Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav writes on local search ever since he entered the online marketing world. His favorite topics are problems with Google Places, local search statistics, and online maps spam. You can find him on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, or at the Google and Your Business Forum.

Feb 252014
 

A thought to self: “I value honesty highly. Probably higher than almost everything. Unfortunately, this virtue is rarity nowadays.”

A few months ago (August 2013), I wrote an article named “What Actually Happens When One Cancels Yext“. It was based on a case study I conducted about the consequences of canceling a Yext PowerListings subscription. In that article, I also promised that I would be following up with the results of a manual citations clean-up I would complete in order to fix the mess left after Yext (you could see the state of the citation profile of the business in the original article).

Fast-forwarding to January 2014. I am now part of Whitespark. Howard Lerman (CEO of Yext) mentions to Darren Shaw (Owner of Whitespark –> my employer)  that “Yext did a waaaay better job fixing listings than Nyagoslav”. A few days later Howard also decides to post publicly something that is, let’s call it, slightly exaggerated:

He also decides to comment on the blog post with the case study. Then I realized that it was about time (and the only way) for me to explain publicly what happened with the Dawson Family of Faith case study.

Chronology of Events

- Background:
Spencer Belkofer of Lumen Interactive contacted me in late July 2013 to ask me for help with cleaning up the mess left after he unsubscribed one of his clients – Dawson Family of Faith, from Yext PowerListings. Spencer was disturbed by the fact that the service was not what it promised to be, and after about a month, and numerous disappointments, he canceled the subscription.

- August 13:
I officially started work on the clean-up (again, you can see all the details about the mess that was left after Yext’s cancelation in my post from August).

- August 19:
Almost all the clean-up work has been finished. As some of the listings had been claimed manually by the church (or by Spencer), and some of the listings needed different sorts of verifications, I sent an email to Spencer to ask him for help with obtaining this information (note: unfortunately, I didn’t have direct contact with Dawson Family of Faith, and they probably didn’t even know I existed).

- August 24:
This is the last time I received an email from Spencer.

- August 26, 2013 – January 30, 2014:
Tens of attempts to get in touch with Spencer. This included numerous emails in October, November, December, and January, as well as phone calls from December onwards. Some of the phone calls included leaving messages through the phone assistant service he has. Additionally, my emails and phone messages after October, included assurances that I do NOT want to get paid for the service (although I spent overall 50+ hours working on the case) and I just want to finish up everything.

- February 8, 2014:
First successful attempt for direct communication!!! However, it was not completed by me. When I realized Spencer was probably avoiding me (for whatever reason), I asked Darren Shaw to try to contact him. Spencer claimed that he had replied to me a number of times, and that he would send me another email in which he would carbon copy Darren. This was more than 2 weeks ago and neither me nor Darren have received any email from Spencer.

The Actual Job

As I mentioned, almost all the work had been completed by 19 August (6 days after the start of work). You could see the report (with passwords removed) below (Excel file):

Citation Clean-up Report Dawson Family of Faith

General statistics on the completed work:

Total listings worked on: 150
Listings successfully worked on (listing updated, or duplicate removed): 93
Listings pending update: 25
Listings pending removal: 20
Listings awaiting help from client: 12

Here is what was the state of the citations immediately after Yext’s cancelation:

18 correct listings (none of them complete)
119 incorrect listings
25 duplicate listings
4 Yext “locked” listings

The main reasons why some listings are still pending are:

- Site is not managed by anyone (webmaster or site owner). For instance, Directority.com have the following in their footer: “(C) 2009-2012 DIRECTORITY.COM”.
- Site does not honour claims coming from generic email accounts (for instance, @gmail.com). An example in the report are the two not-removed duplicates on Bing.
- Technical issues with the site that do not allow for the normal claiming/updating process to be completed. In those cases, whenever possible, an email (or numerous emails) has been sent either directly via email, or through an online contact form, to request for updates. Such types of communication usually do not work for sites that have technical issues, because those sites usually fall into the first category above.

My Takeaways

I learned important “citation clean-up” lessons from this experience:

- Never rely on your client to provide you what they promised to provide you. It is possible they won’t. Before you start any work with them, insist that they provide you all the necessary information for you to get going.

- Insist for email under company’s domain. Many citations cannot be claimed/updated/removed if you do not possess such an email. Sites such as Bing and ShowMeLocal rarely honour duplicate removal requests coming from generic email accounts (@gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @hotmail.com).

- Make specific arrangements for how phone verification will be completed PRIOR to starting work on any project.

What are your takeaways? What would you do in this case?

Jan 062014
 

Some of my readers that have been following my blog for long time might have been expecting that around this time of the year I would post the “Best Articles of the Year” compilation (like I did in 2011 and 2012). Unfortunately, I will not. Instead, I am writing this official announcement for the closing of NGS Marketing.

I will start with the reasons and I will try to be as thorough as possible:

1. The business

My business has been growing well over the last two years. After I left OptiLocal, the first few months were difficult, but afterwards everything “skyrocketed”, I hired a few people to help me with the workload (full- or part-time), and in October I had 2 full-time and 3 part-time employees. Thus, one of the reasons is definitely not the lack of business or the lack of opportunities. However, there were two major problems that occurred, which I didn’t manage to predict:

- I had to start managing people (“human resources”, “management”), rather than do what I like (“SEO”)
- The majority of the work that was coming my way was of the kind that takes time, but the turnover is low (profit per actual working hour is very low)

My plan when I started my business was, like with many others in the industry, to offer lower rates in the beginning, and then gradually start increasing them when the leads volume increases. However, due to a possible reason I outline below, prospects of the kind that would be ready to spend considerable budgets on online marketing never started coming by. And while I haven’t had the opportunity to make a market research and discover why this has been so, I am positive it has something to do with me being located at the other side of the world. In fact, on average I have been missing 15 phone calls from potential clients per week, and have very rarely been able to schedule calls in proper times with clients that “just need to be closed”. This all due to the fact that the time difference between me and my “main market” (note: not by design) was 12 to 16 hours (depending on the time zone and the season – there is no daylight saving in Malaysia). This marked major problem #1.

My plan certainly included hiring people to help me with different tasks, but I had encountered problems with this aspect, too. SEO, in general, is not popular in Malaysia. In fact, online marketing as a whole is not popular, and is mostly associated with “spam”, “cheating Google”, “tricking Google” (most frequently used phrases when I mention I do SEO). After all, I live east of India, and west of The Philippines.

My Location vs. Spam

Thus, I had major problem finding people that would have any experience or knowledge related to SEO. I spent a few hundred dollars and as many hours in the search for suitable candidates, but in the end the options were scarce at best. It is not to be forgotten that besides the talent-finding problem, there were also lingual and cultural barriers. I live in Johor Bahru, the second largest city in Malaysia, but it has (un)fortunate geographical closeness with Singapore, and the majority of talent moves there, or in Kuala Lumpur, as a second option. Therefore, I didn’t have the chance to find someone who could take over the “executive” position for one of my two main “branches” of responsibilities – managing the business, or doing SEO. This marked major problem #2.

2. Personal satisfaction

While I planned that at some point in the future I had to hire people to help me with the workload, I didn’t want to become “manager”. I wanted to do as much hands-on work as possible and leave the management to someone else. Above, I already mentioned that the lack of talent (not just in SEO, but in almost every niche) restricted me from being able to hire a person that could take over this responsibility. Thus, gradually I started doing less hands-on work, and more distribution of tasks. And here came major problem #3 – dissatisfaction. I was trying to handle both management and as much hands-on work as possible on my own, which in times led to poor results.

3. Sustainability

I started realizing that my business was unsustainable. Everything depended largely on myself and if I was missing even for one day, the operations of my business would drastically slow down, or completely stop. This was largely my fault, because I like to be aware of everything and I like to distribute tasks based on my everyday observations on each member of my team. I do not like to rely on others, and it is hard for a person to earn my complete trust. I underestimated this flow in my character, and the results were devastating. In late September I got very sick and was unable to do any work for more than a week. At that time, everything related to my business was “frozen”. When I returned to work, I had about 40 overdue tasks ranging from undelivered reports to not-even-started work, more than 500 emails, and employees that were unable to help me, because I was generally handling all this by myself. Problem #4 – unsustainability of my business model.

4. Crime, economic, political and social problems in Malaysia

On the surface of it, living in Malaysia is great – equatorial climate, good food, ethnocutural diversity, relatively good development (overall wealth of the nation), average cost of living. You could hardly ask for more than this, could you? However, when you dive below the surface, you could discover the following deep problems:

- Crime – Malaysia currently ranks 9th in the “Crime Index by Country 2013” research by Numbeo (note – the index is based on people’s perception, not on official statistics). Johor Bahru (the city I live in) ranks 4th in the same research in the “by City” research. According to locals, crime rates have been increasing significantly in the past few years, which is partly, or fully, a consequence of the other problems I enlist below. My sister-in-law’s bag was snatched from her in front of my mother-in-law’s house when she was already within the auto-gate, i.e. she was inside the fenced yard. That was the day before my wedding, and while the whole family was gathered in my mother-in-law’s house. Snatch thieves are everywhere and as almost none of them is ever detected, they become bolder and more violent. Cases of babies/toddlers kidnapping appear in media weekly. Large problem #5.

- Economy and politics – Malaysia’s economy is in a downturn. Reasons are many, but the main one appears to be poor management of country’s abundant resources by the government. The ruling coalition (UMNO) has been in power for the past 55 years (ever since Malaysia’s Independence) and they have never lost a parliamentary election (Malaysia is a parliamentary non-hereditary monarchy). However, in order not to lose the ones in 2013, they allegedly imported large number of foreigners (mainly from Bangladesh), and there were rumors of them falsifying the results in some districts in order to gain more places in the current parliament. Let’s consider this problem #6.

- Society – Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, with the majority of the population being Malay, predominantly Muslim, hence the official religion in the country is Islam. About 25% of the population is of Chinese ethnicity, spread unevenly, and Chinese are usually the de facto majority in the main cities. About 10% are Indian, and the rest are different local ethnic groups from Northern Borneo. As the “M” in the ruling party’s name means “Malays”, it could be predicted that they would mostly be defending the rights of the Malay majority. A famous term used to describe this racial bias (which is generally not supported by the constitution of the country, but is evident in many controversial laws and government practices) is “Affirmative action“. This affirmative action constitutes of (but not limited to) the following (entirely based on my personal observations):

a) The enormous majority of government workers and police officers is of Malay origin, or is Muslim, so-called “Bumiputera” (because according to the Malaysian Constitution one is a Bumiputera “if one of the parents is Muslim Malay/Orang Asli as stated in Article 160 (2) Federal Constitution of Malaysia; thus the child is considered as a Bumiputra”; thus, many Indian Muslims also manage to obtain Bumiputera status), leading to any kind of problems you could imagine it could lead to.

b) Bumiputera are given privileges when it comes to buying properties – special discounted rates, lots are reserved for them for particular period of time (these lots are usually the best ones in a condominium or in a housing area).

c) Bumiputera are given privileges when it comes to applying for public university admission. I am not entirely sure how the system works, but I have heard stories of Chinese or Indian not being admitted to public universities with 30+% higher overall scores than their (mainly) Malay counterparts that have been provided admission. Again, this leads to all sorts of problems you could think of, the most scary of which is the fact that very frequently nurses in hospitals might have been admitted with a 50% score in their high school diploma. Additionally, the majority of the scholarships are Bumiputera-only.

d) In order to apply for particular government project (think anything from infrastructural development to website development), a company needs to be Bumiputera-owner.

Read more about Bumiputera here, and take this as #7.

5. Why Not Bulgaria?

Some that know I am from Bulgaria might ask this, and the answer is relatively simple – because there, the situation is worse. Bulgarian socioeconomic problems are much deeper than the ones in Malaysia, and while in Malaysia it is mostly about racial issues (Hi, 21st century!), in Bulgaria it is about unresolved mentality-related problems left mostly from the 45-year Communist spell-into-oblivion. And these problems run from the prime minister (Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic) down to the executive mail-boy. In this sense, I would say the chances of Malaysia getting up and going back to the right way are higher than those of Bulgaria. Yes, Bulgaria is part of the European Union, but in many key economic areas it is tightly knotted in the cold and unloving hug of Mother Russia.

What I Chose and Why I Chose It

About three months ago, I made up my mind. We had discussed a number of times moving away with my wife, but at that point (immediately after my severe health issues) I was sure the move should be done as soon as possible. We needed to determine a proper action plan. Obviously, the best would have been if I have found a job that would have fit my exact desires and to do what I am (hopefully) good at – local SEO. We decided that our main targets would be Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – because of the high living standard, low language barrier, and the fact that SEO in general is not that popular in other areas of the world. You might have already noticed the notable omission of the US and the UK. We just believed these two were not exactly what we were looking for.

At that time, I was hoping that I would be able to find some job, related to SEO (not necessarily local). The opportunities were probably better to try as an in-house SEO for some major company, rather than look for a marketing agency employment. The bigger the company, the higher the chances they would be willing to go through the hassle of hiring a foreigner. Thus, without even having the vaguest hope that I would be finding a job related to *local* search, I dropped a fast email to Darren Shaw explaining him that I am looking for opportunities, as he was one of my longest “local search” buddies, and I knew he has contacts with a lot of people that are frequently on the look for a lot of things. We set up a call to discuss about it and he offered me to join Whitespark and move to Canada. Such an offer was a no-brainer for me as this was practically what I had been secretly hoping for:
- Job, very similar to/same as the one I have been working and loving
- Living in a peaceful, ordered, safe, and unfathomable country full of picturesque sights (eh!)
- Working together with someone I know and trust, and I know is reliable

In fact, I could hardly think of a place I would like to work at more than at Whitespark.

So here we are in the beginning of January and my first day as a Whitesparker! (I will have to consult with Darren if “Whitesparker” is the correct expression). You could read more about the move in the official announcement.

Miscellaneous

As Whitespark offer very similar services to the ones I have been offering, I recommend to all the people that have been considering working with me to go on and contact Whitespark. The following contact options are available:

US Phone: (855) 406-6050
Canada Phone: (877) 336-3505
Email: support@whitespark.ca

Here are the links to the service pages:
Local SEO
Citation Building
Web Development
Citation Audit and Cleanup (Coming later this week!)

Ngsmarketing.com will stay online for the time being and everyone would be able to access my Citation Building Guide through it, as well as all the articles. However, from now on I will be posting on the Whitespark Blog, so I encourage all the subscribers to NGSMarketing’s blog to jump over.

Nov 272013
 

Just when I thought Yahoo! Local couldn’t get worse, they surprised me. A few days ago I noticed that the usual “Edit business details” link under the business information on a Yahoo! Local listing has been substituted by “Publish your Yahoo listing on 40 more top local directories” (check here what this means).

Yahoo Localworks Pushed

This practically means that Yahoo is ready to sacrifice the accuracy of their business information, and more specifically – the user-based and business-owner-based feedback part of the process of keeping the information accurate, for the sake of fast cash. For a comparison, imagine a case where you go to your/your client’s Google+ Local listing, click on Manage this page, and you are redirected to a paid solution similar to AdWords Express, instead of a page where you could edit the information and submit it for verification.

However, this “inevitability” sales strategy is neither unique, nor employed for the first time in the space. A few weeks ago MapQuest decided to move their whole local listings business management business to Yext, and if you tried to claim your listing, you would be redirected to Yext’s platform.

MapQuest Yext Pushed

For quite some time now similar thing has been happening with Local.com – when you click on “Claim Your Listing” you are taken to a page that gets you introduced to Yext.

Even longer ago, Whitepages (and their whole network) adopted this model, too. In Whitepages’ business listings help page the following is stated:

To Add, Edit or Remove a Business Listing:
Option 1: Contact Listing Provider (ExpressUpdate)
Option 2: Update all your listings with Yext PowerListings

Fortunately, there are workarounds (at least for now) for getting a listing to each of these business directories created or updated. As such workarounds tend to be abused (and subsequently stop working) if shared publicly, I would not share them here, but would be happy to do so if contacted personally.

Do you think these serious changes in the way business directories react on the changing environment in the space would affect small business owners positively or negatively?

Nov 112013
 

Yahoo Small BusinessYahoo! Local seems to be going from bad to worse. When a few months ago owner verification was introduced to substitute the preceding moderated manual-only verification, I still had hope that things at Yahoo! Local are improving. Later on, when I realized that the turnaround times for the local listings to get verified, approved, updated are close to unacceptable, that hope started dying off. Today my hope is completely gone.

A few days ago Yahoo posted the following message in their Local Listings Help Topics center:

Currently the review time for Enhanced Listings is 3-5 business days and for Basic Listings the turn around time is between 8-10 weeks.

In other words, if you are not using their paid service, you might need to wait 2+ months for any sort of update. This, combined with the fact that Yahoo! Local’s verification postcards take between 4 weeks and never to arrive, means that if your local listing information is currently wrong, the chances are good that it will stay so for at least the next 3 months. Did I also mention that phone support, in any form, is not available to non-paying customers?

Having all this in mind, here is an interesting accidental case study I had the opportunity to be an active observer in:

I was recently working with a business with 300+ locations, helping them set their profiles on some of the main business directories, Yahoo! Local being among them. The turnaround time I reported above was relatively accurate in this case:
- 4-6 weeks for the postcards to arrive (if ever)
- Afterwards, 6-10 weeks for the moderators to approve the changes

The bad news come when the moderators decline the changes. Note that in the mentioned case all the information is checked and verified with the business management, and the structure of the submitted information is the same, i.e. between listing A and listing B, the only difference is the address and the phone number (and potentially the working hours). And there came the question – why some of the listings have been approved, and some were declined. The decline reasons included:

Reason 1. Please see the Local Listing Guidelines for more information. If a Marketing Dashboard is associated with this listing, it will be canceled. Paid Reputation Tracker Pro and/or Local Visibility Pro services for your Marketing Dashboard (if any) will also be canceled and a refund will not be provided.

Reason 2. Information provided in your business listing does not match information on your web site. For example, your business address, phone number, or both may not match. Please review your business information.

Both of these were invalid reasons in any of the cases. However, as the turnaround time for re-verification and re-approval is 3 months, this means that it may take more than half a year in cases like these for the listings to (potentially) be approved and updated.

In my opinion, this is very bad even per Yahoo’s standards.

Nov 042013
 

The business data interconnections among the players in the local search industry are as complicated as they could be. There are many layers of data and which one would be displayed to the front-end user might depend on the trustworthiness of the source, the completeness of the data, the recency of the data, or simply on how much you pay to the particular business directory. However, in some cases, the relations between data providers and “data displayers” are so tight that they could be called dominated, or one-provider networks. The power of the sole data provider in such networks might vary from “total domination” (i.e. no other player is allowed in any way within the network) to “pay-to-play” (i.e. it might be possible for someone else, including business owners, to infiltrate the network, but they would usually have to pay in some way to do so). But before going into actual examples, an explanation of why it is important to recognize and avoid, if possible, such networks.

Citation building and citation clean-up are naturally time-taking and frustrating tasks, but they could easily become even more so if one keeps stumbling on business listings that could not be updated in any way (this is especially painful if, for instance, you have moved to a new location and hordes of disgruntled clients keep going to the old one because there is your outdated information somewhere out there and you are unable to update it easily). It takes between 5 and 30 minutes for a person that has no experience to figure out how to create/edit/claim/remove a business listing from a business directory, depending on the user-friendliness of the site. However, on average, during my citation audits, I find 20+ business listings that are impossible to be updated, mostly because they are part of some closed business data exchange networks (or simply because they don’t have the technical sophistication or customer support to do so). If this was the first time I was seeing them and I didn’t know better, it would have been taking taking me additional 100 to 600 minutes to do something that would eventually lead to nothing each and every time. There are some easy ways to figure out which sites would be worth giving a try, and which ones would just lose one’s time, although in the majority of the cases you would just have to have gone through it the hard way to obtain the “knowledge”.

1. Local Corporation Network

One of the most prominent networks in the US is the one of Local Corporation (Local.com). Almost all of them have identical layout, which is relatively unique, and feature a footer that says:

“Copyright 2013 Local Corporation – US Patent Number 7,231,405. – Privacy Policy – Terms of ServiceSome data provided by Acxiom.”

Here are some examples of such websites:

http://businessdirectory.aspentimes.com

http://localdirectory.azcentral.com

http://yellowpages.azstarnet.com

http://local.billingsgazette.com

http://directory.broomfieldenterprise.com

http://directory.brushnewstribune.com

http://www.commercialappeal.com/

http://dailycamera.com/

http://daily-journal.com/

http://local.edmondsun.com

http://directory.eptrail.com

http://directory.fortmorgantimes.com

http://yellowpages.gazette.com

http://directory.gjsentinel.com

http://yellowpages.heraldextra.com

http://info.kndo.com

http://directory.journal-advocate.com

http://king5.com/

http://kmov.com/

http://yellowpages.kob.com

http://yellowpages.lajuntatribunedemocrat.com

http://local.mywebtimes.com

http://local.pantagraph.com

http://local.qconline.com/

http://localdirectory.madison.com/

http://local.meridianstar.com

http://directory.newsday.com

http://local.newsfirst5.com

http://directory.nh.com

http://yp.ocregister.com

http://local.pantagraph.com/

http://local.post-gazette.com/

http://qctimes.com/

http://businessdirectory.reporterherald.com

http://yellowpages.santafenewmexican.com

http://www.searchpeopledirectory.com

http://yellowpages.staradvertiser.com

http://localbusiness.starnewsonline.com

http://yellowpages.state-journal.com

http://local.stltoday.com

http://yellowpages.thedenverchannel.com

http://localbizsearch.timescall.com

http://local.times-news.com

http://local.trib.com

http://businessdirectory.vaildaily.com

http://local.vcstar.com

http://yellowpages.washingtonpost.com

http://yellowpages.examiner.net/

http://yellowpages.register-mail.com/

http://yellowpages.rrstar.com

http://ziphip.com

There is no way to update a listing directly on any of these. The only way is to do that via advertise.local.com. Once the information on local.com is updated, it takes between 1 day and a week for it to populate across the network.

2. MojoPages Network

Another network is the one of MojoPages. The sites that are part of it are easily distinguishable by the title “Powered by MojoPages” which is normally found on their homepages. Here are a few examples:

http://linktown.wvec.com/

http://mojo.myfoxchicago.com/

http://mojo.myfoxphilly.com/

http://yellowpages.ny1.com/

Like with Local.com’s network, there is no way to directly update these listings.

3. Acxiom Network

Acxiom, one of the three “old school” major business data providers in the US, is responsible for business data distribution across a large portion of the whole ecosystem. However, usually this data is mixed with other, and it is relatively rare that what Acxiom provides is displayed publicly. This is not the case for a small network of websites, which could easily be distinguished by the footer logo saying “DATA by ACXIOM”. Here are some examples:

http://www.allpages.com/

http://local.brainerddispatch.com/

http://www.courierpress.com/

http://local.dailypress.com/

http://local.herald-review.com/

http://local.onlineathens.com/

http://directory.pe.com

http://local.seattlepi.com

http://local.sfgate.com/

http://local.thebostonchannel.com

Again, as with Local.com and Mojopages, there is no way to update the listings directly.

4. Whitepages Inc Network

This is a small network that consists of just the following properties:

http://www.whitepages.com

http://www.switchboard.com

http://www.411.com

The only way to add or update a listing in this network is via ExpressUpdate (free, in the majority of the cases), or via Yext (not free).

To be continued…

Oct 272013
 

On Friday, Imprezzio Marketing reported that they are seeing “shrunk” Google+ Local search results in the organic local search results pages. At first I thought that might have been just a design change Google implements in an attempt to diminish even further the prominence of the +Local listings. However, when I looked into a number of search results, I realized this might not be the case, and what actually happened seems more like an across-the-board reversal to the old “7-pack” or “pure” local SERPs. For the ones that do not remember (or have never heard of) what these are, here is some history:

- Until September/October 2010, there was only one type of search results – “pure”. The rankings within the business listings search results in the organic SERPs were heavily influenced by factors such as completeness of the Google Local listing, number of citations, number of reviews, and (almost) not influenced by website-related factors.

- In October 2010, Google made significant change to their local search algorithm (or rolled out a brand-new, separate algorithm) and thus, two types of local SERPs started appearing – “blended” and “pure”. The blended SERP, in contrast with the pure one, was mainly influenced by factors such as website on-site optimization, and general authority of the corresponding company website.

- In January/February 2012, Google rolled out yet another major change to their algorithm(s) and the pure local SERPs disappeared almost completely. Thus, only blended SERPs were visible. That is, apparently, until last Friday (25 October 2013).

Here is a great visual overview of the differences between the two types of local SERP.

What makes me think this shift means returning back to “pure” SERPs, i.e. what is the evidence? Here are some:

1. I found many cases in which Google listings with no website associated with them rank high. Here are a couple of examples:
Woodbridge locksmith
plumber Rancho Cucamonga
Note: if the website associated with the listing is shown as “plus.google.com”, it means there is NO website associated with the listing.
If the SERPs were blended, this was almost impossible to happen, unless the competition was extremely low (i.e. there were no Google listings that have a website associated with them).

2. There are instances in which both the Google+ Local listing, and the corresponding landing page rank on first page in the organic search results. Here is an example:
personal injury attorney Seattle – notice the two results for deanstandishperkins.com
This can only happen if the SERP is NOT blended.

3. The “shrunk” size of the results themselves – I remember of only one instance when the Google+ Local listings search results have been displayed in smaller font, and this was when they were “pure”.

4. And I believe this is the strongest proof of all – ALL local search results I checked feature the business name from the Google+ Local listing. In the “blended” search results, the title of some search result changes to the title tag (or part of the title tag) of the corresponding website landing page.

Overall, if this change is kept this way, I would strongly suggest you look at citation building as an option, if you haven’t yet.

Oct 152013
 

The guys at Bright Local recently did an interesting survey. They invited 15 local search professionals, some of whom thought leaders in the industry (full list on the survey page), as well as myself. The questions revolved around local citations and citation building, and covered some more frequently asked questions about the best practices in this matter. While all results in graph form could be seen in the article Myles Anderson of Bright Local dedicated to the survey, I would just outline some of the intriguing findings:

- Citations are critical to local search rankings (check here for further reference) according to almost 70% of the respondents. None of them thinks citations are not important.

- Citations are rising in importance according to 44% of the respondents, while only 6% (which practically means 1 person; did they misclick?) think they are getting less important.

- Quality is more important than quantity of citations for 62% of the respondents, while less than 20% think it is the other way round. This opinion is further supported by the fact that 56% of the surveyed believe that a mix of updating existing citations and creating new ones is the best recipe for success, with another 38% agreeing that updating existing is more important than creating new citations.

- It is interesting to be noted that the opinions on which “type” of citation sources (national, niche, or local business directories) are most important, are mixed. 32% think national business directories are on top, while 25% place niche/industry-specific ones as priority. Local directories get 18%, while 25% believe all types are equally important.

- Building citations over time, rather than blast them out is a priority for 53% of the respondents, while 6% (again the same one from above?) believe one should “build as many as you can now”.

- Two very frequently asked questions also get their (relative) answer: according to 50% of the surveyed, having the business address perfectly formatted everywhere is important, but not critical (see here for reference); and according to approximately 60% – it is not important to add different description to each listing, and another 26% said it is important only for high value directories.

- According to 56% of the respondents “richness” of citations is very important, with only 12% thinking it is not important (this time the 6% person seems to have company). I have discussed previously about the “plenitude” of business data and its effect on the quality of particular citation.

Unfortunately, during the survey there was no option to add comments (or at least I missed it), so here are comments I would have added under some of the questions:

- For the question “What is more important – quantity or quality of citations?” I would have answered that although quality is crucial, if you do not have sufficient quantity of citations, quality won’t suffice. In many cases people set their profiles up on Yelp, Yellowpages, Yahoo! Local, and even Bing and Nokia, stuff them with as much information as they allow, and expect the job is done. Unfortunately, with citations, quantity is also an important factor, at least yet.

- For the question “Which type of sites are most valuable for citations?” – all of them are important, but they are important in different ways. National directories would help in setting up a strong basis without which any citation building campaign would be unstable, while niche/local directories could add unique value and one could gain edge over the competition.

- For the question “Is it more important to update existing wrong citations or build new correct citations?” – it very much depends on the situation. If you are starting with a brand-new business, getting new citations would be the only thing you would need to do, whereas if you work with an established 7-8+ years old business, especially if they have moved offices, used different phone numbers, or re-branded in the past, working on the already existing citations (which should be already too many) should be the (almost) only thing on one’s mind.

What do you think about the survey results? Are you more on the 6% responder side, or on the 50%+ side?

Oct 102013
 

Bing’s equivalent (and rival) of Google Places (+Local) – Bing Places, has finally been rolled out for countries other than the United States, a few years after its initial launch (as Bing Local Listing Center). The winners are Canada and the UK.

Up to now, there were different workarounds to get a business listings on Bing Maps for some countries outside the US (and I presume these ways would still work):

1) For Canada, the UK, Germany, and India: via Nokia’s Here PrimePlace

Check the explanations on this page. A couple of great step-by-step guides on how to set up these listings here and here.

2) For Canada only: via YellowPages.ca

Yellow Pages feeds Canadian business data directly to Bing (see here).

3) For the UK only: via 118 Information

Similarly to Yellow Pages in Canada, 118 Information feeds business information directly to Bing in Canada. You could add your listing using this form.

4) For Australia only: via YellowPages.com.au

If you go to (almost) any business listing on Bing Maps Australia, you could see in the upper right corner the following disclosure: “Data from: Yellow Pages®”.

5) In all countries where Factual is available: via Factual

Factual is a known data provider for Bing. Although it is unclear if Factual delivers business data to Bing for all the countries they have business data for, it is highly probable.

In any case, it is a great move and it could help businesses in Canada and the UK. For all the rest – the workarounds are always available.

Sep 042013
 

I was recently invited by Myles Anderson to participate in “Enhanced Local Citation Building” – a webinar organized by InsideLocal (a cooperation between Bright Local and Local Search Forum). The webinar’s main topic will obviously be citation building, and the sub-topics will include:

- Why citations are so important to local search

- Enhanced optimization of local citations

- Researching & managing citation campaigns

My focus will be holistic citation building strategy – from the research process, through the actual implementation, to ongoing monitoring.
The webinar will be held on September 11, at 2pm EST (11am PST).  If you are interested in joining it, you could register via this form. You could also send questions that will be tacked during the Q&A session via the form here.

Citation Building Webinar

Aug 212013
 

A few days ago ICANN approved 95 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Among these were the first ever city-name TLDs – .hamburg and .cologne. I initially read about this in an article by Dennis Tippe (in German), which made me think seriously about the implications these TLDs could potentially have on local SEO.

It is well-known that one of the main ways for search engines to determine the relevancy of particular website to particular country is by looking at the TLD. For instance, it is relatively certain that the domain joeshairsalon.ca is owned by a Canadian person/business and most probably caters to Canadian audience. Here is an interesting video of what Matt Cutts says about TLDs and how they help Google understand the relevancy of the domain to particular language or region:

Here is another video answer by Matt Cutts on how Google would be treating the new TLDs:

Additionally, Google themselves have been applying for a number of TLDs and one of the main reasons (in their own words) is improving user experience.

Therefore, it is fair to think that Geo-TLDs, and specifically city-name TLDs might have major effect on a site’s rankings in future. Why in future? Because as Matt says in the second video above, Google will have to first learn how to treat these TLDs, which might take some time.

An interesting check in the current application status database of new gTLDs of ICANN shows that there are a number of other city-name TLDs pending approval, such as:

.nyc
.miami
.london
.melbourne
.sydney
.berlin
.hamburg
.wien
.zuerich
.stockholm
.paris
.amsterdam
.madrid
and others.