Local SEO Planning Tip – Determine The Geo Limits of a Search

Local Search folks don’t always agree on the factors that affect rank but there is one search relevance factor on which there is strong agreement: A local business listing must be in the city of search in order to even be considered on a given service + city query.

While there is a general idea about how Google determines the boundaries of the polygon that defines any given city used in a search, it is never easy to determine exactly where the boundaries for any given geography are. While the distance radius that Google will use to rank businesses also seems to depend on business density and industry, it would be useful to know the outside limits of the boundaries defining any city or town used in the search.

Does that new client in Scottsdale have a chance to rank in Phoenix? Is the business in the burbs just too far on the wrong side of the tracks or can they be ranked in the principal city with a strong enough local presence?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know, going into the meeting whether there is a snow balls chance in Phoenix of success? It has always been difficult to know exactly how Google Maps drew the polygon boundaries for any given geographical area but with the new service area feature available in the Google Places management area, we now have a solid guide.

To determine the likely boundaries for any given geography simply select (temporarily) the “Yes, this business services customers at their locations” in the edit listing area of your Google Places management area(LBC). Enter your primary search area target in the “List of areas served” field and Google Places then draws the polygon that defines the boundaries of that particular area. As you can see from this graphic, and as I learned the hard way (a long time ago), Deer Park South will not rank on a search for “assisted living Topeka, KS” no matter how strong the listing is. (Click to view larger)

GetListed Local University – Twin Cities

Today, I am presenting at the second GetListed.org Local University in the Twin Cities. If you are coming PLEASE take a moment to introduce yourself as I would love to meet you.

For those of you that attended the presentation these links will provide background information and details for a pathway to dig deeper into the world of managing your listing on Google Maps

Slide 2 – March 2010 Search Engine Market Share
Slide 8/9 – The Importance of Page One Visibility
Slides 10/11 – How the Google Cluster Works
Slide 16- Choosing the Right Category – A Tool
Slide 16 – Writing a Great Business Description
Slide 17 – Creating a GeoSitemap – A tool
Slide 22- Local Search Ranking Factors – the many variables
Slide 22- A brief list of 10 Ranking Factors – somewhat old but still valid and a quick read
Slide 23- Thinking about your Business Name in the Internet Era
Slide 24 – Custom Maps – A Goldmine
Slide 24- The Importance of Citations
Slide 24 – 20 Citation Sources in the US
Slide 24 – User Generated Content – Geo Tagged Photos
Slide 24 – How To Gather Reviews
Slide 24- Where to Gather Reviews

Google Places and the Professional’s Place Pages – Should there be multiples?

Many, many professional practices and clinics have multiple practitioners. Google Maps is all about the Place. In the past, Google has made it quite clear that there should be one listing for each business.

However, Google when assembling data about these professionals, often gathers both place and practitioner detail to create Places pages. Thus often there will be a clinic page as well as a number of individual professional places pages.

I have often wondered whether one should keep the individual listings or consolidate them into one to best conform to Google’s guidelines and practices. Historically I have, when appropriate, consolidated the listings into a single listing. While that strategy consolidates all citations and reviews it often creates ongoing work. It becomes necessary to check the and purge the index as the individual listings continue to flow in.

I decided however, to get Google’s “official” opinion on the matter so I asked Ari Bezman, Google’s product manager for the Local Business Center Google Places as to how Google thought this situation should be handled.

MB: What is Google’s recommended practice in regards to handling the multiple listings that most professionals and clinics end up with?

Should we endeavor to have one listing for the practice Place and merge all of the doctors (or whatever) into the one listing or should a we endeavor to keep the individual doctor listings?

Ari: Each doctor (or other independent professional) should have their own listing, with one more listing for the clinic.

MB: A related question is that often the Doctor listings come into Google with a format of Dr Name: Speciality . Is that the preferred business name or is just the Dr. Name preferred?

Ari: The name should just be Dr. Name. The specialty should be in the category and/or the description.

MB: What about in practices (say legal practices) that have a ton of low level professionals who come and go but the practice really only wants to be known by their place and trade name. Is there anything wrong with them claiming the many spurious records into the master record?

Ari: It really depends what the individually “contactable” parts of a business are. We’d like to have one place page (and so one entry in Google Places) for each one of those. So, that definitely means one for the law firm, and then one for each department or professional that is willing to receive cold calls/emails/etc. from new customers. There’s no reason to list internal/back-office departments or people. So I’d say it depends on the law firm and how they represent themselves in the real world and in other media.

GoogleSpeak – “We currently do not support the location” = Banished?

Google Maps has never been great at providing meaningful feedback in the Google Places management area (aka LBC) to businesses that encountered errors in entering their record or when being given a penalty. For a while this trend was improving as the messages were getting more specific and meaningful and at one point last fall, Google’s Joel Headly responded to my post complaining about the ever onerous “Flagged Waiting for Content Check” message, by saying publicly that “I take responsibility for this. I’m working through this issue now, and I expect to improve the experience for users by the end of the year”.

But we seem to have taken a big step back with the “We currently do not support the location” message now being applied in several situations, none of which make sense to the small business person making the edit.

The message has meant that Google hasn’t fully processed your recently added site and that they had not yet fully integrated the listing in the index. Thus users would generate the error when viewing their stats or viewing the listing in Maps too soon after creation of their listing. If you stopped backed a few days (up to 12) later, you would find all is ok.

Apparently though, the message now also means: Your listing is not in compliance with the Guidelines and is not showing on Maps.

This answer was recently provided in the forums by Google Employee Helen to a poster whose listing had disappeared from Maps (and in this post as well):

Check out this article [1] for details about why you’re seeing the message “We currently do not support this location” when you click on See your listing on Maps.

If you find that your listing receives this error message for an extended period of time, check to make sure that it adheres to our Google Places quality guidelines [2]. Some of our most commonly-violated guidelines include:

-Multiple Listings For Same Location
-Inaccurate Representation of Business Name
-Inaccurate Representation of Address
-Inaccurate Representation of Phone/URL

Cheers,
Helen

I support Google’s efforts to clean up the index, I support their right to not show listings that are not in compliance with their guidelines. I do not support their cryptic non-transparent communication and terrible error messages.

If a listing isn’t showing because of a violation, say so. If it is clear how the user can fix it, tell them explicitly. If they are being suspended from the index for a given time, indicate how long.

Is it really so hard to provide specific, meaningful messages to various error and/or punishment states? Can’t the error say exactly what went wrong, what needs to be done to fix it and which help page has more details. This is deja vue all over again.

Google has insinuated themselves into our business lives. That’s the reality. They offer benefit to those who manage to do well in Maps. That does not give them the right to not communicate to a business that has gone afoul of whatever the new rules are….

New Google Layout Now (Mostly) Live

The Google Jazz upgrade is now rolling out and is available in most locations (although not all as I have it at home but not work). SInce its early testing, the interface has evolved through a number of changes as it relates to local, some of which pushed organic results further down the page than others. In the end though the final changes will not result in any significant difference when local results are shown.

Here is a screen capture at 1024 x 768 with before and after looks at the impact that the new interface PLUS the new local refinements options have on the page (click the image to see full size):

As you can see, by reducing the amount of space at the top of the page Google preserved the size of the Local 7-Pack and kept the amount of organic results the same as before.

When using the interface during the test, I came to like its feel and prefer it to the “yesterdays” display. What is your opinion of the interface? Will it have any new impact on Local and organic results?

I have also added screen shots of the old and new Local Universal result displays from my 1920×1200 monitor. Interestingly at this resolution the new and old designs both show 6 organic results.

GetListed Local U – Minneapolis

GetList.org Local University in Minneapolis is coming up on May 13th at the Westin Edina Galleria and there will be an AM and one PM session. As always the Twin Cities event will be focused on providing the small business person with an overview of marketing their business on the web.

The regular cost is $129 but the discount of $40 is still available (use discount code MB). To register visit our Twin Cities page. I am hoping to see some of you there, get a chance to meet and talk over a beer.

The sessions are designed to educate small business folks on some of the ins and outs of internet marketing in a DIY style leaving ample opportunity for those of you who are professionals to add value and context for your clients. If you are interested in bringing a block of customers, email me so that I can provide you with an additional savings on the ticket price.

Google Updates Community Edit History with Editor Quality Comments

Google Maps has been updating a number of features of late, some small and some not so small.

Here is a detail of the upgrade that was pointed out to me by Alice, one of PureSheer’s staff, where Google is now including a great deal of interesting history of community edits. If you edit a non-claimed listing, Google is now presenting an incredibly detailed edit history :

What is so fascinating about this history is that it includes opinions (one presumes algorythmically derived) about the quality of the edits AND the quality of the editor. I have bolded some of these:

Changed 1 hours 34 mins ago
Phone: Deleted 415-373-1665
Interesting notes about this edit:
User is new to making edits of this kind

Changed 3 hours 43 mins ago
This edit is a suggestion
Phone: 415-422-9594 415-373-1665
Interesting notes about this edit:
User has some history of entering poor data.
User has made few edits.

Changed 3 hours 50 mins ago
This edit is a suggestion
Phone: 415-422-9594 415-373-1665
Interesting notes about this edit:
User has some history of entering poor data.
User has made few edits.

Changed 4 hours 33 mins ago
Phone: 415-373-1665 415-422-9594
Interesting notes about this edit:
User is new to making edits of this kind

Added 4 hours 33 mins ago
Name: SF Bay Locksmith San Francisco (English, type: Preferred)
Name: Available Locksmith San Francisco (English, type: Obscure)
Building / Ground: Establishment / Point of Interest
Geometry: Location added
Address: 236, West Portal Avenue, San Francisco, CA, United States, 94127
Phone: 415-422-9594
Website: http://local.yahoo.com/details?id=39293372&csz=Larkspur%2C+CA&tab=reviews&setalert=1&target=YSW6OQWLAADKYP4C2WC3FE6BV4&lcscb=&from=1
Payment types: Visa
Payment types: MasterCard
Additional Categories: Locksmith
Interesting notes about this edit:
User has increased their rate of edits.
Pornographic or curse words have been detected.

Bill Slawsky has written a number of posts on how Google may be rating raters. This might just be providing us a glimpse of that.

How Often Does Google Show A Local Map? More than a 1 billion times per month!

Yesterday, Nielson reported the March 2010 U.S. search rankings. It included the normal stuff…Google has a 65.7 market share, Yahoo’s down, Bing is up….

Of more interest to me was the reported fact that there were 6,387,932,000 (6.4 billion) searches on Google in March. Last week, Google noted in their Google Places rebranding of the the LBC that 20% the searches on Google had local intent. Assuming that these results were calculated in roughly similar way, 1.28 billion searches in March on Google had that local intent last month.

We do know that Google doesn’t show the Local Universal Map for all searches with local intent. We don’t have a clue how often Google doesn’t show the map but it seems evident that when there is not enough user in interest in the Map and when Google doesn’t feel like it, it stops showing.

Earlier this year, based on a Google announced factoid that 1 in 13 search result pages showed a Map. I speculated, using conservative values, that the Local Universal results were shown on the order of 800 million times.

So how many times does the Local Universal Map result show on the main Google results page? It is safe to assume that the number is closer to the 1.28 billion than the 800 million.

We don’t know for sure and will probably never know exactly but we are narrowing in on a reasonably good guesstimate and the number appears to be north of a billion. Is it 1.1 billion, 1.2 billion or even 1.28 billion times??

For the sake of symmetry and because no one (other than Google and they aren’t talking) can prove us wrong, let’s round it off, split the difference and say that a Local Universal Map (one box, 3 packs and 7-packs) showed ~1.2 Billion times on the front page of Google.

Regardless, as my father would say, it is no small potatoes.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search