In the previous learning segment of the Regulators Steve provided 8 Tips to Improve your Local Listings so I thought I'd expand on that a little more with some tips and explanations of some of the ways that you can improve the geo ranking signals that will improve your sites rankings and achieve maximum visibility for a location or geo target. I concentrate on the following tasks to maximize local visibility and consequently leverage all my local ranking signals.
I do not call them ranking factors because I don't believe in this day and age Google has "ranking factors". I think "ranking factors" are now more like bundles of signals around what we used to think of as ranking factors. IMO, simply providing the "ranking factor" without the bundle of "verification signals" is far less effective then it was in the past.
Links would be a prime example of how I believe since caffeine Google has adjusted the "ranking factors" and "verification signals" so these days definitive proof of causation is seldom found, however, there are a lot of signals that are correlated to ranking and causation is iffy. There are signals like a title which Google Search syntax enables the signal to be isolated using the allintitle search syntax.
I think one of the first things you consider for raising visibility in a local SEO campaign is to ensure you are targeting the right search index. Note the quote from Google Webmaster Tools below.
"If your site has a neutral top-level domain, such as .com or .org, geotargeting helps Google determine how your site appears in search results, and improves our search results for geographic queries. If you don’t want your site associated with any location, select Unlisted"
This indicates that some TLD are considered neutral meaning they are not really associated to a search index/country so if you want to raise visibility globally then a neutral TLD would be a starting point. If you have a neutral domain and are targeting a specific country/Search Index then it is necessary to go to the "International Targeting" option under Search Traffic in Google Webmaster tools. There is more information on neutral TLD's and how Google determines search index and a list of generic TLD's some of which may surprise you. Note that the Google.com index is the International Index so you could argue that there really is no US index.
Another consideration is Domain Name Server location which is often referred to as host but keep in mind that the Domain Name Servers for a host may be located in another country and that may be the signal that Google gets. Note that the strongest signal is the TLD where the TLD is not a generic/neutral/International TLD. It is interesting that with generic TLD's Google uses:
IMO, Number 3 is very important for International companies that want to be found in multiple country indexes. First I would advise to buy a neutral/generic domain, do not select a country target in GWT and get as many links as you can from sites that have signals that are easily defined as being from the target country. For Local SEO it is important that country specific directories and niche specific directories (often broke down by Country/city) are part of the SEO campaign. I know you often hear directories are a waste of time. The truth is almost all general directories are in fact a waste of time. I have used Darren Shaw's Whitespark.ca citation finder and you can also find an excellent list of citation sites for US, Canada, UK and AU on the site.
This is one way to get very granular with your local SEO citation building. Darren Shaw refers to 2 types of citations structured (directories and business listing sites) and unstructured citations which would be blogs and other sites with no topographic or listing structure. I like to target unstructured citations down to the city level if at all possible. Also be very careful that the blog is not one that seemingly has no niche topic. This usually becomes evident on the home page where you often can not really ascertain what the topic the site is about. The problem with these sites are they are the types of blog footprints that Google targets for Penguin and other algorithmic penalties. This may be harder to determine for some blogs/sites that cover a city. BlogTo.com is easily identified as about Toronto, however, without the mention of the city/region in the titles of the pages you would be hard pressed to figure that out.
NAP is short for Name, Address and Phone number. Two things to remember about NAPs is that you have to manage both the NAP's on the site and offsite. Onsite you must make sure that if you are using dynamic phone number insertion that images should be used for any non-NAP phone numbers. Offsite it is important that all listings are claimed because if not claimed anyone can claim them and mess with your listing. Also note that Google has recently changed their Google My Business criteria so if you have multiple businesses using the same NAP you may have a problem getting them all listed in Google My Business. Note if you are targeting "the world" then you will want to be very careful about providing NAP info on your site. I suggest you put the NAP in images so it displays for users but sends no NAP signal to Google.
I hope that the information I provided today will help you to raise your visibility across many Search Indexes or help you manage your preferred search index by sending the right bundle of signals for location. My hope with this post was that I could demonstrate that "ranking factors" are no longer singular signals but rather a "ranking factor" with a bundle of "verification signals" and provide info that enables a site to obtain visibility across multiple search indexes.
About the Author
Terry Van Horne is a founder of SEO Pros, a Partner in SEO Training Dojo and owner of International Website Builders. Terry has over 2 decades of web development and SEO experience working with small businesses and International Brands most people would recognize immediately.