Site audit: How can a local limousine service get found in dozens of cities?
(And once found, how can it stand out in the crowd?)
This site audit freely given to Jen Jaciw in appreciation for your generous support of Team in Training and the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and Kat & Mouse’s ride around Lake Tahoe in support of the cause. Thank you Jen!
Lone Star Limousine runs their business in sprawling Silicon Valley and serves more than 26 cities. How does a local business serving local clientele get found in Google for queries on all those cities for all their services and keywords? Add to that the fact that there are literally hundreds of other businesses competing for that position. And then once found, how can they be the one that gets picked.
Problem – One physical location, many locations served.
How does Google know which sites to return in local queries?
This is probably the most common problem I encounter when doing Local SEO. There are many local businesses that do not serve clients at their place of business, or even if they do, they want to attract customers far beyond. But the problem is that Google assumes that for local queries, searchers want to find businesses close to them and so that’s what it returns to them when they search. In order to do so, it looks for certain signals on and off websites. Here are a few important ones:
- The address on your website
- Your proximity to the city center in the query (though not as important as it once was)
- The address in your Google Place, or now, Google + page since the two have been merged as of May 31, 2012
- The address you have listed in other local directories like Yelp, Yahoo, Citysearch, and others and the consistency of that address, name, and phone number (NAP) throughout the web
- Local citations and mentions of your business on other sites that mention you in conjunction with your address
- Local (city) references and keywords on your website
- Reviews in Google + and other websites
- Categories listed on your Google + page
- Description on your Google + page
- How well your website and your Google + page have been optimized for the search engines for both the location and the service. (New this week: Google + pages are being indexed by Google! That means they need to be optimized as well!)
There are many more, but this is enough for us to get started with recommendations for Lone Star Limo.
What does Google want most for local searches?
If you were to summarize that list of 10 into 1, what would you say is the strongest signal in that list to send to Google for local queries?
If you answered, your address/location, you would be right.
First thing Google does is look to see where you are. Does it match the location in the query? It used to be the closer you were to the city center, the better, but that recently changed probably because Google knows that quite often, particularly with businesses that serve clients off-site, proximity is just not that important. So now, while you still want to be as close as possible, a business outside the vicinity can still rank high other locations, providing other signals must be strong.
Take a look at what I was able to accomplish for this cabinet shop in Felton, CA. They are located in no-man’s land in the Santa Cruz Mountains, yet they are showing up in several towns, some up to 50 miles away! What you see below is just one example.
There’s proof that you can be outside the city limit and still show up in cities near and far.
That’s good news for limo service in Milpitas, like Lone Star Limo is. They want to serve all towns in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area.
But their challenge is, so do dozens of other limo services. They can’t all be on the first page, and Google has to choose. Which one will it choose?
So how can a limo service in Milpitas come up in a search for limos in San Francisco or San Jose or Oakland?
The answer is, give Google what it wants. And what Google wants – all Google wants – is relevance – relevance with the location and relevance with the need.
But if you’re in Milpitas, how can you be relevant to a San Francisco query?
Take a look at one of Lone Star’s competitors to see how they attempted this. Here’s their url: http://www.skylarklimo.com/ I’m not going to link it because I don’t want to give this competitor the benefit of a backlink when I’m trying to help Lone Star here.
But copy that url in your browser, and then click on a few of the city links in the footer. Or just look at the screenshot below. They have created pages like this for every city in their list. Each page is almost identical, only the location keywords have changed.
City-specific pages do the trick – sometimes.
Skylark’s way of proving relevancy for every city in the Bay Area is to create a webpage for each city. And many others are doing the same. Just search on different cities with the keyword “limos” and you’ll see plenty of city-specific pages being pulled up. Here’s another. They put city names at the bottom of each page to link to their own page.
What I don’t like about both of these and others is that their city page are almost perfect duplicates! According to this duplicate page checker, each page is 96% a duplicate of the other! Google claims they will either not index or penalize you for duplicate content, yet I see it getting by their filters time and time again.
But that doesn’t mean you should do it – just don’t do it the same way they are. I do believe Google will one day soon eliminate those duplicate results. So be smart if you’re going to do this.
Since you do serve these other towns, I don’t feel there is anything wrong with providing a page for each one, but make each one unique. Look at how Nationwide Limousine Service. Click on the city links on the right. According to the same duplicate checker these are only 55% the same. Is Google favoring them more than Black Tie for that approach? Not that I can see, but they may in the future if they ever finally make good on their promise to eliminate duplicate content.
So prepare for the future. Google is getting really good at weeding out the spam, so whatever you do for your SEO, do it for the longterm. Go ahead and make those city pages, but make them unique with really great city-related, well-optimized copy that is RELEVANT TO YOUR READERS. Perhaps you can list wedding venues in that city, or perhaps typical prices for airport transportation in that city. And then add testimonials from clients you served in those cities. How far you should go with this depends on what your competition is doing.
Everyone’s doing it, though, so do it more.
Whenever I speak, I end every presentation with the illustration of if you’re in a crowd of people being chased by a bear, how fast do you have to run? The answer is just faster than the last person. The same is true with your online marketing. You don’t need to be miles ahead, but you do need to be a step ahead of your competition.
So if they have city-specific pages that are working for them, you should too, but you need more than that. Otherwise you look equal in Google’s eyes. So what more can you do?
First, make sure you optimize all your pages as best you can for your keywords using SEO best practices, which these days mostly means great, relevant copy. Make it relevant to the location and to the service (weddings, airport transportation, wine tour, etc.) And do it better than your competition. A professional SEO can help you with this if you don’t know how yourself, but here are some tips.
Optimize the titles ON your pages.
On your wedding service page, you have “First Class Wedding Service” as the title on your page. The subheading is “Available Wedding Packages.” But what are the keywords you are targeting? Are your customers searching on any of those phrases? No. They are searching for a wedding limousine or limo.
I recommend changing the first title on your page to be as close as possible to what someone would search for, perhaps “First Class Wedding Limousine Service” and “Available Wedding Limo Packages.”
Optimize your meta tags.
Also, your meta title is a VERY important signal for Google. Yours says, “Limousines, Sedans, Vans, Buses, Luxury Coaches – Lone Star Transportation – First Class Wedding Service.” Google limits that field to 60 characters. You have 104. Shorten it, and make it very relevant to that page only.
A good title for that page might be, “Wedding Limousine Service – San Jose, San Francisco, East Bay” unless you decide to make a wedding service page for each city, which is a good idea, in which case each page would just list one city. Likewise your meta description is much too long, 979 characters to be exact. It should really only be about 160.
Please read this article I wrote for Bruce Clay on how to craft a compelling meta description.
Put location keywords in the body of the text.
I would also recommend incorporating the cities you serve in the body of your text on other pages and then linking to their respective pages from there.
Note that your competitors all link to their city pages in the footer or in the sidebar. Google knows those locations aren’t as important, so put them where they really count. I have ways of doing this, but I’d rather not say so here lest your competitors are listening in.
Make sure each page has relevant copy and that it includes exact match keyword phrases if possible.
Let’s look at your home page as an example.
You only use the word limousine 3 times on that page and none are at the more important top of the page. Look what’s at the top: “ABOVE & BEYOND TRANSPORTATION SERVICE.” Is that the phrase you want to be found on? Probably one of them. But what about limousine queries? How about add your vehicles under that to get the limo in there up at the top?
Next look at your subheading above each on the 3 pictures. Those could use some keywords as well.
“Tours” might become “Don’t DUI. Let us take you on a tour the wine country in a limo, town car or van.” “Weddings” might become “We put out the red carpet for you with our wedding limousine service.” Then make sure you link on those keywords to their respective pages.
Internal linking throughout your site on your keywords will add weight to the pages they link to for those keywords in Google’s eyes.
Note that in each case we’re trying to incorporate the service keyword with the location keyword. Just don’t overdo it! Google is coming down on over optimization. Make it read well and not sound spammy. Each of your pages should be approached in the same way.
Looking into your site, I would recommend that you add more copy to your service pages instead of simply listing your services and prices. Excite them with the description of the service and include enough text that you’re able to incorporate your important keywords enough times to prove relevancy to Google.
Develop off-site geo signals.
Since you serve other cities besides Milpitas, but you can’t build out Google Plus, Yelp, Yahoo Local or other local directory pages for those because you don’t have an office there, you need to come up with other ways to make your website more relevant for other cities. You can do this with off-site signals.
One way might be to form alliances with other businesses in those areas. Perhaps you can work with wedding planners in Los Gatos, for example. Recommend them on your website and they’ll probably do the same for you. Google may pick up the Los Gatos connection.
Or can you offer a special for special events in any of these cities? You can get a mention and a link on those event websites that way. Perhaps you can also sponsor local events or causes in any of those cities. Again, Google may see the city connection, but if it doesn’t, at the very least you’ll still get visibility in those towns and traffic from those links.
Can you find other city sites that might include a link to you? Local directories perhaps?
I see you are connected with http://www.divaliciousproductions.com/. This is a perfect opportunity for you. On that site create 3 pages, one for each of the partners. Include the cities you serve on that page and then link on those keywords to their respective pages on the Lone Star Limo website. You’ll get very relevant, geo-targeted backlinks that way!
Finally, Google is picky about your category and description in their Google Place/Plus pages. You can even get banned if you try to stuff those fields with cities, but Yelp and other directories aren’t so picky. So in all your other local directory listings, add the cities you serve in your description so it’s clear to all and to Google that you do serve the entire Bay Area.
Think like Google.
Above all else, try to think like Google. Remember, all they want to do is return relevant results. How can you look more relevant than your competitors? How can you look to Google like you are active in each of those cities even if you don’t have an address there? Think about what would give that impression to humans. The same thing may work with Google.
Now let’s talk about the marketing presentation on your site.
One of the first things you learn in marketing classes is the importance of a unique selling proposition. What sets you apart from your competitors? What would make me want to choose Lone Star Limo over another?
I’m not sure I see that on Lone Star’s site. What might they say? Well, what do people want in transportation services? I would think getting you there on time would be important. How about a clean vehicle? Safe driving? Or how about perks? Do you have a way to plug in an iPhone for music? Do you provide drinks? Are any of your vehicles fuel efficient?
Your wedding page says:
“Red Carpet and chilled Champagne service is available.”
Is that your USP? That sounds nice, but because the text is buried in other text and doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t appear that that is anything special. If it is special, make it stand out. Put it at the top, in bold, in color, and in a picture.
Whatever it is that you do best or different, spell it out on your home page before your visitors have a chance to go, “ho hum” and leave.
And then do this on each and every service page. So your wedding page will have one. Your airport transportation another, etc. And use pictures to illustrate them if you can so the visual is indelibly imprinted in their minds.
Got an award? Brag about it!
Here’s something you definitely should include in a very visible position on every page, probably in your header.
I just got this from the signature in Jen’s email:
1st Place Winner, Best Limousine Service, SF Gate’s 2012, 2010 & 2008 “Best of the Bay” awards
1st Place Winner, Best Transportation, 2011 & 2009 Silicon Valley Concierge Association
1st Place Winner, “Best of Industry” Transportation, 2011 & 2010 NACE Silicon Valley
If you have awards, brag about them. Don’t be shy. These kinds of awards are testimonials to your great service and may sell for you more than anything else on your website.
Make those calls to action POP!
I’ve looked at your site probably 25 times but only now, when I tried to see all the details, did I notice your calls to action.
Research shows that only 15% of web site visitors actually read a page, so you need to make your most important messages pop out. You have two calls to action on your home page, one invited them to get a quote, another inviting them to make a reservation. Currently, they are gray boxes and my eyes just floated by them. (See below.)
(In that image, you see them better than you actually do on your webpage because your webpage has other things competing for attention.)
Now look what happens when you brighten up those boxes and add an arrow to draw the eye in:
This could be very effective for you because oftentimes your visitors just want to know how much it’s going to cost. You just made it very easy for them to get that information. They don’t have to waste time looking around.
And then repeat this on every page! Keep it simple for them, and besides not everyone coming to your site comes in via the home page. Google may lead them in on another page if you’ve done your SEO right.
You know what they say. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Jen, I would like to see some different photos for your site. The ones there now look like stock photos, and I’d rather see them more personalized.
Can you show your customers loving what you do for them, arriving in time at the airport looking relaxed and happy, a wedding couple sipping wine in the back seat, a party carousing in a van in the wine country, a friendly, happy driver?
Try to portray the experience your customers get with you in pictures. And make them big enough that you can actually feel it.
PPC ads are good for those places where you are not showing.
And finally I say don’t rule out Google’s PPC ads. You can pay your way to that first page for cities where you are not showing up. Your competitors are doing it and have been doing it for a long time. If they didn’t get an ROI, they wouldn’t.
Take your competitor 5starlimoca.com/, for example. They are running ads for 350 keywords, including every city in the Bay Area. What I found very fascinating about them is that they show up on the first page in the organic search results for “mountain view limousine service,” yet they don’t have the words “Mountain View” anywhere on their website. Nor do they have any inbound links to speak of.
Google says they don’t do this, but it appears to me that since they are paying for ads on those keywords that Google might also be giving them high rank in organics. Don’t quote me. Google swears up and down they don’t do that, but this is pretty suspicious.
In any case, there is value in PPC and if you can’t cast your hook into all the waters with SEO, then it’s a good option.
And that should do it!
I’ve given you a lot to chew on Jen. I hope you find it helpful and if you have any questions, the comment box is open. Let me know how it goes!
Next up: A vacation rental site has a gorgeous website, but they are nowhere to be found and have to rely on PPC ads to be found. I’ll tell them how they can save some money and make more in the process.
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