February 2008

Thrilled to Become a Moderator at Cre8asite Forums!

Cre8asite Forums
Greetings from Inside the SEOigloo!

I am exceedingly honored to have been invited by Kim Krause Berg to become a moderator of the SEO category at Cre8asite Forums.

Former moderator Rand Fishkin has found it necessary to turn his attention elsewhere (he’s a busy guy!) and I will do my best to pick up where he has left off, keeping the Cre8asite Forums exciting, hospitable, and spam-free.

How Cre8asite Can Help You

Cre8asite is one of the SEO/SEM industry’s most respected forums and, perhaps, needs little introduction. I am always recommending that people become members there. You will find all levels of skill represented. Cre8asite’s membership includes seasoned experts such as Bill Slawski and Barry Schwartz, but also extends an incredibly warm welcome to complete newcomers.

Cre8asite Forums’ motto is there is no such thing as a ‘dumb’ question, and new members immediately see the way this is put into action within the many different categories.

What is immediately apparent at Cre8asite is the non-judgmental, education-oriented atmosphere. If the sometimes-hostile, contentious, or juvenile aspects of certain Social Media sites are off-putting to you, you are in for a happy surprise at Cre8asite Forums. Discussion is always respectful there, and I really appreciate the level of maturity of the members.

Whether you’re not sure what a title tag is for, or you want to talk about latent semantic indexing, you will find your questions, theories, and comments taken seriously. Membership is free, and I will be the first to attest that belonging to Cre8asite has made me a more confident, well-rounded businesswoman.

My hope in becoming a mod of the SEO category at Cre8asite Forums is to be of real help to newcomers and to assist in facilitating truly educational discussions about this facet of the industry. I also hope to have plenty of chances to talk about Local Search issues there, and I would love to see any of my readers walk in the Cre8asite door.

Because so many of us are small business owners or independent contractors, much of our work time may be solo time. I have found that having the opportunity to chat with peers, in a non-competitive environment, has been of immense help to me on many different levels. It is wonderful to find a resource where I can talk to people who care about what I care about, professionally.

I want to offer my most sincere thanks to Kim Krause Berg and all of the admins and moderators at Cre8asite for the warm welcome they have given me to this family-style industry fixture.

Andrew Shotland – Local SEO Interview 5

Greetings from Inside the SEOigloo!

Andrew Shotland, everybody’s favorite Local SEO Guide, is chatting with us today from Pleasanton, California. Andrew offers SEO and SEM consulting, and his past work with Insider Pages makes him a fascinating fellow to speak with about Local Search. We feel very lucky to have this opportunity of interviewing him.

Miriam: Call out the first 3 adjectives that come to your mind to describe local search.

Andrew: Yellow, green, red

Miriam: What excites you about Local? Why are you putting such great efforts into this new facet of SEO?

Andrew: I don’t think Local SEO is particularly new. SEO is becoming more mainstream and therefore more smaller, local businesses are trying it. So it’s exciting because there are a lot of people who need help and want to learn.

Miriam: Describe an ideal local search client.

Andrew: An ideal SEO client understands the potential of SEO and is willing to prioritize it and take the time to get educated about it.

Miriam: Your Blog’s About Page mentions your previous position as head of product and business development for Insider Pages. In that capacity you engineered an SEO effort that resulted in some major traffic for the company. Is this something you are legally permitted to describe in greater detail? If not, just ignore this question…but I’d love to hear about it!

Andrew: InsiderPages is where I first got obsessed with SEO. When we rolled out our first SEO release our traffic went from about 30,000 uniques per month to about 1,000,000 practically overnight. That certainly caught my attention. We kept trying more and more ideas and the traffic kept cranking up, eventually reaching about 3.5 million uniques/month. Then I released something that destroyed our SEO – our traffic dropped in half over night. As we got bigger the number of variables that I and our team had to keep track of was getting out of control because we had just enough knowledge of SEO to be dangerous. I realized that I still had a lot to learn. It was then I really got into it – I certainly wasn’t getting a lot of sleep so I had some time to read up on it.

Miriam: It would currently appear that Google and the Insider Pages/City Search entity are still amicable partners, now that those missing reviews have finally reappeared in Maps after being lost for some months. However, Google is also now offering its own user review function within Maps. Your past work experience leads me to ask you, how do you feel entities like City Search, Trip Advisor and Yelp really feel about Google being ‘in on their game’? Is it contentious comptetition or is being trusted by Google so huge for any company, they are glad to have data being pulled from their review databases?

Andrew: My guess is that they are all cautiously optimistic. It’s one thing to put up a ‘write a review’ feature and another to actively promote and stimulate useful, high quality reviews.

Miriam: Some have called Local Search the inevitable death of traditional Yellow Pages. Do you feel this is accurate? Please explain your thoughts on this.

Andrew: It’s not the death of the traditional Yellow Pages, it’s more like the swine flu or beriberi. It’s forcing the industry to change. Just as YouTube is causing the TV networks to change. There will always be a need for a print Yellow Pages but I believe the big YP co’s are basically becoming marketing agencies for SMB’s and that’s not a bad business to be in.

Miriam: I know we’re all still learning about this stuff, but would you be willing to make a guess at the major factors currently determining local business’ A-J rankings in Google Maps and the 10-Pack?

Andrew: My take so far is location in relation to the centroid of the city (not necessarily the zip centroid) is numero uno. Then having your data in Google Local Business Center. Then all of the standard SEO measures – keyword targeting, links, reputation, etc.

Miriam: Are there any local industries you’d be particularly, personally interested in working with?

Andrew: I am looking into putting a painted glass backsplash in my kitchen so someone who can do that for me would be a good idea. I have been working with the world floor covering association on providing SEO and PPC services to flooring retailers around the country so that’s a good one. Anyone need some carpet?

Miriam: What else should I have asked you about? Tell me!

Andrew: What’s your favorite music to listen to when you are doing SEO work? www.littlestevensundergroundgarage.com, www.lounge-radio.com

Miriam: I’m all for working to music. In point of fact, I confess we built an entire website a couple of months ago while listening to the BeeGees! I can’t believe I’ve admitted that, but it kept us feeling breezy, energized and perpetually amused by the singing. Our typical soundtrack usually includes 70’s prog rock, Motown and early jazz. Thanks for the link, Andrew, and thank you so much for sharing what you know with us!

Update On Canoe Guy’s 30 + Missing Reviews

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

If you caught my earlier post regarding the Canoe Guy’s missing reviews, I have an update on the situation to share.

This afternoon, I phoned Charles at CanoeSport in Houston, Texas and he was gracious enough to chat with me about the reviews that have gone missing from his
Google Maps’ Local Business Listing.

According to Charles, in November of 2007, he had just one review appearing in Maps, and it wasn’t a great one. He said it was in the nature of a flame of his business. Not happy with that, Charles took action and sent an email to some 100 of his very best customers, asking them if they’d be so kind as to consider leaving a review for his business. He got a great response of more than 30 reviews being left via Google’s Own Review System.

Yes, the missing reviews are from Maps, itself.

As of last week, Charles discovered that ALL of the reviews had disappeared, both the good and bad ones. If you look up Canoesport in Houston, Texas, you will see that there’s nary a review to see there.

This is not a community wide problem. Google reviews are showing up for other businesses.

Charles is feeling understandably bewildered by this, and has tried to bring the situation to Google’s attention by posting in Google Groups, as I mentioned in my previous post. I wonder if he will be given the attention he deserves.

I have documented in the past my own frustration with the fact that Google does not appear to count its own reviews in the ten-pack or upper levels of its interface. You have to click through to the expanded pop-up in Maps to see the Google reviews included. But this isn’t what is going on here. The reviews for Canoesport are truly gone. On a similar note, Mike Blumenthal has just posted about the fluctuation in review sources he is witnessing in Google’s Maps top ten. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride, but not the cause, I would say, of Canoesport’s problem as these reviews were from Google, itself.

You Know What I Think?
In talking this situation over with my husband, Liam suggested a theory I’m feeling inclined to agree with. If CanoeSport’s 30 + reviews all showed up suddenly, over a very brief period of time, perhaps it has triggered some sort of a spam filter in Google’s local algo.

Because it would certainly be possible for a business owner to create a bunch of fictitious accounts in order to write false reviews for his business, Google might be experimenting with a filter that would discredit these reviews, if they show up too quickly, and either put them in a holding tank (read sandbox) or altogether banish them.

I like Liam’s theory very much, but if he’s correct, we’ve got a serious problem.

Local business owners are going to be asking happy customers for reviews. They will be engaging in email campaigns like CanoeSport did, they will be sending thank you cards to patrons with requests for reviews, they will be doing whatever it takes to let satisfied clientele know that they’d appreciate a review. What Charles did was a smart and natural response to seeing what he felt was an off-the-wall poor review of his company. He harnessed the power of his local customers and asked them to speak up for the quality of his company.

If Google has got some kind of undisclosed algorithmic policy that stands in opposition to that, it’s going against the tide of how things work in the real world of reviews. Based upon marketing efforts, reviews can trickle in or they can pour down like a storm. After speaking to Charles, I was quite convinced that his reviews were legitimate, and that whatever is going on is resulting in an unfair review-less presentation of his business in Maps.

My hope is that those reviews are going to show back up, and what Liam and I are considering as a potential cause of their absence could be totally off-base. What do readers think?

Best Practices for Handling Clients’ Local Business Accounts

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

I’m putting this out as a general question. When we get a new client and set about registering them in Google’s LBC, we are creating an individual account for them, filling out their information, and then dealing with the whole phone call/pin number thing while having the client sit by the phone, waiting for Google to call.

Is there a better way to handle this? Is there a way for a webmaster to control multiple accounts as one might do in Analytics?

It doesn’t seem possible, because of the verification process. Google is going to be sending those postcards or making those phone calls and wants to talk to the business owner, presumably, not the webmaster, despite the fact that we are authorized to be in control of the account.

I am curious, is this how other Local SEOs are handling this? Is there some simpler way to do this that I’m not thinking of? I’d appreciate hearing about your experiences.

Thanks, all!

Google Local Maps Is Not Yellow Pages

When Mike Blumenthal posted about a Google Maps for Business Owners Group rep appearing to upsell Adwords to a local business owner seeking better Maps rankings, it put me in mind of one of 2007’s most dramatic happenings – the Denver Florist episode.

To recap: the Denver florist reported that his business had collapsed because a competitor had been given one-box placement above his own, once-successful organic ranking, stealing major business away. The most curious element about this whole agonizing situation was that the angry Denver florist made a big point of mentioning that he was spending thousands of dollars in Google Adwords, and because of this, he seemed to feel he was entitled to more favorable treatment.

I was left wondering why he thought his Adwords spend had anything to do with his un-paid rankings.

Had someone told him this, or was this simply a proof of the illusion that Google Maps works like Yellow Pages in a you-get-what-you-pay-for manner?

Then Mike posted his Adwords Upsell post, which I read carefully. The rep is NOT saying, “if you sign up for Adwords, you’ll get a better organic or Maps ranking.” However, I can imagine that a harried local business owner could read their advice that way.

Today, I came across an all-too-familiar post in the Google Maps for Business Owners’ Group:

Last week we had over thirty reviews of our shop Canoesport in
Houston, Texas.

The reviews are now gone! Please put them back.

I am an adwords subscriber and have paid Google thousands of dollars
for your services.

Please contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx
Thanks,
Charles

Here we have yet another business owner believing that their Adwords spend is related to their standing in Google Maps. I think one can read this in one of 2 ways:

1) Someone told the Canoe Guy that spending money in Adwords = preferential treatment.

2) The statement about the Canoe Guy’s involvement in Adwords is meant as a sort of, “do you know who I am?” kind of remark. In other words, “I’m an important customer who gives you lots of money – treat me like I’m valuable to you.”

I’m not able to determine the true intention behind these Adwords spend statements, but I find them very disturbing because they represent a serious disconnect between Google and local business owners.

Google Maps is Not YP
Any local business more than a couple of years old is likely to be coming to Google’s local listings from a traditional Yellow Pages mindset. As I recently documented, a business owner in San Francisco, CA can hand their YP rep a check for $90,000.00 and be certain that they will receive a full page color ad in the phone book for this investment.

There is no amount of money any business owner can give to Google to get a guaranteed ranking in Maps. As the Canoe guy’s plea for respectful service indicates, small business owners are failing to understand this important fact.

And this is why Maps is coming across as unstable to us and our colleagues in Local Search. It’s small wonder to me that the Local specialists we’ve been interviewing over the past 2 weeks are describing local search as frustrating and half-baked. SEOs are used to a no-guarantees world. Small Business Owners are not.

If Google intends to keep Maps algo-based instead of payment-based (and I’m sure they do), I urge them to adopt a more transparent and educational rapport with SMBs. I feel very sorry reading the bewilderment of the local business owners who are finding themselves swimming against the tide in a help group, praying for answers, rather than dialing up an assigned rep as they would with YP.

It’s only making matters worse if Maps reps are upselling Adwords in the midst of this, furthering the money = preferential treatment delusion.

A Good Neighbor Policy
I was recently talking to Mike about Google’s seeming inability to ‘get’ local business owners. Mike felt that Yahoo! was making a better effort to create a friendlier atmosphere for them, right down to the language in the business registration process.

Succeeding locally involves becoming a stable part of a community – becoming a good neighbor.

I would like to see Google adopt a Good Neighbor Policy if they want to honor the mentality of local business owners. To me, this means being open and above-board regarding the rules, functions and benefits of Maps. It feels precarious to me that so many SMBs are suddenly discovering that their business information has been sucked into Maps without their knowledge and that finding out how to take control of one’s listing and correcting the numerous errors one may encounter has been made about as transparent as mud for these important folks. Google Maps has got a communications problem.

I want to see Maps succeed. I love Maps. I use it repeatedly just about every day. But what will happen to the Google brand if the Canoe Guy gets no real answer as to why his reviews have disappeared? What if all the canoe guys, and florists, and bakers and dentists, and roofing crews and catering companies have a vague, unsatisfactory experience with Maps that ends up harming their bottom line? They certainly aren’t going to become the evangelists Google needs for this growing enterprise.

Google’s local business owners are also Google Maps users.

Worth thinking about…

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