SEO FOR SERVICE AREA BUSINESS

Matthew Carter
Hello friends, my name is Matthew Carter. I’m a professional link builder for a large SEO agency in New York City.

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Today, let’s talk service-area businesses (SABs) and local SEO. Because every time I talk to an SAB, the first thing — and pretty much the only thing — they want to know is how to rank in the Local Pack in cities where they don’t have a physical location.

If you do the right things SEO-wise, you should be able to compete head-to-head with the big local directories in your markets:

It’s even worse for multilocation brands. I mean, they can’t even use bulk GMB accounts. That’s how much Google seems to value them.

What does it take to get noticed as a service-area business? Columnist Andrew Shotland explains some of the challenges facing these businesses and offers tips for how to approach your local SEO efforts.

If you are really serious about ranking in the cities you service, consider opening a sales office in each and creating Google My Business pages for them. (And make sure you staff them and have “onsite signage” at them to be in compliance with Google’s guidelines.)

Service-area businesses outside of the searcher’s city are going to be fighting without one leg of the trimodal stool (proximity), and they will have to be super prominent in order to outrank competitors who are in the searcher’s market. That means getting links, reviews and other things Google values — things that are typically alien to most service pros, who spend their days inhaling their customers’ dust bunnies.

Digital marketing TED-talking hipster types have been predicting the demise of the print yellow pages for years, but you know what? A regional print yellow pages publisher in Texas told me he shows potential SAB advertisers a picture like this drawn on a napkin:

Well, if you want Google organic traffic for your service-area business, you’ve pretty much got two choices:

Why should Yelp, YP.com, Thumbtack, AngiesList and others have all the non-Local Pack fun? Even if you don’t have a location in the searched city, chances are you have a location that is close — certainly closer than Yelp’s offices.

That means investing in an aggressive but safe (or, shall we say, “less risky”) link-building strategy to your location pages, and going full bore on getting reviews from customers in your desired locations that mention the city name in the review… while simultaneously not looking like you hired a team in Myanmar to spam Google reviews for you.

1. Invest heavily in GMB/Local Pack rankings, and learn to live with paying to get punched in the face on a regular basis.

And if you’re really tired of constantly getting knocked around by Google, maybe it’s time to open a business with an actual location. I hear local retail is pretty easy these days…

For those of you who are new here, Google’s Local Pack algorithm is a “trimodal” algorithm primarily based on the following three factors:

I am sure I don’t need to tell you how, over the years, Google has made it much harder for these businesses to rank outside of their home cities. And since the advent of Google’s Home Services ads, it has been getting even harder.

He tells them something like, “Use SEO for your market, but use our books for the surrounding markets.” And I guess it works — he claims his sales have been up lately (although I suspect he was also spending some of his budget on AdWords).

2. Do the basics right for GMB and focus on ‘local organic’ results.

It may sound crazy and a royal PITA, but if you think about how much you spend on AdWords to get a customer, the ROI on opening a small office could look pretty good in comparison.

I know what you’re saying to yourself: “Hey, that’s awesome, Andrew. Thanks for regurgitating my complaints about GMB. But what are you going to do for me, Mr. SEO guru?”

You might achieve rankings in other cities, but you’ll also experience a lot of volatility — and those damn Home Services Ads will keep popping you in the face.

In short: SABs can spend all the time they want on their Google My Business (GMB) pages and not get much for the effort.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

As a final piece, I’ll mention link building and how it pertains to local and service area businesses. We work to shift the way our customers think about link building. It should be something business owners ask for as much as they ask for business cards, referrals, or customer contact information. It really is that important. Link building has many strategies but by simply asking the businesses you work with already to reference your company on a partner page, linking back to your website, can have incredibly positive impacts. It is also important not to discount other local businesses and organizations. Link building with a focus on local business websites, churches, non-profits, or educational institutions has incredibly positive impacts on local site rankings and traffic.

In the same way that you wouldn’t allow yourself to lose $2000 to Rocko, the Moraccan Prince: Don’t let companies promising you the world guide you down the wrong path. There is no magic formula in the SEO space to get you to the top of the rankings. In the past there have been quick methods to jump your rankings that were popular 3-7 years ago. The whole Internet marketing landscape is shifting and changing these days, as said by imminentbusiness.com, though as Google’s algorithms become more and more advanced. We are talking about “machine learning” and software with the ability to sift through webpages with the same care that a person would give. Science fiction is becoming Science fact!

Local SEO ranking factors are different than standard SEO. They are also weighted differently. seo company melbourne has done a great job of pulling the Local SEO Ranking factors together and showing which ones are important:

Google’s whole intent is to provide the most relevant content possible to its users. The algorithms are looking for unique content, valuable content, accuracy of content, social signals (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) pointing to a website that indicate the content is share worthy. It is looking at other websites across the Internet that link back to your website and the quantity of those links. Google can then dive into those links to determine if they are legitimate and coming from well regarded websites. Looking even deeper to see if there are actual people posting those links vs. a computer system just auto generating webpages and placing links on those pages back to your website (which has been done). It is also looking at the number of references to your business across the web, the quality of the websites this information is located on, and the consistency of this information across these sources.

Coming back to privacy concerns: If you are building citations but hiding your address is of the utmost importance, what do you do? We have found that there are a number of citations one can earn where a user selects to provide the address, but that they can hide the address visibility from public view. This way the business gains the Local SEO advantages but doesn’t have to have their home address listed everywhere. When possible though it is better to have this information visible because it simply produces better ranking results. Additionally, there is a much larger pool of citations to earn when a business is open to having its address visible. The number of citations that allow for the hiding of address info is quite small, averaging around 120-140 online locations. Where citations for each industry type can be much higher, pushing into the hundreds or even thousands in some cases. The more you earn, the greater the impact in rankings!

The Importance of Local SEO to Small Businesses…

Our Review App allows your employees to quickly & easily request online reviews from customers.

First of all, virtual offices are a BIG no go . If you were planning on trying to fake Google out by renting an address to use in citations or by using a P.O. Box as your place of business. DON’T! It’s a TRAP! I’m tempted to use an image of Admiral Akbar in a top hat here. But I’ll refrain. Or maybe just provide the link.

What a lot of small business owners don’t realize is that there has been a recent shift in SEO that dramatically affects businesses of their size. It is called Local SEO. This is the type of SEO that Odd Dog Media has developed a deep expertise in. Local SEO pertains to specific regions: A carpenter working to have his business visible in Kirkland, WA or Renton, WA for example. Being visible online today is the exact same as having your business listed in the Yellow Pages 10-20 years ago.

Creating impacts for small businesses in Local SEO falls within the pieces of the pie above.

NEW! Odd Dog’s Review App.

When increasing the number of your citations, as stated before, it is very important that no other businesses are listed at this address. If it is a home address, you do not want multiple businesses listed from that single address. The reason for this: Google is looking for unique addresses for businesses as well as unique phone numbers. When a business has its own address and phone number it increases the legitimacy of the business in the eyes of Google. So in turn, it increases that business’s relevance to those searching online. These are all factors Google, Yahoo and Bing take into consideration when determining rank.

When you break the discussion down even further past standard SEO to Local SEO and into business types, it gets even more complex. Odd Dog’s products are designed to create impact for standard SEO, Local SEO, and on an even more granular level, the type of business that you own. Whether that is a company with an office space, a franchise, or the more difficult: service area businesses .

One of the largest pieces of the pie above is the orange one, which represents “External Local Signals.” This is specifically talking about references of your business on the web. This is referred to as a citation and citations consist of NAP information. NAP, sometimes with a W, is an acronym that stands for: Name, Address, Phone, and Website. The quality, quantity, and consistency of your NAPW information across the web dramatically impacts businesses ability to rank locally. So just as you were listed in the Yellow Pages before, the equivalent in today’s digital world: NAPW citations. Each individual business requires a unique physical address and phone number for citations.

In any regard, Google can spot these a mile away and will penalize you for this. What you will have to do is list your home address. Now I know many business owners out there are weary of doing this. They may not want their personal information listed across the web, especially when it pertains to their business. There are ways around this, which we will discuss in a moment. The question comes down to this though: Do you want privacy or more customers? Typically we find that our clients state: “I want more customers.”

Social Signals are another piece that I will stress for Local Business and specifically for service area businesses. The most important of which are reviews. Work to set up a system that is easy for your customers to review your business online! The strategy to be aware of here is to trickle these reviews in every couple of weeks. Google and others look at reviews that come in all at once negatively. They see this as someone rigging the system, buying reviews, creating false accounts and writing the reviews themselves, etc. This is why it is important to have the customers do the review on their own devices, coming from their own IP addresses, at their own physical location. All of which goes into determining the quality and legitimacy of a review! This quality and legitimacy in turn creates greater ranking impacts.

Getting Service Area Businesses to Rank…

Navigating the digital marketing space as a small business can seem overwhelming. There are hundreds of companies shouting in your ear, and your inbox, claiming that they can get you to a #1 spot on Google. That they can do this in under a month and that they can do it for next to nothing prices. This is simply false. It is essentially the equivalent of a Moroccan Prince emailing you indicating that he needs YOUR help to store away $100,000, that you get to keep $50,000 of it, but that he only needs $2000 up front for the transfer of funds. I mean, I really want that $50,000… so $2000 for what he is promising is a drop in the bucket. What a deal!

Digital Marketing can get a little murky. That’s why we offer a free consultation to point you in the right direction.

Using all of these pieces together, in the right way, and at the right time, creates the positive impacts that local businesses are looking for. It is also how we have been finding success for our clients that are Service Area Businesses. With that, here’s to your Local SEO success!

Now when we start to talk about Service Area Businesses that do not have a physical address out of which they operate, how can one use this important ranking factor to create impact and be visible online? Let’s take a look at some of the strategies Odd Dog Media has used.

What I’m trying to communicate here is that digital marketing is getting pretty advanced. The factors I listed above are a fraction of what can impact your brands rankings on Search Engines. Some of these factors are weighted more heavily than others. Search Engine Metrics did some pretty great research on these pieces and how they are weighted, which can be seen here.

We have seen positive results across the board with these strategies; let us know what you are experiencing out there!

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