Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
I was truly gratified by the industry recognition of my recent article, The Zen of Local SEO and what I’m writing today is a follow-up post. In The Zen of Local, I discussed the futility of trying to write a static tactical guide for implementation of a Local Search campaign, because of the constant changes of policies, options and tools. Because of this, I focused on a philosophical approach to Local. There is more we can discuss, however, and this does take us into more technical waters while still dealing with factors that have remained relatively stable for the past half decade.
I felt this would be a good post to write, because I spend part of each day answering Local SEO questions in fora like SEOmoz Q&A, and CatalysteMarketing’s Local Search Forum, and I see how vital it is for every local business owner and every new Local SEO practitioner to approach Local with an understanding of a few basic facts that will be ruling every aspect of what they do. Much of what follows is drawn from my experience with Local FAQs, or simply teaching my own local business clients. It’s my hope that a read through this post will get you started on the right foot in promoting a local business, and serve you well in every choice you make.
Read The Google Places Guidelines
Here they are and do not fail to read them and check back on a regular basis for updates. Google changes their guidelines at least a few times every year, and businesses can rise or fall based on even tiny changes to the language which may indicate a huge change in policy. Google is the biggest player you will be dealing with as a local business or Local SEO and their guidelines are the key indicator of what they allow and forbid.
Violating Guidelines Is A Very Bad Idea
From seeing a listing drop to the bottom of the rankings, to seeing reviews disappear or having a profile utterly banned, the punishment of accidental or intentional violation of the guidelines can be severe, and sometimes, irreversible. So, if you’ve skipped my first rule, and have never read the Google Places Quality Guidelines, go back to square one. And this doesn’t just apply to Google. You should always read the guidelines of any entity where you are listing your business. Failure to do so can have drastic consequences, and sadly, I’ve interacted with marketers selling Local SEO services who have clearly never read the guidelines, so be careful whom you hire, too!
Determine If Your Business Qualifies For Local Inclusion
To qualify for inclusion in Google’s local products, your business must meet all 3 of the following criteria:
1. You must have a unique physical address. It must not be a shared address, a P.O. Box or virtual office.
2. You must have a unique local area code phone number – not an 800 number, not a call tracking number and not a phone number shared with any other business.
3. You must have in-person transactions with your customers, either at your place of business (like a restaurant) or their locales (like a plumber).
If you can’t say yes to all 3 points, then you do not qualify for inclusion in the eyes of Google and should not try to bend the rules or pretend that you do qualify.
All Local Hangs On NAP
NAP stands for the 3 factors on which all of Local Search is based: name, address, phone number. You must consistently present the same 3 details identically across the web. So:
1. Use your real business name at all times. Do not add service keywords, product keywords or geographic keywords to your business name anywhere – not on your website, not on your Google+ profile, nor anywhere else on the web. Do business as the real *you*.
2. Do not falsely represent your address, anywhere on the web. Don’t pretend to be located someplace you aren’t. Google will eventually catch on and punishment will be swift and unyielding. And, be sure you are writing your complete address, every time you write it. This means, if you’ve got a suite number, always include it. 123 Main Street and 123 Main Street Suite A are two different addresses in the eyes of Google. List your complete address, without major variations, every time. Do not be overly concerned about minor variations such as Suite vs. Ste. or Avenue vs. Ave. Google is apparently able to recognize these variants as equivalent, but differences in the actual numbers of your address or spelling of your street name matter very much.
Your Website Is Your #1 Local Search Ranking Factor
More than anything else written about your business around the web, your website is the authoritative source for information about your business.
Broadly speaking, this means you must:
1. Build an optimized website.
2. Build a website that employs high standards of human usability.
3. Understand that by launching a website, you have just become a publisher and must be prepared to publish very high quality materials.
Locally speaking, this means that you must:
1. Highlight both your service/product AND geographic keywords in your tags and text.
2. Highlight your complete NAP – typically in the website footer and on the contact page.
There are lots of nuances involved in designing a superlative local business website, but what I’ve stated above are the basics. The investment you make in developing a first class website and planning an on-going publishing strategy are your first and most most important Internet-related tasks as a local business owner. Nothing supplants this.
Consistency Is King
Citations of your business are a key local ranking factor. Citations are web-based mentions of your business that include your complete or partial NAP. If there are citations anywhere on the web that incorrectly state any part of your NAP, this will confuse the search engines and harm your ability to rank. For example, if your listing on an Internet Yellow Pages website lists your business name as Joe’s Plumbing and Water Damage Restoration, when your actual business name is just Joe’s Plumbing, Google will not view the 2 business titles as equivalent. As a second example, if your business moves, Google will become confused by references to Joe’s Plumbing existing at both 123 Main Street and 123 Center Street. A discrepancy in phone numbers will have the same effect. So, it is critical that all references to your business consistently contain identical business NAP.
This means that you need to look up your business in Google and identify any inconsistencies and try to get them corrected. Citation correction can be a long, time-consuming process and is especially lengthy when a business changes its name or moves. Be prepared to spend the time to do this, or to pay a qualified practitioner to do it for you, or you risk having your identity in the eyes of Google become clouded, untrustworthy and unworthy of high rankings.
Google Considers Your Business As Most Relevant To Its City Of Location
If you are located in San Francisco, Google will consider you as most relevant to queries that contain the words ‘San Francisco’ or are being searched for from a San Francisco-based device. This topic is one that comes up frequently for go-to-client business models; for example, a plumber who is located in San Francisco, but also serves clients in San Jose, Berkeley and Oakland. Many businesses in this situation would like to rank well in the pinned/lettered local results for all of the cities they serve, but at least at this point in the game, such results are unlikely.
If you do an excellent job with your on-site Local SEO and off-site Local Search Marketing, chances are, you will be able to achieve a high local ranking in the pinned and lettered local pack of results in your city of location but only rarely outside of it.
So What About City Landing Pages?
If you’ve read the Google Places Quality Guidelines, you know you can’t create a listing for each of the cities you serve – only for your city of location. So, most go-to-client local businesses then turn to the concept of creating city landing pages (a unique page for each service city) on their websites to bring attention to the fact that they serve in a variety of locales. These are my guidelines for this.
1. Only create city landing pages if you are prepared to write excellent, unique copy for each city, or hire a copywriter to do so. Do not simply cut and paste the same copy from one page to the next, changing out one city name for another as you go. If you can’t find something really unique and valuable to write about your services in each city, do not create city landing pages.
2. The goal of these pages is typically going to be achieving some secondary organic rankings – not rankings in the blended/local (pinned/lettered) pack of results. It is uncommon for you to be able to outrank competitors who are physically located in your service radius cities – not impossible, but uncommon, because as I’ve said, Google thinks of you as being most relevant to your city of location and they view your competitors this way, too.
3. If you choose not to invest time or money in high quality city landing pages, it is not a good idea to simply substitute a large block of text listing all of the cities or zip codes you serve. In fact, Google recently updated their Webmaster guidelines to specifically discourage this spammy practice.
Do Not Fool Around With Reviews
For all existent review sites, this means:
1. Do not write fake positive reviews for your business.
2. Do not write fake negative reviews for your competitors.
3. Do not upload reviews others have written to your own listing. Each customer must upload his own review from his own account.
4. Do not pay anyone for reviews.
5. Be wary of any activity that can lead to a slew of reviews coming in at the same time. They will likely be filtered out. There’s been a lot of talk about this recently, but based on personal experience, I believe filters have been in place relating to review velocity for years.
Beyond those 5 points, the different review entities begin to part company. For example, Google appears to endorse the usage of incentives (like freebies, coupons, etc.) for reviews so long as you don’t stipulate that the reviews received must be positive reviews, whereas review giant Yelp does not want you to request reviews in any form, ever. So, while my 5 points on reviews will serve you well up to a certain point, you must learn the differences in the policies of the different review entities to avoid violating guidelines, and possibly, being publicly humiliated by having your infractions made public.
Lie Down With Local Dogs, Get Up With Local Fleas
Some local business owners will have the time to invest in getting an education about Local SEO and the knowledge they earn will truly empower them to promote their business in an informed, hands-on fashion. I definitely support this approach. However, many other local business owners will not have adequate time to devote to an initial session of Local 101, plus daily time to spend keeping up with the constant changes that are inherent to Local SEO. Because of this, they will find themselves searching for a professional to help them, and this is where a lack of education can really harm the local business in question.
If you hire the wrong person to do your Local SEO and you don’t know how to judge whether what they are doing is good or bad, you may wind up being penalized in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, as the field of Local SEO has grown, the number of dubious practitioners has grown along with it. So how do you know whom to trust?
I would advise you to check out the trusted provider list at GetListed.org. GetListed is the entity associated with the Local Search University conference circuit, and the Local SEOs on their list are worthy of being contacted. I find it so unacceptable that a business owner can invest all he has in building up his brick-and-mortar company, only to have his on-line reputation ruined by an unskilled Local SEO services provider.
When it comes to choosing a Local SEO for consultation or implementation, your business will be judged by the company it chooses to keep. If you pick someone because you simply stumbled across them, got cold called by them or because they were really cheap, you may very well get up with fleas and worse! Avoid this ruinous scenario and choose a Local SEO with a solid reputation in the Local SEO industry. The proof of their standing is out there on the web, and GetListed.org’s list is a great place to start looking for the right professional for your business.
Google Makes Mistakes
Sometimes, a loss of rankings can be easily traced to a mistake on the part of the local business owner, but it is also quite common for Google to make mistakes. Places/+ has been affected by one bug after another, year after year, often because of Google’s policy of rolling out new products and product changes in beta mode. Google has always done things this way and this means that there is always some chance that a negative experience you are having is the result of a bug.
So, how can you figure out if you’re dealing with a bug? A good place to begin is the Google And Your Business Forum which used to be known as the Google Places Help Forum. Search for your issue and see if there are multiple recent reports of the same problem. If so, you may start to identify a pattern and you may find helpful replies from Google reps or Top Contributors to other people’s threads. You can also start your own thread, being as thorough and clear as you can about your issue.
In addition to the official forum, there are two blogs worth checking for descriptions of new bugs. These blogs belong to Top Contributors, Mike Blumenthal and Linda Buquet. There is also Linda Buquet’s new Local Search Forum, where I’m honored to be a moderator and where there is always a good chance of a good discussion going on about recent bugs.
If you are adversely affected by a bug, the best you can do is to report your issue and then follow the news to see if/when a fix is put in place by Google.
All Top Rankings Are Not Created Equal
One of the most common questions I receive as a Local SEO is, “How do I get high rankings?” If ‘it depends’ were ever an appropriate answer, this is when. Read this carefully:
The effort and investment you will need to make to achieve high rankings for your local business is completely dependent on the competitiveness of your industry and local geography.
In other words, a personal injury attorney in Dallas, Texas is going to have to make way more effort than a baker in Boonville, California (population: 1,035).
It’s all about the competition. How many competitors you have locally and how much effort they are each making is what dictates the lengths to which you must go to surpass them, if possible.
There is a pretty long list of things your local business can do to establish and promote your visibility on the Internet. What you should do all comes down to how competitive your niche is. David Mihm’s annual Local Search Ranking Factors report is the Local SEO industry’s key survey highlighting the components of high local rankings. Some Local SEOs postulate that there are 200+ factors that go into determining the rankings you receive. Here is a short list of the most basic ones:
- Age and authority of your domain
- Local optimization of your website
- Lack of violations on your local business profiles
- Consistency of data about your business across the web
- Proximity to city centroid
- Number and authority of your citations
- Number and velocity of your reviews
- Social factors
- Number and authority of links
You cannot control factors like the age of your domain or the reviews you receive, but you do have control over other factors like the optimization of your website and the correctness of your local business profiles. Whether you need to make major investments in areas like Social Media and linkbuilding all boils down to how competitive your niche is. Every business is different. Educating yourself or hiring a pro is what will help you discern the amount of effort you need to make to achieve the highest possible visibility.
Have Realistic Expectations
This ties in with my last point in a very real way. I frequently speak to local business owners who, due to lack of understanding of their competition or lack of understanding about how search engines work, expect to dominate their field on the web in an unrealistic amount of time or with an unrealistic expenditure of effort or funding.
Again, the bakery in Boonville can enter the game with very different expectations than the attorney in LA.
Every local business owner should go to Google and start searching for their key phrases (cupcakes, car accident lawyers) and their location and take a realistic look at what the competition looks like so they can understand what they are getting into. It can be next-to-impossible to break into the toughest markets, whereas many businesses will fall into areas of low-to-medium competition where wise efforts will begin paying off in a reasonable amount of time. Being realistic about the competitiveness of your niche will save you from disappointments and also, hopefully, prevent you from wasting money buying into the promises of unethical marketers who are selling you a bill of goods.
No ethical Local SEO is going to promise you #1 rankings, and if you find a good person to work with, they will provide their own realistic assessment of the competition so that you are prepared for the journey ahead.
My original post, The Zen of Local SEO, was all about developing a winning psychological mindset. I hope this follow-up piece will help you to develop a realistic and actionable stance to approaching some of the more technical realities of Local SEO.
Have I left anything out that you feel belongs on the above list? I’d love to hear about it!
Have you ever searched the web for a totally solid guide to implementing Local SEO and come up empty handed? There’s an excellent reason for this. Unlike traditional SEO, in which ongoing new tactics can be added to a base of actions that have been reasonably similar for more than a decade, Local SEO exists in so fluid a world that change is practically the only constant. Talk to Local SEOs and and they will chuckle that so much of what they write becomes obsolete almost as soon as they hit ‘publish’. Active blogs do a great job of covering the changes, but writing a static tactical guide may end up being nothing more than an exercise in futility.
So, let’s do something different. This guide will not speak to the specifics of listing yourself in X number of directories, choosing between schema vs. hCard, or creating your Google+ Local Page because tomorrow, some of the directories may close while new ones spring up out of nowhere, hCard could become unsupported and Google may decide to alter their handling of creation and merging in Google+. Instead, I want to talk to you about the elements that I have not seen change since the dawn of Local – the intentions, mindsets and attitudes which I believe make up the Zen of Local and mean success or failure for the local business owner and the Local SEO.
Barbarism vs. The Civic Mind
2012 marks the sixth year that I’ve been tuned into Local, and in that time, I have been able to identify two distinct camps of participants.
On the one hand, we have the barbarians who are definitely in it for themselves. These business owners or marketers cut a looting-and-pillaging swath through the Local web, fully willing to falsely represent physical locale while funneling business through an 800 service, hijack the listings of their competitors, pen phony positive reviews for themselves or false negative ones for their peers, attempt to have competitors’ businesses marked as closed, sabotage accounts they hold hostage and demand protection money.
People do these things because there is gain to be made, but the gain is short-term, and not because Google is going to wake up one day and hammer down with an iron fist on these tactics. No – the gain is short-term because these tactics solicit their own demise. If you run roughshod through a business district with a spray paint can in one hand and a club in the other, you will eventually create such an ugly mess that the public will stop trusting the district as a place to do business. I can’t pretend to predict when the ultimate threshold of untrustworthiness will be crossed so that no one believes local data and the whole thing falls apart, but I do know I already tell everyone I care about to be careful of locksmith listings on Google. That whole vertical, so intimately linked to safety and security, was quite literally been ruined for years. Things are a bit better now, but hardly squeaky clean. Car dealerships are a problem area, too.
If making a temporary killing, regardless of causing wreckage in the place you live or are pretending to live, is all that matters to you, then the weakness of search engines and directories has laid the barbarian path open before you. But the risk of your actions is the eventual demise of your income source, so you’d better be able to make your buck fast and then get out of town.
I think most of us can do better than this. And that brings us to the second camp, where the civic-minded business owners and Local SEOs are hunkered down for the long haul.
I have concluded that nearly all ethical actions connected with Local SEO can be distilled down to the simple concept of civic-mindedness. That’s not a term you hear very often these days, but I think Local is breathing new life into the idea. I didn’t know that when I started locally optimizing clients’ sites and creating their Google Place Pages that I would end up orating on civic-mindedness to callers who wanted to bend and break rules to suit their selfish little aims, but I’ve done so repeatedly. The outcome is that I am sincerely heartened every time a local business owner phones and expresses real care for the place he lives and works. I’m instantly on his side and ready to do all I can for him.
Eschewing barbarism, the civic-minded local business owner recognizes Local as an amazing opportunity to increase his visibility and he is willing to play by the rules. Whether his services answer urgent needs or fulfill dreams of luxury, he knows that his company makes life better in his town or city and he is convinced that his reputation is his greatest asset. Knowing this, he will refuse to do anything underhanded that might jeopardize his good name, and hopefully, he has enough education to fire any marketer who wants to lead him astray.
Also eschewing barbarism, the civic-minded Local SEO may be well aware of certain shortcuts and loopholes but will not exploit them, putting his clients’ accounts at risk. This Local SEO is actually honored to get to be part of commerce in his clients’ locations and sees his work as integral to building more informed, enriched communities. He also knows that successful clients generate future clients and that by making Local as error-free and inclusive as he can, he is ensuring his own future income.
Participating in Local Search builds the web-based mirror image of communities around the globe. By approaching this task with regard for the people who live and work there, by seeing the local searching public as neighbors, you will have developed a mindset that will lead to outcomes that are healthy and successful for all involved.
Cracking The Koans Of Google
“Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?”
The #1 problem in Local isn’t hijacking, spamming or bugs. It’s Google’s dire lack of communication. The teaming hordes of local business owners who crowd the Google And Your Business Forum in a state of ALL-CAPS distress trying to get answers to astronomical numbers of problems receive very few solutions directly from Google employees, though the rate of answers from volunteer Top Contributors has been a valid improvement. But even when Google does make public statements in response to the bigger questions raised about policies, ethics and problems, their wording can be as elusive and circular as a Zen Koan to the western mind.
Google’s patent answer to most critical Local commentary and cries for help tends to be that they realize such and such is important, they are certainly working on it and they have something akin to faith in the goodness of the data being fed into their system. Much of what I read from actual Google employees comes across as fine sentiment rather than actionable response. One can start to feel that Google is operating up in the clouds somewhere, estranged from real-world living by a corporate culture that is far too insular.
What I see as the most challenging aspect of approaching the biggest player in Local lies within incorrect expectations on both sides. Google and local business owners frequently fail to apprehend one another correctly. I would like to offer my theory to local business owners and Local SEOs as to why messaging coming out of Google can be so confusing and mixed.
I think it helps to remember that Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have publicly credited part of Google’s success to their Montessori educational background. In my work as a copywriter, I’ve had occasion to research and write about Montessori, and its tenets include strong beliefs in the ability of individuals to be self-governing, work effectively independently and undertake projects for the sake of accomplishment itself. In an ideal Montessori/Google world, you wouldn’t have fierce competitors because you’d be satisfied with doing your own thing. You also wouldn’t have spammers and crooks running around ruining the shared creative space because everyone would have too much self-confidence to descend to such disruptive behavior.
Add it up, and there is something that really rings true about the similarities between the Montessori method and Google’s most idealistic-sounding messaging. Someplace, deep in the heart of Google, there is a belief in goodness and a belief in people that may come off as admirable but out-of-touch with reality in our ultra-competitive times.
And then came all the money.
Google reported earnings of $14.10 billion for the third quarter of 2012. People and companies have been tempted into compromises and corruption for a lot less money than that. You have to decide for yourself what you think about the growing list of anti-trust, anti-privacy and other ethical issues that has begun to trail this Internet giant. What I would suggest as the key to all of the confusion between high ideals and accusations of wrongdoing is that Google is a corporation and as the years have gone by and the coffers have grown ever more laden, Google has acted more and more like you’d expect a corporation to.
Google’s origins were crowned with a halo of humble charm, but if you read the Google And Your Business Forum and the blogs of influential Local SEOs, you will see that the salad days are over and that the old image of Google as cool, geeky friend is being replaced by Google as profit-oriented money-making machine. It may be a little sad, but I think by viewing Google realistically as a corporation that will make whatever decisions are necessary to maximize profit, you will stop expecting them to act in the human-friendly, small-business-friendly ways you wish they would.
Similarly, Google needs a reality check in their apparent expectations that the public eternally supports brands that ignore them or put livelihoods in jeopardy though bad data or downright negligence. You can map every business in every city in the world, but if your company neglects the humanity of the people who live there, they won’t love you, even if they have to work with you to survive.
In sum, I think the meager messaging coming out of Google’s Local department is confusing because their original Montessori ideals are now sitting in tense and uneasy company with their corporate yearn to earn. For your own good and sanity, view them realistically instead of idealistically and very few things will surprise you.
The Art Of Service
“No shoes, no shirt, no annoying idiots, no service”
Thanks to the volatile status of online reviews, I have spoken to many local business owners who would like to nail a sign like that to all of their public profiles. There’s a wail of grief coming off the planet over both deserved and undeserved negative reviews and the chore of having to cope with them, not within the four walls of your business, but right in the public eye.
When confronted with a negative review, remember this: when you went into business you knew you were opening your doors to all comers, from sweet little old ladies to folks who are raring mad. You had the confidence in your own people skills to cope with whomever walked in the door and the task before you now is to commute those skills onto the web. You can pause to reflect, count to 100, consider possible outcomes of different responses and then reply in your most professional, polished manner. In fact, one of the chief luxuries of user reviews is the time you are given to make a calm decision before responding, if you choose to respond at all. This isn’t something you get when a complaint hits you live, in the middle of the dinner rush, on the floor of a crowded restaurant.
The power of choice is yours. You can determine to invest large sums of money in getting any negative press about your business buried, or you can deal with things the way they are and respond to deserved and undeserved criticism the same way you would if it happened within your place of business. I think it’s helpful to know that nearly every discussion centered on negative reviews includes mention of the fact that review profiles that are 100% positive can look suspicious. Anyone who works for a living knows that you can’t please everybody and that some customers are pains in the neck. A profile that is mainly positive but reflects the reality of serving the varied public is an authentic representation of life and not something to waste much worry over.
Even competitive negative review spam can be handled well with the right words and unless you’ve got enough grounds for a libel suit to go to a lawyer, your time is probably best spent getting back to the task that will make or break your business: customer service.
If you’re not prepared to treat your customers excellently, no amount of marketing money or reputation management will cover it up. Both online and off, people will tell others about their experience with your business. User reviews have highlighted and heightened the need to employ a well-trained staff with above-average skills at handling all kinds of tough situations. Accountability, humility, transparency and the ability to say I’m sorry when mistakes have been made are prerequisites for you and everyone in your employ. No matter how you market your business, it will not succeed without customers and satisfying those customers’ needs will always been job #1 for you.
Strength In Diversity And E For Effort
Because of Google’s dominance, they stand at the center of most discussions of Local Search, but it pays to remember that there is a busy world beyond Google. Just recently, a talented marketer shared some analytics data with me that showed that for every 100 visitors being generated by Google’s local results, she had managed to get an additional 75 from diverse little directories. The upshot of this would be that if this was you something befell your local presence in Google, you would still be receiving at least 3/4 of the missing Google traffic from other sources.
Identifying these diverse opportunities hinges on your efforts to stay current and educated. Free education is being published daily on a number of high quality Local SEO blogs. All you have to do is read, and no matter how busy you are, don’t think of continued education as a luxury. It’s an essential.
Your education will also prove invaluable should you decide to hire specialists to assist you with certain tasks in Local. What you have learned may save you from putting your business in the hands of a crook. Learn a little each day, and it will amount to eventual possession of powerful knowledge. Here is my current list of inspiring Local SEO blogs:
I’m sure there are other fine local search blogs out there, too! All you have to do is start reading.
The only one who owes you a living is you. Little ringing bells of success go off in my head when local business owners’ voices light up as I describe the ongoing efforts they will need to be making to achieve success. Conversely, little hairs on the back of my neck sting and stand erect when I hear from people who feel entitled to A rankings while planning to make the least possible effort and investment in their somewhat nebulous goals.
I sincerely view Local as an arena in which effort stands a better-than-average chance of being handsomely rewarded. Measured and consistent effort towards improvement, coupled with an effort to make sure your business data is consistent across the web, makes a winning strategy. The business owner who is consistently publishing new copy on his website, consistently pursing new opportunities for visibility, consistently talking with his customers to discover what they really want, consistently setting aside budget to improve both on and offline aspects of his business – he is setting himself up for success.
The Bottom Line
The rules will change. The players and tactics will change. Real concern for civic welfare, a realistic view of the companies, apps and tools at your disposal, a commitment to outstanding customer service and dedication to a gentle and steady acquisition of education and visibility – these are the things that have not changed and will remain the same in the foreseeable future. Equip yourself with these traits and attributes and approach your future in Local with a caring and honest civic mindset, and you will be well on your way to mastering the Zen of Local.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but highly visible inclusion of your shop’s hours of operation on your website should never be overlooked. I’ve run into several instances of missing hours lately, so think of this a helpful reminder that any local business currently engaged in building a new website or improving an existing one should be sure that this information is easy to find on the website.
I’d say that there are 2 types of phone calls I make over and over again, even to stores where I’m a frequent shopper.
1) To ask if a store has something
2) To ask how late they are open that day
Ideally, your website could answer both of these questions, but shifting stock may make question #1 more of a challenge to answer. Question #2, however, is easy to fulfill. I would recommend putting the complete hours of operation in at least two places:
1) On your Contact Us page
2) Somewhere in or near the masthead of your website, sitewide.
Accomplishing this simple task could:
1) Cut down on the number of calls you and employees have to take to answer this basic question, freeing you up for other work.
2) Reduce the chances that you will lose business by potential customers arriving after hours and being disappointed.
Planning an awesome local business website takes thought and care. A guiding rule is to always be asking, throughout development, “What Will My Customers Want To Know?” Answer those types of questions and you’ll be putting your website to work for you in the important role of customer service provider.
Personally, I can never walk by a Chinese restaurant without stopping to read the menu. Sometimes, it’s pasted in the window. Other times, it is enshrined in a little wooden box, perhaps accompanied by newspaper clippings or semi-fuzzy photos of appetizing fare. Drawn like a moth to candle flame, I want to see what the restaurant has given pride of place to by the front door.
Mike Blumenthal recently highlighted an example of local window dressing gone wrong. The article features a snapshot of a plaque in a restaurant window that gives the first impression that the business may have received some type of award or special notice from Google+. On closer inspection, however, we discover that:
Mike Blumenthal states:
I am not sure who I think less of in this situation, the restaurant that was trying to appear more than they really are by leveraging Google’s name and their review product or the company that soaked them $300 for the “privilege”.
On the one hand, I agree, but I also find merit in Travis Van Slooten’s comment:
I’m not going to jump on the business owner or the guy selling the plaques as quickly as you guys did. Yes, the plaques take advantage of these big brand names, and there may even be some legal issues using their trademarks – who knows. However, how is this any different than a business owner highlighting his best reviews from Google, Yahoo, etc. on his own website? This is just an offline version of it. Yes, the plaques look like an award at first glance but if customers aren’t going to pay attention and actually read it, that’s their problem (in my opinion).
For the record, I don’t condone the false representation of review sentiments, nor the possibly unauthorized use of brand names by a third party in exchange for money, but I do believe there is a fantastic idea here, once we look past misrepresentation and potential legal issues.
The economy continues to be tough on all kinds of businesses, restaurants included. If you own a restaurant (or a vacuum cleaner repair shop, an ethnic foods market, a fabric store, an antique shop or any other type of brick-and-mortar store), you should be doing everything you can to make passing foot traffic halt at your door. Take a look at the plaque in Mike’s post and learn from it.
But, resolve to do it right.
Your local poster shop, sign maker, or your own computer can partner with you to create an eye-catching, truthful ‘merit badge’ for your front window. Here are some suggestions for ethical local window dressing:
1. Make your sign large enough to draw attention.
2. Choose bright, arresting colors and create the most professional design and layout you can.
3. Highlight real review snippets that you are most proud of.
4. Highlight your personal affiliations with brands. *See below.
*I’m not an attorney, but I do know that Google founded its Local Business Index by publishing the contact data for countless local businesses without prior permission from the business owners. If you’ve stepped into the fray, claimed your local profile, and are staying awake nights sweating over your online reviews, I would say you are definitely in a relationship with Google, Yelp, et al.
While I do not approve of a third party trading on the brand names of these companies without permission, I believe that local business owners should have the right to state that they are on Google and Yelp and Yahoo. After all, all of these big companies are cleaning up big time, thanks to the existence of local businesses. So, I would not have a problem with a Chinese restaurant putting Google’s logo on a sign followed by Google+ based reviews. If Google decides to have a problem with this, I think they’ve lost it.
Could ‘Merit Badges’ Be Effective At Improving Walk-In Business?
I would think so. The very fact that the restaurant in Mike’s example was willing to pay $300.00 for the questionable plaque is indicative of potential value.
Just picture yourself in a busy downtown with three Chinese restaurants on the same block. Two have a menu in the window, but nothing else. The third not only has a menu, but also a ‘merit badge’ highlighting their glowing reviews from valued customers. Not only would this show an acquaintance with modern business practices, but it is also a voucher for accountability. I would hypothesize that business owners who are showcasing online reviews care extra about providing great customer service, because they have come to terms with the powerful part customer sentiment plays in the solvency of their businesses.
As always, take the high road here. Don’t create a misleading plaque meant to fool viewers into thinking Sergey Brin presented you with an award, but do make use of the opportunity to show off the glowing praise which your happy customers have awarded you.
It’s a small but good idea.
Today, I’m so proud and happy to announce joining the staff at Linda Buquet’s Local Search Forum as their first-ever moderator! If you run a local business or are a Local SEO and you’ve not yet heard of this awesome, targeted forum, please come by. Topics that are really important to you are being discussed there daily, and given that Linda is a Google Place Help Forum Top Contributor, you can count on a level of conversation and advice that is second to none in the Local sphere!
In addition to working as a community associate in the SEOmoz Q&A forum, I’ve been a moderator at Cre8asite since 2008. A discussion I’ve seen come up time and again in the SEO world is whether forums are still valuable to people. Believe me, they definitely are, and while those newer sound-byte, quickie Social Media platforms like Twitter serve a definite purpose, they cannot replace the depth of communication you will find in a top tier forum.
What I’ve learned from my work in fora is that really good ones have these elements:
- They cover topics that directly affect the concerns and goals of business owners.
- They are peopled by friendly, sharing contributors – not ego-driven know-it-alls.
- They are equally welcoming to novices and pros, addressing all questions with thought and care.
- They build a community where you like and learn from great people and you feel really comfortable there.
Linda Buquet’s Local Search Forum meets all these criteria, providing a wonderful environment for all of us in Local to share our challenges and successes. It is truly an honor to join the staff, and I sincerely hope to add to the friendly atmosphere and knowledge bank at the Local Search Forum. This will be fun!