Note to readers: This is an updated version of a popular post first published in 2015. 

As a small business owner, you probably fall into one of two categories:

  1. Location-based business: Customers purchase goods or services at your location
  2. Service-area business: You deliver goods or services to customers at their locations

Although both business models face challenges within the local search arena, the challenges faced by a service-area business can be particularly frustrating - especially if you are trying to gain visibility for a city in which you do not have a physical presence. In this article, we are going to explore some tactics that might be harming your local rankings.


Earning prime real estate on the search page

Service-area businesses are defined as those that deliver goods or services to their customers’ locations (for example: home inspectors, piano tuners, or plumbers). If that describes your business, you know how important it is to be present in the local results sections of the search engine results pages. These listings often appear before any other organic result and may even be the only other visible alternative to an advertisement above the fold. Google uses a variety of different factors when determining when to serve localized results. Some of these include your personalized search history or location specific qualifiers to keywords, for example: “plumbers Minneapolis." 


On mobile searches, these listings are even more important - your customers can call with a click of a button without ever visiting your website.




As you can see, a high-ranking position in the local results can be incredibly valuable for a service area business. So, how do you get this high ranking?

Google values sites that provide usefulness and relevance to users searching for location-based businesses. The search engine also applies filters to the results (via its algorithm) in an effort to display the best responses to the search query.

To help you achieve success with local search, here are 6 common mistakes—many of them common black hat practices—you’ll want to avoid.


1. Keyword stuffing the footer with cities or zip codes



For a long time there was a belief that adding city or zip code keywords into the footer would help a site rank well for location-based search queries in those areas. Sometimes this worked. However, the powers that be at Google eventually figured this out and created algorithm updates that penalized sites that displayed this type of seemingly manipulative behavior.

In fact, Google has specifically stated in its Quality Guidelines that loading a webpage with irrelevant keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s rankings “results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site's ranking.”

So, not only will this tactic not work, it may result in a penalty from Google. Don’t do it.


2. Setting up Google My Business pages for locations where you do not have physical presence

Since the beginning of the digital age, people have been trying to game the system. In the local search arena, many service area businesses have attempted to rank for neighboring cities by creating Google My Business pages for a location that is not an active office location. Some examples of these locations are virtual offices, P.O. Boxes, and even family members’ homes – anywhere that could receive the verification postcard by mail.

This led to thousands of false or empty business listings that Google has since been attempting to clean up.

There are now very strict guidelines for representing your business address on Google. Virtual offices, P.O. Boxes, and other remote locations that are not actively staffed during business hours are not acceptable addresses for your Google My Business listing.

Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) consistency is one of the most important local ranking factors. In addition to being against the guidelines, having an inconsistent business address will already inherently harm your ability to rank for local.



Attempting to rank in neighboring cities by creating false Google My Business pages will not work and probably will negatively affect your current city rankings because of NAP inconsistency. Don’t do this!


3. Setting up the wrong categories on your Google My Business page

This seems silly, right? You know your business better than anyone so you wouldn't choose the wrong category, right?


Google looks at your first category chosen as your primary category. It is best practice to choose relevant categories that are more specific than general in nature. For example, if you are Piano Tuner and you choose ‘Musical Instrument Repair Shop’ rather than ‘Piano Tuning Service’ as your primary category you may find it difficult to rank in searches for “piano tuners.”

Often, businesses attempt to stuff keywords into their categories by choosing many general categories. In fact, Google tells us that it’s best to add your business to just one or two categories:


So, choose your categories carefully and be as specific as possible with the available categories. Use the category research tool in Moz Local to help navigate the seas of Google categories.


4. Use “money keyword” anchor text too frequently

Ok, you are probably asking yourself, “Aren't I supposed to use descriptive anchor text?” Well, yes. However, over-optimizing your anchor text with money keywords can have a detrimental effect on your rankings.

Google claims that websites should be built for users, not search engines. To back up this claim, they regularly release updates to their algorithm in an attempt to reward sites that appear to be made for users and penalize sites that appear to be primarily trying to manipulate search engine rankings. Google sees overly optimized anchor text as bad for user experience and may penalize your site if you use it too frequently.

Here’s an example of what overly optimized anchor text looks like:


"Money keyword" targeted anchor text

You will be much better off optimizing the on-page elements such as page title, H1 & H2 headings, and alt image text than trying to go the route of the “SEO’d” page copy.


5. Call tracking numbers on business listings

Business listings on directories such as and are critical elements of the local search ecosystem. Google cross-checks many of these sources to verify name, address, and phone number information and uses this gathered information as a determining factor when ranking local businesses.

Consistency in your NAP footprint (name, address, phone number) is the most critical part of your off-site citation strategy. This is how Google verifies that you are who you say you are. An inconsistent NAP footprint will cause Google to have less confidence in your business and will ultimately lead to lower rankings.

At times, we've seen business owners use separate call tracking numbers on each business listing to track the effectiveness of the listing. This is a big no-no. Typically, these sites do not generate as many views as your Google My Business listing. So, it's best to keep a consistent NAP footprint throughout the internet. Use a tool like Moz Local to hunt down and fix inconsistent listings. 


Output of a Moz Local listings search 


6. Duplicate content on every location page

Duplicate content is bad for a few different reasons:

  1. Creating duplicate content on your site causes search engines to “choose” what they think the best version of that page is – which may not always be your idea of the best version.
  2. It creates unnecessary internal competition for search terms – ultimately negatively affecting your overall rankings.
  3. If Google believes that you are intentionally creating duplicate content in an attempt to manipulate the search engines, your site may be manually removed from Google’s index.

None of these are very desirable outcomes.

Often, in an attempt to rank well for several location based queries, businesses will create location-specific landing pages with largely the same content with only small changes to the city or state name. This tactic frequently has an opposite-than-intended outcome. Google sees pages like this as bad for user experience, and a site will typically see a ranking decline rather than an increase due to one or more of the three reasons outlined above.


Recently, Google released an update to its algorithm intended to penalize sites for using doorway pages. Although the definition provided by Google is a bit vague, the high level explanation is that if a page exists solely for search engines and not for users, it may be considered a “doorway page.” The bottom line is it’s too early to tell, but many experts feel that this update will have a direct effect on location pages regardless of whether or not the content is unique.

It’s hard to gauge as Google itself does not practice what it preaches.

The local search ecosystem is an ever-changing landscape. It can be difficult to keep up with and understand alone. Taking shortcuts, doing things outside of Google’s quality guidelines, or gaming the system can result in lack of local visibility or worse, a manual penalty.

We hope you find value in these SEO tips and understand the impact SEO can have on your company’s bottom line. If you have questions about SEO or would like to see how your site ranks in organic and local search – contact Three Deep Marketing to request a FREE SEO Scan of Your Website. It will help you start to get a handle on your local market.