In addition to the infamous Panda and Penguin updates, locally-focused business are going through a lot with constant changes to Google Places (now Google+ Local). Not only is the platform often broken, leaving very little support to small businesses, the local search industry is quickly growing and evolving. The majority of local businesses don’t have the time, patience or experience to keep up.
Fortunately for small businesses and those interested in local search, some of the most talented SEOs in the industry share their thoughts and findings through their blogs and social media outlets.
So in honor of another gold medal for the USA men’s basketball team (my favorite Olympic sport), I present the Local Search Dream Team. If you weren’t familiar with the 1992 Men’s Basketball Team (nicknamed the Dream Team), all you need to know is that it was the greatest team ever assembled in professional sports. Period.
The Local Search Dream Team
Andrew Shotland – formerly from Insider Pages but now the author of LocalSEOGuide.com, one of the greatest resources for local search optimization tips and trends.
Mike Blumenthal – Co-founder and presenter at GetListed.org Local University and author of Understanding Google Places and Local Search. One of the first local search blogs I started following.
Question 1: In terms of optimizing the Google+ local page itself, what is the most valuable ranking tactic that people regularly overlook?
The obvious answer here for me is either:
- Not completing all five category fields
- Not using ANY custom categories
Proper categorization is absolutely huge if you want Google to view you as relevant for your target search terms. My biggest surprise when I look at most SMB's, even the ones who have claimed their +Local pages, is the percentage that have not taken advantage of all five category fields. They might enter 'attorney' and 'personal injury attorney' and figure that covers all of their bases. But surely there are additional categories for which they'd like to rank like 'motorcycle accident lawyer' 'dog bite lawyer' or 'wrongful death attorney' as well.
Categories. I am shocked at how many claimed listings I look at where only one category is chosen. Google allows for 5 category choices and 4 of them can be custom. If you don't utilize them it’s like denying yourself keywords to rank on. For instance, many dentists will only have the category "dentist" even though they offer "teeth whitening", "sedation dentistry", "family dentistry", "cosmetic dentistry", etc. The chance of ranking on these terms without having a category associated is extremely slim.
Keywords in the reviews. Getting your target keywords into your reviews has a noticeably positive impact on rankings. One way to get the keywords is to ask your reviewers to mention the service they had completed when you're outreaching for reviews. Another, somewhat sneaky way, is to do "review exchanges" with other businesses. In Google+ Local you can review businesses AS a business. So, you can offer to review a business you do work with in exchange for them reviewing you. Since you're discussing the review in advance, you can offer some subtle (or not so subtle) suggestions about what they might want to mention in the review.
Here's how you can review as a business, rather than an individual (these instructions assume you've already set up a Google+ Business page).
- Sign into your Google+ account.
- Click the Pages icon in the sidebar (might be under the "More" button).
- Click the "Switch to this page" button.
- You'll see a bar appear at the top that says "You are now using Google+ as a page".
- You can now click the Local icon on the left side, find the business you want to review, and leave them a nice keyword rich review.
Getting keywords in reviews on Google+ Local is great, and it's the first place we start, but once the client has a good set of G+ reviews, we then move on to encouraging reviews on other sites like Yelp, SuperPages, CitySearch, etc. Getting more of your keywords associated with your business at various places around the web is a good thing.
Actually claiming the frigging page. Claim your page already!
I am a big believer in being sure that the basics are covered. All too often SEOs and SMBs seem to only claim and clean their listings at one of the primary data source. They are drinking too much UBL or Localeze cool-aid it seems. The primary data providers (In the US: InfoGroup, Localeze & Axciom) send their data far and wide and it is absolutely critical to get your NAP correct at all three of them. It is imperative to also be sure that there are no dupes or old listings there as well.
In the case of Localeze, the free listing works well if you have a landline but if you have VOIP or mobile it is absolutely essential that you pay to have your listing verified.
Question 2: What are your 3 favorite tools/service specifically related to local search?
Well, obviously I'm a little biased on the first one :D, but...
1. GetListed.org ( http://getlisted.org ) - We offer a free service that helps business owners (and the marketers helping them) an efficient way to see where and how they're currently listed, and (I think) the most efficient path to clean up any inaccuracies.
2. Mike Blumenthal's Category Tool ( http://blumenthals.com/index.php?Google_LBC_Categories ) Related to my answer to #1...if you're having trouble figuring out the right categories in which to include your business, try typing a couple of your keywords into Mike's tool and see what categories Google is going to see as related.
3. Google Insights for Search ( http://www.google.com/insights/search/ ) Probably the single best LOCAL keyword research tool out there. None of the others ever show enough keyword volume for geo-modified searches (cosmetic dentist omaha nebraska or cosmetic dentistry omaha nebraska), so plug in the generic keywords (cosmetic dentist AND cosmetic dentistry) and select your metro area (United States -> Nebraska -> Omaha) to get an idea of the relative importance of each keyword for your market.
1. http://Getlisted.org - David Mihm's tool is extremely helpful for SMB's. The content on the site and his Local University Conferences are absolutely unmatched in the industry.
2. http://sweetiq.com - Michael Mire has been busy at work in the shadows creating an amazing dashboard for big and small businesses with a local focus. From tracking keywords across organic and local rankings to managing reviews the tool is really gaining some serious momentum.
3. http://linkprospector.citationlabs.com - The Link Prospector is a great tool by Garret Finch and Whitespark.ca. Everyone knows of Darren's citation finder but the value of links for local is extremely high and this tool can help to find opportunities in local markets or specific verticals where guest posts, directories, or sponsorships are possible. A truly hidden gem.
This is a bit awkward, but some of my own tools/services are my favorite.
1. The Local Citation Finder. Analyze your competitors’ citations, your own citations, and find new opportunities.
2. The Link Prospector. We use the "directories" prospecting type to find hyper-local citation sources specifically related to the city or industry of the client. Works a treat!
3. GetListed.org. We always run our clients through GetListed.org to get a sense of their profile completeness on the key citation sites.
4. Can I list a fourth? Our new citation building service. We do this for every client to get them moving up in the rankings quickly.
- David Mihm's Getlsited.org Accuracy tool is a critical piece in making sure that your nap is consistent and in helping you track down the source of bad data.
- Darren Shaw's Citation Tool is very helpful in automating a way to assess citation progress at Google and to find new citations
- Third place is a tie between 4 or 5 tools (The Google & Your Business Forums, my category tool, OpenSiteExplorer, BrightLocal ad hoc ranking report, Google Maps searches, Google MapMaker, the comments on my blog etc etc. etc.)… Ok maybe it’s more than 4 or 5.
Question 3: Prediction time – what will be the biggest change to local search ranking factors in the next 12 months?
Going out on a limb here, but Google will buy Foursquare for $500MM+. Google is just desperate for mainstream adoption of, and continued activity around, Google Plus, and there's just no other technology play available that has the kind of mass-market that Foursquare does. In the short-term, Google will continue to operate it under the Foursquare brand. They'll use it in the long-run, though, as a means to gradually get more end-users transitioned over to Google Plus, and over time we'll see all of those check-ins, tips, and keyword-saturated snippet reviews start to flow into the Plus ecosystem. And even if Foursquare users left en masse after their favorite mobile service had been bought by the Borg, the historical data alone would be well worth Google's purchase price.
We have seen a huge cosmetic shift in the look of local results on Google. That is bound to be followed up with a more algorithmic approach soon. With the weight of the new review system and prominence in search results I can see that reviews from power Google+ accounts could start to carry a lot of weight. Companies who aren't playing the review game are going to be sorely behind if they let this year go by without hitting it hard.
Socially, I see this year being big for Google+ and less so for Facebook. As more and more businesses realize that customers need to be on Google+ to leave reviews they will become Google's sales engine for this (though I disagree with Google on how they force G+ usage).
Outside the world of Google, I think that application usage will continue to rise for companies like Yelp, Apple Maps, etc. Businesses can no longer simply focus on Google and think they have the local base covered. When Google Maps loses position to Apple Maps companies are going to need to ensure that they are ranking well in Yelp and have a process established for managing reviews and listings across more places and not simply listing their business there. The day of the citation is dead. Simply having a profile with your name, phone and address is not enough. Profiles need to be fully filled out and used. We are at the point where companies need to maximize every local profile and engage and promoting customers to visit their place of business and leave reviews.
I'm guessing that social factors will continue to gain importance as ranking signals. Specifically in Google+. Google will use its social data to identify the trust and authority of people reviewing and sharing content online. They'll be able to devalue manipulative tactics and give boosts for real mentions from real people. Engaging in G+ and other social platforms will become a requirement in competitive local niches.
Results will continue to be more and more optimized for mobile searchers where the specific location of the searcher’s device is critical to the result.
In categories with high review volume/density (e.g. restaurants), Google will increase the influence of social factors while tamping down link-related factors.
The Google+ Local interface will be integrated with the maps tab to give G+ a boost.
I used to be a guide in the Rocky Mountains. My mentor used to say that only fools and easterners predict the weather. Much the same could be said about predicting the future of ranking factors. What I do know is that Google NEVER throws anything away and that includes ranking factors. The changes to ranking are slow and incremental and rarely cataclysmic and that Google sends signals along the way.
SEO.com wants to thank Mike, Mike, David, Andrew and Darren for participating and sharing their thoughts. If you’re interested in local search, make sure to follow their blogs and social accounts for the latest in the industry.