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2013's Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty

Out with the old year, on with the new, and local business owners like you are asking themselves how they can earn the most visible possible presence in the Google-dominated local search engine results in 2013. Waltzing our way out of a 2012 that was fraught with penalties targeting all kinds of iffy practices, your next steps in the dance can be easy if you let honesty be your local business motto in the happy new year.
Take These Simple Tips To Heart
1. Be Honest About Your Business Name
If you are Robert Jones Plumbing on your tax return, be Robert Jones Plumbing everywhere on the Internet, from your website, to your Google+ Local Page, to your directory listings and social media profiles. Don’t be Robert Jones Atlanta Emergency 24 Hour Plumbing. In fact, if you’ll be new to the Local web in 2013, I will go so far as to offer some new-ish advice. When choosing your domain name, try to get robertjonesplumbing.com. Hopefully, though, your name is more like Robert Hornswoggle because robertjonesplumbing.com will likely have already been taken. Maybe you can get rjonesplumbing.com or rjplumbing.com or some similar variation.
Why is this new-ish advice? Because it’s been a common practice for a decade or more for a business like yours to go after a keyword-focused domain name like atlantaplumbing.com, and while these exact match domains (EMDs) are still ranking awfully well in Google’s local results, non-local counterparts were hit with quite a hefty penalty this year, leading me to believe that honesty in branding is coming to be Google’s favorite way to play the game. So be Robert Jones Plumbing everywhere you go and build your brand with pride.
2. Be Honest About Your Location
If you’re located in Tinytown, CA, tell it like it is on your website, your Google+ Local page, all your directory listings and all other places where your business is referenced on the web. Even if you’re just 2 miles away from Humongoustown, CA, have customers who come to your shop from there or go there to serve customers, you are still located in Tinytown and that’s what Google cares about when it comes to their true local results. This doesn’t mean you can’t create city landing pages (make them fantastic) for your service cities or can’t blog like mad about your involvement in Humongoustown, but the chief goal of these good efforts will be organic visibility, not local visibility.
Do not attempt to fake locations with P.O. Boxes or virtual offices. Sure, that thorn-in-your-side competitor got away with it in 2012, but 2013 could very well be the year that he gets to sit in ‘under review’ land for 6+ months with no local listings, no traffic, no phones ringing because he gamed the system. Don’t let this be you. Be totally honest about where you are physically located – it’s your best insurance against brutal penalties. And please, don’t post offers on Craigslist.org asking homeowners to let you use their addresses as phony locales for your business.
3. Be Honest About Your Reputation
Don’t review your own business. Don’t bribe others to. Google doesn’t want money or products changing hands in exchange for reviews. Don’t hire marketers who will hook you into a reciprocal review network, collect reviews from customers and post them on their behalf, or simply make up phony reviews with the intent to paint your company in a light it has yet to earn on the web.
4. Be Honest About Your Failings
You will get negative reviews. Even if you are running the nicest, friendliest shop in town, one day in 2013 will be a bad day for your staff, or a day on which a cranky person comes to do business with you. Many review platforms allow you to respond to negative reviews. If you choose to do so, remember, an ounce of honest apology is worth a pound of coverup. You can hire a reputation manager to outrank bad press with good press online, but you can’t muffle what people tell their family and friends about you offline. Owning up to a bad service experience and working to make it right means that you’ve done everything you can to ensure that word of mouth both on and off the web about your local business is positive.
5. Do Business Honestly
The Local Internet is but a partial reflection of reality. The heart of your business is what happens between the four walls of your shop or on the road where your service people go. I’ve been ripped off by local businesses and treated like royalty by others. No matter what is said by Internet rankings, ratings and reviews, my core impression is made at the time of my transaction. I believe the most important thing any local business owner brings to his community is his commitment to good service. Fair and honest business practices are the foundation of your success in your town. Treat customers honestly and everything else will follow.
I’ve been doing business on the Internet for about a decade now, and have watched with eager interest Google’s increasing emphasis on accurate representation of brands and businesses. The SEO world is simultaneously evolving to focus on acquisition of dynamic relationships and a good reputation over acquisition of mere rankings. To this I say:

“Should Auld Spammy Tactics Be Forgot And Never Brought To Mind?”
And I’m honestly wishing you an exciting and prosperous Local 2013!