SEO for Local Search: Advanced Tricks

This guy had some pretty good advanced tricks too

This guy had some pretty good advanced tricks too

Important note – before reading this article, read the previous posting “SEO for Local Search: The Complete Guide“.

Before going into the list of advanced ranking techniques for Local Search I’ve uncovered reviewing a myriad of other folk’s postings, let’s talk about what proof is available first.

David Mihm does a *great* yearly survey of local search experts on what variables they believe are important for Local search, very similar to what SEOMoz runs for overall organic search.

It’s important to note that it’s well established (read the book “Supercrunchers” if you’re not convinced) that experts are great at determining what variables matter, but figuring out importance or weightings is best left to machine-learning, or statistical reverse-engineering exercises.

Fortunately, the folks at SEOMoz have done some correlation analysis of some of the Local Search ranking factors, available here:

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/google-places-seo-lessons-learned-from-rank-correlation-data

That said, David’s survey, which covers many more factors, is a must-read and is very instructive, I encourage everyone reading this posting to check it out as well:

http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml

Here is the list of advanced techniques I was able to uncover, both by poring through David’s excellent survey information, and by reading numerous interviews with, and blog entries by, various experts in Local Search.  In many cases you’ll notice I’m viewing Local Search through the lens of normal organic search, and making assumptions that Google and others handle Local Search similarly to organic search, where it makes sense.

1. Make sure your business is listed properly on GPS mapping services

While there is copious advice on the internet about making sure your Name, Address, Phone information (NAP) is correct on various data provider sites, I have not seen any advice focusing on the data providers that create the maps GPSs use.  These mapping services also list business with categories associated with them.

Navteq and Teleatlas, between them, have most of the map business, which is increasingly critical for mobile search purposes.

Make sure your business information is correct – in both cases, indicate you want to edit a “Point of Interest”.

Navteq:  http://mapreporter.navteq.com/
Teleatlas:  http://mapinsight.teleatlas.com/mapfeedback/index.php

Correcting Tomtom is not necessary as Tomtom actually forward-integrated by buying its map supplier, Teleatlas, so presumably any entry you correct in Teleatlas should find its way onto Tomtom’s systems eventually.

2. Use Postcard Verification

Don’t use a PO Box as a location, use a physical street address.  Additionally, when you’re given the option in Google Places to verify your entry via SMS, postcard, or email, select “postcard“.  It will take longer, but your data will likely be considered by Google to be slightly more reliable than others who don’t select the postcard option; by sending a postcard with a confirmation code on it to the location, Google can be 100% sure that you’re actually located there.  Not so with the SMS or email methods, which are likely abused by fakes rampantly.

3. Enter your data (particularly in Google Places) FROM the actual location of your business

With IP-to-Geo capabilities as they are these days, it’s reasonable to assume that Google is probably resolving your IP to see if you’re near the location.  If you’re in Nigeria but are entering data for a street address in Seattle, one would think that the information will probably be less trusted than if you entered the data from somewhere in at least the same ZIP code.  I have seen no information proving that Google Places does this, but it definitely passes the “If I were these guys, I would be doing this” test.

4. Use Targeted Keywords in your Custom Categories

The Google Places “Quality Guidelines” specify:

“Categories should say what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not on what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or things it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.”

This is a case where it’s a judgement call, but be careful not to violate Google Places quality guidelines.  Keywords that will give you more traffic are ideal, and often more descriptive – if your store sells only “inkjet refills”, why list “office supplies”, which is less descriptive?  “Is” versus “sells” can be a pretty gray area – is “automotive repair” a category, or is it something a business offers?  The answer is, it’s both.

5. Get a dedicated IP address.

There is some evidence that when multiple businesses have Google Places listings, and they share an IP address, that Google will merge category information across the listings for the different businesss.  See this great article by Kieron Hughes on this:

http://webtoastie.co.uk/google-local-business-listing-anomaly/

So, if you don’t want to have inaccurate categories bleeding over from other businesses sharing your IP address, make sure your website is hosted on a dedicated IP address.

6. Get a mailing address as close as possible to the “centroid” of the location you want to rank well in.

When you look at businesses in a particular geographic area on Google Places, the pushpin in the center of the map is the “centroid”, it’s considered the center of the city or the town you’re looking at.  It’s well known that if you type “pizza warwick” then pizza places closer to the center of the city will rank better.  This has led to many people gaming the system; while you can’t obtain P.O. boxes as those are not allowed as primary locations, it is possible to obtain street addresses (suites essentially) through a number of providers.  It’s OK to list a P.O. box as an additional address, but your primary address should always be a street address:

UPS:    http://www.theupsstore.com/products/pages/maiandpos.aspx
Mailboxes, etc (owned by UPS now):    http://www.mbe.com/ps/Pages/index.aspx
Mailboxforwarding:   http://www.mailboxforwarding.com/index.php

7. Change the name of your company to start earlier in the alphabet than your competitors

This is the oldest trick in the book.  “What book”, you may well ask?  Why, the Yellow Pages of course!

We’ve all seen companies with names like AAAAA Plumbing and so on.  It’s reasonable to assume that, with all other ranking factors equal, an alphabetically earlier business seems more likely to rank over its counterparts.  For this reason, a company name starting with “A” is always a good idea, all other things being equal, regardless of whether we’re talking about online or offline marketing.

8. Change the name of your company to include your type of business

If you are a barber named Joe, and your establishment’s name is “Joe’s Barber Shop”, you may be better off with a business name like “Haircut Joes” and haircutjoes.com as a domain name.  Remember, the business name will be checked against all the other data provider sources we described, so you can’t just make something up for Google Places.  But who’s to say you can’t file a new or additional “Doing Business As” (DBA) form with your state, then correct all the data provider and local search sources we listed in last week’s posting?  Just understand that if you don’t change the actual name of your establishment, a competitor may snap a photo of your sign and send it off to Google as a compliant.

Major caveat – per SEOMoz’s correlation data, the business type keyword is the important one to include, and the location keyword may actually hurt your ranking, so resist the temptation to use a domain like “haircutmanhattanjoes.com”!

Either way, having the keyword you most want to rank for, and the geographic service area you most want to rank in, as part of your domain name, are a very powerful way to rank in Local search.

9.  Keyword and geographic location in Title, H1, Body, and URL

This almost goes without saying but I want to emphasize it here – these are key ranking signals you can’t afford to overlook.  Make sure the keyword and service area name you most want to rank for are in all these places.

10.  Make sure the WHOIS information for your domain name matches your NAP

It’s likely that Google (and others) check the WHOIS information, and if you have contact information that is different from your business location, that could hurt you slightly (I’ve seen no proof, only speculation, but it’s a reasonable assumption).

11.  Update your Listing Once a Month

In normal organic search, for many queries, Google confers a boost for more recent, up-t0-date data (Google [query deserves freshness] if you’re curious on this).  Local Search, due to the constant changing nature of business contact information, very likely also confers an advantage on those with the most up-to-date data.  Even if you add a custom field and then delete it every other month, that’s better than not changing anything at all.

12. Properly Optimize the first Picture you will Load

Loading pictures and videos is helpful – it makes your entry more rich and engaging for viewers, and is speculated to aid in ranking.  But even more importantly, the first picture you load into Google Places is the one that will be shown next to your entry in search results.  The size to target is 85px by 60px.

I would highly recommend making a *really* nice version of it – resize a photo down to that size using a photo-editing program, but remember, when you resize, you should always do two things.  First, always SHARPEN the photo, as shrinking a photo usually blurs it slightly.  Also, for smaller photos, colors are not as well-perceived by viewers, so increase the saturation of the photo (i.e. make the colors brighter).  This will make your listing look a lot more attractive.

13. Use the hcard Microformat to Display your Name, Address, and Phone on your Website

Microformats are standardized methods of displaying structured data in a machine-readable way, so that search engines can steal, whoops, I mean, display information pulled from your website.
There are a number of microformats, even one for recipes which allows you to specify ingredients, cooking times, and the various steps.  Why in the world a recipe site would use that microformat, which makes it extremely easy to copy their recipes I can’t say, but in the case of Local Search, for your NAP information, using the hcard standard does actually make sense.  This way you can be sure that your NAP information has been properly formatted and will be able to be read by Google, and others’ spiders.

Information on how to display your NAP information using the hcard standard can be found here:

http://microformats.org/wiki/hcard

14. Make sure your Dun & Bradstreet entry accurately reflects the size of your business

This was brought to my attention by a commenter on last week’s posting.  Google recently filed a patent application titled SCORING LOCAL SEARCH RESULTS BASED ON LOCATION PROMINENCE.   The application talks about many local search ranking factors we’ve already discussed, but an interesting one buried away in there is:

“Yet another factor might relate to financial data about the businesses, such as the annual revenue associated with the business and/or how many employees the business has.”

So if your D&B entry (and Axciom and the others mentioned in last week’s posting) shows your business as being smaller than it actually is, that may actually be affecting your ranking in local search.  It’s never clear with patents whether someone filing is actually using all the ideas in the filing, but cross-referencing and using company size certainly seems like it would make a pretty good ranking factor.  So make sure your entries with D&B and the other information providers give your business the prominence it deserves.

Conclusion

There are many items we covered in these two posts – don’t get too hung up on each individual one.   If there’s one takeaway to remember from the whole set, it is definitely:  just make sure your happy customers leave you *lots* of positive reviews.

If anyone knows of other advanced local search tricks, please comment below!

18 Comments

  1. Jim Rudnick says:

    @Ted…great recap of the variables we SEO practitioners work on! As a contributor to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey by David Mihm, what I can tell you is that while all of us contributors work on the variables – we do not agree ‘en masse’ on any of the rankings of same exactly….tho there are many many factors that we do rank highly…ie. NAP for instance…and as you noted, do NOT get hung up on any single factor…it’s truly a ‘mash-up’ of them all….

    Jim

  2. I haven’t been on for awhile! Great to see your posts in local search, Ted and fantastic points all the same. On point no.13 of your post, it’s probably best to use schema.org for your microformatting, check out this post:

    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-schemaorg-search-engines.html

    It’s basic to implement schema.org and Raven Tools even came out with the Free Schema Creator, to make life easier for non-coders!

    http://raventools.com/blog/free-schema-creator/

  3. Ted Ives says:

    Thanks for passing the tool along Zunaira, I had not seen that one either.

    I am a little wary of microformats for purposes other than NAP as I see some of them as an easy way for Google to take away a click by presenting information to users right in the SERP (i.e. movie showtimes and so on)…

    In cases where it helps the user make a better decision about coming to your page over someone else’s I guess they make sense. In the case of recipes it’s starting to look like, if you want to rank, you’re going to have to play in terms of microformats…an interesting trend, don’t quite know where it’s going to end up.

    This will be an interesting topic to really dig into at some point!

  4. Kathy Long says:

    Hi Ted, Great post. Thanks for sharing your fantastic expertise!

    I have one concern, though, and it’s about obtaining an address through the companies you list. I’m concerned because I know that Google says your place of work must be a place where you can meet clients. Clearly you can’t do that in a mailbox ;) or a Mailboxes, etc. store either.

    Wouldn’t it be easy for Google to collect all the addresses for UPS and Mailbox, Etc stores and disallow all of those? I’m seeing a lot of spamming going on in this area and if they don’t do it now I would think it’s just a matter of time before those addresses get banned. Am I wrong?

    Thinking this is a good way to trick Google, I’m seeing lots of virtual office businesses cropping up selling “office” space that is nothing more than an address. It’s not unusual to see attorneys with dozens of “offices” now, some as far away as 300 miles. Yep. Seen that and it’s getting pretty common.

    So, what say you? Is that really a good practice? I’ve advised clients to get actual offices where they can meet clients if they have to, even if they are on shared plans to get that all-so-important address near the centroid. Do you think I’ve been asking too much?

  5. Ted Ives says:

    Kathy, taking the high road as you’re recommending is usually the right choice.

    I did not notice that verbage about having to be able to meet customers at the physical address, good catch (I actually had a friend recently tell me ‘well, I do have a second office in the northern part of the state I meet a lot of people at – Mcdonalds ;-) but of course he can’t put that down…kind of like Fonzie’s “office”.

    One would hope that Google will collect all the addresses for UPS and Mailboxes etc. and then disqualify those, but my guess is the Local team has been starved for resources (much like the Spam team was for a couple of years), and it doesn’t look like they’re doing much of anything to improve things. Google has a track record of allowing things to get pretty bad and then coming in and taking no prisoners at some point.

    You’re right, future-proofing by doing it right is both the smart, and the right, thing to do. Make sure to point out to your clients in 2-3 years when Google changes things how you took good care of them!

  6. Bill Gassett says:

    This is outstanding advice. Local SEO is usually one of the easiest ways to capture business yet so many business owners don’t do the proper research to take advantage of it.

  7. Cody Baird says:

    Great resource, you nailed a lot of important points. Nice find on the Google Patent about “SCORING LOCAL SEARCH RESULTS BASED ON LOCATION PROMINENCE“

    I would like to read more. Your link is broken

  8. Ted Ives says:

    Cody, I have found a really odd WordPress bug, maybe it’s a caching thing, but it’s not letting me update that link. Try it here:
    http://bit.ly/lUnC5f

  9. James says:

    I have a roadside assistance company that services San Antonio Texas and 100 miles radius. Can you give me a few pointers on staying in the game.

  10. Ted Ives says:

    James – yes – get a new website – ASAP!

    Your “flat tire service” page is “sitemap.html” – that’s not supposed to be used for a page users look at, it’s supposed to be used to list all your pages so Google can easily index them. Also, Google really frowns on putting keywords repeatedly on pages, in tiny fonts, and in white – those techniques stopped working 8 or 10 years ago!

    I would recommend starting over. First find someone local to you who can knock out a nice WordPress site for you from a template inexpensively, and have a page for each town you service, with each one focused on a different term like “roadside assistance san antonio” , put the keyword in the title, etc….pick up the book “The Art of SEO” if you really want to get into it.

    Try to find a domain you can use with some variation of “roadsideassistance” or “roadside-assistance” “assistanceroadside” or even “roadsideassistant” (the stem assistant should help rank for assistance), that would help a lot as well.

    Good luck!

    - Ted

  11. Interesting article. I hadn’t realised that about places listings sharing the same ip address, that’s one to think about!!

    Here’s another handy tool for creating h-cards…. http://microformats.org/code/hcard/creator

  12. Stella Q. says:

    My SEO knowledge and expertise has just gotten higher thanks to this post. And thank you for introducing me to David Mihm. I also suggest asking customers to give a review before they exit the site. To encourage them to give a review, an incentive program may work. Cheers!

  13. Paul says:

    Excellent material! Has a great way to not only boost the Google view of your site, but could also help customers know what your business provides.

  14. Anita Clark says:

    This post was way ahead of its time as local SEO is now no longer an afterthought but often times the first thing thought of.

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