Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
Working with a will to earn great reviews for your local business?
Believe your company’s high customer satisfaction standards and pro-active review earning policies will be rewarded by Google?
You may be right…but then again, you may not be. Let’s take a look at this.
Whether or not you are fan of Google’s new carousel view for businesses like hotels and restaurants, one thing it has made quite easy for everyone is an at-a-glance assessment of review counts amongst competitors. Since the launch of the carousel, I have read some comments to the effect that this new display is the great leveler – in other words, that there are no longer rankings for these types of businesses.
I can see some sense in that opinion, with every business being displayed on a single horizontal plane. However, I would suggest that in a culture like mine that reads from left to right, what comes furthest to the left automatically seems to indicate priority. That’s where paragraphs start when you read, where newsmen pack their grabbiest words in a headline and where SEOs put their most important elements in a title tag. My brain has been trained to think that most left is most important. This is why you read the words ‘I can see’ at the beginning of this paragraph first instead of starting somewhere in the middle.
Because of this, as a Google user, some part of me assumes that the businesses ordered closest to the left of my screen have somehow been judged by Google to be of more relevance than those further to the right…certainly of more importance than those I have to start scrolling horizontally right in the display bar to view.
And this brings me back to the topic of my piece – the disconnect between left-to-right rankings and review counts. Now, nobody but a few wizards at Google knows the exact amount of influence review count has on overall local business rankings, but from the effort local business owners and Local SEOs have put into the earning of reviews over the past half decade, it’s obvious that most of us think reviews are pretty important.
Imagine my surprise in noting how little review counts seem to matter in regards to where a business is situated in the carousel
I did a bunch of informal searches for ‘restaurants’ in both small and large cities and will share just a few of the results. These results reflect what I saw across the board. I will call the restaurants 1, 2, 3 etc., for the sake of explanation, with 1 being the restaurant appearing most to the left in the carousel display. I will show the first 10 results for each search and will focus on a large city, a medium-sized town and a tiny village in California, none of which are where I am physically located.
Search Term: Restaurants San Francisco
Note that: Restaurant #3, with 1,795 reviews is being surpassed by one restaurant with only 54 reviews and another with 761. Also, that restaurant #6 has nearly twice as many reviews as anyone else, but is only 6th in line.
Search Term: Restaurants San Rafael
Note that: Why is restaurant #3 with only 6 reviews standing in line in front of competitors with 266, 103 and 140 reviews?
Search Term: Restaurants Boonville
Note that: In this tiny village, it certainly looks to me like restaurant #3, with 107 reviews, is the place people go, but it is somehow being cut ahead of in line by an eatery with ZERO reviews and another with only 4. Restaurants 8 and 9 are also way down the line behind several review-less establishments.
The above summary gives just a sampling of this phenomenon. Note that my small study has not taken into account review velocity or recency, but I can’t help thinking that any average user is going to wonder why a business with no reviews is being given precedence over one with 107 of them.
What This Tells Us
Honestly, it doesn’t tell us much about how Google’s algo works for local businesses. But…I would posit that if you are trying to do competitive analysis to appear more towards the left in the carousel, the sheer number of reviews you have isn’t going to influence your hoped-for change of positioning. If you can be outranked by a restaurant with zero reviews, getting 100 of them for your business probably won’t help.
So What Should You Do, Then?
I would suggest looking at other factors like the authority of the website and both the consistency and breadth of citations. Maybe social factors, too? Perhaps locally relevant links or unstructured citations? I purposely didn’t search in my own town because I didn’t want my proximity to any business to influence my results, but that will almost certainly be a factor, too – how close your prospective patron is to your place of business.
Am I Saying To Forget About Reviews?
No, no! Regardless of the influence of review counts on rank, your customers’ glowing reviews of your rosemary polenta and baba ghanoush will do much to bring the hungry public through your doors. I’m just saying that if you’re working yourself into a sweat about being too far to the right of the screen in the carousel, it may be best to invest the bulk of your time in improving metrics other than review counts.
What do you think? Is there a flaw in my logic? Do left-to-right displays make you think left is better? Are you seeing any patterns that explain who is ranking left-most? Would you like to share? I’d love to hear!
If you’ve owned a local business or have been providing Local SEO services to clients for half a decade or more, I’m sure you can recall a time, not long ago, when Merchant Circle had a dominant presence in Google’s first page results for local-type queries.
Back in 2009, when Mike Blumenthal penned this post about Merchant Circle buying up thousands of local domains, his wry tone reflected a general sense of wonderment in the Local SEO community over various tactics employed by the then-prominent local business index giant. Back then, you couldn’t seek a local pizza, dentist or landscaper without Google displaying you a handful of Merchant Circle-based profiles. Wish I could dig up a screenshot, but I’m betting you remember this without a visual prompt.
Doubtless owing of their high visibility in Google’s SERPs, Merchant Circle predictably drew a high level of scrutiny from the local business community and made a number of headlines, which as I recall, culminated in 2010 in a $900,000 settlement for ‘unlawful marketing practices’.
Since that time, even as engaged as I am in Local SEO, I must confess that Merchant Circle has pretty much fallen off of my radar. Yes, they are still a citation source worth knowing about, but it recently dawned on me that it had been a long time since I saw them coming up on the first page of Google for any type of local search I’d done in the course of daily work or daily life. While Wikipedia is still a favorite Google response to organic queries, it appears to me that Merchant Circle isn’t feeling Google’s love in Local any more, and hasn’t for some time, and that their plum placement has been usurped, by, you guessed it:
From all that I’ve seen, Yelp is Google’s new Merchant Circle du jour. And it’s not just for looking up ‘pizza’. Searches for laywers, dentists, florists and car dealerships are all returning me Yelp results above Google’s own packs of local businesses. Indeed, given the top 2-3 organic placement of Yelp results for so many core local industries, you’d almost think Google trusts Yelp’s data more than they trust their own.
When did this changing of the guard occur? Can you pinpoint a date, a deal or an update that moved Merchant Circle off the front page for so many powerful queries? And how would you compare Google’s one-time go-to-index to their new one – Yelp? It’s interesting to me that Yelp and Merchant Circle have faced similar ‘reputation management’ issues over the years. Why would Google trust Yelp more than Merchant Circle? Is it simply a popularity contest? In other parts of the country, where Yelp isn’t quite as well-known as here in California, are you still seeing lots of Merchant Circle entries on Google’s Page 1? Do you see a pattern?
I’d be really interested to know. It’s been a long, long time (I’d say 3 years) since I’ve written or talked to anyone about old Merchant Circle. If you’ve got some thoughts to share, I hope you will!
If you own a local business and are investigating ways to utilize the web to promote your company, chances are, you’ve come across discussions of strategies involving city landing pages. First, let’s clarify…
What Are City Landing Pages?
City landing pages are commonly defined as pages you create on your website to target multiple cities. In one scenario, you might have a single physical location in San Francisco, but are considering creating additional pages on your website that focus on neighboring cities like Oakland, Mill Valley or San Jose. Alternatively, you may have physical locations in more than one city and need to let the public and the search engines know this.
The two typical goals of creating city landing pages are:
1. To present your message to a specific audience in a target city.
2. To increase your chances of search engines showing your business as a result for searches for more than one city.
From my work in the Local category of the SEOmoz forum, and from helping our clients with their Local SEO, I know there is some confusion surrounding this topic of city landing pages. Many local business are unsure of whether they should invest time and money in these types of pages. Others wonder what makes a good city landing page. I’ll help you get clear on this topic in this article!
To determine whether city landing pages are a good fit for your business, let’s start by defining your business model.
Service Radius Business
Like the milkman of old, and the modern landscaper, carpet cleaner, general contractor, at-home healthcare provider or mobile notary public, if your company goes to clients to do business, then you are likely to be operating in a service radius that extends beyond your city of location. You may have just one headquarters in City A, but your employees travel to Cities B, C, D, and E to render services.
City landing pages are typically an excellent fit for this situation.
You’ll be optimizing your overall website for your physical location in City A to give you the best possible chance of ranking well in Google’s true local results, but your other service cities can often gain some additional visibility in the traditional, organic results, thanks to city landing pages.
Wait – What’s The Difference Between Local And Organic Results?
Organic results are the traditional results that have been Google’s mainstay since day one. Local results are currently displayed with a grey, lettered pin and contact information, often linking to a local business’ Google+ Local page.
Most often, your business will be able to achieve local rankings for searches related to or stemming from the city in which it’s physically located. The goal of your city landing pages will typically be to get organic results for cities where you don’t have a physical location. There are exceptions to this rule of thumb, particularly when Google doesn’t have a ton of data about a category of businesses in a specific geographic region (such as a non-competitive business in a rural area), but in general, your expectations for rankings with city landing pages for cities in which you’re not physically located should be organic rather than local.
And, don’t expect to outrank your competitors who have physical locations in your service cities. Google will generally favor businesses with physical locations in a target city over businesses that simply serve there.
What About Businesses That Do Have Multiple Physical Locations?
That’s a different story. Let’s say your carpet cleaning company has three different physical locations (one in City A, one in City B and one in City C). In that case, you have the excellent option of creating a unique landing page for each of those locations cities and optimizing it with your distinct contact information for each city.
For each location you must have:
1. A unique, non-shared local area code phone number
2. A unique, non-shared physical street address
With these essentials, you have every reason to expect to be able to show up in the true local results, because you’ve got physical locations there.
Then, if from your 3 locations, your employees travel to serve 10 total cities, you can certainly consider creating additional pages to cover the remaining cities where you’re not physically located, but for these location-less cities, you’re back to aiming for organic rankings rather than local ones.
City landing pages are typically a good match for service radius businesses. Work towards high local rankings for the cities where you are physically located (whether that’s with one office or three) and towards the highest organic rankings you can achieve for your location-less cities.
Brick And Mortar Businesses
This is where the topic of city landing pages becomes more complex. I’ve fielded quite a few questions from dentists, doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, restaurateurs and other brick-and-mortar business owners who are wondering about strategies for communicating with potential clients beyond their city borders. For example, a dentist in San Francisco may have patients who come to his office from Berkeley or Oakland, and he’d like to get more clients from those neighboring cities, so he decides to create city landing pages for these other locales.
This is the scenario in which I most frequently find a lack of justification for the creation of city landing pages.
A dentist, a restaurant, a barber shop, is located in one place and offers a set menu of services to everyone who walks in the door, regardless of whether the customer lives down the street or twenty miles away. Yet, I’ve encountered many websites on which five or ten or twenty near-identical pages have been created in an attempt to target customers beyond city borders. Often, only the city name has been changed out in the title and header tag on the page and then the same text and same list of services is repeated ad infinitum. The bad news is, neither I nor Google are going to be impressed with this. Google may well penalize the website for having published duplicate content. And, of similar importance, if your customers have the least bit of web savvy, they are unlikely to be impressed with this effort, either.
To me, the creation of city landing pages in this brick-and-mortar situation seems like nothing more than an awkward attempt to grab at rankings. And, as there can be definite negative effects from creating duplicate or near-duplicate content, for clients that fit this business model, I don’t recommend the creation of city landing pages.
Where Does That Leave You?
For many brick-and-mortar businesses, the story need not end here. In fact, if you’ve got a story to tell about your involvement in neighboring cities where your business isn’t physically located, you’ve got something worth writing about. Rather than taking the lame and lazy approach of duplicating a list of services provided across a ton of city landing pages, consider building a blog on your website and starting to document what you do beyond city borders.
For example, a doctor may have hospital privileges at 3 hospitals in surrounding cities. He can write about his work there, with the goal of establishing his place in these neighboring communities. In his blogging, he can tie this back into his home base at his office.
A restaurant in City A may contribute leftovers to a food program in City B and can write about their involvement in this second community. They can tie this back to their restaurant and menu.
A sporting goods store in City A may sponsor a little league team in City B and can report on the team’s progress on their website, perhaps tying it back into the bats, balls and other equipment they sell.
In other words, you’ve got to take a creative approach. If you have legitimate involvement in communities outside your own, you have a legitimate reason to write about it and legitimate hopes for gaining visibility both organically and via social media that ties your company name to more than one city. Yes, this is a longer shot than the carpet cleaning company that is going to cities B, C, and D every day to clean rugs, but with creativity, you can offer your potential customers, and the search engines, something of genuine value to read. I consider this a much more authentic approach to a content strategy for brick and mortar business than those awkward, meaningless city landing pages I’d like to see vanish from the local web.
What Makes A Good City Landing Page?
If you’ve determined that city landing pages are a good match for your business model, then make the investment of time and money to do the work well. You need to utilize the services of the best writer in your company or hire a professional copywriter who is skilled in Local SEO to ensure the best outcome. Here are some simple suggestions that will help you craft quality city landing pages:
The creation of high quality city landing pages may not be the right strategy for every local business, but when done properly for appropriate business models, they can increase your visibility on the web and generate new leads, calls and conversions for your business. In this article, I’ve attempted to cover the FAQs I most often encounter, but if you have a question about this topic that I haven’t answered, please ask!
The above is a screenshot from our new client’s website, TheOaksDementia.com, a skilled nursing facility caring for Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients in Petaluma, California. So far, we’ve revamped the website and migrated it to WordPress, provided copy editing, are hoping to add some great photos soon, and are about to begin on our Local Search Marketing work for the client to ensure that their business is listed in the right local business indexes.
While working with this great client, I’ve been reflecting on how important it is for local business owners to develop a one-on-one business relationship with their web designer/Local SEO/marketer, especially when the business is in one of the caring professions. The professionals you hire have got to understand and care about what your business does – this is a world apart from the experience your business will have if you go with one of the giant, packaged web design mega businesses.
We’ve all seen bright and brassy websites and sales landing pages where the calls to action are a mile of pixels high and screaming off the page in rocket red or neon blue, but there are projects that require a subtler touch than this because the people visiting them don’t want their attention ‘grabbed’. The websites’ visitors may be coping with a stressful situation such as a serious illness, seeking care for a loved elder, needing support for a sensitive problem or experiencing grief. I’m not going to link to anything here, but in my work on the web, I’ve visited the websites of doctors, therapists, elder care facilities and other sensitive service providers that I felt lacked an empathetic welcome.
Marketers, including Internet Marketers, live in a world of inspire, influence, persuade, sell, sell, sell! In very recent times, the conversation is changing on the web, away from sell, sell, sell, to give, give, give. Marketers and business owners alike are coming to realize that building relationships and a fine reputation are worth more in the long haul than building links. I like this trend, and the subtle empathy for human nature that underpins it. Companies that give the most receive the most back, and when you, as a business owner, are searching for experts to help you present your company on the Internet, you need to hire people who are going to understand what you’ve got to give to the world.
Maybe you have professional help to give to elders, or families, or people with back pain or vision problems or matters of faith. Your website, your marketing, needs to reach out and show what you have to give. You can do it with fireworks and giant font sizes, like a used car dealership, or you can do it with a softer voice. Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes and ask one simple question:
What Would Help Me Most?
Once you’ve determined what will help the visitor most, you know exactly what needs to be on your website to reach out to him.
When I’m working with a client like The Oaks, I am mindfully aware of their typical visitor throughout the entire process of speaking with the client, developing their design, editing and optimizing their content, writing calls to action, writing their Google+ Local page business description, choosing their categories and every other step involved in the work. I think about how I would feel if I needed to find Dementia Care for someone I loved, and I work to create something that demonstrates the trustworthiness, empathy and qualified helpfulness I would be seeking.
It’s a privilege to offer web support to businesses that support other people when they need it most. A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. You’ve got to care about your clients and their clients if you want to create a message that rings true. I really believe this.
Out with the old year, on with the new, and local business owners like you are asking themselves how they can earn the most visible possible presence in the Google-dominated local search engine results in 2013. Waltzing our way out of a 2012 that was fraught with penalties targeting all kinds of iffy practices, your next steps in the dance can be easy if you let honesty be your local business motto in the happy new year.
Take These Simple Tips To Heart
1. Be Honest About Your Business Name
If you are Robert Jones Plumbing on your tax return, be Robert Jones Plumbing everywhere on the Internet, from your website, to your Google+ Local Page, to your directory listings and social media profiles. Don’t be Robert Jones Atlanta Emergency 24 Hour Plumbing. In fact, if you’ll be new to the Local web in 2013, I will go so far as to offer some new-ish advice. When choosing your domain name, try to get robertjonesplumbing.com. Hopefully, though, your name is more like Robert Hornswoggle because robertjonesplumbing.com will likely have already been taken. Maybe you can get rjonesplumbing.com or rjplumbing.com or some similar variation.
Why is this new-ish advice? Because it’s been a common practice for a decade or more for a business like yours to go after a keyword-focused domain name like atlantaplumbing.com, and while these exact match domains (EMDs) are still ranking awfully well in Google’s local results, non-local counterparts were hit with quite a hefty penalty this year, leading me to believe that honesty in branding is coming to be Google’s favorite way to play the game. So be Robert Jones Plumbing everywhere you go and build your brand with pride.
2. Be Honest About Your Location
If you’re located in Tinytown, CA, tell it like it is on your website, your Google+ Local page, all your directory listings and all other places where your business is referenced on the web. Even if you’re just 2 miles away from Humongoustown, CA, have customers who come to your shop from there or go there to serve customers, you are still located in Tinytown and that’s what Google cares about when it comes to their true local results. This doesn’t mean you can’t create city landing pages (make them fantastic) for your service cities or can’t blog like mad about your involvement in Humongoustown, but the chief goal of these good efforts will be organic visibility, not local visibility.
Do not attempt to fake locations with P.O. Boxes or virtual offices. Sure, that thorn-in-your-side competitor got away with it in 2012, but 2013 could very well be the year that he gets to sit in ‘under review’ land for 6+ months with no local listings, no traffic, no phones ringing because he gamed the system. Don’t let this be you. Be totally honest about where you are physically located – it’s your best insurance against brutal penalties. And please, don’t post offers on Craigslist.org asking homeowners to let you use their addresses as phony locales for your business.
3. Be Honest About Your Reputation
Don’t review your own business. Don’t bribe others to. Google doesn’t want money or products changing hands in exchange for reviews. Don’t hire marketers who will hook you into a reciprocal review network, collect reviews from customers and post them on their behalf, or simply make up phony reviews with the intent to paint your company in a light it has yet to earn on the web.
4. Be Honest About Your Failings
You will get negative reviews. Even if you are running the nicest, friendliest shop in town, one day in 2013 will be a bad day for your staff, or a day on which a cranky person comes to do business with you. Many review platforms allow you to respond to negative reviews. If you choose to do so, remember, an ounce of honest apology is worth a pound of coverup. You can hire a reputation manager to outrank bad press with good press online, but you can’t muffle what people tell their family and friends about you offline. Owning up to a bad service experience and working to make it right means that you’ve done everything you can to ensure that word of mouth both on and off the web about your local business is positive.
5. Do Business Honestly
The Local Internet is but a partial reflection of reality. The heart of your business is what happens between the four walls of your shop or on the road where your service people go. I’ve been ripped off by local businesses and treated like royalty by others. No matter what is said by Internet rankings, ratings and reviews, my core impression is made at the time of my transaction. I believe the most important thing any local business owner brings to his community is his commitment to good service. Fair and honest business practices are the foundation of your success in your town. Treat customers honestly and everything else will follow.
I’ve been doing business on the Internet for about a decade now, and have watched with eager interest Google’s increasing emphasis on accurate representation of brands and businesses. The SEO world is simultaneously evolving to focus on acquisition of dynamic relationships and a good reputation over acquisition of mere rankings. To this I say:
“Should Auld Spammy Tactics Be Forgot And Never Brought To Mind?”
And I’m honestly wishing you an exciting and prosperous Local 2013!