SEO: When To Hire & When To Do It Yourself

SEO: When To Hire & When To Do It Yourself

SEO, or search-engine-optimization, is brilliantly simple or surprisingly complex, depending on who you ask. Some people make sweeping promises and guarantee dreamy results, while others won’t make promises at all.

So what’s the deal, who’s right? And who should you trust your SEO to? Should you do it yourself in-house or hire an individual or company to do it for you? To find out, let’s look at what SEO is at its most basic, and what it takes to really do it right.

What Is SEO & Why Is It Important?

What is SEO? SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” and in a sentence, it’s the work that goes into making sure your website and brand will show up in search engine results.

There are a few reasons why SEO should matter to you.

  • Even with Google Local Service Ads, Google Ads, and other paid search options, organic search still garners the most clicks, which means that’s still where people are looking. Without an optimized website, you won’t have much of a chance of showing up in organic search (outside of directory sites).
  • SEO helps establish your business as a credible, trustworthy entity. The more Google trusts your site, the more confident it will be in showing it to those searching for the services or products you offer.
  • A well-optimized website will always provide a better user experience. When searchers find your website to be fast-loading, attractive, useful, easy to navigate, and helpful, Google takes notice, and over time, rewards you for that in search.
  • The world wide web is a BIG place with so much to sift through. Local SEO can help those near you who are looking for the services or products you offer find you faster and with less effort, which means more business for you. If finding your business online is like finding a needle in a haystack, who’s going to bother?

In other words, SEO can help or hurt your business.

Ok, so SEO matters. But is it something you have to outsource or is it something you can do yourself?

Doing SEO Yourself: What’s Involved & What Are The Biggest Considerations & Challenges?

If you’re considering doing your SEO yourself in-house, keep in mind that time is going to be the biggest challenge. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t a once and done thing; it’s something that requires ongoing attention and ongoing effort. There are monthly, bi-monthly, and sometimes daily tasks that need to be done — and on top of the work, you need to stay up-to-date on any Google, Yelp, Bing, etc. changes to algorithms and rules.

Not only will you need to know when the changes occurred, but you’ll need to fully understand what those changes mean for you and if/how they’ll impact your business. This usually means a lot of reading, so you’ll want to subscribe to daily newsletters from search engine digests, and possibly spend hours watching Google hangouts with John Mueller.

As you probably already know, Google and other big players aren’t always transparent about what they’re doing or why, so it’s also a good idea to spend some time reading about what other people in the industry are noticing and predicting, so you’re not completely taken by surprise when big changes hit, new features pop up, or old favorites disappear.

Having other eyes on the landscape can be really helpful, especially when you’re doing it yourself. After all, you only have so many hours in the day!

You’ll also likely need to invest in tools to help and to save you some time. There are all kinds of tools out there, like keyword research tools and rank trackers, some paid, some free. We’ll share some tools with you as they relate to the tasks we’re tackling below.

First Things First

Before you can really dive into some of the ongoing SEO work, you have to start with the basics: a website. If you don’t have a website, you don’t have anything to really show up in search results, aside from listings and citations on niche sites and directory sites.

We recommend starting with a website before creating listings and citations, because you’ll want to include your website URL on the listing sites/directory sites, and if you don’t have a website yet, you’ll have to go back in and add that later. Start by creating a well-optimized, mobile-friendly website, and save yourself a step.

Alright, on to some website basics. Your website needs to:

  • Be well-designed, user-friendly, and easy to navigate.
  • Look good on mobile, desktop, and tablet devices.
  • Include your services, phone number, address (if applicable), and the location you’re optimizing for.
  • Include internal links that make navigating the site easy and show Google what pages are most important.
  • Have high-quality, optimized images.
  • Have optimized headings, title tags, and meta descriptions.
  • Include relevant Schema markup.
  • Include content that contains the keywords you want to rank for and is informative and helpful.

Content Tips:

When writing your website, be sure to avoid what’s known as “thin” content or “duplicate” content.  

  • Duplicate content is content that’s unoriginal. You may have taken it from another website or publication or from another page on your own website.
  • Thin content is content that doesn’t really say anything worthwhile and isn’t worthy of a page on your website. If you only have one or two sentences on a page, that’s probably going to be marked as “thin” content.

Make sure the content on every single page of your website is unique and that every single page provides value and serves a purpose. While there aren’t direct “penalties” for duplicate or thin content, both can negatively impact your rankings because of how Google handles them.

For example, with duplicate content, Google will try to determine what the original source is (or what URL has the most authority), and will show that one in search results, but not all the others. The reason for this is that the algorithm doesn’t want to show the same results multiple times. So if you’ve taken content from a bigger, more authoritative site, that site will show up in search, not yours. And if you’ve taken content from one of your other site pages, only one of those pages will likely show up in search for that query.

If your website content is deemed “thin,” Google will know your site isn’t likely to provide much value or be what searchers are looking for, and won’t show it as a top search result. Likewise, you’ll have a lower chance of showing up for specific keywords, because you’ll have so little content and keywords on your site.

Speaking of content and keywords, how do you identify what keywords to include on your site and what content you need? Well, listening to your customers and how they talk about their needs as they relate to your services is a good place to start. You can also use tools.

  • When it comes to keyword research, one of our favorite free tools is Answer the Public, but there are also others, like the Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush.
  • For content analysis, you can use Google Search Console or Google Analytics to look at page metrics. Are pages underperforming? You may need to add some more content or optimize the content you have.
  • When looking for questions to answer in the content of your website, take advantage of autocomplete. If you don’t have a tool like Rank Tracker, which shows you autocomplete keyword results for big players like Google, Bing, and Amazon, you can always do it the old fashioned (free) way. Just open up your browser, go to Google, Bing, Amazon, etc., type in a keyword, and see what pops up.

Google-Autofill-Why-Is-My-Fireplace

  • One great thing about Google is that they also have a PAA  “People also ask” section, which allows you to easily identify questions related to your search query, so you can answer those questions in your content as well.PAA - Google-People-Also-Ask-Screenshot

Some other great places to look for questions to answer in your content are:

  • Quora, Reddit, and forums/threads
  • YouTube
  • Blogs
  • FB groups

Once you have your website live and optimized, and you’re sure it’s properly indexed and crawl-able, you’ll want to create citations for your company across the web. Essentially what that means is that you want to make sure that your company name, address, and phone number (NAP) are listed on industry specific sites, directory sites (like Yelp), and other relevant places where customers might be searching. You’ll also want to create, claim, and optimize your Google My Business listing.

Tip: Make sure that you’re consistent every time you add your NAP, because consistency helps build Google’s confidence in the accuracy of your information. The more confident they are, the more likely they’ll be to put that information in front of searchers.

Ongoing Tasks To Schedule

If you’ve made it this far, way to go! But remember, SEO doesn’t end with creating a website and adding your NAP where relevant. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Your website and NAP are only part of the equation, and there’s still work to be done.

So what are some tasks you’ll need to make time for on a bi-monthly or monthly basis if you do SEO in-house? While this list is by no means comprehensive, it’s a good start:

Check your GMB (Google My Business) profile for any updates, improvements, or changes.

Your GMB profile is what shows up on the right hand side of search results when someone searches for your business in Google. Here’s what our GMB profile looks like in search results:

Spark-Marketer-Google-My-Business-Profile-Screenshot

What kind of changes could you expect to see to your GMB profile? Some helpful  – like COVID posts – and some problematic – like the bug that allowed competitors to go in and change the open date of a business to a date in the future. (By doing this, these individuals effectively had the business’s GMB listing completely removed from search results.)

If you aren’t regularly checking on your GMB listing, you might not even realize that your GMB listing is missing, because Google doesn’t send notifications of these changes. And that could potentially mean A LOT of lost business.

Do rank checks and look for any changes.

Rankings aren’t everything, but you do need to know where/if you’re showing up in search results. It’s important to do this on a regular basis because rankings can change.

Did you suddenly drop from position 2 to position 11 in organic search results? It’s time to do some investigative work. What’s changed? Was it something on your website or was it something Google or a competitor did? What do you need to do to see your rankings improve? It may take some time to figure out the answer to this, but it’s well worth it! And while you’re investigating, remember that rankings can vary depending on the location of the searcher, as well as other factors, so don’t think it’s something that’s always the same for everyone.

Tool tip: You can track your rankings by searching for your business in Google using incognito mode. You may also want to invest in SEO tools from BrightLocal, which allow you to track rankings, audit citations, and do a whole host of other necessary tasks.

Do analytics checks.

Who’s coming to your site? How are they finding you? Have there been any recent spikes or drops in traffic? What caused it?

A big drop in traffic could be caused by a number of different things. When you notice big changes, it’s important to take the time to dig deep and figure out what’s behind the drop. Knowing will allow you to react faster and make any changes you need to make before there’s a significant impact on your business.

But analytics checks don’t just alert you to bad news! Did you have a big spike in traffic after posting a new blog post? Great! Now you know what types of content and topics are bringing you the most traffic, so you can create more content like that. But if you never take the time to look at the analytics, you’ll never know these things!

Tool tip: Google Analytics is a great tool to use for this task.

Check & update plugins.

If you have plugins on your website, like Yoast (a social plugin), you’ll need to regularly check them for any updates, issues, or improvements. Too many plugins/outdated plugins can slow down your site and cause issues, so it’s important that this be a routine check. The best way to do this is to log in to your website. WordPress and other platforms like it will normally alert you if updates are needed.

Do backlink checks.

Backlinks are links that are coming to your site from another website, and these can have a positive or negative impact on your rankings. High-quality links can improve your authority and give you a bit of a rankings boost, but not all links are good links to have. If you’re being linked to by spammy sites, those low-quality links may do you more harm than good. You’ll want to have any questionably links removed so Google doesn’t think you’re crap, just because the sites linking to you are.

Tool tip: For backlink checks, there are helpful tools out there like Majestic, Search Console, and SEO Spyglass.

Do page speed checks.

When a website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, most of us just hit the convenient back arrow and find a different website that won’t waste our time. Does that mean your website needs to be lightning fast? Probably not, because most aren’t. But you do need to make sure it’s not unbearably slow.

It doesn’t matter how great your website is if no one stays long enough to see it. So perform regular page speed checks. If your site takes too long to load, you may need to optimize your images, get rid of some plugins, or otherwise lighten the load.

Tool tip: To keep an eye on page speed, use the Google Page Speed Insight Tool or webpagetest.org.

Create & schedule blog posts.

Blog posts are a great way to educate your customers, answer their questions, and improve your chances of showing up in search results for the topics surrounding your product or service. Why? Because it increases the keywords you rank for. But, like everything else, creating and scheduling blog posts takes time.

There are differing opinions on how frequently you should post on your website’s blog, but the most important thing to remember is to be consistent. If you can post once a month consistently, then do that. If you can post more frequently, do that. Just make sure your blog posts are valuable and not just thin-content that Google will quickly identify as pointless.

And, once you’ve published your new blog post, make sure to promote it a little. For example, you may want to share it on your company’s Facebook page or LinkedIn page to get it out in front of your audience.

Tool tip: Tools like HooteSuite and Buffer can make it easy to share your new blog posts to your social media profiles.

Check and respond to reviews.

Just about everyone in every age group is looking at your reviews to see what others are saying and how you’re responding. So you need to keep a close eye on your Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews.

When negative reviews come in, you need to respond to them, and try to take those conversations offline so you can make things right. When positive reviews come in, you need to respond to those, too, and let your customers know you appreciate their business and the time they took to leave you a review. You should be set up to get notifications when a review is left, so this shouldn’t be as tricky to stay on top of as some other ongoing tasks may be.

That’s not everything, but if you can do all that, you’ll be doing alright. But what if you don’t have the time or resources to commit to doing SEO yourself?

Hiring Someone To Do Your SEO: What To Consider, What To Look For & What To Avoid

Ok, so maybe you’re leaning towards hiring someone. First things first: should you hire a company or a person?

Well, remember all the time and effort that can be required on an ongoing basis. Ask yourself, “Is that something one person can handle, especially if they have other clients?” Sometimes it’s better to go with a company because they have more eyes on the landscape, more tools, and more time and resources to dedicate to your SEO success. But that doesn’t mean all companies are a good choice.

Some will assign you an account manager who has more than 100 clients and can’t possibly give you much attention. In that case, how is hiring a company any better for you than hiring an individual? Well, it’s not. So take the time to consider the time involved and the client load of the individual or company account manager before making a decision.

What else should you do when vetting an SEO vendor?

Ask them questions.

You may feel like you don’t have the technical knowledge to really ask the right questions, but there are some simple ones that should help you determine if the SEO vendor you’re looking at is up to snuff.

  1. One question you’ll definitely want to ask is if a mobile-friendly website is important. If they say “No,” keep looking. More than half of all searches are done on mobile devices. If an SEO vendor doesn’t think having a mobile-friendly website that performs well is important, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  2. If the company will be creating a website for you and buying a domain name on your behalf, ask them if you’ll have full ownership of that site and the domain name, even if your relationship with them ends. The last thing you want is to lose your website and your domain just because you decide that the SEO company that built your website isn’t a good long-term fit.
  3. Another question to ask is what they do for their customers. They should be able to provide you with something more than general statements. Any SEO worth their weight has actionable items and tasks they perform on behalf of their clients in order to really move the needle. If you ask and they can’t really answer you or don’t make any sense, they’re probably not the company for you.

Psst. Steer clear of any companies making promises or guarantees about results or time frames. They’re lying to you. And definitely avoid anyone who buys reviews or links.

Do some research.

When looking for an SEO vendor, take some time to vet them the way your customers vet you.

  • Look at their website. Is it HTTPS? The move from HTTP to HTTPS has been an important message from Google for years, so if an SEO vendor you’re looking at hasn’t made the move, they’re not on their A game. Look for someone else.
  • Take a look at their reviews. A company will always put themselves in the best light, but if you want an idea of what they’re really like to work with, look at what others are saying. Head to Google or Facebook and see what you can find. What are recurrent themes? Do people praise their communication? Do people warn against working with them because they lock them into contracts that are nearly impossible to get out of? Sift through the reviews and see what you can find.
  • Are they local? By local, we don’t mean near you, we mean in the country you work in. Why does locality matter? Because you need your SEO team to be there when you need them, and if they’re 12 hours ahead of you, that could be a problem. But don’t get so obsessed with locality that you’ll only hire someone in your city. There may be companies that are an hour ahead or an hour behind you, but will provide you with far better service than the ones nearest your business.
  • Are they quoting a significantly lower price than everyone else? Price will always be a factor when you’re outsourcing work, because you only have so much money to dedicate to things like SEO. But for the sake of your business, don’t go out and find the cheapest company you can find. You usually get what you pay for. If someone is quoting far less than everyone else, there’s usually a good reason.

And lastly, trust your gut.

Your SEO vendor should be a partner that really helps you achieve your business goals faster and with greater ease. But working with the wrong company can be incredibly frustrating, costly, and wasteful. Take some time to feel it out and get to know them a little. If what they’re saying sounds too good to be true, they seem sleazy, or you just get a bad feeling about working with them, keep looking. In this case, you’re better off waiting for the right fit than hiring the wrong one.

Are we a match made in heaven? Check out our reviews and schedule a call with Chris. He’s a nice guy and he won’t try to convince you we’re right for you if we’re not.

FAQ With Chris: Chris Pitts Answers Some Of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions (Part One)

FAQ With Chris: Chris Pitts Answers Some Of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions (Part One)

The world of search and SEO can be confusing, but if it’s all Greek to you, you’re not alone. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions answered by Client Relationship Manager, Chris Pitts. If you have questions you’d like Chris to answer in the next round, please leave them in the comments section and we’ll do our best to get to all of them in time!

#1 How Do Rankings Work & What’s The Difference Between Organic & Maps?

There are three places on a Google Search Results page that are completely independent of one another where ranking comes into play.

The first section (at the top of the page and sometimes at the bottom as well) is Google Ads. These are marked by an “ad” symbol and are determined entirely through the Google PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising program. These spaces are not subject to the Google algorithm and instead depend on how much a company is bidding per click, as well as quality score (relevance of the content on the landing page to the search) and competition. You will not show up there if you aren’t in the Google Ads PPC program.

The second place is Maps. Maps results are delivered to a searcher when they are searching for a business or service “with intent.” What “with intent” means is that Google has determined that the searcher is looking for a business near a physical location. If you expand the Maps results, it will take you to Google Maps, which shows a much larger bank of results within a given area.

The problem with Maps is that it is built for brick and mortar stores, not service businesses. Despite this, Google still shows Maps results for service searches, which muddies the water a bit. Because results are so tied to physical location, you will not show up in the Maps pack if you are not physically located near the area the searcher is physically searching from or near the central area the searcher has put into the search bar. All ‘near me’ queries are treated as a search for a brick and mortar location.

There has been a rich history of people spamming Maps by creating listings in places other than physical locations (i.e. P.O. Boxes and UPS Stores). This is against Google guidelines, but Google is spotty with how they treat spam, so while it’s risky to operate this way, we do see companies have success doing this from time to time. Of course, you risk losing your Google Maps listing altogether, which means losing all of your reviews as well, since they are housed within Google Maps. Not worth it in our opinion!

The third section is organic. Organic rank is determined mostly by the content, quality, and markup on the site itself. Several factors go into this determination, but some of the biggest ones are:

  • Site speed (page load time)
  • Relevance and readability of text content on the page (Google works because it delivers results that are relevant to the searcher. Text content is the only way for Google to determine this, outside of the coded information we send to them)
  • SEO Titles/Meta Descriptions (the titles and descriptions on the back end of the page that make up the snippet that shows in search results and gives Google an overview of the content on the page)
  • Relevant links to the page from high-quality sources

Each page of a site can be indexed separately, so you may see several pages from the same site come up for searches.

When you’re dealing with organic rank, specifically on a home page, you have to take into account NAP info (Name, Address & Phone Number), and potentially competing websites. If your business has more than one website (especially if each website has a different phone number or address associated with it), Google will get confused, and could drop your ranking on both sites. Keeping your NAP info consistent on all sources online helps keep your organic ranking up. Any place your NAP is incorrect or inconsistent can be seen by Google and lowers your site’s trust rating. After all, if there’s conflicting information, how can Google be confident that it’s presenting the correct information to the searcher? It can’t, so it will drop your organic ranking.

#2 What Does NAP Mean & Why Is It So Important To Be Consistent?

NAP info stands for Name, Address & Phone Number. When it comes to information Google is looking for from your business, these are the big three. Why? These are the three things that Google believes a searcher will be looking for most often. They want to know your name (for obvious reasons), they need your phone number for scheduling or questions about products/services, etc., and they need your address to actually get to you if you are a brick and mortar store. Google treats all businesses as if they were brick and mortar stores in most respects, so even if you are a service business, Google still views NAP information as very important.

Because Google indexes sites all over the web, it has access to almost every place your business is listed online, whether you know it’s listed there or not. If you have different phone numbers, addresses, or versions of your business name online, Google loses trust that the information presented is accurate.

Google only works because the search results it presents are accurate and helpful to the searcher. If the searcher can’t trust the information Google is presenting, he or she will stop using Google — and Google doesn’t want that.

If Google is getting mixed signals from all over the web with different phone numbers, addresses, and variations of your business name, it will suppress your business in search results in order to prevent a potential searcher from getting the wrong information. This is critically important and is often overlooked by businesses. Many companies use tracking numbers to determine where business is coming from, but when these are used incorrectly, it confuses Google. This is where many companies slip up.

Note: It’s a bit different if you’re a business with more than one location.

#3 Why Don’t I Show Up In Maps Anymore & How Can I Change That?

Google Maps is an ever-changing landscape. As Google changes its Maps algorithms, companies find ways to exploit it and spam the system. Every time this happens, it forces Google to re-examine the algorithms to try to combat these spammy tactics. This is the largest factor contributing to changes in Maps rankings — however, it is far from the only one…

Every day, more and more people are using their phones and tablets to search for businesses and services. As this shift happens, it changes how Google delivers results and what those results are. Fifteen years ago, people didn’t have the Internet on their phones, and tablets weren’t even a thing. All searches were being performed from desktops in the home or office, which meant that people had to put the location they were searching for directly in the search bar. As technology advanced and people were empowered to search on the go, the whole system changed. Now people are looking for things close to their physical location, which can be derived from a phone or tablet’s GPS location. They are also generally looking for something more immediate, and many times, they’re not willing to dig as far into the search results. This shift has caused Google to shift things a bit in terms of how they present Maps results.

The Maps views themselves zeroed in as the majority of the searches were deemed “on the go” and needing to be tailored to the physical location of the searcher. This change also eradicated the need to include location keywords in searches. Now, instead of searching for “coffee shop Nashville, TN,” (a search that would center around downtown Nashville), a searcher might search “coffee shop near me,” or even simply ask their voice assistant to “find a coffee shop nearby,” which centers the search around the searcher’s physical location. This means that every searcher will get a slightly different Maps result.

What does this all mean?

The big takeaways are that your physical location is key to showing up in Maps. If you’re not physically located near where most of your clients and customers are searching from, you may not show up in their personalized Maps results. The other important factor here (and the one you, as the business owner, can actually control) is reviews. Reviews are housed within Maps and are the most important factor in a potential customer choosing you over your visible competition. If you focus on getting good reviews and responding well to bad ones, you will stand out among anyone else that shows up in the same Maps space. It doesn’t matter if you are one, two, or three — if you have 100 more positive reviews than the other two, you’re likely to get the customer.

#4 How Do I Get Reviews?

Ask everyone for a review! Obviously if you have a visibly unhappy customer, you may not want to ask that person, but in that case, you should be doing things to correct the situation and leave them satisfied. Outside of those small instances, you should be asking everyone for a review. Explain how important reviews are to you as a business owner, and that you value feedback, both good and bad. You want to know how your people did and, because you have confidence in your company, you aren’t afraid for that feedback to be public.

Many people don’t think their opinion is important enough to take the time to leave a review, and many often don’t know how to leave you a review even if their opinion does matter. Familiarize yourself with the review process so that, if a customer asks you how to do it, you can tell them with confidence. Some other things you may want to try:

  • Have physical collateral available to give to customers that explains the process and the importance of reviews.
  • Invest in tools that help you get reviews from your clients.

There are two big DON’Ts though:

  1. Don’t publicly incentivize reviews. This is strictly against Google guidelines, as they don’t believe incentivized feedback is legimiate. If a customer puts “thanks for the gift card” or something to that effect in the review, you risk losing all of your reviews and maybe your listing altogether.
  2. Don’t leave reviews for your own business. The only people who should be leaving you reviews are people who have actually used your services or visited your store. If you are a service business and you start getting reviews from family members several states away or get one from an account that is tied to your business, you could lose all of your reviews and your listing. It’s not worth it!

The last thing I will say is, don’t be afraid of negative reviews. You can’t please everyone all the time — it’s just not realistic. A negative review with a well thought out, amicable response is worth 10 five-star reviews. Many times a searcher will look at negative reviews first, so this is your chance to make a great first impression on a searcher. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a well-answered one-star review!

And while this may sound counterintuitive, a few three- or four-star reviews mixed in with many more five-star reviews boosts the overall credibility of the other five-star reviews. They look more authentic and genuine because people trust that the reviews there were not incentivized in any way to create a “perfect” star rating.

#5 Do I Need To Respond To Both Positive & Negative Reviews? How Should I Respond?

Definitely respond to negative reviews. Every negative review that comes in should have a written response. My advice is to post it the day after it comes in, if possible. You don’t want to respond the second you see it, because oftentimes, when it’s that fresh, emotions are high. Let yourself calm down and revisit it the next day when you have a clear head.

Try to take the conversation offline — you never want to go tit for tat with a reviewer. A good response might look like this:

Hello, my name is __________ and I’m the business owner. I’m so sorry you had a bad experience. It is very important to us that we deliver a level of service that meets your expectations. Please give me a call on my direct line ***-***-**** at your earliest convenience and let me know what happened and what we can do to make it right.”

This takes the conversation offline and offers a well-reasoned, measured response for other people who may come behind and see the negative review.

Some other things to remember when responding to negative reviews:

  • DO admit when you’ve messed up. Everyone makes mistakes — don’t be afraid to admit that you messed up. Many customers love that admission, because it shows your commitment to the work you do and ensures them that, if they have a problem, you will work to make it right.
  • DON’T get angry online. Even if you know you’re right and the customer is being unreasonable, a third party looking at the conversation online won’t have that knowledge. When you go tit for tat with a reviewer online, it’s your word against the customer’s, and that usually doesn’t go in the business owner’s favor.
  • DON’T use the same response for every negative review. If you have a canned response, it shows a lack of empathy, and it could send the message that you get so many negative reviews, you had to standardize the process (which is never good).

As far as responding to good reviews, that’s up to you. It’s never a bad thing to do, but if you are doing your job of asking everyone for a review, you may find that this is a difficult thing to keep up with. Do what feels right for you and fits with your flow.

#6 Why Does A Business With Less Reviews Rank Higher Than Me On The Map?

Reviews, although important, are not the only factor or even the main factor in Maps ranking — location is. Maps is all about physical location. The closer a business is to a searcher, the more likely they are to be #1. The important thing to remember here is that Maps ranking, to some extent, doesn’t really matter. Don’t think of it as a first, second, and third place. If you’re being shown in those top three spots, all ground is essentially equal.

What sets you apart when you do show up in Maps is your reviews. The majority of people will not click on a business just because it’s listed first if the second and third business has 100 more five-star reviews. If you focus on getting good reviews, it doesn’t matter where you are in the Maps three pack.

#7 Does PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Really Work For Service Area Businesses?

Yes, IF it’s used correctly. I’m speaking on Google Ads specifically here because it is by far the most popular option for PPC. Here are a few things you need to know:

Google Ads works on a bidding system, so it’s very competition driven. Different keywords in different industries in different markets have wildly different costs-per-click. This can make the question of “Is it cost-effective?” very difficult to answer, without really digging into your specific business. That being said, when Google Ads IS done correctly and the ads point to a quality page on a quality site, it can generate a lot of leads.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make (even PPC management companies) is using location specific keywords, without actually defining the areas in which the ads are to show. In this situation, a company might use “chimney sweep Nashville” as their keywords, but because they didn’t confine the ad area to Nashville, the ad would show to people searching from all over the country. You’re guaranteed to get useless (and costly) clicks from way outside of your service area if you run a nationwide campaign as a service business, no matter how many location keywords you tag onto your search terms.

It’s also important to target your campaigns very intentionally. Running campaigns for every service you do but not bidding enough to get on the first page is useless. Instead, you’ll benefit more by picking a few services (maybe some that are seasonally appropriate) and making sure you’re bidding enough to be shown on the first page.

Another factor that influences both your cost-per-click and the user experience (which is tied directly to leads) is the relevance of the content on the landing page. If you’re running a chimney sweeping ad and you’re taking those who click to a gutter cleaning page, you will pay more per click than someone who is sending people to a page with content that’s relevant to the ad.

Also, consider that, if a user lands on your page after clicking the ad, but they can’t easily find a way to contact you, they’ll likely hit the “back” button, which means you’ve just lost money on a click. A common practice among some PPC management companies is to set up specific landing pages as stand alone sites that serve only as landing pages for AdWords campaigns. These will often have a tracking number associated with them, so you can track exactly how many calls come through that campaign.

The problem with this is that these pages, when set up incorrectly, will interfere with the organic ranking of your main site and the tracking numbers will be seen by Google as NAP inconsistency (if they are on the pages themselves). This does not mean, however, that all tracking numbers are bad. Using a tracking number in the ad itself is not picked up by Google’s algorithm and will not count as NAP inconsistency, so long as it remains ONLY in the Ads system and does not find its way onto an indexed landing page.

Key Takeaway? Google Ads is a powerful tool, and like any tool, it can be very helpful or very dangerous. Proper training and understanding is required to leverage Ads effectively in your business.