How to Get Found in Local Search – Andrew Shotland

Andrew-Shotland-PinterestIt’s true that a sharp looking website could very well help attract customers to your business.  But looks alone aren’t quite enough to do the the trick. When designing – or redesigning – your website, remember to pay attention to both the creative and the technical aspects.

What keywords are you using?  How can your business get more visibility out of local searches?  Is your NAP data consistent with your Google My Business page?  Are you using your business reviews to your advantage?  Is Apple maps part of your marketing plan?

If any of these questions have you stumped, let SEO wizard and consultant Andy Shotland help you to better understand and implement fairly simple changes that are guaranteed to help increase your business’s visibility and rank on local searches.  

Rich:   Andrew is the founder of a leading search consultancy with a specialty in SEO for local search, enterprise-level search marketing and corporate training.  He is a regular contributor to and author of the definitive Google News Ranking Factors survey.  Andrew recently launched, a blog focused on helping businesses navigate Apple Maps and SIRI.  Andrew was a founding member of NBC’s Internet group and a former GM of back when it was weird to see URLs on TV. He helped start Insider Pages, a pioneering local-social search engine, which was acquired by CitySearch in 2006.  He is a co-founder of Backyard, a local deals service that was acquired by Sightly in 2011 and an advisor to several startups, including Nabewise, which was acquired by Airbnb in 2012.  Andrew, welcome to the show.

Andy:  Thanks, Rich.  Nice to be here.

Rich:  Now, did I get that name right, Nabewise?

Andy:  Yeah, Nabewise was a startup focused on creating really great information about neighborhoods.  And they were fortunate enough to get acquired by Airbnb, which I think was a pretty good thing to happen.

Rich:  That’s very cool.  Now, one other feature – just to go off on a tangent even before we start – when I first used Airbnb I was trying to get a place in New York.  I tried and tried and every time I got a place I suddenly was rejected.  And what I realized is it was taking my Facebook photo where I was wearing my Red Sox shirt, and I’m pretty sure that that’s why.  Because as soon as I changed my Facebook profile shot, I immediately got an acceptance letter.  So, I don’t know if there’s a feature out there, but you should probably create an app for that.

Andy:  Right, like a sports fan filter.

Rich:  Exactly!  That would automatically show the local team’s jersey on your shirt.

Andy:  Right.  I think there’s something there. There’s a niche for everything on the internet.

Rich:  Absolutely.  So, let’s get back to SEO.  What drew you to SEO in the first place?

Andy:  So I was working at this startup, Insider Pages, which was an early version of Yelp, and we wanted to get really big really fast and we didn’t have a lot of money.  And I heard about this thing called “search engine optimization”, and I starting trying to figure it out.  I ended up spending a huge amount of my time at Insider Pages figuring out SEO and got really quite good at it, but also found it to be complicated.  I’d do things right, I’d tweak some pages and we’d get millions of people overnight to our site, which made us think we were geniuses.  And then we would do something like redesign a page on our website and we would lose millions of people overnight, which made us think that we were idiots.  So I really invested a lot of time trying to understand how it worked, figured it out and when we sold the company to CitySearch in 2006, I kinda thought that it was really stupid how much time I spent on SEO versus trying to build a really great product.  And so I figured there were tons of companies and businesses that had the same issue, and so I accidentally fell into SEO, I just happened to mention to a friend that I was thinking of doing something in SEO as my next business and he asked if I could look at his website and hire me to do some consulting for it.  And that guy was the head of product at the LA Times, so the became my first SEO consulting client.

Rich:  Nice, small business there.

Andy:  Yeah, exactly.  And back in those days there were already a lot of SEO consultants, but I think most managers had never really dealt with SEO or hired SEO’s or didn’t even know where to find them.  Kind of like the way I was.  And so word got around my network pretty quickly that I was an SEO consultant, and suddenly I was an SEO consultant, because I had more business that I knew what to do with.

Rich:  Excellent.  Alright.  Now, today we’re going to focus most of our attention on local-search, and I know that you are a local-search expert.  Now, why should small businesses be concerned with local-search?  Isn’t organic reach enough?

Andy:  I’m not sure I know what you mean by “organic reach”.

Rich:  Well, a lot of times we optimize our sites specifically for what a lot of people call organic-search results, as opposed to paid.  Local seems like its own category, is that true?

Andy:  Yes.  So local is, let’s say a subset of organic search.

Rich:  Oh, ok.

Andy:  So there’s lots of different ways that search results pop up on Google, and local SEO primarily focuses on the different types of results that Google will display for queries that it deems to have local intent.  And that can be anything from ‘chinese food in Pleasanton, California’ – where I live – to just ‘chinese food’, to ‘hamburger’ or ‘pizza’.  All those things have more or less local intent, depending on the search patterns.  And so for local SEO, you want to be aware of how Google’s algorithms are different for local versus what we call, I guess, organic or non-local organic.  And then there are also these other systems out there – other sites and services out there – that both feed into Google’s algorithm, but also have their own customer bases.  So examples would be Yelp or or any other number of services or websites or mobile sites that basically encourage people to look for local services and stores.

Rich:  Ok, so as we’re thinking about our own businesses, some small businesses may be local or geographically challenged – as I like to say – where you’re only going to do business within a certain area code.  Pizza parlor, for example.  Then there are businesses that might be destination businesses like a bed and breakfast, or something like that.  And then there might be businesses that can really do business anywhere because they’re virtual or just geography isn’t part of their business, per se.  Should those businesses all be looking at optimizing their sites to be found in a local search differently?

Andy:  The difference between the first two examples and the virtual example is in many cases, the search engines will want the business to have and actual, physical address in the location where the person who’s using the search engine is searching.  So a truly non-local business can find it challenging sometimes to rank for local queries.  So a good example would be again Yelp, it’s really a virtual local business, let’s say.  So they’re trying to rank for plumbers in Pleasanton and plumbers in every city in the country and pizza and all that kind of stuff.  But they don’t have a physical location.  So typically they can’t show up in what we call the Local PAC results, which are those clustered set of results on Google that show a name, address and phone number when they detect a local search.  And so usually that shows up in groups of three or seven, we call those the Local PAC.  And so a virtual business really can’t rank in those results, but a national business with physical locations in many cities can rank in those results as well as a single business physically located in the city.

Rich:  And those might be anything from like a Home Depot to a Papa John’s, those are national companies that have local franchisees or businesses.

Andy:  Right, and so typically just like a truly small, local business is competing against those big box stores and chains in an offline basis, they’re also competing in an online basis for rankings in these local queries.

Rich:  Alright, so I’ve got my website, I put it out there, now you mentioned these PAC’s – these Local PAC’s – and I believe usually they come in 3 PAC’s or 7 PAC’s.  And what we’re talking about – correct me if I’m wrong – is that I do a search and maybe it’s on yoga studios, and at some place on the search and results page, very often I’m going to see listings for 3 or 5 or 7 yoga studios with a little icon.  Those are the PAC’s we’re talking about?

Andy:  Yeah, in the industry we call those “Local PAC’s.”  And there’s a 3 PAC and a 7 PAC, sometimes there’s a 6 PAC, sometimes there’s a 2 PAC.  But most of the time it’s 3 and 7.

Rich:  Ok.  And if you don’t appear in those, then you need a 6 pack sometimes, is what you’re saying.

Andy:  Exactly, or you need to drink.  Yeah, maybe a 12 pack.

Rich:  And then also, sometimes – although I don’t see this very often – I’ll do a search, especially when it comes to hotels, and I’ll see what’s called the “carousel” up top, correct?

Andy:  Correct.  And the carousel was really just a redesign of the PAC results for businesses – or business categories – that Google thought deserved more visual presentation.  So they look like a little slideshow of businesses across the top of Google’s results pages.  And it’s typically in categories like restaurants, hotels, attractions, places where you might want to see a picture.

Rich:  Interesting.  And also I remember reading in one of your articles that you talked about certain businesses now that are getting less visibility including, I think, realtors was one of them.  And I think you had the line, “Because do we really need to see 27 realtors?”, something along those lines.  Could it also be partially because when you’re looking for a restaurant or you’re looking for a hotel, that you actually want to see a larger selection of those, as opposed to seeing 27 realtors up in the carousel?

Andy:  Perhaps.  Yeah, certainly.  I think the thing that all business – whether you’re local or not – have to live with is Google is constantly experimenting with different what we call SERP – search engine results page  – SERP designs. And they’re constantly tinkering with them to try to come up with the thing that will be most satisfying to a user or the thing that will make them the most amount of money.  Everyone also thinks it’s what’s going to make them the most amount of money, but who knows.  So at the end of July, there was an update that we’re calling the pigeon update that was an update of Google’s local algorithm, for serving up local search results.  I won’t get into all the details of what we think happened there, but what happened was several types of business categories – such as realtors – lost the PAC results in searches.  So if you searched for “realtor in Las Cruces, New Mexico”, maybe before this update there were 7 PAC listings for realtors, and now after this update their weren’t.  But that’s happened in the month or so since that update, Google has changed the design several times.  So for a week we saw no PAC results for realtors and now we’re seeing them, and they keep changing all the time.  So this update is still very much in flux.  In fact, we have a lot of realtors as clients, and we saw an initial tanking of their traffic for about a week and now most all of them are up in terms of Google referrals.  So there’s a habit of people when an algorithm update comes out, people panic because there’s this big change, but you typically have to wait a little bit to see how it really is affecting you.

Rich:  Ok, alright, good to know.  So this has been some really interesting information, but I think for a lot of people who are listening, they’re like, “Ok, great.  But how do I get more visibility when people are doing local searches?”  So what kind of things should small businesses, whether they’re local, geographically challenged, whether they’re destination sites or whether they’re a service-based industry, what should they be thinking about so that they can gain more visibility and thus more traffic to either their website or their physical location?

Andy:  Ok, so in some ways it’s very simple and, of course, the devil is hugely in the details and it’s incredibly complicated because that’s why guys like me have a job.  But at a high level, what you need to do is first of all, make sure you claimed your Google My Business Page – it used to be called Google Place Page – so just type “Google My Business” and the link will show up and you click in there and you can claim your page if you haven’t done it so far.  Make sure all that data on that page is up to date and consistent with the name, address and phone number – which we call the NAP – make sure it’s consistent with your Google My Business page, and the name address and phone number on your website. Then make sure that you have claimed your business profile on the top, local search websites in your industry. And that’s going to be a combination of general local search sites – like Yellow pages sites – so Yelp,, Superpages.  There’s probably 30 or so that are kind of big enough to warrant your attention.  Then you also want to make sure if you’re in a specific niche that you claim your profile on those niche sites.  So for example if you’re a lawyer, you might look at or, in most cases, every industry has it’s own niche directories.  And then lastly you’ll look at your particular city or geographical service area, are there any directories in your service area where you can claim a profile?  For example, often in my town of Pleasanton, CA, there is a Pleasanton Weekly newspaper that has a directory of local businesses, and so I would want to claim my profile there.  And make sure that the name, address and phone number are consistent across all of these profiles.  One more thing, and then you’ve got to focus on your website. So make sure that your name, address and phone number are on your website, make sure that you have a page for every location that you service – so if you service 5 different cities, you want to have a page for each one – and make sure you have your service keywords in the title of your pages.  So if you’re a plumber, you have the word “plumber” in the title of your pages, and make sure that each page has  what we’ll call “unique text”, meaning you’ve written something unique – maybe 250 words on each of those pages that talks about the service. And there are many more things you can do on a high level, but these are the basics, and once you’ve done that you need to focus on getting links to your site.

Rich:  Alright, let me see if I can recap that quickly.  So if we’re just getting started, we haven’t done anything right now, our checklist is going to be first go to Google My Business page, second, make sure that all the information there is up to date, and that the name/address/phone aka NAP is consistent.  Then we’re going to go ahead and start claiming our business profiles.  We’re going to claim them in the local search directories such as Yelp, Yellowpages, Superpages, and so on. Then we’re going to claim them in any niche site.  I do a lot of work with professional organizers, so I’m going to make sure that I’m listed in both the national directory as well as any local directory, if I happen to be a professional organizer.  Then I’m going to claim them in any local directories.  Now there’s a lot of directories here in Maine, should I go after all of them or just … how do I discern that?

Andy:  There’s a bunch of tools that you can use to try to figure out which ones are the best, but for the layman let’s just say do a couple of searches for the words you want to rank for and see which directories show up with the first 2 or 3 pages of Google.

Rich:  So if I’m a web designer, would I say “Maine Web Design”?

Andy:  Yes. “Maine Web Design”, and then see what shows up. And you can start with those that show up.  There’s also another thing to look at.  If some of your competitors show up in the local PAC’s – let’s say you search “Maine web design” – and “Portland Web Design, Inc” shows up as one of the local PAC results, you would click on their Google+ page, or Google My Business page, and sometimes it will show you reviews and websites where that business is found, such as Yelp or, or something like that.  And that’s another way to find directories that Google thinks are relevant for that particular query.

Rich:  Oh, that’s really cool.  Alright, so that’s fantastic, that’s something I’m definitely going to jump on.  So to continue on with my list, after I’ve done all those claiming, then I’m going to go back to my website and make sure that my NAP is correct on my website that is consistent on all these sites, too.  And this is a question that I get all the time as a web developer, for example we do work with a photo booth company and they do business in 6 different states, and they wanted to know if they should create one page that lists all the places or do we create a unique page for each?  And if I’m hearing you correctly, then what I want to do with them is we create a page for every state that they’re in, but the content on the page needs to be unique from page to page.  So I can’t just copy and paste the same language and switch Maine with Massachusetts with New Hampshire with all those pages, correct?

Andy:  Correct.  And I’ll give you a really good example of that.  I have a client that’s a national, local directory for a service category – let’s just say its professional organizers – and they had city pages for the top 200 cities in the country, and all we did was rewrite the copy in the top 30 pages.  Previously it had “insert city name here”, and this same text.  And we rewrote it for the top 30 cities, unique for each page, and within 24 hours about 30% of them had suddenly jumped up in rankings whereas they weren’t ranking at all.  For specific keywords they jumped up by 50 positions in ranking.  Over two weeks, all of the pages increased in rankings, some of them went to page 1 of Google for their keywords.  And that was just rewriting with unique text.

Rich:  Fantastic.  So another good purpose to bring in a copywriter there just to write your copy.  It seems like that would be a huge amount of business that you would be losing by using the same text on every page.

Andy:  Well, I can’t say it’s a huge amount you’d be losing,  It’s possible you can get penalized for having that kind of setup.  If you’re doing a lot of things that Google doesn’t like already and you have that setup, then your site will probably get penalized.  Meaning , it’ll stop ranking for anything.  But if you’re just a normal site and you have that, I guess you could call it a missed opportunity.

Rich:  I like that, “missed opportunity” then.

Andy:  In general, investing in updating the content on your site is one of the better things you can do for SEO.

Rich:  Absolutely.   Finally, just the last thing that you mentioned is to start working on getting some inbound links.

Andy:  Correct, getting links from other sites. So fixing up your business profiles and your website – think of that as fixing up a car and kind of turning it from a jalopy into a race car –  and getting links is the gas that makes the car go.  So you can fix the car up, but it you don’t have gas, it’s not going to go anywhere.

Rich:  Ok.  Now you also mentioned getting some of these review sites and stuff.  How important is it for your customers to be reviewing you online?

Andy:  It depends on the category.  In general, it’s going to happen, whether you want it or not.  So you typically want to encourage your happy customers to review your business online, and Google definitely looks at reviews for specific categories.  In particular looks at review velocity, how many are happening over a certain amount of time, and the sentiment of the reviews – is it a good review or a bad review –  and the keywords that are in the review.  So, if you’re a plumber, you definitely want people who write reviews to be using words like “plumber in Portland” in your reviews, that will help a bit to get you ranked.

Rich:  Now how much of this can we coach our customers on and when do we cross the line?

Andy:  So, according to both Google and Yelp – which are kind of the major review sites – also Angie’s List and a couple of others, they think encouraging any reviews is crossing the line.  It means you’re typically trying to get positive reviews, I guess is the way they think of it.  So it’s against Yelp’s guidelines to solicit reviews from your customers, that said, almost every business asks customers for reviews.  So I don’t think you need to be afraid of it, but don’t be surprised if you do an email blast out to your customers that says “please review me”, and if you get 20 reviews within an hour that all look like they came from an email referral, then Yelp will probably filter out those reviews.  Particularly if those people have never written a review on Yelp before or they have no friends on Yelp, they don’t look like a real Yelp user.

Rich:  I see, ok.  So a better approach may be if somebody comes to us and says , “I really loved your yoga class or your web design or whatever it is you gave me.”, you might want to say to them, “Hey listen, you know what would make a big difference is if you let people know on Yelp, or go on over to Google and leave a review there, it really does make a difference.”

Andy:  Yeah, I think that’s a good start.  And then depending on how much effort you want to put in to it, there’s any number of services that can help you email out to clients like drip marketing. So maybe send 10% of your customers an email requesting a review today, and then send another 10% in a month.  So you’re not getting this huge volume of reviews all at once.

Rich:  I would also think that if you tend to do project-based business like a lot of service based industries do, that that would just be a thing that after you finish a project you turned to a satisfied client and say, “Would you mind doing this?”  That might be another approach.

Andy:  In fact, there’s all sorts of technology now where, for example the other day I saw a mobile app where a service pro maybe is fixing a dishwasher, and as soon as it’s done, he can hand the mobile app to a customer and say, “Hey, can you write a review?”  And as soon as that review is entered it gets automatically uploaded to a businesses website for that location.  So if they were in Pleasanton, it would go to the Pleasanton page, that’s really great for SEO.

Rich:  Interesting, very cool.  What Impact does mobile have on all this, because it seems to me that if you’ve got a mobile device you’re probably more locally focused at that particular moment – not always but very often – do we need to consider mobile in our local SEO, or is that just taken care of naturally?

Andy:  No, certainly you have to look at the type of business you are and decide how much you need to put into mobile. So for example a restaurant where I’m on the road and making a decision on the fly, probably more important for them to have their mobile act together than a plumber.  So Google definitely is starting to show preferences for mobile optimized websites, because the usage of mobile devices is now – I can’t even remember what Google said – but many of my client’s mobile is somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of all the traffic.  And it’s clearly headed to 50% pretty fast.  So at its simplest, you should make sure that your sight is useable on a smart, mobile phone, so an iPhone or an Android phone or even a Windows phone.  And there’s definitely a lot of simple things you can do if you want to show a mobile version of the page versus a full version of the page.  So if you have a WordPress site, there’s a bunch of plugins you can use that will strip your site down to a mobile version.

Rich:  Very cool.  Well this has been great.  Now, you have something called “N.A.P. Hunter”?  Can you talk for a minute about what N.A.P. Hunter is?

Andy:  Yeah, N.A.P. Hunter is really a tool that we developed internally. So as I said early on, you want to you your NAP – name, address and phone number – consistent across all these different sites.  All these different sites in the industry are typically called “local citations” because that’s what Google calls it and it’s patent filings.  So one of the things SEO’s do when they get a new client is we start doing all these crazy queries  in Google to try to figure out if bad data is out there for your NAP, so maybe an old phone number or an old address or a misspelled business name, things like that.  And so we found when we were getting new client calls/prospects, we were running these queries just to do a quick analysis, and we thought, “Ah, I bet we could automate this slightly so instead of spending 5 minutes doing these queries, we can do it in 5 seconds.”  And so we developed this very simple tool, it’s an extension of a Chrome web browser so you need to just download it and add it as a plugin to Chrome, it’s not particularly hard to do.  And what you do is you put your name, address and phone number into a little form and it automatically queries Google for all these different permutations of your name, address and phone number, and downloads all the results to a spreadsheet.  So you can pretty quickly see, “Oh wow, I have a profile on Angie’s List that’s got some wrong data.”   And it’s a free tool, if you just type “NAP Hunter” the Chrome store page for it will show up and you can download it.  It’s really nothing too amazing, it’s just if you want to analyze your NAP issues, it’s a really quick way to do it.  It’s not a comprehensive thing, it’s a quick way to get kind of 80% of the problems surfaced.

Rich:  Cool.  And we’ll have links to those in the show notes.  Now its funny because when you first send me the link for NAP Hunter, I was just thinking it would find, like, nearby park benches that I could crash at for a while, or something like that.  Anyway, so I know we’ve just scratched the surface of what you can do, Andrew, tell us where we can dig a little bit deeper and learn more about you online.

Andy:  So you can certainly look at my blog,  Sometimes regularly, sometimes not so regularly blog about local SEO issues.  Monthly I submit a local search column to SearchEngineLand – which I’m late on this month – and then you can obviously follow me on Twitter @localseoguide.  The thing that I find most interesting that I’ve worked on the last couple of years is my relatively new blog called Apple Maps Marketing (, I’ve basically tried to reverse engineer how Apple maps works for businesses because there’s absolutely no information given out by Apple, or anybody else, about how this stuff works. I believe it’s the only blog or website that focuses on Apple maps for businesses.  And Apple maps is probably used by 50% of everybody with a smartphone these days, in the US at least.  So we’re talking tens if not hundreds of millions of people using Apple maps.  And every app that has location in it typically uses Apple maps, on the iPhone or iPad.  So it’s a pretty important system to start to understand, particularly if you don’t have an iPhone or use Apple products, because it’s probably invisible to you and you’re ignoring it.  And Apple maps is really screwed up when it comes to business data, so figuring out what is going on with your business and Apple maps is kind of critical.

Rich:  I’m glad you brought that up because I meant to ask you a question about that earlier and I completely skipped over it.  So if we want to learn more about that and hopefully getting into Apple maps and getting more visibility in that area outside of Google, we should go and check out that blog.

Andy:  Yeah.  And I don’t think it’s “if” we want.  It’s really happening and so many people and marketers are ignoring it because they don’t have an iPhone so they don’t even think about it.  And I get more than a few emails a week  that are like, “Hey, my business is located in the wrong spot on Apple maps, how do I fix that?”, or, “My business isn’t even listed in Apple maps, how do I fix that?”  And the jury is still out on how you can guarantee fixing it, but there’s a lot of tricks we’ve learned over the last couple of years that definitely fix a lot of these problems, and it’s all written up on that website.

Rich:  That’s great, because I know that every day I turn to Siri and I will ask Siri a question very often related to Google maps.  I have to get to a soccer field for my daughters and I just say, “Hey, how do we get to Greely High School?”, and I’m hoping for the best at that point.  Or “Find me a local taco shop.”, and again I’m hoping for the best.  So I think from the other side of that equation, if I am running a business like that I want to make sure that people can find me.  And many of them, like you said, are using the Apple maps product whether they realize it or not.

Andy:  Yeah, it’s the biggest missed opportunity, in my view, if you’re not paying attention to it.  If you’re data is fine and your business is fine, I don’t think you need to worry too much about it.  But when it’s not,  I’m going to guess that 20% of the data in Apple maps is screwed up.

Rich:  Well now I’m going to have to go check my own.

Andy:  Yeah, you should.

Rich:  Andy, thank you very much for your time.  I know I’ve learned a lot, and I’m sure our listeners have, too.

Andy:  I appreciate it.  Fun to be here, Rich.

Related: How to fix bad Yelp, TripAdvisor, or any online reviews.

Links:  (Nabewise)

Find Andy on Twitter