Search Marketing – What’s New?

December 28, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Local Search,SEO — Tags: , ,

Much has been happening in the world of Internet Marketing lately, so here is a brief synopsis of what’s new, and what it means for small businesses looking to market themselves on the web.

Growth of online advertising.  Internet advertising will be 2nd only to TV advertising in revenues by 2014 and will surpass newspaper ad revenues by 2013.  While representing 14.4% of all advertising today, Internet advertising is projected to grow to 21% of all ad revenues by 2014, growing by roughly $10B a year for the next 3 years.  Read more.

Google ads everywhereGoogle puts online ads everywhere.    Online real estate is limited and growing more scarce.  So, Google is trying to squeeze ad real estate out of every corner they can.  Here are 6 new paid search products that Google has introduced to offer still more opportunities to advertise online.  Read more.

Google deals.    It appears that Google is planning to roll out a ‘check-in’ feature for its Google Place Pages so that companies can offer coupons & deals like they do with Groupon, Living Social and other deal competitors that are growing in popularity.  Can Google really compete in this space, even after earlier failed attempts?  Will sharing offers on Google+ make the difference for them?  Read more.

Onsite Review Stations…go for it!  We’ve advised many clients with walk-in businesses to put a computer in their lobby to encourage customers to post reviews, since it helps improve their local search ranking.  Some industry pundits have written that Google would frown on this and find a way to penalize such behavior, but Mike Blumenthal reports that Google is now publicly encouraging the practice.  If you’re not doing this already, why wait?  Read more.

Negative reviews – keep your cool.   While we’re talking about reviews, I always like to pass on good advice about how best to handle any negative online reviews posted about your business.  It’s always a delicate situation, and one to be handled carefully.  Here’s some good advice from industry veteran Andrew Shotland.  Read more.

Location targeting for mobile is hot.  Mobile internet use is exploding with the growth in smart phones, and Google last May announced that 40 percent of mobile searches are for local businesses.  Advertisers are jumping on this trend by targeting their ads by location.  BIA Kelsey blog estimates that 29 percent of mobile campaigns today are targeted locally, and that it’ll grow to 69 percent of mobile ad spending by 2015. Time for you to jump on the bandwagon?  Read more.

PPC ads drive offline sales, big-time.  New research shows that PPC ads drive 6 times more business in in-store sales than in ecommerce sales, with an average PPC click worth $15 in in-store sales.  Unfortunately, this good news is often difficult to track, so it goes unnoticed and unreported.  But retail marketing firm RevTrack has developed some clever methods for tracking and measuring offline results.  Read more.

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Small Biz Updates From Google

November 9, 2011 Filed under: Local Search,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

Google rolled out updates this week that will give searchers more direct access to your Place PageGoogle Local Search Update 2 in their search results — and a brand presence on their new social network, Google+.

Your Place Page Just Got Promoted

Instead of just a list of local businesses displayed next to a map, Google now brings your Place Page to the search surface, displaying your pictures and details right on the search results page.  When someone searches for your company name, your Place Page will display in the right column, giving them map, pictures, details and customer reviews, without requiring an additional click. When they search for your category (for example, ‘furniture’), you’ll see the traditional Map in the right column at first, but that changes to an abbreviated version of your Place Page as you mouse over the >> to the right of your listing (see picture).  Congratulations, Place Pages — you just got promoted to the search results page!

Google+ Pages Roll Out

The long-promised brand pages have now been rolled out on Google+.  Following Facebook’s lead,  Google+ has quickly evolved to a person-to-organization social network and now welcomes Google+ Pages to allow businesses to interact with followers through Circles, Hangouts, and other Google+ features.  There’s quite a lot of buzz in this first week and plenty of instruction available to help you create your Google+ Page (much easier than Facebook Pages).  See links below for some great tips for getting started.  Time will tell whether Google will be able to lure people and businesses away from Facebook.

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Local Search – It All Starts With Address & Phone Number

October 11, 2011 Filed under: Local Search — Tags: ,
Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...

Image via Wikipedia

Google’s Local Search function can be both a boost and a pain to small business owners. On Google Place Pages, local businesses can post photos, videos, and descriptive text, while Google provides directions (via Google Maps), transit options, and customer reviews from around the web. If you optimize your Place Page listing, you can show up in the Google 7-Pack at the top of the search results page and draw valuable new traffic to your website. That’s the boost part.
But for many small businesses that don’t fit neatly into Google’s Place Page template, Local Search can be a royal pain. We’ve helped many clients to claim and fix their Place Page listing and to rank in the 7-Pack – but not without pain in many cases. Here are just a few of the problems to beware of:

  • Manage your citations.  To validate your Place Page for ranking, Google’s local search algorithm looks for citations of your business name, address & phone number across the web to certify your information and see how widely cited it is. The more places they find mention of your business – assuming an identical match of the business name, address, phone number with your website and Place Page – the better your chances for a good ranking. So, do some legwork and make sure citations are correct – and if not, change them. GetListed.org will give you a snapshot of your citations in the directories that matter most.
  •  Change your address in the right places. If you’ve moved your business or changed your address in any way, it can create havoc with your Google Place Page and local ranking, especially if your old address continues to be listed in multiple locations across the web. We discovered the hard way that even old articles about your business posted long-ago with your old address can confuse the search spiders. So, if you change your address, make sure you update it in core locations that get propagated widely. These include Acxiom’s Universal Business Listing, Infogroup’s InfoUSA, Localeze, and yellowpages.com.
  •  Forwarded phone workaround. To list a citation or change your information in some of the key directories, you need to verify your identity. This usually means clicking a ‘verify’ button, which triggers a phone call to your listed number and requires you to enter a PIN number (both Yelp and yellowpages.com require this). Unfortunately, they do not work if your phone is forwarded or accessed through an automated call center. A handy workaround is to verify using a different (direct) number, and then go in later and change the listed number to the correct one you want your customers to use.
  •  Beware old logins. If you’ve had someone else create an account for you in Google Places or local directories, make sure they give you the login information. We’ve seen several clients tear their hair out because some 3rd party created and verified their account, then moved on and took the logins with them. It’s not impossible to work around – but it’s not fun either. Make sure you own all your logins.
  •  Last resort – ask Google for help. You’d think, since they are the masters of search, that Google would have all the answers for any difficulties you experience with local search. But unfortunately they’re notoriously poor at sharing those answers. Some good news is that Google just yesterday added a new support feature for Google Places that includes a Fix a Problem section that gives customized instructions for specific problems. The options are still pretty limited, but it does appear to be a step in the right direction and at least provides some suggested steps you can try. You can also Report a problem with the footer link on your Place Page; this will often take a long time (and may never get answered) but it’s worth a try if you’re really stuck.

Perhaps the new Fix a Problem feature is an indicator that Google is getting the message that business owners need help navigating Place Pages and Local Search, and that the current process needs better support.

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Why Now Is the Time to Ask For Customer Reviews

July 26, 2011 Filed under: Local Search — Tags: , ,

Google made some important changes to Place Pages last week, including a more focused approach to showing what your customers think in reviews.  In the past, your Google Place Page displayed customer reviews from across the web, showing full text of what your customers said on review sites like Yelp, InsiderPages, Yahoo, TripAdvisor and more.  In addition to full reviews, they were also including ‘snippets’ of reviews in the local search listings next to Google Maps.  As of last week, however, your Place Page will only display what people have said about you on Google, while reviews on other sites will be referenced only through a single link to Yelp, Yahoo, etc.  If you don’t already have lots of customer reviews filled out by Place Page visitors, this would be a good time to start collecting them.

Google Place Page old reviews

Place Pages used to display reviews from around the web...

Customer reviews on Google Place page - new

...now you'll see reviews from Google only.

Google’s recent changes

The recent changes to Place Pages make for a cleaner look and a clearer call to action (note the 2 glaring red buttons suggesting visitors “Write a review”), so Google is making your job easier.  They are also paving the way for what Google describes on its Maps blog as the long-term vision for local search:

  • Bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful;
  • Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms;
  • Giving you more ways to rate, discover and share places you love faster and easier than ever, wherever you are, and on whichever device you choose.

The timing of this change, coming so shortly on the heels of the recent Google+ social media introduction, suggests they’ll likely be integrating the 2 more closely as part of the “more personalized results” goal.  See my blog post on Google+ First Impressions for more speculation on this.

Why customer reviews are important

Trust in AdvertisingIn the Nielsen Global Online survey from Q1 2011 on consumers’ attitudes toward advertising, 76% of US internet consumers said they most trusted recommendations from personal acquaintances, while 49% trusted consumer opinions posted online (e.g. reviews) when they are looking for information on products they need and want.  That’s a strong endorsement for the value of customer reviews and a good motivator for local businesses to get their customers talking.  As Google starts to integrate its Google+ social media site with Place Pages, the trusted recommendations from people you know will likely find its way onto Place Pages as well (just picture being able to see which of your friends like a particular restaurant, for example).

NOTE:  despite the fact that Google is no longer displaying reviews from other sites, there’s no reason to believe they’ve stopped giving value to those reviews in their local ranking algorithm.  So, don’t discount the importance of having reviews in a variety of places.  See Mike Blumenthal’s post on this topic.

Getting your business reviewed

Every business loves to see happy customers write good reviews, unsolicited.  But you’re likely to get far better results if you go a step further and ASK your customers for a review.  Depending on your type of business and customer touchpoints, there are lots of ways to ask.  The first rule is to make it easy and comfortable.  Here are 8 approaches we’ve seen work for some of our clients.

  1. Thank-you email with a link. If you transact business online or otherwise collect your customer’s email as part of doing business, the simplest way to ask for a review is in a followup email, thanking them for their business and including a link to your Google Place Page.
  2. Card or sign at the register. If you have a retail business and don’t collect your customers’ email address, a friendly sign at the register or take-home card listing review sites can work.  If you offer home-delivery, consider leaving the card behind when you deliver the goods.

    Top customer review sites

    Don't forget these other sites for reviews

  3. Computer in your waiting room. If you typically ask customers (or patients) to wait for service, consider setting up a computer kiosk or laptop in your reception area.  It’ll give people something to do while they wait.
  4. Business card. Anytime a customer thanks you or tells you they appreciate your product or service, your reply should always include a suggestion to write their thoughts into a review.  Include your Google Place Page address on your business card in case they catch you on the run.
  5. Email or Tweet. Periodically, or when you have a new offer, send an email or tweet (or Facebook or Google+ post) to all customers and ask them for feedback via a customer review.
  6. Link on your website. Don’t expect customers to find you on review sites.  Send them directly with a link on your website – to your Place Page, to Yelp, or to other review sites your customers frequent.
  7. Digital signature. If you don’t feel comfortable asking customers directly for a review, you can place a link to review sites in your digital email or e-newsletter signature – a slightly more subtle suggestion.
  8. Provide an incentive.  This one is tricky, as you don’t want to be perceived as bribing people for their input.  But some businesses have been successful offering 5% off a next purchase or entry for a free drawing when people are willing to submit a review.

And what, you may ask, should a business owner do if customers say negative things and the whole world is watching?   Most review sites give you the opportunity to respond (publicly or privately) to reviews.  But before you do, read this Forbes article for a balanced view on customer reviews and this SearchEngineLand column for some sound advice on how to respond (or not).

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Why Bloggers Rock – A Look at the Bing Business Portal Launch

May 17, 2011 Filed under: Blogging,Local Search — Tags: , ,

bing business portalOn April 12, Microsoft announced its new Bing Business Portal, competitor to Google Place Pages for small businesses.  The news got lots of coverage from traditional tech media who follow Microsoft.  But the handful of small business bloggers who wrote “Complete Guides” are the real heros, in my opinion.

First, the news

The Bing Business Portal provides the tools to allow local businesses to claim their listing in Bing.  Like Google, Bing will display these listings in its local search results, alongside a map showing the business location.   Here are some things you can do for your business listing in the Bing Business Portal:

  • Identify categories where your listing will appear
  • Spruce up your listing with photos and videos
  • Offer special coupons and promote them for free on Bing and Facebook
  • Create a mobile version of your listing for customers to access from their mobile devices
  • Create a mobile menu, if you serve food or drinks
  • Authorize a 3rd party to manage your listings

(more…)

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How to Make Google Place Pages Work For You

March 3, 2011 Filed under: Local Search,SEO — Tags: , ,

Remember way back when your local printed Yellow Pages was the baseline listing for a local business?  Yellow Pages  was a free service from the phone company, with an option for a paid ad to appear near your listing.  You can think of Google Place Pages in a similar way — a free listing of your business in Google Maps, with an option to supplement it with paid advertising.  But unlike a Yellow Pages listing, you can “share” ownership of your Place Page with Google by claiming it (for free) and adding your customized information — business description, category, photos, videos, store hours, and other details.  It’s essentially free advertising,  a  great opportunity to build out another mini-website for your business.

This free opportunity comes with a few strings attached, however.  While you can customize and add data to your Place Page, it is still owned by Google, and they dictate the look & layout of the page.  Google’s goal is to provide valuable information about your business to searchers, not necessarily to make your business look good.  I’ve heard many small business owners express frustration about what Google has added to their Place Page — comments like “I can’t believe Google did that to my Place Page.”  I remind them that it is Google’s Place Page,  not theirs, and Google can do as Google wants with it.  Always keep that in mind and you’ll avoid unrealistic expectations and see the Place Page for what it is — one more opportunity to shape your brand and online presence in Local Search.

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Getting Your Local Business Found On The Web Just Got Easier

October 29, 2010 Filed under: Local Search — Tags: ,

Google this week announced Place Search – a much-improved update to their Local Search engine that highlights local businesses in Google search results.   Google has focused lots of attention this year on improving Local Search and better serving people who look for places in a particular city or geographic region.  This means that if you’re a local business – e.g. your business address is close to a searcher’s physical location – the way you appear in Google search results just got better.

There seem to be multiple variations of the new Place Search taking shape, impacted in some mysterious way by different variables in the Google search algorithm.  See Andrew Shotland’s blog for a list of different ways the new search results can appear.  Results also seem to display differently in different browsers, so it’s difficult to make accurate generalizations.  Another Local Search expert, Mike Blumenthal, also writes on implications of the new changes.

Here are the highlights of the changes Google is making – and what they mean to your local business:

Pictures display in search results. If you have a nice picture you’ve added to your Place Page (contributed by the business owner) Google will display it in the search results – offering a visually attractive enticement to searchers.

Note to businesses:   Make sure to claim your Google Place Page and load it with attractive pictures of your business.

More visible reviews.  Customer reviews will show visibly in the search results – which could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on what your customers are saying about you.  You’ll see, to the right of a listing, the number of reviews and the average star rating, along with a link to the Place Page where all reviews are displayed.  You’ll also see, in the main search listing, actual comments from customer reviews.

Note to businesses:   Do whatever you can to please your customers and encourage them to write reviews about your business, in a variety of directories and locations.   Also, since more visitors will be clicking through to Reviews, make sure the listing for your business in popular local directories is complete and well optimized.

Floating local map. The Google Local Map, with red balloons showing locations of top seven business listings, will now “float down the page” as you scroll, giving searchers a constant reminder to think local.

Note to businesses:  If you want to be found, it’s more important than ever to rank well in the Local 7-Pack.

Easier location identifiers. Google has always made inferences about a searcher’s physical location by reading the IP address of the webserver that a search query is coming from – that’s how they know what local search results to display even when you don’t enter your city.  But now they make your location more explicit and allow you to specify it with a clearly visible location option on the left side of the screen.  This makes it easier to change the location and search for places in another city (travelling? Look for best restaurants in your destination city).

Note to businesses:  This will give you a better opportunity to be found by people visiting your city or traveling from out-of-town.

Blending of Local and Organic search results. It used to be that Google sectioned-off the Local Search results, displaying only the top 7 alongside a small map.   Now they’ve detached the map (it floats with you as you scroll), and the top Local Search results don’t look much different from the rest of the Organic search results.

Note to businesses:  This appears to elevate Local Search results on a par with other listings (though they do still appear below general news sites).  This is good news for small, local businesses.

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Google Instant And The Small Business Owner

September 10, 2010 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Local Search — Tags: ,
SEO and Google Instant

source: Google

If you pay attention to the Search Engine Marketing industry (which I do), it’s hard to miss this week’s news about Google Instant, the new Google feature that shows search results in real time, letter by letter, as you’re typing in the search box.  This is one step beyond Bing’s already-existing type-ahead feature, which guesses what search term you’re typing and offers a list of probable word matches; Google guesses a word match and also displays a page of search results to go with it, then changes those results as you type each new letter to reveal your full intent.  The idea is you can click on a relevant search result before you’ve even got your search term fully formed.  The assumption by Google is that people can think and read faster than they can type — and will appreciate Google keeping up with their mind rather than waiting for their typing finger.  No more having to hit that pesky <Search> button before getting your list of choices.

There’s been lots published in the first 2 days to analyze what this means — for searchers, for website owners, and for the SEO practitioner.  But what does it mean for your small business, if you’re looking to improve your search ranking for a handful of keyword terms?  Here’s a roundup of opinions from across the web, and my overlay of comments from a small biz perspective.

1. It’s great for searchers – provides helpful suggestions, broadens your search experience, and is more efficient.  This undoubtedly describes Google’s intention, as the new feature is positioned to improve the search experience and create the best match between the searcher’s intent and the list of search results.  If you’re a small business and your site is well optimized for keywords that do a good job of describing your business, this is good news for you.  It may even direct users to your site by moving you up from page 2 to page 1, because the result page will be changing dynamically and refreshing instantly as the user continues to type  and narrow their search.  In the course of typing a 2-word search term, for example, a user will see a different list of search results for each letter they type, rather than just a single static list after they click <Search>.  This makes it even more imperative that your website is super-well optimized for the keyword terms most important to your potential customers.

2.  Popular keywords will become even more popular. Lots of initial reaction to this new feature suggests that search volume will increase for the most popular keywords, because Google will “suggest” the most common ways to complete the searcher’s query.  In the short term, this may give more search prominence (and hence more traffic) to the most established brands, as they are more likely to be “suggested” by Google.  However, if the suggested results don’t deliver what the user is looking for, this result may subside over time.  Implications for small business?  Don’t be too quick to judge whether this gives unfair advantage to the big players.  Ultimately, it’s more likely to send more qualified leads your way.

3. Google Instant means no one will see the same web anymore, making it virtually impossible to optimize your site for your intended audience. Real-time feedback will personalize every search so there’s no predictability to people’s search behaviors.  This is certainly true, but it doesn’t mean site optimization is no longer valuable.  It does mean, however, that you can’t “game” the system to trick the search engines.  Instead, Google will reward (as it’s always tried to do) the websites that most clearly explain what they’re about, by sending them searchers who are looking for them.  If a searcher knows what they want, and you’ve optimized your pages for what they want, your chances of being found will be better.

4.  There will be less traffic for long tail keywords. This is SEO-speak meaning that search terms with multiple words (a “long tail”) will become less common because searchers will find a relevant result before they type the 3d or 4th word.  Makes sense.  This could be bad for small businesses, as conventional wisdom in search marketing circles has been that longer, and more specific, search terms are less competitive and therefore offer a niche for small businesses to compete with more established brands.  If you’re in a well-defined niche business, you may continue to draw long-tail keyword searchers; if not, you may indeed see a dip in your search traffic.

5. This new feature is not that new, and is annoying besides…it won’t change much of anything. Like any new feature, this one has critics as well as fans.  Recognizing this, Google has made it easy to turn off the feature, though a good percentage of people, even if they find it annoying, won’t do this.  If you’re a small business, this means things may not change at all for you.   (…and here’s my favorite comment from a not-too-impressed user:  ”Great. Like we’re not lazy enough. Thanks Google. Those few extra nanoseconds come in real handy.”)

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Google Reviews – Owners May Now Respond Publicly

August 5, 2010 Filed under: Local Search,SEO

There’s a lot happening these days on the Google Local Search front.  In addition to the recently announced Google Tags and a new look in Google Local Search results, Google has now rolled out some additional improvements in their Place Pages (see here for video overview of Place Pages and the Google Local 7-Pack).

First, some good news about Google Reviews.  If you have claimed your listing and have an owner-verified Google Place Page, you now have the ability to respond publicly to reviews your visitors have posted.  It’s a terrific opportunity to add your perspective when required or to soften the blow of a negative review.  Approach this new opportunity carefully, though, and take a deep breath before responding to negative reviews.  You might want to read this post by Mike Blumenthal before you do: Responding to Negative Reviews: Your Prospects are Your Real Audience (the title alone is great advice!).  Note that this does not extend to reviews that Google pulls from other sources, only the ones entered directly on your Place Page.  This move shows good progress by Google on the Local Search front and suggests that they are putting more attention into Place Pages (some even think they intend to evolve this into a Social platform…we’ll see).

Second, Google has been incrementally improving the analytics in the Place Pages Dashboard, so you can see how many people are visiting your Place Page, what keywords bring them there, what actions they take, etc.  And rather than having to remind yourself to view these analytics, Google has now started emailing to Place Page owners a Monthly Performance Update email, so you can’t miss the data on how you’re doing.

These small but frequent incremental improvements are good news indeed for Small Business Owners.  If your business has a local customer base, you don’t want to miss this increasingly productive opportunity to establish your Google Place Page presence.

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Google Local – Changes Coming

July 21, 2010 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Local Search,SEO — Tags: ,

There’s been quite a buzz going around in SEO circles about changes that Google appears to be testing and is expected to roll out soon for their Local Search results.  These changes were first noticed in a Google test by Linda Buquet, and she writes about the news in her Catalyst eMarketing blog.  Her initial discovery was first shared in Mike Blumenthal’s blog Understanding Google Maps and Local Search, a terrific resource for following everything that goes on in the Local Search arena.  The gist of the coming changes is that Google will be making Local Search Results much more prominent on the search results page and will make it easier to identify and find a company’s Google Place Page.  This is good news for companies with a local market focus, and makes it more important than ever for those business owners to make sure they have a strong, complete, and compelling presence on their Google Place page (see my recent video post on Getting Listed in the Local Search 7-Pack).

Another new offering from Google in the local business category is Google Tags, which are yellow markers displayed on a company’s Local/Google Maps listing to announce advertised specials — coupons, special offers, and other advertiser-supplied content.  Unlike Google’s Adwords pay-per-click advertising, Google Tags advertising is available for a flat monthly fee of $25.  Google is running a promotion this week (through Friday, July 23) for a 30-day free trial of Tags for new customers.

Don’t neglect this important element of your Internet Marketing activities…Google Local Search for small businesses is becoming an increasingly important way for your customers to find you!

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