How Can You Tell a Competitor Does Effective Local SEO?

How Can You Tell a Competitor Does Effective Local SEO?

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It’s trickier than you think.

You can monitor competitors’ rankings and links until you’re cross-eyed.  You can study them with SEMRush, Moz, Alexa , and other tools until hens grow teeth.  The insights you get from those activities can have value, and may be a good use of your time, but trying to dissect a competitor’s rankings is pointless unless first you’ve determined the right competitor to dissect.

First you need to figure out who’s most likely to rank well long-term, and who probably gets customers from that visibility.

I suppose there’s no way to know for certain how effective competitors’ local SEO efforts are unless you see several years of their ledgers and Google Analytics numbers.  Still, I’ve been part of local SEO efforts that have amounted to nothing more than blips and bumps in rankings/traffic, and I’ve had my hand in efforts that also brought big and lasting gains in business and profit.  High-payoff local SEO campaigns tend to have some qualities in common.

Below are some ways you can be pretty sure a competitor is doing local SEO that works in the ways that you’d want yours to work.  I doubt any single competitor of yours checks all the boxes, but an SEO-smart competitor will meet many of the criteria.  That competitor is worth grabbing ideas from and maybe trying to reverse-engineer.  The below points will give you a sense of which local competitor(s) you can follow up the rankings rather than into a rabbit hole.

Your competitor’s probably doing effective local SEO if your competitor has:

1. Ranked well for more than a couple of months. Newly-opened businesses or businesses that appear out of the blue often get some visibility in the Google Maps results for no apparent reason other than they’re new. But those businesses often don’t stay up there long-term.

 

2. Good visibility for search terms that aren’t too similar to the name of the business. For better and for worse, the business name does affect local rankings. If your competitors rank for terms stuffed into their Google My Business names, you can probably undo that advantage.  If they rank for terms that are part of their real businesses names, good for them, but that doesn’t mean the rest of their local SEO is worth studying.

3. Good visibility for a range of search terms. Unless you only care about ranking for one service, product, or category of search term, you probably can’t glean much from a one-hit wonder.

4. More than one page that ranks well. A page on a business’s site can bob up and down in the search results constantly. You don’t want all your visibility riding on one page, so you’d probably like more than one page on your site to ride high.  You may learn the most from the competitor who’s most consistent.  Which Olympic athlete would you rather be: the one with one gold medal, or the one who’s always somewhere on the podium, event after event and year after year?

5. Solid organic rankings – not just rankings on the local map. If your competitors seem to have only Google Maps / 3-pack rankings, much of that visibility may be based on their locations (specifically their distance to customers). The location is a big factor.  Now, maybe they have a more-prime address than you’ve got, and that may help them on the local map, but that doesn’t mean their local SEO effort has much else to tell you.  Sometimes the organic results are where the real action is.

6. “Conversion” (or “money”) pages that rank well. If your competitors have crusty blog posts from 2009, or “Ultimate Guides,” or rogue PDFs, or category pages that rank for competitive search terms, more power to ‘em. I’m not saying that counts for nothing, or that you can’t learn anything from whatever muck floats to the top of the pond.  But you can’t assume most people who click on that thing plan to become customers.  Spend more time looking at the high-ranking pages that only a local customer would want to click on, and that might compel him or her to pick up the phone.

7. Made it clear who they are. People want to know whom they’re calling and possibly paying. If your competitors don’t have a discernible brand or if you can’t find any info on who runs the business, they may get more customers you’d like them to, but not nearly as many customers as they hoped.  An anonymous, generic-looking business that ranks well today is on a hamster wheel.  If the owners aren’t making a name and building word-of-mouth power while the rankings are good, they will be in serious trouble when the rankings dip.

8. Not become a household name. Big brands tend to have tons of good links, often due to brand-building they did over the course of many years, possibly pre-Web. Not to take any glory away from enterprise SEO people, but a big, aged, stacked link profile can absolve many local-search sins (like no review strategy, messy listings, thin content on the site, and lazy on-page work).  Their non-SEO activities will probably tell you more about how you can improve your rankings.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/slushpup/3175709776/

9. Increased their visibility over time. Be less concerned about the competitor who crashes onto page one, and more concerned about the competitor who crawls onto page one. That person probably isn’t there because of dumb luck, a fluke, heavy-duty spam, or Google’s latest test.

10. A site that’s not full of gibberish. It’s usually not difficult to get a keyword-stuffed monstrosity to rank in the local results, even for competitive terms. But to rank well long-term and get customers out of the deal is the real challenge.  Your site must make it clear exactly what you do, but try to get the message across with at least a little charm.

 

11. Not flouted the Google My Business guidelines. It’s pretty easy to spam the local map and get some good rankings (at least for a little while). For that visibility to result in customers and hold up over time is another question.  You probably don’t know for sure whether a competitor spams because it’s profitable, or in a last resort.  Most often people spam because they’ve got nothing left in the golf bag.  In any case, you don’t know how spammy tactics would work for your business, or whether your competitors will just out-spam you in reaction.

12. Outranked at least a few other local businesses besides yours. Outdueling one business doesn’t mean much. A competitor who’s outgunned several or many other local business owners – including you – is more worth watching.

 

13. Not caused you to think, “I could do all of that easily,” or “Duh! Why didn’t I think of those tricks?” when you try to figure out why they rank well. If you can tell that they’ve put in real work somewhere, and you’re not sure you want to put in that much work, at least you’re probably reverse-engineering the right local competitor.

14. Continued to outrank you even though you’ve emulated them in some ways. You’ve tried to do what they did, but you haven’t gotten the same results. That’s good.  Easy come, easy go.  Means if you eventually do get similar good results, it’ll be a little harder for your other competitors to ape you and expect good results.

15. Reviews that sound like reviews from your best customers. The ultimate goal of your local SEO effort should be to attract customers who make the rest of your marketing more effective, and your local rankings less necessary to maintain. Effective local SEO should take a little pressure off.  A super-happy customer’s review does that when it’s visible in Google Maps or on other review sites, and maybe on the business’s site.  You may have those sorts of reviews already.  Your competitors may have more.  Local SEO isn’t a “marketing channel.”  It’s the GI tract of a business.  Watch what comes out the other end.

Besides link/rankings/“SEO score” metrics, what are other signs of a local competitor worth grabbing ideas from?

Do you have a competitor who checks most or all of those boxes?

Any points you disagree with?

Leave a comment!

How Can You Tell a Competitor Does Effective Local SEO?
Source: Local Visibility System

Should You Bother Using That New Google My Business Feature?

Should You Bother Using That New Google My Business Feature?

Google adds, changes, and kills off features at a puke-inducing pace.  With the possible exception of AdWords, nowhere is the pace of change faster than in Google My Business.

For local SEOs and others who (try to) keep up with this stuff, one school of thought says you should use every new Google My Business feature early and often, because those doo-dads provide clues as to what Google “likes.”  The other school of thought says (1) it’s never that easy, (2) everything is a trade-off, (3) you have to pick your battles, and (4) the local search results never really change.

I tend to fall into the latter group.

Whenever clients ask whether I suggest spending time on a new Google My Business bell or whistle – or whenever I give them unsolicited advice – I ask a few questions.

Given Google’s long history of changes to the local search results, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself next time a new Google My Business feature rolls out and you consider using it.

1. Do you assume Google probably will take it away?  Sooner or later, that new feature may meet the same fate as custom categories, “Best Ever” badges, tags, “descriptors,” vanity URLs, Helpouts, and Google+, to name a few dead homies.

2. Will you need to skip or dial down another activity to make time for Google’s gizmos?  If you already work on the tough, daunting, open-ended activities with more-definite payoff, then knock yourself out.  Otherwise, you’re pinning your hopes on an “easy win” that’s easy for your competitors to do, too.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nilsrinaldi/5158417206/

3. Will you use it even if your competitors start using it?  Can you be an “early adopter” and maybe notice some benefits?  Yeah, maybe.  But then what?

4. Will you keep using it even if it doesn’t seem to help your rankings at all?  If you can think of a plausible scenario in which your use of the new Google My Business feature might impress a customer, then it’s probably a good use of time.

5. Do you have a way to keep your work, so you can repurpose it later if you want to?  I’m thinking of Google+, and how you could post on the Plus page that was “connected” to the page that showed up on Google Maps, and how then Google slowly switched over to posts on Google My Business before shuttering Google+ altogether.   The only thing that’s more of a hassle than filing away whatever content you might post on a Google-owned property is to have to recreate it.

6. Are you content to play by Google’s rules?  If not, you’ll probably get away with misusing or overusing that super-secret new feature in Google My Business – at least for a little while, if not for a good long while.  The big problem is you probably can’t or won’t out-slime your competitors, and you won’t be in a good position to do what (relatively) little you can to get someone with latitude to do anything about your less-ethical competitors.

7. Would a customer understand it, and would it not create questions?  If the new place you can stick a keyword, a slogan, a photo, or a link would not make customers wonder what your business does or if you’re struggling for business, then it probably falls into the bucket of “smart marketing.”

What’s a Google My Business feature you wish Google didn’t kill off – because you got mileage out of it?

What’s your approach to using (or skipping) new GMB features?

Did I overlook something?

Any current feature you think is a waste of time?

Leave a comment!

Should You Bother Using That New Google My Business Feature?
Source: Local Visibility System

Which Local Citation Sources Let You Specify a Service Area?

Which Local Citation Sources Let You Specify a Service Area?

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Just because you set your sights on a region doesn’t mean you’ll rank well there.  That’s always been true of the service area you pick for your Google My Business page, so why should you care about the service-area settings on local-search sites much smaller than Google?

A few reasons:

1. You might improve your visibility on those sites. Places like Yelp, YP, BBB, Angie’s List, and others have a decent headcount, partly because those directories tend to rank well in Google’s local results.

2. The service-area settings in Google My Business changed recently, and in ways that may make your info on third-party sites more important to your rankings on Google’s local map. For service-area businesses you don’t need to specify a street address. The other big change is you can’t target a radius anymore (like 30 miles around your address).  The main upshot of those changes is now you can tell Google you serve the entire state, or 5 counties, or a similar chunk of territory.  How will Google determine how you rank within that region?  I don’t know, but it’s possible Google factors in the info you’ve put on third-party local directories, so you should try to use that to your advantage.

3. Maybe you just care about the details on your local listings, but don’t want to log into every single site to check whether you can define a service area.

It might help to know which local listings – besides Google My Business – let you specify a service area.  I looked at about 20 of the better-known and (usually) more-important sites for service-area businesses.  About half of them let you define your service area.  Most of those sites let you choose a service area even if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business – which is also what Google My Business does now, by the way.

Here are the non-Google “local” sites (mostly for US businesses) that let you set a service area:

AngiesList: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Apple Maps: no

BBB: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Bing Places: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar, but it’s based on the category you select

CitySearch: no

ExpressUpdate.com (AKA InfoGroup): no

Facebook: no

Factual.com: no

FourSquare: no

HomeAdvisor: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Houzz: yes

LocalEze: no

Manta: no

MerchantCircle: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar, but you have to pay

MyBusinessListingManager.com (AKA Acxiom): no

SuperPages: yes

Thumbtack: no

YellowBook: no

YellowPages: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Yelp: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Zillow: yes, even for bricks-and-mortar

Most of those sites also let you hide your address, if you want to.

How has Google’s recent change to service-area settings tied in with your business or your strategy?

How do you show your service area on your non-Google listings?

Did I miss any other sites where you can specify a service area?

Leave a comment!

Which Local Citation Sources Let You Specify a Service Area?
Source: Local Visibility System

Google My Business Shakes up Service-Area Businesses: What Has Changed and What to Do

Google My Business Shakes up Service-Area Businesses: What Has Changed and What to Do

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Using Google My Business long has been a murky matter for owners of service-area businesses.  Most people have wondered what kinds of addresses are eligible, how many GMB pages they can have, whether to “hide” their addresses from showing publicly, and how big of a “service area” to specify (or whether to specify one at all).

Google just made some changes that may make things simpler for service-area businesses long-term, but that make things even more confusing for now.  The changes appear to have happened today. (Thanks to Tim Colling for the intel in his forum thread.)

What’s changed?

1. The entire “address” field now appears to be optional.

If you’re creating a page for the first time, it’s not clear to me whether still you need to specify an address to get the verification postcard sent to you.  Even if you need to specify an address initially, you can wipe the address after you’re verified.

2. Radius-targeting is gone. No longer can you target everything within a specific distance from your place of business.

Now you have to specify cities, or states/provinces, or ZIP/postal codes, etc.

Google’s updated rules read: “You can no longer set your service area as a distance around your business. If you previously entered a distance around your business, you won’t be able to edit it. Instead, you’ll need to specify your service area by region, city, or ZIP code.”

3. Now you update the “Address” and “Service Area” settings separately, in two separate fields, rather than mess with your service-area settings in the “Address” field.

4. Certain businesses in service industries no longer have their addresses showing in the local 3-pack, even if those businesses never chose to “hide” their address from showing publicly. It’s not clear to me whether that’s because Google doesn’t want businesses in certain industries to have their addresses show up in the 3-pack, or because (more likely) those business owners simply haven’t gone into Google My Business today to mess with their address and service-area settings.

My (early) take and suggestions

It’s not yet clear (to me) why Google has made those changes.  Nor is it clear whether they’re only the first in a series of changes.  Often there is another shoe to drop.

My tinfoil-hat theory is Google wants to make it easier for more businesses of a certain type to have a Google My Business page that doesn’t break a rule or three, so that more of them can use Local Services Ads and get into a PPC bidding war with each other.  Guess we’ll see.

For now, I don’t see a downside to your specifying an address AND a service area, assuming you’re not the owner of a home-based business and are concerned about revealing your address.  If you do run a home-based business and have privacy concerns, there doesn’t appear to be a drawback to scrubbing your address out of the “Address” field of your Google My Business page.

When Google makes a big change like this, business owners are slow to adapt (and many never do) and Google knows that.  This is a good time to experiment, while your competitors don’t even know there was a change.

Any early observations?

Any bugs or problems you’ve run into?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Shakes up Service-Area Businesses: What Has Changed and What to Do
Source: Local Visibility System

The Lowdown on Local Falcon, a New and Different Local Search Rank-Tracking Tool

The Lowdown on Local Falcon, a New and Different Local Search Rank-Tracking Tool

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Tracking local rankings is a tricky matter if you’re a business owner or professional SEO, and even more so if you’re a maker of rank-tracking software.  Yet a local-rankings tracker called Local Falcon came out recently and already has carved out a niche.

Local Falcon does one thing: It shows and tracks Google Maps rankings for bricks-and-mortar businesses.  If that describes your need, you may like Local Falcon’s new approach to the old and irritating problem of figuring out how visible you are on the local map.

(Click to enlarge photo.)

Recently I had a good chat with the creator of Local Falcon, Yan Gilbert.  Afterwards I sent him some questions I thought would be on your mind, as a person who does local SEO for your business or for someone else’s.  Yan’s answers (below) should tell you how Local Falcon is different, how it might be useful for your business, and how best to use it.

Phil: What’s your “elevator” pitch for Local Falcon?

Yan: Local Falcon breaks the standard pattern of rank trackers because it was designed specifically for Google Maps and sometimes needs a bit of explaining for people to see the real value of it.

Local Falcon is an exciting new tool that lets you visualize local rankings in a new and easy-to-understand way. The user quickly sees how well a listing is ranking in the area surrounding the business.

The way it works is very visual, so let me share a few images to explain the point.

A regular one-point data rank tracker result, such as a ZIP code, might look like this:

Ranking #1 for the keyword in my ZIP code – but is that really enough data to base a decision on? Here’s what you might see in Local Falcon:

Local Falcon shows you the full picture of the ranking coverage area for that keyword.

You can then confidently decide if you need to continue optimizing for a keyword within a few seconds after looking at a scan that has returned results such as these. No other rank scanner does this.

Ultimately, Local Falcon will save you time in your analysis. With one scan, you can get over 100 data points visualized in a very easy to understand way. Compare this with having to set up dozens of data points in a normal rank tracker, and then trying to understand how the jumble of ZIP code placements over a city fit together.

Phil: Tell me briefly how Local Falcon differs from other local rank-tracking software.

Yan: Local Falcon is very different than other local rank tracking software because it’s the first rank tracker specifically designed for checking Google Maps results. Every other tracker out there is designed to track organic rankings, and have appended Maps tracking capabilities.

Local Falcon starts with the map, and checks rankings based on distance away from the business and then displays them in a way that is easy to understand. There are no ZIP codes involved. ZIP codes have no bearing on ranking; proximity does.

Phil: Whom is Local Falcon geared toward, and who probably wouldn’t have as much use for it?

Yan: Since Local Falcon is designed to help businesses easily visualize their rankings, marketing experts at an agency and owners of small-to-medium businesses will find value in using this tool. It is especially helpful for businesses with multiple locations because you can scan an entire city in one pass and really understand what is going on.

Phil: What does the “Falcon” part refer to?

Yan: A falcon flies and looks down at the area below it, which is what my tool does. It’s also a predator, a quick hunter, and so these connotations fit as well because as a marketer my job is to help find the information to help businesses grow. And that’s what this tool is designed for: to help you to make decisions to help expand your business.

We spent a lot of time to come up with the name because it was important to get it just right. But there were many constraints. I went through hundreds of combinations and this was the name that grew on us.

Phil: Tell me a little about you.  What’s your “day job,” and what’s your background (if any) in local SEO and in software?

Yan: I’ve been doing SEO for over ten years and local SEO for about two. I had my own clients, which was working well, but then I got a call from Joy Hawkins when she was just starting her own agency, and I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity. It was a very good decision because she really has imparted me with a lot of knowledge and encourages everyone on the team to continuously improve.

As for software, I designed the tool with the user in mind; although I’m not the actual coder of the tool, I know what the tool needs to do to be useful, and that’s my main goal.

Phil: What’s the story behind Local Falcon?  What made you want to make it?  What gap do you want it to fill?

Yan: Last year, I came across a browser plugin that allowed me to easily change the location data that the browser was sending. This was great because I could quickly simulate a Google search from anywhere and I could easily check rankings for clients without doing a full setup in a regular rank tracker.

There were other plugins that did a similar job but they were a pain to use because you had to input a new locations, or a set of GPS coordinates every time. This other plugin let you pick a spot on the map. After a few days of using it, I had that “eureka moment” where I thought to myself, ‘If I can do this manually.. pick a spot/scan, pick a new spot/scan etc.. then surely it can be programmed.’

I looked around the SEO tool universe and nothing like it existed yet.

At that point, I considered if I should undertake creating the tool myself and eventually my enthusiasm for the idea won out.

Phil: What’s your biggest gripe about other rank-trackers?

Yan: The main problem stems with the fact that with Maps results, you need to pick a spot to track from.  Whether it be a ZIP or postal code, you are choosing one spot. You can always scan from multiple spots, but because the other tools are not designed for it, it becomes very difficult to put that data together to understand rankings across a large area or part of a city.

Phil: Why did you want to get into software?

Yan: A co-worker once described me as passionate while I was on a SEO call with a client. I felt that this tool needed to be built for all local SEOs out there. Sure, I could have sat back and at some point someone else might have built something similar, but I didn’t want to have that regret. I knew that no other software had anything like this. And when you have an idea–a new idea that you think is worthwhile to pursue–sometimes you just have to go out there and try it.

Phil: Back to Local Falcon.  What’s the closest thing to it, in terms of other rank-tracking (or other) software?

Yan: I’m not familiar with every software, but through my work with Joy, I had access to many of the top tools that SEOs use. For local tracking, we continue to use Bright Local which does a great job, but it has the same limitation as all the other trackers in that it’s based on choosing one location to scan from at a time. This only gives you one data point to make decisions from. It’s quite limiting because it’s difficult to piece the different locations together into a whole. My blog post here gives a good explanation of why: Why You Need to Be Scanning Multiple Map Location Points For Local Rank Tracking.

Phil: You want to get people to look at rankings a different way.  How should I look at rankings, and what mistake am I probably making now?

Yan: I think the old paradigm of checking by ZIP codes has run its course. Proximity of the searcher to the business is what is important, and using specific geo coordinates gives much more accurate results.

Google has made huge changes to the way local search results work, but the rank trackers are still using methods developed for organic search. We can do better than simple plotted line graphs. As Google evolves, so must the tools.

Phil: You use the Google API, rather than scrape the search results.  Why?  How does that help you and help the user?  (I know you don’t have to buy IPs/proxies.)

Yan: It was one of those decisions that was made at the outset of the project. Rank trackers need to scrape because there is no API for organic results; it’s the only way to get the data. But there is an API for Google Places and I felt comfortable going that way. At the time, I didn’t realize the limitation we would encounter for listings with hidden addresses.

As well, working with Joy (where we are constantly trying to get rid of listings that break Google guidelines) scraping Google, which is technically not allowed, didn’t feel right. I had an alternative. I also didn’t want that worry hanging over my head of dealing with hundreds of proxies that need to be scaled up. What happens when they get banned, for instance? It happened to Bright Local in September and they basically couldn’t run any scans for more than a week. With the API, the data comes directly from Google in a legit way, and there is no worry about losing proxies; there is no issue in scaling.

Phil: How can people validate what they see in Local Falcon?  How can I confirm its accuracy?

Yan: This is obviously important: it has to be accurate. And a lot of testing has been done to make sure that it is. Believe me, if anyone can find an issue with local results it’s Joy, and she really put it through the paces each time I presented an update to her.

There are few tools that can be used to verify the information coming out of Local Falcon. One is Bright Local and I keep mentioning them because they really are a leader in the industry, but Local Falcon is so different visually from them. If you don’t have access to it, they have free spot checker: https://www.brightlocal.com/local-search-results-checker/

Another free tool is: https://valentin.app/. I’m not sure who created it, but you can localize a search to a specific area and check that against Local Falcon results.

I’ve also written up a short local rank tracking comparison of these two sites with Local Falcon.

I’d like to add, however, that sometimes ranking placements can differ with a short amount of distance (hundreds of feet in some cases depending of the competition level) but what you are looking for are numbers that are either the same or within a few placements of each other.

Will there be some glitches? Sure. I’ve seen some odd rankings returned for various issues such as the business address on the listing if not formatted correctly or an unknown duplicate listing throwing off results. But if on the odd case that something is wrong, you can easily see it.

In Local Falcon, the scan page has a bug report to notify users of any issues. The last thing I want is to show bad results to someone trying to make decisions. Since I come from the SEO side of things and frequently check all sorts of tools and analytics, I am very aware of how faulty data or changes in data collection methods can be frustrating.

Lastly, definitely use as many sources of information as possible to be comfortable in making optimization decisions. Local Falcon uses the Google API and other trackers use scraping. Different methods exist to get to similar results.

Phil: What about Local Falcon would you most like to improve?  (For example: you can’t use it for service-area businesses.  Only for bricks-and-mortar.  Maybe you can expand on that, and on any planned solutions.)

Yan: One limitation to using the Google API is that it won’t give information about business listings that have marked their address as hidden, so Local Falcon does not work for these. These typically include service area businesses such as plumbers and electricians that come to you, the customer.

For businesses that list their address such as dentists, doctors, hotels, restaurants, lawyers, and the hundreds of different kinds of stores that you actually need to visit in person, ranking visualization is a game changer.

There’s a pared down version of the scan that’s totally free, so it costs nothing to test out to make sure it works for you.

At the moment, fixing the hidden address issue will have to wait. Unless Google changes their API there’s not much that can be done unless we restructure the entire coding to get results by scraping. So we are focusing on what works well and delivering the best results and features for those businesses that can be scanned.

Phil: What part(s) of Local Falcon do you think you’ll never change?

Yan: It’s still so new right now so it’s difficult to envision a different kind of product. Whatever new elements we add though, I really don’t think the main visual aspect of the tool would change.  So many tools start to get bloated with new features and lose the core of what they started with because they try to be too many things to too many people. Local Falcon does map scanning and I don’t think it will ever diverge from that.

Phil: Many ranking software makers (e.g. BrightLocal) study stuff.  What would you like to study, perhaps with the help of Local Falcon?

Yan: Because the tool lets you both visualize so much data at once and to see potential small changes easily there’s a lot that can be done with this tool for local SEO. I’m running experiments that I hope to write up in blog posts, such as:

  • how much effect does adding a review with a keyword have on rankings
  • is there category dilution on a GMB listing
  • how much effect does changing the title of associated website have on the listing

There are hundreds of little experiments that can be conducted across thousands of different kinds of businesses, industries, in both high and low competition areas. The way Local Falcon works, you can see if small changes have an impact or not. It’s so difficult to do that now with regular rank trackers because it’s so hard to put the data together in an easy to understand way.

At the same time, I’m limited in compiling studies and running SEO surveys . At the end of the day, you want to pay for a product that works, and not necessarily be paying for all those extra hands typing articles that may or not matter to you. I don’t know about you, but I perpetually have so many tabs open on my browser of articles I want to read but never seem to get to. So when I do put something together, I’m going to make sure it has usable and actionable information.

I encourage other SEOs to use the tool and run experiments. Not only can you scan businesses with Local Falcon, but you can scan landmarks, parks, and anything physical on Google Maps. You can play with this information in tons of ways. Hopefully, when experiments are performed, people will share that data because as a whole we will be better able to see inside the black box that is the local search algorithm.

Phil: Credit roll: who else deserves credit for Local Falcon?

Yan: Although Local Falcon is my own vision and creation, definitely the team at Sterling Sky; Joy, Colan, and Josh. We build on knowledge learned from others, and Joy assembled a great team of people. Working with them improved my SEO skills tremendously and I probably would never have come up with the idea if not for them.  They were also my beta testers throughout the building process. They held the standard bar high and I tried to reach it.

Phil: If I’m a reader who’s just read our long discussion, what do you want me to do now?

Yan: Go to LocalFalcon.com and test out the scan. It’ll make you see and think about local rankings in a whole new way. The feedback I’ve had about the tool from experts in the industry is incredible. They immediately saw the potential that it holds.

Use the free version until you have a handle on the scan and upgrade to get even more power out of it.

Phil: What kind of “VIP” treatment can early users – paid or free – get if they start using Local Falcon now?  Why not just wait until it’s been around for longer and works even better?

Yan: I haven’t tried to incentivize it as I think the tool is worth using as it is. A lot of development went into it already. There’s a free version that allows you to understand what it does and, at the moment, it’s not time limited so there is no clock ticking to force you to make a decision. I’m hoping that it’s easy enough for people to understand the value. So I’m thinking that users might as well start using it now to get that data.

I still have many improvements that I would like to add: preset automated searches is the next main goal–but the reality is that this is not some VC-funded startup. The next phase is a large one and future development in large part depends on people signing up.

What you get at this point is a great tool and access to me for any help. I know this tool inside and out, and I know local SEO inside and out. If there are any questions about a scan, or your rankings in general, I am available. At a certain point, it’s possible I won’t be able to provide that concierge service.

Phil: When will the paid version be out?

Yan: The paid version is there, but you don’t see it right away when you land on the site. You need to sign up as a free user first. Because of the limitation of not working for all businesses, I want to make sure that you use the tool and know that it works for you before you upgrade. If it can scan your business, and you like it then you upgrade.

Phil: Any “pro tips” for early users?

Yan: Use a smaller grid size first, to check rankings. If you start with a large 11×11 scan and the results are not what you expected, it will waste time. Instead, start with a smaller scan so that you get a feel for the coverage area that a keyword might have and use a larger scan to get a much better picture if necessary.

You can sign up for a free trial of Local Falcon here.

Any questions or suggestions for Yan?

Have you used Local Falcon, and if so, what are your thoughts on it?

Leave a comment!

The Lowdown on Local Falcon, a New and Different Local Search Rank-Tracking Tool
Source: Local Visibility System

Google+ Autopsy for People Who Do Local SEO: What to Know and What to Do

Google+ Autopsy for People Who Do Local SEO: What to Know and What to Do

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robandstephanielevy/3092240036/

Google constantly tweaks the local search results, but every now and then makes a change that at least seems big.  I’m here to tell you the official shuttering of Google+ is not consequential for local SEO, and that your strategy shouldn’t change one whisker.

Still, the end of Google+ (hastened by the breach and cover-up) is a “teachable moment” for anyone whose business relies on Google Maps visibility and similar types of local visibility.  Here are a few quick observations and suggestions, in no particular order:

What to know

1. Every time you see what appears to be a big change in the local search results – of the kind seen in 2012 and 2015-2016 – don’t assume it will last. The local search results don’t change that much over the years. Google constantly adds and removes features, and messes with the layout, but the Google Maps / 3-pack results are remarkably similar to what they were in yesteryears.

2. Everything’s an experiment to Google. Not much is a permanent fixture, and nothing is sacred. When trying out any of Google’s new doo-dads, you need to ask how you can make it a temporary laboratory or Petri dish for your business.  The goal is to try out ideas that – if promising – you can develop without using anything owned by Google.

3. Those duplicate “Google+ for Business” pages are not a problem, have not been a problem for several years (if at all), and soon won’t exist at all. Don’t worry about ‘em.

4. Now would you agree that Google+ probably doesn’t affect your visibility on the local map (and likely never did)?

What to do (and what not to do)

1. Put your best content (or all of it) on your site, before and maybe instead of throwing it on the social platform du jour. Today it’s Google+. Tomorrow it may be Facebook.  If it’s not on a site you own, it’s not content you own.  That may sound like a royal pain, but as a longtime content-hoarder who doesn’t even do guest posts, I can tell you it’s best for all glory and links due you to benefit your site, rather than someone else’s.

2. Speaking of content-hoarding, don’t assume Google My Business posts will be around forever. Use them as a way to call attention to what’s on your site, but not in lieu of putting stuff on your site. Google My Business posts have promise now, especially if you use them now, but GMB posts are a laser pointer.  We’re the cats.  Google is the human.

3. Don’t ask customers for a “Google Plus” review. That’s been a vestigial term since early 2016. Just call them “Google reviews” or “Google Maps reviews” and people will know what you mean, and probably write you one.

4. Scour your site for “write a review” links and other links to your Google Plus page, and update those links. For the past 2 1/2 years there’s been no way to write a review from a Plus page. Soon those links simply will be broken. What do I suggest changing those Google+ links to? A Google-review link of the kind you can easily create here.

5. Perhaps it’s time to remove those G+ “share” buttons on your site.

Questions, observations, or plans?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  If you’ve been part of the Local Search G+ Community that Max Minzer and I have run for the last 5 years, please check out this post and let us know the direction you’d like us to take next.

Google+ Autopsy for People Who Do Local SEO: What to Know and What to Do
Source: Local Visibility System

Google My Business Posts Shelf-Life Hack: How to Keep Your Posts from Expiring Soon

Google My Business Posts Shelf-Life Hack: How to Keep Your Posts from Expiring Soon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/1721746230/

The jury’s out on how useful Google My Business posts are, but they have promise.  I like ‘em so far.  They’re quick and easy to create, and they show up in one of the very few areas of the brand-name search results that you can control.

The annoying thing is you have to keep adding posts.  They expire every 7 days.  What if you like the post you put up last week, and want to keep it around for longer?  Nope.

You could always re-post the same thing, but you’d lose the all-too-basic stats Google shows you on each post.  Also, an endless string of the same post would look odd to anyone who pulls up your older posts.

Having to come up with a new post every 7 days is an understandable reason not to bother with GMB posts at all.  You don’t need another hamster-wheel activity.

Isn’t there any way to keep a post afloat for longer than 7 days?

Yes, there is.  It’s a clever workaround courtesy of Brendan Bowie of My Guys Moving & Storage.  It involves choosing the “Event” type of post when you create a Google My Business post.

As some observed a while ago, the “Event” type of post does not expire after 7 days.  That’s been the case for as long as I’ve paid attention to GMB posts.  What I didn’t know were 3 facts you can use to your advantage:

(a) you can call anything you post on an “event,” (2) the end of the “event” can be months away, and (3) if you do those things your GMB post won’t look strange in the search results.

The call-to-action button can be anything on Google’s list of calls-to-action.

 

The even-smarter part is that Brendan first tested other types of posts, with different content and calls-to-action.  The one that worked best (to date) became the “Event” type of post, with the far-off expiration date.  Also, you can edit your post after you publish it, so that you’re not stuck with exactly the same stinkin’ thing for months.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyhay/3034947087/

What type of Google My Business post has worked well (or badly) for you?

Have you tried this “hack” yet?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Posts Shelf-Life Hack: How to Keep Your Posts from Expiring Soon
Source: Local Visibility System

Suggested Local Search Terms Ooze onto Google’s Default Homepage

Suggested Local Search Terms Ooze onto Google’s Default Homepage

Local-business results were plenty visible before.  We’ve long seen them in the Maps 3-pack, in the Maps tab, in the Maps app, and in the local organic search results.

You or I might say, “The local results are visible enough” or, “OK, we know where to find ‘em.”  Google, on the other hand, might say, “Where else can we push local search results?”

On the holiest of holy ground: the homepage of Google:

3 suggested searches for specific songs, plus “piano teachers near me.”  Loosely related, of course, but which of those items least belongs under that heading of “Explore musical instruments and sheet music”?

The results may be Chrome-specific and personalized.  For all I know, maybe they’re music-specific.  I had been listening to some Irish pub songs on YouTube in the same browsing session, which may have turned Google onto the musical theme.  If I watch a cat video, then will I get a nudge toward “veterinarian near me” or “cat psychologist nearby”?

The kicker is that when I clicked the link, the local results I saw weren’t great.

Two businesses with keyword-stuffed Google My Business names, and absent was the very-nearby music school where my wife has taken violin lessons (which you’d assume Big Brother Google knows we like).

Anyway, I don’t know yet whether this is just a weird little test.  I suspect not, given how over the years the the organic results have become localized, and the ads have seeped into the Maps results, and the Maps results have shown for more terms that used to show only organic results.  I suspect this is the next phase of Google’s mixing all the chocolate with all the peanut butter.

But who knows.  I just caught a little glimpse of something that may or may not be something.

Have you seen any suggested local search terms on Google’s homepage / your default Chrome page?

Any other observations?

Leave a comment!

Suggested Local Search Terms Ooze onto Google’s Default Homepage
Source: Local Visibility System

Want to Guess How Many Local Businesses Use Google My Business Posts?

Want to Guess How Many Local Businesses Use Google My Business Posts?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/idletype/430895151/

Google My Business posts have been around since mid-2017.  They seem to have caught on – more than many of Google’s “local business” features have – mostly because the payoff is clear: GMB posts stick out in your brand-name search results, and can nudge people toward the next step you’d like them to take.

Should you use Google My Business posts – for your business?  On the one hand is the “Why not?” argument.  You can give GMB posts a try for a few months and see if they’re worth the (small) effort.

On the other hand, the “Why bother?” argument also has merit.  To wit:

  • If most businesses use GMB posts already, won’t customers tune them out post?
  • If few businesses use GMB posts, have most people just concluded they’re a waste of time?
  • If few businesses use them, will Google retire GMB posts soon?

You probably don’t need another distraction – another thing to keep you from focusing on the stuff with clearer payoff to your local visibility.

This is where it helps to know specifically how many businesses use – or ever have used – Google My Business posts.  I couldn’t find any numbers on that, and when possible I like a better understanding than, “Umm, not many” or “A lot, I guess.”  So I did some research.

I looked at 2000 businesses in the Google Maps results, in 100 local markets.  Those 100 markets covered 10 cities across the US, and focused on 10 categories of businesses.  (More on my methodology in a minute.)  I counted how many businesses had created a GMB post recently – within the last 7 days – and how many businesses had ever done a GMB post.

Here’s a summary of what I found – the numbers on businesses’ adoption of Google My Business posts:

Q: How many businesses have ever created a Google My Business post?
A: About 17%.

Q: How many businesses have posted recently and seem to post regularly?
A: About 4%.

Q: How many businesses posted at least once, but seem not to keep up with it?
A: About 13%.

Q: Of the businesses that do post on GMB, how many seem to do it regularly?
A: About 1 in 4.

Q: In how many local markets has at least one business (in the top 20) ever tried GMB posts?
A: About 91% of local markets.  In only 9% of markets (that I looked at) nobody had ever posted.

Q: In an average first page of “Maps tab” results (20 local businesses), how many have ever tried GMB posts?
A: About 3 businesses.

Q: How saturated do local markets get, in terms of how many local businesses post on GMB?
A: The most I ever saw was 10 businesses out of the top 20.  There were a few nines and a few eights.  Again, the vast majority of businesses I looked at have never posted.

You can download my spreadsheet here.  If you look at it, I’d love to hear any insights you glean that I didn’t mention.

Methodology and limitations

1. I looked only at businesses in the US. I imagine the adoption of (or dabbling in) GMB posts is a little lower outside of the US, but of course it just depends on the local market.

2. I looked only at larger and medium cities in the US. In some cases Google Maps drew results from the suburbs, but I didn’t search there or in less-populated areas. In my experience, adoption of Google My Business features (and the like) is lower outside of the larger cities.

3. I searched in Google Maps – in the “local finder” – so I could look at a larger sample of businesses. The alternative was to look at the top 3 businesses on page 1 of Google’s main search results, but Google’s main search results don’t show who’s using GMB posts. I’d have to click on each one anyway.  In the “Maps” view, I could pull up a list of 20, and very quickly check each business and see whether it had any GMB posts.

4. I focused on 10 industries, by way of 10 search terms: “dentist, “family lawyer,” “auto repair,” “roofing,” “animal hospital,” “preschool,” “electrician,” “real estate agent,” “music lessons, and “plastic surgeon.” Could I have looked at 100 industries? Sure, but I’d still be missing some categories, because there’s an infinity of them.  So I chose to focus on the more-competitive spaces, with a bent toward the brutal markets.  I’ve been in local search for 10 years, and picked the least-bad core sample I could.  (If you do a study like this one, but look at different categories, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.)

What about the red search terms on my spreadsheet? Those represent cases where the search term I originally chose (e.g. “Boston animal hospital”) didn’t produce a full page of 20 businesses in Google Maps. That would have shrunken the sample size a little, and skewed my data a little, so in those cases I just picked a different search term – one that did pull up 20 businesses on the first page of Maps.

6. Over time the number of businesses with a “fresh” GMB post (i.e. posted within the last 7 days) may decrease, or just not grow as quickly as the % of businesses in the “stale posts” column. The reason is simply that most businesses don’t stick with posting on GMB. Today’s business with a fresh post is next week’s business with a stale post.

7. Which categories of businesses post the most? I don’t know, because I’d need to have looked at all or at a couple hundred industries. But I can say that, of the categories I looked at, dental practices seemed the most post-happy.

8. How closely does GMB-posting activity correspond to rankings? I don’t know, because that wasn’t what I set out to find out here. That’s a discussion for another day.  In any case, it would be tough to say, because a business owner who bothers to post on GMB probably has other local SEO irons in the fire.

9. What about the businesses that didn’t even make the first page of Maps results – the businesses ranked #21 and lower? I didn’t look at those. I suspect they post a little less than do businesses on the first page of Maps.

Observations (beyond the numbers)

Most businesses don’t keep up with Google My Business posts.  Of the businesses I looked at, only 4% had posted within the past week, versus 13% that had posted at one time or another (less recently than within the last week). They don’t keep the posts coming.  Google’s mother-hen reminders don’t work too well, apparently.

Because Google sends you a reminder every time your post is about to “expire,” my guess is business owners think that creating a new post is a big chore and a pain.  Maybe they have few good photos to share, or they think a GMB post needs to be like a Facebook post.  Or maybe they choose to post every 2 weeks.  In any case, Google should add a “re-post this post” feature, or something like that.

Customers aren’t drowning in Google My Business posts (at least not yet).  Do some businesses post too often?  Yes.  Are most posts well-done and worthy of searchers’ and customers’ attention?  No.  But most businesses haven’t overdone GMB posts, because most businesses (over 82%) haven’t used GMB posts.

Given how hard Google is pushing GMB posts, if there’s ever a time to give them a try, I’d say that time is now.

Enough businesses seem to use Google My Business posts that Google probably will keep the feature around, and maybe add to it over time.  17% may not sound like a high percentage.  But if my cross-section of 2000 businesses is at all representative, then many millions of business owners have tried GMB posts at one time or another.

Google often kills off products and features both popular and unloved, so we can’t assume GMB posts will be around forever.  But when I think of how slowly most business owners adopt new features, and how (relatively) new GMB posts are, I’d say the chances are good GMB posts will stay out of the Google graveyard.

Good further info on GMB posts

How to Create a Google My Business Post That Will Win You More CustomersBen Fisher

12 Things to Know to Succeed with Google PostsJoy Hawkins

Do Google Posts Impact Ranking? A Case Study – Joy Hawkins

Any researchable numbers or facts you’d like me to cover?

If you’ve looked at my data, did you reach any different or additional conclusions?

What’s the lowdown on Google My Business posts in your local market?

Any success stories?

Leave a comment!

Want to Guess How Many Local Businesses Use Google My Business Posts?
Source: Local Visibility System

Can Google Index the Content of Embedded Yelp Reviews?

Can Google Index the Content of Embedded Yelp Reviews?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pfala/3813096211/

Can Google?  Yes.  Will Google always index the content in Yelp reviews?  Jury’s out.

Google can access the content in Yelp reviews you embed on your site (via Yelp’s embed feature), despite the fact that those Yelp reviews are in iframes.

Here’s an example:

On those two pages the only content with that phrase is in an embedded Yelp review.  (And that’s always been the case on those pages.)

Because Google has gotten better at rendering  iframe conent and Javascript in recent years, maybe it’s inevitable Google indexes more of that content than it used to (or was able to).

On the other hand, on the pages I cited a minute ago, much of the content is in Yelp reviews.  Proportionally, their content is pretty Yelp-heavy.  The pages I looked at where Google doesn’t seem to have indexed the Yelp content also have proportionally more non-Yelp-review content.  That suggests there’s some truth to John Mueller’s characteristically brief and clear answer that, in effect, Google is more likely to index iframe content (like embedded Yelp reviews) when that content makes up a large chunk of the page.

Why does any of that matter to your local SEO?

For one thing, copying and pasting your customers’ Yelp reviews onto your site long has been the best way to ensure that Google can access that relevant content (that you didn’t have to write!).  But copying and pasting is a hassle if you want the reviews to look good on your site, because you’ll have to style them a little.  Now, I’d say it’s not as much of a trade-off: you can use the embed feature to have your Yelp reviews look OK on your site, and still be confident that Google at least knows what’s in the reviews.

Another upshot is that you might lessen the problem of your Yelp page outranking your site for certain brand-name search terms.  Often Google seems split as to which one should rank higher: your site because presumably it’s the “home base” of your business, or your Yelp page because it’s got the juicy reviews on your business?  More often than not Google puts your site above your Yelp page, but not always.  If your Yelp page seems to be cannibalizing your site’s visibility, consider cannibalizing your Yelp reviews on your site by embedding them.  Might make your site a little stickier, too.

Anything I should test or look into?

What’s been your experience with embedding Yelp reviews?

Any benefits or drawbacks I didn’t mention?

Leave a comment!

Can Google Index the Content of Embedded Yelp Reviews?
Source: Local Visibility System