Posts

Common Myths About
Google Places

Myth #1: A business owns its Google Places listing.

Google Places owns all the business listings it publishes. Adapting to this fact may be difficult for some small business owners, because they are accustomed to having complete control over their listings in other directories, especially in the print yellow pages.  Businesses pay dearly for print ads in phone directories, and thus have control of their content. A Google Places listing is free, but the business owner has little control over it.

Myth #2: Google Places uses only the info that a business owner provides.

The myth that once a Google Places listing is verified, a business owner provides the information that appears in the online listing is just that: a myth. If Google simply published what people put in their business listings, their local index would be warped into uselessness by spammers. The information a business owner provides via the Places dashboard is just one set of data that Google takes into account. Google also considers the data it receives from data providers, trusted local and industry directories, government records, phone and utility companies, what is published on the business’s own website(s), and what it learns from other reliable sources. If multiple trusted sources disagree with what the business owner provides, that version of the facts may prevail over the owner’s input. David Mihm provides a great explanation of how Google gathers and uses data here.

Myth #3: You don’t need a website to prosper in Local Search.

In the past, many businesses with no website have been able to rank well in Google’s Local Search results. This trend has been changing over the past few years. The top 2-4 positions in most Local Packs that appear within the organic search results tend to be held by companies that have both a strong Google Maps ranking and a website with a strong Google organic ranking. If your local market is competitive, you are more likely to need a strong website to rank near the top of the Local Packs.

Search results for local locksmith

Myth #4: Your Business’s Google+ Page is now your Google Places listing.

Google Places and Google+ are not the same thing.  Places is still your local business listing and Google+ Business is the platform on which you can be social using Google’s network of connections. In many cases, but not all, the two can be associated with each other within one Google account, resulting in a Places business listing which has Google+ social features.  Your About page on Google+ is one of the spots where your business information from Places can appear.

Conclusion: 

As you can see, Google Places can be a great tool for your business, but it has to be managed deliberately, like any other aspect of your business communication strategy.

Attend Local Search U – Get Free Stuff

I’ve had a lot of fun putting putting together GetListed.org’s Local University with David Mihm, Matt McGee, Mike Blumenthal, and Mary Bowling. They’re SEO’s that I’ve followed for a while. It’s been great working on an event with some of my industry heroes and having the opportunity to bring them to Spokane for what I know will be an amazing event. They are really talented folks.

In fact, three of our presenters are finalists for a SEMMY Award. It’s the search engine marketing equivalent of The Oscars, except the nominees aren’t nearly as good looking. While I doubt the awards will be covered by E Television, it’s an honor to be nominated.

Alright, what’s up with the this talk of free stuff?

We’re thrilled at the registration numbers so far, but my goal is a 100% packed house. Beyond a personal goal of having a full room for the event, a packed house helps send a very positive signal that Spokane is a destination for technical conferences. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having to go to Las Vegas, Orlando, or San Jose for conferences. It’s time for more technical conferences to come to Spokane!

But I also have a personal goal – to beat Matt McGee. You see, Matt took the early lead in attendee registration and politely reminded me that he’s not even from Spokane. That just ain’t right. All speakers have individual discount codes that saves you $50 (the same discount offered via The Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, The Inlander, and LaunchPad). The only difference (until now) is the code tracked in our registration engine.

Let’s see some schwag (free stuff)!

For those of you familiar with trade shows, there is always the allure of schwag – free stuff from vendors. As this is a non-profit educational event, we don’t have the budget for traditional schwag. However, here’s what I’m throwing out there for reese2010 attendees:

Register For The Event Here
Add “reese2010” during the check-out process to save $50 and select one option below.

Free One Hour SEO/Marketing Assessment: Pick my brain for one hour at your office. Yep, one hour of free Internet marketing advice. No pitch. No proposal. One free hour of SEO advice for you and anyone else at your company that you’d like in the room. Bring your questions and I’ll do my best to answer as much as humanly possible in one hour.

Free Foosball Lesson: Back in the day I made an attempted a career in professional foosball. In fact, I’ve played four of the top 20 foosball players in the world. True, my 0-4 professional record doesn’t exactly make me the Roger Federer of the foosball circuit. But I’d call myself a very good recreational player and can teach you some really cool tips and techniques that will help you beat your friends and neighbors the next time you play. I’ll meet you at Trent & Dale, THE place to play foosball in Spokane. I might even be able to talk Lotus Leong-Chesbrough into swinging by. She has won a $100,000 invitational tournament, represented the United States in international competition, and destroyed me in a tournament back in 1994.

Free Disc Golf Lesson: As an aspiring disc golf player tournament player, I’ll offer tips about improving your game and guide those who would like to learn more about the sport. I’m still a relative novice to disc golf, but play quite a bit and am happy to share what I’ve picked up so far. To learn more about the sport, check out the Spokane Disc Golf Association.

 

 

Register For The Event Here
Remember to add reese2010 before final check-out

But what about people that have registered for the conference already?

No worries. All attendees that registered before January 27th will be grandfathered in! This is all in good fun. The local search community is a very close, supportive group of people. Our goal is to provide you with all the tools necessary to immediately head back to the office and improve your business. And if we’re able to play some foosball or disc golf along the way, all the better. We look forward to seeing you on February 4th!

Searchfest 2009 Recap

In my best Joey Lawrence voice,… “Whoa!” Talk about a great search engine marketing conference. Big props to the SEMPDX crew for putting together such a top quality event. Though it’s a six hour drive from Spokane to Portland, I’m going to join so that I can go to their monthly meetings and talk with the very talented search folks in P-Town (and check out a Blazer game or two). If you are an SEO anywhere near Portland, it’s a no-brainer to join SEMPDX. OK, now for my brief recap. I’m keeping this one short as I’ll be writing more detailed posts on topics over the next few days.

Keynote: Danny Sullivan
Danny was entertaining as always, with a great blend of technical insight, industry experience, and humor.  The format of his presentation was largely driven by audience questions generated prior to the event. The majority seemed to come from Cecily Stout, a great SEO out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  I always enjoy talking with her at conferences.  One of his more interesting points, in my opinion, was the way he broke out social media into several different categories.  I’ve personally felt that there are so many different types of social media that it never really made sense to lump them all together.  However, this was the first time I’d seen someone really break them apart into more logical categories.  It will really help in my discussions with clients.

Local Search: Mary Bowling, Matt McGee, David Mihm, Greg Hartnet

David really did a great job in putting this session together.  In fact, I found out later that day that he had a big part in getting the A-List SEO line-up for the conference in general. Nice work! I found the local search session to be one of the most valuable of the day. It provided great content and balance for both agency search marketers and in-house folks. Here are a few high notes:

Matt McGee really got me thinking about, neigh,… planning to join his hyperlocal blogger army. His presentation included the only true case study-esque data of the day, which I appreciate. The crux of his hyperlocal blogging presentation is that if we can believe all the news articles about traditional media dying off, there is a huge opportunity for marketers to present valuable local information to the community and benefit from the additional traffic. He provided some really great data and insight. I’m planning on writing more about his presentation in the next few days.

Then Mary Bowling rocked the house. I’ve seen her present three times now. Every time she presents I can’t help but think “What could possibly be left to talk about?” She just lays it out there. Examples, tactics, strategies, specific advice, etc… Her session convinced me to finally look into using hcards. It also showed my how to better use GLBC attributes to better rank outside of your geographic area (but within your service area). This has been a problem for quite some time for clients. I’m looking forward to implementing her suggestions. Thanks, Mary!

Technical On-Site SEO: Susan Moskowa, Vanessa Fox, Aaron Kahlow

I went into the session looking to get three technical questions answered. Not only did I get them answered, I learned a few other details in the process. Here are my three take-aways from this session.

1) Use webmaster tools more than you do. There’s always a tendency (at least for me) to use other tools first. Their demonstration of questions that can be solved within Google Webmaster Tools quickly reminded me that I should be using it more.

2) Submit both XML and HTML sitemaps to Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Many people (myself included) are a bit too Google-focused. Sure, it’s by far the dominant player, but do you really want to ignore 20%-30% of the remaining search traffic out there.

3) Bookmark Vanessa Fox’s Jane and Robot web site and go there often. After nearly every technical question that she answered, Vanessa followed the answer with “There’s an example/code/case study/etc. on www.janeandrobot.com.” I checked it out when I got home. It’s awesome! Take a look for yourself.

The big downside of attending at multi-track conference is that you are bound to miss some great presentations. Fortunately, Rebecca from SEOmoz was on the other side of the divider wall and put together an amazing summary of the presentations I missed.

Well, that’s probably enough for one post. I’ll separate my re-cap into three posts and then delve into a few more details. All in all, a great event. For those who missed, I’d definitely check it out next year.

The Value of Internet Yellow Pages

I originally posted this article to Mihmorandum: The Small Business Web Design + Local SEO Blog by Local Search Guru David Mihm. I met David at SMX Advanced this Summer and talked with him briefly about some very curious data that I believed was being driven by status changes in my SuperPages account. I saw him again at The SEOmoz Expert Seminar in Seattle and talked about it in detail. He thought my data was interesting enough to warrant an article and gave it a platform on his blog. This is a re-post of that article. David wrote a reaction to my analysis the following week.

Fluctuating SERPs: The Reason for My Curiosity

In late 2007/early 2008 I noticed something very interesting. When I upgraded our free Superpages listing to a featured listing, our organic traffic immediately increased for nearly all of our desired keywords + location. We ranked on page one in organic search as well as in the blended, 10-pack results for our desired keywords + location. Then I stopped the featured listing to see what would happen (though I kept the free listing intact). Sure enough, the rankings, as well as traffic, dropped. After seeing low traffic for a while I upgraded again and the SERP’s jumped back to life.

Initial Investigations

I brought this up at the Q&A session at SMX in Santa Clara. It seemed that my featured Superpages listing was getting priority and I asked the Local Search Panel if that was the case. The consensus of the panel was that it didn’t have much effect, and that it was likely other factors causing the spikes in rank.

The person sitting next to me happened to be a reporter from Wired. The next day she published a quick blog post about my observations. Had I taken some time to think about it a bit more that day rather than rant, I might not have looked like such an idiot. However, it did start amplify the discussion. A very good take on her article can be found on Greg Sterling’s Screenwerk blog. It includes some great comments from Chris Silver Smith, Mike Blumenthal, and others. While many of the original comments to the article were negative in tone (can’t say I blame them), a few people emailed directly to say they had experienced similar results.

The Importance of Categories

I was advised to delete my Google Local Business Center categories, instead relying on Google to index and incorporate the more detailed Superpages categories and sub-categories. Within six weeks of this change, my search results for all relevant keywords + location (San Francisco) increased 40%.

My first assumption was that this was mostly category-based, as Superpages (and other IYP’s) category list is much more robust than Google’s. While I’m not sure if this is the case for all industries, only a few of GLBC’s categories are related to our industry (film and video production). In the Google Local Business Center category list, only three make sense. Meanwhile, for Superpages, the related category list is extensive.

Sharing, Caring, and Matt Cutts

A few months later I shared this tip at SMX Advanced in Seattle during the final Q&A session. I talked with several SEO’s after the show (including David Mihm) that had ideas as to why this might be happening.

On my way out the door, Matt Cutts stopped me and mentioned that Google took a look at the site after they read the article in Wired. He mentioned that it was possible my recent results were as much due to the work of their engineers as my category change. I thought it was pretty cool of him to let me know they had been working on the relevancy for Local Search. It isn’t every day that you hear that you helped influence a search algorithm (at least not for me).

(n.b. from David, Google undertook a massive adjustment in their determination of category around the time of SMX Santa Clara. Mike Blumenthal has a great write-up on this, including a quote from a Superpages resource saying, “Perhaps they only accept categorizations from partners which have taxonomic processes which they believe to be of higher quality.”)

My Experiment

I decided to test the two variables that I hypothesized were affecting Hotbed’s search results. I dropped my Superpages listing from featured to free and added my categories back to my GLBC.

My keyword + location results in both organic and blended search dropped almost immediately. My organic traffic dropped 70% in one month!

Thank God for SMX Local. Armed with this data I was determined to find out why this was happening. My citation with Superpages was still there (though no longer a featured listing). I was trying to wrap my head around the drop in rankings. Do featured listings in the IYP’s receive more link juice? Are they somehow circulated through a wider network of distribution partners? Are they somehow perceived as more relevant?

The content and discussions at SMX Local in San Francisco got me back on track. Definitely check out David Mihm’s great SMX Local recap for a summary of content.

During one of the breaks I had an opportunity to talk with a group of ten local SEO’s to figure out why I was receiving these dramatic results. What follows is are the assumptions of that group as well as continued discussions with David for this post.

  1. While Superpages is a strong, relevant, and authoritative site, it shouldn’t have that much power in determining rank.
  2. An authoritative citation shouldn’t have any more or less power at the search engines whether it’s a featured listing/citation or not.
  3. As business for Hotbed is mostly local/regional traffic, keyword + location specific searches will dominate both local and organic search traffic.

Delving Deeper

David and I took a close look at my Superpages listing. No matter how we searched for Hotbed, it always came up on page four or five of the results within Superpages. It’s a good possibility that the citation is not being indexed by Google that deep in the Superpages results.

As a featured listing, the citation is guaranteed page one visibility. The default results are generally listed in alphabetical order. So, if you happened to be Abe’s House of Video Production you’d be just fine. Hotbed Media less than fine, and Zeekâ’s Zany Film Studio would be absolutely screwed.

The Answer

I just checked the results again on Superpages and noticed that default is no longer alphabetical but standard search results. This could explain my recent increase in rank. However, many other factors are now in play that I believe are having a very positive impact on the web site ranking and overall exposure. There were many great take-a-ways from SMX Local that I have since implemented.

  1. Addition of a citation and video on eLocal Listing. Steve Espinosa from eLocalListing had a great presentation and I really wanted to try their services.
  2. Addition of BOTW local listing per David Mihm’s suggestion.
  3. Addition of MetaCafe citation and video as another authoritative citation/video source
  4. Created an account on Universal Business Listing to ease submission process.

Conclusion

I was relying too heavily on a single featured listing for local authority. Per Mike Blumenthal and others at the conference, addition of many authoritative citations is very important in local search. A featured listing in the IYP’s is probably a good way to kick-start your local listing. However, the same effect can be accomplished for less money with a little bit of effort. I have still not re-activated my Superpages featured listing and have seen great gains in the past several weeks.