Blake Denman

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We brought on a new client recently that was hit by Panda. The company that was doing SEO before us literally built out more than 900 pages targeting one keyword in one city.

I'm going to delete everything, but I'm having second thoughts on our new content strategy.

This client wants to rank for more than 200 cities in more than 10 different counties. After looking at the competition and seeing what they were doing, we decided the best plan of action was to create county pages and mention the cities serviced at the bottom. Instead of having nearly 1000 pages trying to rank for specific search queries we are condensing them into 10 pages that go in-depth on the services they offer.

What do you think? Would you go a different route or does this sound like a good strategy?
 

DanLeibson

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Usually when we see Panda issues with large national to local brands it comes from what you describe, multiple pages targeting a single city. This type of topical content overlap can be a site killer.

Although, I have to say, I'm not a fan of the alternative strategy you mention. In my experience when you have a page targeting a county (but are really trying to target the individual cities) it really hurts the amount of terms the page shows up for. Also, counties search terms generally perform poorly and have low search volume.

As long as the brand has enough locations, and the will and dev time, we generally work with them to create a directory like structure (Country -> City -> State). Now obviously that doesn't make sense in all instances, but if it were me, I would think on how we could expand from just a few county pages while:

1) Making sure you can scale unique content

2) Provide a good user experience for the new pages e.g. you are answering searcher questions

3) Avoid topical content overlap.

Now if you are talking about scaling service area pages, all bets are off. While I think it's a great, and highly useful strategy generally a smaller site isn't going have enough authority/link equity to make all those pages rank (even if the content is unique etc). You should probably just focus on a small subset to test and see if it's even relevant for this business and in the geos you are targeting.
 

Marie Haynes

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Thanks for the invite and the kind words Joy.

Cases like this are hard. I don't have the answers for you. :) But I can give you my thoughts.

The company that was doing SEO before us literally built out more than 900 pages targeting one keyword in one city.

Ouch. The sad thing is that this type of thing used to work really well. I'm working with a client right now that used to rank really well for almost every city in the US based on almost identical pages that just swapped out the city name. They got a thin content penalty and although they are no longer manually penalized they never really have recovered.

So of course this client wants to regain those rankings, but is it possible? I think it *is* possible but not using the methods that used to work.

In the past we could build keyword rich location pages and build links to those pages and it often could work extremely well. So now what I see people trying to do is recreate those location pages but try to rewrite them so they have original content. I've yet to see that work. When Panda first came out I think we got so fixed on duplicate content that we thought that just having a page that passes a copyscape test would fix everything.

I am thinking more and more that as Panda evolves it is using machine learning to truly determine whether a page is best for users. Google wants to rank the pages that users want to click on.

So, let's say I had a fictitious company that sold green widgets online and I want to rank for every single city for people who are searching for green widgets. In the past I'd create a page with a title tag of "Buy green widgets in Orlando" and optimize the content of the page for Green widgets in Orlando. And then I'd repeat that for every city I wanted to rank in.

But now, let's put ourselves in the shoes of someone who lives in Orlando who is looking for green widgets. Perhaps green widgets are something that local stores like Home Depot and Walmart sell. Or perhaps there are green widget specific stores right there in Orlando. Am I going to be able to convince Google that my website that doesn't even exist in Orlando (but ships there) should outrank the big box stores and local vendors? That's going to be hard.

In my opinion, the only way that I could have a top ranking locally is if I could convince local searchers that my site is by far the best option for them to view. I think there are a few ways that I could convince users (and then Google) that my page is the best:

-Perhaps if I have a massive brand presence. For example, Amazon doesn't have a local office in Orlando, but people recognize the brand and want to buy from there so it might possibly get good rankings.
-Having EXCEPTIONAL content. And I mean exceptional. And that's hard to do. If the top ranking pages for green widgets in Orlando all have the basic information on price and availability but my page has loads and loads of information I might be able to rank better. I could have pictures of my products being used in Orlando, instructional PDFs, videos, guides of which green widgets are the best to buy for Orlando residents, and so on.

OK, so this is a long answer. :)

Back to the original question:

This client wants to rank for more than 200 cities in more than 10 different counties. After looking at the competition and seeing what they were doing, we decided the best plan of action was to create county pages and mention the cities serviced at the bottom. Instead of having nearly 1000 pages trying to rank for specific search queries we are condensing them into 10 pages that go in-depth on the services they offer.

That's tough to answer without knowing more about your client. If they truly have a share of the market in all of these cities, it might be worthwhile to create fantastic pages for all of them. But, if they are trying to rank for something where it is unlikely that users would want to click on their site rather than the ones that are already ranking, it might make sense to do it the way that you suggest. This should capture the brand searches. (i.e. people searching for brand+product) in that city.

I don't have a definitive answer though and am looking forward to seeing how others do this.
 

cdawg2610

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Having worked back from a similar type of penalty Blake, my experience has always been you pretty much have to take the strategy back to zero, and referrals and keywords in your own backyard in order, and then start to build on it.

To me, as I read the strategy you outlined, I feel it runs similar to the strategy that got them in trouble. Like Marie said, are they really the most relevant for all those countries and locations? Are those the right and relevant searches to be looking at?

After all of that, I always tell my clients we stick to rules of 3. You "get" 3 things to go after - be it locations to try and be relevant in, new content, keywords, location. And we then have to give it 3 months before we revisit our 3.
 

JoyHawkins

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Blake,

My answer to that client would be have you tried AdWords? :)

Probably not what you were looking for lol but in all seriousness I'm a huge fan of AdWords and we actually have more clients with AdWords accounts than SEO accounts (most have both). There was a fantastic article about it on Ahrefs that I'd suggest you check out if you haven't seen it.
 

Blake Denman

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Blake,

My answer to that client would be have you tried AdWords? :)

Probably not what you were looking for lol but in all seriousness I'm a huge fan of AdWords and we actually have more clients with AdWords accounts than SEO accounts (most have both). There was a fantastic article about it on Ahrefs that I'd suggest you check out if you haven't seen it.

lol yeah they are doing AdWords with YP, ugh....They want to get away from AdWords and focus more on SEO. YP doesn't provide any great reports so I doubt they are doing a great job.

We have a lot of clients that do both too.
 

DanLeibson

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Funny, almost every brand we work with wants to invest more in SEO to spend less on AdWords ;)
 
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