Search Marketing

4 Mistakes Businesses Are Making that Hurt Local SEO

Major changes are underway in local search, including Google’s placement of 3 ads up top pushing down their local packs and the announcement that local packs may soon include a paid entry. Additionally, narrowed mobile displays, the proliferation of apps, and voice search are all contributing to increased competition for visibility, pointing to a local search future in which a combination of diversification and marketing brilliance will be bare necessities. And yet, many businesses will be held back at the most basic level by not getting the fundamentals of local SEO right.

Here are 4 extremely common mistakes SEOs are making which represent major weaknesses in an increasingly tough area of marketing:

1. Incorrect Implementation of Call Tracking Numbers

Call tracking numbers were long taboo in the local search marketing industry because of their drastic potential to create varied, inconsistent data across the web and negatively impacting local rankings. However, they can be implemented with care to provide invaluable data to businesses. Here are some tips for getting started:

Here are some tips for getting started:

  • One method is to port your current, actual business number to a call tracking provider so that you are able to track calls on your existing number. This route relieves you of the need to then correct your business listings.
  • Or, if your business listings are already in rocky, inconsistent shape and in need of a cleanup, go ahead and get a new call tracking number, with a local area code, and use it as your new number. Before you choose any number, search for it on the web to be sure there isn’t still a big data footprint for some other business which previously used the number (you don’t want to have to field their calls). After you’ve got your new call tracking number, then embark on your citation cleanup campaign, implementing the new number on all of your local business listings, your website, and any other platform (except for paid advertising platforms) that mentions your company.
  • Don’t use your main call tracking number on your pay-per-click ads or other forms of online advertising. Doing so will limit your ability to track whether data is stemming from organic vs. paid marketing. Get unique call tracking numbers for your paid campaigns. These aren’t typically indexed by search engines, so they shouldn’t harm the consistency of your local business data. *Beware of using separate call tracking numbers in offline campaigns, as they can make it onto the web. Use your main number for offline marketing.

Ready to dig deeper into safety and success with call tracking? Recommended reading: Guide To Using Call Tracking For Local Search.

2. Inclusion of Geomodifiers in Local Business Names

One of the most common mistakes multi-location businesses make in their local search marketing revolves around keyword stuffing their business name field on their local business listings with geographic terms (city, county, or neighborhood names). Unless a geomodifier is part of your legal business name or DBA, Google’s guidelines expressly forbid this practice, stating:

Adding unnecessary information to your name (e.g., “Google Inc. – Mountain View Corporate Headquarters” instead of “Google”) by including marketing taglines, store codes, special characters, hours or closed/open status, phone numbers, website URLs, service/product information, location/address or directions, or containment information (e.g. “Chase ATM in Duane Reade”) is not permitted.

Business owners or marketers may include geo terms in business name fields either because they are trying to differentiate one branch from another for customers, or because they feel they will rank better if their listings include these terms. For the former consideration, it’s best to leave it up to Google to show the customer the branch nearest him, which Google now does with an amazing level of sophistication. For the latter consideration, there is some truth to the fact that having a city name in your business title may improve rankings, but it’s not worth breaking Google’s rule to find out.

So, if you’re founding a brand new business, you might want to consider using a city name as part of your legal business name, incorporated into your street level signage, web and print material, and telephone greeting, but, in any other scenario, inclusion of geomodifiers in the business name is not permitted by Google. And, because you want your other local business listings to match your Google data, you should follow this rule on nearly all other citations, listing just your business name with no modifiers for every location.

*Note that there is one exception to the above. Facebook requires the use of geomodifiers for multi-location businesses. They do not permit an identical, shared name between Facebook Place listings. Because of this, you’ll need to add a modifier to each location’s Facebook Place business title. Sadly, this does create data inconsistency but don’t worry too much about this one exception. Every one of your competitors with multi-location business models is in the same boat, rendering any competitive advantage/disadvantage moot.

3. Failure to Develop Location Landing Pages

If your business has 2, 10 or 200 branches and you are pointing all local business listings and customers to your homepage, you are severely limiting your ability to deliver a unique, customized experience for different user groups.

Location landing pages (a.k.a ‘local landing pages’, ‘city landing pages’) strive to deliver the most relevant information to customers (and search engine bots) about a specific branch of a company. This could be the location nearest the customer, or a location he is researching before or during travel.

Location landing pages should be linked directly to/from each branch’s respective local business listings, and readily accessible on the company website via a high-level menu or store locator widget. Here are some quick dos and don’ts:

  • Do be sure the content on these pages is unique. Do not simply swap out city names on these pages and republish the content across them. Invest in good, creative writing for each page.
  • Do be sure the first thing on each page is the location’s complete NAP (name, address, and phone number).
  • Do summarize key brands, products and services offered at each branch
  • Do include testimonials and links to your best review profiles for each branch
  • Don’t forget to include driving directions, including identifying major landmarks visitors can easily see near the business
  • Don’t overlook the chance to pitch why your business is the best choice in the city for what the user needs
  • Don’t forget to offer a best method for contacting the business after hours (email, phone message, live chat, text) with an estimate of how long it will take to hear back

Ready for a deep dive into the art of creating best-in-city location landing pages? Recommended reading: Overcoming Your Fear of Local Landing Pages.

4. Neglecting Consistency

Industry experts agree that these 3 factors do more harm than any others to a business’ chances of enjoying high local rankings:

  • Choosing an incorrect business category when creating local business listings
  • Using a fake location for a business and having Google detect this
  • Having mismatching names, addresses, or phone numbers (NAP) around the web

The first two negative factors are easy to control: choose correct categories and never falsify location data. The third, however, is the one that can get out of hand without the business owner even being aware of it. Bad NAP data can stem from any or all of the following:

  • The early days of Local Search when search engines automatically pulled data from a variety of on and offline sources, which may have been faulty
  • A business rebranding, moving, or changing its phone number
  • Improper implementation of call tracking numbers
  • Less formal mentions of bad data, such as in blog posts, online news, or reviews
  • Shared data between two listings causing confusion or merged listings
  • Inconsistent data on the company website itself

Because of the way local business data moves throughout the local search ecosystem, bad data on one platform can trickle down to others. Given that bad NAP is believed to have the third most negative impact on local search rankings, it’s absolutely vital to discover it and clean it up. This process is technically termed a ‘citation audit’.

Citation audits generally begin with a combination of manual searches for NAP variants, plus the use of free tools like Moz Check Listing, which enable you to instantly assess the health of your NAP across some of the most important platforms. Once the bad NAP has been discovered, a business can either work manually to correct it, or, to save time, use a paid service. Some popular services in North America include Moz Local, Whitespark, and Yext. The ultimate goal of a citation audit is to ensure that your name, address, and phone number are as consistent as possible, in as many places as possible, across the web.

Local SEO Next Steps

In the coming years, your local business will be engaging in a variety of forms of marketing outreach to keep up with the way the Internet and user behavior is evolving, but all of this needs to be built on a foundation of mastered basics. NAP consistency, guideline compliance, and content development that adheres to sensible, best practices will continue to be relevant to all local businesses for the foreseeable future, forming the sound launch pad from which to base all exploration of emerging local search technologies. Want to see how your business appears across the web?

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Miriam Ellis

Miriam Ellis is part of the Moz Local team. When she’s not writing the monthly Moz Local newsletter and answering questions in the Q&A forum, she’s helping her clients master their Local SEO strategies at her own firm Solas Web Design.

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