Don’t Panic, SEOs! The Whisky-related Zero Result SERPs are a Bug

Zero-result SERPs have caused a bit of a stir in the SEO industry this past fortnight. For time-related searches, instead of showing a variety of results, Google shows you the answer and… that’s it. Unless you click the ‘Show all results >’ box at the bottom, all you see is Google’s answer. Here’s an example for "time in cardiff":

"time in cardiff" search screenshot
The situation went into panicky overdrive when I checked Twitter this morning and saw tweets from overnight suggesting that whisky-related SERPs had been affected. Rightly so, if you searched for "lagavulin 16" – as in Lagavulin’s 16-year-old single malt bottle – it would show the time box, Google Shopping results, Google AdWords ads (if applicable) and that’s it:

"lagavulin 16" search screenshot
The time box was a particularly bizarre inclusion – what’s the time got to do with a search for a bottle of whisky anyway? There was also chatter that other bottles of whisky with numbers after them (as in their age) were producing similar results.

And that’s when it hit me: what if Google was thinking that people were searching for Lagavulin the place and that the number was the time, as in: “what time is it where I am if it’s 16:00 (i.e. 4pm) in Lagavulin, the Scottish village?”

I tagged Danny Sullivan (who now works for Google) in a tweet and he’s confirmed that it’s an “edge case” (interesting choice of phrase, Danny – not “bug”?) 😉

So there you have it, folks. No need to panic (yet). They’re not after our whisky SERPs – phew! Breatheinbreatheout breatheinbreatheout. Why not pour yourself a glass of Lagavulin?

…Too soon?

Google Reviews are Broken (and Google Local Guides Aren’t Helping)

Basketball points illustrationGoogle has a review problem.

When I help clients with SEO, if they already have – or could benefit from having – a Google Map listing (a.k.a. a Google My Business listing), I help them with the presentation and optimisation of that, too. One element of that is the ability for customers to be able to leave reviews. For a business that works hard to give its customers a good service, it can be a fantastic way to stand out from the competition. I often encourage clients to try and get Google reviews from their happy customers – in a way that abides by Google’s guidelines.

However something that I’m finding is becoming more and more prominent is the phenomenon of fake – maybe even ‘incorrectly-given’ – reviews. This blog’s most popular ever post is about how I managed to remove a fake and libellous review from my parents’ business’ Google listing. We (mostly) got lucky because the review’s text said some very nasty things that were very obviously against Google’s review guidelines, but where the whole Google review removal process gets messy is when the text is ambiguous (i.e. it could be a customer or it could not be, and it doesn’t conflict with Google’s review policy either way) or if no text is left against the review at all.

‘Cold’ reviews

One of my clients (and also my business’ home) – Welsh ICE – gets fantastic reviews. They consistently get 4- and 5-star reviews from people who we know are members and have used their facilities.

…But then, all of a sudden, a few months back, they got a 3-star review with no text against it.

And then another one – 3 stars, no text.

And then a 1-star review with no text.

Two things were weird about these reviews:

  1. When I asked Jamie & Rachel – who are involved with running ICE and looking after its community – if they knew who these people were, they said no. The reviewers (to the best of their knowledge) had never used ICE.
  2. They all had the ‘Local Guide’ tag next to them.

Google Local Guide review examples screenshot

Introducing Google’s Local Guides

I’ve been in SEO (and Local SEO) for a while, and while I’d come across Local Guides before, I hadn’t really paid much attention to it – so I did some research. It’s a way to contribute to Google Maps – most likely rising from the ashes of the death of Google Map Maker, which I’d used previously (with limited success – but that’s an aside). What’s more is that it’s gamified: contributors can earn points and badges, and can ‘level-up’.

Google Local Guides points screenshot
At first I thought it was just a prestige thing, but then I came across something quite interesting: at one point (fairly recently), they offered a Google Play perk, whereby “Local Guides who reach[ed] Level 4 and beyond by 31 August 2017 [had] a chance to receive 3 months of Google Play Music and 75% off a movie rental on Google Play.”

Google Local Guides perk screenshot
…Which I’ve screenshot, just in case the page gets taken offline in the future.

Of course, Google’s Maps User Contributed Content Policy states that “contributions must be based on real experiences and information” – but here’s the thing: how can anyone prove or disprove that a review was based on a real experience? Given that Google are incentivising Local Guides by offering them a Google Play discount, what’s stopping Local Guides from randomly leaving random reviews/ratings in order to get points, including businesses they’ve never even dealt with and/or places they’ve never even visited?!

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Cardiff SEO Meet is Looking for a New Venue for 2018!

Cardiff SEO Meet (alt logo)New year, new venue. After three events in 2017 at Tramshed Tech, it’s time for a change… Cardiff SEO Meet is looking for a new venue for its events in 2018 and beyond. I have somewhere in mind, but I’d like to keep options open and get a ton of suggestions to consider.

Can you help? Do you know of anywhere suitable? Are you a venue owner who can provide a venue? Here’s our criteria:

  • Within 10 mins walk from Cardiff Central railway station
  • Reliable, free WiFi – ideally with no catches (e.g. you don’t have to subscribe to their mailing list or follow them on social media, etc.)
  • Accessible between 5:30pm-ish & 9:30pm-ish on the night, to set up and pack by
  • 50-100 capacity
  • Their own screen/projector setup

And nice-to-haves, although by no means deal-breakers if not available:

  • Food and drink available to buy (negating the need for a caterer – although happy to source externally if required)
  • PA and mic provided (if required, depending on whether or not the venue needs it)
  • Parking outside or nearby (free evening parking an added bonus)

Something like a function room in a bar would probably be our best fit, however another possibility could be an office premises, say if they also host events there… So long as the above criteria are met really.

We have sponsors, so there’s a budget, meaning that the venue hire doesn’t necessarily have to be free/cheap… however if the venue is open to becoming an event sponsor in return for a reduced rate then that’d be fab. Perks include a logo and a link on the Meetup group and on the event page of each event (here’s an example of an old event page), mentions in tweets before/during/after the event, mentions/links in the emails that go out to meetup subscribers (380+ people as I type this), and probably a whole bunch of other stuff. There’s also the fact that the venue will be seen by 30-50 people each time (I’m hoping to ramp this up next year) – one of our past venues commented that everyone who came to the event was a fresh face who had never visited before, so 30-50 new customers essentially.

Let me know! You can leave a comment below, email me, tweet me or @CardiffSEOMeet, or sign up to the Meetup group and message me on there. Cheers!

Getting the Most from Yoast – My Cardiff WordPress Talk

Cardiff WordPress Prisma pic
Yesterday I did a talk at Cardiff WordPress, my first speaking gig in close to a year (you can see a list of all my past speaking gigs here).

Held at the fabulous Tramshed Tech (where Cardiff SEO Meet is also held!), I presented in front of 20+ WordPress designers & developers as well as fellow digital marketers.

My talk? Getting the Most from Yoast, giving details and insight into the Yoast SEO plugin, showcasing its features and settings, explaining how and why certain parts of it affect your website’s SEO, and how to make sure you’re setting it up to get the most out of it.

It was a good, attentive group, who were a pleasure to present to. After my talk, there was a general roundtable Q&A session where individuals could field their WordPress problems to the group, which was pretty cool. We also talked about SEO a bit more (something that I ain’t complaining about)!

Here are the slides, which I submitted to Speaker Deck (because they looked terrible when uploaded to SlideShare):

[Image credit – Davey Brown via Twitter (and then run through Prisma)]

Why I Turned Down a Potentially Huge Sponsor for Cardiff SEO Meet

Cardiff SEO Meet crowd photo
Sponsorship for Cardiff SEO Meet isn’t really that big a thing. For the first three events, there weren’t any sponsors – I paid for it myself (well, Morgan Online Marketing paid for it, technically). But then our first venue was a bar, where people could buy their own food and drink if they wanted to. When we moved venues to somewhere where I needed to provide my own food and drink, the costs shot up. I wanted to keep the entry fee free, so I couldn’t recoup money that way. Therefore I knew that I’d need sponsors to help cover those costs, and a few people I know were happy to oblige.

It’s simple: for £100, your sponsorship goes towards food & drink costs. In return, you get a link from the Meetup group and event page, a mention in the announcement email that goes to all of the group’s members, various tweet ‘shout-outs’ before and after the event, your logo on the absolutely massive screen, and a couple of shout-outs/thank you’s at the event. In my eyes, that’s a pretty decent deal. We get about 40-50 people to each event, which isn’t especially a huge number, but it’s not tiny either. The Meetup group has over 300 members as well.

So far, most of our sponsors have been local (and local-ish) freelancers, agencies and fellow event organisers – I’ll list them here, as I want to thank them again for their support to date: HQ SEO, Cardiff Digital, Xanthe Studios, All Things Web® and Traffic Jam Media (and not forgetting Tramshed Tech for being our venue sponsor). I casually joked with someone though that it’d be awesome if one of the big global SEO software providers expressed interest in becoming a sponsor.

Weirdly enough, a few days later… one of the big global SEO software providers expressed interest in becoming a sponsor. They sponsor a lot of the bigger events worldwide, and (somehow) my piddly little meetup had gotten onto their radar. I was elated.

But I ended up turning them down.

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