In the past few months, rank fluctuations in service area businesses (SABs) began to occur around the time of the launch of Google’s late August and October.
These fluctuations were the topic of much discussion in the SEO community, which was also represented in the Facebook group.
Sites that suffered the greatest impact seemed to have a common theme: duplicate content. In other words, .
Sites weren’t being penalized directly by rank. Pages were instead being deindexed automatically, which caused rank drops for queries relevant to the pages.
Indexing location pages
Schieler Mew (Admin of Google SEO Mastermind Group on Facebook) uploaded this video explaining the results he had with more than 200 SAB websites.
He explains in the video that websites with low authority, or lacking helpful content on the site were deindexed of all duplicate content location pages.
Scheiler and me jumped aboard a Google Meet where Scheiler shared data and screenshots of Search Console’s interactions with these sites.
A shift in index pages was the first to be noticed. This is consistent with the successful completion of helpful content rollout.
The next screen shows all pages which were seemingly deindexed overnight.
The final report, which details the timeline for the pages affected.
Mass deindexing pages heavily contributing to geographical ranking was completed, and the rankings were lost.
This was true for many other pages as well, though there were some exceptions.
Websites that appear to have higher authority, or pages with unique content were not deindexed.
I believe the spam update algorithm and helpful content are still in development. It tackled the easiest target, duplicate content pages located on low-authority sites.
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What spam alerts and helpful content contributed to this success?
Many SEOs assumed that the updates were . In April’s office hours hangout, John Mueller called it “spam”, and stated that it was against Google policies.
Danny Sullivan retweeted this tweet on November 7th, stating:
- We haven’t stated that AI content is harmful. “Content written for search engines, not humans, is what we have stated quite clearly.”
That’s when I began to put two and two together.
SAB websites are losing rank around the time of the spam update rollout. We know this is primarily targeting pages with content that’s written for search engines and not humans.
How many pages could a local SAB manage to have, that is more than any other SEO within the industry?
Pages about location.
Understanding doorway pages
The is what Danny Sullivan was referring to in his tweet. This page is designed to rank for one keyword, but it provides very little or no benefit to the user.
Local SEO industry location pages are an example of doorway pages. This means that a page exists solely for ranking [city #1] +[service A], multiplied with the number of services or cities the company is trying rank for.
If the content can be duplicated, and the keyword are only swapped out, these pages will usually be made faster. You can also write your own content, but this is still considered a gateway page.
This is something that SEOs from this industry don’t like to admit, but it turns out location pages can be useful. Mueller confirmed the fact in February.
were always against Google’s policies but it never appeared to be possible to stop them algorithmically.
Manual actions were the only sanction, so until now, it seems that SABs have been placed on Google’s backburner. So, no one ever really saw any consequence for this.
Google recent updates for local SEO
The last couple of months have seen a lot in the SEO community. Not just doorway pages but also:
Google seems to have addressed most of these problems, including the suspended profiles of businesses and — usually giving credit for “bugs.”
Search engine optimization (SEO) professionals must ask why there suddenly seem to be so many bugs within a particular sector.
Google made clear and severe changes to the verification process for profiles.
The t verification process switching from video to postcard started it all. .
This was combined with the fact that business profiles were suddenly raised suspicions about Google finally taking on SEO spamming in the SAB community.
Now, fast forward to September of this year and SEOs on forums and communities began to notice a decline in rankings for pages and keywords that are location-dependent.
Google appears to be taking serious action against local businesses who are infringing its spam policies.
Are location pages still possible?
It’s a short answer that “yes”, although it is only a matter time until location pages become archaic SEO practices such as hidden text and meta keyword stuffing.
Google’s deindexing of duplicate content pages is only the beginning in its quest to penalize sites that use doorway pages that do not benefit human beings.
Google’s future plans for ranking penalties or non-indexing of doorway pages is not clear.
This is, according to me, a temporary solution. Local SEOs need to get rid of location pages.
Google doesn’t want content to be able to affect rank, but to create a positive user experience.
A location page has never been a benefit to me as a user. When creating content and pages, this is what we need to think about.
Consider first how the app can benefit users, then consider how you can optimize it to increase your rank.
Other optimization options for ranking in neighboring cities
Local SEOs shouldn’t be discouraged from optimizing local areas and cities for their clients, even though it suggests that the location page is ending.
We have other options that can be done to help people first.
Your H1s should be targeted at your primary service areas in the page titles and on your pages
Your client or you may have an area of focus.
This city should be included in both your page titles and H1s. Google will be able to see from a content perspective where the primary service area is.
A general area of service page is a must
You should have one page which tells clients where your company or client is located.
Include a map showing the service area and listing all cities or counties.
Create project pages
It is one of my favorites. This page can be used to track specific projects completed by you and your client if they have done project-oriented work such as roofing repair or landscaping.
It should be treated as a gallery or blog. Include before-and-after photos to explain the details of your job or project.
Name the city where it was found, what it cost and any challenges.
It will show prospective customers the capabilities of your company and what type of work it does. This is a great method to rank the service you provide and the place where it was done.
A project page could look something like this: “Modern Highland Stone Retaining Wall, Minnetonka (MN)”
Press releases from local newspapers
Send a press release to the local newspaper.
Your company can boast about a charitable donation or discount it has given in the past, present or future. Your website is often linked by local newspapers and publishing websites.
Get involved in multiple Chambers of Commerce around the area
They typically charge an annual fee for each membership, however each target city has its own.
Join them if you have the budget.
Google has been threatening to enforce service-area businesses for years, and it appears that the time is finally here.
As long as your site is well-respected and has good content, some location pages can still be used. The duplicate content pages are being deindexed.
All in all, the Google magnifying mirror has placed SABs under its scrutiny. Even though SEOs haven’t been penalized yet, it is likely that this will happen in the near future.
Google’s constantly evolving. Google is always improving, even though unique content might still be useful for local pages.
updates every so often. It may also be evolving to identify easily identifiable doorway pages.
It is only a matter time until it recognizes location pages as standalone doorsway pages with unique content.
Before Google pays their algorithm team a visit, SEOs must first review the local businesses’ websites.
These opinions are not necessarily those of Search Engine Land, but they do reflect the views of the guest author. Here are the names of staff authors.
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