If Nobody in Your Area Cares about Yelp, Should You Still Bother Getting Reviews There?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/crouch/5965207074/

“My customers don’t care about Yelp.  Nobody around here cares about Yelp.  Why should I even try to get reviews there?”

That’s a valid concern of business owners in most of the US – and in most of the world.  Yelp, the Billion Dollar Bully, makes itself hard to avoid and even harder to like.  The site is only powerful because of all the reviews.  They’re its lifeblood.  So why on earth would you want to ask your hard-earned customers to review you there – when they probably don’t value it any more than you do?

A few reasons to hold your nose and work to get at least a few good reviews on Yelp:

1. Even people who don’t give a rip about Yelp still see your average rating in the search results when they Google you by name. They can tell that it’s a review site, even though they may not care that the review site is Yelp.  If nothing else, it’s a voice in the chorus.

2.  Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. So if you have a 1-star or a 5-star average on Yelp, that’s what people who check out your listings on those 3 local search engines will see.

3.  It’s worth having a couple positive reviews on Yelp just in case someone does a hatchet job on you there. It’s a defensive move, at the very least.  The time to start trying to get good reviews is not when you’re in a hole.

4.  Even though most people in the great State of _____ have the good sense not to care much about Yelp, some small segment of the population may pay attention to it. Throw them a bone.

5.  Maybe Yelp will broaden its appeal one day.

6.  It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Yelp doesn’t need to become your main squeeze, or a major time-commitment.  The goal is to get at least a couple good reviews on the board.

7.  It’s great practice for you, in the name of getting dialed-in on your review strategy. You’ll get a little better at knowing whom to ask, when to ask, how to ask, etc.  If it proves too tough to get a given customer to review you on Yelp, ask him or her to review you somewhere else instead.

How to get at least a few reviews on Yelp?  These posts may help:

How to Bulk-Identify Prime Yelp Reviewers with Yelp’s “Find Friends” Feature in 7 Easy Steps – me

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews – me

8 Reasons Why Your Business Should Use Yelp’s Check-In Offers – Joy Hawkins

3 Next-Level Yelp Tricks for Business Owners – Brian Patterson

Do people in your area give a hoot about Yelp?  How do you approach it?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Thanks to Lisa Moon of Paper Moon Painting for asking me a thought-provoking question last year that made me want to write about this.

Review-Site Sitelinks Just Got More Local?

You might be doing well on reviews, but can you see your business when you search for the review site?

More so than I’ve ever seen before, Google’s showing specific local businesses in the sitelinks when I just type in “Yelp,” for example.

I also see specific businesses show up when I search for Urbanspoon – sorry, Zomato.

I’m not seeing this when I search for most other review sites, and I’ve mostly seeing restaurants so far, but it appears you don’t have to be a restaurant to get one of these sitelinks.

The common thread I’ve seen so far is these places all have a decent number of reviews.  Also, the jewelry store in the sitelink is BBB-accredited, which helps its prominence in BBB.org, and may in one way or another make it more likely to show up to nearby people as a sitelink.

City-specific sitelinks have shown up for several years, but this is the first I’m seeing of sitelinks that (1) are specific to the city you’re searching in and (2) are for specific local businesses.

I am seeing the same results on mobile.

I’m not seeing those sorts of sitelinks in Bing, though:

bing-yelp-sitelinks

It seems recent, Google-specific, non-device-specific, and most noticeable in search results for Yelp.

If you’ve got a good reputation on a given review site, this could be party time.

Have you been noticing more business-specific sitelinks when you search for a review site?  If so, on which site(s)?

Besides getting reviews, what do you think a business needs to do to show up there as a sitelink?

What do you make of this, in general?

Leave a comment!

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/blackzack00/9985685503

I’ve seen Yelp from many angles: as a local SEO-er, as a local-reviews madman, as a consumer, as a two-year “Elite” reviewer, as a concerned citizen, and as a business owner.

That means I’ve got a love like-hate relationship with Yelp reviews.

It’s a nice feeling every time a client of mine gets a hard-earned review there.  Also, I pay some attention to Yelp reviews when I’m debating where to take my open wallet.

On the other hand, Yelp is infuriating for most business owners.  From the misleading (at best) ad-sales tactics, to the aggressive review filter, to the absurd policy that says you can’t even ask for a review, Yelp’s about as likeable as Genghis Khan.

Those issues are just the beginning.  I can think of at least 20 difficulties with Yelp reviews you’ll have to navigate.  You might have learned about some of them the hard way already.  Now you can find out about the rest.

This isn’t just a mope-fest.  You’ll learn a thing or two about how Yelp handles your reviews, and once I’ve laid out all the problems (that come to mind) you’ll probably think of ways to improve your reviews strategy.

Well-known problems

1.  Yelp filters reviews – and often does a poor job of it.

2.  You aren’t supposed to ask for Yelp reviews.

3.  Reviews are the main factor for your rankings within Yelp, and Yelp’s category pages often dominate Google’s search results.

4.  There’s a good chance a negative review will be visible on the first page of your brand-name search results, especially if the reviewer mentions your company by name.

5.  Yelp doesn’t make its policies apparent enough. Its “don’t ask for reviews” policy should be impossible for business owners to miss.  That it filters most reviews by first-timers and other new reviewers should be obvious to would-be reviewers before they write anything.

6.  As soon as you get even one Yelp review you’ll start getting sales calls, pressuring you to pay for ads. (I wouldn’t suggest you bite.)

7.  Yelp is hard to avoid on the Coasts (especially on the West Coast). In certain cities – like San Francisco, Portland, and NYC – you’re probably behind a lot of local competitors if you don’t have at least a few reviews there.

Little-known problems

8.  Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. Your bad reviews can show up on those 3 major local search engines (and beyond).

9.  It usually takes 10-15 reviews before a Yelp reviewer is “trusted” and his/her reviews are no longer filtered often or at all. It’s not practical to ask your reviewers to make a habit of Yelping, so as to reach that number of reviews .  That’s why the name of the game is to identify any customers / clients/ patients who are already active on Yelp, and to let it be known that you’re on Yelp and like feedback (wink, wink).

10.  Yelp reviews can get filtered and unfiltered multiple times. It depends on whether the reviewer goes inactive for more than a couple of weeks.  But this problem seems to go away once a reviewer has written about 15-20 reviews over a period of around 3 months.

11.  Even some “approved” reviews can become collateral damage if later you get too many reviews that do get filtered.For example, let’s say you have 4 reviews.  2 of them were written by very active Yelpers (maybe “Elites”) and are safe.  The other 2 were written by people with a handful of reviews each, and those reviews live happily on your page for a few months.

Now you put on your Icarus wings and ask half a dozen people who’ve never written a review on Yelp to review you.  Their reviews show up on your page for a couple of days before going into the grinder – and 2 of your reviews written by sometime Yelpers get filtered, too.  The only reviews that remain are the ones written by hardcore Yelpers.

12.  Negative reviews appear somewhat more likely to stick.

13.  The first review of a business is somewhat more likely to stick.

14.  If your business’s first review on Yelp is negative it’s probably going to stick.

15.  Reviews written by people with many “friends” are somewhat more likely to stick. It’s very easy to rack up “friends” on Yelp, so if you have a ticked-off customer with many “friends” you may have a problem.

16.  Content has almost no bearing on whether a review gets filtered. It’s mostly about how active the reviewer is / has been.  Swearing (as long as it’s not name-calling) is usually allowed.  Also, the mischievous elves who man Yelp’s review filter seem entertained by the kinds of reviews that could have been ghostwritten by Jack Nicholson.

17.  Reviews that you “flag” are very hard to get removed unless the text of the review is ad hominem or un-PC. The truthfulness of the review or credibility of reviewer doesn’t matter much to Yelp.

18.  If your business moves to a new location Yelp probably won’t transfer your reviews.

19.  Yelp reviews won’t show up in your knowledge graph.

20.  You’re at a disadvantage if you can’t or don’t want to offer a Yelp check-in offer. Why?  Because if you do a check-in offer Yelp will ask your customers to write reviews.  Pretty hypocritical, as I’ve argued.

21.  Yelp has been pushing the “not recommended” reviews farther and farther out of sight. You click the link to see “reviews that are not currently recommended,” you’re shown two filtered reviews, and then you have to scroll down and click another gray link that says, “Continue reading other reviews that are not currently recommended.”  How many customers will do that?  Oy.

22.  Who becomes an “Elite” reviewer is arbitrary. It partly depends on whether your reviews get “voted” on, and whether you’ve written any “Reviews of the Day.”

But it seems to depend above all on whether your region’s “Community Manager” sees your reviews and likes them.

23.  Only the first couple of lines of business owners’ responses will show up, unless readers click the small “Read more” link. Bad reviews will show in their Tolstoyan entirety, but you’ve got to say something compelling in haiku space, or else the would-be customer never sees your side of the story.

Don’t you feel better now?  No?  Time for a cat picture – and not just of any cat:

Now that we’re both in a happier place, let’s take up a weighty question:

Given the massive PITA factor, why on earth should you still pay any attention to Yelp?

Because the reviews get lots of eyeballs, and because Yelp is splattered across Google’s local results

What can you do?

Ask most or all of your customers for reviews, and give them choices (including easier sites).  Some of those people will be Yelpers.

Link to your Yelp reviews – or just your page – on your website and in your email signature.

Identify already-active Yelpers and send them mind-waves.

Diversify where you get reviews.

Keep making customers happy.

Any observations on Yelp reviews?

Any strategy suggestions?

Leave a comment!

What 8 Years of Pay-per-Click Has Taught Me about Local SEO

Most people don’t know I also help clients with pay-per-click advertising – mostly AdWords.

I’ve been doing PPC for longer than I’ve been monkeying around in local search – since mid-2006.

I’ve used it for some clients’ businesses, and for mine (early on).  My first clients and readers may recall clicking on an AdWords ad to find my waifish one-page site, around 2009-10.  That was the only way they could find it, for a time.  I’ve had skin in the game.  (If I couldn’t write ads, you might not be reading this.)

Why should you care about pay-per-click and me?  You shouldn’t.

But PPC and local SEO…now that’s a little more interesting and relevant to you.  They’re alike.  Different ballgames, sure.  But you can learn a lot about one from the other.

It’s useful to know how similar paid and local search are, especially if you rely on one form of visibility but want belt and suspenders.  Let’s say you do pretty well in the local rankings but want a foothold in the paid results – or vice versa.  You’ll want to know what strategies can help you in both places.

Here’s what many “Web years” of PPC has taught me about local SEO:

Basic truths

You need to stand out in some way.  Or else you’re wasting your time.  What is it about your little blob of pixels – your PPC ad or local search result – that makes customers want to click on it?

It takes time to become profitable.  In AdWords it takes weeks or months to test which keywords, ads, and landing pages bring home the most leads.  Any work you do on your local SEO also usually takes months to pay off.  Don’t start when you’re desperate.

 

You’re only as good as your website.  It doesn’t matter how many clicks you get or how you get them – paid or for free.  If you don’t get people to take the next little step, you’ve failed.

Simply reaching more people isn’t necessarily better.  Your first priority needs to be getting visible to the people who know what they’re looking for – not the tire-kickers.  Be visible for “transmission repair” before worrying about “mechanic” or “auto repair.”

There’s always room to improve.  A 21% click-through rate can become 23%.  If your rankings are as good as they can get, keep racking up reviews and adding useful content to your site.  As Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s) once said, “If my competitor was drowning, I’d stick a hose down his throat.”

The 80/20 rule is king.  With PPC it’s more like 95/5: probably 5% of your keywords will bring you 95% of your leads, 95% of the progress you’ll make will result from spending time on that 5%, etc.  It’s less-pronounced with local SEO, but still true: 80% of the citations you could get don’t matter much, 20% of the tune-ups you could make to your site affect your rankings, 20% of your customers will end up writing you a review, but those reviews are visible to 80% of the people who find you online…I could go on.

Strategy lessons

1 minute of extra work up-front saves you 2-3 minutes later on.  Don’t want to build separate adgroups or landing pages for each of the specific services you’re advertising?  Just want to launch?  Fine, but you’ll be overpaying for clicks – at best.  More likely, you won’t get any phone calls and will have to restructure anyway to revive your campaign.  It’s similar with local SEO.  For example, if you don’t fix your listings at the main data-providers, you’ll have a never-ending amount of clean-up to do on your citations.

You pay for ego.  If your ad must be #1, expect to pay twice what ad #2 costs.  If you’re ranked #2 in the local results and you think you can move up that one slot just by making quick tweaks, you may lose that #2 spot.  You’ve just got to grind some more.

Your landing pages need to be “local.”  If people can’t tell that you serve their region both before and after they click, they’re probably hitting the “back” button.

Bing is tiny by comparison.  Do not spend as much time on it as on Google.

Constant tinkering is unwise.  In PPC you need to let your ads run head-to-head until you’ve concluded statistically that one ad pulls better than the other.  To get visible in the local results you need to do a bunch of work and let the dust settle before you do more.

Change is constant.  Whenever Google rolls out something like enhanced campaigns in AdWords or the “new” Places dashboard, you can’t be in the dark. 

Hard knocks


You play by Google’s rules.  If you don’t want to, that’s your call, but nobody at Google will field complaints like, “But that’s where all my customers find me!”

It can be good, cheap, or fast.  Pick any two.  In the case of PPC it can only be so cheap.  In the case of local SEO it can only be so fast.

You should learn a little about how your paid or free visibility works.  Or be vulnerable – vulnerable to people who know more than you do, but who can’t or won’t do a good job for you.  For PPC I suggest learning from Perry Marshall, Howie Jacobson, and Brad Geddes.  Unless this is the first post of mine you’ve read, you probably know who I recommend for local search.

It’s dangerous to rely on one form of visibility.  PPC and local SEO can also make one heck of a combination.

Many business owners only see the obvious costs – the costs per-click, or what a local-search pro charges to help.  They aren’t as good at crunching the costs of missed opportunities, or the costs of relying on other ways to get visibility and leads, or the costs of hiring the lowest bidder.

Too many business owners fixate on the click.  Not as much on what happens after the click.  Do you say at the very top of the page what services you offer, and what you don’t offer?  Is it clear how potential customers can find the other pages they might want to see?  Is it impossible to miss your contact info?  If they don’t want to pick up the phone today, can people stay in touch by leaving their name and email – and are you giving them a good reason to?

Pep rally

Many or most or all of your competitors suck.  They don’t know about split-tests or negative keywords, or they don’t know about local citations or even Google’s rules.  To the extent they may (temporarily?) be more visible than you, it’s despite their actions or inactions, not because of them.

Many business owners would sooner pay out the nose than spend a little time learning.  If you invest that bit of time, you can take the reins if you need to, or better ensure that your PPC helper brings his/her A-game.

The Big Boys only get the basics right.  They leave opportunities open.

There’s often a point when less work is needed month to month.  The business owner can (and maybe should) ease into learning the ropes, and managing the campaign and not feel overwhelmed.

You win whenever you use your antennae.  If you’re always trying to understand your customers better, you’ll know what they want to see in the search results and on your site.

Where do you see overlap between PPC and local search?  Big differences?  Leave a comment!

Comparison of Local Review Sites: Where Should You Focus Now?

You only have so many customers.  Many of them are probably happy to write you a review online (especially if it’s as easy as possible).  So where should you encourage them to go to post reviews of your business?

If you think the obvious answer is “Oh, I’ll just steer everyone to Yelp and Google+” then you thought wrong.  Those sites have review filters that can be pretty paranoid.  Yelp even has a policy against asking for a review.  Also, some of your customers simply may not want to use those sites, for one reason or another.

Then there’s what I and other local SEOs have experienced: that getting reviews on a diversity of sites can be a big help to your local rankings.

How to pick which review sites might be good to weave into your review-encouragement campaign?  I’ve put together this comparison chart to help you figure that out:

(click to enlarge)

There are other good review sites out there, but I focused on the big sites that aren’t specific to any one industry (like YellowPages) and a handful of the big sites that are specific to a particular industry or family of industries (like HealthGrades).  I also focused on US sites, as you can tell (although Google+, Yelp, and TripAdvisor aren’t US-specific).

I hope everything made sense at first glance, but in case not, here’s some explanation of each of the columns and headers:

 

 

 

A review is not a review.  Some give you more local visibility per-review than others.  How?  In 5 different ways (that I can think of).

Avg. rankings for broad searches
When you type in any given local search term – “dentists Dallas” or “roofing repair in Tampa” or “jewelry” or “estate attorneys” – you’re probably going to see at least a few directory/review sites in Google’s search results.

Some of these sites always seem to rank highly – and if potential customers click through to those sites, you’re either visible or you’re not.  If you have reviews on those sites, you’re building yourself some nice extra visibility.

Avg. rankings for brand-name searches
What do you see when you search for your business by name?  You’ll probably see a page or two of your site, your Google+ Local listing, maybe Facebook page – and several other sites where you’re listed.

You need reviews on at least some of those sites.

Why?  Because many of your potential customers aren’t just picking you out of a hat in the local search results: They’ll find you and your competitors in the local rankings, and then Google your names to see the “dirt” on you.  For that matter, maybe they didn’t even find you online originally: maybe they got your name from a friend and just want to learn more about you.  The bottom line is that if potential customers like what they see – particularly the reviews – they may just give you a ring.

Review stars in SERPs
As you can see, some sites make their reviews “pop” out in the search results (by using rich snippets).

You want reviews on those sites.  The nice thing is that most of them only require one review to have your “stars” show up in the search results.  (The exception is Google+ Local, which requires a minimum of 5 or sometimes 4 reviews for you to get the stars.)

Feeds reviews to other sites
You’ll need to have seen my Local Reviews Ecosystem post in order to absorb this one.

Feeds to Bing Places
There’s no such thing as a “Bing review” anymore.  The reviews that show up in Bing’s local results come from other sources: Yelp, CitySearch, InsiderPages, and TripAdvisor.

 

 

 

Besides their visibility in Google and on other sites, there are other ways some types of reviews can benefit you.

Top reviewers
Yelp has the “Elite Squad.”  Google has the “City Experts” program, and also gives “Top reviewer” status to other people who write lots of Google Plus reviews.  A couple other sites have equivalent titles for their most-influential reviewers.  Reviews from these sorts of people can help your visibility in all sorts of indirect ways – and they may have some direct effect on your rankings.

Allows owner responses
Can you thank a customer who puts in a good word?  Can you address gripes from less-happy customers?  Depends on the site.

Badges offered
Some sites have badges or buttons that you can use to draw attention to your reviews – to tell customers to check out your reviews on those sites.  Pro tip: because these badges will link to your reviews page on a given site, make sure those links open up into a new browser tab.  You don’t want people leaving your site to check out your reviews.

 

 

 

It won’t necessarily be easy to get reviews on the sites where you need them.  Nor can you assume it will be tough to get reviews on sites where you might actually benefit a lot from having a few.  You need to know where the banana peels are.

Does not use automated filters
Sorry for the double-negative here, but as you can see on the comparison chart, I wanted “green thumbs-up = good” across the board 🙂  But this one’s real simple: Yelp and Google+ filter reviews.  Yelp’s filter is harsher than Google’s filter.  TripAdvisor may filter reviews automatically, but I couldn’t tell for certain.

Facebook logins accepted
Some sites don’t require customers to create logins (e.g. a CitySearch username) just to write a review.  They let customers use their Facebook usernames.  Not only does that eliminate a step for your customers, but it also presents an opportunity for you if you interact a lot with your customers on Facebook and might use it as a way to reach out for reviews.

By the way, Yahoo also lets people use their Google logins, and  Angie’s List lets customers use their Facebook, Google, and Yahoo usernames to post reviews.  Talk about greasing the skids.

Policy allows asking for reviews
Self-explanatory, except that Yelp is actually the only Grinch site that sees reviews as a taboo subject for an honest business owner and a customer.  Google is murky on this one.  Angie’s List actually wants you to ask customers.  HealthGrades will ship you customized cards to give patients.

—-

By the way, here are a couple great old posts that bit off pieces of the “which review sites should I pick” question:

Mike Blumenthal’s “Which Review Sites Should You Use?” (2010)

Miriam Ellis’s “Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution” (2009)

Huge thanks to David Deering of Touch Point Digital Marketing in New Orleans for making my comparison chart not only presentable, but pretty as a peach.  I highly recommend his services.

Questions?  What’s your SWOT analysis of your reviews profile after looking at the comparison chart?  Leave a comment!

Business Categories Lists for Major Local Search Sites

Categories are the forgotten child of local SEO.

Though they don’t get much attention, categories do get respect: “Proper Category Associations” is the #1 “Foundational Ranking Factor” listed on 2013’s Local Search Ranking Factors study.  (I was one of the people who ranked them up there, and I’m glad other local-searchers agree.)

Picking as many relevant categories as you can is probably the easiest way to make progress on your Google+ Local, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Yelp, and other rankings.

Choosing the right ones is sometimes easier said than done.  Google no longer allows “custom” categories.  That’s nice in a couple of ways: You can choose up to 10 categories, and it’s nice that it’s much harder now to get penalized by accidentally specifying a custom category that Google doesn’t consider kosher.

Still, the categories you want to pick are either on Google’s list or they aren’t.  Which may leave you feeling hamstrung if your business is specialized or “niche.”

Fortunately for us, the categories you can pick on other sites seem to help Google determine what type of business yours is – and what terms you should rank for.

They’re also a huge factor in your rankings on pretty much every other site worth being listed on.

The name of the game is to know your options for categories, on as many sites as possible.  Most of them don’t make it easy to browse all your options.  That’s why I’ve rounded up a bunch of category lists, so you can find the relevant ones easily.

Check out these lists and see if you’ve listed your business under the best categories possible:

Search engines

Google – Browse Mike Blumenthal’s Google Places Category Tool

Bing Places – See my list of Bing business categories (new)

Apple Maps – Dig through this monstrous list put together by Andrew Shotland

Data-aggregators

ExpressUpdate – Pick from OSHA’s Standard Industrial Categories

LocalEze – See my post on LocalEze categories

Factual – Refer to this list when submitting your Factual listing

IYPs

Yelp – Dig through Yelp’s somewhat-buried list, or see my post on Yelp categories

InsiderPages – See this

AngiesList – Here you go

Those are just the category lists I’ve found so far or put together myself.  I’m sure you or I could easily find full lists of categories for rinky-dink sites that nobody’s ever heard of.  But there are a few category lists I’d still like to have.

The sites on my wish-list at the moment are CitySearch, YellowPages, Local.Yahoo.com, and Acxiom (MyBusinessListingManager.com).  Please let me know if you find or make a list of all the categories allowed on those sites!

State of the Most-Important Local Search Sites (Mid-2013)

A lot has changed in the last few months in the world of local search.  All of it affects your efforts to get visible to local customers.

I’m not even talking about Google+ Local.  Like Oprah’s weight, Google is in a constant state of flux.  Phone support, the carousel, the return of review stars…it’s a roller coaster.

Rather, I’m talking about other sites and search engines.  They’ve been under the blade.  Some have emerged from the operating room with nice facelifts.  Others elicit a “Yeecch!”

If you run a “local” business in the US, you’ll need to deal with all of the below sites – either because they’re popular sites in their own right, or because they can affect your Google rankings .  Here’s what you need to know about how they’ve changed recently:

 

 

Yes, it’s now called “Bing Places.”  The recent changes have mostly been cosmetic, although there have been a few small improvements.  The thing that jarred me recently was that Bing required a client of mine to phone-verify a listing on which we wanted to change the phone number.  I don’t recall ever having to do that before.  Bing seems to have new rules for when you can verify by postcard versus by phone.  (Update: Thanks to always-sharp Nyagoslav Zhekov for the Bing intel in his comment at the bottom of this post.)

 

 

Some months ago (I’m not sure exactly when), Yahoo spruced up its listing-manager area a little bit.  Aside from that, Yahoo still is its clunky old self – and probably clunkier than ever.  But you still need to wrangle with Yahoo, so you’re visible to that sliver of that population that prefers it.

 

 

Revamped and renamed in June.  ExpressUpdate now requires business owners to claim their listings by phone personally.  Let’s say you added your business to the site a year ago (or had someone else do it), claimed your listing, and have been happy ever since.  Now let’s say you need to update one bit of info on your listing.  Your old login won’t work.  You have to look up your listing, claim it by phone, and wait for ExpressUpdate to approve you and give you new login info.  Then you can make changes.

 

 

You can’t add a free listing to LocalEze, as of April.  If you want to add your listing for the first time, you need to pay $300/year, find a reseller who can sign you up for less, or wait until LocalEze gets fed your business info from other sites.  If you already have a listing on LocalEze and you need to fix some of the info, you can make one round of edits per year for free.

 

 

Still an obstacle course (as I wrote a year ago).  If you want to add your listing for the first time, you can either email the CitySearch folks at myaccount@citygridmedia.com, or you’ll have to wait until the site is fed your listing from ExpressUpdate.  Once your listing is added – or if it’s already on the site – you’ll need to claim it by phone at https://signup.citygrid.com/cyb/find_business.

You’ll want to keep in mind that CitySearch’s parent company recently laid off two-thirds of its staff, and that any step in the whole process I just described might be slow as a result.

Honorable mention goes to Local.BOTW.org.  It’s not as important as the above sites, but it’s a good citation to have.  It’s no longer free.  (Maybe that will make it a really good citation to have, in the way David Mihm described 5 years ago.)

Instead of offering the free “JumpStart” listing, in June they started asking for a whole $1.99 per month, if you aren’t already listed on BOTW Local and want to add your listing.  Old listings have been grandfathered in.

Other important sites – Yelp, YP, SuperPages, etc. – are the same as they’ve always been.  No changes to report at the moment.

Anything you’d like to add about any of those sites?  Any questions?  Leave a comment.

Why the New Google Maps Isn’t a Big Deal for Local Search

You, new Google Maps, aren’t about to set the local-search world afire.

That’s right, I’m talking to you – with your deep pockets and slick looks.

New Google Maps

Any time the Google Goliath so much as scratches his nose, people notice.  Many among us have strong reactions (“Whooaa, did you just see that?”) – both positive and negative.  So in that sense, new Google Maps, you’re already important.

You’ve gotten attention, new Google Maps.  Some smart people have written insightful posts about you.

(A Tour of the New Google Maps [15 Screenshots])

(New Layout for Local Searches in Google)

(Is Google Local Changing the Metaphor For Local Ranking?)

(The New Google Maps: Shifting Search Terms)

But I don’t think you’re going to change the way people search for local businesses.  Nor do I think you’re going to change how business owners go about getting more visible to local customers.

I see a lot of far-off potential in you, but not much that’s splash-worthy now.

Why?

My dear new Google Maps, I hate to break it to you, but you face some hefty challenges:

  • You will struggle to get the average user excited.  The reason that will be tough is that, although you’ve made it clear how you’re different from your forefathers, you haven’t really explained how you’re better than the old Maps.  True, you’re better-looking.  But beyond that, the main thing you’re hanging your hat on is that you allow people to search for businesses by two new criteria: businesses recommended by “Top Reviewers” and by people in “Your circles.”  Which brings us to some of the next hurdles you’ll face.

  • Most people don’t socialize much with your big brother, Google+, nor do their friends.  Yes, Google+ is slowly gaining traction, but it’s got a long way to go before the average person (1) uses Google Plus and (2) has more people in her circles than her 5 geekiest friends.  Unless and until your big bro Google+ gets more popular at school, the “personalized” results for most users will be thin at best, and nonexistent more often than not.  Most people who search by “Your circles” will come up dry enough times that they stop bothering and revert back to the search habits that they feel work best for them.

  • Many users won’t be signed into their Google accounts even if they have one.  See, there’s been this little issue called PRISM here in the US, and Google hasn’t had a spotless track record of respecting people’s privacy.  So a good chunk of the population won’t even have the option of searching by circles, because they won’t be signed-in.  To those people your claim to fame won’t matter one bit.
  • There aren’t a lot of “Top Reviewers,” and Google isn’t doing an effective job of encouraging people to write reviews (rather than simply to read others’).  Google’s certainly trying, even going so far as to violate its own rules by offering swag to people who dash off a review.  But that’s just adding a drop to a one-eighth-full bucket.  Google could learn a lot from how Yelp gets people to write reviews profusely and with passion – as though somebody took away their OCD meds.  Google hasn’t made “Top Reviews” feel like revered village elders, the way Yelp has done for its “Elite Squad.”  Unless and until that changes, there won’t be many Top Reviewers, so the “search by Top reviewers” feature won’t be useful for as many local searches as it could be.
  • You’re making people click more, not less.  Yes, yes, I know that’s a First World problem if there ever was one.  But you’re the one who’s trying to make people’s lives more convenient, and I’m here to tell you you’re not quite there yet.  What do I mean by “too many clicks”?  I mean that if people just want to see a handful of non-personalized, perhaps un-reviewed local results at a glance, you’re making them click the “Go to list of top results” link before they can see the tried-and-true list of results they know and love.

 

  • You can only hope to work as well as your daddy, Google Maps, Sr., did.  In the four years I’ve been working in “local,” I’ve concluded that people generally like the search results Google shows (and if you don’t believe me, just ask Bing).  I’ve also concluded that most users dislike Google’s local results only to the extent that there are spammy or irrelevant results in there – in other words, businesses that really shouldn’t rank well.  Google Maps, Jr., you won’t be any better than your dad unless you can do a better job of cleaning out the junk.
  • You’re not going to change local SEO, significantly or at all.  Some of us have harped on the importance of reviews all along, and are quite good at helping our clients earn them.  The new emphasis on reviews is good news for us and for our clients.  What about the need for business owners to get “+1s” from customers and get customers into in their circles?  Well, not every business can do that until every business can have an “upgraded” Google+ Local page – wouldn’t you agree?  Success in a local-search campaign may look different – possibly no more “A-G” rankings, for one thing – but the steps to success will remain basically the same.

What do I think your future holds, young Maps?

You’ll be somewhat popular.  In some ways, you already are.

But your older brother, Google+, has to become really popular before you can hope to.  You’re not going to be the thing that prompts more people to sign up for Google+ – but that’s precisely the thing that needs to happen if you’re to live up to your potential.

You can’t get cocky and do things like pimp out the local search results with ads or try to make people enjoy a “user experience” that they just don’t like.

If regular people grow frustrated by their searching experience with you, you’ll be in trouble – and your Google family name probably won’t get you out of it.  Apple Maps will mature and improve significantly, even if it takes a couple years or more.  The Cupertino contingent will be breathing down your neck sooner or later.

Also, one reason Bing is so much smaller than Google is that a lot of people (including me) simply like Google’s results better.  But if that changes, so might our searching habits.

Google will hedge its bets on you.  At least for the time being, in your current state, you won’t be the only way for users to find local businesses on Google.

Please don’t take my strong opinions personally, new Google Maps.  I actually kind of like you.  But I’m just one user of many, and it’s too early to say how much you’ll need to change before you can make anyone’s life a little easier.

If I’m wrong about any of what I said, you can rub it in my face later.

But, like a fresh college grad, you simply aren’t going to “change the world” – at least not for a while.

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s)

 

Your landing page matters if you want to be visible in the local search results.

The landing page – also known as the URL you enter into the “website” field of your Google Places page (or Google Plus listing if you’ve “upgraded”).

Most businesses use their homepage for this – which is usually fine.

(No need to read any of this if you only have one business location and know that you want to use your homepage as the landing page for your Google listing.)

But if you have several locations or just want to use a different page as the landing page for your Google+Local listing, one of the first things you have to do is figure out what to name your page.

Or if you’re trying to snag some visibility in the organic rankings for local businesses, you still have to figure out what to name your page(s).

It’s easy to pick a page name that helps your rankings.  But it’s even easier to pick a lousy one that hurts you.

Here are my tips for how to name your page in a way that doesn’t get your site penalized, doesn’t mess up your citations, doesn’t annoy people who visit your site, and does help you rank better:

 

Tip 1:  Make sure the entire URL of the landing page for your Google+Local page is 40 characters or fewer.  The first reason is that Google will cut off your URL after that, and show an ellipsis in the search results.

The second reason – and the-more important one –is that you’ll run into problems with your citations if the URL (without the “http://www”) exceeds 40 characters.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdateUSA.com won’t allow URLs longer than that.

If ExpressUpdateUSA doesn’t give your URL the thumbs-up, the sites it feeds – AKA a bunch of your citations – won’t use the correct landing page, either.  That’s the kind of inconsistency that can hurt your rankings.

It’ll also be a problem at Yelp, where long URLs usually aren’t allowed.

 

Tip 2:  Realize that you don’t need hyphens in your page name for Google to recognize your search term(s) in it, and to display it in bold letters in the search results.  It recognizes that “carpetcleaning” is the same thing as “carpet-cleaning.”  You should still use hyphens if possible, simply because they make it easier for people to read your URL.  But if you’re pressed for space, you can get rid of them.

 

Tip 3:  Don’t repeat elements of your domain name, like location names or keywords, in your page name.  It’s a waste of space and looks spammy to Google and to humans.  Either your domain name or page name should contain a search term you’re going after, and maybe even the name of your city.

 

Tip 4:  Consider using two-letter state abbreviations.  They’re a good use of space, because they may help you snag rankings for search terms that include state names (e.g. “lawyers Orlando FL”).

 

Tip 5:  Triple-check for typos when you create your landing page.  Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen people mess this up – and I’ve done it a couple times myself.

 

 

Tip 6:  Use dashes, not underscores.

 

Tip 7:  Don’t worry too much about what to name your subdirectories.  If your page name is relevant but your URL is more than about 40 characters, Google will show an ellipsis in place of the name of the subdirectory.

A few notes

Page names don’t matter quite as much in Bing Places, at least from a “user experience” standpoint, because URLs aren’t shown in the local search results.

You won’t see spelled-out URLs if you’re looking at the Google+Local results on a smartphone.

The only way that I know of to get Google not to show “www” in the 7-pack search results is if you specify it with rel=“canonical” on your landing page.

(There seems to be another way to get the “www” not to show up; see comments below.)

But I can’t think of a good reason why you’d want to use rel= “canonical” on your landing page; if your landing page is a duplicate of another page, then you’ve got bigger problems to deal with than the length of your page name.

By the way, I’d also recommend all the above tips except #1 if you’re going after organic rankings and want to get the most out of the names of your city pages.

Any suggestions for how to name your “local” landing pages?  Leave a comment!

How the Google+Local Train Wreck Is Good for Business

Yesterday the one and only Mike Blumenthal wrote a dead-on post about the TARFU situation that is Google+Local – which he aptly calls a “train wreck.”

Some of the lowlights he touched on included:

1.  The fact that Google hasn’t made it clear what’s happening to the old Google Places “Dashboard” or even whether the Google+ backed will become the only place you go to manage your Google listing(s).

2.  The recurring rash of “We currently do not support this location” error messages.

3.  Google’s failure to communicate what’s next­ – like when we can expect the transition to Google+ to be (somewhat) complete or when Google will allow businesses with many locations to integrate their Google+ for Business pages.

I agree with everything Mike said in that post…with one exception: A “train wreck” implies unmitigated disaster.  What’s going on with Google+Local doesn’t quite qualify as one of those, in my opinion.

Rather, I’d say that the problems in Google+Local are – in at least one strange way – good for business.  The problems provide a swift kick in the pants to pay attention to other parts of your online local visibility.

If have been or are rightly afraid of wrangling with Google’s shortcomings and bugs (some of which are more like Starship Troopers -type giant insects), you have a little more impetus to do things like:

  • List your business on as many third-party directory websites as possible.
  • Make sure your profiles on those sites have as much detail as you can muster.
  • Get reviews on as many other sites as possible.
  • Start building an email list.
  • Most important of all, beef up your website.  Add things like customer testimonials, tons of info that’s useful to potential customers and non-promotional (blogging is a good way to do this), and great feedback/analytics tools like CrazyEgg and Qualaroo (please tell me you already have Google Analytics!).

Yes, Google needs to get its act together sooner or later (or else eventually fewer people will use it and Google won’t make as much dinero from ads).

Yes, Google’s mismanagement can hurt real businesses – maybe yours – run by real people who need to bring home the bacon.

No, it’s not always fair.

Trust me, I know.  I wrangle with Google all day long.  I know how frustrating it is.

But I also know that if (for example) my rankings for this website went “poof” tomorrow, I’d still get plenty of new clients and plenty of people would still read my posts.

That’s partly because I focused on the “other stuff” literally years before I had any good rankings, or even a halfway decent website (a brief history of that here, in case you’re interested).

All of those “other” items I mentioned (above) are things I try to help many of my clients do, both before and after they get good Google rankings.

The fact is that any time you depend on any one way to get the phone to ring, you’re taking a risk.  Whether it’s Google+Local, or pay-per-click ads, or word-of-mouth.

I like to think of the blind samurai Zatoichi, from the films of the same name.  He’s blind, but all his other senses are so heightened that his sneaky, murderous foes don’t stand a chance.  His profound badassery wouldn’t exist without his blindness.

You absolutely should push to get visible in local Google.  But my point is you don’t want to push all your poker chips into it.

By the way, many of the to-do items I mentioned are key factors in your Google visibility anyway.  To the extent Google is “working” for you now – and certainly once you’ve gotten past whatever problems that have you down at the moment – those steps are likely to help your Google+Local rankings.

But regardless of how well Google is functioning, if you spend more time on the stuff you can completely control, you will get you in front of more local customers.

Scroll up, take a look at that list, and see how many items you can start knocking off today.

(Anything you’d add to the list?  Leave a comment!)