March 2008

Noteworthy Local Happenings of the Week

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

This week in local, Mike Blumenthal turned over a rock and discovered what appeared to be a cluster of brash affiliate spammers creeping around Yahoo! Local. His Search Engine Land article included nice screenshots of the Marriott Hotel chain with very weird URLs in their local listings. It looked to most of us like someone had taken control of Marriott’s listings and inserted an affiliate redirect URL into them in order to profit from a piece of the action. Bad stuff.

Within a couple of days, however, Matt McGee published a terrific interview with Brian Gil of Yahoo! Local and asked him about the Marriott Hotel issue. Brian suggested that what appears to be grave affiliate spam may not be what we think it is. In other words, he is seeming to indicate that Marriott may know this is happening and is using those weird redirects in order to track stats of some kind. Brian didn’t say this is a fact, but he hinted at it, in my opinion. Frankly, I’m confused. The interview is well worth reading as it delves into both the the importance of the long tail for Local SEO as well as the dubious power of user reviews. It seems Yahoo! Local is giving less weight to reviews than I might have thought. Interesting.

And, on the subject of winning reviews from customers, Michael Jensen of Solo SEO launched LeaveFeedback.org. I got to preview this terrific new user review service, and got to know Michael a bit in the process – very nice! The ability this service provides to business owners to organize their efforts to win reviews is exceptional and Michael’s blog post will tell you all about Leave Feedback.

On a silly note, I discovered that Google has changed their previous policy of not counting their own reviews in Maps and is now counting them twice!

Things I’m Wondering About
I’d like to see the long tail optimization in Yahoo! Local that Brian Gil was talking about in action. Does anyone have an example of this being done for a business? Is it possible at the free business registration level? If anyone can show me an example, it will greatly help me to get a good handle on how this works.

I’m also really looking forward to hearing success stories about the use of LeaveFeedback.org. I want to start using it myself for a couple of clients but am not quite ready to introduce this service to them yet as I’m tied up in other tasks for them.

Lastly, I’m thinking about how cool it is that someone like Brian Gil made himself so available to Matt. I’m wondering if Google will ever give us a Matt Cutts-like rep for Google Maps. Yahoo Local continues to come across as the far more accessible entity of the two competitors. I applaud Yahoo! for that.

Goofy, Goofy Google Maps Review Numbers

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

Back in January, I blogged about the fact that Google was failing to count their own reviews in the A-J listings and the small popup in Maps. One had to click into the bigger popup to see Google reviews counted amongst the other reviews from outside sources. So, a site with 10 reviews from Yelp and 4 from Google would only show 10 reviews in the primary interfaces.

Well, I’m all excited to announce that, from what I see, Google is now counting all my reviews I’ve left. They are appearing in the A-J rank and in the little popup. I looked at my oldest and newest reviews and all are being counted.

YAY, YAY….but…uhm…something is still not right…

Check out my most recent review for Mike Blumenthal’s company. From the screenshot, you can see that both Will Scott and I have left reviews for Mike.
sample review from Google Maps

But when you click on the 2 reviews link, you’ll see this:

sample review 2 from Google Maps

For some goofy reason, Google has decided to count our 2 reviews as 4 reviews!

I went and crosschecked this with other reviews I’ve left and sure enough, Google is counting each of its own reviews twice. It’s almost as if they are overcompensating for all those months when they weren’t counting their reviews at all. Now they’re counting them twice!

What’s Going On Here?
My guess is that it’s just a bug. It certainly seems like one.

In regards to why Google is now counting my reviews, I want to mention that I don’t think this is a sandbox-type filter on the age of the reviews. I’ve been checking periodically since December and it’s only today I saw the reviews being finally counted, the most recent of which is from the end of February. So, I don’t think the reviews had to age to be counted.

Could it be that I, as a reviewer, had to age to be counted? Since Google doesn’t show you when people join up to be reviewers, I researched this in the best way I could. I found a reviewer with only one review to their credit, left on March 5, 2008. My assumption is that their profile began the day they left their sole review just a couple of weeks ago. Not only is their review being counted, it’s being counted twice. So, I don’t think reviewers have to age before their reviews are numbered.

So, I think we’ve just witnessed a change in the review system which, while addressing the older bug of Google not counting its own reviews, is just being plain silly by counting them twice. Is everyone else seeing this, too? What do you think?

More Power To The Local People, On Craigslist and Yahoo Groups

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

Subdivisions and franchise shopping centers, the disappearance of unions and local manufacturing – these are a few of the many features of modern life that have slowly led to a disappearance of strong community feelings in much of America. Have you ever met your town mayor? Do you even know who is sitting on your city council? Do you feel informed about where decision-making power lies where you live?

I ran into something on Craigslist the other day that caught my notice. Because craigslist posts expire, I won’t link to the entry, but the gist of it was that a man in Humboldt County, CA. was fed up with local rent rates. As he explained, local wages simply aren’t commensurate with rental housing prices, and on top of this problem, the author was expressing his indignation over the mistrustful way in which prospective tenants are treated by landlords. 3 of his points certainly struck me as worth complaining about:

1) Landlords demanding credit checks. After all, it’s rent history that counts – not credit card debt – and credit reports never feature rental payment history. The author justly cites this activity as a violation of privacy and immaterial to the renter/landlord relationship. The landlord should only need to know if a tenant has a good history of paying rent. I have to add, with the country’s current housing crisis, I think landlords are completely out of touch with the times if they think they’re going to find tenants with perfect credit ratings. In today’s economy, people with perfect credit are attempting not to lose their homes and those who have experienced foreclosure are going to need to rent. Most of them will be well able to afford a rental, but if their credit history is what is being used to judge that, landlords are going to have a mighty interesting time finding anyone to live in their homes.

2) Landlords demanding first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. According the the author, this is a newfangled notion and because the security deposit can be withheld by the landlord for rather vague reasons, it leaves the tenant vulnerable to abuse. Shouldn’t the last month’s rent make the landlord secure that he won’t be ripped off? Or, why not dispense with the last month’s rent and simply charge a small security deposit? Demanding all three puts a very heavy burden on the tenant to come up with 2X the rent plus additional security money in order to move in.

3) Requirements to the tune of no pets/no smoking/no drugs immediately make the landlord appear overbearing and controlling. The author stipulates that if a renter is paying for use of a home, having a cat or choosing to smoke are personal preferences that should be no business of the landlord’s. And, as he adds, are drug addicts actually going to be dissuaded from renting houses by a ‘no drugs’ warning? Seems unlikely. The author warns that landlords who make all kinds of personal demands of this kind are unlikely to have any respect for their tenants’ privacy and I have to agree with him on that.

The whole setup is one that begins with a landlord requesting large sums of money for a service while at the same time expressing mistrust for anyone who might take them up on the deal. It’s not civil. I can’t imagine trying to open a business deal with a client by requiring them to pay me 2x what a website is worth, up front, telling them I’m suspicious that they are going to try to rip me off. I can’t imagine saying I’ll need to see their credit history, or warning them that while they work with me, they aren’t allowed to go about their private business in whatever manner they see fit. Who would feel good about doing business with me if this was my attitude?

So, the author was clearly fed up with both non-affordable housing as well as a disrespectful treatment of renters. In order to address this situation, he posted his list of complaints on Craigslist and invited his community to form a Yahoo! Groups organization that would work to try to establish rent control in his county. When last I looked, at least 11 neighbors had begun to participate in the group. I think that’s very cool.

I am very happy to see private citizens becoming educated about the powers the Internet has in store for them. I am delighted to see them using that power to try to improve their local communities. Every-man-for-himself may be the mantra in a capitalist society, but its end result is too often a lack of humane standards for all neighbors. I bet the Humboldt County rent control group will set about tracking down their mayor, their city council members and other officials in order to discover whether laws exist that can protect their right to fairly-priced housing.

Many people say that the Internet is one of the greatest contributors to modern isolationist views. But what about when it’s utilized to bring back something of the cohesion and communication communities enjoyed in days gone by? There’s a kind of poetic justice to it, isn’t there?

What do YOU do when local keyword research says zero?

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

Here is a challenge we’ve run into enough times over the years to make it seem worth a blog post to me. I would really appreciate hearing from all readers on this subject.

What do you do when you’re building a website or doing SEO for a local business and your keyword research shows zero searches for what the service does or sells?

For example, supposing you have a client who sells sewing machines in Houston, Texas. While, obviously, you can find generic searches for sewing machines, brands of sewing machines, etc., keyword research indicates that 0 searches like this are taking place locally. If keyword tools like WordTracker, Google Daily Estimates, etc show you that 0 people are searching for things like ‘sewing machine houston texas’, what are you to make of that?

You know your client sells their machines. You know they experience enough sales to stay in business in their community. Are you to believe that no one is using the Internet to look for what they’ve got? It would almost make you feel that having a website will be pointless, though this can’t be true.

In some cases, using a tool like SEOdigger (thanks, Dave!) can be useful in looking at your client’s competitors to see what they are ranking well for and that can at least help you brainstorm which phrases might be valuable, but what if the client has no local competitors, or the competitors’ sites are are completely unoptimized and therefore not ranking well for anything?

You just keep coming back to zero.

This is a dilemma we struggle with and, in such cases, it’s been our custom to optimize for whatever we discover to be popular broad searches (sewing machines) plus the location, but at the end of doing this, it feels like you’ve not developed a very strong strategy. It’s like you’ve said to yourself, “well, I’ll do this just in case anyone ever searches for a sewing machine in Houston.”

There’s got to be a better way to go about this, but I’ll be darned if I can think of what it is when no amount of deep digging is bringing you any data.

Have you faced this with projects? What do you do?

3-Pack and A-J Variance – Why Does Google Do This?

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo,

I’m sure you’ve seen this for your own local business or with your client’s listings. I’d like to provide an example of shifting results between the 3-pack and internal Google Maps results.

We launched a website for our client a couple of months ago who offers licensed elder care services. As you can see below, the site is already doing immensely well with an indented listing at positions 1-2 in organic for the search term ‘elder care home napa ca’, though it is not yet appearing in the 3-pack.

image example of organic search engine listings

Because, like so many business owners, my client is incredibly busy, it took a couple of months for us to coordinate registering with Google’s Local Business Center. I completed this task last night, and am amazed to see that he’s already made it into the A-J rank inside Maps at the C position, as shown below:

image example of google maps listing

That’s the fastest induction into Maps we’ve ever seen, but what I want to point out here is that, while my client is doing well within Maps, he is not in the 3-pack, despite his authoritative indented organic listing. You’ll note from the example that the rankings between the 2 interfaces have been switched about in several ways for the other businesses, too.

Why does this happen?

Greg Sterling had some great data on his site a couple of weeks ago regarding the way in which Yahoo! local values local listings, but what is Google doing?

To my way of thinking, doing well in either the 3-pack or 10-pack has most value simply because of the percentage of organic to Maps users. That’s obvious.

I hope folks will share their theories about this and I thought this was a useful example because:

1) If organic is influencing the 3&10-packs, why wouldn’t a top ranked site with an indented listing be the natural choice for inclusion in the pack?

2) If Google reorders things once a user clicks the ‘more’ link in the pack, are they doing this because they figure the user didn’t see what he wanted in the 3 or 10 sites shown and is attempting to get more information or refine his query?

Because the local listing just got validated, in this case, I’ll need to keep checking to see if it will, in fact, pop into the 3-pack soon. It seems very random, if you look closely at the first image, that the 3 pack is pulling only 2 sites from Napa and the 3rd from miles away in a little town called Glen Ellen. My client offers Google a more local result for this search phrase, and I hope Google will take note of that shortly.

I’d value any and all thoughts on this.

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