Competition is stiff for the top spots on Google local search – and financial advisors and insurance agents know it. Since the first five results on Google get 67.6 percent of all clicks, it’s extremely important to show up there. Companies with multiple locations will want to go even further and get multiple results in the top five spots – an even more difficult challenge – especially since Google will filter out similar results and not show them at all.
Recently, the SEO community has been discussing this issue and the ensuing challenges. In a recent post from the Moz Blog, Joy Hawkins called out three actionable steps companies can take to beat Google’s filter. We would like to expand upon her three points and discuss how they can be applied specifically to financial services companies which face many of the same challenges as other local businesses and a few unique ones of their own.
1. Make the pages for your locations more different
Google gives users a variety of choices by removing results that are similar. They do this filtering by analyzing a website using algorithms that look at the content, layout and domain of the results. The more similar the content is on site one to site two, the more likely Google is to filter out site one, and so on.
Joy talked about how certain websites being filtered were 77 to 81 percent similar. Our recommended approach is for them to be at least 50 percent unique, and to strive for the 80 percent gold standard. But this can be problematic for the financial services industry, where modified content must meet specific compliance, archiving and branding standards.
Hearsay Sites gives corporate teams the control to set just how much website content advisors can modify so companies can balance their corporate and local brand. For instance, corporate teams can create custom themes to reflect the brand’s look, feel and messaging while creating a consistent flow of corporate assets. At the same time, advisors can customize their sites by uploading office photos, writing bios, linking to partners in their community, sharing local events and commenting on local news, all while working toward hitting the coveted 80 percent mark. As with other content, any website content modifications from advisors will go through an archive and retention process.
2. Take advantage of targeting zip codes or community names
Often companies think of targeting cities and towns, but advisors are often concentrated within specific zip codes and communities. The good news is that the types of communities with the density to justify multiple advisors also tend to be communities that can differentiate themselves from the others.
Many financial services companies try to automate this process by using fake local content. The trouble is that Google’s computers can smell the lack of authenticity all the way from their datacenter. The way for companies to get real local content is to allow their field reps to update their sites. Do they call their neighborhood “South of Market” or do they say “SoMa”? Or, do they indicate they’re located in “South Park,” a very specific area within SoMa? A corporate system might optimize for the term “San Francisco,” or the zip code 94107, but if that isn’t what a user searched for, it could be a waste of resources. Users look for words they really use to describe where they live. So do advisors. Companies can leverage that knowledge by letting advisors customize the content on their websites.
3. Try to get more links to the individual location pages so they’re more authoritative
If companies are going to put an emphasis on advisor and agent websites, getting deep links to their sites is important. Advisors are likely already partnering with their local Chamber of Commerce, community programs, religious groups and volunteer organizations. When local groups partner with each other, the partnerships often surface on the internet in the form of deep links – links from one website to a specific page of another.
Though corporate sites might have thousands of links pointing to them, it will help local SEO in Harrisonburg much more if the Harrisonburg Chamber of Commerce links directly to advisors based in Harrisonburg. Those links build authority on the advisor’s page and will help companies’ local ranking much more.
There are many ways to build links properly and just as many ways for advisors to get in trouble. In fact, there are many horror stories (ask any local SEO expert) of a single individual acting out of line and causing an entire company to get penalized by Google, often resulting in lost business up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
We recommend taking a guide-rails approach to local linking. Allow advisors to operate freely, within certain boundaries. Never encourage local advisors to buy links as it’s a quick way to hurt the SEO of not only their site, but the corporate site as well. Instead, companies should allow advisors to focus on natural outreach in the community. A great first step is the ability to link from their website to relevant local websites. This will strengthen local relationships, provide value for visitors and often result in other websites linking back to them.
By enabling advisors to share unique content, use their neighborhood knowledge and build link relationships naturally, companies can give their distributed web programs the best chance at having multiple locations rank highly and avoid Google’s similar results filter.