Enterprise Local SEO is Different: A Checklist, a Mindset

Posted by MiriamEllis

Image credit: Abraham Williams

If you’re marketing big brands with hundreds or thousands of locations, are you certain you’re getting model-appropriate local SEO information from your favorite industry sources?

Is your enterprise checking off not just technical basics, but hyperlocalized research to strengthen its entrance into new markets?

Before I started working for Moz in in 2010, the bulk of my local SEO experience had been with small-to-medium business models. Naturally, the advice I was able to offer back then was limited by the scope of my work. But then came Moz Local, and the opportunity to learn more about the more complex needs of valued enterprise customers like Crate & Barrel with more than 170 locations, PAPYRUS with 400, or Bridgestone Corporation with 2000+.

Now, when I’m thumbing through industry tips and tactics, I’m better able to identify when a recommended practice is stemming from an SMB mindset and falling short of enterprise realities, or is truly applicable to all business models. My goal for this post is to offer:

  • Examples of commonly encountered advice that isn’t really best for big brands
  • An Enterprise Local SEO Checklist to help you shape strategy for present campaigns, or ready your agency to pursue relationships with bigger dream clients
  • A state-to-enterprise wireframe for initial hyperlocal marketing research

Not everything you read is for enterprises

When a brand is small, like a single location, family-owned retail shop, it’s likely that a single person at the company can manage the business’ Local SEO, with some free education and a few helpful tools. Large, multi-location brands, just by dint of organizational complexities, are different. Before they even get down to the nitty gritty of building citations, enterprises have to solve for:

  • Standardizing data across hundreds or thousands of locations
  • Franchise relationships that can muddy who controls which data and assets
  • Designating staff to actually manage data and execute initiatives, and building bridges between teams that must work in concert to meet goals
  • Scaling everything from listings management, to site architecture, to content dev
  • Dealing with a hierarchy of reports of bad data from the retail location level up to corporate

I am barely scratching the surface here. In a nutshell, the scale of the organization and the scope of the multi-location brand can turn a task that would be simple for Mom-and-Pop into a major, company-wide challenge. And I think it adds to the challenge when published advice for SMBs isn’t labeled as such. Over the years, three common tips I’ve encountered with questionable or no applicability to enterprises include:

Not-for-enterprises #1: Link all your local business listings to your homepage

This is sometimes offered as a suggestion to boost local rankings, because website home pages typically have more authority than location landing pages do. But in the enterprise scenario, sending a consumer from a listing for his chosen location, to a homepage, and then expecting him to fool around with a menu or a store locator widget to finally reach a landing page for the location he’s already designated that he wanted is not respecting his user experience. It’s wasting his time. I consider this an unnecessary risk of conversions.

Simultaneously, failure to fully utilize location landing pages means that very little can be done to customize the website experience for each community and customer. Directly-linked-to landing pages can provide instant, persuasive proofs of local-ness, in the form of real local reviews, news about local sponsorships and events, special offers, regional product highlights, imagery and so much more that no corporate homepage can ever provide. Consider these statistics:

“According to a new study, when both brand and location-specific pages exist, 85% of all consumer engagement takes place on the local pages (e.g., Facebook Local Pages, local landing pages). A minority of impressions and engagement (15%) happen on national or brand pages.Local Search Association

In the large, multi-location scenario, it just isn’t putting the customer first to swap out a hoped-for ranking increase for a considerate, well-planned user experience.

Not-for-enterprises #2: Local business listings are a one-and-done deal

I find this advice particularly concerning. I don’t consider it true even for SMBs, and at the enterprise level, it’s simply false. It’s my guess that this suggestion stems from imagining a single local business. They create their Google My Business listing and build out perhaps 20–50 structured citations with good data. What could go wrong?

For starters, they may have forgotten that their business name was different 10 years ago. Oh, and they did move across town 5 years ago. And this old data is sitting somewhere in a major aggregator like Acxiom, and somehow due to the infamous vagaries of data flow, it ends up on Bing, and a Bing user gets confused and reports to Google that the new address is wrong on the GMB listing … and so on and so on. Between data flow and crowdsourced editing, a set-and-forget approach to local business listings is trouble waiting to happen.

Now multiply this by 1,000 business locations. And throw in that the enterprise opened two new stores yesterday and closed one. And that they just acquired a new chain and have to rebrand all its assets. And there seems to be something the matter with the phone number on 25 listings, because they’re getting agitated complaints at corporate. And they received 500 reviews last week on Google alone that have to be managed, and it seems one of their competitors is leaving them negative reviews. Whoa – there are 700 duplicate listings being reported by Moz Local! And the brand has 250 Google Questions & Answers queries to respond to this week. And someone just uploaded an image of a dumpster to their GMB listing in Santa Fe…

Not only do listings have to be built, they have to be monitored for data degradation, and managed for inevitable business events, responsiveness to consumers, and spam. It’s hard enough for SMBs to pull all of this off, but enterprises ignore this at their peril!

Not-for-enterprises #3: Just do X

Every time a new local search feature or best practice emerges, you’ll find publications saying “just do X” to implement. What I’ve learned from enterprises is that there is no “just” about it.

Case in point: in 2017, Google rolled out Google Posts, and as Joel Headley of healthcare practice growth platform PatientPop explained to me in a recent interview, his company had to quickly develop a solution that would enable thousands of customers to utilize this influential feature across hundreds of thousands of listings. PatientPop managed implementation in an astonishingly short time, but typically, at the enterprise level, each new rollout requires countless steps up and down the ladder. These could include achieving recognition of the new opportunity, approval to pursue it, designation of teams to work on it, possible acquisition of new assets to accomplish goals, implementation at scale, and the groundwork of tracking outcomes so that they can be reported to prove/disprove ROI from the effort.

Where small businesses can be relatively agile if they can find time to man-up to new features and strategies, enterprises can become dangerously bogged down by infrastructure and communications gaps. Even something as simple as hyperlocalizing content to the needs of a given community represents a significant undertaking.

The family-owned local hardware store already knows that the county fair is the biggest annual event in their area, and they’ve already got everything necessary to participate with a booth, run a contest, take photos, sponsor the tractor pull, earn links, and blog about it. For the hardware franchise with 3,000 stores, branch-to-corporate communication of the mere existence of the county fair, let alone gaining permission to market around it, will require multiple touches from the location to C-suites, and back again.

Checklist for enterprise local SEO preparedness

If you’re on the marketing team for an enterprise, or you run an agency and want to begin working with these larger, rewarding clients, you’ll be striving to put a checkmark in every box on the following checklist:

☑ Definition of success

We’ve determined which actions = success for our brand, whether this is increases for in-store traffic, sales, phone calls, bookings, or some other metric. When we see growth in these KPIs, it will affirm for us that our efforts are creating real success.

☑ Designation of roles

We’ve defined who will be responsible for all tasks relating to the local search marketing of our business. We’ve equipped these team members with all necessary permissions, granted access to key documentation, have organized workflows, and have created an environment for documentation of work.

☑ Canonical data

We’ve created a spreadsheet, approved and agreed upon by all major departments, that lists the standardized name, address, phone number, website URL, and hours of operation for each location of the company. Any variant information has been resolved into a single, agreed-upon data set for each location. This sheet has been shared with all stakeholders managing our local business listings, marketing, website and social outreach.

☑ Website optimization

Our keyword research findings are reflected in the tags and text of our website, including image optimization. Complete contact information for each of our locations is easily accessible on the site and is accurate. We’ve implemented proper markup, such as Schema or JSON-LD, to ensure that our data is as clear as possible to search engines.

☑ Website quality

Our website is easy to navigate and provides a good, usable experience for desktop, mobile and tablet users. We understand that the omni-channel search environment includes ambient search in cars, in homes, via voice. Our website doesn’t rely on technologies that exclude search engines or consumers. We’re putting our customer first.

☑ Tracking and analysis

We’ve implemented maximum controls for tracking and analyzing traffic to our website. We’re also ready to track and analyze other forms of marketing, such as clicks stemming from our Google My Business listings traffic being driven to our website by articles on third party sources, and content we’re sharing via social media.

☑ Publishing strategy

Our website features strong basic pages (Home, Contact, About, Testimonials/Reviews, Policy), we’ve built an excellent, optimized page for each of our core products/services and a quality, unique page for each of our locations. We have a clear strategy as to ongoing content publication, in the form of blog posts, white papers, case studies, social outreach, and other forms of content. We have plans for hyperlocalizing content to match regional culture and needs.

☑ Store locator

We’ve implemented a store locator widget to connect our website’s users to the set of location landing pages we’ve built to thoughtfully meet the needs of specific communities. We’ve also created an HTML version of a menu linking to all of these landing pages to ensure search engines can discover and index them.

☑ Local link building

We’re building the authority of our brand via the links we earn from the most authoritative sources. We’re actively seeking intelligent link building opportunities for each of our locations, reflective of our industry, but also of each branch’s unique geography.

☑ Guideline compliance

We’ve assessed that each of the locations our business plans to build local listings for complies with the Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google. Each location is a genuine physical location (not a virtual office or PO box) and conducts face-to-face business with consumers, either at our locations or at customers’ locations. We’re compliant with Google’s rules for the naming of each location, and, if appropriate, we understand how to handle listing multi-department and multi-practitioner businesses. None of our Google My Business listings is at risk for suspension due to basic guideline violations. We’ve learned how to avoid every possible local SEO pitfall.

☑ Full Google My Business engagement

We’re making maximum use of all available Google My Business features that can assist us in achieving our goals. This could include Google Posts, Questions & Answers, Reviews, Photos, Messaging, Booking, Local Service Ads, and other emerging features.

☑ Local listing development

We’re using software like Moz Local to scale creation of our local listings on the major aggregators (Infogroup, Acxiom, Localeze and Factual) as well as key directories like Superpages and Citysearch. We’re confident that our accurate, consistent data is being distributed to these most important platforms.

☑ Local listing monitoring

We know that local listings aren’t a set-and-forget asset and are taking advantage of the ongoing monitoring SaaS provides, increasing our confidence in the continued accuracy of our data. We’re aware that, if left unmanaged, local business listing data can degrade over time, due to inputs from various, non-authoritative third parties as well as normal data flow across platforms.

☑ In-store strategy

All public-facing staff are equipped with the necessary training to implement our brand’s customer service policy, answer FAQs or escalate them via a clear hierarchy, resolving complaints before they become negative online reviews. We have installed in-store signage or other materials to actively invite consumer complaints in-person, via an after-hours helpline or text message to ensure we are making maximum effort to build and defend our strong reputation.

☑ Review acquisition

We’ve developed a clear strategy for acquiring reviews on an ongoing basis on the review sites we’ve deemed to be most important to our brand. We’re compliant with the guidelines of each platform on which we’re earning reviews. We’re building website-based reviews and testimonials, too.

☑ Review monitoring & response

We’re monitoring all incoming reviews to identify both positive and negative emerging sentiment trends at specific locations and we’re conversant with Net Promoter Score. We’ve created a process for responding with gratitude to positive reviews. We’re defending our reputation and revenue by responding to negative reviews in ways that keep customers who complain instead of losing them, to avoid needless drain of new customer acquisition spend. Our responses are building a positive impression of our brand. We’ve built or acquired solutions to manage reviews at scale.

☑ Local PR

Each location of our brand has been empowered to build a local footprint in the community it serves, customizing outreach to match community culture. We’re exploring sponsorships, scholarships, workshops, conferences, news opportunities, and other forms of participation that will build our brand via online links and social mentions as well as offline WOM marketing. We’re continuously developing cohesive online/offline outreach for maximum impact on brand recognition, rankings, reputation, and revenue.

☑ Social media

We’ve identified the social platforms that are most popular with our consumer base and a best fit for our brand. We’re practicing ongoing social listening to catch and address positive and negative sentiment trends as they arise. We’ve committed to a social mindset based on sharing rather than the hard sell.

☑ Spam-ready

We’re aware that our brand, our listings, and our reviews may be subject to spam, and we know what options are available for reporting it. We’re also prepared to detect when the spammy behaviors of competitors (such as fake addresses, fake negative/positive reviews, or keyword stuffing of listings) are giving them an unfair advantage in our markets, and have a methodology for escalating reports of guideline violations.

☑ Paid media

We’re investing wisely in both on-and-offline paid media and carefully tracking and analyzing the outcomes of online pay-per-click, radio, TV, billboards, and phone sales strategy. We’re exploring new opportunities, as appropriate and as they emerge, like Google Local Service Ads.

☑ Build/buy

When any new functionality (like Google Posts or Google Q&A) needs to be managed at scale, we have a process for determining whether we need to build or acquire new technology. We know we have to weigh the pros/cons of developing in-house or buying ready-made solutions.

☑ Competitive difference-maker

Once you’ve checked off all of the above elements, you’re ready to move forward towards identifying a USP for your brand that no one else in your market has explored. Be it a tool, widget, app, video marketing campaign, newsworthy acquisition, new partnership, or some other asset, this venture will require deep competitive and market research to discover a need that has yet to be filled well by your competitors. If your business can serve this need, it can set your brand apart for years to come.

Free advice, specifically for local enterprises

It’s asserted that customers may forget what you say, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel.

Call me a Californian, but I continue to be amazed by automotive TV spots that show large trucks driving through beautiful creeks (thanks for tearing up precious riparian habitat during our state-wide drought) and across pristine arctic snowfields (instantly reminding me of climate change). Meanwhile, my family have become Tesla-spotters, seeing that “zero emissions” messaging on the tail of every luxury eco-vehicle that passes us by. As consumers, we know how we feel.

Technical and organizational considerations aside, this is where I see one of the greatest risks posed to the local enterprise structure. Insensitivity at a regional or hyperlocal level — the failure to research customer needs with the intention of meeting them — has been responsible for some of the most startling bad news for enterprises in recent recall. From ignored negative reviews across fast food franchises, to the downsizing of multiple apparel retailers who have been unable to stake a clear claim in the shifting shopping environment, brands that aren’t successful at generating positive consumer “feelings” may need to reevaluate not just their local search marketing mindset, but their basic identity.

If this sounds uncomfortable or risky, consider that we are seeing a rising trend in CEOs taking stands on issues of national import in America. This is about feelings. Consumers are coming to expect this, and it feeds down to the local level.

Hyperlocalized market research

If your brand is considering opening a new branch in a new state or city, you’ll be creating profiles as part of your research. These could be based on everything from reading local news to conducting formal surveys. If I were to do something like this for my part of California, these are the factors I’d be highlighting about the region:

California

Enterprises

We’ve been blasted by drought and wildfire. In 2017, alone, we went through 9,133 fires. On a positive note, Indigenous thought-leadership is beginning to be re-implemented in some areas to solve our worst ecological problems (water scarcity, salmon loss, absence of traditional forestry practices).

Can your brand help conserve water, re-house thousands of homeless residents, fund mental health services despite budget cuts, make legal services affordable, provide solutions for increased future safety? What are your green practices? Are you helping to forward ecological recovery efforts at a tribal, city or state level?

We’re grumbling more loudly about tech gentrification. If you live in Mississippi, sit down for this. The average home price in your state is $199,028. In my part of California, it’s $825,000. In San Francisco, specifically, you’ll need $1.2 million dollars to buy a tiny studio apartment… if you can find one. While causes are complex, people I talk with generally blame Silicon Valley.

Can your brand be part of this conversation? If not, you’re not really addressing what is on statewide consumers’ minds. Particularly if you’re marketing a tech-oriented company, taking the housing crisis seriously and coming up with solutions for even a modest amount of relief would certainly be positive and newsworthy.

We’ve turned to online shopping for an interesting variety of reasons. And it’s not just because we’re techie hipsters. The retail inventory in big cities (San Francisco) can be overwhelming to sort through, and in small towns (Cloverdale), the shopping options are too few to meet our basic and luxury desires.

Can your brand thrive in the gaps? If you’re located in a metro area, you may need to offer personal assistance to help consumers filter through options. If you’ve got a location somewhere near small towns, strategies like same-day delivery could help you remain competitive.

We’ve got our Hispanic/Latino identity back. Our architecture, city and street names are daily reminders that California has a lot more to do with Mexico than it ever did with the Mayflower. We may have become part of the U.S. in 1850, but pay more attention to 2014 — the year that our Hispanic/Latino community became the state’s largest ethnic group. This is one of the most vibrant happenings here. At the same time, our governor has declared us a sanctuary state for immigrants, and we’re being sued for it by the Justice Department.

Can your brand celebrate our state’s diversity? If you’re doing business in California today, you’ll need bilingual marketing, staff, and in-store amenities. Pew Research publishes ongoing data about the Hispanic/Latino segment of our population. What is your brand doing to ensure that these customers feel truly served?

We’re politically diverse. Our single state is roughly the same size as Sweden, and we truly do run the political gamut from A–Z here. Are citizens removing a man-made dam heroically restoring ecology or getting in the way of commerce? You’ll find voices on every side.

Can your brand take the risk of publicizing its honest core values? If so, you are guaranteed to win and lose Californian customers, so do your research and be prepared to own your stance. Know that at a regional level, communities differ greatly. Those TV ads that show trucks running roughshod through fragile ecosystems may fly in some cities and be viewed with extreme distaste in others.

Money is top of mind. More than ⅓ of Californians have zero savings. Over½ of the citizens have less than $1000 in savings. We invest more in Welfare than the next two states combined. And while our state has the highest proportion of resident billionaires, they are vastly outnumbered by citizens who are continuously anxious about struggling to get by. Purchasing decisions are seldom easy.

Can your brand employ a significant number of residents and pay them a living wage? Could your entry into a new market lift poverty in a town and provide better financial security? This would be newsworthy! Have ideas for lowering prices? You’ll get some attention there, too.

Obviously, I’m painting with broad strokes here, just touching on some of the key points that your enterprise would need to consider in determining to commence operations in any city or state. Why does this matter? Because the hyperlocalization of marketing is on the rise, and to engage with a community, you must first understand it.

Every month, I see businesses shutter because someone failed to apprehend true local demand. Did that bank pick a good location for a new branch? Yes — the next branch is on the other side of the city. Will the new location of the taco franchise remain open? No — it’s already sitting empty while the beloved taco wagon down the street has a line that spills out of its parking lot all night long.

Summing up

“What helps people, helps business.” Leo Burnett

The checklist in this post can help you create an enterprise-appropriate strategy for well-organized local search marketing, and it’s my hope that you’ll evaluate all SEO advice for its fitness to your model. These are the basic necessities. But where you go from there is the exciting part. The creative solutions you find to meet the specific wants and needs of individualized service communities could spell out the longevity of your brand’s success.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 1 week ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Guide to Local Sponsorship Marketing – The 2018 Edition

Posted by Claudia0428

For most Moz readers, local marketing means content, reviews, AdWords, local listings, and of course citations. If you’re a larger brand, you might be doing outdoor, radio, print, and television advertising as well. Today we’re here to humbly submit that local sponsorships remain the most-overlooked and opportunity-rich channel, and they build real local connections for both large brands and small business alike.

This article is the second edition of the ZipSprout team’s guide to local sponsorships. We wrote the first edition in 2016 after a few months of securing local sponsorship campaigns for a handful of clients. Since then, we’ve tripled our client roster and we’ve worked with more than 8,000 local organizations, donating nearly $1,000,000 in local sponsorships to 1,300+ opportunities. Since then we’ve also learned how to build campaigns for local presence.

So we knew the guide was due for a reboot.

One of our most significant learnings of the past two years is the understanding of local sponsorships as a channel in their own right. They can be directed toward local SEO or local marketing campaigns, but sponsorships are their own breed of local connection — and just like content campaigns, local PR campaigns, or review management, local sponsorships have their own set of conventions and best practices.

This article is meant for anyone with an eye toward local sponsorships as a marketing channel. Agencies and enterprise organizations may find it particularly helpful, but we’re big believers in encouraging smaller local businesses to engage in sponsorships too. Get out there and meet your neighbors!


The what & why of local sponsorships

Local events, nonprofits, and associations constitute a disjointed but very real network of opportunities. Unlike other channels, local sponsorships aren’t accessible from a single platform, but we’ve found that many sponsorships share similarities. This makes it possible to develop processes that work for campaigns in any metro area.

Local sponsorships are also a unique channel in that the benefits can range from the digital to the analog: from local links to a booth, from social posts to signage on a soccer field. The common thread is joining the community by partnering with local organizations, but the benefits themselves vary widely.

We’ve identified and track 24 unique benefits of sponsorships related to local marketing:

  1. Ad (full or partial)
  2. Advertising on event app
  3. Blog post featuring sponsor
  4. Booth, tent, or table at event
  5. Event named for sponsor
  6. Guest post on organization blog
  7. Inclusion in press release
  8. Link in email newsletter
  9. Link on website
  10. Logo on event t-shirt or other swag
  11. Logo on signage
  12. Logo or name on website
  13. Media spots (television/radio/newspaper)
  14. Mention in email newsletter
  15. Mention in publicity materials, such as programs & other printed materials
  16. Networking opportunity
  17. Physical thing (building, etc.) named for sponsor
  18. Social media mention
  19. Speaking opportunity at event
  20. Sponsor & sponsor’s employees receive discounts on services/products/events
  21. Sponsor can donate merchandise for goodie bags
  22. Sponsored post (on blog or online magazine)
  23. Tickets to event
  24. Verbal recognition

There are probably more, but in our experience most benefits fall into these core categories. That said, these benefits aren’t necessarily for everyone…

Who shouldn’t do local sponsorships?

1. Don’t do local sponsorships if you need fast turnaround.

Campaigns can take 1–3 months from launch until fulfillment. If you’re in a hurry to see a return, just increase your search ad budget.

2. Don’t do local sponsorships if you’re not okay with the branding component.

Local link building can certainly be measured, as can coupon usage, email addresses gathered for a drawing, etc… But measuring local brand lift still isn’t a perfect art form. Leave pure attribution to digital ads.

3. Don’t do local sponsorships with a “one size fits all” expectation.

The great thing about local events and opportunities is their diversity. While some components can be scaled, others require high touch outreach, more similar to a PR campaign.

Considerations for agencies vs brands in local sponsorship campaigns

Agencies, especially if they’re creating sponsorship campaigns for multiple clients, can cast a wide net and select from the best opportunities that return. Even if a potential partnership isn’t a good fit for a current client, they may work for a client down the road. Brands, on the other hand, need to be a little more goal and mission-focused during prospecting and outreach. If they’re reaching out to organizations that are clearly a bad fit, they’re wasting everyone’s time.

Brands also need to be more careful because they have a consumer-facing image to protect. As with any outreach campaign, there are dos and don’ts and best practices that all should follow (DO be respectful; DON’T over-email), but brands especially have more to lose from an outreach faux pas.


Our process

Outreach

Once we’ve identified local organizations in a given metro area, we recommend reaching out with an email to introduce ourselves and learn more about sponsorship opportunities. In two years, the ZipSprout team has A/B tested 100 different email templates.

With these initial emails, we’re trying to inform without confusing or scaring away potential new partners. Some templates have resulted in local organizations thinking we’re asking them for sponsorship money or that we want to charge them for a service. Oops! A/B tests have helped to find the best wording for clarity and, in turn, response rate.

Here are some of our learnings:

1. Mentioning location matters.

We reached out to almost 1,000 Chicago organizations in the spring of 2017. When we mentioned Chicago in the email, the response rate increased by 20%.

2. Emails sent to organizations who already had sponsorship info on their websites were most successful if the email acknowledged the onsite sponsorship info and asked for confirmation.

These are also our most successful outreach attempts, likely because these organizations are actively looking for sponsors (as signified by having sponsorship info on their site). Further, by demonstrating that we’ve been on their site, we’re signaling a higher level of intent.

3. Whether or not we included an outreacher phone number in email signatures had no effect on response rate.

If anything, response rates were higher for emails with no phone number in signature, at 41% compared with 40.2%.

4. Shorter is better when it comes to outreach emails.

Consider the following two emails:

EMAIL A


Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. 🙂

I work to help corporate clients find local sponsorships. We’re an agency that helps our business clients identify and sponsor local organizations like [ORG NAME]. We’re paid by businesses who are looking for local sponsorships.

Often, local organizations are overlooked, so my company, ZipSprout, works for businesses who want to sponsor locally, but aren’t sure who to partner with. To that end, I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorship opportunities you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?


Thanks,

___

EMAIL B

Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. 🙂

I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorships you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?


Thanks,

___

In an 800-email test, Email B performed 30% better than Email A.

Matchmaking: How can I choose a sponsorship opportunity that fits my brand?

There are many ways to evaluate potential sponsorships.

These are the questions that help us match organizations with clients:

  • Who is your brand targeting (women, senior citizens, family-friendly, dog owners, new parents)?
  • Do you want to tie your brand with a particular cause (eco-friendly, professional associations, awareness foundations, advocacy groups)?
  • Is your campaign based on location? Are you launching your brand in a particular city? A particular zip code?
  • What is your total budget and per-sponsorship range? A top max price or a price range is a useful parameter — and perhaps the most important.

Once the campaign goals are determined, we filter through opportunities based partially on their online presence. We look at Domain Authority, location, website aesthetics, and other sponsors (competitors and non-competitors) in addition to Reach Score (details below).

Further, we review backlinks, organic traffic, and referring domains. We make sure that this nonprofit partnership is not spammy or funky from an SEO perspective and that is a frequently visited website. A small organization may not have all the juicy digital metrics, but by gauging event attendance or measuring organic traffic we can further identify solid prospects that could have been missed otherwise.

We also look at social media presence; event attendance, event dates and how responsive these organizations or event organizers are. Responsiveness, we have learned, is a CRITICAL variable. It can be the determining point of your link going live in 48 hours or less, as opposed to 6+ months from payment.

Reach Score

From a numbers perspective, Domain Authority is a good way to appreciate the value of a website, but it doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to local marketing. To help fill in the gaps we created Reach Score, which combines virtual measures (like Domain Authority) with social measures (friends/followers) and physical measures (event attendance). The score ranks entities based on their metro area, so we’re not comparing the reach of an organization in Louisville, KY to one in NYC.

As of March 2018, we have about 8,000 organizations with valid Reach Scores across four metro areas — Raleigh/Durham, Boston, Houston, and Chicago. The average Reach Score is 37 out of 100. Of the 34 types of organizations that we track, the most common is Event Venue/Company (average Reach Score of 38), followed by Advocacy Groups (43) and Sports Teams/Clubs/Leagues (22). The types of organizations with the highest Reach Scores are Local Government (64), Museums (63), and Parks and Recreation (55).

Thanks to Reach Score, we’ve found differences between organizations from city to city as well. In Raleigh-Durham, the entities with the highest reach tend to be government-related organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce and Parks & Rec Departments.

In Boston, the highest reach tends to fall to arts organizations, such as music ensembles, as well as professional associations. This score serves as a good reminder that each metro area has a unique community of local organizations. (Read more about our Reach Score findings here.)

Fulfillment

Our campaigns used to take several months to complete, from contract to final sponsorship. Now our average fulfillment rate is 18.7 days, regardless of our project size! Staying (politely) on top of the communication with the nonprofit organizations was the main driver for this improvement.

We find further that the first 48 hours from sending a notification of sponsorship on behalf of your brand are crucial to speedy campaigns. Be ready to award the sponsorship funds in a timely manner and follow up with a phone call or an email, checking in to see if these funds have been received.

It’s okay to ask when can you expect the sponsorship digital benefits to go live and how to streamline the process for any other deliverables needed to complete the sponsorship.

Applying these simple best practices, our team has been able to run a campaign in a week or less.

Two important concepts to remember about the sponsorship channel from the fulfillment perspective:

  1. It’s difficult to fulfill. If your city project involves any more than two or three sponsorships, you’re in for multiple hours of follow ups, reminders, phone calls, etc. There is the desire from most local organizations to honor their sponsors and keep them happy. That said, we’ve learned that keeping the momentum going serves as an important reminder for the nonprofit. This can involve phone call reminders and emails for links to go live and other benefits to come through. Again, be polite and respectful.
  2. It’s SO worth all the effort though! It shows that your brand cares. A sponsorship campaign is a fantastic way to get in front of your target audience in areas that have a special meaning at a personal level. And not in a broad general scope, but locally. Locally sponsoring a beach cleanup in Santa Monica gives you the opportunity to impact a highly localized audience with a very particular cause in mind that would ultimately affect their everyday life, as opposed to partnering with a huge foundation advocating for clean oceans.

Enhancing a local campaign

Some prefer to use local sponsorships as a link building effort, but there are ways — and ample benefit — to going far beyond the link.

Local event attendance

So, so many local sponsorship campaigns come with the opportunity for event attendance. We currently have 11,345 opportunities in our database (62.2% of our total inventory) that feature events: 5Ks, galas, performances, parades, and even a rubber ducky derby or two! If you’re able to send local team members, find opportunities that match your target audience and test it out — and bring your camera so your social and brand team will have material for publication. If local team members aren’t an option, consider working with a notable and ambitious startup such as Field Day, which can send locals out on behalf of your brand. We’ve spoken with them on several occasions and found them adaptable and wonderful to work with.

Coupons/invitations

One client, FunBrands, used local sponsorships as a way to reach out to locals ahead of stores’ grand re-openings (read the full case study here).

For another client, we created unique coupons for each local organization, using print and social media posts for distribution.

An example coupon — use codes to track attribution back to an event.


Conclusion: Local sponsorships are a channel

Sponsorships are an actionable strategy that contribute to your local rankings, while providing unprecedented opportunities for community engagement and neighborly branding. We hope that this updated guide will provide a strong operational overview along with realistic expectations — and even inspirations — for a local sponsorship campaign in your target cities.

Last but not least: As with all outreach campaigns, please remember to be human. Keep in mind that local engagements are the living extension of your brand in the real world. And if somehow this article wasn’t enough, we just finished up The Local Sponsorship Playbook. Every purchase comes with a 30-minute consultation with the author. We hope everyone chooses to get out, get local, and join the community in the channel that truly benefits everyone.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 weeks ago from tracking.feedpress.it

MozCon 2018: The Initial Agenda

Posted by Trevor-Klein

With just over three months until MozCon 2018, we’re getting a great picture of what this year’s show will be like, and we can’t wait to share some of the details with you today.

We’ve got 21 speakers lined up (and will be launching our Community Speaker process soon — stay tuned for more details on how to make your pitch!). You’ll see some familiar faces, and some who’ll be on the MozCon stage for the first time, with topics ranging from the evolution of searcher intent to the increasing importance of local SEO, and from navigating bureaucracy for buy-in to cutting the noise out of your reporting.

Topic details and the final agenda are still in the works, but we’re excited enough about the conversations we’ve had with speakers that we wanted to give you a sneak peek. We hope to see you in Seattle this July 9–11!

If you still need your tickets, we’ve got you covered:

Pick up your ticket to MozCon!

The Speakers

Here’s a look at who you’ll see on stage this year, along with some of the topics we’ve already worked out:


Jono Alderson

Mad Scientist, Yoast

The Democratization of SEO

Jono will explore how much time and money we collectively burn by fixing the same kinds of basic, “binary,” well-defined things over and over again (e.g., meta tags, 404s, URLs, etc), when we could be teaching others throughout our organizations not to break them in the first place.

As long as we “own” technical SEO, there’s no reason (for example) for the average developer to learn it or care — so they keep making the same mistakes. We proclaim that others are doing things wrong, but by doing so we only reinforce the line between our skills and theirs.

We need to start giving away bits of the SEO discipline, and technical SEO is probably the easiest thing for us to stop owning.

In his talk, he’ll push for more democratization, education, collaboration, and investment in open source projects so we can fix things once, rather than a million times.


Stephanie Briggs

Partner, Briggsby

Search-Driven Content Strategy

Google’s improvements in understanding language and search intent have changed how and why content ranks. As a result, many SEOs are chasing rankings that Google has already decided are hopeless.

Stephanie will cover how this should impact the way you write and optimize content for search, and will help you identify the right content opportunities. She’ll teach you how to persuade organizations to invest in content, and will share examples of strategies and tactics she has used to grow content programs by millions of visits.


Rob Bucci

CEO, STAT Search Analytics

“Near me” or Far:
How Google May Be Deciding Your Local Intent for You

In August 2017, Google stated that local searches without the “near me” modifier had grown by 150% and that searchers were beginning to drop geo-modifiers — like zip code and neighborhood — from local queries altogether. But does Google still know what searchers are after?

For example: the query [best breakfast places] suggests that quality takes top priority; [breakfast places near me] indicates that close proximity is essential; and [breakfast places in Seattle] seems to cast a city-wide net; while [breakfast places] is largely ambiguous.

By comparing non-geo-modified keywords against those modified with the prepositional phrases “near me” and “in [city name]” and qualifiers like “best,” we hope to understand how Google interprets different levels of local intent and uncover patterns in the types of SERPs produced.

With a better understanding of how local SERPs behave, SEOs can refine keyword lists, tailor content, and build targeted campaigns accordingly.


Neil Crist

VP of Product, Moz

The Local Sweet Spot: Automation Isn’t Enough

Some practitioners of local SEO swear by manual curation, claiming that automation skips over the most important parts. Some swear the exact opposite. The real answer, especially when you’re working at enterprise scale, is a sweet spot in the middle.

In this talk, Neil will show you where that spot is, why different verticals require different work, and some original research that reveals which of those verticals are most stable.


Dana DiTomaso

President and Partner, Kick Point

Traffic vs. Signal

With an ever-increasing slate of options in tools like Google Tag Manager and Google Data Studio, marketers of all stripes are falling prey to the habit of “I’ll collect this data because maybe I’ll need it eventually,” when in reality it’s creating a lot of noise for zero signal.

We’re still approaching our metrics from the organization’s perspective, and not from the customer’s perspective. Why, for example, are we not reporting on (or even thinking about, really) how quickly a customer can do what they need to do? Why are we still fixated on pageviews? In this talk, Dana will focus our attention on what really matters.


Rand Fishkin

Founder, SparkToro, Moz, & Inbound.org

A man who needs no introduction to MozCon, we’re thrilled to announce that Rand will be back on stage this year after founding his new company, SparkToro. Topic development for his talk is in the works; check back for more information!


Oli Gardner

Co-Founder, Unbounce

Content Marketing Is Broken and Only Your M.O.M. Can Save You

Traditional content marketing focuses on educational value at the expense of product value, which is a broken and outdated way of thinking. We all need to sell a product, and our visitors all need a product to improve their lives, but we’re so afraid of being seen as salesy that somehow we got lost, and we forgot why our content even exists.

We need our M.O.M.s!

No, he isn’t talking about your actual mother. He’s talking about your Marketing Optimization Map — your guide to exploring the nuances of optimized content marketing through a product-focused lens.

In this session you’ll learn:

  • Data and lessons learned from his biggest ever content marketing experiment, and how those lessons have changed his approach to content
  • A context-to-content-to-conversion strategy for big content that converts
  • Advanced methods for creating “choose your own adventure” navigational experiences to build event-based behavioral profiles of your visitors (using GTM and GA)
  • Innovative ways to productize and market the technology you already have, with use cases your customers had never considered

Casie Gillette

Senior Director, Digital Marketing, KoMarketing

The Problem with Content & Other Things We Don’t Want to Admit

Everyone thinks they need content but they don’t think about why they need it or what they actually need to create. As a result, we are overwhelmed with poor quality content and marketers are struggling to prove the value.

In this session, we’ll look at some of the key challenges facing marketers today and how a data-driven strategy can help us make better decisions.


Emily Grossman

Mobile Product Marketer & App Strategist

What All Marketers Can Do about Site Speed

At this point, we should all have some idea of how important site speed is to our performance in search. The mobile-first index underscored that fact yet again. It isn’t always easy for marketers to know where to start improving their site’s speed, though, and a lot of folks mistakenly believe they need developers for most of those improvements. Emily will clear that up with an actionable tour of just how much impact our own work can have on getting our sites to load quickly enough for today’s standards.


Russ Jones

Principal Search Scientist, Moz

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Russ is our principal search scientist here at Moz. After a decade as CTO of an agency, he joined Moz to focus on what he’s most interested in: research and development, primarily related to keyword and link data. He’s responsible for many of our most forward-looking techniques.

At MozCon this year, he’s looking to focus on cutting through bad metrics with far better metrics, exploring the hidden assumptions and errors in things our industry regularly reports, showing us all how we can paint a more accurate picture of what’s going on.


Justine Jordan

VP Marketing, Litmus

A veteran of the MozCon stage, Justine is obsessed with helping marketers create, test, and send better email. Named an Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year, she is strangely passionate about email marketing, hates being called a spammer, and still gets nervous when pressing send.

At MozCon this year, she’s looking to cover the importance of engagement with emails in today’s world of marketing. With the upcoming arrival of GDPR and the ease with which you can unsubscribe and report spam, it’s more important than ever to treat people like people instead of just leads.


Michael King

Managing Director, iPullRank

You Don’t Know SEO

Or maybe, “SEO you don’t know you don’t know.” We’ve all heard people throw jargon around in an effort to sound smart when they clearly don’t know what it means, and our industry of SEO is no exception. There are aspects of search that are acknowledged as important, but seldom actually understood. Mike will save us from awkward moments, taking complex topics like the esoteric components of information retrieval and log-file analysis, pairing them with a detailed understanding of technical implementation of common SEO recommendations, and transforming them into tools and insights we wish we’d never neglected.


Cindy Krum

CEO & Founder, MobileMoxie

Mobile-First Indexing or a Whole New Google

The emergence of voice-search and Google Assistant is forcing Google to change its model in search, to favor their own entity understanding or the world, so that questions and queries can be answered in context. Many marketers are struggling to understand how their website and their job as an SEO or SEM will change, as searches focus more on entity-understanding, context and action-oriented interaction. This shift can either provide massive opportunities, or create massive threats to your company and your job — the main determining factor is how you choose to prepare for the change.


Dr. Pete Meyers

Marketing Scientist, Moz

Dr. Peter J. Meyers (AKA “Dr. Pete”) is a Marketing Scientist for Seattle-based Moz, where he works with the marketing and data science teams on product research and data-driven content. Guarding the thin line between marketing and data science — which is more like a hallway and pretty wide — he’s the architect behind MozCast, the keeper of the Algo History, and watcher of all things Google.


Britney Muller

Senior SEO Scientist, Moz

Britney is Moz’s senior SEO scientist. An explorer and investigator at heart, she won’t stop digging until she gets to the bottom of some of the most interesting developments in the world of search. You can find her on Whiteboard Friday, and she’s currently polishing a new (and dramatically improved!) version of our Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

At MozCon this year, she’ll show you what she found at the bottom of the rabbit hole to save you the journey.


Lisa Myers

CEO, Verve Search

None of Us Is as Smart as All of Us

Success in SEO, or in any discipline, is frequently reliant on people’s ability to work together. Lisa Myers started Verve Search in 2009, and from the very beginning was convinced of the importance of building a diverse team, then developing and empowering them to find their own solutions.

In this session she’ll share her experiences and offer actionable advice on how to attract, develop and retain the right people in order to build a truly world-class team.


Heather Physioc

Director of Organic Search, VML

Your Red-Tape Toolkit:
How to Win Trust and Get Approval for Search Work

Are your search recommendations overlooked and misunderstood? Do you feel like you hit roadblocks at every turn? Are you worried that people don’t understand the value of your work? Learn how to navigate corporate bureaucracy and cut through red tape to help clients and colleagues understand your search work — and actually get it implemented. From diagnosing client maturity to communicating where search fits into the big picture, these tools will equip you to overcome obstacles to doing your best work.


Mike Ramsey

President, Nifty Marketing

The Awkward State of Local

You know it exists. You know what a citation is, and have a sense for the importance of accurate listings. But with personalization and localization playing an increasing role in every SERP, local can no longer be seen in its own silo — every search and social marketer should be honing their understanding. For that matter, it’s also time for local search marketers to broaden the scope of their work.


Wil Reynolds

Founder & Director of Digital Strategy, Seer Interactive

Excel Is for Rookies:
Why Every Search Marketer Needs to Get Strong in BI, ASAP

The analysts are coming for your job, not AI (at least not yet). Analysts stopped using Excel years ago; they use Tableau, Power BI, Looker! They see more data than you, and that is what is going to make them a threat to your job. They might not know search, but they know data. I’ll document my obsession with Power BI and the insights I can glean in seconds which is helping every single client at Seer at the speed of light. Search marketers must run to this opportunity, as analysts miss out on the insights because more often than not they use these tools to report. We use them to find insights.


Alexis Sanders

Technical SEO Account Manager, Merkle

Alexis works as a Technical SEO Account Manager at Merkle, ensuring the accuracy, feasibility, and scalability of the agency’s technical recommendations across all verticals. You’ve likely seen her on the Moz blog, Search Engine Land, OnCrawl, The Raven Blog, and TechnicalSEO.com. She’s got a knack for getting the entire industry excited about the more technical aspects of SEO, and if you haven’t already, you’ve got to check out the technical SEO challenge she created at https://TechnicalSEO.expert.


Darren Shaw

Founder, Whitespark

At the forefront of local SEO, Darren is obsessed with knowing all there is to know about local search. He organizes and publishes research initiatives such as the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey and the Local Search Ecosystem.

At MozCon this year, he’ll unveil the newest findings from the Local Search Ranking Factors study, for which he’s already noticing significant changes from the last release, letting SEOs of all stripes know how they need to adjust their approach.


Grab your ticket today!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 weeks ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How to Boost Bookings & Conversions with Google Posts: An Interview with Joel Headley

Posted by MiriamEllis

Have you been exploring all the ways you might use Google Posts to set and meet brand goals?

Chances are good you’ve heard of Google Posts by now: the micro-blogging Google My Business dashboard feature which instantly populates content to your Knowledge Panel and individual listing. We’re still only months into the release of this fascinating capability, use of which is theorized as having a potential impact on local pack rankings. When I recently listened to Joel Headley describing his incredibly creative use of Google Posts to increase healthcare provider bookings, it’s something I was excited to share with the Moz community here.


Joel Headley

Joel Headley worked for over a decade on local and web search at Google. He’s now the Director of Local SEO and Marketing at healthcare practice growth platform PatientPop. He’s graciously agreed to chat with me about how his company increased appointment bookings by about 11% for thousands of customer listings via Google Posts.

How PatientPop used Google Posts to increase bookings by 11%

Miriam: So, Joel, Google offers a formal booking feature within their own product, but it isn’t always easy to participate in that program, and it keeps users within “Google’s walled garden” instead of guiding them to brand-controlled assets. As I recently learned, PatientPop innovated almost instantly when Google Posts was rolled out in 2017. Can you summarize for me what your company put together for your customers as a booking vehicle that didn’t depend on Google’s booking program?

Joel: PatientPop wants to provide patients an opportunity to make appointments directly with their healthcare provider. In that way, we’re a white label service. Google has had a handful of booking products. In a prior iteration, there was a simpler product that was powered by schema and microforms, which could have scaled to anyone willing to add the schema.

Today, they are putting their effort behind Reserve with Google, which requires a much deeper API integration. While PatientPop would be happy to provide more services on Google, Reserve with Google doesn’t yet allow most of our customers, according to their own policies. (However, the reservation service is marketed through Google My Business to those categories, which is a bit confusing.)

Additionally, when you open the booking widget, you see two logos: G Pay and the booking software provider. I’d love to see a product that allows the healthcare provider to be front and center in the entire process. A patient-doctor relationship is personal, and we’d like to emphasize you’re booking your doctor, not PatientPop.

Because we can’t get the CTAs unique to Reserve with Google, we realized that Google Posts can be a great vehicle for us to essentially get the same result.

When Google Posts first launched, I tested a handful of practices. The interaction rate was low compared to other elements in the Google listing. But, given there was incremental gain in traffic, it seemed worthwhile, if we could scale the product. It seemed like a handy way to provide scheduling with Google without having to go through the hoops of the Maps Booking (reserve with) API.

Miriam: Makes sense! Now, I’ve created a fictitious example of what it looks like to use Google Posts to prompt bookings, following your recommendations to use a simple color as the image background and to make the image text quite visible. Does this look similar to what PatientPop is doing for its customers and can you provide recommendations for the image size and font size you’ve seen work best?

Joel: Yes, that’s pretty similar to the types of Posts we’re submitting to our customer listings. I tested a handful of image types, ones with providers, some with no text, and the less busy image with actionable text is what performed the best. I noticed that making the image look more like a button, with button-like text, improved click-through rates too — CTR doubled compared to images with no text.

The image size we use is 750×750 with 48-point font size. If one uses the API, the image must be square cropped when creating the post. Otherwise, Posts using the Google My Business interface will give you an option to crop. The only issue I have with the published version of the image: the cropping is uneven — sometimes it is center-cropped, but other times, the bottom is cut off. That makes it hard to predict when on-image text will appear. But we keep it in the center which generally works pretty well.

Miriam: And, when clicked on, the Google Post takes the user to the client’s own website, where PatientPop software is being used to manage appointments — is that right?

Joel: Yes, the site is built by PatientPop. When selecting Book, the patient is taken directly to the provider’s site where the booking widget is opened and an appointment can be selected from a calendar. These appointments can be synced back to the practice’s electronic records system.

Miriam: Very tidy! As I understand it, PatientPop manages thousands of client listings, necessitating the need to automate this use of Google Posts. Without giving any secrets away, can you share a link to the API you used and explain how you templatized the process of creating Posts at scale?

Joel: Sure! We were waiting for Google to provide Posts via the Google My Business API, because we wanted to scale. While I had a bit of a heads-up that the API was coming — Google shared this feature with their GMB Top Contributor group — we still had to wait for it to launch to see the documentation and try it out. So, when the launch announcement went out on October 11, with just a few developers, we were able to implement the solution for all of our practices the next evening. It was a fun, quick win for us, though it was a bit of a long day. 🙂

In order to get something out that quickly, we created templates that could use information from the listing itself like the business name, category, and location. That way, we were able to create a stand-alone Python script that grabbed listings from Google. When getting the listings, all the listing content comes along with it, including name, address, and category. These values are taken directly from the listing to create Posts and then are submitted to Google. We host the images on AWS and reuse them by submitting the image URL with the post. It’s a Python script which runs as a cron job on a regular schedule. If you’re new to the API, the real tricky part is authentication, but the GMB community can help answer questions there.

Miriam: Really admirable implementation! One question: Google Posts expire after 7 days unless they are events, so are you basically automating re-posting of the booking feature for each listing every seven days?

Joel: We create Posts every seven days for all our practices. That way, we can mix up the content and images used on any given practice. We’re also adding a second weekly post for practices that offer aesthetic services. We’ll be launching more Posts for specific practice types going forward, too.

Miriam: Now for the most exciting part, Joel! What can you tell me about the increase in appointments this use of Google Posts has delivered for your customers? And, can you also please explain what parameters and products you are using to track this growth?

Joel: To track clicks from listings on Google, we use UTM parameters. We can then track the authority page, the services (menu) URL, the appointment URL, and the Posts URL.

When I first did this analysis, I looked at the average of the last three weeks of appointments compared to the 4 days after launch. Over that period, I saw nearly an 8% increase in online bookings. I’ve since included the entire first week of launch. It shows an 11% average increase in online bookings.

Additionally, because we’re tracking each URL in the knowledge panel separately, I can confidently say there’s no cannibalization of clicks from other URLs as a result of adding Posts. While authority page CTR remained steady, services lost over 10% of the clicks and appointment URLs gained 10%. That indicates to me that not only are the Posts effective in driving appointments through the Posts CTA, it emphasizes the existing appointment CTA too. This was in the context of no additional product changes on our side.

Miriam: Right, so, some of our readers will be using Google’s Local Business URLs (frequently used for linking to menus) to add an “Appointments” link. One of the most exciting takeaways from your implementation is that using Google Posts to support bookings didn’t steal attention away from the appointment link, which appears higher up in the Knowledge Panel. Can you explain why you feel the Google Posts clicks have been additive instead of subtractive?

Joel: The “make appointment” link gets a higher CTR than Posts, so it shouldn’t be ignored. However, since
Posts include an image, I suspect it might be attracting a different kind of user, which is more primed to interact with images. And because we’re so specific on the type of interaction we want (appointment booking), both with the CTA and the image, it seems to convert well. And, as I stated above, it seems to help the appointment URLs too.

Miriam: I was honestly so impressed with your creativity in this, Joel. It’s just brilliant to look at something as simple as this little bit of Google screen real estate and ask, “Now, how could I use this to maximum effect?” Google Posts enables business owners to include links labeled Book, Order Online, Buy, Learn More, Sign Up, and Get Offer. The “Book” feature is obviously an ideal match for your company’s health care provider clients, but given your obvious talent for thinking outside the box, would you have any creative suggestions for other types of business models using the other pre-set link options?

Joel: I’m really excited about the events feature, actually. Because you can create a long-lived post while adding a sense of urgency by leveraging a time-bound context. Events can include limited-time offers, like a sale on a particular product, or signups for a newsletter that will include a coupon code. You can use all the link labels you’ve listed above for any given event. And, I think using the image-as-button philosophy can really drive results. I’d like to see an image with text Use coupon code XYZ546 now! with the Get Offer button. I imagine many business types, especially retail, can highlight their limited time deals without paying other companies to advertise your coupons and deals via Posts.

Miriam: Agreed, Joel, there are some really exciting opportunities for creative use here. Thank you so much for the inspiring knowledge you’ve shared with our community today!


Ready to get the most from Google Posts?

Reviews can be a challenge to manage. Google Q&A may be a mixed blessing. But as far as I can see, Posts are an unalloyed gift from Google. Here’s all you have to do to get started using them right now for a single location of your business:

  • Log into your Google My Business dashboard and click the “Posts” tab in the left menu.
  • Determine which of the options, labeled “Buttons,” is the right fit for your business. It could be “Book,” or it could be something else, like “Sign up” or “Buy.” Click the “Add a Button” option in the Google Posts wizard. Be sure the URL you enter includes a UTM parameter for tracking purposes.
  • Upload a 750×750 image. Joel recommends using a simple-colored background and highly visible 42-point font size for turning this image into a CTA button-style graphic. You may need to experiment with cropping the image.
  • Alternatively, you can create an event, which will cause your post to stay live through the date of the event.
  • Text has a minimum 100-character and maximum 300-character limit. I recommend writing something that would entice users to click to get beyond the cut-off point, especially because it appears to me that there are different display lengths on different devices. It’s also a good idea to bear in mind that Google Posts are indexed content. Initial testing is revealing that simply utilizing Posts may improve local pack rankings, but there is also an interesting hypothesis that they are a candidate for long-tail keyword optimization experiments. According to Mike Blumenthal:

“…If there are very long-tail phrases, where the ability to increase relevance isn’t up against so many headwinds, then this is a signal that Google might recognize and help lift the boat for that long-tail phrase. My experience with it was it didn’t work well on head phrases, and it may require some amount of interaction for it to really work well. In other words, I’m not sure just the phrase itself but the phrase with click-throughs on the Posts might be the actual trigger to this. It’s not totally clear yet.”

  • You can preview your post before you hit the publish button.
  • Your post will stay live for 7 days. After that, it will be time to post a new one.
  • If you need to implement at scale across multiple listings, re-read Joel’s description of the API and programming PatientPop is utilizing. It will take some doing, but an 11% increase in appointments may well make it worth the investment! And obviously, if you happen to be marketing health care providers, checking out PatientPop’s ready-made solution would be smart.

Nobody likes a ball-hog

I’m watching the development of Google Posts with rapt interest. Right now, they reside on Knowledge Panels and listings, but given that they are indexed, it’s not impossible that they could eventually end up in the organic SERPs. Whether or not that ever happens, what we have right now in this feature is something that offers instant publication to the consumer public in return for very modest effort.

Perhaps even more importantly, Posts offer a way to bring users from Google to your own website, where you have full control of messaging. That single accomplishment is becoming increasingly difficult as rich-feature SERPs (and even single results) keep searchers Google-bound. I wonder if school kids still shout “ball-hog” when a classmate refuses to relinquish ball control and be a team player. For now, for local businesses, Google Posts could be a precious chance for your brand to handle the ball.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 1 month ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The 2018 Local SEO Forecast: 9 Predictions According to Mozzers

Posted by MiriamEllis

It’s February, and we’ve all dipped our toes into the shallow end of the 2018 pool. Today, let’s dive into the deeper waters of the year ahead, with local search marketing predictions from Moz’s Local SEO Subject Matter Expert, our Marketing Scientist, and our SEO & Content Architect. Miriam Ellis, Dr. Peter J. Myers, and Britney Muller weigh in on what your brand should prepare for in the coming months in local.


WOMM, core SEO knowledge, and advice for brands both large and small

Miriam Ellis, Moz Associate & Local SEO SME

LSAs will highlight the value of Google-independence

Word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) and loyalty initiatives will become increasingly critical to service area business whose results are disrupted by Google’s Local Service Ads. SABs aren’t going to love having to “rent back” their customers from Google, so Google-independent lead channels will have enhanced value. That being said, the first small case study I’ve seen indicates that LSAs may be a winner over traditional Adwords in terms of cost and conversions.

Content will be the omni-channel answer

Content will grow in value, as it is the answer to everything coming our way: voice search, Google Posts, Google Questions & Answers, owner responses, and every stage of the sales funnel. Because of this, agencies which have formerly thought of themselves as strictly local SEO consultants will need to master the fundamentals of organic keyword research and link building, as well as structured data, to offer expert-level advice in the omni-channel environment. Increasingly, clients will need to become “the answer” to queries… and that answer will predominantly reside in content dev.

Retail may downsize but must remain physical

Retail is being turned on its head, with Amazon becoming the “everything store” and the triumphant return of old-school home delivery. Large brands failing to see profits in this new environment will increasingly downsize to the showroom scenario, significantly cutting costs, while also possibly growing sales as personally assisted consumers are dissuaded from store-and-cart abandonment, and upsold on tie-ins. Whether this will be an ultimate solution for shaky brands, I can’t say, but it matters to the local SEO industry because showrooms are, at least, physical locations and therefore eligible for all of the goodies of our traditional campaigns.

SMBs will hold the quality high card

For smaller local brands, emphasis on quality will be the most critical factor. Go for the customers who care about specific attributes (e.g. being truly local, made in the USA, handcrafted, luxury, green, superior value, etc.). Evaluating and perfecting every point of contact with the customer (from how phone calls are assisted, to how online local business data is managed, to who asks for and responds to reviews) matters tremendously. This past year, I’ve watched a taxi driver launch a delivery business on the side, grow to the point where he quit driving a cab, hire additional drivers, and rack up a profusion of 5-star, unbelievably positive reviews, all because his style of customer service is memorably awesome. Small local brands will have the nimbleness and hometown know-how to succeed when quality is what is being sold.


In-pack ads, in-SERP features, and direct-to-website traffic

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz

In-pack ads to increase

Google will get more aggressive about direct local advertising, and in-pack ads will expand. In 2018, I expect local pack ads will not only appear on more queries but will make the leap to desktop SERPs and possibly Google Home.

In-SERP features to grow

Targeted, local SERP features will also expand. Local Service Ads rolled out to more services and cities in 2017, and Google isn’t going to stop there. They’ve shown a clear willingness to create specialized content for both organic and local. For example, 2017 saw Google launch a custom travel portal and jobs portal on the “organic” side, and this trend is accelerating.

Direct-to-website traffic to decline

The push to keep local search traffic in Google properties (i.e. Maps) will continue. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen local packs go from results that link directly to websites, to having a separate “Website” link to local sites being buried 1–2 layers deep. In some cases, local sites are being almost completely supplanted by local Knowledge Panels, some of which (hotels being a good example) have incredibly rich feature sets. Google wants to deliver local data directly on Google, and direct traffic to local sites from search will continue to decline.


Real-world data and the importance of Google

Britney Muller, SEO & Content Architect at Moz

Relevance drawn from the real world

Real-world data! Google will leverage device and credit card data to get more accurate information on things like foot traffic, current gas prices, repeat customers, length of visits, gender-neutral bathrooms, type of customers, etc. As the most accurate source of business information to date, why wouldn’t they?

Google as one-stop shop

SERPs and Maps (assisted by local business listings) will continue to grow as a one-stop-shop for local business information. Small business websites will still be important, but are more likely to serve as a data source as opposed to the only place to get their business information, in addition to more in-depth data like the above.


Google as friend or foe? Looking at these expert predictions, that’s a question local businesses of all sizes will need to continue to ask in 2018. Perhaps the best answer is “neither.” Google represents opportunity for brands that know how to play the game well. Companies that put the consumer first are likely to stand strong, no matter how the nuances of digital marketing shift, and education will remain the key to mastery in the year ahead.

What do you think? Any hunches about the year ahead? Let us know in the comments.

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Reblogged 2 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Free Local SEO Tools That Belong in Your Kit

Posted by MiriamEllis

What a lot can change in just a few years! When I wrote the original version of this post in January 2014, the local SEO industry didn’t have quite the wealth of paid tools that now exists, and many of the freebies on my previous list have been sunsetted. Definitely time for a complete refresh of the most useful free tools, widgets, and resources I know of to make marketing local businesses easier and better.

While all of the tools below are free, note that some will require you to sign up for access. Others are limited, no-cost, or trial versions that let you get a good sense of what they provide, enabling you to consider whether it might be worth it to buy into paid access. One thing you may notice: my new list of local SEO tools offers increased support for organic SEO tasks, reflective of our industry’s growing understanding of how closely linked organic and local SEO have become.

Now, let’s open this toolkit and get 2018 off to a great start!


For Research

US Census Bureau Tool Set

Looking to better understand a target community for marketing purposes? You’ll find 20+ useful resources from the US Census Bureau, including population statistics, economic data, mapping and geocoding widgets, income and language information, and much more.

Client Onboarding Questionnaire & Phone Script

Onboarding a new client? Reduce repetitious follow-ups by asking all of the right questions the first time around with this thorough questionnaire and easy-to-follow phone call script from Moz. Includes helpful tips for why you are asking each question. As local SEO veterans will tell you, a missed question can lead to unhappy (and costly) surprises down the marketing road. Be sure you have the total picture of an incoming client in clear view before you begin strategizing.

Location Information Spreadsheet

Vital when marketing multi-location businesses, this free Moz spreadsheet will ensure that you’ve got all the info at your fingertips about each locale of a company.

*Pro tip: When working with large enterprises, be certain that the data you’re inputting in this spreadsheet has been approved by all relevant departments. It’s really no fun to find out six months into a marketing campaign that there’s internal disagreement about company NAP or other features.

Local Competitive Audit Spreadsheet

Now we’re really getting down to brass tacks. When you need to look for answers to the perennial client question, “Why is that guy outranking me?”, this free Moz spreadsheet will help you document key competitive data. The end result of filling out the sheet will be two columns of stats you can compare and contrast in your quest to discover competitors’ ranking strengths and weaknesses. Need more guidance? Read my blog post in which I put this audit spreadsheet into action for two San Francisco Bay Area Chinese restaurants.

Manual GeoLocation Chrome Extension

Watch Darren Shaw demo using this tool to show how a local pack changes when a user virtually crosses a street and you’ll quickly understand how useful this Chrome extension will be in approximating the impacts of user-to-business proximity. Works well on desktop devices.

Our industry still hasn’t fully recovered from Google removing the Local Search filter from its engine in 2015, and I still live in hope that they will bring it back one day, but in the meantime, this extension gives us a good sense of how searcher location affects search results. In fact, it may even be a superior solution.

The MozBar SEO Toolbar

Local businesses in competitive markets must master traditional SEO, and the free MozBar provides a wonderful introduction to the metrics you need to look at in analyzing the organic strengths and weaknesses of clients and competitors. On-page elements, link metrics, markup, HTTP status, optimization opportunities — get the data you need at a glance with the MozBar.

Google Advanced Search Operators

Not a tool, per se, but the best tutorial I have ever seen on using Google advanced search operators to deepen your research. Dr. Pete breaks this down into 67 steps that will enable you to use these search refinements for content and title research, checking for plagiarism, technical SEO audits, and competitive intelligence. Be totally wizardly and impress your clients and teammates, simply by knowing how to format searches in smart ways.

Google Search Console

Apologies if it already seems like a no-brainer to you that you should be signed up for Google’s console that gives you analytics, alerts you to serious errors, and so much more, but local SEO is just now crossing the threshold of understanding how deeply connected it is to organic search. When playing in Google’s backyard, GSC is a must-have for businesses of every type.

BrightLocal’s Search Results Checker

This popular tool does an excellent job of replicating local search results at a city or zip code level. In some cases, it’s best to search by city (for example, when there are multiple towns covered by a single zip code), but other times, it’s better search by zip code (as in the case of a large city with multiple zip codes). The tool doesn’t have the capability to recreate user-level results, so always remember that the proximity of a given user to a business may create quite different results than what you’ll see searching at a city or zip code level. I consider this a great tool to suss out the lay of the land in a community, identifying top competitors.

Offline Conversion Tracker Form

Give this handy Whitespark form to anyone who answers your phone so that they can document the answer to the important question, “How did you hear about us?” Submitted information is saved to Whitespark’s database and tracked in Google Analytics for your future reference and analysis. For local businesses, knowledge of offline factors can be priceless. This form provides a simple point of entry into amassing real-world data.


For Content

Answer the Public

One of the best-loved keyword research tools in the digital marketing world, Answer the Public lets you enter a keyword phrase and generate a large number of questions/topics related to your search. One of the most awesome facets of this tool is that it has a .CSV download feature — perfect for instantly generating large lists of keywords that you can input into something like Moz Keyword Explorer to begin the sorting process that turns up the most powerful keywords for your content dev and on-page optimization.

Buzzsumo

Another great content inspiration tool, Buzzsumo shows you lets you enter a keyword, topic or domain name, and then shows you which pieces are getting the most social shares. For example, a search for wholefoodsmarket.com shows that a highly shared piece of content at the time of my search is about an asparagus and broccoli soup. You can also sort by content type (articles, videos, infographics, etc.). Use of Buzzsumo can help you generate topics that might be popular if covered on your website.

OSHA Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System Search

Another interesting resource for brainstorming a wide pool of potential keywords for content dev consideration, OSHA’s SIC search returns big, comprehensive lists. Just look up your industry’s SIC code, and then enter it along with a keyword/category to get your list.

USPS Look Up a ZIP Code Widget

Working with service area businesses (SABs)? Note the second tab in the menu of this widget: Cities by zip code. When you know the zip code of a business you’re marketing you can enter it into this simple tool to get a list of every city in that zip. Now, let’s not take a wrong step here: don’t publish large blocks of zips or city names on any website, but do use this widget to be sure you know of all the communities for which an SAB might strategize content, link building, brand building, real-world relationship building, social media marketing, and PPC.


Schema/JSON-LD Generators

Rather than list a single tool here, I’m going to take the advice of my friend, schema expert David Deering, who has taught me that no one tool is perfect. In David’s opinion, there isn’t currently a schema/JSON-LD generator that does it all, which is why he continues to build this type of markup manually. That being said, if you’re new to Schema, these generators will get you started:


For Citations

Moz Check Listing

I can say without bias that I know of no free tool that does a better job of giving you a lightning-fast overview of the health of a local business’ listings. On the phone with a new prospect? Just plug in the name and zip and see how complete and accurate the company’s citations are on the sources that matter most, including the major local business data aggregators (Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, Localeze) plus key platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, YP, and more.

Literally at a glance, you can tell if inconsistencies and duplicate listings are holding a business back. It can also be used for competitive analysis, defining whether a clean or messy citation set is impacting competitors. The value of the free Check Listing tool becomes most fully realized by signing up for the paid Moz Local product, which automates aggregator-level listing management even at an enterprise level with hundreds or thousands of listings, and offers options for review monitoring, ranking analysis, and more.

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (free version)

The free version of this cool tool from our friends at Whitespark will give you a sense of how the paid version can help you discover additional places, beyond the basics, where you might want to get listed. It also analyzes your competitors’ citations.


For Reviews

The Hoth’s Online Business Review Checker Tool

You’ll have to sign up, but this free tool gives you an overview report of a local business’ reviews on a variety of platforms. This is a smart thing to do for every incoming client, to gauge reputation strengths and weaknesses. The state of a company’s reviews indicates whether it has an offline problem that needs to be corrected at a real-world structural level, or if its core challenge is a lack of strategy for simply earning a competitive number of positive reviews.

Free Review Monitoring

Need to know when a new review comes in on a major or industry-specific review site? Signing up for this free tool will send you email alerts so that you can respond quickly. Watch the little video and pay attention to its statement that the majority of unhappy customers will consider visiting a business again if it quickly resolves a complaint. Good to know!

Review Handout Generator

Another freebie from Whitespark in partnership with Phil Rozek, this very simple resource lets you enter some business info and generate a printable handout your public-facing staff can give to customers. Active review management has become a must in even moderately competitive geo-industries. How nice to have a physical asset to offer your customers to get more of those reviews rolling in!

Google Review Link Generator

Google’s local product has gone through so many iterations that finding a link to point consumers to when requesting a GMB review has been foolishly difficult at times. Whitespark helps out again, at least for brick-and-mortar businesses, with this easy widget that lets you enter your business info and generate a shareable link. Unfortunately, SABs or home-based businesses with hidden addresses can’t use this tool, but for other business models, this widget works really well.


For social

Notify

Whenever your business gets mentioned on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin, Reddit, and a variety of other platforms, Notify uses Slack or HipChat to send you an alert. By being aware of important conversations taking place about your brand, and participating in them, your business can achieve an excellent status of responsiveness. Social media has become part of the customer service environment, so a tool like this comes in very handy.

Followerwonk

A free trial is available for this app which acts as serious analytics for Twitter. If Twitter is a favorite platform in your industry, definitely give this resource a spin. Understand the characteristics of your followers, find and connect with influencers, and use data to improve your outreach.

Character Count Online

I use this ultra-basic tool all of the time for three specific tasks. Some social platforms either have character limits and don’t always have counters, or (like Google Posts) truncate your social messaging so that only a limited snippet appear at the highest interface. Just plug in your text and see the character count.

And, of course, you’ll want a character counter to be sure your on-page title tags and meta descriptions read right in the SERPs.

My third use for this counter relates to content marketing. Most publications have character count parameters for the pieces they will accept. Here on the Moz Blog, we’re not into length limits, because we believe thorough coverage is the right coverage of important topics. But, when I’m invited to blog elsewhere, I have to rein myself in and be sure I haven’t galloped past that 800-character limit. If you’ve found that to be a problem, too, a character counter can keep you on-track as you write. Whoa, horsie!


So, what did I miss?

If you’re saying to yourself right now, “I can’t believe this totally awesome free local SEO tool I use every week isn’t included,” please share it with our community in the comments. One thing I know I’d love to find a free solution for would be a tool that does review sentiment analysis. Paid solutions exist for this, but I’ve yet to encounter a freebie.

My criteria for a great tool is that it makes work better, stronger, faster… or is that the intro to The Six Million Dollar Man? Well, Steve Austin had some amazing capabilities (and a cool 70s jogging suit, to boot!), and I’m hoping you’ll feel kitted up for success, too, with this list of free tools in the year ahead.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 months ago from moz.com

How to Get New Clients at Every Stage of Your Business

Posted by dohertyjf

I remember when I first went out on my own to build my business. Because I planned to bootstrap the product into existence, I needed to pick up some consulting work to cover my own bills before I felt comfortable taking time to build my product.

I had a sizable group of peers that I contacted to let them know that I was no longer with my last company and was looking to bring on a few new clients. Within a week, I had to stop taking introductions because I was so busy! If you’re a brand-new freelance consultant, this post has some goodies for you.

I have other friends who are purposefully freelance consultants with no current plans to scale beyond it. In fact, they’ve resisted these opportunities because they enjoy what they’re doing so much, and are able to charge a premium for it. This post will help you out.

Some of my friends are at a different stage. They’ve worked for themselves for 3–4 years or longer now and are growing an agency beyond themselves and their own skillset. Along the way, of course, they’re figuring out the challenges of growing headcount and types/sizes of clients while they themselves learn to level up as a CEO, as a manager, and as a sales executive, since agency founders are often the salespeople for the first few years of their company’s existence. The client acquisition strategies change. This post is also for you.

And finally, agencies often decide that they are ready to expand beyond their main core offering and offer tangential services that they are either being asked for actively or where they perceive an opportunity exists. Since they already have a functional and maybe even (wildly) profitable services business, how can they justify taking time away from that to build out a new service offering? The mindset and strategies change once again. We’ll get into some of those.

Building a service-based business is hard

Over the last two years, I’ve worked with over 150 agencies and have seen over 800 businesses (it’s probably closer to 1,000 at this point) looking to hire an agency or consultant. I’ve also worked in-house, as a solo consultant, and for a quickly growing boutique digital agency.

After the experiences I’ve had seeing everyone — from new scared-out-of-their-wits solo consultants all the way to long-established agencies looking to grow their practice — I decided to take a step back and reflect on the strategies I’ve seen both work and not work for consulting entities at different stages of growth.

That’s what we’ll cover today. If you’re a new consultant, an agency looking to level up the size of your accounts, or an agency looking to move into new service offerings, you’ll find something in this post for you.

Along the way, you’ll hear from consultants and agency owners at different stages of their business and what they did to get to where they are currently. After all, war stories are way more fun than “here are x steps you can follow to also be amazing” anecdotes.


New consultants

Tell me if you’ve seen this happen before: a friend is tired of their job, gets laid off, or otherwise finds themselves unemployed. They decide that they’re going to give freelance consulting a go.

Three months later, they’ve taken a new job at a new agency and are repeating the cycle they went through before.

Sound familiar? If you’re in the digital marketing consulting world, you likely know at least a few, if not closer to a dozen people where this has held true.

I’m not going to say that everyone goes back to traditional employment because they’re having a difficult time getting new clients, but this is far and away the largest reason I see. They get a few months in, they have too few clients paying them too little, and so they panic and go take a job doing what is comfortable. They’ll repeat the cycle in a few years again.

I get it. The beginning of working for yourself can be terrifying. I’ve been there. Saw a therapist, got the t-shirt, am I right?

What if I told you that you could avoid this if you really want to? That you could use some proven techniques to get new clients that pay you what you’re worth?

Overcoming common “new consultant” fears with strategic thinking

You’ll hear entrepreneurs who have built and sold their companies (sometimes multiple times) tell you to take a “burn the ships” approach, where you set off and don’t give yourself a time limit or an out if you can’t make it work.

The problem with this is that it’s a fallacy brought about by survivorship bias — defined as “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” Often these entrepreneurs look back and talk about how they could have done it, or how they did it for their second or third business once they’d already made quite a bit of money.

Quite simply, if you want to set yourself up for success, you should already have replaced (or have a clear path to replacing) your income from your day job before you even go out on your own.

You can do this by picking up freelance work on the side from your day job. Get one or two clients that pay you every month and learn how to manage those. Learn what it takes to retain these clients and even grow the accounts.

Next, figure out the minimum amount of money you need to make every month while only working the number of hours you want to work before you take the leap. If you have two clients, you can probably get two more pretty easily. If you spend 10 hours a week on these two clients and only want to bill 30 hours per week (which is actually quite a lot), then you know you can bring on four more clients at the same level (and fewer clients if they pay you more) and have the lifestyle and income you want.

It’s simple math.

The “new consultant” sales mindset

Clients come to solo consultants instead of agencies for a very specific reason. They want direct access to your specific brain and to be able to speak with the person actually doing the work. In fact, I’ve seen many companies come through Credo who need multiple services (not just strategy) across organic and paid, but they don’t want an account manager setup like they’ve had before with an agency.

This, plus your experience, is your competitive moat. During the initial discovery call with every potential client, don’t forget that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You need to learn:

  • What they are specifically looking to accomplish through retaining someone’s services;
  • What their expectations are for how quickly they will see this;
  • If they have resources to get done what you recommend, or if you have time to implement what they need;
  • Whether they’re willing to pay you what you are worth.

Assuming all of these check out, then in my opinion, you’re good to move forward with the proposal process.

A quick word on pricing

If you’ve never worked for an agency before, you should ask agency friends or other freelance friends what they charge per hour, then use that as a benchmark. If you want to raise your rates, then do it slowly with new clients until you hit a ceiling. Now you know your price ceiling for the current services (whether strategy, implementation, or both) you offer.

New client acquisition channels

Now that we have the common fears identified and you’re armed with a better sales mindset, let’s explore the strategies you should leverage first to build your consulting practice to a base where it sustains your lifestyle and you’re able to remove the stress of starting from the equation and eventually think about growth.

The strategies I always counsel brand new solo consultants to use are:

  • Referrals – Ask your circle of professional peers if they know anyone looking for what you have to offer;
  • Referrals – Ask your friends and family if they know anyone that might need what you’re offering;
  • Agency white label – Approach agencies in your area to see if they need help on a contract basis with their clients;
  • Teaching – This is a longer-term play, but a great way to get clients in the long run is to teach others how to do what you do. I’ve seen it hold true that if you teach people how to do what you do, they’ll want to hire you to do it for them.

These are the easiest and most direct ways to get introductions to potential clients who are highly likely to close into clients.

Long-term this does not scale, but it can get you to the point of covering your expenses, allowing you to breathe a little bit and invest for the future. And if you’re smart about it and haven’t signed yourself up for 60+ hours per week of billed work, you can have a great life balance.

To give some real-world examples, I reached out to two of my friends who became solo consultants in 2013/2014.

First is Tom Critchlow, who went solo in late 2014 after two years at Google New York. When asked how he got his first consulting clients, Tom said that his first leads came from direct referrals from a friend:

“Since that first lead I’ve gotten about 80% of my clients through referrals from my direct network,” he shared. “I’d definitely emphasize the importance of a strong network and ensuring that you’re communicating with your network often to keep them up-to-date with what work you’re doing.”

Next I chatted with Michael King, who has since built his agency iPullRank into an industry powerhouse, and asked him how he got his first clients when he left the NYC agencies he worked for. To get his first, he shared that thought leadership played a huge role:

“My first two clients came through two different methods of thought leadership. One came via a post I’d written for Moz about content strategy, and the other came from a panel I spoke on. Overnight, I went from 0 to 10.5K MRR.”


Solo consultants happy staying solo

If this is you, then congratulations. In my mind, you’re finding nirvana in a lot of ways.

Solo consultants with more years of direct consulting experience are able to charge good hourly rates and monthly minimums from clients, according to my data.

solo consultant pricing.png

Once a consultant has survived the initial push to get new clients, the journey is far from over. In fact, many solo consultants have come up against this and gone through droughts where they were between projects.

This brings up the question: How can solo consultants, who can only realistically bring on a limited number of clients before they become too numerous, keep a strong potential client pipeline?

Define your niche and build processes

The answer is usually to tightly define your niche and then, depending on your niche, to build processes to deliver high quality work.

High-touch strategic consulting does not scale. It also does not have to scale if you charge a high hourly rate ($300/hr for strategic consulting that drives large revenue increases is not crazy, and may even be too low), in which case you can work with just a few clients and still create a great income for yourself.

When you’ve defined your niche, whether affiliate marketing driven by content or local SEO for realtors, then you put together the strategy to reach them.

This should go without saying, but if you’re asking how to define your niche, then you aren’t ready to be a highly paid solo consultant yet. Hone your craft and discover who you love to do work for, then go serve those customers on your own.

Once your niche is defined, you can focus on that group.

Targeting your ideal audience

As mentioned above, the toughest part of being and staying a solo consultant is managing your workload and saying “no” or “not yet” to potential clients, while at the same time protecting your downside should a client decide to stop your services for any reason, whether your fault or because of internal actions.

The best solo consultants that I know, who also have a strong pipeline of potential clients, have built this through:

  1. Content. They produce content related to their target market’s problems and thus become a thought leader in that niche. This will often lead to recurring columns in industry publications.
  2. A strong referral network. They know the who’s who of their niche and are their go-to when someone needs the consultant’s specific skillset.
  3. Speaking. Getting a one-off or set of speaking engagements in front of your target audience often directly drives potential clients and cements you as an expert in their minds.

The goal is to build your own name as an expert so that you consistently have potential customers approaching you to see if you can work with them, while also knowing your limits and when you may next have available time.

The goal isn’t to magically be able to get new inquiries when you need them (though this may happen if you’ve built this system), but to be able to go back to a group of people who have already inquired about your services and tell them that you have some availability. A pro move is also to ask if they know anyone who may need your services, as well.

Creating processes

Not every consultant desires working with large clients who each pay the equivalent of a full-time salary. Some consultants prefer working with smaller clients, mostly small or local businesses, because of the unique challenges that these clients face.

In this case, the challenge is to work out how you scale quantity without sacrificing quality or client retention. There are many ways to do this:

  • Find an agency or group of consultants you trust that you can outsource certain parts of the project to;
  • Leverage technologies like HubSpot, Moz, or others that allow you to automate a lot of the work;
  • Use tools like HubSpot, Calendly, UberConference, or others to help scale scheduling and admin parts of the business;
  • Use virtual assistants, bookkeeping services like Bench, and payroll services like Gusto to alleviate a lot of the business operations so you have more time to work for clients.

As Francois Marcil of Ehook.co shared:

When you have over 10 clients, the time spent attending meetings is the biggest obstacle to serving all your clients well. For this reason, I reserve 2 days of the week for meetings and 3 days for work. The rule is strict, and I inform my clients from the start.”

When a solo consultant sets up these processes, it not only makes their life a lot easier and their clients happier (which leads to better retention, which leads to a healthier business), but it also sets them up for success should they decide later that they want to start an agency. In this case, their processes of both acquiring and managing new clients will let them generate the cash flow needed to make the leap to employing someone full time.


Agencies leveling up

Some business owners don’t feel the need to constantly push and grow their business. They’re bootstrapped, their business affords them and their employees a great lifestyle, and they have no desire to take on more responsibility with their business. If this is you, then I’m a bit envious and encourage you to enjoy it.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’re never happy with maintaining. You always want to be growing, to be learning, to push yourself and your business to see what it’s capable of. If you’re on this course, then keep reading.

Your strategies have to change a bit when you go from being a solo consultant to growing your agency. A lot of your processes are going to break or need tweaking as you grow the number of people working on accounts. Your challenge now becomes managing the growth of your headcount while maintaining quality and bringing in great new clients at the same time.

This is likely way too much for one person to handle, so at some point you’ll be forced to decide what you are great at (and love doing) that is also instrumental to the business’s success. Then hire out for the rest.

Let’s focus on the sales part, of course.

At the beginning of your journey as a brand-new consultant, you were likely heavily dependent on one-off referrals from family and friends. But referrals don’t really scale.

As you’re looking to grow your business quickly, your channels have likely shifted to:

  • Speaking. If you have a dynamic founder who is a keynote-level (or heading in that direction) speaker, this can be great lead generation;
  • Strategic partnerships with investors or other agencies;
  • Your own search traffic and thought leadership on your own website;
  • Your own advertising of your services online.

You’re facing the unique challenge of increasing the quantity of potential clients contacting you while not sacrificing quality. While difficult, this is absolutely possible. You can grow your revenue by:

  1. Targeting new clients who have similar traits to your existing ideal clients;
  2. Growing accounts by upselling your existing clients to other services you offer that they need;
  3. Defining a specific niche or type of company where you get outsized returns, and then target them specifically through content, speaking, education, or both.

Sales changes as you grow. You’re looking for long-term sustainable clients as it is four to ten times cheaper to retain and grow your current clients than to get new clients (source). If you’re investing in landing new clients, you should not also have to worry about retaining your current clients. If you are, then you are simply refilling a leaky bucket and you will not grow.

Michael King of iPullRank is no stranger to the challenges that agency founders face as they grow, but he’s successfully transitioned from solo consultant to now managing seven figures in agency income. So what does he do differently?

“The difference is really that it’s far more dire,” he shared. “The maintenance of payroll becomes the battery in your back to have to just figure it out. Whereas when you’re by yourself and you have a low month or you lose a client, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Johnathan Dane of KlientBoost credits lessons he’s learned about sales along the way in growing KlientBoost from himself to $4M in revenue in just a few years:

“We’ve been very fortunate to have 99% of our sales come from our content, and when that happens, our sales cycle is drastically reduced because the potential client already likes us and has found value from what we’ve given them,” he said. “So even 2.5 years in, I still handle the inbound sales — which I know isn’t scalable — but you gotta allow yourself to still have some fun.”

I should also note that at this point, you should have someone dedicated to sales and onboarding new clients full-time. This can be filled by the founder if the founder is stellar at sales, but most often I see this role being given to a dedicated sales executive who hopefully also has marketing experience, or has proven their aptitude for learning and applying it so they sell the right work.


Agencies moving into new service offerings

At some point, you may max out your growth in your current niche and with your current offerings. At the same time, you want to continue growing but don’t have the option of increasing client budgets. Or, maybe a new platform emerges (think: Snapchat) that has the opportunity to be big and you want to be an early mover in helping your clients get exposure.

But moving into new niches is hard when you’ve established yourself in another service offering and that’s how you’re known. Every agency has a primary service offering, so how do you move into new niches?

There are two main ways:

  1. Think of this new service offering as a startup in and of itself. It is responsible for its own profit and loss (P&L), as well as landing its own new clients;
  2. Upsell your current clients into this new offering as well.

This is hard. Brandon Doyle of Wallaroo Media, who went from being a generic SEO agency to leading the way in travel marketing and Snapchat from their offices in Provo, Utah, knows this firsthand:

With a background in SEO, we strongly believed in its ability as a channel,” he shared. “We utilized SEO and evergreen content to carve out a name for ourselves both in the travel space, and more recently as a leader in Snapchat-related content, strategies, and news. The latter paid off, as we were just recently named an official Snapchat Agency Partner!”

Will Critchlow, CEO of digital marketing agency Distilled (full disclosure: I used to work for Distilled), also knows a thing or two about moving into an adjacent vertical. The agency recently become recognized for not only SEO, but creative content and outreach services, too:

“All our moves have come from the passion of the team,” shared Will. “Team members saw an opportunity, started doing part of the solution, and pitched the rest.”

Finally, your marketing will change as you seek traction in this new vertical. The topics you write about, the people you reference, the outreach you do, and the places you choose to interact will necessarily change.

This is specifically why I recommend tasking someone specifically with building out this new area. At Wallaroo, this was Brandon. At Distilled, this was Mark Johnstone who was previously an SEO consultant who had an interest in big creative content and Tom Anthony with an interest in technical A/B testing for SEO.


Conclusion

Consistently generating new potential projects at every cycle of your business’s growth is the best skill you can learn as a services business owner.

Leave a comment about the channels you’ve found to be the most effective!

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Reblogged 3 months ago from moz.com

9 Predictions for SEO in 2018

Posted by randfish

For the last decade, I’ve made predictions about how the year in SEO and web marketing would go. So far, my track record is pretty decent — the correct guesses outweigh the wrong ones. But today’s the day of reckoning, to grade my performance from 2017 and, if the tally is high enough, share my list for the year ahead.

In keeping with tradition, my predictions will be graded on the following scale:

  • Nailed It (+2) – When a prediction is right on the money and the primary criteria are fulfilled
  • Partially Accurate (+1) – Predictions that are in the ballpark, but are somewhat different than reality
  • Not Completely Wrong (-1) – Those that got near the truth, but are more “incorrect” than “correct”
  • Way Off (-2) – Guesses which didn’t come close

Breakeven or better means I make new predictions for the year ahead, and under that total means my predicting days are over. Let’s see how this shakes out… I’m not nervous… You’re nervous! This sweat on my brow… It’s because… because it was raining outside. It’s Seattle! Yeesh.

Grading Rand’s 2017 Predictions

#1: Voice search will be more than 25% of all US Google searches within 12 months. Despite this, desktop volume will stay nearly flat and mobile (non-voice) will continue to grow.

+1 – We have data for desktop and mobile search volume via Jumpshot, showing that the former did indeed stay relatively flat and the other kept growing.

But, unfortunately, we don’t know the percent of searches that are done with voice rather than keyboards or screens. My guess is 25% of all searches is too high, but until Google decides to share an updated number, all we have is the old 2016 stat that 20% of mobile searches happened via voice input.

#2: Google will remain the top referrer of website traffic by 5X+. Neither Facebook, nor any other source, will make a dent.

+2Nailed it! Although, to be fair, there’s no serious challenger. The social networks and e-commerce leaders of the web want people to stay on their site, not leave and go elsewhere. No surprise Google’s the only big traffic referrer left.

#3: The Marketing Technology space will not have much consolidation (fewer exits and acquisitions, by percentage, than 2015 or 2016), but there will be at least one major exit or IPO among the major SEO software providers.

+2 – As best I can tell from Index.co’s thorough database (which, BTW, deserves more attention than Crunchbase, whose data I’ve found to be of far lower quality), Martech as a whole had nearly half the number of acquisitions in 2017 (22) versus 2016 (39). 2017 did, however, see the Yext IPO, so I’m taking full credit on this one.

#4: Google will offer paid search ads in featured snippets, knowledge graph, and/or carousels.

0 – Turns out, Google had actually done a little of this prior to 2017, which I think invalidates the prediction. Thus I’m giving myself no credit either way, though Google did expand their testing and ad types in this direction last year.

#5: Amazon search will have 4% or more of Google’s web search volume by end of year.

-2 – Way off, Rand. From the Jumpshot data, it looks like Amazon’s not even at 1% of Google’s search volume yet. I was either way too early on this one, or Amazon searches may never compete, volume-wise, with how Google’s users employ their search system.

#6: Twitter will remain independent, and remain the most valuable and popular network for publishers and influencers.

+2 – I’m actually shocked that I made this prediction given the upheaval Twitter has faced in the last few years. Still, it’s good to see a real competitor (despite their much smaller size) to Facebook stay independent.

#7: The top 10 mobile apps will remain nearly static for the year ahead, with, at most, one new entrant and 4 or fewer position changes.

+1 – I was slighly aggressive on wording this prediction, though the reality is pretty accurate. The dominance of a few companies in the mobile app world remains unchallenged. Here’s 2016’s top apps, and here’s 2017’s. The only real change was Apple Music and Amazon falling a couple spots and Pandora and Snapchat sneaking into the latter half of the list.

#8: 2017 will be the year Google admits publicly they use engagement data as an input to their ranking systems, not just for training/learning

-2 – I should have realized Google will continue to use engagement data for rankings, but they’re not gonna talk about it. They have nothing to gain from being open, and a reasonable degree of risk if they invite spammers and manipulators to mimic searchers and click for rankings (a practice that, sadly, has popped up in the gray hat SEO world, and does sometimes, unfortunately, work).

Final Score: +4 — not too shabby, so let’s continue this tradition and see what 2018 holds. I’m going to be a little more cavalier with this year’s predictions, just to keep things exciting 🙂


Rand’s 9 Predictions for 2018

#1: The total number of organic clicks Google refers will drop by ~5% by the end of the year

In 2017, we saw the start of a concerning trend — fewer clicks being generated by Google search on desktop and mobile. I don’t think that was a blip. In my estimation, Google’s actions around featured snippets, knowledge panels, and better instant answers in the SERPs overall, combined with more aggressive ads and slowing search growth (at least in the United States), will lead to there being slightly less SEO opportunity in 2018 than what we had in 2017.

I don’t think this trend will accelerate much long term (i.e. it’s certainly not the end for SEO, just a time of greater competition for slightly fewer click opportunities).

#2: Twitter and LinkedIn will both take active steps to reduce the amount of traffic they refer out to other sites

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have all had success algorithmically or structurally limiting clicks off their platforms and growing as a result. I think in 2018, Twitter and LinkedIn are gonna take their own steps to limit content with links from doing as well, to limit the visibility of external links in their platform, and to better reward content that keeps people on their sites.

#3: One or more major SEO software providers will shutter as a result of increased pressure from Google and heavy competition

Google Search Console is, slowly but surely, getting better. Google’s getting a lot more aggressive about making rank tracking more difficult (some rank tracking folks I’m friendly with told me that Q4 2017 was particularly gut-punching), and the SEO software field is way, way more densely packed with competitors than ever before. I estimate at least ten SEO software firms are over $10 million US in annual revenue (Deepcrawl, SEMRush, Majestic, Ahrefs, Conductor, Brightedge, SISTRIX, GinzaMetrics, SEOClarity, and Moz), and I’m probably underestimating at least 4 or 5 others (in local SEO, Yext is obviously huge, and 3–4 of their competitors are also above $10mm).

I predict this combination of factors will mean that 2018 sees one or more casualties (possibly through a less-than-rewarding acquisition rather than straight-out bankruptcy) in the SEO software space.

#4: Alexa will start to take market share away from Google, especially via devices with screens like the Echo Show

Voice search devices are useful, but somewhat limited by virtue of missing a screen. The Echo Show was the first stab at solving this, and I think in 2018 we’re going to see more and better devices as well as vastly better functionality. Even just the “Alexa, show me a photo of Rodney Dangerfield from 1965.” (see, Rand, I told you he used to be handsome!) will take away a lot of the more simplistic searches that today happen on Google and Google Images (the latter of which is a silent giant in the US search world).

#5: One of the non-Google tech giants will start on a more serious competitor to YouTube

Amazon’s feud with Google and the resulting loss of YouTube on certain devices isn’t going unnoticed in major tech company discussions. I think in 2018, that turns into a full-blown decision to invest in a competitor to the hosted video platform. There’s too much money, time, attention, and opportunity for some of the big players not to at least dip a toe in the water.

Side note: If I were an investor, I’d be pouring meetings and dollars into startups that might become this. I think acquisitions are a key way for a Facebook, an Amazon, or a Microsoft to reduce their risk here.

#6: Facebook Audience Network (that lets publishers run FB ads on their own sites) will get the investment it needs and become a serious website adtech player

Facebook ads on the web should be as big or bigger than anything Google does in this realm, mostly because the web functions more like Facebook than it does like search results pages, and FB’s got the data to make those ads high quality and relevant. Unfortunately, they’ve underinvested in Audience Network the last couple years, but I think with Facebook usage in developed countries leveling out and the company seeking ways to grow their ad reach and effectiveness, it’s time.

#7: Mobile apps will fade as the default for how brands, organizations, and startups of all sizes invest in the mobile web; PWAs and mobile-first websites will largely take their place

I’m calling it. Mobile apps, for 95% of companies and organizations who want to do well on the web, are the wrong decision. Not only that, most everyone now realizes and agrees on it. PWAs (and straightforward mobile websites) are there to pick up the slack. That’s not to say the app stores won’t continue to generate downloads or make money — they will. But those installs and dollars will flow to a very few number of apps and app developers at the very top of the charts, while the long tail of apps (which never really took off), fades into obscurity.

Side note: games are probably an exception (though even there, Nintendo Switch proved in 2017 that mobile isn’t the only or best platform for games).

#8: WordPress will continue its dominance over all other CMS’, growing its use from ~25% to 35%+ of the top few million sites on the web

While it depends what you consider “the web” to be, there’s no doubt WordPress has dominated every other CMS in the market among the most popular few million sites on it. I think 2018 will be a year when WordPress extends their lead, mostly because they’re getting more aggressive about investments in growth and marketing, and secondarily because no one is stepping up to be a suitable (free) alternative.

35%+ might sound like a bold step, but I’m seeing more and more folks moving off of other platforms for a host of reasons, and migrating to WordPress for its flexibility, its cost structure, its extensibility, and its strong ecosystem of plugins, hosting providers, security options, and developers.

#9: The United States will start to feel the pain of net neutrality’s end with worse Internet connectivity, more limitations, and a less free-and-open web

Tragically, we lost the battle to maintain Title II protections on net neutrality here in the US, and the news is a steady drumbeat of awfulness around this topic. Just recently, Trump’s FCC announced that they’d be treating far slower connections as “broadband,” thus lessening requirements for what’s considered “penetration” and “access,” all the way down to mobile connection speeds.

It’s hard to notice what this means right now, but by the end of 2018, I predict we’ll be feeling the pain through even slower average speeds, restrictions on web usage (like what we saw before Title II protections with Verizon and T-Mobile blocking services and favoring sites). In fact, my guess is that some enterprising ISP is gonna try to block cryptocurrency mining, trading, or usage as an early step.

Over time, I suspect this will lead to a tiered Internet access world here in the US, where the top 10% of American earners (and those in a few cities and states that implement their own net neutrality laws) have vastly better and free-er access (probably with more competitive pricing, too).


Now it’s time for your feedback! I want to know:

  1. Which of these predictions do you find most likely?
  2. Which do you find most outlandish?
  3. What obvious predictions do you think I’ve shamefully missed? 😉

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Troubleshooting Local Ranking Failures [Updated for 2018]

Posted by MiriamEllis

I love a mystery… especially a local search ranking mystery I can solve for someone.

Now, the truth is, some ranking puzzles are so complex, they can only be solved by a formal competitive audit. But there are many others that can be cleared up by spending 15 minutes or less going through an organized 10-point checklist of the commonest problems that can cause a business to rank lower than the owner thinks it should. By zipping through the following checklist, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one or more obvious “whodunits” contributing to poor Google local pack visibility for a given search.

Since I wrote the original version of this post in 2014, so much has changed. Branding, tools, tactics — things are really different in 2018. Definitely time for a complete overhaul, with the goal of making you a super sleuth for your forum friends, clients, agency teammates, or executive superiors.

Let’s emulate the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which earned lasting fame by hitting on a simple formula for surfacing and solving mysteries in a most enjoyable way.

Before we break out our magnifying glass, it’s critical to stress one very important thing. The local rankings I see from an office in North Beach, San Francisco are not the rankings you see while roaming around Golden Gate park in the same city. The rankings your client in Des Moines sees for things in his town are not the same rankings you see from your apartment in Albuquerque when you look at Des Moines results. With the user having become the centroid of search for true local searches, it is no mystery at all that we see different results when we are different places, and it is no cause for concern.

And now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and are in the proper detective spirit, let’s dive into how to solve for each item on our checklist!


☑ Google updates/bugs

The first thing to ask if a business experiences a sudden change in rankings is whether Google has done something. Search Engine Land strikes me as the fastest reporter of Google updates, with MozCast offering an ongoing weather report of changes in the SERPs. Also, check out the Moz Google Algo Change history list and the Moz Blog for some of the most in-depth strategic coverage of updates, penalties, and filters.

For local-specific bugs (or even just suspected tests), check out the Local Search Forum, the Google My Business forum, and Mike Blumenthal’s blog. See if the effects being described match the weirdness you are seeing in your local packs. If so, it’s a matter of fixing a problematic practice (like iffy link building) that has been caught in an update, waiting to see how the update plays out, or waiting for Google to fix a bug or turn a dial down to normalize results.

*Pro tip: Don’t make the mistake of thinking organic updates have nothing to do with local SEO. Crack detectives know organic and local are closely connected.

☑ Eligibility to list and rank

When a business owner wants to know why he isn’t ranking well locally, always ask these four questions:

  1. Does the business have a real address? (Not a PO box, virtual office, or a string of employees’ houses!)
  2. Does the business make face-to-face contact with its customers?
  3. What city is the business in?
  4. What is the exact keyword phrase they are hoping to rank for?

If the answer is “no” to either of the first two questions, the business isn’t eligible for a Google My Business listing. And while spam does flow through Google, a lack of eligibility could well be the key to a lack of rankings.

For the third question, you need to know the city the business is in so that you can see if it’s likely to rank for the search phrase cited in the fourth question. For example, a plumber with a street address in Sugar Land, TX should not expect to rank for “plumber Dallas TX.” If a business lacks a physical location in a given city, it’s atypical for it to rank for queries that stem from or relate to that locale. It’s amazing just how often this simple fact solves local pack mysteries.

☑ Guideline spam

To be an ace local sleuth, you must commit to memory the guidelines for representing your business on Google so that you can quickly spot violations. Common acts of spam include:

  • Keyword stuffing the business name field
  • Improper wording of the business name field
  • Creating listings for ineligible locations, departments, or people
  • Category spam
  • Incorrect phone number implementation
  • Incorrect website URL implementation
  • Review guideline violations

If any of the above conundrums are new to you, definitely spend 10 minutes reading the guidelines. Make flash cards, if necessary, to test yourself on your spam awareness until you can instantly detect glaring errors. With this enhanced perception, you’ll be able to see problems that may possibly be leading to lowered rankings, or even… suspensions!

☑ Suspensions

There are two key things to look for here when a local business owner comes to you with a ranking woe:

  1. If the listing was formerly verified, but has mysteriously become unverified, you should suspect a soft suspension. Soft suspensions might occur around something like a report of keyword-stuffing the GMB business name field. Oddly, however, there is little anecdotal evidence to support the idea that soft suspensions cause ranking drops. Nevertheless, it’s important to spot the un-verification clue and tell the owner to stop breaking guidelines. It’s possible that the listing may lose reviews or images during this type of suspension, but in most cases, the owner should be able to re-verify his listing. Just remember: a soft suspension is not a likely cause of low local pack rankings.
  2. If the listing’s rankings totally disappear and you can’t even find the listing via a branded search, it’s time to suspect a hard suspension. Hard suspensions can result from a listing falling afoul of a Google guideline or new update, a Google employee, or just a member of the public who has reported the business for something like an ineligible location. If the hard suspension is deserved, as in the case of creating a listing at a fake address, then there’s nothing you can do about it. But, if a hard suspension results from a mistake, I recommend taking it to the Google My Business forum to plead for help. Be prepared to prove that you are 100% guideline-compliant and eligible in hopes of getting your listing reinstated with its authority and reviews intact.

☑ Duplicates

Notorious for their ability to divide ranking strength, duplicate listings are at their worst when there is more than one verified listing representing a single entity. If you encounter a business that seems like it should be ranking better than it is for a given search, always check for duplicates.

The quickest way to do this is to get all present and past NAP (name, address, phone) from the business and plug it into the free Moz Check Listing tool. Pay particular attention to any GMB duplicates the tool surfaces. Then:

  1. If the entity is a brick-and-mortar business or service area business, and the NAP exactly matches between the duplicates, contact Google to ask them to merge the listings. If the NAP doesn’t match and represents a typo or error on the duplicate, use the “suggest an edit” link in Google Maps to toggle the “yes/no” toggle to “yes,” and then select the radio button for “never existed.”
  2. If the duplicates represent partners in a multi-practitioner business, Google won’t simply delete them. Things get quite complicated in this scenario, and if you discover practitioner duplicates, tread carefully. There are half a dozen nuances here, including whether you’re dealing with actual duplicates, whether they represent current or past staffers, whether they are claimed or unclaimed, and even whether a past partner is deceased. There isn’t perfect industry agreement on the handling of all of the ins-and-outs of practitioner listings. Given this, I would advise an affected business to read all of the following before making a move in any direction:

☑ Missing/inaccurate listings

While you’ve got Moz Check Listing fired up, pay attention to anything it tells you about missing or inaccurate listings. The tool will show you how accurate and complete your listings on are on the major local business data aggregators, plus other important platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Factual, Yelp, and more. Why does this matter?

  1. Google can pull information from anywhere on the web and plunk it into your Google My Business listing.
  2. While no one can quantify the exact degree to which citation/listing consistency directly impacts Google local rankings for every possible search query, it has been a top 5 ranking factor in the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey as far back as I can remember. Recently, I’ve seen some industry discussion as to whether citations still matter, with some practitioners claiming they can’t see the difference they make. I believe that conclusion may stem from working mainly in ultra-competitive markets where everyone has already got their citations in near-perfect order, forcing practitioners to look for differentiation tactics beyond the basics. But without those basics, you’re missing table stakes in the game.
  3. Indirectly, listing absence or inconsistency impacts local rankings in that it undermines the quest for good local KPIs as well as organic authority. Every lost or misdirected consumer represents a failure to have someone click-for-directions, click-to-call, click-to-your website, or find your website at all. Online and offline traffic, conversions, reputation, and even organic authority all hang in the balance of active citation management.

☑ Lack of organic authority

Full website or competitive audits are not the work of a minute. They really take time, and deep delving. But, at a glance, you can access some quick metrics to let you know whether a business’ lack of achievement on the organic side of things could be holding them back in the local packs. Get yourself the free MozBar SEO toolbar and try this:

  1. Turn the MozBar on by clicking the little “M” at the top of your browser so that it is blue.
  2. Perform your search and look at the first few pages of the organic results, ignoring anything from major directory sites like Yelp (they aren’t competing with you for local pack rankings, eh?).
  3. Note down the Page Authority, Domain Authority, and link counts for each of the businesses coming up on the first 3 pages of the organic results.
  4. Finally, bring up the website of the business you’re investigating. If you see that the top competitors have Domain Authorities of 50 and links numbering in the hundreds or thousands, whereas your target site is well below in these metrics, chances are good that organic authority is playing a strong role in lack of local search visibility. How do we know this is true? Do some local searches and note just how often the businesses that make it into the 3-pack or the top of the local finder view have correlating high organic rankings.

Where organic authority is poor, a business has a big job of work ahead. They need to focus on content dev + link building + social outreach to begin building up their brand in the minds of consumers and the “RankBrain” of Google.

One other element needs to be mentioned here, and that’s the concept of how time affects authority. When you’re talking to a business with a ranking problem, it’s very important to ascertain whether they just launched their website or just built their local business listings last week, or even just a few months ago. Typically, if they have, the fruits of their efforts have yet to fully materialize. That being said, it’s not a given that a new business will have little authority. Large brands have marketing departments which exist solely to build tremendous awareness of new assets before they even launch. It’s important to keep that in mind, while also realizing that if the business is smaller, building authority will likely represent a longer haul.

☑ Possum effect

Where local rankings are absent, always ask:

“Are there any other businesses in your building or even on your street that share your Google category?”

If the answer is “yes,” search for the business’ desired keyword phase and look at the local finder view in Google Maps. Note which companies are ranking. Then begin to zoom in on the map, level by level, noting changes in the local finder as you go. If, a few levels in, the business you’re advising suddenly appears on the map and in the local finder, chances are good it’s the Possum filter that’s causing their apparent invisibility at the automatic zoom level.

Google Possum rolled out in September 2016, and its observable effects included a geographic diversification of the local results, filtering out many listings that share a category and are in close proximity to one another. Then, about one year later, Google initiated the Hawk update, which appears to have tightened the radius of Possum, with the result that while many businesses in the same building are still being filtered out, a number of nearby neighbors have reappeared at the automatic zoom level of the results.

If your sleuthing turns up a brand that is being impacted by Possum/Hawk, the only surefire way to beat the filter is to put in the necessary work to become the most authoritative answer for the desired search phrase. It’s important to remember that filters are the norm in Google’s local results, and have long been observed impacting listings that share an address, share a phone number, etc. If it’s vital for a particular listing to outrank all others that possess shared characteristics, then authority must be built around it in every possible way to make it one of the most dominant results.

☑ Local Service Ads effect

The question you ask here is:

“Is yours a service-area business?”

And if the answer is “yes,” then brace yourself for ongoing results disruption in the coming year.

Google’s Local Service Ads (formerly Home Service Ads) make Google the middleman between consumers and service providers, and in the 2+ years since first early testing, they’ve caused some pretty startling things to happen to local search results. These have included:

Suffice it to say, rollout to an ever-increasing number of cities and categories hasn’t been for the faint of heart, and I would hazard a guess that Google’s recent re-brand of this program signifies their intention to move beyond the traditional SAB market. One possible benefit of Google getting into this type of lead gen is that it could decrease spam, but I’m not sold on this, given that fake locations have ended up qualifying for LSA inclusion. While I honor Google’s need to be profitable, I share some of the qualms business owners have expressed about the potential impacts of this venture.

Since I can’t offer a solid prediction of what precise form these impacts will take in the coming months, the best I can do here is to recommend that if an SAB experiences a ranking change/loss, the first thing to look for is whether LSA has come to town. If so, alteration of the SERPs may be unavoidable, and the only strategy left for overcoming vanished visibility may be to pay for it… by qualifying for the program.

☑ GMB neglect

Sometimes, a lack of competitive rankings can simply be chalked up to a lack of effort. If a business wonders why they’re not doing better in the local packs, pull up their GMB listing and do a quick evaluation of:

  • Verification status – While you can rank without verifying, lack of verification is a hallmark of listing neglect.
  • Basic accuracy – If NAP or map markers are incorrect, it’s a sure sign of neglect.
  • Category choices – Wrong categories make right rankings impossible.
  • Image optimization – Every business needs a good set of the most professional, persuasive photos it can acquire, and should even consider periodic new photo shoots for seasonal freshness; imagery impacts KPIs, which are believed to impact rank.
  • Review count, sentiment and management – Too few reviews, low ratings, and lack of responses = utter neglect of this core rank/reputation-driver.
  • Hours of operation – If they’re blank or incorrect, conversions are being missed.
  • Main URL choice – Does the GMB listing point to a strong, authoritative website page or a weak one?
  • Additional URL choices – If menus, bookings, reservations, or placing orders is part of the business model, a variety of optional URLs are supported by Google and should be explored.
  • Google Posts – Early-days testing indicates that regular posting may impact rank.
  • Google Questions and Answers – Pre-populate with best FAQs and actively manage incoming questions.

There is literally no business, large or small, with a local footprint that can afford to neglect its Google My Business listing. And while some fixes and practices move the ranking needle more than others, the increasing number of consumer actions that take place within Google is reason enough to put active GMB management at the top of your list.


Closing the case

The Hardy Boys never went anywhere without their handy kit of detection tools. Their father was so confident in their utter preparedness that he even let them chase down gangs in Hong Kong and dictators in the Guyanas (which, on second thought, doesn’t seem terribly wise.) But I have that kind of confidence in you. I hope my troubleshooting checklist is one you’ll bookmark and share to be prepared for the local ranking mysteries awaiting you and your digital marketing colleagues in 2018. Happy sleuthing!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

Posted by sherrybonelli

An important first step in any local SEO strategy is to claim and verify your local business’ Google My Business (GMB) listing. Getting on Google My Business can increase your chances of showing up in Google’s Local Pack, Local Finder, Google Maps, and organic rankings in general. Qualifying local businesses can claim this free listing on Google and include basic information about their company, like their address, phone number, business hours and types of payments accepted.

If you haven’t claimed and verified your Google My Business Listing yet, that’s the first step. To get started, visit https://www.google.com/business.

Many local businesses just claim their GMB listing and forget about it. What most businesses don’t realize is that there are a variety of other features you can use to optimize your Google My Business listing and several reasons why you should frequently check your business listing to ensure that it’s accuracy stays intact. Want to know more?

Complete all the information Google asks for

There are a variety of questions you can answer to complete your Google My Business profile. When done, your listing will have valuable data that will make it easier for potential customers to find your company. And if you don’t fill that information in, someone else could. Many business owners don’t realize that anyone can suggest a change to your business listing — and that includes competitors.

When a searcher clicks on your GMB listing they can see a “Suggest an edit” option:

When someone clicks on that option they can literally edit your Google My Business listing (and make some pretty dramatic changes, too):

This is just one reason why it’s very important that you login to your Google My Business dashboard regularly to ensure that no one has attempted to make any unwanted changes to your listing. You’ll see a notification that changes are pending if someone has made suggested changes that need your approval.

Also, it’s important to realize that Google encourages people who are familiar with your business to answer questions, so Google can learn more information about your company. To do this they can simply click on the “Know this place? Answer quick questions” link.

They’ll then be prompted to answer some questions about your business:

If they know the answer to the questions, they can answer. If not, they can decline.

Now, some business owners have cried foul, saying that competitors or others with malicious intent can wreak havoc on their Google My Business listings with this feature. However, Google’s philosophy is that this type of “user-generated content” helps to build a community, more fully completes a business’ profile, and allows Google to experiment with different search strategies.

After you get your Google My Business listing verified, continue to check your listing regularly to be on the safe side.

Google My Business Posts

Google Posts are “mini-ads” that show up in Google search in your Google My Business listing (in the Knowledge Panel and on Google Maps.)

You can have fun with your Posts by adding an image, a Call to Action (CTA), and even including a link to another page or website. If you’re using Yext, you can create GMB Posts directly from your Yext dashboard.

Here are just a few Post ideas:

  • If you’re having an event (like a webinar) you can set up an event Post with a date and time and then add a link to the registration page.
  • Do you have a sale going on during a specific time? Create a “sale” event Post.
  • Does your latest blog post rock? Add a short description of your blog post and link to the post on your blog.
  • New product you want to feature? Show a picture of this cool gadget and link to where people can make the purchase.
  • Want to spread holiday joy? Give potential customers a holiday message Post.

The possibilities with Posts are endless! Posts stay “live” for seven days or “go dark” after the date of the event. Google is great about sending you reminders when it’s time to create a new Post.

TIP: To grab a searcher’s attention, you want to include an image in your Post, but on Google Maps the Post image can get cut off. You might have to test a few Post image sizes to make sure it’s sized appropriately for Maps and the Knowledge Panel on desktop and mobile devices.

To get started with Posts, login to your GMB dashboard and you’ll see the Posts option on the left-hand side:

Do Google My Business Posts help with search rankings? Joy Hawkins and Steady Demand tested whether Posts had an impact on rankings, and they found that making Google My Business Postsmaking Google My Business Posts can improve rankingsimprove rankings.

Booking button feature

Google’s new Booking button feature can really help your business stand out from the crowd. If you have any type of business that relies on customers making appointments and you’re using integrated scheduling software, people can now book an appointment with your business directly from your Google My Business listing. This can make it even easier to get new customers!

If you have an account with one of Google’s supported scheduling providers, the booking button is automatically added to your Google My Business listing.

Messaging

Did you know that you can allow potential customers to send you text messages? This is a great way to connect directly with potential customers.

If you don’t want text messages sent to your personal phone number, you can download Google’s Allo app. When you set up your Allo account, use the same phone number connected to your Google My Business account. Now when someone messages you, Allo will send you a notification instead of the message appearing in your personal text messages.

To get started with Messaging, login to your GMB dashboard and click on “Messaging”:

This feature is still in its infancy, though. Right now, messaging is only available to mobile web users and is not available to mobile app or desktop users. People also won’t see the Messaging option in the Knowledge Panel or on Google Maps.

The ONLY way someone can message your business is if they perform a mobile web search on Chrome. (I expect that Google will expand the Messaging feature once they work the kinks out.)

Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers is a relatively new feature to Google local search. It’s very cool! Just like it sounds, Q&A allows people to ask questions about your business and you can answer those questions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Questions & Answers:

  • The Q&A feature is not visible on the mobile GMB app.
  • You need to login to the GMB dashboard to see if you have any new questions that need answering.
  • You cannot monitor the Questions on a mobile device unless you have an Android phone.
  • You can use the Google Maps App on Android devices to manage the Q&A feature as the business. To do this, download the Google Maps app, sign in with the email address you use for your GMB listing, and you will get push notifications if someone asks your business a question.

TIP: It’s important to note that just like “Suggest an Edit” on GMB, anyone can answer questions asked of your business. Therefore, you want to keep an eye out and make sure you answer questions quickly and ensure that if someone else answers a question, that the answer is accurate. If you find that someone is abusing your GMB listing’s Q&A feature, reach out to the Google My Business support forums.

Google My Business online reviews

Unlike Yelp, which vehemently discourages business owners to ask their customers for reviews, Google encourages business owners to ethically ask their customers or clients for online reviews. Online reviews appear next to your listing in Google Maps and your business’ Knowledge Panel in search. Reviews can help your business stand out among a sea of search results.

Additionally, online reviews are known to impact search result rankings, consumer trust, and click-through rates. According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Consumer Review Survey:

  • 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day
  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more
  • 49% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business
  • Responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30% naming this as key when judging local businesses
  • 68% of consumers left a local business review when asked — with 74% having been asked for their feedback
  • 79% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year

If you follow Google’s guidelines for Google My Business reviews, you can ask your customers for reviews. (However, if you violate any of these policies, your reviews could be removed.)

When customers leave reviews for you — good or bad — make sure you respond to them. Not only does it show that customer that you appreciate their feedback, it also shows potential customers that you care.

What happens if you get a negative review? First, don’t freak out. Everybody has a bad day and most people recognize that. Also, if you have a troll that gave you a one-star review and left a nasty comment, most people with common sense recognize that review for what it is. It’s generally not worth stressing over.

To learn more about strategically getting more online reviews, check out this article from Moz.


Get more out of your GMB listing

Hopefully these features have given you a new reason to login to your Google My Business account and get busy! If you have any other questions about optimizing your GMB listing, let me know in the comments.

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Reblogged 3 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it