After Semrush Acquired Traffic Think Tank, What’s Next? Insights From Co-founder Matthew Howells-Barby
In a significant move, SEMrush has acquired a highly-regarded community for SEO professionals: Traffic Think Tank.
Founded by renowned digital marketing experts Matthew Howells-Barby, Nick Eubanks, and Ian Howells, Traffic Think Tank has gained a global following since its inception in 2017, thanks to its invaluable insights and resources for SEO enthusiasts.
Since 2017, Traffic Think Tank has built a reputation for providing valuable insights and resources, earning a loyal following among digital marketers worldwide.
To delve deeper into the success of Traffic Think Tank and to gather career advice for SEO professionals, we had the privilege of interviewing one of the minds behind it all.
Howells-Barby expresses his excitement about joining SEMrush and the opportunities this acquisition will bring for both Traffic Think Tank and SEMrush customers.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the success of Traffic Think Tank, why it was sold to SEMrush, and Howells-Barby’s career advice for SEO professionals.
Can You Tell Us About The Early Days Of Traffic Think Tank?
As Howells-Barby recalls, Traffic Think Tank was born out of a desire to create a community that mirrored one of his career-defining experiences:
“When I look back to the very start of my career, when I first came into the SEO space, I would say the single most valuable thing that happened to me … is I got invited into a small private Facebook group with about 15 people that were far more intelligent about SEO than I was.
And the kind of rules of the group were to share what’s working with one another, and everybody helps each other. And nothing goes outside of the walls of this private Facebook group.”
When the beta version of Traffic Think Tank launched in November 2017, only 100 people were permitted to join.
Howells-Barby believes that strategy was helpful because it allowed them to build a strong community before the recent hype around remote work and online education companies.
The Value Of Closed-Knit Communities
Closed-knit groups that share what works with one another and everyone helps each other are essential for innovation, Howells-Barby says.
“You can get rid of all of the noise of the millions of articles telling you the generic advice… I think if you’re going to truly be able to go a step further, it requires immense trust between a closed-knit group that is willing to share the things they don’t really want to share publicly.”
Traffic Think Tank was founded on this ethos and built a community of people with a common thread in search or marketing.
Over time, the community grew to include some of the most respected names in the SEO industry, with members from various backgrounds and skill levels.
Howells-Barby notes that community members have formed lifelong friendships, launched successful businesses, and even gotten hired through the group.
While Traffic Think Tank offers educational content, Howells-Barby believes that the community aspect is what people love the most, as nearly 70% of all messages are shared via private DMs.
The closeness of the Traffic Think Tank community has been maintained by charging for the group early on and keeping it to a maximum of a thousand people.
How Would You Describe The Community To Non-Members?
Through our discussion with Howells-Barby, we learned Traffic Think Tank aims to provide a psychologically safe space for members to discuss digital marketing and SEO topics.
Howells-Barby stated that one of the first things that excite new members is the realization that they can openly discuss topics that were previously difficult to access or discuss.
“I think one of the first dopamine hits you get is where you kind of go in and it’s like, oh wait, people are actually talking about this. It’s kind of like the first time you have that open conversation about compensation with … peers in an organization and you’re like, oh wait, people talk about this? Like, okay, this is kind of interesting.”
This has resulted in successful initiatives such as Failure Therapy, a popular channel where members can share their failures and learn from one another.
Howells-Barby emphasized that Traffic Think Tank takes its values and code of conduct seriously and that any violation of the code of conduct results in immediate removal from the community.
Community values include diversity and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and safe to contribute to the conversation.
Additionally, Howells-Barby mentioned the importance of leaving your ego at the door when joining Traffic Think Tank.
Why Sell Traffic Think Tank To SEMrush?
Speaking about why Traffic Think Tank decided to sell to SEMrush, a big corporation in the SEO industry, Howells-Barby said there were several reasons behind it.
Traffic Think Tank had been running as a side business for nearly six years and had always been stretched thin.
Despite having an operational team to help run day-to-day tasks, there were still big things on their to-do list that they needed help to do.
Howells-Barby, Eubanks, and Howells, the founders of Traffic Think Tank, felt like they were letting down the community and needed to consider options to level up growth.
“We knew that either we needed to consider bringing on additional partners or building out the team more significantly or looking at something like an acquisition to really level up kind of on the growth side. We grew the team pretty significantly, but we realized that that still wasn’t delivering what we needed. And bringing on additional partners got a lot more complicated [and] incentives could get misaligned.”
SEMrush, one of Traffic Think Tank’s earliest supporters, proposed the acquisition, and Howells-Barby and his team were impressed with SEMrush’s commitment to keeping the underlying culture and values of Traffic Think Tank.
SEMrush’s incentives align with Traffic Think Tank’s goals of delivering value to its community.
Additionally, SEMrush has promised to invest in new community initiatives, like delivering value back to the community, helping level up content production and production value, and producing in-person experiences.
The acquisition by SEMrush will enable Traffic Think Tank to deliver on its extensive to-do list in a way that itsr lightweight, agile team couldn’t on its own.
What Trends Do You See Shaping The Future Of SEO?
Discussing how SEO has evolved, Howells-Barby says the fundamentals and principles of ranking content in search have not changed much over the years.
Howells-Barby noted that while AI has become a major discussion point in recent years, its impact on search has been gradual rather than sudden. He pointed to the evolution of smart speakers and the shift towards conversational search as examples of how search has changed.
AI-generated content is likely to become more prevalent, which could make content creation more challenging. However, he emphasized that AI will not likely replace all content and that content creators will still have jobs.
“I think on the content creation side, [quality] is going to suffer a lot. I still think that AI is definitely not going to just replace all content. I think it’s going to take certain segments. I mean, it’s been in financial services and finance for a long time already. It’s just people often didn’t realize it. So I think that’s kind of like a place where it’s going to become a little bit more challenging on the content side.”
In the coming years, Howells-Barby sees search becoming more fragmented, with Bing gaining more market share and offering different opportunities than Google.
“Do I think Bing is going to beat Google? No, I don’t. Do I think it’s starting to really kind of gather up and hoover up more market share? Definitely. And I think for the longest time, I wouldn’t even look at Bing when I was doing anything in organic search. I think you have to now, and the rules are going to be slightly different and there’s going to be opportunities across each of these kind of platforms to do stuff.”
While Howells-Barby doesn’t see AR or VR impacting search in the near future, he believes that search queries will become more specific, and relevance will remain essential for ranking.
He highlighted the importance of links in SEO and noted that they’re still the most critical factor in determining authority and ranking.
Career Advice For Aspiring SEO Professionals
As someone who has succeeded in the SEO industry, Howells-Barby has valuable advice for others looking to grow their careers.
There are two essential steps to building a successful career in SEO, Howells-Barby says.
The first step is to acquire a foundational knowledge of SEO, which can be obtained from various free and paid resources.
However, Howells-Barby believes building a solid network of trusted individuals is the most critical step in building a successful SEO career.
He suggests joining communities, whether paid or free, and reaching out to people in the industry at all levels of your career for casual chats.
That can help you build relationships and share information and knowledge, which can pay off 10 to 100 times throughout your career.
“I would say the thing that delivered the most value for me early on in my career, and I still do this today, is I would reach out to people in the industry at all levels of my career, and just try and line up at least one call per week with someone operating at the same level as I was.
When I was … early in my career, I would hit up people that were working early in their career in organic search, and have a casual 30-minute chat, whether that be at the time over Skype, or a coffee if it was nearby, and just compare notes, and start doing some, I guess, do people favors with no expectation of like getting anything out of it, just starting to build these early networks.”
Having a network of people who are invested in your career and can provide support and guidance is more valuable than any online course or job title, Barby emphasizes.
Lastly, he recommends not obsessing over social media followers or being the most famous person on SEO Twitter, but instead focusing on building a community of people who can help you succeed.
The acquisition of Traffic Think Tank by SEMrush marks a significant move in the SEO industry.
Founded in 2017, Traffic Think Tank quickly gained a global following thanks to its close-knit community that shares valuable insights and resources for SEO enthusiasts.
The acquisition by SEMrush will enable Traffic Think Tank to accomplish its long list of tasks and take advantage of new community programs, improve its production quality, and host physical events that it couldn’t do independently.
Overall, this acquisition sounds like a positive development for both SEMrush and Traffic Think Tank customers, and we look forward to seeing how it will shape the future of the SEO industry.
Featured Image: Shutterstock
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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