Frequently Asked “Local SEO” Questions

by Paul Shepherd
| June 01, 2022
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If you’re on this page, then you probably already know just how powerful local SEO is for your local business, if not then head over to this case study for Zane Pool Heating just to see how profitable this was for them.

For everyone else this post is designed to help answer the common questions i’ve been asked by clients over the past few years.

All the questions below have been answered as accurately as possible. A Few points to Note:

If you have a question that has not been answered below already, then please use the form at the bottom of the page.

There is some abbreviations used throughout this page to save space, their explanations are below:

  • GMB = Google My Business (Formerly Google Places, Google + Local or Google Maps Listing)
  • Directories = A directory like Sensis, Yellow Pages and White pages online
  • Citations = Are listings in Directories. They may not include a backlink, but always include NAP
  • NAP = Name, Address, Phone Number (These are the core identifiers for Google to rank your local business)
**Most Popular**
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Why does my business not rank for certain keyword phrases?

This answer alone could take hours, as there are a lot of factors to consider regarding SEO. Here are some of the main points to consider:

  1. Keyword Selection – Which keyword are you searching for? There are literally thousands of keywords that you could search for and to rank for all of them would be highly unlikely to never, especially if you have not invested years of work and tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum. So typically we choose 5 of the top search keywords (In terms of volume of monthly searches) combined with intent to purchase type keywords. There is not much point trying to rank for “What does a swimming pool cost” when a local searcher will most likely be searching for “Swimming pool supply store”. The latter has the intent of finding a local store, where as the former is seeking information on pools.

Typically we will agree with the business owner on the top 5-10 most important keywords to rank for, then spend months trying to make this happen.

a. Your Website Pages are Not Optimised – This reason may very well be that your website has not been optimised to target any keywords. It’s a really simple mistake. You need to make sure that you’ve done some keyword research, you know what your customers are looking for, how they search online, and you include those keyword phrases in the page titles and the meta description, and the content on your website. A lack of content on your website (or local landing page) in this case is one of the most common mistakes.

That simple process of optimisation will, at least, tell Google what your website is about and ensure that the pages can be indexed and hopefully rank well.. If you launch a new website, you build a new website and put it out on a new domain and you don’t optimize, you’ll see no rankings.

b. Insufficient Links – The next most common reason I see for websites not ranking is simply because they don’t have enough links. Now, when I talk links, I’m talking quality links and the reality is a lot of small business websites just don’t have any links.

The owners have not even been aware that they needed to build links, but you and I know that links are critical for good, solid website ranking. So if you’ve got a new website, start getting all those foundational links you know you need to have; links from your suppliers, links from your customers, testimonial links, good quality local directory links, all that sort of stuff.

c. Little or Poor Quality Content – Quality and sufficient content is a critical factor in Google’s view, to improving your rankings. You may have just copied descriptions of products from a supplier’s website.

You may not have bothered to write your own copy. You might have told your web developer, “Just put whatever up on the website.” I’ve seen “lorem ipsum” Latin generic filler content on some websites where people have forgotten to take it off.

If you’ve got no content that’s unique, keyword rich, and about what you do or what you sell, why would Google rank it? Get writing. Make sure that you’ve got unique, quality, keyword targeted content on your website.

The same applies for images. A local website with no images (and images that have not been labelled with keywords etc) are important for Google to determine relevancy to the keyword being searched.

d. Under a Google Penalty – Another reason I’ve seen that some websites don’t rank well is because your website domain may be the subject of a Google penalty, whether manual or algorithmic.

This happens when you’ve dome some really spammy, dodgy link building in the past. You’ve outsourced your link building, you know, to those guys who sell you 10,000 links for $10? That stuff can get your website penalised.

So in that situation, moving to a brand new website is not going to save you if a penalty is in place. So there’s a ton of ways that you can check whether a penalty exists, just Google: how do I find out if I’ve got a Google penalty.

But that is, in fact, one reason why your website might not be ranking well.

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Why is my business not showing on Google when I search the word “pool pump”

This is a great question and one that gets asked often.

First lets discuss two types of local searches, Implicit and Explicit. This relates to how you are using Google in the first place.

Implicit – The example here would be “pool pump” without a geographical term used in the search phrase, either before or after the words “pool pump’. It is implied (according to Google) that this may be a local search query, but not guaranteed. I say not guaranteed because Google determined whether a keyword has local intent or not.  In a lot of cases you will not see any maps listings for implicit keyword phrases. Take the example search query below. It would appear that Google is showing product listings (In the images on the right) but not local results. Meaning Google probably deems this search query as NOT having any local intent.

Implicit-search-result.png

Explicit – An example of an explicit search term would be: “pool pump Carlingford”. Meaning as a searcher in Google you are explicitly telling google that this is a local search query, and almost always Google will show different search results.

explicit-search-result-on-google.png

Now that we have a better understanding on how to search Google for local, lets look at some other considerations for why your business may not be showing.

  1. Your business (Website and or GMB Page) may not be optimised for the search phase you are typing into Google. A web page can usually only try and rank for a handful of related keywords. This is mainly determined by the content you have on that page, and any referring links to that page. Google is looking for relevancy to that keyword in order to show searchers the most suitable results that they may be looking for.
  2. Your competitors might be much stronger in terms of their Local SEO over time, thus pushing your results further down the page or onto page 2 and beyond.
Citations and Directories
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How do you deal with call tracking in regards to NAP?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in local search. I get seriously upset at Google for how they handle this. The short answer is you can’t do call tracking with your listings. If you put different numbers on different directories, then you send mixed signals to Google. Their answer is you can use call tracking on their paid products. Since Google My Business is free, I don’t think they are going to come up with a solution. All it would take is for Google to create another field called “preferred number” that you could fill out on your listing and it would display that number even though they would have record of your local number. It would also allow them to find any place online with the preferred number listed and attribute it correctly. In my opinion, Google is holding back the industry and crippling other directories by not allowing for call tracking. But they have every right to do it. That’s the worst part.

So what do I do? I keep the number consistent for NAP and I use an image on the website with a big number that is being tracked. That way, Google doesn’t index the number. The issue is this will only be used by the people on your website and not the business listings.

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I’ve heard citation submission is being compared to manual link building of the past. Do you think businesses that submit information to directories will be hit by an algorithm in the future?

If they spam the listings, yes. Here is an excellent write up by Bill Slawski on a patent that was granted to Google on how they might determine “spam citations.” The main thing Google would look for is a business name with search keywords stuffed in it, or categories with location keywords being used. So, if you are creating/claiming local listings correctly and keep your Name, Address, Phone (NAP) information accurate and consistent, then I don’t think you need to worry. On the other hand, if you are filling out your listings like this…then worry:

  • Business Name – Keyword Keyword Location
  • Category one: Location Dentist
  • Category two: Dentist in Location
  • Category three: Best Dentist in Location
  • Category four: Local dentist in Location
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What do you think about data aggregators like Localeze, Infogroup and Axciom?

Firstly, none of these data aggregators work in Australia. This is because publishers in Australia do not use the data provided by these services. So Scalability here in Australia is not possible via these data aggregators.

Otherwise I think that they serve a great purpose, which is to scale local information across many different directories. For a business that has 100’s or 1000’s of locations, I don’t see a very feasible way to do this otherwise. The problem with all the services is that they are supplying data to partner sites that they do not control. So, lets say you have changed your phone number multiple times over the years. Or maybe you changed addresses. Paying these companies might get a new version of the address submitted, but it wont take care of the bigger issue, which is bad business information still left on directories. Also, while the basic business data is sent to the partners this doesn’t mean that every listing looks pretty and has pictures listed with the full profiles filled out. You get the basic data listed.

Generally speaking, if you can claim and fix listings by hand, I would recommend that approach. If you don’t have the time or money to do that, then using the data aggregators is a solid option. In some cases, the combination of both would be the perfect option. In your major markets, do as much hand claiming as possible and automate the rest.

Google My Business Pages
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Does having your full name displayed on GMB page turn customers off from leaving an online review?

Yes… and no. I get why Google wants full names to be displayed. It keeps people honest. For instance, I know most of the business owners can reference their CRM to determine if the review was from a real customer. If I review a local business, I better be willing to stand by it because I see them around town. People won’t say a lot of really harsh things because of it. But does that actually represent the experience? Hard to tell.

Then there are the situations like DUI Lawyers where you just can’t plan on getting reviews period. Who would really leave a review with their full name? Could you imagine… “I was caught drunk driving and got away with it. This guy rocks. BOOM!”

It was a stand Google made. I respect them, but I think it puts some industries in a tough spot and negative reviews may not work as well for small towns.

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How do you approach GMB pages for a local business with multiple websites that are for different services? For example, a lawyer with both a DUI site and a bankrupcy site. Should each site have its own GMB page or just one GMB page, which then would not link to one site?

You can’t create more than one listing in Google My Business for different services. So basically use a one-site approach. This is only for maps. Organically, it wouldn’t matter.

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How would you do local optimisation for a business located inside another business?

This is directly from Google Places Quality Guidelines:

“Some businesses may be located within a mall or a container store, which is a store that contains another business. If your business is within a container store or mall, and you’d like to include this information in your listing, specify the container store in parentheses in the business name field. For example, Starbucks (inside Safeway).”

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I operate out of home, and do not want to use my physical address. Suggestions on GMB pages?

I’m not a big fan of this whole end of Google My Business and hiding addresses. Hiding address was a guaranteed way to sink a listing. That changed. Around a year later if you are a service based business and check the box that says you service customers at their location, then you need to hide your address or your listing could get suspended. Now, if you have your address hidden and service customers at their location, then Google My Business is not a product you can use. There is a sticky post by Jade (Googler) that says:

The upgraded (merged) local Google+ pages are not currently supporting service area businesses. Please continue to manage it via Google Places for Business and hide your address as necessary, detailed in the quality guidelines.

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I work for a company that has multiple businesses from one location. Will Google see us being spammy if we have the GMB Page pointing to the same location for those businesses?

This is a question that I have heard a lot of mixed responses on. But fact of the matter is the “real world” works this way. I ran two businesses that were separate Pty Ltd companies from a single location for two years. You can use the same address for both listings. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, though:

  • If the businesses are in the same industry, just with different names, it generally will get flagged as spam.
  • You do run the risk of the listings having information merge and reviews possibly crossing onto the wrong listing (worst case scenario).
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If my page was created as a brand page, should I and how can I switch it to a GMB page?

You can’t, according to Google. Hopefully they change this at some point.

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If you could give one piece of advice when it comes to your GMB Page, what would it be?

Diversify. Don’t rely on Google My Business for all your business. Your listing will have issues, it wont always rank, reviews will disappear, bad things will happen. If your local strategy is simply “get my listing to rank,” you will fail. I know that is harsh, but I am tired of taking phone calls from businesses who are “on the verge of closing because they rely on Google for 90% of their business and their listing disappeared last week.”

Google has rules of its own and its always geared around profits for Google. Does that mean we should not be on Google? Of course not, as Google still holds more than 80% market share when it comes to search. The key is to build your digital capability so that you rely less on Google and play in more places online.

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We have verified 2 locations with Google, but 1 location is still “under review” for the last six weeks. Any tips you can offer on how to get that one approved and out of “Under Review” status?

This is a link to a Google Troubleshooter for verifying listings. In a move that completely shocked the local SEO world, Google is now offering phone support on verification issues. My guess is that a monetisation strategy in local will follow soon. In the meantime, if you have issues with verification, follow the steps on the link and you will get fixed up.

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With GMB, what does a company use as an account login to GMB if they have multiple locations and businesses and don’t want to sign in as a person?

My advice is to setup a dedicated Gmail account for all Google Products such as GMB, Analytics, Search Console, Tag Manager etc. One of the benefits on the new platform that was rolled out in 2015 is that it will support multiple admins. The feature allows you to add managers to each of your GMB pages.

Links
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Do you recommend a list of backlinks that should be applied to a local business to stay under the radar, yet still be effective enough to move up in the SERPs?

Loaded question. Let me first talk about “staying under the radar.” I used to have this mentality when it came to link building, especially in local, as it’s so freaking hard to get real links in this space. When you can get to the point that the links you build have nothing to do with ranking on Google, you will sleep better and succeed more.

Here’s why: link building for increasing page rank is against Google’s guidelines. They will continue to interpret that statement unfairly, and with major bias and small businesses will fall on the wrong side of that list forever. So do these things for links and you will be fine.

  1. Quality Guest Posts(try to get them locally) – I started writing on my blog, and no one came to read it. So I started writing for other websites and I didn’t do it to get a link; I wanted to get recognised in my industry. I wanted people to know who I was. That lead to speaking events, stories on other websites and mentions + posts on other blogs. I can tell you I got more business from the things I wrote or said speaking than I ever did off my rankings (and we have had a lot of good spots).

Rankings are a by-product of building your brand. link penalty for it). It’s more expensive, slow, and not easy, but it’s always worth it.

  1. Citations– These are links. Most directories allow for a naked URL to show. Most importantly, people search for businesses on directories. If you fill them out and do a proper job of it, then you will look better than your competitors. You will stand out, you will have reviews on your listing and it will get indexed and the link will count for your business and it will help. We have 17 Local directories that we primarily submit NAP data to. We choose these 17 because making changes in the event of a move, or change of information is simple, real time and accurate, so as not to confuse Google.
  2. Microsites– Not dirty copied content microsites that just switch out a location name. I’m talking unique sites that serve a purpose like this one. The point of this site isn’t to link back to a main site. The point of the site is to share and gather testimonials for this business. Having it on its own URL makes finding and sharing the site offline easy.
  3. Social links – Ranking for money keywords on Google by using Social links should not be your primary objective. If you create enough social buzz you will have more way more business than a top local search term raking.

If you focus on the above, you won’t fly under the radar. You will fly way above it and not even care.

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In terms of links, do you need to build links to your GMB page, Yelp page, etc., or is linking building primarily targeted to the website itself?

People link to things that are awesome. At least they should. So links to directory pages don’t make a ton of sense in a “perfect world” and probably don’t represent a reason to rank a business higher than another business as most of these links would be built by the business owner and not earned.

Now that Google My Business pages have a social layer to them, it makes sense that they could get links, get mentioned, etc. From experience it can help you rank higher in map results, but it will make your actual Google My Business listing rank higher for your brand name. Same with Yelp, I think the main reason a Yelp listing should be linked to is as a way to say “check out our Yelp listing for reviews.”

The type of links that help your map listing rank higher are ones that point at your website.

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Is it worth building a local microsite?

If the microsite is only for the purpose of the link, then no, it’s not worth the time. If the site serves a purpose for the brand and brings visibility, then yes.

Local SEO
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Are citation directories likely to get hit by an algorithm update? How are they different from other directories?

I do think that some citation directories have been hit by a Panda update. Most business information is copied info. This is why you are seeing less and less directories ranking on local search terms. What separates a good local directory from a bad one? Local, unique content. What is the best way for a directory to get this content? User generated reviews. I think this is why Yelp does well in the search results still. Also, to be fair, local directories weren’t made for spamming links. They were made for providing websites and users with business information and listings. They run moderation in many cases (phone verification or post card verification). So, even on a bad day, you couldn’t group them in the same category as a directory of websites that was strictly for getting a link.

I do think that the local directory business is in a tight spot, though. Google has basically declared themselves the “ultimate directory” and the one directory to rule them all and all are subjected unto them. Unless you can pull a Yelp and get a deal with Apple Maps, or pull a Zagat and get purchased by Google, how can you possibly stay relevant? It is time for local directories to reinvent themselves.

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Are there any strategies to get lost GMB reviews to come back to a local business that changed its location?

There have been so many issues with reviews since Google My Business was rolled out. Really, if the reviews being lost aren’t spam, then it comes down to the way business information is stored in Google’s system. Your business Name, Address, and Phone number make up your online identity to Google. When one of these things changes then what can happen is Google starts thinking that there are two identities and sometimes your data (reviews or citations) will be stored with the wrong identity. Here is Google’s advice on moving:

If a business no longer exists at a location, you can mark it as closed or moved on Google Maps. Follow these steps to have the listing moderated:

  1. Find the closed or moved business on Google Maps.
  2. Use the Report a problem link from the Google Maps result.
  3. Select Place is permanently closed
  4. If the place has moved to a new location, give us the new location’s information in the comment box.
  5. If your business has moved and you manage the business’s new location, you should add the new locationas a separate listing in your GMB dashboard.

Word is that if you move, you lose your reviews. There is a discussion on Linda’s forum on this very subject where a couple of Googlers dropped in. In the example that is mentioned in the forum, the old business listing shows the old reviews and says it has moved locations and shows (and links) to the new address. The reviews have transferred so they exist on both listings as well. Hopefully this means that following Google’s advice will help you keep your reviews, but sometimes the same path leads to different outcomes in the Googleverse. My best advice is never change your name, never move your address, never change your phone number.

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Can you suggest a good NAP maker site?

Here is the best schema site for coding your address and here is a great article on how to do it. For even more fields, you can check out the actual local business section on schema.org

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Do you know if optimising for local negatively affects online national organic search results, if you have both a local presence and a national online eCommerce site?

It doesn’t. Mainly because, if done properly, you would have pages that represent your national search ranking ambitions and you would have completely different pages for local stores. Take Walmart for instance. They need to rank with local store information, but also want to be able to show up for product or category searches for eCommerce. They have a location finder that leads to individual pages that provide store hours, local coupons, and directions. Here is a local Walmart page.

The thing that they do well (and I see this is a future must) is being able to show your local store inventory while browsing products. I have worked with brands that have a decentralised approach to local. The eCommerce team does everything they can to ensure that no one goes to the location to buy anything because they are rewarded for eCommerce sales, not store sales.

This is not what I would call “Customer Centric”. You shouldn’t care if a customer buys something online or in a store front as long as the item is purchased. Give customers the choice, and you will always win. This is also the best way to compete against Amazon and other major players, in my opinion. They can’t (yet) get me an item within an hour of my decision to purchase it, but a local store potentially could.

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Do you recommend a list of backlinks that should be applied to a local business to stay under the radar, yet still be effective enough to move up in the SERPs?

Loaded question. Let me first talk about “staying under the radar.” I used to have this mentality when it came to link building, especially in local, as it’s so freaking hard to get real links in this space. When you can get to the point that the links you build have nothing to do with ranking on Google, you will sleep better and succeed more.

Here’s why: link building for increasing page rank is against Google’s guidelines. They will continue to interpret that statement unfairly, and with major bias and small businesses will fall on the wrong side of that list forever. So do these things for links and you will be fine.

  1. Quality Guest Posts(try to get them locally) – I started writing on my blog, and no one came to read it. So I started writing for other websites and I didn’t do it to get a link; I wanted to get recognised in my industry. I wanted people to know who I was. That lead to speaking events, stories on other websites and mentions + posts on other blogs. I can tell you I got more business from the things I wrote or said speaking than I ever did off my rankings (and we have had a lot of good spots).

Rankings are a by-product of building your brand. link penalty for it). It’s more expensive, slow, and not easy, but it’s always worth it.

  1. Citations– These are links. Most directories allow for a naked URL to show. Most importantly, people search for businesses on directories. If you fill them out and do a proper job of it, then you will look better than your competitors. You will stand out, you will have reviews on your listing and it will get indexed and the link will count for your business and it will help. We have 17 Local directories that we primarily submit NAP data to. We choose these 17 because making changes in the event of a move, or change of information is simple, real time and accurate, so as not to confuse Google.
  2. Microsites– Not dirty copied content microsites that just switch out a location name. I’m talking unique sites that serve a purpose like this one. The point of this site isn’t to link back to a main site. The point of the site is to share and gather testimonials for this business. Having it on its own URL makes finding and sharing the site offline easy.
  3. Social links – Ranking for money keywords on Google by using Social links should not be your primary objective. If you create enough social buzz you will have more way more business than a top local search term raking.

If you focus on the above, you won’t fly under the radar. You will fly way above it and not even care.

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Do you recommend creating a landing page for both the Service and the City (meaning a landing page for every city and service)?

Yes. When it comes to services pages, I would also recommend building them out on a per location basis if you can do it with quality unique content. For example, let’s say you are a pest control company that offers bed bug treatments. You already have local landing pages for each of your offices that shows your address. If you build out a bed bug page for each market, you could add local testimonials and talk about the places around the city that have been having bed bug problems. You can link to local news sources talking about the problem and you can give localised advice on your pricing and service. This is a better experience for the user than an overall bed bug page for all your locations. Very few people are doing this, and it’s a great way to capitalise on long tail search.

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Does having your full name displayed on GMB page turn customers off from leaving an online review?

Yes… and no. I get why Google wants full names to be displayed. It keeps people honest. For instance, I know most of the business owners can reference their CRM to determine if the review was from a real customer. If I review a local business, I better be willing to stand by it because I see them around town. People won’t say a lot of really harsh things because of it. But does that actually represent the experience? Hard to tell.

Then there are the situations like DUI Lawyers where you just can’t plan on getting reviews period. Who would really leave a review with their full name? Could you imagine… “I was caught drunk driving and got away with it. This guy rocks. BOOM!”

It was a stand Google made. I respect them, but I think it puts some industries in a tough spot and negative reviews may not work as well for small towns.

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Due to constant algorithm changes, is it now more cost effective for local businesses to use Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising versus trying to rank locally?

I would say no, in most cases. It completely depends on your business model and industry and the currently level of competition. Google just launched Adwords Express+ and this will drive everyone’s cost even higher over time in local ads. So, if you have a solid organic strategy in place compared to churn and burn, I think your organic side exponentially grows where as the only way to grow PPC is to spend more.

The key is to stop looking at rankings as the purpose of your SEO work and just expect it as an outcome of good outreach. If you do a guest post, it’s not just a link; it could be reaching a community of potential customers that aren’t searching for you yet, but will become a brand search later. Referral traffic goes up, you get some great links, and the outcome is better long-term rankings. But the point was to reach the audience on the site and the link is just a bonus. When done properly in a local market, this approach will be the trump card.

Additionally, I think that most businesses can benefit greatly by doing both organic local search and PPC. The key here is to setup your tracking and analytics properly, in order to determine what your cost per lead and cost per sale is. The better you understand your numbers as a business owner the more advanced you can get with your online marketing.

Onsite Optimisation
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Can you suggest a good NAP maker site?

Here is the best schema site for coding your address and here is a great article on how to do it. For even more fields, you can check out the actual local business section on schema.org

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Do you recommend creating a landing page for both the Service and the City (meaning a landing page for every city and service)?

Yes. When it comes to services pages, I would also recommend building them out on a per location basis if you can do it with quality unique content. For example, let’s say you are a pest control company that offers bed bug treatments. You already have local landing pages for each of your offices that shows your address. If you build out a bed bug page for each market, you could add local testimonials and talk about the places around the city that have been having bed bug problems. You can link to local news sources talking about the problem and you can give localised advice on your pricing and service. This is a better experience for the user than an overall bed bug page for all your locations. Very few people are doing this, and it’s a great way to capitalise on long tail search.

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Should website testimonials be on a “testimonials” page, or along the sidebar? Do they need to be unique from the testimonials given on a GMB page and other local sources?

I think that testimonials can be on both the sidebar and a full page. It doesn’t make sense to have more than one or two testimonials on a sidebar or a landing page, but having a massive page of testimonials can speak for your service quality. When it comes to the content of the testimonials, if you copy them from Google My Business, Yelp, or other directories, this is duplicate content. It might keep a page from ranking on (your brand name + reviews), but I doubt you would trip a Panda filter with it. Instead I recommend a much more sophisticated solution that looks at Net Promoter Score (NPS) where separate reviews can be collected and published.

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What to do with NAPs for businesses who have multiple office locations?

I recommend to have a “locations” tab in the main navigation that would go to a page like this:

zane-web-location-search.png

Then, you can have the addresses as links that point to your local landing pages. Both address (on the location page and on the local landing page) should be coded in schema. This method works great up to around 100 locations. If you have more locations than that, you should consider a store finder and build your local directory with a state folder so your URL structure would be mysite.com/locations/nsw/sydney

So you’ve searched, scrolled and read through the existing questions but your question still isn’t listed above?

Ask it below, and I’ll answer it as soon as possible.