Help Us Improve the Moz Blog

It’s been since April 2010 that we asked for your feedback on the Moz Blog, and quite a lot has changed since then. Panda and Penguin drove an industry-wide shift toward higher-quality content and links, and SEOs have come to realize that they can’t just be SEOs anymore. The percentage of web traffic coming from mobile devices has risen 600%, Google stopped providing data about keywords, and search engines started looking at far more than just your query to give you helpful results.

To keep up with those changes, SEOmoz became Moz, expanding the scope of its tools and content to reflect the increasingly diverse and interrelated areas of inbound marketing. Our audience has expanded accordingly, and in that vein, we want to be sure the blog is keeping pace.

Our mission is to help you all become better marketers, and to do that, we need to know more about you. What challenges do you all face? What are your pain points? Your day-to-day frustrations? If you could learn more about one or two (or three) topics, what would those be?

If you’ll help us out by taking this five-minute survey, we can make sure we’re offering the most useful and valuable content we possibly can. When we’re done looking through the responses, we’ll follow up with a post about what we learned.

Note: If you’re viewing this page on a mobile device, you might need to tap on the icon below to see a mobile-friendly version of the survey.

About Trevor-Klein — Trevor is the editorial specialist at Moz—a proud member of the content team. He manages the Moz Blog, helps craft and execute content strategy, and wrangles other projects in an effort to provide the most valuable content possible for the Moz community.

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Why Bad Linkbait Needs to Die: How Linkable Assets Deliver 10x More Value

I hate bad linkbait, and it floods my inbox. Bad linkbait wastes our time, money, and our audience’s attention.

On the other hand, I love creating linkable assets. I also love searching the web for linkable assets and sharing them with others. Before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by linkbait, bad linkbait and linkable assets.

Linkbait: Website feature, usually content, meant to attract links for the purposes of SEO.

Bad Linkbait: Content that attracts links without adding additional value. One of the hallmark characteristics of bad linkbait is that it often rehashes the work of others, without creating anything new.

Linkable Assets: Content or features characterized by a high degree of practical utility or emotional engagement. Linkable assets often attract links over time due the high value they offer.

The SEO problem with bad linkbait

Bad linkbait is not only less effective, but it often has very real SEO consequences down the line in terms of types of links earned and the relevance of the content. In extreme examples, we’ve seen instances of poorly executed linkbait leading to Penguin-style Google penalties.

While there is no single type of bad linkbait, the following characteristics are often defining hallmarks:

  1. Temporary spike in linking followed by a quick drop-off
  2. Meant to be scalable and easy
  3. Off-topic or marginally relevant content
  4. Visitors not likely to return
  5. Rehashed “Top 10” Lists
  6. Infographics without the “info”
  7. Controversy for the sake of controversy
  8. Commercial anchor text controlled by creator

The reason bad linkbait sucks so much energy is that you get almost no return on investment for the effort you put into it.

An example seen all the time is an infographic that is only marginally related to the subject matter of the website, such as those that Rand discussed in last week’s Whiteboard Friday. Imagine a plumbing company that makes an infographic called “10 Most Horrific Water Deaths Ever.”

  • The SEO company convinced them that the keyword “water” is related to plumbing, and this will help them to rank if they can get the infographic distributed widely enough. Maybe it will, but not nearly as much as if they created something truly new that was actually related to their core business.
  • The links they earn spike when they are actively pouring money and effort into sharing, but stop almost immediately after that.
  • The plumbing website has no other content about “horrific water deaths,” so the topic is only marginally related.
  • The links all have the same anchor text due to the widget used to embed the infographic. Google’s Penguin algorithm picks this up and penalizes them for “water” related keywords.
  • After 2 weeks, traffic trickles to almost nothing. The SEO company moves onto the next infographic.

Is there an easy solution? Take the same amount of time and money spent to create 2-3 pieces of mediocre linkbait, and spend that energy creating a truly remarkable linkable asset.

How linkable assets deliver 10x the value

The great thing about linkable assets is that, when successful, they take on a life of their own and the SEO benefit can grow to 10 or even 100 times what was originally anticipated.

Good linkable assets earn repeat visits and traffic over time. Links aren’t pushed but earned in unexpected places with natural and topically relevant anchor text. Plus, when you publish valuable content actually related to your core subject matter, you help establish yourself as an authority on that topic, and more likely to appear in search results for topically relevant queries.

Because good linkable assets often earn a greater variety of links spread over time through value instead of aggressive link promotion, they are less likely to ever earn a Google penalty.

Examples of linkable assets include this worldwide guide to etiquette, this online salary calculator or even Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History.

Questions used to help identify linkable assets:

  1. Does it create something new?
  2. Does it make something easier?
  3. Is it likely to be used again and again?
  4. Does it reveal new insight or knowledge?
  5. Does it create something beautiful?
  6. Does it evoke a strong emotional response?
  7. Does it provide practical value?

Can linkable assets also be linkbait?

The most successful linkable assets possess the better qualities of fine linkbait. In fact, for SEO benefit, it’s essential that your linkable asset invoke a strong emotional response or be perceived as having high practical value.

This is the “sweet spot” in the middle that combines the best marketing value of linkbait with the added value of linkable assets.

Linkable assets: exemplary examples

Visual assets

Rand mentioned a good number in his recent Whiteboard Friday Why Visual Assets > Infographics, so I wanted to list a few more that offer high practical value and succeed in earning natural, highly-topical links.

Can an infographic act as a linkable asset? Yes, when it meets the requirements defined above.

This excellent Radiation Dose Chart infographic created by xkcd not only inspires awe but has been linked to thousands of times due to people wanting to share its practical utility.

Which Local Review Sites Should You Try to Get Review On? by LocalVisibilitySystem.org displays a ton of knowledge in a succinct and successful format.

Moz’s Web Developers SEO Cheat Sheet provides a visual asset we’re quite proud of.

For pure visual appeal, this Cheetah infographic by Jacob Neal is one of my all-time favorites. It stretches the boundaries of visual design and I found myself reading every word as a result.

Tools

ShareTally – Similar in function to SharedCount, ShareTally gives you a free and quick overview of important social metrics for any URL. This is one you bookmark.

Creative assets

Robby Leonardi’s Interactive Game Resume feels like playing a game and has led Robby to win multiple design awards.

Data sharing

Everyone has data if you look hard enough. Done at scale, the results can be truly outstanding.

The (not provided) Global Report aggregates data from over 5000 websites to display near real-time reporting of Google’s (not provided) keywords worldwide.

Studies

One of our favorite email providers, MailChimp, recently studied email subject line open rates. This graphic explores the effect of including a subject’s first and last name across various industries.

Moz’s own Search Engine Ranking Factors is consistently one of the most popular studies we publish.

Videos

Look no further than Wistia’s learning center for best practices on producing videos for your business. Check out this one they made on advanced video SEO with they guys from Distilled.

Endless possibilities for linkable assets

You can turn any unique knowledge into a linkable asset without shooting a video or adding fancy graphics. Think of folks like Seth Godin or Patrick McKenzie who regularly share their valuable thoughts with the world.

The key is to deliver the content in both a valuable and emotionally engaging way. If you are a talented writer, this is probably your best avenue. If not, then thinking outside the blog post box may be required.

What are your favorite examples of examplary linkable assets? Let us know in the comments below.

Connected Pages – Now Claim Official Pages Beyond Your Website

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For any business, claiming an account inside our Webmaster Tools allows access to a lot of useful information. SEO Reports, link data (for your site and other sites), ranking information, keyword traffic data and so much more. Yet even all this usefulness comes with a limit. We could only show you data related to the websites you own or controlled.

Today, however, we’re releasing the Connected Pages feature within Bing Webmaster Tools. Now, in addition to the current data you have access to on your own website(s), you can also claim official social pages, connect them to your account and see similar data as it relates to those connected locations.

Ever wonder which keyword are sending traffic to your official Facebook page? Curious to know who’s linking to your Twitter page? Well, now you’ll know.

bing-connected-pages-pinterest

Which Page Types Can I Connect to My Website?

Currently, you can connect a wide range of page types to your verified website, provided that they contain a link that points back to your verified website (the main URL), or at a minimum – a page that lives on your main website. We won’t ask you to enter any passwords or provide us with any extended permissions to your social media accounts to establish this connection, but the link inside the connected page needs to match in the sense that the link needs to point back to the root of or a sub-page within your verified website. Obviously, to check this, we also need to be able to extract the link from each of the connected pages, so the page needs to be accessible from the web and not block our verifier in any way. Here is the complete list of web presences we currently support as connected pages:

· Facebook

· Twitter

· LinkedIn

· Google+

· Windows Store

· Google Play

· Apple Store

· Pinterest

· Windows Phone Store

· YouTube

· Instagram

· MySpace

Now, if you have an established presence at any of the locations listed above, you can begin connecting them inside your BWMT account effective today. Data will start to be populated within 72 hours. After that, it’s “always on” and you can select date ranges as within your normal site data areas to see information for customizable periods of time.

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager
Bing

Stop Thinking Keywords, Think Topics

The author’s posts are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

We have hired a few new people at Distilled—we’re always growing—but as I was explaining the Keyword Planner to our new hires I realized that we are all thinking the wrong way for the future of online marketing.

One of my colleagues, Tom Anthony, has a very scientific way of explaining it: The new query according to Google. He comes to the same conclusion I did: “We need to stop looking at keywords and starting looking at queries.” In short, we need to be focusing on what the user is looking for rather than specifically all of the ways they can phrase it.

I am not going to try to convince you of this. We are here. This is the world we live in, so rather than adapting the old way of thinking to the new search order (NSO?), it’s time to change our thinking.

What does this really mean to us as practitioners on a day-to-day basis?

We have to stop using the term “keyword” as much as we can. It will never go away, don’t get me wrong, but our focus has to change. This means speaking differently, reporting differently, and changing the conversation with our clients about their goals.

You are going to get asked for a keyword research report or a keyword ranking report soon. We as search professionals have provided them in the past, so it’s normal for your boss or clients to expect a certain type of data or report. However, with the changes over the last few years, it’s time to modify what we report to align better with the data we can get and the data that is best for our goals.

Start by defining your goals

We’ve said this time and time again: You have to define what you want as a business before you can really get to doing your job in the best way. Your company goals could be:

  • to be a thought leader in your space
  • to grow the business
  • to launch a new product
  • to increase your company’s share of voice in the market

These goals should be set by the company collectively, not just you. Your goals are based off of this. Your goals should be something measurable and impact the company’s goals. Let’s say that the company wants to grow their business’s revenue by 50% next year, website performance can help that with conversions, new visitors, and overall more traffic. Therefore your goals might look like:

  • Increase overall website traffic by 25%
  • Increase new visitor percentage from 25% to 40%
  • Increase conversion rate from the website from 45% to 70%

Notice that keyword ranking and traffic based on keywords are not in here. It’s doubtful they ever have been part of your defined goals, but knowing your goals and the company’s goals helps change the conversation.

Now, what do you want to accomplish?

Time to start the hard conversations. You should be reporting on your goals from above and what actions you are taking to affect those numbers. At some point your boss or client will ask for a keyword or ranking report. When they do, ask what they want to accomplish with that information. It’ll give you more insight into what they are looking for and how best to report that to them.

Most likely it’s so they know what your efforts are focused on, and that’s understandable.

  1. Start by explaining your goals and how they impact the bigger company goals.

  2. Then, explain the changes to the information that is sent to analytics, and that reporting on the keyword level is next to impossible.

  3. Finally, talk about how you want to stay dedicated to things that can be measured, and provide results to the company’s bottom line.

But… we have to RANK!

If they then say that the keyword is the most important thing for you to report on, ask why again. The answer is usually because that’s how you tell if your site is ranking for a term, or if your “SEO is working.”

Rankings happen for many reasons; the keyword or query is just the initiator of the process. You optimize a page to be the strongest it can be after you’ve made it the best page for a specific need or topic. There are multiple variations of keywords for any one topic, and therefore your focus should be on the page and the topic, not just one or two of potentially hundreds of keywords.

The two major factors in ranking that you can have an effect on are related to the target page. Having relevant content and strengthening the page are what you should be focused on as a search marketer. Look at the highest correlated factors to ranking from the 2013 Ranking Factors Survey. All of the top factors are page-related.

Your next question should be: If I stop thinking about keywords, how do I know what content to develop to rank?

That depends on the user. We as a profession have really lost sight of talking to the users of our websites. Think about any number of keyword research presentations in the past few years (I’ve done and seen a number of them) and you’ll see that many of them spoke to the Google Keyword Tool’s numbers being wrong and getting inspiration in other places, mainly where your target market hangs out.

If you want to know what content to write to “rank” for terms, ask the people who are searching for that topic what they are looking for and write that. This changes how we do research but I think for the better.

Changing reporting

I am going to leave you with how I have started reporting on page level changes and how “SEO is doing.” You should again be reporting on the metrics you defined in your goals, but you’ll need to replace keyword-specific reports. I’m referring to reports like the number of keywords sending traffic (RIP; that was a favorite of mine), branded vs. non-branded keyword traffic, and ranking reports.

Step 1: Define all search landing pages

This should be all pages on your site technically except those noindexed, but we almost all have an idea of what pages get traffic from search engines. If you are a larger e-commerce site with thousands or millions of pages, you can group these into categories or by page type. Whatever works for you.

Step 2: Prioritize the top landing pages

Remember the terms you always had to report ranking on? What were the pages that needed to rank? Identify those and make a prioritized list just like you would have with keywords.

Step 3: Pull monthly traffic over the last year for those pages

You can automate this of course, but if you have a small number of pages it can be done by hand as well. Traffic is what you want to know about, and you want it to be going up. If traffic goes down to that page, that is your sign that something changed, either the SERPs or demand for that content. Just like if rankings went down, you’d investigate why after seeing that drop.

Step 4: Pull related data per page based on your goals

For the goals we defined above, I’d also report on the percentage of new visitors and conversions. You could report on bounce rate or time on page as well. Below is something that I recently sent to a client (modified to be able to share with a wider audience, of course).

I then investigated the pages that lost traffic and they are on my list to watch next month. This is just how I decided to do it for this client and I am interested to hear how you are having to change your reporting to deal with the changes in our world.

Please share your thoughts below, and have a great week!

Why Visual Assets > Infographics – Whiteboard Friday

The marketing industry seems to have a love-hate relationship with infographics. When they’re really done well, they can be effective ways of conveying a lot of complex information in a way that’s easier to digest. The problem is that relatively few of today’s infographics are really done well, and many are simply created for shallow SEO benefit.

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand talks about the differences between infographics and visual assets, and why the latter are far more effective in our efforts.

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition to of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to take a stance. It’s a little bit of a strong and contrarian stance. I’m going to say that I really, really dislike most infographics. In fact, not even most. The vast majority of infographics I strongly dislike. And that said, I really like visual assets. Today I’m going to try and explain the difference to you and show you why I’m a huge believer in one and such a disrespecter of the other.

So the typical infographic and the thing that frustrates me about it so much is that it’s really designed primarily to get embeds, to get links, potentially to get some traffic and build some branding. But it’s actually not optimized for a lot of these things. In fact, because the medium has both become so overused and because the execution on many of them is such poor quality, I find that they often hurt more than they help. Because of that, I’m not a fan.

So here is your typical infographic. How obsessed are Facebook users with celebrities? Oh my gosh, look, 35% have liked a celebrity’s page, and look, more and more people have liked more and more celebrity pages over time. Here’s a picture of some people, and here are words in some graphic format that’s really hard to read and unnecessary illustrations on the side just to ornament this thing up.

Then they hope that someone is going to pick it up and embed it on their news site, and occasionally this stuff does work. In fact, for a few years now it has worked. The challenge is it keeps going down and down and down. It’s reaching a point of diminishing returns, and I think that’s because audiences are really tired of the infographic format or are getting very tired, especially more sophisticated and savvy audiences, which for a lot of B2B and even many B2C marketers, let’s face it, we are reaching those areas.

Also, these things can be tremendously burdensome to try and put on a web page. They’re hard to read a lot of the time. So it makes it challenging even when someone does embed it. Google has said specifically that they’re looking at algorithmic ways that they can work around infographics that get embedded that people didn’t really mean to or intend to link back, and they are merely doing a link to the infographic because of the embed itself.

This kind of stuff, eh, I’m just not about that. I don’t think that most of us in the inbound marketing field should be about that, despite the potentially positive impact that something very similar can have.

So these are visual assets. There are many different kinds of visual assets. In fact, I would say infographics, traditional infographics are just one type of visual asset and possibly not the best one. In fact, probably not the best one in my opinion.

Photos, just a collection of pictures from relevant and interesting people, events, places, even concepts that are illustrated, these get picked up. They get shared around the web. They’re useful for social media networks. But they’re also useful to have in a photo library that people might take and use for all kinds of different reasons.

Charts and graphs that illustrate or explain the numbers behind a story or a phenomenon, these can be incredibly useful, and they get picked up and used all the time by sources that want to quote the numbers and even by sources that originated the numbers that are looking for visual ways to represent them. This is a phenomenal way to build value through visual assets.

Visual representations, I do stuff like this all the time. Think of the SEO Pyramid. It starts at the base with accessibility, and then we talk about keywords and links, social, user and usage signals, and all that kind of stuff. I’ve done some visuals like that on Whiteboard Friday, things like the ranking factors by distribution through the pie chart explaining those different things.

I’ve done stuff like the T-shaped web marketer, talking about going deep in a particular niche, but having a lot of cross domain expertise. These are not high-quality graphics. They’re made by me. I use Flash 6 to make these things, because I learned Flash way back in my days as a web designer. I’m lazy and have not learned to get good at Illustrator or Photoshop in particular. Yet, they get picked up and sent all over the place, and you can see visual assets doing the same thing in all sorts of niches.

Comics, illustrations, or storyboards that tell a narrative visually, incredibly popular and get picked up all the time. Screen shots; even just a simple screen shot with some annotation and explanation, examples of what to do, how to use it, how to interpret that information, layering on top some data, these types of visual assets have huge caché and value.

You get a lot more opportunity from these kinds of visual assets, in my opinion and experience, for links, for referencing, being referenced by media outlets, by industry resources, by third parties, by people in your professional or personal sphere. You have more of an opportunity for embeds because they’re much simpler to embed, and they can be useful in so many more places than an infographic, which really needs to take up an entire post about it if it’s going to get referenced at all.

They give a lot more value to people. They’re simple to consume, to understand, and they’re useful and usable in ways that infographics often are not. And, a lot of the time they’re far simpler to execute. It doesn’t take a graphic designer to produce a ton of these different types of resources. It often doesn’t cost very much, if anything at all, to make them, and that means you can produce a far greater quantity of visual assets than you could of infographics and have potential there to get links, to get references, to build your brand in really authentic ways.

So I’m sure there will be some vigorous debate and discussion in the comments, and I look forward to it. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

SEO Metrics that Matter: SMX Milan

Don’t expect a conversation about Bounce Rates, and Rankings, and Page Authority and all the other completely obvious metrics that digital marketers love to geek out on. Don’t get me wrong, *every* metric can be useful for its own purpose, it’s just that they don’t necessarily have an impact on any outcome, whatsoever.

Huh?

Well, yeah – let’s talk Formula 1. With the greatest respect to Maranello, the Ferrari Formula 1 team are under-performing horribly at the moment. Their points scored in the 2013 season have condemned them to the humiliation of a runner up position in the World Championship at best. That’s ok, they’re a good team and I’m sure they’ll recover next season. In the meantime, I’m sure they understand the biggest problem they’ve faced this year: their wind tunnel correlation data isn’t a good reflection of reality.

As SEO people, I think sometimes our own data points don’t adequately reflect reality, either. While I was writing my presentation for SMX Milan, I went back to an internal SEOgadget presentation from last year that recounted a tale of a sales meeting I’d had where the conversation became overly technically skewed. While I was quite able to hold the attention of the *one* SEO in the room, the Senior Executive looked, really bored. My message to my team: when you report on a PageRank 7 link you just built for a client – you’re going to get a disappointing response back. Frankly, why should that client care when their core KPIs are based around revenue and sales?

Turn that conversation around, I told them. Tell them what you did and what the outcome was. What were your inputs (some new links gained from a content marketing campaign, for example) and what, therefore, were the outputs? (Revenue, sales, email signups, whatever).

What metrics matter to me?

My job is to market SEOgadget. In the last 2/3 months I’ve been working on our PR strategy and getting our brand a little more known outside of our industry. As a result, I’m very focused on tracking our mentions – who is talking about us, who’s talking about us from outside the SEO industry, what networks and websites are driving traffic that converts and how we compare to our competitors in mentions, link growth and (a little more quietly, the size of our balance sheets).

An honourable mention goes to Talkwalker and Mention.net. I talked quite a lot about backlink growth using Majestic’s API through SEOgadget for Excel, and of course my old favourite Topsy Analytics is always going to be in there.

Here’s the presentation – SMX Milan was a great conference to attend and the Italian SEO crowd are genuinely a lovely group to hang around with. Enjoy…

Image credit: filminggilman

Future SERP: A Glimpse at Google 2014

Watching Google change can quickly become an obsession, and it’s easy to jump at every shadow when they test thousands of ideas per year (and roll out hundreds). This post is an attempt to take all of the things I’ve seen in the past six months and tell a story driven by real data. This is the story of how I think Google will look by the end of 2014, and what that implies about their direction and core philosophy.

Two data sources

(1) MozCast Feature Alert

In April of 2012, I launched “Project Algo Alert”, a prototype that would later become MozCast. What was originally one “weather” station, designed to measure daily fluctuations in top 10 rankings across 1000 keywords, has evolved into 11 stations and three unique systems. One of those systems is Feature Alert, which was based on a simple idea – how could we detect when Google launched new SERP features, without any prior knowledge of what those features would be?

Feature Alert solves this problem by cataloging the basic building blocks of Google’s source code, the container names and IDs in CSS. Let’s say for example, that Feature Alert sees the following chunk of HTML/CSS code:

The system checks each building block against an archive, and if “ads-container c mnr-c” is a new object, it’s captured and I’m alerted that something new happened. When I built Feature Alert, I thought something new might pop up a couple of times a month. As of writing this post, the system has captured 2,441 unique building blocks.

A side effect of the system is that, at large scale, it frequently catches Google in the act of testing new features and UI changes. Keep in mind that Google ran 7,018 “live traffic experiments” in 2012 – while we probably capture only a small number of them, these tests allow us to get a glimpse into what’s coming next. While any given change may be rejected (Google launched just over 9% of the changes they tested last year), some changes appear repeatedly in testing and in different formats over time, strongly suggesting that Google is intent on launch.

(2) Mobile feature launches

Google is terrified of mobile – the ad landscape that drove 84% of Google’s revenue in Q3 is a completely different animal on mobile, and consumer behavior is evolving rapidly. One clear pattern in 2013 is that many major UI changes hit mobile before they hit desktop. Google is designing for tomorrow’s devices and is desperate to make sure that ad CTR and CPC don’t fall as mobile search volume increases and new devices (like Google Glass) come onto the scene.

When we see a new feature in testing and then realize it already exists on mobile, odds are good that that change is coming to desktop soon. By combining these two data sources, we’ve been able to paint a picture of Google’s near future. Based on the past few months, I’m going to make six predictions for 2014 and turn those six predictions into two conceptual screenshots.

Six predictions

For each of the six predictions below, I’ll provide evidence from MozCast and/or mobile search, along with my confidence in the prediction. These predictions are grouped to tell a story, but are otherwise in no particular order:

(1) New Knowledge Graph – 98%

Since its launch, the vast majority of Google’s Knowledge Graph has been built on a very few data sources (including Wikipedia, Freebase, and the CIA Factbook). The core problem is that these sources are limited and only work well for highly structured data. To expand, Google needs to extract answers from their entire index of the web. Put simply, Google needs to be able to create answers from content. Over the past few months, we’ve seen extensive testing of Knowledge Graph entries like this one:

Notice the “In context” section, which is the bulk of the informational content – this is entirely driven by third-party websites. All of the blue links are links to additional Google searches, but the light-gray links show the original sources. Put simply, Google will soon be building their Knowledge Graph on your data.

It’s interesting to note that the queries we’re seeing this on seem to be fairly broad and/or have a generic intent. When Google launched “in-depth articles”, they made the following statement:

To understand a broad topic, sometimes you need more than a quick answer. Our research indicates perhaps 10% of people’s daily information needs fit this category.

It’s very likely that this new Knowledge Graph approach is an attempt to solve the same problem, and that these entries will appear on searches that previously had no Knowledge Graph data. Long story short, this isn’t just a change – it’s an expansion.

Knowledge Graph drives many variations of answer boxes, and so it’s not surprising that we’re also seeing new answer boxes in testing. This answer box was captured from a search for “is pneumonia contagious”:

Unlike traditional answer boxes, this information is being extracted from the index (in this case, kidshealth.org) and treated more like an organic search result. Given that we’ve seen multiple variations of new answer boxes and multiple tests of these new Knowledge Graph entries, my confidence is very high that some version of these features will roll out in the next few months.

(2) Revamped advertising format – 95%

Recently, we’ve seen Google aggressively testing a new and somewhat surprising advertising format (and outside sources have confirmed these tests). It looks something like this (the search was “paella recipe”):

I’ve added the (…) in the middle section, which is more organic results, but the divider marks the top and bottom AdWords blocks. Essentially, Google has added the marker [Ad] to each advertisement, but they’ve removed the current background color and have formatted everything else to be nearly identical to an organic listing.

It may seem surprising that Google would visibly mark ads in this way. I suspect that this isn’t entirely by choice, but is related to Google’s ongoing battle with regulators and their pending settlement with the European Union. If this move seems unlikely to you, consider a second piece of evidence. This is a current search for “paella pans” via my mobile phone (all mobile screenshots come from Safari/iOS7 on an iPhone 5S):

This new format has been running on mobile browsers for a while now, and Google’s widespread testing makes it look like a foregone conclusion for desktop search. This change will have huge implications on both organic and paid CTR in 2014, regardless of the final form. Expect Google to also test and iterate quickly when the new ad format launches.

(3) Ads outside of three blocks – 33%

This prediction is much more speculative and I have no clear evidence to support it, but the potential impact is big enough that I’m going to say it out loud. Once Google is individually labeling ads in the left-hand column (right-hand column ads only get one [Ads] marker at the top, at least in testing), ads will become stand-alone units. In other words, Google will no longer be constrained by fixed blocks at the top and bottom. So, what’s to keep the test above from turning into something more like this (the next image is conceptual, not a captured test):

Individual ads could be interspersed in organic results, impacting the overall effectiveness of any given position in those results. Once Google has the flexibility to move ads, I see no compelling reason to believe that they won’t test new options to improve ad effectiveness. I’ll conservatively put the odds of this change at one in three.

(4) Loss of result count/stats – 80%

This one has serious implications for SEOs, but I think it’s a move that makes sense for Google. Let’s look at the entire screenshot for the “paella recipe” search we dug into previously:

Notice something missing? There’s no light-gray result count at the top of this page (“About 3,270,000 results…”). Google has entirely removed that line of text in this test screen. Truthfully, as much as we rely on these numbers for SEO research (especially with search operators like “site:”), I suspect the additional data has almost no value for everyday search users. It’s taking up prime real estate, and Google could very likely get rid of it.

Scroll back up to the mobile search for “paella pans” and you’ll see that result count data is already gone from mobile. On a mobile phone, that data simply takes up too much valuable space. It’s possible that Google could preserve the data for operators and certain searches, but I have no clear evidence either way. If you’re a search marketer, I would be prepared to lose this data in 2014.

(5) Boxed design for #1 result – 90%

The current incarnation of an expanded #1 organic result has been around for a while – it has an indented set of site-links (up to six, on a normal search, or ten on domain searches) that each have links and short snippets. Google has been testing a number of variations on boxed designs for expanded #1 results, such as the following:

Notice that the entire entry is boxes, as are the individual site-links. The main link is in a larger-than-normal font, and some of the site-links have arrows that pull up related links. Google has been testing many variations on this theme for a couple of months now, but consider that one variation already exists in mobile search (this is a search for our own brand, as Ra Sushi generates local results on mobile):

While the mobile result is constrained to a single column, the overall listing is boxed, with clear dividers between the main result and site-links. Google has been testing variations on this one for a while, and they seem to be worried about getting it right, but by the end of 2014, I’m almost certain that some variation on boxed results for the #1 organic position will launch.

(6) Boxed design for entire page – 50%

It’s easy to assume that this boxed design is purely cosmetic, but I believe it goes much deeper than that. Consider the look of another Google product, Google Now (via my iPhone 5S):

Google Now is divided into what Google calls “cards”, distinct units of information that are individually boxed and can be mixed, matched, and sorted as Google sees fit. Notice how similar this format looks to Google’s mobile search results. As Google expands into new formats, including wearable technology like Google Glass, and as screen sizes diverge – from phones to tablets to desktop and everything in between – it’s going to be increasingly important that they can escape the constraints of a single, fixed-format display. Cards are a natural transition to a flexible and dynamic SERP, allowing Google to mix and match depending on the device you’re using.

Google Now has already started appearing in personalized search results. Consider the following Knowledge Graph entry, produced when I do a brand search for “amazon” while being logged into my Google account:

Google has inserted a personalized card into the Knowledge Graph entry that indicates I have recent orders. Clicking on details produces an answer box containing yet more personalized information. Even the Knowledge Graph entry itself and current answer boxes are card-like, with clear outlines and separation from organic results. Answer boxes are tailor-made for mobile search, and so are Google Now cards.

So, what if Google took this idea to its logical conclusion and created an entire SERP that was divided into individual card-like units? This is how mobile search already looks, as you can see from multiple examples above. This would be a big change for desktop, and I have not seen an entirely card-based SERP in testing, but I’ll put the odds of that development at about even (50/50).

Two SERP concepts

So, what might Google look like by the end of 2014? I’ve come up with two artist’s conceptions (I created them, so take the phrase “artist” loosely). While some aspects of these concepts are based in reality, these are not real Google results (live or in testing). The first is based on my recent flight on Virgin America and a fictional brand search for “virgin america” (click on the image for a full-sized version):

Google 2014 SERP Concept v1

Here we have a completely boxed (card-style) SERP, with the new ad format, Google Now in the Knowledge Graph, and the redesigned #1 organic result with site-links. I’ve added the mobile background color and removed result count data. While I don’t think Google will adopt this exact look and feel, it combines many of the data-driven predictions in this post.

Just for fun, let’s look at a second variation. Here we have a Knowledge Graph result using “In context” data from 3rd-party sources, plus an answer box parsing information from a 3rd-party source. The first ad is placed after the answer box, and a second ad has been inserted after the top two organic results. Again, this is purely conjecture:

Google 2014 SERP Concept v2

While I don’t expect Google to look exactly like either of these concepts by the end of 2014, I think the data strongly suggests that many of these concepts will be in play, and Google will have shifted strongly toward a more card-based design. Add in the expansion of Knowledge Graph and Google’s rush to get mobile right, and I expect significant changes to SEO in the next year. The best we can do is keep our eyes open.

This post was adapted from a presentation at ThenSome San Francisco, called “Future SERP: The Face of Google in 2014” (available on SlideShare). Thanks to SEOGadget for hosting the event and to the audience for a great discussion that helped me vet and develop some of these ideas.

Top 20 Local Search Ranking Factors: An Illustrated Guide

First published in 2008 by David Mihm, the Local Search Ranking Factors survey of Local SEOs around the globe has become a high point in the year in local search. If you eagerly await this yearly report and comb through it for new insight, then the information in this guide may not come as news to you. I wrote this guide for marketers who are new to the field of local SEO and for local business owners who are flying solo in their efforts to market their companies on the web.

Local Search Ranking Factors 2013 identified 83 foundational ranking factors. This guide takes the top 20 most important factors and offers a succinct, illustrated example of each.

By reading this guide, you will understand both the lingo and the concept of each local search ranking factor. Use this information and you will be on the road to promoting local businesses on the web from a firm and educated foundation. Sound good? Start reading!

1. Proper category associations

Proper category associations are important enough to be ranked #1 in the survey. During the process of creating your Google+ Local page, you will be choosing categories at two distinct points.

When you enter your initial details, you will be selecting a primary category for the business. This is the most important category you will choose.

Then, once inside the dashboard, you will be allowed to select up to nine other categories for your business.

All categories must be chosen from Google’s pre-set category taxonomy. Earlier versions of Google’s dashboard allowed the business owner to custom create categories, but this feature is being phased out.

The concept here is simple. If you wish to appear in the local results for a search like “dentists in denver”, your business must be categorized as a dentist. If it is categorized as a certified public accountant, you have no hope of appearing for your important search terms.

To help you determine which categories are available to describe your business, you can use Mike Blumenthal’s free Google Places for Business category tool. Type in keywords that you feel best describe what your business is and the tool will show you which categories are available. Your choice of categories will often be obvious. A dentist will want to choose “dentist” as his primary category. But, he may wish to perform keyword research and combine that with use of the above tool to discover additional important categories such as “dental clinic” or “cosmetic dentist”.

You will be building listings for your business in a variety of other local business directories and indexes. These platforms will not necessarily offer categories that are identical to those in Google’s system. You must take time to discover the most relevant categories on each platform as you build each listing.

2. Physical address in city of search

Your business is most likely to appear in Google’s pack of local results for searches that either:

  1. Contain the name of the city in which it is physically located, or
  2. Stem from devices based in that city

If you are a chiropractor in San Francisco, you are most likely to appear in the local pack of results for a search like “san francisco chiropractor”, or if someone searches for “chiropractor” from a computer or cell phone based in San Francisco.

This search for “chirporactors san francisco” illustrates this phenomenon, in that all of the results Google is returning in its local pack are for practitioners physically located in that city:

In the above screenshot, you will note that there are no chiropractors in neighboring cities included in these results. It’s safe to say that Google has a very definite bias towards physical location in the city of search. This is a simple concept, but it represents a major stumbling block for two distinct business models.

A) Service area businesses (SABs) with employees who might travel to a city like San Francisco to do plumbing, management consulting, or dog walking, but who are physically based in another city or town. In other words, the SAB does not have a physical address in San Francisco.

B) Brick-and-mortar businesses located just outside the borders of a major city like San Francisco, Dallas, or Denver. An example of this might be a locally-heralded acupuncturist who is located in Mill Valley, California, but who has numerous clients who are happy to travel a few miles outside of San Francisco to visit him.

In both cases, the business owner understandably wants these major city audiences to know his services are available, but because of Google’s bias toward physical location, these businesses are unlikely to ever appear in the local pack of results. As things presently stand with Google, the best hope for these types of business owners is to begin developing city landing pages that showcase their professional association with these other cities, whether this involves windows they wash on the skyscrapers of Dallas or lectures they give at a Denver hospital. The goal here is to gain additional visibility in the organic results for these other geographic terms.

There are some exceptions that may overcome Google’s bias. If you search for a niche business model in or around a major city, or search for any business model in a rural location, you may see listings in the local pack of results that stem from several cities. For example, if there is only one gas station serving a large radius in a rural area, it may pop up as a local result for any of the towns in that region. This scenario, however, tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

In sum, it is generally wise for local business owners to set the goal of earning local pack rankings for searches related to their city of location, and organic rankings for any other geographic terms they feel are important.

3. Consistency of structured citations

A citation is any web-based mention of your company’s partial or complete name, address, and phone number (NAP). A “structured citation” refers to a listing of your business in an online local business directory such as YP.com, HotFrog, or Best of the Web.

Inconsistent citations might involve:

  • A difference in the business name (i.e. Smile Dentistry vs. Smile Dental Clinic)
  • A wrong street address, a typo in street address numbers, or a missing suite number
  • A wrong or different phone number, a toll free or call tracking number
  • A different or wrong website URL

Citation inconsistencies may arise from simple carelessness during the citation-building process and these mistakes may then be duplicated across the local search ecosystem. Inconsistencies also commonly arise if a business has moved at any time in the past decade or so. Apart from causing confusion for humans, these discrepancies hinder Google’s ability to trust the data they have gathered from around the web about a given business. A lack of trust on Google’s part can spell ranking difficulties for the business.

Here is an illustration of a randomly-chosen dental practice in Sacramento, California which recently moved. The new location of the practice is on Riverside Blvd., but a search in Google reveals that many structured citations for the business still list its old location on Freeport Blvd. As can be seen in the Google+ Local area of the results, the business currently has two listings that reflect this inconsistency, meaning that their authority is being split up instead of consolidated into one correct listing.

If you have to move locations, it’s a given that you’ll need to put in some hours editing your old citations so that they reflect your new address. You’ll see this being referred to as “citation cleanup.” However, many businesses that haven’t moved will discover that they have inconsistent NAP data out there on the web, too.

An easy way to begin searching for this is to simply type your business name into Google’s main search engine and see what comes up. Go through the results by hand and make sure that each part of your NAP is identical across all listings of your business. Edit where necessary.

4. Quality/authority of structured citations

It’s just good horse sense that having your business listed on high-quality websites is going to help you more than being listed on sites of low quality. As a rule of thumb, businesses should initially concentrate on getting listed on a handful of really authoritative local business indexes and directories. Use the tool at GetListed.org to be sure that you have a listing in the dozen or so basic, authoritative directories highlighted there.

Once you have all your ducks in a row with these basic citations, you want to continue down the citation building path to further enhance your company’s visibility and authority. Perform searches for category terms, service terms, and geographic terms to see what comes up in the search engine results. The websites that come up may be places you would like to list your business, if possible.

There is no standard process for judging the quality of a citation source. Metrics you might consider could include domain authority, domain age, link profile quality, and even simpler quality signals such as whether the website looks fresh or neglected. Darren Shaw of Whitespark has written a good blog post entitled “How to Identify Quality Citation Sources“. If you are in a competitive market, you may need to build numerous citations to compete and may find that using a paid tool like Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder makes your work both easier and more effective.

5. HTML NAP matching place page NAP

Google will be looking at the website page you’ve linked to from your Google Places/Google+ Local page to cross reference the name, address and phone number of your business. If all elements match, as shown in this screenshot, you’re good to go:

However, if there is a discrepancy in the NAP you have on your +Local page and the NAP on the website page your +Local page links to, then Google will become “confused” about the data they have about your business. Small discrepancies like Ste. vs Suite or Hwy. vs Highway do not matter. Reference Point 3 in this guide for a list of discrepancies that do matter. Your task is to ensure that your NAP is cohesive in both places.

There is a specific scenario in which Google may not be able to cross reference the complete NAP in the +Local Page dashboard with the NAP published on a website. This relates to home-based businesses which, for reasons of privacy, do not publish their street address on their website. It is speculated that this decision may put the business at some disadvantage, given what an authoritative source the website is, but to date, I am unaware of any in-depth studies that have been conducted surrounding this interesting topic.

One might guess that if there are five home-based seamstresses in a town and only one of them publishes her home address on her website, she might have an edge over the other four, because Google is able to confirm that the Google+ Local page dashboard address matches the one found on the website. This is a subject that is deserved of further study!

6. Quantity of structured citations

Again, a structured citation is a listing of your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) on an online local business directory. While the quality of these structured citations counts most, quantity is definitely important, too.

Each unique local business owner will find he needs to build a different number of citations in order to be competitive. Typically, the more competitive your market is, the more citations you will need to build.

A simple way to find new structured citations for your business is to type your business category terms into Google’s main search engine to see what comes up. For example, a Boston-based search for “doctors” highlights these two directories where it may be smart for any doctor to get listed.

For a more sophisticated approach, you might use a tool like Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (Moz members get a 20% discount!) which will not only help you find new citations to build, but will also keep track of the numeric quantity of citations you have earned:

For businesses in less competitive markets, an initial session of citation building followed up by a very modest, occasional effort to build new citations may be all that’s needed to become dominant in the search engine results. If you’re in a tough market, however, ongoing citation building will likely need to be an integral part of your local search marketing strategy.

7. Domain authority of website

At present, the overall strength of a local business’ website plays a major role in how it ranks both locally and organically. Simply stated, “Domain Authority” is a metric used to predict how well a website may perform in search results compared to other websites. Moz offers a Domain Authority toolbar called the MozBar that makes it easy to see the DA of any website in the search engine results. See the bottom of this screenshot, below:

There are many factors that make up the domain authority of a website. Some of these include the age of a website and the number and quality of links pointing to it. For a great explanation of DA, read this blog post by Matt Peters.

In general, every local business will want to publish the strongest possible website. This means having a user-friendly, optimized site with excellent content that earns links and social mentions over time. You will always be working to build your domain authority, and the higher it is, the better your chances of ranking well for your most important terms.

8. Individually owner-verified local Plus page

Creating your Google+ Local page for your local business is your first step to being included in Google’s index. Your second step is to verify your ownership of the listing. These days, this typically involves receiving a postcard/letter from Google containing a pin number which you must enter in order to complete verification.

Avoid letting anyone else act as a go-between for your company, putting your Google+ Local page into some master Google account of their own. It’s fine to have a Local SEO help you with the steps of verification, but this should be done with your own Google account and not the account of any third party. You need to be in direct control of your Google+ Local page, and while you will find unverified listings managing to rank in some local packs, it is always wiser for any local business owner to take the time to verify his or her listing. It’s easy to do!

9. City, state in Places landing page title

Your Google+ Local page should link to a page on your website. This page on your site will have an element in its code called a “Title Tag.” This is typically located in the <head> section of the code and the words contained in it send a very important signal to both search engine bots and human users regarding the topic of the page in question. The title tag of a page typically displays in the upper left hand corner of your browser window:

In the above screenshot, you can see that the title tag of the page contains both the city and state name. Local Search Ranking Factors 2013 cites the inclusion of these geographic terms as being especially important on the landing page to which your Google+ Local page links. For many local businesses, the landing page will simply be the homepage of the website. However, for multi-location or multi-practitioner business models, specific landing pages may have been developed on the website to reflect this diversity, and the Google+ Local pages created for these locations or practitioners will often link to these landing pages instead of the homepage.

By including your city and state names in your landing page title tag, you will be letting both search engine bots and human visitors know that your business is local to a specific geographic locale.

10. Proximity of address to centroid

Traditionally, the centroid in Local Search has been defined as the city center identified by Google in its Maps product. You can go to maps.google.com, type in a city and state and get a result that looks like this, with Google putting a red pin on the presumed city centroid:

However, expert Local SEO Mike Blumenthal has recently pointed out that the centroid can change position relative to different industries and may often have nothing to do with the the designated center of a city. In other words, Google can decide that the center of business for auto dealers is different than the center of business for chiropractors. This is a somewhat complex topic and I recommend you read Linda Buquet’s forum thread, Google+ Local Centroid – Not City Center! to see illustrations of this concept of the shifting center of business.

Proximity of address to centroid is one of those factors over which your business will have little control. Some businesses located outside this centroid/center of business radius may discover that they are at a disadvantage in comparison to competitors who are within the radius. Short of moving to a new location, (not a realistic suggestion) your proximity to Google’s designated center of business for your industry isn’t something you can change.

11. Quality/authority of inbound links to domain

Because organic signals play a big part in local rankings, earning high quality links from authoritative sources will help your business to improve its visibility in the search engine results. A tool like the Open Site Explorer can help you to begin understanding both the number and quality of links currently pointing to your website:

For a local business, high quality, authoritative links may come from a variety of places, including local and national newspapers, local business indexes, high profile bloggers and professional industry associations.

These days, strategies surrounding the acquisition of links have evolved from link building (the process of actively seeking web pages on which links can be placed) to link earning (the process of generating links without having to build or request them due to some outstanding aspect of the website).

Local businesses can both build links, as in the case of having their domain linked to from their local business listings, and earn links via forms of marketing like content development and social sharing. The more authoritative the sources that link to your website, the better your chances of gaining visibility for your important search terms.

12. Quantity of native Google Places reviews (w/text)

This is a simple one! It is currently felt that the number of reviews your business earns on its Google+ Local page influences rank more than reviews you might earn on other review platforms. You can easily see how many reviews you have by clicking either on the “reviews” link on your Google+ Local link in the main search engine results, or by visiting your + Local page directly. You’ll see something that looks like this:

No local business needs to earn a ton of Google-based reviews at once. In fact, if you earn reviews at too great a velocity, you may find that some of them get filtered out. Rather, best practices for this revolve around slowly acquiring positive reviews from happy customers, one by one, over time. You want to earn more reviews than your direct competitors have, but you don’t need 10 times as many reviews to see the benefits. In fact, if you’ve got many more reviews that your competitors, it may look suspicious to Google and human users.

Google allows you to ask for reviews, but not to offer money or incentives in exchange for explicitly-required positive reviews. Reviews must come directly from your customers’ Google accounts. Never hire a third party marketer to pose as a customer and post fake reviews or post reviews on behalf of real customers. Create an internal process in your company for requesting reviews either at the time of service or shortly thereafter. Remember, a slow, steady acquisition of reviews is the goal here, so that you are gradually building a great online reputation, over time.

You will note that this ranking factor relates to the quantity of Google Places reviews rather than the quality or rating of them. At this point in the evolution of Local Search, sheer numbers seem to matter most.

13. Product/service keyword in business title

The business title of your business is its legal name or DBA. It is believed that having the name of a core product or service in your business name may give you some advantage over competitors who lack this. Here’s an example of some auto body shops in Boston with the full or partial keyword phase “auto body” in their business names:

If your business name currently doesn’t contain a product or service term, don’t take a wrong turn by simply adding keywords to the business title field on your Google+ Local page or other citations. This is not allowed!

Ostensibly, you could take the legal steps to change your business name so that it includes a keyword phrase, but be advised that if you do, you will be signing up for a mountain of work editing all web-based references to your old name, in addition to offline re-branding in your signage and marketing. Often, it is simply more realistic to concentrate on other promotional efforts. However, if you are starting a new business, it will be good to take note of this bias on Google’s part and consider including your core product/service term in the naming of your company.

14. Quantity of citations from locally relevant domains

Having your business NAP (name, address, phone number) mentioned on a website that relates specifically to your geographic community acts as a locally-relevant citation. This type of citation reinforces Google’s trust in your relevance to your locale. Here’s an example of a locally-relevant citation for an accounting firm, listed on the Livermore, California Chamber of Commerce website:

Apart from Chamber of Commerce websites, other locally-relevant domains on which you might earn citations could include local news sites, local professional association sites and local blogs that publish content about businesses or happenings in your community.

Remember, a citation does not necessarily have to link to your website, but that’s always nice, too!

15. Proximity of physical location to the point of search (searcher-business distance)

For many searches, it is no longer necessary to include a geographic term in your search in order to be shown local results. If Google feels that your search term has a local intent, they will automatically detect your physical location and show you local results. For example, a user located in Laramie, Wyoming can simply search for “wood stoves” in order to be shown a local pack of results containing businesses near him.

This phenomenon of proximity demonstrates Google’s bias towards businesses with a physical location within a specific geographic area. If your business is physically near to the searcher, your chances are good of showing up in the local results, but if it’s too far away, it is unlikely to be included in the results.

For Google Maps app users looking for local businesses on their cell phones, this concept of proximity is especially sensitive. If you run a local auto body shop on the north side of your city, your chances are good that you will be shown to searches who are driving around that part of town, but if you are on the south side, there is a chance you won’t appear as a result for that specific searcher at that time. He’d need to drive or walk closer to you to see you as a result.

Obviously, local business owners have no control over where a particular searcher is physically located at the time he performs a search, but it’s important to understand that the closer a searcher is to you, the better your chances of being shown as a result for his search.

16. Quantity of citations from industry-relevant domains

Just as it can be helpful to earn to have your name, address and phone number listed on locally-relevant websites, being included on industry-relevant sites can improve your authority and rankings, too.

An industry-relevant website can be defined as one that is widely recognized to be authoritative within a particularly category of industry, be that automobiles, hospitality or health care. GetListed.org partnered with Whitespark.ca to create a great data set highlighting The Best U.S. Citation Sources By Category. Here’s an example of the data you’ll find on this page:

Definitely check that resource out if you are looking for citation sources that are relevant to your industry. You can also perform manual searches for your industry category and create a list of the authoritative websites that come up most frequently for your terms. Once you have created this list, you can visit each of the sites to see if they allow local businesses to be listed in a directory-type feature, or if there are other opportunities for earning a citation, such as guest blogging.

17. Local area code on local Plus page

Using your local area code phone number as your primary phone number on your Google+ Local page is considered a best practice. The area code of the phone number should match the area code/codes traditionally associated with your city of location. This may seem obvious, but the local search engine results reveal that some businesses take a wrong turn here and publish a toll free number, instead. Alternatively, they might publish a cell phone number or call tracking number with a different area code.

Here is a screenshot of a business which has done this correctly, publishing a 505 area code phone number consistent with the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico:

Google allows you to enter a secondary number (such as a toll free number) when creating your listing. This is especially important for businesses like hotels who receive calls from all over the world and want their guests to be able to make a charge-free phone call to book a room. Just be sure that, when you create your listing, you are putting the local area code number in the primary number field.

18. City, state in most/all website title tags

As referenced in point #9 of this guide, the title tag is an extremely important element of any website page. Local Search Ranking Factors 2013 posits that inclusion of your city/state name in most or all of your title tags can have a positive impact on how your local business ranks. Here’s a screenshot from Open Site Explorer showing how these geo terms have been included in many of the title tags for a carpet cleaning company in Livermore, California:

While it isn’t necessary to include your city/state in every single title tag of your website, it makes sense to include it on major pages such as the home page, contact page, service description pages and bio pages. You want to send the clearest possible signals to search engine bots and human users that you are a local business and the title tag really helps transmit that message.

19. Quantity of third-party traditional reviews

In point #12 of this guide, we discussed the importance of earning customer reviews on your Google+ Local page. Beyond this, there are many third-party platforms on which it can be useful to get reviews. In ranking your local business, Google takes into account the quantity of reviews you have earned around the web. Take a look at how the famed New Orleans restaurant, Antoine’s, is the recipient of reviews on a variety of sites:

How do we know that Google takes this third party data into account? For one thing, they link out to third party review sites right on the Google+ Local page:

In the above screenshot, you can immediately see that Google is aware that reviews exist for Antoine’s Restaurant at UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor and Switchboard. Consider this a hint!

When trying to decide where it would be best for your local business to win reviews, it can help to look at the +Local pages of your direct competitors to see which third party platforms, if any, are being highlighted, as in the above screenshot.

You should also research which review sites appear to be most active in your locale. For example, in California, Yelp is an incredibly active website, but it may be less so in other parts of the country. Your state or city may even have locally-relevant review sites that your community is using. The idea is to get your business profiled anywhere that your potential customers might leave a review so that you are building a broad, web-based portfolio of positive reviews over time.

20. Page authority of Places landing page URL

Similar to the concept of Domain Authority of a whole website described in point #7 of this guide, this ranking factor relates to the authority of the specific website page linked to from your Google+Local page. For many companies, this will simply be the homepage of the website, but for businesses with multiple locations or practitioners, other pages on the website may have been designated as the landing pages. You can get a sense of your landing page’s Page Authority using www.opensiteexplorer.org.

Open Site Explorer uses Page Authority to predict a specific page’s ability to rank well, based on an algorithmic combination of link metrics, MozRank, MozTrust and other factors. For a detailed explanation of this concept, read What Is Page Authority. Because of the influence organic factors have on local rankings, the higher your landing page’s Page Authority, the better your chances of becoming dominant in the local search results.

Whew, you made it!

Now you’re off to a good start! You understand the top twenty most important local search ranking factors. Your next task is to move on to the rest of the eighty-three foundational factors, and from there to the competitive difference maker factors and then the negative factors. I consider the study of Local Search Ranking Factors to be essential and exciting homework for every Local SEO and local business owner on the planet. Taking the time to understand the concepts represented by each factor can spell success for any local business you own or market.

The smartest Local SEOs I know are the ones who study hardest. I’m here to help you in the Moz Q&A Forum if you hit a stumbling block. In the meantime, let me wish you good luck in the learning process!

How to Spot Low Quality SEO Providers

Often you won’t know the quality of work to expect from an “SEO Expert” until you’ve already paid the bills, and the results simply fail to show up. In some cases, however, it’s a bit more obvious. Below is a solicitation email I received this week to my personal email address. An email address this company did not possess because I shared it with them, which means they either scraped the email from somewhere, or have it on a list they “came across”.

It’s an interesting tale of the usual:

· Pointless statements

· Shallow results

· Misdirection
…and so on…

Dear Sir/Madam,

Greetings from <company name removed>!!

<company name removed> focuses on building Internet Marketing solutions. Our goal is to advise, guide and support our clients in all stages of their Online endeavor. Our team is highly qualified in the areas of Keyword Research and Search Engine Experts.

Best Prices: Our core technology is web based and automated, resulting in the best possible pricing that you could ever imagine.

Unique Model: Our unique model of submission, optimization and promotion helps you get the maximum ROI <original text revised to anonymize>

Time management: Since we will be handling your SEO tasks, you do not have to worry about your website ranking at all.

SEO Packages: We have packages to suit all your search engine optimization needs.

Traffic: We strive to pool in the best traffic at your website through SEO techniques like pay per click plans, affiliate marketing, online advertising and so on.

Results: We get your website ranked in the first top ten search results.

Always up-to-date: Weekly detailed report of web site.

We do all submissions manually, for the relevant category, thus higher acceptance ratio and guaranteed Results.

Awaiting for a response from your end.

Regards,

Sandeep <name removed>

If we overlook the obvious grammatical issues, as this may simply come from using a translation tool, and focus on the intent, it remains obvious their approach is outdated, incorrect, and won’t return actual results. Claiming to use SEO tactics such as affiliate programs, online advertising and paid ads? This simply sounds like someone who doesn’t understand the topic.

And claiming their process is “web-based and automated” raises a couple flags. First, its jargon designed to lure in small business owners who think those idea equate to efficiencies. Second, it tells me they either template the work, or potentially use programs to build distributed links, and such, to try to boost rankings. At best, it’s simply their approach for doing directory submissions.

Manual submissions? Umm, this is 2013 not 1997… This simply makes it sound like the company is providing something of value, when in fact it’s an almost complete waste of time. Useful directories are very limited in number and submitting to a search engine is largely superfluous in the age of near instant indexing. …and does this mean their automated process is actually manual?

And the age-old, dead giveaway – promising ranking results. Heck, even saying you’ll hit the top ten is misleading. Sure, anyone can easily do this for irrelevant, no-traffic terms, but what the business hiring you actually wants is rankings on relevant terms that drive actual converting customers to their website.

I was a bit frustrated with their email, as it was obviously spam, didn’t have an unsubscribe option and they clearly don’t vet the list beforehand to understand who potential clients are. I’ll admit, I was also curious to see if anyone would actually respond…so I replied:

Duane

My response:

1 – stop spamming

2 – stop selling garbage

3 – research your email list

Remove me from this list.

Sandeep

A.) we are not spammers

B.) we don’t sell garbage if you have purchased any then feel sorry for you.

C.) we should research list to have only people who seek services.

You are deleted.

Thanks,

Duane

Lol

Best responses ever from a spammer. I’ll include them in my blog post for everyone to read.

…and that’s thousands of actual SEOs worldwide. They’ll love this!

Sandeep

Well you should provide the live url to me, will wait for your response buddy.

Its a huge platform to market ourself as well.

Also keep our complete conversation as well in the blogpost.

Duane

Not to worry Sandeep. …and there will be no marketing on your behalf…

Sandeep

Cool

So right to the very end, as far as I could tell, Sandeep remained oblivious to what I was telling him. He clearly felt that “any publicity is good publicity”. Though the obvious message that I won’t mention his company didn’t seem like enough to dampen his enthusiasm.

This is one example of the type of low quality SEO shilling that happens every day. Solicitations comes from all around the world, this just happens to be from India, a popular target of ire for many in the industry. This actual company, who I have submitted as spam to the teams inside Bing, is low quality.

That said, there are legitimate companies based in every country where spam like this originates from, too.

The trick for a business is to look for clues to help them understand the quality v. the crap.

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager
Bing

The 2013 #MozCon Video Bundle is Live!

The 2013 MozCon Video Bundle is finally here. Yes, finally! We apologize for the delay, but hope you’re still excited. MozCon 2013 attendees: You should’ve gotten an email with your special code for your video access, which was included with your ticket price (if you didn’t, let us know at community@moz.com).

MozCon 2013 was spectacular! This year, we moved our conference to its new home at the Washington State Convention Center, and we were able to host 1,200 people, including Moz staff and other people helping out. This year saw a monumental 35 speakers! That’s a lot of inbound marketing knowledge.

Dharmesh Shah at MozCon 2013

What MozCon goers said about MozCon’s content

Let’s get down to business. Why should you purchase the MozCon videos? We always try to give you plenty of takeaways to inspire and kick off your next brilliant marketing move. Here’s what MozCon 2013 attendees said about our speakers’ content:

Did you find the MozCon presentations to be advanced enough for you? 73.2% said Yes.

What percentage of the presentations did you find interesting? 55.8% said 80% or more and 36.9% said 50% or more.

All the details on the video bundle

Our videos show both the presenter and their deck, and we include a download of the slide deck so you can flip through it at your leisure. Or just click on those important links. You can stream or download them directly to enjoy on your desktop, laptop, iPad, tablet, Surface, Android phone, iPhone, Windows phone, and those rare Andromeda 4000s, which only work on Mars.

Our dream is that you keep pausing every single talk in order to send emails and IMs filled with new ideas to your team or clients. There are 37 videos—35 speakers + a q&a session + a special Rand Fishkin introduction—to level-up your skills.

For $299 Moz Analytics subscribers ($399 non-subscribers) get instant access to:

  • 37 videos (over 19 hours) from MozCon 2013
  • Stream or download the videos to your computer, iPhone, or Android device
  • Downloadable slide decks of presentations

Buy the 2013 MozCon Video Bundle

Non-subscribers, sign up for a free 30-day Moz Analytics trial and save.

A full-length talk for free!

Last year, we gave away Wil Reynolds’ talk, and this year, we’re continuing in the tradition of giving you a taste of one of the best MozCon talks. The New Yorker‘s Kyle Rush talks about the conversion-rate optimization he did as part of the one of the most famous internet campaigns to-date, Obama for America.

MozCon 2013 free video – Kyle Rush – Win Through Optimization and Testing

Buy the 2013 MozCon Video Bundle

If that doesn’t convince you that these MozCon videos are all that jazz, here’s a really cute kitten hanging with adorable ducks. Or if you’re dance-party excited, we have a super early-bird deal on MozCon 2014 tickets.

About EricaMcGillivray — I’m Moz’s Social Community Manager! You may run into me doing my best Roger voice, playing on LinkedIn, working on MozCon, or reading your questions on Mozinars. I *heart* our community. In my spare time, I review a lot of comic books and tweet about geeky stuff.