August 2011

Defining Local Content For Business Owners With Questions

Over at CopyLocal.com, I’ve taken my best shot at giving a Definition of Local Content. I’ve explained what it is, why, when and where it should be published and have given three detailed examples of types of content three hypothetical North American businesses might publish.

If you’re a local business owner or who have local business clients, this definition article should provide a good start to understanding the elbow grease and potential benefits of local content creation. And, if you like my writing, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed over at CopyLocal. I’m working hard over there to offer articles that will give you a competitive edge when it comes to local copywriting.

Why Open Source Shouldn’t Equal Open Season In Google Places

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Back in November of 2008, I wrote an article in response to the following statement from a Google rep:

The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community. That said, we also work very hard internally to identify behavior that doesn’t benefit the community and to take the appropriate actions. We look forward to more and more users getting involved to help us keep Google Maps fresh and accurate.

At the time, I strongly questioned the wisdom of giving real business data wiki treatment, to wit:

As I see it, the main danger of misinformation being distributed by Wikipedia is a poorly informed public. While this is unfortunate, it cannot compare to the hazards of inaccurate data in an application like Google Maps, which include:

1) False representation of businesses without their permission or knowledge
2) Lost income due to incorrect or hijacked listings
3) Public safety in jeopardy due to inaccurate publication of emergency/medical services information
4) False, libelous information given prominent publication in the form of user reviews

In essence, Google’s local business model is based on acting as the guardian and keeper of business livelihood, public reputation and public safety, but having stepped into these oversized shoes, they have quickly jumped back out of them by putting the responsibility for the accuracy of data they are publishing on the shoulders of public volunteers and third party data collectors.

This past week, my sentiments on this subject have come to the fore yet again reading Mike Blumenthal’s recent series of posts on false business closure messages being posted to Place Pages as a nasty competitive tactic, and most specifically, his most recent post quoting a letter from a Google rep on this subject. I quote:

The vast majority of edits people have made to business listings have improved the quality and accuracy of Google Maps for the benefit of all Maps users. However, we’re aware that abuse – such as “place closed” spam reports – can become an issue, and we’re working on improvements to the system to prevent and flag any malicious or incorrect edits.To be clear, the system currently displays the UI message “Reported to be closed. Not true?” when there is a pending edit that marks a place as closed. Only when that pending edit is reviewed and approved goes the UI message change to “This place is permanently closed. Not true?” We know that accurate listings on Google Maps are a vital tool for many business owners; we take these reports very seriously and do our best to ensure their accuracy before updating a listing’s status.

It is good that Google is aware of this problem of false business closure reports, and I appreciate the rep’s statements that the company is working to improve safeguards, but I must take issue with the statement that Google is doing its best to ensure accuracy before updating a listing’s status. Once a malicious competitor has managed to get a message that says ‘Reported To Be Closed’ on a Place page, an update, viewable by the whole public, has already taken place. As has been pointed out at Mike’s blog, even the rumor of a closure could be bad for businesses in an economy where companies are struggling extra hard to keep doors open and thrive. Public rumors of closure can make a business look unstable when, in fact, they may be doing just fine.

Google’s open source wiki approach to local business data continues to rear its head in so many ways, demonstrating what I believe to be an inappropriate and even cavalier attitude.

By enabling anyone to make edits of any kind to a claimed listing, Google has declared open season on all businesses who are therefore in danger of becoming the targets of spammers and competitors who refuse to play fair. This is not a friendly or supportive stance for Google to take towards the very local business owners whose data makes Places possible (and the massive Adwords earnings attendant on it).

The only solution to this is that ANY addition, subtraction, edit, review or other activity to any claimed listing should trigger a report in the local business dashboard and an email to the account of record, accompanied by a field for response, confirmation or denial from the verified business owner. It is the business owner’s word that needs to count most, and a major action like report of closure should never go live without his prior approval.

I concur that public input does have a definite place in Local, and it can make Local more alive, current and rich, but the basic details about a business do not belong in the open source basket. Treat this in this way, and you are inviting every crook out there to take all the pot shots he wants. I’d love to believe everyone would be above such behavior, but, come on, we’re all adults here.

Remember, Google, you set out to vanquish Yellow Pages, and those were not open to public editing. What are you actually going to do to earn the confidence of business owners that you hold their data in high regard? My suggested solution would be a big start. Do my readers have other suggestions? Please, share!

And on a final note, hat tip to my friend and colleague, Jim Rudnick for pointing out to me just how many people are thinking hard about Google and fairness, eh. Check out this site: FairSearch.org. Some very interesting reading there, and, may I add, an extremely good-looking design.

Can A Competitor Make Your Local Business Look Closed?

Yes, it appears they can, with as little as two reports of closure within Google Places. Read my roundup of this issue of false reports of business closures at Search Engine Guide, and don’t miss Mike Blumenthal’s breaking-news coverage of this crazy and just plain rotten tactic.

Solas Web Design Launches CopyLocal.com

It’s been eight years since Solas Web Design put down our first roots on the web, and now, like a healthy tree, we’re branching out. This week, we’ve launched our own subsidiary company CopyLocal.com. We will continue to offer the SEO-based website design, Local SEO and Copywriting Services here at Solas Web Design for which you’ve been coming to us for nearly a decade, rest assured! CopyLocal.com is simply our new, additional space on the web to give niche focus to the copywriting needs of local business owners – an area of service that just keeps growing and growing!

I’ve been passionately involved in the Local SEO industry for quite some time now, and I have watched with interest as my various colleagues have shown tremendous aptitude for specific areas of this work. One is a great analyst, another loves tough Google Places problems, another is highly focused on the tie-ins of Local and Social and yet another monitors deals and acquisitions on a corporate level. Through my own work with clients, I believe I have identified my own greatest strengths: creating excellent copy for local business owners.

We do best that which we love best, and I sincerely enjoy learning about the communities in which local business owners operate and how hard they work to serve their customers well. I relish taking notes and getting all of the services and benefits organized. I take pleasure in bringing all of the elements into play, crafting copy that is true to the owner’s voice and true to the customers’ needs. I walk my talk, too, thinking globally and acting locally. I go out of my way to see if I can find goods and services in the towns nearest me. Bringing commerce down to a neighbor-to-neighbor level builds friendly, financially solvent communities with a genuine sense of accountability for quality and a vested interest in exceptional customer service. That’s the type of business I want to patronize and the type of business I want to patronize CopyLocal.com. Success is my goal for ever local business client, and I consider it an honor to be part of building strong local business communities throughout North America.

CopyLocal.com is also my first official attempt at offering an outsourcing service directly to SEMs. To be honest, all of the good folks I know in the industry turn to one another for help with specific tasks for their clients and we’ve been fortunate to refer clients to sage colleagues and to have them refer theirs to us. In addition to our basic Local Content Creation Service, we’ve created our Frazzled SEM Service in response to our observation that delays in receiving content from your own clients can bring your projects to a grinding halt. If you’ve noticed this phenomenon of procrastination is one of the weakest parts of your client process, check this service out. It could really simplify things for your whole team.

Finally, my Local SEO colleagues will have noted that Mike Blumenthal has been busy reporting on what a hot time in the old town Local is experiencing with negative and fake reviews. At CopyLocal.com, we’ve created our Negative Review Responder Service which will help business owners respond with professionalism to complaints, criticisms and attacks. If Miss Manners was a Local SEO, this is where I believe she’d be focusing her energies, bringing good etiquette and well-chosen words to the world of user reviews.

We hope you’ll check out CopyLocal.com, and if you know business owners in your own home town who are struggling over what types of content to publish on their websites, we’d love it if you’d remember us. In the meantime, we’d like to treat you to a hearty chuckle over our Funny Reviews collection, complete with illustrations, sure to bring a smile to your week.

Thanks to everyone who has offered advice and support towards the launch of CopyLocal.com. It’s good to be growing!