Google announced this week that it will be rolling out vanity URLs for brands (first in a beta stage, then at an undetermined date on a widespread basis. This represents another step in Google’s commitment to making G+ a true marketing destination for brands, which is another reason you shouldn’t be ignoring G+.
As we’ve suggested before, there are compelling reasons to participate in distributing social content via G+, even if the audience engagement levels aren’t yet what you’d like. This enhancement gives G+ even more branding implications, and I can easily envision a time when the presence of your branded terms in vanity URLs can also be an effective defense mechanism on branded terms (helping you eat up results page real estate and pushing away negative results that so many marketers have a difficult time with).
Also on the G+ front, this article shared some compelling examples of how good content shared through Google+ can have a much greater viral impact than you might have guessed. All in all, the reasons t participate on G+ regularly keep growing, and the platform should definitely be a part of your marketing mix at this point.
You supply Google with the right information for your locations, optimize them for local markets, and nurture the local dialogue.
But, Google still manages to pull different information from somewhere and present that in the results. Chances are, this information was once good information and maybe still is “not wrong”, but it is not what you want to show now.
Doing a little research on the phone numbers can lead you down a long path to the source, and usually, it’s you (or your organization.)
Sometimes it is as simple as an employee participating in a trade event where they provide their contact information… and it gets published on the trade site; and picked up on other sites related to the show. Google picks this up, and has to make a decision… use it or not.
Other searches may take you straight back to you. Perhaps a file provided to the major location aggregators like InfoGroup, Localeze or Acxiom, which gets picked up by publishers around the web. Your listings from years back are still appearing, and Google sees this, and has to make a decision… use it or not.
There are many factors that go into Google’s decision, and if anyone tells you they know all of them, they don’t; walk away.
Google looks for the “preponderance” of the evidence. If it sees location information from a credible source, it will give it consideration. If the same information appears on enough credible sources, it may outweigh the information you provide. How many other sites does it take, and what type is an unknown.
The best way to manage these problems is to take control.
Work with the aggregators to identify the listings for your company that they have. Don’t assume it is just what you supplied to them. Get a comprehensive list from them, show them which to keep, edit or delete. It will cost you, but it will be worth it.
Google will give you control of your Google Plus information, but only if you show that you are managing it responsibly. I know this sounds arrogant, but… it ‘s Google, right?
Hopefully you’ve prepared a mobile-optimized experience for your web site based on the continued growth of the mobile market, the high purchase intent that users exhibit, and the fact that many of your competitors haven’t done so. But if you are still holding out for another reason to embrace this opportunity, here’s a great one: Google is adding icons to search results designating that a site is optimized for a mobile experience. Read more details here.
So now not only will your users be more likely to purchase from you because of a positive user experience on a mobile device, but they’ll be more likely to click through to your site because this icon will draw their attention.
This really allows you to bring your mobile xperience full circle – attract more traffic in search results and then bring them into the best possible user experience. The opportunity to leverage features like this before your competitors is closing fast, so make sure you’re taking advantage of it now.
Back in May we observed a big shift in the Google search results for a host of local service and retail queries. I documented some of the observations in my local search expert (designed experiment on links) column on Clickz entitled “Was the Penguin Update in Fact the Honey Badger Update?”.
In effect Google’s Penguin update seemed to favor directory sites; both Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites and vertical listing aggregator sites at the expense of actual local business sites.
Here was an example SERP:
- “Plumbers Danbury” Query
It has been a few months since the original observation, and even with the “Venice” update aimed at improving local search results, the directory listings are still occupying favorable positions surrounding the local listings.
This got me to wonder if the changes had impacted IYP usage and traffic? As we pointed out in the 15miles/Localeze Local Search Study conducted by comScore, IYP traffic and usage had declined over the past year. So did the algorithm move by Google breath new traffic into the IYP and directory vertical?
While not a scientific cause and effect study, the following results from Google Trends might indicate there has been relationship to SERP change favoring IYPs and traffic increases:
Note the increase in traffic starting in the April May time-frame.
My original advice in the column was:
“I propose advertisers monitor their positions for now and take a wait-and-see approach. The local search space is vital to Google’s success and future growth. As Google shifts its strategy to more semantically-based search algorithms, I am sure we will see many anomalies that it will quickly revise. So give it a month; if it hasn’t changed, I’ll be refreshing my old column on directory advertising optimization.”
My new advice:
Review your local traffic generation from this summer, has it declined from last year/quarter. If yes take a look ad IYP directory options, as some of your leads/traffic may have migrated. Here at 15miles, we actively monitor local search traffic on behalf of our clients and adjust campaign elements to leverage changes in traffic/ lead patterns.
The Olympics have made for great fodder for social media discussion over the past week, not only for the performance of the athletes themselves but also for the performance of NBC in broadcasting the events. The network’s follies quickly spawned a Twitter hashtag meme, #NBCfail, because of issues like:
- Editing moments out of the opening ceremonies
- Persisting in showing key events only in tape-delay format in a world where “spoilers” are only a Tweet, Facebook post, or check into an email portal away
- Live streams that aren’t live
- Unavailability of live streams during prime time broadcasts
- Commercials during prime-time programming that give away results of yet-to-be-shown events
The biggest takeaway from all this is that NBC isn’t mindful of how its audience consumes content. Today’s consumer is governed by the 3 Ms – mobile, multi-tasking, and multi-screen, and the idea that content would only be available during prime time blocks on a network channel is absurd. NBC surely believes they are funneling viewers into one 4 hour block to maximize ratings, but I’d argue all they are really doing is costing themselves eyeballs.
Today’s viewer is conditioned in such a way that if they can’t get the content they want when they want it, they’ll often just move on to something else. So I’d guess many of the would-be viewers who can’t see the events as they happen probably aren’t tuning in at all. They’re too busy with a thousand other priorities to watch something they already know the result of, or they simply don’t care because so much other content on so many other platforms are begging for their attention.
Additionally, NBC’s costing themselves repeat viewers. We live in a world where movie fans will see their favorite film twice during the opening weekend. Making key events available in real time would likely just lead to them being watched twice by those who are able to – doubling the amount of eyeballs and increasing their advertising value.
And of course there’s the multi-screen element of this discussion. I pulled up NBC’s online program guide for streaming to see what was on during prime time coverage, and noticed no listings until 12 am. Does NBC truly not realize the percentage of people who watch tv with a smartphone in hand and/or a tablet at their side? There’s a huge opportunity to increase total viewership across platforms simply by expanding the amount of content available simultaneously. Multi-tasking is the rule now, not the exception.
So how does this all apply to you as a marketer? I’d say the first lesson is simply understanding how your customers consume content. Start by platform. Have you developed the mobile-optimized presence you need to compete for attention with those aforementioned multi-screen multitaskers? Research shows only 33% of advertisers have, so the answer is likely no. Beyond mobile, how much are you still investing in print yellow pages or other outdated, cost-inefficient models? How much more ROI could you drive by re-allocating those dollars to mobile or search? And if you are investing in mobile or search, have you put money into a mobile app that will be downloaded once and then forgotten, or have you invested in a responsive design that will leave your site viable across search and other finding methods?
What about the type of content you’re pushing out – is it being driven by feedback you see in customer satisfaction surveys, independent ratings & reviews, and social media? Do you have a plan in place to monitor those channels, and to generate more ratings & reviews feedback?
Is there insight you can mine Google Analytics for? Which pages on your site are your visitors spending the most time on, and can you create more like pages like them? What can you do to improve the experience on pages that users don’t seem to like?
Are your local pages tuned up in a way that will attract Google? Do they have location-specific information, unique localized content, and are they supported by claimed and accurate local listings programs?
NBC is relying on a consumption model 50 years in the making, and even though they may believe the ratings they’re achieving are a success, the truth is they could be faring much better (and in turn making more money). They’re settling for a bronze when a gold is attainable. Take stock of how your current and potential customers consume content, including on what platform and what types, and look at ways to re-align your budgets and strategies to better leverage their usage habits and interests. Otherwise, much like NBC, you may make the winners’ podium, but not being handed the medal you really want.
You’ve just received your monthly organic rankings report from your SEO agency, and you’re excited to see that you’re ranking between 4th and 7th place for a number of key terms. And on the surface you should be – traditionally those types of rankings would put you around the middle of the first page and in front of lots of qualified eyes. However, as Google continues to give local listings more visibility on search engine results pages, we’re seeing that the value of some first page positions isn’t what it once was. If you find yourself in a highly competitive, very localized category like plumbing & hvac, moving, or restaurants, the 4s, 5s, and 6s your rankings tool tells you you’re getting are really more like 14s, 15s, and 16s.
Take a look at the screenshot below for plumbers. If the good folks at Mikesplumbingchicago.com are running ranking reports, they’d probably pretty excited to see that they’re showing up in 3rd place organically. But if they look at this screenshot, their excitement would dwindle., because when you factor in paid and local listings, that listing is really 13th. Quite a difference.
We know that customers are willing to comparison shop more businesses than ever before, but in most cases 13 is well beyond what someone will consider in the purchase process. Not to mention that some listings in a search like this are for aggregators who will give you 2-4 quotes by filling out one form, satiating many searchers’ desire for multiple bids.
So what can you do about this?
- Make sure the SEO reports you’re receiving from your agency or internal manager are going beyond rankings. Talk about the context of those rankings and what that 3, 4, or 5 ranking really means. And make sure that organic traffic data is always a part of your reporting package.
- Tune up the local content on your web site. As Google gives priority not only to local listings but to local content in general, you need to ensure your site has what they’re looking for. A well-crafted local market or better yet location-specific page is one of the best assets a site can have today.
- Get your local listings house in order. Claiming Google local listings is the critical first step, but that has to be supported with consistent citations of your business name, address, and phone number data across all local portals online. This will help reinforce to Google the validity and relevance of your listing, delivering you better rankings. With a strong local listings program in place, you’ll be well-positioned to pick up on the opportunities of today’s shifting SERPs.
- Re-evaluate paid search. If you’re serious about high visibility, there’s still no faster path – and no other guaranteed path – to a top position than paid advertising. Invest in paid if you’re not doing so already. If you already have a program, re-examine your keyword mix and make sure you’re bidding aggressively on terms in which your organic rank may have been displaced by local.
The thing we’ve always liked about social networking is that it engages users in a way that many other mediums do not. The opportunity to establish or fortify a relationship with a customer on a platform they place value in is too good to pass up. But with Google’s latest G+ maneuver, we have to consider social participation for reasons very different than natural engagement.
We all know the shorthand on Google+ by now – Google’s trying to overcome an inactive user base by exploiting their various business and advertising resources. Starting with the inclusion of G+ results in search in Search Plus Your World and followed by Google+ Local taking over for Google Places, Google’s realizing that if you can’t lead a horse to water, you can try to prod him over there with something sharp. That sharp object is search results, with the thinking being that if businesses believe that G+ participation will improve search ranking, then they’ll flock to create G+ content, and if they create, active users will follow.
The latest step is Google’s announcement that you can now share search results from the main SERP to G+. This will certainly be used a search ranking signal, and just as the opportunity to interact with an engaged audience via Facebook is too good to pass up, the opportunity to “interact” with the search algorithm by showing off your shares is too good to pass up.
I don’t mean to suggest this will replace the traditional organic signals by any means. Content is still king and quality link-building will remain as important as ever. But if Google’s ranking you, and you have the chance to show social relevance through their SERP, don’t you think that has to count for something?
The new feature sounds awfully easy to game, as you don’t even have to actually click on the link to share it, and that may diminish the signal value somewhat. But still, this bears watching, and it’s another reason that even though G+ doesn’t have the engagement we all love about social networks, it demands your attention and efforts for its tactical value.
The local search landscape has been rocked several times in the last year alone, and now Apple has a new product that could shift the scene again. The new Apple Maps has now been available to developers for a week, and while we’re a long way from understanding exactly where it falls into the local search ecosystem, there are some early thoughts to consider:
-The idea that you only need to feed location data through Google is dead. For years, businesses have thought that simply feeding data to Google was enough. At 15miles, we feed data to Google AND a variety of aggregators, and with Apple Maps emerging it’s clear that’s the only way to go. Why? Because Apple will be relying on data from Localeze and Acxiom, with review data powered by Yelp. If you are not already investing in a local business listings management solution that covers more than just Google, look into one ASAP.
-While the product is not a Google killer, it has a chance to take away more market share in a particular space (mobile maps/mobile local search) than any competitor ever before. The mere fact that it will be the default Maps app for the new generation of iDevices automatically builds in a more significant user base than Bing has been able to purchase with its never-ending series of tv spots.
-At the same time, I don’t get the impression marketing and optimizing your business listings will be the same sort of opportunity it is for Google’s product, and you need to keep that in mind. Just make sure you understand what users are turning to each product for and what opportunities exist for you with each.
-Finally, let’s hope that this new product and its built-in market share will help drive Google to finally clean up its Maps/Places/+ Local product. An emphasis on listing accuracy and a removal of glitches that marry location data from separate listings together would be a welcome relief, even if there’s a cost associated with those improvements. If Apple creates enough buzz around their product, perhaps Google will feel threatened enough to make meaningful improvements.
Even though it’s June, the past couple of weeks would have been a horrible time to take a vacation if you’re involved in online marketing. You’d have come back to the office to find:
- Google Place pages morphed into Google+ Local pages, an effort to build familiarity with the Google+ social brand so that it might one day expand its user base beyond what seems to just be a group of search bloggers
- Google Shopping/Base abandoning its free submission model in favor of a paid inclusion model
- Facebook engagement declining, according to research by Reuters (34% of users say they’re spending less time on site than 6 months ago)
And that’s not even venturing into the wild world of Google algorithm changes from the past couple of months. At the risk of sounding cliché, the only constant in this space is change, and that’s an understanding you must factor into your strategy going forward.
If your online programs aren’t diversified and integrated, they’d better get that way and fast. Putting all your eggs in one basket was never advised, but it was a necessity for some advertisers because of a lack of budget. But imagine the basket you’re relying on was SEO, and then your ratings tanked because of the Venice or Penguin updates. Or you may currently be generating tons of revenue without expense through Google Shopping’s free listings. With this switch to paid inclusion, you’re going to need to start accounting for expenses on this front. And if that Facebook number is to be believed and you’ve been building word of mouth as an inexpensive marketing tactic, you’ve got to worry your gains could erode.
Honestly, the idea that you need to always be ready to adapt and evolve in the online space isn’t new, but I think it’s hitting home for marketers more directly because of these changes. The revenue source you’re counting on right now has a very real chance of showing up in a different form tomorrow or even disappearing altogether. Online marketing offers us many opportunities to control variables, but at the end of the day, we can’t control how Google decides to present or monetize their products, nor can we control consumer behavior or preferences (as in the Facebook example).
The best advice for being ready for the shifts coming next are to study recent history and emerging trends both inside and outside your organization. For example, Google’s been emphasizing local in its SERPs for a while, so it’s no surprise to see them considering local content an important relevancy factor now (and even more going forward) on your site. Look inward at your Analytics data – are there new traffic sources or keywords emerging that offer a chance to be exploited and multiplied? And look at emerging technologies too – nothing’s been adopted faster than mobile, yet a staggering amount of companies are behind the curve.
Adapting to all the ongoing changes seems intimidating, but it is not impossible with the right strategy in place. That strategy begins with an understanding of the temporal nature of the digital ecosphere and a desire to diversify tactics to hedge your bets and maximize your returns.
It’s that time again. Google’s made a big change, and based on the conversations I’ve had with clients and colleagues and the endless stream of notes from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, everyone is scrambling to understand the new Google Places/Plus integration. In the agency world, there are two types of responses that are happening.
The first, by agency strategists and tacticians, is the scramble to figure out the changes, the optimizing factors, what’s been saved, what’s been cut, and how it all fits together. Lots of conversations are happening here at 15miles – we’ve put our propeller hats on and are hip deep analyzing the observations, starting tweaks and tests, and in general, figuring it all out. It’s the nature of our business – and to be honest, what makes our business fun. The rules change all the time, and figuring out how to work with them keeps all of us fresh and on our toes. But it’s a process, and it takes time.
But there’s another reaction that’s happening as well. Business Development teams across the agency world are girding their speed dials up right now. Their message? “My agency already has this figured out.” “My agency can fix this problem for you right now.” “If you come with us, you’ll be ahead of the curve, but you have to come right now.” It’s tempting, but there are a few things to remember:
1) Today is Thursday, May 31, 2012, and every agency is on equal footing. No one knew about this weeks ago. No one has an “in” at Google who tipped them off. And if they did, there would be no way to act on it before today, because even if someone knew about the change, they have no idea of the black box algorithm changes and integration pieces (i.e. social) that have yet to actually reveal themselves. If they did, they would have access to a lot more information and would be capitalizing on knowing Larry and Sergey’s secret herbs and spices. And they wouldn’t be calling you because the really nice tropical isles don’t have great phone coverage.
2) Today, tomorrow and going forward, 15miles will be deeply enmeshed in the minutae of local search – as always. We will be doing what we do best – figuring out all the tiny moving pieces that dictate positioning and visibility, as well as the potential interaction points where our clients can engage with their customers. There are hundreds of other agencies that have no concept or real interest in the local space - they will be trying to get someone who understands Local on the phone. And all of the BD reps will be calling each others clients telling them that they’re miles ahead of the curve, which brings me to…
3) That guy on the phone telling you how his service already is prepped for the change? Yeah, he’s a Salesguy – he’s there to create doubt, push you, and make a sale. His concern is not about whether he really has the answers to optimization schema changes (which, by the way, he doesn’t, because there hasn’t been enough time for discovery and testing). His concern is with landing another sale, and the promises he may make to you today are ones he simply cannot back up. By all means, make sure that your agency has outlined an agenda of what it wants to learn about this change and has a plan in place to do so, but do not fall for someone promising overnight solutions to an ongoing process.
If you get a call today telling you so-and-so agency is already ranking higher based on their foreknowledge, just remember there are no easy shortcuts.