Google’s recent act of removing 3rd party reviews and citations from Google Places has had many local businesses and SEOs scrambling to review their local search strategies.
As the dust settles on these changes, it appears that while the content may have gone from view it is still being captured and used within Google’s local algorithm. So while this change is not as significant as first feared, it provides a sharp reminder of Google’s ability to change the rules of the game when and how it chooses.
And there will be more upheaval to come, of that we can be certain.
Google Places is the major driver of Web-originated local leads but it is by no means the only channel. So what do we need to do to ensure that our businesses, and clients’ businesses, survive future changes and even prosper from them?
Diversify & Conquer
Adopting a more diverse SEO strategy can bring greater and longer lasting rewards. The line between Google’s local & organic algo is blurring and the quick win tactics that have been exploited by many local SEOs no longer have the impact they once did.
Here are 5 tried and tested activities which will bring diversity to any local SEO campaign –
Content Is Still King
Most local business websites are static, unchanging and poorly optimized. It’s painful to admit, but it’s true. Unique and fresh content is one of the key building blocks for good SEO and it’s essential that local business owners understand the power of good content and have a clear and easy-to-implement content strategy.
Each local business website needs rich, keyword-optimized content on every page, not just the homepage. Keep Google coming back to your site by offering up new, fresh content once a week. Local business owners may need to blog regularly and showcase their latest posts on their homepage and interior pages.
Try adding a ‘news & offers’ section to the homepage and commit to spending just 30 minutes each week to update both the blog and this section.
Build Links As Well As Citations
Some SEOs have become overly focused on Citations. It’s been an effective strategy for boosting Places ranking but in the long term it is too limited a strategy. If Google reduces the value of Citations, where will that leave you?
Local businesses need to build as many inbound links as they do Citations, and where possible, do both together. Seek out sites which allow you to post both a physical addresses & a Web address – it’s a double hit.
Spreading your efforts across links and citations will enable you rank well in pure organic results, blended results and Places. So when Google does turn the dial on its algo, you’ve got all your bases covered.
Don’t Dismiss Yahoo & Bing
Yes, the scale and impact of these two search engines pales in comparison to Google but they still attract a large audience. They are often overlooked by local businesses which lowers the bar for SEO success.
In April, Bing released their revamped local offering, the Bing Business Portal, which gives you similar features and control over your listing as Google Places. A few extra hours spent here can yield some good returns.
Be Social & Be Creative
Another cast-iron certainty is that social media will impact search rankings more and more in future. Google dropped a massive hint in the blog post which accompanied the recent Google Places update.
The more sharing and interaction we can get our customers to do, the better it will aid our search rankings and drive more customers directly from Facebook, Twitter, et al.
Ensuring that you have a Facebook Page/Place Page, a Twitter Page and have claimed your Foursquare listing is the first step. Now you need to get your customers excited about your business so they share it with others.
I can hear local business owners saying, how the heck do I do that?
Well, you need to be creative. Here’s a great example of how a local Dry Cleaner (exciting right?) made themselves the talk of the town and won over 300 friends on Facebook in a single month.
Every month, this dry cleaner would take any uncollected garments and give them to a local charity store. Then one month they decided to change that routine and organized a auction for the garments with the money going to a spread of local charities.
The owner told all their customers about it and invited them to the auction on a Saturday morning at the local town hall. They offered to match every $1 spent with a $1 of their own. They also teamed up with a local bakery and offered free coffee and pastries for everyone. They had over 200 people turn up on the day and they raised $800 for charity (including $400 of their own). They handed out loyalty cards and prompted people to leave a review about the event on their local directory profiles.
It was a great success and the business owner now runs the auction every month.
Reviews Still Count…Don’t Let Good Service Go Unshared
I’m a big believer in the impact of positive reviews, not just on rankings but also on conversion. Building a critical mass of reviews across a number of important local directories and Places should still be high up your SEO to-do list.
It’s a cardinal sin for a local business to provide a great service and then fail to get their customers talking about it. It doesn’t take a lot to ask a happy customer to leave a review for you on a directory which you direct them to.
I experienced this myself this week. A plumber solved a long running issue with my boiler; they were polite, on-time and extremely professional. I was delighted and if they had asked me to review them, I would have left 5 different reviews on 5 different sites – that’s not spam, I’m just a seriously happy customer! But they didn’t ask me and I haven’t (yet) left them a review.
These are just 5 of the ways that you can and should diversify your SEO strategy. As any good SEO knows, getting your SEO right takes time, effort and know-how.
It’s a long term play and focusing on easy, quick win strategies will only ever get you so far and leave you prone to Google’s whim. Having a diverse approach ensures that your business is not only insulated against future changes but can actually benefit from.