Local Search Data Providers

Many local business owners are surprised with the information that appears when they (and their customers) come across their business listings at Google and Bing. Often, incorrect or out-of-date information shows up with no explanation about where it comes from.

In some cases, even business owners who have already claimed their listings at major search engines like Google and Bing continue to see improper information displayed about their businesses, which understandably just adds to their frustration.

The reason this happens is that these search giants pull in business information from a variety of other sources, in addition to maintaining their own business databases. They both do the best they can to match the data that comes in from these other sources with what they have in their own index, but sometimes that doesn’t happen properly.

If the information is different enough from the correct listing, search engines might think it’s a different business—or they might even feel that the wrong information appears so many times in the other places from which they get their data that the info might actually be “right.”

The sources that Google and Bing pull information from vary from country to country. Each has its own set of important players, known as data aggregators.

These aggregators have typically accumulated their business databases by scanning and transcribing things like phone records, utility records, business registration websites, and printed yellow pages directories.

Google also crawls the web looking for business information wherever it can find it: online yellow pages directories, review sites, local newspaper sites, and blogs. Many of these sources get their information from the same aggregators that Google does—just one more reason you need to make sure your business information is correct at those handful of primary providers in your country. If your data is wrong at those aggregators, it’s likely to be wrong in many places across the web, including Google.

The data aggregators of the future

Factual is a relatively new player on the scene; they were hardly on anyone’s radar less than two years ago. And yet today, if you visit their homepage, you see a who’s who of local search portals, including Yelp, Bing, and TripAdvisor. It’s clear they’re a force to be reckoned with, especially globally.

The fragmentation of the location-based app market is only going to increase, and like Factual, Foursquare has turned its sights on becoming “the location layer for the Internet.” Its developer service is extremely reliable and it surely counts a large percentage of web developers among its ~40 million users. Foursquare is now enlisting users in a quest to provide extremely fine-grained venue data. The ability to layer user-generated data on top of business information is clearly the direction this ecosystem is heading. Google’s Mapmaker tool, Open Street Maps, and Foursquare position those entities to remain at the forefront of this trend.

Making sense of it all

Even for experts, the local search ecosystem is incredibly confusing! But hopefully browsing the local search ecosystem graphic relevant to your country will give you a better understanding of how these local data sites fit together, and identify places to clean up incorrect listing information you might not otherwise have known about.

How to Perform the Ultimate Local SEO Audit

Every business that competes in a local market and who competes for the display of localized results in SERPs will likely find the need to conduct a local SEO audit at some point. Whether you’ve hired an SEO in the past or not, the best way to beat the competition is to know where you stand and what you need to fix, and then develop a plan to win based on the competitive landscape.

While this may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that you can do this for your business or your client using this Ultimate Local SEO audit guide.

This guide was created as a complete checklist and will show you what areas you should focus on, what needs to be optimized, and what you need to do to fix any problems you encounter. To make things easier, I have also included many additional resources for further reading on the topics below.

In this guide I am going to cover the top areas we review for clients who either want to know how they can improve or the ones that need a local SEO audit. To make it easier I have included detailed explanations of the topics and an Excel template you can use to conduct the audit.

Also since the Pigeon update, local search has started to weigh organic factors more heavily so I have included them in this audit. However, if after you have read this you’re looking for an even deeper audit for Organic SEO, you should also check out Steve Webb’s article, ” How to Perform the World’s Greatest SEO Audit.”

Who is this guide for?

This guide is intended for those businesses that already have an existing Google My Business page. It’s also mostly geared towards brick and mortar stores. If you don’t have a public address and you’re a service area business, you can ignore the parts where I mention publishing your physical address. If you don’t have a listing setup already, it’s a little bit harder to audit. That being said, new businesses can use this as a road map.

What we won’t cover

The local algorithm is complicated and ever evolving. Although we can look at considerations such as proximity to similar businesses or driving directions requests, I have decided to not include these since we have limited control over them. This audit mainly covers the items the website owner is in direct control over.

A little background

Being ready and willing to adopt change in online marketing is an important factor in the path of success. Search changes and you have to be ready to change with it. The good news is that if you’re constantly trying to do the right thing while be the least imperfect, your results will only get better with updates.

Some goons will always try to cheat the systems for a quick win, but they will get caught and penalized eventually. However, if you stick with the right path you can sleep easier at night knowing you don’t have to worry about penalties.

But why are audits so important?

At my company we have found through a lot of trial and error that we can provide the best results for our clients when we start a project off with a complete and full understanding of the project as opposed to just bits and pieces. If we have a complete snapshot of their SEO efforts along with their competition we can create a plan that is going to be much more effective and sustainable.

We now live in a world where marketers not only need to be forward thinking with their strategies but they must also evaluate and consider the work done by prior employees and SEOs who have worked on the website in the past. If you don’t know what potential damage has been done, how could you possibly be sure your efforts will help your client long term?

Given the impact and potential severity of penalties, it’s irresponsible to ignore this or participate in activities that can harm the client in the long run. Again, sadly, this is a lesson I have learned the hard way.

What aspects does this local SEO audit cover?

Knowing what to include in your audit is a great first step. We have broken our audit down into several different categories we find to be essential to local SEO success. They are:

1) Google My Business page audit

2) Website & landing page audit

3) Citation analysis

4) Organic link & penalty analysis

5) Review analysis

6) Social analysis

7) Competition analysis

8) Ongoing strategy

Analyzing all of these factors will allow you to develop a strategy with a much better picture of the major problems and what you’re up against as far as the competition is concerned. If you don’t have the full picture with all of the details, then you might uncover more problems later.

Before we get started, a disclaimer

In this guide I am going to try to break things down to make it easy for beginners and advanced users. That being said, it’s a wise idea to seek advice or read more about a topic if you don’t quite understand it. If something is over your head, please don’t hesitate to reach out for clarification. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

How to use this guide for your local SEO audit

This guide is broken up into two parts including this post and a spreadsheet. The written part that you are reading now will also correspond to this spreadsheet which will allow you to collect pertinent client intake information, record problems, and serve as an easy reference as to what your ultimate goal is for each of the items.

To use the spreadsheet you can click the link and then go to File > Make A Copy.

The complete spreadsheet includes five tabs that each serve a different purpose. They are:

Current info – This tab allows you to record the information the customer submits and compare it against the Google My Business information you find. It also allows you to record your notes for any proposed changes. This will help you when it comes time to report on your findings.

Questions to ask – These are some basic questions you can ask your clients up front that may save a lot of time in the long run.

Competitor information – You can use this tab to track your competitors and compare your metrics side by side.

Top 50 citations audit – This is the list of the top 50 citation sources as provided by Whitespark.

Audit steps – For the more advanced user I took everything in this long document and condensed it to this easy to use spreadsheet with an audit checklist and some small notes on what you’re checking for.

Get your audit shoes on. Now let’s get started

Step 1: Gather the facts

Whether you’re conducting this audit for a client or your own business it’s important to start off with the right information. If clients fill out this information properly, you can save a lot of time and also help identify major issues right off the bat. Not only can we help identify some of the common local SEO issues like inconsistent NAP with this information, we can also have it recorded in the spreadsheet I mentioned above.

Since this is an audit, the spreadsheet has information to include the current information and a column for proposed changes for the client. Later, these will be used as action items.

The first tab in this spreadsheet has everything we need to get started under the company information tab. This includes all of the basic information we will need to be successful.

This information should be provided by the client up front so that we can compare it to the information already existing on the web. You can use the audit spreadsheet and enter this under the “Provided Information” column. This will help us identify problems easily as we collect more information.

The basic information we will need to get started will include NAP information and other items. A sample of this can be seen below:

Questions to ask up front

Once we have the basic company information we can also ask some questions. Keep in mind that the goal here is to be the least imperfect. While some of these factors are more important than others, it’s always good to do more and have a better understanding of the potential issues rather than taking shortcuts. Shortcuts will just create more work later.

Feel free to edit the spreadsheet and add more questions to your copy based on your experience.

1) Have you ever been penalized or think you may have been? The client should have a good idea if they were penalized in the past.
2) Have you ever hired anyone to build citations for you? If they hired anyone to build citations for them they should have some documentation which will make the citation audit portion of the audit easier.
3) Have you ever hired an SEO company to work with you? If they hired an SEO in the past it’s important to check any work they completed for accuracy.
4) Have you ever hired anyone to build links for you? If they have hired anyone in the past to build links they will hopefully have documentation you can review. If you see bad links you know you will have your work cut out for you.
5) What are the primary keywords you want to rank for? Knowing what the client wants and developing a strategy based off this is essential to your local SEO success.
6) Have you ever used another business name in the past? Companies that used a different name or that were acquired can lead to NAP inconsistencies.
7) Is your business address a PO Box? PO Boxes and UPS boxes are a no no. It’s good to know this up front before you get started.
8) Is your phone number a land line? Some Local SEOs claim that landlines may provide some benefit. Regardless it’s good to know where the phone number is registered.
9) Do other websites 301 redirect to your website? If other websites redirect to their domain you may need to do an analysis on these domains as well. Specifically for penalty evaluation.
10) Did you ever previously use call tracking numbers? Previously used call tracking numbers can be a nightmare as far as local SEO is concerned. If a client previously used call tracking numbers you will want to search for these when we get to the citation portion of this document. Cleaning up wrong phone numbers, including tracking numbers, in the local ecosystem is essential to your local success.


Local SEO audit phase 1: Google My Business page

The new Google My Business Dashboard has a lot of useful information. Although I reference the Google Guidelines below, be sure to check them often. Google does change these sometimes and you won’t really get any official notice. This happened rather recently when they started allowing descriptive words in the business name. Keep in mind that if any changes were recently made to your Google My Business page they may not show in the live version. It may take up to three days for these to show in the search results.

Any information collected below should be put in the “Current Info” tab on the spreadsheet under the Google My Business Information. This will also help us identify discrepancies right away when we look at the spreadsheet.

1. Locate the proper Google My Business page we should be working with

We can’t really get started with an audit unless we know the proper page we’re working this. Usually if a client hires you they already have this information.

How to do this: If your client already has a Google My Business login, and log in to their dashboard using the proper credentials. In the back end of the dashboard it should show the businesses associated with this account. Copy this URL and confirm with the business owner that this is the page they intend to use. If it’s not their primary one we will correct this a bit later below.

Goal: We want to find and record the proper Google My Business URL in our Local SEO Audit Spreadsheet.


2. Find and destroy duplicate pages

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this post, Google has shut down Mapmaker. For a current list of best practices for managing duplicate GMB listings, read: https://moz.com/blog/delete-gmb-listing.

Duplicate Google My Business listings can be one of the greatest threats to any local SEO campaign.

How to: There are several ways to find possible duplicate pages but I have found the easiest way is to use Google MapMaker. To do this log in to your Google account and visit http://www.google.com/mapmaker or https://plus.google.com/local. From this page you can search the business phone number such as 555-555-5555 or the business names. If you see multiple listings you didn’t know about, a major priority is to record those URLs and delete them.

I personally see a lot of issues when dealing with attorneys where each attorney has their own profile or in the case where an office has moved. There should only be one listing and it should be 100% correct.

You can also read my previous MOZ article.

Goal: Make sure there are no duplicate listings. Kill any duplicates.


3. Ensure that the local listing is not penalized (IMPORTANT!)

Figuring out Google penalties in the local landscape is not usually a walk in the park. In fact there are a lot of variables to consider and now this is a bigger deal post Pigeon as more organic signals are involved. We will look at other types of penalties later in this guide. Unlike organic penalties Google does not notify businesses of local penalties unless your account is suspended with a big red warning on the back end of your My Business page.

According to Phil Rozek from Local Visibility System “My first must-look-at item is: is the client’s site or Google Places page being penalized, or at risk of getting penalized?”

How to do this: If your keyword is “Los Angeles personal injury attorney” then you could search for this keyword on Google Maps and Google Search results. If your business listing appears on the maps side in position C for example but then does not appear at all in local search results performing a normal Google Search, then it’s likely there is a penalty in place. Sometimes you see listings that are not suppressed on the maps side but are suppressed on the places side. This is an easy way to take a look.

Goal: Do your best to determine that the listing is not penalized. If it is consult a penalty expert for further guidance.


4. Is the Google My Business page associated with an email address on the customer’s domain?

In my experience it’s best practice to have the login information for the business under an email address associated with the domain name. Additionally this ensures that the client has primary control of their listing. As an example if you run Moz.com and had local listings your Google My Business login should be something@moz.com instead of something@gmail.com. This helps associate that you are indeed the business owner.

How to: If someone else owns your Google My Business page you can transfer it to yourself. Read Google’s Transfer Ownership guide.

Goal: The Google My Business Login should be on an email address on the customers domain.

9 Things You Need to Know About Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

Rumors are flying about Google’s upcoming mobile-friendly update, and bits of reliable information have come from several sources. My colleague Emily Grossman and I wanted to cut through the noise and bring online marketers a clearer picture of what’s in store later this month. In this post, you’ll find our answers to nine key questions about the update.

1. What changes is Google making to its algorithm on April 21st?

Answer: Recently, Google has been rolling out lots of changes to apps, Google Play, the presentation of mobile SERPS, and some of the more advanced development guidelines that impact mobile; we believe that many of these are in preparation for the 4/21 update. Google has been downplaying some of these changes, and we have no exclusive advanced knowledge about anything that Google will announce on 4/21, but based on what we have seen and heard recently, here is our best guess of what is coming in the future (on 4/21 or soon thereafter):

We believe Google will launch a new mobile crawler (probably with an Android user-agent) that can do a better job of crawling single-page web apps, Android apps, and maybe even Deep Links in iOS apps. The new Mobile-Friendly guidelines that launched last month focus on exposing JS and CSS because Android apps are built in Java, and single-page web apps rely heavily on JavaScript for their fluid, app-like experience.

Some example sites that use Responsive Design well in a single-page app architecture are:

Also, according to Rob Ousbey of Distilled, Google has been testing this kind of architecture on Blogspot.com (a Google property).

Google has also recently been pushing for more feeds from Trusted Partners, which are a key component of both mobile apps and single-page web apps since Phantom JS and Prerender IO (and similar technologies) together essentially generate crawlable feeds for indexing single-page web apps. We think this increased focus on JS, CSS, and feeds is also the reason why Google needs the additional mobile index that Gary Illyes mentioned in his “Meet the Search Engines” interview at SMX West a couple weeks ago, and why suddenly Google has been talking about apps as “first class citizens,” as called out by Mariya Moeva in the title of her SMX West presentation.

A new mobile-only index to go with the new crawler also makes sense because Google wants to index and rank both app content and deep links to screens in apps, but it does not necessarily want to figure them into the desktop algorithm or slow it down with content that should never rank in a desktop search. We also think that the recent increased focus on deep links and the announcement from Google about Google Play’s new automated and manual review process are related. This announcement indicates, almost definitively, that Google has built a crawler that is capable of crawling Android apps. We believe that this new crawler will also be able to index more than one content rendering (web page or app screen data-set) to one URL/URI and it will probably will focus more on feeds, schema and sitemaps for its own efficiency. Most of the native apps that would benefit from deep linking are driven by data feeds, and crawling the feeds instead of the apps would give Google the ability to understand the app content, especially for iOS apps, (which they are still not likely able to crawl), without having to crawl the app code. Then, it can crawl the deep-linked web content to validate the app content.

FYI: Garry Illyes mentioned that Google is retiring their old AJAX indexing instructions, but did not say how they would be replaced, except to specify in a Google+ post that Google would not click links to get more content. Instead, they would need an OnLoad event to trigger further crawling. These webmaster instructions for making AJAX crawlable were often relied on as a way to make single-page web apps crawlable, and we think that feeds will play a role here, too, as part of the replacement. Relying more heavily on feeds also makes it easier for Google to scrape data directly into SERPS, which they have been doing more and more. (See the appendix of this slide deck, starting on slide 30, for lots of mobile examples of this change in play already.) This probably will include the ability to scrape forms directly into a SERP, à la the form markup for auto-complete that Google just announced.

We are also inclined to believe that the use of the new “Mobile-Friendly” designation in mobile SERPS may be temporary, as long as SEOs and webmasters feel incentivized to make their CSS and JavaScript crawlable, and get into the new mobile index. “Mobile-Friendly” in the SERP is a bit clunky, and takes up a lot of space, so Google may decide switch to something else, like the “slow” tag shown to the right, originally spotted in testing by Barry Schwartz. In fact, showing the “Slow” tag might make sense later in the game, after most webmasters have made the updates, and Google instead needs to create a more serious and impactful negative incentive for the stragglers. (This is Barry’s image; we have not actually seen this one yet).

In terms of the Mobile-Friendly announcement, it is surprising that Google has not focused more on mobile page speed, minimizing redirects and avoiding mobile-only errors—their historical focus for mobile SEO. This could be because page speed does not matter as much in the evaluation of content if Google is getting most of its crawl information from feeds. Our guess is that things like page speed and load time will rebound in focus after 4/21. We also think mobile UX indicators that are currently showing at the bottom of the Google PageSpeed tool (at the bottom of the “mobile” tab) will play into the new mobile algorithm—we have actually witnessed Google testing their inclusion in the Mobile-Friendly tool already, as shown below, and of course, they were recently added to everyone’s Webmaster Tools reports. It is possible that the current focus on CSS and JavaScript is to ensure that as many pages are in the new index as possible at launch.

2. If my site is not mobile-friendly, will this impact my desktop rankings as well?

Answer: On a panel at SMX Munich (2 weeks after SMX West) Zineb from Google answered ‘no’ without hesitation. We took this as another indication that the new index is related to a new crawler and/or a major change to the infrastructure they are using to parse, index, and evaluate mobile search results but not desktop results. That said, you should probably take some time soon to make sure that your site works—at least in a passable way—on mobile devices, just in case there are eventual desktop repercussions (and because this is a user experience best practice that can lead to other improvements that are still desktop ranking factors, such as decreasing your bounce rate).

3. How much will mobile rankings be impacted?

Answer: On the same panel at SMX Munich (mentioned above), Zineb said that this 4/21 change will be bigger than the Panda and Penguin updates. Again, we think this fits well with an infrastructure change. It is unclear if all mobile devices will be impacted in the change or not. The change might be more impactful for Android devices or might impact Android and iOS devices equally—though currently we are seeing significant differences between iOS and Android for some types of search results, with more significant changes happening on Android than on iOS.

Deep linking is a key distinction between mobile SERPs on the Android OS and SERPs on iOS (currently, SERPs only display Android app deep links, and only on Android devices). But there is reason to believe this gap will be closing. For example, in his recent Moz post and in his presentation at SMX West, Justin Briggs mentioned that a few sample iOS deep links were validating in Google’s deep link tool. This may indicate that iOS apps with deep links will be easier to surface in the new framework, but it is still possible that won’t make it into the 4/21 update. It is also unclear whether or not Google will maintain its stance on tablets being more like desktop experiences than they are like mobile devices, and what exactly Google is considering “mobile.” What we can say here, though, is that Android tablets DO appear to be including the App Pack results, so we think they will change their stance here, and start to classify tablets as mobile on 4/21.

How to Target Multiple Keywords with One Page – Next Level

Welcome to our newest installment of our educational Next Level series! In our last episode, Jo Cameron taught you how to whip up intelligent SEO reports for your clients to deliver impressive, actionable insights. Today, our friendly neighborhood Training Program Manager, Brian Childs, is here to show you an easy workflow for targeting multiple keywords with a single page. Read on and level up!


For those who have taken any of the Moz Training Bootcamps, you’ll know that we approach keyword research with the goal of identifying concepts rather than individual keywords. A common term for this in SEO is “niche keywords.” I think of a “niche” as a set of related words or concepts that are essentially variants of the same query.

Example:

Let’s pretend my broad subject is: Why are cats jerks?

Some niche topics within this subject are:

  • Why does my cat keep knocking things off the counter?
  • Why does my cat destroy my furniture?
  • Why did I agree to get this cat?

I can then find variants of these niche topics using Keyword Explorer or another tool, looking for the keywords with the best qualities (Difficulty, Search Volume, Opportunity, etc).

By organizing your keyword research in this way, it conceptually aligns with the search logic of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update.

Once we have niche topics identified for our subject, we then dive into specific keyword variants to find opportunities where we can rank. This process is covered in-depth during the Keyword Research Bootcamp class.

Should I optimize my page for multiple keywords?

The answer for most sites is a resounding yes.

If you develop a strategy of optimizing your pages for only one keyword, this can lead to a couple of issues. For example, if a content writer feels restricted to one keyword for a page they might develop very thin content that doesn’t discuss the broader concept in much useful detail. In turn, the marketing manager may end up spreading valuable information across multiple pages, which reduces the potential authority of each page. Your site architecture may then become larger than necessary, making the search engine less likely to distinguish your unique value and deliver it into a SERP.

As recent studies have shown, a single high-ranking page can show up in dozens — if not hundreds — of SERPs. A good practice is to identify relevant search queries related to a given topic and then use those queries as your H2 headings.

So how do you find niche keyword topics? This is the process I use that relies on a relatively new SERP feature: the “People also ask” boxes.

How to find niche keywords

Step 1: Enter a relevant question into your search engine

Question-format search queries are great because they often generate featured snippets. Featured snippets are the little boxes that show up at the top of search results, usually displaying one- to two-sentence answers or a list. Recently, when featured snippets are displayed, there is commonly another box nearby showing “People also ask” This second box allows you to peer into the logic of the search algorithm. It shows you what the search engine “thinks” are closely related topics.

Step 2: Select the most relevant “People also ask” query

Take a look at those initial “People also ask” suggestions. They are often different variants of your query, representing slightly different search intent. Choose the one that most aligns with the search intent of your target user. What happens? A new set of three “People also ask” suggestions will populate at the bottom of the list that are associated with the first option you chose. This is why I refer to these as choose-your-own-adventure boxes. With each selection, you dive deeper into the topic as defined by the search engine.

Step 3: Find suggestions with low-value featured snippets

Every “People also ask” suggestion is a featured snippet. As you dig deeper into the topic by selecting one “People also ask” after another, keep an eye out for featured snippets that are not particularly helpful. This is the search engine attempting to generate a simple answer to a question and not quite hitting the mark. These present an opportunity. Keep track of the ones you think could be improved. In the following example, we see the Featured Snippet being generated by an article that doesn’t fully answer the question for an average user.

Step 4: Compile a list of “People also ask” questions

Once you’ve explored deep into the algorithm’s contextually related results using the “People also ask” box, make a list of all the questions you found highly related to your desired topic. I usually just pile these into an Excel sheet as I find them.

Step 5: Analyze your list of words using a keyword research tool

With a nice list of keywords that you know are generating featured snippets, plug the words into Keyword Explorer or your preferred keyword research tool. Now just apply your normal assessment criteria for a keyword (usually a combination of search volume and competitiveness).

Step 6: Apply the keywords to your page title and heading tags

Once you’ve narrowed the list to a set of keywords you’d like to target on the page, have your content team go to work generating relevant, valuable answers to the questions. Place your target keywords as the heading tags (H2, H3) and a concise, valuable description immediately following those headings.

Local Search and Digital Marketing

The Anatomy of a Search Engine Result

Do you find it difficult to decipher the different components of Google’s search results these days? You’re not alone. It’s hard for professional SEOs, let alone local business owners, to figure out how and from where Google is surfacing various pieces of information. Knowing which search engine results represent paid advertisements vs. natural or organic results vs. social results vs. local results is basically a full-time job!

For local queries in particular, Google tends to return results that include a blend of both website and Local information—mostly stemming from Google+ Local pages.

Here’s a screenshot of what that looks like. Note that for this query, “car insurance,” the searcher does not even need to specify where he’s looking for car insurance—Google guesses his location based on a variety of signals.

Since the Spring of 2012, Google has returned an increasing percentage of these “blended” results for local queries—meaning it’s important to optimize not only your website, but your Google+ Local page, and all associated local and social media profiles.

Conceptualizing the Online Landscape

This graphic is meant to represent the influence of both organic search ranking factors (things related to your website) and social media factors (such as reviews left for your business on your Google+ Local Page, Yelp, Citysearch, and other sites around the web).

In order to truly succeed in local search marketing, your business will need to make both organic and social media efforts. But not every business should focus on the same mix of techniques to achieve success.

Where Should You Prioritize Your Resources?

If your business sells products or services to customers located in your geographic area, optimizing for local search will almost always be a must for you. Both Google and Bing have indicated that over 20% of all desktop search queries are local in nature and that somewhere around 50% of queries on mobile phones and tablets are local. These percentages will only increase in the coming years.

Depending on your business model, local search may be a key component of your overall marketing mix. But it shouldn’t necessarily be the first place you start with your online marketing.

Many factors like the age of your website, whether you have someone available in-house to work on your online marketing, and the physical location of your business all influence whether local search should be your primary focus, or whether you might be better served taking a look at organic search or social media first.

Digital Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses

Google, Bing, and the other search engines have revolutionized how we learn, how we collaborate, how we shop and how we interact within our local communities. Today, Google alone handles more than 100 billion searches per month around the world. Of those searches,

From these numbers, we can extrapolate that there are approximately seven billion unique local searches per month on Google in the United States.

Google, Yahoo!, and Bing are all currently returning local results that have challenged traditional print Yellow Pages and, in many areas, exceeded their usage as the preferred method for discovering local businesses and local information. As of March 9, 2009, Google began showing local results for generic queries, meaning that Internet users no longer need to include any city or geographic terms in their search to be shown results that are local to their location.

Additionally, mobile search is absolutely exploding. Mobile searches primarily pull their results from local search engines.

What this means for your business: The potential to attract new customers via local search is enormous.

Depending upon your business model, your marketing budget and your resources, local search may be the right match for your business—or, conversely, other forms of marketing may be smarter for you. Visit and read all three of the articles in the “keep learning” section below to determine the best possible marketing channels for your unique business.


Keep learning

Building a Social Following Locally

Few marketing terms light up local business owners’ eyes like the words “social media”. Most business owners are already using social media in their personal lives, and it’s only natural to want to use this channel to grow your business. However, many business owners dive headfirst into social media without an understanding of what kinds of content to post, how to attract followers and fans, or the nuances of each social platform—let alone a concrete strategy to make the most of their time spent.

The essence of social media is really a public conversation with your customers and prospective customers—sort of like one big dinner party. Just as partygoers aren’t really attending with the intent of being sold to, neither are social media followers looking for a constant sales pitch. And no partygoer likes to be cornered by someone who only talks about themselves, so don’t be “that guy” on social media either! Engage your followers, ask their opinions, and give them a sense of investment in your business.

In terms of making the most of your time, spend it on the sites where your customers are. Just because you think you should be on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean that it will pan out for you. Survey your customers to find out which sites they’re on, whether in-store, via email, or when they call for an appointment. You’re likely to get a running start on your social media campaign if you “fish where the fish are.”

Check out the “keep learning” section below. There, you’ll find specific guides to help you build and engage a following on the major social networking sites for local businesses.


Keep learning

SEO Rankings Drop: A Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery

A few weeks ago, rankings for pages on a key section of my site dropped an average of a full position in one day. I’ve been an SEO for 7 years now, but I still ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, panicked that I wouldn’t be able to figure out my mistake. There are so many things that could’ve gone wrong: Did I or my team unintentionally mess with internal link equity? Did we lose links? Did one of Google’s now-constant algorithm updates screw me over?

Since the drop happened to a group of pages, I made the assumption it had to do with our site or page structure (it didn’t). I wasted a good day focused on technical SEO. Once I realized my error, I decided to put together a guide to make sure that next time, I’ll do my research effectively. And you, my friends, will reap the rewards.

First, make sure there’s actually a rankings change

Okay, I have to start with this: before you go down this rabbit hole of rankings changes, make sure there was actually a rankings change. Your rankings tracker may not have localized properly, or have picked up on one of Google’s rankings experiments or personalization.

Find out:

  • Has organic traffic dropped to the affected page(s)?
    • We’re starting here because this is the most reliable data you have about your site. Google Search Console and rankings trackers are trying to look at what Google’s doing; your web analytics tool is just tracking user counts.
    • Compare organic traffic to the affected page(s) week-over-week both before and after the drop, making sure to compare similar days of the week.
    • Is the drop more significant than most week-over-week changes?
    • Is the drop over a holiday weekend? Is there any reason search volume could’ve dropped?
  • Does Google Search Console show a similar rankings drop?
    • Use the Search Analytics section to see clicks, impressions, and average position for a given keyword, page, or combo.
    • Does GSC show a similar rankings drop to what you saw in your rankings tracker? (Make sure to run the report with the selected keyword(s).)
  • Does your rankings tracker show a sustained rankings drop?
    • I recommend tracking rankings daily for your important keywords, so you’ll know if the rankings drop is sustained within a few days.
    • If you’re looking for a tool recommendation, I’m loving Stat.

If you’ve just seen a drop in your rankings tool and your traffic and GSC clicks are still up, keep an eye on things and try not to panic. I’ve seen too many natural fluctuations to go to my boss as soon as I see an issue.

But if you’re seeing that there’s a rankings change, start going through this guide.

Figure out what went wrong

1. Did Google update their algorithm?

Google rolls out a new algorithm update at least every day, most silently. Good news is, there are leagues of SEOs dedicated to documenting those changes.

  • Are there any SEO articles or blogs talking about a change around the date you saw the change? Check out:
  • Do you have any SEO friends who have seen a change? Pro tip: Make friends with SEOs who run sites similar to yours, or in your industry. I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been to talk frankly about tests I’d like to run with SEOs who’ve run similar tests.

If this is your issue…

The bad news here is that if Google’s updated their algorithm, you’re going to have to change your approach to SEO in one way or another.

Make sure you understand:

Your next move is to put together a strategy to either pull yourself out of this penalty, or at the very least to protect your site from the next one.

2. Did your site lose links?

Pull the lost links report from Ahrefs or Majestic. They’re the most reputable link counters out there, and their indexes are updated daily.

  • Has there been a noticeable site-wide link drop?
  • Has there been a noticeable link drop to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
  • Has there been a noticeable link drop to pages on your site that link to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
    • Run Screaming Frog on your site to find which pages link internally to the affected pages. Check internal link counts for pages one link away from affected pages.
  • Has there been a noticeable link drop to inbound links to the page or group of pages you’ve seen a rankings change for?
    • Use Ahrefs or Majestic to find the sites that link to your affected pages.
      • Have any of them suffered recent link drops?
      • Have they recently updated their site? Did that change their URLs, navigation structure, or on-page content?

If this is your issue…

The key here is to figure out who you lost links from and why, so you can try to regain or replace them.

  • Can you get the links back?
    • Do you have a relationship with the site owner who provided the links? Reaching out may help.
    • Were the links removed during a site update? Maybe it was accidental. Reach out and see if you can convince them to replace them.
    • Were the links removed and replaced with links to a different source? Investigate the new source — how can you make your links more appealing than theirs? Update your content and reach out to the linking site owner.
  • Can you convince your internal team to invest in new links to quickly replace the old ones?
    • Show your manager(s) how much a drop in link count affected your rankings and ask for the resources it’ll take to replace them.
    • This will be tricky if you were the one to build the now-lost links in the first place, so if you did, make sure you’ve put together a strategy to build longer-term ones next time.

3. Did you change the affected page(s)?

If you or your team changed the affected pages recently, Google may not think that they’re as relevant to the target keyword as they used to be.

  • Did you change the URL?
    • DO NOT CHANGE URLS. URLs act as unique identifiers for Google; a new URL means a new page, even if the content is the same.
  • Has the target keyword been removed from the page title, H1, or H2s?
  • Is the keyword density for the target keyword lower than it used to be?
  • Can Google read all of the content on the page?
    • Look at Google’s cache by searching for cache:www.yourdomain.com/your-page to see what Google sees.
  • Can Google access your site? Check Google Search Console for server and crawl reports.

If this is your issue…

Good news! You can probably revert your site and regain the traffic you’ve lost.

  • If you changed the URL, see if you can change it back. If not, make sure the old URL is 301 redirecting to the new URL.
  • If you changed the text on the page, try reverting it back to the old text. Wait until your rankings are back up, then try changing the text again, this time keeping keyword density in mind.
  • If Google can’t read all of the content on your page, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Communicate that to your dev team. (I’ve found dev teams often undervalue the impact of SEO, but “Googlebot can’t read the page” is a pretty understandable, impactful problem.)

4. Did you change internal links to the affected page(s)?

If you or your team added or removed internal links, that could change the way link equity flows through your site, changing Google’s perceived value of the pages on your site.

  • Did you or your team recently update site navigation anywhere? Some common locations to check:
    • Top navigation
    • Side navigation
    • Footer navigation
    • Suggested products
    • Suggested blog posts
  • Did you or your team recently update key pages on your site that link to target pages? Some pages to check:
    • Homepage
    • Top category pages
    • Linkbait blog posts or articles
  • Did you or your team recently update anchor text on links to target pages? Does it still include the target keyword?

If this is your issue…

Figure out how many internal links have been removed from pointing to your affected pages. If you have access to the old version of your site, run Screaming Frog (or a similar crawler) on the new and old versions of your site so you can compare inbound link counts (referred to as inlinks in SF). If you don’t have access to the old version of your site, take a couple of hours to compare navigation changes and mark down wherever the new layout may have hurt the affected pages.

How you fix the problem depends on how much impact you have on the site structure. It’s best to fix the issue in the navigational structure of the site, but many of us SEOs are overruled by the UX team when it comes to primary navigation. If that’s the case for you, think about systematic ways to add links where you can control the content. Some common options:

  • In the product description
  • In blog posts
  • In the footer (since UX will generally admit, few people use the footer)

Keep in mind that removing links and adding them back later, or from different places on the site, may not have the same effect as the original internal links. You’ll want to keep an eye on your rankings, and add more internal links than the affected pages lost, to make sure you regain your Google rankings.

5. Google’s user feedback says you should rank differently.

Google is using machine learning to determine rankings. That means they’re at least in part measuring the value of your pages based on their click-through rate from SERPs and how long visitors stay on your page before returning to Google.

  • Did you recently add a popup that is increasing bounce rate?
  • Is the page taking longer to load?
    • Check server response time. People are likely to give up if nothing happens for a few seconds.
    • Check full page load. Have you added something that takes forever to load and is causing visitors to give up quickly?
  • Have you changed your page titles? Is that lowering CTR? (I optimized page titles in late November, and that one change moved the average rank of 500 pages up from 12 to 9. One would assume things can go in reverse.)

If this is your issue…

  • If the issue is a new popup, do your best to convince your marketing team to test a different type of popup. Some options:
    • Scroll popups
    • Timed popups
    • Exit popups
    • Stable banners at the top or bottom of the page (with a big CLICK ME button!)
  • If your page is taking longer to load, you’ll need the dev team. Put together the lost value from fewer SEO conversions now that you’ve lost some rankings and you’ll have a pretty strong case for dev time.
  • If you’ve changed your page titles, change them back, quick! Mark this test as a dud, and make sure you learn from it before you run your next test.

6. Your competition made a change.

You may have changed rank not because you did anything, but because your competition got stronger or weaker. Use your ranking tool to identify competitors that gained or lost the most from your rankings change. Use a tool like Versionista (paid, but worth it) or Wayback Machine (free, but spotty data) to find changes in your competitors’ sites.

  • Which competitors gained or lost the most as your site’s rankings changed?
  • Has that competition gained or lost inbound links? (Refer to #2 for detailed questions)
  • Has that competition changed their competing page? (Refer to #3 for detailed questions)
  • Has that competition changed their internal link structure? (Refer to #4 for detailed questions)
  • Has that competition started getting better click-through rates or dwell time to their pages from SERPs? (Refer to #5 for detailed questions)

If this is your issue…

You’re probably fuming, and your managers are probably fuming at you. But there’s a benefit to this: you can learn about what works from your competitors. They did the research and tested a change, and it paid off for them. Now you know the value! Imitate your competitor, but try to do it better than them this time — otherwise you’ll always be playing catch up.

Now you know what to do

You may still be panicking, but hopefully this post can guide you to some constructive solutions. I find that the best response to a drop in rankings is a good explanation and a plan.

And, to the Moz community of other brilliant SEOs: comment below if you see something I’ve missed!

What is Domain Authority?

Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.

Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and number of total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time. Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.

You can view a website’s DA by using MozBar (a free Chrome-extension), Link Explorer (a backlink analysis tool), the SERP Analysis section of Keyword Explorer, and dozens of other SEO tools across the web.

How is Domain Authority scored?

We score Domain Authority on a 100-point logarithmic scale. Thus, it’s significantly easier to grow your score from 20 to 30 than it is to grow from 70 to 80.

What is a “good” Domain Authority?

Generally speaking, sites with a very large number of high-quality external links (such as Wikipedia or Google.com) are at the top end of the Domain Authority scale, whereas small businesses and websites with fewer inbound links may have a much lower DA score. Brand-new websites will always start with a Domain Authority score of one.

Because Domain Authority is meant to be a predictor of a site’s ranking ability, having a very high DA score shouldn’t be your only goal. Look at the DA scores for the sites you’re directly competing with in the SERPs and aim to have a higher score than your competitors. It’s best used as a comparative metric (rather than an absolute, concrete score) when doing research in the search results and determining which sites may have more powerful/important link profiles than others. Because it’s a comparative tool, there isn’t necessarily a “good” or “bad” Domain Authority score.

How to use Domain Authority correctly

Domain Authority vs. Page Authority

Whereas Domain Authority measures the predictive ranking strength of entire domains or subdomains, Page Authority measures the strength of individual pages.

Where can you find Domain Authority?

Domain Authority metrics are incorporated into dozens of SEO and online marketing platforms across the web.

In the Moz ecosystem, you can measure Domain Authority using Link Explorer, MozBar (Moz’s free SEO toolbar), or in the SERP Analysis section of Keyword Explorer. Authority metrics are also incorporated into all Moz Pro campaigns, as well as our API.

Technical definition of Domain Authority

Domain Authority is based on data from our Link Explorer web index and uses dozens of factors in its calculations. The actual Domain Authority calculation itself uses a machine learning model to predictively find a “best fit” algorithm that most closely correlates our link data with rankings across thousands of actual search results that we use as standards to scale against.

Since Authority is based on machine learning calculations, your site’s score will often fluctuate as more, less, or different data points are used in the calculation — for instance, if Facebook were to acquire a billion new links, everyone’s PA and DA would drop relative to Facebook. For this reason, keep in mind that you should always use Domain Authority as a relative metric to compare against the link profiles of other sites, as opposed to an absolute value scoring the efficacy of your internal SEO efforts.

How do I influence Domain Authority?

Domain Authority is difficult to influence directly. It is made up of an aggregate of metrics and link data that have an impact on the authority score. This was done intentionally; this metric is meant to approximate how competitive a given site is in Google search results. Since Google takes a lot of factors into account, a metric that tries to calculate it must incorporate a lot of factors as well.

The best way to influence the Domain Authority metric is to improve your overall SEO. In particular, you should focus on your link profile by getting more links from other well-linked-to pages.

Why did my Authority change?

Because Domain Authority (and, for that matter, Page Authority) is comprised of multiple metrics and calculations, pinpointing the exact cause of a change can be a challenge. If your score has gone up or down, there are many potential influencing factors including things like:

  • Your link profile growth hasn’t yet been captured in our web index.
  • The highest-authority sites experienced substantial link growth, skewing the scaling process.
  • You earned links from places that don’t contribute to Google ranking.
  • We crawled (and included in our index) more or fewer of your linking domains than we had previously.
  • Your Domain Authority is on the lower end of the scoring spectrum and is thus more impacted by scaling fluctuation.

You can read more about how to interpret these (and other) fluctuations in Authority scores here.

The key to understanding Page and Domain Authority fluctuations is that these metrics don’t exist in a vacuum — they depend on many positive and negative factors so that even if a given site improves its SEO, its Authority score(s) may not always reflect it. A good metaphor to help understand why is how “best of” rankings work. Let’s look at an example:

If Singapore has the best air quality in 2015, and improves it even further in 2016, are they guaranteed to remain at #1? What if Denmark also improves its air quality, or New Zealand (which, say, had been left out of the rankings in 2015) joins the rating system? Maybe countries 2–10 all improved dramatically and Singapore has now fallen to #11, even though they technically got better, not worse. Because there are many other factors at play, Singapore’s ranking could change in spite of any action (or inaction) whatsoever on their part.

Domain Authority (and Page Authority) work in a similar fashion. Since they’re scaled on a 100-point system, after each update, the recalculations mean that Authority score of a given page/site could go down even if that page/site has improved their link quantity and quality. Such is the nature of a relative, scaled system. As such — and this is important enough that we’ll emphasize it once more — Authority scores are best viewed as comparative rather than absolute metrics.

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When and How to Use Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Link Count Metrics – Whiteboard Friday

How can you effectively apply link metrics like Domain Authority and Page Authority alongside your other SEO metrics? Where and when does it make sense to take them into account, and what exactly do they mean? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand answers these questions and more, arming you with the knowledge you need to better understand and execute your SEO work.

When and how to use Domain Authority, Page Authority, and link count metrics.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about when and how to use Domain Authority and Page Authority and link count metrics.

So many of you have written to us at Moz over the years and certainly I go to lots of conferences and events and speak to folks who are like, “Well, I’ve been measuring my link building activity with DA,” or, “Hey, I got a high DA link,” and I want to confirm when is it the right time to be using something like DA or PA or a raw link count metric, like number of linking root domains or something like Spam Score or a traffic estimation, these types of metrics.

So I’m going to walk you through kind of these three — Page Authority, Domain Authority, and linking root domains — just to get a refresher course on what they are. Page Authority and Domain Authority are actually a little complicated. So I think that’s worthwhile. Then we’ll chat about when to use which metrics. So I’ve got sort of the three primary things that people use link metrics for in the SEO world, and we’ll walk through those.

Page Authority

So to start, Page Authority is basically — you can see I’ve written a ton of different little metrics in here — linking URLs, linking root domains, MozRank, MozTrust, linking subdomains, anchor text, linking pages, followed links, no followed links, 301s, 302s, new versus old links, TLD, domain name, branded domain mentions, Spam Score, and many, many other metrics.

Basically, what PA is, is it’s every metric that we could possibly come up with from our link index all taken together and then thrown into a model with some training data. So the training data in this case, quite obviously, is Google search results, because what we want the Page Authority score to ultimately be is a predictor of how well a given page is going to rank in Google search results assuming we know nothing else about it except link data. So this is using no on-page data, no content data, no engagement or visit data, none of the patterns or branding or entity matches, just link data.

So this is everything we possibly know about a page from its link profile and the domain that page is on, and then we insert that in as the input alongside the training data. We have a machine learning model that essentially learns against Google search results and builds the best possible model it can. That model, by the way, throws away some of this stuff, because it’s not useful, and it adds in a bunch of this stuff, like vectors or various attributes of each one. So it might say, “Oh, anchor text distribution, that’s actually not useful, but Domain Authority ordered by the root domains with more than 500 links to them.” I’m making stuff up, right? But you could have those sorts of filters on this data and thus come up with very complex models, which is what machine learning is designed to do.

All we have to worry about is that this is essentially the best predictive score we can come up with based on the links. So it’s useful for a bunch of things. If we’re trying to say how well do we think this page might rank independent of all non-link factors, PA, great model. Good data for that.

Domain Authority

Domain Authority is once you have the PA model in your head and you’re sort of like, “Okay, got it, machine learning against Google’s results to produce the best predictive score for ranking in Google.” DA is just the PA model at the root domain level. So not subdomains, just root domains, which means it’s got some weirdness. It can’t, for example, say that randfishkin.blogspot.com is different than www.blogspot.com. But obviously, a link from www.blogspot.com is way more valuable than from my personal subdomain at Blogspot or Tumblr or WordPress or any of these hosted subdomains. So that’s kind of an edge case that unfortunately DA doesn’t do a great job of supporting.

What it’s good for is it’s relatively well-suited to be predictive of how a domain’s pages will rank in Google. So it removes all the page-level information, but it’s still operative at the domain level. It can be very useful for that.

Linking Root Domain

Then linking root domains is the simplest one. This is basically a count of all the unique root domains with at least one link on them that point to a given page or a site. So if I tell you that this URL A has 410 linking root domains, that basically means that there are 410 domains with at least one link pointing to URL A.

What I haven’t told you is whether they’re followed or no followed. Usually, this is a combination of those two unless it’s specified. So even a no followed link could go into the linking root domains, which is why you should always double check. If you’re using Ahrefs or Majestic or Moz and you hover on the whatever, the little question mark icon next to any given metric, it will tell you what it includes and what it doesn’t include.

When to use which metric(s)

All right. So how do we use these?

Well, for month over month link building performance, which is something that a lot of folks track, I would actually not suggest making DA your primary one. This is for a few reasons. So Moz’s index, which is the only thing currently that calculates DA or a machine learning-like model out there among the major toolsets for link data, only updates about once every month. So if you are doing your report before the DA has updated from the last link index, that can be quite frustrating.

Now, I will say we are only a few months away from a new index that’s going to replace Mozscape that will calculate DA and PA and all these other things much, much more quickly. I know that’s been something many folks have been asking for. It is on its way.

But in the meantime, what I recommend using is:

1. Linking root domains, the count of linking root domains and how that’s grown over time.

2. Organic rankings for your targeted keywords. I know this is not a direct link metric, but this really helps to tell you about the performance of how those links have been affected. So if you’re measuring month to month, it should be the case that any months you’ve got in a 20 or 30-day period, Google probably has counted and recognized within a few days of finding them, and Google is pretty good at crawling nearly the whole web within a week or two weeks. So this is going to be a reasonable proxy for how your link building campaign has helped your organic search campaign.

3. The distribution of Domain Authority. So I think, in this case, Domain Authority can be useful. It wouldn’t be my first or second choice, but I think it certainly can belong in a link building performance report. It’s helpful to see the high DA links that you’re getting. It’s a good sorting mechanism to sort of say, “These are, generally speaking, more important, more authoritative sites.”

4. Spam Score I like as well, because if you’ve been doing a lot of link building, it is the case that Domain Authority doesn’t penalize or doesn’t lower its score for a high Spam Score. It will show you, “Hey, this is an authoritative site with a lot of DA and good-looking links, but it also looks quite spammy to us.” So, for example, you might see that something has a DA of 60, but a Spam Score of 7 or 8, which might be mildly concerning. I start to really worry when you get to like 9, 10, or 11.