SMX Overtime: The new realities of local search
SEO expert Damian Rollison offers insights into the sites that matter for local search and ranking besides Google My Business, and why you should put some time into managing all of them.
I was pleased to be able to take the stage with Greg Sterling, Dana DiTomaso, and Conrad Saam for “The New Realities of Local Search” at SMX West in San Jose. The SMX team has shared some of the questions asked during the session, and I’ll do my best to channel the collective wisdom of my co-presenters as I address a few of the questions I thought were particularly interesting.
For a full recap of the session, you can read Greg Sterling’s column here.
Question 1: We all get that Google My Business is important in local search. What about Bing, Apple Maps, or even Waze, etc.?
This is an excellent question. There’s no definitive metric I know of that can tell you exactly how much local traffic each of these sites and apps receives, on the basis of which you could determine how much time and energy to spend on each of them.
We do know, of course, that when it comes to organic search in general, Google has a dominant market share, followed distantly by Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and others. As of February 2019, Google’s dominance in U.S. search was at 88.6 percent according to StatCounter.
The overall share of search isn’t a bad proxy for the relative importance of Google in local, though in my view Google should be considered somewhat less dominant in local than in general search, given a variety of factors. Mobile phone usage patterns are significant here. Because Apple Maps is the incumbent local app on millions of iPhones, Apple is in a position to win a much stronger share of the local search market than a competing search engine could hope for in a desktop environment. Similarly, phone users are acclimated to using Waze, Yelp, and other apps directly rather than accessing those services through a browser, placing those apps too in direct competition with Google Maps.
So the short answer to the question is that many sites do matter besides Google My Business and you should spread your efforts across all of them. Luckily, they are not all created equal, which makes the situation somewhat easier for marketers. On Apple Maps, for instance, you can’t do much besides claiming your listing at mapsconnect.apple.com (or, full disclosure, through a service provider like my company Brandify), and uploading your accurate name, address, phone, hours and other basic details. At Waze, you can’t do much besides advertise, which may or may not make sense given your budgetary priorities.
By contrast, Google offers a very broad and growing list of optimization opportunities. I enumerated these recently in a blog post and will repeat that list here:
- Special Hours
- Booking / Scheduling
- Local Inventory Links
- Questions and Answers
- Review Response
- Open Date
- Ads with Location Extensions
- 360 degree Virtual Tours
- Featured Products
- Google Assistant Integration
Given all of these features, and the super high importance of Google for all types of local search (desktop, mobile, voice), it makes sense to spend more time and energy on it. But not to the exclusion of other sites and apps, primarily Apple Maps, Bing, Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp.
Question 2: How seriously does Google take edit suggestions or spam notifications?
This is something of a controversial topic, with many commentators believing that Google doesn’t do nearly enough to fight listing spam and fake reviews. Mike Blumenthal has even gone so far as to suggest that Google looks the other way in the case of fake reviews because of indirect benefits such as ad sales to those who want to promote their fraudulent review “creation” services.
As for listing spam in general, Joy Hawkins and several others are very active in reporting spam on Twitter using the #stopcraponthemap hashtag. Blumenthal, Hawkins, and many others have actively contributed for years to the fight against spam in their role as Product Experts on the Google My Business forum.
It should be acknowledged here that Google does take down spam in many cases when it is properly documented and reports go through the prescribed channels. Recently Google created a new spam reporting page where users can report fraudulent activity and can even do so anonymously, given concerns around the backlash that sometimes results from public spam reports. And when bigger spam exploits occur, such as the millions of fake 4-star ratings that appeared on Google listings last November, the company acts quickly to fix the problem.
I think on the whole, Google takes spam seriously enough to ensure their product is generally usable. I don’t think the average consumer is inconvenienced by spam regularly. But from a local SEO practitioner’s perspective, it can be disheartening to see spam tactics succeed so often and so blatantly.
I’ve heard local SEOs joke ruefully more than once about keyword stuffing in business names, for example. It’s against Google’s rules, but it often works. As an example, Matt Green posted on Twitter just this week a screenshot of page two search results for “Houston auto accident attorney” where every listing has a keyword-stuffed business name. If you’re looking for it, spam is unfortunately far too easy to find.
The other part of the question has to do, I think, with general editorial suggestions. Google does take these very seriously, and it solicits feedback aggressively from its user community, primarily Android users and Local Guides. Much of the long-tail content that is now appearing in listings comes from Google’s effort to crowdsource that content over the last few years. And photo and video content can be freely added to listings by Google users as well, sometimes to the great annoyance of business owners depending on whether the content shows the business in a good light.
Question 3: On the topic of reviews, what about Trustpilot? Are these reviews as important as Google Reviews when it comes to rankings?
I’m going to use this question as an excuse to answer a broader question. Reviews on Google matter, for the obvious reason that Google listings are the most prominent local listings in the world, so consumers are more likely to see them. But reviews on other sites matter as well. They matter both for the obvious reason that some consumers prefer to use those other sites, and secondarily, they matter because Google is looking closely at other sources outside of its own reviews.
To mention Mike Blumenthal again, in a recent post he examined a patent Google filed last year that explains how the company mines reviews from multiple sources to find popular keywords. These keywords then create additional opportunities for the business to appear in local searches.
Aside from this Google-centric benefit to reviews on other sites, the generally recognized fact is that consumers look at reviews from many different trusted sites to make considered buying decisions. Trustpilot, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Amazon and other sites belong on this list, with the relative importance of each site depending on the type of business you have and the type of search the consumer is performing.
For instance, whereas Amazon is primarily a source for product reviews, and Google and Yelp are sources for reviews of local businesses, Trustpilot is primarily a source of reviews of companies. As such it is like Consumer Affairs, Glassdoor and other sites whose primary purpose is to offer one central repository of reviews for each business entity. For SMBs, there may be no reason to pay attention to Trustpilot, because no one is reviewing them there, whereas the site may be very important for a national brand or an online retailer.
Primarily, though, the question is about rankings, so I’ll just restate that Google has the capability to rank businesses based on phrases that appear in reviews from a multitude of sources.
Question 4: For a national brand that has both a website and shops, do you think it is relevant to create local Facebook pages? Is there a risk of negative impact on the official page? Less fans? Less engagement? Which strategy to choose?
I’ve heard this question from brands before but usually stated in a slightly different way. Brands are sometimes concerned that spending any time on marketing Facebook local pages will steal away from their focus on national marketing on the corporate page.
But consider that Facebook may already have created so-called “community pages” for your local stores, regardless of whether you are actively managing them, and that these pages may already have accumulated user engagement in the form of likes, views, posts, and recommendations (what used to be called reviews). Wouldn’t you be better off managing them actively?
The answer, in almost every case, is yes. Facebook offers a convenient parent-child setup that allows you to manage your corporate page and all of your “child” store pages using one login and one dashboard. And although your local store pages may surface when someone searches for your brand, and thus in a sense steal market share from your corporate page, that should be something you want to see happen. It’s one more example of the general truth that your national branding and e-commerce strategy should work in harmony with your local strategy.
Facebook store pages can drive conversions in a few interesting ways. For example, Facebook makes CTA buttons available so you can invite customers to book an appointment, shop your online store, call you, or start a chat with you on Messenger.
This was just a sample of the many good questions that came in during the session. My co-presenters and I are grateful for the time and attention of everyone who attended. See you at the next SMX!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.