For businesses without a storefront, local search can get tricky.
Google wants to avoid businesses appearing in local search results if that business does not have a physical location in the city searched. They address this in the Google Places Quality Guidelines, where they disallow PO boxes and fake addresses.
The only known exception to this guideline is a business with general service areas. In this instance, businesses are to create a listing under one physical location. They are then allowed to designate those service areas. However, listing the designated service areas may not be effective in those areas with heavy competition.
In order to begin ranking in local search, we recommend the following tips and tricks.
Does Google know that we are not living in the Wild Wild West? I understand they want the “user” who is searching online to have the freedom of the range. But are they really benefiting searchers by penalizing business owners? Google Places has grown in importance as a component of local search. Some local businesses primary marketing resource is their Google Places listing (whether they know it or not). Unfortunately in the interests of “keeping it fair” Google does not provide feedback to owners of business listings if there is a problem. The notifications are pretty well non-existent when there is an issue with your Google Places account.
There is no email notification to advise the account holder that anything has happened or an “I have suspended your Google Place” postcard, because you’re not following the guidelines of the “Google Wild Wild West.” I have occasionally run into this issue with some of my clients Google Places Accounts and it is really mind boggling to me. Google will arbitrarily suspend or reject a business listing because it does not meet the quality guidelines. I understand the reasoning, abuse leads to bad information for searchers. I just feel it could be handled better for the genuine business owner. It is sometimes difficult for me to figure out the problem because most of the time the guidelines are vague and this is my passion! So how does a business owner with a business to run and find the time to fully investigate the nuances of Googles policy. I know – it’s free. So what do you expect? Consider though; if Google was not getting the feedback from owners about their listing would Google provide such quality information. It is defensible that we are all working to help Google when we “verify” our business listing.
Most of the time, you can review your places account and not fully understand that you are violating any of Google’s guidelines. All that is left is making an educated guess with small changes in areas and hope for the best! We are living in Google’s own Wild Wild West and trying to survive! Of course, the thing about the Wild Wild West is there was a great opportunity if you got it right. Maybe that is Google’s goal after all!
If you haven’t heard, we’ve recently said goodbye to Google Places and hello to Google Plus Local.
At Turn the Page, we’ve anticipated this merge for months assuming that Google+ would become more relevant for local search. The time has come and we are busy making the most of these changes for our clients.
Local Search- Now More Social
Google’s goal of creating a single web experience for users has taken its next step. Google has now integrated Google Plus Local into its networking site to allow users to share information about local shops and restaurants.
With social networking being a huge part of our lives and our businesses, people look to online resources when making a decision. We often seek the opinions of our friends and family as well as the reviews of others before making a purchase. The new “Local” tab on a Google+ page allows users to search for local restaurants, hotels and more with a full integration of reviews, ratings, and comments.
Converting Your Listing
In order for your business to take advantage of Google+ Local, it will need a verified G+ page. A Google places listing will not merge without it. If your business has this in place, the conversion should have been painless.
So is this beneficial? We think so. A consumer now has several ways to find you- Google Search, Google Maps, Google+ Search or in Mobile Apps- and now will have a very consistent experience.
Users then receive a much more engaging experience with reviews and several sources of information. Not only is it more visually interesting than Places was, but it is inviting to social interactions as well.
For a user, by choosing the Local tab, they are given a few options. They can simply browse the home page content for local businesses or they can conduct a search similar to a Google.com search. Two search boxes are visible allowing a category search as well as a location. Of course, Google knows your location, but in case you wanted to conduct a not so local search.
Zagat > Yelp ?
Integrated into this new local tab is Google’s Zagat which includes reviews, rating and comments from friends. Rather than a business being rated on a 1-5 star scale, Zagat allows users to fill out a more comprehensive review.
This helps to separate components such as food, service and atmosphere instead of being forced to factor them all into one. Zagat’s more complex scoring system prevents scores from converging and allows for a much more accurate review.
Changes to Mobile
Android devices have already seen these changes in Google Maps for Mobile. Still pending is app updates to iOS. However, Apple users may never see this based on predictions of its own Maps replacing Google Maps for the iPhone this summer.
Overall, these changes in Google+ Local and the integration of Zagat reviews provide a more useful local search experience for consumers. We are also excited about the large degree of social and recommended content that Google+ Local and Zagat have to offer.
For more information about getting your business active on Google+ Local, contact Turn the Page Online Marketing.
Google finally admitted that the Google Places “Tags” program was not a viable marketing solution. It will cease on April 29th (New signups have been stopped) 2011; after being introduced in 2010. Tags was a $25/month yellow highlight which could be attached to a business Places listing. It will be replaced by other product offerings for local business by Google. A couple of options are:
The Google Places boost ad is currently available to all businesses that have verified their Business Places listing. It is a simplified form of paid search operating in the local search environment dominated by Google Places. It very simple to get started and is managed automatically. Prices vary based on business type and you can select a monthly budget which suits you. You pay only when you get a click on your ad and you can monitor your results through the Google Places Dashboard. The pin for your listing is turned blue (as opposed to red) and your listing position is promoted in the rankings for selected search results.
Local Product Availability on Google Places
Google continues to develop Places as a tool for local shoppers. Their goal is to make it easier for a purchaser to find what they are looking for in an area close by from a reputable location. Local business owners can now provide product information via Google Places you can feature up to five popular products along with the price and local store availability. This allows the shopper to get a feel for the store and its prices before visiting.
Google Places for Local Business
The departure of “Tags” is not a negative for Places and local business owners can rely on Google continuing to improve this solution. It is a wonderful marketing tool for local business as witnessed by it’s use by Walmart and the like for its stores. If you are a business owner and haven’t claimed your listing you are losing business.
Google has been working on search localization for years. It has been a major priority for the search engine to promote local search results. Now it is producing results. The change is driven by the increasing consumer demand (mobile search) for something close by and familiar. For an increasing number of consumers there is a small and growing level of mistrust for information gathered online. People are more aware than ever that it is possible that what they are reading online is not always true. Business reviews have become an important component in local search as is the location of the business. We are still more comfortable with what we know despite the internet.
What does it mean for Local Business?
Google started this local search push with Google Places back in October 2010 with the introduction of Places search. The now familiar red pins and grouped business listings became prominent in local search results. Places carries a list of local businesses in a directory that allows results to be shown based on three areas:
A local business does not need a website to participate just a physical location for their business. A home based business can easily take advantage of this slant to local. Google searches the in internet (crawling other directories: Yelp, Citysearch etc) to provide local business results to online searchers. Business owners can claim and verify their own business listing. Once claimed a business owner can edit their listing to reflect their business. There are around 50 million Places listings and currently only around 4% have been claimed. A business is shown in results based on how it relates to the search term via the three components listed above. By claiming, updating a business listing and providing all the relevant information possible a local business can drive itself quickly to the top of search rankings.
If you have not claimed your Google Places listing then now is the time. Our experience is that claiming, completing and fully updating your business listing can have a positive effect on revenue. It is not only Google Places; all the major search engines are providing local search results. Bing has recently introduced the Bing Business Portal a significant upgrade which includes links to Facebook deals and QR Codes. Yahoo local also carries listings of local businesses. There is no cost for your listing and by taking the steps to complete your listing you can improve the position of your business for relevant search results in your area. Local search is expected to continue to grow. This is not driven by the search engines but by consumer demand. Smart phones are at the front end of local search with recent studies showing that 1:3 searches on a cell phone have a local component and that up to 50% of those searchers walk through the door as a customer. Don’t miss out on this opportunity for local growth.
Following on from our post on the mobilization of local search we want all local business owners to grasp the opportunity that has arrived. There is a mini revolution happening in online search. Its not only social media that is continuing to change the face of online marketing. The mobilization of potential customers is driving a change that greatly benefits local business. The growth of smart phones and tablets is at the center of the change. They are portable; and so consequently is marketing. Businesses can talk to potential customers while they are actually out shopping.
Talk to your customer on the move
Geo targeting in online marketing has evolved with the advances in portable digital communication devices. If you have a smart phone you are already using it to target your next activity. You can use Google Places to find any business you want close to you. You can use Facebook Places to say you are somewhere and tag which of your friends are with you. People are turning more and more to their mobile device for information.
The Mobility Opportunity
In this move to on the go interaction is an opportunity for local business. National companies cannot compete with the local business physical location. We detailed in an earlier local search post that distance is an important component in the Google algorithm for returning search results to a searcher. There are millions of people ready to buy looking for the nearest outlet. To take advantage, a local business must work to increase its local prominence online.
First start with the major local business directories:
Visit each of these directories to claim and verify your listing. This is important, the major search engines will list your business whether you claim it or not. People will be able to write reviews on your business and unscrupulous competitors can maliciously edit your listing. It is best to be in control of your online presence. Once you have done the major three (they control about 95% of online searches between them) you can move onto other directories. All the business directories have premium positioning for a monthly fee. Our recommendation is not to spend the money. If you must spend it on the major three for the best value. There are literally hundreds of free directories consistently promoting your business by listing in these directories adds to your online prominence. Skilled use of the correct terms and words when completing your directory listings will also help increase the relevance of your business to those local searchers.
Once you have progressed your business directory presence move onto social media to develop your local search presence. We will post next week on some of the Social Media steps you can take to ensure you are prominent in local search.