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A pair of Nobel Prize winners in quantum physics has proved that electrons can be in two places at the same time. Yet Google persists in tying each small business to the one place where it has an office – despite the fact that most small businesses are serving customers in a radius or region that covers many municipalities.

Google’s emphasis on local search has heightened the impact of this policy. When searchers make a location name part of their query, the coveted first page of search results is dominated by a grouped “pack” showing the name, URL, address, phone number and map location of up to seven companies whose office is in or nearest that location. This pushes down many of the organically ranked web pages to a spot lower on the page.

SEO location battle: black versus white hatBusiness owners were willing to pay for a work-around for Search Engine Optimization, so the SEO cowboys rode to their rescue and devised one. It involves adding multiple location-specific “doorway pages” to their clients’ websites. Each page is optimized for a town, for example: “roofing company Havertown” or “roofing company Paoli.”

The strategy worked to varying degrees until March, when Google decided that adding doorway pages is a “black hat” SEO strategy. Google, as self-elected sheriff, loaded its algorithm with some new ammunition, and set out at a gallop across the Internet in search of bad guys it can punish. As usual, the SEO cowboys are long gone, and it is the website owners who will pay the price of lower search rankings.

The offending websites have dozens of doorway pages, each of which is nearly identical except for changing the name of the town, and none of which show up in the site’s navigation. The worst offenders have pages that are automatically generated when a searcher types in a relevant keyword (i.e. roofing company) along with a town name. The SEO industry is waiting to see whether Google will penalize only the baddest of the bad, or also go after businesses that are making a legitimate effort to serve online the towns they serve in person every day.

As always when it comes to Google, our advice is to play by Google’s rules. You may win a small battle or two trying to outsmart Larry Page’s genius army, but you won’t win the war. If you feel the need to have location-specific pages on your website, here is the whitest-hat way to do it. Be aware, however, that the whitest is still in a gray area.

  • Create location-specific pages only for the towns that are most crucial to your business.
  • Put all of these pages in your site navigation.
  • Create unique content for each page, relevant to the location. Examples: Testimonials from customers in that town (use the town name in identifying the customer, or ask the customer to use it in the testimonial); case studies involving customers in the town; photos or videos taken at job sites in that town, with the town name in the image tag and any related text (to take this to another level, use Google’s Picasa or a mobile app to geotag your photos by embedding location information).

Have a marketing challenge? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].