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.

Jan 092013
 

One year ago I published a list of the best local SEO and local SEM articles of 2011. Ever since, one of my dreams has been to turn this into a regular practice. And here we are – in the beginning of 2013, and I managed to compile a list of the best local-search-related pieces of the past year. The list consists of approximately 200 articles divided into 8 categories (clicking on the category name will take you to the corresponding part of the list):

General Local-Search-Related
Onsite Local SEO
Offsite Local SEO
Google Places and Google+ Local
Local Citations and Citation Building
Reviews and Reputation Management for Local Search
Non-Google Local Search (Bing, Yelp, Apple, Nokia, Yahoo)
Mobile-Local

I also included a list of some of the articles I published this year that you might find read-worthy:

My Articles

This article library holds a ton of wealthy information shared by the most renowned specialists in the industry, including Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm, Phil Rozek, Chris Smith, Miriam Ellis, Andrew Shotland, and many others. Happy reading!

General Local-Search-Related

Local Search Ranking Factors, Volume 5 (David Mihm, Own Blog)

10 Commandments of Local Search & the LSO Prophets (Cody Baird, Milkmen)

Your Local SEO Checklist for 2012! (Miriam Ellis, Search Engine Guide)

Big List of Local SEO’s To Follow On Google+ Some Thoughts (Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing)

Interview with Local Marketing Experts Jake Puhl & Adam Zilko (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

Best Local Search Tools – 2012 (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local Ranking Factors – Google Places Optimization (Bizible)

The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Finders Are Now Seekers: How Local Has Changed the Game (Gregg Stewart, Clickz)

Local Search “Pros” Breaking the Hippocratic Oath (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local SEO Tips from Darren Shaw of Whitespark (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

Essential Local Search Resources (Bryan Phelps, Whitespark)

Invisible Businesses In Google’s Local Search – The Problem No One Sees (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

The SMB Guide To Changing Business Names & SEO (Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land)

The Long Tail of Local Search (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Deep Data and the Semantics of Local (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Who should care about Geo-Rankings and why? (Matt Roberts, Koozai)

How Can Local Search Better Serve Service-Oriented Businesses? (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Local Search Insights: What Are Consumers in Your Local Area Searching For? (Miranda Miller, Search Engine Watch)

50 Local SEO Lessons from 50 Clients (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

How Long Does Local-Search Visibility Take? (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation – A “New” Local Ranking Tactic? (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

The Rudiments Of Local SEO (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

Memo to Google: Solve the Local Data Problem With Local Data (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

What Matt Cutts Says about Local Search (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

The Local Search Ecosystem in Canada (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Laying the Groundwork for a Local SEO Campaign (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

Local SEO as a Gateway Service (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

2013′s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

Local Search Dream Team – Tips, Tools & Predictions (Bryan Phelps, SEO.com)

The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

The Zen Of Local SEO (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

Insiders Guide To Selecting The Right Local SEO Tools (Myles Anderson, Search Engine Land)

Local SEO “Substitutions” (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Matchmaking Advice for Local SEOs and Business Owners (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

How Google May Identify Implicitly Local Queries (Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea)

How Business Names Might be Used by Google in Local Search Ranking Signals (Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea)

 

Onsite Local SEO

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update (Mike Ramsey, SEOmoz)

Local SEO: How Geotargeting Keywords Brought 333% More Revenue  (Adam Sutton, Marketing Sherpa)

The Local Search Plus Box (Nyagoslav Zhekov, Search Engine People)

Site audit: How can a local limousine service get found in dozens of cities? How can it stand out in the crowd? (Kathy Long, Own Blog)

The Hideous Site: An Allegory For Oddities In Local Search Results (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page (Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing)

The Ugly State of Google SERPs: Rich Snippet Abuse (Mike Wilton, Search News Central)

How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

5 Local Blogging Ideas to Supercharge Your Local Marketing (Jessy Troy, Search Engine People)

13 Semantic Markup Tips For 2013: A Local SEO Checklist (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Can Blogging Be Your Secret Weapon For Local SEO? (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Using the Home Page to Improve Local Search Rankings (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

Why Local Blogging Works (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 1) (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 2) (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

 

Offsite Local SEO

How to Use Driving Directions in Local Search SEO for Google Places (Ted Ives, Coconut Headphones)

Are Check-Ins A Local Ranking Factor? (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

5 Local Linkbuilding Ideas For The Post-Penguin/Panda Era (Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land)

Culture Building: 8 Local Link Building Tactics Beyond Business Listings (Scott Dodge, Whitespark)

The Complete Guide to Link Building with Local Events (Kane Jamison, SEOmoz)

Link Building for Local Search (Julie Joyce, Search Engine Watch)

The PlaceRank Secret Behind Google’s Local Search Rankings (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

5 Link Building Tactics to Improve Your Local Ranking (Matt Green, SEOmoz)

SEO: 7 Ways To Optimize For Local Rankings Via Images (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

 

Google Places and Google+ Local

A Brief History of Google Places (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Best Google Places Troubleshooting Posts (2011 – Early 2012) (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Interview With Google Places Help Forum Top Contributors: Blumenthal And Zhekov (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

How to Pimp Your Google Places Listing (Phil Rozek, Whitespark Blog)

My Illustrated Plea To The Google Places Help Forum Team (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

13 Best-Practices for Picking Google Places Business Categories (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Why You May Need To Hide Your Google Places Address ASAP (Miriam Ellis, SEOmoz)

The Face of Google Places (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places (Nyagoslav Zhekov, Search Engine People)

The Google Places Purgatory and How to Get Out of It (Matthew Hunt, Small Business Online Coach)

Milestones in a Google Places Campaign That’s Working (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

The Worst Kept “Secret” in Local Search: My Thoughts on the Impending Plus-Places Merge (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Google Places Description and More Details Section – Some News and Pro Opinions from the Field (Linda Buquet, Catalyst eMarketing)

Rankings on Google+ Local: Some Observations (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Google + Local: Q’s and some A’s (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Google+ Local – What Wasn’t in the Announcement Was More Important Than What Was (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Helping Or Hurting: The Debate Over Google+ Local (Jordan Kasteler, Search Engine Land)

Overcoming New Google Places Duplicate Listing Problems for Dentists, Doctors, Attorneys (Linda Buquet, Catalyst eMarketing)

Syncing Your Google Plus and +Local Pages: Plusses and Minuses (David Mihm, Own Blog)

The Suite Life of Google Plus Local Address Issues (Joseph Henson, Search Influence)

Why You May Need To Hide Your Google Places Address ASAP (Miriam Ellis, SEOmoz)

Google Tackles Geographic (Map) Spam for Businesses (Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea)

Google Places Troubleshooting: Best Practice for Dealing with a Merged Listing (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Many Google Places Searches Are Showing an Increased Radius For Search Results (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Is Google’s New Requirement to Hide a Home Business Appropriate? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Google Places Pages Are No More – But What has Changed? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

MapMaker Bots and What They Do (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

5 Google Places Tests I’d Love to See (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

 

Local Citations and Citation Building

How to Squeeze Maximum Google Places Love from GetListed.org Scans (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

The Local Search Ecosystem in 2012 (David Mihm, Own Blog)

6 Tools SMBs Can Use to Update Digital Directory Listings (Stephanie Miles, Street Fight)

Citation Consistency: The Key to Local Search Rankings (Chris Suppa, Thunder SEO)

The Best Citation Sources by U.S. City (David Mihm & Darren Shaw, GetListed)

Best “Events” Sites for Local Search Citations, Links, and Visibility (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local Citations: Another Signal Being Devalued by Google? (Mike Wilton, Search News Central)

Follow-up Study: The Best Citation Sources by Category (David Mihm & Darren Shaw, GetListed)

Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere? (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Will Citations Stop Being Effective for Local Optimization in the Future? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

5 Ridiculously Sneaky Citations Most Small Business Never Think to Get! (Matthew Hunt, Small Business Online Coach)

Infographic: Citations – Time To Live (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

The Role of Directories in the New Local Ecosystem (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Local Search: Understanding ‘Citations’ to Improve Rankings (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

My Thoughts on Where Yext Fits Into a Local Search Marketing Plan (David Mihm, Own Blog)

SBSM Mailbag: Does Google Normalize NAP Data? (Name, Address, Phone) (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

Catching Up with your Local Competitors & Automating Citation Discovery (John-Henry Scherck, Seer Interactive)

Yext & Local SEO (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Can a Citation Campaign Cause a Drop in Google Local Rankings? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Local Citations / Business Directories for Specific Ethnicities and Identities (US) (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

 

Reviews and Reputation Management for Local Search

Cold Hard Numbers on How Third-Party Reviews Help Google Places Rankings (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

21 Ways to Get Customer Reviews: the Ultimate List (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local Consumer Review Survey 2012 – Part 2 (Myles Anderson, Search Engine Land)

What Should You Tell A Client When Google Loses Their Reviews – A 4 Part Plan (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Google Places Reviews – Critically Broken or Chronically Ignored? (Linda Buquet, Catalyst eMarketing)

Cheat Codes for Google+Local Customer Reviews (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse) (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

FAQ about Local-Business Reviews (on Google+Local and Third-Party Sites) (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

9 Questions To Assess Your Review Management Stress Levels (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Have You Been The Target Of A Google Places Hit Job? (Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land)

The Local Business Reviews Ecosystem (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

 

Non-Google Local Search (Bing, Yelp, Apple, Nokia, Yahoo)

Yellow Pages Sites Beat Google In Local Data Accuracy Test (Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land)

5 “Local” Search Engines You Should Be Targeting (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Bing Ties Yellow Pages Sites For Most Accurate Local Data (Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land)

IYP Ranking Factors: Getting Visible in Local-Biz Directories (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

10 Basic Bing Local Optimization Tips (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Unofficial Apple Maps Frequently Asked Questions by Businesses (Andrew Shotland, Apple Maps Marketing)

How to Find Local Business Customers in Twitter (Kathy Long, Own Blog)

Yelp Ranking Factors (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

6 Things to Know About the Yelp-Bing Local Data Partnership (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

Local SEO Blocking and Tackling for Siri & Apple Maps (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Is Google’s Australian Data Partner Spamming Places for $11 a Listing? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

 

Mobile-Local

The Rise Of Local Mobile Pay-Per-Call – 3 Tips For SMBs (Bill Dinan, Search Engine Land)

Why It’s Time For Local SMBs To Get On Board With Mobile (Stephanie Hobbs, Search Engine Land)

 

My Articles

Interview with Dan Austin, a Google Maps Spam Fighter

Thoughts on Bizible’s Local Ranking Factors

Changes in Local Search – Implications on Local SEO

The Real Meaning of the Google Places Statuses

8 Ways to Recognize Fake Google Reviews

Local Citation Building Study Part 1: Niche-Relevant Local Citation Sources

Google Plus Local Rankings – What Changed and What Will Change

Local Citation Building Study Part 2: What the Pros Think

Local Citation Building Study Part 3: Plenitude of the Business Data

Local Citation Building Study Part 4: Local Business Directories Around the World (Canada and the UK)

Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible?

Local Citation Building Tools

Google with the Most Accurate Business Database in the UK

The Two Types of Local Search and How Local SEO Should Reflect Them

Local Citation Sources for Australia, Germany, and New Zealand

Why Yext Might Not Be the Best Fit for Your Business

Overcoming Google Local Listing Mergers with Additional Citations

How to Remove Duplicate Listings from Different Business Directories

Learning Local SEO from the Ones That Do It Best

How Google Might Be Determining If A Local Citation Is Spammy or Not

Dec 122012
 

I have been getting a lot of questions lately about what a business should do if they have moved to a new location, or if they re-branded themselves in regards with their Google+ Local listing. The options are generally two:

1. Edit the old listing and add the new information (duh…)

2. “Close” the old listing and create a new one with the new information (duh?!)

I know that if you’ve never had to deal with Google and if you are newcomers to the world of local search this topic might look completely silly to you, and you might be saying to yourself “Isn’t it more than obvious the correct answer is 1?”, let me surprise you – it’s not how things work in the Places world. What Google actually suggests and encourages is to mark the listing that features outdated information as closed and to create a brand new one. There are two major problems with this method from business’s point of view, though:

- If the listing gets closed, all the reviews for the business will stay there forever. Imagine that you have invested in establishing and optimizing a feedback gathering system, which over the years has brought you tens, or even hundreds of positive reviews on your Google local listing. Now imagine that this should all be forfeited just because you decided to change the official name of your business. Because this is what Google suggests. Here is what Google says in such cases:

“You’ve moved locations. Note, that we intentionally do not carry over reviews from an old closed location to a newly opened one.”

- The old listing might have been ranking pretty well in the local search results and the business might have been getting a lot of new customers out of it. While listing age is not a factor by itself (i.e. a listing that is 200 days old would not necessarily be “more powerful” than a listing that is 100 days old), it takes time for Google to assign trust points to a listing. These trust points accumulate over time as Google finds more “evidence” (a.k.a. citations) about the existence and popularity of the business. Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm did a great job compiling information about how long it takes for particular citation to be discovered (indexed), and picked up (included in the local data index) by Google. In a competitive niche it may take 6+ months for a listing to regain the same power as its old “closed” brethren. Even in very low competitive niches it takes at least a few weeks.

Unfortunately, the situation worsens. Currently, for the Google Places dashboard users the process of editing the business name or address goes like this:

- Go to the dashboard
- Edit the information
- Click “Submit”
- Wait for the postcard (usually) to arrive

However, the process for the businesses that have already merged their listings into the new “social Google+ local pages”, or who have created a brand new listing directly via Google+, is a little bit different. They can still go and edit the information, but it immediately goes into “Review” status and a moderator/reviewer has to verify it manually before it goes live. As you could imagine, the edits get rejected more often than not and in the end of the day the business owner doesn’t have any other choice but to give up and mark their listing as closed.

Why does Google do that?

Everyone is wondering the same – why would Google suggest such an unimaginably illogical move. The reason is because their business data clustering system is not yet perfect. I have talked previously about the fact that the business owner is not the only source Google gets information from. The verified owner is, of course, the most authoritative source, but information submitted by them can still be trumped by third-party one if it is sufficient and trustworthy enough. This means that if you submit change to Google with your new address, but at the same time your old address shows up everywhere else on the web (Yelp, Yellowpages, Citysearch, etc.), then it is very possible that Google might soon revert the publicly displayed address back to the old one.

The Solution

In April, Google promised that a “Location Moved” option is on the way. While it would be a nice new feature, if it ever airs, I don’t think it is still the best case for business owners for the same two reasons I described above (although it would make sense from mapping and user point of view). The best solution to the problem, in my opinion, is to update how your business show up everywhere on the Internet. I have previously written about how to discover these mentions (citations), and how to schedule your editing timeline. There is also a more in-depth explanation of the methodology of researching citations in my Citation Building Guide.

Have you had to deal with such cases? What has been your experience?

Oct 312012
 

Merging of two separate listing and the appearing of duplicate listings are two of the longest term problems with Google’s local listings. They are basically the product of the same problem: the local data threshold. This threshold determines what percentage matching information should be present in order for new incoming data to get merged with data already existing in Google’s business information database. If this threshold is passed the data is merged. If it is not – a new cluster of data (listing) is created.

Here is an example that illustrates this better:

Home remodeling company “Bob the Builder” has a listing on Google+ Local (ex- Google Places). They are located in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Here is how the information in their listing looks like:

Name: Bob the Builder
Address: 11 Main Street #100, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
Phone: 909-909-9090
Categories: home remodeling, home renovation, home restoration

Unfortunately, they also use another phone number to do business, and this is the mobile of the owner – Bob Sponge. Therefore, there are a couple of listings across the web that feature this phone number. The first one is on Yellowpages.com and looks like this:

Name: Bob the Builder
Address: 11 Main Street #100, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
Phone: 909-555-5555
Categories: home remodeler

The second one is on Superpages.com and looks like this:

Name: Bob Sponge at Bob the Builder
Address: 11 Main Street #100, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
Phone: 909-555-5555
Categories: home renovation and restoration, home remodeling

There are additionally 20 other listings across the web that feature the correct information (the same that is found on Google+ Local).

Here is what Google does:

1. It indexes these pages and finds that they are business listings. As these also feature structured data it is easier for Google to determine what is what (i.e. what is the business name, what is the address, etc).

2. Google collects this data and goes to its business information database and searches for matching information.

3. It doesn’t find exact matching information. But what it does is it makes a second attempt attempt to find partially matching information. What would happen if it didn’t take this additional step? Then practically every business in the world would have at least one duplicate on Google.

4. Google finds out that the match between the Yellowpages listing and the Google listing in terms of NAP (name, address, phone) is 66%. Additionally, it finds out that the categories are almost perfectly matching, so it also considers them a match. So the chances that the information is for the same business are very high, and Google determines that “well, we will simply merge this data with the already existing one.” In such cases, if you go to the listing on MapMaker, you would be able to see the two alternative phone numbers listed there.

5. The case with Superpages is a little more complicated, though. The address matches, and the categories too, but the business name is just a partial match, and the phone number is completely different. And here comes the doubt – should this information be merged, or should a completely new listing be created? And the answer depends on the situation and a few different variables Google takes into account:

A) Which is the website that features this information? Is it reputable? Does it have a history of storing wrong information? Does it have a history of storing fake information? What is its relevancy to the industry the business operates in?

B) How many matching records there are on other websites and which are these websites, i.e. are they part of the network of the primary source website, or are they sourcing information independently?

In this case, the answer to the first question is generally positive in favor of Superpages. It is a reputable site and it has editorial history of featuring generally good business data. So if Google was to take just this into account, then a duplicate listing was most probably going to be created. However, they are smarter than this, so they go on and check if this information shows up anywhere else on the web. In the case in question – it doesn’t. So what Google would most probably do is:

- Either ignore the information altogether, because there is insufficient supporting matching information from other sources,
- Or merge this data with the one in the listing, giving prevalence to the more prominent data, i.e. the data that appears more often across the web.

It would be most probable that the second case would happen if the Yellowpages listing’s data has previously been associated with the Google listing, because then Google would know that phone number 909-555-5555 is an alternative phone number of Bob the Builder, thus the match with the Superpages data would be stronger.

This is a simple example of how Google takes decisions in regards with local business listings data. A more complicated one would include a doctor, or dental practice, where each practitioner has a listing, and the practice itself also has a listing. A lot has been written about this problem in the last months, and here are some general best practices:

- Obvious one – claim each listing and make sure all the information is correct and up-to-date;

- Do not include the practice’s name as part of the practitioners’ business names, i.e. do not do this: “Your Eyes Clinic: Dr. John Nakamura”;

- Try to add different, unique categories for each practitioner and the practice, do not repeat them across more than 1 listing;

- Use specific landing pages for each practitioner and the practice.

Unfortunately, these might very well not be enough and Google might decide to still merge the listings. Why? Because it might not have enough supporting information that each of these is a separate entity, and thus doesn’t “deserve” to be merged with another one. The way to overcome this is obvious – provide enough supporting information to Google (create local citations), a.k.a. prove it that these are separate entities.

Why I actually recommend that you create listings for the practice AND each of the practitioners

If you don’t do it, Google will sooner or later do it for you. And you cannot escape from it, because many of the specialized medical/law business directories allow only for profiles of practitioners to be added. If you do it instead of leaving the job to Google, you would have better control over what is happening and you would be aware of when something is happening. The problem some would see here is that the practitioners’ listings could “cannibalize” the rankings of the practice, because Google might incorrectly associate part (or all) of the citations with the listings of the practitioners. This can easily be overcome if citations are created for each of the practitioners, in addition to creating them for the practice. Here is an example:

If the practice “Your Eyes Clinic” has only one listing on Yelp.com, and it is for the practice itself, the chances that Google would associate this listing (a citation) with a Google listing for some of the practitioners is much higher compared to the case where there are listings for both the practice AND for each practitioner on Yelp.com.

Conclusion

Creating additional local citations helps Google determine if a listing is for a separate entity, the same way it helps Google when you start clearing up duplicate or incorrect listings across the web. Doing it would not only save you from unwanted mergers, but also help in the rankings of each of the entities. After all who wouldn’t like to have the search results for “doctors Chicago” show 3 or 4 listings related to their practice – one for the practice itself (hopefully at the top), and a few others for each of the doctors?

Jul 232012
 

It has been quite a long ago that me, and anyone else following the trends in local search, stopped getting amazed by the recentness of the problems and glitches related to Google’s +Local (ex-Places) product. However, it is rather rare that two (or more) major problems occur simultaneously. Currently there are three withstanding issues, some of which date a few months back:

1) Mass “We currently do not support the location” glitch.

The reports of disappearing listings started in the beginning of May. The engineers were reportedly working on fixing it, but a more major fix came just in early July. There are still thousands, or probably even tens of thousands of listings that are still in the limbo, and some of them will most probably never get back to their previous status. Here is what Google suggested to some business owners which reported the problem with their disappeared listings:

If you’re unable to reinstate your page this way, then please remove your listing from your Google Places dashboard by clicking “Delete” then “Remove my listing from my Google Places account,” then recreate the listing.

In other words: “We provide advice that will most probably not work, because the glitch is on our end, and your listings are most probably not anymore in our public database, thus there is not much you can do. However, try these, and if they don’t work, well… simply delete your listing and start all over.”

I’ve been telling in some conversations that the listings affected by the initial error on Google’s end were probably hundreds of thousands, and I was asked how I came up with this estimate. Here is how:

“Assuming there are appx. 50 million business listings on Google Maps in the whole world, probably about at least 40-50% are listings of service-based businesses. So this is 20-25 million. And if from these even 1% were hit (and the percentage seems to be much higher from what I see and hear) this is already 200,000 listings.”

2) Not working troubleshooter.

The troubleshooter for Google+ Local incorrect data problems has been down for a few days. It is actually still down if you try to go to it through the Google Places Support Center. The link leads to this page:

Google Places Troubleshooter Down

If you go directly to this link though, it works normally. I doubt even a hundredth of all people that will visit the support center and will click on the “dead” link will come to my blog and see this link, so Google needs to fix this as soon as possible.

3) Only one page of Google+ Local organic search results.

Google currently shows only up to 10 Google+ Local results even if you click on “More results near …” under the listings in the organic local search results. This seems to be spread across a large number of cities, and for queries mostly related to service-based businesses. Here is an example of the Places search results for [plumber New York]:

One can only guess if this is a result of the major “loss” of service-based business listings.

Jul 022012
 

Google+ Local is now fact. Syndication between Hotpot’s and Zagat’s review databases has also finally happened. Google keeps adding features to Maps, makes changes to products, has big plans to grab the SMB local online market completely, and improves customer support. However, what Google seems not to realize is that you can not be the best for too long if you step on unstable ground. Such a basis is the one on which Google’s local listings (cluster) database is built.

Google’s ultimate goal is to organize world’s information. This, obviously, includes business information, too. Google understands there are hundreds of factors that have to be taken into account when classifying billions of “documents”, but what they do not seem to fully understand is that businesses are not online documents and the internal and external relationships in the business “ecosystem” are slightly different. Google also seems to not realize that business information tends to change and gets outdated relatively fast. The business contacts they display in the local search results have gradually turned into an unreliable source, comparable to the untrustworthiness of the Google reviews.

Here are some features I was hoping Google would have fixed with Google+ Local, but they didn’t:

1) Trust the owner-verified data more

Google’s argument for not trusting business owner’s verified data over everything else is that it might be outdated. The truth in the real world is that if a business owner verified their Google Places listing it is very possible that the information they provided would be the most up-to-date one, and definitely more trustworthy then the information coming from a known or unknown business directory, which listed it months or years ago. Business owners that have taken the opportunity to claim and verify their business listings do care about their online presence. Not that much for the one across the whole local search ecosystem, but rather for how they show up in the organic Google search results. They probably moved a year ago, but they would rarely go to Superpages, Kudzu, and Citysearch to update their listings. On the other hand, the odds are high they’d do it on Google+ Local (Google Places). However, Google will scrape (or receive as feeds) that outdated data from the third-party directories, and it will override the business owner’s one, because it is coming from more sources, and it is more “recent” (at least according to Google’s assumption).

2) Decrease the time between index data updates

According to Yext, 6% of the core business information changes every month. This means that in a perfect world, where all data on Google is accurate and all the business owners are taking care of their presence on Google, every month there would be 6-9% wrong results in the organic local search results with the current update time of 4-6 weeks (according to Google). However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and all business data on Google is not accurate. According to a recent study 12.5% of the listings on Google Maps have wrong address, 5.9% – wrong phone, and 4.1% are duplicates. My experience tells me these numbers are rather low. Google receives data from multiple sources, and according to a study by Yext, data from these sources is inaccurate at least 50% of the time. We can take an average number from these two studies and assume that approximately 20-25% of the listings on Google Maps are wrong. To this, we could add another 6-9% every month, so overall at every particular point of time the local data displayed in local search on Google is at least 25-30% inaccurate. Google could decrease this by at least 6-9% if they reduce the update cycle.

3) Allow disavowal of incoming data (in the form of citations or in the form of a potential merger with an already existing cluster)

Disavowal of external links to a website is the hot topic ever since the launch of the Penguin algorithm update back in April. Surprisingly, Bing was the first to add the functionality to their webmaster tools. Similar system could be incorporated in Google+ Local’s business dashboard. Previously, there was some information about the citations from across the web that were associated with a listing in the “More about this place” section, so it seems to not be a problem for Google to provide this data. It should also not be that big of a problem to allow a verified owner to choose which citations are trustworthy and which are not. An attempt in that direction has been done with the notification emails Google started sending out in October the last year. This seemed, however, to be just a temporary solution and it didn’t work well in some situations.

4) Mother-daughter relationship between listings

As I mentioned above, the relations between business entities are not necessarily straightforward. Google made an attempt to solve some mapping problems with adding “place within place” functionality to Maps, but this didn’t really solve many clustering issues. A clinic or hospital might host many doctor practices, and each of these practices might consist of a number of professionals. However, Google currently doesn’t make a difference between these. The practices and the individual physicians are treated in exactly the same way and the relationship between them seems to be neglected. That is one of the main reasons why mergers occur. Similar thing could be said for businesses with multiple locations, but with a central office that provides most of the customer service, for instance, while the local offices offer on-site service.

5) “Business has moved” ability

Currently, if a business moves their location, there is no way for anyone to remove the outdated listing with the old location from Google Maps. If the owner verifies and subsequently deletes it, this will be only temporarily until the next index update rolls out. Google advises that such listings are simply marked as “closed”. This is very bad idea and businesses might miss out a lot of prospects this way. This would be the most sure signal for a potential customer that they are out of business and they would most probably look into the competition. Google is reportedly working on this.

Besides these, there are many other things that I’d like to see improvement with in Google+ Local, but these are my top 5. Apple Maps will be officially launched soon (this coming fall), and the time for Google to get things right in local seems to be ticking away.

Jun 282012
 

A recent article on Mike Blumenthal’s blog made us aware that even as Google has converted Google Places to Google+ Local on the front end… the back end still has problems. Places records are lost, businesses lose their visibility, and calls and leads are eliminated. This has been occurring since Google first introduced Google Maps.

I had the opportunity to speak with an SMB operator – David Oremland, who is also experienced at local SEO, has commentated on SEO issues, and has been involved in the Google Places Forum. As a Top Contributor, it’s the first time I’ve had an opportunity to walk through the process with an operator, both with regards to the problems, the process of trying to get a fix and the timing of recovery. The conversation also covers the costs of lost Google visibility.

The Duplicate Record Problem in Google Places

In early April this year one of our Google Places records suffered from one of the myriads of problems associated with Google Places. In this event the record mysteriously:

The process is scary for a business. It’s potentially costly, and there are no warnings or reasons provided for these occurrences. We learned there was nothing we could do. It was expensive, problematic and frustrating.

These and other problems have been occurring for years. It frustrates SMBs, it provides misinformation to customers and the “fix” process by Google is mysterious, not subject to explanation, and frankly is neither guaranteed, nor does it occur all the time. The following is a review of the issues, the efforts and frustrations in trying to effect a solution. It also documents a recovery and puts actual time frames to the elements and actual facets of each issue.

The Problem

On April 6, I noticed all the reviews on our Google Places record/link to the website on the first page of google.com were missing. Big problem… Tragic… We had worked to obtain between 10-12 reviews on Google at the time. With that number the link to the business showed eye-catching stars on Google.com. On top of that the reviews were virtually all positive. We knew from speaking with customers: positive reviews helped us promote the business and convinced potential customers to choose our services. The business is a bartending school; The Professional Bartending School. It’s located in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, and is one of about 100-300 bartending schools, most located in the United States and Canada.

Our business is over 40 years old, has a URL that was established in the mid 1990’s, is well known in the area, and has a strong reputation relative to the industry.
The business has always focused on job placement assistance. Grads landing jobs is the payback for training. This school probably reports more graduates landing bartending jobs than anywhere in the country. Many of the reviews referenced not only the training, but the job placement services. Not only were the reviews more conspicuous with the stars, but the positive reviews helped convince potential student/customers to choose our services.

The problems were much bigger than reviews though. Within a day or two we learned of the other problems

  • A basic duplicate record had been created showing in most queries.
  • Secondary weird duplicate records were shown with misinformation.
  • The long term record was moved to the “We currently do not support this location” message from Google. That means it no longer showed for appropriate search terms.
  • The long-term record was relatively strong and contributed to higher rankings. The new record had ZERO strength. It pushed our visibility lower for various search terms. We were going to get less traffic.
  • The new record was disconnected from the Google Places dashboard. We could not add pictures, nor change content. We had no dashboard statistics. We had no control of the Places record as it appeared to the public.

This was discouraging at the least. Not only had we no idea how this occurred, we were facing lower rankings, less traffic, and zero reviews. Worst of all, we were entering a busy season for the industry. Industry-wide college students start looking up bartending schools in the spring. They are considering taking classes when their school year ends in May. With lower visibility, we knew we were going to lose some of that traffic.

The series of problems was going to cost us money. At that moment all we knew was that these changes were going to be negative, we had no idea if we caused them, we had no idea if a fix would occur, nor how long it might take.

How Do These Problems Occur

At various times the information that shows in Google.com that includes a business address, phone number, your business name and other relevant contact information became highly important in May 2007. It was then that Google search began filling the first page of Google.com results with information from other indexes, such as news, blogs, books, products, finance, and particularly, Google Maps. At various times called Google Maps, Google Local, Google Places, and now Google+ Local, the information Google shows is basic contact information: business name, address, phone number and other information.

From its earliest days there have been problems with presenting this data. The back end algorithm that powers this information includes data from across the web including information business owners directly provide to Google. Much of it, though, comes from third-party websites. For many years, conflicting data, similar data, and other issues have continued to bedevil Google and the businesses, that depend on this data being presented accurately. Additionally, Google takes edits from its Map Maker section to edit and alter information.

The net result has been that the information shown in Google results has been consistently unstable. The problems we experienced have been experienced by thousands if not tens of thousands or more of businesses, hospitals, museums, government offices, and institutions around the globe. Often the problems are inexplicable. They just occur.

Contacting Google about the Problems

Both contacting Google about problems and getting help to fix these problems has been a consistent issue since Google Maps went live. In October 2011 after years of entirely inconsistent responses Google built a “Report a problem” customer service solution for small businesses. Earlier that year they added more levels of responsiveness and direct responses from Google personnel. One can find the systemic methods to report problems here. A second form of direct contact can be found in the troubleshooter area here.

On an ongoing basis there has been a public forum for reporting problems and, “hopefully”, getting assistance at the Google Places forum with two subgroups for discussions on issues, one of which is here. I had years of experience contacting and interacting in the Google Places help forums. I had done it on behalf of our own businesses. I had also acted on behalf of other businesses trying to help solve the myriads of problems that have occurred in Google places over the years.

The systemic reports in the Report a Problem section are the preferred method for customer service and “fixes”. Troubleshooter responses are similar, but generate a more personalized response from Google customer service personnel than do the “report a problem” responses. They could be the preferred way to get precise responses.

I preferred the Google Places forum. In fact, I both sent in report a problem messages and used the Google Places forum. On April 8, (a Sunday) I added a comment in this thread in the Google Places Forum. On April 9, I started a thread here . The 2nd post was technically declared a duplicate thread, it was referenced to the first thread. It did have pertinent information from research and an interesting screen shot of different duplicate records:

I subsequently added comments on April 9, 11, 12, 13 and 16. Too many comments in my opinion based on my review. Worthless efforts, I believe. They didn’t help to affect a response or get better service. I also sent several reports into the Report a problem email opportunity. Those reports didn’t evoke a lot of confidence on our end as to a fix. The response emails were in a template format. The responses kept referencing the Google places ID to the record that had been dropped.

Screen shots show some of the impacts from the duplicate record crisis. This screen shot, derived from Map Maker, shows the variety of records that had been created along with comments:

The top record represented one of the strange duplicates created by the merger. The second record appeared to be caused via adding data into the Twitter account for the business. It’s the only place we could find that showed our address without a street number. Amazingly we had made that change in Twitter days before the merger. The third record appeared to be the original record that was now in “We currently do not support this location” status. And the 4th Map Maker record: OMG. That should have been tanked years earlier.

The following screen shot shows the result of one of the most problematic duplicate records that appeared. Unfortunately, this record was showing for a variety of fairly commonly used search terms. The record strangely tied the bartending school to an elementary school.

The record is a “feature record” with strange characteristics. It was tied to an elementary school. That alone points to some of the problematic characteristics of the Google Places algorithm. Secondly, the record shows the time of day under the business name and address. Ultimately, these strange records tend to disappear over time. They seem to be “place sitter” records created by the algorithm. The problem was though that it was appearing for a reasonable volume of search phrases and was clearly inappropriate.

What I Was Looking for and How Was Google Responding

In my mind there was a dichotomy between my efforts, my goals vis a vis Google, and my expectations, versus how Google handled the response(s). I wanted a specific customer service FIX. I was looking for precise answers and guidance. In my various commentary in the Google Places thread, I outlined specific issues, reviewed possible causes of the merger, showcased various duplicate records that had been created, reviewed the history within Map Maker, etc. All to no avail. I thought I identified possible causes for the duplicate record, acknowledged an action taken by us that could have been partially responsible, and also identified a possible edit in Map Maker that occurred simultaneously with creating possibly bad info for the Google Places ecosystem. None of that mattered to Google. Frankly Google didn’t answer any of my most serious questions or explained anything. They never do. If you want to try and figure out how the Google Places algorithm works or what causes changes they simply aren’t going to publicly publish any details that relate to the algorithms. They haven’t done so for years, and they weren’t going to start with me.

On the other hand, I’ve seen Google “hand fix” records in a matter of a day or so. They’ve done it for years. They are still doing this on occasion. Frankly, in years past I had GMail accounts with Google Places problems and issues and had received “hand fixes” then. I believe Google personnel currently call it a “point fix”.

The current set of problems didn’t receive a hand fix/point fix. It’s quite probable that level of complexity and what had occurred would have prevented a “hand fix” or “point fix” in any case.

The record had suffered from a duplicate. The long-term old record went into “Google does not support this location” status. A new record with a new ID was created with identical name, address, phone number, URL, and descriptive information from the old record. The problem was that the new record had all the correct information showing, but had none of the connections to the previous record: no reviews, no pictures, no connectivity to the cluster of information from around the web that powers a record to higher rankings and greater visibility.

Among the possibilities of problems, the duplicate record with accurate NAP information was preferable to not having an instant replacement record at all. At least there was a Places record showing on the first page of Google.com. Its ranking and visibility, though, were worse than before the problem. Fortunately, though for us the rankings were being “carried” or buttressed by the on-page and off-page aspects of strict SEO.

The Recovery Process

Within Google’s new “customer service” process they will often communicate to the universe of SMB operators and SEOs that a correction will occur in 4-6 weeks. Do you believe that and have faith? Frankly, after about 1 week of commentating within the Google Places forum, and reviewing options, we had no alternatives but to wait. Actually, we did have an alternative, but its consequences might have been worse. We could have terminated the record in the dashboard and created a new record, gone through verification again and restarted the process of creating strength inside the Google Maps ecosystem. That isn’t a great alternative. It would have taken weeks or months to try and recreate the power of the previous record. We had to sit back…have faith…and hope that the Google customer service methods worked.

They did! Much of the recovery process occurred faster than 4 to 6 weeks. A last vestige of recovery seemed to occur about 2 months after the duplicate record disaster. In our view some of the most important elements occurred at the end of two weeks. Our major concerns had to do with the loss of ranking and diminished visibility and the loss of reviews.

At the end of two weeks our rankings from maps.google.com started to strengthen. Merged or pack information that show in the first page of google.com have components of ranking signals from both google.com and maps.google.com. In short hand that means standard SEO efforts and efforts related to Google Maps/Google Places. They are different. Visibility of our site was pretty good. It was a result of years of work on both sides. On the other hand when I searched specifically within maps.google.com the site had lost all its strength. Where once it had outranked all competitors for a lot of phrases regardless of location after the duplicate the record trailed everything. It had lost all its signals associated with maps.google.com. It even trailed a business record for a school that had closed three years previously, the building had been razed, the URL was no longer associated with an actual website and the phone number didn’t connect to the business. THAT IS WEAK.

At the end of two weeks when evaluating rankings exclusively within maps.google.com the site was regaining its ranking strength. What that signalled was that the volume of web data that indicates ranking value to maps.google.com had been moved from the old record and the old ID to the new Google record/Google ID. The recovery process was working. Within the third week it appeared that all relative ranking within maps.google.com was similar to that before the dupe.

Between 3 and 4 weeks following the Duplicate and merger, the most significant ranking visibility returned. The site has traditionally strong rankings for key phrases in the region relative to its competitors. We have proprietary methods for evaluating ranking strength. At some point between 3 and 4 weeks the rankings returned to where they had been prior to the merger…and the resultant traffic seemed to reflect a full recovery with regard to rankings and visibility within google.com search.

The second biggest issue was the loss of reviews. Loss of reviews has been a common and consistent problem within Google Places. If anything, there could be a greater number of incidents of this occurring than in the past, if judging by the volume of complaints inside the Google Places forum. It’s incredibly frustrating for SMBs. Clearly customers of every kind of service and business read reviews. They are the closest thing to word of mouth advice. If positive and strong, they help convince customers to purchase your services. Our school was like every other business in this regard. The most telling information was that over the years, students told us that positive reviews helped them to consider taking our classes. We’ve actually accumulated 10’s of thousands of student comments/reviews over the decades. When a student graduates we’ve asked them to write an evaluation of the program. We used those for two purposes. If we saw recurring complaints during a period of time, we would tackle and address the issues. Secondly, we copied the most complementary of these reviews, bundled them and showed them to prospective new students. While we had practiced this for decades, and received thousands of great reviews, we were reluctant to ask for reviews on the web. When the duplicate record occurred we had 10 to 12 reviews on Google.

When a duplicate record occurs and reviews are lost the common response from Google is generally:

  • Wait;
  • We aren’t sure if they will return;
  • Wait some more.

Reviews are a large problem. Loss of reviews is a sticky issue with the Google algo and cluster. After 2 weeks we decided that we couldn’t count on reviews magically reappearing on our new Google record/ID. We had to go get reviews again. We asked customers for reviews again and within 2 weeks or so had added about 10, regaining those precious eye-catching stars.

And then magic occurred. After 4 weeks the old reviews mysteriously were moved from the old record (now tanked or in dreaded “We do not support this location” status) to the new record. Suddenly we found ourselves with over 20 reviews in Google. In conjunction with that we saw the conversion from Google Places to Google+ Local and the visual appearance of reviews no longer connected with bright stars…but now a Zagat Rating. Regardless, we had the number of reviews that create a relative eye-catching visibility within the pack of competitors.

Recovery of ranking and reviews were our chief concerns. There were other issues that had been affected by the duplicate record. They too all seem to have recovered. Among the issues were:

  • The new record was disconnected from the Google places dashboard.
  • All pictures loaded through the dashboard were lost as were videos.
  • The dashboard statistics were lost.

All of that recovered. Dashboard connectivity recovered within the first two weeks. At first it was sluggish. Later it improved with quicker responses. Pictures that had been previously loaded began to reappear after about 3 weeks. The final reconnection took about 2 months. After two months of absolutely nonsensical dashboard results we started seeing more impressions than actions and a return of requests for driving directions to our business. I’m generally not a big believer in the value of dashboard statistics for a great variety of reasons, but they do offer certain valuable insights.

Attached is a somewhat comical screen shot of a dashboard that has been disconnected from old data. The straight line simply represents a few months of the years of data we lost.

Summation and Comments

Undoubtedly lost records, duplicates, mergers, misinformation, lost reviews and other problems associated with Google Places are the bane of existence for SMB operators and their SEO’s. The Google Places database is notoriously unstable and subject to crazy changes. It is also incredibly visible and the starting point for most consumers using search to find local businesses and services. It’s critical. When it goes bad for certain businesses highly reliant on Google search for business revenues it can crush a business.

As of late 2011 and moving forward the single good news, if you want to call it that, is that there is a systemic process to fix those issues. When the “customer service” fix process works recovery can and will occur. Most if not all of the recovery seems to occur within the 4-6 week process Google has signaled to small businesses. Some of the recovery occurs faster than the 4- to 6-week period. On the other hand, not all businesses get fixed. For a variety of reasons SMBs have recurring issues that simply aren’t addressed by the Google Places support teams. I reviewed a few weeks of commentary within the Google Places forum and pulled a list of comments that reflected businesses whose issues have not been addressed or resolved for weeks if not far longer. You can find the threads here:

- pending status for months

- six-week wait

- continued problems

- wrong info for several weeks

- two years of problems

The good news is that the Google response system put in place last year does resolve certain issues. If you are relatively fortunate like our bartending school the critical issues get resolved within the first few weeks. If it doesn’t work though, it’s going to be a long cold winter!!!

When the recent dupe occurred I reviewed everything (with help), and I was fairly confident we identified some possible or probable causes of the dupe (as new bad data worked its way through the cluster). We did not get instant responsiveness. Over time though, we have seen the corrective results. The corrections were critical and invaluable.  In our example we regained partial maps visibility and ranking strength in 2 weeks. Full visibility and ranking strength in 3 weeks. Reviews started to return and completely returned within 4 weeks.

Those were the critical issues. Without visibility the site gets less traffic. Our site was backed up by basic SEO strength and was lucky in that we suffered a dupe with an immediate replacement record.  In other words a record was still visible in google search.   We also were using extensive PPC. Without PPC and organic strength we simply would have lost all the leads from Google search during that 2-3 week period.

In our perspective reviews are critical but secondary to visibility.  (Nobody reads reviews if they can’t find your site). But reviews are like a lover or a labor of love. They mean a lot to every SMB. Potential customers migrate, read, and make decisions based on reviews.  No other directory seems to lose reviews besides Google.  Having those reviews helps win some sales.   We made an effort to gain new reviews after several weeks and we were lucky to have the old reviews connect with the new record after 4 weeks. In terms of straight business all the other problems were secondary.

Jun 122012
 

Update: I am adding the raw data file, which features details on what information bits each local business directory researched allows to be added. You can download it from here.

In the past two parts of my study dedicated to local citation building I looked at important niche citation sources, and at the prominence factor for determining which business directories might be the most trustworthy. In this part I will look into another factor that is taken into account by Google when determining the value of a local citation – the completeness, or plenitude of the incoming business data. The text in the “Generating Structured Information” patent, which is the basis of the clustering system related to the local business data Google generates and represents in local search, says the following:

…Likewise, facts within sets of facts that provide more information than other sets of facts can be assigned a greater weight.

This means that if business directory X allows you to input more additional information (other than the business name, address, phone number, and category), it might be more valuable and a more trustworthy citation source than business directory Y, which allows you to input just basic business data.

The Study

I looked into 25 of the most prominent local business directories (according to the second part of the local citation building study) and checked what information each one of them allows for a business to add. The enhanced data “facts” that I looked for primarily were: description, website, email, images, video, hours, specialties, year established, payment types, ability to add links to social profiles, claimability, languages spoken. If the business directory offered anything over these, that was marked as “additional” information. For each “fact” a directory allowed to be added, it was given 1 point. In case this fact was available only to paid customers, the business directory was given 0.5 points. If the listing was claimable only via phone, the directory was also assigned 0.5 points.

The Results

Directory Score
manta.com 13
local.yahoo.com 11
expressupdateusa.com 11
chamberofcommerce.com 11
yellowpages.com 10.5
local.com 10.5
botw.org 10.5
superpages.com 10
thumbtack.com 10
kudzu.com 10
yellowbook.com 9.5
citysearch.com 9
insiderpages.com 9
hotfrog.com 9
yelp.com 8.5
angieslist.com 8
merchantcircle.com 8
brownbook.net 8
magicyellow.com 8
whitepages.com 7
yellowbot.com 5.5
bridgat.com 5
citysquares.com 5
localeze.com 4.5
bbb.org 3

Manta.com is the obvious winner. The website has an algorithm that ranks businesses in their internal search results based on the completeness of the business profile. The scale is from 0% to 100%, but the maximum that can be achieved via a free listing is 95% completeness (the “add keywords” option is unavailable). The site also has the biggest number of “additional information” information points available (other than the ones expressly stated above), together with Thumbtack.com.

Local.com and local.BOTW.org also allow for a big number of enhanced business information to be added to their local listings. However, in many cases this option is available only for paid customers, which slightly decreases their overall scores. If you have budget for advertising on local business directories, I’d suggest you consider paid listings on these two. (Note: I am not affiliated in any way with any of these websites.)

Localeze.com and Citysquares.com are very low in the rankings although they also allow for a significant amount of enhanced information to be added. Unfortunately, both websites provide this option only for paying businesses, which significantly decreases their scores. In their free packages they both offer only very basic business data to be added – business name, address, phone number, and one category. They offer very reasonably priced paid listings and they might be a good fit for a business that would like to gain more from their local citation building campaign. (Note: I am not affiliated in any way with any of these websites.)

Remark: As part of our citation building service we take the value of each citation source into account. One of the factors we use is the data points each directory allows for as described in this study.

*Note: Our Citation Building Guide features more information, tips, and tactics on how to do local citation building.

Jun 112012
 

Local Search Ranking Factors 2012
The 2012 edition of the Local Search Ranking Factors survey by David Mihm has been officially released. Its first presentation was a few days ago at the SMX Advanced in Seattle, when we could get some sneak peeks into how the factors changed over the years and how they look like now. One thing that might have major influence on the results is the recent roll out of Google+ Local, which came to substitute Google Places. The expectations are that search will become more social and personalized, thus social ranking factors such as +1′s, adding to circles, reviews on Google+ Local and/or Zagat might have significantly increased influence on the rankings. This is not the case right now, but everything could change tomorrow, or the next week.

I will post more thoughts on it later today/early tomorrow.

Jun 072012
 

Image courtesy of Aaron Weiche

I don’t have the chance to attend SMX Advanced in Seattle which is rolling right now. However, I am following everything that is happening via a number of sources – live bloggers, Twitter streams, Google+, recap posts, etc. The event that I am most interested in is the Local University Advanced, and particularly David Mihm‘s announcement of the Vol. 5 of the Local Search Ranking Factors in which I also took part (w00t).

David Mihm is focusing primarily on the evolution of Google’s local algorithm from the perspective of the changes in the rankings of the ranking factors over the years. Here is what he shares:

- The ranking factors haven’t really changed that much over the years (2008-2012) Tweet

- The factors haven’t changed even after the launch of Google+ Local Tweet

- Importance of the “distance to city centroid” ranking factor depends on the industry Tweet, but nevertheless, it is still a ranking factor Tweet

- SMB websites matter a lot in local search rankings and in building authority Tweet

- Ratings are not as important as reviews currently (but this might change); in future a trust factor will be added to reviews, so the more trustworthy the reviewer, the higher the value of the review Tweet

- The most negative ranking factor is inconsistent N.A.P. data, and especially an inconsistent (tracking) phone number Tweet

- Other negative ranking factors include multiple Places pages (Google+ Pages) with similar/same business names and addresses, as well as the inclusion of location keyword in the categories in a Google business listing Tweet

- David Mihm mentions me (second w00t) in relation to getting the Local University to Bulgaria? Hm :) Tweet

- Social circles will be a very important factor in local search in (the not very distant) future Tweet

- Quantity of reviews is more important than quality in the local search rankings Tweet

- According to people in the audience there is no way for a small business to do local SEO on their own Tweet

- Getting more reviews might help in overcoming the problematic “distance to city centroid” ranking factor Tweet

- There are cases in which the centroid isn’t really being taken into account Tweet

- Personalization and socialization of the local search results is going to be the trend Tweet

- Branded anchor texts is now more important than keyword anchor text (Hi, @Penguin) Tweet

And that’s pretty much everything I managed to get from the 30-minute presentation. This is really just a snapshot, so I am really looking forward to the next week’s official online announcement of the Local Search Ranking Factors, edition 2012!