A Fresh Look At Local Search Ranking Factors
“Oh cheeky cheeky
Oh naughty sneaky
You’re so perceptive
And I wonder how you knew.”
…Brian Eno ‘Dead Finks Don’t Talk’
I admire the Trailblazers of Local Search Marketing…people like David Mihm, Michael Jensen, and Andrew Shotland who are offering interesting, perceptive insights into this most important aspect of SEO. Now, I’m not close enough to the topic to offer any groundbreaking new information about Local Search, but I have read and studied the area and I need to say that I have questions and concerns about what I’m reading. Are their conclusions actually correct, and if yes, are they offering the best possible advice to the reader to take advantage of their knowledge? So, I wanted to review some aspects of Local SEO and offer my thoughts about what I see:
1) Citation Is The New Link is David Mihm’s groundbreaking Local SEO article where he argues that the volume of “cites” of a local business that appear in the SERPS helps get it higher local search rankings even if the citations aren’t accompanied by a link to the website. Now, I agree with David’s premise…however, I think his advice at the end of the post as to how businesses can increase their citations (obscure directory submissions & mining competitor citations) is pretty ineffectual compared to the most obvious solution.
Remember the guestbook signing software that you probably haven’t used for 5 years (since it hasn’t been effective for that long)? Time to fire it up again since the easiest way to generate these local citations is to sign 10,000+ guestbooks with your complete business contact information. Now, since it’s a known fact that spammy links to your site will get it penalized in the SERPS, when you are “citing your site” in each guestbook, you are also linking to your competition, damaging their link profile at the same time you’re elevating your local SEO. I’m amazed that a smart guy like David didn’t think of this.
2) City Centroid Correlation to Local Search Rankings: In David’s comprehensive study of Local Search Ranking factors, one of the strongest factors that predicted local search ranking success was the proximity of the business to the “center” of the city. Smart people like Matt McGee and Gab Goldenberg chimed in with comments on this factor and on the surface, the evidence overwhelmingly supports this. However, I’d like to offer a slightly different take on the same information which allows the local business owner who isn’t located in the center of the city an opportunity to grab a top local search ranking:
“The Correlating Factor isn’t actually ‘City Centroid’ but the geo-targeted location of the person as he/she claimed the local business listing.”
In other words, how close to the center of the city was the person when they claimed and confirmed their local business with Google?” Most people are physically located at their business when they make their claim…and since they are already at the ‘City Centroid’, that’s why their businesses rank so well. However, this loophole here can be exploited to your advantage…
Get a map of the Top 10 local businesses for your targeted local query. Plot a point that seems to be in the center of those top 10 listings. Drive to that spot, fire up your laptop, and claim your Google local listing from there. Google will assign the location of your registration to your business (even if your business is actually located a long way away) and the chance of your getting a higher local search ranking for your targeted term will exponentially increase.
3) How to knock your competitor(s) off the top of the Local Search Listings and replace their listings with yours even if they’ve already claimed their listing.
Here’s a fun one. First, you go to Google’s Local Business Center and attempt to claim the listings of your competition. Google will let you go through the process but without confirmation, all your work is moot. At the end, you get the option of choosing whether to “confirm” your information via telephone or postcard. Choose postcard. When you input the information that’s used to generate the mailing label, make sure you get the label to say “Attn: xxxxxx” and use a name that people will most certainly remember.
You wait a few days and then send your spouse / significant other to each location with the following story:
“My husband was here a few days ago. He lost his wallet and he thinks this is where he lost it. Has anybody turned in a missing wallet?”
“I don’t think so. What was your husband’s name?”
“Yeah, sure it is. Really?”
“Really. His name is John Holmes. You have a problem with that?”
“Well, nobody has turned in a missing wallet.”
“May I leave you my card and if you find his wallet, will you call me?”
Now, you’ve spent $5 at VistaPrint to get a bunch of cards printed up with her name (Katie Holmes), address and phone number (best to use a disposable Google Voice number). She leaves her card and gets a card from the person at the business. It’s unlikely that she’ll get a call back…but leaving the card gets them to remember her for when she calls back in a few days…
“This is Katie Holmes and I’m calling to see if you’ve found my husband’s wallet.”
“Nobody’s turned in the wallet. But the darnedest happened. We got a postcard here addressed to him from Google?”
“Really. Can you read to me what it says?”
You’re now in control of your competitor’s local business listing to do with as you wish :.)