June 2010

The Basics Of Reporting Google Maps Problems

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I wanted to point the way to my most recent Search Engine Guide post: How to Report A Google Maps Problem. I wanted to cover the basics of doing this, and used an on-going problem I’ve been cognizant of for several years with user intent and categorization. If you’re looking for something Local-ish to read, please, head on over there.

This week in Local, tons of nice folks have convened in Cleveland, Ohio for the 3rd event in the Local Search University conference series. Looks like the Local guys and gals are heading to Denver in September…that sounds rather poetic. Bottom line: if you own a locally-focused business and the Local U is coming to you, definitely try to attend. The opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in Local Search will be yours, for the benefit of your business.

At Solas Web Design, we’ve managed a day off this week. Whoa! That doesn’t happen all the time, but we’re just finishing up several projects and have a moment for a little deep breathing before we forge ahead into July’s busy schedule. We took a short hike in the redwoods yesterday afternoon and fed organic raspberries to appreciative chipmunks. It doesn’t get any less like trying to delete multiple Google listings for a client than that, does it? Variety is the spice of life. I’m looking forward to the next projects on our drawing board, and we still have openings for a few cool new clients. Got something interesting going on, perhaps with a Local SEO component? We’d love to hear from you?

Local Professional Service Websites – When Business Comes From Referrals, Not Google

How should you approach presenting your business on the web when your clients come to you via professional referrals, rather than from search engines? Such is the case for many types of businesses, including one of our most recent clients – Robert Grove Jr., DDS – an endodontist in Santa Rosa, CA. Endodontists are the specialists to whom your regular dentist refers you when you need a root canal or other complex oral care, and this arrangement dictates that the majority of my client’s new patients are simply sent to him, no website needed…or so it might at first seem.

Let’s reflect on this situation a little more deeply, and I think we can come up with 3 very good reasons why even non-search-engine-dependent business models should definitely publish the very best website they can:

1. Professionalism
Because of the way our society has come to use the web as a research tool, a kind of Who’s Who, chances are good that your professional colleagues and incoming clients will use the Internet to ‘check you out’. What impression would you like to make? In businesses that involve medicine, technology or valuable services, it’s important to present yourself as an up-to-date, trustworthy professional and having a well-designed website is a simple way to let anyone who looks you up know that you are on the ball.

2. New Business
Unless your business has reached its maximum growth potential and you are no longer accepting new clientele, a well-designed, well-optimized website will help new potential partners to find out about you. For example, let’s say a new general dentist moves into my client’s town and sets up a practice. He needs to have endodontists he can refer to in his new place of business. The dentist may well turn to the web to get a sense of who the practicing endodontists are in his area. A truly welcoming website which has been properly optimized for Local Search and invites new colleagues to contact the endodontist is an excellent tool for facilitating new, mutually-beneficial relationships.

3. Direct Business
Though the endodontist receives the majority of his clients through referral, there are occasions on which a new potential patient might contact him directly, without going through a dentist first. In such cases, how smart it is to have a high ranking, informative site that can put the patient in direct touch with the specialist right away. In addition to this, don’t forget about all those existent patients who may need to look at driving directions, call the office, fill out a form or accomplish some other task that a quality website can facilitate with such ease. A thoughtfully developed professional service website not only encourages business but it sees to the needs of existing, valued clients.

If these three reasons are making good sense to you, let me give you a little insider look at exactly what we did for Dr. Grove to attempt to accomplish all of the above goals.

Like many professionals in the medical field, Dr. Grove already had a website, but it had been built some years ago and was looking outdated. SEO efforts on the old site were minimal and usability issues involving the menu needed to be addressed. The most positive aspect of the site was that some care had been put into describing various aspects of the practice, explaining about root canal therapy and other important details. However, the website’s homepage was a splash page – a page without meaningful content acting as a doorway into the site. As you can see from the above screenshot, we put major effort into remedying this and the new homepage is now well-supplied with the most important data about this business:

-A complete menu listing all pages of the website that is consistently placed in the same location on all pages of the site

– Very prominent contact information including a Google Map

– An overview of the services provided by the practice

– A link to a new patient form that can be printed and brought into the office on the patient’s first visit

On the stylistic side, we took what was basically a plain blue screen with very small images and turned it into a showcase of the beautiful office this endodontist has created. A friendly image of Dr. Grove has been incorporated into the masthead and a squint-free photo of his comfortable waiting room will help new patients to know what to expect. We have also geared the homepage copy to reflect the extra mile this practice goes, seeing to the comfort of their patients. Having a root canal can cause feelings of anxiety, and we’ve done our best, with visual cues and user-centric text copy, to let the website visitor know he will have a calm, positive experience with this practice. The entire staff at this office was totally thrilled with how appealingly their practice is now being presented on the web.

Because this business is local in nature, we’ve taken special care to ensure that all pages are optimized for geographic phrases + service phrases. We’ve also taken steps to create local business profiles in major local indexes and to claim existent listings. As of my glance at Google this morning, Dr. Grove is ranking extremely well for this three major search terms. I’m seeing him in the #1 spot, though what you see may vary slightly depending upon your location. Gratifying to see.

And do these rankings matter? Yes, when you consider our three points, above, I think they matter very much. If you’re going to invest time and money in a website, why not do a good and thorough job and reap the incidental benefits of good rankings as well? An endodontist, because of his referral-based business model, is not facing the competitive game the way another type of professional might, but even so, why not make the very best possible effort to show that your practice or firm is conversant with the modern way of doing business? I can only see benefits from this approach.

At the same time, the relatively low competitive aspect of this industry in this town dictates that such a business need not go to tremendous lengths to do well on the web. In contrast to the steps we recommended to this client, we have another client who is a mobile notary public. She does get some referral work, but much of business comes from direct client contact. In her case, we are always encouraging her to continue adding new content to her website, to answer more questions and provide more information than her competitors are bothering to do so that she can continue to outdistance them in the search engine results. She’s got to work a little harder to succeed. An ethical, skilled web design firm will advise you helpfully as to what efforts are appropriate for your business model, your industry and your region of the world.

I hope this article has helped you to think about your own local focused business. Are you doing all you can to showcase your professionalism, foster new business and take care of the needs of existing clientele?

David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors Hits The Presses

What a treat to participate in and to read the very latest annual Local Search Ranking Factors report, organized by David Mihm.

This year’s survey is of a much larger group of Local SEOs than we’ve had in previous years – perhaps a nice testament to the growing awareness of the importance of Local. As always, reading my colleagues’ comments is extremely educational. This year, I found the information about the inclusion of local and product/service keywords in relation to Place Page business titles, categories, descriptions and additional information the most interesting. In fact, I’d love the chance to discuss this further with some of the folks I most admire in the Local sphere. To me, it feels like Google’s guidelines are starting to make it very awkward to know how to create a listing that is complete without appearing to spam the index. I think this factor deserves extra discussion.

My hat is off to David for putting together another terrific report and I’d like to congratulate each of my honored colleagues for their fine participation. If you want to understand Local, make a date to read this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors. It’s not to be missed!