2013’s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty

Friday 14 Dec 2012

Out with the old year, on with the new, and local business owners like you are asking themselves how they can earn the most visible possible presence in the Google-dominated local search engine results in 2013. Waltzing our way out of a 2012 that was fraught with penalties targeting all kinds of iffy practices, your next steps in the dance can be easy if you let honesty be your local business motto in the happy new year.

Take These Simple Tips To Heart

1. Be Honest About Your Business Name

If you are Robert Jones Plumbing on your tax return, be Robert Jones Plumbing everywhere on the Internet, from your website, to your Google+ Local Page, to your directory listings and social media profiles. Don’t be Robert Jones Atlanta Emergency 24 Hour Plumbing. In fact, if you’ll be new to the Local web in 2013, I will go so far as to offer some new-ish advice. When choosing your domain name, try to get robertjonesplumbing.com. Hopefully, though, your name is more like Robert Hornswoggle because robertjonesplumbing.com will likely have already been taken. Maybe you can get rjonesplumbing.com or rjplumbing.com or some similar variation.

Why is this new-ish advice? Because it’s been a common practice for a decade or more for a business like yours to go after a keyword-focused domain name like atlantaplumbing.com, and while these exact match domains (EMDs) are still ranking awfully well in Google’s local results, non-local counterparts were hit with quite a hefty penalty this year, leading me to believe that honesty in branding is coming to be Google’s favorite way to play the game. So be Robert Jones Plumbing everywhere you go and build your brand with pride.

2. Be Honest About Your Location

If you’re located in Tinytown, CA, tell it like it is on your website, your Google+ Local page, all your directory listings and all other places where your business is referenced on the web. Even if you’re just 2 miles away from Humongoustown, CA, have customers who come to your shop from there or go there to serve customers, you are still located in Tinytown and that’s what Google cares about when it comes to their true local results. This doesn’t mean you can’t create city landing pages (make them fantastic) for your service cities or can’t blog like mad about your involvement in Humongoustown, but the chief goal of these good efforts will be organic visibility, not local visibility.

Do not attempt to fake locations with P.O. Boxes or virtual offices. Sure, that thorn-in-your-side competitor got away with it in 2012, but 2013 could very well be the year that he gets to sit in ‘under review’ land for 6+ months with no local listings, no traffic, no phones ringing because he gamed the system. Don’t let this be you. Be totally honest about where you are physically located – it’s your best insurance against brutal penalties. And please, don’t post offers on Craigslist.org asking homeowners to let you use their addresses as phony locales for your business.

3. Be Honest About Your Reputation

Don’t review your own business. Don’t bribe others to. Google doesn’t want money or products changing hands in exchange for reviews. Don’t hire marketers who will hook you into a reciprocal review network, collect reviews from customers and post them on their behalf, or simply make up phony reviews with the intent to paint your company in a light it has yet to earn on the web.

4. Be Honest About Your Failings

You will get negative reviews. Even if you are running the nicest, friendliest shop in town, one day in 2013 will be a bad day for your staff, or a day on which a cranky person comes to do business with you. Many review platforms allow you to respond to negative reviews. If you choose to do so, remember, an ounce of honest apology is worth a pound of coverup. You can hire a reputation manager to outrank bad press with good press online, but you can’t muffle what people tell their family and friends about you offline. Owning up to a bad service experience and working to make it right means that you’ve done everything you can to ensure that word of mouth both on and off the web about your local business is positive.

5. Do Business Honestly

The Local Internet is but a partial reflection of reality. The heart of your business is what happens between the four walls of your shop or on the road where your service people go. I’ve been ripped off by local businesses and treated like royalty by others. No matter what is said by Internet rankings, ratings and reviews, my core impression is made at the time of my transaction. I believe the most important thing any local business owner brings to his community is his commitment to good service. Fair and honest business practices are the foundation of your success in your town. Treat customers honestly and everything else will follow.

I’ve been doing business on the Internet for about a decade now, and have watched with eager interest Google’s increasing emphasis on accurate representation of brands and businesses. The SEO world is simultaneously evolving to focus on acquisition of dynamic relationships and a good reputation over acquisition of mere rankings. To this I say:

“Should Auld Spammy Tactics Be Forgot And Never Brought To Mind?”


And I’m honestly wishing you an exciting and prosperous Local 2013!

14 comments Friday 14 Dec 2012 | admin | Local SEO

14 Responses to “2013’s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty”

  1. on 15 Dec 2012 at 9:39 am   Nailed it! What's #1 Ranking Factor for Local SMBs in 2013?

    […] 2013? Our friend and "super moderator" Miriam Ellis, just TOTALLY nailed it! H O N E S T Y! 2013′s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty Out with the old year, on with the new, and local business owners like you are asking themselves […]

  2. on 15 Dec 2012 at 3:55 pm   Phil Rozek

    Thanks for another excellent post, Miriam! A home run, as always.

    Perhaps my favorite point of all: “Sure, that thorn-in-your-side competitor got away with [PO boxes or virtual offices] in 2012, but 2013 could very well be the year that he gets to sit in ‘under review’ land for 6+ months with no local listings, no traffic, no phones ringing because he gamed the system.”

    A couple of probably very clichéd follow-up points that occurred to me:

    -“Be honest with yourself. C’mon, you’ve been in business long enough to know that your real successes have been based on slogging. Do you really expect to get visible in and actually attract customers through local search quickly and easily? No. Even IF you get outside help, it may still take a while to see results. Do you honestly think that something worth doing will be quick and easy?”

    -“Demand honesty from others. The truth often hurts, at least a little. If someone says that local SEO is all about one or two “tricks” or says that he/she can definitely get you page-one rankings for all your ‘big’ terms, press that person a little to explain further. Expect to hear at least *some* news that you don’t want to hear, or be wary.”

    Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Thanks again for a really thought-provoking post!

  3. on 16 Dec 2012 at 8:09 am   Nick

    Thanks for the very thoughtful post Miriam, and it’s absolutely true for local: Honesty is important.!

    With all of our clients, they are all engaging in beneficial factors, but sometimes it takes us (or someone on the outside) to say “hey, you should use this to benefit x, y and z)”. It’s much better to focus on the true/honest things that the business does and leverage this for Local SEO gains. For example, if they happen to be running a training event, look at ways to submit this to local sites and get some valuable “unstructured citations”.

    Honesty is the best policy and it’s definitely something we are adopting (even more!) for our clients going forward!

  4. on 17 Dec 2012 at 11:27 am   Diego Cortez

    Moral of the story, be honest and follow the rules.

    Have to agree with you know more than ever. Even though there is still something to be desired from Google’s spam reporting feature they have been
    doing a much better job at sifting out the spammy listings.

    Thanks for the interesting read.

  5. on 17 Dec 2012 at 1:29 pm   admin

    I like your additions very much, Phil! Very insightful. I appreciate you stopping by!

  6. on 17 Dec 2012 at 1:30 pm   admin

    Great to hear how honesty as the best policy is working a little magic for your clients. Our role as their advisers can be truly important in this regard. Thank you for taking the time to comment! Miriam

  7. on 17 Dec 2012 at 1:32 pm   admin

    Welcome Diego,
    I agree…Google has clearly ramped up their spam fighting efforts. And, yes, you’ve summarized my piece in 6 words: be honest and follow the rules. Perfecto!
    Please, come again.

  8. on 17 Dec 2012 at 7:13 pm   Travis Van Slooten


    Great post! You just summed up the entire local SEO best practices in one word – honesty. Brilliant:)

    Travis Van Slooten

  9. on 19 Dec 2012 at 10:19 am   Nick

    Great post Miriam.

    In this day and age where a lot of businesses are willing to try every trick in the book to get ahead it’s actually going to be the honest ones who end up winning in the long run.

    Part of our job as local SEO’ers is to keep our clients on the straight and narrow, persuading them that just because one of their competitors has done something dodgy doesn’t mean that they should too. Next time any client has that kind of an idea I’ll email them this post

  10. on 19 Dec 2012 at 1:10 pm   admin

    Thank you, Travis! So glad you liked this!

  11. on 19 Dec 2012 at 1:10 pm   admin

    Welcome, Nick,
    I’m honored to know you would share this with potential clients. Great to hear!

  12. on 01 Jan 2013 at 12:08 pm   December '12 (and final): Best Search/Marketing Posts

    […] Miriam Ellis/SEO Igloo: 2013′s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty […]

  13. on 09 Jan 2013 at 5:37 am   Best Local SEO and Local-Search-Related Articles of 2012 | Local Search Marketing Blog by NGS

    […] 2013′s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog) […]

  14. on 11 Jan 2013 at 1:29 pm   Carlton

    Totally agreed. I’m happy every time SEO gets harder (well, sometimes not immediately). Closing the shortcuts makes it more difficult for the blackhats, and ultimately fosters an ecosystem of survival for the ethical practitioners.

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