IYP Ranking Factors: Getting Visible in Local-Biz Directories

IYPs – short for “Internet Yellow Pages” – get a bum rap.

Some of it is true:

Yes, they’re directories, not search engines.

Yes, some of them are mere flies on the windshield of Google.

Yes, we often harbor murderous fantasies when one of their sales representatives calls us on the phone.

It’s for all these reasons and others that most business owners pay little attention to these sites.

This makes sense on one level: these sites don’t have nearly as much “eyeball share” as Google does.

But it’s a mistake.  If you’re in a competitive local market, you’re going to want every edge you can get.

More specifically: you’ll want every promising eyeball you can get (not to sound creepy or anything).  On the whole, many people use IYP sites – partly because Google usually ranks them above or right below its own local search results.

That’s why you need to know basically how these third-party directory sites rank their business listings: as on Google, on these sites there are visible businesses and invisible ones.  You want yours to be in the first group.

These sites influence your Google+Local rankings, too, but that’s another story.

I recently spent a few hours trying to figure out what separates some businesses from others on 7 of the biggest IYP sites.  I’ve listed the sites in alphabetical order, with the ranking factors for each underneath.

Here are the ranking factors I’ve found for each site:

(Please note: these simply are my observations, based on a few hours of gumshoeing and several years of helping my clients with local search.)

 

1. Reviews (AKA “ratings”).  That’s it.  One ranking factor.

In terms of how CitySearch ranks businesses, there is a very clear pecking order:

-“Best of CitySearch” winners (if there are any in a particular local market).

-Then businesses that havereviews, ranked in descending order of “CitySearch score” and/or number of reviews (more on this in a second).

-Then businesses with no reviews.

A little more detail:

Businesses that win the “Best of CitySearch” award tend to have some reviews, but I’ve seen winners that have 1 or 2, which leads me to believe reviews may not even be a factor in winning.  My understanding always has been that there are judges – AKA “scouts” – who pick the winners, but I’ve always been unclear on the specifics (despite a couple of unanswered inquiries on my part).  Whatever the case, BoC winners get the top spots.

Slightly farther down the totem pole are all the businesses with reviews.  All of them rank above all the businesses without reviews.

How do all the businesses with reviews get sorted out?  Well, that leads us to “CitySearch score.”  It’s the equivalent of an “average rating” (like what you see on Google and Yelp).  100% is perfect.  75% may mean that 3 out of 4 customers gave you a positive rating – which they can do without actually having to string together a couple sentences in a review.

CitySearch ranks businesses mostly by score, but also by number of ratings.

CitySearch usually ranks businesses with 90% above ones with 85%, which in turn outrank the ones at 72%, and so on.  You get the idea.

There are some exceptions to this: Occasionally a business with a 90% CitySearch score will outrank one with a 100%.  In these cases, the number of ratings also seems to be a factor: a business with 95% based on 60 ratings may outrank a business with 100% based on 20 ratings.

But businesses with a score of 50% or more always outrank the ones that have a score below 50%

When several businesses have 100% scores (which is common), it seems that the one with the highest number of reviews/ratings will be at the top.

Given that your local competitors probably don’t include many or any “Best of CitySearch” winners, and that businesses without any reviews rarely are contenders on the site, your #1 task is just to rack up a couple of reviews on the site.  (CitySearch reviews help you out on many other sites, too.)

 

1.  Paid results.  Businesses that pay get the top spots.  Everyone else dukes it out based on:

2.  Reviews.  InsiderPages is similar to CitySearch in this way.  All businesses with reviews outrank all the ones that don’t have any.

Here, too, the businesses are ranked based on the number of reviews they have and by order of average rating (e.g. 5-star average, 4-star average, etc.).  But unlike on CitySearch, here the number of reviews seems to carry a little more weight than how high the average star rating is.  It appears quantity matters a bit more than quality, in this regard.

 

1. Being “Verified by Manta.”  Once you create your Manta profile, they call you up to make sure your info is accurate.  I don’t recall ever having done this with my clients (maybe once or twice…don’t remember), but I believe it’s free.

2.  Business name.  If the name of your Manta listing includes a given search term or city name, you’ll probably rank highly for it.  But do NOT mess with your business name just to grab an extra edge: it may hurt the all-important consistency of your “NAP” info across the web.

By the way, there’s no such thing as a “Manta review,” so reviews aren’t even part of the equation here.  Probably all you can do to climb over a few competitors is owner-verify your Manta listing (again, with the caveat that I’m not 100% sure whether it’s free – not that it necessarily would be a bad use of a buck).

 

1.  Paid results.

2.  Business name.

3.  Reviews (?).  This is a bit unclear to me: although businesses with reviews generally seem to outrank ones that don’t, sometimes I’ll click on a listing with a star rating next to it and the actual listing page for the business won’t show any reviews (I have a theory about this, though).  I do know, though, that MerchantCircle is no stranger to the occasional shenanigan.  It’s definitely a good site to be on, and you’ll want to make sure your listing is complete and accurate.  I just don’t really know the extent to which MerchantCircle reviews help you on the site (or in your Google+Local rankings).

 

1. Paid results.  SuperPages seems to have a ton of businesses on-board with “sponsored listings” – to such an extent that the “basic” listings often are halfway down the page or lower.

2.  Business name.

3.  Categories.  SuperPages has an unusually wide range of categories you can list your business under, but you can’t specify any custom categories.  You can pick up to 5.  It’s really worth taking a few minutes to make sure you pick them wisely.  (One good practice is to check out which ones your competitors are using.)

4.  Reviews.  Relative to other sites, SuperPages doesn’t have an enormous amount of review activity – though certainly it would be smart to make sure you get a couple reviews on it.  In effect, this makes the other 3 main ranking factors I’ve identified a little more important.

 

I did a whole post on Yelp ranking factors, as you may have seen.  But here are the CliffsNotes on what seem to be the biggest ranking factors:

1.  Existence of reviews.

2.  Keyword-relevance of reviews

3.  Categories.

4.  Name of business.

5.  Number of reviews.

6.  Reviews by “Elite” members.

7.  Check-ins via smartphone.

8.  Quality of reviews.

(For more detail, check out the post.)

 

Let’s start this one off with some great observations by my good buddy Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca:

I looked at some businesses ranking in yellowpages.ca a while back and it looked to me that the #1 thing was just to get a couple reviews. Any reviews. Most businesses didn’t have any reviews on the site, and the ones that did tended to rank. The trouble with yellowpages.ca is that they randomize the rankings on every page load. Refresh this a few times: http://www.yellowpages.ca/search/si/1/plumbers/Edmonton+AB

The items in blue are paid, and the items with pins are paid as well but a lower cost package. It looks pretty random.

I’m pretty sure that if you phone and talk to a sales rep at most directories, they’ll tell you exactly how the rankings are generated. Typically it’s paid level 1, paid level 2, paid level 3, then random non-paid with reviews possibly playing a role. They seem to randomize the various paid levels as well so that each business gets equal opportunity to rank #1 in their section.

 Just for the sake of comparing notes, here are the YP ranking factors I’ve noticed:

1. Paid results.  They’re everywhere.  The only randomized results – the ones Darren mentions (above) – seem to be the paid results.  The “basic,” free listings appear to rank the same way consistently – based on some of the ranking factors we’ve seen elsewhere.

2.  Business name.

3.  Categories.

4.  Reviews.  YP is an important site to your local-search efforts in a lot of ways – certainly if you’re in the US, but especially if you’re in another country.  Even if you don’t give a hoot about how visible you are on YP, I do recommend getting at least a few reviews there.

Even if some of specific factors I mentioned were news to you, the takeaway messages from all of this shouldn’t be news:

1.  Make dead-certain you’re listed on each of the above sites, spend a few minutes picking out the most-relevant categories you can for your listings, and try to get reviews on as many of the sites as you possibly can.

2.  Although many ad packages are a waste (or an outright scam), don’t necessarily dismiss them out of hand.  For instance, if there’s on IYP site where you have a ton of great reviews, getting more people to see that listing may pay off.

3.  Whenever there’s an often-ignored to-do item that can set you apart on one specific site (like verifying your Manta profile), do it.  Most of your competitors would rather kick back and shovel Pringles into their faces than take a few minutes to pick low-hanging fruit.

Do you have any thoughts on / experience with the sites I mentioned or with others?  Any advice or suggestions?  Leave a comment!

Milestones in a Google Places Campaign That’s Working

Progress in Google Places rankings is non-linear.  If you’re #6 for a given search term, the next ranking you achieve might be #2 or #19, but it probably won’t be #5 and then #4.

Your business is unlikely to inch up or down in the local rankings.  The problem is that can make it very tough to tell if you’re doing things effectively or back-asswards. You need some indicators that you’re at least headed in the right (or wrong) direction.

Here are a few milestones you’ll probably pass if you’re on your way to better Google Places rankings:

  • Milestone 1:  Everything you see when logged into your Google Places “Dashboard” reflects what’s “live” on your Places page (the stuff customers see).  If you make edits, it may take Google a while to process them, but if you see discrepancies that don’t go away after a couple weeks, you may have duplicate Google listings, which you’ll need to get removed.
  • Milestone 2:  Your GetListed.org score is 90-100%.  It takes a little work to achieve this, but it’s worth it.  It’s also a good indicator you’re listed on the major third-party sites, and accurately.
  • Milestone 3:  “At a glance” snippets appear on your Google Places page, and they’re at least semi-relevant to your services.  These snippets often tell you what services Google associates with your business—that is, what it thinks you’re “about.”  Get them by beefing up your listings on third-party sites with detailed info on your services and business.

Does your Google Places page have "At a glance" snippets, and are they relevant?

  • Milestone 4:  The green bars in your Places “Dashboard show that the search terms people are currently finding your Places page for are roughly the same terms you want to get visible for.  These stats aren’t always reliable, but they can help tell you whether you’re on the right track.

Check your Google Places "Dashboard" for which terms you're found for

 

Your trek up the Google Places rankings may be a bumpy one.  But it’s less disorienting if you know which milestones to look out for—and how to reach them if you haven’t already.

Can you think of any other “milestones” you’ve passed—or would like to pass?  Be a sport and leave a comment, will ya? :)

21 Ways to Get Customer Reviews: the Ultimate List

21 ways you can get customer reviewsI don’t usually do this, but let’s get theoretical for just a second:

Every satisfied customer of yours should bring you more customers.  The ideal is for word-of-mouth to do all the work—for your happy customers to refer their friends to you, who in turn become customers.  Not having to advertise in any way is the best.

But what if you’re not quite at that stage?  That’s when the next-best thing needs to happen: for every happy customer to influence potential customers.

More specifically, short of having your customers actually deliver more customers to your door, the best thing is for your current customers to sway potential ones by writing great reviews of your business.

Let me put it another way, using a new-agey metaphor: The goal is to re-channel as much positive energy as you can.  It’s like karma, man.

You work your tail off to do a super job.  Sure, that’s its own reward, because you get paid and your customers get what they wanted.  Everybody’s happy.  But is that the only reward you get?  Or do you also get at least a little public recognition for every great job you do?

Without reviews, it’s harder for people to conclude that they should pick you over your competitors.  Plus without reviews you’re far less likely to outrank your competitors in Google Places and Bing.

The bottom line is you need to ask each and every happy customer for a review.  But how?

This is where even the smartest business owners—the ones who know how important reviews are to potential customers—often get stuck.  They’re not sure how to ask customers or how to show them what to do, so the reviews never happen.

Fortunately, you’ve got options.  21 of them.

I know of 21 ways you can get reviews—reviews that customers either write directly on your Google Places page (AKA “Google reviews”) or write through third-party sites (like Yelp and CitySearch).

Many of these methods also give you a way of including instructions for people who may not know how to leave you a review.

It doesn’t matter how much time you have, or how many customers you have, or how computer-savvy they are.  At least some of these methods will work for you.

Here are your 21 ways to get reviews (not ranked in any particular order):

  1. Organic method—making sure your business is listed on as many third-party sites as possible, so that customers can find you if they feel like writing reviews spontaneously.  One place to start is by making sure you’re listed on all the suggested sites on GetListed.org.
  2. Links or clickable images on your site—something that customers who return to your site can click on to write you reviews.  (Here’s an example.)
  3. Single-page handouts—a sheet of instructions you can simply hand to customers, which walks them through how to post a review.  (I actually make handouts for Google reviews, by the way :).)
  4. Personal email—a simple email with a polite request and a link.  But for Pete’s sake, personalize it: none of that “Dear Valued Customer” garbage.  You can also do this with your email signature: instead of a bunch of fluff at the bottom of your emails, have a little link to where customers can dash off a quick review.
  5. Autoresponder email—if you have your customers on an email list through a service like AWeber, you can have an email request for a review that goes out automatically.
  6. ReviewBiz button—a great way to get an extra trickle of reviews from customers who go to your site.
  7. Snail-mail request/instructions—people generally pay more attention to snail-mail, especially if it’s personalized and from a business they know and like.  This method is more work, but you’ll probably bat pretty well if you do it.
  8. Video—a short walkthrough, for customers who you think would just rather watch a quick video than follow other types of easy instructions.
  9. Social media—in particular, Facebook.  What’s nice is customers can write CitySearch reviews using their Facebook username, which makes it that much easier for them and you.
  10. On-site “review stations”—just a laptop set up in your office / store that people can write a review on.  This isn’t against the rules of Google Places, but just don’t ask people to leave you Yelp reviews through the same IP.
  11. Paid services—like CustomerLobby or DemandForce, which contact your customers for you and help get some reviews posted.
  12. QR code on a postcard—hand or send your customers a little postcard that asks them to review you by scanning a QR code with their smartphones.  The QR code would just contain a link to your Google Places page, or a link to your InsiderPages listing, etc.  (Here’s a handy QR code generator.)
  13. QR code as a sticker or decal—the sticker or decal could go anywhere in your office or store, and customers could scan it with their smartphones to review you on the spot.
  14. Phone call—kinda old-fashioned, but effective with the right kind of customer.
  15. Reverse side of your business card—on one side of your classy engraved business card is your basic info, on the other site a QR code or link that goes to a review site of your choice.
  16. A “We’re a Favorite Place on Google” decal—which you could put near the “Exit” side of your door.
  17. A slip or insert included with your product.  The slip could simply be a piece of paper with a request, but ideally it would also include some instructions for people who may not know how to go about posting a review.
  18. Part of a little gift that you send customers.  Like a free pad of paper with your logo and phone number on it, plus a request to leave you a quick review.  Or a fridge magnet.  A pen might be a little too small.  The gift has to be something people will actually use, keep on their desk or kitchen table, and see every day.  The idea is it’s a subtle but persistent reminder.
  19. Encouraging reviews in the responses you write to reviews on your Google Places page.  Some fraction of the people visiting your Places page will be your current or past customers.  They’re likely to read the reviews on your page, as well as your responses (which you should be in the habit of writing!).  This is an opportunity to encourage others subtly to write reviews, too.  I emphasize subtly.
  20. Asking family members of customers who already reviewed you.  Let’s say you’re a jeweler and your latest customer just bought a really nice engagement ring for his fiancée.  The gent has one perspective to offer (“Great service, really helped me pick out the ring”) whereas the lady also has a unique perspective (“I love the ring!”).  Why not?  Even though it’s one transaction, they’re both customers.  The only caveat is this only works well when you’re dealing with close customers.
  21. Asking your reviewers to write through a variety of sites.  In other words, if you know for a fact a given customer wrote you a Yelp review, ask that person to write you an InsiderPages review, too.  There are no rules against it, and it’s plenty kosher.  In fact, the review sites themselves share reviews: I’ve seen CitySearch reviews show up on Bing, Judysbook, Kudzu, MerchantCircle, Switchboard, Yahoo, YellowBot, and YP.  Again, I suggest you only do this with really close, really loyal customers who don’t mind helping spread the good word.

These methods are NOT mutually exclusive, nor do you have to pick one or even just a few.  You can use as many of them as you’d like.  In fact, it’s best if you use a variety of them, so you get reviews on a variety of sites, and so you can determine over time what works best for you and your customers.

By the way, if some of your customers just don’t manage to give you reviews, but they’re kind enough to write you testimonials, put them on your site.  And mark up the testimonials with hReview microformat, so that you can get those groovy extra “review stars” showing up whenever your site shows up in Google’s search results.  Make every customer happy, then make every happy customer count.

What review-gathering method(s) have worked best for you so far?  Can you think of any I didn’t?  Go ahead…leave a comment!

5 Google Places Tests I’d Love to See

I discover a lot about Google Places by wrestling with it all day, every day.  But I’m also constantly scratching my head at questions—things that I just started wondering about based on observations, or that people have asked me.

Some of these questions I’ve yet to find the answers to.  I know someone—maybe you, maybe me—can find the answers with a little (or a lot of) testing, studying, experimenting, analyzing, tinkering, doodling, or whatever word you prefer.  Here are a few questions about Google Places that I think would make for really cool tests:

 

Test 1:  Is there a measurable benefit in claiming your listings on third-party sites (i.e., citation sources)?

Let’s say my business is listed on Yelp, YellowPages, and SuperPages 100% correctly (as it ought to be).  To what extent can it help my Google Places rankings to claim—AKA owner-verify—my listings on those third-party sites? 

Does claiming third-party listings help your Google Places rankings?

What I know:  You’re in a better position to control your business info if you’ve claimed as many of your third-party listings as possible.  This is valuable from the standpoint of keeping your info accurate and consistent across the Web, and of preventing any unethical competitors from hijacking your listings.

What I don’t know:  Whether simply the act of claiming a third-party listing provides a “trust-signal” to Google that you’re the rightful business owner, which could help your Places rankings at least a little bit.

What I’d tell a client for now:  “Priority #1 is to have consistent and accurate info on third-party sites.  If we have to claim all your third-party listings in order to accomplish that, then we’ll claim them all.  But if your info is already consistent and accurate, let’s mess with owner-verification some other time.”

 

Test 2:  To what extent can you increase the number of business categories that show up on your Google Places page by listing your business under a broad range of categories on third-party sites—and can you get visible for more search terms this way?

As we both know, you can only pick up to 5 categories on your Google Places page.  But sometimes more than 5 show up on your Places page.

How can you get additional business categories on your Places page?

What I know:  Google adds these additional categories based on business info from third-party sites.

What I don’t know:  There’s a lot I don’t know: First of all, exactly what information does Google draw on from third-party sites in order to assign these additional categories? That is, does Google look at the categories your business is listed under, the keywords, the tags, the text of customer reviews on third-party sites, or some mysterious combination of all of the above?

Let’s say there are more than 5 categories that accurately describe my business and I want to score some of those additional categories.  How should I go about it, exactly?  Most third party sites—with a few exceptions, like MapQuest—also limit the number of categories I can list myself under.  So should I try to pick slightly different categories on these sites from the ones I picked for my Places page?  Or is it possible that Google pays more attention to the “keywords” and “tags” fields on my third-party business listings?

Last but not least, is there any correlation between (1) the additional categories that show up on my Places page and (2) the likelihood that my business will rank more visibly for searches related to those specific additional categories?  Obviously it’s good to have some additional categories show up on your Places page because they give potential customers an even better sense of what your business offers.  So in terms of the “human element,” the additional categories are good.  But does having more of them correspond to being visible for more search terms?

What I’d tell a client for now:  “My top task is to get you visible for the 5 categories on your Places page, so I’m going to pick roughly the same categories on other sites whenever I can, in order to reinforce the 5 on your Places page.  Of course, different sites have different categories to choose from, so some deviation from your 5 Google Places categories is inevitable.  But I’ll always pick as many relevant categories as I’m allowed to pick, because my understanding is that will give you the greatest exposure for the greatest number of services you offer.

 

Test 3:  How many “flags” by Google-account users does it usually take to get an obviously abusive or spammy Google Places review removed by Google?

How many flags or reports to get an abusive Google review pulled?

What I know:  It’s possible to get Google Places reviews removed if (1) they blatantly violate Google’s rules and (2) if Google is notified via “flags” or “Report a problem” complaints.

What I don’t know:  How many flags or “Report a problem” complaints does it generally take to get a clearly abusive review taken down?  From how many different Google users?  Does a flag from a Google user who just opened an account and has written zero reviews “count” as much as a flag from user who opened a Google account in 2007 and has contributed 190 reviews?  What does it generally take?

(Actually, obvious spam reviews have only been a problem for a couple of my clients—and neither case was recent.  I simply don’t remember how much effort it took to get them removed.  Plus, Google’s “support” infrastructure changes constantly; what works in one month may not work the next month.)

What I’d tell a client for now:  “If we want this clearly libelous review to get taken down, you and I are going to have to flag it and report it as spam at least once every few days until Google gets the message and takes it down.  If you can, tell your kids, Uncle Fred, and Aunt Ruth to open a Google account and do the same.  Yes, yes, I know it’s a pain to ask them, but the alternative is to lose customers because of some moron.”

 

Test 4:  Does it matter whether your site contains multiple non-local phone numbers that are crawlable by search engines?

What I know:  It’s always a good idea to have your local phone number—the one featured on your Places page—as crawlable text on your website.  It’s another clue to Google that your business in fact is local, and that the phone number listed on your Places page and elsewhere is the correct one.  In cases where a business has one website but multiple locations, it’s OK to have the corresponding phone numbers for each location as crawlable text (ideally in hcard microformat); Google never seems to get the numbers confused.

What I don’t know:  What if you have other crawable numbers on your site—numbers that aren’t associated with a Places page of yours?  I’ve never heard of or seen a duplicate listing created by additional phone numbers on a site, nor have I ever noticed that they cause any third-party sites to use the wrong phone number.  But still…is there any measurable risk in doing this?

What I’d tell a client for now:  “It’s probably OK to list your 1-800 number, your secretary’s number, and your cell number as crawlable text on your site, but just to be on the safe side, let’s just take 5 minutes to add them to your site as an image, because Google can’t read images.”

 

Test 5:  Does running AdWords Express ads cause your business to drop off of the first page of Google Places results if you’re ranked there?

One client of mine ranked well—though not #1—in Google Places until he decided to give the then-brand-new AdWords Express a try.  Around the same time, Mike Blumenthal wrote that you can’t have a #1 position in Google Places and an AdWords Express ad at the same time —which Google actually confirmed.  Last but not least, a couple of people have contacted me about this, wondering if it’s just their imagination or if AdWords Express ads and all page-one Google Places rankings are mutually exclusive.

Can AdWords Express ads and top-7 Google Places rankings coexist?

What I know:  I know for a fact that this wasn’t the case with the predecessor of AdWords Express, Google Boost.  I know that setting up “location extensions” in an AdWords account has never harmed visibility in Google Places.  I also know that Google won’t let you keep a #1 Google Places ranking if you run AdWords Express (which, again, Mike explains in this post).

What I don’t know:  Whether any page-one Google Places ranking will vanish if you run AdWords Express.  I’ve yet to put my suspicions to the test by asking a client with a page-one Google Places ranking for a specific search term to bid on that search term with AdWords Express and see what happens.  (There must be a better way to test it than that, but I can’t think of anything as conclusive).

What I’d tell a client for now:  “Express is just a dumbed-down version of AdWords to begin with.  Unless your Express ads have been an absolute cash cow, switch over to classic AdWords, which is more robust and allows you—not Google—to control the text of your ads and your keyword bids and to do things like split-tests.  Plus, though I don’t yet know this for a fact, I’ve found that Google Places rankings can take a major hit if you use AdWords Express, so let’s not play Russian Roulette with your business.”

There may or may not be good ways to test these questions.  It may be tough to create conclusive tests, given that every local market is unique.

I love to procrastinate, watch TV, and eat potato chips as much as the next guy does, so it may be a while before I personally take the time to set up these tests and crunch the results :)

Are there any other questions that you would really like to see tested?  Any suggestions for how to test the ones I mentioned?  Any first-hand experience or observations?  Leave a comment!

Cold Hard Numbers on How Third-Party Reviews Help Google Places Rankings

Customer reviews are crucial to your local rankings and overall success in Google Places, as you may know.  You need reviews that customers write directly on your Google Places page, and you need customer reviews on third-party sites like InsiderPages, CitySearch, etc.

We know that the first type of reviews—“Google reviews,” written directly on your Places page—have a strong influence on Google Places rankings.  That’s well-established, and I’ve seen it to be the case throughout the 3 years I’ve been specializing in Google Local.

"Just the facts, ma'am." - Sgt. Joe Friday (Dragnet)But what about reviews written on third-party sites?  Yeah, they’re important.  But what else do you know about third-party reviews and how they relate to your Google Places rankings?  Probably not much more or less than I did before I did a little fact-finding on the topic.

I took a “core sample” of 200 local markets and 1400 businesses in Google Places, in all different industries and cities in the US.

(Back in July of last year I did similar research, but that was on “Google reviews” and third-party reviews collectively.  This time I’m focusing on the third-party ones.)

Obviously this wasn’t exhaustive research—if it was, I’d be using my break from collecting data to  shop around for some glass eyeballs. However, I’ve got enough figures to answer some specific questions about how third-party reviews tie into first-page Google Places rankings.

 

“How many different third-party sites does a top-7 business have customer reviews on, on average?”

When you’re on a given Places page, how many distinct sites are shown as having reviews for that business?  For example:

How many sites are top-7 Google Places rankings typically reviewed on?

What I wanted to know is how the number of third-party review sites corresponds to Google Places rankings.  Here’s what I found:

Top-7 Places rankings typically have reviews on 1-2 third-party sites

Here are the naked numbers for the chart (that is, how many different third-party sites each ranking has customer reviews on):

A = 1.52

B = 1.46

C = 1.29

D = 1.06

E = 1.095

F = 0.99

G = 0.955

What do these numbers tell us?

First of all, there is a correspondence between the Google Places ranking of a business and how many third-party sites it has customer reviews on.  Maybe you intuitively knew that already, but now you have some numbers.

The top-3 rankings have customer reviews on more sites than rankings #4-7 do.  The difference is even clearer between A-B and F-G: rankings A-B generally have reviews on 1-2 third-party sites, whereas the lower rankings tend to have reviews on just one third-party site.  That’s a ratio of 3:2.  Put another way, the businesses at the top of the Google Places “7-pack” typically have customer reviews on 50% more third-party sites than the businesses at the bottom of the 7-pack have.

The numbers also tell us that if your business is in the top-7 of Google Places, chances are you’ve got customer reviews on at least one third-party site—meaning a medium other than Google Places or Yelp.com (because Yelp reviews no longer show up on Google Places pages).

This helps affirm what I’ve told my clients for a long time, and what Mike Blumenthal has suggested for quite a while: that you can’t simply rely on the reviews that customers write on your Places page.  If you’re serious about getting a top-7 Google Places ranking, one good place to start is with asking  some of your customers to write you reviews on at least one third-party site (InsiderPages, SuperPages, YellowPages, CitySearch, or another).

 

“How many third-party reviews does a top-7 business have, on average?”

Here’s what I found:

Top-7 Places rankings usually have 5-8 reviews on third-party sites

And again, the plain numbers for how many third-party reviews each ranking has (on average), between all the third-party sites where customers have posted reviews:

A = 8.255

B = 8.335

C = 5.87

D = 4.71

E = 4.235

F = 5.515

G = 4.325

What does this tell us?

The top-2 rankings have significantly more reviews than rankings C-G (3-7).  Once again, we’re seeing a difference of 50-100% between the top of the “7-pack” and the rest of it.

Again, this doesn’t count Google Places reviews (which obviously aren’t “third-party”) or Yelp reviews (which Google Places no longer uses).

Most of all, we’ve got a couple more handy ballpark numbers that you can work into your customer-review strategy:

  • If you’d like to get into the Google Places top-7, you should probably try to get at least 5 customer to write reviews on at least one third-party site.
  • Or if you’re already in the local top-7 and trying to get to the very top, your strategy should include getting at least 30-100% more customer reviews on third-party sites than the other top-7 businesses have.  In terms of reviews, there’s a big gap between #1 and #7.

 

“So how should I change my reviews strategy?”

Time for a recap.  Use the following as rules-of-thumb as you move forward:

1.  Don’t just focus on Google Places reviews; ask customers to review you elsewhere, too

2.  There’s a correspondence between your ranking and how many third-party sites you’re reviews on.  You’ll probably need reviews on one such site in order to get into the top-7.  But the more different third-party sites your customers can review you on, the better

3.  There’s also a correspondence between your ranking and how many total third-party reviews you have.  Ranking in the top-2 will probably require that you get 30-100% more customer reviews than your page-one local competitors have.

4.  If you’re trying to get into the Google Places top-7, a good initial benchmark is to get at least 5 customer reviews on at least one third-party site (SuperPages, CitySearch, etc.

5.  If you want to climb higher in the Google Places 7-pack, shoot for a total of about 8 reviews on at least 2 different third-party sites

By the way, you can download my spreadsheet with all the data, in case you’d like to roll up your sleeves and handle some numbers.

Of course, I’d appreciate your weighing in—leave a comment!

Top UK Local-Business Directories (AKA Citation Sources)

You chaps and dames in the UK may drive on the wrong side of the road and confuse beer with cocoa (only one of which should be served warm!), but at least the challenge of getting a business visible in Google Places is the same across the pond as it is here in the States.

OK, fine, so maybe even the Google Places / local-search-visibility puzzle is different in the UK from how it is here.  That is, you need to list your business on different third-party sites in order to get maximum local visibility (which isn’t news to you).

The first step, of course, is to know what those third-party sites are.

Enough of me mates have asked me to cough up my list of UK local-search citation sources.  It’s about bloody time I do so.

Here’s the full monty:

(extra-important sites in bold)

 

118Information.co.uk

AgentLocal.co.uk

ApprovedBusiness.co.uk

BizWiki.co.uk

Britaine.co.uk

BTLinks.com

BusinessNetwork.co.uk

City-Listings.co.uk

City-Visitor.com

CityLocal.co.uk

CompaniesintheUK.co.uk

Cylex-UK.co.uk

FreeBD.co.uk

FreeIndex.co.uk

Fyple.co.uk

GoMy.co.uk

HotFrog.co.uk

It2.biz

Local.TrueKnowledge.com

LocalDataCompany.com

LocalDataSearch.com

LocalMole.co.uk

LocalLife.co.uk

LocaTrade.com

Manta.com

MarketLocation.com

MiQuando.com

MisterWhat.co.uk

MySheriff.co.uk

Opendi.co.uk

Qype.co.uk

Recommendedin.co.uk

Scoot.co.uk

SmileLocal.com

TheBestof.co.uk

TheDirectTree.com

TheDiscDirectory.co.uk

ThomsonLocal.com

Tipped.co.uk

TouchLocal.com

UFindUs.com

UK.Uhuw.com

UK.WowCity.com

UK-Local-Search.co.uk

UK-Locate.co.uk

UKSmallBusinessDirectory.co.uk

Wampit.com

WheresBest.co.uk

WhoseView.co.uk

Yalwa.co.uk

Yell.com

Yelp.co.uk

Zettai.net

 

Now comes the fun part: listing your business on all the above sites.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, links to the “Add business” pages are on the right, so at least you don’t have to hunt around for them.

I’ve added all of the sites to my Definitive List of Local Search Citations as well—where they mingle with their Yank counterparts.

Last but not least, credit goes to David Mihm for listing a number of these sites in a great blog post he did a few years ago on top UK citation sources.

I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few, so please leave a comment if you have any sites to suggest.

Cheers!

9 Secrets for Easier and Faster Local Citation Gathering

You already know citation-gathering is crucial to your local ranking in Google Places, and you know at least the basics of how to get citations for your business.  That’s not the problem.

Dreading citation-gathering?The problem is that getting dozens of citations is about as enjoyable as getting a colonoscopy.  You want it to be over with as quickly as possible, so that you can get back to running your business and enjoying life.

Here are some secrets for polishing off citations more quickly and easily:

1.  Keep a master spreadsheet that contains all your login info for every third-party site you list your business on.  It should contain all your usernames, your passwords, the email addresses that you used to sign up with the various sites, and any other info that you may need to log in with like (“secret answers”).  I like to use Excel for this.

The spreadsheet won’t take long to create, but it will save you from a world of pain if you have to log in and change your business info on these sites, change your passwords, or forget your passwords.

Obviously, you can organize the info in the spreadsheet however you’d like.  It doesn’t need to be pretty.  But if it helps, here’s an example of the type of spreadsheet I’ve used.

2.  Have a “status” and a “next step” column in your spreadsheet.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of where your listing stands on each site and what you have left to do in terms of getting your business listed, verified, etc.  In cases where you’re not able to get your listing completely squared away at once, jot down whether your listing is actually up on a given site, and (if it’s not) any next steps you’ll have to take in order to get your business listed.

3.  Include your business name, address, and phone number in the spreadsheet.  Having your “NAP” easily accessible in the spreadsheet helps you in two ways.  First, all you have to do is copy and paste the info into any fields that you have to fill out.  Second, you avoid typos because you’re not having to type.  Use the same formatting that you see on your Google Places page.

4.  Have a document that contains a long description and a short description of your business.  Some sites only give you a tiny blurb with which to describe your business or services, and others insist that you give them a bigger and beefier description.  I’ve found that one description should be 150 characters long (including spaces), and the other should be at least 300 characters long.  Because most sites ask you for a description, you’ll save time by having yours handy, rather than having to retype anything or hunt around for a version that you’ve already listed on another site.

5.  Have Google Autofill installed on your browser toolbar (if it’s not already).  It can save you time and typing.  Of course, you’ll still want to double-check all the fields to make sure everything’s been filled in correctly.

6.  Know exactly where to login to add your local business listing.  This sounds like a “duh” suggestion, but some sites are very unclear as to where you should log in to add your business: it’s NOT always from the homepage, nor can you always easily get there from the homepage.  When it comes time to add your local listing to the following sites, make sure you start at these pages (rather than at the homepage):

mybusinesslistingmanager.com (Acxiom)

company.angieslist.com (AngiesList.com)

citysearch.com/profile/add_business (CitySearch)

expressupdateusa.com (InfoUSA)

listings.mapquest.com (MapQuest)

business.yellowbook360.com (YellowBook)

By the way, if you’re really on top of your game, you’ll add these login/submit pages to your spreadsheet.

7.  Double-check your info religiously, right after you initially submit/complete each business listing.  Ideally, log out and log back into your profile on each site, to make sure all your info is there and that it’s all correct.  Do this ASAP, so that no incorrect info can spread to other sites (which often share data with each other).

8.  Keep any photos you’ll be uploading in an easy-to-find subdirectory on your computer, like Desktop.  Pretty much every site will have a “Browse” button that you’ll need to click on and use to navigate to the area of your computer where you store the pictures of your business.  It’s faster to upload your pictures you don’t have to rummage through half a dozen nested folders or subdirectory just to find them.

Take your time with citations - no need to do them all at once.9.  Personal suggestion: don’t try to do all the citations one sitting.  It’s easier to mess them up, and it’s even easier to get totally sick of citation-building and slow down to a crawl.  You can take your time: it takes weeks for your business info to get processed on each site and to result in citations that give your business a boost in Google Places.

Addendum:

I also suggest you use the Local Citation Finder to help find citations.

Obviously, I’ve been talking about how to save time on whatever citations you know you’re going to collect, and finding citation sources in the first place is a whole separate subject.  I’ll probably do a separate blog post on the best citation-hunting techniques.

Still, the Local Citation Finder can save you a ton time and hassle, so it belongs on this list.

Got any personal tricks for easier / quicker / more pain-free local citations?  Leave a comment!

The 2011 Google Places Slangbook

The 2011 Google Places SlangbookFine, so maybe it’s not yet a book of Google Places slang.  But “book” just sounds better than “compendium.”

Whatever you want to call it, I’ve written it for two purposes:

Purpose 1: To show that we Google Places visibility specialists aren’t just a bunch of geeks: We have our own culture—even our own language!  I’d like to take you on a cross-cultural adventure, to allow you to bask in the richness of another language, and…eh, who am I kidding.  The real point of it is:

Purpose 2: To clarify what these terms mean.  Some Google Placers (should that be a new slang term?) use this specialized slang more than others do.  Maybe you’ve checked some of their blogs, articles, or videos.  Much of it is excellent stuff, but the slang can occasionally hold you up—especially if you don’t spend all day grappling with Google Places and its nomenclature.

In other words, I’d like to help make all the stuff that’s written by and for Google Places obsessives a little easier for you to digest and apply to your business, so that you can get more visible to local customers.

Some of these terms are pretty new (circa 2010-2011), whereas others have been around for a while.

By the way, this is NOT a glossary.  I’m not going to define terms like “canonicalize.”  You can look up technical jargon easily enough.  I’m just dealing with the stuff that’s somewhat harder to look up.

In alphabetical order:

3-pack:  When people type in a local search term and see 3 local businesses listed on the first page of Google Places, they’re seeing the “3-pack” local results.  You typically see this in less-competitive markets, where there aren’t a ton of businesses competing with each other in the same local market.  But they could become more common in the future: As I wrote back in June, Google seems to have tested 3-pack local search results on at least one occasion.

7-pack:  That coveted list of 7 local businesses on the first page of Google Places.  It’s where you want your business to rank and be seen when local customers type what you offer into Google.

10-pack:  As you probably recall, you typically used to see 10 local businesses when you’d type in a local search term.  But in April of 2010, Google chopped it down to just 7 local businesses that rank on the first page of local results.  (That’s also when Google Places started being called “Google Places,” and no longer “Google Local Business Center.”)

Algo:  Short for “algorithm.”  As you probably know, this just refers to the giant, messy orgy of factors that Google weighs when determining how your business (and others) will rank.

Centroid:  I know it sounds like something you take for an upset stomach, but it actually means the geographical center of a city or town, as defined by Google.  How close your business is to your city’s “centroid” affects your ranking: all other things being equal, a business that’s located closer to downtown generally holds a ranking advantage over others.  Some people used to think that the “centroid” was the location of the downtown USPS post office, but this wasn’t and isn’t true.  Where’s the “centroid” of your city?  To find out, type the name of your city into Google, click on the “Maps” tab at the top of the page, and zoom in: the “A” map pin marks what Google sees as the geographical center of your town.

The city "centroid"

Google Love:  When the owner of a business / Google Places page sweeps Lady Algo off her feet by following her official guidelines, being a responsible category-picker, a sensitive citation-gatherer, a charming conversationalist, and someone who enjoys long walks on the beach.  Said business owner is then invited upstairs—up to a higher local ranking, that is.

IYP:  Short for “Internet Yellow Pages.” Any local-business directory sites, like Yelp, AngiesList, SuperPages, CitySearch, etc.

NAP:  Stands for “Name, Address, Phone”—which itself isn’t particularly clear.  It usually refers to the practice of including the name of your business, your business address, and your business phone number at the bottom of each page of your website.  This info should appear as crawlable text (not as an image!) at the bottom of your webpages exactly as it appears on your Google Places listing—and with the same formatting.  Even more info about NAP here.

One-box (also written “1-box”):  Any time you type in a local search term or search for a specific business by name and see only ONE local-business result on the first page of Google, you’re looking at a “one-box.”  It contains a website OR Google Places search-result for that business, the red Google Places map pin, links to the Places page, usually at least one photo that the business owner uploaded, and sometimes sitelinks.  It also used to contain a little map, but I haven’t seen this recently.  It’s excellent if your business shows up as a one-box when you type in a local-search term (rather than search for your business by name), but this isn’t likely to happen if you’re in a competitive local market.

The "one-box" local search result in Google Places

Places Purgatory:  When your Google Places listing supposedly is active, and should be highly visible in the search results, but instead is NOT—and for no apparent reason.  You don’t know what (if anything) you’re doing wrong, and the Google Gods have not descended to tell you how you must change your ways.  Mike Blumenthal describes Places Purgatory excellently.

Snippets:  Before July 21 of 2011, Google would grab little excerpts of reviews and other info from third-party sites (see “IYPs,” above) and display them prominently on your Places page.  The purpose of this was to supplement whatever info a business owner put on his or her own Places page with a bunch of info culled from other sites.  Google has since removed these because of the whole antitrust case that’s been brewing.

 

I must have forgotten some terms.  Which ones am I missing?

Leave a comment and hit me with your best slang suggestions (and even your definitions, if you’re feeling generous).  If I like your slang, I’ll update this post to include it.  Just don’t bother telling me technical jargon: I know it, and anyone who doesn’t can easily look it up.

By the way, if you’ve coined any Google Places-related terms, do let me know.  Maybe this slangbook is where they’ll catch fire…