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Survey: Local SEO an ‘artisanal’ discipline dominated by small agencies

Roughly 53 percent of firms doing local SEO have 10 or fewer clients.



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B2B Local Search Marketing: A Guide to Hidden Opportunity

Posted by MiriamEllis

Is a local business you’re marketing missing out on a host of B2B opportunities? Do B2B brands even qualify for local SEO?

If I say “B2B” and you think “tech,” then you’re having the same problem I was finding reliable information about local search marketing for business-to-business models. While it’s true that SaaS companies like Moz, MailChimp, and Hootsuite are businesses which vend to other businesses, their transactions are primarily digital. These may be the types of companies that make best-of B2B lists, but today let’s explore another realm in which a physical business you promote is eligible to be marketed both locally and as a B2B.

Let’s determine your eligibility, find your B2B opportunities, identify tips specific to your business model, analyze an outreach email, explore your content with a checklist, and find an advantage for you in today’s article.

Seeing how Google sees you

First to determine whether Google would view your brand as a local business, answer these two questions:

  1. Does the business I’m marketing have a physical location that’s accessible to the public? This can’t be a PO Box or virtual office. It must be a real-world address.
  2. Does the business I’m marketing interact face-to-face with its customers?

If you answered “yes” to both questions, continue, because you’ve just met Google’s local business guidelines.

Seeing your B2B opportunity

Next, determine if there’s a component of your business that already serves or could be created to serve other businesses.

Not totally sure? Let’s look at Google’s categories.

Out of the 2,395 Google My Business Categories listed here, there are at least 1,270 categories applicable to B2B companies. These include companies that are by nature B2B (wholesalers, suppliers) and companies that are B2C but could have a B2B offering (restaurants, event sites). In other words, more than half of Google’s categories signal to B2B-friendly companies that local marketing is an opportunity.

Let’s look at some major groups of categories and see how they could be fine-tuned to serve executive needs instead of only consumer needs:

Food establishments (restaurants, cafes, food trucks, caterers, etc.) can create relationships with nearby employers by offering business lunch specials, delivery, corporate catering, banquet rooms, and related B2B services. This can work especially well for restaurants located in large business districts, but almost any food-related business could create a corporate offering that incentivizes loyalty.

Major attractions (museums, amusements, cultural centers, sports centers, etc.) can create corporate packages for local employers seeking fun group activities. Brands looking to reduce implicit bias may be especially interested in interacting with cultural groups and events.

Professional services (realty, financial, printing, consulting, tech, etc.) can be geared towards corporate needs as well as individuals. A realtor can sell commercial properties. A printer can create business signage. A computer repair shop can service offices.

Personal services (counseling, wellness, fitness, skill training, etc.) can become corporate services when employers bring in outside experts to improve company morale, education, or well-being.

Home services (carpet cleaning, landscaping, plumbing, contracting, security, etc.) can become commercial services when offered to other businesses. Office buildings need design, remodeling, and construction and many have lounges, kitchens, restrooms, and grounds that need janitorial and upkeep services. Many retailers need these services, too.

Entertainers (comedians, musicians, DJs, performance troupes, etc.) can move beyond private events to corporate ones with special package offerings. Many brands have days where children, family members, and even pets are welcomed to the workplace, and special activities are planned.

Retailers (clothing, gifts, equipment, furniture, etc.) can find numerous ways to supply businesses with gear, swag, electronics, furnishings, gift baskets, uniforms, and other necessities. For example, a kitchen store could vend breakfast china to a B&B, or an electronics store could offer special pricing for a purchase of new computers for an office.

Transportation and travel services (auto sales and maintenance, auto rentals, travel agencies, tour guides, charging stations, etc.) can create special packages for businesses. A car dealer could sell a fleet of vehicles to a food delivery service, or a garage could offer special pricing for maintaining food trucks. A travel agency could manage business trips.

As you can see, the possibilities are substantial, and this is all apart from businesses that are classic B2B models, like manufacturers, suppliers, and wholesalers who also have physical premises and meet face-to-face with their clients. See if you’ve been missing out on a lucrative opportunity by examining the following spreadsheet of every Google My Business Category I could find that is either straight-up B2B or could create a B2B offering:

See local B2B categories

The business I’m marketing qualifies. What’s next?

See which of these two groups you belong to: either a B2B company that hasn’t been doing local SEO, or a local business that hasn’t created a B2B offering yet. Then follow the set of foundational tips specific to your scenario.

If you’re marketing a B2B company that hasn’t been doing local SEO:

  1. Know that the goal of local SEO is to make you as visible as possible online to any neighbor searching for what you offer so that you can win as many transactions as possible.
  2. Read the Guidelines for Representing your business on Google to be 100% sure your business qualifies and to familiarize yourself with Google’s rules. Google is the dominant player in local search.
  3. Make sure your complete, accurate name, address, and phone number is included in the footer of your website and on the Contact Us page. If you have multiple locations, create a unique page on your website for each location, complete with its full contact information and useful text for website visitors. Make each of these pages as unique and persuasive as possible.
  4. Be sure the content on your website thoroughly describes your goods and services, and makes compelling offers about the value of choosing you.
  5. Make sure your website is friendly to mobile users. If you’re not sure, test it using Google’s free mobile-friendly test.
  6. Create a Google My Business profile for your business if you don’t already have one so that you can work towards ranking well in Google’s local results. If you do have a profile, be sure it is claimed, accurate, guideline-compliant and fully filled out. This cheat sheet guide explains all of the common components that can show up in your Google Business Profile when people search for your company by name.
  7. Do a free check of the health of your other major local business listings on Moz Check Listing. Correct errors and duplicate listings manually, or to save time and enable ongoing monitoring, purchase Moz Local so that it can do the work for you. Accurate local business listings support good local rankings and prevent customers from being misdirected and inconvenience.
  8. Ask for, monitor, and respond to all of your Google reviews to improve customer satisfaction and build a strong, lucrative reputation. Read the guidelines of any other platform (like Yelp or TripAdvisor) to know what is allowed in terms of review management.
  9. Build real-world relationships within the community you serve and explore them for opportunities to earn relevant links to your website. Strong, sensible links can help you increase both your organic and local search engine rankings. Join local business organizations and become a community advocate.
  10. Be as accessible as possible via social media, sharing with your community online in the places they typically socialize. Emphasize communication rather than selling in this environment.

If you’re marketing a local business that hasn’t created a B2B offering yet:

  1. Research your neighborhood and your community to determine what kinds of businesses are present around you. If you’re not sure, reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce or a local business association like AMIBA to see if they have data they can share with you. Doing searches like “Human Resources Event Seattle” or “People Ops Event Seattle” can bring up results like this one naming some key companies and staffers.
  2. Document your research. Create a spreadsheet with a column for why you feel a specific business might be a good fit for your service, and another column for their contact information.See if you can turn up direct contact info for the HR or People Ops team. Phone the business, if necessary, to acquire this information.
  3. Now, based on what you’ve learned, brainstorm an offering that might be appealing to this audience. Remember, you’re trying to entice other business owners and their staff with something that’s special for them and meets their needs..
  4. Next, write out your offering in as few words at possible, including all salient points (who you are, what you offer, why it solves a problem the business is likely to have, available proof of problem-solving, price range, a nice request to discuss further, and your complete contact info). Keep it short to respect how busy recipients are.
  5. Depending on your resources, plan outreach in manageable batches and keep track of outcomes.
  6. Be sure all of your online local SEO is representing you well, with the understanding that anyone seriously considering your offer is likely to check you out on the web. Be sure you’ve created a page on the site for your B2B offer. Be sure your website is navigable, optimized and persuasive, with clear contact information, and that your local business listings are accurate and thorough — hopefully with an abundance of good reviews to which you’ve gratefully responded.
  7. Now, begin outreach. In many cases this will be via email, using the text you’ve created, but if you’ve determined that an in-person visit is a better approach, invest a little in having your offer printed nicely so that you can give it to the staff at the place of business. Make the best impression you possibly can as a salesperson for your product.
  8. Give a reasonable amount of time for the business to review and decide on your offer. If you don’t hear back, follow up once. Ideally, you’re hoping for a reply with a request for more info. If you hear nothing in response to your follow-up, move on, as silence from the business is a signal of disinterest. Make note of the dates you outreached and try again after some time goes by, as things may have changed at the business by then. Do, however, avoid aggressive outreach as your business will appear to be spamming potential clients instead of helping them.

As indicated, these are foundational steps for both groups — the beginnings of your strategy rather than the ultimate lengths you may need to go to for your efforts to fully pay off. The amount of work you need to do depends largely on the level of your local competition.

B2B tips from Moz’s own Team Happy

Moz’s People Ops team is called Team Happy, and these wonderful folks handle everything from event and travel planning, to gift giving, to making sure people’s parking needs are met. Team Happy is responsible for creating an exceptional, fun, generous environment that functions smoothly for all Mozzers and visitors.

I asked Team Happy Manager of Operations, Ashlie Daulton, to share some tips for crafting successful B2B outreach when approaching a business like Moz. Ashlie explains:

  • We get lots of inquiry emails. Do some research into our company, help us see what we can benefit from, and how we can fit it in. We don’t accept every offer, but we try to stay open to exploring whether it’s a good fit for the office.
  • The more information we can get up front, the better! We are super busy in our day-to-day and we can get a lot of spam sometimes, so it can be hard to take vague email outreach seriously and not chalk it up to more spam. Be real, be direct in your outreach. Keeping it more person-to-person and less “sales pitchy” is usually key.
  • If we can get most of the information we need first, research the website/offers, and communicate our questions through emails until we feel a call is a good next step, that usually makes a good impression.

Finally, Ashlie let me know that her team comes to decisions thoughtfully, as will the People Ops folks at any reputable company. If your B2B outreach doesn’t meet with acceptance from a particular company, it would be a waste of your time and theirs to keep contacting them.

However, as mentioned above, a refusal one year doesn’t mean there couldn’t be opportunity at a later date if the company’s needs or your offer change to be a better fit. You may need to go through some refinements over the years, based on the feedback you receive and analyze, until you’ve got an offer that’s truly irresistible.

A sample B2B outreach email

La práctica hace al maestro.”
– Proverb

Practice makes perfect. Let’s do an exercise together in which we imagine ourselves running an awesome Oaxacan restaurant in Seattle that wants to grow the B2B side of our business. Let’s hypothesize that we’ve decided Moz would be a perfect client, and we’ve spent some time on the web learning about them. We’ve looked at their website, their blog, and have read some third-party news about the company.

We found an email address for Team Happy and we’ve crafted our outreach email. What follows is that email + Ashlie’s honest, summarized feedback to me (detailed below) about how our fictitious outreach would strike her team:

Good morning, Team Happy!

When was the last time Moz’s hardworking staff was treated to tacos made from grandmother’s own authentic recipe? I’m your neighbor Jose Morales, co-owner with my abuela of Tacos Morales, just down the street from you. Our Oaxacan-style Mexican food is:

- Locally sourced and prepared with love in our zero-waste kitchen
- 100% organic (better for Mozzers’ brains and happiness!) with traditional, vegan, and gluten-free options
- $ 6–$ 9 per plate

We know you have to feed tons of techies sometimes, and we can effortlessly cater meals of up to 500 Mozzers. The folks at another neighboring company, Zillow, say this about our beautiful food:

“The best handmade tortillas we’ve ever had. Just the right portions to feel full, but not bogged down for the afternoon’s workload. Perfect for corporate lunches and magically scrumptious!”

May I bring over a complimentary taco basket for a few of your teammates to try? Check out our menu here and please let me know if there would be a good day for you to sample the very best of Taco Morales. Thank you for your kind consideration and I hope I get the chance to personally make Team Happy even happier!

Your neighbors,
Jose y Lupita Morales
Tacos Morales
www.tacosmorales.com
222 2nd Street, Seattle – (206) 111-1111

Why this email works:

  • We’re an inclusive office, so the various dietary options catch our eye. Knowing price helps us decide if it’s a good fit for our budget.
  • The reference to tech feels personalized — they know our team and who we work with.
  • It’s great to know they can handle some larger events!
  • It instills trust to see a quote from a nearby, familiar company.
  • Samples are a nice way to get to know the product/service and how it feels to work with the B2B company.
  • The menu link, website link, and contact info ensure that we can do our own exploring to help us make a decision.

As the above outreach illustrates, Team Happy was most impressed by the elements of our sample email that provided key information about variety, price and capacity, useful links and contact data, trust signals in the form of a review from a well-known client, and a one-on-one personalized message.

Your business is unique, and the precise tone of your email will match both your company culture and the sensibilities of your potential clients. Regardless of industry, studying the above communication will give you some cues for creating your own from the viewpoint of speaking personally to another business with their needs in mind. Why not practice writing an email of your own today, then run it past an unbiased acquaintance to ask if it would persuade them to reply?

A checklist to guide your website content

Your site content speaks for you when a potential client wants to research you further before communicating one-on-one. Why invest both budget and heart in what you publish? Because 94% of B2B buyers reportedly conduct online investigation before purchasing a business solution. Unfortunately, the same study indicates that only 37% of these buyers are satisfied with the level of information provided by suppliers’ websites. Do you see a disconnect here?

Let’s look at the key landing pages of your website today and see how many of these boxes you can check off:

My content tells potential clients…

☑ What my business name, addresses, phone numbers, fax number, email addresses, driving directions, mapped locations, social and review profiles are

☑ What my products and services are and why they meet clients’ needs

☑ The complete details of my special offers for B2B clients, including my capacity for fulfillment

☑ What my pricing is like, so that I’m getting leads from qualified clients without wasting anyone’s time

☑ What my USP is — what makes my selling proposition unique and a better choice than my local competitors

☑ What my role is as a beneficial member of the local business community and the human community, including my professional relationships, philanthropy, sustainable practices, accreditations, awards, and other points of pride

☑ What others say about my company, including reviews and testimonials

☑ What my clients’ rights and guarantees are

☑ What value I place on my clients, via the quality, usefulness, and usability of my website and its content

If you found your content lacking any of these checklist elements, budget to build them. If writing is not your strong suit and your company isn’t large enough to have an in-house content team, hire help. A really good copywriter will partner up to tell the story of your business while also accurately portraying its unique voice. Expect to be deeply interviewed so that a rich narrative can emerge.

In sum, you want your website to be doing the talking for you 24 hours a day so that every question a potential B2B client has can be confidently answered, prompting the next step of personal outreach.

How to find your B2B advantage

Earlier, we spoke of the research you’ll do to analyze the business community you could be serving with your B2B offerings, and we covered how to be sure you’ve got the local digital marketing basics in place to showcase what you do on the web. Depending on your market, you could find that investment in either direction could represent an opportunity many of your competitors have overlooked.

For an even greater advantage, though, let’s look directly at your competitors. You can research them by:

  1. Visiting their websites to understand their services, products, pricing, hours, capacity, USP, etc.
  2. Visiting their physical premises, making inquiries by phone, or (if possible) making a purchase of their products/services to see how you like them and if there’s anything that could be done better
  3. Reading their negative reviews to see what their customers complain about
  4. Looking them up on social media, again to see what customers say and how the brand handles complaints
  5. Reading both positive and negative media coverage of the brand

Do you see any gaps? If you can dare to be different and fill them, you will have identified an important advantage. Perhaps you’ll be the only:

  • Commercial cleaning company in town that specializes in servicing the pet-friendly hospitality market
  • Restaurant offering a particular type of cuisine at scale
  • Major attraction with appealing discounts for large groups
  • Commercial printer open late at night for rush jobs
  • Yoga instructor specializing in reducing work-related stress/injuries

And if your city is large and highly competitive and there aren’t glaring gaps in available services, try to find a gap in service quality. Maybe there are several computer repair shops, but yours is the only one that works weekends. Maybe there are a multitude of travel agents, but your eco-tourism packages for corporations have won major awards. Maybe yours is just one of 400+ Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, but the only one to throw in a free bag of MeeMee’s sesame and almond cookies (a fortune cookie differentiator!) with every office delivery, giving a little uplift to hardworking staff.

Find your differentiator, put it in writing, put it to the fore of your sales process. And engineer it into consumer-centric language, so that hard candy buttons with chocolate inside them become the USP that “melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” solving a discovered pain point or need.

B2B marketing boils down to service

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

- Charles Dickens

We’re all in business to serve. We’re all helpers. At Moz, we make SEO easier for digital and local companies. At your brand, _________?

However you fill in that blank, you’re in the business of service. Whether you’re marketing a B2B that’s awakening to the need to invest in local SEO or a B2C on the verge of debuting your new business-to-business offering, your project boils down to the simple question,

“How can I help?”

Looking thoughtfully into your brand’s untapped capacities to serve your community, coupled with an authentic desire to help, is the best groundwork you can lay at the starting point for satisfaction at the finish line.

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Taking Local Inventory Online: An Interview with Pointy’s Mark Cummins

Posted by MiriamEllis

Let’s go back in time 20 years so I can ask you the question, “How often do you look at a paper map every month?”

Unless you were a cartographer or a frequent traveler, chances are good that your answer would be, “Hmm, maybe less than once a month. Maybe once or twice a year.”

But in 2019, I’d wager there’s scarcely a day that goes by without you using Google Maps when planning to eat out, find a service provider, or find something fun to do. That web-based map in your hand has become a given.

And yet, there’s one thing you’re still not using the Internet for. And it’s something you likely wonder about almost daily. It starts with the question,

“I wonder who around here carries X?”

A real-world anecdote

After the tragic fires we’ve had this year in California, I wanted to wet mop all the floors in my house instead of vacuuming them, due to my concerns about particulate pollution in the air. My mother recommended I buy a Swiffer. I needed to know where I could find one locally, but I didn’t turn to the Internet for this, because the Internet doesn’t tell me this. Or at least, it hasn’t done so until now. Few, if any, of the local hardware stores, pharmacies, or big box retailers have reliable, live online inventory. At the same time, calling these places is often a huge hassle because staff isn’t always sure what’s in stock.

And so I ended up going to 3 different shops in search of this particular product. It wasn’t a convenient experience, and it was an all-too-common one.

The next big thing in local already exists

My real-world anecdote about a wet mop is exactly why I’m so pleased to be interviewing Mark Cummins, CEO of Pointy. 90% of purchases still take place in physical stores and it’s Mark who has seen this gap in available online knowledge about offline inventory and has now set out to bridge it.

I predict that within a few years, you’ll be using the Internet to find local inventory as frequently and easily as you’ve come to use its mapping capabilities. This chat with Mark explains why.

The real-world roots of an existing local need

Miriam: Mark, I understand that you were formerly a Google Search Team member, with a background in machine learning, but that your journey with Pointy began by walking into retail shops and talking face-to-face with owners. What did these owners tell you about their challenges in relation to offline/online inventory? A memorable real-world anecdote would be great here.

Mark: I started thinking about this problem because of an experience just like your story about trying to find a Swiffer. I’d recently moved to a new country and I had to buy lots of things to set up a new apartment, so I had that kind of experience all the time. It felt like there was a huge gap there that search engines could help with, but they weren’t.

I had been working at Google developing what became Google Lens (Google’s image recognition search feature). It felt strange that Google could do something so advanced, yet couldn’t answer very basic questions about where to buy things locally.

So I started thinking about ways to fix that. Initially I would just walk into retailers and talk to them about how they managed their inventory. I was trying to figure out if there was some uniform way to bring the inventory information online. I quickly learned that it was going to be hard. Almost every retailer I spoke to had a different method of tracking it. Some kept records on paper. Some didn’t count their inventory at all.

My first idea was a little crazy — I wanted to build a robot for retailers that would drive around the store every night and photograph all the shelves, and use image recognition to figure out the inventory and the prices. I spent some time seriously thinking about that, but then landed on the idea of the Pointy box, which is a much simpler solution.

Miriam: Can you briefly describe what a typical Point of Sale system is like for retailers these days, in light of this being technology most retailers already have in place?

Mark: Well, I would almost say that there isn’t a typical Point of Sale system. The market is really fragmented, it sometimes feels like no two retailers have the same system. There’s a huge range, from the old-style systems that are essentially a glorified calculator with a cash drawer, up to modern cloud-connected systems like Clover, Square, or Lightspeed. It’s very disruptive for retailers to change their POS system, so older systems tend to stay in use for a long time. The systems also differ by vertical — there are specialized systems for pharmacies, liquor stores, etc. Dealing with all of that variation is what makes it so hard to get uniform local inventory data.

A simple inventory solution is born

Miriam: So, you spoke with retailers, listened to their challenges and saw that they already have Point of Sale systems in place. And Pointy was born! Please, describe exactly what a Pointy device is, how it solves the problems you learned about, and fits right in with existing Point of Sales technology.

Mark: Right! It was pretty clear that we needed to find a solution that worked with retailers’ existing systems. So we developed the Pointy box. The Pointy box is a small device that attaches to a retailer’s barcode scanner. Basically it links the barcode scanner to a website we create for the retailer. Whenever the retailer scans a product with their barcode scanner, we recognize the barcode, and list the product on the website. The end result is live website listing everything in the store — here’s an example for Talbot’s Toyland, a toy store in San Mateo. They have over ten thousand products listed on their site, without any manual work.

The experience is pretty much seamless — just plug in Pointy, and watch your store website build itself. The Pointy box connects directly via the cell phone network, so there’s really nothing to set up. Just plug it in and it starts working. New products automatically get added to your store page, old products get removed when you no longer sell them, item stock status syncs automatically. We did quite a bit of machine learning to make that all automatic. Once the site is live, we also have some SEO and SEM tools to help retailers drive search traffic for the products they sell.

Miriam: My understanding is that the Pointy Team had to do a ton of legwork to put together various product catalogues from which data is pulled each time a product is scanned so that its information can be displayed on the web. I’m not familiar with this concept of product catalogues. What are they, what types of information do they contain, and what did you have to do to pull all of this together? Also, is it true that your team hand-reviews all the product data?

Mark: If you’re working in shopping search, then product catalogs are really important. Every mass-market product has a unique barcode number, but unfortunately there’s no master database where you can enter a barcode number and get back the product’s name, image, etc. So basically every retailer has to solve this problem for themselves, laboriously entering the product details into their systems. Pointy helps eliminate that work for retailers.

There are some product catalogs you can license, but each one only covers a fraction of products, and errors are common. We built a big data pipeline to pull together all of this product data into a single catalog and clean it up. We automate a lot of the work, but if you want the highest quality then machine learning alone isn’t enough. So every single product we display also gets approved by a human reviewer, to make sure it’s accurate. We’ve processed millions of products like this. The end result for the retailer is that they just plug in a Pointy box, scan a product, and their website starts populating itself, no data entry required. It’s a pretty magical feeling the first time you see it. Especially if you’ve spent countless hours of your life doing it the old way!

Where real-time local inventory appears on the web

Miriam: So, then, the products the retailer scans create the brand’s own inventory catalogue, which appears on their Pointy page. What tips would you offer to business owners to best integrate their Pointy page with their brand website? Linking to it from the main menu of the website? Something else? And do these Pointy pages feature SEO basics? Please describe.

Mark: Some retailers use Pointy as their main website. Others have it as an additional profile, in the same way that they might have a Facebook page or a Yelp page. The main thing Pointy brings is the full live inventory of the store, which generally isn’t listed anywhere else. To integrate with their other web presences, most just link across from their main sites or social media profiles. A few also embed Pointy into their sites via an iframe.

We work a lot on making these pages as SEO-friendly as possible. The queries we focus on ranking for are things like “product name near me” or “product name, location.” For example, a query like “rubber piggy bank san mateo” currently has the Pointy page for Talbot’s Toyland in #1 position. We have an engineering team working on this all the time, and we’ve actually discovered a few interesting things.

Miriam: And how does this work when, for example, a product goes out of stock or goes on sale for a different price?

Mark: We keep that information updated live. The stock status is updated based on the information from the Pointy box. We also handle price data, though it depends on what features the retailers is using. Some retailers prefer not to display their prices online.

See What’s In Store: Google totally sees the opportunity

Miriam: I was fascinated to learn that Pointy is the launch partner for Google’s See What’s In Store feature, and readers can see an example of this with Talbot’s Toyland. Can you explain what’s involved for retailers who want their inventory to appear in the SWIS area of the Google Business Profile (aka “Knowledge Panel”) and why this represents such an important opportunity? Also, does the business have to pay a commission to Google for inclusion/impressions/clicks?

Mark: This is a pretty exciting feature. It lets retailers display their full product catalogue and live inventory information in the Business Profile on the Google search page. It’s also visible from Google Maps. I’m guessing Google will probably start to surface the information in more ways over time.

It’s completely free for retailers, which is pretty interesting. Google Shopping has always been a paid service, so it’s notable that Google is now offering some organic exposure with this new feature.

I think that this is going to become table stakes for retailers in the next year or two, in the same way that having your opening hours online is now. Consumers are simply going to expect the convenience of finding local product information online. I think that’s a good thing, because it will help local businesses win back customers that might otherwise have gone to Amazon.

We’ve worked a lot with Google to make the setup experience for local retailers very simple. You just link your Pointy account to Google, and your live inventory appears in the Google Business Profile. Behind the scenes we do a lot of technical work to make that happen (including creating Merchant Center accounts, setting up feeds, etc). But the user experience is just a few clicks. We’ve seen a lot of uptake from Pointy users, it’s been a very popular feature. We have a bit more detail on it here.

What about special retail scenarios?

Miriam: So, basically, Pointy makes getting real-world inventory online for small and independent retailers who just don’t have the time to deal with a complicated e-commerce system. I understand that you have some different approaches to offer larger enterprises, involving their existing IT systems. Can you talk a bit about that, please?

Mark: Yes, some larger retailers may be able to send us a direct feed from their inventory systems, rather than installing Pointy boxes at every POS location. We aim to support whatever is easiest for the retailer. We are also directly integrated into modern cloud POS systems like Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, and others. Users of those systems can download a free Pointy app from their system’s app store and integrate with us that way. And for retailers not using those systems, they can use a Pointy box.

Miriam: And what about retailers whose products lack labels/barcodes? Let’s say, a farm stand with constantly-changing seasonal produce, or a clothing boutique with hand-knit sweaters? Is there a Pointy solution for them?

Mark: Unfortunately we’re not a great fit for those kind of retailers. We designed the experience for retailers who sell barcoded products.

Miriam: You’re a former Google staffer, Mark. In local search, Google has become aggressive in taking a cut of an increasing number of local consumer actions and this is particularly hard on small businesses. We’ve got Local Service Ads, paid ads in local packs, booking buttons, etc, all of which struggling independent businesses are having to pay Google for. Right now, these retailers are eager for a competitive edge. How can they differentiate themselves? Please, share tips.

Mark: It’s true, lots of channels that used to be purely organic now have a mix of organic and paid. I think ultimately the paid ads still have to be ROI-positive or nobody will use them, but it’s definitely no fun to pay for traffic you used to get for free.

On the positive side, there are still plenty of openings to reach customers organically. If small businesses invest in staying ahead of the game, they can do very well. Lots of local product searches essentially have no answer, because most retailers haven’t been able to get their inventory online yet. It’s easy to rank well for a query when you’re the only one with the answer. There’s definitely still an opening there for early adopters.

“Pointing” the way to the future

Miriam: Finally, Pointy has only been available in the US since 2016, and in that short amount of time, you’re already serving 1% of the country’s retailers. Congratulations! What does the near future look like to you for retailers and for Pointy? What do you see as Pointy’s mission?

Mark: We want to bring the world’s brick-and-mortar retailers online and give them the tools they need to thrive. More than 90% of retail goes through brick and mortar stores, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t have an amazing technology platform to help them. The fragmentation and difficulty of accessing data has held everyone back, but I think Pointy has a shot at fixing that.

Miriam: Thank you, Mark. I believe Pointy has what it takes to be successful, but I’m going to wish you good luck, anyway!

Summing up

In doing this interview, I learned a ton from Mark and I hope you did, too. If a local retailer you market is seeking a competitive advantage in 2019, I’d seriously be considering early adoption of Google’s See What’s In Store feature. It’s prime Google Business Profile (formerly Knowledge Panel) real estate, and so long as SWIS is free and Pointy is so affordable, there’s a pretty incredible opportunity to set yourself apart in these early days with a very modest investment.

I’m feeling confident about my prediction that we’re on the verge of a new threshold in user behavior, in terms of people using local search to find local inventory. We’ll all have the enjoyment of seeing how this plays out over the next couple of years. And if you heard it first at Moz, that will be extra fun!

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The State of Local SEO: Industry Insights for a Successful 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

A thousand thanks to the 1,411 respondents who gave of their time and knowledge in contributing to this major survey! You’ve created a vivid image of what real-life, everyday local search marketers and local business owners are observing on a day-to-day basis, what strategies are working for them right now, and where some frankly stunning opportunities for improvement reside. Now, we’re ready to share your insights into:

  • Google Updates
  • Citations
  • Reviews
  • Company infrastructure
  • Tool usage
  • And a great deal more…

This survey pooled the observations of everyone from people working to market a single small business, to agency marketers with large local business clients:

Respondents who self-selected as not marketing a local business were filtered from further survey results.

Thanks to you, this free report is a window into the industry. Bring these statistics to teammates and clients to earn the buy-in you need to effectively reach local consumers in 2019.

Get the full report

There are so many stories here worthy of your time

Let’s pick just one, to give a sense of the industry intelligence you’ll access in this report. Likely you’ve now seen the Local Search Ranking Factors 2018 Survey, undertaken by Whitespark in conjunction with Moz. In that poll of experts, we saw Google My Business signals being cited as the most influential local ranking component. But what was #2? Link building.

You might come away from that excellent survey believing that, since link building is so important, all local businesses must be doing it. But not so. The State of the Local SEO Industry Report reveals that:

When asked what’s working best for them as a method for earning links, 35% of local businesses and their marketers admitted to having no link building strategy in place at all:

And that, Moz friends, is what opportunity looks like. Get your meaningful local link building strategy in place in the new year, and prepare to leave ⅓ of your competitors behind, wondering how you surpassed them in the local and organic results.

The full report contains 30+ findings like this one. Rivet the attention of decision-makers at your agency, quote persuasive statistics to hesitant clients, and share this report with teammates who need to be brought up to industry speed. When read in tandem with the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, this report will help your business or agency understand both what experts are saying and what practitioners are experiencing.

Sometimes, local search marketing can be a lonely road to travel. You may find yourself wondering, “Does anyone understand what I do? Is anyone else struggling with this task? How do I benchmark myself?” You’ll find both confirmation and affirmation today, and Moz’s best hope is that you’ll come away a better, bolder, more effective local marketer. Let’s begin!

Download the report

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Local Search Ranking Factors 2018: Local Today, Key Takeaways, and the Future

Posted by Whitespark

In the past year, local SEO has run at a startling and near-constant pace of change. From an explosion of new Google My Business features to an ever-increasing emphasis on the importance of reviews, it’s almost too much to keep up with. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we welcome our friend Darren Shaw to explain what local is like today, dive into the key takeaways from his 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and offer us a glimpse into the future according to the local SEO experts.

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. I’m Darren Shaw from Whitespark, and today I want to talk to you about the local search ranking factors. So this is a survey that David Mihm has run for the past like 10 years. Last year, I took it over, and it’s a survey of the top local search practitioners, about 40 of them. They all contribute their answers, and I aggregate the data and say what’s driving local search. So this is what the opinion of the local search practitioners is, and I’ll kind of break it down for you.

Local search today

So these are the results of this year’s survey. We had Google My Business factors at about 25%. That was the biggest piece of the pie. We have review factors at 15%, links at 16%, on-page factors at 14%, behavioral at 10%, citations at 11%, personalization and social at 6% and 3%. So that’s basically the makeup of the local search algorithm today, based on the opinions of the people that participated in the survey.

The big story this year is Google My Business. Google My Business factors are way up, compared to last year, a 32% increase in Google My Business signals. I’ll talk about that a little bit more over in the takeaways. Review signals are also up, so more emphasis on reviews this year from the practitioners. Citation signals are down again, and that makes sense. They continue to decline I think for a number of reasons. They used to be the go-to factor for local search. You just built out as many citations as you could. Now the local search algorithm is so much more complicated and there’s so much more to it that it’s being diluted by all of the other factors. Plus it used to be a real competitive difference-maker. Now it’s not, because everyone is pretty much getting citations. They’re considered table stakes now. By seeing a drop here, it doesn’t mean you should stop doing them. They’re just not the competitive difference-maker they used to be. You still need to get listed on all of the important sites.

Key takeaways

All right, so let’s talk about the key takeaways.

1. Google My Business

The real story this year was Google My Business, Google My Business, Google My Business. Everyone in the comments was talking about the benefits they’re seeing from investing in a lot of these new features that Google has been adding.

Google has been adding a ton of new features lately — services, descriptions, Google Posts, Google Q&A. There’s a ton of stuff going on in Google My Business now that allows you to populate Google My Business with a ton of extra data. So this was a big one.

✓ Take advantage of Google Posts

Everyone talked about Google Posts, how they’re seeing Google Posts driving rankings. There are a couple of things there. One is the semantic content that you’re providing Google in a Google post is definitely helping Google associate those keywords with your business. Engagement with Google Posts as well could be driving rankings up, and maybe just being an active business user continuing to post stuff and logging in to your account is also helping to lift your business entity and improve your rankings. So definitely, if you’re not on Google Posts, get on it now.

If you search for your category, you’ll see a ton of businesses are not doing it. So it’s also a great competitive difference-maker right now.

✓ Seed your Google Q&A

Google Q&A, a lot of businesses are not even aware this exists. There’s a Q&A section now. Your customers are often asking questions, and they’re being answered by not you. So it’s valuable for you to get in there and make sure you’re answering your questions and also seed the Q&A with your own questions. So add all of your own content. If you have a frequently asked questions section on your website, take that content and put it into Google Q&A. So now you’re giving lots more content to Google.

✓ Post photos and videos

Photos and videos, continually post photos and videos, maybe even encourage your customers to do that. All of that activity is helpful. A lot of people don’t know that you can now post videos to Google My Business. So get on that if you have any videos for your business.

✓ Fill out every field

There are so many new fields in Google My Business. If you haven’t edited your listing in a couple of years, there’s a lot more stuff in there that you can now populate and give Google more data about your business. All of that really leads to engagement. All of these extra engagement signals that you’re now feeding Google, from being a business owner that’s engaged with your listing and adding stuff and from users, you’re giving them more stuff to look at, click on, and dwell on your listing for a longer time, all that helps with your rankings.

2. Reviews

✓ Get more Google reviews

Reviews continue to increase in importance in local search, so, obviously, getting more Google reviews. It used to be a bit more of a competitive difference-maker. It’s becoming more and more table stakes, because everybody seems to be having lots of reviews. So you definitely want to make sure that you are competing with your competition on review count and lots of high-quality reviews.

✓ Keywords in reviews

Getting keywords in reviews, so rather than just asking for a review, it’s useful to ask your customers to mention what service they had provided or whatever so you can get those keywords in your reviews.

✓ Respond to reviews (users get notified now!)

Responding to reviews. Google recently started notifying users that if the owner has responded to you, you’ll get an email. So all of that is really great, and those responses, it’s another signal to Google that you’re an engaged business.

✓ Diversify beyond Google My Business for reviews

Diversify. Don’t just focus on Google My Business. Look at other sites in your industry that are prominent review sites. You can find them if you just look for your own business name plus reviews, if you search that in Google, you’re going to see the sites that Google is saying are important for your particular business.

You can also find out like what are the sites that your competitors are getting reviews on. Then if you just do a search like keyword plus city, like “lawyers + Denver,” you might find sites that are important for your industry as well that you should be listed on. So check out a couple of your keywords and make sure you’re getting reviews on more sites than just Google.

3. Links

Then links, of course, links continue to drive local search. A lot of people in the comments talked about how a handful of local links have been really valuable. This is a great competitive difference-maker, because a lot of businesses don’t have any links other than citations. So when you get a few of these, it can really have an impact.

✓ From local industry sites and sponsorships

They really talk about focusing on local-specific sites and industry-specific sites. So you can get a lot of those from sponsorships. They’re kind of the go-to tactic. If you do a search for in title sponsors plus city name, you’re going to find a lot of sites that are listing their sponsors, and those are opportunities for you, in your city, that you could sponsor that event as well or that organization and get a link.

The future!

All right. So I also asked in the survey: Where do you see Google going in the future? We got a lot of great responses, and I tried to summarize that into three main themes here for you.

1. Keeping users on Google

This is a really big one. Google does not want to send its users to your website to get the answer. Google wants to have the answer right on Google so that they don’t have to click. It’s this zero-click search result. So you see Rand Fishkin talking about this. This has been happening in local for a long time, and it’s really amplified with all of these new features Google has been adding. They want to have all of your data so that they don’t have to send users to find it somewhere else. Then that means in the future less traffic to your website.

So Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm also talk about Google as your new homepage, and this concept is like branded search.

  • What does your branded search look like?
  • So what sites are you getting reviews on?
  • What does your knowledge panel look like?

Make that all look really good, because Google doesn’t want to send people to your new website.

2. More emphasis on behavioral signals

David Mihm is a strong voice in this. He talks about how Google is trying to diversify how they rank businesses based on what’s happening in the real world. They’re looking for real-world signals that actual humans care about this business and they’re engaging with this business.

So there’s a number of things that they can do to track that — so branded search, how many people are searching for your brand name, how many people are clicking to call your business, driving directions. This stuff is all kind of hard to manipulate, whereas you can add more links, you can get more reviews. But this stuff, this is a great signal for Google to rely on.

Engagement with your listing, engagement with your website, and actual humans in your business. If you’ve seen on the knowledge panel sometimes for brick-and-mortar business, it will be like busy times. They know when people are actually at your business. They have counts of how many people are going into your business. So that’s a great signal for them to use to understand the prominence of your business. Is this a busy business compared to all the other ones in the city?

3. Google will monetize everything

Then, of course, a trend to monetize as much as they can. Google is a publicly traded company. They want to make as much money as possible. They’re on a constant growth path. So there are a few things that we see coming down the pipeline.

Local service ads are expanding across the country and globally and in different industries. So this is like a paid program. You have to apply to get into it, and then Google takes a cut of leads. So if you are a member of this, then Google will send leads to you. But you have to be verified to be in there, and you have to pay to be in there.

Then taking a cut from bookings, you can now book directly on Google for a lot of different businesses. If you think about Google Flights and Google Hotels, Google is looking for a way to monetize all of this local search opportunity. That’s why they’re investing heavily in local search so they can make money from it. So seeing more of these kinds of features rolling out in the future is definitely coming. Transactions from other things. So if I did book something, then Google will take a cut for it.

So that’s the future. That’s sort of the news of the local search ranking factors this year. I hope it’s been helpful. If you have any questions, just leave some comments and I’ll make sure to respond to them all. Thanks, everybody.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


If you missed our recent webinar on the Local Search Ranking Factors survey with Darren Shaw and Dr. Pete, don’t worry! You can still catch the recording here:

Check out the webinar

You’ll be in for a jam-packed hour of deeper insights and takeaways from the survey, as well as some great audience-contributed Q&A.

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Will Google Home Hub ever become a useful local search tool?

Just a few modest improvements would make Home and Home Hub more effective for local search.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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Why Local Businesses Will Need Websites More than Ever in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

64% of 1,411 surveyed local business marketers agree that Google is becoming the new “homepage” for local businesses. Via Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report

…but please don’t come away with the wrong storyline from this statistic.

As local brands and their marketers watch Google play Trojan horse, shifting from top benefactor to top competitor by replacing former “free” publicity with paid packs, Local Service Ads, zero-click SERPs, and related structures, it’s no surprise to see forum members asking, “Do I even need a website anymore?”

Our answer to this question is,“Yes, you’ve never needed a website more than you will in 2019.” In this post, we’ll examine:

  • Why it looks like local businesses don’t need websites
  • Statistical proofs of why local businesses need websites now more than ever
  • The current status of local business websites and most-needed improvements

How Google stopped bearing so many gifts

Within recent memory, a Google query with local intent brought up a big pack of ten nearby businesses, with each entry taking the user directly to these brands’ websites for all of their next steps. A modest amount of marketing effort was rewarded with a shower of Google gifts in the form of rankings, traffic, and conversions.

Then these generous SERPs shrank to seven spots, and then three, with the mobile sea change thrown into the bargain and consisting of layers and layers of Google-owned interfaces instead of direct-to-website links. In 2018, when we rustle through the wrapping paper, the presents we find from Google look cheaper, smaller, and less magnificent.

Consider these five key developments:

1) Zero-click mobile SERPs

This slide from a recent presentation by Rand Fishkin encapsulates his findings regarding the growth of no-click SERPs between 2016–2018. Mobile users have experienced a 20% increase in delivery of search engine results that don’t require them to go any deeper than Google’s own interface.

2) The encroachment of paid ads into local packs

When Dr. Peter J. Myers surveyed 11,000 SERPs in 2018, he found that 35% of competitive local packs feature ads.

3) Google becoming a lead gen agency

At last count, Google’s Local Service Ads program via which they interposition themselves as the paid lead gen agent between businesses and consumers has taken over 23 business categories in 77 US cities.

4) Even your branded SERPs don’t belong to you

When a user specifically searches for your brand and your Google Knowledge Panel pops up, you can likely cope with the long-standing “People Also Search For” set of competitors at the bottom of it. But that’s not the same as Google allowing Groupon to advertise at the top of your KP, or putting lead gen from Doordash and GrubHub front and center to nickel and dime you on your own customers’ orders.

5) Google is being called the new “homepage” for local businesses

As highlighted at the beginning of this post, 64% of marketers agree that Google is becoming the new “homepage” for local businesses. This concept, coined by Mike Blumenthal, signifies that a user looking at a Google Knowledge Panel can get basic business info, make a phone call, get directions, book something, ask a question, take a virtual tour, read microblog posts, see hours of operation, thumb through photos, see busy times, read and leave reviews. Without ever having to click through to a brand’s domain, the user may be fully satisfied.

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
- Epicurus

There are many more examples we could gather, but they can all be summed up in one way: None of Google’s most recent local initiatives are about driving customers to brands’ own websites. Local SERPs have shrunk and have been re-engineered to keep users within Google’s platforms to generate maximum revenue for Google and their partners.

You may be as philosophical as Epicurus about this and say that Google has every right to be as profitable as they can with their own product, even if they don’t really need to siphon more revenue off local businesses. But if Google’s recent trajectory causes your brand or agency to conclude that websites have become obsolete in this heavily controlled environment, please keep reading.

Your website is your bedrock

“65% of 1,411 surveyed marketers observe strong correlation between organic and local rank.” – Via Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report

What this means is that businesses which rank highly organically are very likely to have high associated local pack rankings. In the following screenshot, if you take away the directory-type platforms, you will see how the brand websites ranking on page 1 for “deli athens ga” are also the two businesses that have made it into Google’s local pack:

How often do the top 3 Google local pack results also have a 1st page organic rankings?

In a small study, we looked at 15 head keywords across 7 US cities and towns. This yielded 315 possible entries in Google’s local pack. Of that 315, 235 of the businesses ranking in the local packs also had page 1 organic rankings. That’s a 75% correlation between organic website rankings and local pack presence.

*It’s worth noting that where local and organic results did not correlate, it was sometimes due the presence of spam GMB listings, or to mystery SERPs that did not make sense at first glance — perhaps as a result of Google testing, in some cases.

Additionally, many local businesses are not making it to the first page of Google anymore in some categories because the organic SERPs are inundated with best-of lists and directories. Often, local business websites were pushed down to the second page of the organic results. In other words, if spam, “best-ofs,” and mysteries were removed, the local-organic correlation would likely be much higher than 75%.

Further, one recent study found that even when Google’s Local Service Ads are present, 43.9% of clicks went to the organic SERPs. Obviously, if you can make it to the top of the organic SERPs, this puts you in very good CTR shape from a purely organic standpoint.

Your takeaway from this

The local businesses you market may not be able to stave off the onslaught of Google’s zero-click SERPs, paid SERPs, and lead gen features, but where “free” local 3-packs still exist, your very best bet for being included in them is to have the strongest possible website. Moreover, organic SERPs remain a substantial source of clicks.

Far from it being the case that websites have become obsolete, they are the firmest bedrock for maintaining free local SERP visibility amidst an increasing scarcity of opportunities.

This calls for an industry-wide doubling down on organic metrics that matter most.

Bridging the local-organic gap

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
- Aristotle

A 2017 CNBC survey found that 45% of small businesses have no website, and, while most large enterprises have websites, many local businesses qualify as “small.”

Moreover, a recent audit of 9,392 Google My Business listings found that 27% have no website link.

When asked which one task 1,411 marketers want clients to devote more resources to, it’s no coincidence that 66% listed a website-oriented asset. This includes local content development, on-site optimization, local link building, technical analysis of rankings/traffic/conversions, and website design as shown in the following Moz survey graphic:

In an environment in which websites are table stakes for competitive local pack rankings, virtually all local businesses not only need one, but they need it to be as strong as possible so that it achieves maximum organic rankings.

What makes a website strong?

The Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO offers incredibly detailed guidelines for creating the best possible website. While we recommend that everyone marketing a local business read through this in-depth guide, we can sum up its contents here by stating that strong websites combine:

  • Technical basics
  • Excellent usability
  • On-site optimization
  • Relevant content publication
  • Publicity

For our present purpose, let’s take a special look at those last three elements.

On-site optimization and relevant content publication

There was a time when on-site SEO and content development were treated almost independently of one another. And while local businesses will need a make a little extra effort to put their basic contact information in prominent places on their websites (such as the footer and Contact Us page), publication and optimization should be viewed as a single topic. A modern strategy takes all of the following into account:

  • Keyword and real-world research tell a local business what consumers want
  • These consumer desires are then reflected in what the business publishes on its website, including its homepage, location landing pages, about page, blog and other components
  • Full reflection of consumer desires includes ensuring that human language (discovered via keyword and real-world research) is implemented in all elements of each page, including its tags, headings, descriptions, text, and in some cases, markup

What we’re describing here isn’t a set of disconnected efforts. It’s a single effort that’s integral to researching, writing, and publishing the website. Far from stuffing keywords into a tag or a page’s content, focus has shifted to building topical authority in the eyes of search engines like Google by building an authoritative resource for a particular consumer demographic. The more closely a business is able to reflect customers’ needs (including the language of their needs), in every possible component of its website, the more relevant it becomes.

A hypothetical example of this would be a large medical clinic in Dallas. Last year, their phone staff was inundated with basic questions about flu shots, like where and when to get them, what they cost, would they cause side effects, what about side effects on people with pre-existing health conditions, etc. This year, the medical center’s marketing team took a look at Moz Keyword Explorer and saw that there’s an enormous volume of questions surrounding flu shots:

This tiny segment of the findings of the free keyword research tool, Answer the Public, further illustrates how many questions people have about flu shots:

The medical clinic need not compete nationally for these topics, but at a local level, a page on the website can answer nearly every question a nearby patient could have about this subject. The page, created properly, will reflect human language in its tags, headings, descriptions, text, and markup. It will tell all patients where to come and when to come for this procedure. It has the potential to cut down on time-consuming phone calls.

And, finally, it will build topical authority in the eyes of Google to strengthen the clinic’s chances of ranking well organically… which can then translate to improved local rankings.

It’s important to note that keyword research tools typically do not reflect location very accurately, so research is typically done at a national level, and then adjusted to reflect regional or local language differences and geographic terms, after the fact. In other words, a keyword tool may not accurately reflect exactly how many local consumers in Dallas are asking “Where do I get a flu shot?”, but keyword and real-world research signals that this type of question is definitely being asked. The local business website can reflect this question while also adding in the necessary geographic terms.

Local link building must be brought to the fore of publicity efforts

Moz’s industry survey found that more than one-third of respondents had no local link building strategy in place. Meanwhile, link building was listed as one of the top three tasks to which marketers want their clients to devote more resources. There’s clearly a disconnect going on here. Given the fundamental role links play in building Domain Authority, organic rankings, and subsequent local rankings, building strong websites means bridging this gap.

First, it might help to examine old prejudices that could cause local business marketers and their clients to feel dubious about link building. These most likely stem from link spam which has gotten so out of hand in the general world of SEO that Google has had to penalize it and filter it to the best of their ability.

Not long ago, many digital-only businesses were having a heyday with paid links, link farms, reciprocal links, abusive link anchor text and the like. An online company might accrue thousands of links from completely irrelevant sources, all in hopes of escalating rank. Clearly, these practices aren’t ones an ethical business can feel good about investing in, but they do serve as an interesting object lesson, especially when a local marketer can point out to a client, that best local links are typically going to result from real-world relationship-building.

Local businesses are truly special because they serve a distinct, physical community made up of their own neighbors. The more involved a local business is in its own community, the more naturally link opportunities arise from things like local:

  • Sponsorships
  • Event participation and hosting
  • Online news
  • Blogs
  • Business associations
  • B2B cross-promotions

There are so many ways a local business can build genuine topical and domain authority in a given community by dint of the relationships it develops with neighbors.

An excellent way to get started on this effort is to look at high-ranking local businesses in the same or similar business categories to discover what work they’ve put in to achieve a supportive backlink profile. Moz Link Intersect is an extremely actionable resource for this, enabling a business to input its top competitors to find who is linking to them.

In the following example, a small B&B in Albuquerque looks up two luxurious Tribal resorts in its city:

Link Intersect then lists out a blueprint of opportunities, showing which links one or both competitors have earned. Drilling down, the B&B finds that Marriott.com is linking to both Tribal resorts on an Albuquerque things-to-do page:

The small B&B can then try to earn a spot on that same page, because it hosts lavish tea parties as a thing-to-do. Outreach could depend on the B&B owner knowing someone who works at the local Marriott personally. It could include meeting with them in person, or on the phone, or even via email. If this outreach succeeds, an excellent, relevant link will have been earned to boost organic rank, underpinning local rank.

Then, repeat the process. Aristotle might well have been speaking of link building when he said we are what we repeatedly do and that excellence is a habit. Good marketers can teach customers to have excellent habits in recognizing a good link opportunity when they see it.

Taken altogether

Without a website, a local business lacks the brand-controlled publishing and link-earning platform that so strongly influences organic rankings. In the absence of this, the chances of ranking well in competitive local packs will be significantly less. Taken altogether, the case is clear for local businesses investing substantially in their websites.

Acting now is actually a strategy for the future

“There is nothing permanent except change.”
- Heraclitus

You’ve now determined that strong websites are fundamental to local rankings in competitive markets. You’ve absorbed numerous reasons to encourage local businesses you market to prioritize care of their domains. But there’s one more thing you’ll need to be able to convey, and that’s a sense of urgency.

Right now, every single customer you can still earn from a free local pack listing is immensely valuable for the future.

This isn’t a customer you’ve had to pay Google for, as you very well might six months, a year, or five years from now. Yes, you’ve had to invest plenty in developing the strong website that contributed to the high local ranking, but you haven’t paid a penny directly to Google for this particular lead. Soon, you may be having to fork over commissions to Google for a large portion of your new customers, so acting now is like insurance against future spend.

For this to work out properly, local businesses must take the leads Google is sending them right now for free, and convert them into long-term, loyal customers, with an ultimate value of multiple future transactions without Google as a the middle man. And if these freely won customers can be inspired to act as word-of-mouth advocates for your brand, you will have done something substantial to develop a stream of non-Google-dependent revenue.

This offer may well expire as time goes by. When it comes to the capricious local SERPs, marketers resemble the Greek philosophers who knew that change is the only constant. The Trojan horse has rolled into every US city, and it’s a gift with a questionable shelf life. We can’t predict if or when free packs might become obsolete, but we share your concerns about the way the wind is blowing.

What we can see clearly right now is that websites will be anything but obsolete in 2019. Rather, they are the building blocks of local rankings, precious free leads, and loyal revenue, regardless of how SERPs may alter in future.

For more insights into where local businesses should focus in 2019, be sure to explore the Moz State of Local SEO industry report:

Read the State of Local SEO industry report

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The Guide to Building Linked Unstructured Citations for Local SEO

Posted by MiriamEllis

This article was written jointly in partnership with Kameron Jenkins. You can enjoy her previous articles here.


When you’ve accomplished step one in your local search marketing, how do you take step two?

You already know that any local business you market has to have the table stakes of accurate structured citations on major platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Infogroup, Acxiom, and YP.

But what can local SEO practitioners do once they’ve got these formal listings created and a system in place for managing them? Our customers often come to us once they’ve gotten well underway with Moz Local and ask, “What’s next? What can I do to move the needle?” This blog post will give you the actionable strategy and a complete step-by-step tutorial to answer this important question.

A quick refresher on citations

Listings on formal directories are called “structured citations.” When other types of platforms (like online news, blogs, best-of lists, etc.) reference a local business’ complete or partial contact information, that’s called an “unstructured citation.” And the best unstructured citations of all include links, of course!

For example, the San Francisco branch of a natural foods grocery store gets a linked unstructured citation from a major medical center in their city via a blog post about stocking a pantry with the right ingredients for healthier eating. Google and consumers encounter this reference and understand that trust and authority are being conveyed and earned.

The more often websites that are relevant to your location or industry link to you within their own content, the better your chances of ranking well in Google’s organic and local search engine results.

Why linked unstructured citations are growing in importance right now

Link building is as old as organic SEO. Structured citation building is as old as local SEO. Both practices have long sought to influence Google rankings. But a close read of the local search marketing community these days points up an increasing emphasis on the value of unstructured citations. In fact, local links were one of the top three takeaways from the 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Why is this?

  1. Google has become the dominant force in local consumer experiences, keeping as many actions as possible within their own interface instead of sending searchers to company websites. Because links influence rank within that interface, most local businesses enterprises will need to move beyond traditional structured citations to impress Google with mentions on a diverse variety of relevant websites. While structured citations are rightly referred to as “table stakes” for all local businesses, it’s the unstructured ones that can be competitive difference-makers in tough markets.
  2. Meanwhile, Google is increasingly monetizing local search results. A prime example of this is their Local Service Ads (LSA) program which acts as lead gen between Google and service area businesses like plumbing and housekeeping companies. Savvy local brands (including brick-and-mortar models) will see the way the wind is blowing with this and work to form non-Google-dependent sources of traffic and lead generation. A good linked unstructured citation on a highly relevant publication can drive business without having to pay Google a dime.

Your goal with linked unstructured citations is to build your community footprint and your authority simultaneously. All you need is the right tools for the research phase!

Fishing for opportunities with Link Intersect

For the sake of this tutorial, let’s choose at random a small B&B in Albuquerque — Bottger.com — as our hypothetical client. Let’s say that the innkeeper wants to know how the big Tribal resort casinos are earning publicity and links, in the hopes of finding opportunities for a smaller hospitality business, too. *Note that these aren’t absolutely direct competitors, but they share a city and an overall industry.

We’re going to use Moz’s Link Intersect tool to do this research for Bottger Mansion. This tool could help Bottger uncover all kinds of links and unstructured linked citation opportunities, depending on how it’s used. For example, the tool could surface:

  • Links that direct or near-direct competitors have, but that Bottger doesn’t
  • Locally relevant links from domains/pages about Bottger’s locale
  • Industry-relevant links from domains/pages about the hospitality industry

Step 1: Find the “big fish”

A client may already know who the “big fish” in their community are, or you can cast a net by identifying popular local events and seeing which businesses sponsor them. Sponsorships can be pricey, depending on the event, so if a local company sponsors a big event, it’s an indication that they’re a larger enterprise with the budget to pursue a wide array of creative PR ideas. Larger enterprises can serve as models for small business emulation, at scale.

In our case study, we know that Bottger is located in Albuquerque, so we decided to locate sponsors of the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Right away, we spotted two lavish Albuquerque resort-casinos — Isleta and Sandia. These are the “big fish” we want our smaller client to look to for inspiration.

Step 2: Input domains in Link Intersect

We’re going to compare Bottger’s domain to Isleta and Sandia’s domains. In Moz Pro, navigate to “Link Explorer” and then select “Link Intersect” from the left navigation. Input your domain in the top and the domains you want to mine link ideas from in the fields beneath, as depicted below.

Open Link Explorer in a new tab

Next to Bottger’s domain, we’ve selected “root domain” as that will show us all competitor links who haven’t linked to us at all. We’re also going to select “root domain” on the resort domains, so we can see all of their backlinks, rather than just links to particular pages on their sites.

Moz’s Link Intersect tool will let you compare your site with up to 5 competitors. It’s totally up to you how many sites you want to evaluate at once. If you’re just getting started with link building, you may want to start with just one domain, as this should yield plenty of link opportunities to start with. If you’ve already been doing some link building, you have more time to dedicate to link building, or you’d just generally rather have more options to work with, go ahead and put in multiple domains to compare.

Step 3: Find link opportunities

Once you’ve input your domain and your competitor(s) domains, click “Find Opportunities.” That will yield a list of sites that link to your competitors, but do not link to you.

In this example, we’re comparing our client’s domain against two other domains: A (Isleta) and B (Sandia). In the “Sites that intersect” column, you will see whether Site A has the link, Site B has it, or if they both have it.

Step 4: The link selection process

Now that we have a list of link ideas from Isleta and Sandia’s backlink profiles, it’s time to decide which ones might yield good opportunities for our B&B. That’s right — just because something is in a competitor’s link profile doesn’t necessarily mean you want it!

View the referring pages

The first step is to drill down and get more detail about links the big resorts have. Select the arrow to expand this section and view the exact page the link is coming from.

In this example, both Sandia and Isleta have links from the root domain marriott.com. By using the “expand” feature, we can see the exact pages those links are located on.

Identify follow or no-follow

You can use the MozBar Chrome plugin to view whether your competitor’s link is no-followed or followed. Since only followed links pass authority, you may want to prioritize those, but no-followed links can also have value in the form of generating traffic to your site and could get picked up by others who do eventually link to your site with a follow link.

Select the MozBar icon from your browser and click the pencil icon. If you want to see Followed links, select “Followed” and the MozBar will highlight these links on the page in green. To find No-Followed links, click “No-Followed” and MozBar will highlight these links on the page in pink.

Common types of links you’ll see in the profiles of local business websites

If this is your first foray into link building for local businesses, you may be unfamiliar with the types of sites you’ll see in Link Intersect. While no two link profiles are exactly the same, many local businesses use similar methods for building links, so there are some common categories to be aware of. Knowing these will help you decipher the results Link Intersect will show you.

Types of links and what you can do with them:

Press releases

Press release sites like PRweb.com and PRnewsire.com are fairly common among local businesses that want to spread the word about their initiatives. Whether someone at the business won an award or they started a new community outreach program, local businesses often pay companies like PRweb.com to distribute this news on their platform and to their partners. These are no-followed links (don’t pass link authority aka “SEO value”) but they can offer valuable traffic and could even get picked up by sites that do link with a follow link.

If your competitor is utilizing press releases, you may want to consider distributing your newsworthy information this way!

Structured citations / directories

One of the primary types of domains you’ll see in a local business’ backlink profile is directories — structured citation websites like yellowpages.com that list a business’ name, address, and phone number (NAP) with a link back to the business’ website. Because they’re self-created and not editorially given, like Press Releases, they are often no-followed. However, having consistent and accurate citations across major directory websites is a key foundational step in local search performance.

If you see these types of sites in Link Intersect, it may indicate your need for a listings management solution like Moz Local that can ensure your NAP is accurate and available across major directories. Typically, you’ll want to have these table stakes before focusing on unstructured linked citations.

News coverage

Another favorite among local businesses is local media coverage (or just media coverage in general — it’s not always local). HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a popular service for connecting journalists to subject matter experts who may be valuable sources for their articles. The journalists will typically link your quote back to your website. Aside from services like HARO, local businesses would do well to make media contacts, such as forming relationships with local news correspondents. As news surfaces, they’ll start reaching out to you for comment!

If you see news coverage in your competitor’s backlink profile, you can get ideas of what types of publications want content and information that you can provide.

Local / industry coverage

Blogs, hobby sites, DIY sites, and other platforms can feature content that depicts city life or interest in a topic. For example, a chef might author a popular blog covering their dining experiences in San Francisco. For a local restaurant, being cited by this publication could be valuable.

If you see popular local or industry sites in your competitor’s backlink profile, it’s a good signal of opportunity for your business to build a relationship with the authors in hopes of gaining links.

Trade organizations

Most local businesses are affiliated with some type of governing/regulating body, trade organization, award organization, etc. Many of these organizations have websites themselves, and they often list the businesses they’re affiliated with.

If your competitor is involved with an organization, that means your business is likely suited to be involved as well! Use these links to get ideas of which organizations to join.

Community organizations

Community organizations are a great local validator for search engines, and many local businesses have taken notice. You’ll likely find these types of organizations’ websites in your competitor’s backlink profile, such as Chamber of Commerce websites or the local YMCA.

As a local business, your competitors are in the same locale as you, so take note of these community organizations and consider joining them. You’ll not only get the benefit of better community involvement, but you can get a link out of it too!

Sponsorships / event participation

Local businesses can sponsor, donate to, host or participate in community events, teams, and other cherished local resources, which can lead to both online and offline publicity.

Local businesses can earn great links from online press surrounding these groups and happening. If an event/team page highlights you, but doesn’t actually link to benefactors/participants, don’t be shy about politely requesting a link.

Scholarships / .edu sites

A popular strategy used by many local businesses and non-local businesses alike is scholarship link building. Businesses figured out that if they offered a scholarship, they could get a link back to their site on education websites, such as .edu domains. Everyone seemed to catch on — so much so that many schools stopped featuring these scholarships on their site. It’s also important to note that .edu domains don’t inherently have more value than domains on any other TLD.

If your business wants to offer a scholarship, that is a great thing! We encourage you to pursue this for the benefit it could offer students, rather than primarily for the purpose of gaining links. Scholarship link building has become very saturated, and could be a strategy with diminishing returns, so don’t put all your eggs in this basket, and do it first and foremost for students instead of links.

Other businesses

Businesses may sometimes partner with each other for mutually beneficial link opportunities. Co-marketing opportunities that are a byproduct of genuine relationships can present valuable link opportunities, but link exchanges are against Google’s quality guidelines.

Stay away from “you link to me, I’ll link to you” opportunities as Google can see it as an attempt to manipulate your site’s ranking in search, but don’t be afraid to pursue genuine connections with other businesses that can turn into linking opportunities.

Spam

Just because your competitor has that link doesn’t mean you want it too! In Link Intersect, pay attention to the domain’s Spam Score and DA. A high spam score and/or low DA can indicate that the link wouldn’t be valuable for your site, and may even harm it.

Also watch out for links generated from comments. If your competitor has links in their backlink profile coming from comments, you can safely ignore these as they do not present real opportunities for earning links that will move the needle in the right direction.

Now that you’re familiar with popular types of local backlinks and what you can do with them, let’s actually dig into Isleta and Sandia’s backlinks to see which might be good prospects for us.

Step 5: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Both the Albuquerque Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn link to Isleta and Sandia on their “Local Things to Do” pages. This could be a great prospect for Bottger! In many cases, “things to do” pages will include lists of local restaurants, historic sites, attractions, shops, and more. Note how their addresses are included on the following pages, making them powerful linked unstructured citations. Bottger hosts fancy tea parties in a lovely setting, which could be a fun thing for tourists to do.

Isleta and Sandia also have links from a wedding website. If Bottger uses their property as a wedding venue, offers special wedding or engagement packages, or something similar, this could be a great prospect as well.

Link Intersect also yielded links to various travel guide websites. There are plenty of links on websites like these to local attractions. In the following example, you can see an Albuquerque travel guide that’s broken up by category, “hotels” being one of them:

Isleta and Sandia also have been featured in the Albuquerque Journal. In this example, a local reporter covered news that Isleta was opening expanded bingo and poker rooms. This seems to be a journalist who covers local businesses, so she could be a great connection to make!

Many other links in Isleta and Sandia’s backlink profiles came from sources like events websites, since these resorts are large enough to serve as the venue for major events like concerts and MMA matches. Although Bottger isn’t large enough to host an event of that magnitude, it could spark good ideas for link building opportunities in the future. Maybe Bottger could host a small community tea tasting event featuring locally sourced herbal teas and get in touch with a local reporter to promote it. Even competitor links that you can’t directly pursue can spark your creativity for related link building opportunities.

And let’s not forget how we found out about Isleta and Sandia in the first place: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! Event sponsors are featured on an “official sponsors” page with links to their websites. This is a classic, locally relevant opportunity for any Albuquerque business.

Step 6: Compile your link prospects in Link Tracking Lists

If you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of work. How am I ever going to keep track of all this?” — we’ve got you covered!

Moz Pro’s “Link Tracking Lists” was built for just this purpose.

In Link Intersect, you’ll see little check boxes next to all your competitors’ links. When you find one you want to target, check the box. When you’re done going through all the links and have checked the boxes next to the domains you want to pursue, click “Add to Link Tracking List” at the top right.

Since we’ve never done link building for Bottger before, we’re going to select “Create New List” from the dropdown, and label it something descriptive.

Make sure to put your client’s domain in the “target URL” field. For Step 3, since we’ve just selected the links we want to track from Link Intersect, those will already be populated in this field, so no further action is needed other than to click “Save.”

We’ll come back to Link Tracking Lists when we talk about outreach, but for now, all you need to know is that you can add the desirable competitor links (in our case, links from Isleta and Sandia) to Link Tracking lists straight from Link Intersect, making it easy to manage your data.

Step 7: Find out how to connect with your link prospects

Now it’s time to connect the dots: how do you go from knowing about your competitor’s links to getting those types of links for yourself?

There are three main ways you can get unstructured linked citations to your local business’ website, and those categories are what’s going to dictate the strategy you need to take to secure that opportunity for yourself.

  1. Self-created: Self-created links are like voting for yourself, so sites that accept these types of submissions, like Yelp.com, will NoFollow the link to your business’ website. Visitors are still referred to your website through that link, but the link doesn’t pass authority from Yelp.com to your domain. You should only get authority from a website if they link to you on their own (what Google calls “editorially placed” links). Neither NoFollow nor Follow links are inherently good or bad on their own. They are just intended for different purposes, and it’s the misuse of followed links that can get you in trouble with Google. We’ll talk more about that in a later section titled “Avoiding the bad fish: Risks of ignoring Google’s link scheme guidelines”
  2. Prompted by outreach: In many cases, people won’t know about your content until you tell them. These links are editorially placed by the site owner (not self-created), but the site owner was only made aware of your content because you reached out to them.
  3. Organically earned: Sometimes, you get links even without asking for them. If you have a popular piece of content on your site that receives lots of traffic, for example, people may link to that on their own because they find it valuable.

Since this tutorial is about proactively pursuing link opportunities, we’re going to focus on unstructured linked citations types one and two.

Articles

If your competitor has been featured in an article from say a local journalist or blogger, then your outreach will be focused on making a connection with that writer or publication for future link opportunities, rather than getting the exact link your competitor has. That’s because the article has already been written, so it’s unlikely that the writer will go back and edit their story just to add your link.

The one exception to this rule would be if the article links to your competitor, but your competitor’s link is now broken. In this scenario, you could reach out to the writer and say something like, “Hey! I notice in your article [article title] you link to [competitor’s link], but that link doesn’t seem to be working. I have similar content on my website [your URL]. If you find it valuable, please feel free to use it as a replacement for that broken link!”

Sometimes the contact information of the writer will be right next to the article, itself. For example:

If there’s no email address or contact form in the writer’s bio, you can usually find a link to one of their social media accounts, like Twitter, and you can connect with them there via a public or direct message. If you live in a small, tight-knit community, you may even be able to meet with the author in person.

Press releases

If you notice your competitors are issuing a lot of press releases and you want to try that out for yourself, you’ll likely need to sign up for an account, as these are a primarily self-serve platform. Most quality press release sites charge per release, and the price can differ depending on length.

Citations / directories

You’ll either want to sign up for a citation service like Moz Local that distributes your data to these types of listings programmatically, or if you do it manually, you’ll want to find the link to create your listings. Please note that your business may already be on the directory even if you haven’t set up a profile. Before creating a new listing, search for your business name and its variants, your phone number, and current and former addresses to see if there are existing listings you can claim and update.

Business websites

Most businesses will make it easy to contact them. If you’re trying to contact another business for the purpose of proposing teaming up for a co-marketing opportunity, look in their footer (the very bottom of the website). If there’s no contact information there, search for a “Contact Us” or “About” page. You may not find an email address, but you may be able to find a contact form or phone number. Below is an example from Albuquerque Little Theater, where they have contact information on the right and advertising information in the top navigation for businesses that are interested in taking out ads in their printed show programs. Not an unstructured linked citation, but a great way to get your business known to the community!

Organizations

Most organizations will make it easy for those who want to join, unless they are more exclusive or invitation-only. In the event that you do wish to get involved in an invitation-only organization that has no public-facing contact information, try viewing a member list and seeing if there’s anyone you know. Or maybe you know someone who can introduce you to one of the members. Genuine connections are key for this type of organization.

Step 8: Writing a good outreach email (for unstructured linked citations requiring outreach)

Outreach emails are necessary when the link opportunity you’re pursuing isn’t a link you could create yourself, or if the link source is one where you can’t make face-to-face contact with decision-makers. One of the most important questions you should be asking yourself for these opportunities is, “Why would this website link to me?”

Here’s how Bottger might go about sending an outreach email:

Greeting that matches the nature of the outreach target

“Hey Jill!” might be fine when outreaching to the author of a blog, while “Hello Ms. Smith” might be better for more professional outreach.

Introduction

Give a brief summary of who you are, what you do, and your interest in contacting them. For example: “I work with Bottger Mansion, a historic Bed & Breakfast in Old Town Albuquerque. I found your page about Albuquerque activities — you’ve really captured a lot of what Albuquerque has to offer!”

The ask, and the value add

This is where you’ll actually ask for the link. It’s a good idea here to add value. Don’t just ask for something; offer to give something back!

To continue the same example: “As long-time residents of Old Town, we’d love to provide you with a comprehensive list of activities in the city’s historic district! We feel an Old Town Activities list would be a great addition to your page. Bottger Mansion regularly hosts high tea, for example, which we’d love to let more people know about with a spot on your list!”

Close

Wish them well, thank them for their time, and sign off. Make sure that it’s easy for them to find information about you by including your full name, title, organization, and website/social links in your email signature.

Don’t be afraid to get on the phone, either! Hearing your voice can add a human element to the outreach attempt and offer a better conversion rate than a more impersonal email (we all get so many of those a day that ones from people we don’t know are easy to ignore).

And remember that local businesses have a particular advantage in accruing unstructured linked citations. Lively participation in the life of your community can continuously introduce you to decision-makers at popular local publications, paving the way towards neighborly outreach on your part. Learn to see the opportunities and think of ways your business can add value to the content that is being written about your town or city.

Step 9: Tracking your wins

Next-to-last, we’re going to jump back to Link Tracking Lists for a second, because that’s going to come in extremely handy here. Remember when we created the list with Sandia and Isleta’s links that we were interested in pursuing? Those will now show up when we go to Moz Pro > Link Explorer > Link Tracking Lists.

Every time Bottger successfully secures a link that they’ve added to their Link Tracking List, the red X in “Links to target URL?” column will turn blue, indicating that the site links to Bottger’s root domain. If we were pursuing links to individual pages, and a link prospect linked to our target page, the red X would turn green.

Another handy feature is the “Notes” dropdown. This allows you to keep track of your outreach attempts, which can be one of the trickiest parts about link building!

Avoiding the bad fish: Some words of caution before you get started

Before starting this process for yourself, familiarize yourself with these four risks so that your fishing trip doesn’t result in a basket of bad catches that could waste your resources or get your website penalized.

1. Risks of a “copy only” strategy

Link Intersect can be amazingly helpful for discovering new, relevant link opportunities for your local business, but link builders beware. If all you ever do is copy your competitors, the most you’ll ever achieve is becoming the second-best version of them. Use this method to keep tabs on strategies your competition is using, and even use it to spark your own creativity, but avoid copying everything your competitors do, and nothing else. Why be the second-best version of your competition when you can be the best version of yourself?

2. Risks of a “blindly follow” strategy

Comparing your site’s backlink profile with your direct competitors’ backlink profiles will return a list of links that they have and you don’t, but don’t use Link Intersect results as an exact checklist of links to pursue. Your competitors might have bad backlinks in their profile. For example, avoid pursuing opportunities from domains with a high Spam Score or low Domain or Page Authority (DA/PA). Learn more about how to evaluate sites by their Spam Score or DA/PA.

They might also have great backlinks that aren’t the right opportunity for your business, and those should be avoided too! Do you remember Isleta and Sandia’s links for events like MMA matches? If Bottger were to blindly take those resorts’ link profiles as directives, they might think they have to host a fight at their B&B, too!

Take what you find with a grain of salt. Evaluate every link opportunity on its own merit, rather than deeming it a good opportunity simply because your competitor has it.

3. Risks of an “apples to oranges” strategy

Choose the domains and pages you want to compare yourself against wisely. As a small local B&B, Bottger wouldn’t want to compare their backlink profile to that of Wikipedia or The New York Times, for example. Those sites are popular, but not relevant in any way to the types of unstructured linked citations Bottger would want to pursue, such as links that are locally relevant or industry-relevant.

In other words, just because a site is popular doesn’t mean it will yield relevant unstructured linked citation opportunities for you. Here in this tutorial, we’ve outlined one potential use-case for Link Intersect: finding unstructured linked citations your local business competitors have. However, this is not the only use for Link Intersect. Instead of comparing your site against competitors or near-competitors, you could compare it against:

If you know what types of links you’re trying to find, choosing sites to evaluate against your own should be a lot easier, and yield more relevant opportunities.

4. Risks of ignoring Google’s “link schemes” guidelines

If you’ve never embarked on link building before, we encourage you to read through Google’s quality guidelines for webmasters, specifically its section on “Link schemes.” If you were to distill those link guidelines down into a single principle, it would be: don’t create links for the purpose of manipulating your site’s ranking in Google search. That’s right. Google doesn’t want anyone embarking on any marketing initiatives solely for the purpose of improving their ranking. Google wants links to be the natural byproduct of the quality work you’re doing for your audience. Google can penalize sites that participate in activities such as:

  • Buying links that pass PageRank (“followed” links)
  • Excessive “you link to me and I’ll link to you” exchanges
  • Self-created followed links that weren’t editorially placed by the site owner

This underscores that the activities that are just good business, like being involved in the local community, are also the ones that can produce the links that Google likes. Sites owners might need a little nudge, which is why we’ve included a section on outreach, but that doesn’t mean the links are unnatural. Unstructured linked citations should be a byproduct of the good work local businesses are doing in their communities.

In conclusion

At Moz, we’re strong believers in authenticity, and there is no better pond for building meaningful marketing relationships than the local one. Focusing on unstructured linked citations can be viewed as a prompt to grow your community relationships — with journalists, bloggers, event hosts, business associations, and customers. It’s a chance for a real-world fishing trip that can reel in a basket of publicity for your local brand beyond what money can buy. Your genuine desire to serve and build community will stand you in good stead for the long haul.

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Moz Blog

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SearchCap: Local SEO report, Google Maps spam report & following Googlebot

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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Announcing the 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey

Posted by Whitespark

It has been another year (and a half) since the last publication of the Local Search Ranking Factors, and local search continues to see significant growth and change. The biggest shift this year is happening in Google My Business signals, but we’re also seeing an increase in the importance of reviews and continued decreases in the importance of citations.

Check out the full survey!

Huge growth in Google My Business

Google has been adding features to GMB at an accelerated rate. They see the revenue potential in local, and now that they have properly divorced Google My Business from Google+, they have a clear runway to develop (and monetize) local. Here are just some of the major GMB features that have been released since the publication of the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors:

  • Google Posts available to all GMB users
  • Google Q&A
  • Website builder
  • Services
  • Messaging
  • Videos
  • Videos in Google Posts

These features are creating shifts in the importance of factors that are driving local search today. This year has seen the most explosive growth in GMB specific factors in the history of the survey. GMB signals now make up 25% the local pack/finder pie chart.

GMB-specific features like Google Posts, Google Q&A, and image/video uploads are frequently mentioned as ranking drivers in the commentary. Many businesses are not yet investing in these aspects of local search, so these features are currently a competitive advantage. You should get on these before everyone is doing it.

Here’s your to do list:

  1. Start using Google posts NOW. At least once per week, but preferably a few times per week. Are you already pushing out posts to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Just use the same, lightly edited, content on Google Posts. Also, use calls to action in your posts to drive direct conversions.
  2. Seed the Google Q&A with your own questions and answers. Feed that hyper-relevant, semantically rich content to Google. Relevance FTW.
  3. Regularly upload photos and videos. (Did you know that you can upload videos to GMB now?)
  4. Make sure your profile is 100% complete. If there is an empty field in GMB, fill it. If you haven’t logged into your GMB account in a while, you might be surprised to see all the new data points you can add to your listing.

Why spend your time on these activities? Besides the potential relevance boost you’ll get from the additional content, you’re also sending valuable engagement signals. Regularly logging into your listing and providing content shows Google that you’re an active and engaged business owner that cares about your listing, and the local search experts are speculating that this is also providing ranking benefits. There’s another engagement angle here too: user engagement. Provide more content for users to engage with and they’ll spend more time on your listing clicking around and sending those helpful behavioral signals to Google.

Reviews on the rise

Review signals have also seen continued growth in importance over last year.

Review signals were 10.8% in 2015, so over the past 3 years, we’ve seen a 43% increase in the importance of review signals:

Many practitioners talked about the benefits they’re seeing from investing in reviews. I found David Mihm’s comments on reviews particularly noteworthy. When asked “What are some strategies/tactics that are working particularly well for you at the moment?”, he responded with:

“In the search results I look at regularly, I continue to see reviews playing a larger and larger role. Much as citations became table stakes over the last couple of years, reviews now appear to be on their way to becoming table stakes as well. In mid-to-large metro areas, even industries where ranking in the 3-pack used to be possible with a handful of reviews or no reviews, now feature businesses with dozens of reviews at a minimum — and many within the last few months, which speaks to the importance of a steady stream of feedback.

Whether the increased ranking is due to review volume, keywords in review content, or the increased clickthrough rate those gold stars yield, I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. I just know that for most businesses, it’s the area of local SEO I’d invest the most time and effort into getting right — and done well, should also have a much more important flywheel effect of helping you build a better business, as the guys at GatherUp have been talking about for years.”

Getting keywords in your reviews is a factor that has also risen. In the 2017 survey, this factor ranked #26 in the local pack/finder factors. It is now coming in at #14.

I know this is the Local Search Ranking Factors, and we’re talking about what drives rankings, but you know what’s better than rankings? Conversions. Yes, reviews will boost your rankings, but reviews are so much more valuable than that because a ton of positive reviews will get people to pick up the phone and call your business, and really, that’s the goal. So, if you’re not making the most of reviews yet, get on it!

A quick to do list for reviews would be:

  1. Work on getting more Google reviews (obviously). Ask every customer.
  2. Encourage keywords in the reviews by asking customers to mention the specific service or product in their review.
  3. Respond to every review. (Did you know that Google now notifies the reviewer when the owner responds?)
  4. Don’t only focus on reviews. Actively solicit direct customer feedback as well so you can mark it up in schema/JSON and get stars in the search results.
  5. Once you’re killing it on Google, diversify and get reviews on the other important review sites for your industry (but also continue to send customers to Google).

For a more in-depth discussion of review strategy, please see the blog post version of my 2018 MozCon presentation, “How to Convert Local Searchers Into Customers with Reviews.”

Meh, links

To quote Gyi Tsakalakis: “Meh, links.” All other things being equal, links continue to be a key differentiator in local search. It makes sense. Once you have a complete and active GMB listing, your citations squared away, a steady stream of reviews coming in, and solid content on your website, the next step is links. The trouble is, links are hard, but that’s also what makes them such a valuable competitive differentiator. They ARE hard, so when you get quality links they can really help to move the needle.

When asked, “What are some strategies/tactics that are working particularly well for you at the moment?” Gyi responded with:

“Meh, links. In other words, topically and locally relevant links continue to work particularly well. Not only do these links tend to improve visibility in both local packs and traditional results, they’re also particularly effective for improving targeted traffic, leads, and customers. Find ways to earn links on the sites your local audience uses. These typically include local news, community, and blog sites.”

Citations?

Let’s make something clear: citations are still very valuable and very important.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s look at what’s been happening with citations over the past few surveys:

I think this decline is related to two things:

  1. As local search gets more complex, additional signals are being factored into the algorithm and this dilutes the value that citations used to provide. There are just more things to optimize for in local search these days.
  2. As local search gains more widespread adoption, more businesses are getting their citations consistent and built out, and so citations become less of a competitive difference maker than they were in the past.

Yes, we are seeing citations dropping in significance year after year, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need them. Quite the opposite, really. If you don’t get them, you’re going to have a bad time. Google looks to your citations to help understand how prominent your business is. A well established and popular business should be present on the most important business directories in their industry, and if it’s not, that can be a signal of lower prominence to Google.

The good news is that citations are one of the easiest items to check off your local search to do list. There are dozens of services and tools out there to help you get your business listed and accurate for only a few hundred dollars. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Ensure your business is listed, accurate, complete, and duplicate-free on the top 10-15 most important sites in your industry (including the primary data aggregators and industry/city-specific sites).
  2. Build citations (but don’t worry about duplicates and inconsistencies) on the next top 30 to 50 sites.

Google has gotten much smarter about citation consistency than they were in the past. People worry about it much more than they need to. An incorrect or duplicate listing on an insignificant business listing site is not going to negatively impact your ability to rank.

You could keep building more citations beyond the top 50, and it won’t hurt, but the law of diminishing returns applies here. As you get deeper into the available pool of citation sites, the quality of these sites decreases, and the impact they have on your local search decreases with it. That said, I have heard from dozens of agencies that swear that “maxing out” all available citation opportunities seems to have a positive impact on their local search, so your mileage may vary. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The future of local search

One of my favorite questions in the commentary section is “Comments about where you see Google is headed in the future?” The answers here, from some of the best minds in local search, are illuminating. The three common themes I pulled from the responses are:

  1. Google will continue providing features and content so that they can provide the answers to most queries right in the search results and send less clicks to websites. Expect to see your traffic from local results to your website decline, but don’t fret. You want those calls, messages, and driving directions more than you want website traffic anyway.
  2. Google will increase their focus on behavioral signals for rankings. What better way is there to assess the real-world popularity of a business than by using signals sent by people in the real world. We can speculate that Google is using some of the following signals right now, and will continue to emphasize and evolve behavioral ranking methods:
    1. Searches for your brand name.
    2. Clicks to call your business.
    3. Requests for driving directions.
    4. Engagement with your listing.
    5. Engagement with your website.
    6. Credit card transactions.
    7. Actual human foot traffic in brick-and-mortar businesses.
  3. Google will continue monetizing local in new ways. Local Services Ads are rolling out to more and more industries and cities, ads are appearing right in local panels, and you can book appointments right from local packs. Google isn’t investing so many resources into local out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to build the ultimate resource for instant information on local services and products, and they want to use their dominant market position to take a cut of the sales.

And that does it for my summary of the survey results. A huge thank you to each of the brilliant contributors for giving their time and sharing their knowledge. Our understanding of local search is what it is because of your excellent work and contributions to our industry.

There is much more to read and learn in the actual resource itself, especially in all the comments from the contributors, so go dig into it:

Click here for the full results!

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