Google+ Local Bible for Small Business

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Guillaume Bouchard has written a must-read article in Search Engine Watch if you’re a small business owner. He is the co-founder and president of NVI, a Montreal-based company specialized in interactive strategies. Founded in 2004, NVI has quickly become the largest web agency specializing in SEO and Social Media in Canada with over 50 employees.

Here’s what he has to say:

If you’re a small local business, having a Google+ Local profile is imperative to putting your brand – quite literally – on the map. Google Places was recently replaced with Google+ Local – a merging of Places and Plus that serves up your Google+ Local listing in Search and Maps results on mobile devices and traditional browsers. Whereas Places was a static listing, Local is dynamic and social.

A well-optimized Google+ Local page can benefit your digital marketing strategy in the following ways:

Outrank your competitors in local search.
Build the authority of your brand through +1’s and user reviews.
Drive traffic to your website.
Convert more visitors into leads and clientele.

Quick stats about local mobile use:

* 50 percent of mobile search is local.
* 61 percent of local searches result in purchases.
* 50 percent of smartphone shoppers use a GPS/mapping app to find a retail location.
* Only 33 percent of advertisers have a mobile optimized website.

With more than 1 billion smartphone users around the world, a number expected to reach 2 billion by 2015, it’s no surprise that mobile search is quickly becoming the number one way users search. And, when people search with their smartphones, they’re looking for something local.

How do you unlock the full potential of +Local? Follow these six steps to learn the dance.

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Mobile Search Outpaces Desktop 2-1 for Local Business

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Myles Anderson lays out another home-run on Search Engine Land with his data on how people use their smartphones to find local businesses. Since a lot of you read this blog to get exactly this kind of insight, I thought it was worth re-posting here. Be sure to subscribe to his Twitter feed at the links above to get more content like this straight from the horse’s mouth (and I still don’t even know what that phrase means…).

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The staggering growth in smartphone and iPad/tablet usage is changing the way consumers behave. Having these powerful devices glued to our hands 18 hours a day changes how we manage our lives, stay in touch with friends and consume media.

It also affects how we find and engage with businesses and services, and no more so than at a local level.

We (BrightLocal) conducted a survey with our consumer panel to find out just how consumers use their mobile devices  to find local businesses and what content was most important to them when using their mobile devices (we specified ‘mobile phones and tablets’).

We asked 6 questions and received 1,065 responses to the survey. The following charts and analysis represent the full findings of the survey.

Survey Questions

  1. How many times have you used your mobile / mobile device to find a local business in the last 12 months?
  2. Which types of local business have you searched for on your mobile device?
  3. Which type of mobile service do you prefer to use when looking/searching for a local business?
  4. What information is most important to you when you’re looking at a local business website on your mobile?
  5. Which of these statements about accessing local business websites from your mobile applies to you?
  6. Are you more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile optimized site?

 Survey Results

  • Only 29% of consumers regularly use mobile devices to find local businesses.

Mobile Internet usage is growing hugely; but, only 29% of consumers regularly use their phones/tablets to find local businesses.

Chart - How many times have you used your mobile / mobile device to find a local business in the last 12 months?

 

Forty percent (40%) of consumers say they have never used their phone/tablet to look for a local business.

This compares to just 15% of consumers who use desktop Internet to find a local business

However regular, repeat usage is relatively high with just 19% of consumers looking for a local business at least once per week, and 29% of them doing this once per month.

  • Pubs, Restaurants and Shops are the most commonly searched for business types on a mobile device

Chart - Local SEO - Which of these types of local business have you searched for on your mobile device?

Local consumers use their mobile devices to look for all different types of local businesses. The most popular types of business to search for on a mobile are:

  • Pub/Bar/Club — 32%
  • Restaurant/Cafe — 31%
  • General Shop — 31%
  • Clothes Shop — 26%

All these business types share some common traits:

  1. Businesses have high footfall traffic — so it’s not surprising they come out on top
  2. Consumers visit these businesses at their place of businesses — so Physical Address is key piece of data (see chart 4 below)
  3. Consumers make quick decisions about these businesses — unlike say, a Dentist or Accountant, which are more of a considered purchase
  4. Consumers visit these businesses within a short time frame of finding them on their mobile

Tip For Business Owners

It’s beneficial for owners of all types of local business to make themselves as findable as possible to mobile users. But, it’s especially important for bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, hotels and taxi firms which have the most to gain by ensuring their presence on mobile in prominent and positive.

  • 89% of consumers favor using Maps apps & Browsers over Mobile Applications

Chart - Which type of mobile service do you prefer to use when looking/searching for a local business?

Eighty-nine percent (89%) of local consumers prefer to use either a maps app or an Internet browser when looking for a local business on their mobile.

Just 11% of consumers prefer to use other applications such as Yelp, Foursquare or TripAdvisor.

The volume of App downloads hit record highs in the final week of December 2012 (1.7 billion apps downloaded in 1 week* — fuelled by consumers receiving new devices for Christmas and activating them in the week after), but the preference to use apps instead of native mapping and browsers installed in devises is still low.

Maps and browsers come pre-loaded onto devices, so they’re ubiquitous and convenient for users to use. They also benefit from familiarity as these brands (e.g., Google Maps, Safari) are household names and have huge user numbers in the PC market.

But, mobile applications shouldn’t be dismissed. User numbers for applications are lower than maps/browsers, but data shows that application users are loyal and do a lot of searches:

  • Yelp — 100,000,000 users worldwide but just used on 9.2million mobile devices.** But, 45% of all searches on Yelp are done on their mobile application.***
  • AroundMe – 6 million users (April 2012) with 27 million searches per month.****

‘Physical Address’ & ‘Driving Directions’ are most important info for mobile visitors

Chart - What information is most important to you when you're looking at a local business website on your mobile

Mobile users are very action orientated when they look for a local business on a mobile device. They quickly want to qualify whether a business meets their requirements.

They want specific information that enables them to quickly:

  1. Determine if your business does what they want — ‘List of services: 33%’
  2. Determine if they can afford your services — ‘Price List: 41%’
  3. Find out where you’re located — ‘Physical Address: 54%’
  4. Find out how to get to you — ‘Driving Directions: 48%’

Softer and less ‘action’ orientated content such as reviews, photos and welcome message are much less important.

Interestingly, only 30% of users considered ‘Contact Details’ to be an important piece of info. Maybe because mobile users are looking for a business to visit, so their address is enough for them to act upon.

Tip For Business Owners

Make life easy and quick for your mobile site visitors. Display the most important data prominently on the homepage of your mobile optimized site. You can still include richer information (reviews, photos, etc.), but put this on other pages and link to it from the homepage.

  • 43% of consumers don’t expect a local business to have a mobile optimized site

 Chart - Which of these statements about accessing local business websites from your mobile applies to you?

Consumers are split on their attitudes to whether local businesses should have a mobile optimized site.

Forty-three (43%) say they don’t expect a local business to have a mobile optimized site, while 26% also say that all local businesses should have a site which is built for mobile.

A further 26% of respondents said they are impressed when a local business has a mobile optimized site.

  • 38% are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile optimized site.

Chart - Are you more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile optimized site?

Thirty-eight (38%) of consumers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile optimized site.

That would represent a significant bump in customers for any business and would surely justify the expense and effort in building a mobile optimized website.

Key Takeaways & Analysis

Mobile users behave differently from normal PC Web users, and this can impact on how they find a local business and which local business they end up contacting/visiting. Mobile users are very action orientated and will act quickly upon the results of their searches.

All types of local business can benefit from improving their mobile presence with 38% of consumers more likely to contact a local business with a mobile optimized site.

  • Pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, hotels and taxi firms have the most to gain from maximizing their mobile presence
  • Ensure that your business can be found prominently in relevant mobile search and map results
  • List your business on all leading local-social applications, e.g., Yelp, AroundMe, TripAdvisor, Foursquare
  • Optimize your website for mobile devices and display the most valuable information in your homepage

*Source: Flurry Blog

**Source: Yelp press release

***Source: Search Engine Land

****Source: AroundMe press release

Changes to Google Places Dashboard

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I was on SearchEngineLand and came across a great article by Myles Anderson, the Founder & CEO of BrightLocal.com. BrightLocal provides local SEO tools for local businesses; see their Research section for the latest findings about the local search market. I’m resposting his 10 tips you need to be implementing today in your Google+ Local initiative if you want to continue to be found  by your customers.

Recently, Google announced some significant changes to their Google Places dashboard. The wires have been humming ever since, and the reaction has ranged from fall-off-seat excitement to ‘humph, is that it!?’

Places for Business Dashboard

Dashboard images: Local Search Forum

Whatever the opinion, the truth is that these changes signify a big development in the way Google handles ‘Local.’ Google has been talking up the importance of local for an age, and the increased real estate given to local results in SERPs backs this up. They have also updated and iterated their local product almost more than their main search product in the last 12 months.

But, despite this rhetoric and commitment, Google has given scant attention to how SMBs use and manage their data within maps/Google+ Local.

Tuesday’s announcement changes this. The new ‘Places for Business’ dashboard is all about making life easier and clearer for SMBs to manage their data and promotion within Google’s local products (Maps/Mobile/+Local), and they have really put some thought into solving the backend issues and providing a helpful, consolidated interface.

Hang on… before I go too far with the praise, let me make one thing very clear. This update is also designed to make it easy for SMBs to purchase Adwords Express. Google has struggled to monetize ‘Local,’ and this update puts AdWords Express front and center on the dashboard in the hope that SMBs will start to spend more with them. ‘Google the Benevolent?’ (Yeah, right…)

Listed below are ten things SEOs and SMBs should know about the new dashboard.

1.  Phased Rollout – Many Changes Still To Come

This update has addressed a number of issues which have confused and frustrated SEOs and SMBs for years; but it has not improved all issues and niggles. This is very much a v1.0 for the new dashboard, and there are many more improvements to come over the coming months.

2.  Only Available To New Profiles Or Newly Verified Profiles

The new dashboard is only available for new listings (newly created or newly verified) and not for existing, verified listings. As soon as a listing is verified, they will get access to the new dashboard. However, those of us with existing verified listings will have to wait until the rollout reaches us.

Also, the dashboard is only currently available in the US. Once rollout is complete in the US, then it will jump across to other territories. There’s no clear timeline on this; so, it’s a case of carry on doing what you’re doing and wait till Christmas arrives!

3.  Easier, Faster, Clearer Update Route For Google+ Local Page

This change is a huge improvement – and a big thumbs-up to Google for sorting this out!

The current/old dashboard had a slow and tenuous link to the Google+ Local page with changes made in the old dashboard taking a long time to show up on the visible Google+ listing.

The new dashboard feeds data directly into Google’s updated ‘knowledge graph’ data structure. This enhanced structure makes management of data within Google better, and Google puts more trust in this data.

The upshot for SMBs is that any changes made via the dashboard have greater trust and should go live on their Google+ Local page faster – within 48 hours, according to various sources.

4.  Verification Process Still The Same

Thumbs down on this one, I’m afraid!

The verification process for listings is still the same. Businesses still need to get a PIN via mail, SMS or phone call and enter this into their listings so they can take control of their listing.

But, there is a clearer process for disputed listings. If you want to take control of a listing which is currently claimed into a different Google account. there is a clear, stepped appeal process. Listings can no longer be claimed into multiple accounts, which will greatly reduce confusion over listing ownership and administration.

It also appears (fingers firmly crossed) as if this process is going to be overseen by a dedicated customer support team, which would be a hugely welcome change.

already-claimed-conflict

Image courtesy of Mike Blumenthal

5.  Helpful Interface Guides Users To Make Right Choices

The new interface incorporates contextual, inline tips and advice on how best to complete the various fields. There are actually less fields to complete, which means less customization options (a real bugbear for many SEOs), but at least Google makes it clearer how best to complete the fields so SMBs don’t contravene the rules and suffer the consequences!

6.  Don’t Merge Your Google Local Listing With Your Google+ Local Page Yet

Google advises that if a business is considering merging their old Google Local Listing with their Google+ Local page, they should wait. This process is still riddled with issues, but there is light breaking on the horizon.

In due course, the new dashboard will incorporate an ‘Upgrade’ button which will make this process smoother. So, unless you have a burning need to tackle this merge now, you should hold fire for the time being.

7.  SMBs Need A Google+ Profile To Update Video & Social Elements

All core business info can be updated from the new dashboard. Updates should go live within 48hours, except for photos. Photos will take longer, and it’s still faster to add photos as a user rather than a business owner. Google has acknowledged this issue and will improve the process and speed in due course.

However, if a business owner wants to add video to their listing or manage their social stream, they need to have a personal Google+ profile. Given that lack of personalization options within Google+ Local, having some videos about your business and publishing tips/updates/ideas in Google+ can really strengthen the appeal of your business to a potential customer who visits your Google+ Local listing.

Google is not going to give up on its Google+ play, so it’s time for SMBs to embrace it!

8.  Service Area Businesses (SABs) Get A Google+ Local Page For 1st Time

At last!! Google is, at last, acknowledging the existence of SABs and now enables them to have a Google+ Local page and to hide their address if they wish. There are additional settings for service area and a neat check-box so a business can positively state if they also serve customers at their location.

Service Area Businesses in Google+ Local

Image below courtesy of Mike Blumenthal.

Coupled to this is a wider range of contact options – including email – which will help SABs even more.

9.  Select Up To 10 Categories To List In, But No More Custom Categories

The new dashboard allows SMBs to list themselves in more categories than before. They can select up to 10 categories – chosen from a pre-defined list; but, they can’t create custom categories any more (although older listings with custom cats may remain).

Select up to 10 categories in new Places for Business Dashboard

Select 10 categories – Courtesy of Mike Blumenthal

The dashboard incorporates inline guidance on what correct categories are vs. incorrect – it’s almost like Google has thought about what a user might enter and pro-actively given some advice on how to get it right – amazing! 

10.  Analytics Still Sucks!

There is no improvement in the data reported on your Google+ listing. You still get approximate views, clicks and call-to-action. This is a real shame, as Google as the power to supercharge reporting in Places, but continues to de-prioritize this aspect.

The interface for reporting looks like it has improved (although, I’m yet to see a screen shot which actually contains any data on the insights tab, so I can’t be 100% sure); but, the data reported on has not changed.

Postscript: Sources & References

The following sites were used for research and reference in writing this post. Many thanks to their owners and writers for great coverage and for making my life easier!

  1. Blumenthals.com – Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard
  2. Blumenthals.com – Google rolling out new update to Google Places for Business
  3. Local Search Forum – Major update – new Google Places Dashboard – All-in-one Local Listing Management
  4. Google – More details about the improved look and feel of Places for Business Support Pages
  5. Blumenthals.com – Categories in new Places for Business Dashboard

Local Businesses are Leaving Money on the Table

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Matt Malone just posted a great article on Local Search. If you have a brick and mortar business, you’ll absolutely want to take advantage of his free DIY (that’s “Do It Yourself” in Internet parlance) tips:

Read the full article here.

90% of online commercial searches result in offline brick and mortar purchases.

This type of research makes it clear that many businesses have substituted the Internet and local search for phone books and most print advertising.

There are many different tactics you can implement to capture the attention of potential customers, but step one is increasing online visibility. Thanks to services such as Google+ Business, Bing Local and Yelp, this has become extremely easy to do. Just be sure to do it right.

Many business owners have local listings, but are doing it wrong. Simply typing in your business name and seeing your listing isn’t enough. Be sure to “claim” your listing so that you can complete your profile and business information in full. This includes pictures and videos of your establishment, types of payment accepted and even whether or not you have paid or free parking available. You can read about this and more on Google’s User Guide.

The entire process of claiming or creating your online business listing should take you under an hour. Start with setting up (or claiming) your business listing in all of the directories listed below.

Pro Tip: It’s very important for you, as the business owner, to claim the business listing before a disgruntled employee or unhappy customer does it and bashes the company within your own profile. I have seen this happen, and even though it’s reversible, it’s a headache for the business owner to deal with.

TOP FIVE LOCAL DIRECTORIES TO GET STARTED WITH:
Google+ Business: http://www.google.com/+/business/
Bing Local: http://www.bing.com/local/us/
Yelp: http://www.biz.yelp.com/
Hotfrog: http://www.hotfrog.com
Manta: http://www.manta.com

These are the highest-ranking directories for Google and Bing local searches. Maximize your search engine real estate and claim all of them. Then be sure to read through your reviews on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure you respond to any positive or negative comments you receive. An attentive, caring company will almost always be an equally respected company.

The Massive Overhaul of Google+

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In case you’re on top of your Google+ page (and if you’re not – GET ON IT), you might have noticed a complete overhaul of your layout.

Here’s mine if you want to check out what I’m talking about.

These changes apply on every profile – both personal and business. Here’s a couple if the more important (i.e. “Snazzy“) features Google just rolled out for you:

– A new tab for your Local reviews. In addition to your photos, +1’s and YouTube videos, there’s now a place for all your Local reviews. Highlight your favorite restaurants, or hide the tab completely via settings … it’s completely up to you.

– An easier way to edit your info. The ‘About’ tab now consists of separate cards (like Story, Places, and Links) — each with its own prominent edit link. As always: you can share specific fields with specific circles, or keep them just for you.

– Bigger cover photos, with a better aspect ratio. Cover photos are much larger than before (up to 2120px by 1192px), and they display in 16×9 when fully expanded. This way more images can be used as cover photos, and there’s more room for your selection to shine.

Everything’s rolling out gradually, so check back soon if you don’t see it yet. What do you think of the new changes?

Why You Are Failing at Local Search

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In spending just the last day and a half with the team here at RevLocal, it’s become obvious to me why so many people fail at Local Search (if they’ve even tried it) is for one reason:

It’s obscenely time-consuming.

In addition to that, even if you spend the time figuring it out and then going to do all the manual work (and trust me, there’s a ton) – Google is constantly changing the rules, and therefore the landscape of who is getting found and why.

From your location to your reviews to your business name itself – there are so many factors that you can’t change or manipulate to be more attractive to El Goog – which is a big reason Google has structured its algorithm the way it has.

Linda Buquet on the Local Search Forum points out another wildcard:

“Google+ Local is buggy and extremely complicated to work with. PLUS there are tons of minefields to dodge that can cause you to be completely wiped off the face of Google or suspended – sometimes even if you are totally in compliance.”

Over lunch today, some of RevLocal’s clients here in Columbus came in to see a presentation on leveraging Google from Google themselves. There are several levers you can pull to impact the factors above.

To over-simplify just a little, the top three factors that the Search Engine uses to rank you are:

1. Location

At first, one might think there’s nothing that can be done here – but in reality, Google uses over 250 different business directories and databases to correlate your address information. If those addresses differ in any way (“W.” instead of “West” or “St.” instead of “Street” for example), that information will appear as a collision to Google and your listing will lose relevance.

2. Relevance

Does your business provide what the searcher is looking for? Google wants to do ONE THING for the searcher: Give the right answer. Are you the right answer to their question?

3. Prominence

What is the relative electronic prominence of your business compared to the other relevant businesses in the area? Where have you been mentioned in the press? What do your reviews look like? Do you have photos and videos where the Search Engine can easily find them and give you credit for them?

Their presentation was extremely enlightening for me and I thought I would share some of the nuggets they laid out. Feel free to share with me if you make some good use of them!