I’ve worked with many small, local businesses over the years pertaining to SEO. I can’t tell you how many times a client wants to improve their rank on Google so they propose an idea to generate more business, like building city-level pages. The business owner or marketer wants to dominate at hyperlocal, local or state-wide level. They believe creating suburb, city or state-level pages is an easy way of acquiring customers to accomplish their goal.
Suburb, City and State Level Pages
In a content management system like WordPress (or any site for that matter) it’s easy to create a new page on your website. A city-level page in the simplest form would be a page created for the city you are looking to target. The same holds true for a suburb page or a state-wide page. Here’s a common scenario: A DUI attorney based in Phoenix, Arizona wants to grow their business. For the sake of this article, we’ll refer to this law firm as “Ambitious Arizona Attorney.” They decide to build city-level pages on their website in Tucson and Flagstaff. Below is how the URL’s would be structed. On each of these pages, there’d be content about their DUI Defense attorneys in each respective market.
Below would be my questions to the Ambitious Arizona Attorney’s to gauge whether or not this strategy is worthwhile:
- What percentage of your business comes from Phoenix versus Tucson and Flagstaff?
- Do you have a physical office in the location where you want to create city-level pages?
- Are all of your offices staffed where you have physical locations?
- Are you willing to lose rank in your core city (like Phoenix) for the chance to rank well in another market (like Flagstaff)?
- Do you have at least 10-testimonials in the city that you want to expand into?
The reason I ask these questions is because it poses a risk versus reward scenario. When the majority of revenue is coming from your primary market (like Phoenix) I recommend focusing on your own turf. There’s opportunity to grow organically in your own backyard with more focus on hyperlocal and industry specific directories. There’s likely thin content that can be improved on your site to further bolster rank in your primary market. If you are legitimately looking to open up another office in another that will be staffed, this is perfectly. Make sure you’re going about doing this the right way so it doesn’t have negative long term ramifications. Related Article: Should your business be targeting suburb, city or state keywords for SEO? [read blog].
There’s risk involved in creating many city-level pages. If Google deems that the pages you created are doorway pages, you could get hit with a penalty. A doorway page, according to Google, are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. I like to sleep well at night. Most of my clients (to my knowledge) like a good night’s rest. When there are many city-level pages on a site, which were created for the purpose of ranking well and many of the pages are similar (even if you try to spin them differently) I get nervous about a Google penalty. You could also be penalized for duplicate or spun content. Not to mention, there’s an increase in Google My Business spam fighting? This is where competitors can report your Google My Business page for not being properly represented on Google. There’s been many local SEO penalties that have targeted Google My Business pages that tried to manipulate the system. Below are some common examples:
- PO Box as business address
- Sign-up for a Regus office space
- Office isn’t staffed
Dangers of Being Nice
Since I work with many small businesses, I feel I’ve been privy to every trick in the book when it comes to SEO. I’m not one of those SEO experts who believes only white hat tactics work. You know what’s fascinating about suburb, city and state level pages? I’ve seen plenty of these businesses succeed with this SEO strategy, even going against my judgement. Playing by the rules doesn’t mean you will always win with your SEO. I mentioned earlier that I like to sleep well at night. I like planning for the long-term while instantly improving user experience. This is why I often advise against an aggressive city, state or suburb level page tactics, unless it aligns with actual business objectives.
When Local or State Pages Work
If you owned a chain of eight car washes in Columbus, Ohio, it would make sense to have eight location pages with rich content for each location. This would provide the best user experience. Your current or prospective customer will be seeking the location closest to their home or office. Other helpful information on this page would include the following:
- Picture of the car wash
- Coupon code for first time customers
- Nearby landmarks
- Detailed information about the types of washes and what distinguishes you from the competition
- Reviews from others who visited this specific location
- Information on the General Manager and other staff members
If you have multiple physical locations and there are people actually coming to your locations, creating numerous pages can provide the optimal user experience. Note: I worked with a billion dollar car insurance company helping them build out state-level pages. They offer insurance in about 1/3 of the markets throughout the U.S. Since each state has different laws, rules and regulations pertaining to insurance, it was a no-brainer that creating state level pages would provide an optimal experience for people looking for car insurance in this respective market. This is an example of when state-level pages worked.
Who Tends to Get in Trouble
Many service based businesses get in trouble with suburb, city and state-level pages. If you are a garage door repair company, even if you service every zip code in Columbus, do you need a page on your site for each suburb? Would this provide the best user experience? Probably not. You could list all the zip codes you serve on the homepage, contact us and FAQ page. 25 extra pages would be redundant and it would be hard to form unique content for each page. If you intend to create or already have created city, suburb or state-level page, the following checklist should be followed:
- Content is unique
- You don’t want the same exact verbiage on 25 different pages with the differentiator being that you change out the city name. The content that’s written should be unique.
- There are reviews from customers from that specific city, suburb or state
- This will further solidify that you have a presence in this location.
- There are promotions on the page to make the page more relevant
- Including a promotion at a suburb level would actually entice someone to visit this page
- Address, Pricing, Pictures, Nearby Landmarks, Associates
- These were all mentioned in the carwash example. They further solidify your business at the local level.
- There is organic traffic coming to the suburb, city or state level pages on your site
- Google Analytics will be the official source of truth on whether these pages are relevant to customers. Are people actually visiting these pages?
- These pages are easy to access throughout your site, whether in the main navigation or elsewhere, it should be easy to access and these pages shouldn’t be hidden
- The last thing you want is to have hidden pages on your site. This would raise more of a red flag to Google if people couldn’t easily access this page.
Weighing Pros vs. Cons
Make sure to weigh the pros versus the cons when creating a suburb versus city versus state level pages. In my experience of running a digital agency, the cons outweigh the pros most of the time. You can get a penalty or the rankings in your primary market could get diluted. There are quick wins that could be achieved but you could have longer term issues. If you have a legitimate presence at the suburb, city or state level, you should not think twice about creating these sort of pages. Be sure to follow the checklist above so the content on each page is outstanding.