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Jamie Pitman – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Mon, 17 Jun 2019 16:00:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 What’s it like to be a Google Gold Product Expert?: An interview with Ben Fisher /whats-it-like-to-be-a-google-gold-product-expert-an-interview-with-ben-fisher-318281 Mon, 17 Jun 2019 15:59:59 +0000 /?p=318281 Ben Fisher explains how he became a Google product expert and the benefits of being a tester and providing feedback to make tools better for local business.

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As anyone who has used Google’s Help Community knows, it’s not always the official Google representatives that provide the most helpful and useful responses. Oftentimes the best assistance comes from Google’s Gold Product Experts.

Previously known as “top contributors” due to their contributions to the now-defunct advertiser community, these luminaries have been handpicked by Google to provide expert assistance on their products.

I spoke to Google Gold Product Expert, Steady Demand’s Ben Fisher to find out how one becomes a PE, and to uncover the benefits of volunteering time to the Google cause.

How did you become a product expert? Was it something you worked towards or did it come about fairly organically?

All of the product experts were brought into the program after working in the Google Help community as volunteers, but each of us has our own story about how we ended up here and what kept us going. For me, it was an email from Google themselves after they’d noticed my work volunteering on the help community.

So there’s no one-size-fits-all route to getting on the PE list? It’s more invite-only. How did you feel when you were selected?

Once you get that email from Google asking if you’d like to join the Product Expert Program, you realize what an honor it is to have earned their trust, and that they feel you truly are an expert at using Google My Business.

With this offer, the team is acknowledging that you have valuable expertise, you might be able to help shape the product, and your knowledge and experience can be of benefit to users as well as the team at Google. In my opinion, it’s a huge honor.

You’re a Gold Product Expert. Does that mean there are other titles, like Silver and Bronze?

There are a few levels of product experts. Silver is the entry level, which used to be called “Rising Star,” and to be fair it’s just as much an honor to be a Silver Product Expert.

Silver Product Experts get to cut their teeth on issues that users have, and through doing so gain access to a private forum where they can engage with Googlers, other Silver Product Experts, and also get assistance from Gold Product Experts. Then there is Platinum, these distinguished people help mentor and dedicate enormous amounts of time to helping users.

Becoming a Gold Product Expert takes time, and it’s at the discretion of the community manager and others in the Gold Product Expert group if someone is to join the ranks.

It sounds like you really have to know your stuff, and put the hours in, pro bono. Is it all worth it, though? What benefits can you look forward to if you get invited to become a Product Expert?

I’d say it’s definitely worth it. As a Gold Product Expert, I have access to a special forum where I can talk directly to the team. When we see issues in the community or trending problems with Google My Business, we have the ability to get them looked at almost immediately.

We also have the privilege of being able to ask questions indirectly to Google’s product managers. If we need clarification as to why a feature functions the way it does, or if we want to provide input as to how we feel a feature should behave, we can offer that.

Not many can boast of such exclusive access to senior Googlers, so it certainly seems like that’s something worth working towards. How else do you get to communicate with Google?

We have meetings with our community manager via regular Google Hangouts, where we can ask anything or discuss any topic. It could be something as serious enquiring about the progress the spam team is making on a major spam network, or as simple as an update on a specific case someone is working on. Either way, we have access that most do not have.

Then there are the Hangouts that we get to have with Google’s product teams. These are a treat as we get to see product features during their conceptual phase, which is sometimes six months in advance of release.

Wow, that’s early. Does that mean you’re able to influence product development? What’s the process like?

Well, we’ll first be shown a demo, get to ask questions, and provide our feedback. Then when the features are ready, we’re whitelisted and allowed access to play around with the new features.

This is handy for both Google and the PEs as we may see things a Googler may not anticipate, and we always look at things from a business, user and agency point of view.

I personally take pride in knowing that some features in GMB are there because of something that one of my teammates or I suggested!

Learning about new features before they hit all users is pretty significant. We get to break stuff, find out what’s working as intended and what isn’t, and take all that feedback back to the product teams.

In that process, we get to experience some things a long time before the public does, and in some circumstances invite our clients to try it. With Google My Business short names, for example, we had a Google Hangout about that and were given some limited access to the feature.

Another cool perk you have as a Gold Product Expert is an invite to the Trusted Tester program. This is where we get to preview all kinds of neat features that we’re not allowed to talk about. Then there’s the Trusted Verifier program, that grants us the ability to instantly verify a business based on certain circumstances, which, by the way, is a completely free service we can offer but one that’s not available to every business.

That’s a lot of digital contact to have with Google, and a heck of a lot of influence, too! Do you get many chances to speak to Googlers face-to-face?

Yes, there’s a couple of ways we meet up with Googlers “in real life,” so to speak. Well, three if you count the Local U conference.

Firstly, there are regional events like the one we have this year, where we’ll get together in Denver and meet with our community managers and the product teams at Google. These are usually smaller events. Then there’s the more official Product Expert Summit, which I love. We head to the Google campus and meet PEs from all over the world.

It must be nice to be able to finally shake hands with the people you spend so much time chatting with and working online.

Sure, it’s great to meet your virtual compatriots in person, have some drinks, and share some ideas. But there’s also the aspect of sitting around for a few days interacting with Google’s Product Managers. We really maximize our time there and try and learn as much as possible, ensuring we have as much of an impact on the end product as necessary.

Do you ever receive credit for your impact on these products?

I like the fact that, as a Gold Product Expert, I can make an impact that no one even knows about. For example, when something bad happens to a business which gets reported in the news, one of us PEs will usually look to see if the profiles related to the business are getting slammed with a review attack. If we see this, we’ll report it to Google. Then we’re usually given the ability to stop people leaving reviews on these profiles, and even to have the malicious reviews removed.

A great example of PE teamwork was the case of the massive auto accident lawyer spam network I uncovered in January. Quite a few of the PEs, like Jason Brown, Tom Waddington and Joy Hawkins, all worked together to document and track the network. After removing 1,000’s of profiles and contacting Google My Business to show them how bad it was, they enacted some methodologies to help stop the network.

The post What’s it like to be a Google Gold Product Expert?: An interview with Ben Fisher appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Should we be paying for Google My Business features? /should-we-be-paying-for-google-my-business-features-316602 Wed, 08 May 2019 14:26:41 +0000 /?p=316602 Paying for GMB features would be a handy new revenue stream for Google, but how it manages trust features - and spam - in a pay-to-play model is the real concern.

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It’s probably no exaggeration to say that the recent discovery of a survey sent to Google My Business managers including pay-to-play GMB features sent a shockwave through the local SEO industry.

It’s probably equally fair to say that, should even a few of these paid-for features (such as Google search results placements, verified reviews or promoted map pins) come to fruition, the industry would change completely.

Here’s a couple of screenshots showing the full list of features mentioned in the survey:

That’s a lot of potential features, every one of which could benefit businesses, and one of which has already come to fruition in the form of Google’s new call intelligence and automation system, CallJoy.

Some features, like offers, videos, Google customer support and the “Book” button already exist for free in some fashion, while others, such as “Get leads from competitor profiles” upend the GMB experience so drastically that you probably spat out your tea (hey, I’m British) when you read it.

Speaking of tea, let’s take a look at those tea leaves. What do you see?

What would a ‘pay-to-play’ Local Pack look like?

Just imagine a Local Pack in which businesses taking the top three results have all paid through the nose for priority placement, featured reviews, promoted map pins and Google guarantee badges.

Not one of the listings would stand out, and we’d pretty much be back to where we are now, where proximity, relevance and prominence rule the roost. The only difference? We’ve just given Google a lot of money just to avoid tanking our listings. If that’s not a protection racket, I don’t know what is.

Let’s not get lost in the tea leaves, though. It’s easy to lose sight of the people who really matter; the customers. Would the average user care, or even notice, if GMB changed this much?

Where do consumers really go for local business information?

Looking at the results of a recent BrightLocal survey (my company), one could advocate for the devil and say, well, actually, your bucks would be better spent on your website.

For example, 56% of respondents (U.S. consumers) believe that the business website is the most likely to contain accurate information. The 32% who believe GMB is the place to go is comparatively low.

While this obviously doesn’t mean that businesses should abandon GMB, it does question those that believe that GMB is the be-all and end-all of online marketing for some local businesses.

Business websites aren’t just a source of information for Google. They’re still the destination for many consumers and one that offers unique opportunities to highlight brand personality in a way that the sterile, ubiquitous GMB format doesn’t allow.

How are consumers using Business Profiles right now, though? Are the features we might have to pay for even worth the potential outlay?

As the aforementioned survey data shows, there’s a definite potential for dedicated and paid-for ‘Book Now’ buttons to be worth your while, as 23% of respondents have booked a hotel room through GMB and 19% say they’ve booked a table in a restaurant.

Elsewhere, recent GMB additions like Posts and Q&A don’t seem to be having quite as much of an impact. Only 13% say they’ve ever read a Google Post, while 10% have asked a question and 6% have answered one. That’s a lot of unanswered questions!

But what’s this? An impressive 38% of respondents said they had visited the business website through a business profile?! That’s over a third of GMB views ending with a click through to the website, which corresponds nicely with the large proportion of respondents trusting website info most.

A question of trust

We’ve established that paid-for GMB features would be a handy new revenue stream for Google, but is that all that there is to it?

As I’ve already talked about at length, Google has a serious problem with GMB spam. Although processes are in place to technically prevent it, they are utterly toothless, leading to a situation that’s just getting worse and worse and leading to a lot of faith lost in the legitimacy of Google Local listings.

Now take a look at some of those features in the survey list: Verified reviews, Google Guarantee, Background check, Verified licenses and Verified bookings.

That’s a lot of features designed to boost trust in business listings. In fact, features centered around trust and verification make up 25% of all those listed, and knowing the current state of Google My Business, it’s not hard to see why.

Even the most cynical of those wondering what steps Google might take to tackle spam would likely be hard-pressed to say “monetize it,” but that looks suspiciously like what’s going on with these trust features, at least if Google charges for them.

Yelp has already gone down this route with its “Verified” badge and, depending on who you listen to, the veracity of these badges is either bulletproof or up for debate. What’s not really up for debate is that Yelp is monetizing a lack of trust in certain business types by charging to vouch for them.

And so it is with Google, though with deeper consequences. Faced with a spam problem getting out of control, they seem to be charging businesses to highlight their legitimacy and trustworthiness rather than investing in better spam removal technology.

Could paying for GMB features be a good thing?

To avoid offering a one-sided argument, I spoke with Steady Demand’s Ben Fisher, a Google Gold Product Expert with years of experience on the front lines of GMB management, to see what he made of the survey.

“It appears this survey was a half-baked idea someone had. We know that Google need to monetize a service – they are a business, after all – and this survey looks like they have a bunch of ideas, some good, some real bad, and wanted to throw them against the wall to see what stuck.

“Some of the features make sense and some are, in part at least, already available. For instance, from Local Services Ads – which was born as a solution to spam – came Google Guarantee, Verified Licenses, and Background Checks. And the Promoted Map Pin is already available to large chains with huge ad budgets.

“Personally, I would be a cheerleader for any of these features to be paid services. Others from the list I’d love to see are Verified Reviews and Featured Reviews, as they present more ways to combat spam.”

However, Ben’s outlook isn’t entirely rosy. He’s not a fan of the potential of guaranteed placement in search, and says that ads on competitor profiles and the proposed ability to get leads from competitor messages are “horrid propositions.”

“Think about it: yes, it may be interesting to you now. But what happens when you get a message and your competitor scoops up the lead because you were, oh, I don’t know, working on your business instead!

“At the end of the day, Google My Business does not have the internal resources to properly police spam, keep up with support or have all the solutions in place that SMBs are looking for. So this makes sense: monetize it.”

Where is Google My Business heading next?

Google My Business is often referred to as a “free service,” and while I can’t contest that, right now at least, it’s technically “free,” I’m skeptical about the “service” tag.

It’s only a service in the same way that providing businesses with a postcode or a bank account is a service, such is Google’s monopoly on the business discovery game.

However, if what this survey portends comes true, we may be playing an entirely different ball game – a game in which participation is mandatory, the playing field is no longer level and only those with the deepest pockets and biggest sponsors can hope to reach the upper leagues.

The post Should we be paying for Google My Business features? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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The rise (and further rise) of Google My Business spam /the-rise-and-further-rise-of-google-my-business-spam-314462 Fri, 22 Mar 2019 16:15:03 +0000 /?p=314462 Google's machine learning tool verification is just not working for GMB listings as spam is constantly slipping through the net. Here's how you can help.

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Back in 2017, Google proudly told the world that it had eradicated 70 percent of all fake Google Maps listings in the two years prior. They put this down to innovations in machine learning and new business verification techniques.

Two years on, and it seems the machines are today wearing dunce caps and verification is just not working. How else do you explain Google My Business listings like these slipping through the net?

You’ll note that not only are these spammy, keyword-stuffed business names but that the supposedly trusted Local Guides trying to suggest edits to report them are having their edits rejected. We’ll come on to that in a little bit, but for now let’s take a look at how we got here.

GMB is the new local business home page, social network and feedback channel, conversion path, and…

Over the last couple of years, Google has been going all-in on expanding the functionality and potential use of its Google My Business profiles, elements of which appear in the Knowledge Graph, in Google Maps, and in the Local 3-pack.

Due to this increased use and visibility, and new social features like the introduction of a ‘Follow’ button for Google Maps users and ever-more-prominent Google Posts, consumers are being driven to consider a business’ GMB profile as a single source of truth, even over and above the local business website.

Because of this, GMB has become a wedge driven between consumers and businesses. Searchers can no longer get a first impression of a business created and tailored by the business itself. That first impression now belongs to Google, and for better or worse, search marketers have to make exceptionally good use of the wide range of available GMB features to ensure that their businesses or clients can stand out against their competitors.

With GMB now such a critical part of the consumer’s journey, it’s inevitable that people would seek to take advantage of weaknesses in the system in order to benefit their businesses’ positions. Thus we have Google My Business spam, and with it no end of keyword-stuffed business names, fake listings, fake reviews, and more.

The real impact of Google My Business spam

You might easily dismiss it as a non-issue, but whereas other instances of spam can be easily filtered out using technology, no such filter exists for GMB, and so spam on this platform can have far-reaching impacts.

These impacts have been well-documented in a recent BrightLocal poll that focused specifically on GMB spam. 77 percent of respondents felt that GMB spam made it harder to deliver good rankings for their own businesses or their clients.

Still not convinced it’s an issue? Imagine it this way: you’re a local SEO professional following every bit of best practice under the sun to optimize a website for the right search terms, to feed GMB the right data, and to generate great reviews. You put hours into this work and finally rank well for the required local search terms.

And then you look up the business one day and you see these…

GMB spam isn’t just unfair, it risks damaging the reputations of Google My Business as a trustworthy source of information as well as the many industries which seem to be more likely to take part in GMB spam, like auto repair, locksmiths, garage door contractors, and (though they really should know better) legal professionals.

And although GMB spam isn’t a new problem, it seems to be getting more prevalent. The aforementioned poll asked how listings spam had grown in the previous year.

Fifty-nine percent believed it had increased, and 25 percent of them said it had increased significantly. So the question I find myself asking today isn’t just why is there so much GMB spam it’s “why is there so much now?”

Who you gonna call…?

For a time, Google Gold Product Experts and spam-fighters like Joy Hawkins, Ben Fisher, Jason Brown, and countless others, gave their free time over to helping business owners report spam for removal in the (soon-to-be-defunct for reasons I’ll come to) Spam and Policy board in the Google Advertiser Community Forum. Sure, you could tweet @GoogleMyBiz or message them on Facebook, but this was a great way to add plenty of detail around a spam report and engage with someone who really cared, one on one.

Then Google took over.

For reasons I’m not personally privy to (but would love to hear your theories about in the comments below), Google made the decision to close the GMB Spam forum and instead encourage people who discover spam to report it via a new online form, stating simply:

“We’ll close the Spam board on this community, so please use the new form to report spam-related issues.”

“Complaints submitted through this form will be reviewed in accordance with our guidelines for representing businesses on Google Maps.”

As sad as I was to see the forum close, I rather foolishly believed that this was a sign that Google was going to finally take spam seriously, writing on the BrightLocal blog at the time,

“This week Google finally took a big step towards acknowledging the damage GMB spam does to consumers and businesses alike.”

What a fool I was. I thought that having human staff at the other end of these complaints showed Google was starting to care more, and that the use of a standardized form meant that the process of actioning complaints would be simpler.

Sadly, right now it seems I was wrong. Just follow the popular #StopCrapOnTheMap thread on Twitter and you’ll see an even more steady stream of Local Guides and spam-fighters sharing sadly comic examples of particularly egregious and obvious cases of GMB spam.

It’s worth noting that, even with the impending shutdown of the dedicated spam forum, the Google My Business Product Experts still have plenty of influence in the spam department. They’re always identifying new patterns and hunting down the latest spam networks. With so much more spam created every day, it’s imperative they carry on their good work even without an official spam-reporting channel.

Even before this new wellspring of spam, Joy Hawkins spoke on an InsideLocal webinar about the efficacy of making ‘suggested edits’ to spammy GMB profiles (now one of the only recourses for Local Guides trying to fight spam), saying:

“I think it works less and less. It used to work a lot better when Map Maker was around because peers could review your edits, but we’re seeing suggested edits being less useful in most cases. Google’s turnaround time is about 3-4 months, we’ve been finding.”

So we already have a case where:

  • Google My Business is critical to business success
  • People are taking advantage of its weaknesses
  • Google has made efforts to make the spam-fighters toothless
  • Spam still works, and “the situation is getting worse, not better” (as Joy Hawkins again testifies below)

Then lots and lots of Local Guides started having their accounts suspended for no apparent reason…

The above is a particularly bad example of Local Guides being stripped of their accounts without reason. While Google’s aim might have been to automatically delete the accounts of Local Guides behaving dubiously (a noble aim, I’d add), when dedicated Local Guides are unceremoniously removed from the program without warning, one has to question Google’s overarching approach to spam removal.

As always, this all comes with the customary silence from Google.

So what can we do about it?

Although the above might come as depressing reading, I must stress that the vigilance of good SEOs trying to do right by their local business clients is very heartening to see, so there is hope.

Google might be clumsily breaking the tools in our spam-fighting arsenal, but we’ll always have heroes like Dave DiGregorio (below) to thank for helping to spread the word about other, clever ways to identify spam:

In the meantime, keep building up those Local Guide levels, keep suggesting edits, keep filling out Google’s “Business Redressal Complaint Form,” keep reporting spam to GMB Twitter and Facebook and stay positive.

I still have faith that one day, once Google realize that the issue is damaging trust in their products (and, obviously, stopping business from advertising with them), they’ll invest in far better technology to finally #StopCrapOnTheMap.

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How lucrative is local search? /how-lucrative-is-local-search-312474 Wed, 20 Feb 2019 13:00:01 +0000 /?p=312474 A new report finds that while junior SEOs spend the most time on day-to-day SEO, senior staff need to keep their skills sharp so their agencies and businesses run successfully.

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As online marketing for local businesses has grown ever more sophisticated and complex, the need for external, experienced professionals to provide it as a service has also developed. Of course, local marketing requirements of different business types can vary massively: a restaurant chain is unlikely to have to deal with Google My Business spam, just as a single-location retail store has far more control over its online reputation than businesses with multiple locations.

Marketing agencies and freelancers, in particular, have had to adapt their services and their marketing messaging to ensure they’re capturing the right kinds of leads suited to their expertise, without inadvertently closing doors that could lead to fruitful partnerships.

This dynamism and variety inherent in local business marketing mean that we can’t always know exactly what we mean when we talk about it, but my company BrightLocal tries to resolve this every year with a comprehensive survey taking a bird’s eye view of what’s going on, called the Local Search Industry Survey. This survey was open worldwide, but the vast majority of respondents were based in the U.S.

This report looks at the tasks performed, salaries earned, revenue generated, clients served (and much more) of people working in local search, but exclusive to this column I’d like to present data on how these data points differ when split down lines of seniority. As you’ll see below, the experiences of Junior, Mid-level, and Senior SEOs don’t differ quite as much as you think (except for where it really matters, of course: the wallet).

On average, senior SEO professionals earn more than twice that of their junior counterparts

The local search industry follows the worldwide trend of senior executive (founder/C-suite) pay vastly outstripping the pay of, well, pretty much everyone else. They earn nearly $50k more than their mid-level (director/lead) equivalents and more than twice their juniors (account managers/project manager), while mid-level SEOs earn just above the 2017 median US household income every year. Although this question was only asked to people working in agencies, the differentiation is likely fairly representative of the industry as a whole, although the salary might not be.

This would suggest that mobility between ranks in marketing agencies is far easier from Junior to Mid-level than from Mid-level to Senior. In many cases, to be in the Senior level at an agency, you’d need to have found it in the first case. This is true of smaller agencies, though the larger size of C-suite in more prominent agencies is bound to come with more potential from promotion within.

If you’re not already at a Senior level, you’ll be wanting to move up in the world, but what skill will you need to develop to do that? Let’s take a look at the kinds of tasks each of these three levels of employee/employer get up to.

Which core tasks does the local search industry perform?

While this chart certainly gives us some idea of which tasks are more commonly requested by clients, the seniority split gives us a clear picture of which services are inescapable, no matter your pay grade, and which are more niche. Respondents were asked to tick all that applied to their role.

Top Five Tasks for Junior SEOs

  1. SEO audits/analysis (95 percent of junior SEOs said they performed this task)
  2. Citation management (95 percent
  3. Reporting/analytics (95 percent)
  4. Google My Business optimization
  5. Content creation

Top Five Tasks for Mid-level SEOs

  1. Reporting/analytics (96 percent)
  2. Competitor research (96 percent)
  3. Content creation (93 percent)
  4. Reputation management (93 percent)
  5. On-site optimization (93 percent)

Top Five Tasks for Senior SEOs

  1. New business development (97 percent)
  2. Client management (96 percent)
  3. On-site optimization (96 percent)
  4. SEO audits/analysis (95 percent)
  5. Reporting/analytics (94 percent)

As you can see, performing and understanding SEO audits remains a key skill the further up the SEO ladder you climb, while some less complex tasks citation management are naturally the sole preserve of SEO juniors.

Are you struggling to break through to the C-suite in your current company, or looking to move up a rung in a different business? The results suggest that strong client management and business development skills are crucial. Once you have the full gamut of SEO skills under your belt, you will of course then be more suited to selling the benefits of this work to potential clients.

Meanwhile, junior SEOs would be wise to start brushing up on their reputation management and competitor research skills if they’re looking for that promotion. The former, in particular, is of growing importance to local marketing and so developing this discipline is a wise move for anyone working with local businesses.

Senior SEOs do far less SEO than their staff

It’s the age-old situation: the baker who starts a bread company probably never needs to bake bread again. And so it is with local SEO, though not quite at such a severe degree. As you can see, junior SEOs spend the lion’s share of their time each week on day-to-day SEO, while more senior staff spend significantly less.

However, it’s worth noting that this is still a high level of SEO work from the senior level. It just goes to show that it doesn’t pay to get left behind in local SEO, so even those at the top have to get their hands dirty to keep their skills sharp and run successful agencies and businesses.

Junior local SEO staff handle an average of 23 clients

What this tells us is that the less complex or less risky SEO tasks performed by junior-level SEO staff can be performed en masse for a large selection of clients, while the kind of work performed at the C-suite level requires the sort of attention that can’t be split across dozens of clients.

If you’re a junior or mid-level SEO, you can look forward to your future career involving more client management work but for fewer clients. As we’ve seen above, new business development is a big part of the senior SEO’s day, so it’s only natural for the continued relationship management to site predominantly with them.

This is actually really good to see, as many local businesses worry that, when working with agencies, they get the white-glove treatment from CEOs and sales teams, only to be handed to a junior member of staff and never spoken to by the top brass again. Client relationships and client success is still clearly a huge priority for SEOs across the board.

Conclusion

What this data provides is a picture of incredibly hard-working junior SEO staff, who perform some of the more mundane SEO tasks regularly, and for a far larger selection of clients than their superiors.

At the other end, seniors focus more on building the business, generating new leads and developing client relationships than getting their hands dirty, though they still definitely keep practicing SEO to keep from getting rusty. This is particularly important in local SEO, as with its reliance on Google My Business, it’s slightly more at the immediate whim of Google than other forms of website-oriented SEO.

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Do men and women value online reviews differently? /do-men-and-women-value-online-reviews-differently-309485 Fri, 14 Dec 2018 14:15:24 +0000 /?p=309485 New research suggests there is an opportunity for businesses to get ahead of their competitors by generating reviews from their female customers.

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If you’ve read any of my pieces before, you’ll know that I’m an avid advocate for reputation management and the power of online reviews for local businesses. Today, I’m not here to bang that particular drum but to take a deeper look into how gender can play a role in consumers’ behaviors around online reviews.

My company, BrightLocal, recently released its annual Local Consumer Review Survey, which polls a representative sample of 1,000 US consumers on how they use online reviews. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it always garners a lot of interest and commentary, but for the first time we have analyzed the age and gender splits in the responses to the survey questions.

If you’re interested in the generational splits, you’ll find them over on the main research piece, but what I’d like to share exclusively with my Search Engine Land readers today is how men and women differ in their attitude to, and experiences with, online reviews.

Before I go ahead, I’d just like to assert my belief that gender exists on a spectrum, but for this study, we grouped those who identified themselves as male or female in their survey responses.

So without further ado, let’s get on to the results!

37 percent of men make it their business to always check online reviews

bar chart

Going into this study, we had no preconceived notions about how different genders might use online reviews, but what we discovered were some very marked differences in behaviors.

To start with, while a similar proportion of men and women said they “regularly” read reviews for online businesses, there’s a large gap between the men and women who “always” read online reviews for businesses.

As you can see above, 37 percent of men said they always read online reviews for businesses, but a comparatively small proportion of women (15 percent) do the same, preferring instead to “occasionally” read online reviews.

This means that if your customer base is skewed to the male side, it’s very important to be investing time and effort into securing high-scoring reviews. Star rating isn’t the only thing to focus on, though, as our original survey reports that a huge 40 percent of consumers don’t pay attention to reviews over two weeks old.

While it’s not my place to offer conjecture based on stereotypes, it is possible that the nature of goods and services purchased from local businesses by men, and their attitude towards shopping, affects how seriously they take a business’ reputation. Conversely, our survey suggests that women don’t seem to be quite as thorough in their research, something that’s potentially impacted by the age-old “impulse buy.”.

44 percent of women have never been asked to leave an online review for a business

bar chart

I appreciate that the above chart does show that the majority of respondents have been asked to leave a business review, but the real shocker here is the difference between men’s and women’s experiences.

While only a quarter of men have never been asked, a significant 44 percent of women haven’t either. Whether this is down to staff finding men more approachable than women when it comes to collecting reviews is a matter for a more detailed study, but the numbers certainly suggest something is hindering the growth of reviews left by women.

The other thing to note here is the difference between the numbers of men and women choosing to leave a review when asked. More than half of the all the male consumers polled left a review when asked to, showing their willingness to provide feedback, whereas a smaller (though no less significant) proportion of women respond favorably to a review request.

What’s the takeaway here? Make sure you or your clients’ staff are, if possible, asking fairly equal numbers of men and women for reviews. If the above chart is to be believed, 37 percent of those women you’re not asking for reviews present a large missed opportunity, as that’s the proportion who are open to leaving business reviews.

37 percent of men always read businesses’ responses to reviews

The latest Moz Local Search Ranking Factors Survey shows that experts believe in the growing influence of reviews on local pack rankings, as review signals have seen a 2 percent boost in that survey, year on year. There’s also a lot of speculation around whether responding to reviews helps to boost local search rankings (as well as the obvious benefit that comes with showing your business cares).

As part of Moz’s survey, Ben Fisher noted that, “reviews (along with an owner’s response) show that consumers trust a business, and trust is a foundational factor in ranking,” and I firmly agree. Responding to reviews, especially recent ones, shows that your business is alive, and I’d go as far as assuming search engines take this vitality into account when ranking businesses.

Think you’ve seen this chart before? I don’t blame you! The results are remarkably similar to the question, “Do you read online reviews for businesses?” at the top of this article. And that’s not down to the same people answering in the same way. In fact, this question was only asked to the 84 percent of respondents who told us they do read online reviews for businesses.

It’s important to a large majority of consumers that businesses respond to their online reviews, but interestingly, men are far more concerned with this practice than women, with 37 percent of male respondents saying they always read review responses.

63 percent of women believe that negative reviews require responses, but more men feel responses to positive reviews are important

bar chart

This is the first time we’ve asked questions about responding to reviews in the Local Consumer Review Survey, so it was particularly interesting to dive into this untapped well of consumer opinion.

When it comes to the types of responses consumers feel businesses should respond to, you might be surprised to hear that 30 percent (men and women combined) say fake reviews should get responses. And when we slice the data by gender, we see an interesting pattern of men thinking positive reviews are more important to respond to (58 percent) than negative ones, and women feeling that negative review responses (63 percent) are more important.

Conclusion

So what can you do with all this data? Well, first of all, I’d say that any local business that caters very firmly to men should be developing a particularly strong focus on their reputation management and review growth strategies. Men not only value the reviews themselves but also their responses.

If you’re working with businesses for whom a female audience is key, then I’d recommend ensuring your strategy involves asking for more reviews, whether that’s by email, a sign at the point of sale or in person after the customer experience. Our research shows that there’s an opportunity here for businesses to get ahead of their competitors by generating reviews from their female customers.

Other than that, I certainly don’t feel you should be treating men and women differently when it comes to asking for or responding to reviews. After all, the most successful reputation management strategies are often the smoothest and simplest!

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What should service area businesses be focusing on in search? /what-should-service-area-businesses-be-focusing-on-in-search-308295 Mon, 19 Nov 2018 12:30:10 +0000 /?p=308295 Here's some guidance for businesses to take advantage of a recent change in Google My Business to submit exact regions of operation rather than by address and radius.

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google my business web page

Ranking in local search ultimately comes down to three key areas: prominence, relevance and proximity. These factors tend to affect all local businesses in relatively the same way. But for businesses who deliver their services directly to their customers, like plumbers, house painters and exterminators, local search can be a very different game.

These “service area businesses” may or may not have a physical business address from which they can receive customers and those who don’t have struggled to define what Google calls a “service area” accurately.

They were initially asked to define their address and then state the radius around it in which they can do their work. However, a recent change in Google My Business now allows service area businesses to hide their addresses and instead submit the exact regions, cities or ZIP codes they can operate in.

This highlights just one way in which the search experience between service area businesses and other local businesses differs, and shows that Google has a good understanding of how the experience should match the differing searcher intent.

Another big difference is the appearance, in parts of the US at least, of local services ads in Google SERPs for service area businesses. This ad type is unique in a few ways:

  • It’s not just only available in a few particular industries, but it’s only available in select cities in the US. This feature is still very much in the testing phase.
  • Local services ads come with a “Google Guarantee,” a badge that’s the result of a paid-for relationship with Google in which businesses are vetted and Google makes a guarantee of quality service.
  • Clicks on these ads don’t take you to a small business website, or even their Google My Business profile, but a dedicated Google listing tied to the local services ad, as seen below.

Since these ads appear at the very top of SERPs, they can have a profound impact on the breakdown of clicks through a SERP for a service area business. For the rest of this piece, I’ll be looking at what happens to clicks when local services ads are present and provide some guidance for service area businesses looking to understand and take advantage of this new rule in the local search game.

Do people click on local services ads?

A recent, large-scale research piece from my company BrightLocal shows that 13.8 percent of people click on local services ads when performing searches for service area businesses like painters, locksmiths and garage door contractors. We also looked at what the click breakdown looked like when local services ads aren’t present on SERPs, to compare.

research results chart

As you can see in the chart above, local services ads are taking clicks away from all other parts of the SERP, but some more than others. The biggest loser here is organic search results, which lose almost 7 percent of clicks when searchers see local services ads, much more than the 3 percent impact PPC ads saw.

This comes as a surprise, as I expected that those who tend to trust and click on ads would find another ad to click on, but awareness of ad type is clearly not a factor here.

When we dive into the reasoning provided for these click choices, it’s clear that, for clicks on the Local Pack and PPC ads, whether they were or weren’t ads wasn’t an influential factor. However, when it comes to clicks on organic results, nearly 12 percent of people did so specifically because it’s not an ad.

If we slice the data only by those who clicked on organic results, the case is even stronger, with 25 percent of people saying they chose to click on an organic result because they knew it wasn’t an ad.

This is by no means a case for abandoning pay-to-play in SERPs, but it’s certainly food for thought.

You’ll notice that the most popular reason given for clicking on an organic result was, “Because it’s a list of businesses” (31 percent). In our tests, based on genuine Google SERPs for service area businesses, we found that the majority of the highest-performing links in the organic results went to directories like Yelp, which claimed to show things like “The Best Plumbing in San Francisco.”

What can service area businesses do to get more clickthroughs from SERPs?

With this data in mind, I’d like to suggest some ways in which service area businesses can make increase their chances of getting business from the first page of SERPs.

Get into directories

It’s clear from this study that plenty of people trust the recommendations of directories in SERPs, so it goes without saying that you need to do whatever you can to not only keep your directory listings accurate and up-to-date but to ensure you’re appearing on the more niche directory sites that people use to find service area businesses.

Even if all your hard work doesn’t result in a spot on the first page of SERPs, getting included in a list like “25 Best Plumbers – San Francisco CA” on Homeadvisor is a great way of improving the chances of generating business through SERPs.

Generate more and better reviews

When looking at SERP types in isolation, 51 percent of people who clicked on a Local Pack result did so because of the review rating, and the same percentage clicked on local services ads for this reason.

These figures show that, in the Local Pack and in local services ads (and probably beyond), review ratings have a very important part to play in the decision to click on a service business in search results.

To be able to compete, service area businesses need to generate more and better Google reviews, by requesting reviews via postcard, form, or follow-up email and crucially, delivering an excellent customer service experience in the first place.

Consider purchasing priority placement in the local services space

While any service area business can theoretically appear in “Local Services by Google” (the listings page that appears when you click “More painters in San Francisco,” for example, beneath a local services ad) for the right search term, only those “Google Guaranteed” will have pride of place at the top of the list. More importantly, only Google Guaranteed businesses will be eligible for local services ads.

The verification process can be complex and takes a while, but it’s worth it if you’re looking for the edge over your competitors in a particularly competitive industry or a location packed with similar businesses.

Conclusion

The slow rollout and testing of local services ads and adding the ability to define service areas more specifically both show that Google is investing in making the search experience for people searching for service area businesses much more sophisticated, but it also shows that Google will always find a way to monetize such an opportunity.

Ultimately, the onus is on the service area business owner first and foremost to deliver an excellent customer experience, but once those excellent reviews start rolling in, the potential impact they have on clickthroughs from a variety of SERP types cannot be underestimated. If you’re working with a business like this, it’s time to start thinking about harnessing reputation in as many ways as you can.

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Developing a schema strategy for local business: An interview with Schema App’s Martha van Berkel /developing-a-schema-strategy-for-local-business-an-interview-with-schema-apps-martha-van-berkel-306721 Tue, 16 Oct 2018 18:29:00 +0000 /?p=306721 Semantic markup offers the most clear-cut opportunity to tell search engines about your small business website. Discover the benefits and learn how you can get started.

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Jamie Pitman: Martha, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. I’ve been a big fan of what you folks do over at Schema App! I’m looking forward to picking your brains on the various ways local businesses can make their websites more schema-savvy.

First up, could you just give us a quick overview of what schema is and why it’s so important right now?

Martha Van Berkel: Hi Jamie, happy to! Schema markup is code that digital marketers can add to their websites in order to help Google, Siri, Amazon and other machines understand the content on the page explicitly. It’s based on a standard language called schema.org, which was created back in 2011 by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex.

As consumers, we experience the results of schema markup when we see star ratings or prices in search results, get very specific results to our query, or get answers from a Google Search Assistant or Alexa.

I see it as a particularly strategic digital strategy because it puts control in the hands of the marketer to define their content explicitly so it’s understood how they want it understood. It also allows them to explain how one element of their business relates to other things on their website or the web.

Jamie: I think that’s an important thing to point out: what we as consumers experience from the implementation of schema. It’s all very well implementing it for the sake of pleasing search engines, but, as with everything SEO, we should always consider the end user’s experience. However, the wrinkle with schema is that search engines only document some rich features in search, although we have seen the list of features displayed in search growing immensely. So perhaps it makes sense to satisfy them first.

Martha: Let’s talk about satisfying search engines. Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex created schema.org in 2011 and they created 800+ classes. Classes are all the things you can describe with schema markup, like “LocalBusiness”, “Event” and “Person”.

Today, Google lists over 26+ features in search, while Bing lists nine features. Why would they invest the time and money to define more than 800 classes if they were only going to use 26 of them? Seems weird, right?

Schema markup is clever in that the search engines have made it the job of digital marketers to translate their content to make the search engines’ jobs easier. If it makes their job easier, they’re probably using it, right?

Jamie: Would you say it makes sense to add schema absolutely everywhere you can on your site, so you’re ahead of the pack when search engines start to use some of the more esoteric schema tags in features, or would you recommend a more incremental approach, focusing on key tags first?

Martha: Keeping in mind that schema markup helps understanding, I suggest thinking about schema markup as a strategy for helping the right customers find the right content on your website so that they’ll want to engage or buy from you. So with that in mind, I recommend you think of your schema markup strategy in the following way:

Start by asking, “What is strategic or important or unique about my business? What information do my customers need to find about my business?” Make a list of these key topics. They might include your company, contact information, services, products, founders, white papers, or articles on specific topics.

When you have the list, then ask, “Where on the website is this information listed? Is there a primary page where we talk about this?” If there is a page (and often during this exercise we discover there is no one page), then that’s the page you should optimize with schema markup [or create from scratch].

Jamie: That’s a really interesting exercise that nicely doubles up as a kind of business and content evaluation task. I can imagine the key stakeholders sitting around discussing what’s most important about their business and the direction it should go in, and a sneaky SEO jotting down all the notes to use for their schema markup strategy.

So once this list is put together, what’s next?

Martha: Next, review the long list of Google Features I mentioned and identify which ones you could qualify for. Figure out what pages you talk about this content on or what pages you would need to add this content to in order to get the feature.

For example, if you wanted to get the review rich result for a service you offer, you would need to have a page that talks about that service, and then show reviews that are about the service displayed on the page.

This approach means that the most important things about your business are understood, and that you’re getting the most benefit from Google’s search features. 

Jamie: That’s a great overview; thanks, Martha. So it’s important to research the featured snippets you actually have a chance of getting before adding tagging on the relevant pages, rather than simply “feature hunting” and over-tagging without a plan. This approach also allows you to test performance of tagging more rigorously.

Are there any other best practices you should follow with regards to schema markup that you’d say most don’t know about?

Martha: I was recently talking with Dan Brickley at Google, and, in our conversation, I explained how we help customers build knowledge graphs, not schema code. His response to this was that he wishes more people did this. A similar comment was made by Steve Macbeth, Microsoft’s executive sponsor for schema.org. He said that if there’s one thing you should do, it’s to make your schema markup semantic, or connected.

The Schema gurus at Google and Microsoft

Let me first define what I mean by a knowledge graph. A lot of people think of the knowledge graph as the knowledge panel that appears in search results. This is actually a featured snippet, as a result of a knowledge graph.

The knowledge graph is what powers search; it’s the connective tissue that explains what something is, but also how it relates to something else on the web. For example, if I were to describe our company, Schema App, I could say that it is owned by Hunch Manifest (defined on its homepage), it’s located in Guelph, Ontario, Canada (defined on Wikipedia), and has the co-founder Martha van Berkel (who is the same Martha van Berkel as on LinkedIn).

I could make the same statement and not connect those pieces of information and it would be less clear, and therefore harder to understand explicitly. Google has a great video about their knowledge graph that I’d recommend watching.

Jamie: It sounds like understanding the broad concepts of search (the interconnectedness of “things”) is pretty crucial to succeeding with schema. I like the need to take a long view of it all before getting down to details. How does this work in practice?

Martha: Well, it makes sense that when people create their schema markup, they’ll want to connect the “thing” they’re describing to other “things” on their website and the overall web. Let’s look at this from some Local Business examples.

Let’s say we own a chiropractic company that has three locations. The location on Main Street is the Headquarters and the other two locations are on Side Street and Second Street. On the page that primarily speaks about the Headquarters on Main Street, I would add schema markup for “LocalBusiness,” and I would be sure to use the property “subOrganization” to define the relationship to the locations on Side Street and Second Street.

I would also include the property “areaServed” and link to the cities, neighborhoods, counties in Wikipedia that those locations serve. Finally, if there were specific products or services that this chiropractor offers, then I’d want to make sure that our Services and Product pages have schema markup and offers, and that the appropriate location is listed as the provider.

Jamie: Are there any tools available to help us make sense of how these facts or elements of our local business are current connected and how they should be?

Martha: There is a handy free tool our company developed called Schema Paths that can help you figure out how things are related and can be connected. This tool was created by Mark van Berkel, the creator of Schema App, because he got really tired of reading schema.org and trying to figure out relationships between different pages. Within Schema Paths, you can pick two things you want to relate and it will tell you what properties are available to relate those things.

For example, if you had a local business homepage or landing page with a video on it, you would want to link the two. In the example I’ve shared below, it looks like you can link them both ways: the LocalBusiness would link to the video in the property “subject of”, and the “VideoObject” would link to the “LocalBusiness” in the property “about”.

If you want to have fun, you can even ask it funny questions, like how do you relate a gas station to a volcano? I think this is a good example of how this concept isn’t specific to certain parts of the web, and can be used to connect and organize pretty much everything in the world!

In fact, if you’re struggling to understand schema, you’d do well to play with this tool with random “things” to start to learn how things can be connected on a broader level.

Jamie: Haha! So it’s the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” that you can learn from! Nice.

Just to finish up, what would you say are the main advantages of a local business implementing schema today?

Martha: By doing your schema markup properly, by building a knowledge graph of your company’s content, you’re taking control of how your content is truly understood and defining it explicitly for all consumers, as well as creating a data layer you can reuse in other ways. This helps you future-proof your content and data for the next consumer, and for what comes after Google and Alexa.

Jamie: Thanks Martha, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you. I’ve learned a lot that I’ll definitely be taking back to my own website, and there’s a lot here for local business owners and local SEO marketers to chew on.

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How the hospitality industry should approach online reviews and citations /how-the-hospitality-industry-should-approach-online-reviews-and-citations-305374 Fri, 14 Sep 2018 15:17:00 +0000 /?p=305374 Looking for more positive reviews? Here are some smart ways to build citations and reviews plus tips to boost the visibility of businesses in the hospitality sector.

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We all know that when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), every industry has its quirks but the restaurant and hospitality industry are very much their own beast.

Potential customers can get almost everything they need to make a purchase decision from Google Maps, Google Reviews, Yelp and other review sites like TripAdvisor for these two industries. This makes working with citations and reviews particularly important for places like restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, pubs, cafés, and bars. Today I’ll be talking about some recent research that highlights just how seriously businesses in this industry take citations and reviews and offering some guidance on how to benchmark your business against competitors and take the lead in this field.

A numbers game

In a recent  SEO citations study conducted by BrightLocal (my company), we analyzed citations and local rankings data for over 120,000 local businesses across 26 different industries. In a never-before-seen data slice, we’ve grouped together what we’re calling ‘hospitality’ businesses (hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, cafés, pubs, and hotels)—11,655 businesses in total—and looked at how many citations the businesses ranking top in the local pack have.

We found the average local business in position one has 86 citations.  What you see above shows how seriously this industry takes business listings and directories.  The average hospitality business in position one has 127 citations (that’s an incredible 48 percent more than the average local business, percentage fans!)

I would by no means attempt to draw causation from these figures, as many other factors can affect local rankings, but there’s a fairly undeniable correlation shown here between how many citations you have and your local pack ranking.

My estimation for this industry, in particular, is the number of citations you have is a strong indicator of how seriously you take your local SEO. Those that build large swathes of citations across the huge amount of food and accommodation directories available will be investing in many other areas including reputation management, local link building, public relations and on-site optimization which lead to higher local pack rankings.

Approach

With so many listings sites available for hotels and restaurants (especially compared to more niche industries like law and medicine), it makes sense that business owners want to be seen in as many online spots as possible. Not only are consistent and numerous citations still considered a small ranking factor, but these types of listings sites are very popular with the public.  Your online visibility is impacted by your appearance in them.

But before you go building as many citations as possible for your hospitality business, bear in mind that quality is generally considered more important than quantity. It’s important to make sure the hospitality citations you build are consistent and include as much accurate information for potential customers and search engines alike as possible.

For starters, it’s critical your name, address, phone number and website URL (NAPW) are exactly the same (or as close as possible) across all citations. Incorrect information has been shown to severely impact trust in businesses, particularly those with brick-and-mortar locations so you need to make sure that any change to NAPW is made on every citation you have.

You also need to ensure you don’t just add your business to any old citation site. Relevance is a key local ranking factor so it’s important you limit your participation to relevant sites in your industry or local area. In reality, this advice should apply to every industry, not just hospitality!

Rich business listings

Today, hospitality business listings are no longer solely made up of name, address and phone number (NAP). They can include photography (both by business and customer), consumer reviews, video, menu examples, attributes and much more.  As a result, it’s a very good idea to add as much detail as possible into these listings.

In the case of Google My Business (GMB) listings, a large proportion of consumers won’t visit your finely-crafted and expertly optimized website and will make their decision based purely on what they see in your listings. Which is why your GMB listing needs to give the best first impression possible.

You can control some of what’s in the listing. The images you upload, the descriptions you write and the categories you select will all have an impact. But possibly more impactful are the things you can’t control like user-generated photography and consumer reviews. As trust moves away from businesses and into the hands of peers, ensuring your customer experience is excellent so happy customers leave great feedback and photos is now critical.

How to generate and manage reviews

If good reviews are such an important factor to the off and online productivity of a hospitality business, how do you get them?  Here are a few tips to get you started on the road to a five-star hospitality business.

1. Genuinely provide an excellent service. No amount of fake reviews or competitor character assassination will reverse the effects of a lousy customer experience. If you’re delivering a shoddy experience, your reviews will reflect that, so don’t start investing time and money in getting customer feedback unless you’re confident that feedback will be positive.

2. It’s okay to ask for reviews, but be careful of where and how. By all means, include links to key review sites in your emails, on postcards and on the premises, but bear in mind that different sites have their own restrictions and they’ll come down hard if you abuse them.

Yelp, for example, doesn’t allow ‘solicited reviews’, and Google’s guidelines state that you can’t only ask people who had a positive experience for a review.

3. Ask for specific words to be included in the review. It’s believed that the inclusion of relevant keywords in reviews can boost your business’ relevance signals and improve local pack rankings, so don’t be afraid to be up-front and ask customers to include certain keywords. How you do this is up to you, though. You could be as bold as saying ‘Please use X word when leaving your reviews’ or as low-key as asking ‘How would you rate our organic coffee?’ or ‘Did you think our dog-friendly restaurant was fun?’

4. Always respond to reviews, even if you think they’re fake. While I’d recommend you get fake reviews removed, you won’t be able to get all of them taken down.  Instead of not answering, leave a polite basic reply, that way there will not be blank space where your response should be. Even if it’s simple and non-committal, the fact you’ve left a response shows readers the kind of business they’re dealing with and gives you an opportunity to reveal and boost the personality behind your brand.

5. Make your Instagram handle public and visible. For restaurants, Instagram is superseding TripAdvisor as a source of restaurant reviews, according to top TripAdvisor contributors:

I recommend making your Instagram handle easy to find on the listing. A typical search for a business on Instagram will lead to photos, comments (which sometimes feel more honest than reviews) and happy faces, which you can’t beat for authenticity. And the fact someone’s been willing to share a photo of their experience on Instagram is a tacit endorsement of your business.

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Rebranding your local business? Don’t start without reading these tips /rebranding-your-local-business-dont-start-without-reading-these-tips-302859 Wed, 01 Aug 2018 15:01:00 +0000 /?p=302859 Rebranding an established business is not easy, says contributor Jamie Pitman, especially for small businesses. Here are 6 marketing and local search tips to help make the process a success.

The post Rebranding your local business? Don’t start without reading these tips appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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There’s a whole host of reasons why you’d want to rebrand your local business:

  • Your product and service offering might be outgrowing your name and website.
  • You might have found a new location close to the center of town.
  • You feel a facelift might revitalize a flagging business.

Whatever your reasons, they must be good given the work it takes to rebrand. It may be the biggest and highest-risk challenge you’ve ever faced. Tone of voice, website design, color scheme, logos, directory listings, and sales process may all need to change at once. It’s not an easy or quick switch.

Interest in a local businesses rebranding isn’t the same as big brands, so you can kiss that viral piece on the evolution of your brand goodbye.  Unlike Pepsi or other big brands, there is a high likelihood few will notice a logo change from a small business.

Small businesses don’t have access to a multi-million dollar branding and communications strategy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make a true impact on the bottom line with a thoroughly researched and well-executed rebrand.

I’m going to go through a few key marketing points and steps to take if you’re considering or in the process of rebranding a local business.  While I will be providing insights on the less technical, more strategic side of things, I have included a link that explains how to migrate your site to a new domain.

[Read the full article on Marketing Land]

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Practice useful marketing for local business content success /practice-useful-marketing-for-local-business-content-success-300397 Fri, 22 Jun 2018 13:47:00 +0000 /?p=300397 As a small business owner, you fight big brands and a ranking system that favors them. How can you compete? Contributor Jamie Pitman shares 3 tactics to take on the competition by using smart and useful content.

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At every search conference, you hear the same click-bait question: “Is SEO dead?”

The short answer is “no,” and the longer answer is still “no,” it’s just changing. Maybe the term search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t really a good way to describe the wealth of practices and factors it encompasses anymore.

I’m convinced we’ll soon start to hear “Has content marketing been dethroned?” The argument for this, while still designed to get heads turning and tongues wagging, is particularly relevant for local businesses in the search world of 2018. As Google more firmly fits itself into the divide between a searcher and local business websites with featured snippets and the like, a more fitting question would be “Is there any point in local businesses doing content marketing?”

I’m here to tell you “Yes, it absolutely is,” and also share tips on:

  • What to focus on with content marketing for local business.
  • How it can help rankings and engagement.
  • How to get great results on short time frames and even smaller budgets, which is critical for smaller SEO agencies.

Ready to place that crown back on content marketing’s head? Let’s go!

Do local businesses need blogs?

According to a poll of SEOs conducted earlier this year by my company, BrightLocal, 68 percent believed that local businesses still needed to have a blog in 2018.

Sure, the figure is over half the people polled, but it’s still surprisingly low considering how many respondents are likely to be blogging for local businesses themselves. Interestingly, 98 percent of respondents believed that local business blogs should be updated at least once per month.

I would argue that what we used to call a “blog” is now just a big old bucket of content that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else on the site. This term is still relevant for many companies (and, of course, for bloggers), but I’m not sure it fits the kind of content local businesses are likely to see the most success with.

Ask yourself this: Is anyone going to link to your local restaurant’s blog about its new oven? Is anyone going to search for, click through and read a legal office’s post about a new hire? Not likely. This kind of “newsy” stuff has its place, and it used to be in the blog, but no more.

So, what should replace the local business blog? You need something that’s going to trigger those all-important relevance and prominence factors in local search. Without content, how are you going to rank locally? Let’s look at the kind of content marketing that really works for local businesses.

Useful resources

No matter the size of the brand, every local business is exactly that: local. It’s playing in a reasonably small ballpark with a couple of handfuls of competitors at most. And what do visitors to new cities and neighborhoods want to find out online? Information about the place they’re visiting!

Creating evergreen or event-specific resources that serve a proven search need is an excellent way to win traffic to your site. Even better, this is the kind of stuff that gets continually linked to, even if it’s not 100 percent relevant to your niche.

Ever searched for some local information, found a list of “Ten Best Places to Eat In…,” and then asked yourself why there’s an attorney’s logo in the top-left corner? This is why.

Some ideas for useful resources:

  • Attractively designed calendar of local events (conferences, meetups, concerts, festivals, sports games and so on).
  • Lists of the best things for families to do in your local area (attractions, kid-friendly places to eat, parks and so on).
  • Lists of best things to do tailored to visitors to a specific event (sports, bars and hotels, art show, galleries and so on).
  • Extra information for visitors to an event (If the event hosts aren’t doing a great job of collating all event information in one place, go one better and write it all up yourself).

These resources are great bait for links. With a bit of outreach, and provided there’s not too much competition, you can find they can become the de facto piece of content for these kinds of searches. The best part is that they take very little effort and time to put together.

If you’re working with a multilocation giant wanting to play the local game, encourage them to put this sort of content into a local content silo for best results.

Useful how-to guides

Creating “how-to” content that sits under your “resources” tab is a great way of feeding the beast that is Google featured snippets. Success here will result in many more eyes on your brand.

Featured snippets come mostly as answers to questions, so what you need to do is answer them better than your competitors and in a format that’s structured up with schema so they’re voice search-friendly.

One advantage that smaller local businesses have over big brands is their ability to move quickly and try new things. In a recent webinar my company hosted, guest Matthew Hunt summed this concept up brilliantly by saying:

It’s the difference between trying to steer a cruise ship and steering a motorboat. The cruise ship is the big brand and you’re trying to dock it and you’re off course. There’s nothing you can do. It’s just going to crash. There are so many things in red tape that you need to do that it just keeps moving and it’s very hard to turn. But the benefit of working with a small business is this: it’s more like a speedboat. You can literally pivot at any time.

While your big-brand competitor is fretting about the design choices of their how-to guides and the production values of the video guide, you can grab a camera and make a video showing how to fix a garage door mechanism in minutes.

During the time it takes your competitor to wonder if this kind of content dilutes the brand, you’re transcribing the video and turning it into a simple, schema-filled bullet point list.

And while the big competitor starts drawing up a list of video production companies to talk with, you’ve hit publish and BOOM, the featured snippet is yours. Rinse and repeat for a multitude of well-researched, niche-relevant, question-based search terms and you’ll be swimming in visits, links, and even (if you pay attention to what I’ve got to say below) YouTube subscribers.

Useful videos

We’ve all heard the mantra of video being the fastest-growing form of content, but what has happened a second after that announcement is the flooding of thousands of videos into YouTube by unimaginative marketers.

Google’s video platform seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis this year, not knowing how to (or whether to) pay creators, not knowing how to punish bad actors trying to game the system with artificial intelligence (AI) generated content, and not knowing when to just say good riddance to Logan Paul (in this author’s humble opinion, at least).

So out went subscribers and views as ranking factors, and in came what YouTube calls “Watch Time.” Confusingly, this isn’t the amount of time people have spent watching your videos; instead, it’s the average length of time a visitor watching your video stays on YouTube.

Yes, you read that correctly: In order to rank on YouTube and for your YouTube video to rank with a snippet in Google search, you need to figure out how to keep people on YouTube for the longest time possible. Here are some tips on getting people to stay on YouTube once they’ve seen your video:

• Upload good video only. Only upload good videos that answer a question and are relevant to the video title, because videos that make people switch off are YouTube poison.

By “good” I don’t mean “high quality,” I mean “useful and informative.” It’s out with the professionally shot video clip of your new office and in with the short overview of what to do first if your spouse has filed for divorce.

• Make longer videos. Plan longer series of short videos and split them up into clearly numbered parts, so that a viewer watching Part 1 will be compelled to stick with Part 2, as they’ll feel there’s more information to come.

Viewers who watch Parts 1 and 2 tend to stick around for Parts 3 to 10 and beyond, and YouTube will reward your channel for keeping them around. Segmenting video content into shorter but more numerous clips is far more likely to generate Watch time than a single 30-minute clip.

• Create previews. Make sure you include previews of and embedded links to your next (or most relevant) videos in your YouTube clip end screens. People are lazy and want to be told what to watch next.

• Create playlists. Sort your video series into playlists to make it easier for YouTube to know what to automatically show the viewer next. This also makes navigating your content on your YouTube channel page easier for viewers.

• Here’s a crazy Watch Time-improving trick that will blow your mind! Create playlists featuring anyone’s YouTube content, and it’ll still affect your Watch Time if people stick around to watch it after your clip!

Even if you create just one amazing clip that starts to get views, you can build out a playlist of the best content on a particular subject and put yours at the start. After all, what YouTube cares about most is the clip that brought the visitor to YouTube in the first place.

Conclusion

Blogging may no longer be vital for small businesses, but much like “SEO,” maybe “blogging” isn’t the right word for it anymore. The process is the same, and it’s quicker and cheaper to do for local businesses than ever before.

Find out what it is people want to know. Create useful content specific to your niche or location. Get it out in the wild via outreach, social sharing and Google My Business Posts. Monitor performance, rinse, repeat and bask in the glory of more links, more traffic and better rankings.

The post Practice useful marketing for local business content success appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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