5 local search tactics your competitors probably aren’t using

When you and your competitors are all adhering to local SEO best practices, how can you differentiate your business from the rest? Columnist Sherry Bonelli has some ideas.

The post 5 local search tactics your competitors probably aren’t using appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Reblogged 12 hours ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

SearchCap: Google customer match, local SEO & SMX West

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google customer match, local SEO & SMX West appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 16 hours ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Not-Actually-the-Best Local SEO Practices

Posted by MiriamEllis

It’s never fun being the bearer of bad news.

You’re on the phone with an amazing prospect. Let’s say it’s a growing appliance sales and repair provider with 75 locations in the western US. Your agency would absolutely love to onboard this client, and the contact is telling you, with some pride, that they’re already ranking pretty well for about half of their locations.

With the right strategy, getting them the rest of the way there should be no problem at all.

But then you notice something, and your end of the phone conversation falls a little quiet as you click through from one of their Google My Business listings in Visalia to Streetview and see… not a commercial building, but a house. Uh-oh. In answer to your delicately worded question, you find out that 45 of this brand’s listings have been built around the private homes of their repairmen — an egregious violation of Google’s guidelines.

“I hate to tell you this…,” you clear your throat, and then you deliver the bad news.

If you do in-house Local SEO, do it for clients, or even just answer questions in a forum, you’ve surely had the unenviable (yet vital) task of telling someone they’re “doing it wrong,” frequently after they’ve invested considerable resources in creating a marketing structure that threatens to topple due to a crack in its foundation. Sometimes you can patch the crack, but sometimes, whole edifices of bad marketing have to be demolished before safe and secure new buildings can be erected.

Here are 5 of the commonest foundational marketing mistakes I’ve encountered over the years as a Local SEO consultant and forum participant. If you run into these in your own work, you’ll be doing someone a big favor by delivering “the bad news” as quickly as possible:

1. Creating GMB listings at ineligible addresses

What you’ll hear:

“We need to rank for these other towns, because we want customers there. Well, no, we don’t really have offices there. We have P.O. Boxes/virtual offices/our employees’ houses.”

Why it’s a problem:

Google’s guidelines state:

  • Make sure that your page is created at your actual, real-world location
  • PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable.
  • Service-area businesses—businesses that serve customers at their locations—should have one page for the central office or location and designate a service area from that point.

All of this adds up to Google saying you shouldn’t create a listing for anything other than a real-world location, but it’s extremely common to see a) spammers simply creating tons of listings for non-existent locations, b) people of good will not knowing the guidelines and doing the same thing, and c) service area businesses (SABs) feeling they have to create fake-location listings because Google won’t rank them for their service cities otherwise.

In all three scenarios, the brand puts itself at risk for detection and listing removal. Google can catch them, competitors and consumers can catch them, and marketers can catch them. Once caught, any effort that was put into ranking and building reputation around a fake-location listing is wasted. Better to have devoted resources to risk-free marketing efforts that will add up to something real.

What to do about it:

Advise the SAB owner to self-report the problem to Google. I know this sounds risky, but Google My Business forum Top Contributor Joy Hawkins let me know that she’s never seen a case in which Google has punished a business that self-reported accidental spam. The owner will likely need to un-verify the spam listings (see how to do that here) and then Google will likely remove the ineligible listings, leaving only the eligible ones intact.

What about dyed-in-the-wool spammers who know the guidelines and are violating them regardless, turning local pack results into useless junk? Get to the spam listing in Google Maps, click the “Suggest an edit” link, toggle the toggle to “Yes,” and choose the radio button for spam. Google may or may not act on your suggestion. If not, and the spam is misleading to consumers, I think it’s always a good idea to report it to the Google My Business forum in hopes that a volunteer Top Contributor may escalate an egregious case to a Google staffer.

2. Sharing phone numbers between multiple entities

What you’ll hear:

“I run both my dog walking service and my karate classes out of my house, but I don’t want to have to pay for two different phone lines.”

-or-

“Our restaurant has 3 locations in the city now, but we want all the calls to go through one number for reservation purposes. It’s just easier.”

-or-

“There are seven doctors at our practice. Front desk handles all calls. We can’t expect the doctors to answer their calls personally.”

Why it’s a problem:

There are actually multiple issues at hand on this one. First of all, Google’s guidelines state:

  • Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible, and provide one website that represents your individual business location.
  • Use a local phone number instead of a central, call center helpline number whenever possible.
  • The phone number must be under the direct control of the business.

This rules out having the phone number of a single location representing multiple locations.

Confusing to Google

Google has also been known in the past to phone businesses for verification purposes. Should a business answer “Jim’s Dog Walking” when a Google rep is calling to verify that the phone number is associated with “Jim’s Karate Lessons,” we’re in trouble. Shared phone numbers have also been suspected in the past of causing accidental merging of Google listings, though I’ve not seen a case of this in a couple of years.

Confusing for businesses

As for the multi-practitioner scenario, the reality is that some business models simply don’t allow for practitioners to answer their own phones. Calls for doctors, dentists, attorneys, etc. are traditionally routed through a front desk. This reality calls into question whether forward-facing listings should be built for these individuals at all. We’ll dive deeper into this topic below, in the section on multi-practitioner listings.

Confusing for the ecosystem

Beyond Google-related concerns, Moz Local’s awesome engineers have taught me some rather amazing things about the problems shared phone numbers can create for citation-building campaigns in the greater ecosystem. Many local business data platforms are highly dependent on unique phone numbers as a signal of entity uniqueness (the “P” in NAP is powerful!). So, for example, if you submit both Jim’s Dog Walking and Jim’s Bookkeeping to Infogroup with the same number, Infogroup may publish both listings, but leave the phone number fields blank! And without a phone number, a local business listing is pretty worthless.

It’s because of realities like these that a unique phone number for each entity is a requirement of the Moz Local product, and should be a prerequisite for any citation building campaign.

What to do about it:

Let the business owner know that a unique phone number for each business entity, each business location, and each forward-facing practitioner who wants to be listed is a necessary business expense (and, hey, likely tax deductible, too!). Once the investment has been made in the unique numbers, the work ahead involves editing all existing citations to reflect them. The free tool Moz Check Listing can help you instantly locate existing citations for the purpose of creating a spreadsheet that details the bad data, allowing you to start correcting it manually. Or, to save time, the business owner may wish to invest in a paid, automated citation correction product like Moz Local.

Pro tip: Apart from removing local business listing stumbling blocks, unique phone numbers have an added bonus in that they enable the benefits of associating KPIs like clicks-to-call to a given entity, and existing numbers can be ported into call tracking numbers for even further analysis of traffic and conversions. You just can’t enjoy these benefits if you lump multiple entities together under a single, shared number.

3. Keyword stuffing GMB listing names

What you’ll hear:

“I have 5 locations in Dallas. How are my customers supposed to find the right one unless I add the neighborhood name to the business name on the listings?”

-or-

“We want customers to know we do both acupuncture and massage, so we put both in the listing name.”

-or-

“Well, no, the business name doesn’t actually have a city name in it, but my competitors are adding city names to their GMB listings and they’re outranking me!”

Why it’s a problem:

Long story short, it’s a blatant violation of Google’s guidelines to put extraneous keywords in the business name field of a GMB listing. Google states:

  • Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers.
  • Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended.

What to do about it:

I consider this a genuine Local SEO toughie. On the one hand, Google’s lack of enforcement of these guidelines, and apparent lack of concern about the whole thing, makes it difficult to adequately alarm business owners about the risk of suspension. I’ve successfully reported keyword stuffing violations to Google and have had them act on my reports within 24 hours… only to have the spammy names reappear hours or days afterwards. If there’s a suspension of some kind going on here, I don’t see it.

Simultaneously, Google’s local algo apparently continues to be influenced by exact keyword matches. When a business owner sees competitors outranking him via outlawed practices which Google appears to ignore, the Local SEO may feel slightly idiotic urging guideline-compliance from his patch of shaky ground.

But, do it anyway. For two reasons:

  1. If you’re not teaching business owners about the importance of brand building at this point, you’re not really teaching marketing. Ask the owner, “Are you into building a lasting brand, or are you hoping to get by on tricks?” Smart owners (and their marketers) will see that it’s a more legitimate strategy to build a future based on earning permanent local brand recognition for Lincoln & Herndon, than for Springfield Car Accident Slip and Fall Personal Injury Lawyers Attorneys.
  2. I find it interesting that, in all of Google’s guidelines, the word “suspended” is used only a few times, and one of these rare instances relates to spamming the business title field. In other words, Google is using the strongest possible language to warn against this practice, and that makes me quite nervous about tying large chunks of reputation and rankings to a tactic against which Google has forewarned. I remember that companies were doing all kinds of risky things on the eve of the Panda and Penguin updates and they woke up to a changed webscape in which they were no longer winners. Because of this, I advocate alerting any business owner who is risking his livelihood to chancy shortcuts. Better to build things for real, for the long haul.

Fortunately, it only takes a few seconds to sign into a GMB account and remove extraneous keywords from a business name. If it needs to be done at scale for large multi-location enterprises across the major aggregators, Moz Local can get the job done. Will removing spammy keywords from the GMB listing title cause the business to move down in Google’s local rankings? It’s possible that they will, but at least they’ll be able to go forward building real stuff, with the moral authority to report rule-breaking competitors and keep at it until Google acts.

And tell owners not to worry about Google not being able to sort out a downtown location from an uptown one for consumers. Google’s ability to parse user proximity is getting better every day. Mobile-local packs prove this out. If one location is wrongly outranking another, chances are good the business needs to do an audit to discover weaknesses that are holding the more appropriate listing back. That’s real strategy – no tricks!

4. Creating a multi-site morass

What you’ll hear:

“So, to cover all 3 or our locations, we have greengrocerysandiego.com, greengrocerymonterey.com and greengrocerymendocino.com… but the problem is, the content on the three sites is kind of all the same. What should we do to make the sites different?”

-or-

“So, to cover all of our services, we have jimsappliancerepair.com, jimswashingmachinerepair.com, jimsdryerrepair.com, jimshotwaterheaterrepair.com, jimsrefrigeratorrepair.com. We’re about to buy jimsvacuumrepair.com … but the problem is, there’s not much content on any of these sites. It feels like management is getting out of hand.”

Why it’s a problem:

Definitely a frequent topic in SEO forums, the practice of relying on exact match domains (EMDs) proliferates because of Google’s historic bias in their favor. The ranking influence of EMDs has been the subject of a Google updateand has lessened over time. I wouldn’t want to try to rank for competitive terms with creditcards.com or insurance.com these days.

But if you believe EMDs no longer work in the local-organic world, read this post in which a fellow’s surname/domain name gets mixed up with a distant city name and he ends up ranking in the local packs for it! Chances are, you see weak EMDs ranking all the time for your local searches — more’s the pity. And, no doubt, this ranking boost is the driving force behind local business models continuing to purchase multiple keyword-oriented domains to represent branches of their company or the variety of services they offer. This approach is problematic for 3 chief reasons:

  1. It’s impractical. The majority of the forum threads I’ve encountered in which small-to-medium local businesses have ended up with two, or five, or ten domains invariably lead to the discovery that the websites are made up of either thin or duplicate content. Larger enterprises are often guilty of the same. What seemed like a great idea at first, buying up all those EMDs, turns into an unmanageable morass of web properties that no one has the time to keep updated, to write for, or to market.
  2. Specific to the multi-service business, it’s not a smart move to put single-location NAP on multiple websites. In other words, if your construction firm is located at 123 Main Street in Funky Town, but consumers and Google are finding that same physical address associated with fences.com, bathroomremodeling.com, decks.com, and kitchenremodeling.com, you are sowing confusion in the ecosystem. Which is the authoritative business associated with that address? Some business owners further compound problems by assuming they can then build separate sets of local business listings for each of these different service-oriented domains, violating Google’s guidelines, which state:

    Do not create more than one page for each location of your business.

    The whole thing can become a giant mess, instead of the clean, manageable simplicity of a single brand, tied to a single domain, with a single NAP signal.

  1. With rare-to-nonexistent exceptions, I consider EMDs to be missed opportunities for brand building. Imagine, if instead of being Whole Foods at WholeFoods.com, the natural foods giant had decided they needed to try to squeeze a ranking boost out of buying 400+ domains to represent the eventual number of locations they now operate. WholeFoodsDallas.com, WholeFoodsMississauga.com, etc? Such an approach would get out of hand very fast.

Even the smallest businesses should take cues from big commerce. Your brand is the magic password you want on every consumer’s lips, associated with every service you offer, in every location you open. As I recently suggested to a Moz community member, be proud to domain your flower shop as rossirovetti.com instead of hoping FloralDelivery24hoursSanFrancisco.com will boost your rankings. It’s authentic, easy to remember, looks trustworthy in the SERPs, and is ripe for memorable brand building.

What to do about it:

While I can’t speak to the minutiae of every single scenario, I’ve yet to be part of a discussion about multi-sites in the Local SEO community in which I didn’t advise consolidation. Basically, the business should choose a single, proud domain and, in most cases, 301 redirect the old sites to the main one, then work to get as many external links that pointed to the multi-sites to point to the chosen main site. This oldie but goodie from the Moz blog provides a further technical checklist from a company that saw a 40% increase in traffic after consolidating domains. I’d recommend that any business that is nervous about handling the tech aspects of consolidation in-house should hire a qualified SEO to help them through the process.

5. Creating ill-considered practitioner listings

What you’ll hear:

“We have 5 dentists at the practice, but one moved/retired last month and we don’t know what to do with the GMB listing for him.”

-or-

“Dr. Green is outranking the practice in the local results for some reason, and it’s really annoying.”

Why it’s a problem:

I’ve saved the most complex for last! Multi-practitioner listings can be a blessing, but they’re so often a bane that my position on creating them has evolved to a point where I only recommend building them in specific cases.

When Google first enabled practitioner listings (listings that represent each doctor, lawyer, dentist, or agent within a business) I saw them as a golden opportunity for a given practice to dominate local search results with its presence. However, Google’s subsequent unwillingness to simply remove practitioner duplicates, coupled with the rollout of the Possum update which filters out shared category/similar location listings, coupled with the number of instances I’ve seen in which practitioner listings end up outranking brand listings, has caused me to change my opinion of their benefits. I should also add that the business title field on practitioner listings is a hotbed of Google guideline violations — few business owners have ever read Google’s nitty gritty rules about how to name these types of listings.

In a nutshell, practitioner listings gone awry can result in a bunch of wrongly-named listings often clouded by duplicates that Google won’t remove, all competing for the same keywords. Not good!

What to do about it:

You’ll have multiple scenarios to address when offering advice about this topic.

1.) If the business is brand new, and there is no record of it on the Internet as of yet, then I would only recommend creating practitioner listings if it is necessary to point out an area of specialization. So, for example if a medical practice has 5 MDs, the listing for the practice covers that, with no added listings needed. But, if a medical practice has 5 MDs and an Otolaryngologist, it may be good marketing to give the specialist his own listing, because it has its own GMB category and won’t be competing with the practice for rankings. *However, read on to understand the challenges being undertaken any time a multi-practitioner listing is created.

2.) If the multi-practitioner business is not new, chances are very good that there are listings out there for present, past, and even deceased practitioners.

  • If a partner is current, be sure you point his listing at a landing page on the practice’s website, instead of at the homepage, see if you can differentiate categories, and do your utmost to optimize the practice’s own listing — the point here is to prevent practitioners from outranking the practice. What do I mean by optimization? Be sure the practice’s GMB listing is fully filled out, you’ve got amazing photos, you’re actively earning and responding to reviews, you’re publishing a Google Post at least once a week, and your citations across the web are consistent. These things should all strengthen the listing for the practice.
  • If a partner is no longer with the practice, it’s ideal to unverify the listing and ask Google to market it as moved to the practice — not to the practitioner’s new location. Sound goofy? Read Joy Hawkins’ smart explanation of this convoluted issue.
  • If, sadly, a practitioner has passed away, contact Google to show them an obituary so that the listing can be removed.
  • If a listing represents what is actually a solo practitioner (instead of a partner in a multi-practitioner business model) and his GMB listing is now competing with the listing for his business, you can ask Google to merge the two listings.

3.) If a business wants to create practitioner listings, and they feel up to the task of handling any ranking or situational management concerns, there is one final proviso I’d add. Google’s guidelines state that practitioners should be “directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours” in order to qualify for a GMB listing. I’ve always found this requirement rather vague. Contactable by phone? Contactable in person? Google doesn’t specify. Presumably, a real estate agent in a multi-practitioner agency might be directly contactable, but as my graphic above illustrates, we wouldn’t really expect the same public availability of a surgeon, right? Point being, it may only make marketing sense to create a practitioner listing for someone who needs to be directly available to the consumer public for the business to function. I consider this a genuine grey area in the guidelines, so think it through carefully before acting.

Giving good help

It’s genuinely an honor to advise owners and marketers who are strategizing for the success of local businesses. In our own small way, local SEO consultants live in the neighborhood Mister Rogers envisioned in which you could look for the helpers when confronted with trouble. Given the livelihoods dependent on local commerce, rescuing a company from a foundational marketing mistake is satisfying work for people who like to be “helpers,” and it carries a weight of responsibility.

I’ve worked in 3 different SEO forums over the past 10+ years, and I’d like to close with some things I’ve learned about helping:

  1. Learn to ask the right questions. Small nuances in business models and scenarios can necessitate completely different advice. Don’t be scared to come back with second and third rounds of follow-up queries if someone hasn’t provided sufficient detail for you to advise them well. Read all details thoroughly before replying.
  2. Always, always consult Google’s guidelines, and link to them in your answers. It’s absolutely amazing how few owners and marketers have ever encountered them. Local SEOs are volunteer liaisons between Google and businesses. That’s just the way things have worked out.
  3. Don’t say you’re sure unless you’re really sure. If a forum or client question necessitates a full audit to surface a useful answer, say so. Giving pat answers to complicated queries helps no one, and can actually hurt businesses by leaving them in limbo, losing money, for an even longer time.
  4. Network with colleagues when weird things come up. Ranking drops can be attributed to new Google updates, or bugs, or other factors you haven’t yet noticed but that a trusted peer may have encountered.
  5. Practice humility. 90% of what I know about Local SEO, I’ve learned from people coming to me with problems for which, at some point, I had to discover answers. Over time, the work put in builds up our store of ready knowledge, but we will never know it all, and that’s humbling in a very good way. Community members and clients are our teachers. Let’s be grateful for them, and treat them with respect.
  6. Finally, don’t stress about delivering “the bad news” when you see someone who is asking for help making a marketing mistake. In the long run, your honesty will be the best gift you could possibly have given.

Happy helping!

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Reblogged 1 day ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How Local SEO Fits In With What You’re Already Doing

Posted by MiriamEllis

You own, work for, or market a business, but you don’t think of yourself as a Local SEO.

That’s okay. The forces of history have, in fact, conspired in some weird ways to make local search seem like an island unto itself. Out there, beyond the horizon, there may be technicians puzzling out NAP, citations, owner responses, duplicate listings, store locator widgets and the like, but it doesn’t seem like they’re talking about your job at all.

And that’s the problem.

If I could offer you a seat in my kayak, I’d paddle us over to that misty isle, and we’d go ashore. After we’d walked around a bit, talking to the locals, it would hit you that the language barrier you’d once perceived is a mere illusion, as is the distance between you.

By sunset — whoa! Look around again. This is no island. You and the Local SEOs are all mainlanders, reaching towards identical goals of customer acquisition, service, and retention via an exceedingly enriched and enriching skill set. You can use it all.

Before I paddle off into the darkness, under the rising stars, I’d like to leave you a chart that plots out how Local SEO fits in with everything you’ve been doing all along.

The roots of the divide

Why is Local SEO often treated as separate from the rest of marketing? We can narrow this down to three contributing factors:

1) Early separation of the local and organic algos

Google’s early-days local product was governed by an algorithm that was much more distinct from their organic algorithm than it is today. It was once extremely common, for example, for businesses without websites to rank well locally. This didn’t do much to form clear bridges between the offline, organic, and local marketing worlds. But, then came Google’s Pigeon Update in 2013, which signaled Google’s stated intention of deeply tying the two algorithms together.

This should ultimately impact the way industry publications, SaaS companies, and agencies present local as an extension of organic SEO, but we’re not quite there yet. I continue to encounter examples of large companies which are doing an amazing job with their website strategies, their e-commerce solutions and their paid outreach, but which are only now taking their first steps into local listings management for their hundreds of physical locations. It’s not that they’re late to the party — it’s just that they’ve only recently begun to realize what a large party their customers are having with their brands’ location data layers on the web.

2) Inheriting the paid vs. organic dichotomy

Local SEO has experienced the same lack-of-adoption/awareness as organic SEO. Agencies have long fought the uphill battle against a lopsided dependence on paid advertising. This phenomenon is highlighted by historic stats like these showing brands investing some $10 million in PPC vs. $1 million in SEO, despite studies like this one which show PPC earning less than 10% of clicks in search.

My take on this is that the transition from traditional offline paid advertising to its online analog was initially easier for many brands to get their heads around. And there have been ongoing challenges in proving direct ROI from SEO in the simple terms a PPC campaign can provide. To this day, we’re still all seeing statistics like only 17% of small businesses investing in SEO. In many ways, the SEO conundrum has simply been inherited by every Local SEO.

3) A lot to take in and on

Look at the service menu of any full-service digital marketing agency and you’ll see just how far it’s had to stretch over the past couple of decades to encompass an ever-expanding range of publicity opportunities:

  • Technical website audits
  • On-site optimization
  • Linkbuilding
  • Keyword research
  • Content dev and promotion
  • Brand building
  • Social media marketing
  • PPC management
  • UX audits
  • Conversion optimization
  • Etc.

Is it any wonder that agencies feel spread a bit too thin when considering how to support yet further needs and disciplines? How do you find the bandwidth, and the experts, to be able to offer:

  • Ongoing citation management
  • Local on-site SEO
  • Local landing page dev
  • Store locator SEO
  • Review management
  • Local brand building
  • Local link building
  • And abstruse forms of local Schema implementation…

And while many agencies have met the challenge by forming smart, strategic partnerships with providers specializing in Local SEO solutions, the agency is still then tasked with understanding how Local fits in with everything else they’re doing, and then explaining this to clients. At the multi-location and enterprise level, even amongst the best-known brands, high-level staffers may have no idea what it is the folks in the in-house Local SEO department are actually doing, or why their work matters.

To tie it all together … that’s what we need to do here. With a shared vision of how all practitioners are working on consumer-centric outreach, we can really get somewhere. Let’s plot this out, together:

Sharing is caring

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Let’s imagine a sporting goods brand, established in 1979, that’s grown to 400 locations across the US while also becoming well-known for its e-commerce presence. Whether aspects of marketing are being outsourced or it’s all in-house, here is how 3 shared consumer-centric goals unify all parties.

sharedgoalsfinal.jpg

As we can see from the above chart, there is definitely an overlap of techniques, particularly between SEOs and Local SEOs. Yet overall, it’s not the language or tactics, but the end game and end goals that unify all parties. Viewed properly, consumers are what make all marketing a true team effort.

Before I buy that kayak…

On my commute, I hear a radio ad promoting a holiday sale at some sporting goods store, but which brand was it?

Then I turn to the Internet to research kayak brands, and I find your website’s nicely researched, written, and optimized article comparing the best models in 2017. It’s ranking #2 organically. Those Sun Dolphins look pretty good, according to your massive comparison chart.

I think about it for a couple of days and go looking again, and I see your Adwords spot advertising your 30% off sale. This is the third time I’ve encountered your brand.

On my day off, I’m doing a local search for your brand, which has impressed me so far. I’m ready to look at these kayaks in person. Thanks to the fact that you properly managed your recent move across town by updating all of your major citations, I’m finding an accurate address on your Google My Business listing. Your reviews are mighty favorable, too. They keep mentioning how knowledgeable the staff is at your location nearest me.

And that turns out to be true. At first, I’m disappointed that I don’t see any Sun Dolphins on your shelves — your website comparison chart spoke well of them. As a sales associate approaches me, I notice in-store signage above his head, featuring a text/phone hotline for complaints. I don’t really have a complaint… not yet… but it’s good to know you care.

“I’m so sorry. We just sold out of Sun Dolphins this morning. But we can have one delivered to you within 3 days. We have in-store pickup, too,” the salesperson says. “Or, maybe you’d be interested in another model with comparable features. Let me show you.”

Turns out, your staffer isn’t just helpful — his training has made him so well-versed in your product line that he’s able to match my needs to a perfect kayak for me. I end up buying an Intex on the spot.

The cashier double-checks with me that I’ve found everything satisfactory and lets me know your brand takes feedback very seriously. She says my review would be valued, and my receipt invites me to read your reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook… and offers a special deal for signing up for your email newsletter.

My subsequent 5-star review signals to all departments of your company that a company-wide goal was met. Over the next year, my glowing review also influences 20 of my local neighbors to choose you over a competitor.

After my first wet, cold, and exciting kayaking trip, I realize I need to invest in a better waterproof jacket for next time. Your email newsletter hits my inbox at just the right time, announcing your Fourth of July sale. I’m about to become a repeat customer… worth up to 10x the value of my first purchase.

“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”
– Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn

There’s a kind of magic in this adventurous mix of marketing wins. Subtract anything from the picture, and you may miss out on the customer. It’s been said that great teams beat with a single heart. The secret lies in seeing every marketing discipline and practitioner as part of your team, doing what your brand has been doing all along: working with dedication to acquire, serve and retain consumers. Whether achievement comes via citation management, conversion optimization, or a write-up in the New York Times, the end goal is identical.

It’s also long been said that the race is to the swift. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch appears to agree, stating that, in today’s world, it’s not big that beats small — it’s fast that beats slow. How quickly your brand is able to integrate all forms of on-and-offline marketing into its core strategy, leaving no team as an island, may well be what writes your future.

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Reblogged 1 week ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Local SEO: Driving customer actions for enterprise-level brands

Multilocation businesses face some unique challenges in today’s local search landscape, but columnist Thomas Stern believes they can succeed by finding the right balance between centralized data management and localized content production.

The post Local SEO: Driving customer actions for…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 month ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

The Local SEO Holiday Checklist – You Could Even Say It Glows

Posted by MiriamEllis

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Citations…”

If you’re in charge of the local search marketing for a business, you’ve got two groups to please at the holidays: your clients/superiors and consumers. You don’t want to be kicked out of the reindeer games on January 2nd, so let’s dive into an organized checklist of the most important things you can do to maximize outreach and profits in the coming weeks, making everyone (including you) a winner!


☑ Local business listings accurate

If you’re not already on top of this (maybe using SaaS like Moz Local to ensure your listings on the key platforms are accurate), potential shoppers may end up someplace other than your storefront. Weird versions of your name, old phone numbers, and former street addresses can misdirect your customers or contribute to your failure to be found in the local packs at all. The truth is, November can be a bit late to sign up for a local listing management product in time for holiday victories, so you may have to make fast manual fixes where you can. The Moz Check Listing tool can help you quickly hunt down inaccurate listings. Found a ton of them? Fix whatever data errors you can this year, and make a New Year’s Resolution you’ll keep to undertake professional citation management in Q1 so bad data isn’t still undermining sales and rankings in Q4 2018.

☑ Duplicate listings closed

Related to item one, if you didn’t get duplicates closed earlier in the year and Check Listing is showing you a bunch of them, the fact is that you may not get this completely squared away by the holidays. It can take weeks (sometimes months!) to get certain platforms to resolve duplicate listings. This is the case whether you’re doing it manually or via software, so do what you can as quickly as you can (Google can be surprisingly quick at this) and vow to get this task nailed down completely before the first jingle bell rings next year.

☑ Google My Business special hours added

Extended hours can make a fundamental difference in revenue, and happily, adding them to your GMB listing is a quick fix. Google offers this list of holidays for which they support special hours (including Kadooment Day which Google just taught me is a harvest festival in Barbados!) Here’s Google’s complete tutorial on adding special hours via a variety of methods, including mobile and bulk uploads. Accuracy across all locations matters, of course, as the last thing you want is to create negative brand impressions if customers arrive, gift-list in hand, only to find doors closed for the day. Negative brand impressions lead to negative reviews, which lead to negative trends in conversions, so check your own list of corporate-approved extended hours twice before adding them to GMB.

holidaylocalseo2.jpg

☑ Website pages updated

Doubtless, the brand you are marketing has plans for featuring holiday specials on its website, but while you’re adding extended hours to local business listings, be sure website landing pages/contact pages/home pages display updated hours, too, dispensing with potential confusion. Dealing with multiple locations? Landing pages are a great place to highlight holiday specials specific to certain branches of a business.

☑ Complaint-ready, both on and offline

While many people cherish seasonal shopping trips, others find the holidays to be stressful, and psychologists continue to weigh in on how proposed phenomena like Seasonal Affective Disorder factor into changes in winter mood. Suffice it to say that even the jolliest of us can get frazzled in a crowded shopping mall and may not be at our most forgiving when customer service lets us down. Don’t leave it up to chance whether unhappy shoppers will let disappointments go or vent their frustrations in a stinging and costly negative review.

Urge management to hold a first-time or refresher course to train all public-facing staff in complaint resolution, equipped with a clear hierarchy for escalating problems, and publish your complaint phone/text hotlline on in-store signage and on the company website. This holiday season, I highly recommend giving your clients or higher-ups the gift of Mike Blumenthal’s free eBook, Build a Better Business with Complaints to fully explore the vital role offline sentiment management plays in digital marketing.

☑ Google Posts brainstormed and ready to go

Speaking of gifts, Google is giving one in the form of microblogging right on your Knowledge Panel in 2017. Google Posts is a perfect way to instantly highlight your Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals, your philanthropic outreach, holiday events and other newsworthy items. There are so many options when it comes to social outreach, and other platforms may be stronger performers for you, but I’d use this year’s holiday season to experiment with the new Google Posts feature. Line up some short, exciting content and schedule it.

Best image size is around 750 x 750, only the first 100 characters appear live on your post, and posts stay live for 7 days, unless you schedule an event which will remain live until the event ends. For more tips, I recommend Joy Hawkins’ 12 Things to Know to Succeed with Google Posts.

☑ Other social media ready to go

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Pinterest that your customers rely on most, having your messaging pre-planned the stress of last-minute scrambles to think of something to say. Make a spreadsheet and schedule for your outreach, refined down to the last pixel and character. And don’t just sell; look at how creative agencies told compelling social stories this time last year.

☑ Analytical tracking in place

UTM codes added to the links in your socially-promoted URLs? Google Analytics set up to help you analyze traffic and conversions to local landing pages? A nod to GMB Insights or your Moz Local dashboard’s Insights component so you can evaluate how many clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions and clicks-to-website your listings are driving? What about call tracking that doesn’t interfere with NAP consistency? If tracking local campaigns is new to you, Nick Pierno’s recent post will get you started swiftly. The goal here is that, when the confetti settles, you’ve got data to analyze so that you can strategize for new-year improvements.

☑ Empathy engaged

It has been one rough year in North America. We’ve experienced life-altering man-made and natural disasters. Even if a given shopper hasn’t personally suffered losses in a fire or hurricane in 2017, chances are good in our interconnected society that they know someone who has. Sadly, these tragedies are going to be in the minds and hearts of many as they set out to make spirits bright for their loved ones this holiday season.

I can’t think of a better time to acknowledge reality and offer a proactive means of some consolation for everyone involved. Encourage clients and management to dig deep into their brand’s store of empathy, letting shoppers know that a percentage of sales or some other benefit is going towards relief and recovery in affected communities. Give people a chance to feel that they are taking care of neighbors while also taking care of their own. Knowing we can help is a powerful step along the healing path.


Good service is your guiding light!

The good news is, if you make a best effort at a lot of little things on the checklist in an organized fashion, they total up to a bright local business that’s covering its customer service bases. If there’s one thing the digital marketing industry has become increasingly aware of with each passing year, it’s how everything circles back to the customer.

holidaylocalse3.jpg

You can do this! If you can envision shoppers interacting both online and offline with the business you’re marketing, you can see how to serve them best, and seriously — then all the reindeer will love you — clients, customers, teammates, and CEOs included! Wishing you success and satisfaction in your work as we put a bow on 2017.

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Reblogged 1 month ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Unfiltered: How to Show Up in Local Search Results

Posted by sherrybonelli

If you’re having trouble getting your local business’ website to show up in the Google local 3-pack or local search results in general, you’re not alone. The first page of Google’s search results seems to have gotten smaller over the years – the top and bottom of the page are often filled with ads, the local 7-pack was trimmed to a slim 3-pack, and online directories often take up the rest of page one. There is very little room for small local businesses to rank on the first page of Google.

To make matters worse, Google has a local “filter” that can strike a business, causing their listing to drop out of local search results for seemingly no reason – often, literally, overnight. Google’s local filter has been around for a while, but it became more noticeable after the Possum algorithm update, which began filtering out even more businesses from local search results.

If you think about it, this filter is not much different than websites ranking organically in search results: In an ideal world, the best sites win the top spots. However, the Google filter can have a significantly negative impact on local businesses that often rely on showing up in local search results to get customers to their doors.

What causes a business to get filtered?

Just like the multitude of factors that go into ranking high organically, there are a variety of factors that go into ranking in the local 3-pack and the Local Finder.

Here are a few situations that might cause you to get filtered and what you can do if that happens.

Proximity matters

With mobile search becoming more and more popular, Google takes into consideration where the mobile searcher is physically located when they’re performing a search. This means that local search results can also depend on where the business is physically located when the search is being done.

A few years ago, if your business wasn’t located in the large city in your area, you were at a significant disadvantage. It was difficult to rank when someone searched for “business category + large city” – simply because your business wasn’t physically located in the “large city.” Things have changed slightly in your favor – which is great for all the businesses who have a physical address in the suburbs.

According to Ben Fisher, Co-Founder of SteadyDemand.com and a Google Top Contributor, “Proximity and Google My Business data play an important role in the Possum filter. Before the Hawk Update, this was exaggerated and now the radius has been greatly reduced.” This means there’s hope for you to show up in the local search results – even if your business isn’t located in a big city.

Google My Business categories

When you’re selecting a Google My Business category for your listing, select the most specific category that’s appropriate for your business.

However, if you see a competitor is outranking you, find out what category they are using and select the same category for your business (but only if it makes sense.) Then look at all the other things they are doing online to increase their organic ranking and emulate and outdo them.

If your category selections don’t work, it’s possible you’ve selected too many categories. Too many categories can confuse Google to the point where it’s not sure what your company’s specialty is. Try deleting some of the less-specific categories and see if that helps you show up.

Your physical address

If you can help it, don’t have the same physical address as your competitors. Yes, this means if you’re located in an office building (or worse, a “virtual office” or a UPS Store address) and competing companies are also in your building, your listing may not show up in local search results.

When it comes to sharing an address with a competitor, Ben Fisher recommends, “Ensure that you do not have the same primary category as your competitor if you are in the same building. Their listing may have more trust by Google and you would have a higher chance of being filtered.”

Also, many people think that simply adding a suite number to your address will differentiate your address enough from a competitor at the same location — it won’t. This is one of the biggest myths in local SEO. According to Fisher, “Google doesn’t factor in suite numbers.

Additionally, if competing businesses are located physically close to you, that, too, can impact whether you show up in local search results. So if you have a competitor a block or two down from your company, that can lead to one of you being filtered.

Practitioners

If you’re a doctor, attorney, accountant or are in some other industry with multiple professionals working in the same office location, Google may filter out some of your practitioners’ listings. Why? Google doesn’t want one business dominating the first page of Google local search results. This means that all of the practitioners in your company are essentially competing with one another.

To offset this, each practitioner’s Google My Business listing should have a different category (if possible) and should be directed to different URLs (either a page about the practitioner or a page about the specialty – they should not all point to the site’s home page).

For instance, at a medical practice, one doctor could select the family practice category and another the pediatrician category. Ideally you would want to change those doctors’ landing pages to reflect those categories, too:

Doctorsoffice.com/dr-mathew-family-practice
Doctorsoffice.com/dr-smith-pediatrician

Another thing you can do to differentiate the practitioners and help curtail being filtered is to have unique local phone numbers for each of them.

Evaluate what your competitors are doing right

If your listing is getting filtered out, look at the businesses that are being displayed and see what they’re doing right on Google Maps, Google+, Google My Business, on-site, off-site, and in any other areas you can think of. If possible, do an SEO site audit on their site to see what they’re doing right that perhaps you should do to overtake them in the rankings.

When you’re evaluating your competition, make sure you focus on the signals that help sites rank organically. Do they have a better Google+ description? Is their GMB listing completely filled out but yours is missing some information? Do they have more 5-star reviews? Do they have more backlinks? What is their business category? Start doing what they’re doing – only better.

In general Google wants to show the best businesses first. Compete toe-to-toe with the competitors that are ranking higher than you with the goal of eventually taking over their highly-coveted spot.

Other factors that can help you show up in local search results

As mentioned earlier, Google considers a variety of data points when it determines which local listings to display in search results and which ones to filter out. Here are a few other signals to pay attention to when optimizing for local search results:

Reviews

If everything else is equal, do you have more 5-star reviews than your competition? If so, you will probably show up in the local search results instead of your competitors. Google is one of the few review sites that encourages businesses to proactively ask customers to leave reviews. Take that as a clue to ask customers to give you great reviews not only on your Google My Business listing but also on third-party review sites like Facebook, Yelp, and others.

Posts

Are you interacting with your visitors by offering something special to those who see your business listing? Engaging with your potential customers by creating a Post lets Google know that you are paying attention and giving its users a special deal. Having more “transactions and interactions” with your potential customers is a good metric and can help you show up in local search results.

Google+

Despite what the critics say, Google+ is not dead. Whenever you make a Facebook or Twitter post, go ahead and post to Google+, too. Write semantic posts that are relevant to your business and relevant to your potential customers. Try to write Google+ posts that are approximately 300 words in length and be sure to keyword optimize the first 100 words of each post. You can often see some minor increases in rankings due to well-optimized Google+ posts, properly optimized Collections, and an engaged audience.

Here’s one important thing to keep in mind: Google+ is not the place to post content just to try and rank higher in local search. (That’s called spam and that is a no-no.) Ensure that any post you make to Google+ is valuable to your end-users.

Keep your Google My Business listing current

Adding photos, updating your business hours for holidays, utilizing the Q&A or booking features, etc. can help you show off in rankings. However, don’t add content just to try and rank higher. (Your Google My Business listing is not the place for spammy content.) Make sure the content you add to your GMB listing is both timely and high-quality content. By updating/adding content, Google knows that your information is likely accurate and that your business is engaged. Speaking of which…

Be engaged

Interacting with your customers online is not only beneficial for customer relations, but it can also be a signal to Google that can positively impact your local search ranking results. David Mihm, founder of Tidings, feels that by 2020, the difference-making local ranking factor will be engagement.

engagement-ranking-factor.jpg

(Source: The Difference-Making Local Ranking Factor of 2020)

According to Mihm, “Engagement is simply a much more accurate signal of the quality of local businesses than the traditional ranking factors of links, directory citations, and even reviews.” This means you need to start preparing now and begin interacting with potential customers by using GMB’s Q&A and booking features, instant messaging, Google+ posts, responding to Google and third-party reviews, ensure your website’s phone number is “click-to-call” enabled, etc.

Consolidate any duplicate listings

Some business owners go overboard and create multiple Google My Business listings with the thought that more has to be better. This is one instance where having more can actually hurt you. If you discover that for whatever reason your business has more than one GMB listing, it’s important that you properly consolidate your listings into one.

Other sources linking to your website

If verified data sources, like the Better Business Bureau, professional organizations and associations, chambers of commerce, online directories, etc. link to your website, that can have an impact on whether or not you show up on Google’s radar. Make sure that your business is listed on as many high-quality and authoritative online directories as possible – and ensure that the information about your business – especially your company’s Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) — is consistent and accurate.

So there you have it! Hopefully you found some ideas on what to do if your listing is being filtered on Google local results.

What are some tips that you have for keeping your business “unfiltered”?

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Reblogged 1 month ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Local SEO for service-area businesses requires a lot of servicing

What does it take to get noticed as a service-area business? Columnist Andrew Shotland explains some of the challenges facing these businesses and offers tips for how to approach your local SEO efforts.

The post Local SEO for service-area businesses requires a lot of servicing appeared first on…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 month ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Local SEO: 7 Google My Business questions asked and answered

At first glance, Google’s offering for local businesses might appear fairly simple. But questions inevitably arise. Contributor Sherry Bonelli explains the nuances and offers answers.

The post Local SEO: 7 Google My Business questions asked and answered appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 2 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Special Notes for SABs Amid Decreased Local Search Visibility

Posted by MiriamEllis

One of the most common complaints I hear from service area business owners, like plumbers, locksmiths, and housekeepers, is that Google has always treated them as an afterthought. If you’re in charge of the digital marketing for these business models, it’s vital to understand just how accurate this complaint is so that you can both empathize with SAB brand owners and create a strategy that honors limitations while also identifying opportunities.

In marketing SABs, you’ve got to learn to make the best of a special situation. In this post, I want to address two of the realities these companies are facing right now that call for careful planning: the unique big picture of SAB local listing management, and the rise of Google’s Home Service Ads.

Let’s talk listings, Moz Local, and SABs

I was fascinated by my appliance repairman — an older German ex-pat with a serious demeanor — the first time he looked at my wall heater and pronounced,

“This puppy is no good.”

Our family went on to form a lasting relationship with this expert who has warned me about everything from lint fires in dryers to mis-branded appliances slapped together in dubious factories. I’m an admiring fan of genuinely knowledgeable service people who come to my doorstep, crawl under my house where possums dwell, ascend to my eerie attic despite spiders, and are professionally dedicated to keeping my old house livable. I work on a computer, surrounded by comforts; these folks know what real elbow grease is all about:

It’s because of my regard for these incredibly hard-working SAB owners and staffers that I’ve always taken issue with the fact that the local Internet tends to treat them in an offhand manner. They do some of the toughest jobs, and I’d like their marketing opportunities to be boundless. But the reality is, the road has been rocky and the limits are real.

Google goofed first

When Google invested heavily in developing their mapped version of the local commercial scene, there was reportedly internal disagreement as to whether a service area business is actually a “place” and deserved of inclusion in Google’s local index. You couldn’t add service area businesses to the now-defunct MapMaker but you could create local listings for them (clear as mud, right?). At a 2008 SMX event, faced with the question as to how SABs could be accurately represented in the local results, a Google rep really goofed in first suggesting that they all get PO boxes, only to have this specific practice subsequently outlawed by Google’s guidelines.

Confusion and spam flowed in

For the record,

  • Both SABs and brick-and-mortar businesses are currently eligible for Google My Business listings if they serve customers face-to-face.
  • SABs must have some form of legitimate street address, even if it’s a home address, to be included
  • Only brick-and-mortar businesses are supposed to have visible addresses on their listings, but Google’s shifting messaging and inconsistent guideline enforcement have created confusion.

Google has shown little zeal for suspending listings that violate the hide-address guidelines, with one notable exception recently mentioned to me by Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky: SABs who click the Google My Business dashboard box stating that they serve clients at the business’ location in order to get themselves out of no man’s land at the bottom of the Google Home Service ad unit are being completely removed from the map by Google if caught.

Meanwhile, concern has been engendered by past debate over whether hiding the address of a business lowered its local pack rankings. The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey is still finding this to be the #18 negative local pack ranking factor, which might be worthy of further discussion.

All of these factors have created an environment in which legitimate SABs have accidentally incorrectly listed themselves on Google and in which spammers have thrived, intentionally creating multiple listings at non-physical addresses and frequently getting away with it to the detriment of search results uniformity and quality. In this unsatisfactory environment, the advent of Google’s Home Service Ads program may have been inevitable, and we’ll take a look at that in a minute.

Limits made clear in listing options for SABs

Whether the risk of suspension or impact on rankings is great or small, hiding your address on SAB Google My Business listings is the only Google-approved practice. If you want to play it totally safe, you’ll play by the rules, but this doesn’t automatically overcome every challenge.

Google is one of the few high-level local business index requiring hidden SAB addresses. And it’s in this stance that SABs encounter some problems taking advantage of the efficiencies provided by automated location data management tools like Moz Local. There are three main things that have confused our own customers:

  1. Because our SAB customers are required by Google to hide their address, Moz Local can’t then verify the address because… well, it’s hidden. This means that customers need to have a Facebook listing with a visible address on it to get started using Moz Local. Facebook doesn’t require SAB addresses to be hidden.
  2. Once the customer gets started, their ultimate consistency score will generally be lower than what a brick-and-mortar business achieves, again because their hidden GMB listing address can’t be matched to all of the other complete listings Moz Local builds for them. It reads like an inconsistency, and while this in no way impacts their real-world performance, it’s a little sad not to be able to aim for a nifty 100% dashboard metric within Moz Local. Important to mention here that a 100% score isn’t achievable for multi-location business models, either, given that Facebook’s guidelines require adding a modifier to the business name of each branch, rendering it inconsistent. This is in contrast to Google’s policy, which defines the needless addition of keywords or geo-modifiers to the business name as spam! When Google and Facebook fundamentally disagree on a guideline, a small measure of inconsistency is part and parcel of the scenario, and not something worth worrying about.
  3. Finally, for SABs who don’t want their address published anywhere on the Internet, automated citation management simply may not be a good match. Some partners in our network won’t accept address-less distribution from us, viewing it as incomplete data. If an SAB isn’t looking for complete NAP distribution because they want their address to be kept private, automation just isn’t ideal.

So how can SABs use something like Moz Local?

The Moz Local team sides with SABs — we’re not totally satisfied with the above state of affairs and are actively exploring better support options for the future. Given our admiration for these especially hard-working businesses, we feel SABs really deserve to have needless burdens lifted from their shoulders, which is exactly what Moz Local is designed to do. The task of manual local business listing publication and ongoing monitoring is a hefty one — too hefty in so many cases. Automation does the heavy lifting for you. We’re examining better solutions, but right now, what options for automation are open to the SAB?

Option #1: If your business is okay with your address being visible in multiple places, then simply be sure your Facebook listing shows your address and you can sign up for Moz Local today, no problem! We’ll push your complete NAP to the major aggregators and other partners, but know that your Moz Local dashboard consistency score won’t be 100%. This is because we won’t be able to “see” your Google My Business listing with its hidden address, and because choosing service-related categories will also hide your address on Citysearch, Localeze, and sometimes, Bing. Also note that one of our partners, Factual, doesn’t support locksmiths, bail bondsmen or towing companies. So, in using an automated solution like Moz Local, be prepared for a lower score in the dashboard, because it’s “baked into” the scenario in which some platforms show your full street address while others hide it. And, of course, be aware that many of your direct local competitors are in the same boat, facing the same limitations, thus leveling the playing field.

Option #2: If your business can budget for it, consider transitioning from an SAB to a brick-and-mortar business model, and get a real-world office that’s staffed during stated business hours. As Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling discuss is in this excellent video chat, smaller SABs need to be sure they can still make a profit after renting an office space, and that may largely be based on rental costs in their part of the country. Very successful virtual brands are exploring traditional retail options and traditional brick-and-mortar business models are setting up virtual showrooms; change is afoot. Having some customers come to the physical location of a typical SAB may require some re-thinking of service. A locksmith could grind keys on-site, a landscaper could virtually showcase projects in the comfort of their office, but what could a plumber do? Any ideas? If you can come up with a viable answer, and can still see profits factoring in the cost of office space, transitioning to brick-and-mortar effectively removes any barriers to how you represent yourself on Google and how fully you can use software like Moz Local.

If neither option works for you, and you need to remain an SAB with a hidden address, you’ll either need to a) build citations manually on sites that support your requirements, like these ones listed out by Phil Rozek, while having a plan for regularly monitoring your listings for emerging inconsistencies, duplicates and incoming reviews or b) hire a company to do the manual development and monitoring for you on the platforms that support hiding your address.

I wish the digital marketing sky could be the limit for SABs, but we’ve got to do the most we can working within parameters defined by Google and other location data platforms.

Now comes HSA: Google’s next SAB move

As service area business owner or marketer, you can’t be faulted for feeling that Google hasn’t handled your commercial scenario terribly well over the years. As we’ve discussed, Google has wobbled on policy and enforcement. Not yet mentioned is that they’ve never offered an adequate solution to the reality that a plumber located in City A equally services Cities B, C, and D, but is almost never allowed to rank in the local packs for these service cities. Google’s historic bias toward physical location doesn’t meet the reality of business models that go to clients to serve. And it’s this apparent lack of interest in SAB needs that may be adding a bit of sting to Google’s latest move: the Home Service Ads (HSA) program.

You’re not alone if you don’t feel totally comfortable with Google becoming a lead gen agent between customers and, to date:

  • Plumbers
  • House cleaners
  • Locksmiths
  • Handymen
  • Contractors
  • Electricians
  • Painters
  • Garage door services
  • HVAC companies
  • Roadside assistance services
  • Auto glass services

in a rapidly increasing number of cities.

Suddenly, SABs have moved to the core of Google’s consciousness, and an unprecedented challenge for these business models is that, while you can choose whether or not to opt into the program, there’s no way to opt out of the impacts it is having on all affected local results.

An upheaval in SAB visibility

If HSA has come to your geo-industry, and you don’t buy into the program, you will find yourself relegated to the bottom of the new HSA ad unit which appears above the traditional 3-pack in the SERPs:

Additionally, even if you were #1 in the 3-pack prior to HSA coming to town, if you lack a visible address, your claimed listing appears to have vanished from the pack and finder views.

hsa2.jpg

*I must tip my hat again to Joy Hawkins for helping me understand why that last example hasn’t vanished from the packs — it’s unclaimed. Honestly, this blip tempts me to unclaim an SAB listing and “manage” it via community edits instead of the GMB dashboard to see if I could maintain its local finder visibility… but this might be an overreaction!

If you’re marketing an SAB, have been relegated to the bottom of the HSA ad unit, and have vanished from the local pack/finder view, please share with our community how this has impacted your traffic and conversions. My guess would be that things are not so good.

So, what can SABs do in this new landscape?

I don’t have all of the answers to this question, but I do have these suggestions:

  1. Obviously, if you can budget for it, opt into HSA.
  2. But, bizarrely, understand that in some ways, Google has just made your GMB listing less important. If you have to hide your address and won’t be shown in HSA-impacted local packs and finder views because of this guideline compliance, your GMB listing is likely to become a less important source of visibility for your business.
  3. Be sure, then, that all of your other local business listings are in apple-pie order. If you’re okay with your address being published, you can automate this necessary work with software like Moz Local. If you need to keep your address private, put in the time to manually get listed everywhere you can. A converted lead from CitySearch or Foursquare may even feel like more of a victory than one from Google.
  4. Because diversification has just become a great deal more important, alternatives like those offered by visibility on Facebook are now more appealing than ever. And ramp up your word-of-mouth marketing and review management strategies like never before. If I were marketing an SAB, I’d be taking a serious new look at companies like ZipSprout, which helps establish real-world local relationships via sponsorships, and GetFiveStars, which helps with multiple aspects of managing reviews.
  5. Know that organic visibility is now more of a prize than previously. If you’re not in the packs, you’ve got to show up below them. This means clearly defining local SEO and traditional SEO as inextricably linked, and doing the customary work of keyword research, content development, and link management that have fueled organic SEO from the beginning. I’m personally committing to becoming more intimately familiar with Moz Pro so that I can better integrate into my skill set what software like this can do for local businesses, especially SABs.
  6. Expect change. HSA is still a test, and Google continues to experiment with how it’s displaying its paying customers in relationship to the traditional free packs and organic results. Who knows what’s next? If you’re marketing SABs, an empathetic and realistic approach to both historic and emerging limitations will help you create a strategy designed to ensure brand survival, independent of Google’s developments.

Why is Google doing this?

monopoly.jpg

I need to get some window blinds replaced in my home this fall. When I turned to Google’s (non-HSA) results and began calling local window treatment shops, imagine my annoyance in discovering that fully ½ of the listings in the local finder were for companies not located anywhere near my town. These brands had set up spam listings for a ton of different cities to which they apparently can send a representative, but where they definitely don’t have physical locations. I wasted a great deal of time calling each of them, and only felt better after reporting the listings to Google and seeing them subsequently removed.

I’m sharing this daily-life anecdote because it encapsulates the very best reason for Google rolling out Home Service Ads. Google’s program is meant to ensure that when I use their platform to access service companies, I’m finding vetted, legitimate enterprises with accurate location data and money-back satisfaction guarantees, instead of finding the mess of spam listings Google’s shifting policies and inadequate moderation have created. The HSA ad units can improve results quality while also protecting consumers from spurious providers.

The other evident purpose of HSA is the less civic-minded but no less brilliant one: there’s money to be made and Google’s profit motives are no different than those of any other enterprise. For the same reason that Amazon has gotten into the SAB lead gen business, Google wants a piece of this action. So, okay, no surprise there, and if the Google leads wind up growing the revenue of my wonderful German handyman, more power to them both.

But I hope my plumber, and yours, and your clients in the service markets, will take a step back from the Monopoly board and see this as a moment to reevaluate a game in which Google and Amazon are setting up big red hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. I do advocate getting qualified for HSA, but I don’t advise a stance of unquestioning loyalty to or dependence on Google, particularly if you haven’t felt especially well-served by their SAB policies over the years. If Google can drive lucrative leads your way, take them, but remember you have one advantage Google, Amazon and other lead generation agencies lack: you are still the one who meets the customer face-to-face.

Opportunity is knocking in having a giant of visibility like Google selling you customers, because those customers, if amazed by your service, have grandmothers, and brothers and co-workers who can be directly referred to your company, completely outside the lead-gen loop. In fact, you might even come up with an incentivization program of your own to be sure that every customer you shake hands with is convinced of your appreciation for every referral they may send your way.

Don’t leave it all up to Google to make your local SAB brand a household word. Strategize for maximum independence via the real-world relationships you build, in the home of every neighbor where the door of welcome is opened in anticipation of the very best service you know how to give.

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Reblogged 2 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it