Looking for a Legend In All the Wrong Places

Zebedi recently posted this comment on my Get a Virtual Office With a Keyword Stuffed Maps Listing article. I thought it worth highlighting and responding:

As a small business person, I cannot find an SEO that can tell me how to genuinely appear in search results in the areas we genuinely service. Why is it called SPAM if it is genuine?

People like us go to clients, rather than them coming to our workshop. (antique and furniture restoration and custom furniture etc. etc. in case you are curious). We are talking about relatively rare service skills and a large client catchment district to gain the higher class of items which are our niche. This is the way it always has been, since 1983, and the way it always will be. We are in a metropolitan region but not in the major city. Nor are we in the two sister cities that we service. We are in an in-between city area. Our workshop is in between the main city and one of the sister cities, and because of highways, about 1-1.25 hours from the other sister city.

We are not alone in this issue. Lots of service providers are in this situation, particularly if they target the top end of their skill/ items, and even more so if the equipment or the skill is rare. Also, it is not unusual for people like us to have workshops or acreage to handle the noise and the land required for specialist vehicles and equipment and often, economically, we choose in between sites for our business for land price benefits – yet still good access to client catchment areas. Have a look where most industrial estates are. It is no point of chance that it happens to be between cities rather than in them.

SO if you want to catch some work – solve the problem.

Looking for a legendary SEO ….

Here is my response to Zebedi. What would you add?

Dear Zebedi:

Obviously there are many things about your business that I do not know and can not know without exploring it more thoroughly but you may find the following helpful.

If a market is so important that you wish to be included in the Google Maps results for that place then you have no alternative than to invest in an office or display room for that geography. Many cities have businesses that rent “virtual space” that has a shared receptionist & client meeting area that will pass muster for the purposes of placement in Google Maps. These are appropriate if used in the appropriate way, ie a client destination or company workspace.

If you are not prepared to make that investment then Google Maps is not the right tool for increasing the visibility of your service business in other geographies. Even if you are, Maps should be but one amongst many of your tools. It is extremely dangerous to put all of your eggs in that basket

A listing is only legitimate in my opinion and not SPAM if it accurately represents what you do & where you do it AND is in compliance with the rules of the service that you wish to use. If its sole purpose is to deceive either the customer or Google or some other local directory then it will likely have a short shelf life.

Google Maps as it is currently configured, executed and managed is designed as a listing of places not as an advertising vehicle. Google has made the decision that, in its current incarnation, any searcher using the system needs to be able to both call and drive to the destination for the service/product that they desire.

Maps is not meant to be a marketing tool in all of the market areas that a service business potentially sells to. Should Google include a service area option? Probably but they don’t (see my post about mapspam and service area from August 2007). As long as you think that Maps should be something that it is not, you will be disappointed and frustrated.

Your attempts to make Maps fit your definition of what it should do will lead to constant battles with Google. They are obviously better funded and more powerful than you. While you may achieve temporary gains by trying to end run Google in the Maps arena that are worth it, long haul it is a fight that you probably will not benefit from. Some fights are just meant to be walked away from. Beating your head against a wall only feels good when you stop unless you have a very unusual constitution.

In the meantime does that mean that you shouldn’t do internet marketing?

Of course not. There are a number of alternatives to Google Maps that will help you grow your business. You have obviously been been in business since 1983 so maybe you are already be using many of these and many other off-line marketing techniques.

Regardless, here is a partial list of on-line opportunities that you may want to explore:

-Organic optimization of your website for Google, Bing & Yahoo for key search phrases in the areas you wish to service
-Obtaining links from other relevant local and national websites that will provide direct traffic to your website.
-Submissions to the many local directories that provide the other 30% of the world’s search traffic including optimization for Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, Merchant Circle etc.
-Pay per click advertising in your target markets on Google
-Pay per click on Bing and possibly Yahoo
-Social marketing via Facebook, Twitter
-Others social media sites and local forums.
-E-mail marketing
-You Tube marketing
-Video marketing on other video sits.
-Craig’s list
-blogging either to a local or national audience

You may also want to think about defining your market more broadly and not so locally. With the incredible power of the internet, effective & quick shipping services and the rarity of your skills, you may find, like I have, that you are no longer limited to marketing to those within driving distances.

Google has indicated that at some point in the future they may provide a Map based search tool that will better represent your service business but it is not the case currently. Thus you need to take a different approach NOW while you wait for Google Maps to catch up with your needs.

Rather than trying to incent some “legendary” SEO of getting you to rank in Maps in violations of Google’s Guidelines, find a “hard working, honest” SEO that will layout and execute a strategy to improve your marketing results via the many opportunities that are available to you. Find one that takes the time to learn about your business and helps you promote it in a sustainable & customer focused way. Be sure to measure results and calculate returns.

Someday, Google is likely to satisfy your local need and when they do, you will be ready to integrate them into your overall marketing mix.

Mike

What other advice would you give Zebedi?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Looking for a Legend In All the Wrong Places by

21 thoughts on “Looking for a Legend In All the Wrong Places”

  1. Mike, I think your advice is great, and I don’t have anything to add.

    I would only encourage Zebedi to focus on organic SEO as the first step. A properly designed website that tells a compelling story to consumers in need of his services, and is well optimized for his service area, is probably a more valuable asset than inclusion in Google Maps. Plus, good honest organic SEO doesn’t depend on a physical address, which is his primary challenge.

    Geotargeted pay per click would be an excellent supplement on keywords for which he can’t get traction in his organic efforts.

  2. I too am a local service company the serves a large metro area with many different city names. I struggle with how to effectively use Google Maps to market to my customers in other cities. Fortunately I struggle less than my competition so I show up in most searches in Maps.

    Google has made it necessary for us local businesses to depend on the “pack” results to get business. Them giving companies the authoritative “one pack” result that takes up a huge portion of the screen has cause many of us to focus solely on trying break up that one box.

    I would not add anything to your response. Just understand that most local service businesses in large metro areas struggle with this. Google has created this situation for themselves by giving authoritative links to spammers and other businesses that are less than authoritative.

  3. I too operate some businesses that are regional. The impact of Maps is ENORMOUS. I have tracked relevant traffic both before and after Maps. In some cases we have benefitted. In others it has cost an enormous amount of relevant web traffic.

    Mike’s advice for alternative sources for traffic is thorough. We have used much of it and other alternatives.

    In my experience, though, being shut out of maps is devastating. The other web sources don’t make up for the loss of relevant google traffic.

    Google is an incredibly dominating force for potential viewership of your business. More relevantly SEARCH has the characteristics that the old Print Yellow Pages used to brag about…wherein the Print YP was an excellent source for CONVERSIONS. Search is about INTENT.

    If you use SEARCH with regard to intent…ie in his case “antique furniture restoration….the visibility of Maps over the organic results….and with him not being visable w/in a Map….might well have a devastating impact on his calls.

    People search for service providers; find up to 7 alternatives…and never get to him in organic rankings. They might find him in PPC, should he advertise….but market reports suggest PPC gets about 12% of traffic.

    PPC and the 7 Pack take up the majority of page real estate above the fold. Organic rankings lose a lot of their effectiveness when placed below Maps.

    Does Google “owe” Zebedi a response?

    I believe Google owes the SMB population and consumers a FAR FAR more significant level of response than they have given to date as it impacts Maps. In most cases Google doesn’t respond. Only recently has there been somewhat of an uptick with regard to some commentary from some Google Maps employees in the Google Maps forums. By far the vast majority of problems though, go unanswered by Google employees.

    That is one of the reasons people like Zebedi come here to voice their complaints.

    Mike, you have become a proxy for speaking with Google. Imagine if your phone service wasn’t working…and the phone company wouldn’t respond to your requests for help. Imagine if they had to get a hold of “Mike”….who may try and prod the phone company…who may be successful in prodding the phone company…but after all is said and done…is not the phone company.

    Zebedi’s problems, as with the problems Nate (above) described, as with the problems some of my regional businesses have with Maps are serious problems. They have dramatic impacts on business. Consumers suffer. The SMB’s suffer. Remember, this is a lousy economy.

    Google should be more responsive to the people with problems. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to come here to complain. Coming here is pathetic. It speaks to how utterly UNRESPONSIVE Google itself is.

    As to the suggestions by Mike: They are good ones. In my experience they don’t add up to compensating for the impact of being ELIMINATED by maps in search.

    Google makes its money from search ads. There are plenty of search ads that accompany local search terms. Google has expanded its efforts to make more money in this regard.

    They should likewise expand their responses, corrections, etc to the SMB community.

    “With great power comes great responsibility”. As far as I can see….Google has the power….and Blumenthal has accepted the responsibility.

  4. Good post, Mike, and you definitely made it clear that Maps is only meant to be used in certain scenarios. I question this part:

    -Submissions to the many local directories that provide the other 30% of the world’s search traffic including optimization for Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, Merchant Circle etc.

    As one of this man’s main problems is that he is located between the cities in which he serves, I’m not seeing how this would really resolve his problem, though organic SEO certainly could improve the situation. But, he’s going to have to list the business accurately no matter what local index he’s submitting to, and so this would only continue to list him between the 2 cities that are important to him. That’s how I read his post, anyway, so I’m not quite seeing the logic in your highlighted point.

  5. @Miriam

    You are right that the other local directories are likely to provide no better results than Google….there are a few though that could be used for what Will Scott calls “barnacle seo”….where you leverage their powerful SEO on service+location searches to increase your presence in the main Google serps.

    Mike

  6. First of all, I think this blog is great, and it is great because experts like those of you responding care enough to contribute and help simple folk like me, much appreciated. Truly! Below are some critiques and more queries and requests to confirm or deny some assumptions I have which dictate my advertising strategy.

    Re Mike’s Considerable Post:

    “If a market is so important that you wish to be included in the Google Maps results for that place then you have no alternative than to invest in an office or display room for that geography. Many cities have businesses that rent “virtual space” that has a shared receptionist & client meeting area that will pass muster for the purposes of placement in Google Maps. These are appropriate if used in the appropriate way, ie a client destination or company workspace.

    Mike, if your industry had not evolved, small business would not have this extra expense and drama, but it has, and so we deal with it, and need to, and try to turn it to our advantage. So primary objective is to earn more net profits. For the context of this particular blog, advertising, we can do this two ways, reduce expenses (lose low efficiency advertising) and increase income (increase effective advertising and be rewarded by catching profitable jobs).

    Now we could go willy nilly and get into everything, but strategy is required since we have limited resources, limited advertising budget. So we target the advertising we think is most successful. No don’t go worrying about the referrals of work, we are very good at that and get 80% of our work that way. But if you are not moving forward, you go backwards, and complacency kills businesses all the time. We may suddenly have someone talented enough to take on as extra staff, and suddenly would need a great increase in work. So we engage in the internet reality we find ourself in.

    Until recently, Yellow Pages books was it! for mainstream advertising, and over the last couple of years, say two, it is yellow pages on line. But what is happening now is a shift to computer searches, and guess who is up there. Google. Love em or hate em, (I’m actually in awe of the computing power and the fact they are a monopoly here) they are it and they are absolutely major in Australia. (I regularly give feedback in the hope they’ll get even more useful and user friendly). Yahoo and Bing are miles behind here. So, common sense says to get in with Google, and common sense says that Yahoo and Bing etc will follow the customers keywords so you wont lose any effort in google Adwords, as it will all be directly relevant to these others as they increase in their use. We’ll get onto them later.

    So, okay, we think, google it is. What do you have to do to be seen organically in google. Well as it happens, some we were already doing. Accurately describing our business, being included in industry relevant databases/ directories and engaging in the freebie parts of local online directories/ search engines (but have you timed yourself start to finish to see how long it takes for registration and entry on each one? and have you seen the cost of enhanced appearances on these compared to number of leads you get? – way inefficient – however the freebies still help the google side of life so you keep adding to these as you get time. )

    Then we got into google adwords, thinking that was it! But then you find out as you go along, that no, it is only part of it. Google favours physical address, and a myriad of rules, such as having what you do in your title, meta tags, blah blah, pedantically stating every little aspect of your business rather than the general information we provided in yesteryear. They have cute little sayings, “if you don’t say you do it, the customer assumes you don’t!”. So in a very diverse product and service business like ours, you have to state every little thing you do. THen that isn’t good enough either, you have to rearrange the words in the search terms every conceivable way that a client could look at it, and then you wait. And google god rewards you with highly valuable research on how people search for things. Google has this information back to July 2007 (I think? or further back??) but doesn’t give it to you. I thought it would in Impression % Report, but no…. Google could, but doesn’t, give the most highly used search terms – it just gives every single one to add to your own, and keeps giving them until you have over 8000 keywords, and rising for your business, and you only just started in July this year!

    We can’t all just make pizza or mow lawns. Even if you are ignorant of our line of work, think about this… We design, make, conserve, restore, reproduce, alter/ convert Period, Antique and New interiors, furniture, clocks, barometers, music boxes, all sorts of boxes and chests, and artifacts, using about 50 different general types of material and about 40 different processes/ craftskills, in three major city areas (we haven’t gone down to naming suburbs we tend to get more work from yet) on literally thousands of differnt items (different types of interior architectural features, different types of furniture, clocks, artifacts – look in the index of an antique guide to see how many things there are!). Then combine that issue with the fact that we are high end in the market for this type of work, which limits the number of customers that can afford us, hence the large client catchment area. Also, that is why we do such a diverse range of products and services based around our specialist skills in timber, veneer, leather, etc work. Unlike metropolitan areas throughout the world we have less high income bracket folk per square kilometer, so to get enough who will pay the higher prices we ask, we have a larger client catchment area. Also, the furthest city has comparitively more wealthy clients there, and we know there is a skill gap in that city, so an opening exists and we’d be mad not to keep trying. Also, we get paid the same hourly rate whether we are working on a job, or travelling to the job to pick it up and deliver it. So economically it all makes sense.

    Just do the maths, if you are any good at it and you can see, suddenly instead of doing as we did pregoogle, talking in general terms, like everyone else, and having people find us, like they always have in the past, now if we don’t word things exactly like the customer does, they go to someone who does. So all these masses of highly pedantic business people pop up with the highly precise keywords that we now have to keep on top of.

    Before all this internet, most small business folk were battling to get time to do their bookkeeping and quotes each week, and now, there is at least one day a week, probably two, to keep on top of all this. So pity the guys that don’t have someone to do this, and pity the customer who will end up having to pay for more unproductive fixed cost work. When these sole traders aren’t at the bench they aren’t earning. Think about it.

    Mike, you say if we aren’t prepared to invest in local offices or virtual offices …. Well its like saying invest in a bit of fluff that wont benefit you or your customer because neither of you need it to have a commission work out well. But I thought of virtual offices last weekend, and got some quotes. For a virtual office where we just want a physical address (not postal, cause postal doesn’t get you a high enough result on the algorithm of joy) and a local phone number only (which automatically diverts) – keeping in mind, neither you or your clients will ever go there, and you don’t expect anything but junk mail from these addresses – it’ll cost $55 a week in one city and 55 a month in another. So multiply that by 52 and 12 (plus don’t forget the main city is probably going to come back with a quote $60/week too – so roughly 130 per week x 52 weeks) and you’ve got all that dead money tied up in something useless just to appease the google god. Where is the economic sense in that. And it is misleading. Why can’t we just tell the truth that we service their area? without actually having an office there? But that is the case and we have to consider virtual offices as an option. And the client who google says they are trying to help will be the one paying for the extra dead money. I’m sure the clients appreciate it. NOT! We already are pushing the limits being one of the highest charging businesses in our line of work in the region. WHere is the extra money going to come from, it is hard getting in what we do from clients.

    You refer to an investment in these extra offices and workshops Mike. An investment by definition is something that brings a return. There is no extra return expected from the investment in additional offices, showrooms or virtual offices. It is just an added google related fixed cost expense, as is reworking my website, paying for adwords, doing research/ discussion with people like your good selves, on and on. But, Mike, is the product/ service better, or is the profit higher – no.

    ANd as you all say in your blogs, Oh look at that – a new rule, so everyone does the new rule, and oops some are getting through loop holes, but before the system catches up everyone goes through the loop hole, then it is closed, then we all look to the next rule and loop hole, and in blogs I see most SEOs are surprised or appalled. However, if the rules keep changing, the people have to go with it, or fall behind, and you’d be mad not to use a loophole. It is how the smartest and fittest get through in the jungle survival. Oh, but they aren’t playing fair! I hear some of you cry…. but then who said it is fair that one ginormous monopoly dictates how the whole world must advertise? And who says their idea of how it should be done is fair. Life aint fair, but you make the best of it.

    Just to keep the original organic position businesses had, they had to do all this stuff, but because everyone does it, there is just a see-saw of surge, decline, surge, decline as the ongoing changes require enormous effort, but your overall position in the field doesn’t actually improve proportionately to the amount of effort and time that goes in. We pay for all this stuff to keep the status quo. Isn’t there a physics law of equilibrium that covers this? Well the customer is the one in the end that pays for it, and small competent people go out of business because though they are good at what they do, it isn’t enough, even though the client would be quite happy with them just the way they are. And the inefficient payment for intangible advertising goes on, despite providing no genuine proportional benefit to business, the general population, nor the environment. So, why do we do it, because people out there cleverer and more influential than the rest of us can have grossly disproportionate power and profits from it. And so they do and that makes the rest of us join in to play the games. Clever, yes! Moral? Wholesome? Community Spirited? No! So don’t preach to me about not following guidelines. I’m teflon on that subject! But I digress…

    I don’t keep all eggs in one basket, so don’t worry on that account. But financially, google is a big hit, and we are trying to get the advertising budget to stay the same but refocus it on where it will return the best result. Hence my initial query which was about how does our yellow pages influence our google rankings (cause I wanted to take some funds away from yellow pages and put towards google), which led to the locality issue impact on rankings (both organic and adwords), which brought us here.

    So, what is the most strategic and economically sensible tool for for increasing the visibility of my business, Mike? Have you costed and looked at the investment returns of all on your list. Basically most of them are only financially wise investments (rarely proportionately wise investments) because they feed into the google algorithm (which no doubt is highly similar to Yahoo and Bing ones).

    Argue against my assertion, Mike – that locality is one of the biggest issues in the google algorithm and that the biggest way it is influenced is by physical address, and the biggest way this is noted by google is from Maps. So if you are in an inbetween, non major city suburb, which even people in neighbouring suburbs have never heard of, what hope do we have that someone is going to put that in the search window. Zilch!

    “A listing is only legitimate in my opinion and not SPAM if it accurately represents what you do (It does) & where you do it (oh yeah, it does that too) AND is in compliance with the rules of the service that you wish to use. (Well rules are made to be broken if they are misleading to the public, and neither legitimate or fair. Democracy and freedom are built on this premise. ) If its sole purpose is to deceive (sole purpose is to enlighten and assist clients – letting them no we cover their area) either the customer or Google or some other local directory then it will likely have a short shelf life. (well we get the surge of goodness before it catches up with us, and then we look for the next rule or loophole don’t we, to minimise the disadvantage we are dealt as we are forced to play in an uninformed, unfair game)

    Now we don’t want to be in google or google maps, but it now is a given in the world thanks to the effort all those in that industry have gone to. We found out that even if you pay for google adwords, you don’t get to go up the top, because they have their algorithm. The algorithm uses the google maps info, so we must go in google maps. Instead of presenting ourselves as we honestly run, we must fit into defined spaces and criterias/ categories, which actually distort rather than report on the reality.

    The fundamental problem with google is that it assumes everyone but google itself, operates solely from their business premises, with clients coming to the premises. Why would they think that? Don’t google decision makers live and order goods and services? How can they not know how the real world works? People can’t bring wardrobes and beds, and internal staircases and french doors in their BMWs to our door. We go to them. We go wherever people pay us to go. We’ll even go beyond the boundaries I’ve described, even over 1000km, because as long as we are getting paid, what do we care where we go. We go wherever the high end work is. Very few customers come to us, and if they do, it is to commission us to repair something small that fits in their car, or to inspect our workshop, prior to commissioning us to make something new – and we still have to go to their residence to check out details, anyway.

    So if google wants to report on the reality, statistically huge numbers of businesses are “go to clients” businesses with big service districts. Look at you for instance talking to me here in Brisbane. You and I could end up having a contract for you to help me out with this problem. No doubt you’ll work wherever the money is too. Google should just let people tell the reality and customers can choose. But given this wont happen, so we move on…

    I am not fighting with google I am swimming in the ocean of google, as a business given. I try to learn what I can about this ocean and do the best for this business for our sake and our clients.

    “Your attempts to make Maps fit your definition of what it should do will lead to constant battles with Google. They are obviously better funded and more powerful than you. (There is no anticipated fight or legal battle. I’m simply asking smart fish (folk like you SEOs) for tips on dealing with the ocean to advantage us and our customers.) While you may achieve temporary gains by trying to end run Google in the Maps arena that are worth it, long haul it is a fight that you probably will not benefit from. (How can we not benefit in the short term, and what can possibly happen in the longterm, which we cannot adjust and change and evolve from?) Some fights are just meant to be walked away from. (How do you walk away from an ocean in which your clients and competitors exist?) Beating your head against a wall only feels good when you stop unless you have a very unusual constitution. ” (I’m not beating my head against a brick wall, I’m networking and researching, dealing with the issue, not avoiding it. I think clever people out there will have thought about this and have answers I haven’t even considered. It isn’t a fight, its evolution! Thrival in an everchanging economic ecosystem!)

    “In the meantime does that mean that you shouldn’t do internet marketing?” (Well that was never suggested, nor is it sensible)

    Thank- you Mike, for providing your checklist, and I wonder what is in the other part of this partial list which you haven’t revealed. .. I’ve either done, partially done, considered or rejected items from your list.
    “-Organic optimization of your website for Google, Bing & Yahoo for key search phrases in the areas you wish to service” (Basically, as a result of adwords and indept google research, I realised we had to totally redo our website, a costly and time consuming activity which I’ve almost finished. This will help in organic and google adwords a lot. I actually can’t wait to see the result. Boy will I be down and out if there isn’t any, as I’ve taken on all this good advice from SEOs)
    -Obtaining links from other relevant local and national websites that will provide direct traffic to your website. (Yep doing this before adwords, and adding to it all the time as appropriate ones come up).
    -Submissions to the many local directories that provide the other 30% of the world’s search traffic including optimization for Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, Merchant Circle etc.(Yes and this is time consuming and now they are chasing money for higher prominence, but I still do it because it feeds into google algorithm. I am having trouble affording google so yahoo etc, will have to wait their turn.)
    -Pay per click advertising in your target markets on Google, (Done)
    -Pay per click on Bing and possibly Yahoo (Next and a while off as extra cost. Do you know they used to say you should spend 5% of your gross income on advertising – have a guess what % people are paying now?).
    -Social marketing via Facebook, Twitter (Next, probably onto this early next year.)
    -Others social media sites and local forums. (I don’t think this works in my industry – can you argue otherwise. I assume you mean you pick up work yourself doing blogs like this???)
    -E-mail marketing (Thought about it but we already stalk old clients every Christmas and in high end high brow Antiques and Fine Furniture and can be a seen as a bit grubby going overboard with it – I have thought of a newsletter though, only time…..).
    -You Tube marketing (In progress, but only because of google algorithm liking videos. There is very low use of video, if any in our industry in this area).
    -Video marketing on other video sits.(ditto)
    -Craig’s list (which became my list, already followed to the letter)
    -blogging either to a local or national audience (yeah, not done cause I’m dubious about level of use in out industry).

    You may also want to think about defining your market more broadly and not so locally. (Well we have an adwords national campaign – for goods and services we do nationally – big interiors, conservation (museum/ heritage level work)and items we make and post out), as well as a local campaign (general furniture and local interiors which people wouldn’t bother transporting to another state). With the incredible power of the internet, effective & quick shipping services and the rarity of your skills, you may find, like I have, that you are no longer limited to marketing to those within driving distances. (We are limited by what is sensible to ship/ transport – furniture and interior architectural features. If they are incredibly valuable items people will go interstate to get the expertise, but otherwise, no. We are open to this suggestion, but have not focussed on international, as we never get international queries pregoogle or post).

    I ask all clients how they came by our business name. I answer the phone. Every job we do is a unique one off commission, so ecommerce doesn’t really apply, which also means we don’t get conversion data.

    Someday, Google is likely to satisfy your local need and when they do, you will be ready to integrate them into your overall marketing mix. (I just can’t see why we don’t do the loop hole approach till they do – what is the business disadvantage/ penalty?)

    Eben’s comments:
    I would only encourage Zebedi to focus on organic SEO as the first step. (well the adwords research and learning curve led me to this conclusion for sure) A properly designed website that tells a compelling story to consumers in need of his services, and is well optimized for his service area, is probably a more valuable asset than inclusion in Google Maps. (This is contrary to what research is out there, eg recent survey from many guru SEOs) Plus, good honest organic SEO doesn’t depend on a physical address, which is his primary challenge. (I would have thought physical address was just important in coming up in organic searches? Why wouldn’t it? Are you sure?)

    Geotargeted pay per click would be an excellent supplement on keywords for which he can’t get traction in his organic efforts. (Already doing this)

    (Thanks for taking the time to contribute Eben)

    Re:Nates comments: Thanks Nate – a kindred soul!

    Re: Earlpearl comments: THANK-YOU! It is an ENORMOUS issue. The biggest thing that irks me is that we know most of our competitors – subcontract certain items to them and some of them are just crap operators and yet they get prestigious positioning because they are in proximity to CBD or inner suburbs. How does that help customers, Google?

    “In my experience, though, being shut out of maps is devastating. The other web sources don’t make up for the loss of relevant google traffic.” So true and alarmingly so, which is why I put in soooooo much effort to try and make sure we’ve done everything possible to overcome it all.

    “Google is an incredibly dominating force for potential viewership of your business. More relevantly SEARCH has the characteristics that the old Print Yellow Pages used to brag about…wherein the Print YP was an excellent source for CONVERSIONS. Search is about INTENT.” (AWSOMELY SOOOOO.)

    “If you use SEARCH with regard to intent…ie in his case “antique furniture restoration….the visibility of Maps over the organic results….and with him not being visable w/in a Map….might well have a devastating impact on his calls. ” We have visibility in a map, it just isn’t in the city limits of any of the three cities we service, and we get no real work from the city we are in” (we live and work in an environmental slice of heaven within a lower socio-economic city)

    “People search for service providers; find up to 7 alternatives…and never get to him in organic rankings. They might find him in PPC, should he advertise….but market reports suggest PPC gets about 12% of traffic.” (What is PPC?)

    “PPC and the 7 Pack take up the majority of page real estate above the fold. Organic rankings lose a lot of their effectiveness when placed below Maps. ” (I don’t know what this means – PPC and the 7 Pack – do you mean local business listings which come up under some searches? If, so, yes, and I have tried moving the earth to get into Local Listings via negotiation with yellow pages and google, but no real success there, AND it gets worse, with the sponsored ads no longer just occupying the very top of the screen and down the right side, now they appear upon initial inspection as if they were organic listings, and it is only upon close inspection, you realise that they are sponsored not organic – but why would the client care or realise?)

    “Does Google “owe” Zebedi a response?” (Well I’ve proactively and persistently had discussion with Google over this and they are unwilling to resolve this issue, more or less implying this is what we do, take it or leave it. Though generally google staff express a helpful and sympathetic ear.)

    “I believe Google owes the SMB population and consumers a FAR FAR more significant level of response than they have given to date as it impacts Maps. In most cases Google doesn’t respond. Only recently has there been somewhat of an uptick with regard to some commentary from some Google Maps employees in the Google Maps forums. By far the vast majority of problems though, go unanswered by Google employees.”
    (It gets worse because now google staff from different section go, “Hey, nothing to do with me, that is another section” response which is so annoyingly common amongst poor service providing huge corporations. The reality is these various sections of google all combine together in the ranking results, organic or adwords. )

    “That is one of the reasons people like Zebedi come here to voice their complaints. ” (Firstly, I’m not here on your blog to complain, so much as to gain ideas which I haven’t come across yet. Secondly, well I apologise, as I know I’m not in the technical league that you guys are, but people like me get desperate and want expertise and straight answers so we venture into strange cultures for answers)

    “Google should be more responsive to the people with problems. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to come here to complain. Coming here is pathetic. It speaks to how utterly UNRESPONSIVE Google itself is.” (True, but it also speaks to how useful such blogs are and speaks well of the clever folk who congregate and discuss- which I’m impressed with)

    “As to the suggestions by Mike: They are good ones. In my experience they don’t add up to compensating for the impact of being ELIMINATED by maps in search.” (My key point)

    “With great power comes great responsibility”. (Well that would be nice morally, however, my view of this situation is Law of the Jungle)

    Re Miriam’s response – Thank-you for responding too!

    (I question this one too Miriam as I’ve read to the contrary consistently. Particularly for Australia)
    -Submissions to the many local directories that provide the other 30% of the world’s search traffic including optimization for Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, Merchant Circle etc.

    You are right that the other local directories are likely to provide no better results than Google….there are a few though that could be used for what Will Scott calls “barnacle seo”….where you leverage their powerful SEO on service+location searches to increase your presence in the main Google serps. (Well we do that for little local ones, but I haven’t for Yahoo and Bing – I’ll get onto freebie parts of what they offer ASAP. Thanks)

    Thanks again Mike, this is a really important issue for a lot of businesses. I appreciate your time and advice, greatly.

  7. One thing small business owners need to recognize is that as great as Google Maps can be, it has it’s own set of limitations. Obviously location vs service area being one of them, but a bigger issue I think many don’t quite get is that Maps is primarily a broad/main category search play. It is not well suited to cover the long tail.

    You are limited in number of categories you can be listed under, and they are usually pretty broad categories. You have limited space to write a description and cram(spam) it full of related service keywords. On top of those limitations on how you can actually target keywords inside Maps, searchers using maps are typically not searching the long tail. Many longtail search terms, with a city name included, will not even trigger a map, 7 pack or otherwise, in Universal Search results. Very little longtail type searching is conducted within Maps itself, it’s done on the main Google search, and if that triggers a map to be displayed then people may enter into maps, otherwise they are using the organic results displayed.

    I see many business owners trying to make their Maps listing be too many things at once. Instead focus on your core categories, those that bring the most volume. Let the longtail take care of itself, or target it aggressively in organic search, not in Maps.

    I am generalizing here. For some specific industries this may not be the case, as a good chunk of the longtail might trigger map searches for them, but for many others (most?) it does not.

    As for locations, investing in virtual offices and phone numbers is not an unreasonable investment for almost ANY business. Before Google Maps became as important as it is many of these same businesses would target all these other areas by taking out yellow pages ads in multiple phone books across multiple cities. That cost alone is FAR above the cost of renting redirected phones line and mailing addresses on a monthly basis.

    As print yellow pages decline in their effectiveness, as many small businesses are reporting, it’s a no brainier to reduce the spend in that vehicle and push it towards online. If necessary then into virtual location services as a means to play the Maps game.

  8. Some gurus got together and did a survey and report on SEO and in particular with regards to the “local” issue.

    http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml

    I don’t know when you last got quotes for virtual offices in metropolitan and sister city locations, but I think you are way off the mark in pricing.

    Your comment about just pick on the two main categories and push them is not valid for our highly diverse product and service business, where we work on whatever people want at the ring of the phone/ email/ whatever. But yes, I agree for less diverse businesses it would be fine.

    Challenge A is decreasing from Yellow Pages to google etc, but not disadvantaging ourselves in rankings for the three cities we service. Main part of the challenge is getting accurate advice on the impact this is likely to have on rankings.

    Challenge B is generally improving organic and adwords rankings when people in these cities search for us – a big issue, which this blog and the above report plus other research I’ve done informs but does not solve. I think I may have enough information to bring me up to maybe 30% mark to where I want our business to be – which is where it would be if the local maps wasn’t so influential.

    Challenge C is keeping to the existing budget in advertising which is already more than 5% of gross income, without including SEO consultancy, rehashing website, and ongoing review and tweaking of the whole thing, plus brochure printing – so talk of virtual offices, and paying for further SEO consultancy has to come from somewhere we are already spending money on. I’m after the optimum mix and for that, the actual answer is elusive. I know that this is partly because it is changing all the time. But I can’t even get an answer for right here, right now, today, this second.

    Biggest issue, and its strategically highly critical to success – is google maps criteria for participation in their service, as it is not conducive to “go to” business, but highly significant in search algorithm. Don’t try and make out this is no big deal. It really is major.

    So strategically, sorting this problem and re-doing website according to new rules of the search game will account for I’m guessing 70-80% of the solution. But it is 70-80% that will not happen now or for the forseeable future.

    So we sit at the 30% mark and gaze wistfully upward… Anyhow, as much as time allows, I have lots of freebie directories to join and am joining more industry directories as well. We are already in a lot of these, but I guess more wont hurt.

    So, thanks everyone for your time and expertise. Unless you want another input from me – just ask – catcha later.

  9. I think this discussion hits the nail on the head. Legitimate, specialized service companies operating over a broad geographic area are incredibly disadvantaged under the current system, whether it be maps or organic optimization. Try optimizing a web site for a local business that provides several different types of services across an area that includes over thirty different suburb names. Good luck. Even the most talented SEO will fail unless they spend unimaginable amounts of time and effort. That’s time, effort, and money that the average SMB owner doesn’t have. Amateur SEO wannabe’s like myself don’t have much of a chance.
    Link building prospects are somewhat limited for many types of very small local businesses. Local directories end up with the same location penalty. E-mail marketing only works if your business is largely based on repeat customers (not one time, expensive projects). Social media is probably useful in some forms but so ubiquitous so as to be somewhat overwhelming. Craig’s List is low end and filled with spam. PPC is extremely useful but only captures 10-20% of surfers depending on who you believe, and my unscientific survey of local SMB blogs indicate that the VAST majority provide limited SEO value at best and are extremely time consuming at worst. Setting up faux offices in one suburb would only be marginally useful (and somewhat deceptive), and more than a few are cost prohibitive.
    The frustration is palpable, but it is what it is. Informed bloggers like Mike are not part of the problem; they are part of the solution. As the system evolves those that tune into the likes of Mike will be the first to take advantage of inevitable solutions.

  10. “Now we could go willy nilly and get into everything, but strategy is required since we have limited resources, limited advertising budget. So we target the advertising we think is most successful.”

    That was/is exactly my point. If advertising doesn’t work at bringing in customers or is too expensive or too time consuming to bring in customers profitably then YOU SHOULDN’T do it.

    As you have described it, Maps falls into that category as have many of the other techniques we mentioned. It is a crime about Maps that it doesn’t serve service area businesses well, it is annoying, it’s a pain, it is many things but you can’t change nor even influence that.

    You are high end service oriented and many of the suggestions just will not work. I get that.

    Now move on…but to what

    “No don’t go worrying about the referrals of work, we are very good at that and get 80% of our work that way.”

    If 80% of your new work is coming that way than 80% of your effort should be focused on them. Growing 80% by 10% is more effective than growing 20% by 35%. (There are times when you might do the latter but this doesn’t sound like the time.)

    You need a way to stay in touch with them, make them remember you and keep them referring new customers to you.

    To me that is the answer to your questions.

    Exactly what that means in terms of your marketing is still to be determined but we can determine the following from your comments.

    Quit spinning your wheels over Maps. So what if it is cheap and powerful- it doesn’t work for you…nor do many of the above.

    I am not your marketing person but I after learning more about what you do I would explore the following (again as I said above I don’t know your business, you do. So take any and all of these are just suggestions….we need to have you do something in all of the free time you will now have :) ):

    -Build the world’s nicest website…you have a high end clientele they expect the best. Great photos, great body copy, great testimonials…

    -Build it on a platform that allows you to easily add new pages that can target the many niches that you cover.

    Despite what is often considered best practice, on these very long tail of regional searches, one page can cover several to many geographies and products. If the CMS platform is easy enough to use, it should take you no more than 3-5 minutes to create a new page. Go for the long tail but make it very, very easy to do on your own.

    -Higher a pro to do your Adwords. I know that you think you can do everything yourself and that your budget doesn’t allow for it. But a pro can dramatically reduce your ad costs, increase your exposure and more importantly increase your conversions. The right person in this slot can help lower cost ads appear higher and provide greater return.

    -Explore ways to stay in touch with your referral base that they find meaningful….email and newsletters immediately come to mind. Quality not quantity is what counts here and it needs to be valued by your clientele. Using email to drive folks to your newsletters on-line (as in a blog) makes lots of sense to me. 4-5 times a year is enough, it doesn’t need to be that often. Again they would need to be meaningful, attractive and valued by your clients. Enough so that they would pass them on to their friends.

    Perhaps highlighting certain client’s work in a way that speaks to their pride of ownership of their antiques and would motivate them to share the articles.

    “But if you are not moving forward, you go backwards, and complacency kills businesses all the time. We may suddenly have someone talented enough to take on as extra staff, and suddenly would need a great increase in work.”

    -This is true but sweating all of the nuances of our industry can drive a person to drink. Spending some small amount of your time exploring the new technologies makes sense.

    The one that comes to mind in this situation is Facebook. It doesn’t have the crassness of Craig’s list and it might appeal to some of your younger customers. Perhaps some of the your newer, younger staff may be able to help you out there.

    Mike

  11. Wow and thanks so much Mike. You’ve been absolutely terrific and I truly appreciate it. Its a very busy time and I’m sending out Christmas brochure with our work photographed on it, etc to good past clients, and finalising the new website that is advertised on it. However, 2010…. I’m looking forward to trying your ideas. I guess apart from cost, I mainly worry that people we hired to start is adwords, I think were good, but we were missing out because they didn’t understand our industry so they did weird things which didn’t make sense. We’ve evolved from their useful starting point, so i guess I could get them back to maintain adwords again, but always think no one is more motivated to get it right than the owners. Look how my perserverence has opened all these idea doors – and it took a lot of time to get here. Much as SEO and adword folk are into what they do, primarily, they are here to make a living too, and I don’t begrudge them their hourly cost either. But I’m not lacking for ideas and strategies now. I’m onto it! Put that in your testimonials Mike! You’ve been absolutely wonderful and astute.

  12. Zebedi:

    And I thought (and have been told) that I’m longwinded. :D

    Seriously, lots of indepth commentary. Very interesting. A couple of thoughts come to mind:

    In trying to get to an overwhelming web visibility for your website, my mind wandered to the advice of a link building expert who also blogs, Debra Mastaler http://www.linkspiel.com/

    Go through her blog. Get some ideas. Contact her. She has been working on creative ways to expand website visibility for years.

    On an organic basis, I’d want reference to my business in as many quality places as possible wherein my potential clientele may be reading. I’d want it on topic (antique restoration and a myriad of long tail phrases) I’d want it in media where my clientele in Australia might be perusing.

    I’d want a local address. A couple of things I might do is see if you can “rent” an address from a centrally located former client in each of the market areas. Bam…if you can arrange that, you have the maps thing beat. Alternatively, if “virtual offices” in those cities are too expensive, try something different. Instead of going to the existing virtual offices, advertise for free in something like craigslist for an office address. See if someone with a centrally located office will respond to your requests. See if you can reprice the “space cost” by having those w/ space come to you, rather than you going to them. If those in the market in your areas are pricing at a rate that is high…see if you can get address owners to respond to you w/ a lower price that works for you. All you want is an address.

    Finally, I was thinking about something sneaky ;)…but frankly I think the above suggestions specifically about location would get you into maps and probably at a lower price and with definitely far less effort.

    Zebedi: As a business operator I agree with you. Google has supplanted many of the more traditional sources of marketing/visibility. It accounts for a disproportionate amount of visibility. With it being the big gun in town, it makes effective marketing far more difficult for situations like yours and that of many other businesses.

    Good luck.

  13. Yes Dave, you’ve been outdone on the long winded comments :)

    Zebedi, as Mike mentioned, capturing the long tail of organic search terms is easier than you think and one page can cover a lot of variations of keywords.

    Looking over your first comment where you get into services and products I would suggest you have a page for each material type. Pages for leather, veneer, pages for major wood types (oak, maple, mahogany, pine etc…). Also some pages for your most common, easily categorized, product types… a page for clocks, page for music boxes, page for antique furniture, custom interiors, etc…. Then interlink the product and material pages. On each of these pages you can mention some of the more specific items, such as an antique leather sofa. Your antique furniture page should target that well. Later you could add some sub-pages for more precise targeting for items that seem searched often enough, like maybe a sofa page off the antique furniture directory.

    For location targeting you should go after those 2 or 3 bigger centers you serve by including their names in your page titles and in body of text. Because you are a specialty service catering to a higher income clientele you may find that most are searching in those bigger centers because even if they live in one of the surrounding smaller communities they may recognize the specialty service they need is not likely to be located in their smaller town, so they will search in the bigger city nearby instead.

    As someone above mentioned, trying to target every community, suburb, or neighborhood in a larger metropolitan area is just not feasible, nor entirely productive, except in certain niches.

    Include a blog on your site. You seem to be a prolific writer :) With the blog you could then do a write up about each piece you’ve just finished working on, with pics and description of work done, etc… This way those individual blog posts then help to target some very specific searches related to that and similar products. You keep adding these over time, as you complete the pieces, and the site grows and grows and covers more and more longtail search phrases.

    Another thing Mike mentioned that I will expand upon is having a very professional looking site, when working with a high end product and clients. Nice photos and good text, as he mentioned, but also a very clean professional looking overall design, layout and template for the site. No free templates you see everyone and their dog using. Should be custom designed to better reflect your business. This on its own will not get you more traffic, but it will help to convert a higher percentage of the traffic you have into qualified customers.

    Also recognize that search marketing is an ongoing process. Baby steps. You can’t do it all at once. Add new pages to the site as needed. Obtain new links here and there where you can. Build on it as your time and money budget allows.

  14. Re: Earlpearl

    I went straight to linkspiel this morning and instead of feeling wonderful about all the ideas, I thought, OH NO! Another pandoras box! So, I quckly shut that door before all the nasties got me. Oh boy! I have links, don’t get me wrong, but not like that! Ours are with industry associations, and similar, and going from one page to another and off to the huge number of published articles in PDF that we’ve written (each one could be used to start off a blog – she thinks). I don’t actually know how to start a blog, but no doubt my webmasters do. I think the chatline would drive me nuts with interruptions to work. But now I know this is a whole new world, these links, and I’ll get onto that, ……. later, much later….

    Fortunately for me though, the old hunters joke has a grain of truth in it:
    One hunter saw the other hunter put on top of the range running shoes, as they went into the scrub to hunt feral pigs in the top end of the Northern Territory. The other hunter laughed at him saying, “You’ll never out run a raging feral pig, even with those shoes on”. That’s okay, drawled the first hunter, as he rose up again, from tying his laces…”I only have to outrun you!” :-)

    What is the longtail that everyone talks about? I just thought you used the term metaphorically but am starting to think you mean more specific technical stuff.

    Re: Stever

    I enjoyed checklisting your website ideas against what I was doing and coming up trumps – at least I’m doing something right. Except those blogs… hmmm. Well at least with the research I’m getting practice with them . :-)

    Thanks

    Zebedi Verbose! :-P

  15. Zebedi, the long tail of search is the large numbers of searches conducted for a wide wide range of variations of search phrases. For any given category you will see a large volume of people search the main broad terms, in your case ‘furniture restoration’ might be one of those broad terms. But you will see a couple people search ‘maple furniture restoration’, some ‘oak furniture restoration’, then there is ‘restoring antique victorian period furniture’. So in a given month you might see 100 people land on your site for ‘furniture restoration’ but those other terms, the long tail, each only bring 1 or 2 visitors. But that tail is long because there are hundreds and hundreds of variations of those unique search phrases that only bring 1 or 2 or 5 visitors. The beauty of the long tail of search is not only the combined volume they all bring, but that they often represent a very specific intent on the part of the searcher, somebody who knows exactly what they want. As such these types of terms can convert into customers at a much higher rate than the common broad terms do. The broad terms can represent a wide range of intent. Maybe someone is looking for a service that restores old furniture while another using the same search term is looking for tips or how to information so they can do it themselves, or another looking for cleaners, varnish, waxes and other such products. Traffic quality for the broad terms is then often much lower.

    Further up you had asked what PPC meant. That’s the abbreviation for Pay Per Click.

    ha ha, at your hunters joke. Same joke floats around these parts (Western Canada), except it’s Grizzly Bear, not feral pigs.

    And don’t fear the blog. Your webmaster should be able to set you up with WordPress easily enough (if not, find another webmaster). In fact it can be used as a complete content management system to write and edit all your static content pages as well. And managing the conversation in the blog comments for most small businesses is far far less than for a blog as active as Mike’s here. Many of your posts won’t receive comments from visitors, except maybe some spammers, but some filters can catch most of those.

  16. Well thanks for all that. Much appreciated! I’m on the right track with about 9000 keywords for our business, and as you say, increasing numbers of long tail ones. Those published articles of ours will help in the long tail side of things too, once on the web. We do CPC cost per click.

    You guys have been terrific. Hopefully others will follow this blog and be assisted also.

    Regards Zebedi

  17. There is another old joke about an old moose and a young buck standing atop the knoll viewing a field full of attractive cows. The young moose says: “Lets run down there and hook up with one of them beauties”. The old moose responds: “Lets walk down there and hook up with them all”.

    @Zebedi

    Before heading off and trying every great idea you read here:
    -assess how it fits in the strategy you have defined
    -Measure how well you are doing on your current strategy and whether it needs changing
    -Pursue only those that offer the opportunity to improve your situation now and save the others for later
    -Analyze, analyze, analyze your results for return, jettisoning those that are not cost/time effective and working the ones that are.

    Sometimes you are already doing well enough in a particular area and you don’t need to change now. You only know that if you are tracking those things.

    Saving things for later can save you effort now and leave some of the options open to you in the future if you need them for competitive reasons

    @EarlPearl

    In the dashboards that I reviewed, between 5 and 25% of all actions were for driving directions.

    Your strategy of having a location in a closet would work for some industries but would you want a well heeled client driving to your location only to find it doesn’t exist?

    The risk does not seem equal to the reward as loosing only one of those clients could be incredibly costly. And angering them would be doubly so.

  18. This thread really nails the pain felt by the SMB owner who is trying to make their business findable in the SERPS. With local maps being so predominate who can fault an owner that feels compelled to rank there. I know that I don’t. But I have to give kudos to all the suggestions for elevating the pain of not ranking on maps. However, there is one suggestion that I think could have a huge impact, especially in the short term, and that would be video.

    Video, accompanied with the appropriate long tail tags, can really cover a lot of ground. The SE’s absolutely love video, giving great rankings right from the start, and with some moderate back linking those vids will have some sticking power.

    I would think that in the restoration business, having a video that shows the craftsmanship and covers all the different variations and possibilities in one quick video would do wonders for driving traffic. I’m know that I’m always drawn to the little video boxes when they show up. Restoration is something that is going to be thought about and researched. Getting the searcher to your site with a video is just step one. Converting that person into an opt-in to your email list with a great offer, guide or report on things to look for in a good restoration will then give you an opportunity to build trust with that person.

    They may call someone in the maps listing to get a quote or the like but they will remember you if you provide them with valuable information that can save them time, money or whatever. Plus, with an auto-responder system, you can get several chances to put your service in front of the potential customer.

    Most local business’ don’t market their business from a position of servicing the customer before they ask for the sale. Most have an attitude of “Thanks for stopping in or calling, what do you want to buy.” Instead of, “Thanks for stopping in, here is some great information to help you make an informed decision, let me know if I can be of further service.”

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