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The variables that drive performance for LSA extend beyond the prominence, relevance and proximity factors we have built strategies for.

We are in the midst of a transformation in local advertising. Google has a new form of trusted answers that are revealed through a unique and compelling sponsored ad unit. The advertisers that participate in this new layer of trust are proudly displayed next to a green, check-mark badge. This designation is quickly becoming the symbol of trust for Google users. 

Google is so confident in the consumer value of these answers that they put them atop their precious search result pages. When speaking to local businesses, Google states that they can “earn customers trust with the badge.” It tells them that the badge will give its users, “more confidence to book your services.”

It is increasingly important for local business owners who are eligible, to obtain the Google badge of trust. But the real value of the badge is the access it provides to Local Services Ads (LSA). This is Google’s local trust pack. It is a cost-per-call advertising inventory unit that acts unlike anything we have ever encountered as marketers.

Badges are earned within two distinct programs – Google Guaranteed and Google Screened. The more mature Google Guaranteed, now covers most Home Service categories, including appliance repair, carpenter, carpet cleaner, electrician, house cleaning, interior designer, landscaper, lawn care provider, mover, pest control technician, pet care provider, pet groomer,  plumber, roofer, tree service provider, water damage, window cleaner, window service provider and flooring, foundations, countertop, HVAC, and siding pros. The green check-mark for Google  Guaranteed providers signifies that Google has verified the business and backs the services booked.

This year, Google solidified the growth intentions behind its newly minted trust layer, with the launch of Google Screened for Professional Services providers. This program is for lawyers, financial planners, real estate agents, photographers, event planners, and tax specialists.The Google Screened badge means that it has verified the providers’ background and backs their expertise.

Over a series of articles, I will address the Google Guaranteed and Screened programs and explore the specifics of each. We will learn what it means to optimize LSA and take advantage of the badge. Here we look at the past and present conditions that underscore Google’s revolutionary new trust layer. 

Part 1: The Past

To truly understand the local trust pack, it is important to start with Google My Business (GMB). Launched in 2014, GMB is the quintessential free marketing tool for local businesses. It enables them to manage their business presence across Google. It was positioned as the ‘businesses’ best friend and the place to keep business content fresh, post deals, share high-quality photos and videos and respond to customers. 

But, as Google knows all too well, leadership begets scrutiny and spam and in January 2016, the Google Local team found itself having to respond publicly to a NY Times Article entitled “Fake Online Locksmiths May Be Out to Pick Your Pocket, Too.” The article directly implicated Google Local results and the ease of how unsavory people game them to commit fraud. 

The public may have been talking about locksmiths now, but what about all the other “pros” that Google was sending into peoples’ homes? By 2016, Google was being held to account for the safety of its users’ post-search, in their own homes.

 

 

It is no coincidence that months prior to the Times article, Google announced that it was testing Home Service Ads in beta in the San Francisco area for, you guessed it… locksmiths, but also plumbers, cleaners, and handymen. 

Trust would be built on the back of what was called Advanced Verification standards that Google states:

 “In order to prevent fraudulent businesses from advertising on Google using false identities, Google Ads and Local Services advertisers in certain verticals will be required to complete Advanced Verification.” 

By this time, post-transactional activity was very fertile ground for Google. Its reviews and ratings features have historically relied on its consumers to qualify their experiences with local businesses. In fact, these post-transactional signals have become a foundation of local search ranking. 

Now, consumer reviews were no longer enough. The meaning of trust for Google’s local results was expanded to encapsulate the security and well-being of its searchers through the transactional environment itself. As the story unfolds, we begin to see that Google’s move to instill new signals of trust into its result sets, requires a momentous effort and an entirely different set of rules. 

Part 2: The Present

To qualify for the coveted Google Guaranteed or Screened badge, the service pros undergo personal background checks and provide corporate documentation, proof of insurance, certifications, licenses and other credentials, depending upon industry. This process can take weeks, even months, as Google depends upon third-parties throughout the application process. 

If this vetting process sounds familiar, then you are probably familiar with mature vertical search providers, like Home Advisor or even Thumbtack (a Google Ventures investment). The badge is so trust-oriented that if a consumer is unsatisfied with a service pro’s work, Google may refund the amount paid for the service – the “Guaranteed.” They cap lifetime coverage for claims at $2,000 USD.

It is exciting for a business owner to obtain the Google badge of trust. But it’s the access to LSA that gets the phone ringing. Most local search marketers unknowingly stand on the cusp of what will be their biggest challenge to date in working with Local Services Ads. These ads look and act differently than other search-based products or strategies. On the surface, the inventory is unpredictable and temperamental. Below the surface it is formulaic and strict.

The LSA algorithm, which drives the cost-per-call market, has significant advertiser dependencies. A click on the ad unit itself resolves to a new type of Google landing page called the LSA profile. The rules governing the trust layer display are predicated on a very shallow “job category” to “job type” to a keyword-based ontology. The LSA algorithm is rooted in GMB and local rank principles. But, what makes LSA so unique is its use of methods such as hours of operations, answer rate, conversation quality, booked transactions, archived calls, customer reviews, and other advertiser feedback loops to calculate ad serving rules. Google may represent its trustworthiness for a business by a badge, but it represents trust for an advertiser through ad serving. 

For five years, Local Services Ads have been slowly, but consistently launching atop Google search results for local queries in key home services categories. The pace of the roll-out is now speeding up as the once obscure and mysterious program is coming out of the dark and into the light for users and advertisers alike. In 2020, as Guaranteed results became much more prevalent across home pro queries, Google made profound news by quietly announcing Google Screened for Professional Services categories.

The reality is that despite all the potential, many local businesses simply won’t qualify for the Guaranteed or Screened programs. Even if they do, many do not have the basic faculty to interact with the advanced functioning of the call-based advertising inventory. In the months and years ahead, many marketers and advertisers will grow very frustrated, give up, wait and watch. 

This is not a test. That started for Google in 2015. A monetized trust layer, unlike anything we have seen in local advertising, has form and function on Google search results. The variables that drive the performance for LSA extend well beyond the prominence, relevance, and proximity factors that we as local marketers have built strategies and careers around.  A new era has arrived in local search. 

In the articles to follow, we will unpack Google Guaranteed and Screened, including the approval processes, the LSA algorithm, the cost-per-call pricing model, and the LSA/GMB Profiles. 

Stay tuned…

[Source: This article was published in searchengineland.com By Justin Sanger - Uploaded by the Association Member: Carol R. Venuti] 

Categorized in Search Engine

Google confirmed an update affecting local search results has now fully rolled out, a process that began in early November.

Screenshot 1

In what’s been called the November 2019 Local Search Update, Google is now applying neural matching to local search results. To explain neural matching, Google points to a tweet published earlier this year that describes it as a super-synonym system.

That means neural matching allows Google to better understand the meaning behind queries and match them to the most relevant local businesses – even if the keywords in the query are not specifically included in the business name and description.

“The use of neural matching means that Google can do a better job going beyond the exact words in business name or description to understand conceptually how it might be related to the words searchers use and their intents.”

 

In other words, some business listings might now be surfaced for queries they wouldn’t have shown up for prior to this update. Hopefully, that proves to be a good thing.

Google notes that, although the update has finished rolling out, local search results as they are displayed now are not set in stone by any means. Like regular web searches, results can change over time.

Google has not stated to what extent local search results will be impacted by this update, though it was confirmed this is a global launch across all countries and languages.

[Source: This article was published in searchenginejournal.com By Matt Southern - Uploaded by the Association Member: Jasper Solander]

Categorized in Search Engine

How does local search work? If you’re a small business owner, you probably wish you knew. All that time you’re putting into your product or services, your customer experience, your social media marketing and all the other things you do on a daily business to give customers the best of what you can do — what does it mean if they can’t find you in search?

We are here to help bridge that information gap. We’ll tell you what goes into local search and how you can harness its power for your business.

Let’s start with the ‘why’— specifically, why is local search important?

  • 82% of local searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call or purchase (TMP / comScore)
  • 74% of internet users perform local searches (Kelsey Group)
  • 61% of local searches result in purchases (TMP / comScore)

Think about that for a moment — three out of four people searching for a business are looking for something in their local area, and almost two out of three local searches result in a purchase. Local search is all about intent to buy. So if you want to catch those potential customers in their moments of need, your business needs to rank in the top of relevant search results.

Most people think search is just about the big name search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.) but that’s simply not the case. Discovery of local business through queries happens all over the internet.

Information about your business lives all over the web. Important details like your business name, address, phone number, category, services, hours of operation, and all the other information that matters to someone searching for a business can be found on hundreds of websites.

On average, people are almost three times more likely to discover information about a business on third-party intelligent services like Facebook, Google, Yelp, Foursquare and Citysearch than on the business’s own website. For restaurants, that number jumps up to almost 10 times!

So how does local search work?

In this video, I’m joined by my co-worker, Duane Forrester, VP of industry insights for Yext, who spent years working inside the search engine at Bing. He knows exactly how search works. I personally have spent years, not only as a small business owner but as an agency owner that worked with small businesses — helping them with digital marketing.

Duane and I discuss how search used to work, how search works now, what the future of search will look like, and best of all, what you can do to position your business for the best search engine results.

Source: This article was published smallbiztrends.com By Rev Ciancio

Categorized in Search Engine

Columnist Wesley Young covers a growing storm of events that are likely to culminate in substantial regulatory change and analyzes the impact that can have on the local search industry.

Most marketing professionals don’t give much thought to the regulatory climate. In the US, unlike Europe, privacy laws are largely industry-specific and targeted toward healthcare and financial services. Thus, marketers have largely been able to rely on lawyers to provide privacy disclosures and then go on to business as usual.

Yet there are a number of indications that a tipping point may be near, giving way to new regulations that demand significant changes in business practice. These changes can have a disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized local businesses. And varying standards across state lines means that companies with local operations in different states may have to make multiple adjustments.

Below, I take a look at the current environment and indicators that major changes are due in 2018. Then I cover seven ways changing privacy laws will impact the local search market.

 

Deregulation on federal level driving changes on state level

With all the news on Net Neutrality last month, you may have forgotten that earlier this year, Republicans killed federal privacy rules adopted by the FCC that would have required your Internet Service Provider to obtain permission before collecting and selling certain types of personal data (such as web browsing and app usage data). While the general perception is that such deregulation means fewer privacy laws, the practical impact may be more regulation.

Following the repeal of the FCC privacy rules, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia filed state versions of the FCC privacy rules as a direct response. Two states passed those bills into law, while others deferred the issue to 2018 or passed bills to study the issue further. And even though bills in a number of states died at the end of their 2017 legislative sessions, it is likely that many will reintroduce those in 2018.

The broader application is that deregulation on the federal level is causing states to take more action, which causes a number of problems. While state versions may all address the same topic, they are not identical. They are similar but contain differences unique to each state, such as different notice requirements, disclosures, consent or use requirements and enforcement mechanisms. Even using similar but different terms to describe the same principle creates problems regarding uniformity.

Lack of uniformity amongst states means more complexity. And more complexity results in greater uncertainty, risk, and cost.

The state reaction to the repeal of FCC privacy rules is just one example of how federal deregulation trickling down to state levels can create major headaches for business.

The mother of all data breach cases: Equifax

Major data breaches almost seem to be yesterday’s headline with the prevalence of the problem. Yet the Equifax data breach may finally push us over the edge in demands for regulatory action. Let’s review how bad the Equifax case was and still is:

  • Data thieves stole private information on over 145 million Americans from Equifax.
  • Data stolen was the most sensitive kind: personal and permanent information including names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth and drivers’ license numbers.
  • Equifax discovered the breach on July 29, 2017, yet didn’t announce the breach until September 2017.
  • Equifax executives sold millions of dollars of stock days after the breach was discovered and before the public announcement.
  • Equifax claimed that top executives of a company whose business is a protection of personal data didn’t know about the breach.
  • Equifax was notified in March 2017 by the Department of Homeland Security that there was a critical vulnerability in its software.
  • Equifax relied on a single employee to alert the company (he didn’t) to the risk of a data breach affecting 50 percent of all Americans.
  • Equifax sent customers needing more information about the breach to a fake phishing site.
  • That fake site clearly disclosed it was a fake in its headline and contained a tongue-firmly-in-cheek link to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video.
  • Equifax is profiting from its screw-up: Concerned consumers are purchasing third-party credit monitoring services that frequently utilize Equifax services. So money spent due to Equifax’s problem is paid back to Equifax.

Yes, all of the above really happened. It seems it can only be a matter of time before cases like this force legislators on both sides of the aisle to take regulatory action tightening privacy and data protection laws.

Categorizing personal information to include marketing info

But it’s not just highly sensitive personal information that lawmakers are seeking to protect. While protection against breaches that cause economic harm or risk serious personal threats such as identity theft is justified, proposals are reaching beyond financial and health data.

States have introduced legislation that imposes reporting and notice requirements upon a data breach of personal information. But broad definitions of “personal data” have included what is typically considered to be marketing data, including search history and location information.

The argument against the broad regulation of consumer data is that there are different risks and expectations of privacy for credit card numbers compared to shopping history for a phone case or search history for coffee shops.

Yet broad regulation impacting all such information has been pushed through by state legislators, sometimes only being stopped by a governor’s veto.

Location data is being targeted

Location data that so many local search marketers rely on for targeted campaigns have, in turn, become a favorite target for privacy activists. The recent legislation specifically calls out geolocation information derived from mobile devices as requiring express consent before it may be collected, used or disclosed.

Several states introduced similar legislation in 2017 requiring affirmative express consent after clear and prominent disclosure as follows:

  • Notice that the geolocation information will be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Information about the specific purposes for which such information will be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Provision of links to access other disclosure information.

Failure to comply is deemed to be a violation of and subject to enforcement provisions of the state consumer protection laws. It is likely that some states will reintroduce bills that were vetoed or that died in committee, while others have carried the bill over to 2018.

Europe is redefining consent

Europe has already passed sweeping privacy regulation, titled GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect in May 2018. For example, the personal data subject to protection is defined as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.” That’s as broad as it gets.

The GDPR also makes major changes to rules surrounding transparency and consent before personal data can be used. Consent will be an especially complex issue for businesses to figure out, as conditions for obtaining consent are much tighter. Issues will include the form of consent, the specificity of consent and what downstream matters that consent applies to.

Some of the restrictions include prohibitions on making services contingent upon consent and on obtaining consent for multiple purposes. Consent must also be separately given, as opposed to being one clause in a lengthy terms and conditions agreement. Further, the ability to revoke that consent must be as easy to do as it was to give it.

The impact on local search

The above are all factors that seem to be culminating toward significant movement and changes in privacy regulation that will have a dramatic impact in the marketplace. Below are seven ways in which privacy will become a disruption to the local search and marketing industry:

1. The cost of marketing data will rise

Increased privacy regulation means all businesses will have to spend more resources to comply. It also raises the exposure to liability and increases the risk of public enforcement and of private lawsuits. Potentially, there could also be a decrease in the supply of marketing data if consumers respond to the notice requirements and consent requests by not giving permission to collect or use their profile information.  All of these changes would make collecting, acquiring, using or buying marketing data more expensive.

2. Targeted marketing becomes harder

If the supply of marketing data is throttled, accuracy declines. For example, if fewer people share their location, getting a sufficient volume of leads from targeted marketing will require casting a broader net.

The effectiveness of targeted marketing is further hurt by the ability to determine those target audiences. Less data regarding behaviors that predict specific purchase or online actions makes forecasting less accurate. Attribution would likewise be harder to pinpoint.

3. The competitive edge shifts back to larger companies

I’ve written recently about how having the right data is the new competitive edge over traditional economies of scale. Good data means that smaller businesses can more equally compete against larger companies.

But tougher privacy laws benefit larger businesses that have resources to adjust to mandated changes. Also, they will have better access to data as it becomes more expensive and potentially less available.

4. Google and Apple will become even more powerful

Google and Apple have great leverage over user privacy choices via their mobile operating systems. They embed many functions and apps that have a huge user base and that are critical to local search into those systems such as maps, media, and search engines. Consumers frequently treat these apps and functions as essential services and defer to Google or Apple terms for access and use.

Android and iOS also serve as a gateway to third-party apps and control how users grant app permissions or consent to the collection and use for data such as location.

5. Brands who control first-party data will hold premium ad inventory

Brands have direct contact with consumers and sufficient reach such that they are able to offer advertising solutions to third parties, especially those related to the brand’s product or service.

For example, Honeywell offers a software upgrade for its WiFi thermostats that will optimize thermostat settings. The offer to help save its customers $71 to $117 a year off of their energy bills means many opt-in. Users get customized reports with insights into energy use, comparison to similar homes and tips to help track and improve energy efficiency. Those “tips” will likely include some referrals to vendors such as insulation companies, solar energy vendors, and HVAC contractors or other marketing offers.

Brands are well-positioned to reach their customers within the confines of privacy regulations, and targeted audiences they can reach should demand premium ad spend.

6. The GDPR bleed-over effect

The GDPR will affect local businesses and marketers even if they don’t have European customers. Larger companies that already have to deal with tighter European regulation may find it difficult to segment different policies for American and European customers. As a result, they may adopt uniform privacy policies companywide.

Local businesses that rely on third-party data or do business using services of those global companies may be forced to follow stringent privacy policies as conditions of terms of use. And as discussed above, that could involve some major changes to business operations.

7. Regulatory hurdles used as a competitive barrier to entry

The other potential consequence of larger companies voluntarily adopting stricter privacy policies is that they would be less resistant to privacy regulations that mirror those internal policies. In other words, they may not oppose the legislation, or even publicly support legislation, undercutting the position of those who are against it.

Some may even push for those regulations knowing that it may give them an advantage over competitors who haven’t adopted such privacy policies. Regulation that raises the cost of doing business or requires some catch-up changes may serve as a barrier to entry for new startups or others seeking to add business outside their core service area.

Closing thoughts

Understanding the issues and potential impacts will help identify when action is needed and provide some guidance to thinking through a business strategy.

It’s also important to get involved on the issue. The breadth and details of legislative policy may seem overwhelming, but there are groups that will help keep you up to date and work on your behalf. Chambers of commerce, business associations and trade groups represent wide business interests in policy issues like privacy. So get plugged into a group that can support you and your business.

 Source: This article was published searchengineland.com By Wesley Young

Categorized in Internet Privacy

Searchers and businesses can now search on desktop to add questions and answers to the new Google Q&A feature.

Google shared that the local Question & Answer feature that rolled out back in August is now available on desktop search.

Google said they are “expanding Questions & Answers on Google My Business.” This enables both searchers and business owners to ask and answer questions from their desktop, on mobile search or on Android Google Maps.

Screenshot 4

 

When you click on the questions, it brings up an overlay to scroll through them all:

Google has been testing this on desktop for a few months, and now it is officially live. Although some local cards will not see these sections because of spam and moderation issues.

 Source: This article was published searchengineland.com By Barry Schwartz

Categorized in Search Engine

How has Google's local search changed throughout the years? Columnist Brian Smith shares a timeline of events and their impact on brick-and-mortar businesses.

Deciphering the Google algorithm can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. The search engine giant has made many changes over the years, keeping digital marketers on their toes and continually moving the goalposts on SEO best practices.

Google’s continuous updating can hit local businesses as hard as anyone. Every tweak and modification to its algorithm could adversely impact their search ranking or even prevent them from appearing on the first page of search results for targeted queries. What makes things really tricky is the fact that Google sometimes does not telegraph the changes it makes or how they’ll impact organizations. It’s up to savvy observers to deduce what has been altered and what it means for SEO and digital marketing strategies.

What’s been the evolution of local search, and how did we get here? Let’s take a look at the history of Google’s local algorithm and its effect on brick-and-mortar locations.

2005: Google Maps and Local Business Center become one

After releasing Local Business Center in March 2005, Google took the next logical step and merged it with Maps, creating a one-stop shop for local business info. For users, this move condensed relevant search results into a single location, including driving directions, store hours and contact information.

This was a significant moment in SEO evolution, increasing the importance of up-to-date location information across store sites, business listings and online directories.

2007: Universal Search & blended results

Universal Search signified another landmark moment in local search history, blending traditional search results with various listings from other search engines. Instead of working solely through the more general, horizontal SERPs, Universal Search combined results from Google’s vertical-focused search queries like Images, News and Video.

Google’s OneBox started to show within organic search results, bringing a whole new level of exposure that was not there before.  The ramifications on local traffic were profound, as store listings were better positioned to catch the eye of Google users.

2010: Local Business Center becomes Google Places

In 2010, Google rebranded/repurposed Local Business Center and launched Google Places. This was more than a mere name change, as a number of important updates were included, like adding new image features, local advertising options and the availability of geo-specific tags for certain markets. But more importantly, Google attempted to align Places pages with localized search results, where previously information with localized results was coming from Google Maps.

The emergence of Places further cemented Google’s commitment to bringing local search to the forefront. To keep up with these rapidly changing developments, brick-and-mortar businesses needed to make local search a priority in their SEO strategies.

All the algorithm updates plus insightful analysis delivered directly to your inbox. Subscribe today!

2012: Google goes local with Venice

Prior to Venice, Google’s organic search results defaulted to more general nationwide sites. Only Google Maps would showcase local options. With the Venice update, Google’s algorithm could take into account a user’s stated location and return organic results reflecting that city or state. This was big, because it allowed users to search anchor terms without using local modifiers.

The opportunity for companies operating in multiple territories was incredible. By setting up local page listings, businesses could effectively rank higher on more top-level queries just by virtue of being in the same geographic area as the user. A better ranking with less effort — it was almost too good to be true.

2013: Hummingbird spreads its wings

Hummingbird brought about significant changes to Google’s semantic search capabilities. Most notably, it helped the search engine better understand long-tail queries, allowing it to more closely tie results to specific user questions — a big development in the eyes of main search practitioners.

Hummingbird forced businesses to change their SEO strategies to adapt and survive. Simple one- or two-word phrases would no longer be the lone focal point of a healthy SEO plan, and successful businesses would soon learn to target long-tail keywords and queries — or else see their digital marketing efforts drop like a stone.

2014: Pigeon takes flight

Two years after Venice brought local search to center stage, the Pigeon update further defined how businesses ranked on Google localized SERPs. The goal of Pigeon was to refine local search results by aligning them more directly with Google’s traditional SEO ranking signals, resulting in more accurate returns on user queries.

Pigeon tied local search results more closely with deep-rooted ranking signals like content quality and site architecture. Business listings and store pages needed to account for these criteria to continue ranking well on local searches.

2015: RankBrain adds a robotic touch

In another major breakthrough for Google’s semantic capabilities, the RankBrain update injected artificial intelligence into the search engine. Using RankBrain’s machine learning software, Google’s search engine was able to essentially teach itself how to more effectively process queries and results and more accurately rank web pages.

RankBrain’s ability to more intelligently process page information and discern meaning from complex sentences and phrases further drove the need for quality content. No more gaming the system. If you wanted your business appearing on the first SERP, your site had better have the relevant content to back it up.

2015: Google cuts back on snack packs

A relatively small but important update, in 2015, Google scaled back its “snack pack” of local search results from seven listings to a mere three. While this change didn’t affect the mechanics of SEO much, it limited visibility on page one of search results and further increased the importance of ranking high in local results.

2016: Possum shakes things up

The Possum update was an attempt to level the playing field when it came to businesses in adjoining communities. During the pre-Possum years, local search results were often limited to businesses in a specific geographical area. This meant that a store in a nearby area just outside the city limits of Chicago, for instance, would have difficulty ranking and appearing for queries that explicitly included the word “Chicago.”

Instead of relying solely on search terms, Possum leveraged the user’s location to more accurately determine what businesses were both relevant to their query and nearby.

This shift to user location is understandable given the increasing importance of mobile devices. Letting a particular search phrase dictate which listings are returned doesn’t make much sense when the user’s mobile device provides their precise location.

2017 and beyond

Predicting when the next major change in local search will occur and how it will impact ranking and SEO practices can be pretty difficult, not least because Google rarely announces or fully explains its updates anymore.

That being said, here are some evergreen local SEO tips that never go out of fashion (at least not yet):

  • Manage your local listings for NAP (name, address, phone number) accuracy and reviews.
  • Be sure to adhere to organic search best practices and cultivate localized content and acquire local links for each store location.
  • Mark up your locations with structured data, particularly Location and Hours, and go beyond if you are able to.

When in doubt, look at what your successful competitors are doing, and follow their lead. If it works, it works — that is, until Google makes another ground-shaking algorithm change.

Source: This article was published searchengineland.com By Brian Smith

Categorized in Search Engine

Do you want it?

A steady stream of customers and sales from Google? A never-ending supply of leads, customers and sales for your local business? Who wouldn’t want that? It’s yours for the taking, if – you choose the right strategy.

Make the wrong decision and you can do a significant amount of harm to your business.

Okay, what decision are we talking about here?

We’re talking about your search strategy


When you’re looking for search engine traffic you have two options to work with.

  1. Universal search places an emphasis on optimizing for blended search results – SERPs that can include images, books, video, knowledge graph results, rich snippets, news updates, tweets, or reviews.
  2. Local search focuses on driving customers offline to a brick and mortar business. This strategy focuses on local sites, events, blended search results like local packs, knowledge panel, and reviews.

What would happen if a business chose the wrong strategy? Couldn’t be all that bad, could it?

Actually, yes.

If a local business decides to focus their attention, time and resources on universal search their “success” makes everything worse.

 

Why?

A local business needs to attract local customers (shocking, I know). The problem with universal search is the fact that it scoops visitors up indiscriminately.

Visitors, not customers.

Universal search casts a wide net, drawing anyone in if they use the right queries. If you’re attracting visitors outside of your service area, that’s a disaster in the making.

If a digital or non-local business relies on local search exclusively it’s death by starvation.

Their business starves slowly as they struggle to get the traffic, leads, sales they need to survive.

Start with goals to avoid the struggle


Local search is laser focused – it’s surgical and precise. Universal search, on the other hand, is a bomb of awesomeness. The results are dense and far reaching, which is perfect if you’re not focused on customers from a specific geographic location.

You’ll have to decide which strategy is best.

But how?

It’s simple. Start with your goals. Have a…

  • Local business focused on local customers? You’re strategy is pretty obvious. Focus your attention on a local search strategy, using tactics that extend your influence and reach in your service area.
  • Regional, national or non-local business? Use universal search to cast a wide net, attracting a large amount of customers from a variety of sources and channels.
  • Running a business with multiple locations or focus areas? Use a mix of local and universal search to drive engagement and response. If you’re running a bricks and mortar business side by side with a digital offering, you’ll need to optimize for both using both universal and local search strategies. Create a clear delineation between the two, maintaining separation in your approach.

Have a goal in mind? Fantastic.

There’s a bit of overlap with each strategy so let’s break the tactics down for each.

Strategy #1: Local Search


When it comes to local results, Google offers two main options.

The local three pack, which lists three businesses.

vietnamese restaurant new york

Here’s the problem. Google uses proximity to determine who makes it into the local pack. That makes ranking difficult if searchers aren’t in your area. To complicate things further, there’s a growing amount of ads in the local three pack and organic results. It’s harder to rank for these keywords but it’s not impossible as we’ll soon see. Then there’s…

 

The knowledge panel which focuses on one business specifically.

obao restaurant new york city

The three pack typically shows up for more generic searches (e.g. Vietnamese restaurants near me). The knowledge panel typically appears for very specific searches (e.g. Obao restaurant new york city).

 

Which local search tactics work best for locals?


    1. Find local and social profiles. You’ll want to find the tools that have the greatest impact in your industry or vertical. Restaurants depend on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zomato. The key here is focusing on sites with a local emphasis.
    2. Register/claim profiles. Feed Google information about your business. Your name, address and phone number, hours of operation, website, social media profiles, etc. Track these profiles and keep them maintained.
    3. Build strong profiles and five star reviews. Reviews are powerful because they rank well for both branded and location-specific queries. This is huge because top ranked results get more clicks than listings without. Focus half of your local search efforts on getting reviews. Consistency is key here; work to consistently attract reviews. A positive review from a week ago is more valuable than one from 3 months ago.
    4. Participate in the community. If you’re a restaurant, register for local food fairs. If you’re an agency, focus on entrepreneur programs and events. Participate in workshops, meetups, seminars and events. This gives Google a sense of your standing in the community.
    5. Get locals to vouch for you via citations. Get links from .edus, Ask for reviews from powerful local influencers, Reach out to relevant or complementary non-profits, volunteer with local organizations. Share your activity via link building, PR, news reports and interviews. Focus your attention on serving so you don’t burn bridges.
    6. Create partnerships with local groups. Partner up with relevant local organizations. What if your local area doesn’t have a local organization to promote your interests? Create your own! Just make sure it serves the local community.
    7. List your business in local directories. Local directories with strong domain authority (e.g. Angie’s List, BBB, Facebook, Foursquare, CitySearch, etc.) help to boost local awareness of your brand.
    8. Use paid clicks to build local awareness. Piggyback on local searches, then present an irresistible offer to locals. A lead magnet, free offer, workshop or trial are great places to start.
    9. Rely on video and display to drive searches. Video and display ads drive search clicks after two weeks. A paid search campaign will entice customers to search for your business on Google, improving the odds of three pack and one box placement.
    10. Create high quality, hyper local content. Use trusted sources and authority domains to create and host local content. If you’re hosting your blog, focus your attention on building your domain’s trust and authority via link building from other trusted brands. Guest posting still has value if you’re able to point visitors/customers back to your site. Providing value for visitors = maximizing search value.

Did you catch it?

The factors that get you the coveted local three pack or one box? It isn’t simply about out-ranking your local competitors. It’s about outclassing them.

Becoming the de facto option in your local community. The smaller your city the easier for you to do.

Strategy #2: Universal Search


Sites with a strong universal ranking typically don’t have the local three packs we see with local businesses. What if they’re looking to target a local audience?

Which tactics would work best?

  1. Find the formats that matter most. Do customers in your niche or vertical prefer video? Are they looking for lots of images? Social media content via Facebook and Twitter? Figure out what your target audience wants, then create content that gives it to them.
  2. Create long form content. Focus your attention on creating quality content that’s deep and comprehensive. Create content that consistently addresses their desires, goals, fears and frustrations.
  3. Differentiate content with the right ingredients. There are four ways to create what Rand Fishkin calls “10x content.” (1.) Create content with depth (2.) differentiate with amazing, high quality design (3.) Create drama with stories and psychological triggers, or (4.) with data that’s proprietary, exclusive, surprising, thorough, or compelling.
  4. Split content up into a wide variety of formats. Use the four differentiation factors to double, triple or quadruple the performance of your 10x content. Create a long form blog post, then expand on your content with an embedded YouTube video from your channel. Post images and diagrams on Pinterest or Imgur. Create and share slides on SlideShare.
  5. Syndicate content across the web. Syndicate your posts via guest posting or contributor spots. Share to Medium and LinkedIn. Share content on niche forums like Reddit. Build quality backlinks from brands with strong domain authority focusing on a mix of follow/no-follow, authoritative, and fresh links.
  6. Tie all of your content together. Create lead magnets, incentives or offers to attract and convert customers. Tie all of your content together to bring customers into your sales funnel and marketing ecosystem.
  7. Filter and qualify customers. If you’re looking for local customers, use local channels to share your 10x content. If you’re casting a wide net, filter and qualify customers (e.g. via lead scoring or marketing automation) to maintain quality.
  8. Sort visitors into performance buckets. Use tools like BuzzSumo to identify visitors who are more likely to share and lead scoring or automation tools to identify potential customers. Provide Lurkers with incentives to engage, then let them sort themselves.
  9. Re-create top performers, improve poor ones. Universal search can’t survive without thorough, quality content. Learn from both top and poor performing content – identifying the who, what, why, where and how. Who read this? What did they think/do after reading this, where did they share it, how do I create more or refine what I have?

Even when it’s intended for a local audience, universal search depends on content.

Deep, comprehensive content.

The difference is the fact that this content is optimized around the channels that matter most to your target audience.

But what do these strategies look like in action?


Let’s search for some Greek food to find out.

When we enter the generic search query “greek restaurant chicago” we see the local pack.

Greek Islands is at the top of the list. So let’s narrow our search a bit with the query “Greek Islands Chicago.”

 

Aha! They have the coveted one box. But why?

Look again and the answer jumps out at us. They’ve completely outclassed their nearest competitor and not by a little bit.

They’re dominating.

They’ve gone all-in on their local search strategy. They have…

  • 879 photos and 1,396 reviews on Yelp with a four star rating.
  • 923 reviews on Trip Advisor with a four and a half star rating.
  • 1,486 votes on Facebook with an average rating of four point six stars.
  • 486 reviews via Google Reviews with an average four and a half stars.
  • They’re chock full of citations, being reviewed and listed on Menupages, Urbanspoon, DoorDash, OpenTable and Zagat.
  • They’ve received (and continue to receive) media mentions and critic reviews from Chicago Reader, Thrillist, the Michelin Guide, 10BEST, The Infatuation, and quite a few more outlets.
  • Their website has their NAP (name, address and phone), critical hallmarks for a local business, but aside from that it’s pretty bare bones.
  • Their restaurant has its own Wikipedia entry.

Greek Islands shows up for both generic and branded search queries. They’ve received a lot of attention from Google. They’ve done the work, invested the time, and it shows.

They’ve earned it.

What about universal search?


To get a sense of this in action, let’s look at… Google. A quick search of the branded term “Google” displays blended results.

Google has created an ecosystem around their product. Each product provides users with deep comprehensive content that’s focused around a particular topic or product.

  • Media outlets create deep, comprehensive content around the products in Google’s ecosystem.
  • Google’s Twitter profile provides references and anchor points to their content.
  • Google believes in Dogfooding; they create comprehensive content via their YouTube channels.
  • Their Facebook page is filled with helpful and educational resources used to teach users about their products, services and even their values.
  • Sitelinks lead users to deep content via Google Classroom as well as other apps and results like Think with Google.

You’re not Google but you can use universal search just as effectively.

Many businesses don’t.

But many businesses miss the secret behind these two strategies. Did you catch it?

Local search, universal search – they work best when they’re used together.

The Greek Islands used Local and universal search. 879 photos via Yelp. Deep, comprehensive content via amateur and professional reviewers. Content on Wikipedia, video features on the Food Network’s The Hungry Detective.

The Greek Islands blended local and universal search to maximize their results, and it worked like gangbusters.

What if these strategies backfire?


What can go wrong, will go wrong as they say. Review marketing, reputation management – these strategies go hand in hand with local search.

Build a quality business and you’ll reduce the backlash.

Focus your attention, time and resources on the details that matter most to customers, to you. Then, when things go wrong, be first, be kind, be helpful or you’ll be gone.

If these strategies backfire, these same strategies will be there to bail you out – if you’re a decent human being with a quality business.

You are, aren’t you?

That’s why you’ll get it…


A steady stream of customers and sales from Google and other search engines. A never-ending supply of quality customers and sales for your local business. It’s yours for the taking, if you make the right choice.

Make the wrong decision and you’ll do a significant amount of harm to your business.

Choose carefully, build a quality business.

Focus your attention, time and resources on that matter most. Local search is laser focused, surgical and precise; universal search, a far reaching bomb of awesomeness.

 

Choose the strategy that’s best for you and you’ll get the results you’re looking for.

You know you want it.

This article was published in business2community by Andrew McDermott

Categorized in Search Engine

Skype-powered chatbot is showing up as an assistant to help searchers learn about restaurants in the Seattle area.

Bing has added a chatbot to help users with some of its local search results for restaurants in the Seattle area. After getting a tip from a reader, I was able to reproduce the chatbot option in Bing’s desktop search results, but not in its iOS app nor in the mobile browser search results.

The new feature appears at the bottom of the listing for some individual restaurants in the cities of Redmond (where Microsoft is based) and nearby Bellevue, Washington — both are just outside of Seattle. I’ve seen it on about six to eight different searches for specific restaurants, such as Monsoon in Bellevue. Below the regular business information is an invitation — Questions? Ask Monsoon bot for help — with a “Chat” call-to-action button to the right.

 

Clicking the button pops open a chat window that says it’s powered by Microsoft-owned Skype, and perhaps because I have a Skype account and the software on my desktop computer, the chat window recognizes me by name.

There’s no immediate help or guide telling me what kinds of questions I can ask, so the chat experience is clunky at first. But once you get started, the chatbot offers a number of different questions you can ask, including these:

  • Show me the directions to your place?
  • What parking options you have?
  • What dishes do you recommend?
  • Do you accept Amex?
  • How do I reserve a table?
  • What is your price range?
  • Can I wear formals?
  • Are there any discounts?
  • more…

As I said, the chat was semi-helpful — as is often the case when dealing with chatbots — and you have to learn how to phrase things if you’re not going to use the suggested questions. Here are some screen shots of my conversation with Monsoon bot:


I was able to get this chatbot feature to appear for about six to eight different restaurants in both Redmond and Bellevue, Washington, but it didn’t show up for any of the five to 10 Seattle restaurants I searched for Tuesday night. It also didn’t show up for any hotel searches in any of those same cities.

At this point, we don’t know if this is a limited test or something that’s live for anyone to use. We don’t know if it’s purposely active only for restaurants near Bing’s headquarters. And we don’t know if Bing has plans to use this chatbot feature more widely in the future. We’ve sent questions to Bing to learn more, and we’ll update this article if and when we do.

 

Postscript: A Bing spokesperson declined to answer the questions above about whether this is a test, how widely it’s available, etc. The company did provide this statement: “We’re constantly updating and refining the Bing search experience. We’ll share more information when available.”

Source : searchengineland.com

Categorized in Search Engine

Optimizing for local search is important, but if you aren’t optimizing for mobile, you’re going to miss out on your most important source of local traffic.

For years, Google has been improving the relevance of local search, from its “Pigeon Update” to Promoted Pins. And since there are more searches on mobile than desktop, it’s no wonder that Google has put a big emphasis on mobile-friendliness in its ranking algorithms.

Taken together, that means that Google is putting a high priority on mobile local search — and so should you.

The fact of the matter is, more and more local searches are taking place on mobile. More importantly, many of those local searches come with a high purchase intent, making local mobile searches an incredibly important opportunity for your business.

 

Since the customers you care about are on mobile, mobile is where you need to focus the majority of your local search optimization efforts. Here’s what you need to know:

Mobile and desktop are different

You use your computer differently than your smartphone, right? Your mobile and desktop users do, too.

Since desktop computers tend to be kept at home or in the office, that’s where they get used. As a result, if someone is conducting a local search on their desktop, they probably aren’t looking for instant gratification. Their searches are still important, but they’re more likely to be making plans for the future (that can change pretty easily).

On the other hand, people searching for a local business on mobile are looking for instant gratification. People search on mobile because they have an immediate need, and in this day and age, people with an immediate need want things fast.

So, if you want to win at local search, you need to be the quick answer to people’s problems.

Winning at local mobile search

The basics of local search (like managing your reputation, getting backlinks built and claiming listings for your business) have been covered before. In this article, we’re instead going to focus on how to provide local mobile searchers with the immediate solutions they’re searching for.

Let’s start with what’s free: organic search.

Organic search on mobile

Long-tail keywords are a best practice for desktop searches, but when you’re on your phone, you generally don’t type out everything the way you do on a computer… do u?

People don’t make long-tail search queries nearly as often on mobile, so if you’re optimizing for mobile search, it doesn’t make sense to prioritize long-tail keywords.

Instead, it’s better to go after shorter phrases and keywords. After all, that’s what your audience will be typing into their phones. In addition, you’ll need mobile-optimized landing pages if you want those keywords to do anything for you.

Identifying mobile keywords

Remember, desktop and mobile are different — that still applies when it comes to the specific keywords you target. You’re going to need to research your keywords a little differently from the way you do on desktop, and most of the tools out there for keyword planning are not optimized for mobile.

However, if you’re running ads on paid search, you can find mobile-specific keyword information by checking the Search Terms report. Open AdWords and click the Keywords tab. From there, select Search Terms, then click the drop-down menu labeled Segment. Choose Device.

filter-by-device

This list will give you the searches people entered that triggered your ads. This is helpful information, but remember, your Search Terms report shows you how people find your ads — not your business.

To learn more about how people may be searching for your business online, ask people, “What would you type into your phone to find [your local product or service]?” Take that data, mix it with what you found in your Search Terms report, and you have a great list of keywords to target for local search optimization.

Additionally, you might want to ask people whether they use voice search or not. According to Google, about 20 percent of mobile searches use voice search — and that statistic is from mid-2016. It looks like it’s still growing. In order to optimize for those keywords, you can also ask people how they would phrase things when they search for something using voice search, rather than what they would type.

With all of this together, you should have a great collection of local, mobile-specific keywords to target.

Optimize your site

Identifying your target phrases and keywords is only half the battle. Now you need to work on the site pages you’d like to rank well for mobile searches.

When it comes to desktop search results, longer text often equals higher search rank, and it can even yield better conversions, but on mobile, long text really isn’t your best friend. On most devices, thousands of words of text usually get about the same amount of engagement as that user-license agreement that you never read.

At Disruptive, we’ve tested mobile content and found that not only does shorter content increase engagement, it also increases return on investment. Interesting, no?

This makes things difficult for you. You need the right keywords to appease Google’s bots, but you need the right site experience to make your mobile searcher’s happy.

So, which one should you pick?

When it comes to mobile search, it’s better to prioritize your user’s experience over your Google bot experience. In optimizing for mobile, that’s what usually produces the best results. Plus, Google is trying to emphasize page experience as a ranking factor, so improving your user experience should end up making Google happy as well.

Paid search on mobile

Organic traffic is great, but it will only get you so far. Since local search rankings on mobile are usually based on short keywords, ranking can be difficult — especially if you’ve got a lot of competition.

To get in front of a bigger audience, consider using paid search. Here are three things to remember:

1. Maintain a ‘local feel’

People who are conducting local searches will be looking for local results. As a result, they’ll be more likely to respond to ads from the companies that seem to be close to them.

To clarify my point, pretend you live in Austin, Texas. You live in a home that’s a little bit older, and one day the fuse box spontaneously catches fire. You’ll probably reach for the fire extinguisher, put out the flames, then grab your smartphone and search for an electrician near you.

If you see an ad like this, how do you think you’ll respond?

electrician-near-me

Sure, it’s not a bad ad, but you don’t want to submit your ZIP code and then twiddle your thumbs waiting while you worry about your home burning down!

To make matters worse, this ad is clearly from a national company, and there’s no way to know just how available or local the electrician it tries to pair you with will be.

Once you scroll past that ad, though, you might see an ad like this one:

electrician-near-me-2

Now there’s an ad worth clicking on! The title shows “Austin Electricians,” and the area code is local, which means this business is probably in your area. On top of that, you can just click and call right now for more info.

Which ad are you going to click?

Now, not every potential customer will be desperate for help when they search for your business, but the point remains: people who are looking for local businesses don’t want to wonder whether your business is local.

 

The easiest way to show them that you’re local is to simply include your location in your ad copy. Break out your paid search campaigns according to location or use dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) to ensure that the location a potential customer is searching for shows up in your copy. Yes, this might be a bit more work, but your ads will be much more relevant to their search query.

2. Use mobile ad extensions

Ad extensions can do a lot of good for your local search results. For mobile search, consider the following extensions:

  • Location extensions: Location extensions are one of the best things you can do for your local search presence. Nothing shows how local you are like showing your address.
  • Click-to-call ads: If people often call your business before they come in, you can eliminate a step for them by making the click on your ad lead to a call (maybe to set a reservation).
  • Sitelinks: Sitelink extensions let you focus on some of your site specifics, like driving directions, or your “contact us” page.

Play around with different extensions and see which ones are the most effective for your business.

3. Give Promoted Pins a try

Promoted Pins are a great way to stand out on Google Maps. They increase the accessibility and visibility of your business for local searches by putting your logo right on Google’s Map.

Walgreens Promoted Pins

Even if you’re not a well-known brand, the Pin will help your business stand out on the map. As an added bonus, Promoted Pins even let you show promotions and allow potential customers to search your inventory to see if you have what they want before they head to your business.

Summary

More and more, people are searching for local options on mobile. If your business isn’t showing up for those searches, you’ve got a big problem.

However, by implementing the tactics we’ve discussed, you can make sure that you are the easy, readily available answer to your customer’s problems and win their business!

Author : Jacob Baadsgaard

Source : http://searchengineland.com/local-search-mobile-268208

Categorized in Internet Search

Columnist Adam Dorfman explains how Google's recent local search algorithm update, "Possum," has impacted brick-and-mortar businesses.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, proximity to the searcher’s location has become even more important as a ranking signal thanks to a Google algorithm update nicknamed Possum. With the Possum algorithm change, Google is continuing down a path it has been traveling for quite some time, which is the merging of local and organic ranking signals.

Google is now applying filters to reward certain businesses that are not only physically closest to searchers but that also are optimizing their location data and content for search far better than anyone else. To understand the impact of Possum crawling into our lives, let’s look at the following scenario:

  • Before Possum: Let’s say Jim, a resident of San Mateo, California, requires orthopedic surgery and is doing a search for orthopedic specialists in the area. An area hospital, Hospital A, that publishes location pages for dozens of orthopedic surgeons might dominate the local pack results — not necessarily because Hospital A optimizes its content better than anyone else, but because it is the largest hospital in the area and has enough domain strength to make those pages relevant from an algorithmic standpoint.
  • After Possum: Jim conducts the same search for orthopedic specialists. Instead of a single hospital dominating search results, Google allocates more real estate to other hospitals nearby based on their location and the usual ranking signals — unless Hospital A’s content and data are so well optimized for search that they outperform other hospitals by a wide margin.

What Google is doing here is not new to search. For some time, Google has been making it harder for monster brands such as Amazon to dominate search results for product searches simply because of their size and prominence.

The Amazons and Walmarts of the world no longer dominate the top search results like they once did unless their search signals outperform competitors’ content by a wide margin. With Possum, Google is applying to local search a similar filter it has been using for organic search more generally.

 

Greater competition with your neighbors

Possum also affects local results in a more arcane, but important, way. As Joy Hawkins discussed in a recent Search Engine Land column, the algorithm is affecting search results for similar businesses that are clustered closely together, examples being:

  • Two or more retailers, such as mattress stores or restaurants, located across the street from each other or in the same strip mall.
  • Professionals, such as attorneys, insurance agents or accountants, who might share the same office space.

Before Possum, an unbranded search for, say, Greek restaurants in Chicago might yield the names of several Greek dining establishments clustered closely together in Chicago’s Greektown area. Such a result would make perfect sense if the person doing the search were located a block away from Greektown, which is located on the city’s near west side.

But what if the searcher were located in the north or south suburbs and wanted to find Greek restaurants in Chicago? Getting the names of a bunch of Greektown restaurants might not be a very good user experience if the searcher wanted to find locations closer to their physical location.

Possum has made it less likely that similar businesses clustered together will dominate location-based searches unless, as noted, the searcher is conducting the search close to the actual location of those businesses.

One implication of this, as local search expert Andrew Shotland uncovered, is that national to local brands may see positive shifts in rankings due to brand authority being turned up as a signal in the ranking algorithm.

Possum has a number of other implications for businesses, as Hawkins details in her article. But for brick-and-mortar businesses that rely on local foot traffic, the impacts I have described are especially important. As Hawkins wrote, “The physical location of the searcher is more important than it was before.”

How to beat the competition

If you are a business that operates brick-and-mortar locations, you should first check to see if your rankings for local search have been affected. You might not have been affected — or you might be seeing better results, not necessarily a drop in rankings.

Regardless of whether you’ve been affected, now is the time to get more rigorous about how you manage your data and content as assets to make your brand more visible where people conduct near-me searches. Ask questions like:

  • Is my data accurate and shared properly with the publishers and aggregators that distribute my data?
  • Are my data and content differentiated to make my brand stand out? Am I listing data attributes, such as the availability of free parking, which might differentiate me when near-me searches occur? Is my deep content, such as long-form description of my business, or visual imagery, optimized properly for search?

Now, more than ever, it’s time to boost your signal for local search to be found. Don’t let your business play possum with local search.

Source: Search Engine Land

Categorized in Search Engine
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