Why Local SEO Does Not End with Google Places

by on August 23, 2011 · 20 comments

It is not a secret that recently the usage of paper yellow pages has decreased, while the IYPs (Internet Yellow Pages) traffic increases daily. Having a strong Internet marketing strategy is now a must for the survival of every small- or medium-sized business.

Google Places is becoming one of the most important parts of this mix, and is vital from local search point of view. Every day more than half a million local internet searches are performed via Google. Therefore, knowing how to climb up in the local search rankings means knowing how to greatly increase one’s business visibility online.

Contrary to the popular belief simply creating a Google Places listing does not automatically mean that your phone will start ringing off the hook a few days later. Let’s look at the two examples of how local SEO is often presented online, and what it actually is.

Case A: Popular explanation on how to optimize Google Places (usually equalized to local SEO):

1. Create a Place page (or claim an already existing one that was created automatically by Google).
2. Use your exact business information, especially business name, address and phone number.
3. Choose 5 relevant categories (one must be a Google suggestion).
4. Set your area of service.
5. Write a nice description.
6. Upload 10 photos and 5 videos.
7. Fill in your profile 100%.
8. Get good reviews on Google Places from happy customers.

While all of these are very correct (except the greyed ones, which I will comment on later) they cover only the basics and will not help you much in getting to the first page. Furthermore, Google Places is not equal to local SEO, so there are other things you should be looking for.

Case B: What actually should be done to make your business visible for local customers:

1) Google Places optimization

The basics of Google Places optimization were covered by Case A.

Setting the area of service – although Google is recommending this option for businesses servicing particular area rather than welcoming clients at an establishment (such as electricians, plumbers, movers), there has been frequent rumors in the recent past of the Service Area set causing severe problems with getting higher ranking.

Filling in the profile 100% – previously this was considered an important ranking factor, but according to the recent Local Search Ranking Factors issue, it has minor to no effect on the organic position of a listing;

Getting good reviews – surprisingly (or not) people do not like businesses with tens of 5-star reviews, and no negative ones; getting a negative or mediocre review from time to time could actually make the business listing look more trustworthy, plus negative and positive reviews have the same positive effect on the search rankings.

2) Local search engine optimization (local SEO)

SEO has been one of the most important elements of online marketing for the past 15 years. As the search engines are going towards personalization of results, local search is becoming THE target of SEO. This is especially valid in the case of SMBs, whose main clients segment are normally the nearby residents. Although local SEO’s principals are similar to the organic one’s,  there are some specifics:

– targeting keywords with location marker, for instance “Chinese food San Diego” or “florist Manhattan”
– getting linked to by local/niche specific websites, i.e. an allergist from Columbus would have greatest benefits if he gets a link from an article on “allergy treatment in Ohio” on a medicine-related blog, for example
– making it easy for the users and the search engine crawlers to find your address and local phone number on the website – adding readable format address and phone number on each page of the website (the way they it appears on the respective Place page), marking them up with schema micro-formatting and submitting KML sitemaps
– producing content targeted to local audience – thinking from the viewpoint of the people who would use the information

These would also help the search engines to easily associate the business’s website with its Google Places listing, which would have positive effect on the rankings. In fact, according to many specialists, the website local SEO is the most important ranking factor in the so-called “blended search results” (you could read more about this here).

3) Beyond Google

Everyone in the SMB world is talking about Google and Google Places, often forgetting about what is hidden beyond. There are very important alternatives, which could go easily hand in hand with the optimization for the big G:

A) Bing Business Portal

In April 2011, Bing launched Bing Business Portal – an option that aims to challenge Google’s Places. The tool is still in its beta version, but already has many advantages, which G’s product lacks, including multi-level management, option to choose the relative importance between different specialties set in the profile, thus  making ones more important than others, better structure of the Additional Details section, and others. As Bing powered search (Bing.com + Yahoo.com mainly) has currently a share of about 33% of the overall search, Bing Business Portal is a must to look at for every small business owner (currently it is available only in the US).

B) Review Sites

Reputation management is as important as high rankings. Even though a business ranks on position 1 (or A), this does not necessarily mean higher conversion rate and more customers. People tend to believe more and more in online reviews and this is where the review sites find their place in the mix.

Undoubtedly, in the US the most influential review directory is Yelp. A month ago they announced having the 20-millionth review written and hit 53 unique monthly visitors. However, their “spam filter” is not working properly in many cases, and usually new users’ reviews get filtered out. At the same time, very often negative reviews get stuck forever and the algorithm seems to enjoy seeing them. Yelp has launched websites in other countries in the past 3 years. In August 2008 was announced Yelp.ca, followed by UK and Irish versions. In the past year France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Spain joined the team. I had a confirmation by a Yelp employee that they are planning to expand in Asia in the near future (probably starting with Japan and Korea).

While Yelp is making its first steps in Europe, Qype is already an established review giant in the region. It has country directories for Germany, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. Recently a Brazilian version was launched. They are said to have more than 22 million unique visitors per month, which makes them as important for the European SMBs, as Yelp for the US and Canadian ones.

Other review websites, which get decent traffic and rank high in the local search results include (+ get syndicated by Google Places):

– Generic:

– Specialized:

C) IYP (Internet Yellow Pages)

Many people see listing their business on IYPs nowadays simply as a way to get proper citation, so that they could rank higher in the Google Places ladder. In fact, these directories are themselves a great way to increase the online business exposure. According to recent research, Yellowpages.com has more than 27 million unique monthly visitors, followed by Local.com with 17 million. While these are important mainly for the US market, Superpages, Hotfrog and MerchantCircle have local directories for businesses all around the world. Each country has their specific IYPs which generate great amount of traffic each month. A few examples could be Yell.com in the UK, Truelocal.com.au in Australia, Finda.co.nz in New Zealand, Goldenpages.bg in Bulgaria. Most of these are trusted data providers for Google, similar to Acxiom and Localeze in the US.

D) Social Networks

Social networks can be useful in many ways and every SMB can benefit from them.
The war between Facebook and Google was officially declared with the launch
of Google Plus. It is just a matter of time until Plus for Business starts operating, but while waiting there are other ways to get the best from the social side of search:

Facebook Places and Facebook Pages are two tools not to be missed. With a good Facebook marketing campaign they can become a valuable means of communicating with current and prospective clients, and at the same time beefing up the SEO efforts with social signals (especially valid in the case of Bing);
– Foursquare and Gowalla – these could be especially valuable for businesses operating at a location, such as restaurants and retail stores. Encouraging check-ins means promoting your product to the whole network of friends of each checked in visitor. Furthermore, just recently Google announced that more often recommendations for businesses visited by “people like you” would be seen;
– Blogs – if you are a restaurant, what better way to get a great review and nice link from local and niche websites than inviting a food blogger to your facility
– Forums – participating in the talk and showing your expertise could prove to be a great way to get decent links and build up reputation among the local community. Try finding forums, talking specifically about the problems of your neighborhood, town, city, county or even state.

Conclusion

Google Places is probably the most important tool for each small business around the world nowadays. However, putting your eggs in one basket is a dangerous practice, as history teaches. Diversifying your online local search strategy would bring you more benefits than simply targeting high ranking for your Google Places page.

Do everything reasonably and patiently. Build your reputation profile gradually over time and probably some day you will not really need to care about Google Places at all.

About Nyagoslav

Nyagoslav Zhekov is a local SEO specialist at NGS Marketing. He has worked on websites in English, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Japanese and Bulgarian and has professional Internet marketing background, working at international companies on three continents. His current specialties are local SEO, Google Places optimization and local search marketing. Other articles by Nyagoslav can be found on OptiLocal.org.

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Nyagoslav Zhekov is a <a href="http://www.optilocal.org" target="_blank"local SEO specialist at OptiLocal. He has worked on websites in English, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Japanese and Bulgarian and has professional Internet marketing background, working at international companies on three continents. His current specialties are local SEO, Google Places optimization and local search marketing. Other articles by Nyagoslav can be found on OptiLocal.org.

Nyagoslav has written 1 articles on Expand2Web

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Eileen lonergan August 23, 2011 at 6:50 pm

This article is loaded with fantastic information! I am unfamiliar with schema and KML, thank you for the explanation and links. Also, thank you for the links to the other directories we should be using!

Reply

Nyagoslav August 23, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hey Eileen,

Thanks for the kind words! Unfortunately I did not really focus on the schema.org mark-up and KML specifications and the advantages these two provide, but I hope this will happen in a future article.

The list of directories is also not comprehensive. I rather mentioned the most important ones, which are more than necessary. Only after you have these as a basis, you could proceed with the citation research and building 🙂

Greetings,
Nyagoslav

Reply

Zunaira Karim August 24, 2011 at 5:50 am

Great article, Nyagoslav! You’ve touched base on some awesome points for Local SEO. I think it’s also important to stress on two points 0 being careful with capitalization within your listing and also adding coupons to the listing as well.

Reply

Nyagoslav August 24, 2011 at 8:34 am

Hey Zunaira,

I have actually mentioned the problem with the excessive capitalization on Google Places in an article here: http://goo.gl/H93DN

I did exclude the coupons because I believe their visibility currently is minimal regarding Google Places. Google promised that they will show more features that are currently “buried”, so I hope one of these would be the coupons. They did quite a few changes regarding them in the last few months, so I think they are on to something.

Greetings,
Nyagoslav

Reply

SEO Keith August 31, 2011 at 5:30 pm

In addition to creating “local” content to publish on the website anchor text backlinks that include local terms that point to the local content will make the biggest difference. Getting at least a half dozen or so links to the “deep” content that has local keywords will help in the SERPS.

Another thing to do is to look for other local businesses that have blogs included on their site. Offer a guest post that will include fresh relevant information that their readers, and Google will find relevant.

Reply

Nyagoslav September 12, 2011 at 12:05 am

SEO Keith,

I did not really want to focus on specific link building tactics in the article, because such topic is worth writing a whole separate article, but you are right regarding the anchor text and the local business blogs guest writing, which I mentioned in the article.

I tried to write a more informative, rather than “how to” article. Maybe the next time I will focus more on this side of the things.

Greetings,
Nyagoslav

Reply

Andrew September 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm

With regards to local SEO, do you think that there is now too much emphasis on local long tail keywords. Doesn’t Google geo target your search to show local results anyway? For example, a Carpet Cleaning Company in San Diego- should they target “carpet cleaning” or “San Diego carpet cleaning”. My understanding is that Google will show carpet cleaning companies that are from San Diego if you r search is done locally.

Your thoughts on this….

Best,
Andrew

Reply

Nyagoslav September 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Hi Andrew,

Yes, it is true that the local residents are usually seeing local results (because in many cases they might not see such). However, these automatic local results are only Google Places ones. For websites, you will need to send signals to Google to show that they are business sites, and the business is located or servicing exactly this area. Such signals could be location markers on and off the website. Adding KML sitemap and embedding the Google Places map are two things that help a lot in this process, too.

Greetings,
Nyagoslav

Reply

Andrew September 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Nyagoslav,

Thanks for the answer….. one other item I was wondering about:
Is there any proof that it is more beneficial to submit a business website to local directories such as http://www.ubl.org before claiming and optimizing their Google Places listing? I understand that Google will pull info from other directory sites to make sure that the business info is consistent and if it is then you may increase your overall rankings.

cheers,

Andrew

Reply

Nyagoslav September 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Andrew,

There is no proof of that and I have personally tried both ways – the results were worse when I created citations before I created a listing. There is high risk of duplicate listings popping up if you do that, so I’d not recommend it. If the business has established online presence they would most probably already have a Place page created by Google. If you just start creating their online presence you will have to wait at least 4-6 weeks until Google automatically creates a Google Places listing.

The amount of data that Google finds for a business online is a major ranking factor. Some of this data might come from business directories. UBL is not a business directory itself. It is a service that sends business information to directories. However, my personal opinion is that their service is of low quality.

Greetings,
Nyagoslav

Reply

Petar Georgiev September 29, 2011 at 6:59 am

Very helpful info, I’m glad that I found your articles that focus on local SEO as I’m new SMB owner. I’ll be regular visitor from now on. Cheers.

Reply

practice permit test February 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm

UBL is not a business directory itself. It is a service that sends business information to directories. However, my personal opinion is that their service is of low quality.

Reply

Andy Roberts February 13, 2012 at 2:44 am

Local SEO is certainly big and getting bigger my one big frustration is that Google Places verification can be a nightmare, recently we had a client who had to wait for 3 months for the postcard, I understand its becasue they’re re-developing the plat form but even so its a pain! Also , we have a client who moved from 1st to nowhere and having done some investiagtion there are numerous new listing for the same business, we didnt create them but it seems to have casue G to stop ranking us where it did!

Reply

David Forman June 29, 2012 at 6:33 am

Hi,

Good article with plenty of info, but I have one small complaint:
the link to KML Sitemaps is broken.
0
Regards,
David

Reply

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