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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
For those of you who are new here, Google’s Local Pack algorithm is a “trimodal” algorithm primarily based on the following three factors:
- Relevance (Are you a roofer?).
- Prominence (Are you a notable roofer?).
- Proximity (Is your business’s physical location near the searcher?).
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.
In short: SABs can spend all the time they want on their Google My Business (GMB) pages and not get much for the effort.
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.
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?”
Well, if you want Google organic traffic for your service-area business, you’ve pretty much got two choices:
1. Invest heavily in GMB/Local Pack rankings, and learn to live with paying to get punched in the face on a regular basis.
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.
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.
2. Do the basics right for GMB and focus on ‘local organic’ results.
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.
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:
- Have a well-optimized website with strong landing pages for each city you serve. Populate these pages with a lot of unique and relevant content. Our Local SEO Ranking Factors Study last year showed that location landing pages with a lot of content tended to correlate with strong rankings.
- If you are getting reviews, get those reviews from specific cities onto the relevant location pages on your site. (And if you’re not getting reviews, you may want to start — our new Ranking Factors study coming out shortly has a lot to say on that matter.)
- Mark up reviews and NAP info (Name, Address and Phone number) with Local Business schema. Use all of the structured markup at your disposal on these pages to make it clear that your business is connected to the target city. (In some cases, we have seen this as the tie-breaker to get your pages ranked.) I mean, there’s a schema.org type called http://schema.org/City. Might as well use it, right?
- If you are a single-location service-area business, you are likely going to need a handful of links to your location pages that use the city and state you are targeting in the anchor text. No need to overdo it — a little dab’ll do ya.
- If you are a multilocation SAB, you still could use some links — but the combination of local citation links and presumably brand links might be enough to get you there (that is, assuming your site’s SEO is not FUBAR).
- Additionally, if you are a multilocation SAB, make sure you have a crawlable store locator on your site. That means clickable links to each location from the rest of the site. (Ditch that ZIP-lookup app — Google can’t crawl it!)
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.)
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.
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…