Ranking factors are often discussed, but systems are not as much. The visibility of your business depends on how the ranking factors are skewed in your favor. However, you can’t get more factors in your favor without systems to help you learn as they go. You’ll feel like a magician trying to learn a new trick in real-time in front of an audience.
You probably spend the majority of your time measuring and troubleshooting, regardless of whether you do local SEO yourself or for clients. These are essential, but they’re not nearly as useful without two systems that most people don’t develop:
- There are many ways to create or collect internal resources that you don’t need to rely on third parties for, including real-life examples. I wrote about it in 2017.
- There are many ways to test ideas without destroying your business. This is what I am referring to today.
You don’t have to be “scientific” to be successful. It’s enough to have the ability to get a gut feeling and then see what happens when it is implemented. You can track your progress in Search Console or Analytics by writing down some notes.
How can you test your local SEO efforts? First, you need to decide which business or entity you want to play with. These are the possible labs where you might set up your experiment(s).
- Your business. This is your main or sole website, your primary and only GMB page, as well as your only source of income. If you are a professional local SEO, this is more likely to be practical and wise than if it’s your employer of 17 people. I only do something that has a high chance of failure if it’s my business or my personal lab chimp. I don’t tell clients about the clinical trial unless it is a high-risk endeavor.
- A “practitioner” in your business or practice. This person could be the junior attorney, semi-retired doctor or real-estate agent who has a gamblin’ streak.
- An outdated or non-operational business location. You may not be concerned if it shows up in local search results.
- A business that you once owned or managed but is no longer in operation. It may not have a website, a GMB page or citations but it can still be found online to some degree.
- A “lab-chimp” client or volunteer. They should be willing to help and not too sedated. It’s important to be clear about what you know, how you don’t know, the things you want to learn, and what you expect to happen. This is the most well-known example in the local SEO world, as Barbara Oliver Jewelry, Professor Maps’ client. (Several of my clients are also down with the experiments.
- A friend, family member or colleague may have a problem and you might be able to help them. You might be the last resort or maybe the business has never had SEO work done. In either case, there is probably nothing to lose. Friends and family may already trust you and be aware of what you’re up to. If you are dealing with a “stranger”, such as someone who has posted on a forum or other means of communication, you can say something like “This is just my hunch and I’m not sure this will work but have you tried such and-such?”
- Fake businesses. Create a separate website and a GMB Page that is not connected to your Google account. Here’s one of my favorites.
- A side business. Perhaps it’s for a hobby that you used to monetize or that you are interested in. No matter what results you have seen, the stakes can be very low.
The second thing that you need to decide is what type of experiment you will do on the business. What are you able to test?
These are the Petri dishes, microscopes and beakers you have in your lab.
- You don’t care about a page on your website. It doesn’t matter if the SEO strategy you try doesn’t work or tells you much. If it does then the next experiment might involve a page that you consider to be a high priority. A bump in visibility can mean more loot in a pirate ship.
- A test site: one that you semi-retire or build from scratch or buy from someone else. It may also include a backlinks profile (impressive, nauseating), which can give you more opportunities to experiment.
- A landing site for a location that’s not performing, if your multi-location business is involved.
- A GMB page for a practitioner in your business or practice or for a department within it. It’s possible for different departments or practitioners to have their own GMB pages. Sometimes it’s a good idea to create those pages.
- A GMB page for a site that is underperforming. Even if the location used to perform well but has fallen, the results of your experiment do not need to be shocking to prove that the results are worth your time in terms of visibility, profit, or insight.
- A suspended GMB webpage. You can make any changes you want to make after or before your page (or access there) is restored. The worst thing that could happen is that you are suspended for a long time longer because there is another issue.
- A GMB Page for a Business you know for a fact closes. If the page isn’t owner-verified, there’s a higher likelihood they will be approved.
- Local citations. With little to no consequences, you can lard the business name, other fields, and keywords, make duplicate listings, get reviews from questionable sources and point cheap-o-paid links to the listings. (Except for Yelp.
- A separate Google account with the username. This account can be used to submit Google Maps antispam edits and write reviews. You can also create experimental GMB pages, contact GMB Support, and more. It’s a nom de plume.
- Rank tracking software, such as Whitespark or Local Falcon. These tools can be used to monitor the experiments you do on your site or to make comparisons with your competitors. These tools allow you to set-up tests that would otherwise be difficult. Here’s an example.
- A fictional search phrase. Trying to rank for it by making up a word or a very distinct phrase and seeing how much effort was put into it can tell you a lot. It is also low-risk because Google doesn’t know anything regarding your neologism. Also, your experiment won’t require any major changes. The phrase does not have to be absurd. It could be trademarked or another proprietary term.
- Volunteers who are able to perform simple actions such as making “suggest an update” edits on Google Maps or writing reviews, posting photos, checking out search results, or using a particular device or browser. You don’t need to do too many of these to get your idea out there.
What ideas or moves should I test? Darren Shaw is the GOAT in setting up and documenting testing. Check out his Slideshare and blog posts. These should give you plenty to think about.
These are just a few of the experiments I have done over the years.
- What is the observable effect of a great backlink?
- How does Google handle a Google review about one’s business?
- How easy can I become an “Elite” Yelp Reviewer?
- How much effort is it to get a “one box” result?
- Google is likely to remove or not remove GMB pages from uninhabited addresses.
- Can you get Google to partially fix a spammy GMB Name if Google rejects your corrective edits?
- If you copy and paste reviews from Yelp or Google into your website, will they be filtered?
- Google approves “suggest an Edit” reports on competitors’ Maps spam very often, even though you have done everything possible.
- What happens if Moz Local is used and then cancelled?
- How can reviews be transferred from one local listing (GMB, Yelp) into another?
…plus many other quick-n-dirty experiments that I’ve blogged about, many more that I haven’t covered in a dedicated post, and even more that I haven’t even written about. I am a doodler and recommend that you also doodle. Local SEO is more time-consuming than you might think. But some questions have answers you can Zatoichi find your way to.
Are there any other types of businesses or entities that you could try?
What about “Petri dishes” in that particular business?
Do you have any great tests that you would like to share?