Winning the battle for local market domination is a tricky proposition.
These days, it starts with good SEO (search engine optimization). And one of the keys for advisory SEO (not the only one, but an IMPORTANT one) is the proper handling of your online local listings.
First off, since only 44% of small businesses have even CLAIMED their Google My Business profile, by doing a few smart things with your listing, you really can make a big difference in the visibility of your firm online (AKA, make your tax or accounting SEO work pay off).
Obviously, you need to actually claim your Google My Business listing, if you have not done so.
We can help you with that, of course, but don’t do it too fast.
Because BEFORE you do that, I recommend you first claim your listings on the following channels:
2) Apple Maps
And this is a BIG deal:
You must ensure that your name, address, and phone (NAP) are exactly the same across every listing.
And I’m talking about down to the punctuation, whether you use “#” or “suite”, etc.
You do NOT want to confuse the robots.
By that, I mean that the rankings algorithms for Google, Bing, Apple, Yelp, etc. are trained to verify businesses across a whole host of listings, and if the NAP is non-canonical (i.e. variegated across your different listings), your tax or accounting SEO gets penalized.
And every industry vertical has different ranking factors, and different listings to claim. For our industry, the ones I listed above are the biggies.
Once you have done and verified the above, THEN it is a good idea to claim your Google My Business listing.
This seems to give you an instant boost in your Local Pack rankings, which are the listings that show up first when you search for a keyword, like “tax preparation” (like so):
Notice: this “Local Pack” shows up FIRST on the desktop — as well as in mobile.
Which means it’s pretty valuable real estate.
More tricks to ranking highly in local results:
1) Add good photos to your listings. Just by doing so, it has been independently verified that you will increase website clicks by 35 percent. And we have seen similar results in our internal testing on our client firms’ listings.
2) Personally encourage your clients to post reviews. Having a strong review presence has been shown to increase website traffic by 360%. BUT, this is a tricky proposition because you can get into HOT WATER (with Yelp especially) for “soliciting reviews” by any automated or bulk means.
We have seen businesses get ALL of their reviews and ratings eliminated by Google or Yelp because they were able to detect that all of the reviews came from one single IP address (in the office, for example), or were garnered via an automated “review builder” machine.
(Incidentally, there are a few of these review-generation services in the advisory industry, even now, and we strongly urge you to avoid them, as they violate the Terms of Service for multiple of the “Big Four” review sites.)
That’s why you should link to your reviews listings (on Yelp, Google My Business, etc.), but do NOT “ask for reviews”.
3) Make sure your categories and keywords are properly integrated. Figure out which terms people would be searching for in order to find a business like yours, and make sure that you integrate those terms into your listings (multiple times if possible) and that you are listed within the proper category.
This is but the tip of the iceberg.
There is more to winning the local listings battle. Much more.
Make sure you kill the zombies.
Not only should you and your team be zeroed in on creating “canonical” local listings, but you have to get zealous about eliminating local listing profiles with outdated information. It’s a key part of good advisory SEO.
If you have EVER changed addresses, phone numbers or your business name, then there’s a 99% chance that you have incorrect information on some (or perhaps MANY) of these sites that you have to clean up to get into Google’s good graces.
For example, if you changed your business phone number 5 years ago, but never updated your existing profiles — and you are now ADDING new profiles with a different phone number, you’re going to be penalized and pushed down the ranking pages.
Google (unlike Apple Maps and Bing Places), has a variety of verification methods. Each of these (and all of the others too) have different methods to ensure that their listers aren’t “gaming the system” and creating a bunch of fake listings in order to pump some SEO juice into their business veins.
Navigating the different methodologies can be confusing and daunting. What do you do if you request verification via a mailed postcard and it doesn’t come?
Well, you have options, but some of them are getting on the phone with a call center in India (which is fine, but it does take time). Knowing how to navigate these waters can be the difference between ranking on page 1 (as it has been for a number of our clients) or not ranking at all.
Review Generators Warning
I mentioned this before, but I shall say it again more boldly: steer clear from anyone or any software that promises to “generate positive reviews” for you.
Really, you need to steer clear of any automated forms of review solicitation or aggregation of ANY kind.
We’ve had some high-level phone conversations with founding executives at Yelp, and one of the things we discussed was the proliferation of services that do this — and why Yelp, Google, Facebook, et al are cracking down hard on this practice. Essentially, they want reviews to be an “organic” process, and it is a direct violation of their Terms Of Service to “bulk solicit” for any kind of reviews. Consequences can be dire, even up to public shaming by the platforms.
However, many tax pros are finally realizing they need to have reviews on their listings and some of them are turning to these review generation services to do it. And a couple of these services are still actively soliciting customers within our industry.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news for you, but that ship has sailed.
It’s now way too late in the game for that type of strategy. (Have I told you that online marketing is constantly changing?) The “robots” are catching on to the issue of fake reviews and those who are late adopters of the review generation tech are going to be hung out to dry — and soon.