5 Local SEO tactics you need to stop doing today

5 Local SEO tactics you need to stop doing today
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As local business owners and local SEOs, we can sometimes be guilty of using boilerplate search practices.

However, it’s increasingly important to remember that local search is an ever-evolving landscape.

What was effective a few years ago is not necessarily effective today. It’s crucial to keep evaluating our optimization efforts in favour of adopting newer, more effective strategies.

Here are a number of unnecessary local SEO tactics that are still prevalent today. With each one I will unpick the strategy, explain why it’s flawed and offer a more modern approach in exchange.


Exact match domains with a location qualifier

Arguably the most old-hat technique in this post is the use of exact match domains with location qualifier. 

These are website URLs which use a combination of servicekeyword + location in them, as opposed to the business name or brand.

A typical example of this is www.electricianboston.com

These types of domains reek of manipulative search engine practices. They were very common a few years back, in the pre-Panda and pre-Pigeon era, but even today Google’s index is still awash with businesses using this approach.

Yes URL optimisation does carry some impact on search engine rankings, however as a local business your online efforts are best concentrated in targeting location-based keywords elsewhere on the site – e.g. visible content, title tags, H1 tags etc…

Using a brand-led domain is better. It’s more favourable in the eyes of Google and it conveys more user trust and will make your link-outreach and promotion efforts far easier.

This is something Rand Fishkin explained in a recent Whiteboard Friday (see video below); editors may be hesitant to link out to sites with an exact match root domain as they’re inherently associated with a spammy web presence.

 

 

Brand-led domains also allow for easier geographic expansion. By having a region-specific domain, you’re narrowing your business to one region & not giving yourself an easy way expand into other locations.

 

 

 

You could build a series of sites that each targets a specific location but that’s equally unsustainable. Each site would hold its own authority meaning you would have to nurture the link profiles independently – creating tones of duplicate effort & cost.

Instead, consolidate link authority into 1 site by choosing a branded domain and leave your location targeting for page & meta content at the page level.


Region-specific TLDs

Region specific top-level domains (TLDs) allow users to end their website with their physical location, i.e. mylocalbusiness.london. Despite being aesthetically pleasing and a creative use of branding, these don’t come with any local ranking benefit.

Matt Cutts initially debunked this in 2012, with Jon Mueller backing it up further in his “Google’s handling of new top level domains” post last year.



Even if TLDs look region-specific, Google will still handle them like generic top-level domains, with no preference over ‘.com’ or any other typical gTLD.

Mueller has stated that “there may be exceptions at some point down the line, as we see how they’re used in practice” – however, as of 2016 this is Google’s official standpoint.

 

 

 

 

Similar to exact match root domains, your website’s ranking efforts are better placed elsewhere within local SEO. Choose a TLD that allows for regional expansion and doesn’t require the need for another website. This will allow you to concentrate on developing content, links, citations and customer reviews.


Localised Doorway Pages

Doorway pages were, once upon a time, a commonplace tactic for SEOs. Many sites still utilise this practise despite Google updating their position on them last year – in short Google either penalises sites or removes these pages from SERPs.

Doorway pages are defined as pages that have been created to expand a site’s “search footprint”, and usually contain the following traits:

  • They’re not contained in the user’s journey, rather they’re hidden off-track, deep within the sitemap
  • They’re purely used to capture a specific search query, usually long tail & with a specific qualifier (e.g. a location name)
  • They don’t offer any unique info to existing pages that are already available in the sites’ main navigational path

In the context of local search, doorway pages are usually pages which target a specific service/product keyword that is then followed by a location variable.

To use a similar example from earlier on, yoursite.com/electrician-boston, is likely constitute a doorway page.

Granted, the definition of doorway pages can be blurry and the argument of whether they deliver actual user benefit is in flux. However, if you’re convinced a doorway-style page is necessary, you need to ensure your page avoids duplicate content and delivers a specific purpose & value to a user.

You can get round localised doorway pages by offering unique content to the user; involve historical and cultural content related to that location and include local testimonials / case studies from past customers who live there.

This will indicate to both users and search engines that you have a genuine interest in serving that area.


Focusing outreach only on high Domain Authority links

This should not be misinterpreted; links from high Domain Authority sites are invaluable towards your ranking potential.

They’re something any site, local or otherwise, should constantly strive for.

However, you shouldn’t disregard lower domain authority links.

From a local link building perspective, these are sites involved in your community, e.g. hotels, B&Bs, city information, libraries, churches etc. As a local business owner, you shouldn’t disregard such sites just because they have low Domain Authority.

As long as they’re run by a genuine team of people and provide actual value to your local community, then they’ll also bring inherent SEO value to your local business. Once indexed, these links will show Google that your business is actively involved in its surrounding community.

Low domain authority link building is something Greg Gifford (he’s awesome, check him out!) touched upon during his Marketing to Local Customers talk at April 2016’s BrightonSEO:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of this tactic is that it may not be obvious to your success; a competitor may analyse your site’s performance and not attribute it to this tactic. Instead, they’ll be left scratching their marketing heads, not being able to determine what activity is contributing to your online success.


Setting up a huge service area on Google My Business

Google My Business gives its users the ability to set their radius of service around their physical address. This allows customers to see how far a business is willing to travel to visit a customer.

However, some business owners set their radius to its maximum in the hope of ranking across several locations. Unfortunately, in reality this doesn’t work and you’re still only likely to rank around the actual, physical location of your business.

The radius setting should be used realistically & needs to accurately show the catchment area of your business. If a huge service area is correct then that’s fine, just don’t expect any cross-location ranking boost to come from it.

The reality is that if you want to rank across several locations, you need a physical site in each major city that’s actually utilised and occupied by your team. Be wary of purchasing virtual addresses purely for the location pin as this goes against Google’s quality guidelines.

Similar to other aspects of SEO, local search is another area becoming increasingly clever. We need to remember that at Google’s core is a sophisticated machine learning algorithm, and attempting to cheat the system is becoming nothing short of pointless. Our local efforts therefore need to readjust from attempting to manipulate Google’s results, to concentrating on benefiting the end user.

 

 

 

 

These are examples of unnecessary local SEO tactics that I still come across today.

What unnecessary tactics do you still come across? Let me know in the comments below.


Written by Petar Jovetic

Petar is an Account Manager at the award-winning digital marketing agency, Impression. He specialises in technical, eCommerce, and Local SEO and has worked with varying sizes of clients, ranging from small businesses, to larger, more established brands.

Impression is a leading digital marketing agency based in the East Midlands, UK. With a team of 20-strong digital marketing experts, the business offers its clients the entire digital marketing package covering SEO, PPC, content marketing, digital PR and web development. You can follow Impression on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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48 thoughts on “5 Local SEO tactics you need to stop doing today”

  1. This is absolutely true! I’ve spent plenty of time going through fixing these on our client’s accounts. Big service areas are quite common amongst these and it’s good to know it doesn’t help (and also to create these areas in each major city the client is in).

  2. I think EMD’s vary from opinion to opinion. In our testing, they still work well for niche related topics. You can look in the Serps to verify this. High authority branded websites will always (usually) rank better in the keyword terms they are trying to rank for.

    Overall, our philosophy is,

    “Build your web properties for real users. Give them an excellent user experience. Create and promote extraordinary content making sure when they land on your page it give users what they came for.”

  3. How about using the .io extension with exact match? There’s a few good ones out there and our clients have used them pretty effectively.

  4. This is great information and I have done my best to repair 4 of 5 of these tactics done to clients’ web assets. I think that many SEO companies have been fairly sloppy with the latest SEO techniques, and we often have to go in and clean up the messes.

  5. What are your thoughts on TLDs like .lawyer .attorney etc? I read (maybe on SE Land) that during test, these TLDs have ranked better. Thoughts on this?

  6. Peter. Thanks for taking the time to write this article on local SEO. I agree with everything you’ve said, however, having a location keyword in the domain name helps. You’re right though, if done improperly, it screams of manipulation. We have a few clients who we’ve had to educate on this.

  7. Good to know about the five unnecessary techniques. I am searching “SEO In Udaipur” (https://www.google.co.in/search?q=seo+in+udaipur&rlz=1C1DFOC_enIN681IN681&oq=seo+in+udaipur&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60l2j69i65l2j69i59.1900j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8) and the local results which Google shows, most of the business listings have used their targeted keywords in the business name and they are ranking on top position. Even the results are not showing details about the business. What are your views on such type of results….

  8. Nice article – better than I was expecting, really. Because when I clicked, I was expecting to find a list of tactics I’d heard many times before. Fortunately however, you covered a bit that I actually hadn’t considered one way or the other, like location-based TLDs.

    Although I definitely wouldn’t take what Google says as gospel (that’s like taking what the government says at face value), there were valid points discussed. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thanks for sharing. This article hits on many points. SEO game is changing and SEO’s need to stay on-top of all the algorithms and changes. Google is changing the way they present results even offering snippets of info at the top of certain search results where the user does not even have to click on a website to get the answer. It sll gearing towards the best user experience and its a game changer. Many a times when I complete a search I already see the answer in the pieces of info google is providing without even visiting a website. These are things to stay afloat on.

    1. Hey Aly, totally agree! User experience is key. The increasing prevalence of Featured Snippets is massively exciting, too, and presents massive content opportunities for SEOs.

  10. Thanks for the article. What’s the best way to go around localized doorway pages? If we want to rank for seo in a certain location should we name it a title around seo, then optimize for location in the content?

    1. Hey Mark, as mentioned in the article, I think you just need to make sure your location page bring unique value to the user. If you have a genuine interest in servicing that area then make that implicit by mentioning case studies and past work carried out there. It’s all about being unique here rather than regurgitating the same content that’s appeared elsewhere on your site.

  11. Yeah that all sounds nice, but it’s not true. All of those things if done well will rank. But I understand you need to make content for your website.

    1. Hey The Truth – thanks for your feedback. Granted, I appreciate some of these tactics may still be prevalent in SERPs today but I tried to convey the point of future-proofing your site. Employing tactics purely to satisfy the search engine whilst disregarding how users will perceive your online practices is becoming increasingly old-hat.

  12. Totally right on. Brand name domains are the best long term investment. Thanks for the tip on the map location radius, I have two clients having issues being found in maps like the rest and I think that is why.

    I still see a lot of people using content from India writers, or commercial keyword stuffing (i.e. chiropractor/chiropractic – in same title) or repeating keywords in titles/descriptions more than once thinking it will help.

    Another one would be people writing a bunch of fluff thinking they need to hit a word quota for the page, like 500 words, instead of researching and writing real, educational information they drone on about how legendary their customer service skills are. I was at a Google Partners conference on a 3 day trip and they stated that 100 words is fine, as long as the content is educational and/or exactly matches the search query.

    1. Hey Thomas! Thanks for commenting. I totally agree, content should be written on a page-by-page and case-by-case basis. There’s no point writing a minimum of 500 words per page purely for the sake of it. Your first priority should be satisfying the user and like you say, the search query.

  13. Nice article Peter.
    I would like to address your statement that, “The reality is that if you want to rank across several locations. . . you should consider purchasing a virtual office or satellite address.”

    Are you aware that this violates GMB policy?

    The following is from GMB Guidelines:”Address” – under “Learn More” – bullet 5:

    “If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours.”
    https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177?hl=en

    The clear rule is that the business has to be at a location where someone is available during the hours listed on the business listing.

    I’ve closed (In Map Maker) numerous “Spam” businesses in my locality who ranked in the Local Pack by simply renting a virtual office or PO Box at the UPS Store.

    The Satellite/Virtual office tactic is inherently unfair for local businesses who actual have a storefront at the physical address.

    Please consider revising your statement above.

    Thanks

    1. Is there an official procedure for getting spam businesses “closed” in Map Maker? I’m faced with the same problem in my area. Thanks.

  14. Hi Petar,

    I really found your article very true about the Local SEO practices. I am 100% agree with your views on these above facts.

    Apart from all these 5 tactics you mentioned above, i believe for local SEO what most people don’t care is that how they provide complete and as much as possible information about their businesses while creating content, links, citations across different platforms. Paid customer reviews are also a big big loss some time.

    1. Hey Vinny, great shout about paid-for customer reviews! A definite no-go not just for Local SEO, but all areas of marketing in general. That could have easily been my sixth point 🙂

  15. The highest local ranking sites in my area all use 3 of 5 of these and are still ranked at the top, so i’m not sure in reality what you say is in fact so.

    1. Hey Karen, thanks for comments. I can definitely imagine – I often see some of these tactics still appearing in SERPs. I think it’s a case of future proofing your site though and not employing tactics purely to satisfy the search engine.

  16. Nice Idea. you know sometimes i thought of this. But suddenly I was going for this domain-www.maidinamarillo.com as my business name is Maid In Amarillo. It’s looks like spammy of course. Is there something I can do to fix this mistake?

    1. James, stick with the Maid In Amarillo URL it works fine. Google won’t penalize you for that title if you business name is a match. Just build good content around the “Services of your Maids.” use good keywords & synonyms.

  17. Hello Petar,

    A nicely written and laid out article. However, I am not too sure I entirely agree with what you are saying.

    I have seen multiple examples of EMD’s ( Exact Match Domain) with location qualifiers outranking brand led domains as I am an avid SEO’er and have been for the last 15 years – long enough to see the entire landscape change.

    I have also seen over the last few days a few .london TLD’s outranking sites on the elusive 1st page of Google for high converting keywords such as ‘web design london.’

    In the main I agree with what you are saying but time and again I see evidence of the opposite and have to wonder why? Maybe Google spreads false rumours so that budding optimizers write articles and what I would call ordinary people who are not so technically minded read these items and then do not employ these tactics and maybe all these old skool tactics are still at large and in fact still work if not overused – who knows?

    1. Hi Duncan, I definitely understand the frustration. Time and time again Google will issue a statement but then proceed to contradict themselves when presenting their results pages. Despite this, they are increasingly communicating how our marketing efforts should be user-focused and that’s a sentiment I agree entirely with.

      Regarding the location TLDs, how can you be sure that site you mentioned is ranking higher purely because it’s employed a TLD? It’s a difficult one to isolate! Could well be due to other ranking factors?

  18. Hi Peter, Nice to learn a bit more about whether geo-specific TLDs are any good and doorway pages are definitely a bad idea but I think a lot of the top Local SEO guys in the US would disagree with you about the use of exact match domains with a location qualifier.
    The reason Google search results are still awash with them is because EMDs still seem to work – especially if they have some age on their side 🙁

    1. Hey Jo, thanks for commenting. I appreciate EMDs with location qualifiers are still prevalent today, especially with older domains. It’s a recuring point many readers are picking up on. I just believe that newer, local businesses are far better, and safer, going with a business name that conveys a sense of brand. Going for an EMD will put you on the back step with your outreach efforts in particular due to their spammy connotations!

  19. Great write-up, I get asked all the time by local businesses if they need an exact match domain with location, people as a whole seem fixated on that tactic still.

    I did have a question though. You mentioned getting a virtual address in a town if you would like to show up there. I have seen and heard many mixed reviews on the use of virtual offices and if they handicap one’s ability to rank compared to businesses not using a virtual address in the same town. What has your experience been with this?

  20. Interesting points. I do think that geo-targeted domains are still relevant and effective. There are also studies to support that.

    Nothing says that a karate school is in Austin better than AustinKarate.com or AustinKarateClasses.com.

    For the searcher, PetesKarate.com requires a drill down to find the location whereas AustinKarateClasses.com is pretty clear. That extra step would seem to be in contrast to Google’s goal of easy, obvious search.

    Just my 2-cents.

    1. Hey John – thanks for commenting. That point seems to be the main quibble many others share on this comments feed, which is totally fine and I understand.

      Personally, I think avoiding EMD w/location qualifiers futureproofs your site more and as mentioned in the post, opts for a more brand-led approach. I think that’s the important part – you’re more likely to be favoured by everyone, inc. search engines, customers, other site owners, etc. if you focus on a brand-focused strategy.

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