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Local business owners have more incentive than ever to make sure their Google listings are correct. As first reported by Android Police, Google Maps has recently added a feature that tells users to turn around and go home if they are using Google Maps to navigate to a specific place if that location will be closed by the time they are expected to arrive.

The warning reads simply, “your destination may be closed by the time you arrive.”

If you keep up with making sure your local listings are always up-to-date and accurate, this shouldn’t be much of a worry to you, however if your business has incorrect hours listed the new feature could wreak havoc on your store traffic.

With the new feature, having the wrong time listed is almost like forgetting to turn the sign from closed to open at the start of the day.

Here is an example of the new warning:

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The release of Google My Business was intended to make it easier for businesses to maintain a consistent appearance across all of Google’s services, but one feature was seriously lacking. While Google My Business allowed businesses to upload an image to their profile, the companies still had difficulty controlling which images would be used in various listings.

That is a serious problem when you are trying to establish a consistent brand presence online.

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Today, Google announced a major update to Google my Business that finally gives companies some agency in their appearance across Google’s platform. As the announcement explains:

Starting today, you can tell us which image you’d like to appear when customers search for your business on Google. Just log in to Google My Business on the web or in the Android or iOS apps, and visit the Photos section. While you’re there, you can also give your business a fresh look online by updating your profile, logo and cover photos.

Google My Business Photos

The upgrade unifies Google’s three interfaces for images into one simple interface. There is no longer any guesswork in making sure your brand is always presented how you want it on the search engine.

Google Help Files explains the best practices for uploading photos for your business:

Your photos will look best on Google if they meet the following standards:

  • Format: JPG, PNG, TIFF, BMP
  • Size: Between 10KB and 5MB
  • Minimum resolution: 250px on the longest side for profile & logo photos; 720px on the longest side for other business photos
  • Aspect ratio: The longer dimension of the photo should be no more than four times the shorter dimension. Landscape photos look better than portrait photos on Google products. Panoramic photos may use different aspect ratios.
  • Quality: The photo should be in focus, well-lit, have no photoshop alterations, and no excessive use of filters. The image should represent reality.

local-businessBusiness owners have more reason than ever to claim their Google+ business pages, because Google has finally decided to connect business pages with local listings on Google Maps.

The change allows business owners to have a more coherent presence across the web as well as improve the ability of searchers to find them. The process connects your current page to Google Maps and applies the business information, including the business address, the Google Maps reviews, business hours and more from to your page.

A large number of businesses have more than one Google+ page listed in their Google+ manager page, so this will also help clean up the clutter by combining at least two of these pages.

Google explains in detail how to connect your Google+ business page to your Google Maps verified listing on the help page, as well as instructions for creating a local page if you have yet to add your business to Google.

Pages that are newly connected to maps will display the name and verification badge from the former local page, as well as showing the business information such as hours of operation and phone numbers. The pages will also show reviews from the former local page, but will not show prior owner responses to local reviews.

local-businessToday’s local business owners are expected to know more than how to run a business. Without quality marketing, even a great business can get lost in the noise of their louder and more visible competition. Local business owners now have to understand the very basics of marketing, at the absolute least, or they have to find someone that does. However, marketing is anything but stable and new trends are constantly rising and receding, especially when it comes to online marketing.

This could be why so many local business owners refuse to finally claim their spot online, but studies have made it increasingly obvious that abstaining from online marketing hurts businesses in an increasingly connected world. Without SEO, PPC, social media, mobile optimization, and customer relationship platforms, there is little way for your business to make itself known, even with word of mouth to support it.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly true that users who can’t find your business online are more likely to move on than they are to continue their search in more traditional offline locations. If you’re a local business owner trying to nail down your portion of the market, you will need to be equipped with the basics for online marketing, but you’ll also have to keep up with the marketing trends that will decide your effectiveness.

Court Cunningham covered the three most important trends in local online marketing of the year. It is telling that Cunningham published her article in February, and each of the trends has only grown since then. More importantly, it seems none of the trends show any sign of slowing down. Cunningham’s advice can help you get ahead of your competition, and turn your modest online marketing strategies into powerhouse tools for success.

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:

Google’s Carousel may seem new to most searchers, but it has actually been rolling out since June. That means enough time has past for marketing and search analysts to really start digging in to see what makes the carousel tick.

If you’ve yet to encounter it, the carousel is a black bar filled with listings that runs along the top of the screen for specific searches, especially those that are location based or for local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. The carousel includes images, the businesses’ addresses, and aggregated review ratings all readily available at the top, in an order that seems less hierarchical than the “10 pack” listings previously used for local searches.

Up until now, we’ve only had been able to guess how these listings were decided based on surface level observations. But, this week Digital Marketing Works (DMW) published a study which finally gives us a peak under the hood and shows how businesses may be able to take some control of their place in the carousel. Amanda DiSilvestro explains the process used for the study:

  • They examined more than 4,500 search results in the category of hotels in 47 US cities and made sure that each SERP featured a carousel result.
  • For each of the top 10 hotels found on each search, they collected the name, rating, quantity of reviews, travel time from the hotel to the searched city, and the rank displayed in the carousel.
  • They used (equally) hotel search terms—hotels in [city]; best hotels in [city]; downtown [city] hotels; cheap hotels in [city].
  • This earned them nearly 42,000 data points on approximately 19,000 unique hotels.
  • They looked at the correlation between a hotel’s rank in a search result based on all of the factors discussed in step 1 to determine which were the most influential.

Their report goes into detail on many of the smaller factors that play a role, but DMW’s biggest findings were on the four big factors which determine which businesses are shown in the carousel and where they are placed.

1. Google Reviews – The factor which correlated the most with the best placement in the carousel were by far Google review ratings. Both quantity and quality of reviews clearly play a big role in Google’s placement of local businesses and marketers should be sure to pay attention to reviews moving forward. However, it is unclear how Google is handling paid or fake reviews, so many might be inspired to try to rig their reviews. For long-term success, I would suggest otherwise.

2. Location, Location, Location – Seeing as how the Google Carousel seems built around local businesses, it shouldn’t be a surprise that location does matter quite a bit. Of the 1,900 hotels in the study, 50 percent were within 2 miles of the search destination, while 75 percent were within 13 minutes of travel. Businesses would benefit from urging customers to search for specific landmarks or areas of cities, as you never know exactly where Google will establish the city “center”.

3. Search Relevancy and Wording – According to the findings, Google seems to change the weight of different ranking factors depending upon the actual search. For example, searching “downtown [city] hotels” will result in listings with an emphasis on location, while “best hotels in [city]” gives results most dependent on review rankings.

4. Primary Markets and Secondary Markets – It seems both small and larger businesses are on a relatively flat playing field when it comes to the carousel. Many small hotels are able to make it into the listings, right next to huge chains. The bigger businesses may have more capabilities to solicit reviews, but no hotel is too small to be considered for the carousel.

Years ago, all a local business had to do was build a lot of links and their business would show up on the first results page. SERPs have gotten much more competitive in that time, and Google has introduced a strict local algorithm, so now local SEO has become a unique sector that is often more difficult to implement than almost any other online marketing strategy.

You can always hire a company to take care of all of your SEO needs, but if you have a tight budget and are willing to get your hands dirty, there are steps you can take to try to get onto the coveted first page of local results, called the 7 Pack. You’ll recognize the 7 Pack as the listing of businesses directly under the map of the area. Search Engine Journal set out a five step plan to improve your local business rankings.

The first step is checking to see if your target keywords actually trigger the local algorithm. Usually simply including key phrase combinations such as the city and most important keyword should connect with the local search results, but sometimes this doesn’t work. If that is the case, then it would seem your SEO strategy should be less localized as Google doesn’t register your service as part of its local algorithm.

One of this biggest tricks for local businesses is knowing where to establish your company online. Google’s algorithm always gives preference to businesses located within the city limits searched for, often called the “centroid” bias. This means Google will rank businesses located closer to the heart of the city higher than those on the outskirts if all other factors are equal.

For businesses located in suburbs or just outside of city limits this is poses a big question. Most want to capitalize on the bigger market from the closest city than the small market in their local town, but trying to rank in a metropolitan area when you aren’t physically established within that boundary is a incredibly difficult task. You have to decide if you want to fight to get into the rankings for the city, and possibly only achieving the second or third page on the local listings, or you can aim to corner the market in your town and rank first every time for a smaller audience.

Deciding that move usually requires determining how competitive your niche is, and even businesses already well situated in a metropolitan market will be rewarded for investigating. The quickest way to find out how competitive your market is starts ith taking the #1 ranking in the 7 Pack and copying all of their information exactly as it is displayed in the search bar with quotation marks. This gives you an approximate estimate as to how many directories and citations you will need to outrank the top listing in the 7 Pack. You can do the same for the lowest ranking. Your results obviously have to outdo the lowest ranked business in the 7 Pack to overtake it, so exploring will give you an idea just how tall the SEO mountain you have to climb is.

Once you’ve done your research you can actually begin working on your local SEO, but the process will be much easier thanks to informed decisions only possible through understanding your local online market. Search Engine Journals last two steps can get you going on improving your local site’s ranking but nothing happens overnight. Local SEO is competitive and time consuming, but without it you are falling behind the times.

Source: Phil Campbell

Source: Phil Campbell

There is no longer a question in analysts mind as to whether the huge growth in tablet and smartphone usage is changing how consumers behave. Mobile users are impossible to deny, and easy to actually observe. All you have to do is look outside to see the number of people with a smartphone attached to their hand as if they are glued together.

What is in question is just how consumers are using these new devices. Mobile devices change how we find businesses and services, especially locally, but they also affect how we interact socially, how we engage media, and how we organize our lives.

To try to understand how we are using mobile devices, and how they are changing the way we live, BrightLocal conducted a consumer panel survey. They investigated how consumers find local businesses, and what content is the most important to users while they are on the go. Myles Anderson broke down the result on Search Engine Land, but the most notable finding is that while mobile and tablet use is bursting through the roof, less than a third of users are regularly finding local businesses with mobile devices.

Forty percent of consumers claim the have never used their smartphone or tablet to look up local businesses. This should come as a shocker to any SEO analyst who has been keeping up with trends lately. There is a lot of discussion about mobile SEO out there, and plenty of people focus on the local capabilities of smartphones and tablet to find businesses while consumers are already out. They say “shoppers want to be able to find the store they want and buy now” or something like that.

Now, a fair percentage of mobile users are doing just that. Almost twenty percent of users have looked up local businesses at least once a week, and twenty-nine percent do so at least once a month, but the amount of users who have never looked up a local business should still be a very interesting statistic for SEOs.

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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