Google is putting more focus on local businesses and location services. In fact it has appointed it’s internal superstar Marissa Mayer as the VP of Location, Local Services. She was the one who drove all those changes you’ve seen on the Google search page over last year or two – instant search, left side navigation. To take her away from the “money”, i.e. Google search impressions, is a big move.
And she has already made some changes that local businesses need to be aware of. In fact I suspect this blog post will be out of date within the month things seem to be moving so fast!
Let’s look at an example. Note the local keyword Chicago. This makes it a local search rather than a general search.
“Chicago Wine Stores” on Google
This search query appears as per below:
We have 3 organic listings at the top, followed by 7 Google Places listings. To the right is a map with local Adwords results below it (ironically bing is advertising on Google, the world is a strange place sometimes 😉 ).
Only a few months ago the map would be in the center column with 7 or 3 business listings down the side – the so called “7-pack” or “3-pack”. Before that it was just organic results with no local listings.
How to beat your competitors into the higher spots
A survey is done every year on Local Search Criteria by one Local SEO expert called David Mihm.
He asks 34 prominent Local SEO experts to rate the importance of 69 factors as to how they influence the rankings in Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Note this survey is only about the search engine results for a local query.
I’m not going to list all 69, if you’re interested check out David’s Local Search Ranking Factors Report, instead I’ll give the top 10 with a bit of wine industry perspective.
1. General Importance of Claiming Place Page / Local Listing
The most important and easy-to-do local SEO task is to claim your Google Places business listing. Remember to fill out as much information as you can including photos as this helps your rankings even more.
Note if you don’t claim your listing then sometimes malicious competitors do. They either put in the wrong info or create a new phone number just for this task – and then disconnect it. So when a customer rings you up there is only a disconnect tone!
2. Business Address in City of Search
Business Address is prominent? Great. But does Google include your business in your target city? There is some sort of invisible border for each city and, if you’re in a competitive market, you need to be inside it. If it’s not so competitive you may still get listed if you’re nearby.
One way to check what Google regards as being your town is by using Adwords. Go into a Campaign Settings, then edit Location and choose your town. The blue areas are the invisible boundaries of the towns in Chicago that start with “A” (see sceenshot below).
3. Associating Place Page with Proper Categories
Google Places has a section for categorising your business. Take your top keywords and match them up with the pre-set categories in Google Places.
4. Volume of Citations from Major Data Providers + IYP Portals
In the internet world citations means links from other websites. IYP stands for Internet Yellow Pages. The more of these local directory links the better. It looks like yelp.com and citysearch.com are two of the important ones.
5. General Importance of Off-Page / Off-Listing Criteria
This is related to 4 above. But instead of local directories these are just any links from relevant and high authority websites. This is the most important factor in general organic SEO but ranks only 5 in local SEO.
6. General Importance of Customer Reviews
Having reviews from credible websites is important. The jury seems out as to whether positive reviews are better. Again yelp features here.
7. Quality of Citations from Major Data Providers + IYP Portals
The more relevant and higher authority the website the better the link.
8. Product / Service Keyword in Place Page Business Title
Your most important keyword should be in your Google Place Business title. So best if your title reads something like “Chicago Wine Store” perhaps, “Bruce’s Wine Store, Chicago” for example. If you need a primer on Google Places here’s the official video:
9. Volume of Customer Reviews associated with Your Business
Having at the least same number of reviews vs your competitors is important. If you have a few more then that’s great. Lots more may not help. See your Google Places account to find out the actual number.
10. Quality of Unstructured Citations
Relevant and authority local blogs or local organizations (e.g. Chamber of Commerce) linking to your website is a powerful way to increase rankings. And there are 59 other factors of positive and negative influence on your rankings. But the above 10 is a great start.
Changes every year
This survey has been done for the years 2008, ’09, and ’10. Each year the factors change as Google takes note of other important ways and means of making their local search results as accurate and informative as possible.
For instance in 2008 Google Places did not exist so other Local Business Listing sources were the number 1 factor. In 2009 it was making sure your business address was inside the invisible boundaries that Google set for each town. In 2010 it is clearly claiming and filling out your Google Places listing. Another review will come out in June this year.
I think one thing is for certain: if you do nothing else claim your business on Google Places :).
What have you seen to have the most influence? Please comment below.