I’m thinking about diversifying my SEO business to cover the creation of local business websites capable of competing for local Google SERPs.
I’ve lived in Skegness since 2006 and though I’ve been an SEO consultant for almost 20 years I’ve never worked with a local business, not even one in Lincolnshire! Before creating a new web design service I need to do a lot of research, this article is part of my early research/testing process.
Local SEO Services
I see a lot of local businesses my SEO advice could help, BUT my SEO service isn’t cheap and any business to see a decent ROI from my consulting advice needs a large website selling a lot of products/services or businesses with a high value product/service with a large profit margin. This limits the local businesses I could (or to be more precise SHOULD) work with: I could work with all Skegness businesses, but I shouldn’t, for many it’s a waste of money.
What I have in mind is a new SEO web design service where I build fully search engine optimised WordPress websites (WordPress is a very versatile CMS) for small local businesses who either lack a web presence or their current website is poor SEO wise.
Since I’ll be the one creating the WordPress website it won’t need further search engine optimization. At least the local businesses will have a search engine optimised website and with a little SEO training even the most techno-phobic business owner should be able to create basic SEO’d content.
OK, let’s look at a local Google search to see if what I have in mind is viable. Since I live in Skegness I’ll start with the Skegness Electricians local Google SERP: I did a Google search for Skegness Electricians.
Skegness Electricians Google SEO
The Skegness Electricians Google search is a typical local SEO result, right at the top we have the obligatory Google paid results, Google does like to make money after all, followed by Google My Business listings and a few directory listings: Yelp, Yell & MyBuilder. It’s not until the 5th organic search result do we find an actual electricians business website: Hallgate Lincs – Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire!
You will find this sort of Google search result for lots of local searches like the Skegness electricians search, for example Skegness plumbers has a similar SERPs results.
To gain Skegness Electricians Google traffic and potential customers, a local business has multiple options.
- Pay Google AdWords to be listed at the top: quick and costly
- Add your business to Google My Business: free, lots of competition
- Add your business to the directories Yell, Yelp, MyBuilder etc…: some free, lots of competition
- Have a search engine optimised business website targeting the Skegness Electricians and other SERPs: technically free, lots of competition
I’m afraid nothing is easy in business.
Let’s have a look at a local Skegness business ranked for the Skegness Electricians Google SERP. The first organic search result (listed 5th below the directories like Yell/Yelp…) is Hallgate Lincs Ltd.
Hallgate Lincs – Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire SEO Review
Since I live in Skegness I’m familiar with Hallgate Lincs branding, I’ve seen their vans around Skegness, I’ve even seen them parked at the side of my property while they’ve been working in another local business owners flats: Scott’s Skegness Rendering Solutions, I like Scott (Lee), he’s given us a lot of pallets which I used to make my wife planters for the garden.
As a local, Hallgate Lincs might be a business I’d first think to use since at this time it’s the ONLY Electricians in Skegness I’m at all familiar with (I’ve never needed the services of an electrician in Skegness).
Let’s look at their website from a local SEO and branding perspective.
The URL is http://www.hallgatelincs.com/, here we have our first significant SEO mistake. When I go to the Hallgate Lincs website from a Google search it takes me to the INSECURE HTTP version of the domain.
A secure httpS URL (note the S) is not only a Google ranking factor, but also adds trust for customers. Even if your business website doesn’t need to be secure, it should still be secure.
The lack of a secure HTTPS website is an SEO and branding mistake. If your business domain lacks an SSL certificate, to customers it ‘feels’ less trustworthy and Google ranks it a little lower vs if it were secure.
See my Moving a WordPress Site from HTTP to HTTPS SEO Guide, it’s WordPress focused, but still covers the sort of changes any website needs to make to move from http to https.
The need for a secure https URL actually depends on what a domain is used for, the hallgatelincs.com website doesn’t appear to need a secure https connection. There’s around 30 webpages indexed in Google and they seem to be all really basic information articles (nothing special) designed to get a potential customer to pick up the phone. Many of the webpages are low quality content with little if any local SEO content targeting, which means they are highly unlikely to rank in Google for Skegness electricians type SERPs.
As long as they don’t sell anything via the site or pass secure data in someway (if they had a members login section for example) they don’t NEED a secure HTTPS connection.
That being said, businesses can get a free SSL certificate from Letsencrypt, potential customers might be put off by the insecure http URL (puts me off a little) and Google considers a secure HTTPS URL as an organic search ranking factor, so it’s a no-brainer, install a free SSL certificate: it’s FREE.
Let’s have a look at the HTML source code for SEO and branding mistakes.
One of the first things I do when reviewing a website is view HTML source and have a look at the code, it’s amazing how many silly mistakes web designers make.
It’s weird how mistakes can jump out at you, as I scrolled quickly through the HTML code this caught my eye:
<a target="_blank" href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hallgate-Lincs/1702724239975945"><img src="images/fb-white-header.png" alt="John Lacey & Sons on Facebook" /></a>
This is an image link to a Facebook page, it’s found at the top right of the screen next to the Hallgate Lincs phone number: 01754 762857.
Who the hell are “John Lacey & Sons” and why is it used as the alt text of an image on the Hallgate Lincs website?
The alt text of images is VERY important SEO wise, ALL images which are not structural (part of the website layout) should have appropriate alt text with format alt=”Relevant Keyphrase Describing Image Here”.
The alt text indicates to Google and visually impaired visitors what the image is about, alt text is very important to Google SEO and it’s important to visitors: your potential customers, especially the visually impaired.
Searching for “John Lacey & Sons on Facebook” finds a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Plumbing-Service/John-Lacey-Son-1570854649906010/ advertising a John Lacey & Sons Plumbing and Gas services in Skegness Lincolnshire.
This looks like a web designers Doh! moment.
Presumably the web design business who built the Hallgate Lincs Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire website has copied the Facebook image link code from another website (maybe another customer), but have forgotten to change the images alt text from “John Lacey & Sons on Facebook” to “Hallgate Lincs on Facebook“.
Confirmed this by viewing the source of http://www.skegnessgasservices.co.uk/ the website for John Lacey & Sons Plumbing and Gas services in Skegness Lincolnshire.
<a target="_blank" href="https://www.facebook.com/John-Lacey-Son-1570854649906010"><img src="images/fb-white-header.png" alt="John Lacey & Sons on Facebook" /></a>
You can see the HTML code from the John Lacey & Sons website is identical other than the actual Facebook URL.
Looking through the code of the two websites and what they look like and they have clearly been made my the same web designer, it’s the same basic template with minor modifications: it’s a really old looking web design, looks over 10 years old.
After a little checking it’s pretty obvious the web designer built the John Lacey & Sons website and copied it all (including images!) to make the Hallgate Lincs Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire website. I’m guessing they have a very basic and hard to maintain/update template system requiring a web designer to manually create new content: nice way to keep making money from local businesses.
Low Quality Local Skegness Web Designers
The web designer has been really sloppy here. As I said they copied the images from John Lacey & Sons website and uploaded many of the images to the Hallgate Lincs website!
They’ve even used the same image filenames like:
http://www.hallgatelincs.com/images/skegness-plumbers.jpg is copied from http://www.skegnessgasservices.co.uk/images/skegness-plumbers.jpg these images are identical, this image should NOT be found on the Hallgate Lincs website.
http://www.hallgatelincs.com/images/skegness-plumbers.png is copied from http://www.skegnessgasservices.co.uk/images/skegness-plumbers.png but has a Skegness electricians image, the web designer was lazy and used the same filename, the filename should be skegness-electricians.png!
This image http://www.hallgatelincs.com/images/john-lacey.jpg and similar shouldn’t have been uploaded to the Hallgate Lincs website at all!
I haven’t looked into which web design business created these websites, I’m assuming it’s a local Skegness web designer. The comments are open, if you find this article about your web design work feel free to comment below. As long as you aren’t repulsive, I’ll approve your comments.
Anyway, back to the website SEO review.
I flipped through the HTML code quickly, the SEO is really poor, lots of alt text is missing or poorly optimised, the image filenames are a mess and not optimised, anchor text of links is far from optimised, the on-page SEO is poor.
There’s no indication of a content management system (a CMS like WordPress), looks like the websites are made one page at a time! If I bought those websites I’d delete them and start again with WordPress.
I did find something SERIOUSLY brand damaging.
Fake User Testimonials and Reviews
I’m going to put this one down to the web designer, NOT the two business owners per se: though they should have queried this, it’s their brands being damaged after all.
The person who built both http://www.hallgatelincs.com/ and http://www.skegnessgasservices.co.uk/ used the SAME user testimonials/reviews!
John Lacey & Sons Plumbing and Gas services in Skegness Lincolnshire Testimonials
- I would highly recommend John Lacey and Son, the efficiency and attention to detail was second to none! Mrs J.Sutton – Chapel St Leonards
- Thank you very much, everyone speaks highly of your company and now I know why. Mrs Barnes – Skegness
- First class service from start to finish. Will certainly recommend the Company. Thank you for all your help. Mr Burrows – Skegness
Hallgate Lincs Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire Testimonials
- Tidy workers and cleaned up after themselves. Brilliant, we will definitely use Hallgate in the future. Sharon B. – Skegness Lincolnshire
- Thank you very much, everyone speaks highly of your company and now I know why. Mrs Barnes – Nottingham
- First class service from start to finish. Will certainly recommend the Company. Thank you for all your help. Mr Burrows – Lincolnshire
Looks like Mrs Barnes from Skegness has moved to Nottingham, but made an identical review for both Skegness businesses! Plus Mr Burrows also made two identical reviews for both Skegness businesses.
If you are going to create fake reviews at least go to the trouble of making it difficult to spot, who would write “Will certainly recommend the Company“, what sort of person writes “the Company“?
Based on the Wayback machine archives http://web.archive.org/web/20180314032615/http://skegnessgasservices.co.uk/ the John Lacey & Sons website had the testimonials/reviews added before March 2018.
Based on the Wayback machine archives http://web.archive.org/web/20180805161454/http://hallgatelincs.com/ the Hallgate Lincs Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire website had the testimonials/reviews added before August 2018.
Either some of the testimonials are fake or the John Lacey & Sons testimonials have been copied to the Hallgate Lincs Electricians in Skegness Lincolnshire website!
I found one of the reviews at https://www.yell.com/biz/hallgate-lincs-ltd-skegness-5040655/, (seems to be a genuine review) but it’s been modified (presumably by the web designer) from:
Electrical emergency on a weekend, call Hallgate, I phoned them they arrived within 30 minutes, they had trouble fixing the issue, but gave me a temporary fix until they could come again, tidy workers and cleaned up after themselves. Brilliant, will deffiantly use all the time.
Tidy workers and cleaned up after themselves. Brilliant, we will definitely use Hallgate in the future. Sharon B. – Skegness Lincolnshire
I think the full original Hallgate review is better, it’s more credible/real. Weekend emergency, got there in 30 mins and fixed the issue temporarily. That’s a good review, I’d fix the typo and that’s it, no other changes. The other version sounds fake and until I found the Yell version assumed it was fake like the other two reviews!
A Google search for “First class service from start to finish. Will certainly recommend the Company.” finds a derivative of this testimonial on these 4 domains:
Without performing the required full research to confirm, either Polar Windows and Precision Windows are owned by the same business (the website themes are similar) and they are using the same customer reviews, or Precision Windows has copied Polar Windows!
Then to make things even more interesting the Lincolnshire based web designer who made the John Lacey & Sons and Hallgate Lincs websites copied the testimonials from either Polar Windows or Precision Windows and modified them for the two Skegness businesses!
Fake testimonials/reviews are unethical.
From a brand perspective this looks really bad for John Lacey & Sons and Hallgate Lincs.
I can see it’s probably a lazy web designer copying testimonials and the two business owners trusting the designer to do a good job without damaging their brand. Many small businesses don’t have ANY in-house web design/development staff/skills and completely delegate the creation of the entire website to a ‘trusted’ local web designer.
IMHO the mistake here is trusting a web designer.
To the web designer, NEVER copy testimonials/reviews, SEO experts like me can easily see they are fake, you were unlucky that I’m a Skegness SEO! Also customers aren’t stupid, all those testimonials sound fake, they are too generic.
I found two good Hallgate Lincs reviews without much effort, the earlier one and:
Hallgate installed new intruder, fire and CCTV system into my grade 2 star listed building. Nice to see such a professional install with huge amounts of care taken to minimise disruption. Would highly recommend and will certainly use them again. Quentin Stott (added to Hallgate Lincs Google Reviews)
When we work on a clients website we are in effect brand ambassadors for that business, if we use black hat techniques like creating fake reviews/testimonials we are damaging our clients brands!