The Ghost of Local Search Present from the Future

Local search marketing’s past, present, and future may not all be the same. But as a search marketer, that’s the interesting part of watching the local landscape evolve. According to BIA/Kelsey’s (www.bia.com and www.kelseygroup.com), 97% of consumers (nearly all!) use online media when researching products or services in their local area. It’s no wonder that marketers are recognizing the growing similarities and importance of optimizing for organic SEO and local search. In 2014, they will continue to grow in influence, especially for local businesses.

Reaching Out to Location-Based Consumers

A recent infographic reveals how location-based data is more useful for bringing brands to a shopper’s attention. There are different tactics to use for delivering targeted mobile offers, such as sending brand or product-centric suggestions to shoppers’ phones as they browse. For example, if you’re shopping at a Westfield Mall, you could get coupons or offers on your phone as you pass certain department stores. Pretty cool and useful!

Currently only about 23% of marketers use location-based data in their current mobile efforts. But we can certainly expect those numbers to grow. Check out the infographic here.

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Come Up with a Solid Plan

For local businesses, the most crucial part is to establish a standardize plan for local search marketing. You can read more here but it can be easy as coming up with a 3 step plan.
1) Identify your local market opportunity
2) Optimize business listings For accuracy & consistency
3) Optimize, publish & distribute
Standardization, spreadsheets and persistence will be your best friends when working on local SEO efforts. Even though marketers recognize that this can be the hardest part of local search marketing, it’s a surprise that 46% of participants admin that they don’t use any NAP tactics. Check out more of the results below.

What Do Other Marketers Think? And What Can You Expect?

If you haven’t sign up for InsideLocal’s webinar series here. The results of their recent survey are as below:

– 62% of participants said that local search marketing is getting harder
– 32% say that review generation and reputation management are the most difficult parts
– 28% say that citation and link building are hardest
– 49% say they have made changes to their strategy (due to Google’s changing algorithm for displaying local results)

Moving Forward

Local search might have been on the bottom rung of importance in the past, but it’s definitely been proven that you can’t forget about the local factor nowadays. As with all aspects of online marketing, local businesses in less competitive areas can benefit more from local SEO (with less effort), than their counterparts in large, highly competitive areas. For example, a plumber in a small town can skyrocket to the top of local search with little on-page optimization and just by using the city in the title tag. Whereas a locksmith a big city will have to compete with more aggressive tactics and competitors.

The interesting part of local search is that there are so many different case studies where several factors are tested. Even though correlation isn’t causation, it can certainly help us get one step closer to doing things right in order to show up on local and organic search results.

Similarities Between Organic SEO and Local Search

Last month, we discussed how social media marketing is closely tied to blogging in this blog post. Today, we’ll explore the close relationship between organic search engine optimization and local search marketing.

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The local search ecosystem is one of the most confusing in the world of online marketing. It’s hard to categorize it with organic SEO as it has evolved to be its very own monster. Let’s explore a few ways local search is closely related to organic search. You can’t have success if these two don’t work together!

Structured Data and Schema Markup
Implementing Schema markup involves technical knowledge of coding, as well as the discipline to maintain consistent NAP (name, address, phone) throughout all of your listings and contact information. This is one example of how organic and local search must work in unison in order to work at all! Many search marketers liken local search to SEO including something that goes beyond.

That extra factor applies to the external influence that local search deals with. Whereas you can only do so much with traditional on-page SEO, local search allows your business to go one step further to get the right exposure.

Links and Citations Go Hand in Hand
Links used to be the bottom line for SEO where citations are highly sought after in local. The concept of quality over quantity applies to both these fields. So much of optimization techniques nowadays rely on the basis of credibility, trustworthiness, being diverse and natural. With that being said, you want to look at links and citations as reputable mentions that you want your business to get.

The “Unknown” Factor
Organic and local search are both like wild animals that marketers are constantly trying to wrangle. It doesn’t help that there is really no technical support in these areas (on Google’s end). They’re both plagued with crazy ranking fluctuations, sporadic testing/experiments and conflicting ideas of what Google really wants you to do. Google is quick to punish websites and suspend local listings or profiles, but aren’t as quick to explicitly tell you what is wrong so that you can correct the problem. This can lead to wild speculation, change in tactics without merit and changing other things that can further screw up your local listings! Not good… but if there’s something you can learn, it’s to 1) test, test and test 2) keep track of what you’re changing to see what it works. Whatever you do, don’t just blindly make changes and hope that a few things work out!

Local and Organic are Evolving with Mobile Search
As mobile search results are undergoing important changes, it’s only expected that local search and organic search results will also change. With the popularity of Carousel, visibility of paid ads and increase/decrease of blending listings, it’s even more important that your organic and local search campaigns are working in cooperation with each other. The last thing you want to do is to treat them as two completely different entities that don’t need to interact with one another. If you can picture content being tied to social media marketing, it’s just as important to put organic in a box with local search. Grouping these different processes together will help you be more organized and get a better, bigger picture view of your overall online marketing plan.

The Growing Local Search Ecosystem

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Local search is all any marketer is talking about this year! Take a look at a portion of this infographic above. As you can see, local websites are at the heart of local review, social media, daily deal and mobile websites. It’s no wonder that local search sites are considered to be the single largest opportunity for national brands with the capability to drive local awareness as well as sales. Check out all 5 infographics here.

Local Citations
This brings me to my next point of the importance of building quality local citations that work in unison with your SEO plan. Local citations are mentions of your brand and business contact info that are unlinked. We’ve talked about them previously like they’re references made in an academic paper.

Just like with link building, you’re looking for quality in local citations. Some citations are great for your website, where low-quality sites could not be helpful at all or even harmful.

How to Find Good Local Citations
With the growing importance of local citations, it’s important to grow them at a natural speed and to fill out all your information correctly. Remembering choosing directories for link building? It’s time to look at local citation sources in the same way.

The most obvious way is to do a quick visual run down of the site itself. Does it look well-design and legitimate? Is it overrun with ads without any contact information? Check Page Rank, Domain Authority and Domain Age. This is the quickest way to find out if a site is legitimate. You can also search for their name + “scam” or “fraud” to see what kinds of results come up.

Some local citation sites are known for their pushy salesmen who guarantee #1 rankings without any real proof or transparency. Other sites may have complaints about over billing. It’s best to stay away from these sites or at the very least, avoid paying for your submission.

Local Search Takeways
Local citations are here to stay so it’s best to read up on the latest best practices and tactics. Remember, that quality matters much more than quantity. SEO is about much more than links in today’s world and we have to understand where local and social play a role in website’s success. It’s all starting to come together as pieces of a bigger puzzle now!

Google Rolls Out Carousel for Local Search Results

Have you taken a ride on Google’s carousel? Although iPad and Nexus tablet users have seen this feature since the end of last year, it’s definitely a new search experience for many desktop computer users. Remember all those summer updates and changes Google was talking about earlier? Luckily for us, this one seems to be helpful for users and businesses across the board!

A Richer Search Experience
As an owner of a small business, especially for restaurants, bars, hotels & other local businesses, it’s important to see how your listing shows up on this “carousel ride”. This also means being aware of your customer reviews, image associated with your business and how your competitors show up. First impressions mean everything and you want to be the pretty horse on this ride.

At first look, it might seem overwhelming as there’s the carousel (an additional scrolling list at the top of search results), a map along with organic search results. Note that review sites (Yelp, UrbanSpoon, Yellow pages etc.) are likely to dominate page 1 of these results, at least for now.

More Competition and Opportunities
Keep your eyes peeled! While Google local carousel is currently available for some categories, it’s likely that its reach will only grow into more verticals. It’s also not unreasonable to expect different design layouts and functions like Google has been experimenting with in local search.

The location and map features are helpful for businesses who want to capture traffic from people who are searching within a certain proximity. From there, reviews, pictures, prices and other similar factors will help customers make their final decision.

Check out a sample of a local carousel and let us know what you think. For more information on local search join us on Google+ and feel free to contact us.

Yelp! I Need Somebody (Help, Not Just Anybody)

Customer reviews and testimonials have always been important and Yelp is one of the first sites that come to mind. Potential customers may visit your Yelp page even before they come to your website or place of business. Here are some tips to help with reviews:

Make it easy for customers to find your business on Yelp by officially claiming it and filling it with all the right information and categories. Name, address and phone number changes could lead to duplicate listings, which is confusing.

Add your listing to crucial places like your website, Facebook profile, email signature and more. Also add stickers and decals on your windows, counter etc.

Encourage natural customer reviews. This means absolutely no fake reviews, incentives or compensation. Yelp’s filter is good at detecting and hiding fake or suspicious reviews.

Reach out to active and power users. Like the title of this post suggests, getting a positive Yelp review is great. But ideally, you don’t want just anyone to leave a review. And there’s a good reason too. If a n00b signs up for a Yelp account and leaves your business a positive review (and no reviews for other businesses), it might not even show up due to Yelp’s filter. If possible, you want those good reviews to come from someone who has authority in the local community and influence across different social networking sites.

Although this sounds difficult, it’s where being a business owner helps. Encourage Yelp check-ins for specials and coupons, this way, you can actually interact with customers and dig a little deeper to find out if they’re active on Yelp. Providing excellent service is key regardless.

Don’t appear too desperate or pushy for reviews. Instead, create open engagement by encouraging happy customers (and hopefully active users) to visit your Yelp page.

Stay on top of the mobile game. If you’ve used Yelp’s phone app, you’ll know that the “local” aspect isn’t completely accurate. Most of the time, top reviewed business listings will get preference, unless you specifically set the filter to display businesses by physical location.

Helpful Articles:
What We Can Learn About Taking Criticism & Reputation Management
Yelp in Your Words: Negative Review? Stop, Drop and Roll
11 Things You Didn’t Know About Yelp
5 Tips To Get More Online Customer Reviews
Buy Reviews on Yelp, Get Black Mark

Local Search Marketing: A Few Do’s & Don’ts

As if organic search isn’t frustrating enough, there’s also the issue of local search aka those A through G map listings that show up within blended results. These listings are based on a different algorithm than normal search, although it’s often thought that the two influence each other.

Check out some resources as you’re working on creating or updating your business and don’t forget these important do’s and don’ts. Make sure to read carefully because one wrong move can seriously screw up your local listing!

Do’s
– Use a standard format of all your contact information, including business name, URL, phone number, address (using st. versus street or suite vs. # & etc.)
– Create only one listing for each physical location
– Use a real phone number (although it’s tempting to use an 800 or tracking number to track calls)
– Use the same information/format and claim other non-Google listings (Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, YellowPages etc.). Google often pulls information from these sources to create or validate your business listing
– Use the correct categories and optimize your descriptions, photos

Don’t
– Create multiple listings for a single physical location
– Use virtual offices and use  different information for different listings
– Hijack competitor listings with false information
– Post fake reviews for your business or solicit an unnatural amount of reviews during a short time period
– Let local search marketing “experts” control your local accounts. Some companies use tracking numbers that could jeopardize your listing and might not even give you logins if you eventually decide to discontinue their service. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for!

If you’re lucky enough to have just one real location, you don’t have much to worry about. It’s a problem once you move, have multiple locations, have listings that have merged with incorrect information. Local listings can be a pain but patience and consistency are the key to getting things figure out. Read more about troubleshooting for Places here.

Website Audit: 7 Factors to Look Out For in 2013

Tomorrow marks the first day of December but it’s not too early to audit your website for the new year. It’s been a tumultuous year for search but all aspects of online marketing have been affected. As cliche as it is to talk about the changing world of the interwebs, 2012 really showed SEOs how much the landscape can change and that we need to be quick on our feet in order to survive.

Although there are many, many more, here are 7 things to look out for when analyzing your website’s effectiveness. Be sure to share your ideas with us too!

seo-2013

1) Keyword Usage: In most cases, the best advice is to cut back on using keyword rich anchor text, diversify phrases and use more branded terms.

Long gone are the days where you need a exact match domain in order to rank well for a certain term. Not only do the incredibly long, hyphenated URLs look spammy but Google has removed the benefit that they have long received in order to level the playing field for everyone.

Cutting back on linking exact match anchor text isn’t enough, as it’s important to also check pages for high keyword density. Even if you’re selling something specific like red tube socks, it isn’t necessary to see that phrase (or very similar) 100 times on one page. This also means cutting back on aggressive keyword use in meta elements, alternative text and image titles.

2) Number of Links: The less number of links you have on a page, the better. Around 100 is the goal but even less will be even better. When we talk about number of links on a page, we don’t just mean links in the content. Think about the links in your side navigation, drop down menus and links in the footer. It’s unnecessary for most of these to be on EVERY page of your site and will only slow it down. This is where utilizing an SEO-friendly content management system is helpful because you can control the links from one location and initiate site wide changes.

3) Navigation: Help users find what they’re looking for. But this doesn’t mean showing them all the content on your site at once! Make sure your pages are using appropriate breadcrumbs and even add jump-to links that will show up in search snippets.

4) Social Media Integration: Google, Facebook, Twitter are a must. But are they really? If no one is Tweeting, why not use LinkedIn shares? If no one is Liking, what about Google +? More buttons = more load time = more frustrated visitors, so choose the ones that are relevant to your business. It’s amazing to see that some sites are riddled with every social media share button possible including ones that might not be extremely mainstream/important such as Digg and Reddit.

5) Mobile Website: Have you thought about how failing to optimize for mobile phones and tablets could drive users away from your business? Check out our previous post: Elements of Effective Mobile Website Design. Keep things simple and take the rule of thumb literally: people don’t want to swipe multiple times to find what they’re looking for!

6) Utilization of Local: Local businesses need to make their contact information easy to find. Many contact pages still don’t have maps to their location or just have a toll-free number. This isn’t just crucial to the user experience, but Google+ Local relies on the contact info on your site and citations from other relevant local sites to make the connection to your physical location.

When it comes to mobile devices, use local strategies to your advantage by offering coupons, click to call options and supplying user-generated content like reviews. These will all help with conversion and bring customers into your business.

7) User Experience: Including all the things we’ve already talked about, it’s crucial to address basic things like having no pop-ups (or very few if necessary). Some sites also utilize user crushing experiences such as too many ads above the fold, auto-play videos/music or even making it hard to find your business’ contact information.

47.3 % of Brands Plan to Invest More in Local for 2013

It might be too early to start thinking about your online marketing budget for next year… but think again! According to Balihoo’s study of nearly 400 national US brands, 47.3 % of them plan to invest more in local marketing in 2013 from what they spent in 2012.

Although all the companies surveyed had an annual revenue of at least $100 million, it can also be a strong indicator of trends that small businesses are going to follow in the years to come. Take a look:

A surprising find was that “Other Social Media” was the top digital tactic for 2012 with Facebook second and SEO third. For 2013, marketers plan to add mobile, local blogs and customer reviews to the marketing mix.

The bigger a business is, the more likely it is that they’ll use different digital tactics in 2013. And that makes sense… especially in the volatile world of organic search nowadays, it’s important to not put all your eggs in once basket and diversify.

Here are some more helpful articles related to local and feel free to contact us if you have any questions about local marketing for your small business:

Google Introduces Targeting Improvements To Help More Marketers “Get Local” For Holidays
U.S. Mobile Local Ad Revenue Will Reach $5.8 Billion by 2016
Why Big Brands Are Going Local In 2013

Is Your Business Using Maps the Right Way?

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A website’s contact page is one of the most important things you can optimize. Many times, these pages aren’t properly optimized because let’s face it, how often do you see a company’s contact page/form in search engine results pages? Here are 2 ways you want to ensure maximum visibility and conversion:

Making it Easy for Humans
Having a map of your location shows that your business is real and tangible. Nowadays, virtual office spaces and other placeholder addresses are very common. The actual address of your physical storefront shows that you are a part of the community and a place that potential customers can check out if they please. Maps also have customer reviews and lead to your Google + Local business page. Even though this action leads them off-page, it helps provide credibility and trust.

Optimizing for Search Engines
We’ve talked about the importance of local citations before, so it’s no surprise that you can go the extra step and make your contact page more search engine friendly. Having a map shows a connection between your company and a physical location. Google also crawls other authoritative local listing sites and makes a connection to your address.  Using Schema.org’s code also helps search engines better read your address and categorize your business.

There’s nothing worse than landing on a contact page to find a generic form, an 800 number and a P.O. box address. If you have a real, physical location, it’s time to take advantage of that fact and differentiate yourself from competitors (especially in a field of professional services like SEO web design and internet marketing). And once again, don’t forget to optimize with maps!

Google + Local: What Does it Mean?

Why The Sudden Change?
Get ready to say goodbye to Google Places and hello to Google + Local. This latest Google update is a push towards further integrating Google + into search engine results. And as you guessed, it’s a push to help local businesses become more connected to their customers through their Page via promotions and reviews.

Zagat Reviews
For all the restaurant owners out there, Google + Local will be integrating Zagat reviews. While the thought of more reviews and scoring sounds scary, the positive side is that there are different scores for food, atmosphere and service so that it isn’t all lumped into one rating on a “normal” point scale. (Remember, Google acquired Zagat in September 2011, so it’s no surprise that it’s being used!)

SEO Benefits
Of course, this update can’t be announced without benefits for search engine optimization. The great potential here is that Google+ Local pages will be indexed by search engines. Did you know that Google Places pages weren’t? This will give business owners a greater voice that gives tangible benefits via SERPs.

Time to Get Serious About Social
“With one listing, your business can now be found across Google search, maps, mobile and Google+, and your customers can easily recommend your business to their friends, or tell the world about it with a review.”

If this isn’t enough incentive for you to create a Google + business page, we don’t know what is!