Articles Tagged with Google

Google Places Beyond Local Searches – What It Means for Small, Local Businesses

Buy Local signYesterday evening, Gareth at Liberty reported that Google had introduced a new look and feel for Google Places. More than just testing, it turns out that these changes have gone live fully, having been dubbed the ‘grey pinned results.’

When I looked into it a bit more this morning, I noticed a potentially bigger, more substantial change: I was finding that Places results were a lot more present in the search results, especially for searches that did not specify a location. In other words, when I searched for something like “it recruitment,” I was seeing a map of Cardiff-based IT recruitment agencies (as I’m based in Cardiff, of course). Notice that I didn’t have to “it recruitment cardiff” to reveal the map – “it recruitment” was enough.

Example of Google Places changes in the SERPs

Although many will argue that this is not a “new” change (as I’ll touch upon later on in this post), I’ve definitely noticed it for keywords – and industries – that have previously been unaffected.

Typically, a search like this would show national results, i.e. the top 10 results for “it recruitment” – typically nationwide agencies, or agencies in the big cities, such as London. In fact, these are still present amongst the Places results, but results local to the searcher are nestled amongst them. And if you consider the fact that recently carried-out testing has shown that Google Places listings are good at catching the searcher’s eye-line and attention, this could be very good news indeed for small, local businesses.

What this means for small businesses

Currently, I’m only seeing these types of results for a handful of keywords and industries. However, if these results become permanent and more wide-spread, then small, local businesses have more chance of getting traffic and enquiries.

The biggest impact will be seen for industries where people may not particularly consider searching locally. For example, according to Google’s own data (via the AdWords Keyword Tool), “it recruitment cardiff” gets about 30 search per month, while the broader, non-location-specific “it recruitment” gets 3,600 – more than 100 times the amount.

Results for [it recruitment] in the Keyword Tool

Admittedly, the latter will be people across the UK, while the former will probably be people in and around Cardiff, but there may be people in Cardiff who are searching for “it recruitment” without actually including the word “cardiff.” If this happens to be 1% of all those “it recruitment” searchers (i.e. 1% of these UK-wide searchers are based in Cardiff), then that’s another 30+ people, and they will now be seeing a map of Cardiff instead of just UK-wide results.

It might even lead to bigger enquiries for a small business. If a big company in Cardiff is looking for an IT recruitment agency, they might just type in “it recruitment.” After all, they might have the budget to afford a big, national or London-based agency – the likes of Hays, etc. A smaller company might type in “it recruitment cardiff” – they might want someone smaller, potentially cheaper and more local to them. With this shift, Cardiff results will have more of a fighting chance in getting noticed and receiving an enquiry from a bigger business.

A major change in search, with a focus on local?

It could even potentially change the way we searching for products and services online and buying them. It was about a year ago when this “huge change” by Google was seemingly intended to “[favour] truly local businesses for queries that are likely to be local in nature.” As Eric Enge argued back then, Google was trying to steer the results based on what the person might want to see – if someone types in “pizza,” do they want something local or something national and informational?

I remember Google testing this quite a bit back then. I remember typing in “car insurance” and seeing a map of Cardiff, which – when you think about it – is absolutely radical. “car insurance” is an industry where people don’t search locally; they just type that in and go to one of the big insurer’s websites or a comparison site. Again, using the Keyword Tool, we can see the difference – except this time it’s 20-30 versus half a million!

Results for [car insurance] in the Keyword Tool

If it comes about again then imagine what it could do for the likes of small, locally-based insurance providers!

What should a small business do?

If you’re a small business and you haven’t claimed your Google Places listing, then do it now. If you can’t do it now, do it ASAP. Seriously, do it, get cracking! Prioritise it! Get it done!

It’s free to set up a Places listing and doesn’t take long, either. You might even have a listing already – it might just be a case of ‘claiming’ and updating it.

Haven’t got the time? SEO and marketing agencies often offer a Google Places Optimisation service, meaning that they will set up listing(s) for your business locations and optimise them on your behalf. (And yes, that may or may not have been a bit of a shameless plug for my employer!)

Just what is Google up to?

It’s an interesting change by Google. Again, it could just be case of them experimenting again, or it could be longer-term.

It might even be an attempt to encourage more businesses to create and claim their listings, which this will no doubt do. As Mike Blumenthal put it, “if users won’t go to Places, bring Places to them.”

Even if it is a bit of a testing phase, or perhaps if a small business owner is reading this and their main industry keywords aren’t showing a map just yet, then it might still be an idea to sort out a Places listing, for future-proofing purposes.

Blimey… honestly – I should be on commission. What do you say, Google?

[Buy Local image credit: Ari Moore. Also, many thanks for Computer Recruiter for letting me use them as my example for this post. Can you guess what they do? You guessed it… IT recruitment in Cardiff!]

Is Link Building a Job “a Monkey Could Do?”

Monkey on a Mac imageWhen I found out that an acquaintance of mine – who I looked up to and respected – had badmouthed and insulted my main area of expertise, I was pretty hurt. I had been informed that when he was asked by someone if he thought there was any value in link building as an SEO practice, he said that he didn’t think there was and that it’s a job “a monkey could do.” Charming!

Although his line of work isn’t primarily SEO, it is closely related, so I was quite shocked – but also somewhat relieved – to find out that his thoughts were based on the ignorant belief that there’s only one thing link builders do, and that’s simply to “submit links to general directories.” Although directories can still be included as part of an all-round link building strategy, gone are the days when SEOs could rely on link directories alone.

Of course, with Google’s on-going changes to its search engine’s algorithm, for an SEO to concentrate on just directories, they’d have to be absolutely bananas! (Sorry, couldn’t resist – there had to be a monkey-related pun in this post somewhere!) Some SEOs argue that link building (a major element of off-site SEO) is a stronger SEO signal than on-site SEO (although many will also argue that both should be considered for the best possible chance of success, as one element being weak can let the side down overall). So it’s crucial that an SEO strategy involves a well-rounded and varied link building strategy, particularly in competitive industries.

Then there’s the subject of how many factors come into Google’s search engine rankings, and how often the search engine algorithm is updated. The answer? They “use more than 200 signals… and [they] update these algorithms on a weekly basis” (source). 200… Two years ago, when it was first mentioned by Matt Cutts, folks over at WebmasterWorld made an attempt to list them, and the provisional list had at least a dozen variables affecting the finer details of an individual in-bound link, including the anchor text used, its position on the page, its relevancy to the content as well as a whole bunch of other factors. It’s complicated stuff. And that was two years ago! There’s probably more now, or if now then at least they’ll have changed, with some variables gaining more importance over time; others less.

Then there’s the type of links an SEO can go out and obtain. Sure, there are your bog-standard general directories, but there’s also article marketing, reciprocal linking, paid links (boo!), blog comments, blog rolls, guest blogging, forums signatures, linkbait ideas including infographics, online tools, badges, etc. etc. – some of which have become less important compared to others as time has passed, and I’m sure there’s a lot, lot more than what I’ve just covered. It’s enough to make someone go ape… (Last pun, I promise.)

But don’t just take my word for it. When I first heard about the monkey comment, I decided to get the feedback and opinions of a few fellow SEOs via Twitter.

Profile pictures of the three tweetersThree got back to me, with the following:

Brighton-based SEO Yousaf (@ysekand) said: “Anyone can build links but it takes creativity & outside the box thinking to build quality/juicy links, that is the difference.” (Just realised that I misspelt your name in my original tweet to you – I apologise sir!)

Recent Liberty starter Andrew (@Andrew_Isidoro) has a similar opinion: “Most people could link build with training, but the best guys are web-savvy, intelligent & work with a high level of creativity.”

Tweet #3 by Mike (@Koozai_Mike) – on the other hand – seemed to be more concerned with the monkeys’ supposed confusion over their occupation: “I thought monkeys were busy writing the works of Shakespeare? If they can’t finish that yet, then they’ve got no hope.” An unusual comment, but good on him for countering the comment with a bit of humour, rather than writing an epic, probably-OTT blog post about it (we all have our ways of dealing with things, I suppose…)

However, the link building fun doesn’t stop there. It’s occurred to me typing this now that Yousaf, Andrew and Mike could possibly share this post via their Twitter profiles and possibly link to it from their own sites because they’re mentioned in it. In fact, there’s a chance that others in the SEO industry will be interested due to the industry’s strong sense of community (you only have to take a look at the likes of SEOmoz’s thriving SEO community and the WebmasterWorld Forums to see how strong the communities can be as well as the simple fact that most SEOs like to help each other out). Plus we like to defend hurtful, attacking comments made towards SEOs (remember the guy who called us “SEO bastards,” and the SEOs who wrote blog posts in response?)

I wrote this post because I wanted to defend what we do from a silly, harmful comment. But if this blog post – and my website domain as a whole – garners links in the process then I’d consider it an added bonus. This post is potentially a link-earning bit of content – a link building consideration in itself.

But hey… We’re only monkeys, right?

[“Monkey on a Mac” image credit: thegarethwiscombe – cheers also to Yousaf, Andrew and Mike for their contributions as well (their images courtesy of their respective Twitter profiles)]

Dislike a company? Leave your review somewhere other than Google…

Evil laugh at the ready?Have you been a naughty, naughty company? Have your actions resulted in bad reviews on Google? Well now, don’t shake your fist and curse the ‘good guys’ just yet. Get ready to tweak your evil mustache, pet your Bond villain-esque feline and prepare your best maniacal laugh, for you’re about to find out how you can make them disappear!

Reviews… Some people think they’re a waste of time, when others relish the fact of sharing their experience with others, good or bad. Although some might argue that we leave reviews for purely self-obsessed reasons, I’d actually argue that it’s probably the other way around…

  • The Positive – A company’s done you well and you want to return the favour by spreading the good word about them.
  • The Negative – Usually a result of being stung by a bad service or sale and therefore wanting to warn others.

My reviews tend to fit those categories. I love giving good reviews who deserve them, especially if they’re hardworking people who mean well (e.g. small, local suppliers). Likewise, I hate shoddy service and I hate seeing people get duped, so if I’ve been stung, I’ll happily warn others of my unhappiness towards the company responsible.

My personal weapon of choice? Google. Leaving a review on a Google Places listing (a.k.a. Google Maps, Google Local – call it what you will!) can help with a listing’s ranking, so if you truly want to help a company to get more business then that’s a good way to do it. The same applies with some third-party sites, such as Qype and Yelp. (See? I do actually talk about SEO from time to time on this blog!)

But what does a company do when it receives lots of negative reviews? Well, y’know… They could just delete their own listing…!

That’s what happened to a company I (negatively) reviewed recently. Well, I don’t know for sure if they deleted it, but I can’t see any other reason. It makes sense that they’d want to delete it, as I’ll go on to explain…

They had received six (SIX!) 1-star reviews, with the stars showing even before you clicked-through to the listing – i.e. a company needs 5 reviews for the stars to show, otherwise it’ll still say the number of reviews there are but won’t show the stars until you click onto the profile itself. This meant that people could see that their average rating was 1 out of 5 when they did a Google search for their name. Worse still, if they showed up amongst the Map listings with their competitors for a general search relating to their service, it would show then, too (and their competitors either didn’t have any or enough reviews, or had more positive reviews).

So what’s a company to do? Hell, if they’re lousy enough in what you do to annoy that many people that badly, why not do the unethical thing and wipe the slate clean rather than to accept the (potentially) deserved onslaught? Your Google Places listing disappears, along with your chances of ranking in the Map results amongst your competitors, but hey, maybe it’s better that people find out about you another way, rather than via Google and they witness the negativity surrounding your brand. As businesses are able to create or claim listings, they’re able to un-list and delete them, too. Like I say, I don’t know if that’s the case for sure, but I can’t see it being anything else. They knew the reviews existed, as they tried to contest them (they commented on mine and others apologising and asking us to call their customer services person), so maybe they decided they’d go one step further? Well it’s one way to sort out your brand reputation woes, I guess!

The review still lives in my Google account. I can login and read it. The link’s still there, but if I click it, I see this page:

Screenshot of Google Places 404

“We currently do not support the location,” which I’m pretty sure is the Google Places equivalent of a blank page or a 404 error.

So when you next think of leaving a negative review of a company online, it might be best to look beyond Google. Maybe use another site instead? Then again, with other review sites possibly providing the same option (how else can someone remove a listing of a business that’s no longer operating?) and the likes of Yelp supposedly letting people pay to remove their bad reviews (which I’ve heard about but can’t seem to verify), where else can you go…?

…Customary moan on Twitter and Facebook? Sounds like a plan.

[Green Goblin image credit: doug88888]

Want more traffic? Teach the experts something new

I won’t lie… I’m a search engine geek. Since discovering SEO 2-3 years ago, I have gradually yet increasingly become more passionate on the subject. And as anyone who’s passionate on a subject will attest to, every subject and/or industry has its experts and its heroes. I have a few, one of them being Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.

So I was delighted when after liaising with him on Twitter, I eventually discovered something and taught him something that he didn’t already know, leading him to then share the discovery with his 30,000+ Twitter followers. Here’s what happened…

Teaching an expert

A few weeks ago, Rand tweeted saying that he’d seen a weird search result, linking to a screenshot of it and saying that he couldn’t figure out why some of the results were ranking. Looking into it, I responded saying that I thought the anchor text of the in-bound links was helping at least one of the results (a result that didn’t even have the words on the page whatsoever p after all, how else would Google know to show that page for that keyword?)

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsAlthough Rand agreed with my theory, he still wasn’t convinced that “it would be enough for such a tough-to-rank SERP.” I replied asking if he thought that perhaps negative/removed keywords could affect the anchor text of in-bound links as well as the on-page text.

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsAt this point, I was tempted to leave it be, but after thinking about it for a while, I decide to look into it some more. Before Rand had the chance to respond, I took a deeper look into it and drew a few conclusions. To my delight, Rand responded positively and enthusiastically.

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsThe next day, I detailed my findings in a post for the Liberty Marketing blog. Although arguably a bit cheeky on any other occasion, I notified Rand of the post’s existence, seeing as we’d discussed it the day before and I thought that he’d be interested.

@steviephil tweetThe result? Rand didn’t retweet my notification, but tweeted about it in its own right, mentioning me in the process, which was probably better than retweeting my tweet (it was certainly more presentable than what I’d written to him).

@randfish tweetCompared to other tweets, this one didn’t start with “@steviephil,” meaning that it wasn’t sent solely to me… Instead, it was addressed to his followers. All 30,000+ of them.

For someone who loves SEO, loves learning new things (especially something that no one’s ever documented or picked up on before) and who also looks up to Rand and what he’s achieved in the industry, this was a huge honour. I was ecstatic.

But the purpose of this blog post isn’t to brag about what happened. It’s to talk about the benefits of going to the effort of doing what I did and suggesting that others try and do the same if and when they can. When Rand tweeted the first time, it was Sunday evening (UK time) – I could have ignored it. Hell, I could have missed it altogether, so I was lucky to have caught it and that I wasn’t busy doing something else at the time. I persevered and the end result was certainly worth the effort…

An influx of traffic

Rand’s tweet saw the Liberty blog and the website as a whole get a ton more traffic than usual. Unfortunately I don’t have access to Liberty’s Google Analytics account as I type this, although you can picture the graph: a huge peak on the date of the post, with a drop in the days afterwards.

I may not have Analytics access, but I do have bit.ly account access, and I can tell you that this particular blog post had 30 times the clickthroughs compared to the blog’s other recent posts. We couldn’t believe it!

Other benefits

Okay, so admittedly, although the volume of traffic was great, one can argue that the traffic was probably primarily made up of other SEOs, and although that’s still cool from a relevancy point of view (e.g. they may then go on to browse other news and advice posts we’ve written), they’re hardly our target market. We want business owners to check out the Liberty site – they’re the ones who enquire and hire us for our services, not our industry peers.

However there are still some great benefits attributed to the tweet and the rise in traffic that can benefit Liberty in other ways:

Links: The blog post has acquired more in-bound links than some of Liberty’s other blog posts, probably because more people saw it, offering more of an opportunity that someone would link to it. Also, being mainly industry peers, SEOs – many already owning blogs and knowledgeable about linking – are probably more inclined to link to it than other people. Not only that, but we might also have a legitimate and genuine Wikipedia link opportunity, what with is being an industry discovery and research.

Retweets: Old and new-style tweets combined, Rand’s tweet was retweeted about 20 times. Although the sharers themselves might have mostly been made up of industry peers, their followers may not be. It’s not impossible that one or more of the retweeters was an SEO agency or freelancer in the UK, who has followers that might benefit from Liberty’s services, the retweet along with the link to the blog post now putting Liberty on their radar.

New Followers: Both me and Liberty earned a few more followers as a result of Rand’s sharing, some of whom have hopefully continued to follow us for future tweets and updates, both business and SEO-related.

Pride: In my excitement, rather than retweeting Rand’s tweet, I tweeted about the whole thing separately, giving me a chance to word it how I wanted (a bit like Rand not retweeting my notification but putting it in his own words instead). It gave me the opportunity to call it a “massive honour,” while linking to the Twitter profiles of Liberty, Rand and SEOmoz, all in one tweet. Liberty shared it, as well as Liberty’s PR agency, making it more widely accessible to our more local contacts.

@steviephil tweetAuthority: Linked to the above point (especially in terms of Liberty sharing the tweet), it helped to strengthen Liberty’s authority and standing in the SEO industry. By discovering something like this, we are showing that we know what we’re on about and know what we’re doing. This should give comfort to clients – present and future, current and prospective – to give them confidence in our abilities, skills and knowhow.

Recognition: Now that Rand has seen what I/we can do, it might be easier to do something like this again, with him sharing another discovery. It’s like a foot in the door, with it being not impossible that he might remember and recognise me in the future, especially as I have started to comment on a number of SEOmoz blog posts in my own right (and with the fact that I currently use the same avatar on my SEOmoz profile as I do on Twitter).

Networking: I’m a member (and a big fan) of BNI. It’s given me another thing to talk about and to tell people – in my opinion, saying “we taught an expert in our industry something new” is as impressive as saying “we helped to get a website higher in Google.” Although very few people in my chapter will know who Rand is (and that’s fair enough), they can always look into it afterwards, plus some people in related industries may already know who he is (e.g. web developers and social media specialists – I may not be a dedicated expert in either area but I’ve still heard of some industry experts in both areas).

Things to be careful about

I can’t see this type of thing working for everyone. I do think I was extremely lucky, in noticing and responding to the tweet and in taking the time and initiative to investigate and then write about the issue.

A big risk is the person taking the credit for the discovery themselves. Given Rand’s standing in the industry and his morals and views on sharing with others, I knew Rand wouldn’t do such a thing (“that’s definitely a discovery worth sharing” was almost his way of saying “you should tell people about it”), but that’s not to say that everyone would necessarily follow his example.

Alternatively, they might simply not share it. Rand might have not bothered to pass on the tweet, even with my nudge/notification to him. Or they might not share it properly – I was lucky that Rand @mentioned me in the tweet as well as linking to the blog post, but others might only do the latter.

Which brings me onto a big point – not everyone is familiar with Twitter and not everyone uses it. It may differ from industry to industry, with Rand in SEO being a regular Twitter user, while an expert in another industry simply doesn’t touch it.

However, for those who do, there is no harm keeping an eye on what they say and jumping on an opportunity to help them if they want feedback, advice or someone’s input – it sure worked well for me.

A surefire PPC brand exposure tactic for AdWords advertisers

Yuri Gagarin logo

What’s a search term that – for one day only – will have a massive surge of search volume in Google?

Whatever the Google Doodle’s linking to.

“Google Doodles?”

Readers who aren’t familiar with the term are bound to be familiar with one of Google’s quirky and clever branding traits. Google Doodles are Google’s reworks of its famous logo. Yesterday’s was a tribute to Yuri Gagarin, the first human being to journey into outer space, 50 years ago.

Some Google Doodles aren’t obvious straight away. For those wanting to find out more about its presence, Google provides a link to a relevant search term, which will then give searchers an idea as why that particular topic is being paid tribute to. In yesterday’s case, the search term the Doodle linked to was “yuri gagarin.”

How AdWords advertisers can take advantage

I clicked on the logo, and here’s what I noticed when I clicked through:

Yuri Gagarin in the SERPs

Notice the PPC ad on the right-hand side of the SERPs? It says:

Out Of This World Deals
Whether You’re Building A Rocket Or
A House We Have The Tools You Need
www.screwfix.com

That’s a clever little exercise in brand exposure.

Using PPC advertising and AdWords to advertise on a search term that’s not relevant to a business or website but is very topical is not a new tactic, but it’s certainly not a widely implemented one. I’m reminded of the brilliant Ann Summers PPC campaigns on searches relating to last year’s UK Elections and this year’s Chinese New Year.

To quote the latter article, iCrossing – Ann Summers’ PPC agency – “knew that hanging paid search ads off the back of popular news-based searches would drive a lot of awareness, with relatively few clicks.” I bet this was Screwfix’s intention, too. A few people might click on it while a few people might not even notice it at all, but I bet more people were thinking about Screwfix more than usual yesterday.

Google Insights for Search indicates the impact of the surge:

Yuri Gagarin on Google Insights

Interestingly, it’s showing the rise on the 11th April, not the 12th (the actual day of the Doodle and the anniversary of Gagarin’s achievement). Whether this is due to the freshness of the data or the fact that the logo would’ve shown earlier in the UK than in the US, I can’t say. Either way, if you look at the Insights data for “harry houdini”, you will see that the rise takes place on 24th March, the date of Google’s Harry Houdini Doodle (note: refine the search to the last 30 or 90 days – I’ve linked to data showing the whole of 2011 otherwise the link will become obsolete for future readers).

The downside?

Surely the pros outweigh the cons: huge brand exposure, a low advertising cost (due to high impressions but low clickthrough rate) and a chance to be cheeky and funny and possibly throw in a pun or two – surely that’s a win-win scenario for a lot of advertisers! However I can see AdWords’ keyword Quality Score being negatively affected, unless an advertiser is actually a Gagarin biographer or has any other close connection to him, but what’s the harm if it’s only for a maximum of 24 hours?

Advertising for the quick thinker

I have to say that I am amazed that there aren’t more companies like Screwfix and Ann Summers jumping on opportunities like this, unless I’m just not aware of them. Compared to other topical events, the Google Doodles in particular will be difficult to predict, unless it’s a really obvious anniversary (although there’s nothing to say that Google will Doodle it), or perhaps a yearly occurrence, such as St. Patrick’s Day, which is usually a yearly tradition of the Doodle, this year notwithstanding (outside of Ireland).

I can see quick-thinking advertisers benefitting from this type of strategy, while those who aren’t so much on the ball or with too much red-tape to go through not being able to implement anything within the short 24-hour period. But for those who do, the result should be a nice – albeit fleeting – exercise in brand exposure to a large number of Google users.