Local SEO: 10 SERP Features SMBs can Influence
- Price Range
- Google Questions and Answers
- Product Schema
- Your Website As A Review Source
- Service Menu
- Product Posts
- GMB Messaging
- Videos Tab
- Knowledge Panel Ads
- Schema Plugins and Tools
- GMB and Google Analytics
- Common Local SEO Errors
- Does Schema Impact Rankings?
Tim Capper: Morning, everyone. Welcome to the local SEO segment of the SEMrush webinar, where we're gonna be looking at 10 SERP features that small businesses, any business really, with a GMB (Google My Business) profile can take advantage of.
We've got a presentation by Joy Hawkins. Joy is the owner of Sterling Sky. She's also the author of The Expert's Guide to Local SEO.
We've got Carrie Hill, who is the co-founder of Ignitor Digital with Mary Bowling. Carrie's been in SEO since 2006, so we've got a lot of experience here. She's a semantic markup nerd and fan of website audits.
We're also joined by Jesse McDonald, director and operations of TopHatRank. He's been working in the industry for four and a half years, spending the majority of time specializing in Local SEO market.
Great to have everyone with us. So, Joy, if you are ready, you can dial up your presentation.
Joy Hawkins: So, these are all features that apply to small businesses. Some are through Google My Business, some are through data markup on your websites, so I will try to clarify which is which.
Number one here would be things that we call attributes, which are features inside Google My Business, and are also attached to Google Search. They're mobile-only features. So, if you open up your mobile device and you look on either the Google Maps app or on a Chrome browser or some other browser, you'll notice that, usually on the About tab, there are these little icons. Sometimes they also appear on the Overview tab. Sometimes you can see in the Accessibility section here, they're just words. So, wheelchair-accessible and what not.
How to get them: there are two different ways, which are somewhat confusing to people. One way is to go into the Google My Business Dashboard. Google has different messaging for these, depending on what industry you're in. So sometimes, it says attributes. Sometimes, it says highlights. Or sometimes, it says something else. So what you're really looking for is the tag icon.
The other thing to keep in mind is that there are some attributes that are not in the Google My Business Dashboard because Google doesn't really care what the business owner thinks in that case, they only care about users. Usually, these are things that describe the business that are subjective.
These attributes are things that only get prompted to users. The thing is, as a business owner, you can actually go and vote on these yourself. You have to do so publicly on the listing, you can not do it from the Google My Business Dashboard. I always tell people, whenever we're doing audits, to look at both. Look inside GMB, but also look directly on Google Search results, and click Know This Place, and see what other questions it asks you.
The price range field is another thing that I find a lot of people don't have or don't even realize how it works. On the Google Search results, you'll see the price range field. It usually shows up beside reviews, and what a lot of people don't realize is that you can pretty much put anything you want in this field.
When I first saw it, initially I thought, "Okay, it has to be a dollar symbol, one through five, something like that." But then you'll see here, this airport hotel has, "From $225." Then you've got this personal injury attorney that's got, "Free initial consultation." So you can really customize what you want to show up in this field.
It's actually a field that is nested under Location Schema. So you have to have proper Location Schema on your website in order to get it, and then make sure that the price range field is filled out.
Google Questions and Answers
Questions and answers. This is a feature that Google launched back in 2017. They launched it to users before they really even did anything with businesses. Google will show a question and answer in your knowledge panel if you add one yourself, or if you have one from a user that you want to feature. It's based on votes, so you have to go to both the question and the answer and click this little upvote button which shows up.
In Sterling Sky, my company's case, you'll see we have an upvote on both the question and the answer. Keep in mind that only one question and one answer can get featured in your knowledge panel, so choose it wisely. It's not like you can get five or six of them.
It comes down to which one has the most upvotes. So, if you've got five different questions and many of them have different upvotes, you'll have to make sure that the one that you want has the most upvotes.
If you don't have any questions on your listing, you can actually submit your own. Some people are worried about this, they think maybe this is against Google's guidelines. It's not, I've asked them. They actually suggest that you do this, so no issues there.
This could really backfire if you're not aware or monitoring what is showing up on your listing. So, in a Walmart that's near me, someone's talking about how this is, "A ghetto ass Walmart." That's not, obviously, what Walmart would want on their knowledge panel, but this is what showed up when I searched it because it had the most votes. So, pay attention to Q&A.
Product Schema. This is another thing that would be on your website. This would work really well, for example, for a mattress store. Say you've got a mattress store and you've got all kinds of different mattresses. You can actually mark up each mattress page with the correct Product Schema so that when it shows up in the search results, it shows things like the reviews for that mattress, the price range for that mattress, whether it’s in stock or not.
You have to add the Product Schema to each specific page on your website for each product. The thing that I see people do wrong is they accidentally put too many types of Schema on one page. A lot of local businesses will put the Local Business Schema on the page, and then they'll also add Product Schema. I've found that these two conflict, and often when you have both, nothing will show up.
Make sure if you are going to add a Product Schema code to a page, do not also add the Local Business code. I think in Google's head, they're thinking, "How can you both be a local business and a product? That's a little confusing."
Your Website As A Review Source
Number five, have your website as a third party review source. A lot of times when you do a search for a business name, you will get the knowledge panel, and you'll get these reviews from the web. So, instead of having some third party that you can't really control or do much with, you can actually have your own site show up as a source of reviews. How do you do this? Well, you can do it manually, but I would strongly suggest using a tool for it, to gather reviews on your website.
As far as Google's guidelines are concerned, there are supposed to be unique reviews. So, you're not supposed to put reviews on your website and mark them up if they're from Yelp, or from Google, or some other third party source. However, if you're generating your own testimonials and reviews, using a method that complies with Google's guidelines, like Grade.us and GatherUp do, then you're fine to mark them up. So, my recommendation would be to just utilize one of those services that does that.
Service menu. This is a feature that is inside Google My Business. This is an often missed thing because it is another mobile-only feature. You can leave prices out. Obviously, it's a little tricky to price Local SEO, because it could vary. So, you wouldn't necessarily want to put a price there. You can kind of play around with that and put whatever fits your business and services.
Inside Google My Business, there should be a little service icon. Actually, I ran into a business this morning that did not have it, so it looks like there are some categories that this may not show up for. You wanna be on the info tab, and look for the service icon.
Product Posts are another new feature that Google launched this year. The cool thing about them is they're somewhat special in the sense that they show up on mobile in a Products tab. So it actually gets your listing another whole tab if you have Product Posts.
Inside Google My Business, you would be looking for the Posts tab, and then on Posts, you'll see there are these different types of posts you can do. You'd want to do the one for products. Again, kind of makes more sense for businesses that actually have products. May not make sense if you were a lawyer; trying to do a Product Post would be kind of tricky.
GMB messaging is a feature that was launched last year. What I think is kind of neat about it is that it shows up on mobile only, so again, lots of people don't realize this feature exists, because they're using their computers more often. But it gets you this message icon. What I think is also neat is that it gives you this “Contact Us Now” Call to Action button on your knowledge panel.
Another thing that it does, it'll show you how quickly the person responds. I was actually wondering how many messages you had to get to get that icon. Turns out, the answer is one. So it's very similar to Facebook; Facebook does that with their Messenger service. Businesses that respond quickly get labeled as such. You can kind of see, once you open up the Contact Us Now, it gives you this pop-up box. You're actually technically texting the business owner. You, as the user, would not see the business owner's phone number, but they could see yours.
How to set this up; you go into the Google My Business Dashboard, set up messaging, verify your number. Set up a welcome message, and you're done.
Number nine is the Videos tab. This is a kind of hidden feature, I'd say, not as easy to find as some of the other ones I've mentioned. There is a sub-tab underneath Photos, which I believe also shows up on Google Maps on a computer, and it says Videos. The thing is, you will not get this sub-tab under Photos unless you have two or more videos. So, if you just add one, you don't get it. But if you add two or more, then you get a Videos tab. And these are videos that you add through the Google My Business Dashboard, under the Photos tab.
Knowledge Panel Ads
Last, but not least, ads in the knowledge panel. These are basically ads that show up directly on the knowledge panel for businesses.
They show up most times unknown to the business owner. So the business owner didn't ask for them to be there or want them to be there, necessarily. They just show up there if you have a profile with Groupon and you're paying for Groupon. Or, if you just have a profile on GrubHub, then they often just automatically pull in.
The question we often get is, "How do I get rid of them?" I haven't had anyone ask how to get them yet. Most of the time it's business owners that are freaking out because they signed up with Groupon, and thought that their ad was going to show up on Groupon, but then they realize every single person that is now searching their business name on Google is seeing this Groupon ad.
So, obviously, that could have a bad effect on their sales. Tim did a post which I quote quite often that goes into details on how to get your listing removed from the third party site that is showing up as an ad. Just something to be aware of.
Tim Capper: We've got a few questions here. We've got a question; it's, "If you can submit your question and you're the expected one to answer, as the business owner, are you actually allowed to answer your own questions?"
Joy Hawkins: Yes, absolutely.
Carrie Hill: I was one of the early ones that questioned this because I thought it looked funny to have, if you were logged in to the business and you asked a question, and then you're logged in to the business and you answered the question. I think it looks funny to the user. I know it's not against Google's guidelines to do that, but I think it looks funny.
So, for my clients, I would have them log in, or I would log in as myself or something and ask the question. Then I'd have the business profile, or be logged in as the business and post the answer. Because I think it's not quite as confusing, and it doesn't look to the user as crafted if it looks more like a conversation of questions and answers.
As Joy pointed out, is why you have to monitor this stuff, because sometimes the answers are not correct. Some of the answers are ridiculous, so I think it's important to make it look right to the user.
Jesse McDonald: If the business asks a question and then answers it, then all faith in the user is lost in that answer anyway, so there's no point in it being there.
Tim Capper: The biggest thing is, because this is an actual Maps mashup integration, and it's not really in the Dashboard, many business owners don't even know this exists. It's really scary. And unless they've actually got a Maps app installed on their mobile, they don't get any push notifications about it. Like that example with Joy, "What kind of Walmart is this?" It's really scary. People should really push their clients into monitoring this.
Another question: "Where do we add questions? I'm not seeing them as a GMB option."
Joy Hawkins: So, you actually have to search your business name on Google, and then there should be, in the knowledge panel, a little link that says, "Ask a question." So it's not within the Dashboard.
Tim Capper: "If you've got Schema in the footer, would that impact Product Schema throughout the site?" For me personally, I wouldn't add that actually to your footer. If it's Product Schema, it should be on the individual product itself. It shouldn't be in the footer.
Carrie Hill: I think he was asking, Tim, if it conflicted. If you have Product Schema in the body of your page, and Location Schema in your footer, would they conflict? As long as you're not trying to nest them all together, they do not conflict. Because they don't play nice in the same exact script, I would keep them separate. But, I think you can do it any way you want. I actually don't really like putting Location Schema in the footer, that's my personal preference.
Joy Hawkins: See, I've found that they do conflict if you try to have something as a product and a location on the same page, usually one of the two won't show. That's what I have found, anyways.
Carrie Hill: Well, show how?
Joy Hawkins: So, the Location Schema, for example, would have the price range field, right? So you'd have that. Which, can technically conflict with the cost field, which is in the Product Schema, right? So, normally I find that if you have both on the same page that usually the Product Schema doesn't show up.
Schema Plugins and Tools
Tim Capper: Right. I'm trying to keep track of questions here. "Any favorite Schema plugins?"
Carrie Hill: I actually don't use a plugin for most Schema markup, unless you have a high volume that you need to do, because a plugin will add thousands of lines of code to your website for maybe a hundred lines of markup. I don't see a good balance; probably gonna slow your site down. Schema is supposed to serve your content more clearly and quickly, so I don't use them, for the most part.
It depends upon, also, what niche you're in. If you have a recipe website, or you put recipes on your blog or whatever, and you're looking for a plugin, you have to use one, or else you spend a lot of time marking things up. So it really depends upon the niche.
I will say my favorite, favorite markup tool is James Flynn's JSON Generator, because it's awesome. But as far as a plugin, I don't have one that I use consistently enough to recommend.
Joy Hawkins: We use GatherUp, which is a review tool, not a Schema tool, but it automatically adds the Location Schema, and the review aggregate rating, and now the price range field.
Carrie Hill: GatherUp is great. I guess I don't think of them as a WordPress plugin, because they do so much more than that. It's a whole review generation platform. They do a great job of integrating that into their WordPress plugin, that pulls that data into your website.
Jesse McDonald: I've also never used plugins for Schema markup. I like to do it and place it myself, and know where it is, and know that the plugin isn't going to weigh down the website. But that being said, I have, in the past, used a plugin that WordPress allows you to manipulate a specific page's header-footer code, so you don't have to edit template files. That just makes it a little easier to add JSON to a page, as opposed to writing code to say, "Only on this page."
Tim Capper: Recommendations on sizes of images for posts?
Joy Hawkins: For Google Posts we’ve found 750 x 750, having it as a square, is best. I think it depends on how much of the image you're trying to get to show up. We use the images in our posts, usually, as buttons. The square format works really well for that if you're trying to make the image look like a button.
Tim Capper: I like 800 by 600. But I guess it all depends on what you're posting. If it's a button format like Joy says, or if you're a very visually orientated kind of business, where high-res images are great. But I prefer 800 by 600.
Joy Hawkins: The one thing that we discovered, if you're putting text in the image at all, is that it's not centered, so when you're putting text in the image, usually you have to put it closer to the top. You wouldn't want to put it in the middle if you're doing a square, because it doesn't look right on all the different platforms.
Tim Capper: "Why isn't GMB integrated into analytics?"
Jesse McDonald: That's an excellent question.
GMB and Google Analytics
Tim Capper: I guess, from a technical sense, you couldn't put analytics tracking code into a GMB page. I suppose, technically, you could, because it's got an individual CID number. So it has got its own individual thing, but can you imagine trying to get an analytics tracking code into an actual page like that? Certainly, for anyone, any business out there, you should be using UTM tracking codes. You should be using them on your actual business listing itself. You should be using them on your posts.
Carrie Hill: I don't know that we will ever see Google My Business insights inside the Google analytics platform, because analytics is supposed to tell you everything that's happening on your website, and the vocabulary, what they measure, the views of a GMB profile versus views of a webpage. I think that it would be something very hard to combine. I think I've seen where you can pull Google My Business insights into Data Studio. Can we do that yet?
Joy Hawkins: Yeah, you usually need to pay for a connector. We use Supermetrics; it's not free. Well worth it, in my opinion though, if you run an agency because you can see graphs that show you patterns over time. To be completely honest, we really only look at action data. I hate the impressions and all that stuff, it's really all over the place.
I don't think Google will ever put these systems together because so much of what Google My Business insights are reporting on is stuff that happens on the search results. These people are not making it to your website, so how are you supposed to put that into Google Search Console, which is all about your website, or analytics?
Tim Capper: "Is there a limit to the number of pages on the website that can have Schema markup?" No. Okay. Let's see, have I missed any more questions?
Common Local SEO Errors
Jesse McDonald: What is the most common thing that you all see people missing when they're building websites that are local-focused?
Carrie Hill: Putting the names of the towns you want to rank in on your website. That is the biggest thing I see. I actually just did an audit for an attorney in Atlanta, and all of his pages said Georgia, but they did not say Atlanta, Georgia. If you want to rank in a town, you've gotta put the town name on those pages, and in your content.
That would be the biggest thing I see, as an oversight, people coming to me and saying, "I can't rank anywhere." Well, that's because you're not using the words on your website. Even though we're living in the world of zero-click search, and maybe people aren't actually visiting your website, your website supports your rankings. You have to put those words on your website if you want a rank for it.
Jesse McDonald: Even when I give talks about this, it's always, "Mark up your data," and everyone's like, "What's that?" It's like, "Oh really? Okay." So, I would say that I've never had an issue with clients wanting to put their town into their pages, they usually want to put too many. But yeah, definitely having to focus heavily on markup data, very early on.
Joy Hawkins: I would say, in audits that we do, the ones we see the most often would be people forgetting categories. Really obvious ones, but we used to get doctors that are very specific to a certain practice, and they just use the category Doctor, instead of the actual type of doctor that they are. And then they want to know why they don't rank for that specific type of practice.
Also, when you shrink down a site onto mobile so many times, the phone number disappears. I can't tell you how many times we see that in audits. It's because just the response of layout automatically cuts stuff, right? But it almost always cuts the phone number, which I'm like, "Well, that's not ideal on a mobile device."
Tim Capper: Oh, I love this one. It's from Spencer Wesley. "Do toxic links have a negative effect on GMB?"
Joy Hawkins: I think this is a hard one to answer with absolute confidence, but based on what I've seen, I would say no.
Carrie Hill: I think it depends upon, if you have one or two bad links, then no. If you have a consistently toxic linking profile because somebody's done some really bad, shady stuff for you, I think you would see your visibility across the board kind of tank. I think Google would lose trust in who you are and what you are.
Jesse McDonald: I would agree with that. Especially if you're using GMB to tie back to your website, and your website's tied back to GMB, if one of them is being negatively affected by links, your website, then essentially, your stuff will move in tandem with that.
Does Schema Impact Rankings?
Joy Hawkins: I saw someone over there ask about if Schema impacts ranking, and I was like, "Ooh, that's a good question."
Carrie Hill: Schema is the tool for you to put the right information on your website. So, if I'm marking something up, I am sure to put my name, address, phone number, open hours, map link, latitude, longitude. All of those important pieces of data are now on my website.
If you just put that stuff on your website on your own, you probably would get very close to the same benefit, but it has prompted more people to put the right information on the website and make the content available to Google. So, I think that ranking is a byproduct of improved content. I'm not necessarily convinced 100% that because that Schema markup is on there, you're gonna rank better. I also think it depends upon how much your competitors are using it, as well.
Joy Hawkins: Okay. I was gonna say, we've seen review Schema getting those gold stars in the search results. I don't think that necessarily has an impact on ranking, but we see, usually by adding them, the click-through rate would go up by somewhere between 100-400%. That, I think, is a ranking factor, and if your click-through rate is going through the roof and stays that way, then yeah, I would be shocked if you didn't see an increase in ranking.
Carrie Hill: I would agree with all of that. It's the tool by which we're providing enhanced information. And that tool causes stars to show in the search results, which increases our click-through rate, which we know is a ranking factor. Could you definitely say, "If I put Schema on my website, I'm gonna rank better?" No. But, you can say, "Yes, I'm going to provide a better experience for searchers, and I'm going to provide a better experience for my customers," and that could be a ranking factor, or is a ranking factor.
Tim Capper: Just to clarify, you should only be marking up content that's actually physically on your site. You can't go and create invisible structure data markup. It needs to be, in theory, on your site, and you're actually marking that up.
Evan asks, "How important are links to rank in the local pack?"
Joy Hawkins: I was gonna say that I think links have a lesser impact than they do on organic, because there are other factors that have an impact, that don’t impact on organic. Just to give an example, I'm convinced that keywords in the business name and proximity, as in how close you are to the searcher, are more of a factor than links when it comes to ranking in the local pack.
Carrie Hill: I 100% agree with that. I think that there are factors that are way more important than links.
Jesse McDonald: I've seen instances in the past of sites that ranked well and showed well in the local pack, with just good content, Schema markup on the site, and basic citations. Basically, no links past that. And they still did really well.
Tim Capper: A business needs to understand if you're in a local area, and that's who you're working, get your checkbook out, start supporting some charities. Join the chamber of commerce. Those are all local, relevant links. And of course, if you're helping out a local charity, you're also pushing that, it's building your brand awareness. Think of also working with other businesses. You're a coffee shop, he's a car wash. Great stuff, let's do some cross-marketing. A handful of really relevant local websites linking to you can do far more than going out and just getting hundreds of these really bad local citations.
Carrie Hill: My rule with links, is, "Is it a website that I would want to send my customer to? Or, is it a website linking to me, that I can create a customer from?" Those are kind of my rules about links, and so, like Tim's talking about, that community karma, that hyper-local, cross-marketing, all of those things are great tactics for building links locally. It is time-intensive, and there's no automated way to do this stuff, you just have to pound the pavement. It's brand building, it's not link building.
You're going out and “virtually” shaking hands with the people in your community to build business relationships, and hopefully you guys can work something out and create some sort of co-marketing that might work great for you.
Tim Capper: At the end of the day, for any business, if you're thinking of putting a link somewhere, the question you should be is, "Is that gonna bring me traffic? Is it gonna bring me a customer?" That's the most important thing out of all of it.
Ian Helms asks, "How does Wikipedia play into the knowledge panel these days?"
Joy Hawkins: I usually see Wikipedia being merged into the local knowledge panel if the business has a Wikipedia entry, which is, I'd say, pretty rare for local businesses. I was looking into it for an attorney client of mine, and the guys that I consulted with, who are kind of experts on Wikipedia, told me, "Unless this business has received nationwide recognition, you're not gonna be able to get them into Wikipedia. Or, if you do get them in, their profile will probably get deleted in a week or less," which, I've definitely seen happen. I've seen some local SEO succeed in getting their clients on Wikipedia, and then just a week later some editor is like, "This is spam," and deletes it. So, I'd say if you're not big enough to qualify, it's not likely gonna impact you.
Carrie Hill: I think Wikipedia plays into the brand knowledge panel way more than it would a local knowledge panel.
Tim Capper: Yeah. You can have both.
Joy Hawkins: I know theme parks generally have both. Search a theme park near you, you'll likely get a mishmash of local plus Wikipedia.
Tim Capper: Right. We've been told to wrap it up. Thank you all so much. See you!