As an internet marketer, I frequently encounter local business owners (and large chain store companies with many local outlets) that haven’t had time to really understand online marketing. Many of them have latched onto some myth that’s completely false — and which can keep their businesses from soaring as high as they otherwise might.
It’s not surprising that local business operators can lack knowledge about online marketing, or that they can get exposed to misapprehensions about how local marketing should be conducted. Google’s CEO has been quoted as saying that the world is now generating 5 exabytes of information every two days, so it’s little wonder when local business owners are too overwhelmed to keep up with the marketing end, in addition to all of the details specific to their own industry.
It’s not just the ever-increasing amount of information that can overwhelm businesses — it’s also the fact that the search engines are now making changes to their algorithms every single day.
While many of those changes are relatively subtle and low-scale, the changing conditions mean that once-mainstream SEO tactics are sometimes obviated after a period of time. In my own experience, I’ve run across CEOs that are enamored of optimization tactics that became prohibited anywhere from two to ten years ago.
Perhaps it’s due to the fact that it takes ongoing attention and experience to keep up with the changes over time, or maybe it’s because many people are conditioned into attempting to perform search marketing DIY style by Googling for answers, and they can’t tell that the web page they’ve found is woefully out of date.
Whatever the case, the result is there are a number of myths about online local marketing out there, and if you’re not careful, buying into one of these can hamstring your business.
So, here is a list of 10 local marketing myths that you should become familiar with (and banish from your own thinking).
1. We Must Have Our Keyword In The Domain Name
This isn’t necessary! For those businesses just starting out with a vague understanding of SEO, it may seem like this is necessary. For local search even more than regular keyword search, having the keyword embedded in your domain name likely isn’t going to lend advantage all that much above all the other promotional activities you really need to be doing in order to achieve rankings.
Additionally, it should be pointed out that for established businesses, somewhere around half of your search referral traffic is likely to be brand name searches; so over time, the best approach is to focus your domain on your company name.
2. We Have To Have Great Ratings/Reviews!
I’ve explained previously that averaged ratings are not a ranking factor in Google (except in cases where users are allowed to filter/reorder results based on rating values, and for those business types that appear in the Local Carousel, which may factor in reviews slightly more). Thus, if you think this is a requirement for rankings, you’re probably off.
Obviously, people everywhere often take criticism very seriously, and it can be a gut-punch when you pour your heart into your work and aren’t met with glowing admiration in return. Chefs have been known to commit suicide over the loss of a Michelin star, for instance (an obviously maladaptive response), and there have been lawsuits over reviews. There are repeated stories of businesses claiming to be unfairly damaged by Yelp reviews and other online review sites.
It’s true that ratings and reviews can have an impact on your business, but they’re not affecting rankings. To play it safe, follow tips to get more reviews, make reviews work for you and respond effectively to bad reviews.
I’d also argue that if you’re doing a number of the other promotional activities you should be conducting, these should influence reviews positively, and also reduce your vulnerability to any one review site (and to reviews in general). Good social media work and other content development can help ensure that review sites are not the only things ranking for your name searches.
Finally, having all positive reviews may actually reduce consumers’ trust that your reviews are real — having a few negative reviews is realistic for a business, and I’ve seen some owners who respond professionally and effectively to those, transforming lemons into lemonade!
3. Twitter And/Or Facebook Are Worthless For My Type Of Business
It’s altogether true that some types of businesses have an easier time attracting consumers that wish to interact with them on social media. Yet, even if you operate in a category of business where people don’t want to connect with you as much in social media, you probably need to be doing social media, anyway.
Social media profiles such as Twitter and Facebook pages provide you with assets to help proactively manage your online reputation, and they may help you outrank your competition.
If you’re in an industry where customers don’t want to connect much online (I bet plumbers, funeral homes, attorneys and doctors can relate), you might be able to help position yourself as an industry expert by focusing on networking with colleagues and commenting upon topics related to your field and curating related content.
4. We Need A Separate Listing For Each Of The Cities In Our Area!
Google has definitely given some preference to the companies with a physical location in the city being searched upon for quite some time; but, it is not as strong a factor as it has been in the past. A business can rank in multiple cities in Google without having a physical location and listing for each one, although there are certainly companies that will obtain virtual addresses to rank and to give them multiple local listings.
Keep in mind, though, that with multiple listings, you need to increase your SEO promotional work to handle each additional address, or else you could be diluting your promo efforts across all the locations. Google allows you to select a service area to cover multiple cities, and if you promote a single location/listing, you can focus your efforts on that one without the intrigue of juggling listings.
5. We Don’t Need To Optimize For Mobile For Our Type Of Business
I hate to tell you, but if you don’t understand how much mobile usage has been increasing for the past ten years, chances are you’re still using a buggy whip with your transportation, a Victrola for your music and are maybe even churning your own butter.
Around 40% of time spent online is on mobile devices now, and this percentage is only likely to grow. So, make sure your site is optimal for those devices. Google has stated that failure to optimize for mobile can now impact your rankings, so this is one myth you had better lose pretty quickly.
6. I Just Need To Do Some Quick SEO For My New Business To Rank Tops In Google Local!
If your business plan depends on this, and if you’re in a market area where your type of business has many competitors, I think you’re in trouble. Do the math to see what your chances are. If there are 300 other local businesses that do what you do, and there are only up to seven local businesses listed in the first page of Google searches for your primary keyword, that only gives you a 2.3% chance of showing up there!
Actually, the real math is much worse, because chances are quite a lot of your competitors may have an established “incumbent” status that gives them greater ranking power than a newbie with no online history. Yes, it’s absolutely possible to rank — but, you’ve not only got to be doing an exceptional job at SEO, you need to be investing considerably in multiple approaches to promoting your business to new consumers so that organic rankings are not your only hope of getting business.
Consider again the number of existing competitors and the limited number of slots to appear on page one — you can be doing everything right and still not show up there. Be realistic! And, by the way, competitive SEO for a highly competitive category and market area will not be “quick” — it will require ongoing, consistent development work.
7. My Business Doesn’t Lend Itself To Photos/Videos
I’ve encountered this one sometimes when relating how to use images and video for local SEO. As a recap of the concept, using multimedia in your optimization efforts can give you more opportunities to appear in search results — particularly since Google and other search engines display blended search results that often include images and videos in addition to the regular search results. These pieces of content can also provide other opportunities for your business to be found, and they can help with your optimization.
In most cases, if you aren’t doing some amount of photo/video optimization, it’s probably because you haven’t let your imagination go. If your product or service isn’t all that interesting or photogenic, what about photographing production processes, company events or manufacturing processes? Or photographing other major events and sights in your area?
8. I Have To Know How Many Calls I Get From Each Different Channel Where My Business Listings Are Located — So, I Must Use Tracking Phone Numbers Everywhere
It may not be PC for a marketer like me to say that you don’t have to have more data, but, well… you don’t have to have this! Data is great, but not at the expense of actual performance. As a quick reprise of this issue: some agencies and businesses set up tracking phone numbers to be able to count how many calls they get from each information source where their listings appear.
The problem with this is that Google uses phone numbers as a unique identifier, and they crawl pages from many business information sources — if your business number is different in each place, it makes it more challenging for them to associate all the data with your listing, and therefore all of your ranking power might not get associated with your listing – reducing your chances to rank well in search results.
There are some ways to use tracking numbers on your website without causing issues, and you can use it on some types of advertising with no problem (like AdWords). Otherwise, if you don’t know what you’re doing — avoid this. Some solutions I’ve seen in the past could even potentially get you penalized.
9. We Need To Move To The Middle Of Our City To Get Google To Rank Us
Not exactly true, and not a reasonable approach to local SEO in most cases! As I’ve explained before, relocation for local rankings can be a case of mixing up cause and effect to some degree.
Google used to give huge preference to the centroid of a city area, but they’ve become more sophisticated, and there’s reason to believe that they give some preference to areas that have high degrees of popularity (i.e., a “PlaceRank” algorithm). This means that a city could have multiple areas that are popular (the center or downtown area, for example), and businesses located in such hotspots might have a little bit more ranking juice.
So, there’s an ounce of truth in the idea of relocating for SEO — it could lend you some benefit. But, your other promotional activities could help give you ranking power such that this isn’t a necessity. And, I’ve sometimes recommended methods for helping the area where you are located become more popular in and of itself — so, you could theoretically bring the popularity to your area rather than relocating. Moving your business isn’t required!
10. Microsites With Keyword-Focused Domains Are A Great Idea
This tactic went out with the Taft administration! This is probably one of the biggest overall SEO myths of all time — the idea that deploying masses of domains for every one of your keywords is somehow a shortcut to getting rankings and traffic for multiple different searches.
There was a period of time when this could work pretty effectively, but Google and other search engines are more sophisticated now. It’s been years and years since this worked. Even so, I still run into people with a cursory understanding of SEO who think they’ve hit upon a genius idea that no one else has thought up.
It’s completely true that having your keyword phrase in the domain name can lend some ranking advantage. However, you need many other strong ranking signals working in concert to enable the site to rank well — and, when people start rolling out these microsites en masse, they typically are doing it on a shoestring budget. All the work that you’d put into optimizing and promoting a single domain site begins to get diluted when your time and efforts are spread across many domains, and the result is that the individual microsites end up being fairly weak.
Worse yet, if you’re sloppy in doing it, you might end up publishing duplicate page content across many sites, further diluting your ranking power. Or, worst of all, if you do this in large enough quantity you could get outright penalized by Google for engineering a linking scheme.
You can launch an extra site for individual products or for your individual locations, but don’t think you can get away with launching many sites to the point where you’re spamming up the search results. Be realistic and only launch as many sites as you can reasonably develop with quality content and promote properly.
If you’ve found yourself convinced of any of these myths — shrug them off! Don’t let outdated info or outright fiction distract your local marketing efforts or hamstring what you need to be doing.
What are some more local marketing myths that you’ve run across? Share them in the comments below!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.