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The importance of Google reviews has recently gotten a big boost, as it appears that the number of rankings your business has on Google My Business may play a big role in determining where you appear in the local search results. Thankfully, it appears you won’t have to rely solely on Google for your reviews in the future.

Google has begun integrating reviews from third party sources like Trip Advisor and Booking.com into their Knowledge Graph cards for Google My Business Listings. That means your reviews from these sites will be shown alongside your Google reviews, all in one convenient place for shoppers.

The reviews can also be filtered by source by clicking on the “All reviews” drop-down menu.

Currently, the sites being integrated are most beneficial for hotels and other similar travel-related businesses. It is unclear when or if more review services will be included in the future.

As Search Engine Land notes, this is not Google’s first foray into using third-party review sites directly within their search results. The search engine got into a lengthy legal battle against Yelp for scraping their reviews and displaying them in the search results without permission. The result was that Google agreed to only use third-party reviews in their search results with explicit permission from the publisher.

Based on this, it is all but certain Google is working closely with these outside sites to integrate their reviews.

The biggest question for now is whether these reviews will also be reflected in local optimization. If so, businesses that have been accumulating reviews on third-party sites may expect a big boost to their local rankings in the near future. Only time will tell.

As Google has continuously demoted their organic listings for search results, local SEO has risen in prominence. Instead of aiming for the top search spot, more and more businesses are prioritizing claiming the top place in Google’s local search results – which typically appear before any organic listings.

Of course, getting the top spot in the local results isn’t much easier than typical SEO work. However, it is a bit different. Google prioritizes different search signals to make sure they are delivering the most valuable businesses for your searches.

To figure out exactly what search signals matter to Google the most when sorting local results, LocalSEO Guide recently completed an in-depth review of over 200 ranking factors and 100,000 local businesses across 150 cities.

What they found shows that while organic ranking factors like links, keywords, and anchor text are important, rankings reign supreme in local search.

Specifically, “having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of the city you are working to rank in, in reviews, has a high correlation with high ranking in Google My Business results.”

The findings also indicate that engagement, such as adding photos and hours to your listing, serves as a significant ranking factor. Additionally, “responding to reviews and claiming your profiles are ways to engage with your potential customers and Google’s platform to show then you are invested.”

Elsewhere, the report suggests that traditional SEO factors such as links and on-site optimization still play a significant role in rankings. However, some off-page signals like citations and reviews on third-party sites, are declining in relevance compared to past research.

The full report details more findings and statistics to indicate exactly how those who are crushing local search are doing it. However, it is important to note that these types of studies are based entirely on correlation. We can’t say for sure exactly how Google’s systems rank local results – partially because they won’t tell and partially because they are always changing.

Your Google My Business listing is one of the best ways to make sure potential customers in your area find your business. The listings provide the information about where your business is, your hours, and what types of products or services you offer, and the listings often appear above any other regular search results.

Now, Google is making it easier than ever to maintain and edit your GMB listings by letting you manage them straight from the search results pages.

When you search for your business while logged into the Google account associated with your GMB listing, you will now be shown a new dashboard where you can edit your business information, add new stylish photos, share posts about your business, and even see how many views your listing is receiving.

If you are like the many businesses who have incomplete listings or haven’t updated your business info in years, now is the time to take action. Google highlights a number of reasons that having a thorough and informational listing is important for local businesses in their announcement, including:

  • More than 80% of online searchers use the web to find local information.
  • Businesses with complete listings on Google are twice as likely to gain customer trust, and
    • 38% more likely to attract in-store visits
    • 29% more likely to see a purchase

With Halloween in the rear-view mirror we have officially entered the holiday season, and Google is rolling out new features to help businesses prepare. Google My Business announced it is launching a new feature that allows businesses to set their holiday hours in advance, so shoppers will always know when you are open.

In the past, businesses had to manually update their hours manually if they changed their hours for the holiday season, and when the season is over you had to go back in and change the hours back.

Now, if you know ahead of time when you will start running your holiday hours, you can schedule your Google My Business page to automatically update your opening hours when the time comes. Google will also tell shoppers if what they are seeing are special holiday hours.

If your closing hours are flexible, there is also a new option to have a message displayed saying “hours may differ.”

The feature will stick around, so if you have regular special hours for other events or holidays you can also set those up ahead of time.

How to Schedule Special Hours on Google My Business

  • Log in to your Google My Business account and select the location the hours will apply to.
  • On the “Location details” page, scroll down until you see the “Special hours section” and click the link.
  • Select the date when the hours will begin and enter the opening and closing times for that day.
  • Click the box next to “Closed” if your business will be closed on a specific day. You can also set your hours to 12:00am-12:00pm if you are open 24 hours.
  • Click “Add another” to add more special hours for the location.

For more information on the features or setting up your special holiday hours ahead of time, check out Google’s help center article.

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.