Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
Please pop over to Moz.com to read my article, published today: Top 20 Local Search Ranking Factors – An Illustrated Guide.
I am so gratified by some of the comments I’m already receiving which state that this post will help marketers better explain to their local business clients what they need to do to compete for a place in Google’s local pack results!
My post takes the top twenty factors identified in Local Search Ranking Factors 2013 and provides an illustrated explanation of each key concept. If you are a new local business owner or just diving into the art of Local SEO, this piece will set your feet on firm ground. Getting this stuff right can mean the difference between success and failure for your local business on the web.
I’ve had the pleasure of participating in the LSRF survey since it was first instituted by David Mihm in 2008. We’re six years deep into this peerless annual publication now, and for many industry players, our history working in Local goes back even further than this. But there are always newcomers to the game. There’s a first time each of us learned what NAP is, what a citation is, why reviews matter. My hope is that my post at Moz will help teach these basic and utterly vital concepts to recent arrivals on the doorstep of Local.
By my calculation, 2013 marks my 8th anniversary as a student and teacher of Local SEO and I still get a genuine charge out of introducing new clients to the good practices that can be put to work for their businesses with the goal of building a solid foundation on the web and earning new visibility with each new step taken. I’d be delighted if you’d check out my post and hope you find some inspiration there!
To me, this is the gem of genius behind the recently-launched new review and rep management tool, GetFiveStars.com.
Imagine if you had a way to get feedback from your customers before they took steps to leave you a review on a third party platform like Google+ Local or Yelp.
Imagine if this customer feedback enabled you to:
If a tool could accomplish all of the above, your local business would be cooking with gas! You would have found a way to communicate with your customers that would minimize the potential for negative reviews while encouraging positive ones from customers who provide excellent initial feedback based on a 10 point rating system. User generated content in the form of testimonials would be automatically uploaded to a designated page on your website via a seamless process, increasing the valuable text content of your website and, possibly, earning you stars in the search engine results. And, you would be able to identify problematic patterns within your business, such as slow service, pricing complaints and other customer satisfaction issues that you could take steps to correct internally, thanks to the feedback you’ve received.
GetFiveStars.com will do all of this and more for your business and, without hesitation, I can say that it’s the most exciting new local business tool I’ve seen rolled out in 2013.
GetFiveStars.com was created by Don Campbell and Mike Blumenthal, two gentlemen who have put in years of hard labor in the trenches of Local SEO and who are widely respected for their expertise. Mike kindly gave me a tour of GetFiveStars.com last week and I’ve been playing with the tool since. The impression it has made on me is that the actual tasks performed by this product are things that local business owners and Local SEO agencies truly need.
Phil Rozek has written a very detailed post on some of the more technical aspects of the tool. What I want to share is that this is a tool created for local business owners and Local SEO agencies by two people who truly know Local. Local business owners need it to be easier to engage with their customers on the web. Local SEO agencies need resources for introducing review acquisition and reputation management to their clients in a way that won’t overwhelm them or scare them off. GetFiveStars accomplishes both goals, in my opinion, and I want to congratulate Campbell and Blumenthal for perceiving these real needs and creating an easy-to-use tool that resolves them.
Agencies will be interested to learn that GetFiveStars can even be white labeled for your company’s use. And I want to be sure to mention that all efforts have been made by the creators to minimize review loss by pushing reviews out to the web at a very modest pace. There are also ways to configure the review request page so as not to offend the Yelp gods with anything that smacks of solicitation.
According to Blumenthal and Campbell, this tool was years in the making, and honestly, I think the developers have thought of everything a user could need to get fast feedback by asking for customers to use the tool at or near the time of service, to identify positive sentiment, rectify negative sentiment and slowly earn great reviews over time.
If I could give GetFiveStars five of my own stars, I would!
I don’t have any technical advice to share today. Instead, I want to share some stories. I’ve been thinking about how often we emphasize good customer service in the Local SEO world. We tell business owners that the possession or lack of caring customer service can make or break their reputations on the web, typically in the form of user reviews. I would like to share two anecdotes – one negative and one positive – about how my impression was formed of a company’s core values as a result of my interaction with their staff.
The Negative Experience
My husband and I are renters. We live in a small, timeworn house in the country with a big garden. We’re surrounded by beautiful old trees, including fruit trees that must have been planted before we were born. There are large, ranging hedges all over the multi-tenant property, filled with birds, and empty fields of grass that have mellowed to their summer gold just now. This is a rustic area where people ride horses down the road and wandering cows stop traffic. These peaceful qualities drew us to these quiet environs when we rented the house many years ago.
Then, a year or two back, the elderly owner gave over management of the property to a professional local property management company. Overnight, we and other tenants on the land felt the change. Suddenly our sagging row of mailboxes was filled with officious memos from the property management company about dumpster use, high weed mowing, on-site inspections.
Of course, this is the company’s job. They are supposed to manage the property, but the woman put in charge of tenant relations has managed to offend and aggravate many of my neighbors with her style of communication. In my own case, she became obsessed with a vine growing on our house that was growing here before we ever moved in. In attempting to resolve her concerns about the vine, I was the recipient of numerous ill-mannered, petulant and accusatory emails, phone calls and visits from this woefully unprofessional person.
We were willing to comply with her requests, but the disrespectful tone with which she communicated her goals made the transaction extremely unpleasant. I’m still considering whether I should bother to communicate my concerns about this woman’s lack of professionalism to her superiors. One of my neighbors made the effort to write a formal complaint about her own transactions with the property manager, but I’m not sure it would be worth my time to do the same. I am not at all convinced that anyone – the owner or the firm – would actually care about my experience, because my impression of the whole company has been set by my interactions with this person, and that impression is decidedly negative.
Should I ever be in a position to be a property owner who needs a property manager, I would absolutely not engage this company. I haven’t decided what to do about this. My options range from writing a negative review, to writing letters, to letting it go. Right now, I’m just mulling over the very bad taste in my mouth and thinking about what a lack of genuine caring feels like in a business transaction. This woman has signaled to me that:
- She doesn’t like tenants
- She doesn’t trust tenants
- She doesn’t like her work
- She doesn’t care if we have good feelings about the company she represents
The Positive Experience
Fortunately, I can compare and contrast my negative experience with a very positive one. I regularly visit a local farm to do my produce shopping. Over the years, we’ve come to know the farmers and staff there and one of the things that makes the experience of shopping with these people so positive is the way they show how much they appreciate our business. How do they do this?
- They smile and call out a greeting when we arrive.
- They chat about the weather with us (an old country custom).
- They put little extras in our bags, even just a couple of plums or a bouquet of herbs, or they give us a discount on a purchase from time to time, saying, “It’s you guys!”.
- The show us they trust us. Several times, their payment system has been broken and they’ve told us to pay them next time. We’ve even had to insist on writing them an IOU. They were perfectly willing to just let us pay some other time, believing that we would.
- The way they treat all of their customers shows that the staff really likes the work they do. A happy atmosphere pervades this humble, bountiful farm stand.
I don’t think the big difference between the two experiences has anything to do with free stuff or discounts. I think it has to do with the fact that we feel so human when we interact with the farmers. They care about their work and they care about their customers. They really get it that their business depends on a good product and good service and they have earned our loyalty. By contrast, the property management woman shows how little she cares about acting human with the people in her professional life – either she’s on some kind of an ego trip or simply has no social skills – with the result that she has created a cold and nasty atmosphere on a previously peaceful property.
So my thought for you, the local business owner, is that the warmth you genuinely feel for your work really shows. If you don’t feel genuine care, neither will your staff and neither will the customers who make your business possible. Can people be human in and around your business, or is there a sense of pressure to carry out business with impersonal efficiency that is actually harming your ability to build something good in the world?
For some years now, it has been my honor and pleasure to work as an Associate with the inbound marketing software company, Moz, where the tone of business is set by core values summed up in the acronym TAGFEE. The letters stand for transparent, authentic, generous, fun, exceptional and empathetic. I can absolutely attest to the fact that everyone involved with Moz works to live up to these ideals, and the environment they foster is the same as the one I encounter at the farm stand. I have to wonder what would happen to the property management company if they were ever introduced to TAGFEE. I have to wonder what would happen at any business where I’ve experienced bad customer service if they took a heartfelt look at TAGFEE.
My guess is that there would be a lot less negative reviews cluttering up the Internet and a rewarding move towards more human-to-human relations in the business world. I’d like that.
I’ve had occasion recently to be researching the hotel industry as it relates to Local Search Marketing, and something has come to my attention that I thought it would be worthwhile to jot down.
First, all readers must understand that the consistency with which a local business publishes its NAP (name, address, phone number) on the web is widely considered to be critical to rankings. In fact, David Mihm’s recently published Local Search Ranking Factors 2013 cites consistency of structured citations as the 3rd most important factor out of 83 – meaning that it’s extremely important to ensure that you are publishing consistent NAP data everywhere your business is listed on the web.
Now let’s look at hotels – giants in the local search market. When you think of hotel listings, the first directory that’s likely to spring to mind is TripAdvisor.com. TripAdvisor is to lodgings what Yelp is to restaurants, right? So, imagine my surprise, during an investigation of hotel listings in various regions of the U.S., at discovering how many hotels are listing a toll free phone number as their one and only number on their TripAdvisor listings.
I’ll zoom in on The Talbott Hotel in Chicago, IL (though I could have chosen any one of dozens of other hotels in other geographic markets). Here is the NAP on The Talbott Hotel’s TripAdvisor Page:
I haven’t had a recent hotel client and don’t know if the TripAdvisor dashboard currently gives you fields for both a local and a toll free phone number, but in all of the results I looked at, only one phone number was listed on each of the hotel listings in their index. As shown in the above screenshot, The Talbott Hotel is listing a toll free number only.
Why might this be problematic? Because it is generally believed that Big Daddy Google prefers that local area code phone numbers be used as the primary number for all local businesses.
So let’s take a look at Google now. Doing a branded search in the main engine for ‘The Talbott Chicago Il’, we see the following in the main results:
Now we see another single phone number. This time it’s a local one. Google’s various dashboards do allow for a business to list a primary local phone number and a secondary toll free number, but The Talbott apparently hasn’t done so. So, here we have the makings of a NAP consistency issue. TripAdvisor says the number starts 800 and Google says it starts 312.
Personal Trainer Google now puts me through a workout getting into the Google+ Local page for this hotel to double check the published NAP. From my branded search, I can click on the right column map and then click on the review link to get to the + Local page (thanks a whole lot, Google). Here’s what I see, while mopping the perspiration from my frowning brow:
Sure enough, in the mast and elsewhere on the page, only this single local number is published, with no mention of the 800 number listed on TripAdvisor.
Naturally, our next step is to visit the business’ website, to see if things become clearer. It gets a little worse here, actually (sorry Hotel Talbott):
The crucial footer area of the site has been optimized not with both the local and toll free numbers (to make things clear to Google’s bots and to human visitors), but displays a sole toll free VANITY phone number. Business owners may think that vanity phone numbers make it easier for their customers to remember and reach them, but Local SEOs get that far-away, pained look on their faces when the subject arises. Upshot: if you feel you must use a vanity number, use it on a radio or TV ad and put it in your website masthead in image text – not in real, crawlable text in that all-important website footer. And that brings us to our final screenshot:
The webmasters/marketers for this hotel have attempted to get it right by listing both a local and toll free number on the very vital Contact Us page, but there again, we have the vanity 800 number, so the day (and the data) are still cloudy for Google’s bots.
In the end, what we have here is incomplete and confusing phone signals published in various places on the web, making it hard for Google to hang onto a data cluster that makes good, easy sense to them.
If this were an isolated case, I wouldn’t have bothered to blog about it. But do you know how many of the top hotels in Chicago are following this same pattern of listing a single toll free number, instead of a local one, as their primary number on TripAdvisor?
That’s right. Nearly half of the hotels in this major city have citation consistency issues similar to what I’ve highlighted here, and the same thing is going on in city after city I’ve looked at. It’s a big, big problem.
Why This Problem Was Bound To Arise
Hotels are unique. They are not like the local pizza place or plumbing company in that the majority of people phoning them will be locally located. Hotels serve travelers, meaning that guests are phoning them from all over the planet to make reservations, and it’s only common courtesy to help these people avoid hefty charges for a long distance call. Toll free numbers represent courtesy in the hospitality industry. I understand this, and so should Google, but the fact remains that TripAdvisor is likely one of the key sources to which Google refers to understand hospitality industry data. Inconsistency in TripAdvisor data may create problems with Google.
What can be done about this?
1) Be sure you are listing both your local and toll free numbers in both the footer and contact page of your website.
2) Be sure you are listing both numbers on your Google+ Local page, too, with the local number set as primary and the toll free number set as secondary.
3) Encourage TripAdvisor to allow for the display of both numbers in their main display of core business NAP at the top of their listings. It will be a convenience for everybody, including guests, some of whom may be local people calling to make reservations for visiting relatives.
4) If TripAdvisor (or any other local directory) continues to only display a single number for each business, then you have to make a judgement call. If you feel having the toll free number listed as your primary number on your listing will generate enough calls to outweigh concerns about NAP consistency issues, then you may decide to continue to list it in this way. I can totally understand a decision like this and would be interested in feedback from hotel industry marketers and business owners regarding how they are reaching this decision.
5) Be sure you are listing both phone numbers on every other directory that allows you to do so, with the primary number being local and the secondary one being toll free.
6) If you are using a vanity number, don’t put it in crawlable text on your website. Put it in image text. I’ve never seen any mention of Google being able to translate the letters in a vanity number into numerical digits. Ditto with any form of call tracking number.
Now it’s your turn! What do you think of this advice? Am I suggesting that hotel owners bend too far over backwards to please Google and their handling of the data cluster? Do you have additional tips? Please add them! And, given the recent findings of Local Search Ranking Factors 2013, do you feel that the issue I’ve identified is super serious, sort of serious, or not really a big deal? Do you feel that consistent data in other places can overcome a single toll free number being listed as primary on a TripAdvisor page, or are rankings at stake if this choice is made? I would love to hear your thoughts and discuss this with you!
I may be getting into a groove here. Wouldn’t you like to know how much Google-based reviews are actually influencing local business rankings? I certainly would, and I’m exploring this the only way I know how: step by step, looking at rankings and poking into the listings to see what I find there. I don’t have an army of team members or robots to fetch data for me, so my studies must perforce be quite limited and small and should be viewed in that light.
My first piece, How Google’s Carousel Convinced Me That Review Counts Count For Nearly Nada, explored the idea that I could find no correlation between the sheer number of reviews a business had earned and its left-to-right ranking in the new carousel. If you read that post, you’ll likely share my puzzlement at seeing businesses with few or zero reviews outranking competitors with over one hundred of them. My conclusion, at that point, was that I needed to drill deeper into other factors – such as the velocity and recency of reviews. That’s will be the focus of this article.
In my earlier piece, I investigated restaurant rankings in a large city, a mid-sized town and a minute hamlet in California. Today, I’m going to revisit the mid-sized town and am choosing the query restaurants san rafael. San Rafael has a population of some 58,000 souls and is located in one of the wealthiest areas of Northern California. It has a very busy restaurant scene and residents are likely to be tech savvy. In other words, this is the kind of town in which you would expect a lot of people to be actively engaged in writing reviews.
Take A Seat At This Table
The following table presents the top 10 restaurants in San Rafael, according to Google’s carousel. Accompanying each business name, you will see a total review count, followed by a count of the reviews earned in each of the first six months of 2013, and finally, a total of the number of reviews the business has earned in the past 6 months. The premise here is that Google is ‘supposed to be’ interested in web-based freshness and activity, and so, one might theorize that a business with the largest volume of most recent reviews would have an advantage over less up-to-the-minute review profiles. Right?
Lotus Cuisine of India
(Total Review Count: 221)
Taqueria San Jose
(Total Review Count: 19)
Bay Thai Cuisine
(Total Review Count: 6)
(Total Review Count: 266)
(Total Review Count: 103)
My Thai Restaurant
(Total Review Count: 15)
San Rafael Joe’s
(Total Review Count: 10)
Las Camelias Cocina Mexicana
(Total Review Count: 140)
Ristorante La Toscana
(Total Review Count: 11)
Sushi To Dai For
(Total Review Count: 26)
What I See
At first, looking at the business with that first spot in the carousel, Lotus Cuisine of India, I thought, “By Jove, I think I’ve got it!”. This restaurant has not only earned more reviews over the past 6 months than any of its competitors, but has also earned more reviews in the past month than any other.
Then my shoulders slumped. If I thought this pattern was one that would continue throughout this tiny set of results, I was quickly disabused of my fantasy. As you can see, Taqueria San Jose, sitting at #2, has only had a single review in the last 6 months and that was way back in February. It is outranking competitors with both more total reviews and more recent reviews.
Examine the table for yourself and, if you can see any rhyme or reason in how two businesses with a single review to their name are outranking one with 5 reviews and another with 4, then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
What Else I See
I was shocked by how few people have used Google to leave a review in the past 6 months for restaurants in this lively, well-to-do urban community. When I actually started digging into the profiles, something quite interesting became evident. For those profiles with 100-200+ reviews, nearly all of them were left more than a year ago.
I have two tentative theories about this:
1) Google’s decision to force users to sign up for a Google+ profile in order to be able to leave a review made a ton of very active reviewers jump ship. Most reviews I saw date to before Google’s decision to do this. Interesting, hmm?
2) Yelp is winning the review battle in Northern California. Let’s look at that top ranked business, Lotus Cuisine of India. It has a near-identical total historic review count on both Yelp (224 reviews) and on Google (221 reviews). But, in the past 6 months, only 6 people have made the effort to review this restaurant on Google, whereas 21 people have reviewed it on Yelp.
Things get really interesting when we look at another business, sitting in position number 5 in Google’s carousel: Sol Food. Sol Food has only received a pitiful 4 reviews on Google in the past half year. I’ve visited San Rafael and there is a literally a line coming out the door of this Puerto Rican phenom of an eatery – it’s that popular. And how many reviews does Sol Food have on Yelp in the past 6 months? 160! Count’em!
So, let’s say we’re seeing hints of a pattern that, at least in San Rafael, people may not be bothering to review businesses on Google, but they are definitely very actively reviewing them on Yelp. *Note, San Rafael is just a stone’s throw away from Yelp headquarters in San Francisco, so results like these may be skewed by the local popularity of this review portal, but in a piece I wrote a few months ago, I noted that I see Yelp results coming up for nearly every local keyword phrase I investigate, everywhere in the US. I’ve been engaged this year in some large studies and see Yelp results and Yelp reviews from sea to shining sea.
So Where Are We At With All This?
My study is so minute. Investigation of a single keyword search reveals only a particle of the big picture, but from this little test, I think I have learned that:
1. I have been unable to explain rank by correlation of sheer review count or recency.
2. Businesses with little or no overall or recent reviews can outrank more actively reviewed businesses.
3. The overwhelming majority of the Google-based reviews I saw were from 1+ years ago. There are tumbleweeds blowing in Google review land.
4. The volume and recency of Google-based reviews are not a good indicator of the actual popularity of a business. Yelp appears to provide a more real-time depiction of restaurant patron experience, at least in Northern California.
5. Despite spending an hour or two digging through reviews again today, I don’t think I’m really any closer to knowing how reviews DO affect rank.
But, I do think I’m getting a sense of how they DON’T.
What do you think? Are there hidden gems in my data table that I’ve overlooked? Does Google look like a ghost town in your town when you search for reviews of popular businesses over the past 6 months? Do you currently employ 10 guys who don’t have enough to do and would like to take my seed of a study and let it bloom across multiple searches to get big data? I welcome your thoughts, your rebuttals and your ideas!