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
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.
- Castle Cove
- Chatswood West
- Cremorne Point
- Crows Nest
- East Willoughby
- Killarney Heights
- Lane Cove
- Lane Cove North
- Lane Cove West
- Lavender Bay
- Linley Point
- McMahons Point
- Middle Cove
- Milsons Point
- Neutral Bay
- North Sydney
- North Willoughby
- St Leonards
- Tennyson Point
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.
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.
The problem comes about when those pages end up looking something like this.
And here’s another one from the same website.
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
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?
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?
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.
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 –
- 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.
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)
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)
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.
- 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.
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.