“Can I Get a Temporary Location to Rank in Google Local Search?”

 

A client of mine asked me a great question the other day:

He owns a water-damage-restoration service in the part of Colorado that’s had major flooding.  He wanted to know to what extent he could get visible in the Google+ Local (AKA Google Places) results in one of the hardest-hit cities – Boulder – using a temporary business location.

My client – let’s call him Pat – phrased the question this way:

“We had a lot of flooding here and we have been busy.  I am going to open another temporary location in Boulder and I wonder if that is an opportunity to get on the Google maps?”

Here was my quick response:

“Getting visible in Google+ Local there might be a stretch, just because it usually takes at least a couple of months to get anywhere in local search.  If you do want to go that route, I’d suggest whipping together a landing page specifically for Boulder, renting a real office (not a PO or UPS box), and using that landing page and address for Google+ Local.  Depending on how much you want to invest in it, how long you’d want to be in town, and whether there’s any chance that location would ever become permanent, you might also want to get the basic citations squared away or hook your Boulder location up to Yext.

“Again, the above isn’t surefire, but it’s what I’d suggest if you wanted to give Google+ Local (in Boulder) the old college try.  No matter what, I’d definitely suggest doing a Boulder page on your site and running AdWords.”

Google is fine with your using a location that you won’t necessarily use for the long-term provided you aren’t breaking the rules, like by using a fake address.  In that sense, you can get visible on the “local map” with a temporary location.

The bigger question is: will you rank well locally?  As you probably know, it usually takes months.  It really just comes down to how many local competitors there are who offer what you offer.  If there are lots of more-established businesses in the area, don’t expect much.  On the other hand, if you’re offering a semi-niche emergency-related service, the bar may be pretty low.

So if you play by the rules and have a good reason for using a temporary location – like that you’re serving a disaster area – then I say go forth and hang your shingle.  But don’t have lofty expectations, and definitely do have other sources of visibility.

An Overlooked Way to Report a Crooked Local Competitor

A recent conversation with my buddy, Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca, led me to wonder: what is the best way to report a business that’s using a fake address or fake DBA to get ahead in the Google+ Local results?

 

The question came up because of a comment I made in this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, about how you’re doing the right thing if you report a competitor who’s using questionable means to eat your lunch in the local results.

(If you want to check out my original comment, it’s the third-from-last one – and my last comment – in the LSRF, down near the bottom of the page.)

Google would have you believe that the only way to report a competitor is to use the “Report a problem” feature.  My experience never has been that “Report a problem” is particularly effective.  But what’s made me lose faith recently is that the competitor of a client of mine has been using a UPS store as his address – and you can clearly see the UPS signage from Street View.  The boneheads at  Google have done nothing.

Which made me think: is Google’s “Report a problem” the only way you can even try to level the playing field?

No: you could also report the offending business on MapMaker.  If your edit comes to the attention of a good Regional Expert Reviewer (RER), you may be in luck.  But MapMaker is still a roll of the dice.

Then it occurred to me: what if you flag down the business at other important sites in the local-search “ecosystem”?

I’m talking about alerting sites like Yelp and YP to the fact that your competitor is using fake info.  That’s the stone I forget to turn over – and that other people probably also forget to turn over.  (If you frequently report crooked competitors this way, I tip my hat to you.)

Which sites should you go to?  By my count, the only important local-search sites with some semblance of a “report inaccurate info” feature are Yelp, YP, SuperPages, InsiderPages, ExpressUpdate, and Yahoo.

 

As for ExpressUpdate.com, I think you just have to contact them personally (from the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of the site).  No idea how helpful they are, though.

What should you put in your reports?

  • You competitor’s real business info;
  • The inaccurate or fake business that your competitor is using instead;
  • How you know the fake info is fake, and how you know the real info is real, and
  • Your contact info, if possible.

I wish I could say exactly how well this type of reporting works.  I don’t know yet.  For whatever reason, unethical competitors usually aren’t a problem for my clients, so I don’t have too many occasions to flag them down.

As far as I can see, there are 3 possible outcomes of flagging down dishonest competitors on sites like the above:

1.  Nothing happens – in which case I suggest trying again in a couple of weeks, and maybe asking other people to flag them down.  I can’t guarantee that grinding will do the trick, but don’t assume it won’t.

2.  One or more of the sites corrects or removes the offending listing, which could hurt not only your competitor’s visibility on that site, but also his/her NAP consistency and possibly Google+ Local rankings.

3.  Enough of the sites start displaying the real info that Google finally realizes the info on your competitor’s Places/Plus page is fake.  As Bill Slawski has written, Google’s patents describe that this is one anti-spam method that Google uses to police Maps.

Don’t confine your efforts to level the playing field.  Keep flagging down those competitors on Google, but also try it on other sites.  Something’s gotta give.

What methods have you tried to report competitors using fake info?  What seems to have worked – or not worked – so far?  Leave a comment!

Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?

Update: here’s an excellent, more-current list by Whitespark.

You might be thinking that this sounds a lot like my post titled “Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

That’s because this is an unofficial “sequel” (for good reason, as you’ll see).

How about taking a few minutes to read that older post.  Then come back here.

Done?

If you just buzzed through the first post because you’re hanging on my every word in this one – or if memory is your weapon of choice today – it’s time for a quick recap of the older post on “private citations”:

1.  Some business owners want to rank well in Google’s local search results and beyond, but don’t want their street addresses to be easily findable online (most likely because they work from home).  Maybe you have these privacy concerns, or know someone who does.

2.  Unless your business is listed on a variety of online directories (AKA citation sources), you probably won’t rank well in the local search results.  But you don’t want your address to be easily findable on those sites.  Now you’re feeling stuck.

3.  Turns out you’ll probably be able to rank well locally after all, because most of the important online directories actually do allow you to “hide” your street address – that is, to keep your address from showing up publicly on your business listing.

Where to "hide" your address on a business listing (as seen on Local.Yahoo.com)

On the last point, notice that I said “most” of the important directories let you hide your street address.  In that older post I did on “private citations,” I only looked at the sites that you see when you do a free GetListed.org scan of your business.  At the time, those totaled 12 sites.  A great start, sure.

But an effective citation-building effort – again, which is crucial to your rankings – takes more than listing your business on even those 12 sites.

That’s why I’ve looked at more sites and have learned even more about where privacy fits into local search.

I’ve looked at a total of 31 of the most-important sites for your business to be listed on, and I’ve seen which sites let you keep your address private.

 

The breakdown: which sites are (and are not) “private”

(You can also get the breakdown on Google Drive, or as a PDF or Excel doc.  Just in case you want to see all the sites at a glance.)

AngiesList.com: yes.  There is not a checkbox for this; the “address” field is optional, so you can simply choose not to specify your street address.

Bing Business Portal: yes.

BizWiki.com: no.

BrownBook.net: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

City-Data.com: no.  The rules specify that the site is “only for brick & mortar businesses.”

CitySearch.com: yes.  (See my instructions for adding or claiming your CitySearch listing.)

CitySquares.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

DexKnows.com: maybe.  If you’ve hidden your address on LocalEze and suppressed your ExpressUpdateUSA listing, your address most likely won’t show up on DexKnows.

DirectoryCentral.com: no.

DiscoverOurTown.com: no.

ExpressUpdateUSA.com: no.  AKA InfoGroup, this is one of three main “data-providers” – in other words, a really important site to be listed on.  As I noted in my post from 2012, “you can’t simply ‘turn off’ the display of your address on your ExpressUpdate listing.  But you can search for your listing on the site and request its deletion, OR you can call up Customer Service and ask them to suppress your listing.”

EZLocal.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

FourSquare.com: no.  (Hiding your address would defeat the main purpose of being listed on FourSquare in the first place: getting customers to “check in” to your business on their phones.)

HotFrog.com: yes.

iBegin.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

JudysBook.com: maybe.  If you pay the monthly fee to claim your listing, you may be able to leave off your street address.  The other way to get your business listed on JudysBook is for a customer to find the hidden “submit” area and then to post a review of your business, although in this option the street address is required.

Kudzu.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

Local.BOTW.org: yes.

Local.com: yes.

LocalEze.com: yes.  (This is a major “data-provider” and an extremely important site to be listed on.  See my recent post for more detail.)

Manta.com: yes.  On one screen you’re made to provide a street address, but on the next screen you can check a “hide address” box.

MapQuest.com: yes.

MerchantCircle.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

MyBusinessListingManager.com: yes.  AKA Acxiom, this is a major “data-provider.

Nokia (here.com/primeplaces): yes.  You have to specify your street, but you don’t have to specify your number.

SuperPages.com: yes.

Yahoo: yes.

YellowBot.com: yes.  But only once you’ve claimed your listing.  (See comment below from YellowBot co-founder Emad Fanous.)

YellowBook.com: maybe.  You can only edit the address by calling 1-800-929-3556; they may allow you to hide the address if you ask.

Yelp.com: yes.

YP.com: yes.

 

A few takeaways

Takeaway 1. The biggest directories (e.g. Yelp, YP) usually let you hide your address.  If you do nothing else, make sure you’re listed on these.

Takeaway 2.  The smaller directories (e.g. BizWiki, DirectoryCentral) aren’t as likely to let you hide your address.  Whether you want to add or keep a listing on these sites depends on which you’d rather have: a little extra “citations juice” or a little extra privacy.

Takeaway 3.  Your biggest challenge in juggling citation-building and privacy is to determine how you want to handle your listings on two of the three “primary data-providers”: ExpressUpdateUSA.com and MyBusinessListingManager.com.  The other main data-provider (LocalEze.com) lets you hide your address, so that one isn’t an issue.  But the former two sites make you list your address, and they feed your business info to lots of other sites.  You should be able to strike a good balance of local rankings and privacy if you’re listed on these non-private sites but make sure your address is private elsewhere.  But if you’re really concerned about privacy, you’ll need to contact the people at ExpressUpdateUSA (AKA InfoGroup) and MyBusinessListingManager (AKA Acxiom) and ask them to suppress your listing.  (I know the former allows you to do this, but I’m not sure about the latter.)

 

Some notes

Arguably a good citation-building campaign involves your creating and managing even more than 31 listings.  So does my list only get you only partway down the road?

No, because there are two “buts” that mean now you’ve probably got all the info you need to build citations effectively but privately:

1.  Several of those 31 sites feed business info to other sites, which means that over time the number of citations your business has will grow naturally and without your needing to do anything.  Meanwhile, to the extent you’ve made sure your address isn’t listed on those sites, it won’t get spread all over the web.  Win-win.

2.  If those 31 sites are the only ones you’ve listed your business on, then you’ve got a very good citations profile.  But to take it from “very good” to excellent will probably involve digging deeper (probably with the Local Citation Finder) to find citations that Google places extra “trust” in: either directories that are specific to your industry, or specific to your city/region, or both.  Because there’s an infinity of these industry- and location-specific sites, I’ll never be able to research which ones are “private” – at least before I’m using dentures and a walker.  So I’ll leave it up to you: whether you’d rather be listed on “niche” sites that may or may not require you to list your address.

Still, I want to learn about the privacy levels of even more sites.  That’s why this is an evergreen post: I’m going to update it as I learn about more sites.

 

What about non-US sites?

One obvious limitation of my current list is that I haven’t researched all that many non-US sites.

True: some of the sites (like Manta.com) are available outside the USA, or have a network of “sister” sites (like YP.com) in other countries.

And yes, if you download the list, you’ll notice that I’ve indicated which sites are “international.”  That should help you if you’re located outside the US.

But…if you have some time to spare and want to go through Nyagoslav Zhekov’s two great posts on important non-US citation sources and want to let me know what you find, I’d more than appreciate it (and will cite you here :)).

Once again, here are the download options for the list of of “private” citations:

Google Drive
PDF
Excel

Got any questions or suggestions about juggling local rankings and privacy?  Go ahead – leave a comment.

Studied for Your Google+Local SATs?

Have YOU done your homework?It’s my pleasure to publish the first guest post that’s made its way onto this blog.

Colan Nielsen of Powered by Search has impressed me over the last few months with the knowledge he shares over at Linda Buquet’s forum, and I really liked an idea he had for a post (below).

At the very bottom is a link to the PDF that contains Colan’s answers to the quiz questions.

Enjoy!

Last year Phil did a post with a quiz on “How Well Do You Know the Google Places Quality Guidelines?” After taking Phil’s quiz (and acing it…cough cough), I realized that this was the first time that some of the Google Places Quality Guidelines were actually sticking to my brain. After all those years of writing, and not particularly enjoying all those tests in high school, I’ve finally come full circle and have a new appreciation for the mighty “quiz”.

That motivated me to create a training resource for our local marketing team at Imprezzio. Once I had created the quiz, I sent it out to the team, and then on the following week’s team meeting we went over all the questions, dissected the answers, and in turn, created some great discussion. It was one of the best meetings we had in a while, and it dawned on me that this was only the beginning of a great way to stay on top of the constantly changing rules and guidelines of Google+ Local.

It’s important for local SEOs to know the rules. It’s even more important if you’re a business owner trying to get your own business visible in Google+Local.

Whether you ace the quiz or fail it gloriously, you‘ve got to know Google’s rules.  It’s the difference between sinking and swimming.

 

Categories

1.    Which of the following categories would Google deem acceptable? (multiple answers accepted)

a.  Dentist
b.  Teeth Whitening Service
c.  Braces
d.  Toronto Dentist
e.  NYC Renters Insurance
f.  Insurance Agency
g. Best Insurance Agency

2.    Categories must describe what your business_____, not what it ______.

3.    Where do you put the Suite#/Apt# etc. in the Google Places Dashboard?

a.  Address line 1
b.  Never add suite #
c.  Address line 2

Business Address/Location

4.    Which of the following businesses would most likely need to hide their address?(multiple answers accepted)

a.  Insurance Agency
b.  Electrician
c.  Plumber
d.  Sporting Goods Store

5.    A Service Area Business (SAB) can have a Google+ Local page for every city/area that it services?

a.  TRUE
b.  FALSE

6.    Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google listing.

a.  TRUE
b.  FALSE

Business Name

7.  The business name must represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. Name 3 things that you should never put in your business name.

1:
2:
3:

General

8.    What is the best-practice for when a business moves to a new location/address?

a.  Edit the existing listing in the Google Places dashboard
b.  Edit the existing listing with the EBD (“Edit business details”)
c.  Mark the listing as closed and create a new listing

9.    When is it acceptable to claim a single listing into more than 1 account?

a.  Only for a Service Area Business (“SAB”)
b.  Only for a business with a storefront
c.  When you want to have multiple managers for the listing
d.  Never

10. Which method of reporting a problem to Google Places support gets you an open line of communication with Google, which allows you to correspond back and forth?

a.  “Report a Problem”
b.  Google Places Troubleshooter

11. Videos uploaded to the Google Places dashboard currently take how long to go live?

a.  4 to 6 weeks
b.  1 to 2 weeks
c.  Instantly
d.  The video feature is currently disabled and doesn’t ever show live


Done?  Check out the answers.

You can also get the quiz as a PDF.

Oh, and here are the rules straight from Google.

Colan Nielsen - Local SEO at Imprezzio MarketingAbout the Author

Colan Nielsen is the Agency Operations Manager at Powered by Search in Toronto, Canada. By night, he is Linda Buquet’s right-hand man and moderator at the Catalyst Local eMarketing Local Search Community.

Google MapMaker 101 for Local Business Owners

Google MapMaker is like the NSA: Many people know it exists or at least have heard of it in passing.  But few know much about it or what goes on there.

MapMaker is one head of a two-headed monster.  It’s oddly intertwined with the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results.  The accuracy of much of the “local” info about cities and businesses depends on thousands and millions of little changes that people make to Google’s maps.  Many of those changes are made in MapMaker.

These little changes can determine whether your business is listed accurately in Google.  Ultimately, they can determine how visible your business is in the Google+Local search results.  That’s why you should care about MapMaker – or at least know a little bit about it.

MapMaker won’t help you win the potato-sack race with your local competitors.  But knowing about how it works can help you avoid a faceplant that can cause you to lose that race.

The only trouble is that practical, real-world info on MapMaker is hard to come by.  It doesn’t get much attention even in local-SEO circles.

Because of that and simply out of my curiosity, I decided to interview two people who know a lot about MapMaker: Andrew Sawyer and Saikrishna Arcot.

These guys are “Regional Expert Reviewers.”  Also known as “RER’s” or “editors” or “reviewers,” they’re among the people who volunteer their time to make the endless number of changes to Google’s maps – and to the local-business info in them.

I did my best Mike Wallace, and they did a phenomenal job of answering my questions and providing a TON of insights.

To get the inside scoop on how MapMaker affects your business’s visibility in Google+Local and what you can and cannot do with it, read the interview.  You’ll want to pull up a chair for this one.

How would you describe MM to someone who’s never heard of it before?

Andrew:  MM is a way for people to provide their local knowledge to update physical features in Google Maps. This takes the form of parks, roads, shopping malls, rivers, etc. MM is the public editable version of Google Maps that is incorporated to provide accurate and up-to-date information from users.

Saikrishna: Map Maker is a tool for users to either correct incorrect features (roads, business listings, parks, schools, shopping centers, etc.) or to add new roads or features that they may not own.

 

Under what circumstances would a business owner EVER need to deal with MM personally?  To what extent should a business owner care about what goes on there?

Andrew:  Business owners should take care in using MM, especially if they are looking to use it to gain an edge on their competition. MM should be used by those who feel comfortable using it to make accurate edits that affect physical features. Some reasons a business owner would want to use MM:

Providing an accurate address – Places/Community Edits will abbreviate addresses which is not the format desired for Maps. MM feeds/edits the addresses, road names, cities, states, countries for Maps (some of these are locked from editing). While abbreviations may be rendered on the map, the full name is used and required for addresses.

If there is an issue with an address, a new geolocated point for the address can be manually entered via MM. By adding a point feature in MM with the category “Address” can be used with just the street address (no names of features) to help set where a particular address is. If an address is already present, but uses abbreviate names “Rd.” the full name of the street name/state/etc. should be selected from the drop down when editing to help locate the place.

Checking on the history/troubleshooting their businesses’ feature – Most edits, even those from Community Edits and Google editors, will typically show up allowing any user to view if a feature had anything which would cause issues with bots or other automated edits. Some things that can affect a feature are duplicates/merges, improper name change and/or hijacking another business feature, changing a professional listing (person) to a business feature,  issues finding when and/or who made a change to the feature. The Places/G+L cid# it can be used to find the MM feature associated with the one in their dashboard.

Adding/editing physical features nearby the business – By watching the MM YouTube videos, reading some MM Help Center articles and asking for help in the MM forum you can quickly gain the knowledge to make edits that will provide more detail about the area surrounding a business. Some features that can be added are parking lots, shopping centers, buildings, access roads, paths, etc. Many businesses are located in a shopping center/strip mall/etc. and if the shopping center is added to the map with a boundary drawn on the map features will be associated with the shopping center in Maps. When a business owner isn’t comfortable making an edit, they can always seek out experienced MM users to help/make the necessary changes.

Saikrishna: Business owners should generally stick to Places, since they have a lot of control over their place in Places. In most cases, the only reason a business owner would absolutely need to go to Map Maker is possibly to delete incorrect names that are showing up in Google+ Local.  However, in some cases, if their business disappears from either Places or Google+ Local, they may need to go to either the Places forums or the Map Maker forums or to their feature in Map Maker to find out why their business might have disappeared. If there are sudden changes between what they had and what is there now, or if what they see in their Places dashboard is significantly different from what they see in their Google+ Local page, then they might want to go to their Map Maker feature to see recent edits made.

That being said, there are a couple of features that are in Map Maker, but may or may not be in Places. One of these is the ability to associate their feature with a building. If the business is located inside a building, and the building is mapped in Map Maker, then they can edit their feature to indicate that their business is located in a building. If the building isn’t mapped, they can draw a new building, and after that is approved, link their feature to the building. Currently, this will have no effect in Places or Google+ Local, but I’m hoping that one day, we’ll be able to tell the businesses that are in a specific building.

Some business owners may see in Google+ Local that their addresses were changed to expand all abbreviations and have the suite number (if applicable) places at the start of the address instead of right after the street name. The reasoning for this is that Map Maker has defined data fields for the address line (where the suite number goes), street name, city, state, and zip code, and Places doesn’t follow this format. In addition, when editing, Places / Google+ Local abbreviates where possible, whereas the data (street name, state name, etc.) is not abbreviated. In order to follow this format, the addresses are changed in Map Maker to match existing data.

[Phil: If you’ve wondered why the address that you see when you visit your business’s Google+Local page doesn’t look like it has the same formatting as what you entered in the “Street Address” field(s) of your Google Places dashboard, the above answer explains why.]

 

For whom or what is MM most useful? 

Andrew: MM is most useful for addressing/routing in Maps; changes in MM will eventually affect Maps (this ranges from days to weeks depending on the type of edit and the different iterations of Google the change impacts)

MM is also most useful for making changes to one’s local area to convey the most accurate information; marking a business as closed, adding a new name for a street (or part of one), correcting the location of a business to its front door, etc.

Saikrishna: In my opinion, Map Maker is most useful for general Maps users who have some spare time on their hands, who are fairly familiar with a region, and who are willing to improve features in that region.

In addition to end-users, Google Trusted Photographers also use Map Maker either to add a business that is not already on Maps or to correct information about a business in preparation for a photography tour for the business.

 

Other than editors and people trying to spam Google, who uses MM?  Tell me a little bit about the typical end-user.

Andrew: MM is typically used by people who have a love for maps (Geo majors, Scouts, backpackers), people who rely on maps for their job (public safety personnel, truckers, taxi drivers) and technically inclined people who want to see their “home area” properly mapped in Google

Saikrishna: From what I see, the typical end-user are those who want to make a few changes to businesses here or there.

[Phil: Hey, maybe you could make it onto this list.]

 

Can people also use it to create “personal maps?

Andrew: MM should never be used to make personal maps, that should be limited to “My places” in Google Maps.

Saikrishna: Actually, if users want to create a map that only relates to them, but is not for anyone else, or the feature they are adding is personal or private, they will need to use My Places in Google Maps instead.

 

What type of person generally becomes a “trusted” (AKA “Regional”) MM editor?  What does it take to become one?

Andrew: Regional Expert Reviewers, those with enhanced publishing powers for Review (not edits), are typically selected from the most active editors using MM, in the forum and demonstrate a commitment to reviewing/mapping in accordance with MM guidelines.

Saikrishna: A trusted Map Maker editor should be familiar with Map Maker guidelines and know how to do things in Map Maker. He/she should also be familiar with his/her area enough to be able to review other people’s edits.

 

Has someone ever hired you specifically for your help in fixing a MM problem?

Andrew: No, as a MM user and RER I feel a personal obligation to help people map in a way that improves the map and is in accordance with Google’s policies. While I already have helped many people on the MM, Google for Business and other forums fix problems for free, I am available for consultation.

Saikrishna: No (unless you count those asking for help on how to do something in the forums).

 

How do MM problems usually come to your attention?

Andrew: I learn of “Problems,” which I define as bad data, from my own personal use of Google Maps and MM, friends who tell me they can’t find an address/business or that it’s mislocated, the MM forum, the Google for Business (“Places”) forum, the Local Search Forum, and news articles.

Saikrishna: Mainly through both forums and Map Maker itself. I typically edit businesses in my area and sometimes find problems with features.

 

What kinds of local search -related problems have their roots in MM?

Andrew: Merges and/or duplicates.  This is one of the big offenders I see with business owners claiming a feature thinking it is “Dentistry Unlimited” because that’s what the primary name on Maps said it was, or marking that feature as a duplicate of the existing “Dentistry Unlimited” feature associated with a claimed feature in Places. Google allows dentists to have ‘Professional Listings’ as a way for people to locate the doctor directly instead of the business; unfortunately people or bots will place the business name in the name of the feature instead of the person’s name which sometimes will be modified in a manner that conflates the professional listing with a business listing.

Because name changes to businesses, etc. require closing a feature and creating a new one, bots will mistakenly add information to what should be a professional listing but has been claimed by someone representing a dental practice. This is especially problematic when someone retires and another professional comes into the same practice and the same professional listing is used. Business owners and others should take the time to check a feature’s history in MM to go all the way to the beginning to see if it was improperly renamed or marked as a duplicate in a manner that would present problems with bots.

Saikrishna: If their business is not appearing in the search suggestions, it may be that the business has been marked as a duplicate of another feature or marked as closed. However, this could be attributed either to Map Maker or to Places, as a bot there may have marked a business as a duplicate of another.

If their business is not appearing in Maps at all, then it could be that their business was removed, either from Places or Map Maker.

 

What checks can a business owner perform in MM to tell whether there’s a problem that affects his/her business?

Andrew: See earlier comments [answer to question #2].

Saikrishna: A business owner could check to see if there have been major changes to their feature (if their feature is removed, marked as closed, or marked as a duplicate of another feature). These three changes could be an indication that their place may no longer be searchable in Google Maps. If their feature is removed, it may be because the feature was in violation of Places guidelines. If their feature is marked as a duplicate, or if your feature is not appearing at all in Maps, then I would recommend going to either the Map Maker forums or the Places forums.

 

If a business owner has concluded that his/her business has a problem in MM, what course of action would you suggest for that person?

Andrew: Business owners should only turn to MM when using the Places Dashboard is ineffective or MM is better at accomplishing the desired result (in accordance with Places and MM guidelines).

For business owners wishing to use MM, the best course of action is to start their own thread in the MM forum, including the city/state/country in the subject line. They should describe their issue in a factual manner (avoiding blame accusations, etc) and being straightforward about their business and the feature.

The MM forum is largely user-to-user, and more experienced users like myself only have a certain amount of time and energy to contribute. If someone is being belligerent and/or shady they are likely going to not receive as much assistance as if they were honest and forthcoming. I have helped give people advice on how to bring their non-compliant features into compliance because they were able to provide me the information I needed to give them proper advice. Others, I just moved onto the next person and/or just reported their feature to Google for internal review.

Saikrishna: If it’s a simple change (incorrect address number, incorrect marker location, etc.), and their Places Dashboard is correct, then editing in Map Maker would probably be fine. If it is more complex (missing in search results, marked as a duplicate, etc.), then I would recommend going to either the Map Maker forum or the Places forum.

 

The rest of Google’s maps / local search system is notoriously full of problems.  What are the big problems in MM?

Andrew: Bots making edits that combine information from a variety of places into one feature and/or merging features incorrectly. This is predominant on college campuses with the main college feature having the names and phone numbers of departments and organizations added to the main feature.

Saikrishna: Some of the problems in Map Maker (which is also shared in Places) is that a feature may be marked as a duplicate of another feature by either a Places bot or a Map Maker bot when it’s really not, possibly because of similar names or similar phone numbers. This causes the “duplicate” feature to eventually disappear from Maps, and a new feature may have to be created.

 

What are some common shenanigans that some people – particularly business owners or marketers/SEOs – try to pull in MM?

Andrew:

  • Hijacking features of competitors and changing the name or phone number to their own/someone else.
  • Having multiple features at different addresses for one business.
  • Using a UPS store, USPS post office, Private Mailbox location, or Virtual/Rented Office location like Regis as their physical address.  [Be sure to review the list of acceptable locations in MapMaker.]
  • Trying to game the system by making edits/reviews in MM to build trust within MM to gain an advantage. Power users and other experienced editors usually spot these pretty easily and report them to Google. Such schemes usually result in someone having their trust level manually reset by Google or their account suspended/deactivated.

Saikrishna: While this isn’t specific to Map Maker, one fairly common shenanigan is having too many categories. Some businesses type in categories that are not among Google’s list of categories. Some businesses also have the name of the city as part of a category, which isn’t allowed. There are very few cases in which a business should have a category that’s not already included in Google’s list of categories.

Another shenanigan I occasionally see is business owners not entering the proper name of their business in the name field. For example, instead of entering “Remax,” they enter “Best Real Estate Office.” This is not allowed, and may lead to problems down the line in regards to their visibility in Map Maker.

Another “attempted” shenanigan I see is people entering information about the business in the Description box in Map Maker. They may believe that the description they enter will be visible in the Google+ Local page; however, the description box is essentially notes that don’t go anywhere. The description that is in Google+ Local can only be edited in the Places Dashboard.

 

What do you think the average business owner should do with MM?

Andrew: Learn how to use MM before jumping in with both feet; reading the Help Center articles, watching the YouTube videos for MM and reading the forums is a great place to start. Use MM only to accurately fix issues that cannot be done via their own Dashbord or Community Edits (address, name types, or others).

Saikrishna: They can keep an eye on their Map Maker feature to make sure that there are no major changes that are incorrect. If there are any incorrect changes, some of them may be easy to fix, while the others may or may not be able to be fixed.

 

What do you like most about MM?

Andrew: I like the ability to make changes that update Google Maps allowing its users to get directions, locate a business or discover what is around them more efficiently and effectively. As an RER, I also enjoy the ability, to quickly push through edits in order to keep Maps up-to-date as possible.

Saikrishna: I like the idea of Map Maker itself, that the common man can help in making a better map for their neighborhood, either by adding new roads or adding a new store that’s recently opened.

 

How do you see MM evolving in the future?  (Pure speculation is OK!)

Andrew: In the future I see Trusted Reviewer being added for smaller areas (cities, college campuses) to people in those communities such as planning officials, police dispatchers, etc. who demonstrate proficiency in MM to have better control over correcting inaccurate or abusive edits. Currently most RERs have enhanced publishing powers for reviews on a country-wide basis.

 

Any other comments you’d like to add?

Andrew: Android users should go sign up for Ingress, which is currently in beta. It reportedly is a fun game and will help improve Google Maps!

About the MapMaker Experts:

Andrew Sawyer

Google+

MapMaker Regional Editor profile

Saikrishna Arcot

Google+

MapMaker Regional Editor profile

 

MapMaker resources referred to in the interview:

YouTube channel

Forum

Help Center

 

Great posts on MapMaker:

Interview with Dan Austin, a Google Maps Spam Fighter – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Google +Local NAP Info Pulling From Mapmaker (not Places?) – David Mihm

A Step By Step To Recover Your “We Currently Do Not Support This” Location in MapMaker – Mike Blumenthal

What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker – Mike Blumenthal

Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible? – Nyagoslav Zhekov

MapMaker Bots and What They Do – Mike Blumenthal

Any questions for Andrew or Saikrishna (or me)?  How about a great big thank you to these guys for taking the time to share some insights?  Leave a comment!

7 Ways to Kill Your Local Search Rankings without Touching a Computer

There are a million online misadventures that can snuff out your business’s rankings in local search – in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results and everywhere else.

Attempts to spam or deceive Google usually backfire.  You can also destroy your rankings through sheer laziness – like if you never update any of your business information or never bother to understand Google’s quality guidelines.

You may be aware of what online actions can hurt your local rankings.  Maybe you’ve learned the hard way.

But there also are offline ways you can kill your local rankings.  Simply not doing anything stupid or naughty in your local SEO campaign isn’t enough.  You can lose local visibility and local customers without ever touching your computer (or smartphone or iPad).  To be more precise, I can think of 7 ways:

 

Offline Way to Die Online #1:  Relocate, rename, or use a new phone number without updating your Google+Local page or other business listings to reflect the change(s).

By “update” I mean you must do two things: (1) update all your business listings with the new info, and (2) scour the web for listings (AKA citations) that list your old info.  (By the way, doing a free GetListed.org scan can be a huge help when you get to this step.)

If you fail to do the above, you may be OK…for a little while.  After some months a major third-party data source (most likely InfoGroup) will catch wind of the change and create new listings for your business with the new info.

This will cause your business to have inconsistent info spread all over the web – which itself is a rankings-killer – and may cause Google to create unwanted and inaccurate Google+Local pages for your business (another rankings-killer).

 

Offline Way to Die Online #2:  Get a phony address, like a PO box, UPS box, or virtual office.  Eventually your fake-o address will enter the local-search “ecosystem” (in the way I described above) and you’ll end up with inconsistent business info all over the web, penalties from Google, or both.

(It’s likely that the only reason you’d want a phony address in the first place is so you can try to game Google – so it’s likely your rankings won’t die as a result of your offline actions alone.  More likely, you’ll try to update your business listing(s) with the fake address and end up getting flagged by a competitor or good citizen.)

 

Offline Way to Die Online #3:  Mistreat your customers and get slammed with bad reviews.  This probably won’t have a direct effect on your rankings unless you have dozens or hundreds of scathing reviews, BUT it may affect your rankings indirectly.

For instance, nobody knows for sure whether click-through rate (i.e. the percentage of people who see your business listed in Google and click on it) is a factor that Google takes into account when sorting out the local rankings.  But Google does “know” a bunch of user-engagement stats.  If people simply don’t click on your listing because they see a 10/30 average Google rating, or if nobody clicks your link from (say) your Yelp listing because you have a 1-star average, Google may very well take your rankings down a peg.

Bad service = bad reviews = fewer clicks = low rankings / fewer customers

Also, although “social signals” like Facebook shares, tweets, and Google +1s don’t seem to affect your local rankings much or at all as of this writing, they most likely will become a stronger ranking factor in the future.  If potential customers are scared off by bad reviews, you’ve got fewer opportunities to get social shares.

Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people to pick up the phone.  You can’t do that very well if nobody clicks on your Google+Local page or website because your reviews reek.

By the way, you get bonus idiot points if you get hammered with bad reviews but don’t write thoughtful “replies from the owner.”  Yes, you can do this: Google+Local and Yelp (and probably other sites that aren’t coming to mind now) let you respond to reviews.  It’s easy to write a reply and takes you maybe 90 seconds.  It’s even easier never to check up on the sites where you’re listed or  simply to live in ignorant bliss, oblivious to the public criticism.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #4:  Hire and fire an unethical SEO.  He or she has access to your Google+Local page or other listings (and maybe even your website), and may do something nefarious or simply not hand over your command codes when you need them.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #5:  Let your domain name or hosting expire (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for this one).  True, technically you don’t need a website to rank in the Google+Local or other search results.  But if you don’t have one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because many local-search ranking factors depend on your website.  If you’re in a competitive local market, forget it: Without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #6:  Never grow your site.  No, I’m not talking about updating the copyright at the bottom of your website so that it no longer reads “© 2002.”  I’m talking about keeping a “static” website to which you rarely or never add useful, non-promotional info that might cause a potential customer to think “Hey, that was handy!”  A static website is a lost opportunity.

Google knows when a website is an online paperweight, and may very well reflect that fact in your rankings.  Worse, if your site is devoid of fresh, helpful info, nobody will link to you, share your site, or give you a juicy unstructured citation or review – all of which are factors that otherwise could boost your rankings.

If you’re going to rank well, your site needs to show signs of life.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #7:  Never check your Google+Local page and other listings.  They say a watched pot never boils.  The corollary is that an unwatched pot can eventually boil over or boil until there’s no water left.

Things will happen to your online local presence, whether you know it or not – and probably not all of those things will be good.  Sometimes you’ll need to fix or remove inaccurate info on your listings, respond to reviews, or double-check your Google+Local page or website is compliant with the Google update du jour.

But you can’t fix problems if you never know about them.

By the way, there’s no offline way to fix most of the above problems.  The solutions involve getting with the times, getting on the computer (or tablet), getting a little bit of local SEO know-how (as you’re doing now!), and getting your hands a little dirty.  That will help you become or stay visible to local customers, and it will help keep the phone ringing.

Any other offline “ways to die” you can think of?  Any questions or general suggestions?  Leave a comment!

Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

If you run your business from home and don’t want your address to be visible in Google, on your site, or on third-party sites…then yes, you should still be able to rank just fine in the Google+Local search results.

But balancing local visibility and privacy takes a little finesse.  I’ve written this post to show you how to pull it off.

A little background

One of my clients – whom I’ll call Frank – asked me a great question at the beginning of this year that went something like this:

I work from home.  I like and trust my clients and I always travel TO them for each job, but I want to keep my family’s home address private.  Can I still rank OK in local Google?

What I told Frank was that, yes, he can (and should) hide his address from showing up on his Google Places (now known as Google+Local) page, and that, no, he doesn’t need to have his street address on his website.

I told him that’s a good start, because most of the people who will ever become clients will have found him through either his Google+Local page or his site – and therefore wouldn’t have occasion to see his address if it’s not listed on either of those places.

But there’s a rub: I told Frank that a HUGE factor in ranking well in local Google is being listed accurately on third-party sites.  That is, on sites like Yelp, CitySearch, SuperPages, etc., plus the two major “data-providers,” ExpressUpdateUSA.com and LocalEze.com (which feed other sites across the web).

What I didn’t know was the extent to which you can choose to hide your address from these third-party sites.

And you do need to be listed on those sites.  In a semi-competitive market, if you’re not listed correctly on at least a few specific third-party sites, you’re unlikely to rank well.  (In just a second I’ll tell you exactly which sites I’m referring to.)

Sure, you still need to optimize your Google listing and website and probably drum up some reviews, and even then there’s no guarantee you’ll outrank anyone.

But if you can at least list your business on the major third-party sites, you’ll probably be in good shape in terms of rankings.

Therefore, if privacy is a concern of yours, your challenge is: can you list your business on all the important third-party sites you need to list it on without revealing your address on those sites?

I recently found that the answer is yes: with a little work you should be able to keep your address off of these sites, and so you should be able to rank well locally.

Which sites to focus on?

I’ve found that the sites you see when you do a GetListed scan are the biggest determinants of how well you’ll rank.  Being listed on them is no guarantee you’ll rank well, but if you’re not on them you’re far less likely to rank well locally in Google.

They’re also important because some of them get a lot of “eyeballs” in their own right – eyeballs you may not want your street address in front of if you’re concerned about privacy.

Anyway, go to GetListed.org and do a scan of your business.  You’ll see the big, important sites on the right:

Not all of these sites matter much to your rankings in local Google.

As you probably know, Yahoo and Bing are Google’s competitors (albeit very small in comparison).  Your local listings there simply don’t affect your Google rankings.  But because some people use Yahoo and Bing instead of Google, it’s very much worth having your business listed on those sites.  Which also means it’s worth making sure your address doesn’t show if privacy is a concern to you.

FourSquare is becoming more important, but it doesn’t seem to affect local rankings at this stage – partly because it doesn’t even accommodate most service-based businesses, but instead mostly caters to eateries and tourist-y destinations.

Also, people can’t “check in” to your business on their smartphones if they’re not coming to your location – which they won’t be, if you’re trying not to reveal your address.

So for local-rankings purposes you don’t need to worry about FourSquare – and to the extent you want to keep your address a “secret” it’s probably best to avoid it.

If you want to keep your address private, priority #1 is making sure the following sites do not list your address:

  • Google+Local (formerly Google Places)
  • Bing Business Portal
  • ExpressUpdateUSA.com (AKA InfoGroup or InfoUSA)
  • LocalEze.com
  • Yelp.com
  • Yahoo Local
  • SuperPages.com
  • YP.com
  • CitySearch.com
  • HotFrog.com
  • Local.BOTW.org

What do you need to do on these sites?

Now that you know which sites to pay attention to, the question becomes: how do you conceal your address on each site?

On which sites can you simply click a button and choose not to have your address displayed?  On most of them you can do this.  But a few of them are slightly more involved.  Here’s the site-by-site breakdown:

 

Yes, you can choose to have your address hidden.  To do this, log into the “Dashboard” area of your listing, go to “Edit,” choose the option for “this business serves customers at their location,” and then choose the “Do not show address on Google Maps” option.  (According to Google, you must do this if you travel to your customers, rather than the other way around.)

 

Yes, you can choose to have your address hidden.

 

No, you can’t simply “turn off” the display of your address on your ExpressUpdate listing.  But you can search for your listing on the site and request its deletion, OR you can call up Customer Service and ask them to suppress your listing.  For ranking purposes it’s ideal to have an ExpressUpdate listing, but many businesses that don’t have listings there still rank well in Google.  In any case, the bottom line is if you really want your address as close to 100%-private as possible, you need to “silence” your ExpressUpdate listing, because otherwise it will spread your address to countless other sites across the web.

 

Yes.

 

Yes.

 

  Yes.

 

Yes.

 

Yes.

 

  Probably.  As of this writing (August 13, 2012), the only way to add or modify your CitySearch listing is to send in a manual request to the support team at myaccount@citygridmedia.com.  If you don’t have a listing on CitySearch, email them with all your basic business info (name, phone, what type of business yours is) and just ask not to have your address included.  Because CitySearch is fed by InfoGroup (AKA ExpressUpdateUSA.com), they may very well have your address listed.  If that’s the case, just email them and ask to have it removed, and they should do so.  (For a bit more detail on this, check out my blog post on the topic.)

If you happen to be reading this and there’s (finally) an “Add listing” form on CitySearch that gives you the option of hiding your address, great; do so.

 

Yes.

 

 Yes.

 

On most of these sites you’ll need to claim your listing in order to get the address removed.

Obviously, you’ll also want to try to get any unnecessary or duplicate listings removed (which is a good practice to follow anyway, by the way).

Recap

If you want to keep your address as private as possible while allowing yourself the best-possible chances of getting good rankings in local Google, do the following:

1.  Don’t include your street address on your website.  However, make sure to include your business name and phone number as crawlable text on every page of your site.

2.  Hide your address from showing up on your Google+Local listing.

3.  Go to the other sites I listed and get your address hidden, as I described.

4.  To the extent you have the time and inclination, go to other third-party sites and see if/where your address pops up.  On sites where you can’t remove the address yourself, just send in a request to have it removed.  Which sites should you check?  The ones on this list, for starters.

A few notes

I’ve had clients who don’t want their addresses revealed in Google+Local or on their website, but I’ve never had one who wants to keep it so much of a secret that nowhere on the Internet can it be found.  In these few cases to date we just hid the address from showing on Google and left it off of the website.  The reason is that, until now, I didn’t know whether you even could take it a step further and hide your address from showing on all these other sites.  Now we know you can.  Still, I’ve never had a client ask me to try to hide his/her address to the degree I just described.

Nor have I run across a business “in the wild” where the address truly is “Top Secret” and can’t be discovered with some determined digging.  Then again, I don’t imagine most people want it to be absolutely undiscoverable, but simply just don’t want their home addresses to be broadcasted all over the web.  I imagine that’s the case with you, too.  But if you’re absolutely adamant, check out step #4 (above).

Is there a “ceiling” or a “handicap” on how well you can rank if you choose not to display your address anywhere on the web?  I dunno.  But I do know that as long as you’re able to be listed on the major third-party sites, it’s at least possible to get visible but stay private.

What’s been your experience with keeping a business/home address under wraps?  How well have you been able to rank?  Let me know in a comment!