Well, what a session that was! On Wednesday, February 12, 2020, local SEO legend Greg Gifford (SearchLab) hosted our first-ever Local Search Clinic, and the feedback from the audience has been fantastic.
For one hour only, Greg was on hand to answer your most pressing concerns and queries surrounding local search, from service-area businesses to citation building and beyond.
With more than 70 questions fired at Greg, it would have been quite the feat to get through them all in just one hour (more on what we’ll be doing with your unanswered questions later!), but suffice it to say our first Local Search Clinic was a roaring success.
If you weren’t able to join us live, we’ve got all the headlines below. Read on for the full Q&A.
If Greg didn’t get around to answering your questions this time, fear not! Next week on our Twitter account, we’ll be rolling over all your unanswered questions to be used in our first #LocalSEOChat of the year.
#LocalSEOChat welcomes the local SEO community, including industry veterans, to get talking about local SEO. Taking place on Tuesday, February 18, at 1pm ET, we’ll be using any unanswered questions as the basis for this discussion.
If you just can’t get enough of local SEO, join us for another hour of knowledge sharing, connection making, and hot takes next week!
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions and participated in the upvoting process! As a result, Greg was able to offer some exceptional, actionable insights. Take a look below to see Greg’s questions and answers.
Q1. What’s the best way to find spam GMB listings and make sure they’re taken down? – Emily
A1. The best way to find them is, really, you’re going to know that they’re fake. They’re going to be somebody using Regus Office, when there’s nobody in the office. Or somebody that’s entering home addresses of their technicians to try to get listings in different cities. And really, the best way to get them down, if they’re completely fake listings that don’t actually exist there, Google has the business redressal form, so you can go fill that form out and report those listings so that they’re removed. It’s a big long URL, but I actually turned it into a Bitly: bitly.ly/report-map-crap.
Now, if we’re talking about spam listings that just have keyword stuffing, you can’t use the form for that. The form’s only for completely fake listings. So if it’s keyword stuffing, you have to report those on an individual basis and just suggest the correct name to go in there.
But, making sure they’re taken down, it’s kind of the Wild West out there. It’s unfortunate that Google’s not trying a little bit harder to fight the spam, but in a lot of verticals it’s just rampant. I know there are a lot of people out there — Joy Hawkins, her agency kind of specializes in fighting spam and a lot of what they do for some of their clients in the more competitive industries is just fighting spam. Because if there are 25 fake listings and you take them down, well then everybody else is going to be bumping up.
So it’s tough, it’s a manual process. There’s not really any tool that exists that’s gonna help you with it.
Q2. How much do organic rankings factor into local rankings? Can on-site optimizations improve the performance of my GMB listing in Maps? – Shauna, Wes
A2. There’s definitely some play in there. If you look at the Local Search Ranking Factors Study — it’s a little bit outdated because we did it at the end of 2018 — but if you look at it, obviously in the localized organic listings, content and links are a lot more powerful and weighted than they are in the map pack. But they do still come into play.
If you’re fighting for the map pack, one of the things that we always say is that it’s a tiered system. So you can’t just show up, you’ve got to show up because you’ve got the right signals and those signals have to include best practice SEO. If you’re going to show up in the map pack, you’ve got to have good links and good content and make sure you’re a relevant answer.
Now, reviews and other things play into it, and category choice and all that, and proximity, but definitely on-site optimization and linkbuilding can make a difference.
Q3. If I have a sub-business within a business (e.g. spa within a hotel), how should I handle GMB and citations? – Ben
A3. So you could definitely use a suite number for the human element but Google’s going to ignore the suite number. So don’t feel like you can cheat GMB to show that it’s at a different address just by putting in a suite number. But you definitely want to have it there because you need humans to be able to find it once they’re in the building.
You can either set up a completely separate GMB or in a lot of cases you could do what we call nested listings. It’s a department listing that sits inside of the main listing. We do this with car dealerships really often, where you have the main listing for the dealership, then the service department and the parts department are kind of separate business entities and so you’ve got separate listings.
So one thing that’s really cool about this is, with car dealerships or with different departments, maybe the hours are different between departments and you have confusion with customers because if you just have the main listing — for example, if we’re talking about a spa within a hotel — the hotel’s open 24 hours a day, or maybe the front desk is open from 8am to midnight, but then the spa’s only open from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock. You don’t have those hours displayed in that main listing, but if you have that department listed underneath, when you look at the department listing for the spa, it will have a line that says “This is located inside of whatever hotel”. But then when you’re looking at the hotel listing, it will show hours open for today and then “show more hours”. When you click that it’ll drop down and show the hours for the hotel, hours for the spa, and the hours for whatever department.
But, you know, with car dealerships you’d have the hours for sales, the hours for parts, the hours for service, so that’s a really beneficial thing to do for customers. It’s typically good too because you can separate your reviews between the different departments.
Citation-wise you’re going to basically have the same address, so you want to make sure that the phone number and the business name are unique. So as long as you’ve got a unique phone number, a unique business name, you should be okay. Now you will sometimes run into situations where results will get filtered because everything’s in such close proximity, so be aware of that. But I would say in any case you can, set up that GMB if you’re able to.
To create that nested listing, you set up two separate listings, so say you’ve got your main listing and your department sub-listing. So you create both of them, then when you go to the department sub-listing you can click ‘suggest an edit’. When you do that it brings up the ‘suggest an edit’ form, and there’s a section if you scroll down a bit where it shows the map, underneath that is a field titled “located in”. So then you can just type in the business name of the primary listing. Sometimes it takes a day or two to go through, but that will create that nested listing automatically.
Or you can also go to GMB support and ask them through Twitter. Basically Google calls them “relations” for some reason — it doesn’t really make sense — but if you tell them you want to set up the relation and that “this listing should be listed under this listing” they’ll handle it for you.
It’s worth bearing in mind, the rules of GMB state that you have to have a separate location and separate signage, and a separate entrance. With a spa in a hotel, the entrance may be in the hotel, but it still has a separate entrance.
[Update 03/04/20: Google has since updated its guidelines about GMB listings for car dealerships to allow separate listings for each brand represented, regardless of whether separate entrances are present.]
Q4. Are there any local SEO / content optimization certifications you would recommend? – Siva
A4. I don’t really know of any certifications. There are some courses out there. I’ve done several courses for SEMrush, so if you go to the SEMrush academy there are video courses. Next month — this may be a spoiler alert — they’re releasing my local SEO class. So that’s an hour-long class on the intricacies of local SEO — it’s free and then you get a little certificate at the end.
If you’re just trying to learn, then there’s that class, there’s Joy’s forum — Local Search Forum is awesome — and then there are blogs to watch out for. I mean, I do a weekly video series on local SEO every Tuesday. You’ve got webinars like this, BrightLocal puts out tonnes of content. So there’s tonnes of stuff on BrightLocal that you can learn. Whitespark does some good content, too.
So, you know, find one of those top local SEO experts that you see in all the webinars and all the podcasts — Joy, Darren, Jason Brown, me, all the people that tend to be out there and visibly talking about local SEO. Watch those webinars. That’s going to be the best way to learn.
If you are anywhere close to Ungagged, I run a training class for the Ungagged Conferences. I’m also going to do a few general SEO classes for some digital summits in the US.
These aren’t really certifications, but if you want to learn there are a lot of options out there.
Joy’s local SEO expert guide is a must-have, too. That’s definitely another really good source of knowledge for local SEO.
Q5. Does geotagging all of the pictures that I post on GMB with NAP help with local three-pack listings? – Mark
A5. I was talking to somebody at PubCon last week about this. Somebody’s really got to test this. There are people out there saying “Geotag your photos!”, “do this”, and “do that”. My gut feeling is no. I don’t think it really matters.
My session in Brighton last Fall was about how we’re really moving in a direction where Google is looking at real-world signals, more than it’s looking at online signals, or at least trying to work out how to accurately use it as a ranking factor.
If you’re going to geotag a photo that you’ve put on your GMB, do you really deserve to show up better than somebody else? No. Does it have an effect? I seriously doubt it, but if it does it’s something that’s going to go away.
We’ve got to stop thinking about little tricks and things that we can do to try to maybe tweak it, and think more about “what can I do to really deserve to show up there?” You don’t really deserve to show up more than somebody else just because you’ve got geotagged photos. You deserve to show up because you’re a better answer, you have better reviews, you have a better service, you have a better product — that’s what’s going to get you there.
So concentrate more on the full-scale, full-circle, all-encompassing, full-stack marketing platform or concept, and worry less about little tricky tactics that may or may not work.
Q6. How important would you say aggregators and NAP consistency is today vs 5 years ago? – Timothy
A6. It’s not. Darren Shaw and I were talking about this yesterday on Slack. There’s still so much outdated information about local SEO out there. Are citations important? Yeah, to a degree. But if we’re talking versus five years ago, I mean five or 10 years ago, I could get a business to rank number one in a city that was 45 minutes away just by banging out more citations than anybody else.
It’s just like what I was saying in the last question. Does a business deserve to show up higher because they’ve got 500 citations as opposed to 200 citations? No. Just because you went and filled out a bunch more forms on a bunch more sites, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a better answer to somebody’s query. That’s why citations aren’t becoming as important. Google’s algorithm is becoming smart enough to understand.
A few years ago you had people talking at conferences and making videos, saying “you have to have your citations be 100% consistent, so if your address is on Main St. you need to spell out ‘street’ every time.” Now, Google understands that “St.” is the same as “Street”. So you don’t have to worry so much about that typically.
When I’m speaking at conferences, when I’m consulting and talking to people, we say it’s definitely worth submitting to the aggregators to make sure your information is spit out to the various sites, but the sites you really need to worry about are the ones that potential customers might see. I’m not worried about Google’s algorithm when it comes to citations, I’m worried about that random customer that might pull you up on MapQuest instead of using Google Maps or Apple Maps. And if you’re MapQuest address is wrong or inaccurate, you might lose a potential customer.
So a good rule of thumb is to do a Google search for your business name and any citation site that shows up on the first two or three pages, are the ones you should worry about. Beyond that, it really doesn’t matter.
Q7. How do you get a Service Area Business that hides its location to show up in the Local Pack or at least on the extended map listings? – Kurt
A7. Just because you hide your location, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to show up. Consider something like a plumber or an electrician, where most if not all the listings are going to have a hidden address because they’re just putting in service areas. There’s no reason that they wouldn’t show up just because the address is hidden.
So with service-area businesses, the reason that they let you hide the addresses is because they understand you might be working out of your home, and people don’t come to your location to do business so there’s no need to show it. That’s why you enter the service area of where you go to do business at the client’s location. You’ll still show up in the local pack, and finder, and the map pack. So it’s not really a problem.
Q8. I notice some service-area businesses (plumbers, pest control) have multiple locations on GMB. How do they get away with it? – PJ
A8. They cheat. They’re dirty, dirty cheaters!
Most of the time — pest control is a great example — these businesses will have their main listing where their office is located but they’re also going to want to show up in the 20 or so suburbs in that metro area, and they’re going to use their technicians’ home addresses, and set up GMBs based on their employees’ home addresses.
Or you’ll have attorneys or other businesses that’ll use a Regus or a WeWork space, so they can say “technically I’ve got an office at this address”, but Google doesn’t really like those community spaces. They understand that a lot of people are abusing the system.
So, PJ, if you’re fighting people that have a lot of fake locations, you can usually tell — either they’re in a residential area, or if it’s in an office building, look and see if there’s a Regus or a WeWork there. If you can prove that it is a fake listing — go drive by that location and show that it’s somebody’s house. Say “Hey, look. This business office is in Dallas and this house is in Plano. This is a tax address, it’s not where they do business”. Then you can report them with the redressal form and get them taken down. So pay attention to that.
Also if it’s a listing that’s like a WeWork or a Regus, you’ve got to have permanent signage, and you’ve got to have it staffed. So if you can prove that it’s just an empty office space, you can get those taken down as well.
Any time you can provide proof, like a picture, that’s good. If you can take pictures to show that competitors are not following the rules, that’s gonna help.
Q9. What do you think the impact of more ‘zero-click’ searches will be on local marketing in 2020, and how can we make the most of the shift? – Rachael
A9. Rachael, this is an interesting question. This is what my presentation’s going to be about at BrightonSEO in April. A lot of people are out there talking about zero-click search. Rand Fishkin’s been talking about it at almost every conference that he speaks at for a couple of years now. He was kind of at the cusp of talking about it and now it’s grown and every conference you go to there’s going to be at least one session, or even two or three, about zero-click searches.
Almost every time, we’re talking about featured snippets, the new hotel pack. It’s all these other things that are showing up and nobody ever mentions the fact that a lot of the zero-click search phenomenon is due to all of the stuff that shows up in Google My Business.
Think about it. When was the last time you went to a restaurant’s website? You’re gonna pull up their GMB and you can see their menu, photos, you can see their reviews. I mean really, if you’re looking for a new restaurant, you’re going to look at who has good reviews and you’re going to read some of those, look at some pictures of the food, and cool, you’re good.
You might not go to their website anymore but that doesn’t mean they didn’t convert. So I think that marketers need to be aware of the fact that, especially on brand search, a lot of that traffic is not going to go to your website anymore because it just doesn’t need to.
That’s not a bad thing, I just think you need to realize that branded search traffic is going to continue to drop off and you’re not going to get as much click-through from Google My Business. Because, as Google continues to show more stuff in the GMB panel, why do you need to click through to a website?
A lot of people still don’t realize it’s okay to use a tracking number in Google My Business now. You can put your tracking number in as your primary number and your business number as your secondary number, so if there are any issues with the algorithm and NAP consistency, Google sees that the local number matches all of your other stuff. But you now have a tracking number specifically for Google My Business so for all of that no-click search traffic that’s calling you off of your Google My Business listing, you actually have call tracking to show that now.
So as you see site traffic dropping, you might see phone calls increasing. Or at least staying the same, even if there aren’t as many people clicking through to the site. Your volume of calls stays the same because they don’t need to go to your site anymore, they’re getting all that information from your Google My Business.
Q10. How often should I post content to my client’s GMB? Some say I should post every day. What do you think? – Rob
A10. If we’re talking about Google My Business Posts, I would definitely not do them every day. I just don’t find them as effective when you’re doing them every day, because whenever you have more than one live at a time, they show in a carousel and you really see at most two of those posts. So if you’ve got seven posts, are people really that likely to scroll through and see all your posts? No.
It’s the same thing as, you don’t really need a slider on your homepage anymore. Show the information that you want people to see — the most important offer, the most incredible promotion and just do it once a week. Because those posts last seven days and then they disappear.
I think once a week is more than enough. Unless, maybe, you just have some crazy offer, that’s a one-time-only thing and you want it to show up. Maybe it’s worth having a couple live at once, but posting every day is a little bit overkill.
There’s a lot of anecdotal stuff out there that says if you upload photos a lot you’ll see a boost in traffic. I think that’s more correlation than anything else. The guys who are uploading photos regularly are probably doing the other stuff well, too. I think if you put it in a vacuum, just uploading photos regularly isn’t going to do anything.
I definitely think uploading photos is important. We run into businesses all the time and ask “Are these photos accurate?” and they kind of shrug and say, “Yeah, I guess — well, they’re from 2015.” If you haven’t uploaded photos of your business in five or six years, it’s time to upload some more photos. There’s no reason not to upload photos every couple of months.
Especially if you live somewhere that gets seasons and you’ve got snow in the winter, or rain in the spring, sun in the summer, upload different photos that show what it looks like right now. You can upload videos now, too. So if you’re someone that’s creating a lot of videos, get those videos uploaded.
You don’t totally have to change your top-line information or your category choices, but as far as photos and videos go — I don’t think it’s something you need to do every day, but on a monthly basis as long as there’s a reason to, definitely do it.
Q11. I have a nationwide client that has multiple locations providing local services. How should I set up the website structure? – Bobby
A11. It depends on how many locations we’re talking about. If it’s a nation-wide client that has 50 locations, it’s easier to — you say microsite, really it’s more like content silos — set up silos. If it’s something that has thousands of locations, that’s not really so doable.
With content silos, you’ve got the main site with the content about the business, and then you’d have a Denver silo, an LA silo, a Chicago silo, an Orlando silo, a Dallas silo. And that would be, not duplicate pages, but pages talking about the same services in different locations. So on the main site it’s just a national focus, and on the Dallas silo you’re talking about providing those services to Dallas-area residents.
So you can get all of the local SEO that you usually do around that silo pointed towards Dallas — and you’re writing content about stuff related to Dallas and you’re doing link building from Dallas entities to that Dallas content to build relevancy for Dallas without necessarily having a separate GMB location.
That’s very intensive. And maybe depending on how many locations they have it’s not doable. You can still be very successful with a location finder page, like that second point, and having location pages.
Having those location pages that are really optimized around a specific location — so that page is really set to show up well for that location — those show up really well. Home Depot is a great example, REI is a great example, of this kind of enterprise-level local SEO.
If you haven’t already read the stuff that Andrew Shotland writes, they do a lot of stuff with this, where you’ve got the one big business entity and then multiple locations where you’ve got just a really robust landing page. So it’s not just a page that has an address — you’ve got good content, you’ve got reviews, you’ve got user-generated content, you’ve got all sorts of stuff on these really robust pages, so they can show up well in their various cities.
Q12. What is happening with GMB and car dealership rankings? – Jason
A12. This is a crazy bug — I don’t know if it’s happening in other verticals, but I know for sure it’s happening in auto because a lot of people have been calling me about it and people are freaking out about it.
We talked earlier about those nested listings and Google made some change recently where it’s a bug in the system and for whatever reason, if you search the name of the dealership, for example “Greg Gifford Ford”, instead of showing the main listing, it shows the service listing — which is obviously bad. You don’t want that. You want the main listing to show and not the service one.
It’s really confusing. In some cases I think it’s because you’re supposed to have unique categories and sometimes people have put all the categories on both listings. Sometimes I think people have named the listings too similarly like “Greg Gifford Ford” and “Greg Gifford Ford Service”, and that causes some confusion.
Honestly, I don’t really know. I helped a dealership out with this and all I did was make the categories unique because they had category overlap. I fixed it so the categories were unique and then I renamed the service listing — say it was “Greg Gifford Ford Service” I changed it to “Ford Service – Greg Gifford Ford”. And then I also contacted Google My Business support. So I don’t know if it was the changes that I made that had an effect, or whether Google My Business support just went in and fixed that particular one.
But a lot of people are having this problem and it tends to be, we think, mostly related to category overlap and confusion with the names being too similar.
So if you’re a car dealer and you’re having trouble with this right now, definitely make sure the categories are unique, the names are really, really unique — typically you want to have “brand service – the name of your dealership”. And then definitely use GMB support on Twitter and let Google know that that’s happening so they can go in and fix whatever needs to be fixed.
Also make sure that you’ve got a unique phone number. Each department should have a number that goes directly to that department. And really, each URL should direct to the corresponding department’s page. Don’t have all the unique listings point to the homepage.
Q13. What’s the impact on local SEO of having a virtual tour on your GMB profile? – Andre
A13. I just answered this for one of our clients this morning. I don’t think it has any effect. The guys that are selling these 360-degree virtual tours, will tell you “Hey, this will make your listing show up higher in Google.”
Again, it’s like, do you geotag your photos and show up higher? I don’t think someone deciding to spend four or five hundred bucks to get a virtual tour taken of their store is gonna help them rank better.
I’ve talked to people in the past who have said maybe it has a little bit of an effect, but I think it’s going to be negligible if it exists. But again, think about — we need to be marketers and not just focus on digital signals — is this something that will be useful for your business? Do you have a really cool kick-ass office? Or if you’re a restaurant or a doctor’s office or whatever, if it’s really awesome and there’s a reason that you want to show it to people, because it’s going to make more people want to do business with you, then I would spend the money to do this to showcase it on your profile.
Who cares if it helps you rank better? It’s gonna help you with conversions.
Q14. Assuming you have hours listed properly in GMB and have them listed on your website, how do you win “open now” searches? Is there a certain formatting that alerts Rankbrain that you are open now? – Wes
A14. I’ve never really dealt with a business where somebody’s going to rank for “open now” searches.
I would think you’re going to show up in that search because your hours show that you’re open now versus competitors that aren’t.
Just “open now” isn’t a query, so without knowing what type of business that is, this question is tough to answer.
Q15. In 2020, how do you really stand out in GMB besides reviews and posts? – Brian
A15. 100%, upload awesome photos.
Make sure your photos are large format, like you’re not taking something off your iPhone, it should be professional quality. So they should be very high resolution, taken by someone with an eye for framing, so your photos stand out above user-generated content or whatever crappy photos your competitors are taking on their iPhones.
If you’ve got videos, upload videos. If you don’t have videos, get videos.
Now, there’s a 30-second time limit and 100mb size limit*, but still that’s basic commercial length and size. So get those done — they stand out really well. You can use those in your posts as well, to help your posts stand out.
Another factor is definitely, definitely reviews and questions and answers. Still people don’t pay attention to questions and answers — it’s been around for a year now. The majority of the public thinks that it’s a messaging system, where you ask the business a question. But it’s really a community discussion feature, where anyone can ask a question and anyone can answer the question. So, as a business, pay attention to the Q&A section.
Answer questions that come in so it shows that the business owner answered the question and make sure you’re upvoting your answers, so when a question gets multiple answers, yours is the one that shows as the primary answer.
And you can ask your own questions, answer your own questions. Think of it like a pre-site FAQ page. Again, with zero-click searches people may not be going to your website but if you’ve got common questions, instead of having an FAQ page on your site, put those FAQs in the Q&A section.
So you’re uploading your own questions and answering them, it provides a better experience for customers and makes you stand out more.
One of the things we do when we onboard clients is go ahead and ask what their commonly asked questions are, so we can go ahead and craft those Q&As in GMB.
*Update 02/20/19: Since this recap was published, Google has been allowing users to upload longer videos:
Only thing I would add is to this question: In 2020, how do you really stand out in GMB besides reviews and posts?@GregGifford says videos are limited to 30 secs & 100 mb size limit.
Those are not accurate as I’ve got videos longer and larger to stick.
— Brian Barwig ? ? (@BrianBarwig) February 20, 2020
yeah, seems like they’re upping the limit since it came out… definitely able to load in more than 30 seconds on a regular basis
— Greg Gifford (@GregGifford) February 20, 2020
- Twitter: Follow Greg Gifford on Twitter
- Google: Google My Business Redressal Form
- Twitter: Local SEO Networking List
- BrightonSEO: Local SEO Training with Greg Gifford
- LocalU: Joy Hawkins’ Local SEO Guide
- BrightLocal: Guide to NAP Consistency
- SparkToro: Half of Google Searches Result in Zero Clicks
- BrightLocal: Optimize Google My Business in 10 Steps
- CallRail: Darren Shaw on Call Tracking
- Search Engine Land: Greg Gifford on Content Silos
- Local SEO Guide: Andrew Shotland’s Blogs
Greg is the VP of search at digital marketing agency SearchLab. He has over 16 years of online marketing and web design experience, and he speaks internationally at both automotive and SEO conferences, teaching thousands of small business owners and marketers how to get their sites to show up higher in local search rankings.