"My company delivers on site, but has no storefront. How do I deal with the management of offers?"
"I work from home. How should I do local SEO?"
"Are there any tips for local SEO for customers like NerdWallet or Credit Karma who serve all customers virtually?"
Questions like these about performing local SEO for companies with nuanced, hidden, or no physical locations and with different models of customer fulfillment are AMA FAQs and multi-year topics in marketing forums. Participants in the recent Moz webinar on the ROI of local SEO repeatedly asked about this topic.
Entrepreneurs and marketers who didn't discover Google's various guidelines by accident are wondering how to promote non-stationary brands. Even if it is known that such guidelines exist, Google is continually developing its position. It's easy to make mistakes, miss updates, and miss opportunities.
The good news is that there are local marketing opportunities for almost every type of business. However, you need to know which route to take depending on how the brand you are marketing is working. In today's column, I'll help you identify your model along with the best opportunities available to you to be discovered by the maximum number of local customers.
Identify your business model
If you're wondering how to do local SEO for something other than a stationary brandThe company you market may fall into one of four categories:
1. Service Area Business (SAB)
Most household services (plumbing, landscaping, housekeeping, etc.) fall into this category. You may have physical street addresses that serve as your headquarters or office. However, the main characteristic of your business is that you serve nearby customers in person at their locations, not yours.
2. Home business
Your home address is your physical location, and you can either serve customers nearby in your home (e.g. a daycare center) or go to customers nearby to serve them (e.g. a dog walker), or you can do a combination of both (e.g. a yoga teacher teaching some classes in their home studio and some as private appointments at clients' homes). The most important characteristic of your business is that you work from home.
* If you work from home but never meet in person with customers for delivery or fulfillment, you do not fall under this category. They fall under category 3.
3. Virtual business
They conduct all transactions virtually through the phone, computer, shipping and other remote means. Your business can be e-commerce (like the Dollar Shave Club), or offer digital services (like Credit Karma), or sell through a printed catalog or other remote method. You might work from one or more physical addresses and want to attract the attention of customers in different regions or cities, but customers never come to your locations. The key feature of your business is that you never interact with customers in person.
4. Hybrid business
This category is a kind of collective term that covers many variations.
A classic example is a restaurant with on-site restaurants where customers pay in person, a roadside pick-up where customers are on site but may pay online, and delivery where customers pay online and drivers come to their homes.
Another variation would be a home services company like a security specialist with walk-in key loops in a physical location, appointments at home for installing new locks on doors, and e-commerce sales of security products.
Another hybrid would be a model like the Vermont Country Store with its brick and mortar stores, e-commerce purchases and a huge volume of print catalog driven sales.
Hybrid business models became more common in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, and there isn't a single defining characteristic of them. They only agree when everyone is looking for ways to increase customer visibility in a particular region.
In most cases, if the company you are marketing is a hybrid business, the best thing to do is to find the relevant opportunities in Models 1 through 3 and combine them with any suitable options, if these also fit your model fit. and pursue a very broad, hybrid strategy that strives for geographical visibility by all means.
Never do these things regardless of your model
Before we list your model-based local SEO opportunities, now is the time to protect the brand you are marketing from unwanted results by avoiding missteps. Whether you're trying to get local visibility for a SAB, home business, virtual brand, or hybrid, scrape these out of your playbook:
- Do not set up unoccupied virtual offices or P.O. Boxes to fake locations to create local business listings.
- Do not set up location chains across the homes of employees, friends, or family members in order to spoof the operation of multiple locations.
- Do not post listings for vacation homes, model homes, or empty properties. You can list the sales offices of such companies, but not the properties that are rented or sold.
- As a marketer, never silently violate Google's guidelines. If you and a customer risk a penalty or suspension together for any reason, you agree to share the risk of potential disaster but never pursue any prohibited strategy without the customer's knowledge.
- Be careful about getting promising results or agreeing to unrealistic goals when competing against stationary companies. Whether or not Google is really biased towards places where the address is given is the subject of long debate, myth, and speculation. What can be said with certainty is that if you don't market a brick and mortar brand, it is difficult to compete with brick and mortar brands for local visibility. So, go to work with informed expectations, rather than unachievable goals, based on How Google Treats the Results of Your Top Search Phrases.
Now we are ready to talk about strategy!
How to do local SEO for service area businesses
Image credit: Nacho
There are numerous options for companies in the service sector without public locations. In fact, updates to Google's policy in 2020 created a more favorable scenario for SABs. We divide your activities into three areas: local, organic and paid.
Local marketing for SABs
Your path to success starts with understanding Google's requirements (which exist here and here) that are specific to SABs. You should read them in full, but I'll pick out the key points here:
Personal contact required
The guidelines state that SABs must be in some form of personal contact with customers in order to be eligible for a Google My Business listing. However, during the pandemic, don't worry that the transition to contactless services will keep you from being enrolled. The business you are marketing is still a SAB painting a house or delivering a meal while social distancing is observed. Google will likely need to update its guidelines to make this clearer.
Hide your required address
When creating a SAB listing, you provide Google with an address. Even if it's a home address, warehouse, or other facility that you don't want the public to visit, you must have an address. Google's guidelines then state that you should hide the address when creating the SAB list.
Google automatically hides the address when you ask "Would you like to add a place customers can visit, such as a store or office?" Answer with "no". when setting up a new entry.
There are many reasons why companies would object to this requirement. As already mentioned, there has been a long discussion about whether hiding an address affects the local rankings of an entry. However, whether this is the case or not, entries with hidden address lists are missing pens / markings on the associated displays from Google compared to conventional displays. This is a clear disadvantage in terms of visual impact. The lack of a published address can also affect whether customers trust a business to be truly local to them, and this can have a detrimental effect on calls and leads.
However, according to Google, this business model should hide its address and delete its address from the GMB dashboard if one was previously published.
Setting a service area allowed
Older GMB entries had a feature that allowed you to set a radius that represents the service area. However, for new offers you will need to enter cities or postcodes to represent where your SAB will serve. You can enter up to 20 such points. The boundaries of such areas should be no more than two hours' drive from the company's location.
No study has ever found that what you enter as a service area affects your local rankings in any way. If you want to show them, this is for the information of the customers.
More than one listing is allowed for some models
If the SAB you market has multiple locations with separate staff that are about two hours apart, and has non-overlapping service areas, you can do more than one listing. I strongly recommend having a unique phone number for each office if possible.
Joy Hawkins did a commendable job of summarizing the confusion that historically surrounded this topic, as Google previously indicated that SABs could only have a single listing per state without applying this rule to franchises. The recent addition to the two hour context has made the guidelines better and clearer.
However, do not create multiple entries for the various services that the SAB offers. For example, an HVAC company might not have one list to repair heaters and another list to repair air conditioning. Google considers this a trademark only and it is only eligible for listing.
Other information for SABs
A few last things to know:
- Google defines the large, emerging field of ghost kitchens as SABs. Therefore, all of the above guidelines apply to this model.
- It is up to you whether you link from your SAB GMB listings to your website home page or to local landing pages on your website. The former can lead to an increase in rank due to homepages which normally have the highest page authority. The latter is possibly a better UX for your customers.
- Don't overlook the ability to create service menus in your GMB dashboard and list all the different offers from the company you are marketing.
- Beyond Google, you'll be happy to know that other local business listing platforms don't make listing SABs that complicated in terms of hidden addresses. Unless otherwise noted on a particular platform, you can display your address in your other quotes if you want and take the opportunity to prove to seekers that you are really close to them.
- Moz Local can help you get listed in directories where you can hide your address if you'd prefer to keep it private.
Organic marketing for SABs
No wonder every service company should strive to have the best website possible. Just like with a brick and mortar brand, you want a mobile-friendly, secure website that offers a great user experience, has a strong internal link structure, compelling consumer-centric content, and an ever-growing domain authority based on inbound links over time. You want to keep this site ranking as high as possible for as many important search terms as possible.
Where things get confusing for SABs in the organic marketing scenario, it usually relates to the concept of landing pages. This topic is constantly discussed in SEO forums. We'll break it down here.
It is a best practice for brick and mortar models to create a unique landing page for each of their physical stores. The aim of these sites is to serve a specific local audience with content specifically designed for their needs in relation to a specific business location. These pages can be ranked well organic and used as landing page URLs for the GMB records of a multi-location model. SABs with multiple physical offices can also create these page types as proof of locality even when customers are not visiting the offices.
The big question, however, is: what if the SAB serves a large area outside of its own physical location? Should location landing pages be created for the locales a SAB serves?
The answer is yes, you should consider creating landing pages for SAB service areas if you want to showcase something unique in each service city and if you want to limit coverage to a reasonable geographic area.
For example, a house painter in the San Francisco Bay Area could create some really nice, high-converting landing pages with houses he painted in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Mateo, and Mill Valley, even if they don't have offices on every place. Each page can focus on different completed projects, historical information about design styles in each city, happy customers in each city, tips on house maintenance based on each city's different microclimates, etc., and care.
The two things I would recommend to SAB marketers would be:
- Creation of duplicate or nearly duplicate landing pages for service areas because the services or customers do not have clear functions in relation to the different cities.
- Creating a large number of these pages to bring a SAB with a single location over a huge area like a dozen counties or even a state.
Take an approach that makes sense to the customer and focus on content that answers their questions and meets their needs. Build a strong internal link structure to these pages, try to get some good inbound links to them, and keep track of how they rank in the localized organic results for the keyword phrases you want.
Paid local marketing for SABs
Anyone who markets SABs knows that one of their major historical weaknesses has been due to Google's prejudice about proximity between users and businesses being unable to rank across its entire service space. Although there are separate rules for SABs, Google continues to treat these models too much like brick-and-mortar stores and usually focuses their ranking options on the specified (but hidden) locations.
If your local and organic efforts are not getting the visibility you need in your focus service area, you can pay with the Google Local Services Ads program to fill the gaps. If the business you market is in a qualifying industry and geographic region, you can run these ads for the types of jobs you want to do in the service area you want to cover and pay Google for the leads they send. SABs can also run Google Ads at the same time for additional paid coverage.
The downside of LSAs and Google Ads is that they require an investment (as opposed to "free" visibility of the local pack and organic results) and increase the local brand's reliance on Google for revenue. Make sure you work hard to make every Google lead a regular outside of Google's lead gene loop. The advantage of paid Google advertising is that you can pay for visibility that you can't earn any other way. If it creates positive ROI for the brand you're marketing, it's a worthwhile investment.
How To Do Local SEO For Home Business
Businesses in the service space may feel disadvantaged as Google requires most of them to hide their addresses. For home based businesses, the scenario is often the opposite: Many owners of these models want to make sure their address stays private and they don't have confused customers showing up at their door expecting public spaces.
But not all home-based businesses are the same in their needs and capabilities. When marketing a private label, ask the owner to choose which of these scenarios suits their model:
1. I look after customers personally at my home and want my address to be public
This can be a daycare center, a dog groomer, a horse boarding house, a private tutor, or a similar model. In this case, the company should invest in street-level signage and take full advantage of marketing as a stationary company. Nothing holds back this business model.
If the company is by appointment only, Google prefers that you don't set opening hours for your listing. Depending on the GMB categories you selected, you may be eligible for Google's booking features. You can also specify in the "Business Description" field that access is by appointment only.
2. I look after customers personally at my home and want my address to be private
Google doesn't have clear enough regulations for this particular model, but basically you'll be treating it like a SAB that has to hide its address. Google wants you to delete the address from the info area of the Google My Business dashboard. You can add a service area.
If privacy is a particular concern for a particular company, it's important to understand that errors or policy changes could result in Google becoming visible at some point if Google has a record of your home address.
Outside of Google, you can only list the company in directories that support hidden addresses. You probably won't be creating landing pages for this model, but you may want to focus the content of your website on hyper-local city and neighborhood terms to get as much organic visibility as possible in the area with no address.
3. I work from home and look after customers at their locations
This could be a plumber, accountant, housekeeper, or similar model where the company's home base is the owner's house, but who is out and about for work within a service radius. This model is like a typical SAB in that Google wants to hide the address and set a service area for the listing.
It is important to emphasize that consumer SABs are not allowed for the Google Maps product. Google's workaround is that they can be added to Google My Business by hiding their addresses. If you don't hide the address, there is a risk of the listing being suspended and removed.
Beyond Google, you can either display your address if you want to in your entries, or only in directories that support hidden addresses if data protection is important to you. Just like with other SABs, see the section above to see if your activities are suitable for developing high quality, engaging landing pages that represent different cities in your service area.
4. I work from home and do not service face-to-face clients
These waters got a bit muddy in 2020 as so many people worked from home and so many models replaced personal service with tele-appointments and other forms of distance communication.
In the past, virtual business models were strictly excluded from Google My Business listings. But so much has changed in the world because of the pandemic, so I went straight to a Google rep to see how they might have adjusted their stance on it.
I asked how a professional like a therapist who used to have an office and saw clients in person but now works from home and sees clients through telemedicine appointments should list themselves. With their model now virtual, are they no longer eligible for a GMB listing or can they still be listed as a home based company that would have been prior to COVID-19?
Here is the answer I received:
According to this representative, if the company has previously served customers in person and intends to resume in-person appointments, hopefully in the future, eligibility will not be affected. As you would any home business, list the company, following the directions outlined earlier in this section. It would be a good thing if Google updated their guidelines to reflect this timely information.
However, if the business is completely virtual and has never served customers in person, skip to the next section.
How To Do Local SEO For Virtual Businesses
Photo credit: Charles Rodstram
E-commerce-only companies, providers of exclusively digital goods and services as well as large, national or international manufacturers and providers without shop fronts fall under the heading of "virtual business". It is in this sector that questions most frequently arise from virtual brands frustrated by the limits of complete competition with local, physical brands for online visibility.
To avoid wasting time and resources on dead-end strategies, it is important to clearly outline what virtual brands can and cannot do in competition. We should also highlight gray areas.
Without personal service, the virtual brand you market cannot be used on a Google My Business listing. It is also not eligible without a physical address. You might be able to list the company on a few other directories, but in the Google world, you can't compete for local pack / finder / card rankings. Just cross it off the books.
You can compete for organic rankings with the content you post and the links you deserve to increase the page authority of that content.
You can compete for paid visibility in regions that matter to you through Google Ads with paid visibility.
There are some cases where a primarily virtual company could qualify for a GMB listing if it has an occupied headquarters that needs to be found not by customers but by employees such as B2B partners. For virtual brands with national or international consumers, however, such a listing does not help in any way when competing for national local pack rankings.
Localized organic visibility for virtual companies
Recently, Google employees have stated that 46% of searches are local in intent and that the user's location has a much greater impact on the search engine results displayed than other forms of personalization. This isn't good news for fully virtual businesses, and Google's heavy localization of their organic SERPs means that e-commerce and other all-digital brands compete.
In a recent Moz webinar, one participant asked how companies like CarInsurance.com can rank for searches like “auto insurance near me” when Google is really prioritizing local businesses and big brands. The reality is that virtual businesses need to build all the organic authorities they can and find a way to localize as much as possible certain content for the cities that are most important to the brand.
A common approach I do tilt A good idea is to develop thin, duplicate city-level landing pages for every city across the country. All over the internet, you see footers with links to dozens of city-level pages of very little value.
Brands competing for extremely stringent terms must continually invest in build authority to compete with a Farmers Insurance or Geico if they want to be viewed by Google as relevant to top-notch organic visibility of head conditions. And if possible, create landing pages for top cities with really great localized information, and sometimes tweak the optimization to achieve long-term fertile conditions.
This is not an easy task, and this is why so many virtual brands simply pay for placement instead of competing for organic rankings. But take courage. The company our webinar attendee asked about, CarInsurance.com, does very well with this landing page for Finding “Best Cheap Auto Insurance in San Francisco” when searching from my SF Bay locale. The Moz Pro On- Page Grader shows what a great effort has been made and that there is even a bit of room to get better with a few tweaks:
So, find your geographic market competitors and test them to see where to compete with the right mix of authority and winning search phrases. Local Market Analytics' Moz Pro Beta is specifically designed to help you understand what search terms to use for organic rankings in different geographic markets in the country:
Local Market Analytics breaks new ground by giving you a tiered view of your competitors in the regions you choose for the search phrases you need most to get your best content. Take part in the beta of this exciting product to help a virtual brand compete with physical local businesses.
There's a pretty straightforward local marketing path for any non-brick-and-mortar model, but I'm assuming 2021 will be a year that the traditional, well-trodden streets will continue to blur.
It's clear that more brick and mortar brands will take over digital distribution in the coming months to meet the demand for contactless fulfillment and become hybrids. Physical retailers implement sophisticated e-commerce solutions on their own websites and tiptoe with the "Available Nearby" filter in Google Shopping.
In the meantime, digital-only brands will continue to experiment with the Warby Parker approach of moving from full DTC sales to physical stores and qualifying them for local pack rankings. I would say that 2021 is less promising for such tests than the environment in previous years, as the pandemic obviously means that personal shopping must be restricted.
And also because of COVID-19, entrepreneurs looking for ways to eat from home in 2020 can see their first hard-won successes in the new year. You will control the entire range of stationary, SAB, virtual and hybrid models from your living room.
It is Google's responsibility to stay relevant by taking into account all of these changes and continuously reassessing whether their policies reflect current commercial realities or need new updates. Be on the lookout for new opportunities that may arise from policy changes and new Google features over the next few months.
For brands and their marketers, the task is Identify the easy, medium, and hard local and organic gains based on the business model and then Supplement with paid inclusion if no profits can be made in a different way.
Haben Sie Probleme, Ihre Gewinne zu finden? Wenden Sie sich an Moz, um zu erfahren, wie unsere SEO-Software helfen kann. Wir wünschen Ihnen viel Glück für das kommende Jahr!