8 Fatal Local Search Mistakes and How to Fix Them

The title sounds like a misnomer doesn’t it? If these are fatal mistakes, how can you fix them? This actually is the best part about SEO. Irrespective of the enormity of your mistake, there is always a chance you can fix it.

When you trawl the internet for articles on SEO mistakes, you will find most of them qualifying these mistakes with words like ‘big’, ‘huge’, ‘surprising’, ‘simple’ and you are reading an article right now that uses the word ‘fatal’.

The truth is – a mistake in SEO is a mistake, and you will do well not to categorize it as big or small. Even a minuscule misstep in the SEO discipline has the potential to create a domino effect that can bring your campaign crashing down.

Now, let’s get started on the order of the day – Local Search Mistakes.

The first question that comes to mind is why should I be bothered with local SEO? Good question. You need to bother with it because it speeds up business growth. Irrespective of whether you are a small, mid-size or enterprise level business, if you want to target local customers, you need local SEO.

Did you know 85% of consumers use the internet to search for local businesses? This is a huge figure and you can’t afford to ignore it. Point made. But, not ignoring it, means having a rock solid local SEO campaign that improves your business rankings in local search results. That’s easier said than done, and even if you think you’ve got the campaign all sorted out, the mistakes you made (but had no idea about) can come to haunt you later.

Yes, these mistakes will haunt and make your life miserable. But, the silver lining is all mistakes have a fix; and in this case your local search error can have a permanent solution – a fast acting, long term medicine that will get rid of all the symptomatic problems your campaign is suffering from.

What’s more, these fixes will actually go a long way in improving your existing campaign and convert adversity into an opportunity.

So, let’s just get started on these mistakes:

Mistake 1: Ignoring Local

There is a big misconception doing the rounds of SEO corridors– Local SEO is for businesses that only have a local footprint and who are looking for local customers.

Here’s a suggestion – Take a spade, dig a deep hole, and bury this misconception.

The truth is, local SEO is for every business big or small and the biggest mistake you can ever make in local SEO is ignoring it.

Let’s look at a few reasons offered by businesses for avoiding local SEO:

“Why should I waste precious time and resources on local search, when I’m running a multinational business?”

“I don’t need local SEO; I am only targeting international customers”

“I don’t think my customers will be using the internet to search for the kind of services my business is offering”.

There are a number of reasons why a business might not want to sell its brand locally? But hey! All of them will be wrong. Some of the biggest global brands are building a local footprint. If it makes sense to them, it should to you as well.

But is that the only reason why your business needs to be marketed to local customers?

No.

Here are a few other good reasons:

  • Estimates suggest that by 2015, 30% of total search volume will have local intent. (Source)
  • 59% of consumers use Google every month to search for local businesses. (Source)
  • 61% of local searches conducted on PCs/laptops result in sales; this figure is 78% on mobile phones (Source)

Now, tell me you still think optimizing your business’s web presence for local search is a waste of time.

Your target customers have a place which they call home; their preference is to work with businesses who they believe are located locally (preferably near their homes). If you want to reach this geo-specific audience, ranking high on local searches is not debatable.

Ignoring local SEO is just not on. Will you kill the duck that lays golden eggs? Think of local SEO as a duck with a formidable capacity to keep delivering the results you are looking for.

And I have kept the best for the last.

The one massively important reason why ignoring SEO is a big mistake is that your competitors are using it. You need to catch the bus as quickly as possible, or you will miss it.

THE FIX

The fact that you haven’t yet begun optimizing for local search means you need to begin from scratch. The 13 Step Guide to Local SEO Marketing on our blog is a must read on this subject.

Once you’ve a fair degree of understanding of local SEO, you will realize that a successful local SEO strategy rests on 4 primary pillars:

Obviously there are many other aspects of local SEO that go into the making of a rock solid, results driven and highly sustainable SEO strategy; in order to ensure the process of campaign development, implementation and monitoring delivers the returns you are looking for, you need to work with local SEO experts. Forbes has a nice article on how you can go about hiring SEO firms.

The right firm gives you access to the right talent that can deliver professional SEO solutions for your needs and requirements.

Mistake 2: NAP Inconsistencies in Citations

One of the most important elements of a local SEO strategy is a citation. It is a very important external local SEO signal that has a bearing on your local search rankings.

So what is a citation? It is any online mention of your business that uses your company NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) on the same page and in the same format as your local business listings. It is important that your local citations are as similar as they can get to your local listings.

The mistake occurs when these citations are inconsistent, namely the NAP. Yes, if the people in charge are taking a nap when they are entering NAP information, it is an open invitation for errors. If NAP information is listed incorrectly on various places online, it has the potential to destroy your local SEO campaign. No, I am not kidding. For e.g. if the phone numbers of your business across various listings are inconsistent, your rankings on SERPs will take a hit.

Consistency has a positive bearing on your business’s SERPs ranking. But, the fact that you are creating hundreds of local listings as a part of your local SEO strategy means mistakes will happen. Here’s a thumb rule you must follow when you are building a list of citations:

“Create ‘contact information and address’ template and follow this template meticulously while adding NAP information to every listing that you create.”

THE FIX

Creating citations and maintaining their accuracy is a tedious job. But, it needs to be done and you need to do it well. Don’t worry! The use of the right tools can help simplify your task by a long way. The keyword here is ‘right’. There are two tools that I believe will ensure you don’t go wrong with your NAP listings:

Moz Local : Anything coming from the Moz stable has to be good, and this tool is as good as they come. It’s an easy to use tool that gives you the low down on the citations that are inconsistent, duplicate, complete and incomplete. To give you this information, it fetches data from the top 15 citation sources and data aggregators. The biggest advantage of this tool is that you are able to fix your NAP at the ‘sources’, which actually distribute data to providers across the World Wide Web.

Yext: This is another tool you could use, and it’s a good pick because it helps correct NAP information across the Yext network. Like MozLocal even Yext offers a Local Search Scorecard that scans all websites on Yext’s network and gives you a comprehensive report. It helps you take control of business information and make updates if and when needed, quickly.

Mistake 3: Listing for Shared/Virtual Offices

There are many benefits of having a virtual office, but ranking on local SEO is not one of them. In fact, listing virtual offices or shared offices is a really bad idea. Think about it for a second. If your business is operating out of a shared office, you will be sharing your phone number and address with other businesses. This leads to a situation wherein there are multiple listings for the same phone number or address.

Result – Google will punish you.

So here’s a tip. Don’t list a virtual or a shared office address. Your physical address should form the basis of your local listing. It doesn’t need to be an office space. It could be a shed, a warehouse, or something else; but it should be an address that is exclusive to you.

The Fix

The ideal fix is getting a physical address for your business and avoiding listing of virtual/shared offices. Now, you might say, you are actually using your virtual office for meeting clients and are not using the address to game Google’s algorithm; granted you have the right intentions. But, it’s impossible for Google to find out which businesses are using their virtual offices to actually conduct business. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t think kindly of virtual offices and usually puts them in the bracket of fake listings.

If you still want to go ahead and list your virtual office thinking you might get away with it, here’s wishing you all the best! There are actually companies that use virtual addresses and face no problems with their rankings even in competitive markets, but these are few and far between. They’re just lucky they’ve got away with it. They slipped through the crack, so to speak.

Mistake 4: Content Duplication

Google doesn’t like duplicate content, and one of the biggest mistakes you can make is using duplicate content to shore up your SEO efforts. Duplicate content is content that is similar to content that is found at more than one place online.

Whether you are publishing content on-site or off-site, you must make sure it is absolutely 100% unique.

Now, let me make it very clear here. Google has strict guidelines vis-à-vis duplicate content, and it will slap you with a Google Panda penalty if your site is using a lot of duplicate or low quality content.

The Fix

Fixing the problem has two parts to it – Discovery and Remedy. You must know what to ‘fix’ before you can ‘fix’ it.

First, you need to discover duplicate content and anybody who’s done it will tell you this is one of the most challenging, time consuming and in some cases, thankless tasks. Things get really crazy if you are trying to find duplicate content for eCommerce sites.

The best tools you can use for this purpose are those offered by Google Webmaster. Google Webmaster tools are investigative tools that can point you towards instances of content duplication:

HTML Improvements: This should be your first pit stop. Click on HTML improvements and Google will list specific URLs, duplicate title tags and Meta descriptions.

You could even use tools like Copyscape, Screaming Frog, Siteliner and others to look for instances of plagiarism (content that is similar to external content), technically created duplicate content, internal duplicate content etc. The idea behind using a collection of tools is to be very sure you’ve identified all duplicate content out there.

The next step is to implement remedial measures:

One of the easiest ways of fixing this problem is to not create duplicate content at all. A no brainer!

But what if duplicate content exists? How do you tell search engines which version of the page they should index?

  • One of the ways you can go about doing this is by using rel=canonical tag. This tag is inserted into the header of your web page and tells search engines that a particular page is the original version and you want them to index and give link credit to that particular page only and not to its duplicate.
  • You can even use a 301 redirect to send traffic from identical URLs to your preferred URL.

Duplicate content is damaging the SEO of some of the biggest names in the industry and if you don’t want it to impact your rankings on SERPs, you need to get rid of duplicate content, pronto.

Mistake 5: Lack of a Separate Web Page for Each Store Location

If you have stores at multiple locations and want each one of them to be found by their target audience on the World Wide Web, you need a unique URL for each store that can be easily crawled by search engines.

If you don’t have separate pages for each of your location, you will find it difficult to engage the attention of local consumers. On the other hand, the use of such pages packed with relevant keyword rich content helps them get found easily; this increases chances of consumers visiting your store and doing business with you.

Here’s a typical example of what you shouldn’t do, if you have a multi-location business:

Perhaps, this brand doesn’t really need to add to its local SEO efforts to boost its local ranking and therefore it hasn’t optimized location pages for each business location.

Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.

But, it still makes sense to have State/City specific pages if you are running a multi-location business. Each location deserves a unique URL, and this URL needs to be a part of the website’s sitemap. This ensures search engines are able to index the content easily.

THE FIX

The primary focus must be on creating a highly informative and satisfying location page experience for users; the search engine angle comes next. The first rule of modern day SEO is optimizing for the users and not search engines.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Ensure Every Location Gets a New Page

Make it a point to create a page specific to a particular business location; all business data (address, phone number, email, hours of operation, etc.) mentioned on that page should focus on that particular location.

But don’t confine information to business data; offer a truckload of location specific information on the page, all of which can help target consumers make up their minds whether they want to visit your business location or not.

  • Easily Crawlable Information Structure

Think of your location page as a menu card offering information about various dishes and this information is structured in an ‘easy to consume and access’ manner. From the users’ perspective, this information must be relevant and easy to understand. From the search engines’ point of view, the information structure should consist of optimal location information and crawlable links.

  • Location Specific Information

Say you are running a sandwich place at ten different locations. While the menu for all these locations might be the same, various locations will differ from each other at multiple levels. Your content should reflect this differentiation.

These differences include the address of the physical location, landmarks, contact numbers, photos of interiors & exteriors, operating hours, tips, recommendations, etc. Your content must amplify the individuality of that particular location.

  • Emphasize Findability of Location Pages

Having a collection of great location pages on your website is effective, if and only if, your website visitors are able to get to these location pages easily. Their journey from the website landing page to a specific location page should be seamless. Make sure the location pages are a part of your navigation menu and website users are also able to access these location pages through the main content areas of your site.

Use a multi-pronged approach to take visitors to the right location page; something that ‘5 Seasons Brewing’ does very well:

Mistake 6: Ignoring Reviews

Reviews play a significant role in local SEO. Review signals have an impact on your rankings on local SERPs, so it’s a mystery why businesses don’t do enough to earn reviews from clients.

There is a reason why a search engine like Google gives a fair degree of weightage to online customer reviews. It does this because customers put a lot of significance on reviews as well. It is reviews that tell them whether a business is good or bad and can be trusted to deliver on its promises.

According to a Bright Local Survey:

85% of consumers are reading online reviews of local businesses.

The more positive customer reviews your business attracts, more is the trust target customers have in your business.

These figures prove reviews are important in the local SEO scheme of things. So, make them an important part of your local SEO strategy. You must persuade clients to leave reviews in local listings as well as your Google+ pages.

But remember, search engines like Google frown upon incentivizing reviews. Even if you are offering a discount or special offer for an ‘honest review’, Google still considers it a ‘quid pro quo’. If you go this route, you will end up in trouble, and trouble is the last thing you want.

The Fix

Treat Customers like Kings and Queens: Make customers want to leave a review for your products or services. The quality of your products/services and your customer support should force them to leave positive reviews about your business. If you want to make sure customers write a review about your business, be prepared do the hard yards.

Think great customer service, and think long term.

Go Organic: Make it easy for your customers to leave reviews; and by easy, I mean super easy. What’s more, make sure they are able to find you if they are thinking of writing a review. The first step is to get listed on all the prominent local search listings like Yelp, Citysearch, Insider Pages, Angie’s List, Local, Foursquare etc., where customers usually leave reviews about the products/services they’ve used.

Emails: A great way of encouraging customers to leave a review will be mailing a thank you email and reminding them that their reviews would help other customers take the right buying decision. Here, you are not directly asking for a review, but subtly getting them to think about writing a review.

Social Media: Share the reviews your business has received on sites like Yelp and Citysearch with your followers on social media. The next time they buy from your site, they’ll know where to go for writing their reviews. What’s more, you need to keep engaging with your followers (a mix of existing and potential customers), to develop a personal equation with them. This way, they can always be persuaded to leave a good word about your business on review sites.

Lucky Draw for Reviewers: While it’s not a good idea to provide an incentive for reviews, there is no harm in rewarding customers who have left a review. This could take the form of a product discount, a holiday offer or a freebie. Think of it as a ‘thank you’ for leaving a review. This will prompt more customers to write reviews about your site.

Mistake 7: Ignoring Video Marketing

Videos could be your ticket to the top of Google’s local search results. Unfortunately, not many marketers/businesses make videos an integral part of their local SEO strategy. Video marketing is not a fundamental building block of your local SEO campaign, but once you are done with your citations, reviews, local SEO content, it will be a good idea to focus on videos. Think of ‘videos’ as an SEO tactic that gives added impetus to your local SEO efforts. What’s more, video conversion rates are better than other types of marketing content. It, therefore, makes immense sense for videos to be a part of your local SEO campaign.

The Fix

Use YouTube: Google owns YouTube, but that’s not the only reason why you need to create a YouTube channel for your local business and start creating and uploading videos. YouTube also attracts a billion unique visitors each month; this means your videos have the potential to be seen by millions of unique visitors. I say, that’s a damn good reason why you need to produce videos for YouTube.

But creating a YouTube video is just the beginning. You now need to optimize them for local SEO.

How do you do that? Take a look:

Geotag Videos: Your video must be identified with your business location and this is where geotagging comes into play. It is the process of adding geographical identification metadata; this helps you link your videos with the longitude and latitude coordinates of your business location.

Make Good use of Description: Use the space provided for video description to your advantage. Mention your business name, address and contact information in this description; also do not forget to add a link to your website.

NAP: There are two parts to adding NAP. First, you need to make sure the Name, Address, and Phone number appear at the end of the video. Google’s interpretation algorithms are able to read the text used in videos, so using NAP in videos is an absolute must. Secondly, try to mention your NAP in the video’s audio. This ensures your business NAP will come up in the text transcript that is automatically generated on YouTube.

Tag: Keyword tags are a secret weapon for YouTube optimization; and since you are using videos to boost your SEO efforts, include your business location and category as a video tag. You must also use keywords relevant to your niche as tags on the video. This allows you to target the right audience.

Do not forget Google Places Listing and Google + Local Pages: Remember that Google Places listing, you’ve claimed for your business? Well, add your videos to your listing on Google Places to tell Google and your target market that your business and its products/services are extremely relevant.

Something else you must do is adding your video to the Google+ local page, you’ve created. This allows you to share it on your Google+ streams. The number of shares a video gets determines its popularity.

Embed Video: You need to embed these videos into your website or blog. Also, encourage visitors to embed these videos in their websites/blogs. The number of video embeds is another indication of the popularity of the respective videos.

The idea is to not just optimize a video for local SEO, but also make sure your videos also rank better on YouTube. You need to get both these aspects right.

Mistake 8: Forgetting Localization in SERPs

Did you know 43% of all Google search queries are local? This makes the process of keyword selection super-important for your local SEO efforts. You need to make localization an important part of your keyword research strategy. Rather than focusing on generic long-tail keywords, identify keywords that include the location and service area of your business. So, if you are running a burger place and are researching keywords, it will be a good idea to add business location to your keywords. For e.g. if you have decided to use burger place or burger joint as the keywords you want to rank for, you could use Omaha Burger Place or Downtown Omaha Burger Joint.

The Fix

Search for the right local keywords and this search can be simplified if you use the right tools. For e.g. the Local Keyword Research Tool is a great pick for this purpose.

You can also use Google AdWords Keyword Planner to search for the right keywords. You’ve actually got plenty of tools to choose from, so ignoring keyword localization is just not done.

End Words

These fatal mistakes are called fatal for a reason. They have the ability to kill your local SEO campaign; you cannot afford to take them lightly. One of the simplest ways of avoiding these mistakes is to plan your local SEO carefully. You need to make sure you are building your campaign from the ground up. This will guarantee all the building blocks of an effective strategy are in place and you’ve left nothing to chance.