Did you know that Google could decide how much money your local business will make this year? Scary, isn't it?
Every day, the Google algorithm is making decisions that can have catastrophic implications not just for online businesses, but also for many local businesses. It can decide to block the flow of new customers to your business anytime it wants.
And the funny thing is, most businesses don't even realize what's happened. Everything can be purring along nicely, new sales coming in and the future looking bright, but then it happens. Your phone stops ringing, email inquiries slow to a trickle, and the visitor stats on your website drop off a cliff.
You are stunned. You feel as though Google just looked at your web presence, decided in a millisecond to kill your dreams, then swiftly executed your business. No trial. No chance to plead your case. Guilty. And the punishment is that you will not appear on the first page of search results for a very long time.
Are you at risk of getting killed by Google?
To avoid a severe Google kicking, all you need to do is avoid naughty "black hat" SEO techniques, right? The answer to that is yes ... and no.
You see, Google regularly updates its local SEO algorithm. So even if you're flying today, you may crash and burn tomorrow – without doing a single thing different.
To complicate things further, Google uses a different algorithm for deciding the order of the local three-pack. So, to improve your rankings in the local pack and the organic results, you need to be aware of both sets of guidelines.
Luckily for local business owners, although the local search algorithm is constantly changing, there are a few well-known digital sins to avoid.
Warning! Do the following only if you are fond of pain and disaster:
1. Try to fool Google by using a fake business address.
It's well known that having a business address in your target geographical area is a binary ranking factor for the Google local pack. The closer to the centroid, the better. If you have a central address, then you get a shot at the top three results. Without one, you can forget it.
So, what are you supposed to do if your business is not located in the geographical area you want to target? The best long-term option is to rent an office in your target city and operate from there. Alternatively, if you run a home-based business, move house!
You may be thinking that sounds like a drastic solution. And I agree. But it is also a safe solution.
Many business owners choose instead to create a fake business address or to rent a virtual office. This strategy can work, as evidenced by the multitude of top-ranking businesses using fake addresses. But what you do not see is all those businesses that have disappeared from the search results. Sometimes they are discovered by the Google algorithm, often reported by a competitor. Either way, they disappear from the first page and become as good as invisible to their potential clients online.
2. Choose the incorrect primary business category for your Google My Business profile.
This sin is a common and very basic mistake. It's also why a lot of businesses will never enjoy the glory of a top-three position in the local search pack. It's the local SEO equivalent of driving at night with no lights: Even if you do everything else correctly, you are probably going to have an accident. So choose your category carefully!
Your primary business category should describe exactly what you are. The Google guidelines are clear and non-negotiable. You are free to add more categories, but limit your choices to those categories that describe your core business activities.
You will never suffer the pain of falling out of the top spots if you choose the wrong business category. You will simply never get there in the first place!
3. Add a couple of keywords to your GMB business name.
We have all probably heard someone say something along the lines of "when I go, I hope I go quick" when referring to our inevitable departure from this mortal realm. If you share that view, this one's for you: Simply add a few keywords to your GMB business name.
You can add your location or, if you prefer, your main target keyword. Or both. This black hat technique is almost guaranteed to give you an instant rankings boost. I have seen businesses jump from sixth position to second or first place overnight. If you would like to try your hand at playing Russian roulette for money but hate the sight of blood, this is the next best thing. If, as is more likely, Google discovers your sin, your business will fall faster than you can say, "Why have I stopped getting emails and phone calls?"
Don't do it. It is dangerous.
So, are you feeling a little nervous? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you are currently doing any of the above, then your fear is warranted.
And there's more. In addition to these three negative ranking factors, there are many more pitfalls waiting if you choose to ignore the guidelines set out by Google. It really is worth your time to become aware of them so you can avoid the most common ranking mistakes.
Keep it clean.
You may be wondering what a local business owner can do to succeed at local SEO while avoiding punishment. The good news is that you can do a lot.
Set up your website, Google My Business, citations and the rest of your web presence sticking as closely as possible to the Google guidelines.
Implement a solid review strategy to boost your rankings and your trust factor.
Develop your social media presence.
Monitor your citation consistency and create new ones.
Monitor your reputation and respond professionally to reviews and feedback.
Resolve customer complaints before they become negative reviews.
Provide informative and entertaining content for your visitors.
Make sure you deliver a great service to your clients.
You can use this actionable guide to help you implement a comprehensive local SEO strategy.
Local search can help your business to thrive.
We all make mistakes now and then, so it's probably best to avoid taking additional risks that are guaranteed to attract a giant Google smackdown.
A profitable local business is a long-term project. The local search results are a 24/7 source of new leads and sales. But you need to be in it to win it.