I’m going to cover the three major pillars of local search, which are Listings, Citations and Reviews
First we’ll look into listings. We are going to take a look at the types and locations of results in the triggers that indicate to a search engine that it is a local search. We’re also going to consider the three major search engines that are currently players in the local game.
Some people say citations are the new link. If you recall from marketing principles, a website or businesses’ transparency and exposure on the Internet from high authority sources is what will get that business exposed in the search engines. In order to increase the businesses trust, citations from trusted websites are required.
Citations are merely Web references of the company in question. When referencing a company online, there are certain pieces of information that are important to reference such as the company name, it’s address and its unique local phone number. We call this NAP, N . A . P . for name, address, and phone number
Reviews are a very important part of the local business marketing strategy. In fact, I believe the reviews are likely the single most important factor in marketing a business online. Not for just for ranking, but overall marketing initiatives.
There are so many reasons why reviews play such a significant role in marketing the local business online from possibly influencing the search results to dramatically improving or hurting perspectives conversion to the call to action.
Customer reviews are merely the digital form of word of mouth advertising. It has been said for centuries that the best form of marketing any business could ever potentially receive this free word-of-mouth and by employing certain campaigns internally at your business you can drive system reviews to your company.
Reviews are becoming a very important part of establishing different factors within the local business results listings and their respective rankings.
For example, the concept of social review ranking is not being discussed anywhere where implementing systems to measure and monitor and understand how the search engines are deploying review ranking algorithm systems and how the search engines are building social profiles of online reviewers to determine different review patterns.
This is one of those topics that can be very simple and become very complex. Because of the sheer importance of reviews, we have gone to great lengths to understand the system while marketing a business online.
While I believe that the difference between organic search engine optimization and optimizing for the local business results will become closer and closer together, today there are still different strategies.
The biggest difference that will separate the two organic search engine strategies, SEO and Local, is that the process of search engine optimization is still ranking websites and the latter is ranking a business.
Each of the major search engines have a different philosophy under local ranking, but there is one major common similarity among all three. They started their business ranking websites, now the search engines have the power to rank which businesses the general population chooses to do business with.
With the introduction of integrated results on Google’s main search engine results page showed different types of results from the traditional organic listings and PPC. These integrated results included different rich media such as images and videos, included news and social media tweets.
According the Kelsey Group, 43% of ALL searches included a geo-mod on the mainstream search page. Geo-mod is a geographical modifier that dictates to a search engine where to conduct a geographical search. However, this is likely going to decrease as the search engines become smarter about assuming the location and educating users that they do not require a geo-mod with their search to get local results.
As mentioned when I am talking about on the page factors for local business I am not referencing your website and you should follow all the standard principles taught in white hat search engine optimization for organic results. Because we are talking about local businesses here, you should by default have the address of the business on the appropriate pages of that local businesses website. You might have location pages and you might have contact us pages and your name address and phone number should appear on these pages. We call this our NAP, short for Name, Address and Phone number. More on that later.
So we’re talking about the places page in the local business center of a search engine.
Because the places page is typically created before it is attached to the businesses Google account, a local business must claim that listing as their own and verify that they in fact are the owner of that listing.
In the local on the page factors video I am going to be covering several of the factors that need to be considered when claiming, creating or completing a business listing profile page within one of the search engines listings.
Since location is an extremely important part of the local business, location is a main factor in determining these results and there are many triggers such as a geo-mod or physical GPS location of the searcher to determine the local results. We need to further understand the triggers.
The location of the local business results varies . Since the introduction into mainstream results in 2009 we have seen a tremendous amount of variation on the placement of the local business results for both when a geo-mod is used and when a geo-mod is not used. This has made it a very difficult process to pinpoint and accurately teach exactly what factors are involved in the placement of the local business results.
It is clear however that the local business results when triggered always are placed above the fold and almost always show at the very top when a geo-mod is used. When considering the blended organic results this is not always true. As of December 2011 all three major search engines are still providing a variety of results for similar searches with different geo-mods. Let’s take a look.
We are seeing three types of results in all three of these searches.
- Local – Blended (Blended Local / Organic)
- Local – Pack (Local Pack)
This is still a major problem for all search engines today. The problem becomes that a search engine is a single tool for practically an infinite number of different types of people. Each individual might have a different objective when trying to search in a single platform.
Understanding individual needs helps the search engine personalize results. In order to maximize the businesses exposure, a combination of a well-designed website and stable online profiles is required in order to achieve success online.
With the introduction of integrated results on Google’s main SERP, Google was showing different types of results from the traditional organic listings and PPC. These integrated results included different rich media such as images and videos, included news and social media tweets.
Let me demonstrate. Okay, a search for Barack Obama gives us 3 recent News stories, Obama’s website, Wikipedia, live twitter feed, youtube videos, 3 sponsored links, social media profiles, listing of books, images, related searches and now links to more on each of these subjects.
A search for McDonalds gives us the main link, corporate head office, nutritional facts, a Wikipedia entry, news results and a MAP with the three closes locations.
So the question is how does Google know where I’m located to give me locations of McDonald’s close to me?
Let’s try another search and include a term to tell Google to find me and McDonald’s close to my physical location. Try [McDonalds in Algonquin].
Now we get very different results. The map result is right at the top and we only have two results this time in the map. The third result is a directory for the county. The following result is the head office company that runs the local McDonald’s and then it is McDonald’s corporate office. Next we find some directory information that includes some review information as well as some obscure result for the McDonald’s campus in Oak Brook since McDonald’s head office is just down the street from us.
The point that we’re trying to identify here is that there are certain triggers that tell Google what type of results to display. Whether it be the news or images the Google local map is just another factor in Google’s integrated results home page
Well since Google places is a place for businesses to list themselves whether they have a website or not on the Internet, Google basically has to decide if the search phrase being used is looking for a business close to a specific location. This means that there are certain search phrases that trigger the results with a map and other search phrases that don’t.
A geo-mod can be any term that signifies a geographical location, such as a city, town, village, airport code, zip code, postal code, local jargon, state, country, county among many other terms. Obviously when a searcher uses a geo-mod it is fairly clear cut that a searcher is looking for local information and enhance like Google gave me the locations of McDonald’s first when I included a geo-mod.
But the question becomes what triggers the local business results to come up when we do not include a geo-mod and how does the search engine know where I’m located.
Obviously, when I’m searching from a smart phone most users have their location on and therefore a search engine knows exactly where I’m located. This becomes a little bit more of a challenge with a PC. Your location is typically based on the IP address of your Internet service provider and this poses to be a big problem for a lot of Internet users, such as AOL users because they are always located in California, according to Google and their IP address.
These methods to fine location include IP address, GPS location, cellular triangulation and user input.
The bottom line is that a geo-mod will almost always trigger the local business results and Google is consistently tweaking their algorithm along with personalized search to make their best attempts at trying to determine if that individual searcher is looking for information that has to do with a local establishment.
I also want to point out that many experts claim attaching a website to your places pages helps your rankings on the local business results. I will challenge that claim for the present with many different scenarios,
Now that we are reminded that marketing a business on the Internet follows traditional marketing principles, we know from organic search engine optimization that links are very important for ranking and now I am telling you that citations from highly relevant sources are also important. So I guess the question becomes what is the difference between a citation and a link. Let’s take a look.
Citations are merely Web references of the company in question. When referencing a company online, there are certain pieces of information that are important to reference such as the company name, it’s address and its unique local phone number. We learned this was a N .A .P. for name, address, and phone number.
On occasion, search engines and these data providers collect information from public sources and while it’s not as important to ensure that these public sources are accurate, is worthy noting that when dealing with these other sources that you provide them with identical NAP information. For example, when a business requires a business phone number from the local telephone provider, typically they automatically receive insert into their Yellow Pages and upsell ad space. The information provided to the telephone provider should be exactly the same as you would in your Google places account. This is a source of information for Google that they trust.
Following is a list of data providers that search engines pull information from, because as we’ve discussed Google Places is merely data aggregator. While there are other data providers evidence has clearly indicated that these are the top data providers that Google pulls is information from in these following seven data providers you should check and ensure that the formatting of your NAP is identical from provider to provider.
Major Search Engines
- Google Places
- Yahoo Local
- Bing Local
- Facebook Places
Major Data Providers
Secondary Data Providers & Portals
- Best of the Web Local
- Merchant Circle
- Angies’ List
- Judy’s Book
- Geo Directories
- Theme Directories
- AOL Local Search
On occasion, search engines and these data providers collect information from public sources and while it’s not as important to ensure that these public sources are accurate, it’s worth noting that when dealing with these other sources that you provide them with identical NAP information.
These other sources may include company annual reports, SEC information, federal state and city governments, various business magazines, newspapers and local publications, and Postal Service information.
Of course these public sources are typically for larger firms. As an internal rule of thumb, when a client provides us with over $1000 per month in revenue, we will look at public sources.
- Annual Reports
- depending on the state, once a business reaches
certainrevenue mark, or if the business is public, annual reports are published. This is good content to get exposed and perhaps the company blog or a partner’s blog. The annual report should be available for download in PDF format and the business NAP should remain consistent.
- depending on the state, once a business reaches
- SEC Information
- The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. Located at www.sec.gov is a website to acquire information about a business. Confirm listings here and NAP.
- Federal, State and City Governments
- When registering your company, you must have it registered with the state, feds and your local business directories. Confirm your NAP in all of these sources.
- Business Magazines
- Industry and theme magazines are always looking for
theme related high qualitycontent. These are sources you can create positive content to help your online exposure.
- Industry and theme magazines are always looking for
- Local Newspapers & Local Publications
- In the next video, we’re going to uncover how to find and look for local newspapers and publications to get your content published in.
- Postal Service Information
- Ensure the post office is using the same NAP that you have established.
Local search engines
The search engines crawl each other to find citations that will validate or correct the business information in their own database. Additionally, some engines and data share information with each other typically through a data leasing arrangement or syndication.
For example, you’ll frequently see a business’s Yahoo Local profile show up in the ‘Web Pages’ tab of its Google Places Listing. There are other second-tier portals that show up frequently as well, such as dexknows.comand Yelp.com
Local blogs are a great place to get a business listed. These vary by geography, but if you simply perform a search on your favorite engine for “[geomod] blog,” you’ll see good candidates. Please reference the organic search engine optimization videos on more methods to use the search engines to find theme or local blogs. You can also just use your GeoMod for a standard search in Google and choose the ‘blogs’ option on the left. Play with this a little, and note the blogs that show up on the top, and stay on the top of the listings when changing the date range. For example, if you search for ‘all time’ and switch to only the last week and find the same blog, chances are this a highly indexed, popular blog.
The blogs that show up for these kinds of searches are generally very well-indexed by the search engines, and highly associated with a particular neighborhood, city, or region. Businesses that are mentioned or linked on these blogs are viewed as trusted, relevant results in the Local search engines.
Like Local blogs, Local directories are well-indexed by the search engines and are highly associated with a particular city or region. Directories which are edited by a human are much better than those which are built around an algorithm where anyone can enter information. Human-edited directories are less susceptible to spam, and are therefore more trusted by the search engines. Best of the Web’s Regional Directoryand Yahoo’s Regional Directoryare two human edited trusted sources. You can perform searches for things like “[geomod] directory” to find good prospects for these kinds of citations.
Theme Based Sites
There are many different ways to acquire authority based theme related exposure on a variety of different sites. For example, most industries have niche-based or industry associations. These associations have opportunities for memberships, typically have online social sites or forums and many have different social media feeds. Participating in these conversations will provide your business with exposure. If you ever get written about, or be one of the faces in the crowd, these theme related authority sites may publish something in your regards. This obviously ties into PR campaigns as previously discussed when putting together a full execution strategy. Do a search for [THEME Social] or [THEME Forum], such as [dentist forum].
Theme Related Citations
When discussing theme related pages, the same principles and strategies taught in Organic Search Engine optimization for theme related directories and data providers will absolutely apply in this case. A search engine is merely referencing the citation rather than a link if you had the opportunity to acquire that link.
Theme related directory for a particular dentist as an example would be a website www.findadentist.com. Sometimes these sites require paid inclusion and this should never be confused with paid money for a link, because you are paying for inclusion into the directory and may or may not get a link.
And finally this leads into theme related authority exposure. There are many different ways to acquire authority based theme related exposure on a variety of different sites. For example, most industries have niche-based or industry associations. These associations have opportunities for memberships, typically have online social sites or forums and many have different social media feeds. Participating in these conversations will provide your business with exposure. If you ever get written about, or be one of the faces in the crowd, these theme related authority sites may publish something in your regards. This obviously ties into PR campaigns as previously discussed when putting together a full execution strategy.
Blogs and Directories
If a website, blog or directory is not focused on a particular geographical region and if that website is focused on topics and keywords related to the audience in question, it is likely a theme related site. For example, take the same day delivery business. There is a social site on the NING network called ‘Couriers of the World”. The dental industry has Facebook groups, forums and online discussions. the membership directory of your trade organization, or a blog that is popular among readers in your industry will likely be crawled by the Local search engines for citations. Searches like “[geomod] directory” or even “[theme keyword] directory” will give you some ideas of the kinds of sites on which to get listed. Try [theme blog] as well. Reference the organic SEO section for more search phrases.
Social media marketing is the art of using different types of mediafor social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.
Essentially, the greater reach with influencers with your content, the greater trust and authority is assigned to that citation source.
Take for example any local greasy spoon restaurant. Guy Fieri is the host to diners, drive-ins and dives, food network’s unique television show with a crazy dude the sunglasses and a spiked white hair. What if he came by this local greasy spoon and provided a positive review, either tweeted about it or left a comment on Facebook. One would think as a micro-celebrity that review should have a greater impact than other reviews because he is a well-known food connoisseur and hosts his own food television show. Search engines are looking at many factors to evaluate social profiles in determining relevance and authority for reviews and citations. Therefore some additional factors that should be added to this list could be a user’s frequency and geographical footprint pattern to determine the validity of that review or citation.
Thus, using social media as a form of marketing has taken on whole new challenges. It is most effective if marketing efforts through social media revolve around the genuine building of authority. Someone performing internet marketing for a company must honestly convince people of their genuine intentions, knowledge, and expertise in a specific area or industry through providing valuable and accurate information on an ongoing basis.
There are many ways authority can be created and influence can be accomplished such as: participation in Wikipediawhich actually verifies user-generated content and information more than most people may realize. Try providing valuable content through social networks on platforms such as Facebookand Twitter. When you create an article for SEO, tweet it. When a new blog post is created, post a link on Facebook.
Your goal is to get the information shared on Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter. If a friend or follower shares your information, each share is a citation. The more shares, the busier the restaurant looks to Google and therefore it’ll assign trust towards the business in question.