Month: October 2019

Content Planning for Local SEO

Content is the foundation of digital marketing success, no matter the channel on which that content appears. Content determines the businesses social media fans and followers choose to associate with, how visitors choose to engage with your website, and for which keywords search engines find your site relevant.

If you’re like most small business owners, you probably have no trouble talking to friends, relatives, business partners, and prospective customers about your business: the kinds of people you help, the pride you take in your work, what customers value about your business, and so on.

But it’s tough to find time to write about your business. It can be a struggle to find the exact right words to describe your business to the World Wide Web.

Fear not! Your website content doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, it will appear more authentic to your customers—and probably be more useful to them—if it isn’t filled with refined marketing language, and actually answers their questions about your company’s products or services.

With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you started with creating content:

What are the top things users look for?

Google and Bing both provide a very simple method for researching the key phrases that your prospective customers are interested in: Simply visit either search engine’s homepage and perform a search. Prior to hitting “return” on your keyboard, take a look at the list of terms related to the one you typed in. These are generally the most popular words or phrases related to what you typed. Make a list of these terms and be sure to target a page on your website about each one. Repeat this process several times to develop a comprehensive list of subjects to start your content process.

Research keywords using Google Trends

Google Trends can provide you with a few more specifics around the relative search volume of each keyphrase that Google or Bing suggests. You can even zoom in to your specific geographic area to see just how popular certain phrases are in your state, metro area, or in some cases even your city. Google will also suggest even more key phrases related to these phrases next to the geographic overlay, so don’t ignore these.

What are the top questions your customers ask you?

This is a great tip from Aaron Weiche of Spyder Trap Marketing. If customers are asking you the same questions over and over again offline, they probably have the same questions online as well—and may even type these questions directly into a search engine. Each of your top questions should have a full page devoted to it to maximize your ranking potential for each question.

What’s unique about the areas you serve?

From an SEO standpoint, it’s a best practice to create a page for each town, county, or region that you serve. For example, if you’re a suburban plumber looking for business in the major city in your metro area, you could talk about the history of the sewage and water system of that market on its own page, highlight subdivisions or condo buildings that have a higher incidence of plumbing issues, or list lawsuits that have occurred over faulty pipes in that market. The more local the “scent” of a given page, the more likely Google and Bing are to rank that page.

Case studies of previous projects

You can also start a little bit closer to home, so to speak, and feature projects you’ve worked on in a particular market. Be as explicit as you can about the services you performed, or how your products helped the customers achieve their goals. Case studies are one of the things that make your business unique, so stay away from using canned marketing-speak, and focus on telling stories that will help future customers relate to previous ones.

Customer interviews and transcriptions

The best way to help future customers relate to previous customers is through video interviews and testimonials. In the era of smartphones, it’s super-simple to film and upload video interviews to YouTube and embed them on your website. The personality of your clients and customers will really shine through the video. Make sure you include a text transcript of your conversation below the video so that you get keyword “credit” from the search engines also.

For more information on writing great content that is compelling to both humans and search engines, see Moz’s complete Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

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.