Tag: local

Local SEO Audit – How to Do a Quick SEO Audit + Free Template


Start 2021 off right with this quick local SEO website audit that Nick Pierno – Whitespark’s Director of Custom Projects – presented at our 2020 Local Search Summit. Nick runs through the importance of how assessing the SEO viability of a website can help surface potential problem areas and shares his audit checklist to get you set up for success.

Video Transcript

A Note on SEO Scan Tools

There are some good SEO scan tools (Woorank or SEOptimer) out there that I usually run sites through during my audit process to catch anything I missed or just get a kind of programmatic look at things, I’d say these scan tools work better in tandem with a manual audit, rather than as a replacement for one.

Gauging a Website’s Overall Local SEO Health

You can obviously spend a dozen hours or longer auditing every little detail of a website. And I’m sure there are even businesses out there doing that and doing fantastic work. On the other hand, someone with some SEO experience can get a pretty good read on things just putzing around a site for 10 minutes. I think this quick audit sort of sits between both extremes.

This provides some formality and structure to the process without becoming a huge expensive project unto itself. The audit scope is actually really flexible too, you can painstakingly dig into every item on the list and roll it up into a formal document, and that may take about five hours. Or you can rip through it taking a quick glance at each area, marking the checkboxes and end up with a pretty good summary (maybe for internal use or something) in about 30 minutes.

Who is this audit for?

  • SEOs
  • Developers
  • Agencies & marketers
  • Website and business owners
  • Anyone whose friend and family ask them for SEO/website recommendations

This audit is for everyone. SEOs might use this when they’re kicking off a project and making an action plan, while developers might use it before launching a site to make sure that it’s SEO ready. Agencies or marketers might use it to evaluate prospects during their sales process. Website or business owners who’ve had some SEO or development work done, may want to use it to check things over or just get a general sense of where they’re at. I personally use it pretty much any time I need to get a read on a local business’s SEO setup. I’ll spend a few hours on it when I have a client who wants it packaged up as a deliverable. Or I’ll do a 30-minute version when a friend or family member asks me to take a look at their site, which happens kind of often. So I think you can use it in pretty much any scenario.

The Audit Checklist

This audit process uses a checklist. The full version includes things like GMB, citations, and reviews, in addition to about 30 website-specific areas that it covers.

👉 Grab the full checklist and an example resource including a list of tools that will help you through the process.

To use it, just run through the list of areas to check. Each area has a priority so that once you’re done auditing, you know where to start. Feel free to tweak those priorities if you don’t agree with mine. Then there’s a status drop down with three choices, all good, heads up, or danger. Those are pretty self explanatory. Then there’s a notes column to jot down what you noticed for future reference.

Now, we don’t have time to cover every item on the checklist today, we don’t even have time to cover all the website items. So we’ll actually just go over a few of the most important areas.

Top Audit Priority Items
The areas we’re going to focus on today:

  • Current rankings
  • HTTPS and URL variants
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Indexation
  • Tile tags
  • Content
  • Backlinks

You could theoretically just use this handful of items to give a website a decent quick once over. I’ve randomly selected a website from a plumber in Austin, Texas to use for some examples. For whatever reason, I always use plumbers for my SEO examples. I completed a copy of the checklist for this site as a point of reference for you when you go back to use the template.

#1. Check the site’s current search presence

This will give you a general sense of where the site’s at. If they’re ranking number one, you might not find a lot to comment on. If they’re nowhere to be found, maybe you’ll find some simple things that will make a huge difference. How do we do this? Pretty straightforward. We’ll search their flagship or most important phrases on Google.

You’ll want to do this from an incognito or private browsing session just to prevent your search history from affecting the results. I’ll start by looking at the homepage title tag. If anyone’s even remotely attempted to optimize the site, there will be some target terms in there. If the target terms seem dumb, that’s okay. We’re more interested right now in seeing if they rank for what they’ve targeted.

Here I pulled out plumbing company from their homepage title, and I added the geo modifier Austin, TX to make sure I’m searching their region, not mine. If they’re not ranking for those flagship terms, you can also try searching for a longer string from the title tag. Like here, I’ve got Plumbing Company | Plumbing Services: Austin, TX, which is their exact homepage title without the company name. This will help determine if they can rank for a longer, more specific search even though they weren’t ranking for the shorter, more competitive terms (possibly because they’re outmatched by their competition). You might also search for phrases you think they should be targeting or ranking for. I searched plumbing, Austin, TX, (probably the most competitive term in their space) and they were on page five.

I should also mention that there are all sorts of rank tracking tools out there, shoutout to Whitespark’s Local Rank Tracker. But I think for this quick and dirty check that the manual search does the trick.

Whenever you’re searching, you’re really just looking to get a sense of whether they’re killing it or not killing it at all. Or maybe there’s something holding them back. When I search plumbing company Austin, TX. ATX is ranking at the top of the local pack for my search and they’re on page two of the organic results. To me, this indicates that the site is viable, doesn’t have any big deal breakers or impediments. In this case, maybe some content improvements, or link building are all it really needs.

Search the company name
It’s also worth searching for the company name. Sometimes you’ll need to throw in a geo modifier like the city if it’s not a super unique name. You just want to see if they have a knowledge panel, i.e. they own the top ranking spot. Maybe you want to see if their citations or their other profiles occupy the rest of the page. Ideally, it’ll kind of own as much of this page as possible.

As I mentioned before, ATX had a top local pack ranking, they were on the page two for a decent phrase, and now on the branded SERP they have the knowledge panel, so branded looks pretty good. There are no major problems with the site showing up. But there’s also a lot of room to improve and the rankings department. So, I marked this as a heads up, and we’ll press on to see how they could work towards bettering their rankings.

#2. Indexation

Why? Well, because being in Google’s index is kind of the whole point of this.

Do a Google search for site: yourdomain.com. In this case, we’re searching for site:atxplumbingcompany.com. This will show you all the pages Google has indexed for that domain. You want to make sure that all the important pages are there. If the pages are there, then nothing is overtly blocking them. If they aren’t there, check the site’s robots.txt (yourdomain.com/robots.txt). Note: If there isn’t a robots, then it’s not the culprit, though it’s a good idea to create one (most CMS generate one).

Looking at the file, you just want to see if any important pages are disallowed or if the whole site is disallowed, which happens fairly often with WordPress and is a feature they have to easily hide a site while it’s being developed. Sometimes it gets forgotten and the site gets launched, so the entire site gets ignored by Google until someone figures it out.

You can prevent this by unchecking “discourage search engines” under the reading settings in the WordPress dashboard. You can also check the HTML <head> section of your source code for a noindex tag, which acts in much the same way, just on a per page basis.

These two indexing blockers are the most common offenders. But if nothing is, blocking search engines from a page and it’s still not showing up, you can try requesting indexing through Search Console or you can just Google how to do that. You may need a deeper technical dive might need to hire a professional or do some more research into it. ATX’s pages are all present in Google’s index. So there’s nothing for them to report here. I give them an “all good”.

#3. Check for HTTPS secure connection and URL variants

Why worry about HTTPS? Google formally recommends it and it’s generally considered to be a ranking signal (albeit probably a minor one). More importantly, browsers make non-HTTPS sites look suspicious to site visitors with scary icons in the address bar and other warnings, which might make people nervous. It’s super easy to check, because all the popular browsers let you know right in the address bar. So you probably already know after the first time you visit the site whether or not it’s using HTTPS.

In order to use HTTPS, you need an SSL certificate. In the past, these were expensive and annoying to set up but you can get one for free from an organization called Let’s Encrypt, and a lot of popular hosts are offering them now with very easy setup that only takes a few clicks. That being said, you might want to consult a professional or do some really thorough research before migrating an established HTTP site. It can be a bit of a process and it does come with some risks. So just be careful.

Some sites might use HTTPS, but some of their content is not secure. You can also see this in the address bar (see below). It’s usually an image or resource on the page, that’s still using HTTP leftover from migration.

You can easily troubleshoot that kind of insecure content with your browser’s developer tools, or with online tools like why no padlock and then you can get those resources fixed up.

Check the common URL variants (HTTP, HTTPS, www, non www). I check these manually by entering them into my address bar. You want them all to end up at the same place. Not to be confused with them all resolving to a page, because they can all work by showing their own version of a page. You want each one to redirect back to a single variant.

If you enter “www.atxplumbingcompany.com” it should spit you back out at just at “atxplumbingcompany.com” or vice versa, whatever the version you want to use is. You’ll see in the image below, ATX’s site breaking when I try to use www as a sub domain, which is probably the worst case scenario. They need a redirect for this.

So ATX’s site doesn’t use HTTPS, and the www version doesn’t redirect anywhere. So that’s fairly bad. I’d consider this a “danger” item and something they should address ASAP.

#4. How does the site behave on mobile devices?

This is important because most sites today are indexed by Google Mobile First, which means your site is evaluated primarily on what the search engine sees, and a mobile viewport. Mobile usage is also massive, any given local business site is probably getting 50 to 70% of its traffic from mobile users. Ultimately, if the mobile experience of a site is really bad, or it’s just like a desktop site and people have to struggle to use it, that can hurt a website’s performance.

There are a few easy ways to check this:

  • You can plug the site into Google’s mobile friendly test. It’ll spit out a simple “yes” or “no” answer and give you a few extra details.
  • You can also just resize your browser window to its narrowest width.
    You can use your browser’s developer tools to resize your browser (this gets a little bit narrower, closer to what a phone looks like).
  • You can view the site on your mobile phone.

If Google says the page is mobile-friendly, and your visual inspection shows everything is readable and functional, you’re good to go. I give ATX an “all good” on this.

#5. Title tags

Title tags can be a pretty big ranking factor for any site. But I think the right title tag is basically mission critical for smaller websites trying to get local rankings (must read: how to build relevance in local search). They’re also one of the easiest tasks with a dramatic impact, especially if you back them up with your content. Title tags also generally determine how your pages look in the SERPs, when they’re shared on social media and instant messaging platforms, etc. Optimizing title tags is a task with what I’d call a good easiness-to-impact ratio.

First, I want to see if the title tag is updated at all, even if it just says “home” or the company name. If it is optimized to whatever degree, the next thing to look for is if it’s targeting the right phrases. If you have some SEO experience or you’re familiar with the industry you’re looking at, you can probably venture a pretty solid guess using your big brain. For less obvious situations than say, a plumber like in this situation, you can use Google Ads Keyword Planner, which is great for brainstorming keyword variations. It offers you the ability to filter by region right down to the city level. That’s really handy, because you can get region and city specific keyword volumes. It’s geared towards Google Ads, though, so the keywords it gives you may tend to have a transactional bias. I think that’s a good thing for local search most of the time, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Also note, you’ll also need a Google Ads account to use it. I do take the search volume and competition numbers that it generates with a grain of salt. They tend to be most meaningful relative to each other.

Other tools you can use include Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Google Search Console queries report, Google Analytics landing pages report and dozens and dozens of other keyword tools.

PRO TIP

The highest volume keywords aren’t always the best targets even for a homepage a service page. Sometimes you can get better results by finding lower volume lower competition phrases, because you can actually start getting traffic on them.

To measure the competition, you can quickly audit a few sites in the search results for a given phrase and get an idea of how hard they’ll be to beat.

Another thing to look for is like super long or spammy seeming title tags. Even though long title tags aren’t necessarily harmful and there are strategic uses for them, they can be a sign that someone is being spammy or inexperienced or even that the title tags are getting auto-generated by the CMS.

PRO TIP

Make title tags stand out a little by being more friendly, unique descriptive. compared to all the other blue links in the SERP. You still want to target your keywords, but you can add in a bit of warmth and charm to your snippets. I think this approach can lead to better click through rates and just generally brand better brand experience.

I think ATX’s home and service page titles could use a bit more love but there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. I give them an “all clear” and I’ll just make a note to them that it’s worth revisiting the title tags.

#6. Content

Content is a huge ranking factor and also conversion and brand experience factors. Content is hard to prescribe though and is more of an art than an exact science. Trying to define good content for SEO often devolves into word counts, keyword density, repetition, and your headings and copy. More recently, we’re looking at Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) using synonyms and different ways of saying things and so on.

But for me, especially as far as doing a quick audit goes, I think it really just boils down to having a good chunk of decent quality text that directly supports the target concept for a given page. In other words, I think you should make it substantial and relevant.

You want your content to support the target keywords or concepts for the pages on. You want it to be detailed and informative, and try to answer all the questions an average user might have about the service or product or whatever the page is talking about. It certainly doesn’t hurt to include the phrases and keywords that you’re targeting and their synonyms within the content.

Be careful to avoid cramming anything in just for SEO purposes. Write for the customer. Write about the topic at hand. By doing this, you almost always include the right phrases just by default, and the more you write, the more likely you’ll hit on those LSI terms and phrases too.

It’s also nice to try and link to your other pages as well as relevant external pages whenever it makes sense. Internal links are definitely valuable. I think the external ones can help a page look more useful and natural, among other things.

I think a hefty amount of content (assuming it hits the right notes) helps a page rank. I was eye-rolling minimum word counts earlier but I don’t know any other way to quantify it. I’d say shoot for like 800 words on an important page. That’s just a shot in the dark. I just want to shoot for like a nice big chunk of meat for the SEO that search engines can chew on basically, you can distribute that between headings, paragraphs, blurbs, lists on any other kinds of formats to avoid making a huge walls of text., which isn’t user friendly or pretty.

For the bonus round, I really like including dynamic content feeds on the homepage whenever it’s possible. This could be your latest blog posts, product inventory, recent jobs you’ve completed, and so on. As long as the content is semi-regularly updated, it means you have a semi-regularly updated homepage too. Often, home pages get neglected and are static for a long time. Dynamic content feeds show Google that the site and its content are actively maintained and cared for which I think is a good thing.

So AFX’s content is decent, it’s well-written (even if it reads a bit SEO for my taste) but the homepage falls a bit below that 800 word mark, and the way it’s laid out doesn’t really give me an informational vibe. It’s all very salesy. Nothing terribly wrong with it, I just suggest they expand on it. The service pages I spot checked are acceptable too, but definitely not enough material on them (a couple 100 words or so).

#7. Links

Why should we look at links? Assuming the relevance is established by the title tag and the page content, and assuming there’s no other major technical impediment, I’d say backlinks are the single most powerful driver of rankings in the universe.

Use a backlink checker tool to evaluate this.

Depending on where the site I’m auditing is sitting in the rankings, I’ll choose a couple sites to compare its backlink profile against. If my target site is on page two, which it is, then I might take a look at the number one ranking site and then the bottom site ranking on the first page results. That’ll basically tell me the threshold for breaking onto the front page and then the threshold for unseating the top spot.

Plug those domains into your backlink checker tool and it will give you some sort of summary metric, such as page authority and domain authority for Moz, or URL rank and domain rank for Ahrefs. (Side note: I think the page level metrics usually matter more than the domain metrics for a page’s ranking ability.) You also might want to compare the number of backlinks and the number of referring domains. A lot of the time, tons of links will come from a single domain because it’s in a sidebar, or footer, etc. 5,000 links from the same site is obviously a lot different than a link from 5,000 different sites.

It’s also worth looking at the individual sites that are linking. Those summary metrics try to factor in quality, trust, relevance, volume, etc. into their algorithms, but none of them are completely reliable. It might be worth taking a look for yourself. You should be asking, “Are a large portion of these links coming from directories?” This happens a lot with local businesses. Do you see a lot of low-quality sites or sites that aren’t relevant to the target site or lots of sites that are in a different language? Sometimes these can be signs of some sort of shady link building that they did in the past.

Just because a link tool scores one site higher than another, doesn’t necessarily mean it will rank better. Google just has way more sophisticated algorithms and way more data to work with. And of course, there are other factors that backlinks determine the rankings to.

In ATX’s case, their competitor Daniels Austin outranks another competitor Radiant Plumbing on a search for plumbing company. Even though the latter has more links and a higher score, Daniels Austin actually uses the exact phrase plumbing company in their homepage copy and Radiant Plumbing doesn’t. So, in spite of having maybe a little bit better of a link situation (according to Ahrefs anyway) a page’s content relevance can still win out. When there’s a huge gap though, the results are usually a lot more predictable, which explains why ATX is quite a ways behind these other two sites in the results. Their backlink metrics are considerably lower. ATX has a very low UR and DR due to only having 28 referring domains which are all either local directories like Yellow Pages or link building junk like Austinplumbingcompany.blogspot.com. That sounds generally pretty harmless, but they need to outweigh it with some quality links in order to get it working in their favor. I would indicate to them that this is fairly urgent area for them to work on, it’s probably the biggest thing holding them back right now.

Communicating the Audit Results

When I’m done running through the checklist, I’ll have a list of “heads up” and “danger” items that I’ll communicate to the business owner or project stakeholders. In a more formal setting, I’ll actually turn the results of this audit into a document with a section for each area and recommendations for how to fix it.

What’s covered in the audit checklist?
The audit checklist covers 90% or more of the things that would be be preventing or helping a website to rank. The full checklist includes some off-site stuff like reviews and GMB which also factor in ranking. Even if you look at the whole checklist and just rip through it quickly, you’ll find what’s working and what’s not.



Expert Local SEO Predictions for 2021


Now that 2020 is well and truly behind us, we can begin looking forward to bigger, better things. That’s right folks, the time is once again upon us to bring out our BrightLocal crystal ball and enlist some of the local search community’s most well-loved experts to help us with some local SEO predictions for the coming year. 

But, before we get started thinking about what’s to come for 2021, how did our experts fare with what they predicted in 2020?

Reflecting on 2020’s Local SEO Predictions

A lot happened in 2020, but how many of our experts’ local SEO predictions came true? 

Unfortunately, a lot of our pros had hoped 2020 would see a reduction in spam, but with the introduction of new Covid-19 support, resources, and features, plus limited Google My Business support, it seems Google had other things besides spam-fighting to keep them busy…

Ben Fisher

My prediction for 2020 was right — Google figured it out and eliminated spam! Just kidding — I really said that “I think spam will increase,” and it did. The legal space, garage door, and insurance space, to name a few, are still littered with spam.

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

Tim Capper

I predicted that spam would get worse for 2020 and, boy, was I right.

 

Tim Capper (Local SEO Consultant, Online Ownership

We may not have seen the back of spam, but some of our experts did successfully predict some pretty major GMB news.

Andrew Optimisey

Dan Foland

Last year my prediction was that Google was going to put more effort into monetizing GMB and local search. My prediction came true with the rollout of Local Service Ads (LSAs) for professional service industries. Google had been testing LSAs prior to the rollout for quite some time and decided to finally roll it out nationally.

Dan Foland (SEO Director, Postali)

Google My Business

Towards the end of the year, Whitespark’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey showed just how important having an active and optimized GMB profile really is. With GMB being voted the number one local search ranking factor, it’s no surprise that it was top of the list when it came to our experts’ local search predictions…

Amy Toman

The prominence of GMB listings increased in 2020, primarily during the lockdowns. Businesses used GMB to get the word out as much as possible, especially when people couldn’t get to their physical locations. They remembered how to log in, and found out how to correct misinformation. With this stark reminder, I’m hoping businesses continue their interactions with their listings to keep control of their information.

Amy Toman (SEO Analyst, Digital Law Marketing)

Claire Carlile

Backed up by what many local search experts confirmed in the 2020 Local SEO Ranking Factors survey, thorough optimization of your GMB profile will continue to be key for local pack rankings in 2021. 

I’ll be continuing to take advantage of the full gamut of features in GMB, including posts and products, and making sure that the business profile of my SMB clients look totally kick-ass and that they encourage engagement and actions. Active engagement on the business’s part will be key — monitoring user-generated content like Q&A, images, and reviews needs to be a timetabled activity. Small businesses will become more aware of how their brand displays in the SERP and how third party and UGC play a role in that. Under-utilized features like messaging, and little known features like the ‘new follower offer’, will start to gain momentum as Google pushes more interactive and social features into Google Maps.

A vibrant and fully optimized GMB profile will become table stakes in 2021 as more businesses start to explore features that were lesser-known to them — so the importance of testing and measuring what works and doesn’t work for your business in terms of GMB content will be more important than ever.

Claire Carlile (Digital Marketing Consultant, Claire Carlile Marketing)

Ben Fisher

GMB will remain at the top of the list of things you need for local search, as nearly all local intent searches return GMB profiles.

I believe there are also some major changes coming to how service-area businesses are handled from a discoverability standpoint, and the guidelines will be made more clear.

I think we will see a rise in suspensions as GMB continues to narrow its guidelines and increases the crackdown on “bad actors.”

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

Krystal Taing

For 2020, I predicted a rise in the importance of user-generated content and engagement. We did see elements of this such as the impact of reviews on local ranking. As we look to 2021, I see the trends of local search leaning towards information and convenience. Consumers want to know everything about a product or service prior to visiting a store or making a phone call. Search engines will continue to build tools to support this and brands and search marketers are going to enable this.

The shift we saw in consumer behavior in 2020 with features like live inventory, multiple ordering and delivery methods, and virtual services, will mature into 2021. These won’t be a competitive play, but a consumer expectation.

For Google My Business specifically, I imagine they will continue to explore ways to bridge the gap with e-commerce as well as bring more tools to support virtual services. 

Krystal Taing  (Solutions & Strategic Partnerships, Uberall)

Blake Denman

With posts starting to show in the ‘Explore’ tab, we should see more emphasis on full-funnel content marketing in posts.

Getting in front of potential customers towards the top of the funnel will help get them familiar with a brand and, thanks to personalization, help bottom of the funnel queries rank higher when it matters.

Google will monetize Google My Business more. The slow rollout of the Google Guaranteed Program will accelerate and let businesses get their own Google Guaranteed badge without participating in LSAs.

Blake Denman (Founder, RicketyRoo)

I think Google will continue to make changes to the Google My Business guidelines in order to accommodate different business models —Telehealth is a great example. Currently, the guidelines say you need to make in-person contact with customers to qualify for a listing. Google has opened this rule up during the pandemic to accommodate this new health model.

So the question is whether or not this will continue into the future once the pandemic is over. I think it will. I also think we will see more e-commerce style local business models being accommodated in the GMB model.

Colan Nielsen (VP of Local Search, Sterling Sky)

Jason Brown

I see a dramatic shift coming in Google ranks in GMB. There will no longer be an emphasis on the GMB title. Google will de-emphasize it in an effort to curtail the lead generation spam and keyword stuffing. Google will instead use other, more important signals, such as the age of the GMB listing, the website, and other best practices. Google posts will continue to be a non-ranking factor just like geo-tagging photos.

Jason Brown (Founder, Review Fraud)

Monetized Google My Business

Last year, one of our pros (hats off, Andrew!) correctly predicted that we might begin to see the long-standing GMB pay-to-play rumors come to fruition. As GMB’s $50/month upgraded listings test took the local SEO community by storm, is this something we can expect to see more from in the new year?

The Google badge for Google My Business pages is starting to appear in certain categories and I predict as businesses start to pay the monthly fee additional categories will open up. As hopeful as we were last year with spam decreasing, I hope with the monthly fee that this will help dilute the Google My Business guideline violators and allow the rule-following businesses to take the lead. 

Crystal Horton (Digital Account Manager, Accelerate Marketing)

Niki Mosier

My thoughts for 2021 are that we will definitely see Google continue to roll out features for GMB. This year we saw Google pivot pretty quickly with Covid-19 related features like the Covid post type and expanded attributes for delivery and pickup. We also saw the small rollout of the $50 Google Guarantee program which I wouldn’t be surprised to see expanded in the coming months. Overall, as proximity search gets even more narrow, focusing on sending all the right signals with location-specific content will be as important as ever.

Niki Mosier (Head of SEO, Two Octobers)

Andy Simpson

Now Local Search Ads (LSAs) have finally rolled out, 2021 will see Google My Business promote the upgraded business profile. For $50/month GMB will add the Google guaranteed badge (green icon) to your listing and back services your business provides with the Google Guarantee. How this will affect GMB rankings, upgraded vs standard, we shall have to wait and see but one thing it might do is help reduce the amount of GMB spam — upgraded listings could force spam to the bottom and out of the 3-pack.

Andy Simpson (Senior SEO Specialist, Digital Law Marketing)

Dan Foland

In 2021, I predict that Google is going to continue monetizing GMB and local search. For example, in 2019 Google sent out a survey to GMB users asking if (and how much) users would pay for certain “premium” features. Google is currently testing a paid model offering a Google Guaranteed badge on business profiles, among other features. I expect that Google will roll this out or something similar in 2021 while they continue monetizing local search.

Dan Foland (SEO Director, Postali)

Local Services Ads

2020 brought with a lot of changes to Google My Business, but even more prominent were Local Services Ads, which took the spotlight. There were plenty of changes to the popular paid option, but what more can we expect from it in the coming year?

I would predict that next year Google will make an aggressive push to get Local Service Ads expanded to many other verticals.  I expect it to hit the insurance industry, automotive industry, and the healthcare industry next. I think these ads can potentially lower the volume of clicks that we see for the local pack as they continue to look and operate a lot like organic listings. 

Joy Hawkins (Owner, Sterling Sky)

Ben Fisher

Google will continue to invest in Local Services Ads and continue to expand the program. I predict that the quality of LSA leads will also go down as more merchants get involved and spam the program. 

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

carrie hill

Right now we’re seeing reviews on Local Services Ads come through separately from reviews on a business’s GMB listing. They eventually seem to merge and most (if not all) reviews are shown on the LSA page, but the LSA reviews don’t always come through to the GMB listing reviews.

My prediction is Google is going to figure out how to merge these into one system, but label the reviews that come in as part of the Local Services Ads as “verified” in some way — because the lead came through the LSAs and is “Screened” or “Verified”.  The current system is a bit messy, doesn’t always connect, and freaks clients out when their LSA profiles show zero reviews for their business, while their GMB listing shows X number of reviews for that business.  When will it happen? I have no idea, but I think something significant will happen with this system sometime in 2021!

Carrie Hill (Local Search Analyst & Community Manager, Sterling Sky)

Greg-Gifford

I think Google will continue to try to monetize local, especially with the shift in consumer behavior due to the pandemic. I think there will be an expansion of LSAs (or some similar form of ad), and expansion of a “Google trusted” type of program, and potentially a paid inclusion of products in GMB (we’re already seeing extensive tests of this in automotive). GMB will always be free, but the really cool stuff that helps you stand out will likely be more of a pay-for-play situation.

Greg Gifford (VP of Search, SearchLab)

Zero-click Search

What felt like a big phenomenon last year doesn’t seem to be quite so high on our experts’ radars this year. That said, with the introduction of GMB’s direct edit, can we expect more emphasis to be placed on in-SERP actions than ever before?

Ben Fisher

Zero Click search will be the focus of 2021. Additionally, to keep you on search even longer, I think the direct edit experience’s ongoing improvement will continue.

Ben Fisher (VP of Marketing, Steady Demand)

Maps Spam

What would a local SEO piece be without at least some talk of spam? Well, we’ve got plenty for you here. Will it improve or could it possibly get worse? Our pros chime in to talk all things #StopCrapontheMap.

Gyi Tsakalakis

Like many of us predicted last year, in 2021 I predict that spam will continue to be a massive problem in local search, particularly with respect to Google My Business. In fact, as I sit here today on December 7, 2020, all three local pack listings for “car accident lawyer,” contain keyword-stuffed business names.

Furthermore, contrary to statements from Google’s PR team, at least two of the traditional localized organic listings contain rich review snippets generated from structured data from self-serving reviews on the firms’ pages. I predict that if you continue to blindly follow the advice of Google’s PR team you will remain at a competitive disadvantage in local search.

Gyi Tsakalakis (Founder, AttorneySync)

Tim Capper

Lead gen spam is out of control even reaching the UK and AUS with reporting and takedown being exceptionally poor. I will throw the spam team a crumb and say that Covid played a small part in the slow response to the increase in spam. API loopholes are still being exploited and no ‘bad’ address databases outside of the US on the cards.

With the benefit of some Product Expert insight, I am more optimistic for 2021 with GMB tackling spam, especially SAB spam. Unfortunately don’t get your hopes up outside of the US just yet. LSA has launched in the UK but we still have not seen any live listings. Regardless, get your applicable clients signed up now ready for rollout.

Tim Capper (Local SEO Consultant, Online Ownership) 

I predict that Google will make a significant change in its effort to combat maps spam. This year we saw an increase in suspensions of both legit and spam GMBs. I think we will continue to see Google turn this dial up from time to time in order to continue the fight. But I also think Google will do something new to combat the problem. Dial down the ranking weight attributed to the business name? Perhaps. A guy can dream, right?

Colan Nielsen (VP of Local Search, Sterling Sky)

Andrew Cock-Starkey Optimsey

I’m not sure if it’s just the year we’ve had in 2020 addling my brain or just making me outrageously optimistic but… I think a reckoning is coming. A reckoning for Google Maps spammers.

We’ve all seen #StopCrapOnTheMap and equal parts hilarious and horrifying examples that make it onto maps. This is not a good look for Google, especially when some of those locations are ‘drug rehab’ centers and the like… when in fact they’re not and are (at best) lead gen fronts.

Some of the examples are outrageous and egregious and there’s a growing swell of people getting upset by it, not least the ‘free labor’ Google gets to fight their spam problem in the shape of local SEO folks and their Product Experts.

Google has the capability and the technology to make big strides in improving this and at a stroke could help struggling small business owners, score political points (which given the number of court and anti-trust cases coming their way would help!), and appease local SEOs and Product Experts. Win-win, right?

Or maybe optimism has gotten the better of Optimisey this year…

Andrew Cock-Starkey (Founder, Optimisey)

Dan Foland

In 2021, GMB spam is going to continue to be a problem. My hope is that Google pays more attention and dedicates more resources to cleaning up spam in GMB, but I’m not sure that it’s a top priority for them.

Dan Foland (SEO Director, Postali)

Online Reviews

As the second most important local search ranking factor, it’s no surprise that reviews should remain front of mind throughout 2021. Our experts discuss how reviews might gain even more prominence in the coming year.

Amanda Jordan

I predict for 2021, reputation management will continue to be a huge factor for local performance. In addition to reviews continuing to be a ranking factor, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google made review responses a much bigger deal. This may include the number of review responses becoming a rank factor in itself or more review management options within the GMB platform. I also expect to see more attributes to be added for medical and retail business categories.

Amanda Jordan (Director of Local Search, Locomotive Agency)

Shane Barker

Reviews will become a critical local search ranking parameter. So, it’s a good time to optimize your GMB listing, perhaps by adding a messaging feature to it. You can also focus on other tier 1 directories and niche-specific directories. If you really want to step up your review game, you can create standardized review responding templates or use review management tools. It is also wise to read between-the-lines of reviews to gain deeper customer insights.

Shane Barker (Cofounder, Attrock)

Links and Link Building

Link building has stood the test of time when it comes to helping businesses rank in search results, but how can building relevant links help local businesses in 2021?

Blake Denman

Links will still be important but agencies and SMBs are going to shift more and more towards pure local links rather than relying on third-party metrics to determine the value of a link. Entity building, entity leeching, entity optimization, entity sculpting, whatever you want to call it will start becoming more popular at the local level.

Blake Denman (Founder, RicketyRoo)

Conclusion

When it comes to local, things can change pretty quickly. What do you think of our experts’ local SEO and Google predictions? Can we expect to see paid-for GMB profiles come to life? Will review responses gain even more importance as a ranking factor? And the big question: will Google finally put a stop to crap on the map?! (No shade Google, we know you’re working on it!)

Whether you agree or not, we want to hear your own search predictions for the coming year! Share your 2021 local SEO prediction with us in the comments below.

Stephanie Newton

Stephanie is responsible for managing BrightLocal’s community outreach and engagement, as well as producing and managing content to help inform and educate the local SEO community.



LocalMailbag: What Are the Critical Elements of a High Converting Local Contact Us Page?


Many businesses treat their contact page as just a place to put a plain old contact form or address, but it needs to be so much more than that! If you give this humble page the attention it deserves, the pay off can be extremely rewarding for your business, winning you more customers and bringing in high quality leads on a regular basis.

Here are the absolute must-haves for a winning contact page that actually converts site visitors into paying customers.

  1. Business contact information
  2. Trust factors and social proof
  3. Strong location-specific content
  4. On-page optimization

Including core business information also helps reinforce trust and build relevance in both Google and Bing, because it signals to these search engines that your business is legitimate and credible. 

Include a simple contact form with a call-to-action (use the same CTA throughout your page), that connects to your main/customer service inbox, and don’t forget to set up your form conversion tracking. Avoid spam by including ReCAPTCHA, using a plugin, double opt-in form, and formatting your email address so bots can’t read it, like this: hello (at) domain (dot) com.

Keep in mind that customers may prefer different methods of contact to reach out to you. Make it easy for people to contact you how they want by offering both your phone number and contact form. 

Incorporate Trust Factors & Social Proof

Consumers are smart and savvy. They want to know what will happen on the other side of handing over their email, entering their credit card information or picking up the phone! 

Establish Clear Expectations
Be clear about what a customer can expect when they reach out to you:

  • How long are response times? 24 hours? 2 business days?
  • Let visitors know what the next steps are and what to expect from your team.
  • Share any extra details about your team, your location, anything that sets you apart from your competition.

Showcase Your Accomplishments & Associations
Include any business associations or local chamber of commerce you’re a part of, awards your business has received, or any mentions in the press, and be sure to link to the relevant articles or websites. If you’ve been featured and mentioned a lot in the press, dedicate an entire section to this. 

Show off your experience and credentials:

  • Industry associations you’re a member of, both locally and nationally
  • Local chamber or commerce groups
  • Professional groups and associations
  • Meetup groups
  • Neighbourhood associations 
  • Better Business Bureau rating

Incorporate Reviews & Testimonials
Embed reviews from other sites and include testimonials on your contact page to build trust. If possible, include your customer’s name, city name, a photo, and link to their website or the directly to the 3rd-party review site. Be sure to include your aggregate review rating and total reviews and remember that customers don’t expect your business to be a perfect 5 stars. The likelihood of purchase peaks at a star rating of 4 – 4.7, then decreases as the rating gets closer to 5 stars. 

Social proof is a powerful way to show off the experience of other customers, and why that website visitor should choose your business. Not only can your customer reviews help you establish trust and assist with conversions, including reviews adds unique content that is local and relevant on the page, which is a win-win!

Include Location Specific Content

Create content that references local information, explains exactly what your business does, where it is located, and why prospects should choose you. 

Here are some ideas for local content:

  • Share information and photos of your team.
  • Share images and photos of your business in action and your location.
  • Tell visitors about the customers you serve and your areas of expertise, expand on your unique selling proposition.
  • If you’re located in a popular neighbourhood or area, mention that in your content.
  • Does your business offer any guarantees or have a price match policy? 
  • Add details and information on any upcoming events, volunteer efforts, or partnerships that make sense to highlight.
  • Include a few of your most frequently asked questions (FAQs). You can even use this section to answer common objections to your business as another selling opportunity!
  • List the areas you serve, if your business provides services outside of your location or specific local area, include where else you provide your services. 

On-Page Optimization

Optimized Title Tags

Title tags are critical to your ability to rank locally for your targeted terms. We recommend you use the following format:

Top Keywords + City | Your Business Name | List of local neighborhoods/localities
+ Keyword

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to keep your title tags under 60 characters. While searchers will not be able to read the text beyond the suggested desktop character limit of about 60, this text has been shown to still affect your ranking. Joel Headley of Patient Pop has done extensive research on this and recommends appending title tags with localities (the names of neighbourhoods and smaller regions in your area) to help with ranking.

“This is not expanding your search radius that’s not what we’re trying to do here, what we’re trying to do is make your page more relevant for the search term that already exists by using more content that’s already in this area that you should be ranking for.”  Joel Headley (Local Search Summit 2020)

Here’s a quick and easy way to identify localities when you don’t have access to Google’s API:

  1. Based on your business location, search your Zip/Postal code in Google Maps. 
  2. Search the area to identify surrounding localities. In Maps, zoom out to identify the larger localities and neighbourhoods. 
  3. Add the localities to your title tag (your updated title tag will include new and duplicate localities).

Meta Description
Include a quick description that covers the most important information on your contact page, the best way to contact your business and a short summary of your business. Write this for your customers. Meta descriptions are not keyword-sensitive so use this to be as informative and helpful as possible.

Internal Links
Make sure you are linking to other pages on your website whenever possible. This helps search engines understand the relevance, value, and importance of other pages on your website.

External Links
Linking externally to another website won’t necessarily help your ranking, but it helps Google understand the relationship between your business and the other website. For example: if you’re a construction company, linking to an informative page from your city’s website on local regulations.

Include a clear call-to-action button
If you’re going to do all this work to make your contact page awesome, don’t forget that the goal is to convert visitors to customers! This means you’ll need to have thoughtfully placed calls-to-action throughout the page all driving the same conversion goal: connecting with your business. If using buttons, catch visitors’ attention with a bright, contrasting color to draw the eye and a bold font that’s easy to read on all devices. 

Embed your Google My Business Map
Embed your Google My Business listing’s map directly onto the page so people can see your star ratings, location on the map, and can click for directions. This further solidifies to Google that your website and GMB profile are connected and builds trust for website visitors. For more information on how to do this, see this link.

Strengthen Your Contact Page With Elements That Convert

When creating or modifying your contact page, your goals should be to:

  • make it easy to contact you, 
  • ease any concerns a visitor might have, and 
  • sell them on your business! 

You should do all of these things while following SEO best practices will help set your business up for local ranking success. 

Have a Local Question? Send it Our Way

That’s it for this edition of Whitespark’s Local Mailbag, but if you have a local search question that you need help answering, leave it in the comments or email our team.



The Year in Local Search – 2020


2020 has nearly come to an end (cue sighs of relief!) 

While this year presented many challenges, especially for local businesses, it also created the opportunity for triumph. Google My Business introduced more new features than ever, and we saw the good side of many organizations that strived to provide extra resources and relief to those in need.

Although we may all be glad to see the back of what’s been a pretty hectic year, we’d be remiss not to look back on all the exciting things that have taken place. For us, it’s been a year filled with GMB news, updates, and changes, and we even had some laughs along the way too, (Four Season Total Landscaping anyone?)

So, before we say “so long” to 2020 for good, we invite you to join us in reflecting upon the year in local search.

What would a year in review be without GIFs? Keep your eyes peeled throughout and let us know how many TV shows or films you recognized in the comments below!

January

January Jones GIF

Suffice to say, the year started out strongly, if not a little stressfully (when isn’t that the case for local SEOs?) We saw the introduction of new features in Apple Maps, as one of Google Maps’ biggest rivals strived to achieve feature parity through the introduction of “Collections”, real-time transit information, and indoor maps.

Arguably, what shook the local SEO community more though, was news of a featured snippets shakeup

Originally spotted by Mark Barrera, it was later announced by Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan that sites ranking in a featured snippet position would no longer be able to rank with that same URL on the same page of SERPs. 

Sure, this is old news now (literally), but at the time it shook the local SEO community and raised a whole host of questions, such as “are featured snippets worth getting?

Here’s what local SEO Twitter had to say at the time:

February

In the month of Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, and of course, National Ukulele Day (yep, it’s a thing apparently!) local SEO news was uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps Google was recovering from the unprecedented excitement that the featured snippets shakeup caused?

What we did notice, however, was a big change in the local SERP display for users in Europe

On February 21st, what’s known as the “find results carousel” was spotted across European SERPs. This new feature saw third-party directories such as Yelp, Yell, and Tripadvisor appear front and center in local search results, like so: 

Dentists in Brighton EU SERP

At the time, there was some speculation that this update might have been Google’s response to the EU’s hefty antitrust fine

So far, this SERP feature has stayed firmly in Europe, but one BrightLocal reader did suggest they’d like to see it rolled out elsewhere:

It would be nice if they released this everywhere. A lot of people choose not to use directories, yet they take up a large portion of the SERPs. This way would allow them to be separated and other, more useful, websites to populate those positions.

Sarah, BrightLocal Reader (New Local SERP Display Puts Directories Front and Center)

March

As Spring rolled around, so too did the first effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on local businesses.

While the month got off to a positive start with the launch of our very own Local Search Industry Survey, we were soon brought down to earth as Google announced the suspension of many of its most popular features.

In a post published on Friday, March 20th, Google announced that it was temporarily disabling and limiting some key features in Google My Business.

During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services. 

Google

Among the features suspended were: new reviews, review responses, Q&A, adding/claiming/verifying listings, and editing business information.

At first, it’s safe to say that this came as a huge blow to local businesses, many of which were relying on new reviews to help tide them over and keep them front of mind in hopes that they’d be a top choice to customers when they reopened. (See the #5starchallenge below…)

Additionally, GMB Product Expert Jason Brown noted at the time that Google Posts were also “failing”, due to being disabled. 

That said, GMB by no means left us high and dry. While some features were suspended, new ones were introduced, such as ‘mark this business as temporarily closed’.

April

Sadly, we’re now firmly into the Covid-19 territory of the year. As the impact of March’s news and local business closures worldwide continued to be felt, we reached out to our customers to see how they had been impacted.

We don’t need to tell you, but at this point, the landscape was looking pretty bleak. 

How local businesses are handling covid-19

Additionally, local marketers were now feeling the effects of nationwide business closures, with many of our respondents reporting losing clients and revenue.

The impact of Covid-19 on local marketers

Despite these dark times, our poll respondents remained optimistic and full of insightful tips to help each other out. Just take a look at some of the responses we received:

In down markets the most successful companies do not stop marketing, they push it. When everyone else is cutting back, it’s the perfect opportunity to move forward.

We recommend keeping calm, kind, and in contact. The worst thing that could be done is panic. Everyone is scared and the future is murky at best, but if we stand strong and craft messages of acknowledgment and hope, then the customers and clients alike will bounce back from this time of uncertainty stronger and more profitable than ever.

Fortunately, things didn’t stay this way for too long. But it’s important to look back and see just how far we’ve all come despite the obstacles thrown our way. 

Here’s to the resilience that local businesses and marketers alike have shown this year!

May

In the month that we saw Google reviews begin to return (hooray!) Google My Business rolled out three new attributes for local businesses to take advantage of.

Potentially another way to help local businesses bounce back amid difficult times, the attributes allowed local businesses to highlight how they were adapting and continuing to provide services with stay-at-home orders (and the like) in place.

As of May, businesses – namely restaurants – were able to specify whether or not they provided curbside pickup, no contact delivery, or dine-in. 

Sure, this may not have been the most exciting update of the year, but it provided a great deal of help to keep consumers informed and help to keep businesses in service!

Plus, we were kept busy with news of the second broad core algorithm update of the year and high flux caused by a bug with Google.

June

As June rolled around, along came more features provided by Google to help local businesses in a continually challenging time.

In an attempt to help businesses speed up their recovery from the impact of Covid-19, several new features and support measures were introduced, including: 

  • Smart campaigners getting free promoted pins in Google Maps
  • ‘Grow My Store’ report providing tips to help local businesses improve visibility
  • New details on Google’s shopping tab
  • International Small Business Week

Since Google’s announcement in June, there hasn’t been a huge amount of chatter about these items.

That said, this change definitely did signify the start of Google’s big push in getting consumers to shop local (see: the ‘Shop Local’ adverts airing in the UK right now). 

July

july by GIF CALENDAR

Remember when local SEO expert and contributor Andrew Cock-Starkey predicted that Google My Business would introduce paid aspects in 2020? It may have seemed less likely to some at the time, but in July of this year we saw a pretty controversial test taking place on GMB profiles.

On July 22nd, GMB Product Expert Tom Waddington spotted that GMB was offering the opportunity to upgrade your listing for $50 per month and get a coveted Google Guaranteed badge.

In what was arguably the biggest news of the year thus far, this news did not come as a welcome surprise to many…

In fact, the controversial test sparked concern that this potential paid option would lead to businesses not worthy of ranking simply “buying” their way into the top slot.

Meanwhile, some thought that this option could give Google too much power:

That said, the reaction wasn’t all bad. This change did spark some thought that paid-for Google Guarantee profiles could help to reduce spam somewhat, which I’m sure we’d all agree would be welcome.

August

After lots (and lots, and lots…) of Covid-19 related-local SEO news, August finally brought with it some good old fashioned Google My Business news in the form of GMB’s direct edit.

Interestingly though, this feature wasn’t entirely new.

In 2017, Google announced that users would have the ability to edit their GMB listing without leaving search. In August 2020, we simply saw an update to this existing functionality.

So now, without needing to login to the Google My Business site, GMB owners can do the following directly from search results:

  1. Update profile information
  2. Create posts
  3. Reply to reviews
  4. Add photos

While a version of this feature had existed for a while, news of the Direct Edit experience did seem to raise some concerns, such as “does the Direct Edit experience pose a threat to agencies?”

It seemed that some feared this could lead to clients trying to make edits to their listing more frequently, as well as blurring the agency/client relationship line.

Fortunately, any concerns were soon put to rest and seemed to blow over pretty quickly.

September

September was yet another filled month for local SEO news, with the highly anticipated Local Search Ranking Factors survey being released by Whitespark. We also witnessed many changes to the fast-evolving Local Services Ads by Google.

Google’s Local Services Ads have been around for a while now, and they continue to be a popular choice for local businesses to gain more paid exposure in SERPs.

And if 2020 showed us anything, it’s that LSAs are showing no signs of slowing down. During September we saw two major changes to Google feature…

Firstly, bidding was introduced to a select few beta testers. While LSAs had previously been available at flat sums — making them an affordable and accessible option to many SMBs — this news meant that LSAs became even more competitive.

It’s safe to say that this news wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the local SEO community, who often found LSAs to be an affordable, low-maintenance way to help local businesses gain visibility.

By some, the move to auction-based bidding seemed like Google prioritizing profit over user experience:

Soon after, LSAs were finally rolled out across Europe. Previously, the ad option had only been available to the US but as of September 2020 LSAs are now available to 10 countries throughout Europe: Germany, UK, France, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain. 

In 2020, it’s clear that Google’s been placing even more emphasis on LSAs, so keep your eyes peeled for yet more changes in 2021.

October

In the spookiest month of the year, yet more exciting GMB news emerged.

Spotted by Sterling Sky’s Colan Nielsen, Google began beta testing ‘Preview Call History’ in the GMB dashboard.

In the past year, call tracking has become even more popular and encouraged, with services like CallRail fast gaining popularity.

And, although call tracking is important, it’s definitely a function that has caused some confusion in the past (Where does the call tracking go? Does it interfere with NAP? And so on.)

So, the introduction of native call tracking (even if it does have limited reach) could be very much welcome. 

Regardless, it seems like this is very much early doors right now, but watch out for call history previews next year.

November

As if 2020 hadn’t been stressful enough, in November we had elections, holidays, and lots and lots of local ranking fluctuation.

While November might have been a pretty quiet month for local SEO, there was one local business that took center stage, occupying headlines globally…

Enter: Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The unsuspecting gardening firm based in Philadelphia made headlines when it was chosen to host a press conference by Donald Trump and his team on November 7th. 

Naturally, that’s not where the press conference was supposed to be hosted – but somewhere along the line, it had gotten mixed up for the Four Seasons premier hotel chain.

What might have begun as an awkward scheduling snafu was an absolute success story for this small business. 

Sure, it might have resulted in some negative GMB reviews (which have since been dealt with) but the press that Four Seasons Total Landscaping received was priceless.

And, as we know, press pays! According to Business Insider, the small gardening firm has made a whopping $1.3 million in merch sales alone.

In what’s been a testing year, this piece of lighthearted news among tense times can surely be seen as a triumph for SMBs.

December

With the holiday season upon us and the end of year in sight (cue more sighs of relief) you’d think that local SEO news would take a day off and give us a rest, but alas!

Always trying to keep us on our toes, Google rolled out its third and final broad core algorithm update of the year on December 3rd, leading to rankings flux and all-around stress from the local SEO community.

Although the dust hasn’t quite settled yet, we can expect that (as always) there will be winners and losers from this algorithm update.

In the meantime, all we can do is hold on to our hats and not make any drastic decisions before we know what’s changed (however tempted we may be!)

Here’s to 2021!

So, among everything else, it’s been yet another busy year for local SEO. But importantly, it’s heartening to know that in testing times the local SEO community, agencies and SMBs alike, are able to overcome the hurdles thrown their way.

From all of us at BrightLocal, we sincerely hope that 2021 brings with it a brighter, better year for local businesses and marketers. No matter what, we’ll be here bringing you the latest news, guides, and support through it all. 

What was your favorite news item of the year? Let us know in the comments below!

P.S. Want to test your local SEO news know-how from each month? Check out our Local Quizness series – the ultimate challenge for local SEO news lovers.

Stephanie Newton

Stephanie is responsible for managing BrightLocal’s community outreach and engagement, as well as producing and managing content to help inform and educate the local SEO community.



The 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey Analysis


Back in September I presented the results of the 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors at Whitespark’s inaugural Local Search Summit, and today, finally, I am pleased to release the written analysis and full survey results. Sorry for the long delay!

It has been a couple of years since I published the last Local Search Ranking Factors Survey results, and much has changed since then. Google continues to add new features to GMB, tactics and strategies are shifting, and Google is getting serious about monetizing local.

Before I dive into my analysis, here’s the iconic pie chart that you’ve all been waiting for. This is how the local search experts think local pack/finder rankings are weighted in 2020:

Side note: Particularly observant readers may have noticed that social signals have been removed from the survey. They were always a very minor slice of the pie, and most local search experts agree that they don’t have any impact on local search. We just don’t think Google cares about how many followers or likes you have on Facebook, Twitter, Etc. That’s not to say that there isn’t great value in investing in a social media marketing strategy, it’s just that we don’t think social signals directly impact your local rankings.

I will summarize some of the main takeaways below, but if you’re eager to get into the full survey results, you can dive into the full resource here.

What is the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey?

For the uninitiated, here’s a primer:

The Local Search Ranking Factors is an annual survey that was first started by David Mihm back in 2008, and I have been running it since 2017. We survey the top experts in local search on a number of different questions to determine what is driving local rankings for them. These are the people that are doing local SEO day in and day out and are researching and testing what works to improve rankings, and what doesn’t work.

Your 2020 Local Search Experts:

The 2020 Survey Questions

Here are the questions I asked the local search experts this year:

SECTION 1A: THEMATIC PACK/FINDER SIGNALS
For Local/Pack rankings, to what extent do each of the following thematic areas of local search contribute to rankings at Google?

SECTION 1B: THEMATIC LOCAL ORGANIC SIGNALS
For Local Organic rankings, to what extent do each of the following areas of local search contribute to rankings at Google?

SECTION 2A: LOCAL PACK/FINDER
Which individual factors do you think have the biggest impact on Local Pack/Finder rankings? 

SECTION 2B: LOCAL ORGANIC
Which individual factors do you think have the biggest impact on Local Organic rankings? 

SECTION 3A: FOCUSING ON MORE
For local pack results, what factors have you been focusing on MORE in the past year?

SECTION 3B: FOCUSING ON LESS
For local pack results, what factors have you been focusing on LESS in the past year?

SECTION 4: NOT-RANKING FACTORS (MYTH-BUSTING)
Which individual factors do you think absolutely do NOT impact rankings?

SECTION 5: GMB CONVERSION FACTORS
Which individual factors do you think have the biggest impact on conversions from GMB?

SECTION 6: NEGATIVE FACTORS
Which individual factors do you think are the most HARMFUL to your rankings?

SECTION 7: COMMENTARY
Survey responses are stored to a database, then I run queries to aggregate the data. The results are the combined output from all of the local search experts on what they see driving rankings (and conversions) in local search.

Notable Changes in Local Search Since the 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey

While the fundamentals of local search are generally the same as they were 10 years ago, we tend to see shifts every year in the strategies and tactics that local SEOs are focusing on. Here’s how priorities have been shifting over the past 4 surveys:

This chart captures the changing sentiment in local search over the past 7 years. The most striking things to note are the growth of GMB, and the decline of citations, which I will discuss below.

Continued Growth in Google My Business Signals 

The last time I ran the survey in 2018, there was a significant increase in GMB signals (take a look at the pink and green GMB bars in the chart above). The importance of GMB signals jumped 10 percentage points from 15% in 2015 to 25% in 2018. It was the big shift that everyone was talking about and it spawned a whole new sub-industry of conversion rate optimization for your Google My Business listing.

Somewhat surprisingly, the trend continues this year with GMB signals growing to 33% of the total pie.

It’s important for you to understand that there isn’t much you can optimize for rankings in GMB though. There are many strong ranking factors in the GMB category that you can’t specifically optimize for.

Here are the top ranked GMB-specific local ranking factors:

Three of the most heavily weighted factors are factors that you technically have no control over. They aren’t actionable.

  • Keywords in the business name are an extremely strong ranking signal, but your business name needs to be your actual business name and shouldn’t be stuffed with keywords or you risk getting your listing suspended. (Though, a strong case could be made for actually changing your official business name since this factor is given so much weight in the local ranking algorithm. In fact, at the moment, this might be the #1 thing any business can do if they want to improve their local search rankings).
  • Being close to the searcher is also a strong ranking signal, but you can’t change your business address to be close to searchers all over the city. You can generally only rank in about a maximum of 10 miles around your business’ physical location.
  • And of course, your address needs to be in the city that you want to rank in, but unless you’re willing to move your business, or open a new physical office that is staffed (no virtual offices), then there isn’t really anything you can do with this factor either.

The remaining GMB factors will definitely have a positive impact on your local search rankings, and most of them are relatively quick and easy to optimize:

  1. Make sure your primary GMB category is the one that closest matches the most valuable search term you want to rank for.
  2. Make sure you’ve filled out every other available additional category that is relevant to your business (but be careful to not cause category confusion).
  3. Verify your listing (obviously).
  4. Fill out EVERY field in GMB to ensure your listing is as complete as possible. This will help with conversions too!

Conversion Rate Optimization for GMB

So why are the experts putting such emphasis on GMB if there isn’t much to optimize and the things that you can optimize are quick and easy? It’s because people are realizing that there is much more to local search than just rankings. A #1 ranking for an incomplete Google listing isn’t nearly as valuable as a #5 ranking for a comprehensive listing that’s optimized for both rankings and conversions. 

As Mike Blumenthal famously said, “Google is your new homepage”. What this means is that people don’t even need to go to your website anymore to determine if you business is the one they want to contact. With all of the features Google has been adding to GMB, the information that searchers need to evaluate your business is available right on your Google My Business listing. 

This realization has given rise to a whole new sub-industry of local search: Conversion Rate Optimization for GMB. Services like the Whitespark Google My Business Management Service and others have this concept at their core. Rankings are great, but conversions are even better, and this is reflected in the growth of GMB signals in this year’s local search ranking factors.

This shift felt important enough to me to add a new question to the survey this year:

And here’s how the local search experts responded:

If you’ve only been thinking about how to rank your business (or your clients’ businesses) higher in local search, then it is time for you to take action on the list of factors above. The benefits cannot be overstated.

Review signals lead the pack here, and that makes sense. Think about your own local business browsing habits. Which businesses are you drawn to? Which factors on their listing have the greatest impact on your decision to contact them? Having a ton of glowing Google reviews will drive both conversions and rankings, which is why we put a strong emphasis on them in our Google My Business Management Service.

Spam Fighting

The #2 factor, Keywords in the Business Name, really frustrates me. It’s a huge problem for local search practitioners, and for Google (though they don’t seem care too much). Want to increase your rankings by 10 positions overnight? Easy: just stuff keywords into your business name. 

Why does this work so well? It’s because of branded search. There might actually be a business that is officially named “Best Moving Company Denver”, and so just in case the searcher might be looking for that specific business, Google makes sure to rank it highly to satisfy the search intent. 

Ok, even though it works to increase your rankings, PLEASE DO NOT KEYWORD STUFF YOUR BUSINESS NAME. Doing so puts you at risk of getting your listing suspended, and that means your business is out of the results, which I’m sure you don’t want.

Still, many many many businesses don’t care. Spammers are happy to take the risk for the short-term gains, and this is driving another new area of focus for local search practitioners: spam fighting. If you report a keyword stuffed business and their listing is dropped from the results, your business moves up in the rankings. EZ-PZ ranking wins. Removal of spam listings was a new ranking factor that I just introduced this year and it has already broken into the top 10 most important ranking factors.

Decline in Citations

Another trend we see in the survey results is the continued decline of citations as ranking factors. The chart below illustrates how this factor has dropped in overall importance over the past three surveys.

What’s driving this drop in perceived value of citations? Do citations still matter?

David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal, two of the most respected experts in local search, have published their thoughts that Google doesn’t really care if you’re listed on less known business directories and that Google has gotten much better and figuring out how to sort our discrepancies in your name, address, and phone number information across the local search ecosystem. In their estimation, building out a ton of citations on business directories no one has ever heard of, and worrying about cleaning those citations up, is no longer worth the effort. 

When asked “What factors are you focusing on less?”, the survey contributors mostly listed citation factors:

This sentiment was also echoed in the comments. When asked “What are some strategies/tactics that used to work well, but don’t seem to work anymore?” many of the survey participants mentioned citations. A few quotes:

“Citations. They’re almost a non-factor. The only times we even worry about them are a) brand new businesses or b) a business that’s moved recently”

Greg Gifford

“Building large numbers of citations across irrelevant sites, continues to matter less and less.”

Gyi Tsakalakis

“We continue to see diminishing returns on cleaning up the long tail of citation sites. When we look at metrics like GMB Impressions and Actions for locations within an enterprise business that have cleaned up their citations on sites like 2FindLocal or EZLocal vs those locations that haven’t we are unable to find any correlation between citation cleanliness and performance.“

Adam Dorfman

So that’s it? Citations are dead?

I’m not convinced, and I honestly don’t just say that because I run a company that offers citation software and services. There are a few things that have me pausing on declaring citations a non-factor:

  1. We continue to regularly receive comments from customers that tell us that they built citations with us and it had a positive impact on their rankings.
  2. In a case study I did for my 2019 Mozcon presentation, we stopped doing SEO work, but their rankings continued to double, and then triple over the course of the next year with zero additional SEO work being completed. While it’s impossible to be certain about what caused these additional gains, one potential theory is that the impact of citations take time. It takes months for the sites to publish all the listings we submitted, and then it takes many more months for Google to crawl and index these citations. So, it might be that it’s hard to measure the value of citations since their value comes in at such a slow burn and they’re difficult to isolate from other factors. Many people build/order citations, look at their rankings in a month, don’t see much change, and conclude they didn’t have much impact. I think you may need to consider the impact of citations over a much larger time horizon: about one year. I’ll be publishing a video with more details about this case study soon.
  3. I have heard many opinions, but have yet to see any compelling data that proves that citation building and citation cleanup has less value than it used to. I think there is an understandable perceived drop in value, because citations used to be something that only the few local search savvy businesses invested in, but these days, so many more businesses have gotten savvy so the local search results are much more competitive. In the past, you could build a ton of citations and it would set you apart from the competition so you would see the ranking gains more clearly. These days, since so many businesses have a good citation profile now, they’re just not the competitive difference maker they used to be, so the impact is less obvious.
  4. I have seen some compelling research from Uberall on the value of citations that they will be publishing in the new year. Keep an eye out for it.

To be clear, I’m not saying that citations are amazing and everyone is wrong about the drop in their value. It does make logical sense that Google would rely on them less as their technology gets more sophisticated. But, I think we sometimes give Google too much credit for advancing their technology. Just look at their “advanced technology” for dealing with GMB spam if you want a good laugh. The fundamentals of the local search ranking algorithm really haven’t changed much since 2008.

What I am saying is that I’m not ready to rule them out as a factor and I would not exclude them as a tactic to include in your overall local SEO strategy. If citation building provides some ranking benefits, and I think there is evidence that they do, then they are a low cost, easy win, that are worth doing.

It’s 2020 and I still often hear people giving out advice about things that have no impact on local search. Since the Local Search Ranking Factors survey is so widely read and distributed, I figured it was time to try and set the record straight on some of these things. I asked the contributors:

“Which individual factors do you think absolutely do NOT impact rankings?”

And here are the top 10 “factors”, as ranked by the contributors, that do NOT help your rankings.

I would like to be very clear that just because these activities don’t impact your local rankings, it doesn’t mean there isn’t still value in working on them. Everything on this list has benefits beyond rankings.

For example, keywords in your GMB description, GMB services, GMB Products, and GMB Posts ARE helpful. They won’t help you rank better, but when searchers see the keyword they searched for on your listing, they are drawn to your listing and it can help you drive more conversions from Google My Business.

Also, keywords in Google posts can help make your listing stand out when they trigger “justifications” in the search results like these self-proclaimed “SEO Experts”:

I mean, this justification IS pretty nice. Perhaps they really are the SEO Experts they claim to be…

It’s always fun to try to predict what the future of local search will look like. I asked the contributors to provide their comments on where they think Google is headed in the future, and to summarize their thoughts:


Scroogle McDuck

The predominant sentiment is that we can expect Google to continue to monetize local everywhere they can. Here’s a list of things we already see happening, and some things that we predict will be coming soon:

  1. Rolling out Local Services Ads to more categories and more cities.
  2. The new Google Guaranteed Badge.
  3. Taking a cut from bookings that happen directly through Google My Business.
  4. Taking a cut from product sales that happen directly through Google My Business.

The comments section of the Local Search Ranking Factors survey is packed with takeaways. Be sure to head over and read through all the amazing comments from the experts.

 

People read the Local Search Ranking Factors to guide them on what they should focus on (and what they shouldn’t) to help them increase their visibility in Google’s local results. So to make your life easier and keep your work organized, we’ve created a free local seo checklist tool for you based on the top local search ranking factors. 

Simply add a business then get to work checking off those tasks. The tasks are already sorted by priority for you, based on their ranking within the Local Search Ranking Factors survey.

This post just scratches the surface of all the insights in this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors. There’s so much more to learn and discover over on the full resource. Get yourself a fresh coffee, then head on over there to take your local search skills to the next level.

This is going to be you:



Five SEO tips to dominate local search this holiday season


30-second summary:

  • 60% of consumers have been shopping online more often since COVID-19.
  • Making your local SEO strategy a top priority for small retailers and those with multiple locations.
  • Shoppers are browsing more frequently and making more purchases, although they are smaller in value.
  • Local retailers should focus on creating in-store experiences online and pick up.
  • Understanding your local audience and optimizing at the hyper-local level is key.
  • Jim Yu, Founder and CEO of BrightEdge highlights five great ways your business can use local SEO to dominate search and translate it into sales this holiday season.

A shorter than usual shopping season, last-mile shipping uncertainty, and ongoing health and safety concerns are just a few of the factors driving wild shifts in consumer behavior in the lead-up to holiday season 2020. Given how wide-reaching and long-lasting the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be, we couldn’t possibly have predicted or envisioned the circumstances we now find ourselves in. Local businesses already pushed near the brink may find this shopping season more competitive than usual, making your local SEO strategy a top priority.

This holiday season more than ever, marketers need to keep a hand firmly on the pulse of their market and opportunities. Activating as much relevant, real-time consumer data as possible is going to be key.

1. Offer payment options, COVID precautions, and other key conversion information front and center

We know what the important issues are for shoppers this season:

Consumers are browsing, researching, and shopping across online channels. They are more value-conscious than before and are looking for reassurance that their privacy and data are protected when making purchases online.

Get ahead of frequently asked questions by updating your website, social profiles, local listings, and landing pages with answers. These are critically important optimizations—so much so that Google, Yelp, and other listings platforms are highlighting this information for consumers on business profiles. If consumers can’t find what they’re looking for on your listing, they’ll simply move on to the next.

2. Really get to know your audience this holiday season

Planning campaigns based on historic data simply won’t cut it this year. Agile marketers and smart automation will come together to power the messaging and experiences it takes to convert in upended markets.

Nielsen released consumer profiles late in October based on research and surveys undertaken in different periods throughout the COVID pandemic. It’s impossible to predict just who you’ll find at your door (or in your online shopping cart) this holiday season, but expect to see each of these consumer types in the mix:

local search this holiday season - consumer expectations

You can see the very different motivations and types of shopping happening this year. Those who’ve escaped a direct impact from COVID may be compensating for luxuries they’ve forgone this year—trips that were canceled, or large purchases put on hold due to the initial uncertainty. At the other end of the spectrum, you see consumers who are affected both financially and physically, having less money to spend and also constrained by lockdown measures.

Understanding both your macro market and micro opportunities, at the individual web visitor level, is key to capitalizing on your opportunities to convert this holiday season.

3. Feed browsing behavior with high quality, engaging content that complements holiday season search

In our recent research, BrightEdge mentioned that 60% of consumers have been shopping online more often since COVID-19. It’s a behavior that 73% of those plans to continue after the pandemic. Shoppers are browsing more frequently and making more purchases, although they are smaller in value.

Feed browser behavior with engaging, quality content to rule holiday season with SEO

This holiday season, it’s critical that the content on offer is personalized and engaging; that it is an accurate reflection of their needs, intent, interests, and behavior in the moment. Activate your search insights with dynamic content optimizations to keep in step with changing consumer behaviors.

Think like your COVID-weary customer—what is giftable this year? As Nielsen points out in their recent article on the consumer types retailers can expect this year, “From a necessity that can no longer fit the budget, to a product that has been harder to get in stores this year, the definition of a ‘gift’ will look very different this year.” Help shoppers understand how your product/service delivers comfort, entertainment, security, or is otherwise a necessity for that special someone in their life.

  • Use all of the tools available to expand and add interest to your search results.
  • Upload new photos and videos often.
  • Use Google Posts to highlight promotions, in-store and virtual events, products and services, etc.
  • Make sure your on-page SEO is on point and that pages have proper schema markup.
  • Work closely with your paid search team to ensure your organic and paid strategies complement, not cannibalize, one another.
  • Keep it interesting and get more traction across channels by switching up your content types.

4. Focus on creating experiences

Consumers have been spending significantly more time watching and reading the news, participating in hobbies, and engaging with TV, movies, and games at home. They are hungry for experiences to fill at least some of the void left by closed restaurants, shuttered concert venues, canceled events, and the inability to travel.

Even outside of the influence of the pandemic, the customer experience was expected to surpass product and price as the key brand differentiator. Regardless of how much thought or planning you put into it, customers are having an experience with your business. It’s a worthwhile place to focus your efforts on the eve of this holiday shopping season.

July 2020 survey insights from YouGov show that consumers have been engaging with product demonstrations, pop-up shops, and installations. Some of these experiences translate naturally online—product demonstration videos, for example. Events you used to hold in-store could work as Facebook Lives or omnichannel promotions.

Focus on creating smooth omnichannel experiences to rule holiday season with SEO

Give traditionally local shoppers ways to engage, such as QR codes in the window to drive them to an online experience when in-store shopping is not possible (perhaps preferable for them).

Whatever the format and channel, think about the experience you are curating for your audience. How do you show them you are invested in their satisfaction and happiness? How do you facilitate their moving from one piece of content or channel to the next? How do you capture and keep their interest?

Think of your customer interactions not as touchpoints but within the context of their overall shopping journey. Grow My Store is a tool from Google that assesses any retail site, whether for an online or a physical store and brings back recommendations to help improve the customer experience.

5. Highlight your local relevance

Recent Yahoo! Small Business Research found that the vast majority of shoppers (75% of those surveyed) want to shop at and support small businesses. Another survey, this one by Alignable, found that 32% of respondents said they would be spending more money at locally owned businesses in Q4 2020.

How do you make your local relevance clear to shoppers and the search engines you rely on to get you in front of them?

  • Make sure all locations are claimed, verified, and optimized.
  • Localize your content. Engage audiences with on-location photos and video. Refer to local landmarks, get involved in local events and organizations, and build links from within the local community.
  • Do local keyword research and optimize your listings, landing pages, and website.
  • Make clear the fulfillment options you offer local customers: BOPIS, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery.
  • Make the most of your local reviews with close monitoring, rapid response, and highlighting positive reviews across other channels.

Use Google’s Local Opportunity Finder to quickly assess your local presence and get tips and hints for optimizing your GMB.

If you want to keep nearby shoppers off Amazon and away from major box stores this year, focus on meeting customers where they’re looking for products and services like yours: in local search. Keep them reading and browsing out of entertainment, not in an effort to find information that should be readily available. Proactively head off concerns about payment methods, COVID precautions, special hours, and more by keeping your site and local listings up to date.

This promises to be an unusual shopping season for many. Local essential is for small retailers and local SEO for multiple locations is vital for enterprises and Now that you can’t count on previous experience, it’s critical to tap into your search insights.

Customers are telling you what it’s going to take to win their business. Are you listening?

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, the leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform.

Local Quizness December 2020 – Put Your News Knowledge to the Test!


It’s time for the last Local Quizness of the year!

Every month, we pay close attention to all of the new features, bugs, and trends affecting local marketers – so you don’t have to. Answer 10 quick questions to find out if you spotted some of the biggest stories in local SEO from November, and catch up on any you might have missed in the complete reading list below.

Only the most vigilant local news-readers can score more than 6/10 – try your luck, and share with your colleagues and peers to find out who’s the highest scorer!

Refresh your memory with all the news below, and don’t forget to share your score on Twitter using #LocalQuizness.

We hope you enjoyed this month’s Local Quizness. We’ll be back in the New Year with another challenge!



Welcome United Search | Local SEO Guide


Dan Leibson has been a strong advocate inside LSG and on SEO Twitter for the under-represented in the SEO community. At times his advocacy has been a bit too strong for some leading to several “WTF is up with Dan?” DMs to me.

Well you know WTF is up with Dan? He has spent the past few months working with an incredible group of SEOs creating UnitedSearch, a first of its kind speaker accelerator focused on helping promote new voices in the digital marketing industry.

“By offering mentoring advice from people with real world, practical, SEO experience, we give students the skills they need to be able to deliver an amazing presentation on any stage and the network they need to land gigs.

All at no cost to the student.”

I am so proud to have one of our team playing a part in this. And I couldn’t be happier to give them what I hope is their first link.

You should do the same.



Goofiest Local SEO Metrics and Better Numbers for You to Watch


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https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodrigoparedes/49888573232/

It’s hard enough to pilot your business into Google’s local search results and pick up the right customers.  That’s even harder if your instruments point you in the wrong direction, or you look at them wrong, or you look at the wrong instruments.

In local SEO it’s easy to waste precious time and energy on goals that don’t matter, problems that don’t exist, or showy numbers that obscure important numbers.  The end result is you waste time and work less on what affects your business the most, and generally achieve the opposite of what you want.

 

I spend a lot of time with clients (long-term, audit, and consultation) homing in on one thing and tuning out another thing.  Below is a rundown of what I’ve found to be most common goofy and unimportant measurements of success or trouble in your local visibility effort.  I also explain the benchmarks I suggest paying attention to instead.

Goofy metric #1: total traffic to site.

That is, total traffic as measured by Google Analytics or whatever third-party tool you might use.  Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about unique + return visitors, or only uniques.  Two basic problems with this metric:

1. Total traffic doesn’t tell you how much of your traffic goes to pages that don’t help you get customers. Let’s say you have a blog post or page with legs – one that brought you 30% of your monthly traffic until now. It’s a good resource, but its visibility never seemed to correspond to an uptick in business.  It may be that your “money” pages – the kind that local customers find in the local results and act on – still do just fine.

2. Total traffic doesn’t tell you how visible your business is. It only tells you how many people trickle through Google and onto your site (or who go directly to your site, without ever hitting Google). Keep in mind Google’s ongoing effort to keep searchers on the search results and, by extension, away from your site.

So your traffic can appear totally normal (whatever “normal” is for your business) even though your search visibility has tanked, or your visibility can still be great even though your traffic looks like it’s shriveled.

Better metric: total # of impressions, according to Google Search Console.  For your whole site, for a specific page, for a specific query, etc.  The number of impressions will tell you how many people actually SEE a page (or a whole site) in the search results, whether or not they end up clicking.  (The fact that Search Console shows you impressions, whereas Google Analytics does not, is one big reason I tend to pay more attention to Search Console, especially for troubleshooting.)

Getting more people to click on low-click-through pages is a challenge you can work on.  The same is true if you see a page that’s getting fewer clicks AND fewer impressions: In that case you can easily figure out when that trend began, whether only that page is affected, and for which search terms it’s sagging (see the “Queries” tab).

You’ll probably want to zero in on your visibility (total impressions) for search terms you’re trying to rank for, rather than for brand-name search terms.  Impressions from people who search for your business by name don’t tell you much about your overall visibility in local search.  Brand-name visibility is kind of a given – a baseline.

Of course, it’s still smart to pay some attention to total traffic, because that can alert you to the more-specific problems you’ll want or need to identify.  Just don’t fixate on it, because it never tells the whole story or helps you figure out what to do about it.

 

Goofy metric #2: “average position” in Google Search Console and in certain rank-trackers.

The reason is simple: in Search Console the “average position” not localized.  So it might say a certain page on your site ranks #117 for “Pittsburgh plumber,” even though that page ranks #4 in the organic results that people in Pittsburgh see when they type in “plumber,” and maybe you also rank #2 there in the Google Maps 3-pack for the same term.  Search Console wouldn’t tell you those two facts, nor would many “local” rank-tracking tools (I’d rather not name names).

Again, that’s a problem just because your instruments would tell you you’ve got a problem when you may in fact be OK.  That could lead you (or an easily-frightened SEO person) to mess things up by changing stuff that not only doesn’t need changing, but that also helps you get whatever visibility you’ve got.

Better metric:  either impressions in Search Console (as I described a minute ago) or the rankings you see in the Anonymous Ad Preview & Diagnosis Tool, or both.  The latter is great because you can set a default search location and see exactly where Google sticks you.  The only problem is it only shows the first page of search results, so it won’t tell you whether you rank 49 or 50 for a certain term.  But it will show you where you show up in the 3-pack and when you’re anywhere on page 1, which typically are the factoids you really want to know.

 

Goofy metric #3: how many terms you’re #1 for.

As in #1 in the Google Maps 3-pack, or in the organic results, or either or both.  In at least one sense “#1” translates to less visibility than it used to, because of where Google Ads (and sometimes Local Services Ads) have been stuffed, and how those ads have increasingly pushed down.  The other issue is how we’re so used to seeing all kinds of crap rank #1.  We rely on Google more to tell us what our options are than what options are good.

Better metric: how many terms you rank for where you’re the obvious choice to click on.  When everything else is equal, of course it’s best you’re #1.  But if you’re #2 on the map, and you’ve got the most Google reviews, and you’ve got the highest average rating, and the #1 result is lame, then you’re still in the catbird seat.  Likewise if you’re #3 in the organic results but have the most-compelling title + description, or best business name, or maybe another organic result or some Google Maps rankings or a great PPC ad on the same page that act as your backup dancers.  You’ll get more business from being the best result on a page, rather than only the highest.

 

Goofy metric #4: number of links to your site.

You can go buy thousands of links right now and tell me how much it helps your rankings.  I expect you’ll find those don’t help much.  (Possibly a little bit, but then you risk an algorithmic or manual penalty sooner or later.)  You’ll still be outranked by the same annoying competitors, both in the 3-pack and in the organic results.  one less-risky way to see what I mean is to use your backlinks checker of choice (I like Ahrefs) to check on 6 local businesses that rank for a term you consider a priority: How many links the 3 highest-ranking businesses have, and how many links do the next 3 (#4-6) have?  Does each of the top 3 have more links than each of the next 3?  You’ll probably find that the link count varies – a lot.

Better metric:  the number of relevant links to your site, particularly to specific pages you consider high priorities.  When I a link is “relevant” I mean it’s from a site that is geared toward your industry, geared toward your city or region, or both.  In my experience the relevance of a link matters more than anything else.

 

Goofy metric #5: number of reviews.

What if you have the most reviews, but your average rating is 2.9 stars?  Or you have a good average rating, but the positive reviews are so terse they look forced or fake?  Or all the reviews are old?

Better metric: for how many local search terms is your business the obvious choice to click on, in terms of review count AND average rating? 

I’m talking about both the Google Maps / 3-pack results and the search results within review sites, like Yelp, Zillow, Houzz, HealthGrades, Avvo, TripAdvisor, etc.  In cases where it’s hard to say whether the average searcher would click on your pile of reviews or on a competitor’s pile of reviews, it’ll probably be clear to you whether you need to work on your average rating, or your review count, or on something else.

 

Goofy metric #6: number of 5-star reviews.

This is a red herring for many reasons, but for one reason above all: often the 5-star reviews aren’t impressive or persuasive.  Searchers click on the list of reviews and read some of them, and often the reviewers don’t go into much detail as to why they picked and liked a business.

Better metric: number of super-reviewers: people who reviewed you on multiple sites, people who wrote almost a sales-letter-length review and included pictures, people who got a spouse or family member or friend also to review you, people whose reviews you know for a fact drive business (because customers or even reviewers said so) , etc.  I realize that’s a squishy definition, so it’s up to you to define who constitutes an online “cheerleader.”  The point is you gain more by tracking and increasing the number of those people than by fixating on the number of 5-star reviews.

 

Goofy metric #7: Page speed according to Google PageSpeed Insights.

In general, a fast-loading site is great.  But obsessing over it is not, because the fastest site isn’t necessarily the most visible or most profitable one.  If page speed was a huge factor, you’d go whole-hog and just put some strategic words on a page and get mighty close to a 100/100.  Some companies with pretty good SEO teams seem to recognize that page-speed is one goal of many, to be balanced with other goals, and that you don’t need perfect marks.

Better metric: how many formidable competitors’ sites is your site faster than?  I’m talking about sites that outrank yours or that you know for a fact drive a lot of business, or both.  Try to make your site more informative, more persuasive, easier to use, and faster than those sites, even if you’re nowhere near a perfect 100.  If a bear is chasing you through the woods, you don’t need to outrun the bear – just the other campers.

 

By the way, here are a few too-commonly-heeded“metrics” I’d generally ignore:

  • Domain Authority (Moz) or Domain Rating (Ahrefs) of your site
  • Google My Business Insights’ “last 30 days” stats
  • Moz Local “completeness” score
  • Yoast “optimization” score

They have their place in the world, but they don’t tell you much about how your local SEO effort is going.

Can you think of other nutty local SEO metrics I didn’t mention?

Am I too harsh on a benchmark that you’ve found to be useful for diagnosis – and why is that?

What’s your single favorite (or least-favorite) indicator of triumph or trouble?

Leave a comment!

How to Win at Local Search with Service Area Businesses


https://www.sterlingsky.ca/

Those of us who work with local businesses know that strategies often always center around the business’ location. Our goal as marketers is to drive more customers into their stores, and those customers generally live within a small proximity around their office.  But what do you do when your business is a home office and you don’t want customers showing up at your house or your run-down store because your business type makes it so that the transaction takes place at your customer’s location? It can be challenging because the Local algorithm that powers Google My Business listings was built around the Google Maps pin. 

Service Area Business

Trying to make it work for a service area business can often feel like competing with Beyonce when you’re simply one of the “other sisters” that no one cares about.

What Should You put in the Service Area Section in GMB?

All the service area section in GMB is really useful for is dictating what shows up on the for your highlighted area.  What you put in this section does not impact ranking.  

Should You Hide Your Address?

According to Google My Business Guidelines, “if your business doesn’t have a storefront with clear signage but travels to customers at their physical locations, you’re allowed one service-area Business Profile.  If you’re a service-area business, you should hide your business address from customers. For example, if you’re a plumber and run your business from your residential address, clear the address from your Business Profile”.

When setting up a Service Area Business (SAB) in Google My Business (GMB), you will be asked a series of questions regarding your business. One of the first questions Google will ask is, “Do you want to add a location customers can visit, like a store or office?” These days, when you create a listing and select “No” for this question, Google automatically hides your address so it’s not anywhere in the dashboard.  However, if you missed doing that, you can still remove the address later by pressing “clear address”.  So the guidelines “suggest” doing this but is it a good idea?

First, if you hide your address you don’t get a map marker.  That might not sound too bad, but look at how much extra exposure Nutri-Lawn gets here by Google showing a pin & the distance to the user.

 

SAB - Nutri-Lawn

Second, there was a thread that came up on our forum recently where an SEO agency was complaining that switching his client (plumber) listing to an SAB with a hidden address had a negative impact on calls. One recent example from our Local Search Forum has a user complaining that his traffic and leads have dropped significantly after switching his business to a Service Area Business. Here is a quote from the forum thread,

I had such a huge drop in my calls and website visits after I converted from physical address to SAB in the auto repair niche.”

Another quote from the same thread,

Since [clearing address], his calls have dropped off and his listings on maps has become almost non-existent.

One last quote from the same thread,

I’m in the bin/dumpster rental business and I too lost rankings with our Toronto franchise location when I made this switch.

Should You Show the Address of your SAB?

There appears to be a lot of reasons why you’d want to ignore this guideline, but before you decide to change your listing, it’s important to consider the negatives. Some negatives of showing the address of your SAB listing include GMB Support not helping you. I’ve seen tons of cases where businesses contact GMB support for help with an issue and the support agent won’t address their concern until they fix guidelines violations on the listing.

Second, there is an increased chance of suspensions. I try to not make major edits to listings for industries like locksmiths or garage door repair because it’s so easy to trigger a suspension that pulls the listing off Google completely.  In these cases, you won’t get your listing reinstated unless you clear your address.

Lastly, your home address will be publicly visible.  This is not ideal for a variety of reasons.

Do Service Area Pages Still Work?

service area pages work

 

We have evidence service area pages still work.  For example, here is a small sample of how many conversions were driven from the top-performing service area page over the course of a year.  As you can see, it varies quite a bit based on the industry. service area pages

 

There are a few things you can add to your page to provide Google with enough information to understand what the page is about and rank organically. Here are a few ideas you can implement on your website:

  • Build a table of recent cases the business has handledsab recent cases
  • List driving directions to the office/business (for SABs that have an office)
  • Use photos of the city the business is in to enhance the pagesab photos
  • Add reviews specific to that location/area.

With all of these additions to a Service Area Page, were able to see an increase in traffic and rankings to our client’s pages.

https://www.sterlingsky.ca/

Do you have strategies you find work really well for service area businesses? Tell us about them in the comments.

Brian Barwig
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