The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Creating the right content for your website needs serious planning and development. In an increasingly competitive world, it’s not enough that your audience loves it — Google has to love it too!
This article will show you how to create, optimize, and promote cornerstone content that drives traffic to your website and eventually converts visitors into loyal customers.
What exactly is cornerstone content?
The dictionary describes “cornerstone” as something essential, indispensable, basic, or the main foundation upon which something is constructed.
Cornerstone content, therefore, is the most important part of your website. It refers to a high-value piece of content that aims to increase traffic and brand awareness by showing what your business can offer.
Letting potential customers know what you’re all about will help define your brand and reflect your values. As well as creating a positive first impression, cornerstone content tells Google what your website wants to share.
Cornerstone content is not designed to convert visitors right away. The main aim is to pique their interest so that they’ll remember you and return when they actually need your services.
Cornerstone content is sometimes called “evergreen content”, which provides a clue to the type of articles that work best. As well as responding to trends, you should choose subjects that people consistently search for. If you’re a telecommunications company, for example, you could include a piece that explains some of the terminology (“What is VoIP?”) or how your products work (“The ultimate guide to video conferencing”).
The benefits of great cornerstone content
Cornerstone content is a hugely important tool in raising brand awareness, both through content itself and the way it’s optimized. It’s a golden chance to get your core message across to your target audience.
Done right, it will help you achieve a high ranking on the SERPs, which will drive all that lovely relevant traffic to your site. Remember that 75% of people don’t look beyond the first results page!
Cornerstone content gives you the opportunity to build natural links: from other pages on your website, from your social media channels, and from external sources who think your content is worth linking to. It’s a great way to position your business as an authority in your industry, which increases trust in your brand. And it also feeds your funnel, by attracting prospects who can be tracked and nurtured for optimum conversion rates.
Evergreen content can be used across all marketing channels to strengthen your brand identity — and it can even be repurposed into different formats to keep the website fresh.
If you focus your efforts on getting cornerstone content right, you’ll create something that continues to drive value for your business.
How to create great cornerstone content
Now we’ll show you how to create informative, engaging content and promote it to your target audience.
Do your research
Getting to know your customers and understanding their buyer persona is a crucial aspect of marketing. If you know who you’re aiming at, you’ll have a better idea of what to write about.
You need to ensure that your cornerstone piece is relevant, and the best way to do that is to communicate with your audience. Talk to existing customers, carry out surveys, and then analyze the data.
You’ll also need to find out what people are searching for online. Ideally, you’re looking for a subject that’s commonly searched for but doesn’t yield many results. When you’re aiming to move up the SERP rankings, the content you provide must be better than what’s already out there.
Ask yourself: what are the pain points faced by the target audience? What questions are they asking, and why aren’t they already being answered? The idea is to spot a problem that your business can help with — maybe using specialist knowledge or data to provide a unique solution.
Once you’ve gathered the data you need, hang on to it! You’ll want to access it in the future to see how your target audience has evolved and how you can adapt. Using Platform as a Service (PaaS) storage solutions gives you a secure and efficient way to keep data (and content pieces) all in one handy place.
Plan your content
Cornerstone content usually takes the form of an in-depth article, such as “Everything you need to start selling online” or “Cloud computing: the complete guide”. While this is the most popular way to communicate brand values, there’s no law that says you have to stick with one type of content.
For example, you could consider posting a how-to guide with step-by-step instructions or a video tutorial. A searchable knowledge base could also prove helpful for visitors, while access to a free tool would definitely help them feel positive about you.
When you’ve chosen the type of content you want to produce, think about how long it will take and the costs involved. Decide if you’re going to keep it in-house or outsource the work, or a mixture of both.
Remember that previous content can be repurposed for another format or channel. This is a good way to stay on-budget, as you don’t have to pay for a whole new article. A clever writer can transform existing content into something that feels fresh and new, even if it covers the same ground.
Write your masterpiece
Cornerstone content should be well-planned and superbly-written, making sure the reader is interested, informed, and inspired. It must be relevant and genuinely helpful, not only solving the customer’s problem but making them want to learn more about you.
Accuracy is also crucial, as the reputation of your brand is at stake. Content should sound suitably authoritative, perhaps including links from other expert sources—this will also help your search engine rankings, as trustworthy websites tend to rank highly.
Keywords should be built into the natural flow of the writing, avoiding keyword-stuffing. Taking advantage of software like Hemingway or Grammarly is a great way to check that your writing is easy to read and informative.
And the piece should obviously deliver on what the headline or intro promises — an article called “What exactly is machine learning?” should explain the terminology and provide easily-understandable examples.
You should also avoid being too pushy. Although you’re trying to attract visitors, cornerstone content isn’t about aggressive sales tactics. A subtle approach will plant the seed in a potential customer’s mind while addressing their query in a trustworthy way.
Visual appeal is just as important as written content, so be sure to include attractive images and graphics to keep the reader engaged. Ideally, you need the whole piece to be so impressive that readers want to share it, or even link to it in their own content.
Optimize your content
You’ve created some outstanding cornerstone content, so now you need to ensure it’s fully optimized for maximum hits. It goes without saying that your website should be easy to access and navigate on any device, paying particular attention to mobile optimization.
Your primary keyword must appear in the URL and the title tag — which is also your headline — so it should be especially appealing. Google is trying to offer the most relevant results, so it helps if the title answers the exact question being asked.
As well as using keywords in the body text, make sure you’re using them in subheadings. This makes it easy for readers to see at a glance what the content is about, and for search engines to recognize its relevance.
It also pays to optimize visual content by including alt text, using relevant keywords in image file names, and making sure images are fast-loading. And the top-of-funnel position means cornerstone content should always be available for free.
Promote your content
Smart promotional tactics will help your content reach as wide an audience as possible. You’ve already sorted the SEO strategy, but there are plenty of other tools at your disposal — and some won’t cost you a penny.
If you already have an email database, use this to let people know about new cornerstone content. Consider an extra incentive to encourage them to visit your page, such as a special offer on products or services.
Marketing automation tools can be used to send out mail shots, or schedule social media posts — this will save time as well as helping you nurture leads. But remember that a dash of personalization is always appreciated, and will make the recipient more likely to access, share, or link to your content.
Cornerstone content can be adapted for different channels, focusing on the platforms that work best for your company (you’ll already have identified these via your detailed customer research).
Organic social promotion is great for your budget, but you may also want to invest in paid promotion to reach a more targeted audience. Don’t forget data analytics so you can see who’s responding and alter your strategy accordingly.
Links and sharing
Another way to generate leads is to direct visitors to personalized post-click landing pages. You don’t want to annoy people by having suggestions pop up when they’re in the middle of reading your content, but how about an exit banner with a special offer just as they’re about to leave?
Of course, visitors may have landed elsewhere on your site, so you need to provide plenty of internal links to cornerstone content and make it easy to click straight through to new material.
Including cross-references and backlinks in other similar posts will increase exposure to cornerstone content. This can also help boost your rankings, as Google tends to favor a robust internal linking structure.
Finally, make it simple for visitors to share your content with others by adding social media buttons. If your content references industry influencers, it might incentivize them to share content with their many followers.
Search engines love websites whose content is fresh and highly relevant. Regular updates let Google know that your content is up-to-the-minute, which helps your SERPs position.
Cornerstone content should be updated frequently to include things like new trends and the latest stats. If it mentions specific products, check they’re still available and that the prices are accurate.
You should also make sure the website works properly, with no broken links or slow-loading images. Fonts and layouts can start to look old-fashioned after a while, too, so it’s worth revamping the look of the pages from time to time.
Remote IT support comes in handy when teams are working on content maintenance — they may need swift assistance to fix an issue before potential customers are put off by a slow-running site or inability to access content.
You’re ready to start creating content!
More than 90 percent of online content gets no traffic at all from Google. Creating cornerstone content that’s impressive and fully optimized is a great way to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
If you follow the advice in this article, you’ll be able to create cornerstone content that’s loved by audiences and Google alike.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Local SEO expert Joy Hawkins joins us for a special edition of Whiteboard Friday, giving you a sneak peek at her MozCon Virtual 2021 presentation: To Post or Not to Post: What We Learned From Analyzing Over 1,000 Google Posts.
Don’t forget to grab your ticket to see Joy and our other incredible speakers, July 12-14!
Hi, Moz fans. It’s Joy Hawkins, and today I’m going to be giving you a preview of the presentation I’m going to be doing later this year at MozCon. It’s all about Google My Business posts.
So if you are unfamiliar with posts, there are currently four different types of Google My Business posts. There are what we call the update posts, which is kind of your typical post that has an image and some text. There are what we call offer posts, event posts, and then last year Google actually released a new one called COVID posts. Now typically all these posts share some similarities, but they’re all a little different.
1. COVID Posts perform well
One of the things that we looked at in the study, that I’m going to be going over at MozCon, is which type performs better.
So specifically we wanted to know: Do they get more clicks? Do they get more conversions? We identified that two of the types definitely outperform the other two. So I’m not going to reveal both. But I’ll tell you that one of the two was the COVID post type. The reason for this I believe is that, unlike the other three types of posts, COVID posts get their own special spot in the knowledge panel.
So I’ve done my best to highlight this here. On the left here, you’ll see that at the bottom there’s usually the post carousel, and it’s underneath reviews, questions and answers, and products. So it’s kind of like shoved down in the search results. Now COVID posts on the other hand, which are featured over here on the right, they show up right at the top, right underneath the business information.
So they’re very visible, and it’s a really good place to get a quick message across. The only downside, of course, is that they don’t have photos. So keep that in mind when you’re figuring out which type to use.
2. Average CTR = 0.5%
Now the second thing that we discovered was that the average click-through rate on all the posts in our study was half a percent, so 0.5%, which means that you need about 200 views on a post before you’re going to get a click.
Now don’t let that discourage you. Keep in mind that that is only tracking clicks that happen on the actual post. So, in reality, people could be calling you more, they could be clicking on your website more, lots of other things. So there are still a lot of reasons why you would want to consider doing Google Posts.
3. GMB does not equal GA
The third thing on my list here is keep in mind, when you are tracking the results from posts, that what you see inside Google My Business Insights is not going to match what you see inside Google Analytics.
Now in this industry, often we use what are called UTM codes, which help you track things better in Google Analytics. If you’re unfamiliar with how those work or how to use them with Google Posts, I’m going to link to an article down below that will explain all of that. But the main thing that you’ve got to remember is that these numbers won’t match. So don’t expect them to match. If you do, you’re going to be very frustrated. Don’t go down that rabbit trail. Just remember that they are tracked differently and you’re going to get different numbers. So pick one and stick with it.
4. Justifications = 60 days
The fourth thing is in regards to justifications. Now if you’re unfamiliar with that term, you’re like, “What are justifications,” Miriam Ellis recently did a blog post here on Moz about this topic, and she explained it really well. So I’m not going to do what she did and explain it. Check out her article, and that will give you all the information you need.
But just in case you’re not familiar and you really don’t know what I’m talking about, I did my best — I’m not an artist — to draw it over here. So let’s say, for example, you’re on Google and you do a search for local SEO, and my agency, Sterling Sky, shows up in the search results.
If we had a post recently that mentioned local SEO, Google might grab that little snippet, the words essentially and stick it right there in the local pack results. This is what we call a justification. So they’re really cool, and it’s a great way to get more words and more messaging in front of your possible consumers. Now the thing to keep in mind here is that post justifications only look at posts that were done from the last 60 days.
So your older posts won’t be looked at. So you’ve got to have a post strategy that is pretty frequent.
5. Seasonal Posts = one of the worst
The fifth thing was that we wanted to look at content types. So people often ask me, “Joy, what should I post about? Like what am I supposed to put in the content in Google Posts?” It comes up a lot as a question.
So we, with our study, basically organized all the different posts we looked at into different categories. Then what I’m going to show at MozCon is the winners and the losers. So one from the losers, that did not perform well, were posts about seasonal topics. Now that shocked me to be completely honest. But what I’m talking about here is let’s say you have a dermatologist and it’s coming close to Christmas.
So you use like Christmassy wording and Christmas emojis and like Christmas stuff to try and make the post kind of be more relevant. These did not perform well. So it kind of surprised me, but that was one from our losers list.
6. Use emojis!
One from our winners list was emojis, point number six. So emojis are great. Some of you may be excited by this. Some of you might roll your eyes.
If you love emojis, this is one of the strategies that we saw that actually helped performance on Google Posts. So make sure you use emojis if you are trying to get people’s attention. Posts with them outperformed posts without them.
7. Update Posts = 6 months
Finally, the last tip I’m going to share with you today is in regards to the update posts. Now if you’re not familiar with the term “update posts,” I kind of made it up because there was no name for the traditional post inside Google My Business.
So it sent updates, so we just called it that. But this was the type of post that, if you remember when Google first launched this feature, you would do a post and it would last for seven days, and after seven days, it would get deleted from your knowledge panel. So it was essentially invisible, which was a little annoying because you don’t want to have to go and post every seven days. Because you can’t schedule a post natively inside Google My Business, it was a bit of a headache to try and keep up with this as a business owner.
So the good news is that several months ago Google changed this, and now these posts actually stay on your knowledge panel for a long time. But I wanted to know exactly how long they stayed on there, so I tracked some and came to the conclusion that they stay on your knowledge panel for six months. So essentially what that means is if you made one update post, never posted again, it would stay there for six months and then it would disappear, which is a lot better than seven days.
So keep these tips in mind when you are coming up with your post strategy. Obviously to get a lot more, feel free to check out my talk at MozCon upcoming later this year. Some of the things that I’ll be talking about there — there’s a lot that I didn’t cover — I’ll be addressing if posts impact ranking, which is probably the number one question that I get asked, and I’ll also be going through a lot more of the winning and losing strategies that we found from the study.
Thanks for listening, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes. When used properly, it generates important information that can help to make valuable business decisions in online marketing or SEO efforts.
In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, guest host Alex Ratynski goes through five important steps that local businesses can take to configure Google Analytics efficiently. Check it out below!
Hey, Mozzers. My name is Alex, and I’m the founder of Ratynski Digital. We are a local SEO consultancy for small and medium-size businesses. Today what I want to talk about is how to configure Google Analytics for local businesses.
Now Google Analytics is a super powerful and efficient tool when used properly and when configured accurately. This tells us important information about our website, our visitors, what pages are performing well, perhaps even what search queries we’re coming from, especially when it’s connected with Google Search Console. A lot of important information that can help us to make valuable business decisions for our online marketing or SEO efforts.
1. Exclude bots and spiders
Now there are five important steps we’re going to talk about today for how we can configure our Google Analytics account the most efficiently. The first one is to exclude bots and spiders. Now this is important because some studies have found that upwards of 25% of all traffic is bot traffic. Any of us that have really gotten super granular into our Google Analytics account, I’m sure we’ve actually seen some of those examples of very obvious bot traffic.
So the way we can actually do this is Google actually makes a nice little tool within Google Analytics. You go to Admin > View > View Settings and there’s a nice little box that says Bot Filtering. What this does is it pulls from the IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and it actually makes sure that it pulls from the list of known spiders and bots and makes sure we’re to filter against that.
2. Filter spam and personal traffic
The next step we want to filter spam traffic and personal traffic. Now the reason for this is inaccurate data is worthless data, right? If we don’t have accurate information, we’re really going to struggle to make accurate business decisions regarding our SEO efforts or our online marketing. I can’t tell you how often I run into business owners who have wildly inaccurate numbers and they’re trying to make decisions based off of it.
So it’s super important that we get as accurate information as we can. There always will be some margin of error, but anything we can do to minimize that the better. The way we can filter out our own traffic is to go to Admin > View > View Filters and then Add Filters. What we want to do is make sure to filter out our own IP address, perhaps the IP address of our team, our home office, our physical main office location, things like this.
The way we can do that is to search “What’s my IP” in Google. You’ll actually be able to find your IP address, and then from there you can actually exclude it.
3. Set up goals
Number three, setting up goals. Goals are super important because setting up goals actually helps us to track our success, right? It’s success tracking. So we can set up goals by going to Admin > View > Goals and then New Goal.
Destination based goals
There’s a variety of different goal types that we might be able to set up, and it really depends on the business and what you’re looking for. But one of the most popular ones is a thank you page or a destination based goal.
For example, imagine you’re an HVAC company who’s trying to acquire new customers and you want to see how is your website performing, which pages are bringing the traffic, and what’s kind of the URL path or the goal path if you will.
So a way we can track that is by using a destination-based goal. We want to make sure that after somebody fills out a form, they actually are sent to that thank you page, and every time somebody interacts with that thank you page, they land on it, it can actually be counted as a goal. This is really helpful to kind of see the success of what we’re looking for, whatever it is, our business goals, what we’re trying to achieve that month or that quarter that we can track that accurately.
Event based goals
Now another type of goal, there are more than two, but we’re just going to talk about two today — destination based goals versus event based goals. Event based goals are a little more advanced to set up, not too tricky, but a little bit more so than destination based goals. Event based goals have nothing to do with a specific page or URL, but actually, as you might guess, the actual event that happened.
So, for example, if a user fills out a form or they click a specific button, those are examples that can be tracked to an event based goal. Now there are some pros and cons to each. A destination based goal, if you have any specific parameters within the URL and it doesn’t match exactly, you might not be able to be counting for that goal.
A way around this is you can change it from “equals to” to “begins with.” Another option, it’s probably a little bit more of a better option, is to learn regular expressions. That can help us to kind of filter out those different options and get us more accurate information. With event based goals, another little caveat that we want to watch out for is to make sure that we have proper validation set up.
So, for example, if a user starts to fill out a form but doesn’t actually fill it out, when they first click that button, it might have been tracked as a goal, even though they didn’t actually complete that goal. So there’s a couple extra steps we want to make sure that we can figure out before we kind of publish it and leave that. That way we can get accurate information.
4. Connect GA to GSC
Number four, connect Google Analytics to Google Search Console. Now we have these two powerful resources of reporting and information, and we want to make sure they can talk to each other efficiently. As we all know, Google Search Console has a lot of valuable data regarding our organic search, what specific search queries, specific pages, how they’re performing, the average position, lots of information like this.
We want to make sure that it’s connected to our Google Analytics account. Now a way we can do that is by going to Admin > Property > Property Settings and then there’s a little choice there for Search Console. Now before we do this, always make sure that you actually have your Google Search Console account set up. That’s always step one. So if we can get that set up, then it’s going to be a lot easier to connect those two.
In fact, you can’t do it unless you’ve set up your Google Search Console. So make sure that’s set up and then make sure you can connect those.
5. Use UTM tracking codes
Then last but not least, use UTM tracking codes. UTM tracking codes are a really powerful way for us to track the effectiveness of specific campaigns, where did our users come from, our website visitors come from, and what specific sources or mediums or campaigns were effective in that regard.
An example of this is you can add a UTM tracking code in your Google My Business link profile so that any users that come from Google My Business, in your Google Analytics account you’ll be able to accurately see that categorization of website visitors that came specifically from Google My Business. Now this needs to be done regularly, not in the sense of Google My Business, but it needs to be done regularly for each campaign.
So if you’re a smaller, local business who maybe has a limited amount of time or budgets for whoever might be working on this, maybe it’s better to focus on just some of the larger campaigns, anything that’s a little bit more permanent or any specific large campaign. Perhaps you’re doing a local event or you have a special promotion a couple times a year. Those might be events that we really want to track the effectiveness of these campaigns and using UTM tracking codes.
We can actually set this up, for anyone who’s interested in setting up their UTM tracking code, you can use Google’s Campaign URL Builder. We will make sure to link to that exact page here in the notes below. But there’s a couple of different components of a UTM tracking code. Now we’re just going to focus on three today, those being the medium that they came from, the source, and then the campaign name.
So an example of this might be the medium being email, the source being whatever specific newsletter was sent out, and then the campaign name would be what you actually want it to show up as in Google Analytics, how you want that campaign categorized. So those are the three different sections of what might be included in your UTM tracking code. You can enter all that in within Google’s Campaign URL Builder. There’s also a variety of other URL builders. But Google provides one that makes it nice and easy for us.
Pro tip: learn Google Tag Manager
One last pro tip. Learn Google Tag Manager. There’s a bit of a learning curve to Google Tag Manager, but it’s definitely possible. I guarantee you can do it. When you learn Google Tag Manager, it makes a lot of these other things a lot easier, especially with setting up things like event based goals and connecting some of our different accounts, like Google Search Console and Google Analytics even.
Google Tag Manager is a super powerful tool. That’s all we have today for this week’s Whiteboard Friday. Please feel free to reach out, ask any additional questions on Twitter at @alexratynski. You can also reach me at ratynskidigital.com. Feel free to send me an email. I’m more than happy to speak to the Moz community. I absolutely love everybody who’s here.
Really appreciate your guys’ time. That’s all for this week, and until next week when there’s another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
There’s plenty of room for paid tools in the SEO space — Moz is a prime example — but if you’re just getting started or lack the budget necessary for fancy tools, there are still many resources available.
In this piece, we’re going to cover five of our favorite FREE Google tools, and how they can help you step up your SEO game.
When you go to Google Trends, you’ll see a search bar where you can input a broad topic or specific search query. Upon entering your query, you’ll be presented with a trend chart of interest in the query over time.
While this may be useful, the real gems are at the bottom of the page: Related Topics and Related Queries.
By default, these boxes will both be set to “rising.” This means that these topics and queries are currently gaining traction. These are the keywords that you may want to capitalize on quickly, as you could be a first-mover and gain rankings quickly.
Advanced keyword research
Even at a base-level, Google Trends is helpful, but you can always take it a step further. Across the top of Google Trends, there is a menu that allows you to specify a region, time period, category, and search platforms.
Region allows you to determine where you want to pull search data from geographically. This can be especially useful when working on local SEO projects.
Category allows you to select the category you’re competing in. This is a nice feature for people who offer a service in a specific industry, or who have a query that’s extremely common.
Search platform allows you to refine the data to specific platforms such as YouTube Search, Image Search, Google Shopping Search, and News Search. Search platform modifiers are great for those with an integrated SEO plan.
2. Rising Retail Categories
Though it’s almost impossible to predict what the Next Big Thing is going to be in e-commerce, you can still stay on top of the game with Rising Retail Categories.
This is Google’s compilation of data on retail. On it, you’ll find currently trending product categories and the searches around them, as well as where exactly they’re trending.
As an e-commerce SEO, this can give you a good idea of which products to focus on for the most potential impact.
As an enterprise local SEO, you can use this data to determine which products to focus on in each market.
3. Visual Stories
Google summarizes Visual Stories as “Bite-size visual stories for busy marketers, driven by trending topics and data from Google.”
These stories range from holiday shopping trends to specific industry case studies, and more. They’re interactive slides, each with a few insights or data points.
For example, there’s a Visual Story about the automotive industry. Throughout the story, there are data points shared to give insight into how the pandemic has affected the car-buying process.
These data points don’t just focus on search data, though. It’s clear that this has been a full-on case study by Google. Some insights shared address the desires, experiences, and perceptions of the audience.
This information can easily be used to change the user journey, including the things that matter to the customer earlier on. It could also be used to address pain points that hadn’t been previously uncovered, or, on a more basic level, give an SEO an idea of what keywords to focus on.
4. Grow My Store
Grow My Store is a fantastic tool for those selling a product either online or in person. Grow My Store tests sites for Google Identifiers for Successful Online Stores.
These identifiers are broken down into five categories: Product Information, Store Details, Personalization, Customer Service, and Security.
This tool literally hands over Google’s idea of the must-haves for a product-selling business website. Some of the components included are product reviews, profiles for shoppers, live chat, and HTTPS.
To use Grow My Store, you simply answer three questions: what is your domain, what type of business do you have, and what industry are you in? Once you answer the questions, you will see a preview of your report with your overall score and some data around your industry. To get your full report complete with recommendations, you have to create an account. The report is then sent to your email.
You then get an account where you can create (and track) a checklist of changes that need to be made — according to Google.
In addition, you’ll get customized data and insights based on your industry. To find this data on Grow My Store, in the menu, select “Reach More Customers.” If you scroll down a bit, you’ll find a section with the heading “Understanding industry trends.” Here you’ll be able to choose your industry and specific category to get specific information such as top searches in that industry, top months for the industry, and so on.
5. Test My Site
Another great tool for measuring your site in the eyes of Google is Test My Site. Much like Grow My Store, Test My Site tests for three very specific categories of features on your site. These features are Speed, Personalization, and Experience. Unlike Grow My Store, Test My Site is for any website, not just product-base business sites.
The first report you will get from Test My Site is a mini report that breaks down your mobile site speed and any recommendations for fixes. There is also a tool to show the potential ROI of speeding up your site! Talk about buy-in.
If you want even more information, which you will, you can sign up to get the full report. The full report is emailed to you and breaks down recommendations and explanations for both marketers and developers. The report I got back was 16 pages long, filled with links to other resources and case studies as well as tactical tips in the form of a checklist.
While Google can often be cryptic about what they care about on websites, they’ve created quite a few resources that can give you insight into what they find important. Using these tools can easily get you a step ahead.
It’s not just about the tools, though. In 2021, data is more important than ever, and who better to get data from than The Giant themselves?
Now, go forth and be excellent — using free stuff!
The excitement of finishing a competitive keyword research project often gives way to the panic of fleeing from an avalanche of opportunities. Without an organizing principle, a spreadsheet full of keywords is a bottomless to-do list. It’s not enough to know what your competitors are ranking for — you need to know what content is powering those rankings and how you’re currently competing with that content. You need a blueprint to craft those keywords into a compelling structure.
Recently, I wrote a post about the current state of long-tail SEO. While I had an angle for the piece in mind, I also knew it was a topic Moz and others had covered many times. I needed to understand the competitive landscape and make sure I wasn’t cannibalizing our own content.
This post covers one method to perform that competitive content research, using Google’s advanced search operators. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll pare down the keyword research and start our journey with just one phrase: “long tail seo.”
Find your best content (site:)
long tail seo site:moz.com
“long tail seo” site:moz.com
First, what has Moz already published on the subject? By pairing your target keywords with the [site:] operator, you can search for matching content only on your own site. I usually start with a broad-match search, but if your target phrases are made up of common words, you could also use quotation marks and exact-match search. Here’s the first piece of content I see:
Our best match on the subject is a Whiteboard Friday from five years ago. If I had nothing new to add to the subject and/or I was considering doing a video, this might end my journey. I don’t really want to compete with my own content that’s already performing well. In this case, I decide that I’ve got a fresh take, and I move forward.
Target a specific folder (inurl:)
long tail seo site:moz.com inurl:learn
long tail seo site:moz.com/learn
For larger sites, you might want to focus on a specific section, like the blog, or in Moz’s case, our Learning Center. You have a couple of options here. You could use the [inurl:] operator with the folder name, but that may result in false alarms, like:
This may be useful, in some cases, but when you need to specifically focus on a sub-folder, just add that sub-folder to the [site:] operator. The handy thing about the [site:] operator is that anything left off is essentially a wild card, so [site:moz.com/learn] will return anything in the /learn folder.
Find all competing pages (-site:)
long tail seo -site:moz.com
Now that you have a sense of your own, currently-ranking content, you can start to dig into the competition. I like to start broad, simply using negative match [-site:] to remove my own site from the list. I get back something like this:
This is great for a big-picture view, but you’re probably going to want to focus in on just a couple or a handful of known competitors. So, let’s narrow down the results …
Explore key competitors (site: OR site:)
long tail seo (site:ahrefs.com OR site:semrush.com)
By using the [OR] operator with [site:] and putting the result in parentheses, you can target a specific group of competitors. Now, I get back something like this:
Is this really different than targeting one competitor at a time? Yes, in one important way: now I can see how these competitors rank against each other.
Explore related content #1 (-“phrase”)
long tail seo -“long tail seo”
As you get into longer, more targeted phrases, it’s possible to miss relevant or related content. Hopefully, you’ve done a thorough job of your initial keyword research, but it’s still worth checking for gaps. One approach I use is to search for your main phrase with broad match, but exclude the exact match phrase. This leaves results like:
Just glancing at page one of results, I can see multiple mentions of “long tail keywords” (as well as “long-tail” with a hyphen), and other variants like “long tail keyword research” and “long tail organic traffic.” Even if you’ve turned these up in your initial keyword research, this combination of Google search operators gives you a quick way to cover a lot of variants and potentially relevant content.
Explore related content #2 (intext: -intitle:)
intext:”long tail seo” -intitle:”long tail seo”
Another handy trick is to use the [intext:] operator to target your phrase in the body of the content, but then use [-intitle:] to exclude results with the exact-match phrase in the title. While the results will overlap with the previous trick, you can sometimes turn up some interesting side discussions and related topics. Of course, you can also use [intitle:] to laser-target your search on content titles.
Find pages by dates (####..####)
long tail seo 2010..2015
In some cases, you might want to target your search on a date-range. You can combine the four-digit years with the range operator [..] to target a time period. Note that this will search for the years as numbers anywhere in the content. While the [daterange:] operator is theoretically your most precise option, it relies on Google being able to correctly identify the publication date of a piece, and I’ve found it difficult to use and a bit unpredictable. The range operator usually does the job.
Find top X lists (intitle:”#..#”)
intitle:”top 11..15″ long tail seo
This can get a little silly, but I just want to illustrate the power of combining operators. Let’s say you’re working on a top X list about long-tail SEO, but want to make sure there isn’t too much competition for the 11-15 item range you’re landing in. Using a combo of [intitle:] plus the range operator [..], you might get something like this:
Note that operator combos can get weird, and results may vary depending on the order of the operators. Some operators can’t be used in combination (or at least the results are highly suspicious), so always gut-check what you see.
Putting all of the data to work
If you approach this process in an organized way (if I can do it, you can do it, because, frankly, I’m not that organized), what you should end up with is a list of relevant topics you might have missed, a list of your currently top-performing pages, a list of your relevant competitors, and a list of your competitors’ top-performing pages. With this bundle of related data, you can answer questions like the following:
Are you at risk of competing with your own relevant content?
Should you create new content or improve on existing content?
Is there outdated content you should remove or 301-redirect?
What competitors are most relevant in this content space?
What effort/cost will it take to clear the competitive bar?
What niches haven’t been covered by your competitors?
No tool will magically answer these questions, but by using your existing keyword research tools and Google’s advanced search operators methodically, you should be able to put your human intelligence to work and create a specific and actionable content strategy around your chosen topic.
If you’d like to learn more about Google’s advanced search operators, check out our comprehensive Learning Center page or my post with 67 search operator tricks. I’d love to hear more about how you put these tools to work in your own competitive research.
Life rushed back into Jayda’s lungs, sharp and unforgiving. To her left, shards of a thousand synonyms. To her right, the crumbling remains of a mountain of long-tail keywords. As the air filled her lungs, the memories came rushing back, and with them the crushing realization that her team was buried beneath the debris. After months of effort, they had finally finished their competitive keyword research, but at what cost?
Anyone who does SEO as part of their job knows that there’s a lot of value in analyzing which queries are and are not sending traffic to specific pages on a site.
The most common uses for these datasets are to align on-page optimizations with existing rankings and traffic, and to identify gaps in ranking keywords.
However, working with this data is extremely tedious because it’s only available in the Google Search Console interface, and you have to look at only one page at a time.
On top of that, to get information on the text included in the ranking page, you either need to manually review it or extract it with a tool like Screaming Frog.
You need this kind of view:
…but even the above view would only be viable one page at a time, and as mentioned, the actual text extraction would have had to be separate as well.
Given these apparent issues with the readily available data at the SEO community’s disposal, the data engineering team at Inseev Interactive has been spending a lot of time thinking about how we can improve these processes at scale.
One specific example that we’ll be reviewing in this post is a simple script that allows you to get the above data in a flexible format for many great analytical views.
Better yet, this will all be available with only a few single input variables.
A quick rundown of tool functionality
The tool automatically compares the text on-page to the Google Search Console top queries at the page-level to let you know which queries are on-page as well as how many times they appear on the page. An optional XPath variable also allows you to specify the part of the page you want to analyze text on.
This means you’ll know exactly what queries are driving clicks/impressions that are not in your <title>, <h1>, or even something as specific as the first paragraph within the main content (MC). The sky’s the limit.
For those of you not familiar, we’ve also provided some quick XPath expressions you can use, as well as how to create site-specific XPath expressions within the “Input Variables” section of the post.
Post setup usage & datasets
Once the process is set up, all that’s required is filling out a short list of variables and the rest is automated for you.
The output dataset includes multiple automated CSV datasets, as well as a structured file format to keep things organized. A simple pivot of the core analysis automated CSV can provide you with the below dataset and many other useful layouts.
… Even some “new metrics”?
Okay, not technically “new,” but if you exclusively use the Google Search Console user interface, then you haven’t likely had access to metrics like these before: “Max Position,” “Min Position,” and “Count Position” for the specified date range – all of which are explained in the “Running your first analysis” section of the post.
To really demonstrate the impact and usefulness of this dataset, in the video below we use the Colab tool to:
[3 Minutes] — Find non-brand <title> optimization opportunities for https://www.inseev.com/ (around 30 pages in video, but you could do any number of pages)
[3 Minutes] — Convert the CSV to a more useable format
[1 Minute] – Optimize the first title with the resulting dataset
Okay, you’re all set for the initial rundown. Hopefully we were able to get you excited before moving into the somewhat dull setup process.
Keep in mind that at the end of the post, there is also a section including a few helpful use cases and an example template! To jump directly to each section of this post, please use the following links:
[Quick Consideration #2] — This tool has been heavily tested by the members of the Inseev team. Most bugs [specifically with the web scraper] have been found and fixed, but like any other program, it is possible that other issues may come up.
If you encounter any errors, feel free to reach out to us directly at [email protected] or [email protected], and either myself or one of the other members of the data engineering team at Inseev would be happy to help you out.
If new errors are encountered and fixed, we will always upload the updated script to the code repository linked in the sections below so the most up-to-date code can be utilized by all!
One-time setup of the script in Google Colab (in less than 20 minutes)
Things you’ll need:
Google Cloud Platform account
Google Search Console access
Video walkthrough: tool setup process
Below you’ll find step-by-step editorial instructions in order to set up the entire process. However, if following editorial instructions isn’t your preferred method, we recorded a video of the setup process as well.
As you’ll see, we start with a brand new Gmail and set up the entire process in approximately 12 minutes, and the output is completely worth the time.
Keep in mind that the setup is one-off, and once set up, the tool should work on command from there on!
Editorial walkthrough: tool setup process
Download the files from Github and set up in Google Drive
Set up a Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Project (skip if you already have an account)
Create the OAuth 2.0 client ID for the Google Search Console (GSC) API (skip if you already have an OAuth client ID with the Search Console API enabled)
Add the OAuth 2.0 credentials to the Config.py file
Part one: Download the files from Github and set up in Google Drive
2. After you log in to your desired Google Cloud account, click “ENABLE”.
3. Configure the consent screen.
In the consent screen creation process, select “External,” then continue onto the “App Information.”
Example below of minimum requirements:
Add the email(s) you’ll use for the Search Console API authentication into the “Test Users”. There could be other emails versus just the one that owns the Google Drive. An example may be a client’s email where you access the Google Search Console UI to view their KPIs.
4. In the left-rail navigation, click into “Credentials” > “CREATE CREDENTIALS” > “OAuth Client ID” (Not in image).
5. Within the “Create OAuth client ID” form, fill in:
6. Save the “Client ID” and “Client Secret” — as these will be added into the “api” folder config.py file from the Github files we downloaded.
These should have appeared in a popup after hitting “CREATE”
The “Client Secret” is functionally the password to your Google Cloud (DO NOT post this to the public/share it online)
Part four: Add the OAuth 2.0 credentials to the Config.py file
1. Return to Google Drive and navigate into the “api” folder.
2. Click into config.py.
3. Choose to open with “Text Editor” (or another app of your choice) to modify the config.py file.
4. Update the three areas highlighted below with your:
CLIENT_ID: From the OAuth 2.0 client ID setup process
CLIENT_SECRET: From the OAuth 2.0 client ID setup process
GOOGLE_CREDENTIALS: Email that corresponds with your CLIENT_ID & CLIENT_SECRET
5. Save the file once updated!
Congratulations, the boring stuff is over. You are now ready to start using the Google Colab file!
Running your first analysis
Running your first analysis may be a little intimidating, but stick with it and it will get easy fast.
Below, we’ve provided details regarding the input variables required, as well as notes on things to keep in mind when running the script and analyzing the resulting dataset.
After we walk through these items, there are also a few example projects and video walkthroughs showcasing ways to utilize these datasets for client deliverables.
Setting up the input variables
XPath extraction with the “xpath_selector” variable
Have you ever wanted to know every query driving clicks and impressions to a webpage that aren’t in your <title> or <h1> tag? Well, this parameter will allow you to do just that.
While optional, using this is highly encouraged and we feel it “supercharges” the analysis. Simply define site sections with Xpaths and the script will do the rest.
In the above video, you’ll find examples on how to create site specific extractions. In addition, below are some universal extractions that should work on almost any site on the web:
‘//title’ # Identifies a <title> tag
‘//h1’ # Identifies a <h1> tag
‘//h2’ # Identifies a <h2> tag
Site Specific: How to scrape only the main content (MC)?
Chaining Xpaths – Add a “|” Between Xpaths
‘//title | //h1’ # Gets you both the <title> and <h1> tag in 1 run
‘//h1 | //h2 | //h3’ # Gets you both the <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags in 1 run
Here’s a video overview of the other variables with a short description of each.
‘colab_path’ [Required] – The path in which the Colab file lives. This should be “/content/drive/My Drive/Colab Notebooks/”.
‘domain_lookup’ [Required] – Homepage of the website utilized for analysis.
‘startdate’ & ‘enddate’[Required] – Date range for the analysis period.
‘gsc_sorting_field’ [Required] – The tool pulls the top N pages as defined by the user. The “top” is defined by either “clicks_sum” or “impressions_sum.” Please review the video for a more detailed description.
‘gsc_limit_pages_number’ [Required] – Numeric value that represents the number of resulting pages you’d like within the dataset.
‘brand_exclusions’ [Optional] – The string sequence(s) that commonly result in branded queries (e.g., anything containing “inseev” will be branded queries for “Inseev Interactive”).
‘impressions_exclusion’ [Optional] – Numeric value used to exclude queries that are potentially irrelevant due to the lack of pre-existing impressions. This is primarily relevant for domains with strong pre-existing rankings on a large scale number of pages.
‘page_inclusions’ [Optional] – The string sequence(s) that are found within the desired analysis page type. If you’d like to analyze the entire domain, leave this section blank.
Running the script
Keep in mind that once the script finishes running, you’re generally going to use the “step3_query-optimizer_domain-YYYY-MM-DD.csv” file for analysis, but there are others with the raw datasets to browse as well.
That said, there are a few important things to note while testing things out:
2. Google Drive / GSC API Auth: The first time you run the script in each new session it will prompt you to authenticate both the Google Drive and the Google Search Console credentials.
GSC authentication: Authenticate whichever email has permission to use the desired Google Search Console account.
If you attempt to authenticate and you get an error that looks like the one below, please revisit the “Add the email(s) you’ll use the Colab app with into the ‘Test Users'” from Part 3, step 3 in the process above: setting up the consent screen.
Quick tip: The Google Drive account and the GSC Authentication DO NOT have to be the same email, but they do require separate authentications with OAuth.
3. Running the script: Either navigate to “Runtime” > “Restart and Run All” or use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + fn9 to start running the script.
4. Populated datasets/folder structure: There are three CSVs populated by the script – all nested within a folder structure based on the “domain_lookup” input variable.
Automated Organization [Folders]: Each time you rerun the script on a new domain, it will create a new folder structure in order to keep things organized.
Automated Organization [File Naming]: The CSVs include the date of the export appended to the end, so you’ll always know when the process ran as well as the date range for the dataset.
5. Date range for dataset: Inside of the dataset there is a “gsc_datasetID” column generated, which includes the date range of the extraction.
6. Unfamiliar metrics: The resulting dataset has all the KPIs we know and love – e.g. clicks, impressions, average (mean) position — but there are also a few you cannot get directly from the GSC UI:
‘count_instances_gsc’ — the number of instances the query got at least 1 impression during the specified date range. Scenario example: GSC tells you that you were in an average position 6 for a large keyword like “flower delivery” and you only received 20 impressions in a 30-day date range. Doesn’t seem possible that you were really in position 6, right? Well, now you can see that was potentially because you only actually showed up on one day in that 30-day date range (e.g. count_instances_gsc = 1)
Quick tip #1: Large variance in max/min may tell you that your keyword has been fluctuating heavily.
Quick tip #2: These KPIs, in conjunction with the “count_instances_gsc”, can exponentially further your understanding of query performance and opportunity.
Recommended use: Download file and use with Excel. Subjectively speaking, I believe Excel has a much more user friendly pivot table functionality in comparison to Google Sheets — which is critical for using this template.
Alternative use: If you do not have Microsoft Excel or you prefer a different tool, you can use most spreadsheet apps that contain pivot functionality.
For those who opt for an alternative spreadsheet software/app:
Below are the pivot fields to mimic upon setup.
You may have to adjust the Vlookup functions found on the “Step 3 _ Analysis Final Doc” tab, depending on whether your updated pivot columns align with the current pivot I’ve supplied.
Project example: Title & H1 re-optimizations (video walkthrough)
Project description: Locate keywords that are driving clicks and impressions to high value pages and that do not exist within the <title> and <h1> tags by reviewing GSC query KPIs vs. current page elements. Use the resulting findings to re-optimize both the <title> and <h1> tags for pre-existing pages.
Project assumptions: This process assumes that inserting keywords into both the <title> and <h1> tags is a strong SEO practice for relevancy optimization, and that it’s important to include related keyword variants into these areas (e.g. non-exact match keywords with matching SERP intent).
Project example: On-page text refresh/re-optimization
Project description: Locate keywords that are driving clicks and impressions to editorial pieces of content that DO NOT exist within the first paragraph within the body of the main content (MC). Perform an on-page refresh of introductory content within editorial pages to include high value keyword opportunities.
Project assumptions: This process assumes that inserting keywords into the first several sentences of a piece of content is a strong SEO practice for relevancy optimization, and that it’s important to include related keyword variants into these areas (e.g. non-exact match keywords with matching SERP intent).
We hope this post has been helpful and opened you up to the idea of using Python and Google Colab to supercharge your relevancy optimization strategy.
As mentioned throughout the post, keep the following in mind:
Github repository will be updated with any changes we make in the future.
There is the possibility of undiscovered errors. If these occur, Inseev is happy to help! In fact, we would actually appreciate you reaching out to investigate and fix errors (if any do appear). This way others don’t run into the same problems.
Other than the above, if you have any ideas on ways to Colab (pun intended) on data analytics projects, feel free to reach out with ideas.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
As SEO professionals, we can easily fall behind on the latest Google search engine result page (SERP) features. Frequent updates keep us on our toes, and also keep our jobs interesting.
Recently, I teamed up with fellow Moz writer and all-round brilliant SEO, Izzi Smith, to create a new SEO quiz series named “SERP Pursuit”. The quiz is still open, if you’d like to test your knowledge of Google’s SERP features.
The outcome of the quiz was a collection of insights from the SEO community about different SERP feature topics, including the questions where participants may have struggled or become confused.
Thanks to everyone that shared and participated in the quiz! The top question in the series received 825 answers – providing a strong sample size. For each question, the sample size has been included along with the question.
The six common misconceptions found in our data relate to structured data (in terms of schema.org), Featured Snippets, unpaid Shopping tab listings (now referred to as “free product listings”), and also Web Stories.
Here are the questions, the answers to those questions, along with further details explaining why the correct answer is as such.
FAQ and How-To Schema rich results
Using too much Structured Data markup
Structured Data influencing Featured Snippets
Scroll-to-text with Featured Snippets
Unpaid Shopping tab listing inputs
Web Story device type rich results
1. What is the maximum number of FAQ and How-To schema rich results that can appear on the first page of Google?
The maximum number of FAQ and How-To schema rich results that can appear on the first page of Google is three. This has been proven for both FAQ schema and How-To schema rich results across mobile and desktop search results. Filtering will happen if less than three rich results are eligible.
According to our question sample of 775 answers, the most popular answer at 39% was that there is no limit in place for FAQ and How-To rich results (incorrect). The correct answer of “3” was selected by 34% of respondents.
Participants may have been drawn to the “no limit” response because this has historically been the answer for rich results other than FAQ and How-To schema. For instance, review snippets with Product schema don’t have limitations regarding what Google results page they can appear on, or the amount that can appear at the same time.
I am, however, glad to see the amount of participants that gave the correct answer, as this is a topic I’ve written about extensively over the past couple of years. Filtering is a very common reason for FAQ and How-To rich results not appearing, and being aware of the limitations can be a big time-saver for troubleshooting.
2. Is it possible to have too much structured data markup on a single page?
No, it is not possible to have too much structured data on a single page. But just because there are no repercussions from Google for excessive usage, time is often better spent elsewhere. Ultimately, you should focus on what provides value to your site: using valid schema containing information used by Google.
According to our question sample of 604 answers, the most popular answer at 55% was that it is possible to have too much structured data on a single page (incorrect answer). The correct answer of “False” was selected by 45% of respondents.
This question is one that comes down to semantics, but does cause confusion among the SEO community. In the context of SEO, there is no generic ranking factor associated with structured data usage. But using the right schema types, with a good spread of usage, can provide relevant results for users. It’s also good to keep in mind what does and does not yield rich results.
For the most part, it is my opinion that structured data shouldn’t be a task that requires a significant and regular investment of time. If using WordPress, there are tools such as Yoast that have already solved many of the ongoing structured data issues faced by sites. Their plugin provides Google with plenty of structured data signals, without extensive time investment (to be avoided).
3. Is structured data (in the context of schema.org) used to generate Featured Snippets on Google?
No, structured data (in the context of schema.org) is not used to generate Featured Snippets on Google. The structure of content on a page is, however, often a contributing factor. Google’s systems determine whether content is or isn’t suitable for inclusion in Featured Snippets.
According to our question sample of 579 answers, the most popular answer at 52% was that structured data is used to generate Featured Snippets (incorrect answer). The correct answer of “False” was selected by 48% of respondents.
The misconception of structured data influencing Featured Snippets is one that I come across often. It is often based on experiments where structured data is added to a page and seeing the page then being added to a Featured Snippet. With an understanding of how Featured Snippets operate, this connection doesn’t make sense, even as a contributing factor.
In my last article that I wrote for Moz, I showed how some sites can be prevented from ranking within Featured Snippets. This shows the complexity around how content is presented prominently at the top of Google’s search results, but structured data is one that Google has repeatedly mentioned doesn’t influence Featured Snippets as far back as 2015.
4. In which scenarios will the yellow text highlight and scroll-to functionality trigger once a Featured Snippet result is clicked?
Currently, scroll-to-text will only ever be triggered for Featured Snippets on Google in two separate scenarios. The first is when the Chrome browser is in use (on both mobile and desktop), and also when a URL is built using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) on mobile devices with any browser in use.
According to our quiz sample of 527 answers, the most popular answer at 48% was the correct answer on the quiz. The closest answer to this, mentioning that this will only ever happen on Chrome on desktop, was selected by 36% of respondents.
Although the highest percentage of respondents answered this question correctly, I believe it is still worthwhile to discuss due to the fact that it wasn’t over half of respondents. Featured Snippet highlights have been happening as far back as December of 2019, but originally were exclusively for pages built with AMP.
5. With unpaid Google Shopping tab listings, are product feeds submitted via Merchant Center and structured data used as inputs?
The unpaid listings that appear within Google’s Shopping tab are based exclusively on data submitted via product feeds in Merchant Center. Support was originally for both product feeds and also structured data, but Google’s documentation was updated in May of 2020 to be exclusively product feeds.
According to our question sample of 468 answers, the most popular answer at 78% was that both product feeds and Structured Data are both used as inputs (incorrect answer). The correct answer of “False” was selected by only 22% of respondents.
Out of all questions in the quiz, this was the one that tripped up the most respondents. Prior to May 2020, it was the case that both product feeds and structured data were used as inputs for unpaid Shopping tab listings. Because this was only shown as a change in Google’s documentation, and was included as the original announcement, I can see how this could have confused respondents.
A recent announcement from Google changed the naming from “surfaces across Google” to “free product listings” or “free listings”, which is also good to keep in mind for this feature. But if you’re ever trying to troubleshoot issues related to the “free listings” within the Shopping tab, spend your time investigating your Merchant Center data, not your product structured data.
6. When it comes to rich results, do Web Stories make your search result stand out more prominently on both desktop and mobile?
While Google’s Web Stories are a feature that can rank on both mobile and desktop search results, the rich result element only comes into play on mobile. Using the AMP Test, which now has support for Web Stories, you can preview how your Web Story rich results will appear on mobile devices.
According to our question sample of 407 answers, the most popular answer at 69% was that Web Story rich results show on both desktop and mobile (incorrect answer). The correct answer of “False” was selected by 31% of respondents.
When a Web Story surfaces in Google’s search results while using a desktop device, it can be an… odd experience for users. They select the result, then they’re suddenly catapulted into the immersive full-screen Web Story experience. This is without prompt for the user (because the URL looks like a standard web search listing), which is a UX that Google still needs to address.
Web Stories are an interesting format that are worth experimenting with considering the rich results benefits on mobile for standing out more, and also for the prominence they are often given within Google’s Discover Feed. I’ve written about several Web Stories SEO tips for publishers to keep in mind when creating them with Google’s plugin.
The questions covered in this post are the top areas where respondents of our quiz struggled most relating to structured data, Featured Snippets, free product listings, and Web Stories. If some of these SERP feature questions had you feeling confused, don’t be too hard on yourself, just use this as an opportunity to improve on your understanding!
Nailing the areas mentioned in this post is a great start to expanding your Google SERP feature knowledge. SERP features change frequently on Google. If you’re wanting to keep updated on the latest changes to Google’s documentation, I’d highly suggest bookmarking this page, which features key changes as they’re made.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
How should you handle Google My Business listings when circumstances force a multi-location brand to consolidate?
This question is one I’m now increasingly receiving from local enterprises. Brands which made rapid adaptations in 2020 to continue serving the public are now having to make longer-term decisions based on the COVID-19 recession, altered consumer behavior, and budget.
Uprooting branches is painful. I believe it’s still too early to predict whether customers’ habits have been permanently changed by the pandemic and adoption of emergent service methodologies, such as telemeetings or home delivery. Forever is a very long time. That being said, Black Friday 2020 saw foot traffic cut in half and some multi-location brands faced with this reality are having to evaluate how to consolidate their bases of operation. A brand which formerly maintained five storefronts in a single city wants to know if it can weather the storm and build a future from just one physical locale.
Each business scenario is different, but there are general questions you should ask prior to consolidation, and there are specific steps to take if you determine the business you’re marketing must retrench. I want to be sure to mention that this article deals with permanent location closure. If you need to temporarily close a location due to COVID, read Google’s guidance on this.
Today, we’ll help you consider important factors in the decision-making process about permanent closure of locations, walk you through managing Google My Business listing consolidation with help from a Google Gold Product Expert, and prepare you for changes you may experience as a result of reducing your local footprint while working to make the best of a bad situation.
One of the challenging aspects of this tough scenario is that the business you’re marketing will need to choose which locations to close and which ones should remain open. I recommend asking these four questions, because the answers will be different for each brand and each market:
1. Is bias towards a city or industry centroid appearing to impact the local results for my top search phrases?
Go to Google and look up the name of a city in which you’re considering consolidation. Click on the map and identify where Google is locating the name of the city on the map. That is roughly Google’s idea of the center, or centroid, of the city:
Now, from a remote location (not at or too near your place of business), perform some of your most important searches and evaluate whether Google appears to be clustering the local pack, local finder, and Google Maps results around that centroid, of if they look fairly evenly distributed around the city. Document your findings.
Next, evaluate whether there is an industry centroid appearing to exert influence on the results for your searches. For example, in this search for auto dealerships, Google is clustering the lion’s share of the results around the auto row in this town, though there are many other dealerships in other parts of the city:
If one of your locations in a particular city is close to a city or industry centroid, and these points on the map appear to be influencing local search results for your most important search phrases, count this as a vote for keeping this location open while closing others that aren’t as close to these centroids.
2. Which location has historically done the highest volume of business, and does this still hold true today?
Take whatever practical data you have about the real-world performance of all your locations within a city. Compare pre-pandemic rates of foot traffic, transactions, phone calls, and any other metrics you have to these same figures today, even if you transition the data points to cover adaptations like curbside pickups, requests for delivery, or telemeetings. Document your findings. Count a vote for the winner of these benchmarks.
3. Which location is performing best in Google’s local results?
Here, you want to identify whether the GMB listing for one of your locations is outperforming the others in a city for core search phrases. Perhaps it’s the one with the highest star rating, the most reviews, the most owner responses, the closest proximity to a centroid, the best photos, more Q&A, or more regularly-scheduled Google Posts. Whatever factors are driving it to rank best for the business, document your findings.
If one of your listings stands out as the strongest, count that as a vote for it.
4. Which location, if any, has amenities that have strengthened its ability to serve during an emergency?
It may be the location with the biggest parking lot that is facilitating easier curbside pickup. Or the one with the drive-thru window. Or the one with the biggest storeroom to house products telehelp experts can interact with during customer service meetings.
If one of your locations has been better able to safely and effectively serve the public during the public health emergency, count that as a vote for it being the one that remains open.
To finalize, look at which location won the most votes in these four questions, and include that information in your final deliberations about which place should remain open while others are closed.
COVID-19 has created scenarios that local businesses have never faced before. Google has done a good job rolling out reactive features, like new GMB attributes and post types, but I think they are still trying to play catch-up in terms of updating guidelines for unforeseen scenarios. Normally, when I encounter a novel situation, I directly contact Google staff to be sure the advice I might give to a business has their official stamp of approval. But, for the past few months, I haven’t received responses to my requests for comment and guidance via the usual channels.
This led me to post about the emergence of COVID-driven location consolidation in Google’s help forum, and fortunately for all of us, volunteer Gold Product Expert, Krystal Taing, took the time to respond with thought and care. If you’ve determined that consolidating your locations within a city is necessary, here is Krystal’s advice on how to follow through digitally with your Google My Business listings:
Go to Google Maps and click the “suggest an edit” button. Mark the closed locations as “moved” to the location that will remain open. See the option for this in the following screenshot:
Send a request to Google to ask if they will transfer the reviews of the closed locations to the remaining location. Here is Google’s process for doing this. It’s important to know that it’s not guaranteed that Google will move your reviews, but it’s worth it to ask. Be sure to include the Maps URLs or listing CID numbers from both the closed listings and the remaining listing in your request to be clear about which locations you mean.
Sincere thanks to Krystal Taing for providing a process for all brands who are facing this dilemma. The volunteers in Google’s forum provide so much guidance, for free, and I sincerely hope Google will evaluate the emergence of COVID consolidation and release official guidelines for it sometime this year.
I want to address this very important question by first expressing my sympathy for any brand owners who have found themselves in this situation, and for their marketers who are trying to give good advice in difficult times. I’m sorry. You likely already know in your gut that having to close locations will have a negative impact on your business, and you’re right to suspect that having to close your GMB listings could be detrimental to your overall online visibility, as well.
I want to re-emphasize that every business scenario is different, but my prediction would be that brands which will suffer the greatest losses of digital visibility will be those whose models depend most on Google’s user-to-business proximity bias.
Because of this, if your business model is something like a convenience store that formerly had five locations in a city to ensure that customers could quickly get to you in every neighborhood, and you’re now reducing to a single location, it’s less likely that Google will continue to surface your remaining listing to people in the more distant neighborhoods you’ve now vacated. You’re likely to see significant losses of rankings, traffic, and transactions, due to the reduction of your local footprint.
However, if your business model is something like a big home improvement store or a restaurant with a rare menu, and people wouldn’t normally mind driving across town to get to you, then having to consolidate may have less impact on your visibility. Loss of locations may mean a bit less convenience for hyperlocal customers who formerly enjoyed being able to hike to your door, but in many cases, where the local market isn’t oversaturated with near-identical options, you’ll be able to retain good visibility on the maps.
As Krystal Taing points out:
“The label on the listings will still display as ‘Permanently Closed’ since that is true. However, there will be a fairly short period of time when this will still display to users unless they have direct links to the business profile. Marking the business as moved will help Google understand the alternative listings to display in results when they would have normally displayed that store to a user.”
So, there is some reason to hope that for many business models, the negative impacts of location and listing consolidation may not be as dire as we might fear, but I don’t want to give false hope here. You should plan to see drop-off across multiple metrics, and should be doing everything you can to ameliorate outcomes.
Crucial to this will be communication with your existing consumer base. You want to prevent loyal customers who encounter that big, ugly “permanently closed” label on listings from misapprehending that your brand has gone out of business. Let’s take a look at your options.
Can anything good come of all this difficult pruning? We can make a start with five proactive steps you can take to reduce the chance that customers mistake closure of some locations for total brand closure:
If your number of overall brand locations was limited (perhaps 10 or less) to begin with, announce the consolidation on the homepage of your website and on a site-wide banner. Address customers who formerly frequented the closed locations and offer clear directions to your new location, including written directions, maps, and photos. Word this as a warm welcome and let customers know you value their business and want to see them at your open location. If you had a large number of former locations, a better place for this messaging would be the location landing pages of the former locations, pointing users to the pages of those that remain open.
Email the same message to your email database prior to closing each location. Then, follow up with another email blast over the next few months. Remind customers that you are still in town and ready to serve them at a different location.
Be as active as possible on social media to communicate the change. You might even consider offering a special promotion for customers who make the switch from shopping at your old locations to patronizing the remaining one.
Be sure you have edited all of your citations on other platforms to reflect the change, reducing the chance of inconveniencing customers. If you’ve been using Moz Local to manage your listings across the Internet, you can automate this work of closure to save time and hassle.
Don’t assume everyone has the Internet. Find offline channels in your community that neighbors rely on for news and work to get the message out about where your open business is located.
Finally, if there is any silver lining to consolidation, it’s that you can now focus the strength of your marketing into fewer locations. Three points to consider:
Major improvements at smaller scale
With overhead significantly reduced, is now the time to invest in better e-commerce and a great home delivery system to ensure you can still serve customers across a city, or even throughout several neighboring communities? Read up on the pros and cons of in-house delivery vs. third party last-mile fulfillment. Or, if your business deals in services rather than products, are there strides you can make in teleservices that would make your brand the most accessible and satisfying one with which a community can transact? With fewer locations to manage, focus in on best-in-town customer service.
Another idea: could any of your former locations be replaced by a kiosk? Many are eligible for GMB inclusion and the existence of kiosks could regrow your local footprint in new ways.
Location landing page adjustments
What will you do with the landing pages of locations that are now permanently closed? The answer to this depends on your business model. If your business is geared towards services instead of products, and you are continuing to serve the areas where you’ve had to close locations, then there could be good reason to maintain these pages, diversifying them as much as possible with fresh, hyperlocal content.
If, however, the business is product-oriented, it’s likely that you’ll want to permanently 301 redirect these pages to the landing page for the branches that remain open. You might want to do this in stages, first keeping the pages live for a time as a place to announce the changes and to point website visitors to locations that remain open. You might have this be the structure for six months or a year. After whatever period of adjustment you feel is reasonable to ensure a given community knows of the changes, your final step could be then be 301 redirection.
The bright side of this is that any link power the multiple old pages learned will now flow through to the one landing page for the open location, which could give it a new ranking boost once Google has had time to process the change.
Over the next few years, your consolidated business will need to continuously evaluate opportunities for growth, even if the goal is no longer re-opening the same number of locations you operated prior to the pandemic. Rather, you might find new ways to become part of the essential fabric of local communities, you might expand your team nationally or even internationally to include greater levels of expertise because technology makes it possible, you might develop the next app that solves a pain point you’ve have to experience first-hand and that you know your peers are struggling with, too. As you prune and trim, a new and solid conception of your business may emerge over time.
As I mentioned above, forever is a long time. I don’t think any economist or marketer can realistically predict what the new normal will be when we have hopefully put these hard times behind us. We’re all guessing. What I would bet on, though, is that the entrepreneurial spark that helped you grow your business to its greatest heights before the crisis is still burning bright. Your observational powers, business acumen, and drive to contribute to our joint recovery matter, and the communities that you serve will be counting on you to lead the way forward. Wishing you success, every step of the way.
Google must be one of the most experimental enterprises the world has ever known. When it comes to the company’s local search interfaces, rather than rolling them all out as a single, cohesive whole, they have emerged in piecemeal fashion over two decades with different but related feature sets, unique URLs, and separate branding. Small wonder that confusion arises in dialog about aspects of local search. You, your agency coworkers, and your clients may find yourselves talking at cross-purposes about local rankings simply because you’re all looking at them on different interfaces!
Such is certainly the case with Google Maps vs. the object we call the Google Local Finder. Even highly skilled organic SEOs at your agency may not understand that these are two different entities which can feature substantially different local business rankings.
Today we’re going to clear this up, with a side-by-side comparison of the two user experiences, expert quotes, and a small, original case study that demonstrates and quantifies just how different rankings are between these important interfaces.
I manually gathered both Google Maps and Local Finder rankings across ten different types of geo-modified, local intent search phrases and ten different towns and cities across the state of California. I looked at differences both across search phrase and across locale, observing those brands which ranked in the top 10 positions for each query. My queries were remote (not performed within the city nearest me) to remove the influence of proximity and establish a remote baseline of ranking order for each entry. I tabulated all data in a spreadsheet to discover the percentage of difference in the ranked results.
Results of my study of Google Maps vs. the Local Finder
Before I roll out the results, I want to be sure I’ve offered a good definition of these two similar but unique Google platforms. Any user performing a local search (like “best tacos san jose”) can take two paths for deep local results:
Path one starts with a local pack, typically made up of three results near the top of the organic search results. If clicked on, the local pack takes the user to the Local Finder, which expands on the local pack to feature multiple listings, accompanied by a map. These types of results exist on google.com/search.
Path two may start on any Android device that features Google Maps by default, or it can begin on a desktop device by clicking the “Maps” tab above the organic SERPs. These types of results look quite similar to the Local Finder, with their list of ranked businesses and associated map, but they exist on google.com/maps.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison:
At first glance, these two user experiences look fairly similar with some minor formatting and content differences, but the URLs are distinct, and what you might also notice in this screenshot is that the rankings, themselves, are different. In this example, the results are, in fact, startlingly different.
I’d long wanted to quantify for myself just how different Maps and Local Finder results are, and so I created a spreadsheet to track the following:
Ten search phrases of different types including some head terms and some longer-tail terms with more refined intent.
Ten towns and cities from all parts of the big state of California covering a wide population ration. Angels Camp, for example, has a population of just 3,875 residents, while LA is home to nearly 4 million people.
I found that, taken altogether, the average difference in Local Finder vs. Maps results was 18.2% across all cities. The average difference was 18.5% across all search phrases. In other words, nearly one-fifth of the results on the two platforms didn’t match.
Here’s a further breakdown of the data:
Average percentage of difference by search phrase
grocery store (19%)
personal injury attorney (18%)
house cleaning service (10%)
electric vehicle dealer (16%)
best tacos (11%)
cheapest tax accountant (41%)
nearby attractions (8%)
women’s clothing (39%)
Average percentage of difference by city
Angels Camp (28%)
San Jose (15%)
San Rafael (24%)
San Francisco (4%)
Los Angeles (25%)
San Diego (16%)
Grass Valley (15%)
While many keyword/location combos showed 0% difference between the two platforms, others featured degrees of difference of 20%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and even 100%.
It would have been lovely if this small study surfaced any reliable patterns for us. For example, looking at the fact that the small, rural town of Angels Camp was the locale with the most diverse SERPs (28%), one might think that the smaller the community, the greater the variance in rankings. But such an idea founders when observing that the city with the second-most variability in LA (25%).
Similarly, looking at the fact that a longer-tail search like “cheapest tax accountant” featured the most differences (41%), it could be tempting to theorize that greater refinement in search intent yields more varied results. But then we see that “best tacos” results were only 11% different across Google Maps and the Local Finder. So, to my eyes, there is no discernible pattern from this limited data set. Perhaps narratives might emerge if we pulled thousands of SERPs.
For now, all we can say with confidence is that we’ve proven that there’s a good chance that the rankings a business enjoys in Google’s Local Finder frequently will not match their rankings in Google Maps. Individual results sets for keyword/locale combos may vary not at all, somewhat, substantially, or totally.
Maps vs. Finders: What’s the diff, and why?
The above findings from our study naturally lead to the question: why are the results for the same query different on the two Google platforms? For commentary on this, I asked three of my favorite local SEOs for theories on the source of the variance, and any other notable variables they’ve observed.
“I think that the differences are driven by the subtle differences of the ‘view port’ aspect ratio and size differences in the two environments. The viewport effectively defines the cohort of listings that are relevant enough to show. If it is larger, then there are likely more listings eligible, and if one of those happens to be strong, then the results will vary.”
Here’s an illustration of what Mike is describing. When we look at the results for the same search in the Local Finder and Google Maps, side by side, we often see that the area shown on the map is different at the automatic zoom level:
“Typically when I begin searches in Maps, I am seeing a broader area of results being served as well as categories of businesses. The results in the Local Finder are usually more specific and display more detail about the businesses. The Maps-based results are delivered in a manner that show users desire discovery and browsing. This is different from the Local Finder in that these results tend to be more absolute and about Google pushing pre-determined businesses and information to be evaluated by the user.”
Krystal is a GMB Gold Product Expert, and her comment was the first time I’d ever heard an expert of her caliber define how Google might view the intent of Maps vs. Finder searchers differently. Fascinating insight!
“What varies is mainly the features that Google shows. For example, products will show up on the listing in the Local Finder but not on Google Maps and attribute icons (women-led, Black-owned, etc.) show up on Google Maps but not in the Local Finder. Additionally, searches done in the Local Finder get lumped in with search in Google My Business (GMB) Insights whereas searches on Maps are reported on separately. Google is now segmenting it by platform and device as well.”
In sum, Google Maps vs. Local Finder searchers can have a unique UX, at least in part, because Google may surface a differently-mapped area of search and can highlight different listing elements. Meanwhile, local business owners and their marketers will discover variance in how Google reports activity surrounding these platforms.
What should you do about the Google Maps vs. Local Finder variables?
As always, there is nothing an individual can do to cause Google to change how it displays local search results. Local SEO best practices can help you move up in whatever Google displays, but you can’t cause Google to change the radius of search it is showing on a given platform.
That being said, there are three things I recommend for your consideration, based on what we’ve learned from this study.
1. See if Google Maps is casting a wider net than the Local Finder for any of your desired search phrases.
I want to show you the most extreme example of the difference between Maps and the Local Finder that I discovered during my research. First, the marker here locates the town of Angels Camp in the Sierra foothills in east California:
For the search “personal injury attorney angels camp”, note the area covered by map at the automatic zoom level accompanying the Local Finder results:
The greatest distance between any two points in this radius of results is about 100 miles.
Now, contrast this with the same search as it appears at the automatic zoom level on Google Maps:
Astonishingly, Google is returning a tri-state result for this search in Maps. The greatest distance between two pins on this map is nearly 1,000 miles!
As I mentioned, this was the most extreme case I saw. Like most local SEOs, I’ve spent considerable time explaining to clients who want to rank beyond their location that the further a user gets from the brand’s place of business, the less likely they are to see it come up in their local results. Typically, your best chance of local pack rankings begins with your own neighborhood, with a decent chance for some rankings within your city, and then a lesser chance beyond your city’s borders.
But the different behavior of Maps could yield unique opportunities. Even if what’s happening in your market is more moderate, in terms of the radius of results, my advice is to study the net Google is casting for your search terms in Maps. If it is even somewhat wider than what the Local Finder yields, and there is an aspect of the business that would make it valuable to bring in customers from further afield, this might indicate that some strategic marketing activities could potentially strengthen your position in these unusual results.
For example, one of the more distantly-located attorneys in our example might work harder to get clients from Angels Camp to mention this town name in their Google-based reviews, or might publish some Google posts about Angels Camp clients looking for the best possible lawyer regardless of distance, or publish some website content on the same topic, or look to build some new relationships and links within this more distant community. All of this is very experimental, but quite intriguing to my mind. We’re in somewhat unfamiliar territory here, so don’t be afraid to try and test things!
As always, bear in mind that all local search rankings are fluid. For verticals which primarily rely on the narrowest user-to-business proximity ratios for the bulk of transactions, more remote visibility may have no value. A convenience store, for example, is unlikely to garner much interest from faraway searchers. But for many industries, any one of these three criteria could make a larger local ranking radius extremely welcome:
The business model is traditionally associated with traveling some distance to get to it, like hotels or attractions (thinking post-pandemic here).
Rarity of the goods or services being offered makes the business worth driving to from a longer distance. This is extremely common in rural areas with few nearby options.
The business has implemented digital shopping on its website due to the pandemic and would now like to sell to as many customers as possible in a wider region with either driver delivery or traditional shipping as the method of fulfillment.
If any of those scenarios fits a local brand you’re marketing, definitely look at Google Maps behavior for focus search phrases.
2. Flood Google with every possible detail about the local businesses you’re marketing
As Joy Hawkins mentioned, above, there can be many subtle differences between the elements Google displays within listings on their two platforms. Look at how hours are included in the Maps listing for this taco shop, but that they’re absent from the Finder. The truth is, Google changes the contents of the various local interfaces so often that even the experts are constantly asking themselves and one another if some element is new.
The good news is, you don’t need to spend a minute worrying about minutiae here if you make just 5 commitments:
Add to this a modest investment in non-dashboard elements like Google Questions and Answers which exist on the Google Business Profile
Be sure your website is optimized for the terms you want to rank for
Earn publicity on the third-party websites Google uses as the “web results” references on your listings. I
I realize this is a tall order, but it’s also basic, good local search marketing and if you put in the work, Google will have plenty to surface about your locations, regardless of platform variables.
3. Study Google Maps with an eye to the future
Google Maps, as an entity, launched in 2005, with mobile app development spanning the next few years. The Local Finder, by contrast, has only been with us since 2015. Because local packs default to the Local Finder, it’s my impression that local SEO industry study has given the lion’s share of research to these interfaces, rather than to Google Maps.
I would suggest that 2021 is a good year to spend more time looking at Google Maps, interacting with it, and going down its rabbit holes into the weird walled garden Google continues to build into this massive interface. I recommend this, because I feel it’s only a matter of time before Google tidies up its piecemeal, multi-decade rollout of disconnected local interfaces via consolidation, and Maps has the history at Google to become the dominant version.
We’ve learned today that Google Maps rankings are, on average, nearly 20% different than Local Finder rankings, that this may stem, in part, from unique view port ratios, that it’s possible Google may view the intent of users on the two platforms differently, and that there are demonstrable variables in the listing content Google displays when we look at two listings side-by-side. We’ve also looked at some scenarios in which verticals that could benefit from a wider consumer radius would be smart to study Google Maps in the year ahead.
I want to close with some encouragement for everyone participating in the grand experiment of Google’s mapping project. The above photo is of the Bedolina Map, which was engraved on a rock in the Italian alps sometime around 500 BC. It is one of the oldest-known topographic maps, plotting out pathways, agricultural fields, villages, and the people who lived there. Consider it the Street View of the Iron Age.
I’m sharing this image because it’s such a good reminder that your work as a local SEO linked to digital cartography is just one leg of a very long journey which, by nature, requires a willingness to function in an experimental environment. If you can communicate this state of permanent change to clients, it can decrease stress on both sides of your next Zoom meeting. Rankings rise and fall, and as we’ve seen, they even differ across closely-related platforms, making patience essential and a big-picture view of overall growth very grounding. Keep studying, and help us all out on the mapped path ahead by sharing what you learn with our community.
Looking to increase your general knowledge of local search marketing? Read The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide
Google My Business is both a free tool and a suite of interfaces that encompasses a dashboard, local business profiles, and a volunteer-driven support forum with this branding. Google My Business and the associated Google Maps make up the core of Google’s free local search marketing options for eligible local businesses.
Today, we’re doing foundational learning! Share this simple, comprehensive article with incoming clients and team members to get off on the right foot with this important local business digital asset.
An introduction to the basics of Google My Business
First, let’s get on the same page regarding what Google My Business is and how to be part of it.
What is Google My Business?
Google My Business (GMB) is a multi-layered platform that enables you to submit information about local businesses, to manage interactive features like reviews and questions, and to publish a variety of media like photos, posts, and videos.
What is GMB eligibility?
Eligibility to be listed within the Google My Business setting is governed by the Guidelines for representing your business on Google, which is a living document that undergoes frequent changes. Before listing any business, you should consult the guidelines to avoid violations that can result in penalties or the removal of your listings.
You need a Google account to get started
You will need a Google account to use Google’s products and can create one here, if you don’t already have one. It’s best for each local business to have its own company account, instead of marketing agencies using their accounts to manage clients’ local business profiles.
When a local business you’re marketing has a large in-house marketing department or works with third party agencies, Google My Business permits you to add and remove listing owners and managers so that multiple people can be given a variety of permissions to contribute to listings management.
How to create and claim/verify a Google My Business profile
Once the business you’re marketing has a Google account and has determined that it’s eligible for Google My Business inclusion, you can create a single local business profile by starting here, using Google’s walkthrough wizard to get listed.
Fill out as many fields as possible in creating your profile. This guide will help you understand how best to fill out many of the fields and utilize many of the features. Once you’ve provided as much information as you can, you’ll be given options to verify your listing so that you can control and edit it going forward.
Where your Google My Business information can display
Once your data has been accepted into the GMB system, it will begin showing up in a variety of Google’s local search displays, including the mobile and desktop versions of:
Google Business Profiles
Your comprehensive Google Business Profile (GBP) will most typically appear when you search for a business by its brand name, often with a city name included in your search language (e.g. “Amy’s Drive Thru Corte Madera”). In some cases, GBPs will show for non-branded searches as well (e.g. “vegan burger near me”). This can happen if there is low competition for a search term, or if Google believes (rightly or wrongly) that a search phrase has the intent of finding a specific brand instead of a variety of results.
Google Business Profiles are extremely lengthy, but a truncated view looks something like this, located to the right of the organic search engine results:
Google Local Packs
Local packs are one of the chief displays Google uses to rank and present the local business information in their index. Local packs are shown any time Google believes a search phrase has a local intent (e.g. “best vegan burger near me”, “plant-based burger in corte madera”, “onion rings downtown”). The searcher does not have to include geographic terms in their phrase for Google to presume the intent is local
Most typically these days, a local pack is made up of three business listings, with the option to click on a map or a “view all” button to see further listings. On occasion, local packs may feature fewer than three listings, and the types of information Google presents in them varies .
Local pack results look something like this on desktop search, generally located above the organic search results:
Google Local Finders
When a searcher clicks through on the map or the “view all” link in a local pack, they will be taken to the display commonly known as the Local Finder. Here, many listings can be displayed, typically paginated in groups of ten, and the searcher can zoom in and out on the map to see their options change.
The URL of this type of result begins google.com/search. Some industries, like hospitality have unique displays, but most local business categories will have a local finder display that looks like this, with the ranked list of results to the left and the map to the right:
Google Maps is the default display on Android mobile phones, and desktop users can also choose to search via this interface instead of through Google’s general search. You’ll notice a “maps” link at the top of Google’s desktop display, like this:
Searches made via Google Maps yield results that look rather similar to the local finder results, though there are some differences. It’s a distinct possibility that Google could, at some point, consolidate the user experience and have local packs default to Google Maps instead of the local finder.
The URL of these results begins google.com/maps instead of google.com/search and on desktop, Google’s ranked Maps’ display looks like this:
The GMB dashboard is where you manage most of this
Once you’ve created and claimed your Google Business Profiles, you’ll have access to managing most (but not all) of the features they contain in your Google My Business dashboard, which looks like this:
The GMB dashboard has components for ongoing management of your basic contact info, reviews, posts, images, products and other features.
The GMB dashboard also hosts the analytical features called GMB Insights. It’s a very useful interface, though the titles and functions of some of its components can be opaque. Some of the data you’ll see in GMB Insights includes:
How many impressions happened surrounding searches for your business name or location (called Direct), general searches that don’t specify your company by name but relate to what you offer (called Discovery), and searches relating to brands your business carries (called Branded).
Customer actions, like website visits, phone calls, messaging, and requests for driving directions.
Search terms people used that resulted in an impression of your business.
There are multiple other GMB Insights features, and I highly recommend this tutorial by Joy Hawkins for a next-level understanding of why reporting from this interface can be conflicting and confusing. There’s really important data in GMB Insights, but interpreting it properly deserves a post of its own and a bit of patience with some imperfections.
When things go wrong with Google My Business
When engaging in GMB marketing, you’re bound to encounter problems and find that all kinds of questions arise from your day-to-day work. Google relies heavily on volunteer support in their Google My Business Help Community Forum and you can post most issues there in hopes of a reply from the general public or from volunteer contributors titled Gold Product Experts.
In some cases, however, problems with your listings will necessitate speaking directly with Google or filling out forms. Download the free Local SEO Cheat Sheet for robust documentation of your various GMB support options.
How to use Google My Business as a digital marketing tool
Let’s gain a quick, no-frills understanding of how GMB can be used as one of your most important local marketing tools.
How to drive local business growth with Google’s local features
While each local business will need to take a nuanced approach to using Google My Business and Google Maps to market itself, most brands will maximize their growth potential on these platforms by following these seven basic steps:
1) Determine the business model (brick-and-mortar, service area business, home-based business, or hybrid). Need help? Try this guide.
3) Before you create GMB profiles, be certain you are working from a canonical source of data that has been vetted by all relevant parties at the business you’re marketing. This means that you’ve checked and double-checked that the name, address, phone number, hours of operation, business categories and other data you have about the company you are listing is 100% accurate.
4) Create and claim a profile for each of the locations you’re marketing. Depending on the business model, you may also be eligible for additional listings for practitioners at the business or multiple departments at a location. Some models, like car dealerships, are even allowed multiple listings for the car makes they sell. Consult the guidelines. Provide as much high quality, accurate, and complete information as possible in creating your profiles.
5) Once your listings are live, it’s time to begin managing them on an ongoing basis. Management tasks will include:
Analyzing chosen categories on an ongoing basis to be sure you’ve selected the best and most influential ones, and know of any new categories that appear over time for your industry.
Committing to a Google Posts schedule, publishing micro-blog-style content on an ongoing basis to increase awareness about products, services, events, and news surrounding the locations you’re marketing.
Populating Google Questions & Answers with company FAQs, providing simple replies to queries your staff receives all the time. Then, answer any incoming questions from the public on an ongoing basis.
7) In addition to managing your own local business profiles, you’ll need to learn to view them in the dynamic context of competitive local markets. You’ll have competitors for each search phrase for which you want to increase your visibility and your customers will see different pack, finder, and maps results based on their locations at the time of search. Don’t get stuck on the goal of being #1, but do learn to do basic local competitive audits so that you can identify patterns of how dominant competitors are winning.
In sum, providing Google with great and appropriate data at the outset, following up with ongoing management of all relevant GMB features, and making a commitment to ongoing local SEO education is the right recipe for creating a growth engine that’s a top asset for the local brands you market.
How to optimize Google My Business listings
This SEO forum FAQ is actually a bit tricky, because so many resources talk about GMB optimization without enough context. Let’s get a handle on this topic together.
Google uses calculations known as “algorithms” to determine the order in which they list businesses for public viewing. Local SEOs and local business owners are always working to better understand the secret ranking factors in Google’s local algorithm so that the locations they’re marketing can achieve maximum visibility in packs, finders, and maps.
Many local SEO experts feel that there are very few fields you can fill out in a Google Business Profile that actually have any impact on ranking. While most experts agree that it’s pretty evident the business name field, the primary chosen category, the linked website URL, and some aspects of reviews may be ranking factors, the Internet is full of confusing advice about “optimizing” service radii, business descriptions, and other features with no evidence that these elements influence rank.
My personal take is that this conversation about GMB optimization matters, but I prefer to think more holistically about the features working in concert to drive visibility, conversions, and growth, rather than speculating too much about how an individual feature may or may not impact rank.
Whether answering a GMB Q&A query delivers a direct lead, or writing a post moves a searcher further along the buyer journey, or choosing a different primary category boosts visibility for certain searches, or responding to a review to demonstrate empathy wins back an unhappy customer, you want it all. If it contributes to business growth, it matters.
Why Google My Business plays a major role in local search marketing strategy
Local businesses seeking to capture the share they need of these queries to become visible in their geographic markets must know how to incorporate Google My Business marketing into their local SEO campaigns.
A definition of local search engine optimization (local SEO)
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing a business’s web presence for increased visibility in local and localized organic search engine results. It’s core to providing modern customer service, ensuring today’s businesses can be found and chosen on the internet. Small and local businesses make up the largest business sector in the United States, making local SEO the most prevalent form of SEO.
Local SEO and Google My Business marketing are not the same thing, but learning to utilize GMB as a tool and asset is key to driving local business growth, because of Google’s near monopoly.
A complete local SEO campaign will include management of the many components of the Google My Business profile, as well as managing listings on other location data and review platforms, social media publication, image and video production and distribution, and a strong focus on the organic and local optimization of the company website. Comprehensive local search marketing campaigns also encompass all the offline efforts a business makes to be found and chosen.
When trying to prioritize, it can help to think of the website as the #1 digital asset of most brands you’ll market, but that GMB marketing will be #2. And within the local search marketing framework, it’s the customer and their satisfaction that must be centered at every stage of on-and-offline promotion.
Focus on GMB but diversify beyond Google
Every aspect of marketing a brand contains plusses, minuses and pitfalls. Google My Business is no exception. Let’s categorize this scenario into four parts for a realistic take on the terrain.
1) The positive
The most positive aspect of GMB is that it meets our criteria as owners and marketers of helping local businesses get found and chosen. At the end of the day, this is the goal of nearly all marketing tactics, and Google’s huge market share makes their platforms a peerless place to compete for the attention of and selection by customers.
What Google has developed is a wonder of technology. With modest effort on your part, GMB lets you digitize a business so that it can be ever-present to communities, facilitate conversations with the public which generate loyalty and underpin everything from inventory development to quality control, and build the kind of online reputation that makes brands local household names in the offline world.
2) The negative
The most obvious negative aspects of GMB are that its very dominance has cut Google too much slack in letting issues like listing and review spam undermine results quality. Without a real competitor, Google hasn’t demonstrated the internal will to solve problems like these that have real-world impacts on local brands and communities.
Meanwhile, a dry-eyed appraisal of Google’s local strategy observes that the company is increasingly monetizing their results. For now, GMB profiles are free, but expanding programs like Local Service Ads point the way to a more costly local SEO future for small businesses on tight budgets
Finally, local brands and marketers (as well as Google’s own employees) are finding themselves increasingly confronted with ethical concerns surrounding Google that have made them the subject of company walkouts, public protests, major lawsuits, and government investigations. If you’re devoting your professional life to building diverse, inclusive local communities that cherish human rights, you may sometimes encounter a fundamental disconnect between your goals and Google’s.
3) The pitfall
Managing your Google-based assets takes time, but don’t let it take all of your time. Because local businesses owners are so busy and Google is so omnipresent, a pitfall has developed where it can appear that GMB is the only game in town.
The old adage about eggs in baskets comes into play every time Google has a frustrating bug, monetizes a formerly-free business category, or lets competitors and lead generators park their advertising in what you felt was your space. Sometimes, Google’s vision of local simply doesn’t match real-world realities, and something like a missing category or an undeveloped feature you need is standing in the way of fully communicating what your business offers.
The pitfall is that Google’s walls can be so high that the limits and limitations of their platforms can be mistaken as all there is to local search marketing.
4) The path to success
My article on how to feed, fight, and flip Google was one of the most-read here on the Moz blog in 2020. With nearly 14,000 unique page views, this message is one I am doubling down on in 2021:
Feed Google everything they need to view the businesses you’re marketing as the most relevant answers to people in close proximity to brand locations so that the companies you promote become the prominent local resources in Google’s index.
Fight spam in the communities you’re marketing to so that you’re weeding out fake and ineligible competitors and protecting neighbors from scams, and take principled stands on the issues that matter to you and your customers, building affinity with the public and a better future where you work and live.
Flip the online scenario where Google controls so much local business fate into a one-on-one environment in which you have full control over creating customer experiences exceptional enough to win repeat business and WOM recommendations, outside the GMB loop. Turn every customer Google sends you into a keeper who comes directly to you — not Google — for multiple transactions.
GMB is vital, but there’s so much to see beyond it! Get listed on multiple platforms and deeply engage in your reviews across them. Add generous value to neighborhood sites Nextdoor, or on old school fora that nobody but locals use. Forge B2B alliances and join the Buy Local movement to become a local business advocate and community sponsor. Help a Reporter Out. Evaluate whether image, video, or podcasting media could boost your brand to local fame. Profoundly grow your email base. Be part of the home delivery revival, fill the hungry longing for bygone quality and expertise, or invest in your website like never before and make the leap into digital sales. The options and opportunities are enticing and there’s a right fit for every local brand.
Key takeaway: don’t get stuck in Google’s world — build your own with your customers from a place of openness to possibilities.
A glance at the future of Google My Business
By now, you’ve likely decided that investing time and resources into your GMB assets is a basic necessity to marketing a local business. But will your efforts pay off for a long time to come? Is GMB built to last, and where is Google heading with their vision of local?
Barring unforeseen circumstances, yes, Google My Business is here to stay, though it could be rebranded, as Google has often rebranded their local features in the past. Here are eight developments I believe we could see over the next half decade:
As mentioned above, Google could default local packs to Maps instead of the local finder, making their network a bit tidier. This is a good time to learn more about Google Maps, because some aspects of it are quite different.
Pay-to-play visibility will become increasingly prevalent in packs, organic, and Maps, including lead generation features and trust badges.
If Apple Maps manages to make Google feel anxious, they may determine to invest in better spam filters for both listings and reviews to defend the quality of their index.
Location-based image filters and search features will grow, so photograph your inventory.
Google will make further strides into local commerce by surfacing, and possibly even beginning to take commissions from, sales of real time inventory. The brands you market will need to decide whether to sell via Google, via their own company websites, or both.
Google could release a feature depicting the mapped delivery radii of brick-and-mortar brands. Home delivery is here to stay, and if it’s relevant to brands you market, now is the time to dive in.
Google has a limited time window to see if they can drive adoption of Google Messaging as a major brand-to-consumer communications platform. The next five years will be telling, in this regard, and brands you market should discuss whether they wish to invite Google into their conversations with customers.
Google could add public commenting on Google Posts to increase their interactivity and push brands into greater use of this feature. Nextdoor has this functionality on their posts and it’s a bit of a surprise that Google doesn’t yet.
What I’m not seeing on the near horizon is a real commitment to better one-on-one support for the local business owners whose data makes up Google’s vast and profitable local index. While the company has substantially increased the amount of automated communications it sends GMB listing owners, Google’s vision of local as an open-source, DIY free-for-all appears to continue to be where they’re at with this evolving venture.
Your job, then, is to be vigilant about both the best and worst aspects of the fascinating Google My Business platform, taking as much control as you can of how customers experience your brand in Google’s territory. This is no easy task, but with ongoing education, supporting tools, and a primary focus on serving the customer, your investment in Google My Business marketing can yield exceptional rewards!