Day 2 of our Local Search Summit was filled with lessons in link building, GMB suspensions, technical SEO, local services ads, email marketing, and more. Today we are shining a spotlight on the technical side of location pages, local search for hotels, and how you can build relevance for your business. We did not scrimp on any of the details here! Enjoy all the gems from just a few of today’s spectacular presentations. You can also catch up on Day 1 here or fast forward to Day 3.
#WLSS Day 2 Talk Showcase:
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Identifying Technical Issues on Location Pages at Scale Without Going Crazy
This presentation is most definitely geared toward the more technical-savvy as well as enterprise and multi-location businesses, but there are a lot of gems for everyone and you definitely want to take some time to dive into this topic.
We know location pages are important and many enterprise businesses have terrible location pages (sad, but true). Analyzing location pages at scale is hard! So how do we analyze these pages at scale without going crazy? Follow Rachel’s three step process to success:
- Perform a Technical Audit to Diagnose Common Problems
- Identify Which Location Pages Need Extra Love
- Monitor Ongoing Performance
Location pages are templated, so if you uncover a technical issue on one page, it’s likely affecting other pages too.
Step 1 – Technical Audit
Start by running a full site crawl, using (you guessed it!) DeepCrawl. Other options include Screaming Frog or SiteBulb. You’ll want to include:
- Core Web Vitals
- City, State extraction* (maybe)
*You may have your city or state name in your URL, title or header – if you do, you’re fine. If you don’t, you’ll need to use a Regex Extraction (or XPath) to pull in the city and state information.
Now that you have that, run your crawl and perform the technical audit.
Common Issues for Enterprise Locations
#1. Location Pages Don’t Exist – There’s no individual static URLs for each location, instead one main location page that has all the information for all the locations. This is a terrible user experience – they click to your GMB profile only to be sent to a landing page where ALL the information is stored. Plus it’s terrible for bots too.
#2. Location Pages Aren’t Discoverable – They exist, but no one can find them. If they are not added to your sitemap, that means Google is relying on other sources like backlinks, internal links, and GMB to find your location pages.
User input is needed on the site to populate with the location pages. For example, you’re required to put in your postal/zip code in order for the page to appear. This is a fine experience if there are other ways to access the pages, but more often than not, entering your location is the only way to get to the pages. And bots are not inputting that data!
#3. No Internal Links to Location Pages
In the example above, there are over 4,506 location pages but only 27 of them have links. That’s not great for the discoverability of those pages. Make sure you have internal linking to your location pages.
#4. Duplicate Versions of Location Pages
You’ll see pages with a trailing slash and without a trailing slash; title case and lower case; index-able parameters… most of these things can be fixed by simply having proper canonical tags on the site.
#5 Internal Links to Non-Canonical URL
Sometimes, the canonical tags will be set up correctly but all the internal links will be to the non-canonical URL.
- Internal links: www.example.com/location/TX/Dallas/
- Canonical URL: www.example.com/location/tx/dallas/
Make sure you’re always linking to the canonical version of the URL.
#6. GMB Profiles Not Linking to the Correct Page
While this seems really simplistic, your GMB profile needs to link to its specific location page, not the main location page or homepage, and please don’t link to a 404 page.
#7. Missing or Invalid Schema
Every single page should have local business markup. If you have reviews or breadcrumbs or FAQs, you should put that schema on the page too. You can check the validity of your data in the Rich Results tool or in Google Search Console.
#8. Missing/Poor Titles, Meta Descriptions, and Headers
We see missing titles or titles that only have the brand name all the time. The Home Depot is an example of a really good title. It has the brand name, location name, relevant keywords, and location with city, state and zip code. It’s critical to have all these identifying information elements in your titles.
H1s (main header) often will have the brand name, but it should be what is relevant to the page. For a location page, your H1 should include the location name.
- Check for additional technical issues that are specific to your website.
- Check for common content related issues with the location pages:
- Missing address, phone number, description, reviews, linking out to other pages? Need more help? Join the Summit tomorrow for Amanda Jordan’s location page tips.
Step 2 – Identify Which Location Pages Need Extra Love
Since some pages will need extra love, they are extra sad pages. If you go into Google Search Console and sort your location pages by clicks highest to lowest, what you’ll likely find is your highest population cities are the ones with the most clicks. This is indicative of population and not actually performance.
To identify which location pages actually need the extra love, we’re going to have to do some math.
Start By Collecting Data
- You can use the United States Census Bureau, Statistics Canada, or Office for National Statistics.
- Google Search Console (GSC) Data – Collect clicks and impressions for each of your location pages for at least 6 months (or more depending on the seasonality of your business). To do this, Rachel uses Google’s API (for clients with over 10,000 locations) but other people like Supermetrics as well. If you don’t have a ton of locations, you could do a raw export from GSC.
- Crawl Data Export for Locations Pages – Grab the data for your location pages from the full crawl you did in Step 1 and get the URL, city and state information.
Do The Math
#1. Create a new spreadsheet and pull in your GSC data: landing page URL, Clicks, and Impressions.
#2. Create a second tab and pull in your crawl data – Crawl URLs and City + State Data
#3. Data Manipulation – You want to end up with your city and state name side by side (Column G in the image below). You want the full state/province name in your spreadsheet, so if you have an abbreviated code you will want to change that to the full name (for example, MA to Maryland).
#4. Go back to your GSC tab and use the Vlookup function to pull the City + State data from the crawl data tab into your GSC tab.
#5. (Hardest math step here) Create a distribution model based on population size, then you will assign a multiplier value to each bucket. The goal of the multiplier is to multiply the clicks and impressions to equalize things across the board so that you can identify performance and not population.
#6. Now create a new tab and pull in all the census data with the city, state, and population. You may need to clean up some of this information, so make sure you review it. Sometimes census data will add “village” after a city name and that can make your data a little messy. Sort population by highest to lowest. Next, manually add your Bucket and the multiplier values from your distribution model.
#7. Take the Bucket and Multiplier data and pull it into your GSC data tab.
***Your location pages are not always going to align with Census Data, you are going to have to do some manual cleanup. We’re looking for trends here, not perfection – this step can make you a bit crazy, so know when to stop.
#8. Create a new row for Adjusted Clicks = Clicks X Multiplier. You can also do this for impressions if you want to have adjusted impressions data.
What Have You Discovered?
- Worst performing locations by adjusted clicks.
- Possibly a few less common technical issues come up.
Why not ask some questions to drill down further into your analysis.
- Is there additional competition in the regions where performance is worse? If so, what are they doing to outperform you?
- What additional SEO efforts can you put toward regions/locations? Content? Links?
- What non-SEO marketing resources can you apply to those under performing locations and regions?
Step 3 – Monitor Ongoing Performance
- Schedule Recurring Crawls – Weekly, fortnightly and monthly will allow you to monitor for new technical issues. If you aren’t scheduling crawls, how will you know when new issues come up?
- Monitor for Technical Issues – If you just have the crawls running and aren’t analyzing the data what’s the point?! Set time aside for this.
- Set Up Performance Monitoring – You can use Google Data Studio to pull your adjusted clicks and impressions data for population and see it over time.
- You can connect your Monthly Google Search Console data into your Multiplier Google Sheet and have blended data in Google Data Studio (GDS). Doing this allows you to generate some really cool visualizations over time. You can also pull in technical monitoring into GDS as well.
Can Hotels Still Win in Local Search?
Local search for hotels is completely different from other industries! When it comes to the local landscape for Hotels, ranking for “Hotel + Location” has always been tough. By its very nature, “hotel” is a competitive search term. But Google made it more difficult in 2018:
- There was a major change to the intent behind the query “Hotel + Location” so that other traveler sites/directories (OTAs), like hotels.com or TripAdvisor, always match the query, and
- They hyper localized the query for local search.
For hotels to succeed they need to interpret the user at the travel research stage of their journey. The two areas that hotels should focus on to win in local are:
- Organic: Optimize for “Hotel + Location” for GMB , but focus on creating internal resources, accommodations, services and your location.
- Google My Business: Unfortunately hotels have drastically different features compared to other industries and suppressed features within the dashboard (no Google Posts). While there is little available to optimize on GMB, it is still possible. The idea is to have your GMB listing piggyback off your organic work.
Optimize for “Hotels + Location” for local and the hotel finder. Shift the internal focus to:
- Leisure facilities,
- Food/Beverage facilities,
- Local content, and
- Brand queries.
All of these areas can be ranked and are not subject to the same hyper local electric fence as hotel queries! Where it’s very difficult to rank for “Hotel + Location”, you can still rank for other opportunities and optimize for what sets you apart.
- Look at all your features and leverage them. Rooms: balcony, sea view, etc. Figure out these features and figure out what CAN they be used for.
- Focus on long tail queries leading to shorter broader queries.
Here’s an example of a hotel in Phuket that couldn’t rank anymore in 2018 (after queries update) for “Hotel + Location”, but they were able to rank for their bedrooms and the types of accommodations available.
- What leisure facilities does the property offer and can they be leveraged for search + location?
- If you don’t have your own onsite leisure facility, you can leverage partnerships that you have locally whether that’s a deal with a spa, offsite options, wellness packages, etc. Use these to your advantage to rank.
- Optimize leisure facilities and packages and work on supporting content for these top line internal pages.
- If you have a leisure facility that is open to the public, you can have a listing for your spa nested within your main GMB listing and those nested listings will unlock more available features for you to use. For leisure facilities, there’s a traditional local pack instead of the hotel finder, which means 3 results instead of 7.
Weddings & Events
- Events make up a very large chunk of revenue for properties
- Get creative with your supporting content
- Create pages, lists, and information if you have a destination location, such as:
- Can I get married in this country?
- How do I do get married in this country?
- What information do I need?
- You want to get right in between your customers’ purchasing journey. The goal is for you to provide them with all of the information so they start trusting you even before they have looked at your property and the facilities you offer.
- You can really go to town with weddings, no matter the location! Yes there’s a lot of competition but it’s also a big market.
- Speak with wedding planners and conference coordinators about types of weddings, size and style to create these pages and add FAQ.
Food and Beverage
- If your food and beverage business is open to the public, you can make a separate GMB listing! Optimize these listings.
- Optimize for location and offerings:
- Types of cuisine
- The chef
- Unique location
- There are a lot of opportunities for supporting content, especially if your property is in a major tourist destination.
- Don’t be afraid to include competitors if it means a feature snippet, for example: “10 best coffee shops in [location]” lists. While the tourist may or may not visit you, you are putting yourself in their direction of travel and you have a good chance of gaining a new customer!
Local Supporting Content
- Get buy in – For in-house marketing teams, get buy in with the CEO/marketing manager to build trust. This is a crucial part of getting traffic back from OTAs.
- Location – Get into their purchasing funnel by being a traveller’s information source. However, OTAs are catching on! For example, TripAdvisor has “Where’s the best beach?” posts, and Hotels.com is using location subdomains with local content.
- Things to do – People travel to an area for a variety of reasons – be their information source for things to do in your location. Also, travellers come for a variety of reasons – ask WHY they are coming to you and start providing this information.
- Alternative travellers – COVID was a catalyst for this type of material. Medical tourism is big business and patients need long stay options. Medical tourism hasn’t dropped off during COVID-19. It seems to be paying off and working well for these properties in large cities.
- Be the Convincer
- Be the brand that loves your area and will guide your guests through their stay
- If a traveller is not staying (price range is out of their budget), they may still visit your facilities since you crossed their purchasing journey.
- Be the Convincer
- Be Creative
- Understand potential and current customers, talk to customers, and invest in marketing (reach, etc).
- Become the brand that opens up the user to new experiences
- Lists are valuable Featured Snippet opportunities as well as People Also Ask Snippets
- A lot of companies (B2B, etc) have tried this but hotels haven’t spent a lot of time going after these feature snippets.
- They work well enough (branding) that it can expand from city, to state, province, to entire country (start capturing in that funnel from a whole range).
- Local packs for instagrammable hotels… You’d be surprised how much traffic this drives!
- There are a lot of interesting queries out there to take advantage of!
- It’s not over yet and we are all going to be feeling the effects for years to come.
- Focus on local packages and how to attract more local customers. Double down on local customers (in the city? Promote theater packages, etc.)
- In customer feedback, guests share they want to be reassured of cleanliness and safety.
- Create a COVID page on the website that states things such as: sanitizers in use, cleanliness routines, social distancing from other guests (how does it work), information about allergies in regards to specific chemicals, notices about use of industrial chemicals and their scents, etc. Bottom line: You need to reassure your guests and especially international travellers after COVID-19 lessens.
- Advertise complimentary COVID related things, such as temperature checks at front desk, free mask, etc.
- Build this out by thinking about:
- What is available to you?
- Where are you located?
- If you are located in the countryside, many are looking for staycations (to social distance, be in nature, get away from the city); in the UK they have seen a huge increase in the desire to “get away” within your own area.
- Re-purpose your packages. Make them work for residents nearby or in the same city.
Get Your Hotels Listing Working for You
Google has 9 billion reasons not to allow hotels full access to Google My Business features that other businesses have access to!
What Can You Do?
Benefit Your GMB
Make sure your hotel listing benefits from your website content and supporting local content.
- Incorporate Schema Markup to:
- Supporting Content
- Simple Hotels structured Data (NAP).
- Include embedded map, you don’t want them to leave your site to go view another property.
Set Your Location
- Guests love moving pins with hotels and resorts
- Geo coordinates breaks structured data, so don’t use them. Instead use HasMaps and direct CID.
- Set each location manually! You want Google to accurately track each person that enters your hotels/facilities. By setting the location properly, 9 times out of 10 Google will detect a customer in the location and this can trigger a review prompt from Google.
- Using the “Are you here?” Maps feature, get employees to train Google the hotel/facilities boundaries to help them understand what the parameter and coordinates are for more accurate results. You need to do this if your facilities are a “funky shape”; Google may not know this area is also apart of your facility (restaurant) and that person will never get a review prompt.
- Dropping a pin isn’t enough!
- Keep your attributes updated and correct – guests are terrible at messing with attributes; Google also updates this very regularly.
- Meh… While this feature doesn’t seem to have any influence, add and use it but don’t worry about investing too much time and effort into it.
- Add great images that are not on your site.
- Provide your OTAs with their own separate images – never use one set across all entities, you want the user to explore your hotel from your perspective.
- If you don’t add images, you’ll end up getting bad API scrapped images.
- Regularly check customer uploaded images – report when necessary.
- Brand Your Images. While you don’t get access to Google Posts, you can get creative and brand your images. GMB has begun removing images with special offers on them, so stick with just your branding.
- Videos kind of work and kind of don’t work, so they aren’t amazing. But think about this way: if you have 5-6 videos and the competition doesn’t, it will set you apart and give you edge. If you have videos available, add them.
Nest Your Locations
- Your hotel is the location and destination
- Your location should be nested within the hotel, not another building.
- Your facilities (restaurants, spa, bar, etc.) can have the Posts, Events and Offers for their GMB listing. Put your hotel offers when and where it’s applicable.
Go It Alone
- Books from new customer – up 40%
- Higher than paid search ads – No OTA
- Bookings from Google
- 300% stronger return on ads spend than non-branded
- Feasible for large group (pain in the process)
Building Relevance in Local Search
The 3 pillars of local search are:
Proximity is your location that is the searcher’s location or location-modified searches (e.g. restaurants in New York). This proximity has to exist for local search to happen. Without proximity there is no local search.
Prominence is how popular something is. When you think of ranking in web search, this is what we’re talking about. Same thing in local search, is this the most popular place to get sushi? Is this the best doctor that I can go to? Is this the best SEO I can find? All those signals that we make best, that’s what we are thinking about for prominence.
Relevance is the content that drives the search terms inside the context of prominence and proximity.
Relevance is the thing that we can control the most. Text content drives query matches – words matter. Without query matches the business won’t rank. When we think about proximity, you can’t control where the searcher is. You can change your location, but that’s very difficult. Prominence, if you’re a new business starting out, you really can’t compete in terms of prominence with other existing businesses – for example you’re a new doctor’s office, you put out a content piece, you won’t be able to compete with Mayo Clinic in terms of prominence. But you can drive relevance.
Content sources for relevance signals:
- Google listing basic info title, category
- Website text content – title tags, headings, anchor
- Google listing enhanced info, reviews, posts
Title tags: THE on-page signal
When you’re thinking about how much content you have on the page, how long the page should be, frequency of the keyword. Your title tags matter more than all of this stuff combined.
You can make a one word change in your title tag and get that page to rank for that word without changing any content.
Title Tag Length
Given that they are so important, there’s lots of dogma out there in the industry, the so-called “optimal” title tag length based on viewable titles on desktop web search (50-60 characters), and you have tools out there telling you are doing it wrong if your title tags are too long.
Mobile Title Tags Break This Title Tag Rule
When you look at mobile title tags they’re huge. Mobile results show longer titles, 3+ lines of text with 140+ characters. It just makes sense to think about how your customers and Google interact with your title tags.
- Off-screen text viable – text in title tag can be found in search, even if it’s never displayed.
- Interior local signals matter – localities within the border of your cities increase search visibility.
Title Tag Experiment
Are we actually getting value out of every word in the title tag? How do we find out? Joel ran an experiment to find the relevance of full length title tags.
- Take a unique string that you cannot find in search results
- Take long title tags – 200+ length
- Append titles – add that unique string to the back of it.
- Find string in search results.
They did this with thousands of pages and their unique string/term showed up. In the past, it didn’t exist on Google, but now it does. It’s now returning the most prominent page for that search, but it’s really the relevance that brought it up. This means that you don’t have to fear that ellipsis (…) when it comes to your title tags. Even if you have the dot dot dot, even if you have some SEO tool from some big company that tells you that you shouldn’t have long title tags – that ellipsis is working for you! Everything behind that ellipsis is driving relevance in search.
How can we use this information to improve our search on Google?
Use localities to easily add content. A locality is taking a zip/postal code and pinging to the Google Places API and they return a structured result that includes a localities field. Localities are the areas that are included within the zip/postal code. Take the localities for your business zip/postal code location and shove them into your title tags.
Joel and his team searched all localities within a zip/postal code and then added them to the end of existing title tags. They took information that was already known (Google knows you are already in this area based on your zip/postal code), so they’re not telling Google any additional or new information but rather doubling down on the information Google already has. Giving Google a clear signal that yes, we really are here!
The team found that: the website appeared for 15% more keywords than previously, meaning they increased their visibility. Additionally, website rank increased 2 positions for current location for current web pages and terms they are already trying to rank. That’s relevance driving prominence. They were able to display more relevance, using preexisting prominence signals and Google is saying, “Hey we should show these pages because they are more relevant to the current search terms.”
Filling title tags with locations from the Maps resulted in:
- Expanded reach
- More terms being seen for the website
- An uplift in ranking for existing terms
Justifications On Google Search
A Justification is content highlighted in search = a feature at Google. Justifications are when you have a search term and Google highlights the words, for example in a meta description, that match the search terms. In search results, these display a “justification” to explain to the searcher why a particular result is chosen, highlighting the user’s search query.
Justifications on Google Listings
- Website mention
- Post content highlight
- Reviews snippet quote
- Website Mention: You can see that Google has made a direct connection with the website content (in the above example, for “neck pain”) to show you the listing. There’s a direct connection and Google is using the relevance from the website to connect it with a listing to show it to a searcher.
- Review Snippet: In the example above, they’re showing a review snippet (a “franken-snippet” – internal Google lingo for showing multiple reviews in a search result) that talk about the search query. You have some influence over this, when you ask for reviews you can say, “I would love to hear about your experience with X (i.e. back pain, neck pain) and if you could share that on any review platform. Not only do you see it in the review, Google has to connect that information from the review back to your website. We are going to justify it with a review but it’s also backed by content on the website.
- Google Post: Google is showing the content of the Post in search results – Recently we’ve seen articles that say Posts don’t help ranking – look the content is indexed and Google shows justification. You have complete control of that Google content and that Post content is driving relevance in search.
Relevance to search largely under your control:
- Website – Google favours content from the homepage and contact pages. Really understand that Google will be using title tags and content from your homepage and contact page when they display justifications from your website in search results.
- Posts – The content is not from the last 7 days. Those posts that you did 3 months ago, 6 months ago, 9 months ago will still drive relevance in search through justifications.
- Reviews – They are usually positive, but they are not recent, so again we think stale reviews don’t work for us, but that’s not true. If you can get more people talking about the service you’re trying to drive, you are going to have a greater chance of Google using this as a relevance signal to point out your listing to searchers.
Small Changes Drive Success – Remember:
- Off-screen text is viable even if the text is never displayed it’s still driving search results – that ellipsis is A-OK!
- Interior local signals matter, include localities within the border of your cities to increase search visibility.
- On-site justifies the local content that you’re seeing in Google search. Website signals also go into the review signals and Post signals. Justifications in local search rely heavily on title tags in your homepage and your contact page.