Andrew Shotland

It is a goal of every business to show up in the first few searches on Google’s first page, but how do you make that happen?  Good search engine optimization is the first place to start. Having a local SEO strategy is the key to driving more customers to your door, and by optimizing specific parts of your website, you will increase the chances of those people finding you in the search results. Andrew Shotland teaches us how to boost our local search signals – such as links and on page content – to provide users with the most relevant, local results so they’ll have an easier time finding us online.

Rich: Andrew Shotland is the founder and CEO of LocalSEOGuide.com, a leading search consultancy with a specialty in SEO for multi-location businesses, enterprise level search marketing, and corporate training. He’s a regular contributor to searchengineland.com, author of the definitive Google News Ranking Factors survey, and AppleMapsMarketing.com, a blog focused on helping businesses navigate Apple Maps and Siri.

Andrew has over 15 years of experience in the internet. He was a founding member of NBC’s Internet group, and a former GM of NBC.com. He helped start Insider Pages a pioneering local-social search engine, which was acquired by CitySearch in 2006. Andrew, thanks for coming on the show.

Andrew: Thank you for having me, Rich. It’s nice to be here.

Rich: Alright. Well Amber and I are excited to have you on the show. Amber kind of lives in this world by the fact that she is a wedding planner. So let’s start with what is local SEO and why is it so important? And throwing in there, how does it differ from organic SEO?

Andrew: So when we say “organic SEO”, we typically just think about all of the normal results we get in Google, those 10 blue links. And then when we talk about “local SEO”, typically it’s a separate section on a search engine results page or server that typically has a bunch of local businesses. So we call that a “local pack” and typically see these as a listing of 3 local businesses with maybe an address and phone number associated with it. 

And then it also goes beyond Google, you can also talk about – for example – how to show up on Apple Maps as a local SEO problem, or how to show up in Facebook’s local results as a local SEO challenge.

So basically a good way to think about it is when people’s searches have what we call “Google intent”, we’re always trying to figure out how do businesses get to show up in those places, in Google, Apple, Facebook. 

Amber:  So I have a question real quick. What constitutes as “local intent” for someone like me who does weddings all over the state of Maine? So does local intent just mean if it Google’s “Portland, Maine photographer” is that local intent? Or if somebody Google’s “Maine wedding planner” is that considered local intent?

Andrew: There’s a bunch of different ways to think about it. The primary way is what we call “explicit/implicit” local intent. “Explicit” local intent would be, “Portland wedding planner”. You’re clearly signaling to a search engine – via Google, Bing or wherever – that there’s high odds that you’re looking for a wedding planner in Portland. 

But Google and many other systems are also smart enough to know that when you type “wedding planner”, you may be looking for local results, or you may not. But they don’t know, so they’ll typically understand a query like wedding planner to have some local intent. And so that’s when you can see in these results there’s a mixture of local MAP results, and then websites and other things. We call those “explicit” queries versus “implicit” queries. “Implicit” means I don’t mention the location, but Google thinks it’s local. 

Amber:  Ok, that makes sense. 

Rich: Andrew, I’ve read that “near me” queries – when people say something like “photographer near me” – that those have kind of exploded in the past couple years. Is that the same thing as using a local location, saying “near me”? 

Andrew: Somewhat. The results tend to be a little bit different when you do that depending on the type of search and where you’re searching. “Near me” has exploded in search volume primarily because with Google and Apple and their interfaces, often make that a suggested term. So when you type in “pizza”, you often get as a suggested completion of this query, “pizza near me”. 

Rich: I see.

Andrew: So people click on that and it forces those results. And that said, it’s still not nearly as popular as say, “wedding planner Portland”. Like, “wedding planner near me” and “wedding planner Portland”, I’m going to guess “wedding planner Portland” has probably 50 times more search volume for those kinds of queries. But “near me” has enough, it’s fast growing and if you have a “near me” strategy you can get a few extra clicks out of Google. 

Rich: Well that’s interesting. So what is a “near me” strategy versus a “Portland wedding planner” strategy?

Andrew: The good thing about it is it’s really easy. So on your page that’s about Portland wedding planners, there’s a thing called a “title tag”. These are usually the words that show up in the tab above the browser – depending on what browser – and the words that often show up as the blue links in Google. And if your title is “Portland Maine Wedding Planner”, add a little “dash” to that title and say, “near me”. And add some internal links to that page from other pages on your website with the words, “near me” in the text of the links. And that’s pretty much what you need to do to start to be eligible for those queries.

Amber: Wow, that’s crazy. So simple, that’s actually really, really simple to do. Are there some other things you can do to your website to improve your local SEO?

Andrew: Sure. So the first thing you need to figure out is what are the keywords you’re targeting, what are the types of queries you’re targeting. It’s not always about a specific keyword, we’re looking to target women who are planning a wedding and have a million questions. So how can we answer those million questions on our website?

So one of the first things we always encourage businesses to do is figure out what all the frequently asked questions are from the customers, and just put them up on a page on the website in text. Just by doing that, you search can be eligible for all these pre-volume queries like “How much is a wedding dress?”, “How much is a DJ?”

And then make sure that your name, address and phone number for your location are available on your site in plain, old text. And then make sure that that information matches the information on your Google My Business page, which is Google’s Yellow Pages. 

Amber: Ok, this is where I have a really tricky question. A lot of people in the wedding industry work from home, I work from home, so I don’t have a brick and mortar store. Some people like dressmakers do, some caterers do, but a lot of us don’t. I don’t necessarily want my house address on Google Maps, because it freaks me out a little bit. What can I still do to have that -because I know it’s super important – without having crazy people stopping in? 

Andrew: So Google My Business allows you to hide your address and just gives a general location, so that users can’t find you but Google knows what your address is. The problem with this is that there are a bunch of other websites that Google uses to kind of triangulate your business information. 

As an example, Yelp or YellowPages.com, the less information you have on those pages the less likely it is for you to show up for these queries. Off the top of my head, I don’t know if YellowPages.com allows you to hide your address or not. But if they don’t and you don’t have a listing there, than it could impact your ability to rank in these local groups. 

Rich: Are there hacks, like can we get boxes at UPS or something like that for people who don’t feel comfortable giving out their home address here.

Andrew: There are always hacks. That said, it comes with a risk. So getting a UPS box in general is fine, it’s a perfectly valid business case. But Google doesn’t want to show UPS boxes on Google Maps. They also don’t want to show businesses that don’t meet customers at their location. When you sign up they always ask you, “Do customers come to this location?” And if they don’t, then you may actually have a hard time getting your listing validated in Google. Same thing with Apple.  

So this is where hiring someone who’s done this a million times can go through the options for you and help you work to figure out what’s the right approach for you. Because every deviation from Google’s guidelines comes with some risk. And so understanding that risk and how it could affect you is kind of part of the process. 

Rich: Alright. Andrew, question here. Now a lot of people in this industry are going to be doing weddings in multiple locations, different towns and different cities. Do we need to create on our website a page for each town that we do business in, or what are some of the best practices when it comes to that? I don’t want to write on my page, “I’m a DJ who has performed in Bangor, Lewiston, Elsmere…” and list off 20 different cities, I don’t see that there’s much value there and I can’t imagine I’d rank well that way. So what do you do in a situation like that?

Andrew: It’s really dependent on the site itself. So as you guys may know, links from other sites to your sites are critical SEO ranking factors, and they are especially critical to local SEO. So let’s say you have a one page website but you’re servicing 100 cities, our stock recommendation not knowing anything else would be if you want to rank in these cities, you probably need to create what we call “service area pages”. So a page for each city about being a DJ, and you put unique content on it. Not just a cut and paste thing but really write something that’s worth ranking. The problem is if your site only has a handful of links there’s very little way you’re going to rank either in the local packs or what we call the local organic section, meaning the non-local results that show up like when you see Yelp.  

So you kind of have to look at how what we call “authoritative” or trusted the website is based on backlinks and things like reviews. And they say they think you’re a strong site, now you can add more pages. And my guess is you’ll rank for some of these things. But if you’re a weak site, then we’d say this isn’t a good strategy for you, you’re never going to rank in these service areas. So you need to focus on the places where you can win, which is probably closer to your location. The sad truth is that if you really want to compete – especially in highly competitive verticals – where there are a lot of businesses located in a specific city, you need a physical location in that city. So if the city is big enough and there’s enough business, it may be worth you opening up a location, even if that’s just renting a desk at some kind of workspace.   

Amber: Sorry, I’m not a techie one. Rich speaks geek and I don’t, so I’m going to try to break it down. So for me, I live in Bangor, Maine – which is a city in the middle of Maine – but most of the weddings I do are in Camden and Portland and Ogunquit and Mount Desert Island, so I can create links if I did a page on my website about all the different places and my recommendations for getting married on Mount Desert Island, that might register enough for me to have some local SEO?

Andrew: Yeah, more than likely where it would help is in the non-local pack results, not those Google My Business or Map listings, but below it where Yelp would typically show up or Wedding Wire.

Rich: So you could create “The 10 Best Places To Get Married in MDI”, create blog posts like that.

Andrew: Right. And in fact, that’s probably a good strategy for someone that’s small and local, because you’ll know better than the naught what those places are and you’ll be able to promote that in a better way. That query typically probably won’t bring up a local result but a media result, meaning an article. Because you’re focused on that area and that subject, you might be able to get your article ranked for “Best Places in Maine to Have a Wedding”.

Amber: Perfect. But that will still go underneath the “local”, so when you Google something like “wedding photographers of Portland”, there’s those 3 at the top that register right away and I automatically know who they’re going to be because they have brick and mortar stores. And then maybe I could be down below them but still kind of on the first page because of an article I write about great photographers in Portland. Ok, awesome. 

Andrew: In fact, I just searched in Google for “best place for wedding Portland, Maine”, and it’s pretty clear, you can see the types of things that are showing up. It’s a list of wedding venues in Portland by The Knot, it’s a list of wedding venues from a site called DestinationIDo.com. 

So you can compete in that, it’s not always easy. But if you’re really focused on a smaller set of search queries than say, The Knot – who is focused on millions in every geography – you could eventually show up for those things. 

Amber: And I think it would also just help your website anyway just giving out good content, I think a potential client if they want onto my website and found me – not necessarily through SEO perhaps – but if they found me on my blog and then they’re reading all this great content, they might hire me because of the content that I’m giving anyway, not necessarily through local SEO. Even though it’s helping, it’s kind of like, scratching each other’s backs in a way. 

Andrew: That’s right. And my personal favorite example of this is an article I wrote in 2007 when I first started blogging. If you go to Google and you search “free Yellow Pages listing”, you should see after yellowpages.com, the article I wrote on localseoguide.com that says “how to add a business to internet yellow pages for free”. It’s a clunky title but I did it that way to target different keyword queries. And that thing took me about 3 hours to write in 2007 and to this day is still the #1 most trafficked page on my website; it gets thousands of visits a month.  

Rich: Wow.  

Amber: I found it. Yeah, that’s amazing. 

Andrew: And it ranks for hundreds if not thousands of different search queries, because it’s relatively decent content, it got some links when it first was published, and probably still gets some links every year form other people who find it. And yeah, it’s a good way to get people introduced to my brand because they’re probably interested in that, and if so they’re probably interested in local SEO. 

Rich: Now Andrew, it sounds like – just to kind of summarize some things we’ve been talking about – you go to Google these days whether you’re on your smart phone or your desktop, it’s primarily in that single column and the top results are often ads. And we can come back to that. 

 The second result is the snack pack which you’re talking about, which is the MAP with the 3 links. It’s great if we can get in there, but it sounds like some of our listeners might have challenges with that either because they’re not specifically physically located in that area, or maybe because they don’t’ feel comfortable sharing the information because they work from home. 

If you can get in there, great. But if you can’t, then your next step is really optimizing your website for different types of searches people may do. Maybe some of these so-called long tail searches where people are just starting to get started making decisions. And if we talk about the “10 best places to get flowers in Bangor, Maine for your wedding”, where all of a sudden people are doing searches and they find us and that’s one way to win at local SEO, even if we’re not getting into the snack pack.

Is that a good summary of where we are so far?

Andrew: Yeah. And also he more of that content that you create, the more you can use it in other channels. For example, that “10 best photographers” idea, you can now promote that on Facebook and that’s like a perfectly good Facebook promotion that’s targeting the right people.

Rich: Now one thing I’ve heard about the wedding industry – and Amber please correct me if I’m wrong – that sometimes there’s a little bit of unhealthy competition and people are a little bit closed off to sharing resources and information. Yet it also – from what I’m hearing – is it’s good to have a lot of incoming links and maybe relevant links. 

So if I was going to create a series of posts like “the 10 best Maine photographers”, as long as I’m either in that list or I’m not competing with that list, that would be a positive thing in terms of increasing my own visibility and the visibility of the people I’m linking to. Is that another technique that we should be using, or do we worry too much about giving business to somebody else? 

Andrew: I guess it’s kind of a personal decision. We built our business basically promoting other SEO companies in many ways. We can’t possibly be experts on everything, so we often share information that other people in our business are publishing that we think is great, and it hasn’t hurt us a bit. So a little “co-opatition” I think is a good thing in different niches.

Rich: How do you spell that anyway?

Amber: I personally think that’s a great word. And I think it’s true in the wedding industry. What I always say to people is “high tide to raise all boats”, that’s actually a Christine Parker quote. She owns Real Maine Wedding magazine, but it’s so true. 

And my one question is, I just went to a Mastermind about how many links you should have on your website, because you don’t want them to necessarily leave your website and go someplace else. Is that true or not true, in your opinion?  

Andrew: I don’t think it matters too much for the SEO, it’s more of a conversion-type thing. I personally could care less about it. If someone doesn’t come back to me because I just had an interesting link on my site to a competitor, that probably says more about my site than anything. 

Amber: That’s a great point.

Andrew: And it’s always easy for a consultant to say your site stinks and you need to improve it. But often that’s really what the SEO has come down to is making your site a lot better and do some marketing. That’s a real high level way – and just the marketing we do – and making the site better is a little geeky, but it really is that simple in some ways. There’s a bunch of technical thorns and nuts you need to untangle that’s sort of like unclogging a toilet. You could do it, but you probably want a plumber to do it. 

But really it’s about making the site better and making the visibility of your brand and your location and information both clear and consistent and visible. 

Amber: So I have a quick question that’s an off-shoot of that. In my line of work, visual is huge for me. I have to show pictures of the beautiful things I do and beautiful couples I have, because that entices people and it shows off the level of my brand. Now I’ve been starting to put underneath each caption the photographer for a photo credit, but I’ve also started adding the location. So I’ll say both the location of the bride and groom, and then also where they’re getting married. So I have this gorgeous picture and it takes place, “French’s Point, Stockton Springs”. Does that help me with my local SEO if it’s not linked, or if it’s linked?

Andrew: It certainly couldn’t hurt, you’re basically doing what we call “the local scent” by adding words. It’s hard to day, my guess is it’s one of those things where margins will make a bit of a difference, but it’s not like if I just do this I’m going to start ranking. It adds up with other things. 

And by the way, just having more words on your pages is almost always a good SEO thing. We’ve done some studies that show that long landing pages for locations tend to do better than short ones. And just by having the word “wedding planner’ on your page, if you add the word “wedding photographer”, now there’s potential you could rank for wedding photographer. So it’s always good to experiment with that stuff and just kind of see how it goes. 

Amber: That’s interesting. 

Andrew: I’ll give you just one concrete example of that. I used to rank #1 for a plastic surgery franchise called Lifestyle Lift. I wrote something about them and it got picked up a bit. And then I did some research and I saw that I ranked for “Lifestyle Lift review”. I thought people were looking for “Lifestyle Lift cost”, so all I did was add the word “cost” to the page with the phrase “Lifestyle Lift cost”, and within 24 hours I was ranking #2 or #3 for that. 

Amber: That’s crazy. 

Andrew: It doesn’t always work that way, but figuring out what your customers are searching for and then kind of tweaking your pages that rank well already for things can be a really effective strategy.  

Rich: Now this has been some really good strategy, as you mentioned a lot of things. Earlier I mentioned as you’re looking down the Google results, the top of the page is very often AdWords. I guess my question is, can we just throw money at this point to the problem? Can we have words of just local search, or is AdWords in general covering local search?

Andrew: Yeah, they have a product called AdWords Express, which is a simplified version of the AdWords product. I can’t remember what the price is – maybe $20 a month – and they just run a campaign for you and you get a bunch of clicks. You don’t’ have to do anything much more than that.

So it’s certainly worth testing. That said, we’ve seen a lot of big and small businesses spend a lot of money on Google without really getting much out of it. Not that the ads themselves are bad or the system is bad, it’s that they usually don’t put the measurements in place to try to figure out was it worth spending that money. So they’re not tracking if someone came in through this, did they convert to a customer, they’re not doing that deep dive into data. And that’s how we’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars a month and aren’t sure what they got. 

Rich: So what was the name of that product, and when you say “they”, are you saying Google’s not providing that information or just these businesses aren’t tracking it?

Andrew: It’s called AdWords Express, it’s a Google product. And the biggest challenge we see with all these online advertisement products is business is not setting up an effective way to measure the results.  

Rich: Ok, so if we are good at measuring and we care about these things, we can definitely do it. It’s not that the information isn’t there, we just need to be setting them to special squeeze pages and using UTM codes and all that other geeky stuff. 

Amber: That’s like speaking Mandarin Chinese to me right now. What did you just call it, the “squeegee pages”?

Rich: Exactly, that’s exactly what I called it. “Squeeze” page, which by that I just mean any landing page, but usually we strip away the navigation so that there’s less distraction going on. So it should help increase somebody’s conversion rates.

And then UTM codes are if you ever click on a link in an email and you are taken to a webpage, if you look at the URL, there’s a lot of information after the website address. That’s for tracking purposes and Google Analytics or another program.

Amber: Ok, I did know that one. But the “squeegee page”, you got me. 

Andrew: Typically when you see those really long pages that keep saying, “I know what you’re thinking, this can’t possibly be true.” And it keeps going and going. And then at the end it’s like, “Now for one low price, click here!”

Amber:  Well Andrew, thank you so much for talking to me about this, and to Rich, too. He knew a lot of it, but this is all kind of new to me. 

Rich: Andrew is the master though. I always like hearing Andrew’s take on these things.

Amber: I do, too. I love hearing him talk instead of you. I would agree with that. But where can we learn more from you Andrew, and where can we find you?

Andrew: You can find me at my website at localseoguide.com, we have a blog there where we often publish research that we’re going or new things we figured out. Sometimes we just complain about Google there. You can also find me on Twitter at @localseoguide. Those are usually where I spend most of my time.  

Amber: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Rich: Thanks, Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you.

Show Notes:

Andrew Shotland is a wealth of information when it comes to strategizing and improving SEO for businesses. You can check him out online at his website, blog, or go follow him on Twitter.

Amber Small makes wedding dreams come true. Make sure to reserve your spot now for the Streamline Marketing Workshop Conference that she – along with Rich Brooks of flyte new media – have created specifically targeted to wedding professions, with the goal of helping them reach, connect & engage with their best customers.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve success. Head on over to Twitter to say “hi” to him, or order his brand new book!