Tag Archives: Google Google My Business

5 local search tactics your competitors probably aren't using

Local SEO is competitive and fierce. With more and more local businesses vying for the Google local three-pack — and ads and online directories occupying a large percentage of the remaining SERP real estate — your local SEO strategy has to be aggressive.

So, what can you do to outrank your local competitors down the street, especially when you’ve all got the basics down? One approach is to use local SEO tactics that your competitors may not know about or aren’t using. Here are five local SEO tactics you can implement to help get ahead of your competitors.

Google Posts

First, every local business should claim their Google My Business (GMB) listing. It’s a must-do. Non-negotiable. If you don’t claim your Google My Business listing, you essentially don’t exist online! (Okay, that’s an exaggeration — but not claiming your GMB listing will significantly diminish your chances of showing up in local search results.)

Of your competitors who claim their Google My Business listing, most will just walk away and forget about it. However, claiming your listing and letting it sit there gathering dust is like purchasing a new home and not putting any furniture in it. There’s so much more you should do, and this is one way you can outsmart (and outrank) your competitors.

Google has insight into how you and your potential customers are engaging with your Google My Business listing — and generally speaking, the more activity, the better. Does someone use the click-to-call option on their smartphone? Is a potential customer asking you a question using the new Q&A feature? Did you answer the question? Are you updating your business hours for holidays? Are you uploading quality photos of your business or staff?

And are you utilizing Google Posts?

Google Posts are almost like mini-ads with a picture, description, offer, landing page URL and so on. You can create Posts that tell potential customers about a product or service, promote upcoming specials, offer holiday wishes, let customers know about an event you’re having, and more. Having an open house? Create a Post for that event. Offering a free report or white paper? Create a Post about that white paper and add the link to where people can go to download it.

Creating a Post is easy. Simply log in to your Google My Business dashboard, and to the left, you will see the Posts option. Click on it to get started creating your first Post!

Whether you’re creating a post about an upcoming event, sale, special offer, product or service, try to include keywords relevant to your business and city in the copy of the post. (It can’t hurt!) Make your post compelling so that people who see your GMB listing will want to click on the Post to learn more. (Remember, Google is watching those interactions!)

Once you’ve created your post, here’s how it will look on your Google My Business Listing:

To make sure that the Posts are timely, Google removes Posts after seven days (or, if you set up an event, the Post will be removed when the event date has passed). To keep you on your toes, Google will even send you email reminders when it’s time to create a fresh new Post.

Does creating a Google Post help your local rankings? The verdict’s not 100 percent in, but Joy Hawkins and Steady Demand did some research, and they found that Google Posts did appear to have a mild impact on rankings.

Check your Google My Business category

Speaking of Google My Business, selecting the best GMB category for your business can make a huge difference in how your business ranks on Google. If you find your competitors are leapfrogging ahead of you on the local three-pack, scope out what category their business is listed under — you may want to experiment with selecting that same category.

If matching your competitors’ categories doesn’t move the needle for you, try getting more granular. (Yes, this is a case of trial and error. You may need to test until you find the right category that will get you better visibility and/or more qualified leads.) See the example below, where one of my clients jumped up on Google rankings when we changed her category from the more general “Lawyer” category to a more specific category, “Family Law Attorney.”

It’s always best to choose the category that most accurately fits your business type. Sometimes, people select too many categories, which can “dilute” your specialty. Selecting the best category for your business is a strategy that may mean you fall before you rise — but once you find the “sweet spot,” you can outrank your competitors.

Apply URL best practices

URLs are an important part of your search engine optimization and user experience strategy. Not only do URLs tell your site’s visitors and search engines what a page is about, they also serve as guides for the structure of your website. Your URLs should be descriptive, user-friendly and concise. When appropriate, include keywords (like your city, the name of a product, the type of service and so on) in the URL.

If your website runs on a CMS, you may have to adjust the settings to ensure that your page URLs are SEO-friendly. For example, WordPress URLs have a default format of /?p=id-number, which does not adhere to SEO best practices and is not particularly user-friendly.

To fix this issue, you need to create a custom URL structure for your permalinks and archives. This improves the look of the URL for visitors and people that share your link, and it also allows you to add relevant and local keywords to a page’s URL.

To fix this WordPress default setting, log in to your WordPress dashboard and go to Settings and click on Permalinks:

There you will be able to change your setting to “Post Name.” Changing this setting will allow you to create SEO-friendly URLs like:

https://websitename.com/products/blue-widgets

Please note that after you change the permalink structure on your website, you may need to create redirects from the old URLs to the new ones (assuming your CMS doesn’t do this automatically).

Make your site secure

If your site isn’t secure (i.e., not HTTPS), making it secure is something you should add to your to-do list. In January 2017, Google started showing “not secure” warnings for Chrome users on HTTP pages with a password or credit card field. And, as of October 2017, they’ve expanded this warning to display when users enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

Even worse, their goal is to eventually display this warning on all HTTP pages. With all the press about cyber-security and protecting your personal information online, seeing this “Not Secure” warning on your site could scare off potential customers. Google is essentially warning people not to visit your site. Since many people are apt to close a website if they see a security warning, that means you could be losing a lot of business.

The bottom line: If your site’s not secure, you could be losing business to competitors.

(For a primer on making the switch from HTTP to HTTPS, check out this guide by Patrick Stox: “HTTP to HTTPS: An SEO’s guide to securing a website.”)

There are immediate benefits to having a secure site, too. If you have a secure site, the https:// and the green locked padlock that appear next to your URL in Chrome will make your website seem more trustworthy than a competitor’s site that isn’t secure.

And, of course, Google has stated that secure sites receive a slight rankings boost. Though this boost is fairly minor, it could still give you an edge over a competitor, all else being equal.

Write quality content: End writer’s block

Not only does Google like fresh, relevant, high-quality content — your site visitors do, too.

When it comes to writing long-form content, however, some people freeze up with writer’s block. How can you determine what to write about in order to satisfy users and drive relevant traffic?

Rest easy. There are amazing tools out there that can help you find the most popular questions people ask about a particular topic, and these types of questions and answers make for great content fodder.

Each of these tools has a different algorithm they use to find popular questions that need answering, but many pull top-asked questions from Google, various user forums, Quora, e-commerce sites and more. Finding these questions and writing a piece of content that answers those questions can squash writer’s block — fast! Now you can write content that actually answers questions potential customers are really asking.

Here are just a few of the “content crushing” tools I use:

Question SamuraStorybaseAnswer the PublicBuzzSumo Question AnalyzerBlogSearchEngine.orgHubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator

Which local SEO tactics are YOU using to beat your competition?

I’d love to know what local tactics are giving you a competitive edge in rankings. Are you using any of the tactics above? Different ones? Let us know!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Law firms spamming Google My Business: Don't trust them!

Last year, I wrote a piece addressed to SEO companies showing how much they were spamming Google Maps and giving the industry a bad reputation. If I worked at Google, this type of stuff would make me hate SEO companies and have no desire to help them.

Lately, I’ve been seeing this same level of spam (or worse) in the legal industry. If you’re an attorney or a marketing agency that works with attorneys, this article is for you.

Personally, if I were looking to hire an attorney and trust my money and my life to someone, the last place I would look is Google, due to my knowledge about how unreliable the information is and how fabricated the reviews are. Let’s get into some specifics.

Fake reviews

Attorneys often complain about how hard it is to get their clients to leave reviews. I get it. Someone rarely wants to publicize who they hired to help them with their divorce or admit that they had to hire a criminal lawyer. This does not, however, excuse what attorneys are doing to get reviews in spite of this.

One common trend amongst attorneys currently is review swapping. Although sites like Avvo might have sections that encourage peer reviews, they do a good job of separating them so that consumers realize they are not reviews from clients.

Google has no such distinction and is very clear in their guidelines that reviews should be about the customer experience. Attorneys you are friends with all around the country do not count as customer reviews. I say this because so far, every review that fits this scenario that I’ve reported to Google has been removed.

In addition to violations of Google’s guidelines, quid pro quo attorney review circles may violate attorney ethics rules. According to Gyi Tsakalakis, a digital marketer with a focus on law firms:

Per the ABA Model Rules, with limited exceptions, lawyers aren’t supposed to give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services. The quid pro quo nature of some of these review circles could be construed as a violation of this rule. At the very least, these communications could be interpreted as misleading, which is also prohibited by most states’ rules of professional responsibility.

There also could be legal implications to review swapping. In addition to it being against Google’s guidelines, it could also get you in trouble with the FTC. In an article I wrote on fake reviews earlier this year, Brandon J. Huffman, attorney at Odin Law, mentioned:

The FTC looks at whether you got something of value in exchange for your review. The thing of value is usually cash or a free product of some kind, but the positive review you receive is also something of value. So, this is really no different than a typical paid-for review under the regulations. Businesses would need to disclose that they received a positive review in exchange for their positive review.

Review swaps aren’t the only thing that can get lawyers in trouble with their state Bar Associations. A variety of fake review tactics are likely to lead to sanctions, such as having your employees pose as clients to leave reviews or paying someone to write fake reviews. Indeed, many law firms are just flat-out getting fake reviews posted.

Recently, in looking at the top 20 listings that ranked for personal injury lawyers in a major city in the USA, I found eight that had fake reviews (40 percent).

Fake listings

The most common practice for attorneys who want to rank in several cities is to create listings at virtual offices. When these are reported, Google has been pretty good at removing them. However, attorneys (and their marketing companies) are getting smart at this stuff and have found ways to trick Google My Business support into thinking their fake locations are real locations.

These are also clearly false, or at least misleading, communications about the lawyer’s’ services — a clear violation of attorney ethics rules.

Fake photos

I have experienced this one many times. An attorney will submit photos on their listing that “prove” they exist there, even though the address belongs to a virtual office service provider. These photos are often:

• photoshopped.
• signs that were taped to a wall, only to be removed after the photo was taken.
• photos of a completely different location.

I actually visited an office recently that an attorney was using for a listing on Google. The photos of the signs that he posted did not exist there in real life. So he was willing to actually show up at the office and tape signs to the wall just to “show” Google that he is really at that location. There is a word we use in my circles to describe this type of thing — and it’s called lying.

As business author Stephen Covey says:

The more people rationalize cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle. Because suddenly, if everyone else is cheating, you feel a need to cheat, too.

Using other attorneys’ addresses

This is another tactic I’m seeing on the rise in the attorney world. One attorney will get another attorney to accept the postcard from Google My Business so they can get an “address” in that town. Usually, they aren’t competition and practice different types of law, so there isn’t any negative impact on either party. This is also against the guidelines, and when caught, will be removed by Google.

I’m seeing more and more videos being used as evidence on the Google My Business forum to help prove businesses don’t exist at the address they are using. User Garth O’Brien posted another clever idea as a comment on an article by Mockingbird Marketing:

I was aware of a local law firm that did this in Washington. Their competitors called up each city and pointed out that law firm had a physical presence within their city. They inquired if that law firm was paying B&O tax in each city. The law firm was not, so each city called up and asked them to fork over some tax money. That law firm quickly erased each profile for every city [where] they did not have a physical presence.

Keyword stuffing

The final tactic I see being used frequently is keyword stuffing. It’s an old trick that still works well. If you want to rank higher on Google, just shove “Best Attorney Ever City Name” into your business name field in Google My Business.

Good grief…You would think there is a point where keyword stuffing actually hurts the performance of a listing. #StopCrapOnTheMap pic.twitter.com/U4ech7Xobj

— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) November 30, 2016

The problem is that Google will remove the keywords when they catch you. I have also seen them recently suspend a listing for an attorney who wouldn’t stop doing it. Currently, this guy has no ability to edit or control his listing on Google.

Summary

If you are sick of the spam you see in the legal industry, please to continue to report it on the Google My Business forum. I urge you not to let these people get away with the tactics they are using. Also, no matter how tempting it is — never join them!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google's new #SmallThanks Hub automatically creates digital & printed marketing assets for SMBs

In a move to help SMBs — as well as drive up its verified business listings — Google has launched #SmallThanks Hub, an online resource that creates customized digital marketing content and printed materials based on Google reviews.

“Simply search for your business name on the site, and we’ll automatically create posters, social media posts, window clings, stickers and more — based on the reviews and local love from your customers on Google,” writes Google’s vice president of marketing for Ads & Americas, Lisa Gevelber, on The Keyword blog.

Google says its #SmallThanks Hub, which is rolling out in the US today, is available to any verified Google listing with an address.

“Reviews from your fans are like digital thank you notes, and they’re one of the first things people notice about your business in search results,” writes Gevelber in the announcement. Google shared the following image to highlight how it is repurposing Google reviews into social media posts and window posters:

According to Google, 71 percent of consumers claim that positive reviews in search results make them more likely to visit a business and that business listings with positive reviews experience a 360 percent higher click-through rate to their website.

As part of the announcement, Google offered tips to businesses using the #SmallThanks hub, reminding them to keep their Google listing updated, encouraging them to ask for customer reviews online and recommending they post “Find us on Google” stickers in their store and across their social channels.

Where to go next with your Google My Business listing

When it comes to digital marketing and search engine optimization, the devil is truly in the details. Seemingly trivial choices can have a dramatic effect on your web presence and search visibility, and nowhere is that more evident than in Google My Business (GMB).

GMB optimization has quickly become something of a cottage industry within the broader scope of SEO. By now, you’ve probably heard all about the importance of keeping your listings up to date with accurate store hours, phone numbers and addresses. Those are the no-brainer changes. How do you go beyond the low-hanging fruit to really make your GMB listing stand out?

Some relatively straightforward tweaks to Google My Business can have a profound effect on your listing’s visibility and your local pack ranking. They may seem deceptively simple, but these GMB hacks could make all the difference in the world.

Address standardization

OK, so you’ve updated your store listing with an accurate address — but does it follow recognized and standardized guidelines? Any irregularities within your GMB listing could adversely affect your local ranking.

Compare your address with the acceptable formatting and standards laid out by the United States Postal Service (USPS) and see how it stacks up. It may seem minor, but updating your address to bring it in line with USPS standards will help your local page ranking.

For organizations outside of the United States, be sure to check with your national guidelines on address standards.

Geocode precision

Google My Business uses your listing address to generate geocodes, which in turn dictate where your store appears in Google Maps. This is not a foolproof process, however, and it’s not unheard of for businesses to have wildly inaccurate geocodes. Google Maps could put your store at a nearby intersection, or even several blocks away from its actual location.

You don’t want to make it any more difficult for your customers to find you, which is why it’s so important to ensure your listing has precise geocodes. This is doubly important for any business located in a larger metropolitan area. Denser areas could see more inaccurate geocodes, so city dwellers need to be extra mindful of this factor.

Listing categories

Google doesn’t change its algorithm for the fun of it. The company is always trying to improve its search engine so it returns results that closely align with users’ queries. With each new update, relevance becomes an even more important factor in a listing’s visibility.

The more precise you can be with your store category, the more likely your listing will appear for searches that match it. Don’t settle for overly broad store categories, even if they are technically accurate. Drill a little deeper to provide an accurate characterization of your business, and you’ll likely see better results.

Proximity to search

That same need for precision applies to your store’s listed location as well. It may be tempting for businesses located near a larger city (but still outside of it) to list that metropolis as their location. Why not, right? It could broaden your potential customer base.

Google takes location and proximity into account when calculating local page ranking, however. It won’t be fooled by businesses misrepresenting their location, and if anything, doing so will hurt those stores’ visibility. If your shop is in Skokie, Illinois, say so. Don’t pretend it’s located in Chicago to draw more eyeballs. You’ll be far more likely to rank for searches done in your area.

Cultivate (and respond to) reviews

Unknown quantities tend to scare off consumers. No one wants to be the first diner at a new, non-vetted restaurant or roll the dice on a barber with no track record of leaving customers satisfied with their haircut. More than ever, online reviews are critical to local page success. Encourage your customers to go online and leave a review for GMB to pick up on. The more reviews you have, the more exposure your business can get.

Business owners may be a little wary of online reviews given their mercurial nature. It doesn’t take much to get negative feedback, and those kinds of comments could reflect poorly on your store. However, such instances are opportunities to engage unhappy individuals and show other potential customers that you take their satisfaction seriously. Google recommends responding to both positive and negative reviews to improve your listing.

Create engaging content

An inactive site could be mistaken for a dead one. One area of optimization that’s easy to overlook is filling your site with engaging content. Creating new material to share with regular or potential customers is a good way to improve your local page ranking. Moreover, content that focuses on local events or area-specific concerns can help your search efforts immensely.

Additionally, consider making use of Google Posts, which allows you to publish events, promotions and other business updates directly to Google Search (in the Knowledge Panel) and Maps.

A recent study by Joy Hawkins and Ben Fisher suggests that use of Google Posts may have a mild impact on ranking.

Add relevant images

A picture says a thousand words, yet many stores neglect to include images in their Google My Business listing. Customers today like to do their online legwork before visiting a business and actively look for photos of products, store interior, signage and so on.

Uploading images can have a profound effect on your local ranking. I just recently worked with a client to optimize 70-plus GMB listings and saw that adding images alone increased traffic by 300 percent.

Remember when I said the devil is in the details? These are the kinds of details I was referring to. Something as seemingly insignificant as adding a store image can drastically increase the performance and visibility of your page listings.

Optimize those listings!

The beauty of it all is that none of the suggestions above are very time-consuming. It’s pretty easy to make some quick optimizations to your Google My Business listing and website that have the potential to increase online traffic.

Just remember: Every little bit helps when you’re trying to gain that competitive edge, so don’t ignore any updates because they seem inconsequential. With Google My Business, nothing is inconsequential.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Understanding the interplay of SEO and a 5-star reputation

Is your online reputation fully optimized? Online reviews are a fundamental part of local search. That’s because 97 percent of consumers read online reviews for businesses, and 85 percent report that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey found.

It’s not a matter of if your business will get reviews, but when. Poor reviews can sink even the strongest businesses. Here’s a guide to understanding the interplay between reviews, local search and earning (or keeping) a five-star reputation.

How reviews influence local search

Online reviews are not only influencing consumers, they’re also influencing search engine results. According to this year’s Moz Local Ranking Factors Survey, local search experts believe that review signals (in terms of the quantity, velocity, diversity and so on) are estimated to determine about 13 percent of the local pack rankings and 7 percent of the local organic rankings in Google.

The three pillars to local search are relevance, proximity and authority. How can reviews influence these pillars? By adding content and context.

Unlike local business websites, reviews are made up entirely of user-generated content. The content provides unbiased details and additional keywords to associate with the business in question, which contributes to relevance. The reviews provide Google with context as to which businesses merit the greatest visibility and which deserve to be buried. Google also looks to reviewers for confirmation that the local business location and details are accurate, thus improving proximity.

While there’s no denying the power of links in SEO, strong reputations with reviewers can also convey authority to search engines. It’s easy for businesses to focus on the negatives with online reviews. But they’re also helping businesses rank well on Google and pursue their target audience.

Controlling business information

Knowledge is power for Google. It aggregates information from review sites in order to improve search results. But how does Google make sure that this information is accurate?

Business information is used for two types of search: organic and local. On the organic side, Google pulls information from your website and reviews from sites like Facebook, Yelp and industry-specific sites. Google also pulls from Wikipedia and Wikidata. You should monitor all of these sources to make sure they are accurate and up to date.

The local side works differently. They use Google My Business to verify things like business category, hours, photos and general information. Business owners can control this flow of information by logging into the portal and making updates.

However, Google takes it a step further. They use primary data suppliers (Acxiom, Localeze, Infogroup and Factual) to verify business information. Google also has a second tier of data providers for local search, which includes directories and review sites like Facebook, YP.com and Yelp.

Reviews have the power to override business information on Google. For instance, let’s say you don’t list your business hours anywhere online. If a highly trusted Yelp reviewer reports that your business is closed on Sundays, then it’s possible that Google will trust their data and update your hours.

Google may give review sites a lot of power, but business owners can still control their own narrative. Tools like Google My Business and Yelp’s free Business Owner account allow you to make changes to your listings. Moz Local is also a powerful tool — you can create a business listing to be distributed across the local search ecosystem, and Moz will submit your data across all the sources and allow you to make changes to any incorrect data that pops up on the web.

Google’s Knowledge Panel

It’s easier than ever to access online reviews. You don’t even have to go to review sites to see your business’s reputation. They’re now being integrated into local search.

Google’s Knowledge Panel showcases reviews from Google, Facebook and other industry-related sites. The Knowledge Panel is an instrumental tool for users, especially on mobile platforms. It helps them research a business, get key information and take action without even clicking on their website.

Let’s say someone is doing a search for “Infusion Coffee” in Tempe, Arizona. This is what will be displayed:

Potential customers can call, get directions, order and look at Facebook and Google reviews without ever visiting Infusion’s website. The Google Knowledge Panel can also drive local search. Let’s say a separate user is looking for coffee in Tempe, but they don’t know about Infusion. This is what they will see instead:

The results are once again determined by relevance, authority and proximity. But it’s also clear that reviews are a factor in search rank. The top hit, Cartel Coffee Lab, has a 4.5-star reputation and over 400 reviews. Users can even refine their search by star rating.

Yes, you can control basic information on a Google My Business Page. But that only takes you so far. User-generated content and reviews are featured prominently in the Knowledge Panel. Translation: There’s no substitute for a stellar online reputation.

Promoting reviews

You might notice that a quick Google search of your industry yields mixed results. Some businesses have star ratings attached to their organic results, while others lack reviews altogether.

Do you want to add reviews to your organic results? The secret lies in structured data markup from schema.org. This is HTML markup that gives search engines more information about websites. Rich snippets that appear in the Google results can be composed of text, images, and/or review stars and give the searcher more details to help him/her choose the best, most relevant listing.

Google can display review stars as a rich snippet if it discovers valid reviews or ratings markup on your page. However, businesses have to include reviews on their website in order for them to be displayed, and there are some strict guidelines to follow in this regard:

• Ratings must be sourced directly from users.

• Don’t rely on human editors to create, curate or compile ratings information for local businesses. These types of reviews are critic reviews.

• Sites must collect ratings information directly from users and not from other sites.

So, copying and pasting review text from other review sites (like Yelp) is prohibited under Google policy. The reviews must be unique to your site and not duplicated on other platforms.

Controlling bad reviews

Good reviews can be a valuable tool for driving conversions. But what about bad reviews? It’s true that bad reviews can damage businesses — many potential customers will not purchase from a business with negative reviews.

Some business owners have tried to control bad reviews, but there’s no simple solution. Businesses looking for a quick fix might seek out a pay-for-review site. Not only are these sites illegal, but using them might end up in a penalty from Google and other sites.

Incentivizing reviews can be just as damaging. It’s a violation of Yelp and Google’s terms of service. “Astroturfing,” or creating fake positive reviews for reputation management, is a big taboo in the digital space, and it can lead to penalties from Google.

So, what’s a business to do if they’re stuck with bad reviews? The simple answer is to build a solid reputation. Focus on enhanced customer service, set the right expectations and listen to customer feedback.

You can also score your customer service internally. Net Promoter Score provides a structured way to solicit and analyze customer feedback, giving you a single customer satisfaction metric. Continue to keep an eye on this metric. You can see what is helping (or hurting) your online reviews and adjust your strategies from there.

Sometimes you get lucky and can make a negative review go away simply by offering to make things right for the customer. Fellow Search Engine Land columnist and online reputation strategist Chris Silver Smith describes how to turn things around when responding to a bad review.

Yelp and some of the other prominent reviews sites allow owners to post responses to customer reviews. On Yelp, if you respond to the reviewer and offer to address their issues, then they hopefully will post a follow-up of how you addressed their complaint and exceeded their expectations — making the combined review storyline even more beneficial to your business than an unbroken line of positive reviews.

GetFiveStars is an invaluable tool for improving your reputation on certain sites. It uses your Net Promoter Score in the decision tree; customers/clients are interacted with differently based on their satisfaction level. The service also lets you automate the outreach for feedback. You can focus on getting legitimate, quality reviews and better understand what’s contributing to your online reputation.

Online reviews are embedded into modern search engines. Reputation building doesn’t happen overnight. You must take a proactive approach and use reviews to your advantage. You can’t hide bad reviews, but good reviews can be an integral part of your local search strategy. Online reviews are part of your business, for better or worse. It’s up to you to make the most of them.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Do Google Posts impact ranking? A case study

A few months ago, I teamed up with Ben Fisher from Steady Demand to test whether Google Posts have any influence on ranking in the local results (the “3-pack”).

The methodology

We picked two different businesses to test this on. One was a garage flooring company that had been struggling to rank for their main keywords in the 3-pack. The second was my church, which does not have any SEO or marketing efforts going on. The team at Steady Demand made two posts every seven days in Google My Business from August 11, 2017, to October 1, 2017.

Case 1: Garage flooring in Vancouver

For this business, we saw their ranking in the local results increase one position on “garage flooring Vancouver.”  It moved up from position four to position three, winning them a spot in the 3-pack, less than a week after they started posting.

For just “garage flooring” (implicit search), they increased from position seven to two about four days after the posts started. I double-checked to make sure they didn’t receive any new reviews a few days prior to the increase, since they did receive a few new reviews during the course of the test.

Case 2: Church in Keswick, Ontario

For my church, we were mainly tracking how they ranked for “church” keywords. They increased from position five to position three for “church keswick, on” but did so gradually after the posting started.

Unlike the garage flooring company, the posts on the church’s listing also drove a significant amount of traffic to the website. We used UTM codes to track the traffic in Google Analytics. Most of it came from mobile, and about half the traffic came from within the target area (the rest was out-of-state).

The post responsible for the largest amount of traffic was actually a bio/spotlight of one of the pastors. Google My Business showed zero engagement on the post despite its driving 74 new users to the website.

Conclusions:

    Based on what we’re seeing for this case and others we’re testing, I think Google Posts do have a mild impact on ranking. These tests were purposely done in non-competitive industries, so it might not be enough to produce movement in some scenarios.Google Posts are low-impact, low-effort tasks. They should be combined with other tasks to help improve Local SEO for a small business.The rankings maintained themselves weeks after we stopped posting on the listings. This is different from what has been observed about posting on social platforms such as Google Plus.Google My Business Insights are wrong. You need to use UTM codes on your URLs to get proper insights on these in Google Analytics.

Google Posts have been surprisingly underutilized by businesses and agencies, partly due to the past inability to schedule posts. With the recent feature addition to create and update posts via the Google My Business API, this is an opportunity for people to start using Google Posts more.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Businesses can now sign up to add booking buttons to their Google local results

In July, Google added booking buttons to some local panel results. Now, Google is opening that up to more local businesses by integrating with their “scheduling partners” directly from the Google My Business console.

When you log into your Google My Business account, you may see a new button in the console named “sign up for bookings” next to the “accept bookings on Google” section. Here is a screen shot of that section:

After you click on that button, you will be taken to a page to choose your booking provider. Google has teamed up with a dozen or so providers. You need to choose the ones your business works with:

After a few days, it should be working. You will then be able to check how well you are doing with your booking integration specifically with Google. Google My Business will show you your bookings, how much money you made on those bookings, how much over time and each individual booking as well. Here is a report screen shot:

Not all local listings qualify for this new feature. Check in a few days or so, as Google rolls this out to US businesses throughout this week.

Google Posts can now be automated with new API support

Google has updated the Google My Business API to add some support for creating and editing Google Posts. Google Posts is a feature that allows people and businesses to create content directly on Google that can appear highly ranked in Google search results for their names.

In version 4.0 of the API, Google noted that “you can now create Posts on Google directly through the API.” The changelog include a bunch of other features, but the Google Posts is the most notable.

Technically, this can enable third-party developers and tool designers to automate a lot of the posting in the Google Posts interface, similar to the way brands manage their social accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others.

As Mike Blumenthal said, this is limited to “business[es] with fewer than 10 locations.” Blumenthal says Google appears to be testing support for chains with more than 10 locations.

It will be exciting to see which third-party tools add support for Google Posts first.

Google now has 50M Local Guides adding content to Google Maps and Search

Google hosted its second Local Guides Summit for the people who contribute content about businesses in their local areas to Google Maps and Search earlier this week. It brought together 150 top contributors from 62 countries to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2016, there were 75 attendees from 37 countries.

Last year, there were 5 million Local Guides around the world. Remarkably, the number has now grown to 50 million — a 10x increase in one year.

To attend the Summit, Local Guides needed have attained at least “level 5” (out of 10) and submit an application that included a 1-minute video. A level 5 is someone who has 500 points from making various types of local content and data contributions to Google Maps: ratings, reviews, images, video and so on.

Giving back to their communities

Luiz André Barroso, vice president of engineering on Google Maps, delivered the opening Summit keynote, which was essentially an appreciation for the efforts of Local Guides. He discussed the ways in which Guides were helping other users and their communities.

After the keynote, I got to speak with Laura Slabin, head of the Local Guides program. We discussed the massive scale of the program and some of its mechanics. In just a few years, it has become both huge and critical for Google, because of the growing demands of mobile users for accurate and enhanced content.

Slabin explained that while the largest number of Local Guides was in the US, the next three markets in order were India, Brazil and Indonesia. We also talked at some length about the motivations of Local Guides, who are incentivized and rewarded for their contributions.

She pointed out, however, that most of the Guides are motivated less by rewards than by other concerns and passions. They’re committed to making information about their communities better and more accurate.

Adding 700K new places monthly

“They have tremendous passion and energy,” explained Slabin. “They’re giving back to their communities.” Indeed, I met a Guide from Indonesia at the Summit who spoke about feeling personal responsibility for her community and her desire to ensure its information on Google was correct. There’s a quality of altruism, volunteerism — even activism — about many of these people.

In many developing countries, Google faces a “last mile problem” in getting accurate address information and related local content. Millions of Local Guides are manually addressing that. (Google is also using machine learning and AI now to improve Maps.)

Slabin pointed out that there are 700,000 new places being added to Google Maps each month by Local Guides and 95 percent of these are outside US. But Local Guides don’t just provide data and content, they provide product feedback and suggestions to Google. They’re essentially superusers and a tremendous resource for Google.

Local Guides also play a role in Google’s new Q&A feature. Questions about places and local businesses can be answered by business owners (provided they’ve claimed their GMB profiles) and Local Guides as well. Questions are sent to multiple Guides to answer, along with business owners. Slabin told me that the “median response time is 20 minutes.”

A global force that can do much more

Beyond the daily mechanics of improving maps and local search, Google has built a global community of sorts. Guides meet up locally and interact online around the world. Local Guides could be deployed to do other things as well — educate small business owners and get them to claim GMB profiles, for example. Many ideas come to mind.

Local Guides are not a “sales force,” but they are a very powerful in-market resource for Google that could go well beyond correcting address information and uploading photos. And many of the guides seem eager for a larger role and greater engagement.

Google is making strides with Google My Business 

If you wanted to boil down marketers’ fears in the digital economy to one single idea, you might argue it would be loss of control.

How your brand is being presented and talked about across all the various sites, channels and platforms out there can sometimes feel entirely out of your hands. There’s always that lingering concern that potential customers will be misled, either through malicious reviews or inaccurate business information that pushes people toward your competitors.

Google My Business (GMB) has been one path to help brands solve the latter issue. GMB serves a similar function to business listings, much like Yelp or Yellow Pages, but has the added benefit of being tied directly to the tech giant’s search engine.

Customers search for your business, and Google My Business returns a customizable listing to go along with other search results. Information like location, store hours and customer reviews is available right from Google’s search engine results page, giving users a more direct line to your business and eliminating potential barriers to engagement.

GMB’s rocky road to excellence

Over the years, it hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows for Google My Business. As I’ve noted previously, GMB’s service for enterprise brands left a fair amount to be desired, with pretty significant gaps in geocoding and its ability to extract traffic insights from the platform.

For instance, if Google Maps generated the wrong geocode for a particular location, GMB users would need to go into that store’s listing and manually make the switch. If several stores — maybe even hundreds, in some cases — have inaccurate geocodes, a relatively simple process becomes an arduous time sink.

A similar store-by-store limitation affected a brand’s ability to pull metrics and analytics at scale, as users would need to pull this data from each location separately, rather than have it all easily available from a wider repository.

Even so, Google My Business continues to show a lot of promise for businesses interested in converting online visitors into brick-and-mortar shoppers. To Google’s credit, the company has done a lot of work since the last time I discussed the platform, adding enhancements and new features, as well as building out its overall functionality. There’s still room for improvement, of course, but it’s made some impressive strides.

So, what’s new with Google My Business over the past 12 months? Plenty, as it turns out.

Google Posts

One of the more exciting developments is Google’s new Posts feature. Posts allows Google My Business users to build out the type of information included in your SERP sidebar beyond location, store hours and so forth.

Brands can take advantage of this platform to promote the latest sales and offers directly from Google’s search results. Individual store managers could go in and add location-specific promotions as well, helping them build awareness with a digital audience.

If you need further reason to take advantage of Google Posts, consider how it is presented on mobile formats. Post content appears at the top of SERPs when displayed on mobile devices, so it will be among the first things users see. It’s a good way to grab the attention of mobile users with the latest deals and offers.

Q&A feature

In recent weeks, Google has also added a Q&A feature to GMB to address frequently asked questions before customers even visit your site. These questions could include everything from what credit cards are accepted at a particular location to the best places to find parking.

What’s unique about this feature is that it’s both crowdsourced and curated by the merchant, so users can give a “thumbs up” to helpful questions and answers to push them higher up in the listing, while the business can add its own responses.

The one downside to the Q&A feature is that, as of now, it’s only compatible with Android devices. Everyone else is just going to have to wait for Google to roll it out to other platforms.

Chat capabilities

Another recent feature that has turned some heads is Google My Business’s chat capabilities. Although still in pilot mode, this program allows customers to communicate with businesses in real time straight from the SERP. Want to clarify holiday store hours, check available stock or hold an item for a customer? It can all be done through Google My Business without picking up a phone or going through a dedicated web portal.

That level of responsiveness is good for business and your brand image. If customers are able to speak directly with store associates at any time during business hours, they’ll associate your brand with convenience. It’s just another way for companies to bridge the gap between digital and in-store experiences.

And more!

Other noteworthy GMB updates include:

new analytics capabilities.the ability to edit multiple listings at once, as well as to edit directly in the SERPs.expanded location attributes like wheelchair access and free WiFi.

Google My Business isn’t perfect, of course. Some of my earlier criticisms still stand, and I’m still waiting for Google to do something about those metrics oversights.

That being said, what Google’s done in the past 12 months is show that it’s committed to making Google My Business work, building out the core functionality with new features that help brick-and-mortar stores engage digital users and guide them to their location.

It’s a heck of a start. Let’s see if Google can keep it up.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.