S: If you have a business with one or more physical locations, then this episode number 115 is for you. Local SEO is about getting your business and its location highly rank in the search results of Google, including the map pack, Google Maps and in Google’s main organic results. Our guest today is Greg Gifford, he’s the VP of Search DealerOn – a software company that provides websites and online marketing in the new car dealers all over the country. Greg has over 16 years of online marketing and web design experience and he speaks internationally at both automotive and SEO conferences, teaching thousands of small business owners and marketers how to get their sites to show up higher in local search rankings. In fact, I just saw Greg give a great keynote at UnGagged which was a conference just last month. Frankly, he crushed it. Greg, it’s great to have you on the show.
G: It’s great to be here.
S: Let’s geek out about Local SEO because that’s something that you’re world famous about. Let’s talk first about what are some of the most important signals that people need to be aware of and work into their strategy.
G: One of the most important things I’ve been talking about lately is there is really no silver bullet in most important signal because with local things, they’re so different from one vertical to another, and from even one city or one location to another. My talking point lately has been follow the right experts, read the right articles, check out the right research but really, you’ve gotta test stuff yourself to really know what works for your clients. Having said that, the most important signals out there are gonna be links and localized content. There’s clearly lots of other things that go into it but links and localized content are really the most important. Within those two signal areas, there’s a lot of fluctuation from one location to another or one vertical to another because sometimes you can come in and get one or two links and totally win the day for forever. You might have another guy up the street that it takes 50 or 60 links to even make a dent and better visibility.
S: These would be local links that you’d most likely wanna get like Chamber of Commerce and visiting convention bureaus and so forth, not really that local links from a totally different topic area, totally different city or whatever, that still benefits you.
G: Yeah, anything is gonna be beneficial. A lot of times too it’s weird because going to conferences and listening to link building talks, you have all these guys from big agencies and big companies and they’re talking about creating their linkable asset and doing their outreach and spending months on a link campaign for one piece of content or one linkable asset that then brings in 500 or 600 links. A lot of times with Local SEO, you’re dealing with not even SMBs like super small business where there’s maybe two employees including the owner and they’ve got 5 or 6 links to their site or maybe 10. One or two links can be a massive game changer. If you can go get a great link from Huffington Post or CNN or Forbes or something like that, then go for it, those are always gonna be valuable but it’s not really that feasible for a lot of smaller businesses so you have to go more in the local link direction. With the local algorithm, those local links still carry a lot of weight, you’re doing a charity event or you sponsored an event or you’ve got a buddy that owns a dry cleaner up the street and you get any of these local links, something from your Church, anything like that a lot times can make a really big difference in your visibility.
S: What would be some of the more counter intuitive or surprising opportunities to get the local links? You mentioned charity events and your Church and that sort of thing, what would be some awesome examples of local links that might be out of the box?
G: The vast majority of what I do Local SEO of is car dealerships. Car dealerships tend to be a lot more involved in the community than most other types of businesses, they are always doing community events and community service and local sponsorships. For the smaller businesses that only have a few employees, they don’t really have that community outreach going on and then it’s a lot harder for them to get links. For a lot of businesses that I talk to, I just say, “Get involved in the community.” It makes a lot easier to get links from those connections that you make. Sponsorships, event sponsorships are always a really easy way to go. We always tell people, look for little league teams or Pee Wee Hockey or Pee Wee Football. You can spend a couple $100 a year, you get your business name on the jersey so it’s a nice warm fuzzy for the community but you’re also gonna get a pretty killer hyper local link from that. Churches are a good way to go if the business owner, any employees are involved in the Church that they go to, it’s usually pretty easy to get a link there. Churches also have community service events that you can, as a business, participate in and get links from. Besides the paying for link with the sponsorship, pay for it with time, go volunteer at local charities or local organizations or serve the homeless at soup kitchens, that’s always a good way to go. Another thing that we’ve found pretty successful is depending on the number of employees, talk to all the employees and find out what they’re doing. A lot of times, you’ll have employees that will be a member of some crazy local club or organization that’s super niched but has a really active audience. You can typically, if someone is a member of that group, get a link on that site especially if that person is a VP or President or they’re a Treasurer or something like that, you can always get their bio listed on the site. That’s a good way to go. We’ve found a lot of success looking at ethnic business directories which as a marketer, you have to be careful about how you broach that subject because you don’t want to have a new client get offended when you ask. Typically, if you’ve got a business that is owned by someone that is not from The United States, there’s going to be an ethnically owned business directory for that community. For example, if you’re a marketer and you’re working with a local dry cleaner and you know that that guy is from the Middle East and you asked him, “Where are you from? There could be some opportunities here.” “No, I’m from Iran.” There will be an Iranian owned business directory for the Iranians in that town to support other business owners from their home country and that they know, “You can go to these businesses and speak your home language.” Those are really great. A lot of times you can get listed on several different websites there and that’s something a lot of people typically don’t think of. Art festivals are usually pretty good, you can go sponsor an art festival and get listed on the art festival or if there’s any festival concert, those can work pretty well. Neighborhood watch sites are another killer one that we stumbled on about a year ago because every neighborhood watch pretty much has a crappy little WordPress site because somebody in the neighborhood is gonna say, “I do WordPress. I’ll put up a site for us.” They’re always really hungry for content and they’re always trying to talk about things related to the neighborhood. If you can provide some value to the people in that neighborhood, some discount to the business, then it’s very easy to get listed on those sites. Even besides the SEO value of getting a link from something that’s hyper local down to the neighborhood level, those sites typically have a pretty rabid audience and the people who live in those neighborhoods are on those sites all the time. That’s the link that you don’t really care about the SEO value because it’s gonna bring a significant amount of referral traffic to your site.
S: Would you say that a site like Nextdoor would be good for referral traffic as well even though you’re private, you won’t get link juice from that?
G: 100%. We always wanna look for any type of local business directory or a national directory like that that’s also gonna have a local section. Anywhere you can get listed that you know that this is gonna drive a significant amount of traffic or a measurable amount of traffic in my site, maybe there’s SEO value, maybe there’s not but a lot of times, again, when we’re talking about these small businesses that only have a handful of links, any link you can get is gonna be beneficial, it’s either gonna help with the algorithm and get you more visibility or it’s gonna be a link that’s driving more traffic. If you’re talking about a site that gets 500, 600, 700 visits a month in total to their site because they’re a small, local business, if you can go get a link that’s gonna drive 40, 50, 60 visits a month, that’s a huge bulk to their bottom line. You always wanna look for anything. Typically we even say in Local SEO, we don’t even care if it’s a follower or no follow link because a lot of times if you’re getting a legitimate local link, who care if it’s no follow, it’s probably still gonna matter in the algorithm because you just don’t have that many links. A lot of those no follow links are coming from sites that have a pretty active audience and it’s gonna bring referral traffic anyway.
S: Great links aren’t just links that drive SEO value, they’re ones that can drive click through traffic, they can help you with your positioning and they can help you open up doors for you that you hadn’t thought of. For example, being in an ethnic business directory could open up opportunities just like going to a BNI meeting could open up opportunities like, “You’re from Iran too. We should do some partnership or something.”
G: Exactly. We had a crazy thing several years ago, we were doing SEO for a used car dealership in Dallas. The owner was an avid fisherman. There was a North Texas crappie fisherman forum site that was a private site, all the links were no follow, you couldn’t even get onto the site unless you have a login. It was a ridiculously rabid community regarding specifically fishing for crappies. This guy was just really active in the community and would always go out to the contests and do all the things with this group of specific type of fisheren. He never even pushed his own stuff or try to do it for a link building standpoint. At one point, somebody mentioned, “You guys should go check out this guy’s brands dealership. He sells used cars and he’s got amazing really kick ass high quality cars.” From that point on, people would just periodically mention, “Oh yeah, I went and saw Bryan, he got me a great deal on this truck.” It was one of the largest traffic sources for his website. There wasn’t a whole lot of SEO value there because it was a completely private site but he was getting hundreds and hundreds of visits a month. That community was so active and so into each other that somebody saying they bought a truck and had a great deal means everybody else has that endorsement and they’re gonna over and see him. Anywhere you can find a site or a community that is active, you wanna try to get a mention or link there because that’s gonna help. Again, it’s something that a lot of digital marketers don’t really think about Local SEO when they’re at big scale business because you’re trying to get hundreds of links and you’re trying to get hundreds of thousands of visits added to the website. Some of these guys, they don’t even get 10,000 visits a year to their site. Anything that you can get that’s gonna bring in 15 or 20 extra visitors is gonna be huge for them.
S: In more Traditional SEO versus Local SEO, directory links are usually frowned upon as low quality links especially if the directory is not a very popular one, it’s more for the web masters to list their links than it is for the visitors to use it as a resource. Let’s talk about that for a second. Are directory links actually of a real benefit or can they be detrimental to your link profile of your local business?
G: It depends on the directory. If you’re going to SEO link directory of awesomeness.com, probably not a good idea. If you’re going to dallasbusinessdirectory.com, it may not be one of those just random out there online business directory but it’s something related to your local area, it’s 100% beneficial to get listed on. Sometimes those will help with relevancy even beyond just worrying about getting a link there. Typically you’ll find a lot of local business directories for each city of here’s the businesses in this city, sometimes it may even go in and say, “Here’s the list of all of the attorneys in Dallas or all of the guards in Dallas or all the restaurants in Dallas.” If it’s vertical specific, even better but even still, you’ll find a lot of traditional media sites, radio, TV, print ad or newspaper magazines that are local but they’ll have directories of here’s the local TV station’s directory of local businesses. Is it really valuable to get there for SEO? Probably not. Again, if you’re talking about a site that has five or six links and you can go get that link, why not? It’s not gonna hurt and it’s likely that that’s gonna draw some traffic too.
S: What about meetup.com? Is that something that should be part of a Local SEO strategy?
G: Meetup.com is great. You’ve got two different ways to go with that. First you wanna go in and look through for local groups that are looking for a place. There are people on Meetup that don’t have a permanent meeting location. If you’ve got the space in your business and you can offer that to them, you’re gonna get a really killer link off of meetup.com, you’re gonna get a killer link off of that group or organization’s website. If you have the ability to offer the meeting space, go find those guys, get it hooked up and you could do several different groups a month. If you don’t have the space or you don’t want to offer the space, you can also look for local groups and organizations that are looking for sponsors. You throw $50 a month at this group to buy the pizza or the softdrinks or whatever for their monthly meeting, you’re gonna get a couple of pretty killer links out of it. That’s a really great strategy for anyone to go after whether you’re doing Local SEO or not but especially if you’re in local.
S: That’s great not only for the links but also the brand building, the goodwill, that’s awesome.
G: Especially for us, for car dealers, it’s great because you always have the service area, the lounge that you’re sitting in while you’re waiting for your oil to get changed. If we can go in and find a local group that’s looking for a place to meet, we can say, “On the third Monday of every month, you can meet in our service waiting area from [8:00]PM to [9:00]PM.” That’s great. You’re gonna get the link out of it or probably a couple of links out of it. That group is gonna be pretty active. The main thing is, because you’re actually offering for those people to meet at your location, you get the additional benefit of you got buddies coming into your place of business once a month and they’re gonna be exposed to you. For car dealers, that’s great, those people are coming in and they’re seeing your service waiting department. The next time they need their oil changed, pretty likely they’re gonna come to you, or if they need to buy a car, pretty likely they’re coming to you. Any type of business there, you just got that much more exposure if you’ve got buddies coming in once a month for those meetings.
S: Let’s say that you already have some links as a local business and most of those links are not local, they’re not links that are in your city or town or neighborhood. Let’s say that you spoke at some event somewhere and you got a link in your bio or something. Is that going to be of detriment to you because you have such a minimal percentage of your link profile being local links?
G: It really depends because there is no hard and fast rule, depending on how much competition there is in your city, it could be bad or if there’s not a whole lot of competition for what you’re doing, maybe you don’t need those local links because if everybody got four or five links to their site and you’ve got 10 but none of them are local, you’re probably still gonna be okay as long as none of them are crappy links or if you’re in a more rural area, that’s gonna lead to less competition. Typically, the further out you get from the dense metro areas, the less you have to do. Or even in a really dense metro area, if you’re underwater basket weaving supplies, you probably don’t have anyone else competing for that term so it’s not gonna take a whole lot for you to really do well. If you’re a locksmith or if you’re in Dallas and you’re in heating and air conditioning and there are 400 competitors just in the Dallas area, you’re gonna have to get local links because there’s just too much competition and too many other people are fighting for that visibility.
S: We talked about links, now let’s go to localized content. That’s the other really big signal that you mentioned at the beginning of this episode. Let’s dive into the localized content, what does that look like?
G: Kind of two between the link and content side. Another thing that really gets ignored by a lot of Local SEO people is internal link structure. A lot of people forget about that and it kinda falls under links but kinda falls under content as well. It’s something I always have been mentioning lately because every time I look at these small business websites, their internal link structure is just a mess. A lot of businesses want to link to every possible thing they can from their homepage. The homepage is just littered with links and buttons and banners and it’s A, really bad from a conversion standpoint because there’s just too much to do and the user doesn’t know where they’re supposed to go, but B, it’s still the same concept of link juice. Your homepage is incredibly valuable and you don’t wanna link to everywhere and just dilute it. We’re always telling people, take a look at your homepage. You probably only have one or two places that you really want customers to head to. Make those your links and sculpt that link to use value throughout the site and get those internal pages to rank better because you’re not trying to just link to every other page from every page on the site. You can usually be a heck of a lot spammier with your anchor text on your own website. It’s something that’s really important that a lot of people overlook.
S: The internal linking structure, that’s not only the way that you would pass link authority, link equity down into your site tree. You need to be thinking strategically about this but this is also an opportunity to pass context of these links. What are these pages about if you have really poor choices for your anchor text like click here or read more or whatever, learn about?
G: Learn more is what everybody has.
S: Now you’re telling Google, “This page is about learn more, this one is also about learn more and this one is about learn more.” You got those two major areas that you need to think about as you’re defining your internal linking structure. When you say that this page is really important, this one is not so important, maybe they shouldn’t both be listed on a homepage, one should be on the homepage because it’s really important and you want that page to rank and the other one, nah, not so important. That can be a level deeper in the site tree.
G: Another thing that we’ve had pretty good success with, we call it linking from credible to almost visible. We go in and we use our link tool of choice or combination of all of the above and find the pages on the site that have the most links pointed to them. This is typically something you’re gonna have to do with a little bit larger business so that you’re not talking three or four links pointed at the site. You find these pages that have the most inbound links and then we go into analytics and we set the date range to three months and we go into acquisition SEO queries and sure a lot of that data is not there but you can still get some pretty actionable stuff. If you sort by average position and then create an advanced filter to knockout everything that shows up on page 1 so you’re only showing positions 11 through whatever, then now you’ve got a report that’s gonna show in analytics for the last three months which pages ranked middle or top of page 2 and then you can turn around and take that original list of your most links to pages that have the most equity or most value and point a couple of internal links from those powerful pages to these almost visible pages. A lot of times, in the not incredibly competitive markets, that right there alone is enough to bump something from the top of page two to the bottom or middle of page one because you’re sculpting that internal link value. For smaller businesses, when you’re coming in and you’re trying to say, “Local SEO, we’re fighting against all this other guys, it’s gonna take months. You’ve gotta invest this money and just trust me that four or five, six months down the road, you’re gonna see value out of it.” If you can find a couple of pages like this that you can bump up to page one within the first week or two just by that internal link sculpting, then that’s a huge win both for you and for your client because now you look like a superstar because you told them it was gonna be several months to see results and you have bumped up a couple of pages from page two to page one and increase your traffic right off the bat. That’s a neat little trick that we’ve had a lot of success with.
S: You’re turning to Google Analytics for that data around which pages are on the cusp or maybe top of page two and a little push can move them onto page one. That push could be just purely from internal linking rather than link building or other more major initiatives.
G: You could clearly use that same list when you start doing your link building and make those pages your targets as well. Like I said, a lot of times we don’t even have to get any external links, it’s just pop a couple of links to those pages from some more valuable internal pages. A lot of times that’s enough.
S: Also just looking at the way that it’s structured right now, it doesn’t make any sense. Here’s a great example, I worked with REI, they were a client awhile back. They had a category for skis and a category for snowboard, skiing and snowboarding I think were the names of the categories. They insisted on changing the structure so that they’d have snow sports as the new category and subcategories of skiing and snowboarding. That means the snow sports are gonna be at the secondary level and skis and snowboards are gonna be at a tertiary level, that’s a really bad idea. They did it anyways, went against my advice on that one. If you find the opposite happening, you’ll say, “You’ve got snow sports. Maybe we should change that to skis and snowboards instead as separate categories and get rid of the snow sports super category.” Now, you are sending link juice down to a category level page much more efficiently, one hop away from the home page instead of two. What rank checkers are you using in addition to just turning to Google Analytics for the data of what’s on the cusp, what’s on page two versus page one?
G: For us we use STAT. STAT is probably the best one out there to show the closest representation of what local rankings are. After the Possum updates a little over a year ago, proximity is such a factor now that rank trackers aren’t really that accurate to show what actual humans see in the area but so far STAT is far superior to anything else. That’s what we use internally but we actually don’t include ranking data on any of our reports anymore because there’s nothing out there that accurately shows what humans see. With local search, proximity is such a factor that you could walk a block away and your search results would be different. With the personal history of that device, the personalization aspect is going to change what you’re seeing too. So many users see slightly different results, we just don’t want clients that don’t really get into SEO that often to get hung up on ranking because who cares what your ranking is, what we really care about is are you selling more? Are your sales increasing? Are your leads increasing? Is your traffic increasing? We use STAT internally, we’re really happy with it, it’s awesome, it’s an amazing tool. The way you can bucket things together and get alerts is awesome and it saves the full SERPS, STAT is great.
S: I’m familiar with them too, they’re great. I use Rank Ranger, I really like them as well. They do allow you to track local results so you can say, “What do the results look like in Toronto versus Vancouver or Dallas versus Houston.”
G: Whitespark has a pretty good ranking tool too. We also like the one that’s in Places Scout. Places Scout is a really awesome, super robust Local SEO tool that still a lot of people haven’t heard of.
S: Let’s share that with our audience, what does Places Scout do and why is it a must have?
G: Places Scout does tons of stuff, the thing that we use it for the most is they have a really awesome reputation management tool set. That’s what we use for our daily reports for reputation management to check for new reviews. You can either set it up, send an email everyday or you can setup to only send email when a new review has appeared. It also stores all of the reviews. If something algorithmic happens and that happens fairly often in local, you might have a business that has 350 reviews one day and has 120 the next and they’re freaking out. Now you’ve got a copy of those reviews and you can go back and try to figure out maybe why they disappeared, you get these alerts that pop out. They’ve been really great with us because we’re really heavy on automotive and there are a lot of automotive sites that are very important for checking reviews on that none of the review platforms are compatible with. Places Scout has gone in and added those in. Now we’ve got a really robust automotive reputation management platform that checks everything. I’ve sent other people to them and I’ve heard that they’ve done that for other verticals as well. They’re really good about being pretty agile and adding in the things that you need. They’ve got some really great lead gen reports as what they call them but it’s basically a snapshot of what is your link profile look like, what’s your citation profile look like, what is your review profile look like all in one big awesome report. We’re actually using them, we’re doing a really big study trying to reverse engineer the local algorithm for car dealers and we use them to run all of our data. We use STAT for the ranking side of stuff then we fit everything through Places Scout. That allowed us to check something in the range of 250 data points on each search result looking at GMB information, all kinds of link information from the different APIs that we were using.
S: GMB, Google My Business, for those listeners who aren’t familiar with that.
G: Then we had a Moz API key, an AHREFS API key and a Majestic API key which allowed us to check all of the different aspects of links that all three of those companies can check. They also have their own crawler that went out and crawled so we could check for a specific keyword, was that keyword present in the title tag, the meta description, the H1, was it on the page, how many times was it on the page, that sort of thing. We ended up running our keyword set in the 50 largest cities in the country, 50 medium middle of the road cities, and then 50 cities that are suburbs of metro areas. That gave us 186,000 keywords each and we looked at positions 1 through 20 in organic, that gave us over 3.6 million search results that we’re now checking 250-ish data points on. The analysis obviously is on us but all of the data, all of the running, all of that stuff came through Places Scout. They’re really robust and really awesome.
S: That’s a really ninja thing you did there with what you just described, very cool.
G: It should be really interesting to see the results once we get the numbers crunched.
S: It’s important for our listeners to understand that if your local business or your client’s local business gets reviews, that’s something you need to monitor ongoing because reviews will disappear, haters will come in and post a negative review. You need to be on top of this, you need to be tracking that and reporting on that ongoing.
G: Even on the review side of tracking reviews, we have several different platforms that are running due to things that we’re doing on different tool sets. We’ve got triple redundancy at least on checking the most important review sites. We just wanna make sure that if, for whatever reason, one of the tools, this is a review, something else catches it because the review site especially is so important in local. You’ve gotta really be on top of it.
S: Does it matter if you’re linking from your website as a local business to your Yelp page or Trip Advisor page or whatever? Is that part of best practice for Local SEO?
G: You’re not really supposed to link to Yelp because you’re not supposed to ask for Yelp reviews. A lot of times we don’t care and we just link to it anyway even though we shouldn’t, best practice says don’t link to Yelp because Yelp doesn’t want you to. But until we see anybody get in trouble, we feel like it’s okay to because if you’ve got a page and it says, “We’d love to hear what you thought about your experience, please let us know.” You list out five or six different review sites, why would you link to everything but Yelp? For those businesses or marketers out there that really want to be careful with it, a way to get around it is you link to all of the other sites directly. When you have that Yelp link, you instead link to a Google Search for that business’s Yelp page so when they click on it, it just spawns that search results page where that Yelp page will be at the top of the list.
S: Yelp and other review sites will remove reviews even if they’ve been on for a while if somebody reports it as being probably fake review. It’s very important to monitor this stuff. Sometimes the review site will just have a field day going through and removing a whole bunch of your reviews at once. Tripadvisor, this happens, they’ll just nuke a whole big percentage of your reviews. You’re like, “What happened with all my reviews?”
G: That’s why Places Scout is great because you’ve got a record of all of those that disappeared now. A lot of the software packages out there that will track these review sites, they don’t keep a copy of all these reviews. If you wake up one day and 50% of your reviews are gone, that sure sucks, what can I do? If you got Places Scout, now you can go back and say, “Yesterday we had all these reviews, let’s look through them and see if there’s anything common that might help us figure out why it happened.” You could start reading through and see that maybe these are all fake because they’re using the same phrase or all these reviews came from reviewers that have never used Google or Yelp or whatever ever again, it’s a one-time reviewer. You can go through it and start to analyze what’s going on and figure out why did these reviews disappear.
S: You mentioned earlier that imagine you’re walking down the street with your mobile device and you’re checking Google results, you’ll get different results potentially one block away versus two different blocks, you’ll get different results. Is there a way to emulate this or simulate this without actually going to that local city? Can I get local results in Dallas, I’m in Santa Monica right now.
G: MobileMoxie has a really awesome tool that lets you emulate search results on a cellphone based on a specific location which is different than using a rank tracker, this is a specific tool that is emulating what your search results would look like on a smartphone in that location. That’s a pretty cool tool to play with if you wanna get an idea of what your visibility might look like on mobile searches.
S: I believe that you can also use just Chrome and go into your developer tools and specify a latitude and longitude.
G: You can but that actually turns out not being as accurate as MobileMoxie’s tool.
S: We’ll be sure to include a link to the MobileMoxie tool, this mobile emulator in the show notes for this episode and all the different tools we’ve been talking about like STAT Search Analytics, Rank Ranger, Places Scout, Whitespark, all those will go into the show notes. Let’s talk about Possum. You’ve mentioned that briefly and saying thing really shifted, it’s a lot harder for the ranking trackers to give you reliable, real, accurate data now that Possum has come out. What is Possum and why do our listeners need to know about it?
G: Possum was an update to the local algorithm that hit in September of last year. It’s been out for a little over a year. It was just Google tweaking a lot of things with the local algorithm to, in their eyes provide more accurate, better local search results. Some of the things that changed, they really turned up the dial on duplicate Google My Business listings. It’s always been not a great idea to have more than one listing for a single business but it happened out in the wild for one reason or another. Sometimes it was super bad, sometimes it didn’t really matter, they really turned up the dial on that. Now if you’ve got duplicate listings, it’s gonna be pretty damaging for visibility especially in map searches. They also turned up the dial on third party reviews. I’ve been speaking at Local SEO conferences for years and years now. I used to always say forget any other review sites and get all of your reviews on Google because there’s so much weight than the algorithm, it’s much more worth your time to just get all your reviews on Google because it’s gonna boost your visibility but Google realized that probably wasn’t the most natural of things. Now Google turned up the dial so there’s more weight on those third party reviews. It’s a better idea to evenly spread your reviews among the review sites. Industry related links, looks like those became a little bit more valuable. Local links are still the most important thing but they turned up the dial on the weight of vertical related links. More than anything else, they really dialed up proximity as a factor. After that, I keep talking to businesses at conferences and a lot this year that I’ve said, “I don’t know what happened a year ago but we really lost a lot of visibility. It tends to be people that are in suburbs of metro areas that used to show up much better in that metro area but now because they’re on the outlying edges of the metro and proximity is a factor, they have lost a lot of visibility.
S: If they try and get a serviced office or use a UPS store in the city centroid to get that proximity back because they lost rankings with the Possum update, that’s not really gonna work.
G: No, Google has explicitly said, “You can’t use a Regus office, any kind of virtual office or PO box or even UPS, rent fake business addresses, you can’t use any of those. For those of you out there that are listening, if you’ve got an issue where you’ve got competitors that are doing this and it’s working for them, it’s really easy to get them shut down if you can prove to Google that those offices are not staffed and that it’s just an empty office that’s sitting there to use the address, then Google will remove it.
S: You just take a picture of the store front and it’s a UPS store or whatever, they’re out of Google.
G: It’s always a bad idea to use any virtual office even if you actually are using that as an office and you’ve got it staffed because Google is pretty biased against those, it’s just really hard to get those to show up well in searches. You’re much better off just getting a cheap office space that’s a legitimate office space somewhere if you’re trying to combat that proximity issue.
S: Anything else about Possum that we should know?
G: No, those are really the big ones that hit.
S: There are other local updates that have happened, Pigeon and so forth, anything other than Possum related that we should know about as well?
G: Pigeon is a couple of years old. Pigeon is kind of a similar proximity thing of the radius of how far the circle would reach to show possible search results was reduced by 60% or something like that, I don’t remember off the top of my head but it was a pretty drastic reduction in how wide they were gonna toss that Neto for local results. The big thing is more than anything else what’s really been threw on people for a loop is the massive weight that proximity has received over the last year.
S: If you’re trying to rank for let’s say Dallas locksmith and Fort Worth locksmith and some other areas in the Dallas region, creating separate pages for each of this, that’s a very old school SEO technique that doesn’t really work anymore. Creating a Fort Worth locksmith page and then a Dallas locksmith page and whatever other suburbs and so forth, that’s pretty spammy.
G: I actually wrote a post on Search Engine Land six months ago probably talking about how those basic doorway pages are now gonna get a lot of people penalized. Unfortunately, a lot of the people that do SEO for small businesses have brainwashed all these small businesses into thinking that SEO means lots and lot of pages of content added every month. How many location pages am I getting every month? You’re gonna create a heading page and rewrite it 20 times for all the surrounding cities. That’s just not valuable. When we’re talking Local SEO, everything is on a smaller scale. Your site probably has maybe 10 to 20 pages max and you’re talking about a handful of links and just a few citations. You’re probably not having a massive push on social media and you don’t have thousands of reviews. If you’ve got a site that you really only need 10 to 15 pages on your site, what’s the point of coming out and rolling out 20 location pages every month to try to hit these cities? It just doesn’t make sense. Something that does work if you’re trying to show up somewhere where you don’t have a physical address there is a strategy called local content silos. The easiest way to explain it would be almost like a microsite strategy but instead of a separate website, it is a siloed off area of content on your own site. It’s not something you can blow out and do times 50 but you can do it for 2 or 3 nearby cities and have some success with it. You create a siloed of area where it is its own entity within your site. It’s not super easy to get there but once you’re inside, it’s got a really strong internal link structure just within that silo. That whole silo, instead of being optimized around, your actual location is optimized around the city that you’re targeting. You’re also writing blog content around that area and you’re also doubling your link building efforts and building some links from that city to those targeted pages within the silo and then you’re doing all of the things that you can to build relevancy for that city. It’s not something that works quickly, it typically takes close to a year to even see any value from that. If you’ve got the effort and expertise to pull it off, then after a year or so, you start building relevancy and showing up in a city where you don’t have a physical location. It doesn’t work map pack, it only works in organic. It’s not gonna work for a locksmith because there’s hundreds of locksmiths in any city. For any type of business that’s not so ridiculously competitive, it’s a pretty legitimate strategy.
S: Do you have an example, a case study you could showcase for our listeners?
G: If you go bit.ly/local-content-silos, that’s the post that I wrote on Search Engine Land that outlines the whole strategy and how to do it and exactly how to structure everything.
S: I’ll include that in the show notes as well, of course. Just to differentiate for our listeners organic results versus map pack results, some people will not be familiar with the map pack and how many listings go into that and when that gets triggered and when it doesn’t triggered and how to get into the map pack, of course the answer is Google My Business. Can you walk us through a bit more detail around that?
G: Any business that serves customers in a brick and mortar location or in a specific service area in one city or one metro is typically gonna pull a map pack on searches related to that business. That map pack is going to be inserted between the AdWords ads and the organic results. It’s gonna show the Google Map and then underneath it, it will have either three or four results. The structure of those results can be different for different verticals, sometimes it’s listed as ABC, sometimes it’s 123, sometimes there aren’t numbers, sometimes it’s a website link, sometimes it’s phone numbers but there are always going to have three or four results under that map. The reason I say three or four is you can, in AdWords, go in and buy into that map pack so you can have a fourth listing there that is an ad. Typically if there are no ads, you’re only going to see three results. Sometimes there are only fewer than three if you’re in a smaller town or less competitive vertical. Those results will show the business name, the review stars and the aggregate score and then typically the address and phone number and a link to click to call and a link to go to the website. At the bottom, it will say, “See more.” If you click see more, it goes to the location finder page where it will now be a full screen map. Down the left column, you will see all of the business types that apply to the search query that you searched for instead of just the top three, you’ll see 15, 20 however many businesses there are.
S: Any mistakes, gotchas that you see a lot of times with people’s Google My Business profiles?
G: Crazy as it is, we still run across tons of listings that are not claimed. It’s really important to Google that you claim your Google My Business listing, it’s really important to the algorithm that the phone number that you list on your Google listing is a local area code phone number for the area that you’re in. We still see businesses that use call tracking numbers there and they’ll use an 800 number and it’s a much better signal to have a local area code number there. There’s not a description or any, you wanna fill out your profile so that when you’re in your Google My Business dashboard, putting that information there, that information actually appears to typical users as your knowledge panel whenever someone does the brand search. That whole right column of the knowledge graph information that shows up for your business is what’s going to appear to the standard user. You wanna make sure that you’re filling out that box as much as possible, you wanna take up as much space as you can. Load in lots of pictures. There’s actually a couple of different people running studies right now, there’s some anecdotal evidence that points to that fact that maybe if you load in a lot of photos and change your photo that often, that might be a little bit of a boost to visibility. Nobody really has proven that yet but several different people really think that that is the case. There’s a couple of studies going on right now trying to definitively prove that. Still, it’s a good idea regardless to make sure that you got good photos there and several good photos there. Google Posts is a new thing that was released recently. Now that we don’t have Google Plus anymore, there’s the social aspect of these GMB listings has changed a lot, it’s more of just this knowledge panel but now they’ve got Google Posts which will show up down at the bottom of your knowledge panel so you can put an image and a little bit of text there. This post will expire automatically after seven days. If you’re gonna go down this road, you just gotta remember that every seven days, you’re gonna have to come back and put something else in there. We’ve seen some pretty neat things, you can go in and showcase some special, put up an eye catching image and say, “This week, we’re giving you buy one get one free.” We’ve also seen a lot of businesses that will go in and take a really stellar review and then take a pull quote out of that review and make it into an image and show the five star review and say, “Absolutely stellar experience.” And then you upload that and that’s gonna show up down at the bottom of your knowledge panel. You’re always gonna see your review score and the number of reviews that you have but if you’ve got a really awesome review and you wanna highlight it, you could do that in Google Posts. That’s something a lot of people haven’t played with yet but it’s a pretty interesting idea to grab more eyeballs by putting some stuff down there that people might be interested in.
S: That’s really ninja. Is it possible to run a file of terms of service with some of these review sites to use the review content in that way? I think Yelp is pretty strict about not being able to use any of the review content on your own website, for example.
G: Google has flip flopped back and forth on that in the past as well, it used to be that if you were to cut and paste a Google review and display it on your site, once the spiders crawled your site and saw that that review existed on your site as well, it would then go remove it from Google because Google wants it to be unique content only on your Google listing. It seems like they pulled off that a little bit, I’ve seen lots of sites that have done that and they haven’t had that penalty or that result happen. Google has flip flopped on that but Yelp definitely doesn’t want you to do that. I think if you’re trying to showcase review content there and you’re making a graphic that just has a pull quote out of that review, I think you’re probably safe. I don’t think Google is gonna be too upset about that.
S: That’s a great strategy using Google Posts for that but you do have to keep up with that because it doesn’t show up after seven days. You have to keep posting new stuff all the time. You mentioned that no more Google Plus, can you elaborate a bit on that?
G: Google Plus never really took off. The only thing we really ever saw success with within the automotive vertical was, for some reason, Harley-Davidson people were super active on Google Plus more so than Facebook or Twitter or anything else. Harley people were just all over Google Plus. We have a lot of success there but for everyone else, for a while there, there was a little bit of a boost that if you put something on Google Plus, then that post could get indexed so you might get an extra slot on search results or maybe there was a little bit of a visibility boost but it just never took off especially when Google tried to force everyone to get on Google Plus by making your Google Plus login tie across all of your Google accounts, etcetera, etcetera, it still just never took off. I don’t know if it’s actually officially sunsetted or if it’s just that nobody uses it anymore. I think it still exists, there’s just probably five people on it.
S: I don’t think it’s been officially sunsetted, I haven’t heard about that. It’s not a serious player in the social network game anymore at all.
G: They’ve completely pulled the Google My Business experience out of it. If you saw that three pack of results that showed the map and the top three local results and you clicked on one of those businesses, it would take you over to that business’s Google My Business page which was almost like your Facebook page. It had a header graphic and the topline information and then all of your Google Plus posts. Now that nobody is using Google Plus, they’ve changed that experience. That Google My Business information, like I said, shows up in your knowledge panel. Now, on the three pack with the map, if you click on one of those three businesses instead of going to their Google listing, it takes you into the map search, that location finder page, it just highlights the one that you clicked on.
S: Going back to what you said a few minutes ago about try to have a local area code for the number that you list in your Google My Business, that feeds into the next point I wanna make, that is it’s important, your name, address, phone. Your NAP needs to appear at various places like on your website and so forth. Let’s talk about the NAP.
G: NAP consistency is a huge part of the algorithm. You don’t want to send confusing information to Google. When you’re doing call tracking, the old school method of call tracking, let’s take 50 different 800 numbers and just put them on every different site out there. That way we know if you called from that number or you called from that site which I guess would make sense if it’s a site that you have to pay to be on but Yelp is free, Google is free, Bing is free, Facebook is free. Why would you wanna put different numbers on all of these different sites? Google is looking at these different sites and wants to see consistency in business name, address, and phone number. A lot of businesses screw up on this. I think this is actually a little bit unfair for a lot of businesses because the really small businesses out there a lot of times don’t have someone doing their SEO or their marketing. They just bootstrap it themselves and they don’t know all of these things. Let’s say you move locations, a lot of people will just go setup new listings on all these sites and say this is our new address instead of changing their old one. Now, they’ve got two different addresses splitting around a multiple listing, that’s hugely damaging to their visibility. You have people that will do call tracking and then they stop doing call tracking and switch back to a single number and they have problems because now they’ve got all these numbers floating around. We get questions all the time from business owners that they’ll go into their Google listing and they’ll change their phone number or their address on Google and two days later it switches back to what is was before they changed it. That’s because Google is looking back upstream to all the first, second and third tier location listing sites. If you got your business information listed on 50 or 60 other websites besides Google but you only go change that phone number on Google and all of those other sites have a conflicting phone number, Google is gonna go back and change that phone number automatically because it’s gonna say, “We know you managely changed this but everything else out there on the internet says that this other number is the correct number so we’re now gonna display this one.” That’s really frustrating because we talk to people all the time and they’re like, “I’ve changed this two or three times a week for the last month but it keeps changing back, what do I do?” We said, “You have to go change it everywhere.” It can get really confusing with all of the various citation sources for the lay person out there or even for marketers that don’t really do local that often, it can get pretty, pretty hairy pretty quickly.
S: You’re talking about sites like yellow pages sites, directories, of course in Yelp, various review sites, all of those have to have consistency with the NAP.
G: 100%, it needs to be exactly the same everywhere it appears online.
S: Is there a tool that will help you with making all of these changes and keeping it all consistent?
G: There’s lots of different tools but we prefer a two tiered approach. We like to start to off with Moz Local because they’ve got a free tool that lets you check your citation visibility on the top 15 citation sources. That’s regardless of industry. You can just go to moz.com/local/search. There’s two fields on the page, one for the business name, one for the zip code. The thing that a lot of people screw up on is the business name, as soon as you start typing it in, it will drop down an autocomplete field but you don’t wanna click on those, you wanna type in your business name and then type in the zip code and click search because if you used the autocomplete, you skip a really important step and go right to your graph. You don’t wanna skip that step because if you click search and you see that there’s only one possible listing for your business, that means you’re probably in good shape. If you click search and there’s 15 or 16 different variations of your business information, that shows you right off the bat you’ve got a lot of problems to clean up.
S: Like abbreviations or all sorts of different permutations of your name.
G: Your business name may be spelled differently, sometimes you’ll have the incorporated at the end of the business name, sometimes you won’t or you have LLC or maybe you moved and you’ve got all the addresses out or you’ve got multiple phone numbers, you’ll see all those different variations. When you click on anyone of those listings, it takes you to a graph page that will give you a percentage score. As long as you’re at 75%, you’re okay, you’ll never get 200%. Down below, it shows those top 15 sites and it will give you a percentage score for each of those individual sites with either a positive or negative bar. If it’s got a negative grade bar, that means you don’t have a listing on that site. If it’s got a negative red bar, that means you’ve got inconsistent information on that site. If you’ve got a negative yellow bar, that shows that you’ve got a duplicate listing on that site. You can click on any of those bars and it jumps you directly to your listing on that site. If you’re not super familiar with these sites, it’s really easy to get to where you need to get to. That’s a great starting point. That’s what we use for a quick audit for citations on a lot of cases. When you wanna get really advanced, Whitespark is the only way to go. Whitespark is an amazing tool, you can go in and basically put in your name, address, phone number information and it’s gonna go out and crawl the internet and find every possible spot that your business information appears. If you do have incorrect information and you know this old phone number is wrong, you can go search for that old phone number and it’s gonna find everywhere it exists. Now you know where to go update that phone number.
S: There are two kinds of citations, the structured and unstructured.
G: Most people talking about citations are talking about their directory listings which is a structured citation, it’s clearly delineated, line by line name, address, phone number. There are also unstructured citations which would be long form posts, long form content where for instance you get a blogger to write about your business and they mention your business name and then they talk about their experience. At the bottom they say, “If you wanna go see these guys, they’re located at 501 Main Street. You can call them at this number.” You still have that name, address, phone number information on the page but it’s spread out in the different parts of that content. That still counts as a citation and those are still really valuable. That’s a great tactic to get a leg up on people, is if you’ve got some local bloggers, it’s pretty easy to get listed there or you’re gonna get a link out of it. It’s also an unstructured citation.
S: If you have multiple locations, let’s say you have a store finder on your site, let’s say that that store finder has all five locations on one page, the NAP, the name, address, phone for each location is all on one page instead of five separate pages for each of the five locations, what are the pluses and minuses of each approach?
G: There is no plus or minus to the one page approach. If you have multiple locations with a single website, you absolutely need a separate location page for each location. You can still have your finder page but instead of having a finder page, you click the locations button and it’s just a page that lists your five locations, how about actually link over to each individual page? Now you’ve got a location page that is highly optimized around that location, you could put unique content on each one of the pages and you’ll show up much better on searches.
S: Location photos for example, map embed.
G: Directions, local landmarks, links to blog posts are great because typically, on a smaller scale, if you’ve got a business that just has a handful of locations, typically your content strategy is gonna be based around those locations as well. On each location page, you can link out to all the blog post that are related to that location, you can have reviews for that specific location, testimonials for that location. There’s lots of things you can do on those pages to make them robust and useful but still neat.
S: Store manager, employee of the month, whatever content will beef up that page so it’s not thin content with just the name, address, phone number and that’s it. That would be a really [inaudible [01:01:39] page and that would be bad for SEO. We’re out of time but this was amazing. Thank you so much, Greg, for sharing your brilliance. If somebody wanted to work with you, you only work with automotive companies, car dealerships, and stuff?
G: My [9:00] to [5:00] is I am the VP of Search for DealerOn. We just do car dealers but I do freelance stuff on the side for anything that’s outside of the automotive vertical. If someone did want to get some consulting help from me, I’m definitely available to help.
S: How would we find you or reach you online then?
G: The best way would just be to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s my email address, you can definitely find me there. Also, follow me on Twitter, I’m pretty active on Twitter. I travel to probably almost as many conferences as you do. I’ve decided back in the day that going to these conferences and seeing all of my friends over and over again could potentially get me a bit of a drag so I decided to be a live tweeter. Now whenever I hit marketing conferences, I live tweet all the sessions that I go to. It’s great to keep in touch with me on Twitter, that’s my social platform of choice. Also, it’s great to follow me because you see lots of great tips from various conferences all over the world.
S: Thank you, Greg. Thank you, listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. This is your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.