Quietly this past spring. Google rolled out a new program called Local Guides. Not only did Google create a program to make a community out of people already active in their social space, but is providing perks, mentoring, and recognition for those that participate by writing reviews.
The benefit to Google is that it gets huge numbers of local business-specific, high quality reviews written by real people who have actually used the service or bought from the business. By creating its own reviewer network, Google builds a community that it can manage to boost what it wants to enhance its own relevancy in the local space. And it can use the reviews the way it wants.
Here’s one example of how Google is benefiting. Google asked all Local Guides to Level Up in March. By encouraging Local Guides that are Google+ Community Followers and offering personal encouragement, badges when you hit a certain number of reviews, and special recognition within its private global as well as local communities, it has crowdsourced business review writing in an incredibly smart and savvy way. I for one, boosted my review numbers to hit 50 – leveling up.
If you write 50 reviews and you get a special badge that appears next to your own reviews. Write 200+ reviews and you may get invites to special events, and even an occasional Google branded gift. Plus you get bragging rights.
As a Local Guide myself, I actually like the program and am using it as a way to share my local knowledge as well as to connect with other writers in my own community. I happen to think that this was an incredibly smart move on Google’s part to enlist a grassroots movement building it’s own review network that it will be able to use for AdWords and for its own search results needs.
There is cache associated with being a Local Guide and for now I am having fun with the program. If you are over 18, you can apply to be a Local Guide too. Just visit this page.
Remember Local Guides are not hired or paid by Google, nor are they Google employees. They are just helping to write about what they know and letting Google have the rights to their work.
Very quietly Google has changed Google Places to remove the ability to manipulate a listing for organic performance. This action has very quietly slipped under the radar, but the changes are big for businesses.
First, this last month, Google sent out notices to all Google+ Local businesses that duplicate listings of the same business would not be allowed. Google immediately disable access to all Google+ Local pages (also known as Google Maps pages and Google Places accounts) to email addresses that did not carry the business domain or were not recognized by Google as clearly being the account owner by email, or having the business phone number or carrying the registered address. This effectively locked out all third party account managers and update services.
Google then advised all account access users that the main account owner – not even the originator of the account, would have to allow access to any users from the parent account. Additionally that any approved users would then have to manage the account for two full weeks before transfer of the account could be done.
By making the linking and transfer process so complicated Google has effectively locked our all parties except the one account owner. Of additional important note is that Google has been removing one by one the items a business owner could actually change on their account.
Over time, Google has removed the ability to add keywords and to craft a message that helped the business place locally. Google even removed the ability for a monthly promotion as well as comments from the page owner.
With this most recent update Google has now forced all Places pages now into the format of a true Google+ page. No longer is the look and feel different of a Places page from a postable Google+ Business page but identical and one that you can now post to with a third party app like HootSuite.
These huge changes to who can own and update the page, what the page looks like, and how you interact with the local page have now made Google+ Local pages unable to really be optimized for organic placement. This bad for businesses, but great for Google. Google gets more people forced into Google+ and now nets out manipulation of local results.
In our series on placing for local searches on Google, this is our last option and one of the toughest although there are still some smart things to do to attempt to reach local buyers. This article is for the scenario when you have a business that has one or several far flung locations but sells nationally.
Here’s what I’ve found works for location specific placements when you are selling nationally.
1. First, see our post from 4-8-14 on how to rank for one city. In this twist of one business selling nationally, again it is key to put all your location addresses in the footer of your website. If you have more than three or four locations, I would do a location page for your website and then just list the city and state names in the footer hyperlinking to your specific location page. You may have offices in only one city or two, but having the local addresses is still key. However I would add a tag line after the locations stating something like “Serving clients nationwide for 10 years.” Make sure in your content that you are talking about your nationwide services.
2. Here a page for each state may not work or may be too cumbersome and the truth is that a nationwide provider will be at a disadvantage when compared to a local provider for location specific searches. Make sure that any city you are located in however, does still get mentioned by location as you do still want to place locally for your branch offices.
3. Setting up a Google+ Local page for each location is really key for organic placement where you have a branch office. Take some time and put some thought into what you will write and make sure the pictures and videos if you have them (highly recommended) are unique to that location.
4. Where you can, make sure you validate your Google+ Local page. A PIN will be hard copied mailed to the physical address. Your staff needs to be vigilant to find this PIN envelope. It will look like junk mail and will have NO Google ID on it. Nothing will show on Google until you validate and then typically a two to four week delay after verification to show in the results is not uncommon.
For nationwide providers the reality is that to be visible locally you will need to move into paid search if you want prominence on local placement. There is simply no way to scam Google into showing a Google+ Local page or for that matter even be able to validate one where you do not have a physical location. By setting up your AdWords program to target local city names or state names with dynamic keyword insertion your ad will appear up at the top of the page for these important location searches just not in the organic section.
One caveat on this. I have found that when you can own the state organically, Google will preferentially show your results in many cases for all cities in that state. So it is not a bad thing to create location specific pages but the content must be unique, of value, not keyword heavy and be state specific.
In our series on how to place locally on Google I will be looking at the next easiest scenario which is one business with physical presences/offices in multiple cities. This is also a fairly easy scenario to place locally on and similar in some ways to the actions that you would take for the one business with multiple locations in one city.
Here’s what I’ve found works for location specific placement.
1. See our post from 4-8-14 on how to rank for one city. In this twist of one business multiple cities, again it is best to put all your location addresses in the footer of your website. If you have more than three or four locations, I would do a location page for your website and then just list the city and state names in the footer hyperlinking to your specific location page.
2. Again as in the single city with multiple location pages a unique page for each location is in order linked from the all locations page. What is very important to understand is that the content on these locations pages MUST be unique. You cannot simply copy the one location and then drop in the new location. Try to write something of value about each unique location.
3. Setting up a Google+ Local page for each location is really key for organic placement. Take some time and thought into what you will write and make sure the pictures and videos if you have them (highly recommended) are unique to that location.
4. Make sure you validate your Google+ Local page. A PIN will be hard copied mailed to the physical address. Your staff really, and I mean really, needs to be vigilant to find this PIN envelope. It will look like junk mail and will have NO Google ID on it. I have had many clients have significant delays in validating and have required multiple sends of the validation letter as it is simply missed. Nothing will show on Google until you validate and then typically a two to four week delay after verification to show in the results is not uncommon.
This scenario and the one on Tuesday are fairly simple to enact but very important. With mobile searches being delivered preferentially local content the activity from local searches and local exposure is simply too huge to discount.
In this series of blog posts on placing for local searches on Google, I’ll take a look at a few strategies that work especially where you operate in one city with multiple locations. Over this week and next, I’ll be looking at other tougher to place scenarios and offering some advice on what to do as well.
The easiest scenario and the first I’ll focus on is where your multiple location business is all based on one city.
Here’s what I’ve found works well for placement for this scenario:
1. Make sure to put your locations with complete address and phone number in the footer of your website. If you have more than three locations this starts to be a little bit cumbersome, but for most businesses your two or three locations can easily be entered in the footer of all pages of your website.
2. Make sure to create a locations page in your website where you’ll list all your locations with full physical addresses, spelled out state name versus abbreviation, zip code and phone number. Link these locations to specially designed pages that show pictures of each location and give a little bit of flavor about what each location offers that may be unique. You may want to include cross streets, specialties, metro directions, and a blurb about the staff. It is crucial that you do not use cookie cutter content for each location simply change the location specifics. Make sure each page is unique and validates as unique using Copyscape Premium (my data checking tool of choice).
3. Set up a Google+ Local page for each location. Understand that there is no scamming Google on addresses. You’ve really got to have a business at the location you register. Google will send to that address a PIN number inside an envelope with no Google branding on it that looks like regular junk mail. It is important that you and your staff really watch for a week for this confirmation letter in order to complete the validation of your Google+ Local page.
The power of placing locally on Google for your individual locations is huge. The reach, potential visibility, and customer traffic you can get from following these very simple steps is not to be discounted. Google is preferring to promote local businesses first in the organic search results so it is very important to capitalize on this to boost your business’ exposure.
2. You must link to a specific address – no post office boxes.
3. Google wants a local phone number not your vanity number or a 1-800 number.
4. Select one category at the minimum from Google’s own list of categories. Even if you provide permanent makeup not tattoos, the correct category for you according to Google is tattoos. Provide other choices using the custom category option.
5. Here’s a big one: “Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.” So if you don’t ever meet your customer face to face, you will not be able to get Google+ Local placement and should not expect to rise in the rankings or placement.
6. Be aware that Google is cracking down right now on duplicate listings for Google+ Local Places; trying to weed out fictitious accounts or those that have previously gamed the system trying to get better location specific placement by using fake or bogus addresses. You can no longer use your mother-in-laws address as a store location just to get placement in that city.
With Google Local providing an excellent avenue to drive traffic to local stores, but with Google’s improved understanding of your real business location, it is getting nearly impossible to “game” the system as many were previously able to do.