Remember when marketing your local business meant a yellow pages ad and good word of mouth? Ahh, the good old days.
Today, in place of questions like, “Should I spring for the half-page ad or stick with the quarter?”, small businesses ask questions like:
- Should I write blog posts? How often? What keywords should I target?
- Is my website mobile friendly?
- Why am I not showing up on page one of Google search? How do I get there?
- Should I pay for Search placement? What’s a bid adjustment?
- How do I make sure I’m not paying for the wrong clicks?
- How do I get more reviews? What do I do about that negative review left by my former employee whom I fired?
- How do I show up on the map listings?
Unfortunately, if you run a Service Area Business (SAB), the equation is even more complicated.
What’s a Service Area Business?
A Service Area Business is one that provides services on location, rather than at a storefront. This distinction may have been trivial 5 or 10 years ago, but today, it’s critically important to how local search rankings are determined.
Some of the most common service area businesses:
- Home Services
- Handyman services
- Window Installation
- Cleaning Services
- Maintenance Services
- Appraisers & Estate Sale companies
- Construction Companies
- Decking & Fence Companies
- Independent Real Estate Agents / Brokers
- Independent consultants
- Virtual B2B Business Services/Agencies
Hybrid Businesses: Storefronts with a Wide Service Area
Some businesses perform services at a storefront location, but draw customers from a wide service area.
Typically this is true with high ticket, niche types of purchases. For example, if you are a plastic surgeon or a specialized treatment center, you perform your service on-site at a physical location, but your customers may travel many miles to do business with you.
Examples of Hybrid Businesses:
- Specialized Health & Wellness Services
- Office Furniture Dealers & Installers
- Treatment Centers
- Car & Boat Dealerships
- Real Estate Agencies
- Architectural firms
- Consulting firms
- Recruiters/Recruiting Companies
For such businesses, the problem can be even more challenging, because Google doesn’t allow storefronts to also define a service area.
Geographic relevance is a ranking factor that essentially trumps all others. Google knows what keywords pertain to local products and services and recalibrates its placement algorithm accordingly. This is true even without a geographic term in the search phrase. (Google knows the geographic origin of the search request based on IP address.)
If you own or manage a Service Area Business, keep reading!
Enter Google My Business, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local!
Search engines know where consumers are located based on their IP address. But how do they know where your business is located? The answer is social media profiles.
You may not think of them this way, but Google My Business, Bing Places, and Yahoo! Local are categorically social media channels. Like your Facebook page, these social channels contain a profile, a news feed, and in many cases the ability to follow and interact with other profiles. If you are a location-based business, it’s imperative that you have an up-to-date, complete profile on each of these social channels.
Local Ranking for Storefronts vs Service Area Businesses
For typical storefront businesses like restaurants, hardware stores, auto dealers, repair shops, financial centers, professional services, retail sales, and others, the physical address and business category tells Google when to prioritize your website in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
But what if your business is one that performs service on location? What if your geographic service area is large? True, you can specify your service area, but any SAB knows that a competitor who is physically located in the same city as the search request gets favorable treatment, even when both you and your competitor serve that geographic area.
This can be frustrating for SABs, especially those whose physical location is rural or removed from the major market they serve.
What NOT to do—Black Hat Tactics That Will Backfire
While there are some inherent challenges for SABs getting ranked locally, you are not without options. Before we get into our recommended strategies, here are some tactics you may be tempted to try, but which you should avoid.
Don’t try to create multiple pseudo-physical locations for SEO purposes. P.O. boxes don’t work. And yes, there are coworking spaces and mailbox services that provide physical addresses. For locations to be considered storefronts, Google’s policy states they must have regular business conducted there. Google does employ punitive actions for black hat tactics, so don’t risk it.
Don’t use geographic keyword stuffing. It’s okay to have a section indicating the areas you serve, but don’t overdo it. Not only is that black hat, it’s also cheesy.
Be careful with multiple addresses listed on pages and social profiles. Google attempts to associate mentions, listings, and profiles to domains. When business names, addresses, or phone numbers are inconsistent, it hinders the off-page SEO juice that builds search authority.
Three Effective SEO Strategies for Service Area Businesses
1. Supplement with Surgical, Geographically-Targeted Paid Search
The great thing about paid search is that it is immediate and focused. Choose your geographic target and keywords, set your budget, and start getting clicks the same day. In the case of SABs, Paid Search can be leveraged to plug geographic gaps. Avoid paying for clicks from geographies in which you already rank organically, and focus your budget to pay for placement on the ones you don’t.
A caution that Paid Search is a complex world. It’s easy to throw money away if you don’t know what you are doing. Most agencies will manage the search for a percent of the spend, typically 20-30%. If the agency knows their stuff, the fee will be more than offset with improved performance through optimization.
2. Aggressively Pursue Reviews
Reviews are important for almost all local businesses. People see them, and they base decisions on them. But for SABs, online reviews carry an additional benefit: they have geographical context. If you have reviews on Google My Business or Bing Places, and those reviews indicate the location of service, you can bet this helps to improve ranking authority for those locations.
There are some easy and inexpensive tools you should use to maximize your positive reviews, like this one.
3. Create Geo-specific Pages for your Strategic Target Locations
Now for the craftiest strategy, create pages for each of your primary target locations. Not merely a contact page, and not a page that stuffs keywords, but a page that is a repository for location-specific project check-ins or work summaries. Each service you complete on location is an opportunity to tell a short story about what you did, what products or services were involved, and how happy the customer was with the end result.
Each listing should contain geographic and product/service keywords. As you perform more service calls in a particular area, that page grows into a highly authoritative, keyword-rich, and geographically focused page that will rank and knock your competitors off their perch.
Of course, adding these listings manually is a time commitment, but well worth it. There’s also this handy and inexpensive tool that reduces the process of filling out a simple form. In one or two minutes you hit the submit button and the tool automatically formats and publishes all the keyword-rich content right to your geographic landing page.
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