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QRG Clues to How Google Evaluates Local Business Reputation

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QRG Clues to How Google Evaluates Local Business Reputation


The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Image credit: Maura Boswell

Well, I actually read through the 172-page Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, with all of its memorable examples featuring jungle gyms, Tom Cruise, and the Utopia Animal Hospital.

I waded through this dense midge-water marsh of information hoping to enhance my comprehension of how Google understands local business reputation. I did it so you might not have to, and today’s column summarizes the clues I found amid the reeds as well as checking in with Dr. Marie Haynes for her algorithm update expertise.

For local brands, reputation is everything. It’s an always-on sales force, quality control, and a business intelligence methodology when creatively managed. It’s renown or infamy, a source of pride or a signal that improvements are required. It’s a multi-faceted local search engine ranking factor and it’s also a key component in how Google views entities. Today, we’ll take a swift trek through top takeaways from one enormous .pdf which just might inspire you to seek out many new ways of proving to Google and the public that the local businesses you market are the best in town.

The purpose of quality raters: somewhat clearer than mud!

Image Credit: Stan Lupo

Google employs 10,000+ people, referred to as “raters” or “evaluators” to judge webpages on the basis of the Search Quality Evaluator guidelines (sometimes referred to as the QRG). What sometimes confuses folks, though, is that these evaluations do not directly impact the rankings of the entities being reviewed. Rather, Google’s simplified explanation of the the purpose of this large human network is to:

“Help make sure Search is returning relevant results from the most reliable sources available”

How this works is that the raters are supposed to act as checks on whether Google’s ongoing algorithmic updates are producing better or worse results. For example, a quality rater might be tasked with looking at a set of results for the query “lead-free garden hose” before a Google update, and then compare that to the results for the same search after Google has made an adjustment. Did the adjustment produce better results, according to the principles in the guidelines? That’s the kind of question the rater is there to answer. As Google explains:

“They help us measure how well our systems are working to deliver great content.”

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I like to think of the evaluators as a big flock of wading birds, probing the muddy sands of search for what they’ve been trained to think of as delicious. And why do we care what is on their menu? Because the guidelines tell us, in advance, something about how Google views search quality, and insights into their take on a good reputation are especially relevant to local business owners and their marketers.

Talking QRG + reputation with Dr. Marie Hanyes

When it comes to exploring the morass of Google’s algorithms, author and speaker Dr. Marie Haynes’ work is among the most respected in the industry and I’ve come to rely on her expertise. She has written extensively about the QRG and what it tells us about Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) and about Your-Money-or-Your-Life (YMYL) business models, and I particularly value the thoughts she shared with me about Google’s vision of reputation:

While Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines are not an exact representation of what Google’s algorithms do, we know that what’s in the QRG represents what Google is trying to accomplish in their algorithms. The QRG speaks several times about the importance of reputation. Google does not want to rank websites that are untrustworthy. What I found the most interesting in the QRG is how the raters are told to find different types of reputation information depending on the nature of the business they are researching. The guidelines say, “A website’s reputation is based on the experience of real users, as well as the opinion of people who are experts in the topic of the website.”

If you are writing on YMYL topics, then I believe that in order to rank you need to have information that is backed up by experts in your field. For many sites, improving E-A-T can start with responding to reviews, rectifying negative reviews and fixing the business issues that lead to users leaving those negative reviews. In section 2.6.1 of the QRG, it says, “For YMYL informational topics, the reputation of a website or content creator should be judged by what experts in the field have to say. Recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of a very positive reputation.”

But even if you are not writing on YMYL topics, reputation is important! The guidelines say, “For example, customer ratings and reviews may be helpful for reputation research of online stores, but much less so for medical information websites.” And also, “For some topics, such as humor or recipes, less formal expertise is OK. For these topics, popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation. For topics that need less formal expertise, websites can be considered to have a positive reputation if they are highly popular and well-loved for their topic or content type, and are focused on helping users.

Real users, formal and less-formal experts, and a variety of independent sources, then, all come into play when it comes to raters identifying reputations. Thank you, Dr. Haynes!

What makes for a good or bad reputation, according to Google’s Guidelines?

To start with, it’s interesting to note that Google sets an extremely low bar for many local businesses when it comes to their reputation. Nota bene:

Many small, local businesses or community organizations have a small “web presence” and rely on word of mouth, not online reviews. For these smaller businesses and organizations, lack of reputation should not be considered an indication of low page quality.

I find this quote fascinating for three reasons:

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  1. On the one hand, Moz readers will know that I am a very strong proponent of local businesses investing seriously in earning amazing word of mouth and a large body of positive reviews. Doing so should be table stakes for every local brand, no matter how small and no matter what Google thinks!

  2. On the other hand, the fact that Google’s SMB expectations are so modest may lend a welcome note of ease to players just jumping into the local search marketing game; you need to become the best in town, but you’re not up against Google’s index of the whole world!

  3. Finally, the foregoing excerpt from the guidelines is useful, because it illustrates how Google conceptualizes reputation in the context of overall page quality. In a nutshell, raters are looking around the web for proof of reputation to help them determine whether a web page deserves to be considered high or low quality.

Google’s document contains multiple examples of signs of a good or bad reputation, which I’ll pare down to just two:

Bad Reputation

Google points to a business selling jungle gyms that is the subject of multiple reviews claiming to have been ripped off and also of news articles citing fraud.

Good Reputation

Google mentions a medical facility which Wikipedia and news articles from respected sources name as one of the top four hospitals in the US.

The difference is easy to see, and your job in marketing a local business is to make it very obvious to the raters into which category your brand falls!

Where to build a reputational beacon any rater can see

Think of those thousands of raters in a boggy maze and learn to construct signals of reputation which handily guide them to a true and good quality assessment. Google lists all of the following as your options for this work:

Customer reviews

The local businesses you market will all make claims on their websites about offering top quality goods and services, but the QRG goes out of its way to instruct raters to disregard this sentiment in favor of the independent evaluations captured in actual customer reviews. Raters can examine your review corpus to see if the public feels the brand is meeting expectations. Famous brands may need to care most about reviews that judge whether a business is living up to hype, but every local company should implement a review acquisition and management strategy which seeks to prove to both the community and the raters that a high-quality reputation is being won via excellent customer service.

Professional reviews/ratings

If your industry includes a professional review site or network, make it a goal to earn this press. In the restaurant space, I’ve learned that most professional review sites don’t accept solicitations. Rather, an eatery must take the indirect approach of building up enough local word-of-mouth buzz to catch the attention of the professional reviewer. If your vertical lends itself to this type of notice, know that Google’s quality raters can closely examine this type of content for signals of brand quality.

Blog posts

If the community you serve is lucky enough to have one or more dedicated local blogs, their authors should be neighbors you get to know. Avoid a hard sell in your outreach. Rather, discover a meaningful way to start talking about your shared love of your city; local bloggers tend to be serious community advocates, and if you can prove that your business shares such aesthetics, you’re taking the first steps to becoming blog-worthy. If Google’s raters can find nearby writers speaking well of the brands you market, it can go far towards validating a good reputation.

Magazine articles

Many online magazines have a small business focus, and while you may need to work hard to achieve the level of fame that would win mentions of the brands you market in a publication like Entrepreneur or Fast Company, smaller concerns like Small Business Trends Magazine regularly spotlight SMBs. Columnists and editors are always looking for a good story, and while the inquiry and submission policies for each magazine will be different, thoughtful outreach on your part with an interesting business anecdote from which peers can derive takeaways is another great way to prove to the raters that a company is growing its good reputation.

News stories

From years of reading local business news stories, I’ve realized that the best way to earn inclusion is through simple helpfulness to the community. Whether that’s providing straight-up relief in a time of crisis, as in the above store of a disaster remediation company who did free work for a resident when her apartment was flooded, or from being a participant in or sponsor of events, teams, conferences, and movements, a local business can build a substantial reputation for good though its support of its neighbors. Sometimes, local stories are even of such considerable human interest that they become syndicated. Actively seek opportunities to become a business that’s known for helping others.

Forum discussions

Local business owners may sometimes wonder whether fora are too old school to be relevant. Google says no, and instructs its raters to check them for discussions of brand quality. If the community you serve has a forum, like the forum of the West Seattle Blog, where neighbors are asking one another about a restaurant, it’s a good thing to be mentioned there. Nextdoor would be another obvious option for local talk about your business. Most fora prohibit self-promotion, but if you become a member of a community hub like these, there may be opportunities for you to increase the visibility of your participation in your town or city and to respond when your company is mentioned and you’ll be offering a very positive impression for Google’s raters to consider.

Awards

I’ve served local business owners who are humble and shy of blowing their own horn, but in the quest for a glowing reputation, there is nothing to stop you from applying for prestigious awards or vying for local ones issued on a smaller scale, like the “best of the county” honors offered by this publication. Not only will it provide a strong signal of public trust on your website, Google Business Profile, and other online assets if you can say “voted best dentist in X in 2022” but the quality raters will encounter these awards and go further along their journey of believing your brand is truly earning a great reputation.

One last tip for reputation growth

Image credit: Steven Christenson

Google’s QRG is quite clear about wanting raters to rely mainly on independent sources to evaluate reputation. This is why it’s so important to get bloggers, columnists, reporters, communities, and organizations talking about the local businesses you market. You want your brands on their domains.

But don’t let a mention earned exist in one place only. When you earn press, reviews, awards, and other fame, repurpose that content on your website, local business listings, and social media profiles. Write some Google posts, shoot a video, craft a blog post, or an Instagram story. This will not only provide multiple paths for a Google search quality evaluator to discover your fame, but it will be remarketing positive messaging to the audience that matters more than any other: your customers!

The ancient Greek playwright Euripides said, “Along with success comes a reputation for wisdom.” Local business owners have already built up an impressive store of sagacity simply by running their operations; taking the next step of learning to see reputation as Google does is a habit of success they can easily adopt. Always continue to think customer-first, but thinking search engine-second when it comes to building online renown is surely a tactic for the wise.

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How We Increased a Client’s Leads by 384% in Six Months by Focusing on One Topic Cluster [Case Study]

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How We Increased a Client’s Leads by 384% in Six Months by Focusing on One Topic Cluster [Case Study]

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Content marketing is an essential part of any SEO strategy. Without it, how are you going to attract customers looking for answers to their questions, and who are potentially in the market for your products or services?

At Tao Digital Marketing, we’ve recently generated some great results for one of our clients operating in the business financial space, The Insolvency Experts, mainly by focusing on just one “cluster topic” that was a huge money maker for them.

When looking at six month comparison stats (August 2021-January 2022 to February-July 2022), we’ve achieved the following:

  • Leads: 95 to 460 (384%)

  • Clicks: 4,503 to 23,013 (411%)

  • Impressions: 856,683 to 2,033,355 (137%)

  • Average position: 33.4 to 23.6 (increased almost 10 spots)

This was mostly achieved by absolutely hammering one topic area: company liquidation. In this case study, we’re going to explain how we did this step by step, so that hopefully you can generate similar results for your own business!

Objectives

If you really break it down, the objective of all SEO consultancy work is essentially the same: increase the number of leads for a business. This was our ultimate goal.

It’s not just as simple as that, though. We all know you can’t get to number one on Google overnight. So, like other SEO geeks out there, we tracked our successes through additional factors such as clicks, impressions, and average position, to show our efforts were worthwhile.

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In January this year (2022) our goals for the next six months were as follows:

  • Leads: Just over double from 95 to 200 (110%)

  • Clicks: 4,503 to 13,500 (around 200%)

  • Impressions: 856,683 to 1,700,000 (around 100%)

  • Average position: 33.4 to 25 (around eight spots)

Insolvency Experts’ audience is primarily directors of UK businesses that are going insolvent, closely followed by business owners looking for financial advice. The majority of Insolvency Expert’s cash flow comes from formal insolvency processes, such as liquidation, administration, and CVAs (Company Voluntary Agreements), so it was really important for us to push these areas.

Our strategy

1. Research “company liquidation” search volume and related queries

We first picked this client up in November 2020. Initially, our focus was on the basics: updating all the top level pages (such as service pages and guides) to make sure they fit the intention of the user and clearly explained the services that Insolvency Experts offer.

Researching what works well at present

One of the pages that our content team updated was their company liquidation guide. After updating, the page started to perform very well in the SERP, and ranked at position #4 for “company liquidation”. Clearly, this sort of content was working, and we wanted to hit it even more.

After pulling some research together, one of our strategists proposed the idea of a “Company Liquidation Content Hub”, as the company liquidation guide was ranking for a lot of long tail questions:

Screenshot showing ‘what’ queries in Google Search Console, such as ‘what is voluntary liquidation’ and ‘what happens to a director of a company in liquidation’

After cross referencing with the monthly search volume for these questions, she added some of these as H3s within the guide to see how they would perform. They resulted in so much more traffic that she decided they warranted their own individual guides, hence the idea for the hub. This would mean we weren’t putting all of our eggs into one basket, and that we could also internally link all of them together for users wanting to read more.

Users that are further down the marketing funnel don’t want to scroll down a huge guide to find the answer to their specific question, and we were certain that this would positively affect bounce rate. We therefore made sure that nine times out of 10, the H1 contained the question that was being answered.

Infographic explaining the sales funnel, starting with reach followed by act, convert and finally, engage

In order to further target those at the bottom of the marketing funnel who want to speak to someone quickly, we placed regular “Contact Us” CTAs throughout the content so that they don’t have to scroll right to the bottom of the page to get in touch with Insolvency Experts.

An example of a piece of content with a ‘Get Free Liquidation Advice’ CTA in the middle

Undertaking a competitor analysis

We also conducted a competitor analysis on this topic, focusing on three key players in the industry that were all ranking well for the phrase “company liquidation”. We found that the key competitors had the following:

Competitor A – 38 indexed articles on liquidation

Competitor B – 23 indexed articles on liquidation

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Competitor C – 47 indexed articles on liquidation

Insolvency Experts only had six indexed articles on liquidation at the time, so it was clear we needed to be on their level – this was an obvious content gap.

Pitching the content hub to the client

We suggested this idea to the client alongside a forecasting spreadsheet created by our founder, in order to justify the resource that was needed to push the client as high as possible in the rankings for company liquidation.

This spreadsheet broke down a huge list of keywords alongside monthly search volume, average click through rate for positions 1-10 on the SERP, domain authority of competitors who are currently ranking for these keywords, and average conversion rate on the site at the moment.

Table demonstrating projected revenue for Insolvency Experts depending on where they ranked on the SERP

This unique formula would then allow us to explain to the client that for X amount of work, we predict we can get you to position X in X timeframe, and this would result in approximately X annual revenue. After pitching this to the client alongside infographics and current performance statistics, they told us they loved our ideas and agreed to let us go ahead.

2. Plan the content after client approval

After the client gave us the go-ahead, the next step was to plan all of this work based on search volume, and therefore priority order.

It’s easy to get lost in all the data within SEO, so it was incredibly important for us to have a solid plan and timeline for these changes. Topics were going to range from How to Liquidate a Company with No Money through to Administration vs Liquidation.

How we communicate planned works to our clients

In order to orchestrate clear communication between ourselves and our clients, we create a Traffic Light Report, which is a live Google Sheets document detailing all work to be undertaken for the current and next quarter. This is split into sections for technical SEO, content, and digital PR/link building (the three pillars of SEO).

This includes justification for each change we make, as well as a link to any live changes or documents. It also details when this will be done and if the action is with us or the client. The tasks are coloured in green for live changes, yellow for action needed, orange for in progress, red for anything on hold and clear for not started.

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Here’s an example of what the content section of Insolvency Expert’s traffic light report looks like for their current quarter (July-September 2022):

Screenshot detailing content to be undertaken between July-September 2022, and justifications for each action

Scheduling the tasks

We then scheduled these topics for our various content writers to work on using our project management software, ClickUp. Within each task we placed a link to a skeleton document consisting of H1s, H2s, and H3s, as well as a title, meta description and keywords to include.

3. Write the content while implementing technical SEO

By this time it was around April 2022, and it was time for us to fully attack the content portion of our task list. Since then, we’ve written 18 pieces of content around company liquidation, and still have quite a few left to go before we consider this area of focus complete.

As part of our uploads, our technical SEO adds FAQ schema, which has helped Insolvency Experts showing up for several featured snippets (more details in results section).

Analyzing as we go along

Once we covered the big topics in the first couple of months of writing, we started to use Low Fruits to find smaller queries which are estimated at around 10 or fewer monthly searches. We’ve had a lot of success targeting lower search volume phrases, as these users seem to be more focused and lower down the sales funnel, so are more likely to be better engaged and convert better. A lot of the time they are pleased that you have answered their very niche question!

The below is a screenshot from a keyword analysis. We trawled through hundreds of keywords to pull out the ones relevant to the client.

A screenshot of queries from LowFruits.io featuring questions such as ‘can you still trade while in liquidation?’ and ‘can you trade out of insolvency?’

We then used Low Fruit’s Keyword Extraction and SERP Analysis tool to give us further details on a select few key terms.

These terms are shown as having a search volume of either 10, less than 10 or 0. Of course, we know that this is still hugely important to cover, and targeting these will bring in a very niche reader who is much more likely to convert due to the nature of the long-tail queries.

Finalizing the hub

Our plan is to finalize the hub this fall, and ensure that everything is internally linked. There will also be a menu change to make the addition of the hub very clear. See screenshots below for the current hub vs. how it will be presented once all content is ready (screenshot taken from their staging site in Kinsta, our hosting platform where we make design changes so that the client can approve them before they go live).

Current ‘hub’ in the menu:

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Screenshot of the current ‘liquidation’ drop down menu, featuring four pieces of content

How the hub will look once all content is complete:

Screenshot sharing newer version of liquidation hub menu from Kinsta staging site

As part of our content process within ClickUp, we have a recurring task to check a new URL in Google Search Console two weeks after upload. This allows us to see if we have the “Google Spike of Acceptance”, which is a sharp incline of impressions/traffic indicating that the content will do well, before it falls then slowly rises again.

A screenshot showing the ‘Google Spike of Acceptance’ in Google Search Console - a sharp spike of clicks and impressions after upload

If we don’t see this spike, we carry out multiple checks, including: Is it an orphan page? Are there any technical errors? Is it indexed? If it is not indexed, we push the URL through Index Me Now.

If the issue is just that the piece isn’t getting picked up, we will take another look at the content to see if there is something else we can do to improve it, e.g. tweak the H1 or expand the content.

4. Build links to the relevant pages and homepage

Once we’d uploaded the content, it was time to build links to the priority pages and homepage in order to build the domain authority.

We wanted to really hone in on generating links for our company liquidation page. The page has 36 backlinks, many of which were built through link building efforts. This was largely done by working with business site publications and creating natural anchor text that would help with certain keyword rankings.

Example of a guest blog titled ‘The Advantages of Business Liquidation’

As well as building links specifically to the company liquidation page, we also built links to the main URL in order to boost overall domain authority. This was done through answering queries through platforms such as HARO and Response Source, as well as working with the client to create relevant, time-specific thought leadership pieces. Here’s an example of a HARO request we responded to, the topic being “Recession-proofing tips for small businesses”:

Although the site’s domain authority tends to fluctuate between 30-33 depending on links lost and general algorithm updates, the links to specific pages have still resulted in an increase in rankings, detailed further below.

Results compared to objectives

Although we knew that our strategy was going to work well based on our experience with our other clients, we were very pleasantly surprised by the huge positive effect our work has made, which enabled us to smash the targets we set!

Leads

Goal: Increase from 95 to 200 (110%)

Result: Increased from 95 to 460 (384%)

As a result of creating incredibly useful, lengthy content and placing regular CTAs throughout the content, we managed to almost quadruple the amount of leads coming through to the client in the space of just six months.

In the six months before our liquidation project began, our Leads Dashboard within WhatConverts shows that Insolvency Experts had five liquidation leads via phone call and 10 leads via their contact form on a liquidation-focused page.

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In the six-month period since we’ve been working on the content hub, they have had 38 liquidation leads via phone call and 52 leads via contact form on a liquidation-focused page.

Result: 660% increase in phone call leads and 420% increase in contact form leads.

Previous six months:

Screenshot of the leads dashboard within What Converts showing that five leads were generated before work on the content hub began

Current:

Screenshot of the leads dashboard within What Converts showing that 38 leads were generated after work on the content hub began

Clicks

Goal: Increase from 4,503 to 13,500 (around 200%)

Result: Increased from 4,503 to 23,013 (411%)

By creating highly relevant content that matched the user’s search intent, we managed to almost quadruple the clicks over the space of six months, doubling our original 200% goal.

The site has received 29,400 clicks overall across the past 12 months. Below, you can see the huge spike in clicks and impressions from January onwards when we really started to focus on the liquidation content.

Screenshot showing spike in clicks and impressions once focus on ‘company liquidation’ began

Impressions

Goal: Increase from 856,683 to 1,700,000 (around 100%)

Result: Increased from 856,683 to 2,033,355 (137%)

Again, by creating highly relevant blogs, Google started to understand the relevancy of our content, so the number of impressions hugely increased. Along with the 137% increase above, over the past 12 months (August 2021-August 2022) the site has received 485,000 impressions for the query ‘liquidation’ alone.

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Google Search Console Graph detailing huge spike in impressions between August 2021-August 2022

The main company liquidation guide that we updated had a total of 732K impressions over the past 12 months, too, with a huge spike from February onwards, when we updated the guide.

Google Search Console Graph detailing huge spike in impressions in February for the updated company liquidation guide

Average position

Goal: Increase from 33.4 to 25 (around 8 spots)

Result: Increased from 33.4 to 23.6 (increased 10 spots)

This increase is due to the relevancy of our content and the amount of keywords each piece ranked for. As mentioned, the main company liquidation guide has worked incredibly well, ranking for 181 keywords, 67 of which are page one (37%). It now has the number one spot for the term “company liquidation”. See below for an example of queries the page is showing up for.

Google Search Console Screenshot sharing queries the company liquidation guide is appearing for, such as ‘members voluntary liquidation’, ‘liquidation of company’, ‘how long does liquidation take’ and more

The page also shows up for six featured snippets as a result of us implementing FAQ schema.

Screenshot showing the company liquidation guide appearing in a featured snippet query for ‘process of liquidation’

335 clicks and 93,663 impressions have come from the FAQ rich results alone.

Screenshot of Google Search Console showing ‘FAQ Rich Results’ within the search appearance column

In the six months before we updated the guide, it pulled in around 650 clicks and 227K impressions. In the six months following, it brought in around 1,180 clicks and 382K impressions. We’ve practically doubled clicks on one single guide.

As mentioned, this particular piece of content has 36 backlinks, and actually ranks ABOVE the official UK government company liquidation guide, which has a domain authority of 93 (about 60 higher than ours). Clearly, we’re meeting the searcher’s intent and giving them what they are looking for.

Screenshot of the SERP showing that Insolvency Experts’ company liquidation guide appears above official UK government advice.

In the six month period before we started work on liquidation, Insolvency Experts had an average click through rate of 0.5%. Over a six month period of us working with them, this more than doubled to 1.2%.

Another success worth noting is that 3 out of 6 of our latest articles have an average page view duration of between 9 and 10 minutes! The other half are averaging around 5 to 6 minutes, which is still very good. Clearly, users are wanting in-depth information on this topic.

The “What happens to a director of a company in liquidation?” guide, which went live in May, is now the fifth most clicked page on the site. when filtered on GSC by the term “liquidation”.

Overall, we’re extremely pleased with the results we generated, and so are Insolvency Experts — the company liquidation department is now inundated with queries and they are rushed off their feet!

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