May 132013
 

Probably most of the regular readers of my blog have noticed that I am unusually inactive recently. With only 1 post since 27 February, this is by far the worst period for me in terms of writing productivity. The reasons for this are complex, but I want to stress on one in particular that is so significant that it is practically affecting my entire business – the Internet.

My wife and me moved to a new condo about 6 months ago. Although I have office space that I rent monthly, I go there very occasionally for meetings and training with my team, and there isn’t even constant Internet access there. In 99% of the time I work from home, so the move meant that I also moved my office. Unfortunately, it became clear very soon (a few days before the move) that it might be a problem to find a good quality Internet provider that covers the condo. Don’t get me wrong – the building is well within the boundaries of the second largest city in Malaysia – Johor Bahru, and is in probably the fastest developing regions of the city. In Malaysia, the telecommunications business is almost entirely monopolized by the national telecommunications company – Telekom Malaysia (TM). They provide the highest quality broadband Internet, and are practically the only provider of fiber-optic Internet (the other major Internet provider uses TM’s infrastructure to offer their fiber-optic Internet service). Unfortunately, at the time of our move, TM was not covering the condo (although they covered almost every other building in the neighborhood). I asked a few different representatives if they know about any plans for the condo to be covered. All replied negatively. There were only two options left – P1 and Yes. I had heard equally bad things about both, but as P1 had a 1-week charge-free test period, I tried them first. The Internet quality was awful and the speed was very far from the promised. I requested for cancellation within the 1-week period, when it turned out that: 1) it was not really completely charge-free, and 2) it was not really one week, but more like 3 working days. However, I managed to somehow cancel my subscription and was left with only one option – Yes.

Yes has relatively positive reputation when it comes to mobile Internet, but they don’t seem to be that good at providing home online access. Additionally, the minimum contract option was 2 years. I had a lot of doubts since the beginning, but I had no choice – I signed the contract and was promised (max) 20Mbps speed with maximum data usage per month… 10GB. This was the biggest data plan they offer and the cost was RM168 per month (~US$55). Obviously, the data was not enough for me, although I was trying to save from everything – no YouTube watching, no matches watching online, no excessive browsing. I was forced to purchase add-ons called “superboosters”, with the biggest add-on being 3.6GB at RM55 (~US$18). On average, I had to purchase 2 such add-ons per month, which means that I was paying ~US$90 per month for 17GB of home Internet data per month at a maximum speed of 20Mbps. The average speed I was able to get was around 8-9MbpS. Doesn’t sound like the best deal, huh? On top of it all, I was unable to do online calls, because the Internet was apparently not up for it and it was going down practically every 30 seconds while I was talking using Skype. This practically ruined my consultation business. Additionally, I was unable to pick the phone (my US phone number is attached to Skype) for many potential clients, so my overall business drastically decreased.

There was hope, though. TM started offering their service for our condo about 1 week (!!!) after I subscribed to Yes. Of course I started trying to cancel my contract with Yes as soon as I learned about this, but there was one tiny problem – the cancellation clause in the contract stated that the penalty fee was equal to the fees for the whole withstanding period of the contract. This meant that I had to pay RM3,500+ in order to cancel (~US$1150). I made about 150 to 200 complaint calls to Yes, almost always demanding to talk with a manager, and I managed to get one only on 2 occasions. The second one was my success – the manager agreed to make a deal with me and I had to pay “just” RM 600 for the cancellation (~US200). This happened 5 months after my first complaint. Overall cost for my calls was about RM200. As the cancellation was not confirmed until the last moment, I had to wait for the final approval before I contacted TM. When I finally did, I sorrowfully learned that the waiting period for TM’s Internet to be installed is 1 week. Of course Yes switched off my Internet access immediately after the cancellation was confirmed, so for 1 week I had no Internet access.

1 week later, I finally had good quality Internet after almost half a year of struggle. Everything was perfectly fine (even suspiciously perfectly fine, I’d say) for about half a month until just two weeks ago. My Internet started switching off and switching on without any obvious reason. I started digging for information and discovered that per government order the Internet should have been cut off for people that read politically-related content – this was related to the general elections in Malaysia that took place on May 5. As a person coming from Bulgaria, a country where democracy is nothing more than a textbook term, this was not a major surprise for me. However, what really amazed me and was the final drop to making me write this article was what happened last Wednesday (May 8).

I was working as normal in the nice morning when suddenly the Internet went off. I was thinking it was again something related to the above mentioned issue, but when the Internet never came back for more than an hour I understood something was wrong. All my attempts to restore the connection were also in vain. I called TM and after attempting to fix the problem distantly, their technician came on Thursday afternoon. He performed a few checks and stated that the problem was not with TM, but with the building’s wiring. I called the building maintenance and the guy responsible for the wiring came to check what was wrong. In the meantime the TM technician was gone. After double-checking, the building maintenance rep said there was no problem with the wiring. After a few more calls to TM and to the building management where everyone was pushing the blame to the other, they decided to leave it for Friday as their working day was over. Unfortunately, on Friday my wife and me had a scheduled trip to Kuala Lumpur, because we had to verify some legal documents (legal matters are hard when the two countries have (almost) no diplomatic relationships). When we were back on Sunday, the issue was still there. Obviously, nobody worked on a Sunday, and that is when we come to today (Monday, May 13). Another TM technician came in the morning and came to the same conclusion – the problem didn’t lie with TM. I called the maintenance guy and made them both go to the building manager. He made them double-check each part of the telecommunication infrastructure of the building and after 3 hours – they finally fixed the problem! My Internet was back and everything was as it used to be. I had enormous pile of work to finish, including a lot of overdue tasks. Half an hour later, when I was just getting started, it happened again – the Internet went down and the model was back to the dreaded stage where it was showing “no DSL connection.” Right now I am waiting for the TM technician to come back.

P.S. If you wonder how I wrote this article – I used my mobile 3G data, which gives me an average broadband speed of 500Kbps.

Apr 262013
 

Google has been the subject of antitrust investigations in Europe for some time now. The reason has been allegations from competitors about some anti-competitive practices of Google, especially related to vertical search. While a similar case has been settled in Google’s favor by the FTC in the US, the European Commission, claiming that Google’s market share in Europe is much more significant, has “pushed” the company to change their search results for some specialized verticals. The verticals included are Google Shopping, Google Places, Google Hotel Finder, Google News, Google Finance, Google Flights, Google Maps, as well as all future verticals that Google would roll out. Google finally came out with a proposal on Thursday. For me, naturally, the most interesting part of the proposal is the one related to local search results. Google offered the following format of the local search results on desktops:

Google's Local Search Europe

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And here is the proposed format of the local search results on mobile devices:
Google Local Search on Mobile

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The changes for the desktop SERP are:
- The inclusion of acknowledgement about the fact that the Google Places results represent Google’s own product
- The inclusion of links to three other “relevant providers”
- The moving of the map to the top of the Google Places results
The changes for the mobile SERP are:
- The inclusion of a “Google Places Search” and “Other sites” links above the map

To both SERPs will be added a frame that would signify the Google Places search results.

Before moving to how Google will be determining which sites would be considered as “relevant providers”, here are my thoughts on how this might affect the local search results:

First, if I were the complainers, I was going to be very dissatisfied with Google’s proposal. The changes are obviously made in a way that would satisfy the minimum possible requirement. The visibility of the links to the third-party sites is (purposefully) lowered by the fact that they are under the map (in the desktop SERP) and in smaller font (in the mobile SERP). Additionally, in the mobile SERP, the user should click one more time to reach the third-party search results, as compared to Google’s native ones. Second, it seems like the new layout (map within the results and frame around the Places results) would actually boost the visibility of Google’s properties even more than the current one does. Anyone can submit their feedback and observations via email at COMP-GOOGLE-CASES@ec.europa.eu under reference number AT.39.740 – Google . The feedback can be written in any of the EU official languages (which includes Bulgarian!). The deadline is 1 month from publication in the Official Journal of the European Union (which means 25 May 2013). Countries that would be affected by the change include all the members of the EEA (EU + Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), as well as all future members (most probably Croatia will join the group even before the implementations go live).

Google also gives a detailed explanation of how the third-party sites will be picked. Here are some outlines:

- The sites might be less then three, based on how many would qualify as per Google’s requirements
- There will be a tool which sites could use to apply to become a potential pick for these “Vertical Sites Pools”
- Criteria for a site to be included in a vertical sites pool include the presence of search functionality, be limited to a small number of content categories (generalist search sites won’t be considered eligible), be within the first 100,000 sites in terms of traffic per Alexa, acceptable quality of user experience, and others
- The sites that have the highest “Web Search Rank” (i.e. the rank of the site for the generic search results for the query in question) will be preferred for display
- Google could remove sites from the pool if they are found to violate a significant number of requirements

Theoretically, this means that same business directory websites that have been ranking for local search queries up to now will be the one to be picked (if they apply and are accepted). If I were them, and if the layout stayed the same as it is proposed by Google, I’d actually rather not apply if that would mean losing my organic result on first page (that might include things such as review snippets, meta description, sitelinks, and others). It would just decrease my real estate without giving me much additional visibility.

What are your takeaways? Do you think the new layout of Google’s search results would benefit their competitors or do you think they are still pretty self-serving?

Feb 272013
 

Since I wrote my first (and only, up to now) e-book (Citation Building Guide) about 3 months ago I’ve been having a lot of requests for additions and I’ve been receiving questions related to topics that for one reason or another are not covered in the current version of the e-book. That is why I decided to prepare a “second edition” of a sort. This second edition is scheduled to be issued on 18 March.

What will change and what will be added

Besides some changes to the structure of the content, there will be the following additions and updates:

1. Information about citation building in countries other than the United States – I have rightly been blamed that the guide focuses too much on the case of the US. And I agree. That is why there will be many improvements that could be beneficial to Internet marketers and regular businesses from the following countries:

- Canada
- United Kingdom
- Australia
- New Zealand
- Germany

2. Extended coverage of the data aggregators and Google’s trusted data providers – both in the US, and in the other countries mentioned above.

3. Case studies – diving deeper into specific complicated cases and the ways my team and I untangled them.

4. Updated “List of Business Directories for the US” and newly added “List of Business Directories for Canada”. The updated one would include both more business directories, and more information about why particular directories are excluded from the list. Note that both these lists include the direct URLs to the submission page of each website.

5. More “Phone Verification Guides”, including Google (universal), Yelp (universal), Bing (US), Nokia (US), LocalEze (US), Citysearch (US), Yellowbot (US), Yellowee (US), iBegin (US, Canada), YellowPages.ca (Canada), WebLocal (Canada).

6. Updated “Fixing and Reporting Duplicate Listings”, including more than 30 of the most important business directories.

How the price will change

The price will be increased, unfortunately. However, the good news is that if you purchase the guide by 17 March, 11:59PM (Eastern Standard Time) it will be at its current price (US$30) and you will enjoy free updates forever. I am planning to be updating it and adding more information to it at least twice a year (and even more often, in case some major changes occur). But the good news don’t end here. If you purchase the guide and send request for additions that haven’t been covered yet by 3 March, 11:59PM (EST), I will include them in the updated version.

Who should get the guide

The Citation Building Guide is suitable for the following groups:

- Internet marketing (and especially inbound marketing) agencies and specialists – the guide could help you in developing an organized system to deal with tedious tasks such as citations research, competitive citation analysis, and brute ones such as citation submission and citation building; it could also help you in training new staff to complete such tasks;

- Small and medium businesses – if you have a website and a Google Local listing, and you are wondering where to start from in order to make them more visible and to potentially monetize them, the e-book will guide you through the process;

- Franchises and chains targeting locally multiple areas – organizing the workflow and determining task priority are two of the most difficult problems for companies with many locations that try to make all of them visible and at the same time keep their brand image consistent; these are the problems the guide could help solving.

And besides all mentioned, you would have my personal assistance available in case you have troubles of any sort with the guide or its content.

You could read more about it and purchase it here.

Feb 262013
 

This is an article I have been planning for very, very long time. Although there are a few great lists of local SEO specialists I frequently refer to (David Mihm’s, Mike Ramsey’s, Matthew Hunt’s), there is no single resource which gives more insights into who the people behind the names and the websites actually are. In fact, this is a problem not just with local SEO in particular, but with the online marketing industry as a whole. On the one side are the customers, for whom it is often very difficult to determine which SEO to choose. Traditionally, the cornerstones have been testimonials, recommendations from friends, and general awareness of the reputation of the service provider. But in a business where the “seller” and the “buyer” could be as far from each other as tens of thousands of miles (in my case for example), these traditional guides could sometimes be insufficient. And that is why these people staying on the other side – the local SEO specialists/consultants/providers/ninjas/gourmands, might need some additional “trust push” in order to gain authority and trustworthiness. So here it is: my collection of aspiring local SEOs!

But first, a few notes:

1) This list is in reverse alphabetical order. Why? Because every other list is in old-school alphabetical order, and I’ve always felt a bit discriminated against (there are not really that many other last names that start with Z…).

2) I reached out to all the guys and gals mentioned below, and I got replies from many of them. However, for different reasons some did not get back to me with more information, so I did not include them in the article. Despite this I list them at the bottom, because I believe they are an important part of the local SEO world.

3) For everything to be as fair and square as possible, I decided to use the old “click to see” drop-down trick. Otherwise, it would have been very possible that 99% of the people would have given up before reaching even the middle of the page.

4) As most of the featured specialists are Americans and for accuracy purposes I will use the word “football” to describe the American variation of the sport, and the word “soccer” – for the European one.

And now – happy reading!

Mike Wilton »

Mike says that it was music that dragged him into the world of local search. His first website was focused on local bands, events, and restaurants. He was so passionate about SEO that later on he left his job at Disney to pursue a career at Advanced Access – an Internet marketing company specialized in real estate website design and marketing. It was then that he really started diving deeper into local SEO, experimenting with Google Places, microformats and Geo-data. When he eventually left the company, he used his knowledge to develop a new strategy for the clients of Plastic Surgery Studios, an Internet marketing company focused on medical practices. Currently Mike is the manager of the firm’s Internet Marketing department.

Mike is happily married and a father of two. Besides local SEO, he has passion for gothic culture and Halloween.

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Aaron Weiche »

Aaron built his first webpage in 1997 and he says he has never looked back since. His real passion sparkled a little later, though, when Yahoo’s directory and DMOZ were the major names in SEO. He became more involved in local SEO around 2006, when he began noticing the tremendous impact it had on small and locally focused businesses. More recently, Aaron has been enjoying his time participating in and presenting at the Local University series, together with a big group of other renowned local search specialists.

Aaron has been happily married for 10 years, and is the lucky father of 3 daughters. In his spare time, he loves playing sports and supporting the University of Nebraska football team.

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Larry Sullivan »

Larry has been working with small businesses for more than 10 years, but it was only 5-6 years ago when he spotted local search’s great potential and employed it in his SMB marketing strategies. He says that local is now just one piece of the puzzle and it should be used together with mobile and social tactics.

Besides local search, Larry enjoys mobile gaming and runs two websites dedicated to mobile apps – DroidReviewCentral.com and iReviewCentral.com. He is also an avid fan of the New York Mets and the Knicks.

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Andrew Shotland »

Andrew’s first serious contact with the online world was back in 1994 when he helped launch Showtime Networks’ first website. Soon after that, he managed to help put together the first live chat from a Mike Tyson fight he was hired by NBC and participated in the creation of the first network of local TV station sites, called NBC-IN. In the early 2000s, he met Stu MacFarlane with whom he started InsiderPages, a local-social reviews website. That was when his SEO skills improved as he succeeded in increasing the traffic from 30,000 unique visitors/month to 4 million. After the company was sold to CitySearch in 2006, he went on to become a private consultant; his first client was the head of product at LATimes.com.

Andrew says this about his occupation: “being an SEO is like being a golf pro at a party full of amateur golfers. Everyone you talk to wants a tip for how to improve their swing.” His current hobby is “working on perfecting a recipe for the first shelf-stable, meat-juice-based gourmet hot sauce.”

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Darren Shaw »

Darren doesn’t have the background of a typical geeky web developer. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 and decided to spend his time working at a local restaurant. Later on, he changed his mind and went back to high school and eventually got his university degree in anthropology (major) and computer science (minor). During his university years (circa 1996) he developed his first website. It was not until the early 2000s, though, that he became truly passionate about SEO, as he helped his sister promote her e-commerce website (which Darren himself built). He started diving deeper into local search after 2008, and a little later the Local Citation Finder was born.

Darren is happily married and his daughter occupies a lot of his free time. In his spare he likes to do local search the raccoon way.

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Will Scott »

Will was first hooked up with the Internet and its infinite possibilities by one of his professors while majoring in architecture in Tulane University. He built his first website back in the dark ages of 1994. He claims it was not until 1999 that he abused his first search engine (read: got into SEO). Soon after Will got in close touch with local search for the first time. In 2002, way before Google thought of monopolizing “local”, the company he was working at ventured into building and promoting online Yellow Pages. At first it was easy and it was simply pursuing long-tail keywords (ones that included city name), Will claims, but the real challenge came when Google and the others decided to change the rules and started prioritizing their own products.

Will is the CEO of Search Influence and that is what occupies most of his time. He loves beer, and that is probably why one of his favorite quotes is “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

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Jim Rudnick »

Jim sold his first Internet marketing firm in 1999 when he turned 50 (note: at that time I still hadn’t heard of the Internet, and I had barely seen a PC on TV once or twice). He now handles just about 10 clients personally, just to “keep his hand in.”

He is currently mostly dedicated to his hobbies, primarily wine tasting, and Jim says that if he were 30 years younger and if he’d won the lottery, he would have bought a winery in Napa, CA. He also loves skiing, which he has been practicing for over 55 years. Mr. Rudnick has written 2 books, and is currently working on a 3rd. He enjoys all things “local”, and has been president of the Hamilton Local Chamber of Commerce.

But above all, he is a happy father of 3 and grandfather of 2.

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Phil Rozek »

Phil’s first encounter with online marketing was in 2006 when, while still in college (Japanese Language and Literature major at Boston University), he began helping his father manage AdWords campaigns. He built his first website later the same year. Phil gradually grew more and more curious about why “some businesses were on the map and some weren’t.” His explorations were briefly summarized in his first-ever article on local search marketing, which appeared in a local newspaper in the summer of 2008. He likes getting to know his clients more personally and exchanging gifts with them or having long phone conversations, completely unrelated to local search are not uncommon.

While at his PC, Phil likes listening to jazz, Soul, metal, alternative, and the occasional bagpipe tune. When not working, he spends his best hours with his fiancée, Stefanie, and their 4-year-old cat, Peanut. His hobbies include running, camping, gardening, reading, and collecting coins. As these seem to be features typical of a clean-cut guy, it might come as a surprise that at one time Phil had shoulder-length hair and a Civil-War-caliber beard.

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Yam Regev »

Just 7 years ago Yam was working on his family’s farm in a small village in northern Israel. That was when he moved to Tel Aviv and established the online marketing department of a large locksmith corporation. His team of local SEO consultants grew quickly and after only 3 years it consisted of 25 members. In 2010, Yam left the company and started partnering with different SMBs, helping them strengthen their online presence. His latest venture is called kidEbook – a start-up company specialized in creating smart kids apps. Yam enjoys being where things are happening, close to the end user. He says that “you can take the farmer out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the farmer.”

Yam is a happy father of his newborn daughter.

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Mike Ramsey »

Mike’s first steps into the Internet marketing world were during his college years. For a class project he had to launch a website – HugeIdahoPotatoes.com, and monetize it. Around 2007, already out of college, and having his own clients, Mike started digging into local SEO as he noticed the potential positives it could bring to his customers.

Mike has a lovely wife and is a father of two (and one on the way). His hobbies include theater and guitar playing. Mike was Idaho State Drama champion a few times and has participated in a lot of plays. He currently plays in a bluegrass band that travels to different countries and performs at local folk festivals together with his wife’s folk dance team.

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David Oremland »

Dave has been involved in SMB operations since the early 1980′s. His first local-search-related activity came during the 1990′s when he had to compile databases of small businesses information as part of his job of releasing commercial space to this kind of companies. He first recognized the importance of local search for SMBs in the early 2000′s. As his company didn’t manage to find anyone who was knowledgeable enough about local SEO, he took on these duties and has been working on them ever since.

His hobbies include watching sports, dining out, and cooking.

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David Mihm »

David has been inclined to art and design since grad school, where he studied architecture. This naturally led him to using his skills and interest in the online world. His first contact with local was in 2005, when he started helping his clients with claiming their online business listings. What attracted him most was the opportunity to help boost a small business without significant amount of time and investment by the business owner (something, he acknowledges, that is less relevant nowadays).

David has great passion for golf. He is a big fan of The World’s Great Links Courses: his favorites are Portrush, Portstewart, County Down, Ballybunion, Carne, Royal Aberdeen, Nairn, Cruden Bay, Ballyneal, and Old Macdonald and Bandon Dunes. He has combined his two hobbies – architecture and golf, into a website where he shares his accumulated thoughts: EpicGolf.com. In addition to these, David is very much into craft beer (especially Northwest IPA’s and Pale Ales) and craft-roasted coffee.

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Matt McGee »

Matt built his first website in 1995. It was (and still is) dedicated to U2, and since then it has received awards and recognition from the likes of Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. His jump into online marketing came a little later, though. It happened around 1999/2000 when one of his clients was struggling to sell through their website. Matt bought a listing at Yahoo Directory and eventually this saved the client’s business. The move to local search came naturally as the search engines started pushing into that market. Matt spotted this early on as one of his very first posts suggests.

Matt’s most time-consuming hobby is managing his U2 site. Besides this he likes spending time reading, taking photos, and being with his wife and kids.

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Jackson Lo »

Jackson got enthusiastic about SEO through a friend of his, and started practicing it in 2009. Together they developed a small business (KayLo Marketing) whose primary aim was to help local businesses in the Ottawa region expand their reach through local business marketing. What Jackson liked about online marketing was the continuous stream of new content and perspectives, as well as the opportunity to engage with bright and passionate marketers.

Currently Jackson works as a Web Marketing Analytics / SEO Manager at AdJump Media and Menu.ca. In his spare time he likes doing strength training and playing volleyball. His favorite hobbies are photography and traveling.

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Matthew Hunt »

Matt’s earlier life career as a theater artist didn’t portend his later involvement in online marketing. However, in 2007, when his first son was born, he had to settle down and work a regular job, so he started selling POS Terminals. He felt his door-to-door sales strategy was not optimal and seeking a solution, he soon discovered the power of the Internet. He got his first website and started advertising via AdWords, which provided a significant boost to his sales.

Matt started educating himself on how to do all of this by himself, and over the next 3 years he spent over $100,000 on learning materials and expert guidance. Along the way, he used his knowledge to build a network of merchant account sites, which has been highly successful to date. In 2009, he decided to completely devote himself to online marketing for small businesses and after successfully helping a number of his friends double and even triple their businesses, he established his own company – Small Business Online Coach. Currently the company has more than 15 employees and Matt’s team has worked with more than 150 clients.

Matt spends most of his spare time with his family, especially, exploring the world with his 3 boys (ages 5, 3, and 1).

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Steve Hatcher »

Steve got into local search in late 2006 while he was building website for his brother in law’s landscaping business. He had had general experience with affiliate marketing and SEO for about a year prior to that. Although his first attempts with SEO were rather unsuccessful, using his knowledge and observations, he brought quick results to his brother in law’s website. At that time, Google still hadn’t started showing Maps results in the local search SERPs, so it was mostly about targeting organic rankings for location-specific queries.

Prior to diving into SEO, Steve was a forest fire-fighter in British Columbia, as well as a surfer in Nova Scotia. His current passion is wine and he has even started growing his own grapes.

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Miriam Ellis »

Miriam has been working with her husband on building and optimizing websites since the early 2000′s. Her favorite part of the process is web design and copywriting. Around 2006, she started noticing “local” trickle into the search results and this, paired with reading Mike Blumenthal’s blog (see below) pushed her into getting more involved in local search. What she enjoys most in local SEO is the opportunity to learn about unique local communities throughout North America, as well as developing and “copywriting for civic enhancement.”

When not online, Miriam loves doing organic farming and communicating with nature. Her hobbies include reading, playing chess, studying foreign and ancient languages, sewing, cooking, painting and playing the piano. She strongly believes that a lively, never-ending pursuit of education enables her to bring a bright and creative mind to client projects.

Linda Buquet »

Linda started her first SEO company (InfiniteHits.com) back in 2000. A few years later her current venture – Catalyst eMarketing, was born. She has been doing various types of Internet marketing, including national SEO, ever since. Linda went into local search around 3 years ago and it became her true passion. As a Google Places Top Contributor she spends a significant amount of time in the Google and Your Business forum, as well as in her own forum – Local Search Community Forum.

Linda is a workaholic, so her life is all around local search and helping people succeed online.

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Mary Bowling »

Mary and her husband sold their auto repair business in 2000. Mary didn’t enjoy the life of a retiree, so she started working at a ski and bike shop. After a few years, when this job got boring, she got another one at a local agency, which specialized in promoting bed and breakfasts, boutique inns, hotels and vacation rentals. Her new duties forced her to understand how to rank websites for local search, back in 2003 when this activity didn’t even have an established name.

Mary enjoys skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating in the winter, and rafting in Colorado and Utah in the summer. During the rest of the year she bikes, camps, and hikes in the desert and the mountains. A good prerequisite for her hobbies is the place where she lives – Glenwood Springs, Colorado. She moved there more than 30 years ago just for a temporary job and never left.

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Michael Borgelt »

Before starting his own SEO & Local Search marketing company Michael’s passions were basketball & computers – granted a very weird combination. Born and raised in Minnesota, Michael played basketball from grade school through college. At the same time, Michael’s intellectual thirst led him to technology where he completed a computer science degree at University of St. Thomas. After college Michael worked for a small online company as a computer programmer and as an SEO analyst. This is where Michael got his first taste of online marketing experience. He also continued his passion for basketball through a career as a college basketball referee in his free time.

It was during this period that Michael started his own internet marketing company. After the NBA experience he realized that refereeing was not the career he wanted to follow, so he put his drive and focus into his own company – 51 Blocks. In 2010, he began to notice the shift to local search and the importance Geo-targeted results were going to play in search behavior in the coming years.

Michael has built a number of tools with his computer programming background; these tools help to identify issues with local rankings. He provides these tools free of charge on his site.

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Mike Blumenthal »

Mike says he has been in local search since birth, with the only differences that back then he didn’t have his current beard, and it was not called local search. He worked at the family businesses since he was 8, and at 28 he started a computer sales division, before they closed the retail shop in 2001. At that time the business had over 50 employees and 3 locations. However, Mike and his brother kept the web design and hosting division open as they built their own content management system and proceeded to build websites for local companies. That is when it became clear to him that if these businesses wanted to be found online, they had to be indexed and ranked on Google and Yahoo. At that time, Mike’s own business had to advertise on 8-9 yellow pages directories in order to cover their target area. In 2004, when Google Local was first introduced, Mike literally threw the books away and focused on online advertising. In 2006, when Google Local became part of Google Maps, and its importance increased even further, Mike started looking for authoritative specialists (such as Greg Sterling, Matt McGee, Bill Slawski and David Mihm) to discuss the related issues with, and that is when he started his notorious blog on local search. What pushed him was the fact that no one seemed to be covering the questions he had. Mike’s hobby turned into a new career, and now he is widely known as “Professor Maps”.

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Mike Belasco »

Mike got involved in online marketing a long time ago, when he was learning how to build a website for his mother’s business. At that time he was using Prodigy dial-up Internet connection. He decided to jump into local search after he attended an SES conference where local SEO was broadly discussed. He was so interested at the time that he covered the conference on his blog and the article received a lot of attention.

Mike enjoys fishing, playing golf, and watching football in his spare time.

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Dev Basu »

Dev got into the “Make Money Online” niche around 2006. Back then he was promoting products from Commission Junction. However, he soon realized that ranking high for mainstream products was hard, so he switched to other networks such as ClickBank and Neverblue. Dev’s online marketing experience hasn’t always been bright and he has had a lot of “expensive lessons” over the course of his career; for example he once lost $1,500 in 10 days on PPC. However, he is positive that these were invaluable in helping him to become a better marketer. In 2008, he jumped into local search. He was fascinated by the ease with which one could rank above the organic search results, as well as the great opportunity that existed for businesses targeting local prospects.

Dev is fluent in English, French, Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. In his leisure time he likes playing folksy songs on his acoustic guitar, or watching action-crime movies.

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Other local SEO specialists I reached out to:

Gregg Stewart
Aleyda Solis
Chris “Silver” Smith
Ed Reese
Ash Nallawalla
Michael Mire
Adam Dorfman
Don Campbell
Martijn Beijk
Myles Anderson

Other local SEO specialists, I didn’t reach out to, without whom this article would be incomplete:

Adam Steele
Travis Van Slooten
Colan Nielsen
Joy Hawkins

Special thanks to Ken Fagan for serving as the editor of the article.

Feb 082013
 

Google Maps Moderators Phone Number
Joel Headley of Google shared the following:

“… NAP consistency is important not just online, but real world. Not just signage, but in phone conversations. I expect, and so does our quality team, to hear the full and complete name of the business over the phone. When it is answered or when specifically asked.”

He also said that if the calling data quality moderator hears the business presenting themselves in even slightly different way from what is listed on their Google+ page, this might result in the moderator taking the decision to change the business name.

While I generally do agree that consistency should be observed both online and in the real world – for branding purposes to say the least, I see a major problems with such an approach: too much power is given to a single person to decide how to modify something of such importance for any business. I would be fine with that if I was convinced that the quality data moderator is as well-trained as possible. Unfortunately, I am not. On the contrary, there are hundreds of reports (here, here, here, and many others) of bad quality service by the quality moderators. The main issues reported are:

- Bad to incomprehensible English

- Generally rude behavior

- Lack of explanation of the reason for the calling

- And above all – mistakenly being recognized as telemarketers, mostly as a consequence of the above three problems

My advice: make sure that you, your customer service representatives, your secretary, and anyone who might be picking up your business phone, actually do pick up the phone call from 650-253-2000, because this IS Google Maps. And when you pick up make sure that you (or whoever picks) state the information as it should appear on Google Maps. If you are “Plumbing and Heating Dallas” on Google Places, then present yourself this way on the phone. If you haven’t hidden your address on Google Places, make sure you state that you DO serve clients at your business location. Otherwise there might be no salvation for you even if you are Andrew Shotland.

*Image courtesy of Andrew Shotland

Feb 072013
 

During my discussions with Ken Fagan an interesting question occurred: “How does one determine what business directory is a good citation source?” The obvious and shortest answer would be “Based on its quality.” But yet again – how do you determine the quality? What are the factors that could show you if one citation source is better than another? Here is a summary of what I think (the factors are not in particular order):

1. Number of the top ranking direct competitors having listings coming from the citation source.

There are numerous ways to discover what citations your competitors have and you can do this either manually, or use some local SEO tool(s). The best covered countries are United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia.

2. Number of businesses from the same business line or the same locale being listed on the particular citation source.

I did a small-scale research on the topic some time ago, after which Darren Shaw and David Mihm did two larger-scale ones (by city and by category). Unfortunately, all these researches present data for the United States only.

3. General popularity of the site.

While this is hard to determine (sometimes even for Google), one way to look into the problem would be to see how often particular business directory is mentioned in high quality lists. I did a research on the subject some time ago.

4. History of containing structured business information.

If the website’s primary purpose is to store business information then what Google would be expecting to find while crawling it would be business information. This way the chances that the mention of your business would be picked up as a “citation” by the search engine would be higher.

5. Size of the business database.

While such information might be hard to find in some cases, the major business data providers do share it publicly. Bigger business database might mean both more complete overall business data, and higher trust points in Google’s “eyes”. One approach to solving this problem would be to look into how many of the website’s pages are indexed in the search engines. EZ Local have done a relevant research (for US directory sites only).

6. Distribution network.

Or how many other websites the business data is shared with. A large network would mean that listing your business on the main directory would result in it eventually showing up on hundreds of web properties. David Mihm has been doing incredible job sharing insights into these networks in the United States and Canada (for now).

7. Time for a citation to be picked up by Google.

There is little information on this subject in general, and Google is not really keen on sharing any. David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal have done an incredible research on this subject in the US context.

8. Overall web traffic to the directory.

Reliable and accurate data on this subject is hard to find. Andrew Shotland, using data from Compete, compiled a list based on the traffic to different US business directories.

9. Domain authority of the website.

Higher domain authority would be a another signal that particular website is reliable and has a good history in the search engines. Tools, such as Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder and Bright Local’s Citation Tracker measure this authority based on third-party data and own research work.

10. Availability of claiming and editing process.

Many business directories do not have automated (or any) processes in place for claiming or editing already existing listings. This is a potential prerequisite for lower quality business data, and such websites usually do not have (almost) any editorial staff.

11. Number of business information bits that could be added to a listing.

This is a factor that Google reportedly takes into account when determining the value and trustworthiness of a citation. It also makes sense from content richness point of view, because if the website allows for more business information to be added, it means that the chances for unique content on the page to be shared are higher.

Conclusion

Going back to the beginning of the article – my discussion with Ken was related to researching business directories in France (in case you missed it, I shared such researches for Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany) and the difficulty in determining which ones would be most important and most worth it. Following the points outlined above, and with a decent amount of research, this problem could be solved for practically every market in the world.

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 202012
 

Last week Bill Slawski covered a patent that has just been granted to Google, named “Determining spam in information collected by a source.” As it is immediately obvious from its name, the patent discusses methods for discovering spammy information coming from third-party sources. This seems to cover mostly (but apparently not limited to) business entities. Therefore, it would be safe to say that the patent discusses local citations and how a search engine might determine if the citation carries purposefully set incorrect information (spam). The two main ways, according to the patent, are:

- By measuring the “frequency of occurrence” of each phrase/element of the citation

- By measuring the “trustworthiness” of each source

I will not dabble further into the explanations of how each of these two factors are counted and how the whole system works, but I’d rather focus on the practical implications.

What It Tackles

Google obviously would like to present the most accurate and complete information to its users. This is possible only if it obtains this information from as many sources as possible. However, some of these sources might sometimes provide inaccurate or even spammy information, so Google needs methods to find it. Some obvious examples of information Google would rather completely disregard are telephone number in the business name, mentions of words such as “discount”, “sales”, etc. In other cases it might be more difficult for Google to understand if particular content is correct or not. An example would be “[Business Name] in [City]“, or even worse – “[City] [Business Name]” (as in Miami Printing, which is the actual name of a real business).

The patent gives examples mostly related to the category of the business, but I believe the practical implications are mostly related to the business name. It is a known and widely approved fact that the business name plays role in how Google ranks the local search results (see factors #15 and #22 here). That is why over the years many have adopted the bad practice (intentionally or not) to add extraneous keywords to the business name in their Google local listings. When Google started getting stricter, the “practitioners” (predominantly black hat SEOs) got smarter and started creating citations with the business name including the keywords. That way the third-party data would support the information the “business owner” submits via Google Places.

The Threats

Reading through the patent, two major threats occur in my mind:

1) The main one is that Google seems to rely a lot (probably too much) on information coming from “trusted sources” (according to the patent a source can be designated “as a trusted source based on, for example, a reputation of the source or previous dealings with the source or combinations of them”). This means that it is theoretically possible that if a source is trustworthy enough, it is possible that Google might take the information from this source for granted and would never disregard it or check its accuracy. Examples of such sources would be LocalEze and Infogroup/CityGrid in the USA, and YellowPages.ca in Canada. Translated in local SEO language this means that it is possible that if a listing is added to LocalEze (for example) and the same business information is not found anywhere else on the web, Google might still create a new listing using this information. This obviously opens up a big hole in the described system, because Google would be very dependent on such third-party trusted sources. And it is important to mention that many of these potentially trusted sources have close to no mechanisms for checking the authenticity of the business information added to their databases (other than phone verifications, which is an insufficiently reliable method).

2) My other concern is related to businesses that actually do have such words (regarded as spam) in their business names, websites, or even physical addresses. How Google has historically been dealing with such situations is they were withholding the activation of a listing that contains such words (the biggest publicly available list of these is here) and they have manually been verifying the accuracy of the information. However, according to the patent even words such as city names could be considered spammy, which opens up a broad field for false positives.

What This Means from Local SEO Point of View

As mentioned above, there are two main factors taken into account – trustworthiness and frequency. While the patent doesn’t discuss these factors in regards with organic search rankings, it could be assumed that similar methodology is used when determining the value of citations and how business listings are ranked. This means that we could distinguish between two types of local citation sources:

1. Qualitatively-important – such as the aforementioned LocalEze, Infogroup, CityGrid, Yellowpages, etc.

2. Quantitatively-important – either less authoritative or less-probable-to-be-citation-sources sources.

To have a strong “citation profile”, you must cover the first type of sources, and just after this you should proceed with looking for further volumes and opportunities. At the same time while 2. could be useless without 1., 1. would be (in many cases) insufficient without 2.

Conclusive Words

I believe Google has been using this (or similar) method to detect and disregard spammy information coming from third-party sources at least for some time. Nevertheless, the patent comes to shed further light on the systems Google adopts to find, compile, and process business information.

Nov 202012
 

There are three main ways to learn about SEO (and these are the same for local SEO):

1) Listen to what the search engines and specialists have to say – Matt Cutts of Google and Duane Forrester of Bing are the two most notable figures sharing insights about SEO from the horse’s mouth;

2) Test and analyze the tests;

3) Observe what others are doing and learn from their mistakes/triumphs.

In the case of local search there aren’t many that get both better high organic search rankings and more organic search traffic across a vast number of verticals than Yelp, so who else could be better to learn about local SEO from? While Yelp functions mainly as a social network for sharing opinions about local businesses, in this article I would rather place more attention on the way they have structured their business listing pages and what everyone could take away from that.

I will use the below screenshot for illustrative purposes (Disclaimer: the business is randomly chosen and I have no affiliation neither with them, nor with any of their direct or indirect competitors).

Click to enlarge

1) City name in page URL – according to the Local Search Ranking Factors this is the 28th most important factor. I do not think it has tremendous effect on the local search rankings, but it helps differentiate same name businesses (potentially different branches of the same company) that are located in different areas.

2) Branding signals – branding is one of the crucial factors in contemporary SEO. Having the business name in the page URL, the page title, and the content title, makes the business listing page relevant to branded searches. The page ranks second/third when you search for [flor del monte] only behind the Google+ Local listing and the site’s homepage (sometimes it even outranks it).

3) Categorization of the page – this is an obvious relevancy factor, but one that is not very doable in the case of SMB websites.

4) Citation (business contact information) – the address is marked up with schema.org for postal address.

5) Link to the website – Yelp is one of the few business directories that change the link to the business’s website from “nofollow” to “follow” for advertisers.

6) Directions – special attention should be given to the map, which uses Google’s Static Maps API.

7) Enhanced content – additional content for the business that summarizes who they are and what services they offer, as well as feedback from customers that used their products/services. The latter makes the content dynamic and not static. Additionally, in the organic search results the rating score rich snippet is displayed, which is a result of the schema.org AggregateRating mark up that is used.

As a conclusion, why I chose this particular business as a showcase is because they do not do anything special that anyone else couldn’t do. They simply claimed and filled in their Yelp listing. They also seem to do their job well, because their reviews are very positive. My point is that in local search the competition in many cases is beatable even if you just follow the simple basic rules.

Nov 082012
 

A couple of weeks ago Sergiu Draganus demoed to me a new tool that his team is building  – Local SERP Checker. What the tool does is basically displaying the first page results for particular keywords, simulating what users in specific cities would see if searching for those keywords. The tool provides both the “raw” list of ranking pages and an organized heat map (I am a fan of those) that shows pages from what domains rank across different locations:

Click to enlarge

The tool has the ability to display both organic and paid Geo-localized results for one or more keywords at a time. This provides the interesting opportunity to research and compare the difference between local intent keywords with and without Geo-modifier in the search query:

Click to enlarge

The tool can be used in a number of different ways for local SEO research purposes:

1. Discovering high ranking domains across different locations, which supplemented with further research of these high ranking domains could point to typical features and best practices that could be used in one’s own local SEO strategy.

2. Discovering local link prospects – indirect competitors, in the same niche but targeting different location could turn into valuable link prospects.

3. Local citations sources – I have previously discussed researching local citation sources and their relevance to a niche/location based on how they rank, and the Local SERP Checker tool can make this work much easier.

4. Competition analysis – as the tool provides the option to perform checks for a big number of keywords at the same time, this could help understand who the major local competitors are.

Some additional features include checking localized SERPs across countries, as well as simulating the localized rankings from the “viewpoint” of a mobile user.

Currently it is impossible to choose which cities one would like to choose to see the localized rankings for (the cities are predefined), but this is a feature that will be added during the next update (within 2 weeks, according to Sergiu). Other features that are on the way include keyword monitoring and alerts, keyword suggestion tool, integration with Google Maps, and advanced local link prospecting analysis reports.

The Local SERP Checker currently has a free version, as well as a number of paid plans.