With all of the changes recently rolled out by Google in November 2010, it is now more important than ever to pay attention to local search marketing and to have a plan for your local business. That is why that this month Vertical Measures invites you to attend our webinar tomorrow, December 9th “Local Search Marketing in the Age of Google Places,” at 11:30 a.m. EST (8:30 a.m. PST, 10:30 a.m. CST), presented by Sarah Moraes (Local Search Marketing Specialist). I was also thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Chris “Silver” Smith, a noted SEO expert and internet technologist who has been widely cited for his work in industry trade and national news. He is a frequent speaker at various internet conferences such as Search Marketing Expo, and he writes on search marketing for Search Engine Land and other news and information services about all of this change in the local search arena.
Elise Redlin-Cook: Google recently made massive change to their local search algorithm, combining local search results with the organic results. What impact do you feel this change will have on the local search marketing industry?
Chris Silver-Smith: It’s brought the importance of local search rankings to the forefront, and made many more people aware of it. Heretofore, many SEO experts have been fairly ignorant of local search ranking elements, and now they are feeling the pressure to get up-to-speed, rapidly!
Now that local results are taking up far more of the search results page real estate, and local is being assumed for a great many more keyword phrases, many companies really are confronted with having no choice about ignoring local search – they must now factor it in or lose visibility.
Elise: What is an effective, comprehensive local search marketing strategy comprised of? Onsite optimization? Link building? Content? Citations? All of the above?
Chris: A good local marketing strategy must include all of the above, and more. For highly competitive industry verticals/markets, playing around with just one aspect of local search marketing will be insufficient to achieve competitive top rankings.
Elise: What are the most important steps a webmaster should take to ensure a website is properly optimized for local search?
Chris: Focus on inclusion of relevant keyword phrases. If you don’t mention your city name or variations of your business category keywords, your site is going to be less-relevant from the get-go. And, out of all on-page factors, insure your page Titles are individualized.
Elise: Great advice! So, what are the most important local search sites that a business should get listed on today?
Chris: InsiderPages, CitySearch, Superpages, Yelp, and YP.com – these are a good start.
Elise: Got it! When creating a business listing with Google Places, what are the most important fields that a business owner should complete and can you provide any tips for creating an optimal listing?
Chris: Care should be taken to insure that all the basic information is correct and consistent. Do not list your business name in nine different ways on every different directory site. Secondly, of prime importance are the business categories — use accurate, common, popular terms which consumers would search upon to find your type of business. And, do not include geographic terms or product names in Category fields, since this could get you penalized. Providers offering services in more than just their city of address should also look at defining a service area, and mentioning those additional top city names in their business description.
Elise: Google seems to be weighing reviews more heavily recently. How important is it for a business to have a lot of reviews? Does it matter if they are positive or negative?
Chris: My recent column at Search Engine Land outlines much of the basics for good ratings/reviews strategy.
Having multiple, genuine reviews from multiple authoritative business directory sources is quite valuable. It appears that general “buzz” about a business provides benefit, although Google’s recent penalization of “Decor My Eyes” indicates that having nearly all bad reviews might be a negative weighting factor now.
For some verticals such as hotels and accommodations, businesses may live or die based upon overall ratings. For other business types this may be influential to a lesser degree with consumers.
Overall, positive/negative sentiment is not heavily influential, but a good strategy for encouraging consumer reviews in an ongoing manner will be valuable for producing ongoing “buzz”, and the traditional influence of reviews may affect overall conversion rates.
Elise: Tags can be applied to listings, making them more noticeable in the local search results. Do you think these listings have a leg up in the rankings? Is Google placing them higher in the results because they’re paid?
Chris: No, I don’t believe there’s any direct benefit to rankings due to the attention-getting tag ads. There may, however, be a mild indirect affect, as these ads could increase traffic to those businesses listings, resulting in consumers interacting with them more.
This overall activity could translate down the line into signals which Google does indeed take into account in their rankings.
Elise: How important is it for a webmaster to integrate rich snippets for location specific information into their website content?
Chris: To clarify, webmasters do not really integrate rich snippets — they can use semantic markup of their content to enable Google to display rich snippets in the search results, though. I’ve long believed there are benefits to including this sort of markup. For local, it helps Google to identify businesses and correctly associate their website content with their listings. As more rich snippet treatments are rolled-out, it also provides a bit more attention-getting content in the SERPs, which can enhance click-through rates.
Microformats, RDFa and Microdata do not give ranking benefit, but do reduce chances of misinterpretation and prove promotional value as attention-getting listing treatment.
Elise: Google recently released Hotpot, a personalized recommendation engine based on what you like and what your friends like. While it’s completely separate for now, do you see it being integrated as a part of personalized search results in the future? What could the impact be for local businesses and local search marketers?
Chris: Google’s Lat Long blog this past week confirmed that Hotpot would influence personalization of search results, so I think it’s definitely an area to watch. Online reputation and good customer relations may ultimately be the best ways to insure your local listings have advantage in personalized search results!
Elise: Do you have any tools for keyword research, link building, listing creation, etc., that you find useful for local search marketing?
Chris: I’ll mention that I’m pleased with LocationMonitor.com, a new service rolled-out recently by Universal Business Listing. (Disclosure: I’m on UBL’s Board of Advisors.) The service will allow you to rapidly see how your business’s information is displayed across dozens of influential local sites, simultaneously. I think that for busy proprietors of small businesses, this is the sort of tool they will need to use to try to manage their presence across multiple online channels, in addition to monitoring what people are saying about them online.
Elise: What are some of the mistakes that you see novices in local search marketing consistently make?
Chris: Do not attempt to post fake reviews of your own business! Most local marketers and employees of local businesses do not have sufficiently sophisticated understanding of how reviews sites police their reviews in order to be able to pull it off, and they’re unaware of the possible negative consequences. It’s also illegal! Further, since the effort it takes to do fake reviews could more effectively be invested in developing best-practice processes for encouraging natural reviews from real customers, I advise that this be avoided.
Elise: Are there any tips that you could offer a local search newbie to help them get started?
Chris: Read my articles? 😉 Seriously, though, my advice to do-it-yourselfers is to provide as much, rich information about your business as possible, in as many online directories and local search engines as you can find. And, try to interact with your customers on these sites and via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in an ongoing, consistent basis. Having a solid foundation of info about your company out there, topped off with an ongoing dialog about your business will give you a presence and ongoing buzz that frequently helps with local search rankings.
It sure sounds like there is a lot to absorb regarding the changes in the location based search landscape and Chris has certainly given some great advice here on what can be done to improve your rankings. Do you have any tips that you can add?