Questionable Advice on recent Search Engine Land article

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I saw this post today, thought it might make for an interesting discussion.

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.

read full article here
The article's about two 'strategic opportunities' for local businesses. The second one's definitely against Google TOS. Having new business locations registered at employees houses isn't an opportunity, so much a chance to frustrate Joy and all the other spam fighters fighting the good fight in lieu of Google cleaning things up themselves.

The first one's a little more of a gray area. The idea, is that few GMB listings show for more than a relatively limited area of service. So what happens if you do product photography and wedding photography? Or if you brew alcohol, but also have a tavern customers can sit in? The article's advice basically is to make a separate incorporation, new website, new phone number etc. and get two listings.

Google's exact words are:
Do not create more than one page for each location of your business, either in a single account or multiple accounts.

For each department, the category that is the most representative of that department must be different from that of the main business and that of other departments.
So from one of the articles 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.

What's the vote? Kosher or spam? If you had a client wanting to turn their one company into two, would you talk them out of it, or help them do it? Personally I think it's a gray enough area that my answer might change from case to case, but I just I'd see what everyone else thought.

On another note, Joy, does Search Engine Land vet their guest post articles for content, or how'd something like this get published?
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks for sharing James!

My Tweet from this AM after I read it:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">2 tips for local SABs if you want to get your GMB whacked! @searchengineland <a href="https://t.co/CCRO8Ys5E2">https://t.co/CCRO8Ys5E2</a> via <a href="https://twitter.com/sengineland">@sengineland</a></p>— Local Search Forum (@CatalystLocal) <a href="https://twitter.com/CatalystLocal/status/742358458184388608">June 13, 2016</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Bad advice all around IMO. Wouldn't advise either one.
 

Eric Rohrback

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Search Engine Land has really been publishing a lot of crap lately. Do they even have editors or fact checkers? I've lost all respect for that organization after the last couple of "experts" decided to share their opinions around online marketing.

One clown said technical SEO isn't important, and content strategy is all that matters. Clearly that guy has no idea what he's doing when it comes to code, and is a transplant marketer from a dying PR agency. This other "author" decides to tell newbies and small business owners who turn to SEL for helpful info to violate the guidelines Google laid out for GMB.

SEL is slowly moving from a trusted source of knowledge to an industry disgrace, because of some of the people they allow on their site. If they just vet some of these people a little more and check what they're saying, I wouldn't be voicing this concern.

To be fair to SEL though, it's not all their fault. If these authors would care more about the substance of their article and less about getting a freaking backlink to their website. Forget about the stupid link for once and care about the real potential to hurt a business that could follow bad advice. That's what annoys me the most. I wish people would care a little more about who they could hurt, and try a little harder to put out genuinely good tips for others to follow. Clearly these writers haven't personally helped a failing business and don't understand. That being said, if they don't really understand then they shouldn't be writing about it.
 

HoosierBuff

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Great post and I like the discussion.

I'm very interested in the outright condemnation of the "use an employee to create a second SAB office".

I see that as spammy. . . especially if done at scale. But, say that I am a plumber, and I have a guy in Queens who can be there quicker than my other guy in Manhattan. . . Isn't it legitimate that they should let customers know that?

The alternative for this guy is to create a second office out in queens, but, that really does nobody any real good - it's just a waste.

so, while I see all kind of opportunities for spam, I also see it as somewhat legitimate. Help me see the light on this.
 

Linda Buquet

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I get your point. But think like Google (or consumers).

Let's say there are 10 plumbers in a town. But 10 plumbers that are in surrounding towns, NOT in that town, have 10 employees there and they all set up listings.

Now there are 110 plumber listings in that town, but there are really only 10 businesses that are in that town. That pay rent there, taxes there, support the community there, etc.

If you were one of the 10, wouldn't you report the others that you knew were not really there?

There are cases at the GMB forum where businesses had their entire account suspended with all their listings. That means their 1 legit listing is gone too!
 

Eric Rohrback

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The employee address thing is pretty cut and dry.

"Do not create more than one page for each location of your business, either in a single account or multiple accounts."

Does your business have separate locations registered at your employee's houses? No? Then don't create another page.

Besides, the plumber example is bad since it's a service area business. By rule you need to hide your address and set a service area on the map, with the exception of having a brick and mortar location customers can walk in (say you sell supplies/toilets or something). Even there, you can't create pages for locations you serve but aren't physically located in.

"But, say that I am a plumber, and I have a guy in Queens who can be there quicker than my other guy in Manhattan. . . Isn't it legitimate that they should let customers know that?"

Yes, you should but in the correct way. List it on the website, don't create more GMB pages. Use local landing pages, and design a way to highlight multiple locations. Creating more GMB pages is spammy, it's against the guidelines, and it's a very lazy attempt to get ahead.

Like Linda said, your whole account could get suspended if you do that. If I'm working for a competitor and someone did that for their client, I'd build it into the strategy to take down the fake listings.
 

HoosierBuff

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I'm agreeing with what you guys are saying. . . and Linda's example of 110 plumbers in one town is great. I want to keep on challenging you guys a bit, so that I understand it better

But - what makes this so compelling is that the local 3 pack sucks up so much traffic - it makes local landing pages seem like a waste of time. I admit, I need to work on my local landing page game, but, for the most part, I haven't driven a substantial amoutn of traffic with them.

let me ask this: for your local landing pages, are they getting volume on terms where the local 3 pack appears, or is it for instances when that does not appear (more long tail terms).
 

Eric Rohrback

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Depends on the business type (annoying answer, I know).

Sticking with the plumber scenario, if you have a wide service area but only work out of your house, then local landing pages is what you need to do. The GMB page would be set to the homepage, since that would have the most authority and would be able to cover all your bases (if you designed it correctly).

Service-area businesses--business that serve customers at their locations--should have one page for the central office or location and designate a service area from that point.

That being the case, you can't create more pages for all the locations you serve. You'll have the one central page for all service areas, but use the local landing pages for organic traffic.

On a somewhat unrelated note, if you're fully relying on Google 3-pack traffic as your source of leads then it might be time to overhaul your strategy. Diversify your traffic streams. People need to stop trying to break the rules; they're not as hard to follow as people make them out to be. There's a big difference between being creative with opportunities and blatantly spamming.

You have to think about these scenarios from more angles than just your client's. Think about Google's perspective, think about the potential customer scenarios, think about what your competitors are doing. If you can't get in the 3 pack without spamming, then find a new way to drive traffic to the site.
 
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I completely agree with you Eric, any business owner that's relying one one source of business is built on a house of cards, especially one as potentially unstable as the 3-pack. Even referral relationships with related business owners (A calligrapher with connections to a busy wedding planner in town for example) is a bad idea to rely on as a sole source of leads (what if the relationship falls apart, they move, or they meet a new calligrapher they like better?), but the 3-pack? It's absolutely worth working towards, it's well worth the investment, but it's too risky to safely use as a a core part of the business plan.

Backtracking a bit though, I agree as well about SEL doing a really poor job vetting this article, but I was curious about your quip about the technical SEO article. Were you talking about this one? The article was a little fluffy (more of an opinion piece than anything really useful) but I thought the opinion was spot on. In my view, technical SEO is where you lose points if you screw up, but you can't gain all the points by doing it well. No amount of technical SEO will get you to the top of a high competition area, though if you otherwise have a great foundation you could definitely screw it up by botching the site. Were you thinking of a different article, or do you disagree on where technical SEO fits into the toolbelt? With local at least, I've been seeing a huge correlation between backlink profile and ranking. An SEO consultant hanging their hat purely on onsite without address backlinks and citations would be hard pressed to deliver results, unless they're working out in the sticks.
 

Eric Rohrback

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I was. The reason I wasn't a fan of that article is because it completely downplays the importance of a technically sound website. Focusing entirely on a content strategy without making the important tweaks onsite will get you nowhere. Great, you'll have traffic from a creative content marketing strategy, but who cares? If your site it too bloated to load quickly, if it doesn't look clean on mobile, if it doesn't render without needing Javascript to load (think Angular), then what does the traffic matter? If you can't convert the visits to revenue then you've wasted your time.

Technical SEO isn't about adjusting title tags, making sure you have schema markup, or any of the basic SEO jobs. It's about understanding how to "convert" bots and users. If Googlebot can't view certain pages because it's blocked, or it's confused which page to serve in the SERPs because you have canonical tags and redirects screwed up then I'd say that's a pretty big issue which would cause you to jump competitors if fixed.

If someone is more concerned about "botching" technical aspects, so they decide to focus entirely on content... great. Just don't expect to hang on to that client for an extended amount of time. When someone who really knows what to look for on the technical side to move the needle, and can pair that with a robust content strategy comes along, then you're sunk.

I've implemented something as simple as canonical tag fixes to align with a strategy to drive a page targeting a more popular term (higher search volume). I've seen the experiment move that page from page 2 to the top 3 positions. Why did it work? Because we stopped the indexing confusion and provided a definitive answer to Google which page was the best to show.

No one said stop doing offsite work or content. What I was annoyed with was how far the author decided to downplay something as important as making sure the site actually works. This whole job is being part marketer, part developer. If you don't understand the development part (ie; Technical), then good luck. Opinion piece as it may be, it shouldn't have been on a main section in SEL. Business owners and consultants look to that as a source for guidance. By saying "don't worry about technical" the author sent the wrong message to a lot of people.

At the end of the day it's each person's decision on how to build out their strategy to help a client. I just hope they remember you can't make money if the website doesn't work.
 
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Maybe we just got different things from that article then. My version of what the author was going for, was a reminder that Technical SEO is just one tool in the toolbox, and shouldn't be your only weapon in the arsenal (which I agree with). I read the author as meaning that everyone should already have technical SEO down, and should move their understanding to go beyond that. That might be a generous assumption of course (like you pointed out, how many consultants and firms have actually plumbed the depths there?) but I'm sure there are some who need to hear that message.

I think you're right though, that's a really niche argument to a very specific subset of SEL's readers, so from that respect, it maybe should have been published in a different category, or that should have been more clear. I certainly didn't read it and leave with a sense that I should share it with everyone I know. At least it wasn't outright recommending black hat techniques though, I couldn't believe it when I saw that other article. Either way, SEL needs to get better editors manning the gates, you're right about that.
 

JoyHawkins

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Okay I answered my own question. The author was this guy: Corey Barnett - Search Engine Land Author. He appears to be a new writer, this is only his second article. I've never heard of him but his first article seemed like good advice.

To answer some questions, yes, Search Engine Land definitely edits the articles. However, I don't think the editors are experts on Google My Business. Frankly, most traditional SEOs are even clueless about GMB guidelines. I think the editors are well versed in the industry as a whole but I'm guessing they couldn't possibly be experts in all the various topics.

This is going to make for some great discussion next week when I'm having dinner with one of the editors at SMX Advanced :)
 

theitsage

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I read the article and thought the advice he gave about creating a GMB listings using employees' home addresses was dicy too. With that said, this works wonder for the time being. I've seen many listings which neither have reviews nor organic rankings make the local pack as long as they are close to the centroid of search.
 
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Appreciate all the feedback and discussion, late to the conversation too, but it is still an important one to have.

As the author of the SEL article, I was actually hoping for feedback on the article before it published. It was an early first draft so I was surprised to find it published on Monday.

That said, I don't regret revealing the tactics I discussed, but I regret the approach I took. Joy, I love your recent SEL article on the Got Spam, GMB Doesn't Care. You were able to bring up several tactics that unfortunately do work and are clearly against the guidelines.

So, now that the article is taken down, I'm wanting to take a more neutral approach with feedback from the local search community. These strategies are some that clients have asked me on, they are FAQ's and many are clearly against or in a grey area of the guidelines.

The focus of the article will be do these strategies work and are they kosher or spam to borrow from James Watt.

First Strategy: Most of you skimmed past this to focus on the second strategy I discussed. What is the consensus on helping a local business breakout services into separate brands to target two very different GMB categories and customers?

Simple example. An insurance agency that also does real estate. Solution: 2 different websites, DBA's, phone numbers, but the same address. Does your opinion change if different employees are tasked with real estate and insurance?

Does it work? Yes, it can. Ever since Pigeon, Google has favored niche/focused businesses.

Kosher or Spam? What is the overall community vote. Linda voted that it is spam. Some of you thought it was grey.

Second Strategy: This is verifying an employee home address as a service location in GMB. The example was the office is in Oklahoma city with service location set to Oklahoma City. Business isn't able to rank in Norman or Edmund which are 30 minutes away for roof repair. They have employees that live and leave from their homes in Norman and Edmund to service the customer. They set up GMB pages and hide the address.

Does it work? Yes it does... And as Joy has mentioned in her article, Google is likely to only delete the listing that is at an employee home address, not all GMB locations.

Kosher or Spam? The community has voted this is spam and against the guidelines. Linda on your rebuttal, "it's not fair for businesses that pay rent there, taxes there, support the community there, etc". You agree that it's fair for a home based contractor to have a GMB listing with their home address hidden?

Example: This strategy came about because a client of mine had an employee leave and start their own home based roof repair business. My client wasn't able to rank in Norman because their office was in OKC, and their ex-employee used a keyword stuffed business name, exact match name and Google's algorithm favored their listing locally and organically over the larger, established client.

Third Strategy: Legally change the name of the business or use a DBA that includes keywords. Joy, this strategy goes a step further. We all agree that stuffing keywords in a GMB listing is against guidelines, but what if you legally change the name of the business to rank higher in Google + branding is perhaps improved?

Example. A company known as Smith Services changes their name to Smith Air Conditioning and Heating.

Does it work? Yes, as long as citations are consistent and updated.

Is it kosher or spam?

Fourth Strategy: Reach out to a business in a different location. Build a relationship, and give them an incentive to pass on referrals to your business. Next, postcard verify the location in GMB, show the address. Use your business name, add a second local phone number and use your local landing page.

Example: Let's say it's a insurance agency. They have a friend that owns a real estate agency in a nearby different city. Their friend agrees to pass on all insurance leads and is even able to quote and provide customer service. The insurance agency now gets a second office location verified at the real estate office of a friend.

Does it work? Yes, I've seen this work when handled correctly. It has to be a similar industry to where the client would earn leads, but not competitive. Two different GMB categories.

Kosher or Spam?

Feel free to add on any more grey area or black hat scenarios you can think of that work or you hear often from clients... Look forward to your response!
 
Last edited:

JoyHawkins

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First Strategy: What is the consensus on helping a local business breakout services into separate brands to target two very different GMB categories and customers?

Google uses business licenses to verify data when they think it's spam. So if it's actually the same business with 2 different DBAs, that doesn't mean they're allowed 2 listings. If they file taxes as the same business and only have 1 business record, they will get taken down. You can look up business licenses on the Secretary of State website.

Second Strategy: This is verifying an employee home address as a service location in GMB.
Complete spam. I remove these types of listings on a regular basis. I don't tell my clients to bend the rules, instead I report and remove the competitors who are doing it.

Third Strategy: Legally change the name of the business or use a DBA that includes keywords.


Yes, it works. It's not a new strategy and Mike Blumenthal wrote a good article about it. This is currently allowed by guidelines but frankly if everyone starts doing it there would be nothing a local business could do to brand themselves or not get confused with competitors, which can lead to a lot more problems. Mike summarizes it well.

Fourth Strategy: Reach out to a business in a different location. Build a relationship, and give them an incentive to pass on referrals to your business. Next, postcard verify the location in GMB, show the address. Use your business name, add a second local phone number and use your local landing page.

Spam. I had an attorney who tried doing it but the guy wouldn't keep his name on the business sign. If the name isn't on the business sign and if they don't have employees working at that location, it's not allowed. This is the same reason why virtual offices aren't allowed. Someone randomly answering the phone for you is not the same as an employee.

Corey - I appreciate that you're asking for your feedback. I hope you consider the long-term implications of doing this for clients. I have made it a personal goal to get more people in the Local SEO industry on board with reporting and fighting spam and so far it's working well. I am literally fighting to keep listings like this off the map and by empowering more agencies to report fake listings for competitors, I'm hoping we can make a dent by doing it together. There are a lot of agencies that use some of these tactics but it's not what Google wants, not what consumers want, and frankly can even verge on being illegal in certain cases (Bryan Seely gives examples of when it becomes illegal in his book).
 

JoyHawkins

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First Strategy: What is the consensus on helping a local business breakout services into separate brands to target two very different GMB categories and customers?

Google uses business licenses to verify data when they think it's spam. So if it's actually the same business with 2 different DBAs, that doesn't mean they're allowed 2 listings. If they file taxes as the same business and only have 1 business record, they will get taken down. You can look up business licenses on the Secretary of State website.

Second Strategy: This is verifying an employee home address as a service location in GMB.
Complete spam. I remove these types of listings on a regular basis. I don't tell my clients to bend the rules, instead I report and remove the competitors who are doing it.

Third Strategy: Legally change the name of the business or use a DBA that includes keywords.


Yes, it works. It's not a new strategy and Mike Blumenthal wrote a good article about it. This is currently allowed by guidelines but frankly if everyone starts doing it there would be nothing a local business could do to brand themselves or not get confused with competitors, which can lead to a lot more problems. Mike summarizes it well.

Fourth Strategy: Reach out to a business in a different location. Build a relationship, and give them an incentive to pass on referrals to your business. Next, postcard verify the location in GMB, show the address. Use your business name, add a second local phone number and use your local landing page.

Spam. I had an attorney who tried doing it but the guy wouldn't keep his name on the business sign. If the name isn't on the business sign and if they don't have employees working at that location, it's not allowed. This is the same reason why virtual offices aren't allowed. Someone randomly answering the phone for you is not the same as an employee.

Corey - I appreciate that you're asking for your feedback. I hope you consider the long-term implications of doing this for clients. I have made it a personal goal to get more people in the Local SEO industry on board with reporting and fighting spam and so far it's working well. I am literally fighting to keep listings like this off the map and by empowering more agencies to report fake listings for competitors, I'm hoping we can make a dent by doing it together. There are a lot of agencies that use some of these tactics but it's not what Google wants, not what consumers want, and frankly can even verge on being illegal in certain cases (Bryan Seely gives examples of when it becomes illegal in his book).
 

Eric Rohrback

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Joy hit on all the major points. I don't have much to add; very well thought out response.

What I'll hope others take away is to think about the long term implications of every action. Just because something works today, doesn't mean it will tomorrow. Just because you can get away with it right now, it doesn't mean it's the right path. Don't punish clients in the long term because of some poor choices with a short term vision.
 
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Wow, I didn't think this thread would end up going this far, this has been an awesome discussion. Corey, glad you showed up, and Joy, that's a great rundown, thanks for writing it.

To add to strategy number 3, for the clients I've spent time working with in the past at least, even suggesting they change their brand name to rank higher would be seen as diminishing my worth as a member of their team. Maybe it's because I've mostly worked with smaller companies and worn more than a few hats, but destroying brand recognition and what's sometimes even a decades old family business name for a rank change is a recommendation that, even if it works, would make me look short-sighted, and overly focused on just one area to the exclusion of everything else. Not all clients think the same way of course, and I know exactly which clients I've had that would interpret that suggestion that way, but it's still not something that should just be casually suggested.

I personally would be surprised too if business names continue to have weight in the rankings as well, so if they change their 25 year old business name across the board only to find it stops helping out in 1 to 2 years when the algorithm changes... well.

It's really frustrating for now though that having a normal business name is like playing with a handicap, but so be it.
 

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