Archive for the ‘Local Internet Marketing’ Category

Google Plays Monopoly and Owns Every Place on the Board

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated things can happen on the internet at about the same time yet they become related in a round about manner showing the evolution and direction of the web. And when Google becomes a major player it becomes very noteworthy, at least for search engine geeks like me. This past week was one of those times.

Earlier in the week I was reading this piece about Hasbro’s new Monopoly City Streets game and speculation that it would become a major advertising platform, a la Adwords. It’s a pretty cool looking game using Google Maps to power the now global board game.

The next day I was reading about Squidoo’s (or as some call it, Spamdoo) plans for Brands in Public and how it would become a reputation management timebomb or, as many feel, and as Lisa Barone put it so well, a form of brandjacking.

And if you’re a small or medium-sized brand, well then you’ll really hate Brands in Public. Because they’re trying to extort 5k a year from you for a free listening station you could very easily create all by yourself (or for $18/month with Trackur). And if you choose to continue doing it by yourself, you still have to accept the fact that Seth just brandjacked your name. And now you have someone representing your brand when they have no affiliation with your company.

Seth did however cave to the pressure and Brands in Public is now opt-in, instead of opt-out.

On the same day Google rolled out Sidewiki. And if you thought Squidoo was building a reputation management nightmare, well, welcome to the reputation management Apocalypse that Google is delivering to every business and website on the planet. Granted it is kind of a cool feature BUT if your business is not already social media savvy your being forced into it and you should be scared of trolls leaving flames and loosing control of your own website. Google may also see this as yet another place to serve up Adwords thus advertising your own direct competitors, on your own website no less, and they certainly won’t be sharing the revenue with you.

Will Google publish ads on Sidewiki? That remains to be seen but it is certainly likely. Google should also know from it’s Google Maps experience that Sidewiki will be abused as are user reviews for local businesses in Maps.

The very next day Google Maps announces Place Pages where every place in the world will get it’s own web page, with nice friendly keyword loaded URL’s. For local businesses, that already are in Google Maps, these new place pages are essentially a reformatting of the data from their Local Business Listings. There is some speculation that these pages are formatted in such a way to be used as landing pages and with the link sharing function built into the top right corner they certainly will.

Seems to me they have also been better optimized for serving up Adwords. The local business listings had already been showing PPC ads but the new format brings them a little bit higher on the page and the new placement of the map and images makes for a better visual eyeball magnet to draw the eye to those ads. Again these ads are often for direct local competitors of the current page’s business listing, and no revenue share, of course.

New ad placement for Google Place pages

There’s also been lots of discussion in the local seo world that if these pages get indexed and start appearing in search results for local places and local business names then it becomes a game changer. The major Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites must all be doing laundry right now to clean out the mess they just left in their own pants.

So where is this all going? And what does it mean for local businesses online? Reputation management is becoming a MUST and it may also become burdensome should Sidewiki become used by a significant portion of web surfers. This is also showing Google’s long term strategy for the internet as a whole. They want a piece of every bit of it. Whether you are a small independent jewelry maker on the outskirts of Buffalo, NY without your own website or you are a major global brand like Coca Cola, expect anyone and everyone to be talking about you and Google, like Squidoo was attempting to do, to hijack your brand so they can slap ads on it.

In the game of Monopoly the objective is to own all the places. With Place Pages Google now owns a web page for each and every location on the planet. And with Sidewiki, even for websites that don’t translate to an on the ground brick and mortar location, they can soon park a billboard on that space. They won’t be paying you rent. Do not pass Go and do not collect $200. Or in Seth Godin’s case, do not collect $400.

Higher Search Rankings will Increase Your Conversions

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Conversion rates matter! If your website can’t convert visitors into customers then why do you even have a website? I’m primarily a local search marketer helping small businesses get noticed in the search engines to send them local web traffic. But as a web designer too I also like to focus on structuring a site so it’s easy to use, easy to navigate, and most importantly, converts well. I’ve got some tried and true techniques I like to use because I know they work.

I’ve just officially added a new one to my list. Ranking higher in Google search is a sure fire way to increase your conversion rate. Works for Organic and for PPC. Not sure yet about Maps, but I do presume the same.

Why do Rankings Influence Conversions?

Many people in the search marketing biz might assume that by ranking higher in Google you instill more trust to the visitors finding your website through search. “Google thinks these guy’s are number 1, so they must be good”. I think this is probably true but there is another factor I think might be stronger.

Not everyone shops around! The first click that brings a visitor to a site that offers exactly what they were looking for may very well be good enough for them. Ranking higher means more of those “one-clickers” land on your site first. Simple as that.

Now this might be different for e-commerce shopping websites where prices are posted up front, but for many local small businesses, especially service based businesses where a conversion is simply counted as an email lead or phone call, it appears rankings do influence conversions, in a big way.

I noticed this on a quantitative level inside Google Adwords. After lots of testing of ad copy, keywords and tweaking landing pages I had reached a nice conversions rate, and associated cost per conversion my client was very happy with. After some time of seeing some great success from that campaign I was then given the go ahead to up the bids so as to bump the average ad positions up a bit (I was getting tapped out on improving Quality Scores). Simply capturing more traffic was the purpose of increasing bids. Account wide average for our ads had been position #4. Raising bids bumped the average account wide position up to #3. We got that increase in traffic we were looking for by appearing a little higher but more importantly, the conversion rate doubled!

I’ve been seeing this for the past 10 days and then yesterday I had a discussion with earlpearl, aka localoptimizer, a local SEO guy like the rest of these chumps. Anyways, he had been digging deeply into his web stats and found that when his organic rankings were higher, so were his conversion rates. I won’t share any of his specific numbers other than to say they were significant.

As Dave says;

Frigging gotta be #1 where it counts. :D

So make sure your site can convert visitors into customers, then get it to the top of search. To truly dominate, and reap the benefits, go for the trifecta of high rankings in maps, organic and pay per click. And if you’re heavy into PPC you probably should be bidding on those same keywords you already rank well for organically, except in that case you may not want to bid for #1 spot there. Instead aim for #3 or #4 so it compliments your #1 or #2 organic ranking.

Google Maps Locksmith Spam Creeping into Canada (Toronto)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

With all the discussions going on about locksmith spam by my colleagues in the USA I decided to do a little check to see if it’s going on in Canada. Well it is. It’s not heavy, yet, but it’s here.

Mike Blumenthal has plenty of posts about it and has been a pretty loud voice for some serious quality control in Google Maps. Those posts, as well as others about merged listings, have been getting lots of comments and is spawning others in the search industry to demand that Google do something about the problems in Maps.

Here’s the Locksmith Scene in NY

First, from Will Scott’s post about Locksmiths in New York City this is what it looks like in the USA.

New York Locksmiths in Google Maps

Yes, New York has the measles, not swine flu (or H1N1, or Mexican Flu, or North American Flu, or whatever flu you prefer to name it) but the measles. Each one of those red dots is, supposedly, a locksmith shop. Yeah right.

Locksmiths in Toronto

Now in Canada. I chose Toronto. Huge Metropolitan city of 5 million people. Surely a large enough market for a spam fest.

Toronto Locksmiths

You don’t quite see it in the Map view so much, except for some clustering at the corner of Young and Bloor and down in the Financial District at King and Bay St. Perhaps with collapsing economies the fund managers and financial analysts are locking themselves in the office threatening to jump, hence the need for a dozen locksmiths in a two block radius. I should ask my cousin Craig about that.

Toronto Locksmiths in Local 10 Pack

They are not heavily using lots of the aggressive Map spam tactics, some dubious looking reviews, some silly stock photography for images, and a number of youtube videos, from different youtube accounts, “submitted by the business owner”. But when you look at the websites, yes those ones with the obvious domain names, most of these sites are interlinking with each other.

Interlinking locksmiths in Local Business Center

hmmmmmmmm. I wonder. Seems some of them might legitimately have more than one location, and using separate websites for them. But….like I said, slightly dubious.

Looks to me like it’s mostly a matter of old school aggressive/spammy, not quite black hat, organic SEO tactics that have been going on for some time, and it’s spilling over into Maps. That and competition in Canada is that much lower the spammers don’t have to resort to working so hard as in the US. Interestingly I found that some of the Toronto sites are using a Portland, Oregon SEO company (maybe that’s David Mihm doing some moonlighting on the dark side, lol) who is working with locksmith sites in Atlanta, Denver, Dallas and other US cities.

So the locksmith industry is looking a little shady in Canada too. Nowhere near to the extent it is in some US locations, but map spam still the same.

Updating My Local SEO Offerings

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

For the past week, freshly inspired after attending SEMpdx in Portland, OR, I’ve been revamping one of the websites I use for marketing my local SEO services. That poor old site has not been updated in about 3 years. It had originally been desinged using old-school table based layouts. Now it’s sporting clean HTML/CSS coding.

The service offerings were a tad bit out of date with too much mention of directories for link building. Wow, I haven’t submitted a link to “free directories” in almost 2 years, I think. Yet the site was still talking about that outdated SEO crap.

No longer focused on just organic SEO I mention Google Maps optimization and geo-targeted pay per click too.

So, finally done, old-page redirects in place and all that jazz. Was contemplating adding a blog, but….don’t want to just yet.

Still gotta hunt down typo’s and that stuff. Some pages seem a bit weak, but good for now. :)

Oh, and I am actively seeking air conditioning and heating contractors in need of HVAC marketing.

The State of Local Search in Canada

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Local search is generally the same here in Canada as it is in the US. SEO tactics are the same to get ranked at the top of organic results or map results, though there are a few geo-targeting techniques needed to ensure Google knows your site belongs in Canada, but this piece is not about that. I want to look at the state of the market in the local space online.

From my experience local is very healthy in Canada as far is internet users go. Internet usage on a per capita basis is higher than in the US at 80% vs. about 73% as Canada was an early adopter of the web. For a similar type local business in a similar sized city I’ve seen some of my Canadian clients receive a slightly higher level of search traffic volumes and online leads. Slight, but noticeable in the few instances I’ve had the opportunity to compare. So like I said local is healthy on the user side.

Where the big difference lies, in my opinion, is in the local space outside of traditional search, except Google Maps. Yahoo Local is still just pushing YellowPages.ca data and you can’t add or edit businesses like you can in the US version.

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