In the early days of SEO, keyword stuffing and spam was used extensively as a local SEO tactic.
Many outdated SEO tactics are being used in every city, across every industry across the United States.
The fact is that search engine rankings have always been a moving target, and some “shortcuts” that worked in the past, probably won’t work in the near future.
Multiple City + Service Footer Links
For many years, it’s been a common practice to make several landing pages that are city and service specific, and then add gazillions of links in your website footer.
For example, in the past, if you were an electrician in Los Angeles, your web designer or SEO person might have advised you to add a page for each and every surrounding city. These links would go in the footer, take up an enormous amount of room, and look unnatural as possible.
The logic was that the anchor text (that’s the words that are in the link) would help tell search engines what that page was all about.
Well, for a long time this worked, so no one thought twice about changing.
Recently though, I’ve noticed that these city + service landing pages have been dropping in local search rankings. I believe this trend will continue.
Keyword Stuffing On It’s Dying Breath
Google has noticed keyword stuffed web pages with exact match keyword phrases for a long time now. They just have the machine intelligence in place now to eliminate spammers from people producing useful page content.
Google’s goal has always been to return the best results for people using their search engine. They don’t just look at a couple of on-page factors anymore. They analyze whether people find what they were looking for.
If you read your page copy out loud and it sounds weird to you, then it probably sounds weird to your customers as well.
Search algorithms look at conversions, not just clicks.
The Only Thing Constant Is Change
Google does minor minor algorithm updates about once a week, and major ones every few months.
Search engines are trying to eliminate results that excessively “game the system”. Things that worked in the past won’t always work in the future. And even if it takes years to roll out, Google seems to follow through with what they advise site owners to do.
Businesses that have worked the system for a long time get upset when they suddenly slip a few notches. I’ve talked to business owners that saw their #1 local rank for a search phrase as a title belt that they got to keep forever once they’d won it.
What I say to them is what I say to you now:
The cream always rises to the top. Don’t try to trick people into clicking on your site. Just focus on helping people more than your competitors, and if you are adhering to best site practices, you will be rewarded.
Get These Things In Order To Win At Local SEO
If your once pristine local search rank has suddenly tanked, here are some things to take a look at. Some of these things you can control easily, and some you have to be patient about.
Is Your Site Mobile-Friendly?
Mobile devices are where most people use the web, so having a site built only for desktop is bad for user experience, and your search ranking.
Back in February, Google announced that mobile search results would be affected for sites that were not mobile-friendly. The cut off date was April 21, 2015; which was quickly dubbed Mobilegeddon.
Local search results didn’t seem to drop immediately after the April deadline, but Google later announced they were still indexing the data they collected.
This week, I noticed several local search results being affected by the mobile-friendly criteria. This would correlate with findings by SEO firm Stone Temple Consulting, that showed a bigger drop off for non-mobile-friendly sites starting in mid-May of 2015.
The message is clear: making sure your site is mobile-friendly is no longer an option if you want to do well in search rankings.
In the parlance of search engine optimization, NAP doesn’t mean a midday siesta, it stands for Name, Address, Phone number. It’s important to make sure these are the same everywhere your business is listed.
If you want to do well in local search, one place you should have your business NAP is on your website.
It’s still possible to well in local search without your business address and phone number on your site, but this makes it much easier. I also markup the Lockedown Design NAP with Microformats structured data.
It’s critical to have a Google My Business page with a verifiable address.
You can use a UPS Store mailbox for your business address, but the Google Map Maker team does look at the Street View of this address. They also notice when multiple businesses use the UPS Store for their location, so do not expect these listings to stay in Google Maps forever.
The key to winning at local search is doing everything you would do for general SEO, but also going the extra mile to contribute to your local community.
SEO Techniques That Are Hard To Replicate
Getting all your on-page SEO is important. Making sure you have your title and meta description tags correct helps. Producing helpful web content, like blog posts or videos that answer your customers questions, is paramount to success.
But there are things that some businesses do that go beyond just building a ton of geo-targeted keyword landing pages. There are things that are difficult to fake, that will set you apart from your competitors.
Joining local business associations like the Chamber of Commerce require an investment. But it signals to the search engines that you are part of your local community. The backlinks from these local directories make your business more trustworthy in the eyes of the community and the search engines.
Getting listed in human-curated directories is not as strong of a SEO signal as it was in years past, but it still helps.
Sponsoring local events is another way search engines associate your business with a region or city. When Google sees your business name on other local websites, or in the news, it begins to see your business as important in a locality.
Domain names that are older, that have been used for more than ten years straight, signal to search engines that your business has longevity, and will still be around in years to come.
Note: Many of the non-mobile-friendly websites that did not seem to lose rank after Mobilegeddon had been around for ten years and were Chamber of Commerce members. Though things will probably still change, take that how you will.
Search Will Always Be Difficult
Search rankings will always fluctuate. The best way to make an impact in local SEO is to publish pages that help real people, not fool search engines.
Be involved in your community. Help people wherever possible. This is the best way to get backlinks that are valuable and stable.
Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Do things the right way, and earn the search rankings you desire to have.