Warning: New Google Guidelines Local SEOs Must Know - Could Cause Penalties


Linda Buquet

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At the beginning of October Google updated many of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

The Google Webmaster Guidelines are the BIBLE for organic SEO.
Now, since the blended algo is primarily about organic ranking factors, Local search consultants
need to keep up with the changes and comply, just as you do with the Google Places Guidelines.

There are a couple changes to the guidelines that directly affect local business web sites.
Red highlights are the ones I want to alert you to and discuss.

Keyword stuffing - Webmaster Tools Help

"Keyword stuffing" refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site's ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

Examples of keyword stuffing include:

- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value

- Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for

- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example: We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.
I was unable to find a copy of the previous guidelines anywhere, but I am pretty sure the part about blocks of text with city and state is new and possibly the part about lists of phone numbers.

I'm sure we've all seen the type of spammy sites that are VERY over-optimized for local (plumbing sites come to mind - sorry.) Some not only list 30 cities but do it in tiny text in the footer of every page. Some even link to 30 city pages. City 1 Plumbers, City 2 Plumbers, City 3 Drain cleaning, City 4 Plumber...
Some sites list or link 10 - 40 cities deep depending on size of their service area.

Oh and zip codes? Those local sites with a whole HUGE bank of zips at bottom of the page? Bye-Bye!
I've never thought any of this stuff was a good idea, but now it looks like it's official. Don't do it!

My guess is these sites are going to get dinged - and hard. Or maybe already have.

I 'assume' that a Dentist that says on home page, "we also serve city 2, 3 , 4" that's probably OK. (Who knows for sure.) HOWEVER, Google wants natural content and wants you to represent as you do in the brick and mortar world. And even in newspaper or TV ads it's common for a company to say we service the following communities. BUT the difference is, that's to show CUSTOMERS the area they serve. So it's just a mention, just the main surrounding cities AND I think that's appropriate on a web site and should not cause penalties. (It's when it's excessive and done just for ranking that it becomes a problem.)

But sites using BIG blocks with an EXCESSIVE #of cities the site is trying to rank for - OR a BIG list of CITY LINKS - OR especially ALL OF THE ABOVE in a huge block of TINY TEXT ON EVERY PAGE. Those are the sites that I think are going to get hit and hit hard. Or maybe already have.

So if you've had sites drop recently, this is something I'd look very closely at.

The other guideline I wanted to mention is this one.

Hidden text and links - Webmaster Tools Help

Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Text (such as excessive keywords) can be hidden in several ways, including:

- Using white text on a white background
- Locating text behind an image
- Using CSS to position text off-screen
- Setting the font size to 0
- Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph

When evaluating your site to see if it includes hidden text or links, look for anything that's not easily viewable by visitors of your site. Are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors?
The ones I highlighted in red I see OFTEN on local sites.

Here's one good example of a Chiropractor with invisible City/KW stuffed in H1 in the header - from our long, example-filled post "Local SEO Game - Why Ranks High".

I see the trick above plus using CSS to hide a long string of City+KWs by pushing off the screen,
ALL the time on local sites.


I am reasonably certain the parts in red are NEW because a Google search for exact text finds nothing. SO be aware these are new issues that could cause a ranking penalty OR even remove you from the index.

I was going to hunt down some more good examples but am out of time right now and need to hit publish.

If you got dinged and think it could be related to these guidelines OR see any outrageous GEO KW stuffing examples you care to share, please post below.
 

dboi941

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Thank for this post very useful.
The only one I didnt understand was
"Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value"

I think it just means lot of phone number? Am I right?
I just use a "vcard" with one number on every page. I dont think I have to worry about this but just wanted to ask instead of finding out I was wrong the hard way.
 

Linda Buquet

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Sorry, but I wasn't real sure on that one either. I added it because it sounded like it could possibly relate to local (since it's phone #s) - but it's not something I've seen much. (So I didn't bold it.)

Assume it's kinda like some do with a big list of zips and they put a BIG LIST of phone #s for all the different cities they serve, but again not real sure.
 

Linda Buquet

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On a slightly different but related note, just read a really great post by Matt McGee about generating the actual content for different geo locations. This could pertain to either multi-location or service area business clients.

How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities - focuses on ways to generate UNIQUE content for each location so it's not duplicate content, redundant or spammy.

Pay very special attention to #1 and #2. Gold nugget insights!!! :)

Thanks Matt!
 

dboi941

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On a slightly different but related note, just read a really great post by Matt McGee about generating the actual content for different geo locations. This could pertain to either multi-location or service area business clients.

How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities - focuses on ways to generate UNIQUE content for each location so it's not duplicate content, redundant or spammy.

Pay very special attention to #1 and #2. Gold nugget insights!!! :)

Thanks Matt!
Now that was a very good post by Matt McGee
Thank you Linda for the share. I know I have asked about this in another post here on this form. So this was great for me to see.
 

Linda Buquet

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The Dentist I use as an example in my Local SEO training - the one that I got DOUBLE #1s for.
(#1 in organic AND A in blended.)

His blended dropped from A to E. I was looking at the site again just now to try to figure out why he dropped. Due to writing this article, I tuned into cities on his home page.

In paragraph 2 it has BOLD "we serve city 1, city 2, city 3 , city 4". Then bottom of page all those cities are repeated PLUS a string of others - again, all in bold. (I didn't create the site.)

His internal specially optimized page that was #1 organic, dropped to #3. That page has the same string of bold cities but only once. Not duplicated. Hmmm.

Interestingly the Dentist that popped up to #1 has a very low key MINIMALLY optimized site. Title tag simply City Dentist | Practice Name. And no other cities mentioned and really the city he's in is not mentioned much either. Almost UNDER optimized.
 

Linda Buquet

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WOWSER! Talk about City Keyword Zip stuffing spam! Man that's one of the worst cases I've seen.
These examples illustrate what NOT to do as far as city keyword stuffing.

allfourseasons.com - Check out footer. (Copy/paste, don't want to direct link.) :(
joesgraphics.com - Next check out footer from their web design company. :rolleyes:

Sites that THAT cause Guideline changes like THIS!
 

dboi941

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WOWSER! Here is a great example that illustrates what NOT to do as far as city keyword stuffing.

allfourseasons.com - Check out footer. (Copy/paste, don't want to direct link.) :(
joesgraphics.com - Next check out footer from their web design company. :rolleyes:
Holy _ I have never seen someone do this. Thats just retarded it look so bad to viewers on the site. I think anyone that does something like that should be DROPED.
The first one the footer is just about bigger than the whole page.
 

Thad Winston

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Linda,
I have a dentist client that had a site with the excess zips in footer. I removed them a few months ago. But a site that was super UN optimized jumped to the top of blended results. Just today I noted that my clients site is back to the top of Plus Local...but still not on first page of organic. I find it interesting that the extremely vanilla site jumped to the top just as in your case.
 

Linda Buquet

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Hmmm, very interesting. Thanks for sharing that Thad. (And thanks for joining!) :)

I remember about 9 years ago I played with UNDER optimizing. I looked at what everyone was doing to OVER optimize and did the opposite.

I used H3 instead of H1 and skipped description tag, etc. Still got really good rankings or maybe even better than I would have if it looked like I was 'trying' too hard.

I'm doing a ton of analysis over the next few days because I think a LOT is changing with the algo.
Let's keep sharing what we find and try to figure it out!
 
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So pretty soon we won't have to do any optimization of a website because anything we do will be penalized:D

It's amazing how much as changed so quickly. Think back just a year ago...it was a totally different ballgame. It's getting crazy.

These changes are great for small businesses, however, as the guy without any SEO knowledge who just launches a website may very well do just fine.

Travis Van Slooten
 

matthew hunt

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Yeah I see this kind of spam all the time. It's a good strategy when done right.

Trick is to keep all your sales copy and design above the fold, but below the fold you can talk about driving directions there, local land marks, near by businesses. Local facts. History of the business there. History of the area and why you choose to set-up shop there and so on. Makes the page's content 100%. We also tend to leverage review/testimonials. Put unique testimonials on every one of those location pages to make the content more unique. Photo's of local clients and as well as that location's business (both inside and out). or unique before and afters, etc. you get the point. A little creativity will go a long way.

no need to have same content templates text with switching out addy info.
 
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These are not tactics any of us will miss, but they will be one more thing to be aware of in problem solving. I still run into sites doing the massive list of city names all the time. It was always such a poor idea. Now, it's even worse.
 
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I suspect the part about lists of phone numbers with no added value is in reference to all these sites out there now that have pages

What often happens to me is if I will come across a number and wonder "Who does 256-756-1131 belong to?" I Google it, the first 4 pages of results are people trying to sell me who owns the number. The actual owner is probably listed, but it's buried; so instead of getting the answer I want as I usually expect from a Google search, I'm instead met by sites that bury that answer in the results and instead offer to sell me the info. Try clicking on my link and you'll see in the results summary that these pages are presenting lists of phone numbers to the spiders.
 

dboi941

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I suspect the part about lists of phone numbers with no added value is in reference to all these sites out there now that have pages

What often happens to me is if I will come across a number and wonder "Who does 256-756-1131 belong to?" I Google it, the first 4 pages of results are people trying to sell me who owns the number. The actual owner is probably listed, but it's buried; so instead of getting the answer I want as I usually expect from a Google search, I'm instead met by sites that bury that answer in the results and instead offer to sell me the info. Try clicking on my link and you'll see in the results summary that these pages are presenting lists of phone numbers to the spiders.
I hope your right on this because I use Google everyday to do phone number searches for many different reasons. I hate to have to scroll all the way to page two just to find what i was looking for most of the time.
 

KevinB

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I wish G would have given some "good" examples of service area listings. With all the recent updates I'm really paranoid. I have a few sites with 20-40 cities listed in a clean list format on a service area page (not side-wide). Just the city names, no states or extra keywords.

They are there because the clients have a very specific service area, and do not want to drive past a fixed radius. Not because of search engine benefits.

I don't see a need to change anything - thoughts?
 

Linda Buquet

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I wish G would have given some "good" examples of service area listings. With all the recent updates I'm really paranoid. I have a few sites with 20-40 cities listed in a clean list format on a service area page (not side-wide). Just the city names, no states or extra keywords.

They are there because the clients have a very specific service area, and do not want to drive past a fixed radius. Not because of search engine benefits.

I don't see a need to change anything - thoughts?
Hi Kevin,

I don't know how strict this guideline is and how/where the algo draws the line.

Your intentions and reasons for listing cities is totally valid. However no one knows how the algo is programmed to determine that one long list of cities is for users but another long list of cities on a different site is purely for ranking (or spammy).

I'm not sure I'd be overly paranoid if you only have it on a service area page BUT if you are concerned about it and if it's just really for customers, take a screen shot and post the image instead of the text. (Again not saying you need to and am not sure how strict it will be, just a suggestion if you are worried.)
 
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Linda's suggestion is awesome. I would also add that I would add some text to the top of the page so it's not just a big image of the service area. A simple sentence or two that says something like...

"We've been providing our windshield repair services in Northern California area for over 10 years. While our company is based out of San Francisco, we serve the entire Bay area including Oakland, Berkeley, and San Mateo.

If you're in our service area and need your windshield repaired, call us today at (415) 123-4563"

<insert service="" area="" image="">(service area image goes here)

**Then you might even want to put some testimonials from customers in various parts of the service area below the image - making sure their location is text based so Google can read it.**

There is a lot of strategy behind what I'm suggesting both for Google and the visitor. The main take away is this, don't just have a page with a giant service area image. Aim for some Google love (i.e. potential rankings) and better visitor engagement!

Travis Van Slooten</insert>
 

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