Category Archives: Loci – Important Articles for the Year

Annual summary of important articles in Local Search from the folks that are involved in Local Search every day.

Loci 2012 – Andrew Shotland

Andrew Shotland is a well-known SEO practitioner and author of www.localseoguide.com and the trendy new applemapsmarketing.com.  His proudest achievement on the Web can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipkSRwgVtpA

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When reflecting on the year, I like to think about it less in terms of specific niches like “local seo”, “seo” or even “local search”.  It’s not that 2012 wasn’t a watershed year for a lot of this stuff, but rather that the forces that are shaping the landscape of these niches are often the same that are affecting the Web as a whole.  So here’s what caught my attention in 2012:

1. 2012 – The Year We Start Paying For It

In 2007, Radiohead released it’s new album, “In Rainbows”, online and offered it at whatever price you wanted to pay for it.  Many opted to pay $0 while some paid more. It was a big success.  In 2011, Radiohead release “The King of Limbs” via their website and this time charged $9.99.  It too was a success.  And there was no record label between Radiohead and its fans.  In 2012, it seemed as if more “creators”, particularly media creators, were experimenting with getting their customers to pay for these creations, thus avoiding business models such as advertising and using distribution middle-men.  My favorite examples of the past year include Marco Arment’s “The Magazine”, Louie CK’s “Live At The Beacon Theater”, show, The Oatmeal’s Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad and Andrew Sullivan’s soon-to-be-independent Daily Dish (technically announced in 2013, but the deal was cut in 2012 right?).

While each is an example of a strong voice with a loyal following tapping into their fan-base, I was particularly impressed with the launch of The Magazine, as it stood in direct contrast to the failure of News Corp’s “The Daily”.  It’s a classic story of an independent Web developer who understood the medium and his audience to produce a low-budget, high-quality service while a media giant spent $30 million doing the exact opposite.

And let’s not forget about the millions raised for new projects by Kickstarter.

For me, this trend, along with the continuing shift of our time spent on the Web to mobile and tablets, is critical to my thinking about how I am approaching this year, and how I am approaching SEO for myself and my clients.  After Google’s Farmer (AKA “Panda”) Update in 2011, I wrote a piece entitled “Are You Radiohead?”, where I wondered aloud that with today’s SEO, you need to be the Radiohead of your particular niche to succeed. If I were to write that piece today, I might change the title to “Are You The Oatmeal?”  In other words, ask yourself is what you are doing so great that people want to support it?

And I think this is going to be a key philosophy driving Web strategy, and not just to rank #1 for “Viagra”.

2. Mobile Customer Loyalty Apps Are Da Bomb
Let’s get a bit more down-to-earth on this one.  Sure Google Places + Local had a lot of drama in 2012.  Yes, Apple launched maps, Facebook launched Nearby.  There were a lot of big events.  But to me, the fact that my local burrito joint started texting me with points everytime I bought the kids an Itty Bitty Beanie Burrito and the local butcher shop had a tablet near the register that I could use to check in, was a telling signal to me that this stuff was suddenly everywhere.  For those of you who are not on the local SMB text messaging bandwagon, you are missing out on one of the most cost-effective, high-growth ways to keep in touch with your customers.  That said, I think we are going to see a shake-out of the hundreds of start-ups that are operating in this area, while at the same time, I don’t think we’re going to see any one platform become dominant.

3. Local SEO ToolSets Become All The Rage
As I mentioned in my SEL piece “SEOMoz + GetListed: Let the SMB Toolset Death March Begin”, last year it seemed like everyone I knew was developing some kind of local SEO tool.  That trend is only going to continue in 2013.

4. Google+Local Keeps On Iterating & Irritating
I’ve got to mention Google right?  For SMBs and SEOs that serve them, Google+Local 2012 was an absolute train wreckStill is in many ways.  That said, it seems like Google is slowly starting to improve things.  From actual phone support to the G+ page management you recently reported on, I think we are going to see a continual gradual evolution of the service.  It will still have plenty of bugs.  Data will continue to disappear.  SMBs will continue to be frustrated.  And SEOs will still have a lot of work to do.

5. Apple Maps Will Sneak Up On Us
While my recently launched Apple Maps blog may bias my thinking, Apple Maps’ launch last year was perhaps one of the most significant events in the local search world.  Say all you want about how screwed up the service is, the fact is that even with the Google Maps iOS app out there, I bet millions of people are still using the Apple Maps app.  And the fact that it is baked into all iOS apps that use maps means it’s not going away.  In the long-run, Apple Maps is the biggest threat to Google when it comes to local search.  I expect Apple to quietly improve the service significantly this year and towards the end of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a big update that stimulates a lot of people who switched to Google Maps to retry the app.  It’s still going to be a rough go for businesses that want to optimize for Apple Maps, which of course means more fun for SEOs who figure it out.

6. 2012 – Great Year For Local SEO
I think Aaron Wall said that SEO is getting so tough that in 2013 we will see a lot of consultants exit the business.  In some ways he is correct.  I already see a number of my colleagues moving away from Google Places SEO services.  But 2012 created so much opportunity to help and educate marketers that I see nothing but green field in 2013 for those that have the enthusiasm and think of themselves as the Radiohead of SEO.  Stay thirsty, my friend

Loci 2012 – Lisa Barone

photoA new contributor to the Loci series this year is Lisa Barone. Hired in September by Overit, she oversees Overit’s marketing consulting, social media and content divisions and serves on the agency’s senior staff. She is known internationally for pioneering many of the best practices and strategies for social media, marketing and content in the online, digital world.

OK that’s the official version. My version? Lisa is a unique voice that never fails to put the whole mishegas of internet marketing into perspective for both SMBs and marketers. She is a fearless observer in a world that is all too often full of fear. If you can’t tell, she is one of my favorite writers in the industry. Her current writing can be found at Overit and SmallBizTrends.

On her G+ profile she notes that “I save brands. Most often from themselves” and takes what should be a self evident position in saying: “I am morally opposed to this. All of this”. The same could be said of her relationship to marketers. She saves us from ourselves and often provides a compass to follow.

Here are some articles that influenced her thinking about local in 2012:

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How to Optimize Your Business For Local Search and Social Marketing

This super-meaty post from Neil Patel serves as an incredible resource for small business owners. Whether they’re just getting started marketing their business on the Web or if they’ve been doing it for years, there’s still something to take away from this post.

Local and Mobile Domination: Harnessing the Changing SERPs

During December’s BlueGlassX event, Michelle Lowery blogged an awe-inspiring presentation from Michael Dorausch about how to absolutely dominate local search. With his presentation, Michael walks SMBs through the process of generating links through content and opens everyone’s else eyes on HOW and WHERE to find unique content inspiration. Stuff you haven’t even thought of! What I love about Michael is that he’s not an SEO. He’s just a really, really smart business owner who is doing amazing things to conquer the SERPs and grow an engaged customer base.  Michael’s slides are also included in Michelle’s session recap.

Running a successful business means becoming a master at earning buzz and bringing eyeballs to what you’re doing.  Here, Startup Nation compiles a great list on how to get media coverage for your startup. It’s a Must Read for all local business owners. You can’t wait for press to come to you. Go get it.

Loci 2012 – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav Zhekov is a 20 something Bulgarian that owns and operates NGS Marketing. He has spoken at SMX West, is a guest author for SearchEnginePeople.com and elsewhere. When he isn’t answering questions on the Google and Your Business Forum, where he is a Top Contributor, and Quora you might find him playing (European) football with his teammates from Absolut AFC (Varna) or traveling with his wife Jenny.

Wherever or whatever he has a passion and integrity about local and has become a student of the craft. Read along with him on his journey of self discovery about the realities of business.

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I am relatively new to the online world, having used the Internet for the first time just about 7 years ago. That was long after Google has established itself as the dominant search engine and I was hearing everywhere how cool it was and how the team behind it was strictly obeying to their “Don’t be evil” creed. Probably that is why when I started doing what I do for a living I was observing Google’s actions from a somewhat romantic and idealistic point of view. To my greatest disappointment, this grandiose image was gradually demolished by no other but Google themselves.

One point I feel I should make before sharing my thoughts is that I am not really a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are so many details involved that it would be hard even for the greatest conspiracy skeptic to deny them.

Awakening

My “awakening” began in the summer of 2011 with Google removing the images that were previously “attached” to each Google Places result in the organic SERPs. It didn’t make much sense and they didn’t give any proper explanation why they made this move. A little later, in October of the same year, the Googlers decided to change the red balloon markers that were previously found next to each Places result, with grey ones. Again – no logical explanation. In January 2012, they “reduced” the number of local listings that were showing in the local SERPs, a phenomenon that was observed across a wide array of verticals and locales. And that is when I started questioning myself – why?

The following events gave a relatively clear answer to my wondering. In the end of January (early February), the Venice algorithm update was rolled out, which could have been one of the potential reasons for “blended” Places SERPs to replace the “packs” almost everywhere. In February, the web descriptions disappeared in the blended SERPs. In June, the golden stars that could have previously been achieved if you have 5 or more reviews on your Places listing, were replaced by numbers, but only in the organic results, not in the paid ones. All of these changes made it clear that Google understood that the local listings had too great of an influence on the user’s click-through decision making and they were trying to reduce the “eye magnetism” in every way possible. At the same time they were pitching paid advertising and potentially developing a “marketing portal” targeted predominantly at small businesses. There is nothing bad, you would say, in a corporation trying to increase its profit. And I agree, but just partly. There are two main problems:

1. It would be a conflict of interest if Google starts prioritizing its own paid products. Oh, wait, they are doing this right now, openly and not so much.

2. It means that Google is ready to sacrifice part of the usefulness (removing images and descriptions) and relevance of the organic search results (reducing the number of listing results) in order to prioritize the paid results.

The Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hope for improvement, as frequently happens in economics, comes from the competition. And there is not as much hope to see the competitors coming up with something better, but rather hope for competitors to come at least a little closer to Google in order for them to feel threatened. And fortunately, there was a lot of action in the world of “local” apart from Google. The biggest news came from Apple, but in my opinion it was Yelp who was the most active. Facebook launched Nearby, and Nokia – Here. There are also hopes that the new CEO of Yahoo – Marissa Mayer, will move the things around local inside the lethargic behemoth.

Let’s hope 2013 will show us some signs of Google returning to its roots of non-evil-doing.

Loci 2012 – Anita Campbell

Small business expert & ex-patriate of corporate America, Anita Campbell serves as CEO of Anita Campbell Associates Ltd, a woman-owned consulting firm helping companies and organizations reach the small business market. As Publisher of several online media properties and syndicated content, Anita reaches over 1,000,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs annually.  She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Small Business Trends. She also hosts Small Business Trends Radio, where she interviews other small business experts, publishes Selling to Small Businesses and is a key mover and shaker in the annual  SMBinfluencer Awards.

She has a very clear bead on the SMB POV.

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Here are 2 interesting gems from over at BizSugar that struck a chord with me for mainstream small businesses that need to get customers locally:

The Impact of Local Celebrity in Local Marketing:  (This one is about getting a local celebrity to review your product, since the value of user reviews has become somewhat less credible these days with astroturfing and paid review services. As media reports surfaced in the 2nd half of this year about Amazon deleting reviews because of paid review services, the value of user reviews started to decline fast in the public’s mind. User-review credibility is  not completely gone but user reviews are less likely to be believed after this year, I think.)

The Local Marketing Triangulation Strategy that Gets Results: (I like this one for the idea of “localized content” to make your marketing as relevant as possible to the local community.  This is an underutilized strategy, but one that most small businesses could adapt.)

And then there’s this one which merely reinforces the utterly confusing nature of Google’s entire local strategy these days: Google: Delete Your Google+ Local Page If…
If you read that article quickly you might assume it means every business without a local presence should delete its Google+ Page — which would be a disaster.  I think Google needs to make things easier for small businesses, and the search community needs to come out with clear and unambiguous step by step instructions — there’s been so much change in Google’s local strategy and too little clarity.

 

Loci 2012 Important Trends in Local – Ted Paff

Ted Paff is the owner of CustomerLobby.com, a solution to help local businesses to get, manage and publish customer reviews. He is more familiar than most with all of the realities of SMBs and reviews as he lives and breathes them every day of his business life and most of the rest of his day as well. I know for a fact that he loses sleep pondering the many issues that affect him and his clients in the local space.

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Here are a few articles that influenced my thinking in 2012 with respect to Google, local search and some of the emerging trends in local:

Google
The main story line in 2012 for local was that Google+Local is a train wreck. In addition to countless bugs, the complexity of managing the page makes most time-starved local business owners stick their head in the sand. Mike, your review solicitation guide is an instant classic and joins David’s annual magnum opus as a must-read.

Nyagoslav got me thinking with this article about the impact of privacy on review solicitation in various different industries. However, not asking for reviews reduces both quantity of reviews and the average ratings.

You presented data that pointed to the importance of a local business’ total web presence (in question 2) and broad review distribution (in question 3). It is still a little surprising to me how poorly understood the buying cycle is for most local businesses.

I don’t think Google+ will replace Facebook as my social destination of choice and that leaves me unclear what role Google+ fills in the ecosystem.

Hope springs eternal for a local search alternative
Based on how embedded Google products are in my life, this article got me to think about the risk of relying too much on any one service provider. In addition, Google’s move to prioritize profit over completeness/quality of search results with merchants, makes me wonder about Google’s future monetization strategies in local.

As a result, I am hopeful for the creation and evolution of local search alternatives. Facebook is an obvious possibility with lots of cool ways to build a local search business. Go Facebook go!! Apple’s Passbook along with their new-found interest in maps has real possibility to jumpstart their local offerings. Go Apple go!!

Emerging trends in offering digital products/services to local SMBs
Building a business serving local small/medium businesses (SMBs) is hard. There is so much truth in here, it hurts. However, businesses are being built in local.  But stories like this and this lead me to wonder if local SMBs understand the ROI of their marketing spend.

Speaking of ROI on marketing spend, Groupon has issues. The stock market knows it and its employees know it. However, there are some very smart people working at Groupon and they have a lot of cash. They are busy reshaping Groupon by buying/building/integrating a POS systemscheduling systempayments system and yield management system.

Viewed as an arc, Groupon’s acquisitions point toward a different type of digital marketing business emerging to serve local businesses. Digital marketers that integrate marketing services into the operational workflow of local businesses solve a lot of problems for local businesses and clarify the ROI of marketing dollars. Intuit/DemandForceConstant Contact and Avvo are good examples of this trend. Even Google is at the edge of this trend.

Mike, thanks for lovingly tending to the best forum for all things Google and local. Many of us would be much worse off without you. To your many readers, thanks for leaving amazing comments to Mike’s posts.

Loci 2012 Important Trends in Local – David Mihm

loci with pronunciations

1. Particular postions, points or places
2. Centers of activity, attention, or concentration

Every year I ask people involved in the local space that I respect to provide a summary of the things that were important during the previous year. Every year their articles highlight the incredibly rich and dynamic space that is local. Their voices, some more prominent in the industry than others, are voices that should be listened to as they are intimate with the many different facets of local.

Here is the charge that I gave them: Would you be willing to share the 3,5 or 10 articles that influenced your thinking or actions the most over the past year? The articles could be yours, or from others and could cover any topic that you think relates to Local ie local mobile, phones, mapping, Local VC, Local companies, Google, trends, marketing, best practices etc….but articles that you found of importance in one way or another throughout the year.

David Mihm, now with SEOMoz, will kick off this year’s review. He needs no introduction:

What will 2012 be remembered for?  Local has been increasing in importance incrementally over the last couple of years, but I think this year it finally smacked the non-believers in the face–at least those who have read either of these two posts.

Yet again 2012 was a big year for Google, and the dust still has not fully settled from their release of Google+ Local in May.

For me, Joel Headley summed up the essence of this rollout at our May 1 Local University in Edmonton, saying “we want to show everything we know about a business,” something they had already started to do as early as February.

As of New Year’s Eve, though, from the perspective of small business owners, the incredible potential for this roll-out still has not been achieved by Mountain View. Instead, the second half of the year has largely been spent on bug fixes and has left pretty much everyone in our community frustrated. (Mike, that last rant of yours was EPIC.)  As is her wont, Miriam Ellis provided some straightforward, realistic advice for all of us with this peerless post.

Prior to the +Local rollout, all the falderal in the SEO industry around Panda and Penguin I think minimized the recognition of the Venice update among our generalist peers. Several years from now I think the impacts of this update will be remembered much more substantially than either Panda or Penguin.

Mike, as you said so well, despite all this upheaval in the SERPs, not much changed at a tactical level this year. The need for consistent data across the Local Ecosystem remains important not only for Google but has become even more so with the explosion in the number of third-party location-related apps this year.  And John Henry Scherck of SEER Interactive wrote this great piece on creating your own competitive citation alerts.

Come to think of it, there have been a lot of great tactical posts this year, especially from our Local U colleagues Matt McGee and Darren Shaw. I also think your post on reviewing businesses AS Plus Pages will continue to be cited over the next several years.

I enjoyed watching the ascendance of Nyagoslav Zhekov and Phil Rozek into thought leader status in 2012.  These guys have put in a ton of hard work the last couple of years and share a lot of great tactics with our community. Some of my favorites from this year were Nyagoslav’s “Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible?” and this total gem from Phil, which should give every small business (and small agency serving small businesses) exactly the action plan to implement for success.

Thanks to everyone in this entire community for making it such a fun space to be in last year & here’s to an even better 2013!

Loci 2011- Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav is a recent graduate from University of Economics in Varna, Bulgaria. After a summer internship at Label Bank, Osaka as an in-house online marketing executive he co-founded NGS Marketing, a local search marketing company, in 2011. He has written extensively on local search marketing at his company’s blog and recently became a TC in the Google Places forums. He is intimately familiar with Google Places and has international experience working in Local.

Here is his take on trends and articles from 2011 that influenced his thinking:

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My daily job is closely related to local organic search. This, in addition to my natural inclination for having a thorough, core understanding of what I find interesting, results in my choice of Google’s “Scoring Local Search Results Based on Location Prominence” patent as my top information source for last year. I recommend Andrew Shotland’s reading of the patent as a great resource to help make sense of it.

On the practical side of the “local search” challenge, undoubtedly, the number 1 reference is the Local Search Ranking Factors by David Mihm. Although it’s the most widely recognized and thorough survey, it is inevitable that there would be some differences in the relative level of importance of different factors in the real world. Here are my thoughts on the survey. Chris Smith, in another interesting post, using Google’s local search trinity – prominence + relevance + distance, also outlined what he thought were the most important ranking factors by category.

There were some exciting announcements in the Places product arena in 2011 that included (in order of importance): the official roll-out of Google+ Business Pages, Hotpot becoming part of Google Places, the continuous push of Google into the reviews space with local communities (in AustinPortland, San DiegoSan FranciscoManhattanBrooklynSeattleChicagoPhiladelphia, Boston, LondonSydney), the Zagat’s acquisition and the launch of Google Offers. All these can also tell us a lot about what we can expect in the future (Andrew’s thoughts in the last link do not fully overlap with mine, which I should write an article about).

Expanding beyond the USA, where Google had certain problems, but was largely unable to handle spam even after the US launch of Map Maker for the local country Maps, I was interested to see them extend their frontiers internationally. The giant expanded their paid SMB-tailored ads – Express, to new countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland, Spain, and Japan. Map Maker was opened for Canada and a few other countries, thus making the overall number of territories available for mapping 188. Unfortunately, it is still not available in my home country Bulgaria, and minor glitches like erroneous spelling of the country name took about a month to get fixed. That is why I think decisions such as the one to use official data instead of the one of Tele Atlas (at least until Map Maker gets opened in these countries) are good. It was also shocking to see that businesses in a whole country – South Africa – where Google Places should be available, are unable to create listings. Unfortunately Google does not seem to be in a hurry to fix the problem. If only Bulgarians and South Africans had the New York Times!

Last, but not least, I’d like to share a couple of articles that are great examples of how thinking outside the box might bring unexpected positives. First, is Mike Blumenthal “closing” Google’s headquarters and second, Gav Heppinstall’s “cracking” the not-too-well-thought-over distance factor in local search.

Loci 2011 – Darren Shaw

Darren is the founder of Whitespark, the SEO firm that built the popular Local Citation Finder. Darren has been developing websites since 1996 and optimizing them for the search engines since 2001. He’s currently helping to organize the first international GetListed University workshops in Edmonton, Canada.

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#1)What is a data aggregator? How can they help improve my search rankings?

The big 3 data aggregators are the most important sites for any US based business to start their citation building. Cody Baird has put together an AWESOME 4 part series that explains what they are, why they’re important, and step-by-step detailed instructions on how to submit to each. I wish I had written these posts.

#2) Can Competitors Hurt Your Rankings With Bad Links?

Apparently, yes, you CAN hurt a competitor by pointing shady links at their site. This article changed my thinking on this topic. I previously thought it wasn’t possible.

#3) How to Deal with Duplicate Listings on Google Places

I love Nyagoslav’s very detailed and thorough post on this Google Places pain point. It’s my go to post when dealing with duplicates. Although, it might be a bit dated now as the new method he mentioned in our chat group is the following:

Google Help – Fix a Problem: My listing has incorrect information.
– I have verified my listing in my Google Places for business account.
– Yes (or it is not available on my listing)
– There is a duplicate listing that I would like to have removed.

#4) Two part series:
SEO for Local Search: The Complete Guide
SEO for Local Search: Advanced Tricks

Ted Ives is publishing fantastic content on coconutheadphones.com. I love this comprehensive two-part series on Local SEO. I learned a few new tricks from these posts.

#5) Sabotage Methods in Google Places

Phil Rozek outlines some of the nasty ways competitors can damage your local rankings.

#6) Eye-Tracking Google SERPs – 5 Tales of Pizza

In this awesome eye-tracking study from Dr. Pete, I was surprised to see how powerful the local results are. In particular, when there are three organic results above the local results, the local results still get all the views.

#7) Workarounds for Google Places Verification

Nyagoslav outlines exactly what you can do to try to get phone verification instead of post card verification for your Google Places listing.

#8) 35 Local Link Opportunities You Missed

This was posted at the end of 2010, but I discovered it in 2011. Does that count? It’s my favourite post on local link building tactics. I refer to it regularly.

#9) Getting Your Business Reviewed

Also from 2010, but this is my favourite post on getting reviews.

I know there are a couple posts in there about how to hurt competitors. Hope you don’t get the wrong idea! I haven’t, and wouldn’t, do this. I just found the posts interesting. :)