Local SEO – How to Optimize Your Website for Multiple Suburbs

Here’s an interesting subject that is usually always being discussed within the SEO community and one that unfortunately often results in less than desirable strategies being employed – and that is onsite optimisation for businesses that are wanting to promote their website for “location specific” terms.

For example, many business owners that I work with, such as electricians, arborists, limousine drivers and so forth, often provide service offerings across a wide number of suburbs or regions.

They might be working in the Lower North Shore area of Sydney, or the Western suburbs or even on the Central Coast. In any case, business owners that do so, want to promote themselves within Google for the suburbs of which they service – and I mean, why wouldn’t they? It makes perfect sense.

A typical location specific Google search

plumber-lane-cove-north

Secret handshakes and SEO

Just recently I met with a client that provided a service on the North Shores of Sydney. We sat and chatted during our initial meeting, and during that meeting he passed me a written list of suburbs that he’d scribbled down that he wanted to rank for in Google.

He said “John, I want to be first page in Google for <insert service description here> <followed by suburb name here> can you help me?”

I looked down at the list and here’s what I saw.

  • Artarmon
  • Cammeray
  • Castle Cove
  • Castlecrag
  • Chatswood
  • Chatswood West
  • Cremorne
  • Cremorne Point
  • Crows Nest
  • East Willoughby
  • Greenwich
  • Killarney Heights
  • Kirribilli
  • Lane Cove
  • Lane Cove North
  • Lane Cove West
  • Lavender Bay
  • Linley Point
  • Longueville
  • McMahons Point
  • Middle Cove
  • Milsons Point
  • Mosman
  • Naremburn
  • Neutral Bay
  • North Sydney
  • North Willoughby
  • Northbridge
  • Northwood
  • Riverview
  • St Leonards
  • Tennyson Point
  • Waverton
  • Willoughby
  • Wollstonecraft
  • Woolwich

I replied, “Sure, no problem, we can do this”. He was happy, I was happy. We finished our $12 caramel lattes, exchanged a secret handshake, then went our own ways.

What tends to happen in the SEO industry

Depending upon who you decide to work with, and what sort of money you’re paying, you’ll find in many cases, SEO agencies will simply build out thin pages designed specifically to target certain suburb names.

If we were to refer back to the suburb list that my client gave me, we might end up with a URL structure that looks something like this.

  • www.domainname.com.au/location/plumber-sydney-artamon.html
  • www.domainname.com.au/location/plumber-sydney-cammeray.html
  • www.domainname.com.au/location/plumber-sydney-middle-cove.html
  • www.domainname.com.au/location/plumber-sydney-st-leonards.html
  • www.domainname.com.au/location/plumber-sydney-kirribilli.html

Now, you might be thinking, “But isn’t that the right way to do SEO, by putting the keywords we want to target in our page names?”

The answer to that is – YES.

BUT…

The problem comes about when those pages end up looking something like this.

local-seo1

local-seo2

And here’s another one from the same website.

local-seo3

As you can see, none of these pages really provide any useful or unique information about the service offering.

All they’re doing is targeting the following areas…

  • Limo Hire Sutherland Sydney
  • Limo Hire Hawkesbury Sydney
  • Limo Hire Parramatta Sydney

Infact this website has dozens of pages like these, which are all basically the same except for the suburb name. What makes it worse is the fact that they’ve stuffed even more suburb names as links on each of the pages. Pretty low quality stuff.

Near duplicate content

duplicate

The problem with this is that you’re essentially creating “near duplicate” pages on your site, and this always spells trouble. I’m not sure as to whether or not the supplemental index is a myth or not (I think it’s quite plausible) however when you go about publishing pages that are virtually the same (95% identical), then you’re going to run into troubles, just as this person has over at Flying Solo.

Essentially what ends up happening, is that Google will simply “ignore” all of those thin pages, and only indexes the ones that matter. Or, of course, if things get really dirty, they slap you across the face with a wet fish. (Panda penalty)

Haters gonna hate

Before I go any further, I need to throw a handful of peanuts at the monkeys out there that will be jumping up and down screaming, “This is bullshit, this is perfectly fine and it works!” ….and to be honest with you, it does work. The question is – FOR HOW MUCH LONGER?

seo-myth

Let’s step back for a moment and have a think about this.

Google hates this crap

Google have made it perfectly clear that rubbish like this is frowned upon, and I know many reading this article might be thinking “who cares”, but for those servicing businesses – THEY should care. I would hate to have to sit with a client and say, “Oh Susan, remember those suburb targeted pages that we rolled out? Well I’m sorry, but it looks like all of those pages have been slapped, and you’re site has been penalized as a result. Sorry about that. Would you like to pay us to fix it for you at $299 a month, for another 12 months?”

What do readers think?

Of course it’s impossible for me to know what users of the web think of this kind of stuff, but I find it a bit annoying, especially when I’m after more information. (I’d like to know what you think, post a comment below)

This method of SEO works

It’s a bit unfortunate, but strategies like this still work. Obviously this isn’t going to work in every market, because of other factors (with the main one being of course competition) however it goes without saying that a lot of SEO agencies are using this method to target location specific searches.

Business owners just want fast results

At the end of the day, most SEO agencies are just giving business owners what they want – which is first page rankings, and fast. This is where the whole thing gets messy. Business owners want results, they want them now, they don’t care how it’s done, they just want to see their website on the first page of Google for their target keywords.

Many business owners because of this, don’t really have any idea of a) what’s being done b) how it’s being done c) if there’s any risk involved.

Google is changing

If we think about the direction that Google is moving in, there’s a few indicators that search is becoming more about conversational language than it is purely keywords. With updates like Google Hummingbird, the removal of keyword data in Analytics, and the upcoming threat of Facebook Search – it’s inevitable that eventually search will become more about natural language than it will just crude keywords.

Infact, Barry Schwartz over at SEO Roundtable just released a video recently where he spoke about longer, more conversational type searches such as “Who is the oldest player in the NBA?”. You can see that video here. There’s also an article outlining it here.

This crap won’t last

It should be pretty obvious why this stuff just won’t last long term. As search engines become smarter, and your competitors up their content marketing efforts – stuff like this is going to end up on the trash heap.

What’s the solution?

seo-solution

Okay, so you’re probably wondering, “What’s the solution then?”. Well there are a few solutions, and I’m going to share them with you right now. These are the very same strategies that I use when working with clients.

1. Start a blog

This one is bound to ruffle some feathers, especially amongst business owners that are likely to shake their heads and say, “I don’t have time to be sitting around all day sipping tea, watching Oprah and writing blog posts, I’ve got a business to run”.

Well guess what? The harsh reality of the matter is this – search results are content driven, and it’s a BLOG that can make this strategy work – LONG TERM.

If your site doesn’t have a blog – then sort one out. Fast.

With a blog business owners that service a wide number of suburbs or regions, can do so effectively by –

  • adding really useful content that is going to help drive sales
  • demonstrating their expertise in their industry

..and all of this without risk of penalty.

But how?

Good question, let’s move on to step two.

2. Embrace multimedia rich content

Instead of just creating thin, useless, near duplicate pages that could effectively penalize your website, consider leveraging richer forms of content. This might include –

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Photos
  • Charts, diagrams, illustrations
  • …or a combination of all of these

3. Make publishing part of your daily routine

Using the options above, here are a few real life examples that business owners could do in order to make this work. For this example I’m going to use a fictitious character named Jake, (who is a plumber). Jake is wanting to promote his business across several suburbs in the Sydney area.

VIDEO

Every time Jake arrives at a job, he whips out his mobile phone and does a number of short videos that explain –

  • Where he is (hint hint, this is where Jake would use the SUBURB name)
  • Why he has been called out (the issue or problem)
  • How he intends on sorting the problem out (the process, or what he will be doing)

AUDIO

Don’t like doing video? Try this instead. After completion of each job, Jake whips out his mobile phone, and he records himself speaking about details of the job. Those details again would cover –

  • Where the job was (hint hint, this is where Jake would use the SUBURB name)
  • Why he was called out (the issue or problem)
  • How he sorted the problem out (the process, or what he did to fix it)

PHOTOS

Each time Jake arrives at a job, he whips out his mobile phone and takes a number of still digital photos. Before, during and after. He then imports all of those photos into powerpoint and turns that into a slide with his voice recorded over the top, explaining each photo in detail (what was done, how, why, and where)

CHARTS, DIAGRAMS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

This process would essentially be the same as above.

Of course you could use a combination of all of these methods. The trick is to find a medium that –

  • Fits in with your schedule
  • You’re most comfortable with

4. Keywords – putting it all together

Now you might be thinking, “How is a video going to help me in terms of SEO?” Great question. I TRANSCRIBE them. This is what gives you that onpage contextual BOOST. This is great because –

  • It’s natural language
  • You use all of those juicy relevant terms
  • You use synonyms, and other goodies that Google loves like LSI

…without even knowing it.

So you have the text on the page, what about the title?

That’s the easy part. Take the location and description of each job you’ve done, and use that to create a natural title that targets the suburb or location of where the job was performed.

For example…

  • Amy’s first driving lesson with ABC at Cremorne goes well
  • Asbestos removal at Neutral Bay causes residents some concerns
  • Verandah installation at Kiribilli with before and after photos
  • Dangerous tree at Crows Nest removed to ensure childrens safety
  • Assessing termite damage at Chatswood residence

As you can see, we’re targeting our suburb names, but we’re doing it NATURALLY. This is what’s important. And of course, all of the content on the pages (so long as the strategy above is followed) is going to be highly useful, engaging, share worthy, and unique, original content that both a) Google loves b) your prospects and customers will love.

So there you have it. Rather than build out thin, useless pages that could potentially end in drama, consider the above strategy, and over time you will see some amazing results.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this one, so be sure to post a comment below.

Conclusion

The overall message here is that you cant just slap up thin, near duplicate pages and expect results. You’ve got to create pages that provide value. I’ve just written a new article that shows another way of ranking suburb pages in Google, you can read it here.

As always, if you’ve got a comment, a question or would like to leave a comment below, do so, and Ill reply.

14 comments on “Local SEO – How to Optimize Your Website for Multiple Suburbs

  1. Kalite seo hizmeti on

    Hi John
    Reading your article about local seo, surprise me a lot. But after seen the pictures and the word ” Sounds load of crap to me” made me relief what I was thinking.
    I had similar issue on e commerce site and achieved pretty good results,
    But how ever your sample above is not a e e commerce site at all.
    So how you going to do it ! Let’s say you want to use blog with nice article to create those particular keyword..how on earth you can write that many different articles or content for the sake of suburbs names right!

    Well I had same issue with non ecommerce site like limo hire you show above as sample.

    Mine was a plumber and covers almost hundreds of suburbs..So I did this

    I created particular category ” Plumbers services in Istanbul”
    Than quick short description..
    List all the areas with bold title
    Than provide phone number , contact.ect…
    Than finished with nice main keywords like” we are available for all suburbs of Istanbul just give us a call”
    That was a consulting work I was doing for the seo firm in Istanbul.
    Less than a week they are start to pop up with the keywords they were wishing for.
    But in my opinion it is not good enough just one page to list those suburbs. But mention few suburbs names in related articles as well works fine.
    But as you know yourself after Hummingbird changes we can’t write a different article for each keyword especially if the topic is same.
    For the Limo hire. I would go with nice content to explain why you should hire us kind of caption then wrote few stories from each suburb clientele what a wonderful experience they had kind of..

    I am sure few articles or content would be enough to cover all suburbs in Sydney especially with nice touch of footer link.
    No double tag, content and free of punishment from Google zoo.

    These kind of things works very fine with ecommerce site but not with plummer or Limo hire is it!
    E Commerce sites has many categories and products and it much easier to rank every single word as you wish if it is done properly.

    Thanks for the interesting article and sharing with us.

    Cheers

    Sabastian

    Reply
  2. Jono on

    Just stumbled upon this site while searching for ideas for a client who asked me how to rank for specific suburbs. I really like your blog! Good food for thought / ideas, presented in a straightforward, honest and humourous fashion. Great stuff. Bookmarked.

    Reply
  3. Vance on

    Hi John, this ones an interesting topic. My first site we built I did exactly that, built thin suburb pages but only some sit on the front page of google while others on the second and third. Just built my second money site and am doing research about how I’m going to build local suburb pages and I think this may be the key.

    What I’ve found in the past while doing this (building posts not pages) is that google will rank that post rather than the home page but wondering how this will go if you continue to build posts about the same suburb? Which post will rank better? Do you build links to those posts or to the main page when targeting that particular keyword/suburb? It’s a tricky situation the whole local seo.

    Vance

    Reply
    • John Romaine on

      Vince, I don’t build links to suburb specific pages. You’ll probably find that most of them have low competition and rank easily.

      If you apply my suggestion above, over time you will own every suburb in your space.

      The problem is, most people are just too time poor or lazy to do it.

      Reply
  4. Paul on

    Hi John,

    Great article, thanks for posting. I will be implementing the Blog idea with appropriate page titles – before, during and after pics are always compelling content that assist sales efforts so there is even more reason to follow your formula.

    I have seen examples of the Limo type sites that rank really highly for every suburb but I am loathe to go that way due to not being able to produce different content for each page.

    I am with you, I think Google will destroy those sites at some point because it is clear that the only reason the suburb specific pages exist is SEO.

    Reply
    • John Romaine on

      Hi Paul,

      Yes the blog strategy is one that is completely safe and can help drive customers, leads and sales, because you can demonstrate your work and expertise.

      It does take a bit of work, but will be much safer than building out near duplicate pages, which will get hammered sooner or later.

      Reply
  5. Michelle on

    Hi John, great article for some one like myself that is trying to do it all with not much knowledge on SEO or web building skills.

    I have used a self serve type website builders.

    My question is, if you can help me please , as a cleaning company that covers many suburbs and country towns does parking domains such as suburbcleaning.com.au and cleaning suburb.com.au have any value in directing traffic to my website.

    On the advise of someone who seemed to know about website building i have purchased many domain names ( 78 in total) with all the possible combinations.

    Reply
    • John Romaine on

      Hi Michelle,
      No you should avoid buying keyword rich exact match domains. You’re wasting a lot of time and money by doing so. You should always build out one site – and build it out well. Essentially, you will want to build site AUTHORITY, and the only way you can do this, is to put all of your efforts into one site – not 78.

      There’s no way in hell you can effectively manage 78 websites. That is a total headache.

      You would be much better off, doing something like this…..mydomain.com.au/region/suburb-name.html OR at least something similar. If you follow my advice and build SITE AUTHORITY, you will rank PAGES, not DOMAINS, simply because they are EMD (exact match domains)

      The other issue you are faced with is the loss of “link equity”. When links are being pointed to a large number of sites, instead of 1, you are essentially watering down any potential link juice that SHOULD be pointing to ONE site.

      I hope this helps.

      Reply
  6. Michael on

    Hi John,
    Thanks very much for making this blog. Some questions for you please??

    I love the idea of making a blog and stating the suburb where I am working. I already submit a lot to facebook and instagram, almost daily, however I’m yet to transfer these on to my website due to them being time consuming and the inability to find an ‘automatic post app’ that looks good enough. I do however have the Facebook Page feed on the ‘Social’ page on my website- WOULD this count and be useful in the same way as a website-integrated-blog would be? Of course I’d have to start naming the suburbs with all my posts first…

    Secondly, would it be a great idea to go through all the images on my website, and update the short descriptions to name the suburbs I was working at? This would be a very easy solution if it is effective.

    Third, does having a text box (listing the suburbs) that is visible to googlebot but essentially unreadable to viewers because the text color matches the background or is hidden behind an element work??

    Forth, would it be a good idea to list the suburbs I will go as a section in my FAQ page?

    I realise this is a long post, any input is much appreciated!
    Mike

    Reply
    • John Romaine on

      Michael, always publish content on your own site first, then syndicate out across social media. Unless of course, you’re posting short updates and notifications. You won’t get the traffic to your own site, if the information is being published on Facebook or Instagram (it may filter across) but focus on your own site.

      As for images, they should be keyword rich. So if you’re targeting the following term “SEO specialist Sydney” then it makes sense to use an image with a filename seo-specialist-sydney.jpg or similar towards the top of the page.

      NEVER EVER use hidden elements ( text color matches the background or is hidden behind ) etc etc. Google frowns upon this big time and it could lead to a penalty.

      Lastly, listing suburbs on your FAQ page is fine, but avoid keyword stuffing. You probably want to build out something that looks like this…

      /service-areas/ (parent category) …then add in your suburbs as follows…

      /service-areas/suburb-1/
      /service-areas/suburb-2/
      /service-areas/suburb-3/

      Reply

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