In recent months, Service Area Business (SAB) websites began to fluctuate in rank as Google’s helpful content and spam updates rolled out from late August through October.
Chat about these changes picked up by your local SEO community during this time on our various forums, including the Google SEO Mastermind Facebook group.
A common theme for the most affected sites appeared to be related to duplicate content, particularly location pages, or doorway pages.
However, sites were never directly penalized by rank. Instead, the pages were automatically deindexed, thus lowering the rank of queries involving pages in the corresponding locations.
Unindexing Location Pages
Schieler Mew, administrator of the Google SEO Mastermind group on Facebook, posted this video explaining what he’s seen on over 200 SAB sites.
In the video, he explains that “duplicate content” location pages were removed from the index en masse on sites with relatively low authority or lacking helpful content across the site.
Scheiler and I attended a Google Meet and shared the following data and screenshots from Search Console with these sites.
The first thing we noticed was a big change in mid-September regarding indexed pages. This seems to coincide with the completion of rollouts of helpful content.
Digging around, the following screenshot shows all pages that appear to have been deindexed overnight.
Finally, a report on the timeline of affected pages.
The mass deindexing of pages that contributed significantly to geographic rankings is gone, and the rankings are removed as well.
This seemed to be the case for many other pages, although there were some outliers.
Websites that appeared to have higher authority or location pages with unique content were not removed from the index.
This makes the useful content and spam update algorithm seem a bit unfinished. In our case, we tackled the simplest target of duplicating a content location page on a low-authority site.
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How Helpful Content and Spam Updates Contributed
Most SEOs assumed that these updates were for AI-generated content. (Remember, in April’s Office Hours Hangout, John Mueller called this “spam” and made it clear that it violates Google’s policies.)
Danny Sullivan tweeted this on November 7th, stating:
- “We’re not saying AI content is bad. We’ve been pretty clear that content written primarily for search engines, not humans, is the problem.
This is when you start putting two and two together.
SAB sites have seen a drop in rank around the time both useful content and spam updates were deployed, showing that they primarily target pages with content created for search engines rather than humans. increase.
What pages are in the local SABs that nearly every SEO in the industry creates?
About the induction page
A doorway page is basically what Danny Sullivan was talking about in the tweet above.
An example of a landing page in the local SEO industry is a location page.In other words, pages that exist for ranking purposes only [city #1] + [service A] Multiply by the number of cities or services the business is trying to rank.
These can be created faster if the content is duplicated and only the keywords are exchanged. Additionally, you can create custom content on each page, but it’s still the entry page.
SEOs in this field hate to admit it, but the location page is the entry page. Mueller confirmed this in his February.
Doorway pages were always against Google’s policy, but there didn’t seem to be any way to throttle them algorithmically.
The only punishment seems to be manual action, with SAB being left behind Google until this year.
Recent Google Updates for Local SEO
Over the past few months, we’ve seen waves not only of these landing pages, but also within the local SEO community.
For the most part, Google has addressed some of these issues. For example, suspended business profiles and reviews floating in purgatory. We usually give credit for the “bug”.
At some point, SEOs have to ask themselves why there are suddenly so many bugs in a particular sector.
Apart from the GBP profile bug, Google has made a distinct and strict change to how profiles are verified.
It started with switching the default verification method from postcard to video. Second, in some cases, video is the only way to verify.
This, coupled with business profiles being abruptly suspended for minor issues, started flagging that Google was finally tackling SEO spam in the SAB community.
In September of this year, community and forum SEO began to see rankings drop for location-dependent keywords and pages.
With all that said, it looks like Google is taking local businesses that violate their spam policies seriously.
Will location pages still work?
The short answer is yes, but it’s only a matter of time before location pages transition to archaic SEO practices like hidden text and meta keyword stuffing.
Google’s deindexing of duplicate content location pages is just the first step in its conquest to punish sites using doorway pages that do not benefit humans.
It’s unclear if Google will impose rank penalties on doorway pages in the future, or leave pages unindexed.
My theory is that this is a temporary fix. Location pages are something local SEO should leave behind.
After all, Google wants your content to exist to provide a positive user experience, not to influence your rank.
As a consumer, I have never found a location page that works for my user experience. You should think like this when creating pages and content.
First, think about how it will help your users, then how you can optimize it to rank higher, in that order.
Alternate optimization options for ranking by nearby cities
Suggesting that location pages may be nearing the end is no reason for local SEOs to dabble in optimizing for nearby cities and regions.
There are alternatives we can take to bring content back to helping humans in the first place.
Target key service areas with H1 and page title
You or your client may have top areas you want to target.
Make sure this city is listed as H1 and in the page title. This makes it clear to Google where your main service areas are from a content perspective.
Make sure you have a general service area page
Be sure to have a general page that lets users know where you or your clients serve.
Include a map listing all counties, cities, or regions and visualizing their service areas.
Create a project page
this is my favourite. If you or your client do project-oriented work such as landscaping, roof repair, or construction; create pages for specific projects completed.
Treat it like you would a blog or gallery. Add before and after photos that detail your work or project.
Mention the city in which it was installed, costs, challenges, etc.
This method not only shows potential customers your company’s capabilities and the type of work you do, but it’s also a great way to rank your services and the cities served.
An example project page for a landscaper might be titled “Modern Highland Stone Retaining Wall in Minnetonka, Minnesota.”
Local paper press release
Contact local newspapers in the surrounding area to issue a press release.
Show off your company for past or upcoming charitable donations or discounts you offer. Newspapers and local publication sites usually link to your website.
Join multiple local chambers of commerce
These typically have an annual fee associated with each one you join, but there is an annual fee for each city that you or your client is targeting.
If it’s within your budget, join for location-related links and geographic permissions.
Where do you go from here?
Google’s enforcement of service area business has been long overdue, but it appears that action is now being taken.
Pages in some locations will still work as long as the site has high authority and good overall content. It’s the duplicate content location pages that are de-indexed.
Overall, SAB is now under Google’s magnifying glass. If your SEO hasn’t been penalized yet, it’s going to happen in the near future, so put your money on it.
It’s important to remember that Google is constantly evolving. Things like unique content may still work on place pages, but Google will work on this next.
Google’s SpamBrain AI is updated from time to time. This time around, they may have evolved to target easily identifiable referral pages.
It’s only a matter of time before we understand location pages as standalone doorway pages with their own content.
As an SEO, you should review your local business site, stick to the basics of local search, and do some housekeeping according to Google’s policies before Google’s algorithmic team visits us.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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