviews live in the search results.  No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.

You can’t find information about reviewers.  Can’t get any facts to determine for yourself which reviews are more credible.  You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.

Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings.  A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star.  Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound.  It’s complicated.

Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?

Any good war stories?

Leave a comment!

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews
Source: Local Visibility System

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

You’ve noticed or heard that “near me” searches are super-popular, and that you should try to rank for those terms in Google Maps and in the rest of the local search results.

Only two burrs in your saddle:

  1. How?
  1. What happens if and when all your competitors jump on the “near me” bandwagon by doing the dumb-n’-easy on-page optimization?

There’s advice out there like, “Just put ‘near me’ into your title tags and in the anchor text of your links.”  That’s a fine start, but what are you supposed to do once all your competitors do the same?  How can you become Google’s “near me” golden child before competitors try to ruin it?

I’d be remiss not to mention right away that I haven’t autopsied “near me” searches as much as Andrew Shotland and Dan Leibson have.  You’d be remiss not to read their posts on the topic, right before or right after reading this one.

Still, I’ve stuck an arm in the “near me” search results for clients and non-clients, and have a few suggestions for you.  Some tips on how to do effective “near me” local SEO – that still works for you even after your competitors attempt to muscle in:

1. Understand that the “me” part of “near me” is a specific place, and not just another keyword to target.  The results Google shows to people who search “near” them can differ as they walk down the street.

Exactly where “near me” is changes from day to day or minute to minute, because the results that Google and other search engines (or apps) are based largely on knowing exactly where the searcher is.  That’s one reason you might optimize the stuffing out of your page or site for “near me” terms and still be outranked by a competitor who just happens to be nearer to the searcher when he/she is searching.  The reverse also is true: just because you’re the closest to the searcher doesn’t mean you’ll dominate “near me” search results.”

Location/proximity matters, but is one factor of many.  Your job is to make it clear to Google and to searchers exactly where you are, and exactly what you do.

2. Don’t necessarily use “near me” verbatim.  It’s natural for a customer to use that phrasing, but it sounds weird if you say “near me” in the first-person voice on your site.  Use “nearby” “near you” or “near [city/place]” or “in [city/place]” when doing so makes for a less-clunky read.  Google will get the idea, and you won’t confuse people.

3. Don’t just target your highest-priority search term + “near me.”  Try to be more specific.  You want to give people more reasons to pick you – reasons other than that you’re nearby.  What if your competitors are also near the searcher?  If appropriate, work into your title tag / H1 / body / URL / page name an often-searched-for variation, like one of these:

“24/7 [service] near me”

“emergency [service] near me”

“cheap [service] near me”

“best [service] near me”

“find [service] near me”

“buy [product] near [city]”

4. Latch onto the local directories that target and rank well for “near me” terms.  Usually the best way to do that is to pile up reviews on those sites, but there are other ways to practice “barnacle” SEO.

Take note of local directories that explicitly go after “near me” terms.

Some illustrative links:

homeadvisor.com/near-me/
thumbtack.com/near-me/
yelp.com/nearme/hvac

5. Say what landmarks or town lines you’re near, or which neighborhood you’re in, or which cities you serve – on your “location” or “city” or “state” pages and maybe even on your homepage.  Describe your business’s location as though you were giving a first-time customer directions over the phone.  If possible, also throw in an exterior photo or two.

Mention the specific cities or towns or neighborhoods customers come from.

If you’ve got a service-area business, you probably shouldn’t barf up a list of 75 cities.  Maybe mention the top 10 or 20 by name.

If possible, add other relevant “local” content that helps would-be customers. 

6. Flesh out your “Location Finder” or “Service Area” page.  Try to do it in the way I described in my last point, but make sure it’s also got at least a few detailed blurbs on your services and a list of the specific services you offer.  Just having a lot of “location” information isn’t enough: On top of knowing where you are and where you serve customers, Google needs to know exactly what you offer at those places.  Petco does a good job of that.

7. Provide old-school driving directions.  From the biggest city to your north, and from the biggest city to your south, and so on.  Both Google and people like those crunchy bits.

8. Assume that searchers’ behavior – both in the search results and on your site – matters even more than usual.  One of the main reasons “near me” searches have exploded in the first place is that Google’s become frighteningly good at learning about searchers and their habits, especially on mobile.  In my experience, if nobody clicks on your search result, Google will hold that against you.  If people click through to your site but don’t like what they see and hit the “back” button, that’ll drag down your rankings sooner or later.  Make your pages stickier by working on your copy.

9. Stop shooting for the “whale” links and first try to nab more links from sites relevant to your area.  

A link from the New York Times or the Smithsonian is great, but not if you ignore simpler link opps that can help you in the meantime.  Those link opps include joining a local Chamber of Commerce, joining a couple state- or city-specific professional organizations, and helping out local causes in whatever way you can.

10. Turn “Portfolio” or “Our Work” pages or posts or photos into “[type of job] near [place]” bits of content.  This is most obviously applicable to you if you’re a contractor, but you can get creative if you’re in another field.  You could do a page or post on “Remodeled Kitchen Near Kenmore Square” or “33-Year-Old Roof Replaced Near Venice Beach.”  Or you could do “April 3, 2018 Estate Sale Near Bronx Zoo” or “Walking Dachshunds Near Downtown Dallas.”  This is a twist on my recommended approach to “city” pages.

11. Don’t change your local SEO strategy too much just to grab more “near me” visibility.  It’s probably not the game-changer some say it is.  Sure, those searches are popular, and it’s important to get a piece of the action now, but it’s only a matter of time before the “near me” watering hole gets too crowded.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nevilzaveri/4380399641/

People who type in “near me” want the same things as those who don’t.  For you the mission is still the same: make it clear (on and off your site, to Google and to people) exactly what you do, exactly where you are, and exactly what makes you good at it.

What’s a “near me” visibility strategy you’ve used?

How about one you’ve seen work well?

Leave a comment!

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms
Source: Local Visibility System

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links

https://www.flickr.com/photos/blmidaho/36087178933/

Too many local SEOs and their clients take an all-or-nothing approach to link-earning, and that’s a shame.

Most SEOs casually take the “nothing” approach and don’t help their clients with links at all, and wonder why their clients’ visibility doesn’t improve.

Most of the others – the SEOs who know how much good and relevant links matter – assume the only way they can help is with a swashbuckling approach that involves hundreds of outreach emails and thousands of dollars spent on “content” that people may or may not even glance at.

Business owners often fall into those traps, too.  Even if they know they need to rustle up links, they assume a third party can or should handle all of it.  It usually takes at least a little teamwork to earn the kinds of links that can help your local rankings and overall visibility.

If you do local SEO for a living, you need to be able to help your clients in ways other than “Pay us to handle everything” or “We’ll skip links and just focus on crappy citations and spammy city pages.”

If you’ve hired a local SEO person or company to help, it’s reasonable to expect help on links other than on an all-or-nothing basis.

To that end, here are 11 ways a local SEO-er can and should help a business scare up some good links – without necessarily pouring infinite time and resources into “content” or outreach:

1. Research specific link opportunities. (As opposed to “just write great content.” Not real helpful.)  This questionnaire can help you determine what’s practical.  Beyond that, where you do look?  Some practical ideas here, here, and here.  Work together on as many of the link opps as you can.  Once you’ve exhausted those, research more.  Repeat every few months for as long as you work together.  Even if you do nothing else, at least dig for doable link opps for your client.  Whether all your other local SEO work actually pays off may depend on it.

2. Keep an eye out continually for PR opportunities, and pass them along. If you’re not sure how, start by monitoring the Google News feed and HARO. In general, keep your ear to the ground, pass along anything you see, and do what you can to help your client chase down any opportunities.

3. Look at the business’s current publicity efforts/stunts and offer suggestions on how you might get links out of the deal. Most businesses don’t do much to get publicity, but the ones who do are already doing the hard part. If you simply know what’s going on, you’ll probably see a way to finagle a relevant link or two.

4. Create a Google Drive or similar collaborative spreadsheet to keep track of the link opps you’ve dug up and might be working on. Each tab can be just a big ugly list of URLs, maybe with a column for “next step” and another column for “who’s working on it?”  Then you might categorize the link opps by creating a few tabs, like “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “got.”  That’s just an example.  You should use whatever works for you.  Even if you don’t use it much personally, it may help your client (if your client is the hands-on type).

5. Look for unlinked profiles, lapsed memberships, and broken inbound links. Does the Chamber of Commerce “member” page not include a link to the site? Did your client forget to re-up this year?  Did you find a great link with a typo in the URL?  A link saved is a link earned.

6. Offer feedback on your client’s link ideas, and always be available to kick around ideas. There’s a chance your client is the type to keep an eye out or birddog for link opps, and maybe to ask you what you think. That’s a great situation, and it’s something you should encourage.  Always offer your professional opinion on whether it’s relevant and worth pursuing, and on what might be involved in doing so.  (Also, check to see whether it’s a nofollow.)

7. Pull Ahrefs or Majestic reports on the business’s link profile and on competitors’ link profiles. Probably a no-brainer if you help people with SEO for a living. What may be less obvious is that you should not go after any and all of the crappy links your competitors have.  Just because they have a certain link doesn’t mean it’s helping them, or won’t hurt you.  Anyway, pass along to your client whatever you find, if your client is interested in that sort of thing.

8. Track the business’s and competitors’ links in Ahrefs or Majestic. Just to keep tabs on new links and lost links. It’s a good way not to forget about links, and to keep your antennae out.

9. Consolidate sites and pages that don’t do well, but that may have a few decent links. If you conclude you’re spreading your content and efforts thin, you might want to claw back those links by pointing them to whichever site or page you want to keep and focus on.  301-redirects may come in handy here.

10. Help the client to stop wasting time on dead-end or dumb link strategies. Citation-building will not get you any or many good links. Nor will squirting out 16 blog posts (that nobody reads) every month.  Nor will “To hell with it – I’m buying some Fiverr gigs.”

11. Twist your client’s arm to get him or her motivated and maybe more involved. Much easier said than done, of course. How you should go about it depends on whom you’re working with, and I don’t know that person.  All I can say is you should try to impart that without good links good rankings tend to be one Google update, Google test, or one tough competitor away from disappearing.  Easy come, easy go.  Also, try to set the bar low at first, so that initially the goal is just to get a few links that are relevant to your client’s industry or area (or both).  More likely than not, those’ll help the rankings/visibility just enough that your client gets motivated and starts gunning down link opps right next to you.

What are some other ways a local SEO can/should help with links?

Any success (or failure) stories you’d like to describe?

Leave a comment!

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links
Source: Local Visibility System

Local SEO for Multiple States: a Case-Study in How to Expand Your Reach

Local SEO for Multiple States: a Case-Study in How to Expand Your Reach

https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomas_gremaud/8060749561/

You probably want to reach more customers/clients/patients outside your immediate area.  The question is: how?

In general, what I recommend is to specialize as much as possible, work your tail off to earn relevant links over time, and maybe create great “city”/location pages or “state” pages.  Spend most of your time on those things and you’ll do well.

But that’s general advice, and it doesn’t necessarily address what work you might need to put into your site, which is a big part of the equation.  A real-life example might come in handy.

Joe Dillon of Equitable Mediation Services has provided me with a good case-study of a “local” business owner who expanded his reach, mostly just by nailing the on-site content.  Joe and his wife, Cheryl, are divorce mediators.  They work in-person with clients, but fly all over the country to do it.  They didn’t need visibility in Google’s non-local organic results, but needed to get visible in specific local markets.  In their case, they wanted to get more visible in specific states, for certain state-specific search terms.

We worked together at the beginning of 2017, when Joe and Cheryl had me do an X-Ray – meaning I did a comprehensive audit of their situation and gave them an easy-to-follow report with all my specific suggestions.

As of this writing, Joe and Cheryl haven’t taken all of my suggestions.  Also, they were doing a number of things very well even before the audit.  Still, they’ve taken enough suggestions to see results, put in serious work, and are a great example of how to cast a wider net.

Because every situation is different, you probably can’t do the exact steps Joe describes and expect the same results.  Local SEO is not a paint-by-numbers deal.  But at the very least his case-study will give you some ideas, and should make your next steps a little clearer.

Here’s Joe on how he broadened his local SEO strategy to reach people in more states:

Our blogging strategy helped, but wasn’t enough

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (well, New Jersey in 2008), my wife / business partner and I decided to start a divorce mediation firm to help people in NJ and Illinois get a divorce – if they want one – without lawyers. Like any small business that is strapped for cash when it first starts out, we had to be efficient with our marketing dollars. Which meant having to be even smarter with how we spent our time.

So we decided we would try to get clients by blogging. It was free, there was a lot to write about, and since the phone wasn’t ringing yet, we had the time. Blogging served us quite well. Before we knew it, traffic to our site had quadrupled over the course of two years, and we were getting clients. Life was good.

One day, I decided to take a closer look at Google Analytics to see exactly where in the state these people were coming from. Much to my surprise, I found our traffic was no longer coming from only New Jersey and Illinois, but from all over the US.

 

Our blog posts didn’t get us in front of many local people

Divorce is a state-specific issue, because the guidelines that govern how a settlement is reached change significantly from state to state. So there is little sense in a visitor from California reading an article about “Alimony in New Jersey.” Yet that described most of our visitors.

All that traffic was an ego and morale boost. But since we didn’t practice in 48 out of 50 States, essentially we were saying to all these visitors, “Hey thanks for coming, but please go away now.”

So my better half and I reviewed the data, and decided to start serving clients in three additional states: California, New York, and Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a decision we made casually, because we had to think out the logistics, and we knew we’d be in for a certain amount of work. We decided to expand our “service area” for two reasons. First, we were already getting some visitors from those three states. Second, divorce in those states is handled similarly to how it’s handled in Illinois and New Jersey (where we’d already seen clients).

Before we could begin helping people in these states, we knew we needed to change the structure of our website in a pretty significant way, as it was targeted exclusively to New Jersey and Illinois visitors.

Where we started from, and what changes we wanted to make

Before the big revamp, our approach had been to welcome everyone in the front door (the homepage) and then funnel them through the site depending on where they were in the process, or what information they were looking to find.

The new plan was to have more visitors land deep into the site, on a state-specific blog post or page, so that they got the sense right away we knew the issues in their state and could help them where they lived.

From there, we would encourage them to visit a state-specific hub page (so they could see where we could meet with them), and from there to encourage them to book an initial meeting. In effect, we wanted to reverse the path visitors used took through our website.

Getting the right visitors to the right “state” page: the challenges

Our goal was simple enough, but as with many things in SEO and in life, it’s easier said than done. Our situation had a few complexities: 

  1. How could we rank for three new states without hurting our existing rankings in New Jersey and Illinois?
  1. How could we convey to visitors that we weren’t some big corporation or franchise, but rather the same husband-and-wife team we’d always been?
  1. How could we convince visitors who live far from one of our office locations that we could help them negotiate the terms of their divorce virtually AND get them the same good results as if they met with us face-to-face?
  1. How could we show any given visitor that we had expertise specifically in his or her state?

First, we wrote nine new blog posts to show our state-specific expertise 

As I said, divorce laws and processes differ from state to state. So it’s a good fit for state-level local SEO, and there is plenty of helpful content one could create on how child support or alimony and things like that work in each of the new states we were practicing in. The one thing we did not want to do was write thin content, or simply duplicate content, just to add blog posts for the three new states we wanted to target.

We chose to write blog posts instead of pages for two reasons:

First, we didn’t want visitors to see right away that we practice in five states. By putting up blog posts, we were able in effect to “hide” them until visitors were ready to see them. That may seem counterintuitive, but we didn’t want to scare visitors off right away thinking we were some large corporation.

Second, writing blog posts instead of pages allowed us to use state-specific category tags. That way, when a visitor reads our blog and searches posts by category, they can choose the state they live in and be served content relevant to where they live.

For example, a California visitor can choose the “California” tag and read an article about Child Support in California.

 

Then we built five new “state” hub pages for each of the states we were practicing in – and put SERIOUS work into those pages. This was the biggest challenge, as we had to come up with even more state-specific content that wouldn’t overlap with the blog posts we created. Here too, we wanted to give visitors a sense that we knew their state, and weren’t some faceless corporation.

So we wrote unique intros for each state hub page to show our local knowledge and to drop some state-specific references.

We created a high-level overview of the four main topics of divorce in each of the five states, with links to the state-specific blog posts.

We also put ON our “state” pages some frequently asked questions that address head-on who we are and why we practice all over the place.

Believe it or not, there are divorce “franchises” out there, and we did NOT want to be perceived as one of them. (No disrespect to anyone who owns a franchise.)

We also fielded inquiries from visitors in each state regarding their most frequently asked questions, and answered them right on the page. Those FAQs were in addition to the more-general ones we added to each state page. That process gave us a bunch of new content ideas. And since it addressed a question from a specific visitor in a specific state, our logic was that if one person had that question, maybe other visitors in that state did too.

We made our internal links do more work

Once we had the new, detailed, state-specific content (described above), we could take links from our blog posts and point them to the state hub pages, and vice versa. Google seems to like internal linking, and visitors who landed on one resource might find other relevant and valuable, so we figured a two-way trail of breadcrumbs could only help.

Also, once we had the “state” pages we linked to each one in our footer.  Again, we figured both Google and people would find those helpful.

The scary parts: surgery on our title tags and H1/H2 tags, and transplanting content into and out of our homepage 

Phil advised us not to try to “optimize” the homepage for 5 different states, but rather to make it describe in more detail our services, with just enough info about each state to make it clear to Google and clients where we work. Before, we struggled with how to “optimize” for New Jersey and Illinois on the same page. Stuffing in state modifiers everywhere got awkward.

The first place we had to work that out was in the homepage title tag. Using state modifiers everywhere worked well when we were only practicing in two states, but when practicing in five, it would have looked like this: 

Divorce Mediation in New Jersey | Illinois | California | New York City | Pennsylvania | Equitable Mediation Services

117 characters, in case you’re curious. Ouch.

And the homepage welcome paragraph would have been:

“If you or your spouse live in New Jersey, Illinois, California, New York, or Pennsylvania you can mediate your divorce with us.”

Not exactly helping with the whole “we’re a small, two-person husband and wife team and not a franchise” vibe.

Also, if we were going to get our state hub pages to rank for the state-specific terms we wanted, we were going to have to move those tags, and the related state-specific content, over to those pages. This was the scariest part of the plan, because we weren’t sure how well it would be received by Google, and whether we’d mess up the rankings we already had and not pick up additional rankings.

Anyway, to give it our best shot, we did some keyword research for the state-specific “head terms” and used that as the focus of our our title tags and H1 tag. For example, in California, the term “Divorce Mediation California” had the highest search volume. So our title tag became “Divorce Mediation California | Our Locations | Get Started | FAQs” and our H1 became “Divorce Mediation California – Locations, How to Get Started, and FAQs.”

Then we had to deal with the substance of the pages themselves. As previously mentioned, we wrote lots of state-specific content for each of the hub pages. Once we had it on those state pages, we removed it from our home page. For example, here is a section on how divorce mediation is conducted in a particular state. In this case, Illinois:

Part of the restructuring between the homepage and state pages was to move the really detailed, state-specific content from the homepage to the state pages. But we still wanted some location-specific info on the homepage, so we added to the homepage a section on each state.

We kept our fingers crossed 

Making this kind of jump required a significant leap of faith.

Faith that our plan was the right plan, as you never know with the search engines if what you’re doing will help or hurt.

Faith that our state hub pages, and state-specific blog posts, would more than make up for any potential lost traffic to our homepage.

Faith this wasn’t just a big waste of time.

Faith that our visitors would respond to our messages, get to know us as humans and not some faceless corporation, and respond by booking a meeting with us.

If things didn’t work out as planned, we would simply revert back to practicing exclusively in Illinois and New Jersey as our business was fine as it was. But given the traffic we had from visitors from other states, and the fact that people throughout the United States get divorced, we felt we had to stick our necks farther out of the shell.

So what happened?

While it’s only been a few months since everything has gone live, so far the effort has been worth it.

  • We’ve climbed up the rankings for state-specific, divorce-related terms in our three new states, cracking the top 10 in Google for a few keys terms, and flirting with page one, for a number of others
  • We’ve shifted our search volume for our original two states from the homepage to their respective state hub pages with no loss of ranking (whew!)
  • We’ve increased the number of page views on our site by 71% year over year
  • We’ve increased the number of initial meetings booked with us by 38%
  • And most importantly, grown our bottom line revenues by 17% with that growth coming exclusively from the three new states we added to our practice – and reached by changing our strategy.

We believe that once we have a full year of these pages being live, and our ranking climb into the Top 10 for our key search terms, that contribution to our bottom line will grow.

Here is a screenshot of visitors from California from February 1st thru November 30th.

It wasn’t easy for us, and it won’t be easy for you 

My partner and I are not the best multi-taskers. We prefer to work on one thing at a time, and see things through from start to finish, sometimes at the detriment of other tasks or priorities. So finding the time to write blog posts, create new pages on our site, and monitor our results while servicing our current clients was challenging for us to say the least.

But despite the significant increase to our workload, and competition among multiple priorities this new project would create, we felt it was important to do it ourselves. Given the proliferation of “content marketing and creation professionals” separating the good from the bad from the ugly has become far too time-consuming for a small business like us. You would think with all the “writers” out there it would be easy to find someone good to help, and that that person would be a net time-saver. Neither of those is an outcome you can count on.

And given that this project took more than 5 months to complete (that’s 100’s of hours of man and woman power) we had to take the long view and key our eye on the prize, as results were not quick to come. Especially as we worked on it in-between our day jobs! 

Big-picture takeaways

I’ve described the finer points of what we did to expand our geographical footprint. Those exact steps may or may not be exactly what you need to do. So I’d like to sum up the broader “lessons” I’ve learned, which I’m more certain will be applicable to your situation:

Key Takeaway #1: Don’t just wing it. If possible, hire a professional to help you build a plan. Or plan yourself. Just plan! 

As business owners, we’re sometimes too close to our businesses and miss things that others can more easily see. Bringing in someone from the outside can give you a fresh perspective on what you’re doing well, and what areas you could improve on. An experienced professional can also give you peace of mind, and can be a sounding board for ideas.

We could have pumped out 50 more blog posts, or gone crazy trying to optimize our homepage for 5 different states, and it may or may not have worked out. We were tempted to try, but we’re glad we were able to reach more states after all by using less ham-handed methods.

Even if you choose not to work with a professional, there are many resources you can tap into to put together an action plan of you own to follow. One site I find helpful is the U.S. Small Business Administration and their “Small Business Guide” section in particular.

When you think about it, expanding into a new territory or market is kind of like starting a new business. You need to do market research, competitive analysis, write a business plan, calculate your costs to expand into that new market, and put together a plan. It’s probably not your idea of fun, but it’s better than launching into a strategy that you just have to abandon.

Key Takeaway #2: Decide what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do to make it happen. 

I’d love it if I could just snap my fingers and grow by business. Wouldn’t that be great? The reality is it takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work to grow. And if you’re not willing to commit 100% to the process, forget about taking on a new project in the first place.

So before you decide to make yourself crazy, or set yourself up for failure, ask yourself these questions:

Do I have the time in my day to commit to a new project? If you are already burning the candle at both ends, you’ll only stress yourself out by piling even more work that you simply won’t have time to do. Make sure you can commit the time needed to give your idea the best chance at success.

Do I have the emotional bandwidth to commit to a new project? You ever have one of those days where you just don’t feel like getting out of bed? Yeah, me too. Imagine feeling that way every day. And adding a new project to your mix. You might have the time for a new project but not the drive. And it’s the drive that’s going to get it done. Not just how many hours in the day you have free to work on it. 

Why am I considering this new project? Is it because I’m bored and I’m looking for something to do? Is it because I don’t want to address a significant concern in my business? Am I chasing some trend with no idea if it will help me or my bottom line? (Hello, social media!) If it doesn’t grow your business or move it forward in some way, don’t do it. Period. 

Is my plan solid? Do I even have a plan? How many clichés would you like me to throw at you here? How about “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” or the one about SMART goals. You may think of these as clichés but the fact is they’re universal truths. I’m guessing you don’t have unlimited time and money to waste so you better have a plan and be measuring your progress and results against it. 

Do I have the resources in-house to accomplish this? Or do I have to outsource some or all of it? As I previously mentioned, finding a competent professional to help you can be a real challenge. If you can’t find someone to help you execute the plan, can you and your team do it yourself? Or will the unfinished work become an albatross around your neck? 

What if my project doesn’t succeed? You shudder at the thought, but you’ve got to think about it. As small business owners we want to believe that our ideas are always right on the money because we know our customers and our crafts. But you must consider the possibility that your idea may not work out. And you’ll be left standing in the very same spot you are right now. You OK with that? You can afford to have it work out and reach and serve more customers, maybe even ones from another city or state. But can you afford for it not to work out? Can you take the hit?

Many business owner friends of mine have dozens of irons in the fire but never manage to complete a single project. They’ve got no time, no plan, and no resources assigned to it. They might try easy “fixes,” but nothing more. That leaves them mentally drained, stressed out by all the undone work, and frustrated that their business isn’t growing.

“I’m doing all I can!” they say. As they post pictures of themselves at the beach. On a Tuesday. At 2:30 in the afternoon. Actions speak louder than words.

If you want to grow, you need to make sure your actions are aligned with your desires. You can’t just speak the words and revenue will flow. You need to do work no one else is willing to do. Take the chances that no one else is willing to take. And pursue your goals with laser-like focus.

I’ve found this is the only way to get things done as there are lots of other distractions out there competing for my attention. If I don’t put my head down, and execute my plan, I can easily find myself playing fetch with my dog, playing the guitar, or doing one of a hundred other things that don’t contribute to my bottom line.

And if you don’t want to grow, that’s OK too. I know plenty of business owners who are content exactly where they are. They work as hard as they want, and balance their business growth with other, perhaps higher priorities. For instance, I have a friend who runs a small mortgage business, but his focus is on “being there” for his two high-school aged sons. Sure, he could grow, because there are lots of people who buy houses and need mortgages, but he’d rather spend the time it would take to grow doing other things. That’s perfectly fine.

Key Takeaway #3: There’s more to local SEO than your Google My Business pages!

 You might think that these days Google and other search engines are so hung up on providing users with hyper-local results that there’s no room for businesses that operate state-wide. Or that don’t have physical office locations near the searcher. Though that may be true to a certain extent, there are still opportunities to create local content and have searchers find you, as we did with our state hub pages.

Here are some elements you may want on a “state” or other type of location-specific page:

Introduction. A great opportunity to let visitors know upfront you can help them where they live, and that you speak their lingo. Also lets you work in some state-specific search terms. 

General FAQs. The job of any good website page or post is education and action. Sharing FAQs upfront tells your reader you know why they’re there and that you can help. And if you don’t know what FAQs to address, ask your visitors and customers. Or just listen to them a little more closely. 

Locations. Let people know your office locations, or the areas you serve. More opportunities for SEO by using state or location-specific terms. 

An in-depth look at your service, and how it’s geared to the place you’re targeting. Share with visitors how your service works in their particular area. Is there something different about pest-control in Florida from how it’s done in North Dakota? Something tells me there is. Write about it so they know you know what you’re doing. Mention specific cities and landmarks and so on where appropriate. 

Call to action. Depending on how long your page is, you may want to have multiple opportunities for a call to action. But at a minimum, tell the reader what it is you want them to do next.

Key Takeaway #4: A project with payoff is not “set it and forget it.”

 Just because you’ve completed your project doesn’t mean it’s over. In fact, the work has only begun.

Major changes like the ones we undertook required us to first set a baseline of where we were so that we could know if what we were doing was helping or hurting. We also had to put in place a system to monitor the changes we made, to ensure we were still getting the results we wanted.

Yep, after all that writing and restructuring, we created even more work for ourselves. 

Undertaking significant projects like these can seem overwhelming. But if you’ve got a plan, maybe a team of professionals who can help, and the drive to see it through from start to finish, you can do it too.

Joe and Cheryl have done a good job of avoiding the content hamster wheel, where you write 10 blog posts a month that not even mom reads, just because you heard that “Google likes fresh content.”  Instead, Joe and Cheryl focused on the one-time, permanent content on their site: mostly the homepage and the “state” pages, with blog posts that are (1) designed to be helpful and that (2) have a long shelf life.

They didn’t try to optimize every page for every state/region, and instead carved out specific pages to do that.

They didn’t try to “optimize” every crack of the homepage for every state, and instead used it to describe their services in-depth, while adding just enough location-specific content for Google and visitors to sink their teeth into.

They put in a ton of work, and have seen some very nice results, but are nowhere near “done.”  They didn’t mistake a simple plan for an easy plan.

What’s something you learned from Joe’s case-study?

Any particular step you’re eager to try?

How would you adapt it to your situation?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO for Multiple States: a Case-Study in How to Expand Your Reach
Source: Local Visibility System

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review

https://www.flickr.com/photos/senor_codo/211565650/

Let’s say you had a bad experience at a local business with half a dozen locations, and you feel the need to review the business.  How many bad reviews do they deserve from you?

a. One bad review on one site. You’re one customer.  You had one poor experience.  You can’t remark on their other 5 locations, but don’t plan to visit them.  You’ll pick a site where people will probably see your review, you’ll say your piece, and that will be that.

b. A few bad reviews: one on each major review site. Normally you stick to one site, but your experience was so awful you feel you’d be a Bad Samaritan by not spreading the word.  Your 3-4 bad reviews should do the trick.  You know they’ve got 5 other locations you didn’t deal with, but you can’t comment on those, and 15-20 bad reviews from one customer seems crazy (and sounds like a lot of work for you).

c.Unlimited bad reviews: you’ll write a scathing review on as many sites as you feel like, and for every location they’ve got. Who cares that you didn’t deal with their 5 other locations?  The owners should have thought of that before mistreating you so.  No such thing as a bad review they didn’t earn!  If they had 100 locations you’d be justified in writing 100-200 bad reviews.

As a reasonable person, you’d probably pick A or B.  Choice C seems excessive.  It’s also less credible: Your criticism is more believable if it’s clear you’ve stuck to the locations you’ve dealt with.  Won’t seem as much like a personal crusade to destroy the business.

Yelp doesn’t care.  Apparently, any given customer can review as many locations of your business as he or she would like, as long as each review is at least a little different.  Just regurgitate n’ reuse.

To Yelp, if you’ve got 3 locations and 1 angry customer, that customer is entitled to 3 nasty reviews.

Recently, I reported a redundant Yelp review of one of my clients, a doctor with 2 practice locations.  He’s got solid reviews: mostly good reviews, with a few bad ones.  One patient wrote a review of his main office location, and that review seemed legitimate, but then she reviewed his other location.  Admittedly she didn’t even go there.  She said, in effect, “Check out all the bad reviews of the doctor’s main location.  As I said in my review of that one, he’s terrible because…blah blah blah.”

I’ve had some success in reporting unfair and non-compliant Yelp reviews, and getting them removed.  In the past, I’ve been able to get them to remove reviews that are exact copies: a customer writes a 1-star review of one location, and does a simple copy-and-paste for the other location(s).  Yelp has always removed carbon-copies.

Why should redundant, near-duplicate reviews be any different?  Why should customers be able to “spin” the same review and reuse it against you?

They shouldn’t be able to.  I don’t know how to explain why Yelp HQ thinks that (other than by pointing out the obvious: they’re idiots).

Yelp’s review-writing guidelines (like Google’s) appear deliberately broad, so as to allow for a “know it when we see it” judgment when one party flags a review for removal.  I suspect one reason Yelp doesn’t remove redundant, near-duplicate reviews is that Yelp doesn’t know which one is the “correct” review, and doesn’t care to make a call.  For a company with a motto of “Real People, Real Reviews,” Yelp never has paid much attention to basic facts of the reviewer-business relationship, like whether the reviewer has had experience with 12 locations or 1 location or 0 locations of a business.

The other reason, I suspect, is that if Yelp lets fly more bad reviews than they should, business owners are more likely to feel the pinch and try Yelp’s advertising out of desperation.  Just a guess.

Anyway, besides reporting redundant reviews from the same customer, what should you do?  Fill out this somewhat-buried form.  Explain that you don’t dispute the reviewer’s right to review one of your locations – just not all of your locations.  Highlight any language that makes it clear the customer didn’t deal with those other locations.  Your request may still be ignored, but it’s a stone to turn over.

Also, get dialed-in on your review strategy before this kind of thing happens.

Any experience in getting redundant Yelp reviews removed?

How about getting other types of Yelp reviews removed?

No need to tell me how much you hate Yelp in general, but please do leave a comment on your experience with reporting reviews.

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review
Source: Local Visibility System

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yxo/189594544/

The name’s a shameless rip-off of Wil Reynolds’s excellent presentation on “The High Cost of Free Traffic.”  One reason I’ve got no shame is that that describes the situation perfectly: Although technically your business’s visibility in Google Maps and the rest of local search is free, you run into trouble once you start treating it as you would other “free” stuff.

Business owners and their marketers often mess up and overlook enough things even when they pay $20 a click (as in AdWords) for their traffic.  Their strategies get even more ragged when they don’t have to pay for visibility in the local search results, and are confident they won’t need to any time soon.

“Free” gives you a sense of relief.  You don’t think much about how you use your water if all you have to do is dip your cup in the creek.  That’s fine as long as it’s not winter or there’s a cattle drive upstream.

What’s the “high cost” of free traffic (the one I named this post after)?  It’s not one specific high price you pay, but rather a long list of missed-opportunity costs.  They’re problems you’ll face, time you’ll waste, or wins you won’t seize.

They’re what happens when you assume “free” rankings and traffic are permanent, or unlimited, or guaranteed, or something you’re entitled to, or always easy to get more of, or always what you need more of.

Cost 1: Trying to farm out all parts of your local SEO strategy.

(Or, even worse, trying to farm out all of your marketing.)

Some parts of local SEO require a decision-maker’s personal involvement.  Doing what it takes to earn good links and reviews are two examples of that.  Though third parties can help to one degree or another, they can’t do it well and without any of your involvement.  “Your one-stop, turnkey solution” is a marketing ploy.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get visible in the local search results, and have it actually result in more business, and have it last.

Cost 2: Seeing if you can “just get your site to rank” without putting in any real effort.

If your primitive strategy of microsites / keyword-stuffing / cheap links / lousy “city” pages doesn’t work you’ve wasted time and are back to the drawing board.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to have your bare-minimum effort bring you good rankings, you’ll be one non-pushover competitor or one Google test or update away from Search Engine Siberia.

Especially when it’s early in your local SEO effort, either you need to specialize and carve out a niche, or put in a little work to differentiate yourself, or do both.

Cost 3: Only worrying about the “easy SEO wins” at first.

Isn’t it great if you can meet your goals with a minimum of effort?  Sure.  Shouldn’t you try to do that?  Yeah, probably.  But what if your quick no-brainers yield no results?  Then it’s a question of when you start putting in the hard work, and how long it takes to pay off.  Fixing up your title tags, wiggling a few keywords into the cracks, and cleaning up your local listings will only get you so far.

How long should you wait to see if your quick wins did the trick?  2 months?  6 months?  A year?  Damned if I know.  I say you start digging the well before you’re thirsty.  Start on the ongoing activities while you’re still working on the one-time stuff.

Cost 4: Using a site/CMS that makes changes difficult or slow to make.

Your Squarespace or Wix or Joomla or GoDaddy site is probably fine to keep if you can structure it correctly, create a homepage that doesn’t suck, make it more or less conducive to conversions, and do other basics.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s better to get a rough site out there early, and improve it later.  The problem is what happens if you can’t improve it later.  Because you consider your local search traffic “free,” you don’t feel it’s urgent to get a site you can work with.  You’ll let it molder until traffic dries up or something really breaks, or both.

Cost 5: Hiring hacky writers.

If you had to pay $20 for each click, would you send visitors to pages that don’t make it clear what you do, or pages that make it apparent you’re “too busy” to put any effort into your site yourself, or pages that make you look like you can’t string two sentences together?  No?  Well, doing that with “free” traffic is even worse.  At least if you pay $20 (or much more) for a click, you might eventually learn that more traffic often isn’t the answer.

With bad writing you have the online-marketing equivalent of BO.

Cost 6: Waiting too long to get serious about getting reviews.

You probably “just want to rank” first.  Once you have more customers, you’ll start encouraging reviews.  That’s backwards.  Good rankings without good reviews tend not to bring in much business.  On the other hand, good reviews will help you as soon as you start getting them, no matter how visible you are.  Go after them early.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5919180598/

Cost 7: Not replying to customers’ reviews, even when you don’t “have to.”

You probably don’t let negative reviews go unaddressed.  That’s usually wise.

What about the positive reviews?  Think of how hard you’ve worked to get however much visibility you’ve got, and to do a good enough job for customers that they wrote you those nice reviews.  Don’t you want that visibility and traffic to convert as many customers as possible, so you continue the upward spiral?  Sometimes replying to a positive review – even if only to say thanks – is a way to do that.  It shows you give a hoot, and that you still care about customers after they’ve paid you and reviewed you.

Cost 8: Assuming all your visitors saw your best reviews before visiting your site.

Given all the info Google shows IN the search results these days – especially when people search for your business by name – it’s smart to think of Google’s results as your second homepage.  To wow customers there with all your reviews is crucial, and you need to do it.  Those review sites sure are prominent.

But what if those people go even farther, and get to your site?  Those people are even deeper into your “conversion funnel,” and are this close to taking an action you want.  Don’t hold back now.   Even if they saw your “review stars” in the search results, they probably didn’t see reviews from specific customers.  If you had to pay for each click, you’d make sure your best reviews were front-and-center.  That’s smart even if you don’t pay for each click.

Splatter or sprinkle your reviews across your site.

Cost 9: Waiting too long to start earning links.

Yes, the one-time work on your site and on your listings is important.  You may see a bump from doing only that.  But sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau.  At that point you can’t just “optimize” your site more, or crank out more citations, and expect to get unstuck.  And don’t think an SEO person has some fancy maneuver for your site that will do it.  You’ll go round and round on tweaking or overhauling your site, to no effect.  7 SEO “experts” and many dollars later, you’ll realize you missed a big piece of the puzzle.  You could have spent a fraction of that time on effort on trying to earn good links, and you could have seen results sooner.  Slow process?  Sure, but not as slow as the alternatives.

Here are some relatively easy link ideas, just to get the juices flowing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

Cost 10: Fixating on ranking across your entire service area.

You want to rank in 25 more towns.  That’s a fine goal.  So you must be pretty visible in your town already, right?  If not, start there and branch out only when you’ve had some success.  Now, it may or not be possible to rank in all (or half) of the places you want to reach.  It depends on many factors, including whether you’re trying to rank in the local organic results (doable) or in the Maps results (less realistic).  I’m not even saying you should trim back your goals.  I’m saying only that you should do what it takes to build up a little visibility in the place where it’s most likely you can do so, before you try to go farther afield.

Cost 11: Creating lots of awful “city pages.”

If you won’t take the time to do them right, at least don’t spend too much time on doing them wrong.  Make 5 worthless pages rather than 50 worthless pages.  That way, you can return that much sooner to whatever you were doing that was so much more important than putting a little thought into your city pages, so that they might rank and convert.

Cost 12: Never using AdWords to learn about would-be customers or to sniff out markets.

Too many business owners think, “Why on earth should I pay for traffic when I can get it for free?”  Well, for one thing, because it’s the only practical way to sniff out people’s level of interest in specific services in specific cities/areas where you don’t rank.

Google Analytics only tells you about the traffic you already get, and nothing about the traffic you might be able to get.  Set up a quick-n’-dirty AdWords campaign, keep it on a short budgetary leash, let it run for a couple weeks, and mine the stuffing out of the “Dimensions” tab.  I know of no better way to research keywords, to get a sense of how well traffic converts for those keywords, and to find out exactly which cities/towns those searchers search from.

If you think of pay-per-click as a way to buy data (and not necessarily to get customers, at least at first) you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, you can put new vim and vigor into your local SEO effort.

Cost 13: Assuming that because your local visibility is “free” it’s also unlimited.

That may be the costliest cost of all, for many reasons.

You can always lose visibility.

You won’t have a monopoly while you have it.

Just because you got some visibility easily doesn’t mean you can get more with similar ease.

You don’t know who will become your competitor next.

Google likes to test just about all aspects of the search results.

Google likes to change policies in all areas of search.

Google likes to stuff the free search results with paid search results.

You don’t even own your local listings.  The only online thing you own is your site, and everything else is rented land.

It’s for those reasons and many others that you do not want to grow complacent.

Why do the signs at parks and nature reserves tell you not to feed the animals?

Because if you feed them and other people feed them, they’ll get conditioned to freebies, and not be as able to hunt and forage.  (Also, the tripe most people eat isn’t necessarily good for a growing critter.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/84744710@N06/14766013011/

If you’re an animal, it’s fine to catch as catch can, but you probably want to be able to feed yourself if the hands with free food ever go away.  The same is true of business owners.  Don’t be a Central Park pigeon.

What’s a missed-opportunity cost I missed?

Any cautionary tales?

Leave a comment!

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free
Source: Local Visibility System

30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop

30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop

https://www.flickr.com/photos/patdavid/4455718471/

No, this isn’t one of those dreadful “274 Local SEO Tools” posts.  Most of those lists suffer from bloat, or come from a seller with an ulterior motive, or are stuffed with affiliate links.  Also, because of the constant changes in Google and in the rest of the local-search ecosystem, most “tools” roundups  have the shelf life of sushi.

You should be able to do effective local SEO (for your business or for clients) without a single third-party piece of software or other tool.

I am not saying you should go tool-free.  Some tools sure make life easier.  I’m saying that you should have the ability to go old-school, and that simply using a tool doesn’t mean you’ll do good work.

It’s also nice not to nurse on a tool that can break or become useless or be taken from you.

Long way of saying I’m all about internal resources.  They help me understand my own processes and stay on-track, they make work easier for my helpers and me, and they clarify problems and action items for my clients.  Many of them double as deliverables I give clients.

You probably have a couple of home-brewed resources already.  But you’re probably missing at least a few that can reduce work, thinking, or repetition on your part, and that can make your life easier.

Below are the 30+ internal resources I’ve found useful to cultivate and use for local SEO.  I’ve provided links or examples where possible.  You’re free to adapt or improve on any of them.

General

1. Preliminary questionnaire. For getting the basic facts before you start on a project.

2. Questionnaire for consultations/troubleshooting. Helps you remember the most-important questions to ask.  It’s especially useful if your client can fill it out before you get on the phone, so you can troubleshoot beforehand.

3. “Swipe file”: real-life examples that reflect every suggestion you make. It’s nice if you’ve also got real-life examples of what you don’t   I try to do that in my posts (where appropriate), but I also wheel out other examples for clients.

4. “Lab chimp” client: one who’s open to the occasional experiment, as long as it’s not spammy or otherwise unethical.

5. Old local SEO audits you did. They’ll serve as starting points or templates for future audits you do – for those clients or for others.  Eventually they’ll become like yearbook photos.  You’ll be surprised at how your audits grow over time.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/15851977331/

6. “Rules of writing” document for anybody who writes for you. If you’re not even willing to write down your SOPs or preferences, it’s a little harder to expect your hired stunt-pens to meet the challenge.  (Feel free to email me if you’re interested in seeing mine.)

7. Spreadsheet for checking rankings manually. Yep, without tools.  If you’re like me, it’s not something you’ll use often, but it’s good to have around.

8. Written guide to your basic approach to local SEO. Doesn’t need to be for anyone else’s eyes, but you should have the basic workflow written down somewhere.  You can get mine.

9. “Brain trust” to answer clients’ questions: either a list of posts you did on clients’ questions, or resources other people created that address those concerns. (The origin of half my posts is that I got sick of re-explaining the same point over and over, and just wanted to write my best answer once and for all, so all I’d have to do is send a link.)

Local listings

10. “Intake form” for citations: a spreadsheet your clients can fill in to give you (and any helpers) the info you need to work on their local listings. Here’s Whitespark’s form.

11. Citation worksheet: a spreadsheet you/your helpers can use to work on local listings. Here’s what I use as a starting point for US businesses.  You should have one for each country where you have clients or locations.

12. Place to keep login info for any listings you work on. Ideally that’s part of the “citation worksheet” (pictured above).

13. List of relevant and notable “niche” citation sources. Can be a mashup of resources like this, this, this, and this.  You’ll probably need to sift through the list to identify the most-important niche listings any given client should have. Add any keepers to your aforementioned citation worksheet for that client.

14. “Black book” of all the support departments at local-business directories and similar sites. Lists of contact info are here and here.

15. Local listings for your business. Just so you know how to handle listings on most of the sites you might work on for a client.

16. Google Maps user-profile with a solid track record of making edits (particularly anti-spam edits) that Google approves.

 

17. Yelp account with a solid track record: a history of reporting reviews that end up getting removed, or suggesting edits that end up being approved.

Site

18. Site-audit spreadsheet. Here’s mine.

19. Real-life example of every element or practice you want (or don’t want) on a site. A homepage that covers all the bases, a “city page” that ranks well and brings leads, an irresistible title tag, a great job of incorporating all the services into the menu and internal linking, etc.

20. A migration checklist short-n’-sweet, or exhaustive.

21. Schema.org markup for every occasion you use Schema. You don’t want to rely on plugins.  Also, if and when you hand-code and test it, you probably won’t want to do it all over again next time.

22. Your own site. For your business.  Kind of looks bad if you don’t have one (though most SEOs’ sites are about as useful as a Sears-Roebuck catalog).

23. A site you can experiment on freely. That may rule out all but your site.

(Of course, there are many paid and/or third-party tools that can help you on the site audit, and even more to help you work on the site.  Those have been covered in other posts, though.  I’m not here to remind you that you need your own FTP client.)

Links

24. Link questionnaire for your clients to fill out. Gives you a sense of what types of link-earning ideas your clients are most interested in, and any current link opportunities.

25. Spreadsheet for collaborating with clients on link opportunities. How you should lay this out is just a matter of taste, and of what works for you. I like to include several tabs: “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “in the bag.”  Any given link opp goes on one of those tabs.

26. Spreadsheet for collaborating with any helpers of yours on link-huntin’.

27. Copies of successful outreach emails – emails that helped you eventually get hard-to-get links. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time, though you do want to take time to customize each email, of course.

28. Copies of your link-opportunities reports: the list of link opportunities you found and suggested to clients. Probably some of them will be relevant and useful in the future, and at the very least they’ll get the creative juices flowing.

Reviews

29. Spreadsheet for auditing clients’ reviews: which 5-12 review sites they should care about, how many reviews they’ve got on each site, how you’d suggest prioritizing, and the next steps you’d suggest. You can use it to plan your long-term work together on rustling up reviews.

30. List of questions you can use to figure out why your clients aren’t getting reviews. Maybe a shorter version of this.

31. Template for an initial review-encouragement email – for clients to send to their customers/clients/patients. Customize and tweak as necessary.

32. Template for a follow-up review-encouragement email. A friendly reminder, in case your client doesn’t get a review after sending the first email.

33. Written outline of the general review-encouragement strategy you suggest to clients. You can and should customize it to any given client’s specific situation.

34. Spreadsheet the client or designated “reviews person” can use to stay on top of the outreach for reviews. Who’s been asked, what happened, what’s next, etc.

35. Template for customizing review handouts. Like this or this.

Any internal (non-third-party) local SEO resources you’d add?

Any you’d like to share – maybe resources you created?

Which one(s) do you find the most useful?

Leave a comment!

30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop
Source: Local Visibility System

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maha-online/324444128/

For years Yelp has told business owners not to ask for reviews on Yelp.  Not that you shouldn’t ask only for positive reviews or tell customers what to say.  Not that you shouldn’t ply them with discounts or gift cards or other wampum.  You’re not supposed to ask for Yelp reviews, period.

In practice, Yelp’s as bad at enforcing that dumb demand as it is at consistently enforcing other, more-commonsense standards – like that the reviewer is a real customer (or client or patient).

That hasn’t stopped Yelp from piling on even more no-nos.  Recently they demanded that makers of review-encouragement software not present Yelp as an option to customers (which I know also because some of those software-makers have told me so).  Yelp also has threatened to issue “Consumer Alerts” or Yelp-rankings penalties to any business caught asking for Yelp reviews (no matter how ethically).

Worst of all, Yelp has left it vague as to whether you’re not supposed to encouraging reviews on any site.  Let’s just assume they haven’t gone quite that far yet.  Let’s also assume that, like me, you’ll only bend so far to comply with absurd demands.

Anyway, the result is that these days you need to tiptoe around more – whether you ask for reviews by using any kind of outreach product, or a “Review Us” page, or an email, or any other nonverbal approach.  Whether you interpret “tiptoe” to mean either (1) “Sounds like I need to cover my tracks even more” or (2) “I’ll follow Yelp’s rulebook to the letter” is up to you.

Yelp’s hope is that your customers review you spontaneously there.  Sometimes it works out that way, often in cities where Yelp is popular.  Where that becomes a pipe dream is in places where few people give a hoot about Yelp or write reviews there, but where it’s hard to miss Yelp search results in Google’s local search results.  In that case you’ve got a glaring hole in your online reputation, but no way to fill it.

Even though Yelp often isn’t fair, and most of their policies are moronic, you might want at least to try to play by Yelp’s rules.  But you also want to get some reviews there (and elsewhere).  Can you do both?

Your options now are more limited than they’ve ever been, but there are a few ways you can try to rustle up reviews and not (1) violate Yelp’s silly rules outright, or (2) risk becoming the first business owner Yelp makes a public example of because you tried a sly workaround.

Here are the 4 most Yelp-policy-friendly approaches (that might actually work for you) to encourage customers to speak up:

1. The “Find Friends” strategy, with a twist (more on that in a second). “Find Friends” is a feature in Yelp that allows you to see who’s an active reviewer on Yelp.  You can enter a name or email address one a time, or bulk-check a list of email addresses.  (You can also do a “Find Friends” search by syncing with your Facebook page, but that’s not as reliable.)

Once you’ve determined which customers have written more than a few reviews (let’s say 5), just ask them for a review/feedback in whatever way has worked for you.  Because Yelp is probably their preferred review site, they’ll probably review you there without your needing to ask for a Yelp review specifically, or drop a link to your page, or do anything else that Yelp discourages.

2. Make your “please write a review” link a query string in Google that shows your Yelp page near the top of Google’s search results. The link should look something like this:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Local+Visibility+System

Again, customers can pick Yelp if that’s their preferred review site.  You’re not asking them to pick Yelp, explicitly or implicitly.

3. Splatter your best Yelp reviews all over your site. (Or your one good Yelp review, if you only have one at the moment.)

Try to pick reviews that are relevant to the content of the pages you stick the reviews on.  For instance, if you’re a dentist, maybe don’t put a review from a tooth-whitening patient on your “Full-Mouth Reconstruction” page.

If you do it right, you may condition new customers to think “Yelp reviews” when they think of your reviews in general.  When it comes time to ask them for a review anywhere, there’s a good chance they’ll think of Yelp again.

It’s also a nice passive way to encourage reviews in general, if for whatever reason you just aren’t comfortable with asking anyone for reviews (even if you don’t specify the site).  You probably won’t get a gusher of reviews as a result of this approach, but you’ll probably get a little trickle.

Yelp’s embed feature is convenient.  Here’s a great example of that in practice.

4.  Do a Yelp “check-in offer.” They’re only available to bricks-and-mortar businesses, and not to service-area businesses, so there’s a good chance this one just isn’t relevant to you.  But if you do see customers at your business address, then it may be an arrow in your quiver.

What’s worked for you – or hasn’t worked for you – on Yelp?

How “by-the-book” do you figure it is?

Any new strategies you’re considering?

Leave a comment!

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?
Source: Local Visibility System

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikedixson/14602606799/

I tend to suggest using a different phone number for each location of your business, but exactly what’s the downside of using the same number on all of your Google My Business pages? 

Google’s guidelines don’t tell you to use a location-specific phone number.

Merged” Google pages don’t seem to be a problem these days – and even when they were, a shared phone number probably wouldn’t have caused pages to merge.

I’ve seen businesses use one number for many locations and rank just fine – and you may have observed that, too.

Google My Business forum Top Contributors don’t indicate that a shared phone number is a big problem (though it’s “not ideal”).

Some of my fellow local-search geeks suggest using separate phone numbers – and I agree with that advice, generally.  But I haven’t seen anyone spell out exactly what might happen if you use the same number everywhere.

Here’s one possible downside: Google may not verify one or more of your pages.

That happened recently to a multi-location client of mine.  They chose to use the same phone number for their 5 (or so) Google My Business pages in different major cities across the US.  Though I’d suggested getting and using different phone numbers – one for each location – their choice also made sense in their case.  They’d had a couple of GMB pages up for a few years, and created the others in recent months.

They verified all their GMB pages without incident, except for one page.  The client got on the phone with GMB support (always a good time), and they were told that the problem was that the phone number wasn’t unique to that one location.  Of course, that was also true of the other pages, which had been verified A-OK.

After some back-and-forth and presumably a little groveling, the client got Google to wave the page through.  All’s well that ends well.

But what about your situation?  If you’re multi-location, should you use a unique number for each of your Google My Business pages?

I wouldn’t say a multi-location phone number is like giving your rankings a Kent Micronite.  If you get all your pages verified, your visibility will depend on the usual suspects.

Still, I recommend using a unique phone number, if at all possible.  You’ll make it a little more apparent to Google and to searchers that you’ve actually got people in all the places you say you do.

What’s been your experience with using the same phone number (or different numbers) on Google My Business?

Have you heard of any specific problems resulting from using the same number across the board – or heard any strong advice?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?
Source: Local Visibility System

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto27/6391444495/Love or hate the Better Business Bureau, it’s one of the bigger sites to have dipped a couple toes in the greenish-brown pond of local business reviews.  In my experience it’s a great place to get reviews, as I’ve written.

But the current local-reviews landscape is the Wild West.  The sheriff in TripAdvisorville seems to shoot straight, but the one at Yelp Rock ain’t no Will Kane.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Mountain View is never in town, and his one deputy managed to lock himself in the cell with the town drunk.

And those are the big sites that actually attempt quality-control of reviews.  Facebook and YellowPages?  Ha.

Like Angie’s List, BBB actually seems to try.  Not to say that no bogus reviews wind up there (bogus reviews are everywhere), but at least there’s an effort.

A higher-up at a regional BBB chapter read my post on how it’s an “underrated” review site, and sent me some info, which prompted me to ask him a few questions.  He prefers not to be named in this post, but here’s the inside scoop he gave me on BBB reviews:

 

Q: Is there an automatic filter on BBB reviews?  (Like Yelp’s or Google’s filter.)

A: No, there is no automatic filter on BBB reviews. We have BBB staff that read them, as well as ask the business if this person is a customer.

 

Q: Under what circumstances do you remove a customer’s review manually?

A: Since October 2015 (at my chapter of the BBB) 17% of our online reviews submitted to the BBB were not published. Reasons could have been that 1) BBB was not able to verify that the person writing the review was a customer, or that 2) the review contained abusive language.

 

Q: Under what special circumstances will BBB reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer to the business owner?

A: The BBB does not post any anonymous reviews. Once the BBB receives a review it goes into a 3-day “holding tank” before we publish that gives the BBB time to email the business to verify that the review is in fact from a customer and gives the business an opportunity to respond. The BBB does protect the identity of the reviewer by not posting identifiable information. Same regarding formal complaints. We would not publish a complaint that was sent anonymously.

 

Q: Do formal complaints factor into the “star” rating of a business, and not just against its “letter” grade?

A: No, formal complaints do not factor into the star rating. Currently we have 2 separate grading systems. The A+ – F grading system is based on standards the business meets and has earned. The star rating system is based on consumers’ opinions of the business.

Q: To get reviews on BBB, first you need to get listed.  You can pay to get accredited, of course, but then there’s the free submission option (which has been relocated at least once, and never has been easy to find).  Why is that form so buried and, seemingly, so ineffective?

A: We have had a massive problem with citation building services who white-label their product to agencies submitting inaccurate data – either by accident or maliciously to attempt to damage a competitor’s listing. This has created a massive amount of work for our staff. Often they submit data we already have listed. If we get a listing that we think is submitted inaccurately, we try to reach out to the business by phone and later by letter and send them a questionnaire asking them to update their file in our system (free of charge). We don’t always get return phone calls or get our questionnaires returned. If we think the data is submitted inaccurately, we don’t publish it.

We are also getting a lot of submissions that have virtual office addresses that we can’t verify have employees in the United States. The business can’t be verified in public records of the state or county.

What I really think makes our database so great is that we have humans who act as “Curators” or caretakers to verify that the information that we report to the public is correct. We take this very seriously at our chapter of the BBB. It is what we dedicate the most financial and human resources to, especially regarding our Accredited Business Directory. Those businesses and their owners have been background-checked, and we’ve checked their licenses, business start dates, verified addresses, etc. That is why you won’t find an un-licensed mover in our Accredited Business Directory, or an unlicensed handyman lumped into the licensed plumbing categories.

Another thing that I think really sets us apart from other directory sites is that we ask for sizing information from the company.  For example, we know AT&T would be considered a “colossal large” business because of the number of customers they have.  It would be acceptable for them to get 500 complaints a year and, as long as they respond and make a good-faith effort to resolve those complaints, they could still maintain an A+ record.  Contrast that with a pool builder who builds 20 pools a year and gets 10 complaints. To us, that’s less expected and more of a concern.

Anyway, we are in the process of making some major improvements to our website and iPhone app. We are moving in the right direction digitally, just moving slower than I would wish! 🙂

How does that square with your experience with Better Business Bureau reviews?

Any questions I can pass on to someone at the BBB?

Leave a comment!

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site
Source: Local Visibility System