Locai 2008- Miriam Ellis – Most Important Search Pieces in 2008

Miriam Ellis, along with her husband, operates  Solas Web Design, a web design & local seo company focusing on the small business marketplace. She writes frequently on small business issues at her blog, SEO Igloo. When she isn’t writing on her blog or commenting here, you will also find her guest blogging, moderating  and writing at: Search Engine Guide, Cre8tive Flow, 14th Colony and The Conscientious Home. Dang, no wonder I have never met her in person. :)

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Here we go, Mike:

In my opinion, these are the two most important local search pieces published in 2008:

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/08/04/ranking-factors-in-google-maps-cracking-the-code-smx-local/

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

These two articles stand out in my mind as having been especially engaging:

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/09/18/google-maps-widespread-hijacking-of-business-listings-confirmed/

http://searchengineland.com/a-small-business-marketing-success-story-john-tuggle-guitar-teacher-13746

I know there are a ton of other articles I’ve really enjoyed, but my memory tends to hinge more on writers I’ve come to admire, rather than on specific pieces they’ve published. Over time, I’ve learned which authors publish work that most appeals to me, and I return to them again and again. 

I will read anything written by you, Mike, by Greg Sterling, David Mihm or Matt McGee. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Martijn Beijk a bit this year. I’m excited about Matt’s hyperlocal blog and have closely followed the Local and Small is Beautiful columns at Search Engine Land in 2008. 

What I would love to see in 2009 is a focus from some of these great folks on how-to local articles and further case studies of successful small businesses. These are the topics that engage my interest most and I’ll put anyone in my feedreader who is writing about them!

Miriam Ellis

Loci 2008 – Rand Fishkin – The year in Local 2008

Rand Fishkin , of SEOMoz, needs no introduction from me. Here are his favorites: *** Sure – here goes:

Hope that helps! Rand

LBC Workaround to ‘Flagged waiting for content check’ bug?

There has been a long standing “feature” in the Local Business Center where certain listings would be ‘Flagged waiting for content check’. There have been numerous inquiries into the support forums but often with no word from Google as to what the problem was or how to solve it. For example, one post started in August, had no comment from Google after 38 comments with some as recent as December.

Ken O’Connor of MapMyBusiness.com seems to have found a work around for the persistent bug and (dare I say) lack of customer support response to a recent post again reporting the problem:

Hi, regarding ‘Flagged waiting for content check’.

Sorry for the long reply, which first explains the problem, and then the process you must use to solve it.

I have successfully used this process for many clients. It has also worked for a number of members of this group.

THE PROBLEM:
1. Your listing will only be marked as ‘Flagged waiting for content check’ if it contains a word or term that Google does not like.
2. Google personnel do not appear to ever perform content checks – so YOU must correct the problem.
3. The offending word can appear anywhere in the listing. I have found and corrected instances within categories, the description box, business names etc.
4. I have found no pattern to the words or terms that cause problems so prepare to be ‘surprised’.
5. When you have removed the offending word or term, and RESUBMITTED, our listing will change to ‘Awaiting next update’. Unfortunately it can remain in this state indefinitely. However, when your listing
changes to ‘awaiting next update’, it means that you have removed the
offending word(s) or term(s).

THE SOLUTION:
Use the process below to correct your problem:
1. Take a copy of your current details (e.g. copy a screen shot into a word document).
2. Remove information ONE PIECE at a time, and RESUBMIT your listing to determine if you have located the offending item. e.g. Remove your description, then RESUBMIT to see if the status changes to ‘Awaiting next update’
3. When you have identified the offending word, or words, you may start to REENTER the information you removed. Be aware that there might be more than one offending word or term in your listing. When you have reentered all of your information, you can be confident that there are no prohibited terms in your listing.
5. You must now create a completely new version of your listing. Be careful – use the exact same terms that PASSED the content check.

When you validate your new listing, it should go active immediately I hope this works for you, Rgds Ken

I suspect that the workaround does in fact often succeed although I have not had a need to test it myself. I would love feedback from others that have success with it.

However, while the workaround does succeed, the cause might be different than Ken posits. We are unlikely to know without a chime in from Google or some more testing. It might be based on some database limit in addition to a limit on certain words.

In the past, there has been an error state incurred in the posting of an LBC record when field length or the total words in several fields exceeded some arbitrary database field or design limit. I suspect, but am not positive, that this might be the case here. That might explain the apparent randomness of Ken’s solution.

Loci 2008: Ahmed Farooq

Ahmed Farooq is the founder of iBegin.com. He has created, sold and recreated significant local web properties several times over. I communicate almost daily with him about his and my activities and I have found no one to have a better handle on the technical and social issues that confront local nor a better idea on how to build honest businesses within the space. From where I sit, his youthful influence and creative vision makes him the person to watch in the coming years. He writes at his blog, Tech Soapbox.
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No particular order.

1. http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml – All in all, one of the best articles to start at with local search. Any time a friend asks for help in local search – this is what they get.

2. http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/general-marketing/local-seo-citation-is-new-link/ – After they are done with the previous link, this is what they get next. I think it really sums up local optimization – get cited and you will succeed.

3. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/10/30/microsofts-listing-in-google-maps-hijacked-oops-by-me/ – As a company, my thinking seems to be going towards the popular grain (no longer a fan of reviews or most UGC). Mike found an excellent example on how UGC is far from perfect.

4. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/08/04/ranking-factors-in-google-maps-cracking-the-code-smx-local/ – I’m fully expecting Mike to make this a bi-annual-updated presentation

5. http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/no-yelpers-says-one-local-cafe/ – I absolutely stole this off of Greg’s list, but it kind of underlines what I was trying to say with Mike’s hijacking of MS. It became even more pertinent after the entire Proposition 8 skirmish on Yelp (and I actually agreed with Yelp removing those reviews).

6. The various posts on Google Mapspam. What makes it sad is that the payday spam is still there – hell, one of the businesses listed for ‘cash advance new york city’ is a parking page!

7. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/12/16/in-the-trenches-the-reality-of-smb-marketing-bruces-sew-handy-interview/ – kind of smacks the DIYers (of which I am one of) in the head.

8. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/22/business/media/22carr.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1229965464-/0AeK+vUHW2muJIXWmFHcA – I really like this one – kind of about focusing on your strength, not your weakness.

9. http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2008/12/09/google-lbrr-going-out-of-business/ + http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/google-local-business-referrals-is-shutting-down/1377/ – I’m surprised no one mentioned this. It was a potential black eye for Google, but every one seemed to have moved on quickly about it.

10. http://www.localseoguide.com/botw-local-greg-hartnett-interview/ – the established SEOed sites are coming. Trust me, I know. Prepare for local data dilution like you could have never imagined :)

11. No story specifically, but where-o-where are Yahoo and MSN? I think Yahoo’s accomplishment in local this year was releasing data by a company they bought out.

12. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/12/17/merchant-circle-has-trouble-getting-it-right/ + http://blumenthals.com/blog/2009/01/09/why-google-has-trouble-getting-it-right/ – MerchantCircle and Google (!) start astroturfing on blogs. Mike is pretty tech-savvy and keeps a keen eye on commentators – how many other blogs have been hit by such comments? It kind of speaks for how big online local is becoming when people start pull such behaviour.

Loci 2008 – Maps Guide Jen shares highlights of 2008

The inestimable Maps Guide Jen, Google Map’s not very public face, has agreed to share her highlight in Local from 2008. If I were Google, I would turn Jen loose to be their voice in Local. 

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Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some picks for 2008. Matt did a great job weighing in on some of our spam fighting efforts, and pointing out articles like Danny Sullivan’s and your own posts on “Google Local Business Hijacking” and “Google Maps Hijacked.” These efforts certainly remain high in priority, as you’ll see within the list below, but I’ve also included some particularly relevant articles that speak to the successes of Google Maps last year. 

1. Spammers Hijack Top Florist Google Local Listings – Cathy, FlowerChat (September 13, 2008)

Prior to this post, we’d seen spam restricted mostly to small-batch, low visibility businesses. Cathy’s alarm really exemplified the extent to which spam had begun to affect the lives of major business owners. 

2. Google Local Business Center adds custom category selection – Erik Larkin, PC World (April 15, 2008)

Custom categories were a huge win for business owners with Local Business Center listings. We saw many debates over category selection and display; this change significantly curtailed concerns over categories.

3. Evaluating Google’s Response to Maps Spam reports – David Mihm, Sphnn (September 11, 2008)

We loved to see this public analysis of our own spam fighting efforts. We recognize that what we’re doing may not always be prominent, so we really enjoyed seeing the results of our efforts from David’s perspective.

4. My experience using Google Local during a Medical Emergency – Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog (November 4, 2008)

Miriam’s great, well-reasoned perspective showed us the perception of community edits in the SEO community. From later correspondence, we also recognized a few places to bump up the prominence of our contact forms, and display more information on how community edits affect the Maps index.

5. Google hobbyists put ‘paan’ vendor on the map - Samsanth Subramanian, livemint.com (October 16, 2008)

By featuring a couple enthusiastic users who are making a big impact through Map Maker, this article talks about how  the wiki model for maps in India is working.

6. Local Business Center Update – New Interface & Features – Mike Blumenthal, Understanding Google Maps… (June 13, 2008)

This redesign cleaned up our interface to make it faster and easier for business owners to create, verify and edit their listings. We found that the changes cut down on a lot of confusion over verification, and how clicking on various buttons/links would affect a listing. As a result we saw a decrease in complaints about those processes.

7. Report Spam on Google Maps – Maps Guides & Google Users (July 10, 2008)

This isn’t really an article, but we’ve found it incredibly useful to have this thread where the public could see and respond to spam reports. We understand the scope of what users are concerned about, where the definitions of spam become fuzzy, and how spam reports change in nature as we filter out types of spam. 

 

Honorary Mentions:

8. Google Maps and YP – Comparing Oranges To…Tangerines – Miriam Ellis, Solas Web Design  (July 17, 2008)

9. What is a Legitimate Review? – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk (August 7, 2008)

10. Local Users Bill of Rights – Mike Blumenthal, Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search (June 7, 2008)

Loci 2008 – Martijn Beijk’s The year in Local Search 2008

Martijn has a background in the semantic and contextual webs and he brings that expertise to Local Search with a European perspective. Martijn is currently living in the Netherlands where he focuses on research and optimization at Onetomarket, a leading online marketing agency covering most of European markets. He writes at his blog, Local Search Optimization and makes “guest appearances” Stateside.

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The local search ranking factors, clearly one of the most extensive works I’ve seen in Local Search with many authorative voices on this topic, mad props for David!
http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/google/local-search-ranking-factors/

Cracking the code. I was lucky to see the presentation before SMX and was impressed.
http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/08/04/ranking-factors-in-google-maps-cracking-the-code-smx-local/  

I wasn’t there and this made me feel like I was!
http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/seo-industry/smx-local-mobile-recap/

well, my own ;-)  no guide so far around, It got good positive feedback from all around the web and clearly Google likes KML so why not use it in your Local SEO efforts?
http://www.martijnbeijk.com/tutorial/using-kml-for-local-seo/

Tele atlas data change, and into extent all the topics afterwards about possible improvements to Google maps because of this deal apply as well.
http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/09/19/google-maps-now-using-teleatlas-data-exclusively/  

fun fun fun (shake em up ! )
http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/10/30/microsofts-listing-in-google-maps-hijacked-oops-by-me/  

good 10-list, but 27th of december Don Campbell released a good one as well, its all about the basics:
http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/general-marketing/the-ten-commandments-of-online-marketing-for-small-local-businesses/  
and
http://www.chiropractor2web.com/online-marketing-tips-chiropractors/

Questions raised, Questions answered
http://searchengineland.com/google-answers-your-local-questions-14956.php

Made me think about print vs online for yellow pages
http://www.solaswebdesign.net/wordpress/?p=215

Short and basic, what are the main differences between US and Europe Local Search and why this changes your approach to optimization.
http://www.searchcowboys.com/seo/186

#11 best google maps joke:
http://xkcd.com/461/

Why Google has Trouble Getting it Right

I roundly criticized Google’s product (a less than fully functional Local Business Center) and their process (erratic and inconsistent customer support for same) in my post: Why the Google Local Business Center Fails. As is Google’s fashion in these matters when a complaint starts spreading across the internet, they very often solve the specific problem. Google has in fact responded and solved the posters problem that I spoke of.

Last night though, a poster to this blog, Steve, ripped into me for having an obvious anti-Google bias and eagerness to disparage that company. He also noted: you appear to have really jumped the gun in order to make a point. You strike me as a Google gadfly or a Google hater. (You can read his full comments here.)

I was somewhat shaken by the vitriol in the response and composed several answers before deciding to say nothing. I awoke at 2 am with his post still ringing in my ears. The response seemed disproportional and I decided to check, in WordPress, the poster IP address: Author : Steve (IP: 216.239.45.4 , 216-239-45-4.google.com) 

Last month, I called out MC in a post Merchant Circle has trouble getting it right where I noted that they had made stealth comments and I accused them of being tacky marketers. Well I guess, fair is fair. Obviously Steve doesn’t follow my blog so I will repeat my comment to MC almost verbatim:

My note to Merchant Circle Steve at Google:

You are welcome to come and discuss the issues in Local on my blog. You probably have a lot to contribute. But when you come, come as you are, don’t be skulking around. I can accept warts, I have a few myself. I just can’t abide you using my blog to surreptitiously promote your services berate me.

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Loci 2008: The year in Local from Michael Jensen’s Point of view

Michael Jensen- @mdjensen on Twitter, is co-founder of SoloSEO.com, an SEO toolset and project management platform.

Michael has a strong interest in local and mobile search, and blogs about Local Search and Local SEO. Michael is also behind LeaveFeedback.org, a free service for local businesses to help improve online customer feedback, customer reviews, and local search rankings.

One of Michael’s hobbies is developing Twitter tools such as LiveTwitting.com, TweetMarks.com, and TweetBeep.com. TweetBeep.com is like Google alerts for Twitter, and is a free service used by thousands of users for tracking conversations about you, your interests, your websites, your products, and your company. Since developing TweetBeep.com, Michael has consulted for both large and small companies in using search marketing and social media for online reputation management.

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How to Create Effective Local Business Landing Pages
by Dev Basu (@devbasu on Twitter)
Best practices for landing pages for local.

Some Yellow Pages Usage Data: Print v. IYP
by Andrew Shotland (@localseoguide on Twitter)

Bulk Update Your Yellow Pages Data or Pay Someone Else To Do It?
by Andrew Shotland (@localseoguide on Twitter)

IYP Reach in the US (according to Google)
Very awesome numbers that show who the big players are (City Search, YP, SuperPages, Yelp, Local and who’s not.

Search Engine Optimization Means Business
About a local DUI specialty practice employing online tactics to bring in tons of clients.

Local Search – How to Totally Own in Google (Notes and Slides)
A great list of things to do if you’re going to do local.

The “BCS” for Local Search Engine Optimization
by David Mihm (@davidmihm on Twitter)
David rocks, period. Another home run (or should I say touchdown).

3 Things Your Local Business Can Offer That the Internet Can’t
by Miriam at Solas Web Design
Thorough discussion on local businesses’ edge over Internet only stuff

How to Use Yahoo Local to Rank in Google Local and Vice-Versa
by Andrew Shotland (@localseoguide on Twitter)

Local SEO (Local Search) at Small Business Marketing Unleashed (Conference notes)
by Will Scott (@w2scott on Twitter)
Great notes, and everyone loves Will. Everyone should know Will.

Why Local Is Different (Notes from SES NY 2008)
by Lisa Barone (@lisabarone on Twitter)
A great read with some good nuggets in there. Pre-Webuildpages days for Lisa.

Why the Google Local Business Center Fails

Update: Be sure to readthe related article at SEO Igloo Blog » The Local New Year’s Resolution I Wish Eric Schmidt Would Make by Miriam Ellis.

Google Maps is marching towards dominance in the mapping world and the Universal Local results often generate traffic and  sales for those businesses able to achieve Local 10 Pack Status. It offers the promise of a single resource where a business could turn to achieve local marketing success.

Yet in so many ways the Local Business Center continues to fail in its promise and the possibilities remain unfulfilled.  It is still bug ridden, the interface & process is hard for most people to learn, and it seems to be a poor step child in the pantheon of Google products. Despite its importance in the marketing plans for many bricks and mortar business the LBC receives little in the way of upgrades and less in the way of support.

I think that most small, medium and large businesses with a local presence could forgive the technology failings if at the end of the day, there was some way to reach a human and get an answer to the sticky problems that often arise. Most would gladly pay to have a consistent, helping hand while Google works out the technical problems with the Center. Many businesses have come to depend on Google in general and the Local Business Center in particular and Google as a whole seems incapable of living up to the responsibility.

Here is a posting in the Google Maps Help Group: How Do I that encapsulates many of the frustrations heaped on one poor fellow tasked with the job of getting his local business listing squared away:
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Google Maps Support Groups Switching to New Platform

Google rolled out a new forum platform in early November with the intention of moving their support groups over to it. They have just announced the pending move of the Google Maps Help Group to the new environment. The Google Mobile Group moved to the new platform at the end of November. Here is the announcement from Maps Guide Adam:

Howdy folks,

We’re in the final stages of moving the Maps Help Group from Google Groups to a new platform that offers a number of features our users have requested. The Google Maps Help Group will be closed to posting once we’ve made the switch, but will still be available as an archive of all the great information you’ve shared.

Some of the features the new forum will provide:

– Question & answer format to help you find answers quickly – Public recognition of Top Contributors and frequent posters – Better spam detection and prevention

I’ll make sure to post another announcement as soon as the new forum launches, but wanted to give you all a heads up so that the change doesn’t take you completely by surprise.

Thanks in advance for your patience as we work to build a community in the new Google Maps Help Forum. We hope you’ll come visit and post often!

Maps Guide Adam

It was noted in November that the new forum  features include:

  • improved search results, including posts from current and new forums
  • the ability to designate especially helpful forum members as “Top Contributors”
  • a reputation and ranking system
  • the ability for users, Top Contributors and Googlers to mark questions as answered
  • easier access to Help Center content
  • expanded user profiles that highlight your forum activity

Developing Knowledge about Local Search