How Will Google Instant Affect Local Search?

Google Instant, Google’s new predictive search result product, is being widely hyped…the end of SEO, not the end of SEO… While it is unlikely to be apocoplytic and end SEO as we know it, it does seems destined to change searcher behavior. That change is likely to affect SEO tactics in general and local SEO in particular.

Will the searcher stop sooner in the search? Will the searcher choose from the drop down or from the main results? Will they continue with their initial search phrase?

Imagine a client that is getting good search traffic on a long tail search “Orlando criminal defense attorney“. Note that Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law  is F in Local and #2 organically.

Now though lets try it as a user would experience the search with Google Instant. As the use gets to the “n” in typing “orlando crimin” there appears a relevant search results (#2, again Moses and Rooth) AND a relevant drop down, orlando criminal attorney but no 7 Pack:

At this point, it seems unlikely that the searcher will continue typing out their original query. What they will do is unclear. They may just choose the website and visit it or see the phone and call. If they choose Orlando Criminal Attorney from the drop down, where they will see a 7 Pack that provides different results than the original long tail search. Regardless, it seems unlikely that the user will make it to the long tail search with which they started.

It seems clear that SEO is not dead. It does seem likely that searcher behavior will change and SEO will need to change with it.
Continue reading How Will Google Instant Affect Local Search?

Facebook Places – Where are they?

What do a popular Anaheim florist, a prominent law office in a large urban area, a rural web development firm and a large retail bank/atm location all have in common?

They all are in the Localeze index and yet Facebook Places does not know about their existence. Why this occurs and how many businesses are missing from FB Places isn’t totally clear. Given my experience, the phenomena is fairly widespread and affects some significant number of businesses in the U.S. in both rural and urban environments.

Indications are that Localeze has provided Facebook with a full data set of their index so they seem to be off the hook. Either Facebook has chosen to surface some businesses and not others or more likely, they are still struggling with the technology to match a mobile user with the many Places that are in a mobile user’s immediate vicinity.

Regardless it means that every business needs to get their hands on a mobile phone and verify whether Facebook finds your Place and if not struggle through the mobile interface to add your Facebook Place page.

I am trying to understand why this is happening so if you have insight into either Facebook’s technology, their policies, or  the limits and difficulties of coding for check-ins and can shed light on this phenomena, I would love to hear from you.

Integrating Your Bike Into the Local Social World

I am an avid biker. A low tech, drive an old clunker, commute 9 miles on a back country road to work kind of biker. But a biker none the less. I really love my 33 minute commute along the Allegany River every day on my way to work.

Going home at the end of the day is another story. I would never (well mostly never) use something like the Copenhagen Wheel to power my way too work but I would definitely consider flicking that switch after a long day.

What is even more intrguing to me is their attempt to totally integrate the device with not just your bike but with your iPhone and your social network… I have trouble imagining myself ever checking in someplace but I can imagine my bike doing it on my behalf. The idea of switching the focus of the social activity from the person to the object with which they have an affinity is an interesting shift. It is a switch that many would find more comfortable than the idea of the self absorbed check in.

The types of data that would be accumulated to the network and the value of the interaction in the local environment would be immense. Ah the internet of things will be an interesting place indeed (assuming they work and are not just one more thing that in the end slows you down).

Reviews Are Dead! Long Live Reviews – Will Facebook Places Change the Review Landscape?

It is early in the game and folks are just digesting what Facebook Places is all about but I was struck by a Twitter comment by Seb Provencher (@sebprovencher):

With the FB Places launch, we can officially say it: merchant/place reviews are dead. Status updates are the new merchant reviews.

So I asked several folks that followed the announcement closely to provide a more nuanced view of the statement.

From Seb Provencher who had not yet had his first coffee so this opinion is open to revision:

– Status updates (or tweets) are easy to do.
– many people have stopped blogging because doing short-form messages
is so much “easier”, less time-consuming, than a big blog post.
– I think the same thing will happen to long-form merchant reviews.
It’s going to become so much easier to do a quick status update review
using Facebook places (and those will accumulate on the Facebook Place
page) that a lot of people will migrate from doing reviews on Yelp (or
IYPs for that matter) to

For me, Facebook Places is not about “check-ins”. It’s about signaling
socially your location. It’s about structuring a conversation about a
local place and anchoring it to the right place.

From Greg Sterling who responded from his iPad even though it is 6:45 am where he is:

Status updates are not the same or better than reviews in many cases because people won’t offer more than “tips” or sometimes will just create noise: “we’re all here.”

So “try the fries” or the “killer reindeer sausage” doesn’t answer other questions I may have about a place, such as whether it’s good for kids, etc. If FB “aggregates” all this info and does a kind of semantic analysis of it then it may not be as necessary to consult reviews in the future at some point.

It’s also not clear immediately how FB is going to make all this information discoverable. There’s going to be a search component here but the form it takes isn’t yet clear — even to FB.

Seb is probably responding to the mainstream potential/appeal of the product and the idea that people will just write tips or short blurbs rather than reviews.

But reviews will continue to have their place (so to speak) from a consumer perspective. In terms of “references” and SEO that’s going to be an interesting thing to watch here.

Google could access all the API and “Like” button information that is coming out of Facebook equally. And this move puts some pressure on them to “socialize” their own Places I think.

And David Mihm who also is an early riser:

Hyperbole. Ratings are important for a quick look by the consumer who doesn’t want to read through all the garbage. There’s also an actual reviews tab built in by default to FB pages.

Your thoughts?

What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests?

Since the beginning of July I have been writing about Google’s test to radically change the display of local search results on the main search results page. Miriam Ellis of Solas Design decided she really wanted my opinion not just my screen shots:

I’d like to ask the million dollar question, though: what do YOU think of this? In your mind, would this represent an improvement for users/business owners, a step backwards, something else? I know you like to report all this fascinating news with the measured voice of reason, but I wouldn’t mind some editorial opinion on this subject from you.

Ok, Miriam, I’ll bite.

While I personally find floating objects annoying, I don’t see many down sides to the local business. I think Google is making an effort to bring forth the most relevant local results and that is good for all.

– Local Results are highlighted on the page and are now more visually obvious than general search results
– Generic directories are pushed down in the SERPS leaving more local results above the fold
– The map floats down the page, not always adding context but always reminding folks to think local
– Ranking, which is always the most interesting to folks, appears to favor local businesses

Negatives (nothing too surprising here):
– Businesses that had two mentions on the front page will now have one
– If a business doesn’t yet have a website they will likely loose out on local search all together
– If they have a poorly designed website with flash or a welcome page that masks the site they will loose standing
– More opportunities for a searcher to visit something other than the business website

Local is all about customer acquisition and not click throughs. While there very well could be fewer website visits I think for the most part, customer acquisition one way or the other will not be altered for most businesses.

But this isn’t just about ranking, whether a business has a website, whether the directories are less visible or that the searcher might go to TripAdvisor instead of the business website. The point that most folks seemed to have missed is that Google is pushing their sentiment analysis to the front and center of the main search results. Is this a benefit or a drawback for local businesses?

Google is attempting to summarize ALL user sentiment about a given business in one sentence and hanging it out there for the world to see on the front page. This can be great for those businesses that have exemplary customer care histories reflected in their reviews. But for those on the margins? Watch out!

Here is a sample search of the test results that demonstrates the potential implication of showing sentiment analysis on the front page (click to view larger):

(To see the full screen shot click here.)

Now compare this result to what a searcher sees of Motel 8 in the current view (click to view larger):
Continue reading What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests?

Google Continues to Test Integrated Local and Organic Results

In early July, I reported (via Linda Buqeut of Catalyst eMarketing ) that Google was testing New, More Integrated Local Search SERPs. These tests are apparently on-going, having shown up in Philadelphia and recently in NYC. Starting this past Thursday, the new results showed up for me in a number of upstate NY markets for hotel and bed & breakfast searches. The new results are showing only on Safari for the Mac but not on Firefox, IE or Chrome. I have performed a number of hotel searches in a range of markets and am making before and after (pdf) screen captures available at the end of the post.

I have done a detailed comparison of the before and after listings on one search result (Hotels Rochester NY). Here is the test ranking display with the local and organic rank of the current display noted to the left of the new rank (click to view larger):

Contrary to some reports, Google is not replacing organic results with local results. Rather they are merging the Local and Organic results and showing the exact same number of total listings on the page. Some local listings though that previously had 2 listings, one local and one organic, now get only 1 consolidated and enhanced listing and only one link to their site.

If the listing currently has a higher local result than its organic listing, the listing typically moved up in the overall ranking of the new display. If the listing had no local presence in the current display, then it moved down the page. If the Local listing was strong but the website had very low organic visibility then the listing would move down in rankings slightly. Thus the local listings that performed best were those with both good local ranking AND good organic rankings.

The directory sites, while remaining visible, moved down the page. The Expedia, TripAdvisor and HotelGuides main listings all dropped. It needs to be noted though that TripAdvisor gained 7 additional review links and Priceline received 4 additional links in the highly visible combo results as a review source. So while pure directory sites will be hurt, those providing significant review content to Google could gain immeasurable exposure and a number of prominent links.

Interestingly, the page of the new results itself is physically longer. While the exact same businesses/websites appear on both the before and after page, only 5 of the consolidated listings showed above the fold in the new display. In the current display there are seven local + usually two organic listings showing.  Obviously the local listings with both an organic and local presence were consolidated into a single listing.

I would point out, that there are some queries with the new search results display where three organic listings are showing above the local listings:

Here are several “before” and “after” pdf files of the results for you to analyze and draw your own conclusions. I have attempted to capture a range of the new result display layouts:

Google Places Updates Quality guidelines – Now Allows Business Names with Punctuation

Google has recently added a new “best practice” to their business listing quality guidelines:

  • Use standard capitalization & punctuation, unless your business name or address in the real world contains unusual capitalization & punctuation.

The guideline makes it clear that you can only uses non standard capitalization and punctuation if in fact your real business name includes those attributes. The change in and of itself is not that big of deal. One assumes that a business should be allowed to use their name as it exists in the real world. But this change to the rules is also accompanied by a companion upgrade that no longer prevents the use of these attributes in entering the business name in the Places Management (LBC).

For those businesses, like mine ( that included a punctuation AND effectively a URL, we were not allowed to use the actual name  in the Places Management area (LBC) as the filters there would “reject” the listing. Until the punctuation was removed (ie changing to blumenthals) the listing would not be approved and would not show in the index.

An example of this problem was most visibly demonstrated by McDonald’s who had been unable to get their standard name approved. It has resulted in an incredible variation from corporate standards in the representation of their name in Maps (and a touch of spam?):

I wrote about this problem (Google Maps + MickyD’s =s McIrritating) in September of 2009. It is nice that it appears to have been finally resolved.

Please let me know if you 1)have experienced this problem and 2) if it is not rectified for you.

Whither Google Maps Traffic? Are Google Maps and Mapquest Once Again Vying for the Lead?

From the moment that Google Maps became Google Maps there has always been strong growth in the numbers of unique visitors. For period in from 2007-2009 it was growing at rates of 50 to 60% year over year. During that period it quickly passed Mapquest and Yahoo as the leading Mapping product.  Often Google would increase traffic to Maps by changes to the main page of the results page.

According to, things,  at least for the .com desktop traffic, have changed dramatically. Google’s Maps has shown a mostly steady decline (despite a summer season uptick) for the last 11 months.

The reasons for a decline in desktop traffic is not totally clear. Certainly there has been a growth in the use of Maps via mobile Apps and we know that the Maps API provides a significant number of Map views across the greater web. But I doubt that either make up for the decline of 35% from  the peak of 64,979 million visitors in Jul ’09 to 42,200 million visitors in June of this year. Current uniques visits have not been this low since July of 2008.

Continue reading Whither Google Maps Traffic? Are Google Maps and Mapquest Once Again Vying for the Lead?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search