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local-business

Last night Google breathed new life into a forgotten algorithm by updating their local search algorithm to provide more useful, relevant, and accurate local search results that are more closely linked to traditional web search ranking signals.

While Google has remained mum on a large amount of the details, we do know the changes can be visible within Google Maps search results as well as traditional search results. From the online discussion, it also local businesses are also getting significant ranking and traffic boosts as most responses have been positive.

Most of the changes are behind the scenes, which Google doesn’t want to share with the world. However, Barry Schwartz shared that the new algorithm ties deeper into web search than previously by linking it to search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms, and more.

Google also says the new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.

The algorithm is already rolling out for US English results, but Google wouldn’t say when to expect it to roll out for other regions and languages, nor would they comment on what percent of queries have been effected or if web spam algorithms were included in the update.

Earlier this week we reported on a recent study highlighting the growing influence of online reviews, and there is no service as closely associated with online reviews as Yelp. Of course, Yelp agrees and they’ve commissioned a new study from Nielsen survey data to show it is the most frequently used, most trusted, and even the highest quality local reviews site. But, many are skeptical of their findings.

The study used a sample of just over 1,000 US users of review sites, including competitors such as Angie’s List, Citysearch, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, YP, and Zagat. The survey consisted of 22 questions in all and the sample was weighted for age and gender to be representative of Nielsen’s NetView audience. In a blow to the credibility of the survey however, it seems only a few of the results were released – presumably the results which favored Yelp.

Out of what was released, the survey showed that 78 percent of consumers use review sites to find local businesses and help make purchase decisions, with Yelp taking the lead in several categories such as “most influential,” “most trustworthy,” and “best quality reviews.”

Another source of apprehension for this study was the decision not to include Google or Facebook. When asked, Yelp told Greg Sterling:

Our findings specifically around review sites came after we included Google and Facebook in a question on what sites people use to find local businesses, but those sites aren’t solely focused on local business discovery. We dug deeper into those sites that are.

That led Sterling to the conclusion that Google and Facebook likely exceed Yelp as a source for local business information, but it isn’t dishonest to exclude them from a study focusing specifically on “local business discovery” because both platforms have such broad usage.

The study isn’t completely invalid because of these inconsistencies. It goes without question that Yelp is at the forefront of local business discovery and reviewing and several other studies show that Yelp is in fact influential in local purchasing decisions. This study reinforces the fact that Yelp is a major player in these categories, but obviously it should be taken with some skepticism.

You can see the graphic displaying Yelp’s findings below:

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Smaller local businesses are overwhelmingly lagging behind the rest of the market when it comes to getting online and increasing visibility and audience outreach through optimization and search engine marketing. Unfortunately the longer these companies wait to expand their business online, the further they fall behind the curve. Thankfully, Trond Lyngbø created a comprehensive article exploring the most important information anyone running a smaller local business needs to know about SEO and online marketing.

Online MarketingSmall businesses are constantly tasked with making the most of the limited resources they have. If you are handling your online marketing within your company, chances are you are putting a significant amount of resources towards your marketing. While marketing obviously costs money, it also costs time and effort from workers and you likely aren’t getting the results you really want from your efforts.

Hiring an outside firm to take the reins on your online marketing may feel like giving away control of a vital part of your business, but it is more like hiring a driver who will take you where you would like to go while you are able to take care of your own business. If you are concerned about the prospect of enlisting an outside agency to handle or assist with your marketing, you might consider all the following ways hired marketing services can help your brand.

1) Save Time for Everyone

No matter the size of your team, allowing an outside party to take over marketing frees up time which can be better devoted to your own service. You will no longer have to invest the hours on writing marketing material, engaging your consumers on social media, or creating and managing all your email lists. With those tasks taken care of, your team can use their skills where they are really needed.

2) Gain an Outside Perspective

It is impossible for a business owner to ever distance themselves far from their business. The love of the industry, hard-earned skills, and personal investment in success all drive successful businesses, but they can also obscure your ability to see what exactly attracts your customers. Your perspective on the parts of your business that are most attractive will automatically be biased, so it can be important to have a set of extra eyes to give a professional and non-biased opinion. Marketing professionals understand consumer behaviors and how to attract and convert interested visitors, and they can use that knowledge to come up with unique angles you may not notice alone.

3) Leverage Built-In Expertise

If you are small enough to not have an actual marketing department, but you are still asking someone in your company to handle the online marketing, chances are they have other responsibilities. It is common for business owners to try to handle the marketing while they balance a million other responsibilities, or to have several team members who also work as customer service reps, salespeople, bookkeepers, or human resources. Hiring a third-party allows these members of your team (or yourself) to put their skills where they are most valuable, and you gain more professional and focused marketing in return.

4) Access to Specialized Technology

Your company likely uses a few platforms and technologies for various functions, including online marketing. But, how many marketing-specific programs do you use? Most likely, the answer is few to none. But, professional marketing services partner you with professionals who are well-versed with the latest technology designed specifically to improve the impact of marketing. Best of all, you won’t have to invest thousands of dollars in analytics and automation programs.

5) Do More With Less

One of the biggest drawbacks of handling your own marketing is a loss of efficiency. In-house marketing usually focuses on a few channels, but it also tends to miss other channels with huge potential for your business. It simply is impossible to handle maintaining a website while managing a PPC campaign, running several social media accounts, and trying to create insightful and useful blog content. You will either end up with low-quality output, an overwhelmed team, or both. Outsourcing the work allows you to cover all your bases and emphasize those with the best results for you, while optimizing those that are struggling. You will receive more back from your investments, with less effort and stress on your team.

Big vs. Small

One of the most common excuses I hear from small businesses who aren’t taking advantage of online marketing is the fear that a smaller local business can’t compete with the big names you frequently see at the top of the search results. It is such a prevalent concern that Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts finally had to address it in one of his frequent Webmaster Help videos.

Specifically, Cutts was asked:

How can smaller sites with superior content ever rank over sites with superior traffic? It’s a vicious circle: A regional or brick-and-mortar brand has higher traffic, leads to a higher rank, which leads to higher traffic, ad infinitum.

Thankfully, the notion that bigger brands automatically can leverage traffic to maintain high visibility is (mostly) false, as Cutts explains. In many ways, search engines are one of the great equalizers, in that they theoretically rank all sites the same way. Big brands are held up to the same standards as smaller or more local businesses.

I would wager Cutts specifically chose this question as it is worded in a way that allows for the most optimistic answer. Cutts is absolutely right when he says that smaller sites with superior content can quite possibly overtake their more recognizable competition. When businesses get to a certain size, they can become lumbering and sluggish, which makes it much easier for a more agile brand invested in their online presence to perform higher.

The larger brand may still get more traffic, but you can steal their spot in the rankings by getting real engagement and interest in your content.

The real trick is finding your niche. While Cutts’ answer prides content quality and performance over all others, he forgets to mention that some brands may be able to outperform you in many markets. The big brands may be large and encumbered, but they also have the resources to put up a good fight for online visibility, which a small brand with less resources may not win across the board.

However, if you can find your niche, you don’t have to worry about outperforming the well-funded giant in every aspect. You just have to beat them in your one special area. If you have your niche covered well, you’ll be able to grow into other niches until you gradually become a giant too.

You can see Matt Cutts’ full Webmaster Help video below:

Frustrated WomanIf you don’t have a website for your small business, you are certainly missing out on potential business and growth for your company. But, some business owners are nervous about branching out and getting online because they are afraid to lose money on a venture they don’t entirely mistake.

It is a fair concern. There are countless thrown together websites that litter the web, neglected and forgotten by everyone except the bots search engines send out. But, that shouldn’t be enough to stop you from reaching out with your own company. The majority of sites that have gone unnoticed and cost their businesses money share a number of fatal flaws that will stop any traffic from trusting you or returning to your company’s site.

Today, we are going to discuss the most common mistakes that drag down websites that have the potential to engage and excite visitors, and how we can help brands turn their struggling website into a real platform to expand your customer base and engage with your audience in new ways.

Visual Mistakes

Hidden Contact Information: For smaller businesses a website serves as an entry point for customers. While your website should demonstrate your expertise and services, the most important thing on all of your site is your contact information. Far too often, this information is stuffed and hidden away at the bottom of the front page or an obscure tab. Instead, put the contact information front and center, or at least above the fold. Visitors should be able to contact you within seconds from the front page of your site.

Crowding the Page: In web design, less can certainly be more. Your front page shouldn’t look like a crowded advertisement you send out to local papers or a mishmash of information crowded into as little space as possible. With online design you never really run out of space, so don’t be afraid to let your site breathe and let the white space of the page shine through where it needs to. If your page gets too busy, ask yourself what is essential, and prioritize what information should be immediately visible when your page loads. Then build from there.

Dead Links: Nothing says “this website is not well maintained” to a customer like a site filled with links that no longer work. But, if you only work on your site from one computer or network, you might not ever know the links are broken. Regularly check your site from a different computer and check to make sure all the sites you are linking to are still up to date and don’t lead to pages that no longer exist.

Animated Logos: When you visit websites for highly respected brands or prominent companies, do you ever see logos that spin, flash, or shoot glitter? While Google’s animated “Doodles” are a popular feature of their site, the vast majority of successful sites put their animated logos out to pasture years ago. Just use your professional logo in the cleanest looking format you can.

Content Mistakes

Typos and Grammatical Errors: There should NEVER be grammatical errors or typos on your page, especially on your front page. Yet, I still see this all the time, and audiences notice. If you have to hire someone to proof read all copy you publish, do it. The bottom line is that visitors and readers automatically respect and trust you less when they notice errors on the digital face for your company.

Stale Content: One of the biggest ways to push away your audience is to appear out of date. If you have content that is just sitting there and is never udpated, visitors will start to wonder if you are still in operation, and if so, why did you leave your website and content to rot? Regularly publishing fresh content shows that your business is up-to-date, in touch with its customer base, and an expert in your field.

Outdated Calendars: The same problems with stale content are inherent in outdated calendars, but worse. If a visitor sees your online calendar hasn’t been updated since November of 2011, they will assume that is the last time your website was updated. Similarly, they will assume you have either neglected your site or gone out of business. If you don’t have enough events to fill a calendar, cut it. If not, then start updating the calendar with all your events so your audience can join in on the fun.

The Big Picture

Yes, there is plenty of room for failure online. But, with a little bit of wisdom and a skilled hand to guide you through the process, it is actually much easier to gain a bit of traction online than you probably think. But, you can’t use full measures. By waiting to get online you are just missing out on potential customers, but a poorly done website projects disinterest in your own business or a lack of professionalism that won’t attract any new faces. Most importantly, you won’t see any new sales with a site like that.

Get Your Business Online Week

Still hesitant about finally making the leap and getting your business online? There are countless business owners who find themselves still on the fence about expanding your brand’s business on the internet. Some are worried about the resources available, the skills needed to make their business shine, or whether their business will actually benefit from going online, but all of those questions can be easily addressed. You just have to be ready to really invest in expanding your brand in a new way.

Today marks the start of Get Your Business Online Week, so there is no better time to make the leap to the internet. Every year Google partners with local businesses and partners to provide free virtual workshops for business owners and anyone else with an internet connection.

You will be able to speak with businesses that have already prospered online such as Barkbox, GoldieBlox, and Dollar Shave Club, and full tutorials and demos will be offered throughout the week to help you understand all the steps of building a website and establishing your brand.

Best of all, Google is doubling down on the direct link to speak to their experts with their Helpouts by Google.

If you still can’t decide whether now is the time for your business to take charge of their online presence, consider that Green Mountain Bee Farm in Fairfax, CT. experienced a five-fold increase in sales by simply expanding their business online. Meanwhile, Christine Fitzpatrick Hair and Makeup in Birmingham, Mich. managed to attract 50 percent more clients than they had before getting online.

Search engines have been attempting to get local search right since the invention of the internet, but they have only managed to make local search a major player as smartphones have allowed us to take the internet everywhere we go. Now that we can search for locations nearby, or double-check the time of the next bus from a bench outside, local SEO has gained real importance in how we organize use the web.

That also means it is more important than ever for businesses to make the leap into establishing an online presence. With the high level of connectivity in the modern day, not having an online presence for your business is becoming more and more like not existing. Searchers may be standing right in front of your business and decide not to come in simply because they can’t find anything about you online.

To really get your business cemented online, you need to do more than put a site online and wait for visitors. But, many places will barrage you with a million optimization techniques you can use to raise your visibility all at once, so it can be hard to know exactly where to start. Sarvesh Bagla made a checklist specifically so you know what you need to have done right now to expect your local business to have any online success.

Each step is laid out and explained in Bagla’s article on Tech Magnate, but they also created a nice graphic that you can keep close by, which can be seen below or printed off and hung by your computer to keep you on track.

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Many local businesses want a quick and easy way to boost their local rankings. The bad news is, there isn’t really a shortcut anyone can take to better local SEO. There isn’t any way to just make a one time change and suddenly be rocking the rankings.

The good news is, there is a simple method to improving rankings, it just requires consistent output of quality content or promotional activities. This usually equates to blogging, which takes consistent effort, but is highly rewarding.

Chris Silver Smith lists all of the reasons why starting to blog can seriously help local businesses at Search Engine Land.

 

In the past, most local businesses never thought they could compete with major companies.  The marketing budget needed to really make a similar impact was usually way out of their capabilities.  However, with Google’s latest updates, it’s looking like the smaller business has a much better chance of staying within the public’s eyes.

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