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All You Need to Know About Improving Local SEO

An interview with Amanda Jordan

For this Episode of Ecoffee with Experts, our guest is  Amanda Jordan, Director, Digital Strategy at RicketyRoo Inc. Dawood Bukhari gets Amanda to share her go-to local SEO strategies and tools. By the end of this interview, you’ll have a good grasp of how to optimize your business for potential customers that use local search to make their purchasing decisions.

The ability to find what works for half your webpages is a huge increase in revenue and leads for a business with thousands of locations.

Amanda Jordan
Director, Digital Strategy at RicketyRoo Inc
Hello everyone. Today we have with us Amanda Jordan, Director, Digital Strategy at RicketyRoo Inc. Amanda, nice to have you. Thank you so much for taking out time.

Yeah, I’m excited to be here and talk about local SEO.

I am excited to have you and we love the work you do at RicketyRoo and your journey has been amazing. Even before RicketyRoo, you have done some amazing work in SEO and local in particular. Tell us more about the journey at RicketyRoo, your current team, and how has the journey been so far?

I started with RicketyRoo in December of last year. Before then I was working for a technical SEO agency. And then before then, I was working for a local legal SEO agency. So a lot of my background has been specifically local, from the legal perspective and the enterprise perspective and now I’m from the perspective of the professional services. So I have a pretty holistic view of the different ways that local can impact your business. Whether you’re a giant corporation, a small mom-and-pop business, or a legal entity. So that’s been interesting and fun. I love the team that I have right now at RicketyRoo. We’re a very close-knit team. There’s only about 10 of us and we work very hard for our clients, to give them some pretty great results.  I would say that we’re probably one of the best industries in the professional services space, of course, I feel that way. But just from how we treat our clients, and the quality of work that they receive from working with us. I have to say that I’m impressed in comparison to some of our competitors in the industry. I’m very happy at RicketyRoo.  I love local SEO and I am very passionate about it. It’s so fun and changes so much. SEO is an industry, it’s always evolving, but local SEO has that added complexity of having to care about geography as a ranking factor and your proximity to the person who’s searching as a ranking factor.

I feel like, in comparison to other changes that happen in SEO, it sometimes feels as if local SEO changes every day. There are so many changes happening. So many things have happened, even during the pandemic and after the pandemic. Local is powerful and it also comes down to, like you said the proximity. How are you tracking the rankings? Are you tracking the ranking in that particular location or not? All of that stuff plays such a critical part. You're also speaking at Mozcon next month, what is the topic of discussion at Mozcon?

I’m going to be speaking about location landing pages. As someone who has worked with small businesses with two or three locations, and businesses with 200, plus locations, they all have essentially the same problems no matter what size they are. And a lot of it goes back to those location landing pages because they’re hard to scale. They are hard to optimize correctly. And it’s very easy to get caught up on the wrong metrics based on what your competitors are doing, especially if they happen to rank for those things. So it’s one of those things that’s hard to figure out the right way to do it. And there are so many factors involved and your location landing page doesn’t only impact your ability to rank organically and write with search results, but also your ability to rank in maps. So it’s more important for that search results from the real estate too. What I did is I looked at five different service industries, and then I crawled the top 10 results for the top 50 cities in the United States. And then I come through all of those, figure out who is showing up the most often for different industries in those cities. And then I looked at their location, and landing pages and determine what features were showing up the most. Then I figure out which of those features are likely the most impactful in converting people who visit their sites and helping them improve their rankings. That’s something that I’m very excited to talk about because there are some very interesting things. I didn’t find anyone, including the big retailers that have likely several local SEO focusing on these pages. And in addition to even having agencies help them with those pages, none of them are getting it 100%.  Even the ones that are doing the best there was always something different. There was never anyone who had all the features on one page. And I thought that was interesting, because I’ve heard so many local SEO, talk about the same things being needed on pages, but somehow, it’s not translating to the actual location landing pages that our clients have.

We'll leave the main details for the conference. I won't go into the actual details about what you're going to speak about. It sounds exciting. And I'm sure there'll be a lot of value-added. You're right, it's such a complicated issue that needs to be done right, because let's say, for example, a business with hundreds of locations. Now, how much time should they invest in those location pages? What to use as a template, what not to and how to not create doorway pages? So much comes into the picture. What is the right way of doing schema on location pages? I was doing a test with any agency where we just did a simple test for every location. We just added a video of that Store Manager doing a walkthrough of the location. Then we did some YouTube SEO and some imbed and it helped a lot. I'm sure you have done much more research and it will be a good value. So I'll be looking forward to that speech as well.

 It’s very interesting to me how something can be so important, but there can be so many ways to go about it that are ineffective. When you’re talking about a business that has hundreds of locations, or hundreds of pages, being able to find something that works across half those pages is a huge increase in leads and revenue. Finding one simple thing that works well can make such a huge difference because you’re not just impacting one topic or one page, you’re impacting your visibility across that entire geography. So it’s something that I’m very interested in talking about and just even learning from other people about. It’s so big and so important to local SEO, but no one’s quite hitting the mark correctly with how they’re implementing it, including these retail giants and franchisees who have so much effort and money that they’re putting into these pages.

And I believe this is your first Mozcon where you're speaking?

It is. It’s my first time going to Mozcon and of course, my first time speaking. I am not taking the easy way. I’m doing it all at one time. So I’m excited, though.

I am sure you'll add a lot of value for the people attending that.

Thank you.

Talking about these individual location pages or even a business with just one location the Google business profile becomes so important. Also even for that marketer, whether it's an agency doing it or the business itself, it becomes so important to track as well. Especially when you're doing rank tracking for that particular location. What are your go-to tools for rank tracking? What do you recommend for somebody doing rank tracking specifically for local SEO?

 I think if you want to track over time, white Spark is great for that. We use their rank tracking to track our clients and rankings in specific geographies over time. BrightLocal has a great tool for one-off checking, and tracking and they also have a map tool where you can see how well you rank and you can choose. So you can say within five kilometers of my business, this is how I rank in these different areas, and these are the competitors who outrank me. They consistently ranked better than I do for these different areas within five kilometers. So it was great for figuring out who your true competition is, for your most important keywords, and figuring out what the differences are. It’ll show you the number of links they have, and the number of reviews they have in the business category that they’re using. Those are all key things that impact your ability to show up in nearby areas and not only your city, but the other ones that you have a chance to reach based on your proximity to the searcher.

Amanda, we talked about changes happening so often in local, what are the major changes that you have seen recently that you would like to talk about?

Yeah, Google is always increasing business categories. I think that one of the things that often gets overlooked is that whatever may be the most relevant business category for you right now may change at any point in time, and there’s no big announcement about it. You just kind of have to stay on top of it and pay attention to when new business categories are added. Because you want to have the most relevant business category as your primary category and your Google business profile because that impacts which keywords you can show up for in search results. So not having that be correct is the number one issue businesses face. When that is incorrect, you essentially have very limited visibility for search results. So that would be one of the things for sure. Google has also made a ton of updates as far as shopping as well. So now you can see what products are in stock in your Google business profile panel when you’re in search results. I think target does a really good job at it. So any target you look at will likely have in-stock products there. Google’s also paying a lot of attention to images. So if you search for a PlayStation five controller near me, if any of those Google My Business Listings has a photo of a PlayStation five, that will be the ship photo that they show you not the photo of the front of the store, but the photo of the actual product or service that you’re asking about. Google can understand what that image is of and how it relates to what you’re searching for. So there’s like a ton of things that Google’s doing to make it a better experience for shoppers. Another interesting thing that I’ve seen just recently, as of yesterday, is that questions and answers are being featured a little bit more prominently. Some people are starting to see where it shows up like other questions asked or questions asked about this location. And the questions and answers are being featured a little bit more prominently. One of the best things that businesses can do is fill out as much of their Google business profile as they can. Because Google’s making it like you said, almost daily, we’re seeing changes being made. So the more of those elements you already have filled out, the less scrambling you have to do to go back and add those things if you didn’t edit them in the first place, and the better chance you have of visibility. There’s a high correlation between better rankings and having a complete Google business profile, so get it to 100%. Add Photos. Google has an AI tool that tries to tell what entities and elements are in photos. So you have to make sure that your photos are giving Google relevant information about your business so that they can understand the relationship between the photos and your profile. Because like I said, sometimes those images get pulled into the search result because Google knows that your Google business profile includes that image.

I love entities. I think it's so strong if used properly and it helps a lot in local rankings. Keyword research becomes such a critical part of the process, whether you're doing local or national SEO. Now, particularly in terms of local, when you're doing keyword research, how do you calculate the value of different keywords? I'm asking about an exact match keyword versus a longtail keyword.

So, the intent is going to be very important there because longtail keywords, especially for local businesses, especially for service businesses are more likely to attract a nationwide crowd if you’re asking for the best ways to unclog a toilet. But that’s not going to be specific to the city you’re in. But if you’re talking about a plumber in Baltimore, then that person is looking at the intent of hiring a plumber. So the keywords to look at are important. And one of the things I like to do for like initial keyword research is use keywords, Google Ad Planner, the keyword planner there, just because you can choose the geography and then just see which keywords have the different keyword difficulty and the search volume for monthly averages for those keywords and then figure out what people use locally. People call their cities different things. Sometimes people don’t search for the city name. Sometimes IDs aren’t coded. Sometimes they use a neighborhood or a town, or even the county level instead. So understanding how people search for their geography. And then some areas have nicknames like ATL versus Atlanta or Philly versus Philadelphia. And just understanding how people local to those areas search. And then regional differences, as well as terms, use. For example, in the US, some people in some regions use the word soda, and some people use pop, and some people just call it all so this coke. So understanding the different languages people use for different areas helps in local SEO. If you’re using what people would use where you’re from, it may not be the term that people in that local area use for the name of that product or service. And that’s true for attorneys too, I think I’ve seen a lot of times where attorney versus lawyer will vary depending on where you’re looking at because in some places people prefer to say attorney, and in other places people prefer to say lawyer and in some countries, they just say barrister. It can be so different. It is important to understand specifically about your market as possible for those keywords intents that are either transactional or commercial. Knowledge base intent keywords- I think, for the most part, you’re probably fine with anything, but those are going to be the longtail ones that may bring more traffic to the site overall or may get you more backlinks. But they are less likely to be converting keywords because the pin is so broad, and you can attract people from all over the country or all over the world.

What are the best practices to audit a website with multiple locations?

One thing you want to do is make sure you have your address and phone number on the website. And you’d be surprised by how often that is not. So like for your website, that would be the number one thing. Number tw,; thing have your reviews visible. Your rating. Your reputation must be visible; those are trust signals and are just as important. I find that in local SEO, a lot of times people focus on the keyword part but not necessarily the reputation part of it. And as local SEO  you can only get Google reviews with a Google business profile. Some Review Management and reputation management do fall under the category of local SEO. Because if you have a client that has a 1.9 rating, and all their competitors have a 4.5 they get in the local pack, it doesn’t matter because no one’s going to go to a business that has a two-star rating when all the other options are much better. And that doesn’t mean that it’s all on the local SEO to fix those issues, but make the client aware if you see a pattern. Like, this is why you’re getting negative reviews and they impact your bottom line. This is how that relates to your SEO strategy. And making them aware of how all those things tie in together. Another is mentioning your city that you want to rank in your key services for that area as well as in nearby cities. So I find that a lot of people miss the nearby cities part. Because if you have small cities near you and you have very little competition, you can easily rank in those cities by just mentioning them on your website. And a lot of people miss that. So that’s definitely like a good opportunity to make sure you mentioned the nearby cities within your content. And then I would say the other key optimization thing is internal linking. So find ways to link to those location pages on your website. Because when someone searches for a Baltimore plumber, you want your plumbing page to show up for Baltimore. That would be better than having your homepage show up, especially if you offer other services or having the wrong city page show up. So building the authority on those pages within your website can be very helpful. And then link building can be helpful to you, I would just not go too crazy with getting links directly to the location pages. But that can also help strengthen the authority of those pages and their ability to rank.

Talking about link building, what type of link building works best for local SEO? I understand you need to make sure that you have all the important directories and citations covered. There are niche-specific directories, there are location-specific directories. I understand that's a major part, but overall, apart from taking care of those basic things, overall from a link-building strategy point of view, what is your advice? What is the right way to go about it?

I think from a link-building strategy point of view, in addition to getting those listings from citations, you should also look at what your competitors are doing and understand what their backlink profile is. At RicketyRoo, we built a tool that tries to understand and categorize the links you have on your competitors. You have to figure out what type of links they’ve grown for their website and what type of links you have. You have to figure out how you can catch up with them and improve your link-building profile. In addition to getting those key citations, which are like Better Business Bureau, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or any other ones that like apply specifically to your business and industry, look at who shows up in search results too. One of the things that I heard at a conference recently is to try not to fight Google but work with them. So if you’re seeing like a directory is showing up over and over again, for searches related to your business, get listed there too, because Google clearly sees that they’re important and relevant. So if there is a very niche directory for your city or your industry, make sure that you get listed in those as well. Because if you get leads from it great, if you don’t you get another backlink from it. So it’s not like it’s a win-win situation. Unless they’re charging you like $10,000 a year, if that’s the case then don’t get it, but if it’s reasonable, it could be worth getting just because you’re building up that relationship between entities. If that’s a known website, or organization, you’re creating a relationship between you and that organization and the entities related to this and the services or products offered. So just another way to strengthen that. And speaking of entities in general, the thing that local businesses get more easily are local knowledge graphs. So make sure you have your local business schema set up on your homepage. That will also go a long way to help you just show up better for branded searches and have a little panel that says stuff about your business. Instead of having to get people over there, it gives you a bit more credibility with goodwill as well.

What about residual content? How can residual content be used productively, especially for local SEO?

So this is part of what my Mozcon talk is about too. And it’s about using first-party content, third-party content, and user-generated content to make better landing pages. Some of the things that I see that clients miss out on a lot is that they have a ton of first-party data. If you’re a plumber, you know what issues are coming up more seasonally because you have a CRM, where you have all the information about what areas people are calling from, and what issues they’re having. You can use that data to put together infographics or interesting information to put on those location pages that are unique. If those areas are specific to that city, you can say the most common plumbing issues we see are XYZ. This is another thing that retailers often do well with. Target and Home Depot will show you things that people have recently been buying in that area or popular products. And that’s just another way to have unique content. And then also another conversion opportunity because maybe someone sees something they want and they click on it and they buy it just from seeing it on that page. Another thing is if you’re a franchise, or even if you’re not a franchise, and you just have multiple locations, make sure you interview your staff. Send out a Google Form and get the information from them directly about the business. So ask them questions, just so you can get that unique content that comes from a person and you can just add that to your pages, and boom, you have more unique content. Testimonials are a super-easy way to get unique content. Allowing users to leave comments on some pages is another way to get unique content. And then, of course, always take advantage of FAQs and questions and answers and add them to your pages as well. That is something that is becoming bigger and showing up more often. That is something else I saw recently, too, in the presentation that questions and answers that people also asked are showing up more often in their results. So answering those questions especially if you can get city-specific on those pages can help you out. Visibility- Include the schema markup for FAQs too when you do that. But there are so many different things that you can do to just get unique content. One of my favorite examples is Orkin, which is a pest control company. On each city page, they have a banner that shows the most common pests in that city. So like they’re using that data to provide something unique. And then you can link and go to those pages. So it’s an internal linking opportunity for those pest control pages too. So they’re using the data they have about each city to provide unique content for those City Pages, and then provide another internal linking opportunity as well. And then coupons of course, so coupons are something that you can add to make your pages more unique. And if you have regional or city-based coupons or location-based coupons even better, because then they’re unique on each page. I think one of the most successful things I’ve seen is those doing the survey, where you just ask your employees or your team to provide the content for you. And then that’s much easier than having someone go through and try to write a slightly different version of a few sentences like 200 times.

Talking about content. What are your thoughts on using content generators, and AI?

I think for very basic content, like product descriptions and things like that where you can lead it a little bit, they can be useful. But I would not depend on them to turn out the quality of content you want. If you can prompt it correctly, like this is the question I want to answer about this city then they can be very useful, especially for FAQs. I think they can be used to search Google. It can find the answer for you and then they just copy and paste it. It will find some of these tools, it will find studies and references to them and the content for you. You can link to the study and there you go. Like just to make sure that the data is correct. I think they have some uses but I don’t know if they’re to the point where they can completely do the location page. But for getting variations of paragraphs, say if you’re answering the same question, you look up FAQs in the same question shows up over several cities, using AI to generate different versions of the answer is perfectly fine, I don’t see an issue with that. I just find that most of the time, AI still needs a human hand for editing and making sure that it’s right. Because it’ll sometimes add information that may not be true, but then you put it on your website, and now you’re responsible for providing a product that you do not have because it says that you have this in six different colors and he only had two and he did not tell if he had six different colors, to begin with. So things like that. It may infer information or add information that is not necessarily true. So it just needs a human touch to finish it off, but it definitely can cut down on the amount of time it takes to write content.

I understand you should update the Google business profile whenever you have a piece of new information or as regularly as possible and have unique content. But let's say there are businesses where they might not have new content every time or like a lot of changes are not happening. So the only thing they might try updating is reviews. But as a strategy do you follow a thumb rule where you would still advise the client to update Google business profiles say every three months?

I will say every three months, I will look and see if there are any new or relevant categories for your business. Check your photos because customers can add photos and they can queue up there. Check your questions and answers because anyone can leave a question or answer including competitors, so you don’t want to leave a customer’s question unanswered and have a competitor go on and answer for you. Or leave it unanswered or have another customer answer it incorrectly. So there are so many risks involved with that part of it in itself. And then check your business description and see if there is anything you can do to improve it. Another way to get more consistent updates is using Google posts. Essentially if you don’t have anything specific you wanna push, like no sale or specific event is going on, use a social media channel and just schedule some out and put them in there just so it shows that there is someone is actively thinking about the Google business profile and making changes to it. But every three months I would check questions and answers, check your photos, and check and see if there are any new business categories.  

What are your thoughts on local search ads? They are becoming popular now.

Like any SEO, I don’t necessarily like them. They are not my favorite.

I understand, I understand.

And they are starting to push down people who earn during one through three spots on maps.

In the last year I am seeing local search ads going up as compared to when they started.

They’re expanding which categories can have local search ads too. I think it’s more of a pay-the-play thing, who can get there quickest. I think there are still ways for SEO to help with that though because it also shows your rating and remembers for views. If your reputation is terrible it doesn’t matter how much you pay to get up there, no one is gonna call you in. So making sure that your reputation is solid is still going to be important and that’s something the SEO team can provide insights on. Based on what they are saying on their side and help the SEM team with getting the customers to buy in on that because you can say not only is it hurting your ability to confirm from your LSA, your local search ads but there is also hurting your ability to rank well and get leads from SEO as well. So it’s an opportunity for SEM and SEO to work together to make the recommendation as well.

Talking about thereviews, we know how important the reviews are, even in our discussions so far we have talked about the views so much. The main thing is that you have to get your actual clients to do a review for you. But are there any tools that you recommend or use that help manage those reviews properly or help these local businesses do a good job as far as review management is concerned?

So Gather-Up is a great tool for that, and there is also a free one that I used multiple times before too and I think it’s by Google review management. Postamati, that’s what it’s called. You can schedule posts through it, you can retrieve your questions and answers and respond to them through it and you can also get all of your reviews and responses to them through it, and it’s free. Which is amazing. And it’s a Google sheet to add on so you can do it straight through google sheets. The good thing about tools like Gather-Up is that you get additional information and sentiment. So it gives you more and it helps you with also getting the reviews until October. So the Postamatic tool is great if you are trying to get the work done,  but it doesn’t give you an analysis of what it is saying. Essentially with most of my clients getting more reviews, the goal is just telling them to ask more. I had a client that has one of the biggest energy companies in Texas and every brand they had except for one or two had a 2.1, 2.3 average ratings. And we got to 3.9 in about three or four months and all we did was start asking in chat support to leave a review. It wasn’t any magical thing, it wasn’t some crazy tool that made it happen. It was just being intentional and asking for it. And that made a big difference for them and we didn’t review anything and review getting is limiting who can leave a review by trying to filter out people leaving a negative review. We didn’t do anything like that and it still worked. So just asking a lot of the time is enough. If you ask, the positive reviews may be some negative too but that’s just an opportunity for businesses to learn how they can improve and provide a better experience for their customers.

Apart from the normal SEO techniques for local businesses, what would be the best way to use social media? Again, social is a very tricky part. How much should you do? How much content to air? How do you measure? So for the local businesses, how do you advise them to go about using social?

Most of the clients I have their social team. But I think social is extremely important and that local SEOs often do not realize how much it plays into the part of what they are doing. Like one, Facebook is a citation but is also a social media platform. I would say the same for Yelp. It’s kind of a social media platform in addition to being a citation and making the most out of those opportunities to connect with customers. The plants that I’ve had being most successful used their social media as a rage platform to answer questions, get feedback, to point people to where they can get information on their website. It wasn’t just posting content and seeing how it goes but using it as an actual community-building tool to improve brand awareness and engagement as well.

Amanda any special advice that you would like to give our audience that they can implement and gain benefit from?

My special advice is the advice I try to follow all the time, which is to test and verify for yourself. Don’t take anyone’s word for what works and what doesn’t work. Find out for yourself because there are so many different ranking factors and balance them between you and your competitors. What may not have worked for another client or what has worked for another client or website may not apply to your situation. So don’t take anything at face value. Find out for yourself how impactful it can be.

Amanda, I know you are short on time but in the end, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire round of three to five questions. Are you ready?

Let’s do it.

Yeah, let's do it. Coffee or tea?

Tea.

One subject you would like to learn more about?

Python. I want to learn more about building tools.

Right. What is your go-to lazy dinner?

Go to lazy dinner? It shrimps pockets.

Alright. Let's see. A night in or a night out?

 A night in.

What is your last google search? If you remember or if you can check.

Google review management, because I don’t remember the name of those schematics. 

You got me there. Amanda, it was amazing to have you. Some really good knowledge bombs. We were short on time. I wish you all the best. We will try to get you for another episode for some more local SEO knowledge bombs.

Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Thank you so much.

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