6 Link Building Services That Actually Work (+6 More to Avoid)
Link building is hard work. Landing top-quality links takes a lot of time. Unless you have a dedicated in-house team of link builders, acquiring the links you need can be difficult, especially if you have more than one site you’re working on.
So if you’re a busy business owner or an SEO with multiple clients, how do you get the links you need while dedicating as little time as possible? By using a link building service.
But knowing the type of link building service you should be looking for can be overwhelming. That’s why we will walk you through the best link building services that work and those you should avoid.
We need to take a look at the link building service providers first, though.
OK, so here’s the thing:
Many link building service providers are beyond sketchy. The majority are selling the digital equivalent of a knock-off Louis Vuitton purse out of the trunk of their virtual car.
Every link building service website, marketplace page, etc., says “manual outreach” and “no PBNs.” But, for the most part, that isn’t the case.
That’s just a quick word of warning for you.
On the bright side, some fantastic link building agencies and freelancers work hard to win top-notch links that you’ll be happy to have on your site and will be proud to show off to your clients.
The tricky part is knowing what to look for to find these gems. Let’s look at some of the things you need to consider.
This may seem obvious, but the reputation of an agency or freelancer needs to go beyond the testimonials on their website. Unless they’re reviews from well-known companies or industry professionals, I’ll usually assume these are fake.
Is the company one you’ve heard of before? Are the people behind the company well-known industry professionals?
Before reaching out to them, do some digging. Reading reviews beyond those on social media that anyone can buy is a good place to start.
Checking sites like Glassdoor to see what a company’s staff have to say about it can be a great way to evaluate its reputation. However, you should take these reviews with a grain of salt, as even the best company can have a disgruntled ex-employee.
Also, always be bold and ask other SEOs for their recommendations, either one to one or in groups and forums. Having someone advocate for a service they’ve used is one of the best ways to avoid disappointment.
Checking the quality of service the company provides is incredibly important, and I’m talking about more than the quality of the links it builds.
The customer service it provides, especially in the initial discovery and onboarding phases, can indicate what the service will look like in the long term.
You want to build a long-lasting relationship with a provider so that you don’t have to go through this process every few months. Knowing that the people you’re working with will take care of you and your sites makes all the difference.
You’ll want to work with a provider that can assess your site and curate a link building strategy designed to meet your individual goals. You’ll also want to work with someone who will get back to you reasonably quickly and is happy to jump on a call when needed.
Something else to consider is whether a link building service provider can increase the number of links you want to acquire.
If you’re going to pay for link building services because you have many websites you can’t manage alone, you may run into the same issue with a freelancer or small agency.
Even if you plan to start small, if you’re thinking of scaling up in the long term, this is something you should discuss up front. It is better to find a high-quality provider you’re happy with that can grow with you rather than start again later.
So now we’ve covered what to look for in a service provider, let’s look at some good services that can actually move the needle.
After checking out some of the most popular link building agencies, I’ve found the top services that are most frequently offered across the board, including:
- HARO link building.
- Digital PR.
- Guest posting.
- Niche edits.
- Skyscraper link building.
- Managed link building.
It’s worth noting that most of these services are based on a particular technique or tactic used to acquire links rather than a link building service per se. But as this is how most agencies market them, it’s worth discussing them this way.
You can see an example from an established link building provider here:
Let’s look at not only what each service is but also the benefits of having a link building provider acquire those links for you and what you can expect to pay for each service.
1. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) editorial link building
Using HARO and alternatives to acquire editorial links from highly authoritative websites is the ultimate white hat link building technique.
Sites like Help a Reporter Out, Terkel, Dot Star Media, and the like allow journalists to post queries looking for sources for articles they are currently writing. If you’re an expert on that topic, you can give quality insights and be quoted (with a link to your site) in their article.
Not only can these links move the needle when coming from highly authoritative, niche-relevant sites that pass lots of link equity, but they can also help you improve experience, expertise, authority, and trust (E-E-A-T).
But are there benefits to using a service provider to build HARO links?
When it comes to well-established agencies that offer this service, they do a fantastic job of delivering the results you need with fully managed services. You only need to give them some initial information, and they will do the hard work for you.
However, they’re explicitly designed to scale these links and are working with multiple clients. To scale a fully managed service to that level, they usually have a large team of people pitching, tracking links, managing the accounts, liaising with clients, etc.
With that kind of team in place comes a higher cost. The average price range for this service with big agencies is $240–$700 per link.
Unless you’re working on a large brand, enterprise site, or portfolio of websites, it probably isn’t worth it. However, if you need more time or have too many sites to manage yourself, you can find a freelancer who can help you at a more budget-friendly price tag.
It’s worth mentioning that most good freelancers will still have the cost of paid tools to cover, and they’ll likely pitch for multiple clients on one platform. Not to mention the hard work and time that go into crafting quality pitches. You can find someone who can do the job well for $200–$350 per link.
2. Digital PR
Like HARO link building, digital PR is one of the best ways to build high-authority links while also gaining brand exposure, driving traffic, and improving E-E-A-T.
But unlike HARO link building—where you approach journalists who have already advertised their need for sources on a particular topic—digital PR techniques create creative campaigns that proactively approach journalists to get the word out about your business.
Many different techniques can be used, including:
- Press releases
- Data-led campaigns
- Reactive PR
Arguably, digital PR is something you can only do with the help of an agency. Unless you’re a PR expert yourself and have time to dedicate to it, you’re not going to get the same results as a quality agency can.
Digital PR is an “always-on” tactic that needs a team of people monitoring what’s trending that can put together an entire campaign as soon as something happens.
A great example is how search-first creative agency Rise at Seven quickly responded to this creative campaign from Marmite:
Within 45 minutes of this campaign going live, Rise at Seven executives responded with their creative version on behalf of their client, Auto Glass, which virtually responded to fix the broken windshield:
The high-quality work needed to execute digital PR tactics successfully comes at a high cost. Most digital PR agencies with an SEO focus have a minimum monthly retainer of between $4,000 and $15,000.
3. Guest posting link building
Building links through guest posting is the most popular way to build links among SEO professionals, according to Authority Hacker’s link building survey.
This service requires the provider to find high-quality, niche-relevant websites with a good amount of traffic and a strong backlink profile. Then the provider has to pitch the site admins topic ideas for a guest post to be added on the site.
This can be either offering to create an updated version of existing content that is currently underperforming or a new but relevant idea.
There’s a reason why guest posting is the most popular link building tactic among SEOs—because it works. Links are also relatively easy to achieve, as it is usually a win-win for both sites.
Plus, a quality service provider will have built up a database of sites it’s worked with and nurtured relationships with web admins, which means it can often acquire links easier than you would through hours and hours of outreach.
The thing is, quality comes at a cost. An agency offering guest posts as a service has a team of outreach specialists, content writers, and editors to produce the posts, plus site administration fees (the cost of someone to edit and upload the content) to cover.
If you want to build guest post links properly at scale, the average cost of $250–$400 per link is generally worth it.
4. Niche edits
Niche edits, also known as link placements, are where a link is placed on a site within an existing piece of content.
This can be that a current link in the content needs to be updated or fixed. Or simply because you think their audience will benefit from your content as a source of further reading.
Niche edit links can achieve similar results to guest post links but at a more budget-friendly cost (as there is no content to write). For this service, most reputable providers charge between $150 and $300 per link.
Be warned that many link building providers will simply buy these links. For the most part, providers will work from a list of sites that have link placement prices within a set budget.
For example, I have worked with agencies in the past that are willing to pay a fee of up to $100 for any link and they continuously do outreach to build upon that list. Then, whenever they need a link, they simply reach out to a relevant site and arrange for a link to be placed.
Obviously, buying links is something you need to be careful of, as it is against Google’s guidelines (unless the link contains a “nofollow” or “sponsored” link attribute). Many providers simply won’t inform you this is how they do business.
However, some will inform you that a site has asked for an additional fee and whether you are happy to pay that to give you the option. This is usually only the case for highly authoritative sites asking for $200+. But at least then, you can decide if this is something you’re happy to do.
5. Skyscraper link building
Skyscraper link building is a technique where you find a popular piece of content with lots of backlinks, and then you create your own (better) high-quality content to attempt to steal your competitor’s links.
When done well, skyscraper link building can land you dozens of high-quality links quickly. The problem is this tactic is a lot for one person to handle. You must do all the research, create content, find sites to reach out to, and then perform email outreach to gain links.
That’s why skyscraper link building is one of the best services you can outsource to an agency. Not only will it have a dedicated team to handle the entire process, but it will also have the professional tools needed to execute the services successfully at scale.
You can’t be surprised that this doesn’t come cheap. Most SEO agencies that offer skyscraper link building have different packages, depending on how many links you’re looking to build. They usually range from around $900–$3,000.
6. Managed link services
Managed link services and link packs are packaged services that agencies offer to cover all of your link building needs in one place. The idea is you will get a certain number of different types of links per month. For example:
- Five guest post links
- Three niche edit links
- Two HARO links
Some agencies will offer different packs at set prices for you to choose from. Others will charge a set retainer and customize link building packages based on your current backlink profile, competitor analysis, and goals.
If you’re someone with a large portfolio of sites or even a large enterprise site that doesn’t want the hassle of managing and training a dedicated in-house link building team, using a managed link building service from a reputable provider is worth it.
Prices can range between $2,500 and $10,000 per month.
Similar to how there are plenty of bad link building providers, link building services can be questionable at best and downright “black hat” at worst.
Even some well-known providers offer several services that aren’t for everyone, so it’s a good idea to know what you should avoid—even more so than what you’re looking for.
1. Anything cheap
Although paying someone $250 per hour to build links to your site doesn’t guarantee you’ll receive quality service, for the most part, you get what you pay for.
Most agencies will have a team that will spend hours performing outreach and producing content. Not to mention paid tools that allow team members to do their jobs well. So it’s reasonable to expect a particular price tag with a professional service.
Therefore, anyone on platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, or Freelancer offering 500 links for $10 will provide a service that either does nothing at all or, worse, more harm than good.
2. DA/DR increasing services
These services can be seen across freelancing platforms and guarantee to boost your Ahrefs’ Domain Rating (DR) or Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) above a particular metric. The idea is to make your site appear more authoritative than it is.
They involve spamming your site with a load of links that can look like this:
It’s worth stressing that both DA and DR are not considered by Google and hold no influence over your rankings. If your DR or DA is manipulated, it is solely to impress others using Ahrefs to check out your site.
These attempts of metrics manipulation naturally call for response from the SEO tool providers. Ahrefs worked on implementing changes to the DR calculation to try to make these artificial DR boosts ineffective.
3. Negative SEO links
Negative SEO links, or “SEO attacks,” as they are sometimes referred to, are spamming your competitors with poor-quality links in hopes of negatively impacting their rankings and traffic.
Usually, these services spam a site with millions of links at a minimal cost.
Not only is this completely unethical, it is also, quite frankly, downright lazy. And it most likely won’t do anything. If you’re spamming your competitor just to get a leg up on the competition rather than spending time building up your backlink profile, you’re doing SEO wrong.
4. Private blog networks (PBNs)
PBNs are a group of websites created specifically to link to one another and create the appearance that a website has “earned” backlinks from other websites.
By linking to your site from every other site in your PBN, you artificially establish trust signals in the hopes that Google will recognize them as legitimate websites and rank you higher.
Private blog networks used for link building are considered link spam and can land you with a Google penalty.
5. Press releases that aren’t newsworthy
A press release can be a genuinely helpful tool for building high-quality links and brand awareness when your company has something newsworthy to share, such as a merger or acquisition.
The issue arises when companies run a press release weekly solely to build links on everything from Karen-from-accounts’ new Labradoodle to “Flip-Flop Fridays.”
This is not only considered a spammy practice but will also most likely not be picked up by the sites you want to obtain links from. This makes them worthless.
6. Tiered links
Tiered link building is the practice of building links to pages you have already built links to your site from.
The idea is to increase the link equity to your site by improving the backlink profile of the page linking to yours.
This can work well when done correctly (by manually building high-quality links on each tier). I would never recommend doing this on a client site. But if you want to on your personal sites, that’s your choice.
Most tiered link building services involve spamming the Tier 1 site with low-quality links using automated tools like Money Robot. This unethical practice is used by SEOs who are happy to spam somebody else’s site with poor-quality links.
Link building services can be the secret to SEO success for anyone who wants to build high-quality links at scale.
The key is finding a high-quality service provider that not only delivers what you need but also is someone you can work with in the long term and grow with you.
Have you got questions? Ping me on Twitter.
11 Tips For Optimizing Performance Max Campaigns
Performance Max campaigns are the pinnacle of automation in PPC, so it’s no surprise they continue to be a major topic of debate for PPC professionals looking to balance time savings with peak campaign performance.
The primary goal of Performance Max campaigns is to drive conversions, such as sales, leads, or sign-ups, for your business while maintaining a competitive cost-per-action (CPA) or return-on-ad-spend (ROAS).
By utilizing Smart Bidding strategies and dynamically adapting ad creatives, these campaigns help advertisers reach a wider audience and boost the results obtained from traditional, single-channel campaigns.
But their high dependence on AI doesn’t mean these are set-it-and-forget-it campaigns.
Automation can still benefit from the touch of an expert PPC manager. But because they are so different from traditional campaigns, there are unique ways to optimize Performance Max (PMax) campaigns.
PMax optimization broadly falls into three categories:
- Setting them up for success.
- Monitoring that the AI is driving the right results.
- Tweaking the campaigns to further optimize their performance.
Read on to learn how to get the most out of your PMax campaigns by addressing each of these three areas of opportunity.
How To Set Up PMax Campaigns For Success
Let’s start with what can be done to set up Performance Max campaigns to be successful out of the gate.
Remember that one big risk of automated PPC is that machine learning algorithms can eat up a significant amount of budget during the learning phase, where it establishes what works and what doesn’t.
Many advertisers don’t have the patience or the deep pockets to pay for machines to learn what they already know from their own experience.
1. Run It In Addition To Traditional Campaign Types
This advice is straight from Google, which says
“It’s designed to complement your keyword-based Search campaigns to help you find more converting customers across all of Google’s channels like YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.”
And while running Performance Max as a stand-alone campaign is better than not advertising on Google at all, for professional marketers, it should be seen as a supplement to existing campaign types.
Running PMax campaigns in conjunction with traditional search and display campaigns offers advertisers a more comprehensive and diversified marketing strategy.
This approach allows businesses to capitalize on the strengths of each campaign type while mitigating their limitations, resulting in a more balanced and effective promotional effort.
Traditional search campaigns are particularly effective at capturing user intent through keyword targeting, ensuring ads are shown to users actively searching for relevant products or services.
Traditional display campaigns, on the other hand, are excellent at raising brand awareness and reaching audiences across a vast network of websites and apps.
PMax campaigns complement these traditional approaches by utilizing machine learning to optimize ad targeting and placement across multiple Google platforms.
This broadens the reach of advertising efforts, tapping into new audience segments and driving conversions more efficiently.
Combining these campaign types allows advertisers to cover all stages of the customer journey, from awareness and consideration to conversion and retention, while maximizing their ROAS.
2. Exclude Brand Keywords From Performance Max
One keyword-targeted search campaign you should always have is a brand campaign.
Then, ask your Google rep to exclude your brand keywords from all PMax campaigns so they don’t cannibalize traffic from your brand campaign.
Brand traffic should be inexpensive because it’s leveraging the power of your own brand. When users search for that, your ads will be the best match with the highest Quality Score and hence should be discounted significantly.
But because Performance Max’s mission is to generate more conversions, it may actually end up bidding on really expensive brand-adjacent queries.
For example, if I bid on the keyword “optmyzr,” I’ll pay around $0.10 per click when someone searches for exactly that.
(Disclosure, I am the co-founder of Optmyzr.)
But if I show ads for the keyword “optmyzr ppc management software,” I’m competing against every advertiser who bids for ‘ppc management software,’ my brand discount disappears, and those clicks will cost several dollars each.
In a branded search campaign, I can control exactly which traffic to target using positive and negative keywords. But in Performance Max, there is no easy way to manage keywords, so Google may use the really cheap brand traffic to subsidize the much more expensive brand-adjacent traffic.
Ultimately, you will get results within your stated ROAS or CPA limits. And while that may be acceptable to some, many advertisers prefer to manage their brand campaign separately from everything else.
3. Create Multiple Performance Max Campaigns To Target Different Goals
The same reasons why you would run more than one campaign in an account without Performance Max apply to why you should consider having multiple PMaxcampaigns.
For example, online retailers often set different goals for different product categories because they have different profit margins. By splitting these products into different campaigns with different ROAS targets, advertisers can maximize their profitability.
Maintaining multiple campaigns also supports seasonal advertising plans that may require different budgets at different times of the year.
Google supports up to 100 Performance Max campaigns per account, so that indicates that it, too, agrees there are many different good reasons why an advertiser would want to maintain more than one campaign.
4. Manage Final URL Expansion
When you create a PMax campaign, you tell Google what landing page to send traffic to. But you also get to decide if Google can expand to other landing pages on your domain.
Think of it a bit as dynamic search ads (DSAs), which automatically match your site’s pages to potentially relevant searches and automatically generate the ads to show.
Final URL expansion should be used cautiously.
At the campaign’s onset, consider focusing all your budget on the landing pages you care most about. If the results are good, then expand to more final URLs automatically.
And always be sure to use rules and exclusions to ensure Google doesn’t show your ads for parts of your site you don’t want advertised. For example, exclude your login page (assuming that one is ranked high in SEO).
You can also exclude sections of your site that are the focus of other campaigns. A retailer could exclude all pages that include the path ‘electronics’ in their apparel campaign to ensure consumers interested in electronics are served ads from the most relevant campaign.
5. Add Audience Signals From The Start
Adding audiences to a Performance Max campaign helps enhance the targeting and performance of your marketing efforts.
While PMax campaigns already utilize machine learning to optimize ad targeting, incorporating audience information provides additional context that can further improve the campaign’s efficiency.
Adding audience information enables the machine learning algorithms in PMax campaigns to make more informed decisions when optimizing ad targeting and placements. This can lead to better campaign performance and a higher ROAS.
By specifying particular audience segments, such as in-market, affinity, or remarketing audiences, advertisers can tailor their campaign messaging and creative to resonate better with their target users. This enables more personalized and relevant ad experiences, resulting in higher engagement and conversion rates.
Advertisers should also attach their own audiences to Performance Max campaigns. For example, by attaching a list of all their existing customers, they can choose to have the PMax campaign prioritize new user acquisition.
Because it is generally harder and more expensive to find new users than to convince existing users to make another purchase, adding this setting can better focus the ad budget on what is most valuable to the business.
How To Monitor Performance Max Campaigns For Success
Even when campaigns are well set up, monitoring AI is always a smart idea because it can sometimes make questionable decisions.
When I accidentally turned on automatically applied recommendations from Google, I found that my brand keyword ‘optmyzr’ was removed by Google because the AI felt it was redundant to some other keywords in my campaign, particularly some misspellings of our brand name.
I investigated and found the keywords Google preferred delivered fewer conversions and had a higher CPA than the keywords it removed. So not only was AI semantically wrong, but it also made a bad decision for my bottom line.
So let’s look at some ways to monitor Performance Max campaigns.
6. Report Where Your Performance Max Traffic Is Coming From
Just like you may have monitored clicks and impressions by device types or from different geographic areas, in PMax you should care about the performance of the various channels where your ads are shown.
If you only look at the overall performance of a PMax campaign, you may be falling into the trap of averages.
Relying solely on averages can be misleading and might not accurately represent the true nature of the underlying data.
Averages can oversimplify complex data, reducing it to a single value that may not capture important nuances or patterns within the dataset, and this can mask the variability or range of values in the dataset, leading to false assumptions about the consistency or homogeneity of the data.
For example, is low performance on the display network made up for by the great performance of ads on YouTube?
On average, the campaign drives the results you want. But by eliminating some wasteful portions, results could be even better than what you asked for.
Even if the campaign is delivering the desired results, knowing about possible inefficiencies puts you in a better position to address those and tilt the playing field back in your favor.
Tools like Optmyzr make it easy to see where your budget is spent in PMax, and there are also Google Ads scripts that will add this type of clarity to your data.
7. Monitor For Cannibalization
Because PMax campaigns don’t include the traditional search terms reports and only include part of that data in insights, it can be difficult to know when it is cannibalizing the other campaigns you’re running in parallel.
When it comes to standard shopping campaigns and PMax for retail (which replaced Smart Shopping campaigns), the PMax campaign always takes precedence over the traditional shopping campaign. For this reason, it’s important to segment products to avoid overlap.
For example, you could advertise shower doors in one campaign and bathroom vanities in another. But if there is any possible overlap, even segmenting campaigns may not lead to the desired result.
For example, shower wands advertised in a traditional shopping campaign may be closely enough related to shower doors and get mixed into the PMax campaign for shower enclosures.
Regarding keyword cannibalization, Google says if the user’s query is identical to an eligible Search keyword of any match type in your account, the Search campaign will be prioritized over Performance Max.
But if the query is not identical to an eligible Search keyword, the campaign or ad with the highest Ad Rank, which considers creative relevance and performance, will be selected.
And even a keyword that is an identical match may be ineligible due to a variety of factors and still get cannibalized.
The best way to monitor for cannibalization is to monitor campaign volumes and look for shifts. Does an unexpected drop in a search campaign correspond to an increase in traffic to the PMax campaign? If so, dig deeper and use our optimization tip for managing negative keywords that we’ll cover in the next section.
Optimizations For Performance Max
While PMax promises to optimize itself on an ongoing basis thanks to AI, there are some proactive ways you can still help the machines deliver better results.
8. Use Account-Level Negative Keywords
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to add negative keywords to a PMax campaign without the help of a Google rep. And even then, they will generally only add negative brand keywords to help prevent cannibalizing a brand campaign.
But PMax campaigns can work with shared negative keyword lists if you email Support and ask them to attach one of your shared negative lists to your PMax campaigns.
From that point forward, you can simply add negative keywords to the shared list, and they will instantly take effect on the PMax campaign that is associated with the shared negative list.
While Google doesn’t share full search term details for PMax the way it does for search campaigns, it will show keyword themes under insights. This is one good source for negative keyword ideas.
You should also leverage data from traditional search campaigns you’re running in parallel to PMax.
So mine your traditional search campaigns for negative keyword ideas, for example, when users search for things like ‘free’ ‘login’, etc., that never convert well. Add these as negative keywords to the shared negative list that is attached to your PMax campaign.
9. Use Account-Level Placement Exclusions
When it comes to placements, Google has a predefined report that shows placements where your Performance Max ads were shown.
This is a great starting point to find ideas for placements to exclude.
To exclude placements from PMax, you’ll need to exclude them at the account level, since it’s not possible to add negative placements to individual PMax campaigns. You’ll find this ability under the “Content” section of the Google Ads account.
Just like with negative keyword discovery, consider using your account-wide placement data from all campaigns to find placements to exclude in PMax.
And if you run multiple Google Ads accounts, you can get even better results by finding money-wasting sites and apps in the display network to exclude across all the accounts you manage.
Or when working with a tool provider, they may even be able to help you find negative placement ideas from their own vast network of data.
10. Exclude Non-Performing Geo Locations
Even though PMax uses automated bidding, which doesn’t support geo bid adjustments, you can still leverage geo data in two ways.
You can either exclude locations that don’t drive conversions or use conversion value rules to manipulate the value you report for conversions from different regions so that the bids will get adjusted accordingly.
For example, if you report conversions as soon as someone fills out your lead form, but you know that people in Munich become paying customers at a higher rate than people who fill out the same form from Berlin, you can set a conversion value rule to value conversions from Munich more highly.
This helps automated bidding make the right decisions about what CPC bid will likely have the desired ROAS.
And that leads to our final optimization tip, which is a big one.
11. Feed Correct Conversion Data
AI can only do a good job for your account if you tell it what the goal is.
And the goal should be precise.
It shouldn’t be to get the most conversions possible if your real goal is to drive profits.
Or to get as many leads as possible if you want leads that turn into customers.
Setting up goals correctly can make a huge difference in how well PPC automation will perform.
Updating goals with margin data or with data from your sales team can be a significant effort, and that’s why I’ve listed this as an ongoing optimization strategy rather than an up-front setup task.
Get PMax up and running with the conversions you’ve already been operating with, and then work to constantly enhance that conversion data.
With these 11 tips to optimize your Performance Max campaigns, you can expect better results while also benefiting from the time savings promised by automated campaign types.
There are many more tips I didn’t cover here that you can discover by joining the dialogue online.
And there will be many more tips to come as PPC automation continues to evolve.
Featured Image: TippaPatt/Shutterstock
A Strategy For Ranking Local Search Terms
Location landing pages don’t get enough respect.
You set them up with your name, address, phone number & hours. Maybe you embed a Google Map for driving directions.
Perhaps you write some copy that no one will read, and if you have multiple locations, you repeat the same copy on each page and just change the location name.
If you’re feeling cocky, you put a call to action on it – maybe.
You set it, then you forget it.
And guess what? That actually works pretty well for local SEO.
I mean, what more does a potential customer want from a location page? Maybe an appointment scheduler?
But who cares about the customer? We smug SEO types all know Google is our #1 customer.
So, what does Google want from a location page? Let’s start with the basics.
1. What Is The Purpose Of A Location Page? (PAA FTW)
I can’t believe I have to explain this, but ChatGPT isn’t going to train itself. (At least, I don’t think it will.)
For retailers, location pages come in four basic types:
1. Location Detail Page
This typically represents the physical location of a business (e.g., SideTrack Bar & Grill at 30 W. Angela St. Pleasanton, CA 94566,).
2. Location Service/Department Page
This typically represents a specific service or department category available at the physical location (e.g., SideTrack Bar & Grill Catering).
3. City Page
This typically represents the city (#duh) where various physical locations are located (e.g., Pleasanton, CA),
4. State Page
This typically represents the state (#duh2) where various physical locations are located (e.g., California).
Depending on your industry, you may also want to consider County Pages (or Boroughs, Provinces, Prefectures, or whatever nomenclature your particular country uses).
For example, attorneys specializing in the laws of a specific county may find it useful to set up a page for that county.
There are likely infinite other options, but these are the main ones that 99% of you with location-based businesses need to consider.
For service area businesses (aka “SABs”), it’s basically the same setup, except you will typically want to create additional City Pages for the various areas you serve (e.g., Plumber in Livermore, CA, Plumber in San Ramon, CA, etc.).
This will help you target these queries in the Local Organic search engine results pages (SERPs) – those results that typically show up below/above Local Packs – and they can help your Google Business Profile (GBP) be more relevant for queries for those areas.
2. Why Do Location Pages Matter For SEO?
Despite their simplicity, location pages can play a big part in SEO for brands.
There are two basic types of search queries these pages are tailor-made for:
These are perhaps the most important queries to show up on Google for.
When a searcher queries [Starbucks], [Starbucks near me], or [Starbucks Pleasanton], Google typically wants to show a location page for that brand.
If you don’t have a page for the specific location, Google may show your homepage, a nearby City Page, or perhaps a page for a third-party site like a local business directory that uses your brand name, plus the location for SEO purposes.
And, of course, there are all sorts of related queries like “Starbucks hours,” “Starbucks address,” etc.
Non-Brand Local Queries
These are the money queries where you can attract potential customers who may have never heard of you – or thought of you for the specific query.
Consider queries like [pizza], [pizza near me], [best pizza in Pleasanton], etc. Single-location businesses can often rank for these queries with just their homepage, which basically acts like a location page.
But multi-location businesses will typically need a page for that specific location to rank for these high-value queries in the organic results.
Outside of the homepage, location pages are typically the best source of a site’s external links. Numerous local business directories link to these (aka “local citations”) and they tend to accumulate backlinks from local media sites and others over time.
They can then spread the link mojo throughout the site.
3. How Do Location Pages Affect Local Pack Rankings?
This is pretty straightforward. If you have a Google Business Profile (GBP) linking it to a location page for the area in which you are trying to rank is a critical ranking factor for Local Packs.
I have done plenty of tests where we changed the link to go to a page that did not target the city we wanted to rank in, and the Local Pack rankings suffered. When we switched it back, the rankings recovered.
It’s important to note: your homepage may have more location mojo than your location page for a given location, so you’ll want to test which one works better for GBP.
And as mentioned above, having a page for a given service area can help you rank for queries for those service areas.
4. What Are the Basic Elements Of A Well-Optimized Location Page?
Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP)
Your location’s business name, address, phone number, and hours. Make sure the name, and all other info, you use on this page matches the info on your business’s GBP.
Last year we looked at 100,000 SERPs and found that pages on local directory sites that exactly match the business name and other info of the relevant GBPs tended to outperform those that have partial or no matches.
Structure Your Data
Mark up all of the NAP elements in LocalBusiness schema. There are a number of specific business category schemas, so if there is something more targeted for your business, you’ll want to use that.
For brands with multiple related brands (e.g., IHG, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, etc.), you’ll want to acquaint yourself with Organization schema to help our robot overlords sort things out correctly.
And don’t forget breadcrumbs linking up to parent City/State URLs marked up with Breadcrumb schema.
Use Targeted Meta Data
The page’s title tag and H1 should ideally target the business name and location (e.g., “Starbucks Pleasanton, CA”).
You can certainly test adding additional targeting to see how it affects performance (e.g., “Starbucks Coffee in Pleasanton, CA,” “Starbucks Coffee Near Pleasanton, CA”).
Our research suggests that outside of the target category (e.g., “coffee”), the city is the most important element to be included in the title tag for “near me” searches – then the state.
Using the word “near” appears to help, but at the margins. Still, an extra 1-2% clicks couldn’t hurt, right?
5. Engagement Intangibles
“Engagement” is one of the fuzzier of the many fuzzy SEO factors.
So think about what else a potential customer might need to find a location page useful.
Calls-to-action (CTAs), like the ability to make online appointments, order something online, etc., likely send positive signals to Google about the usefulness of the location page.
6. Advanced Location Page SEO
This isn’t rocket science, so when I say “advanced,” I really mean “SEO tactics for someone who somehow got buy-in from the rest of the org to prioritize updates to the location pages that everyone forgot we even had.”
Here are some things we have seen work over time. Your mileage may vary, of course:
It’s perfectly fine to start with a basic copy block with a find and replace for the location name/city that explains what your business offers.
It’s relatively cheap and easy, and you can always go back and update the copy later. See what that gets you before spending more time or money on it.
That said, we tend to see more targeted copy outperform instances of using the same copy on each page. I recall a client site not moving in rankings for six months until we updated the copy on the location pages to be unique.
As with everything SEO, try to test this at a small scale before you make a bigger investment.
Hopefully, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it: using phrases relevant to the topic you are targeting in your copy couldn’t hurt.
Certain businesses may also benefit from adding “Points of Interest” (aka “POIs”) to the copy. For example, people often search for hotels with modifiers like “near the airport.”
So adding those phrases and POIs to your location pages can make your page more relevant for these queries while also improving the relevance for the target city “entity.”
That’s a fancy way of saying that because you mention JFK Airport, Google may think you’re relevant to the great borough of Queens, NY. Mentioning the neighborhoods you serve is also a good one.
Link To Nearby Locations
Multi-location businesses should link to nearby locations (the distance depends on what you think is best for customers) from their location pages.
There are two good reasons besides customer convenience to do this:
- The more locations you have, the harder it is for Googlebot to find them, so linking to them from these pages creates more reasons for Googlebot to crawl them.
- Adding the other location names to the copy of the location page may make it more relevant for Google. For example, if there’s a link to “Starbucks Livermore” on the “Starbucks Pleasanton” page, the phrase “Livermore” might give Google more confidence about the Pleasanton location, since Livermore is the next town over.
Use Topically Relevant Images And Videos
Since these lowly location pages get no respect to begin with, they often are launched with copy only.
But check this out: We have found that for some niches, merely adding relevant images to the pages can help with ranking improvements.
For example, if you have a truck driver school, consider adding a picture of a person driving a truck (#duh3). If you are a remodeler, maybe add some shots of recent projects.
A good rule of thumb is to look at the top-ranking pages in the Local Pack for your query and make sure you have just as good, if not better, images and/or videos on your location page.
Use Google’s Vision API to ensure it understands what your image is about.
Link To Product/Service Category Pages
Last year we looked at Local Packs across 10,000,000 keywords for 40 ecommerce categories in 5,000 U.S. markets (the things we do for SEO…).
One of our key findings was that location pages that linked to category pages (e.g., Target.com’s Dublin, CA page linking to its Video Games Category Page) tended to outrank those sites that didn’t do this.
This simple tactic can have a significant impact.
Pick the categories you want to prioritize and link away.
Add Local Reviews
Adding a feed of customer reviews to these pages, particularly if the reviews are from the page’s target area, can often improve performance.
One of my theories is that a regularly updated review feed gives Google a good reason to visit the page often and prioritize it.
Before you implement this, be sure to bone up on Google’s guide to user reviews and its rules for marking up “self-serving” reviews.
Note: I have rarely seen a site penalized for violating these rules, but you may not want to be Patient Zero on this one.
Meet The Team!
We recently did a project for a moving company where we observed that many of the best-ranking pages in their markets had pictures of the local team.
According to my friend Carrie Hill of Sterling Sky,
“Any time someone goes into a client’s house, car, or business, I advise putting employee faces on websites, confirmations, and reminders.”
The Kitchen Sink
Other items that could make sense on your location pages and improve engagement include:
- Philanthropy and community connections.
- Local sponsorships.
- Hiring and careers info.
- Pricing info (marked up with Price schema, of course).
- Business license/insurance info.
- Social proof and trust signals like BBB accreditation for each location and/or “Voted Best Boba Shop in Pleasanton!”
Use Google Merchant Center Data To Increase Conversions
If you are running product listing ads (PLAs) you likely have a ton of data in Google Merchant Center that can give you hints on how to improve conversions on your location pages.
The TL;DR: Check your Google Merchant Center (GMC) to see what products get the highest impressions and click-through rate (CTR) when they are connected to your GBP in the SERPs.
This can be found in the “Local Surfaces” report. These products should be featured on the relevant location page.
Google is showing you that people are already interested in them.
See Google Merchant Center: A Local SEO Goldmine for Retailers for more detail on this wacky trick.
7. What Should I Not Do With Location Pages?
Over the past decade or two, we have tried pretty much everything you can think of with these things. Here are a couple of things you’ll want to be wary of:
Unnecessary Location + Service Pages
We’ve seen many brands launch location + service/department pages linked off the location detail page. For example, Home Depot has these pages for Home Services, Truck Rental, and its Garden Centers.
There are plenty of good non-SEO reasons to have these pages. If you are looking to rent a truck, having a specific page about renting a truck in your city might be helpful.
But be clear that this will often not be a net-new traffic play.
Why do I say this?
Because, after looking at organic traffic data to tens of thousands of location + service pages, we have observed that most of the time, 90% of the organic traffic to these pages is brand traffic, and they are likely cannibalizing searches you were already getting.
This is not the case in every situation, and it may be worth it to roll these out merely to improve conversions.
But you should be aware that these may not be a net positive in terms of organic traffic, and they may even have negative SEO effects due to increasing the number of “thin” URLs on the site.
In one case, we had a client with about 100,000 URLs launch these pages, which created about 1,000,000 new URLs. Guess how well that went.
Our rule of thumb is that if a department or service can get a GBP, it may be worth creating a local page for SEO purposes. This doesn’t apply to all cases, of course.
Location Pages With No Location
We recently worked on a retailer site that created pages for cities that were near their locations, but where they had no locations.
The pages looked like every other location page, but instead of presenting NAP info for a relevant location, it linked to the nearby locations.
This was a national site, so they had over 130,000 of these. And, of course, they were getting virtually zero organic traffic.
For SABs, this tactic is necessary if you want to rank outside of your physical location’s area (more on that in a moment). But it seems that, for queries that imply a searcher is looking for a physical location, Google doesn’t want to show you these types of no-location pages.
Oh, and don’t add insult to injury by creating local pages for every brand you carry (e.g.,/ca/pleasanton/flaming-hot-cheetohs). This client had about 500,000 of those and, you guessed it, virtually no organic traffic.
Beware Thin Content Location Pages
A common tactic for service area businesses or SABs is to create a ton of location pages for the areas they serve.
They may even make the content on them super unique.
The challenge is that we are starting to see these types of plays get manual actions for thin content.
Of course, Google does not seem to apply this across the board. I still see plenty of “thin” location pages for various queries.
So what can you do? It’s the same challenge every other SEO has.
Look at what type of content is doing best for a particular query type and create a better page. Let’s face it: when it comes to location pages, the bar is pretty low.
Only Create Pages When There Is Clear Local Intent
We just finished up a project for an attorney with practices in 30+ cities. They have 54 practice areas and have created location + practice pages for each. That’s 1,620+ pages for Google to figure out.
The first thing we did was to determine how much “local intent” there was for search results for each practice area.
“Local intent” can be determined by what % of a SERP has “local” content (e.g., Local Packs, cities or states in the titles, suggested or related searches, etc.).
You don’t need a location page for a query with relatively low local intent. This particular attorney had 300+ location pages targeting queries that had no local intent.
In these cases, it would be better for SEO to redirect these pages to a single “national” service page.
So before you invest a lot in creating location pages, check for local intent first. It might save you a lot of time and cash.
I could keep going.
These deceptively simple pages have near-infinite possibilities for SEO, but my guess is that if you have made it this far, you now have plenty of JIRA tickets to prioritize.
Special thanks to Carrie Hill, Amy Toman, Mike Blumenthal, Joy Hawkins, Brandon Schmidt, and Will Scott for providing feedback.
Special thanks to the LSG team for yelling at me like they were my mother when I was procrastinating while writing this article.
Featured Image: DEEMKA STUDIO/Shutterstock
AI Domain Name Generator & AI Writer Announced by Web.com
Web.com, the all in one web services destination, announced two new AI-based tools that help users choose a domain name and provide content ideas.
While the AI Writer tool is for customers, use of the AI Domain Name Generator is free and available for anyone to use without having to sign up for anything.
Web.com AI Tools
Web.com is a provider of hosting, domain, website building, SEO, security and email services.
It’s also an ecommerce platform, essentially a one-stop destination for everything needed to launch a website.
So it’s a natural fit to introduce an AI-based tool that helps customers at the beginning of their website journey when choosing a domain name.
Content ideas for product descriptions, article excerpts, and content for blogs is also a useful addition that should help their users leverage OpenAI technology.
Web.com’s AI writer is a tool that’s exclusively for their customers.
The tool works with an easy to use step by step interface.
First a user selects the the type of content that is needed and then it prompts selections for contextually relevant options like important keywords or the tone of the content.
It creates the following kinds of content:
- Landing page
- Meta descriptions
- Meta titles
- PPC ad
- Product description
- Product details page
- Services page
- Social post
The AI writer also works in the following twelve languages:
I asked Web.com if the tool can automatically insert product descriptions and meta descriptions.
“Not yet, the in-product AI Writer feature generates the copy for you, you can customize it to your liking and then you copy and paste it.
However, that kind of integration within the website builder will be coming in the next phase of the product.”
This is how the tool works:
“It was developed for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking for an easy way to create content for their websites, social pages, blogs, product descriptions, and digital marketing campaigns without having to write it themselves.
The AI-powered tool offers a variety of content prompts and interfaces depending on content needs, making it easy to tailor content to specific needs (e.g., emojis for social posts).
Other customizable elements include design tones, keywords, and multilingual content generation in over 10 languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Mandarin, so creators can create websites even in a language they aren’t fluent in.”
The AI Writer tool is based on OpenAI, so it’s a convenient way for customers to access these tools within their workflow.
AI Domain Name Generator
The AI domain name generator is a public tool that helps users brainstorm domain name ideas.
It leverages OpenAI technology so anyone familiar with prompting ChatGPT will immediately feel comfortable using this tool.
But the tool is so easy to use that someone who is new to generative AI should be able to use it.
What makes this tool interesting is that the AI domain name generator is open for use by anyone, you don’t have to be registered user or customer to take advantage of it.
I gave it a try and by describing the kind of business the domain name is for and it generated some pretty good keyword-based domain names.
My preference tends toward brand name domains.
So I updated the prompt by adding, “Don’t use keywords for the domain name but rather give me an evocative brand name.”
And it worked!
Web.com described their tool:
“Traditionally brainstorming and manually searching for available domain names can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.
By combining AI with our expertise and experience as one of the largest domain name providers in the world, Web.com offers small businesses a more efficient, creative and tailored approach to finding the best available and relevant domain names.
A customer can provide a few words to describe their business, and the AI-powered Domain Name Generator gives the best ideas on domain names, significantly reducing the time and effort required to find a relevant domain name.”
The AI domain name generator is available here.
Featured image by Shutterstock/Kateryna Onyshchuk
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