One of the key factors to consider when developing a local search marketing campaign is prominence. In a post on LatLong back in December, Brianna Brekke, Senior Strategist for Google Places confirmed, “There are a variety of factors we take into account to provide you with results that match your local search, and three of the primary signals are relevance, prominence and distance.”
Let’s brush up on the terms here. Prominence in the context of local search refers to a business’ popularity on the web in the form of citations, reviews and others discussing the business in comparison to other similar businesses. Citations are to local search as links are to organic search. A citation is when a web page mentions a company name, address and phone number and it doesn’t need a link in order to count to Google.
Bekke goes on to say, “Hotpot – our new local recommendation engine based on ratings from you and your friends – can definitely affect the ranking of the local businesses you see in your organic search results. If you’re signed in to your Google account and have enabled Hotpot, you’ll get personalized recommendations based on the ratings you and your friends provided – making it easier for you to discover new places you’ll enjoy.”
Let’s skim through some of the major players and talk about what’s going on in the space lately.
Google HotPot: Google created its own review site, Hotpot. At first, this was separate from Google Places, which was strange. No other local review sites had their review platform and listing platform separate. But, it was a signal that Google cares a lot about reviews and unlike some of Google’s other products, HotPot has seen a lot of success with more than 13 million total reviews in just one year. In comparison, Yelp currently has over 16 million reviews and growing. HotPot has officially been rolled into places. A user can create a profile and rate and review businesses and services. HotPot users build up their friends list, usually selected from your Gmail friend list. The idea here is that your Hotpot friend recommendations will show up in related Google search results as well as in the local organic blended results and branded searches, creating a much more personal user experience.
In addition, users are now seeing the ability to check-in with Google Places mobile and business owners are able to set up check-in offers through their Google Places account.
Google has had some issues lately with their branding, re-branding, rolling things out and then shutting them down, e.g. Google Wave. But, it appears Google HotPot/Places is here to stay. As a business owner, it’s crucial to have a Google Places listing to rank in the local SERPs and of course, pay attention to Google’s own review products and functions. Users are engaging there, so you should be too.
Yelp: It’s apparent that Yelp and Google don’t get along. But friend or foe, Yelp is a major player. Google often displays reviews from Yelp and other review sites on Google Places listings. One of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area is the Stinking Rose (if you’re a vampire, stay far, far away from this place.)
As you can see, there are more than 1,200 reviews of this place on Yelp, being displayed here on the Google Places listing. There are only 417 reviews from Google users, which are not even displayed above the fold. If I were Yelp, I wouldn’t be so upset about this, but I don’t own a company valued somewhere around $600-700 million.
Foursquare: With 300,000 businesses currently using the dashboard to create check-in specials and more than 10 million users, the check-in site still needs something more to continue to grow. With this mobile site, a user can check-in to a business and if that business does not exist on Foursquare, the user can set up the business. The user is rewarded for checking in to different types of businesses and a certain number of times with badges.
So whether or not a business is actively engaging with this user, this user is engaging with the business. Setting up a Foursquare listing is pretty simple and creating a deal once a week or twice a month, whichever works for you, is a great way to excite customers and drive traffic to your business.
Whichever sites you decide are best for your business and are worth your time and money, having specific goals for all of these sites is crucial to monitoring your success. Just throwing a deal out there and having a busy day following the announcement of the deal, doesn’t mean it was successful. The local search space is still evolving. Google continues to add new features to Places and continues to confirm that prominence is a key ranking factor.
To generate a lot of citations, check out Universal Business Listing. It’s a syndication site, listing a business with major data channels. It isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it service, though.
This of course all ties into social sentiment influencing rankings. Do negative or positive reviews influence rankings? Or is it just quantity? Well according to the US patent which reads:
 When the document falls within the broad area (block 460–YES), then a location prominence score associated with the document may be determined (block 470). The location prominence score may be based on a set of factors that are unrelated to the geographical area over which the user is searching. In one implementation, the set of factors may include one or more of the following factors: (1) a score associated with an authoritative document; (2) the total number of documents referring to a business associated with the document; (3) the highest score of documents referring to the business; (4) the number of documents with reviews of the business; and (5) the number of information documents that mention the business. In other implementations, the set of factors may include additional or different factors.” all of the above matters.
Even if prominence did decrease in importance with regards to rankings, the entire marketing industry is moving towards a more customer-centric model. Our potential and existing customers are beginning to expect personalized information and speedy responses. It sounds like a lot to handle as there are so many social sites and check-in sites out there, which ones should you focus on for your business? Of course, there is no definitive answer. It depends on your audience and how they like to interact with your business. If there’s anything you’re going to remember from this post, it’s know your audience!