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 service–keyword + 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 to 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 top-level domains (TLDs) allow users to end their website with their physical location, i.e. mylocalbusiness.london. Despite being an aesthetically pleasing and 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, local 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.
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.