2 strategic opportunities for local service area businesses

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“There’s no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. We do our best to keep the details of the search algorithm confidential to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.”

The above is taken from a Google support page. However, as the following two techniques will highlight, a smart marketing strategy can improve local rankings and increase website leads.

Strategy 1: Breakout brands

Are you a taxidermist who is also a mortician? How about a real estate agent who also sells insurance? Whether you offer multiple services because you’re in a small town or because you can never say no to a customer, this online branding strategy might be for you.

Unfortunately, since the Pigeon Update, Google has rewarded businesses with a niche focus and in close proximity to a city/neighborhood. As a result, spam appears to have increased, and exact match domains (EMDs) have become more visible. This has led to more competition in local results, and it has hurt local businesses that are “full service” or offer many complementary and unrelated services.

It may be difficult, if not impossible, to rank for all of your services, simply because the algorithm is stacked against your success. You can add many different categories in Google My Business, but that won’t always translate into results online. Google doesn’t realize that an auto repair/mechanic can also be a tire store or that a plumber can also be licensed for A/C repair.

Help Google and your customers by grouping services into unique brands. Here are the steps.

  1. Decide which services to group together and create a DBA (Doing Business As) following state and county guidelines. Choose a relevant name that is distinct from your existing business.
  2. Add a unique local phone number for your new brand. It’s important to always use the phone number exclusively for that service business, even if the calls get forwarded to the main office.
  3. Decide on whether to create a different website. Along with a unique logo and branding, this can help define a separate brand and allow for easier measurement of success (conversion rate, goals, lead volume and so on).
  4. Choose a unique category in Google My Business for each service area business.

Now you can have two Google listings, Yelp listings, Facebook pages and more — all with the same address, but for very different service businesses. Here are some examples:

  • A residential contractor is now known as “Smith Custom Fencing” and “Smith Roofing & Construction.” Two websites with two unique brands and a better opportunity to capture leads online.
  • A home services company now has three unique brands: a pest control company, a home cleaning company and a construction/restoration division. Each has a unique website, local presence and reviews.
  • An insurance agency in a small town is also a residential/commercial real estate company. Now, there are DBAs for both, each sharing the last name of the owner, with a unique website and phone number.

This technique could also be used for brick-and-mortar businesses, although there could be more costs involved in outdoor branding and signage. Check out the department section of the Google guidelines — some examples used include a “Sears Auto Center” and “Walmart Vision Center.”

Strategy 2: Expand your service area

Service businesses have more flexibility by nature. You may have an office for customers, or you may operate out of your home. Either way, you can get your business listed in Google following the guidelines.

But what if your service area is huge or includes multiple cities? There are some odd results like this one, where a search for “health insurance lubbock” includes an office for Blue Cross Blue Shield in San Antonio (500 miles away).

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Even though you can cast a wide net on your Google Page, Google’s algorithm doesn’t usually work this way.

Setting a service area for all of Oklahoma in Google My Business doesn’t translate into statewide rankings for “roof repair.” Google will still default to the address you entered, whether it is hidden or visible online. However, if your employees/contractors live outside of the city where your office is located, this technique could be an opportunity to cast a wider net in search results.

Here is how it works for a hypothetical roofing contractor:

  1. Set a defined service area for your main office location. Let’s say it is in Oklahoma City, OK. If the location is customer-friendly, show the office address.
  2. In addition to Oklahoma City, you also serve the nearby cities of Edmond (30 minutes north of downtown) and Norman (30 minutes south of downtown). Create local landing pages on your website, with unique and descriptive content that targets these cities, describes recent projects in the area and more.
  3. You happen to have an employee who lives in Norman and a second who lives in Edmond. When you get roofing jobs in those cities, both employees leave from their homes to arrive at the job site within five to 10 minutes. To cast a wider net and expand your service area, create new Google My Business pages using the employees’ addresses. Hide the addresses, since you don’t want customers to come to their homes.
  4. Set up a unique local phone number for each, and always use the service landing page for all citations. For Norman, perhaps it is www.roofrepair.com/service-area/norman-ok/.
  5. In addition to Google, you can hide the street address in Yelp, Citysearch and many other sites. Add local links and citations, as you would for a traditional office.

This technique mimics having a second or third office location in cities throughout a service area, and the customer experiences all of the same benefits.

Years ago, this technique wouldn’t have been necessary, and it still isn’t for some business categories. However, with Pigeon, Google has become increasingly localized and biased toward businesses in a city.

For a roofing contractor with an office in Oklahoma City, this now opens the door to rank in Norman and Edmond without paying for a physical office only 30 minutes away. Combined with solid local content and local links, you could begin to rank in multiple cities.

Be cautious with this strategy, and realize that your online reputation will become more fractured. If the Oklahoma City location has 50 five-star reviews in Google, you will now need to earn reviews for Norman and Edmond. Also, this technique operates in a gray area of the guidelines. I’ve used it for multiple clients and have never had a repercussion, but it is possible Google could delete your new Google My Business pages.

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