November 2009

Giving Thanks For 2009 At The SEOigloo

produce from our local farm

2009 has been rich in blessings for us here at Solas Web Design, and while this post has little to do with Local Search, Website Design or Copywriting, I want to take a moment to give my thanks for such good fortune and thought readers might like to see where our hearts have been for the past year.

great website design clientsThe year isn’t over yet, but we’ve been especially fortunate in 2009 in getting to work with wonderful new clients, the majority of whom have fallen within our favored areas of specialization by having a local, made in the USA or green business focus. We’ve gotten to listen to their stories and help translate these stories onto the web. We’ve gotten to pool energies with them, dream and create with them and watch them begin to work towards success. Simultaneously, we’ve gotten to continue to serve the clients who have been with us now for years. The good laughs and moments of accomplishment we’ve shared with these important folks have been many! It’s hard to overstate the happiness we feel, working every day in a positive environment that is peopled with clients who become friends after months and years of enjoyable collaboration. We feel very lucky.

breaking new ground
Meanwhile, we’ve spent this past year working on a different kind of fortunate harvest – a bounty of homegrown, organic food for our family’s table. When we say we’re into ‘Local’, it encompasses more that Google’s 7 Pack or user reviews on Yelp. To us, Local is a way of doing business, eating and living. We strongly support the local eating movement, and the most local dinner you can possibly eat is the one that comes from your own land. Like a small business owner making his very first foray onto the web, we started 2008 with a blank canvas – uncultivated ground.

Over the past year, we’ve tried our hands at more than 30 different food crops and are really starting to get a handle on what does well in our ecosystem, what will need more help to grow and what doesn’t seem to be suitable for our environment. Like the new web business owner, we’ve got to try everything and test everything to see what works best and can provide us with dependable and balanced overall sustenance. Digging and sowing, giving water and singing, harvesting, dining, canning and pickling. There is such a natural process and schedule there to be lived by, once you start to live it. Being located in Northern California means we can grow food year round, and as the year turns, we find ourselves going back into the cycle where we began it, planting for the new season with the seed we have saved from last winter’s crops. The rhythm and steps are good for our balance, our peacefulness and creativity. Doing this for ourselves means approaching the work we do for others with more vigor, more gladness and more spirit.

bringing in the harvest
My family has long had a tradition of letting each person at the Thanksgiving dinner table speak a few words about the things for which they’ve been most grateful during the preceding year. This November, I’m giving thanks for my own two hands – hands that can pull creamy new potatoes out of sandy earth – like magic – and hands that can write, design and work for the clients I come to value more with each passing year. It’s a gift to have tools like these to put at the service of loved ones and business partners and I am truly grateful for this.

Please let me wish you and your family a truly Happy Thanksgiving! May your holiday be convivial, memorable and blessed with abundance.

Google Locking Locksmith Spammers Out Of Maps

This is huge news! Our client, Glenn Younger of Grah Safe & Lock, has just reported to us that Google appears to at last be taking offensive action against the spammers that have so polluted the locksmith sector of Maps.

You may recall that we recently published an article about our website design and Local Search marketing efforts for Grah Safe & Lock. In that article, we detailed that the state of spam in Google’s local index for San Diego Locksmiths was so insurmountable that we had to proceed with this client as though Google didn’t exist. We focused on other indexes and sound on-page practices. Imagine our delight in learning the following from this much valued client:

Happy Day!
I may have missed it, but clearly a major chance happened in the last few days relating to map spam for locksmith. Although there had been some improvement, then that went away, as of 11-14-09 we have no map spam in the 7 pak, AND the organic listing for “Locksmiths San Diego” is mostly clean. After 2 years of total map spam, Grah Safe and Lock is listed on the 7 pak for most of our terms! And we are above the fold on our organic listing as well. Thanks must go out to you Miriam, the good work looks to be paying off. The local search stuff is working!

The Google trial on the sale of the 3 Local search listings is in effect in San Diego for “locksmith San Diego”, and the mapspam folks have all three of those spots now.

So they are not owning the 7pak, but they are still around.

Even in expanded map view 90% of the business listed are real, with real addresses. There are a few fraudulent address spammers among the expanded map view, but 90% are good, and have been for almost a week.

Yippee! Let’s hold out hope that Google has an Algo that works on locksmiths.

Clean 7-Pack

We are, indeed, holding out hope and holding our breath that this cleaned-up state of affairs continues in Maps. I haven’t had time yet to research whether spam has been reduced across the board or just in San Diego or some other limited geography. If anyone else has been keeping tabs on locksmith spam and has noticed a difference in the quality of the results, I’d love to hear about it.

Prior to this change, our client was almost impossible to find in Google Maps because of the spam overload. If Google continues to hold the fort against the bad guys, legitimate locksmiths may be able to stop pouring so much money into PPC just to make a showing in the results. It sounds like the local ads are still in trouble, but, at the very least, San Diego neighbors now have their first fighting chance to be connected to a real local locksmith via Google. When I consider the trouble and strife that has been associated with this vertical for so long, the clean 7-pack looks beautiful to my eyes.

Google Maps Sows And Reaps Incongruities

reap what you sow

A happy fall to all my readers, and I hope while you’re putting by locally-harvested supplies for the long winter ahead, you take a glance at Google’s pantry shelves to see what’s new in stock by way of their updated Local Business Center guidelines. Farmer Blumenthal wins the blue ribbon for his handy comparison chart of the old and new guidelines which does a fine job of pointing out some noteworthy differences in the language. Every so often, Google edits their guidelines and you can feel their efforts to resolve problems that are giving them headaches by using clearer language, but this latest iteration of the rules highlights the incongruities in what Google says and what Google does. With inconsistent advice and actions, Google is creating problems for themselves and confusion for users. Let’s take a look at a specific new point being made in the guidelines:

Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.

Of all Google’s policies, I like this one the least. It completely overlooks the vast and valuable segment of businesses that are:

a) Go-to-client and therefor not appropriate choices for listing a physical address because there is no place for customers to come to.
b) Home-based (stats say 50% of small American businesses are home-based) and therefor not always appropriate for listing a physical address because of privacy needs.

With a single line of text in the guidelines, Google wipes all of these very real, very local businesses that serve communities off the map. But it’s their company. Their right to do so. Their game, their rules, their say-so. If Google doesn’t want to see mobile notaries, window washers, landscapers, at-home health care workers & etc. as local because there isn’t a public, physical address associated with these kinds of workers, that’s their call.

But the call is shaky…it’s warbling…it’s not coming across loud and clear as Google’s set policy because of countless anomalies like this one:

farmers' market in Google Maps

Yes. Where is the street address for the Petaluma Farmers Market? Well, there isn’t one. Well, actually, if you visit the farm market website, you’ll see that the market is held in two different locations on two different days of the week…a few months out of the year…one in a park and one on a side street. What is this entity…this address-less offender…doing in Google’s index, with an authoritative one box, no less? If the Petaluma Farmer’s Market can be supreme for ‘D Street’, can I be ‘Locksmith Madison Avenue, NY’? No, I can’t. I’m supposed to have an actual building address. Google’s guidelines say so.

I think it’s important to nitpick about this. I really do. The listing that appears in my screenshot doesn’t appear to have been created by the farmers of Petaluma (submitted by business owner). Doubtless, it was created by Google through aggregation, crawling around the web and finding multiple references to this community effort as a very real local institution. And therein lies my gripe with Google.

Farmers markets may not have physical addresses. Farmers markets may not even exist year-round. But they are certainly local and legitimate and important for local people to know about. Google’s guidelines indicate that entities like farm markets don’t belong in Google Maps (despite the fact that they are including them and even have an LBC category for them) and I want to urge Google to rethink their policy on this. In fact, I want them to rethink what local means.

Local does mean beloved annual fruit stands at the corner of 5th and Elm in the summertime. Local does mean tree trimmers and yard waste haulers and pumpkin patches and notary publics and taxi drivers and tour guides. All of these things are part of community life on the local scene and I am asking Google to think some more about neighborhoods, small towns and cities and the real stuff of life that goes on there. The narrowness of Google’s definition of Local and the limitations of the pre-set fields of the Local Business Center forms are creating a depiction of Local that is artificial…it doesn’t match up to the way we live.

And, that’s my point. It’s not just that Google looks silly publishing data that doesn’t meet their own guidelines. It’s that our collective thinking about what Local is needs to grow. Does that thought excite you the way it does me? Why not throw some ideas around here today? What do you think about Google’s must-have-a-physical-address policy? Does this rule create a realistic representation of local businesses? How would you write the rules, if it were up to you?