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Google-Maps-being-offline-doesnt-mean-being-lost-300x252Last night, Google Maps released massively revamped quality guidelines for local pages which could have a heavy impact on businesses who don’t ensure their pages conform. Jade Wang from Google shared the news in the Google Forums stating:

We’ve updated and clarified our quality guidelines for local pages. Please read the new version here, and, as always, feel free to contact our support team with any specific questions about your account.

You can see a screenshot of the old guidelines here courtesy of Barry Schwartz, but the most important revisions to the guidelines are highlighted below:

  • Descriptors of any sort are NOT allowed
  • Categories should be the more specific category and NOT the overarching, general category
  • Increased name and category consistency amongst multi location chains
  • Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name
  • If Different departments are to have their own page they must have unique categories
  • Practitioner’s pages, in multi-location practices should have their name only and not the name of the practice
  • Solo Practitioners only can use the format of Practice: Practitioner
  • Virtual Offices are NOT allowed unless staffed.

Many aren’t taking the update seriously as Google Maps local pages are far too often neglected, but the updated rules may be a sign that Google intends to clean up the mess in the near future. It is always better to be proactive than to find yourself smacked with a penalty.

It has been a few weeks since Google caught the search world by surprise with the release of its local search algorithm which has been nicknamed “Pigeon.” Out of all of Google’s search algorithms, Pigeon was likely the most well-received at its initial roll-out, but is that still the same now that some time has passed?

PigeonWhile we at TMO still feel that Pigeon has the potential to help local businesses and searchers improve their local results, it is always good to get the opinions from other experts in the search marketing community. Thankfully, Search Engine Land did just that. They compiled the opinions of several authority figures in search marketing, and needless to say the consensus is mixed.

Much of the criticism is related to buggy issues likely to be resolved in the near future, but there is also plenty worthy of discussing and lots of room for improvement. You can find out exactly what the experts had to say here.

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.

Local SEO Infographic Banner

It constantly surprises me how many local businesses don’t believe in investing in proper online marketing and optimization. Given, I see every day how establishing a quality online presence and optimizing it for higher visibility can benefit a business. Still, many local businesses hold the conception that online marketing is only important for national level businesses, and they couldn’t be more wrong.

Current estimates say that more than 2.6 billion local searches are conducted every month. More importantly, statistics show that these local searchers are becoming more and more mobilized to quickly go from search to purchase thanks to the use of smartphones to search on the go. Nearly 86 million people are regularly using their mobile phones to look up local business information, and these searchers are highly primed to convert. Simply put, without an online presence and the optimization to make your brand visible you are missing out on a large chunk of potential customers.

Hubshout recently created an infographic to illustrate how important local search engine optimization (SEO) really is for your business. Not only does the infographic show what you are missing out on by neglecting your online presence, it also shows how many many businesses have yet to establish themselves online in a meaningful way. There is still a lot of untapped opportunity online, you just have to make the leap.

Local SEO Infographic

Source: Hubshout

 

Top 20 Local Search Ranking Factors

Local ranking has grown into its own over the past couple years. A combination of increased visibility and more shoppers using their smartphones to find local business on the go has made local SEO a significant part of online marketing and it can almost be treated entirely seperate from traditional SEO practices. By that I mean that while traditional SEO will still help your local optimization efforts, local SEO has its own list of unique ranking factors that local marketers have to keep in mind.

Starting in 2008, David Mihm began identifying and exploring these unique local SEO ranking factors. After 5 years, Local Search Ranking Factors 2013 has found 83 foundational ranking factors. Each factor helps decide your placement in online search results and how well you manage all of these individual factors help how you end up ranking. They can be the difference between a boost in business and a heightened profile in your market or a wasted investment and floundering online presence.

While you can find the full list of ranking factors on the Moz page for Local Search Ranking Factors 2013, the Moz team also took the time to create an illustrated guide to the 20 most important ranking factors for local businesses. While none of the factors they illustrate will come as a surprise to an experienced local marketer, they will help new website owners get their business out of the middle and in the top of the local market.

HalloweenThere have never been more opportunities for local businesses online than now. Search engines cater more and more to local markets as shoppers make more searches from smartphones to inform their purchases. But, in the more competitive markets that also means local marketing has become quite complicated.

Your competitors may be using countless online tactics aiming too ensure their online success over yours, and to stand a chance that means you also have to employ a similarly vast set of strategies. When this heats us and online competition begins to grow convoluted, some things get overlooked. The more you have to juggle, the more likely you are to make a serious mistake.

In true Halloween fashion, Search Engine Watch put together the four most terrifying local search mistakes that can frighten off potential customers.

Ignoring the Data Aggregators

A common tactic is to optimize Google+ listings, as well as maybe Yelp, or a few other high-profile local directories. But, why stop there? Google crawls thousands and thousands of sites that contain citations every day, so optimizing only a few listings is missing out on serious opportunities.

The most efficient way to handle this and optimize the sites most visible to customers, businesses should focus on data sources that Google actually uses to understand local online markets. The best way to do this is to submit business data to the biggest data aggregators, such as Neustar Localeze, InfoUSA, Acxion, and Factual.

Not Having and Individual Page for Each Business Location

A few years ago Matt Cutts, one of Google’s most respected engineers, said, “if you want your store pages to be found, it’s best to have a unique, easily crawlable URL for each store.” These days organic ranking factors have become much more influential in Google’s method of ranking local businesses, so this advice has become more potent than ever before.

There are also numerous non-ranking based reasons you should have optimized location pages for each location. If you don’t have actual results on individual pages, Google isn’t indexing that content separately, and instead only sees the results offered in a business locator. Think of it like optimizing a product site without product pages. If the results don’t have separate pages, it loses context and usability.

Ignoring the Opportunity to Engage Your Customers

Whether you want to face it or not, word of mouth has managed to become more important than ever as consumers talk about businesses online on social media. Each opinion has an exponentially larger audience than ever in history, so a single bad review is seen by hundreds or thousands of potential customers. Thankfully, that one review doesn’t have to be your down bringing.

First, if bad reviews get seen by more people, the same can be said for good reviews. If a bad review is an outlier, it might not make such an impact on viewers. But, more importantly, every review mention or review or interaction with your business gives you the opportunity to engage them back. If you see a positive mention online, showing gratitude for the remark opens up an entirely new connection with your brand. Similarly, a bad review can be salvaged by simply asking how changes can be made to improve their experience in the future.

Not Using Localized Content

Pretty much every local online marketer has heard about the importance of using the relevant keywords in their content so their website ranks for those terms. But, they tend to only use this logic for the products or types of services they offer.

Local keywords including ZIP codes, neighborhoods, or popular attractions can do as much to help you stand out for important searches as product based keywords can. Simply including information about traffic or directions can help you start ranking for search terms your competitors are missing.

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.

Most of the changes we see to Google are relatively minor. The average user might notice that the layout is a little different, or the ads are in a new place, but in general most of the massive changes to Google occur under the hood, in their search ranking and spam fighting algorithms. But, as you’ve probably seen by now, Google Carousel is Google’s latest update, and it is a fairly substantial change to how Google users see results.

The carousel is a row of images across the top of some search engine result pages (SERPs) laid on top of a black background. At the moment, the carousel contains up to 20 results, and it appears mainly on SERPs for travel, hospitality, or restaurant related searches. However, the carousel has also sporadically been appearing on queries for sports, entertainment, and education, suggesting the future directions the carousel may be expanding in.

Instead of getting what was called the 6- or 10-pack, users get these images as well as review ratings, property name, and address. To compliment the new carousel you also see the usual sponsored links you often get for other searches. Interestingly, the variation of terms for which the carousel appears seems to be random. Jim Yu from Search Engine Watch notes that a search for “hotels near disneyland” gets the carousel, while “disneyland hotels” did not.

The first bit of good news for search marketing professionals is that all of the results included in the carousel are essentially all in the first spot. Of course the majority of viewers will likely view the results from left to right, but they are not visually ranked in the same manner they were before.

The other good news is that the Google Carousel opens up numerous opportunities for local businesses to strengthen their brand online. BrightEdge research reported that the carousel currently affects 14 percent of keywords across all industries, with travel and hospitality being the most affected.

Restaurants are also highly impacted by the new layout, while entertainment terms only get the carousel for five percent of searches. Clearly, those most affected are also those with the most to gain: local businesses.
There are a few things you can do to ensure you’re business gets into the carousel for relevant searches in your area, and to be sure to beat the other competition within the listings. Yu suggests:

  • Set up a Google Places for Business and Google+ page. You can visit this post to learn more about the most important aspects of both services, and understand how to merge the two types of pages for a single business.
  • Make sure images for your pages are high resolution, unique, and up to date. Keep them sorted in terms of priority, so that users will see the images you want them to first.
  • Encourage happy customers to review your business on Google. Not only will it help you gain conversions online, research has shown it plays a large role in getting your business in the carousel.

YouTube Graphic

With the popularity and direct user engagement of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many online marketers forget the potential for YouTube to improve your brand reputation and enforce your SEO efforts in a single move.

YouTube has a surprising amount of opportunity for optimization, especially for efforts focusing on local search. There is a relative lack of videos from small or local businesses aimed at informing the public and promoting themselves, leaving a wonderful widow for many local businesses to make an impact on their audience.

Of course, before you can optimize, you need to make sure you have a quality video that offers something of value to viewers beyond simply promoting yourself. Chris Silver Smith recently wrote about how local businesses can go about creating videos that will be worth their viewers time and make your audience interested in what you do.

There are plenty of options, but chances are you don’t want to just make an ad and throw it up online. A better approach would be a series of short videos exploring your industry, your brand, and what you offer to consumers. How-to videos can reinforce your reputation in regards to your skill, while explanations of your products and services can help viewers understand exactly what sets you apart from your competitors.

Smith also explored the ways you can optimize your videos to make sure they get seen, while also helping your local SEO efforts.

  1. Link to Your Business – At the beginning of your description, always make sure to include a link to your business website. These links are automatically “nofollowed”, so don’t expect it to help your link portfolio, but there is a chance local citation value is being conveyed to Google.
  2. Name, Address, Phone Number – Every video should include thorough contact information in multiple easy-to-find locations. Start by making it visible within the first few frames of your video. Google is able to interpret and “read” text within videos, so not only will your viewers be able to easily find you, Google will retain data contained within the video. Similarly, you may want to actually state your information out loud in the video, as spoken statements are converted into subtitle transcripts by Google’s systems.
  3. Take Advantage of the Descriptions – YouTube has one of the most generous description fields out there. While the initial paragraph users see should clearly state what the video is about, you can also include a statement about your company or a biography so that interested viewers can find it with a simple click.
  4. Tag Your Video – Along with including your business category name and your location names to the tags on videos, you should also include a handful of relevant tags for each video. Tags have a heavy impact on YouTube, so you’ll want to always make sure you include them, or your video will likely disappear into the ether.
  5. Associate the Video with Google Place Listings – Business listing in Google Places allow you to associate videos easily by putting in URLs. Make sure to use the full page URL.
  6. Associate the Video with Google+ Local Page – Adding the video to your local page allows you and any other employees to easily share the video on personal Google+ streams. The number of shares is considered indicative of popularity, so this is a good opportunity to boost your shares.

Keeping up with the local search ranking algorithm can often be at best confusing and at worst a complete mystery. It seems there are just as many, if not more factors involved, yet less coverage of exactly what search signals Google is using for local businesses. That can make it very difficult to know where to put your focus.

There are so many places you could put your energy too. Should you focus on the completeness of your Google Places profile? Or maybe citations and reviews are more important? Is your business hurt just because it isn’t near the center of the city? All of those are considered, and that is just skimming the surface.

While Google probably isn’t going to be delivering definitive answers about their search algorithms any time soon, David Mihm and Moz are working to find the answers with an annual survey focusing on local search ranking factors. They released their report of their findings for the year already, but Doublespark took their concise results and turned them into an infographic.

Local SEO Ranking Factors