I was recently part of a panel on local SEO put on by BrightLocal. With a couple hundred attendees I'd say we had a pretty good sampling. During this presentation we polled the audience and I found some of the results shocking. (Full presentation here)
Poll: What are the 2 Biggest Issues/Frustrations with Optimizing a Service Area Business?
Reviews got the highest response from the respondents followed by content. This leads me to think that many people still find getting reviews hard. I don't think getting reviews is that difficult. But I can agree with this poll in some sense. Even with the time and energy I have behind my local search efforts for Bulwark Exterminating, constant creation of content and reviews takes continued exertion. And as "No Problems" was not an option, I'd likely fall into that same category. And even if reviews come easily now, I am continually frustrated with some of the review websites out there and their constant changes.
Poll: Which of these Name, Address, Phone number tactics do you use right now?
Okay, now this poll provides some relief followed still by a cringe of "eeeek!!" It is a relief that 46% of businesses are not using questionable local SEO tactics. That is close to half. In that same breathe, over 50% of the respondents are using local search tactics that are very dangerous. Let's start with the lowest number, 6% use PO Boxes. This is expressly prohibited by Google Local Places. Google wants a location that a person can visit. A location where they can walk in and talk to a business. And if you care to argue that a business deal can go down in front of your P.O. Box then you are as shady as the drug dealer that I envision using this tactic in real life. P.O. Box can easily get a business burned. Employee homes, are also a no-no with few exceptions. Some people really do work out of their home office. There is some gray area here. But overall, the maps get swept from time to time and if your place of business does not look like a place of business then you will disappear from the maps.
Now to Call Tracking Numbers. Every marketer sees the value in tracking a phone number where they have had a hand in getting that number noticed. Call tracking certainly has it's place. However, call tracking can also easily destroy a businesses online presence. Your best practice is to have a unique number for each location that is consistent across all directories and listings. Sure you can have a call tracking number do this, but if it's the same number listed everywhere, what exactly are you tracking? Further, google looks at documents online historically. A new number isn't as valuable as a dated number. I strongly advise that most businesses don't cross call tracking with their business location. STRONGLY.
Virtual Offices are a debate that is had over and over again. To be specific, we are talking "Virtual" offices. We are NOT talking about a location with many offices and in which you occupy one of those offices. We are talking about renting an address, receptionist, and limited use of conference rooms. These businesses do not occupy real space on a daily bases. Some argue that, "I can meet my client at that office". True, but when google drives by that office, is it going to be obvious that your business works out of that building? Of course Regency offices love the money, and many a google listings still get away with this. But this is not ideal. And it is risky. I don't believe there is an easy answer to this debate, but I do believe there is a better way.
Poll: Do you have a tried and tested review strategy?
WOW. 57% do not have a review strategy! Only 16% of the participants are happy with their review system. To those 27% that are not quite happy with their review strategy, I encourage you to keep working on it. For the 57% that don't have review strategies, you are missing out. I understand that business can still be booming for you right now. You may well survive just fine without a review strategy. You are still missing out. Amazon and Ebay implement reviews prominently. Heck, even the "Silk Road" drug market works off of a review system. Consumers want to see reviews. Most consumers research online even before walking into a store. Without online reviews, in the not so distant future, you will become obsolete. Even those that provide SEO services to businesses should consider getting customers to review them online. If you are in business today, and you want to better assure your business of tomorrow, GET A REVIEW STRATEGY.