The Importance of Customer Reviews In Your Local Online Marketing

The benefits of customer feedback are overwhelmingly positive to any business. Using feedback and reviews from your customers you can improve your operations, correct shortcomings, and simply provide you the insight to deliver an outstanding product or service as well as customer service.

But how valuable are those customer reviews and recommendations in your local online marketing?

Lets start with how valuable customer reviews are in your local marketing campaigns. One of the biggest benefits to online reviews is attaining higher rank in local search engine results. By getting customer reviews in your Google+ Local Pages as well as other local directories, your Google+ Local Pages will receive higher rankings in Google’s local search results. The more positive reviews you have, the better you will rank against your local competition.

 
Getting customer reviews in other directories, such as Yelp and Bing, is equally valuable. Not only will you increase your search results with those directories, there is also a benefit from directories sharing reviews with one another, for instance, Yelp is feeding its online reviews of restaurants and merchants to the Bing search engine.

The most well known example of this was Yelp reviews showing up on Google. And while Yelp reviews are no longer displayed on Google+ Local Page’s they still have value.  Existing reviews in external websites like Yelp help build your company’s brand recognition as well as acting as a ‘citation’.

Citations are defined as “mentions” of your business name and contact information on other web pages, even if there is no link to your website. An example of a citation might be an online yellow pages directory where your business is listed, but not linked to.

Citations essentially get you recognized- and more often than not, Google will rank a brand name business that it recognizes over a company it has never heard of before- because they assume that if they have been exposed to the brand previously, there is a better chance that the business is stable and real.  The same goes for the business’ physical location in the Google+ Local Page. Google uses external citations of the business (such as those found on Yelp) to confirm that the business has accurate contact information, because Google wants to deliver the results that they think are most accurate.

Another great benefit of customer reviews is that you can place them on your website. Creating a page for reviews and testimonials on your website can have several significant benefits.  In the first place, having testimonials on your website will help convince other potential clients to use your service by demonstrating the value you are delivering to your previous customers.  Secondly, new testimonials on your website add localized copy for the search engines to index and link to.  Finally, you can micro-format your customer reviews and testimonials.  Micro-formatting will help Google understand what these testimonials are and act as ‘off-site citations’ for your Google+ Local Page.  If you can aggregate these reviews into specific services or products, Google can display that micro-formatted data directly in their search results.  Websites with micro-formatted displays in Google’s main search have been shown to have increased click-through rates.

So, how can you automate it so you have a steady stream of customer reviews going to your local marketing campaigns, on websites, social media, mobile and directories?

That will be the topic for our upcoming joint webinar with Listen360. Join the experts from both Listen360 and ElementsLocal on August 29th to learn more about how to leverage your customer reviews in your local online marketing. Click here to sign up >>

Working with Google+: “We Currently Do Not Support the Location”

Google – In local search land, there is a giant pressing issue that has been plaguing a sub sect of clients. So much in fact, that it has become a worthwhile topic to discuss. Google+ Local Listings are disappearing, only to be replaced by “We Currently Do Not Support Your Location”.

As painstaking as it is to wait patiently during the Google Client Services mandated 4-6 week waiting period, there is little else to do in order to move forward and get the listing corrected.

It looks like the problem has been compounded with the recent move from Google Places to Google+ Local. The biggest issue is the large volume of the opportunity costs that are tied to the local organic search and more importantly- paid search. Additionally, reviews are being wiped out, local search listings are being removed and profiles can go back and forth into pending.

Below are some options to help restore your listing if it has been removed or isn’t being “supported” by Google+ Local anymore.

There could be a few reasons why this may be happening:

  • As a result of multiple identical listings in an account
  • As a result of multiple owners for one listing
  • As a result of showing the location when against Google policies

 

If the above situations do not pertain to your business, it is time to take matters into your own hands.

  1. Submit a formal complaint to Google through this link. It could take anywhere from one week to one month, but this is the best place to start.
  2. If there has been no response from Google after a few weeks, it might be time to delete your old listing and start fresh with a new one.
  3. Perform what is called a “Null Edit” or “Null Submit” and display the update on your Place page. Click here for instructions. (This step works best for listing that has disappeared or is under review)

 

Though this process can be frustrating, (even for the most seasoned of local search marketers), it is important to keep in mind that you are not alone. Due to the latest Google search updates paired with the migration to Google+ Local, the instances of profiles that go missing have been accumulating.  Luckily, between Google Support and these steps, you will be on the right track to getting your listing correct again.

The New Face of Google Reviews

Are you one of the many businesses that have seen your reviews disappear from your Google+ Local page?  We know this is causing great concern among business owners, as customer reviews are key to bringing in new business and a great way to set yourself apart from your competitors.

What is Google up to?

Google is trying to purify their reviews to stop spammers from posting fake reviews (think of Google acting like Yelp).  In this purification process, legitimate reviews from real clients are being removed.  We are not sure what criteria are being used to keep or pull reviews.  ElementsLocal has conducted research from our client base.  Those reviews that are posted from IP addresses closer to the business address seem to be “sticking.”  This is not true in all cases.  It would seem that Google might be seeing reviews as truly “local.”  Some of the blogs we’ve read suggest reviews seem to be sticking if the reviewer has a public presence on their Google+ account and are using tags (keywords) within the review themselves.

Google Employee Stephan S has posted Places Forum post to report, “missing” reviews confirming that Google has started to remove reviews:

“As mentioned in this forum previously, we’re currently experiencing an issue that is preventing us from showing some reviews on Place pages. We’re working to correct this issue as soon as possible, and apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this has caused some of you.
However, please remember that there are various reasons why reviews may not appear. We’re continuing to do our best to ensure that the reviews in our system are legitimate and high-quality. To protect both business owners and customers, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews, and with the revised review policies we released a few months ago we have taken a stronger stance against spam and other forms of abuse. So while some of you are seeing fewer reviews because of the aforementioned error, many of you are experiencing removed reviews because they have been removed by our systems.  We acknowledge that sometimes our algorithms may flag and remove legitimate reviews in our effort to combat abuse, but believe that overall, these measures are helping to ensure that the reviews appearing on Place pages are authentic, relevant and useful.”

What does this mean for the future?

Business owners need to be prepared for some of their reviews to disappear.  It also means that a plan needs to be implemented to gain high quality reviews from local clients.

New research suggests that 72% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations from friends*.  Here are some other interesting finds:
+ 16% of consumers said they used the Internet every week to find local businesses (vs. 9% in 2010)
+27% of consumers regularly use online reviews to determine which local business to use (vs. 22% in 2010)
+5% of consumers read between 2-10 reviews (vs.58% in 2010)
+52% of consumers are more likely to use a local business if they have positive reviews

*Source: Local Consumer Review Survey 2012.

Consumers are placing a greater emphasis on online reviews and are placing more confidence in them.

If you do not have a strategy for online reviews, make sure to sign up to our next webinar on August 15th on Integrating Your Online Reviews With Your Local Online Presence.

Google Places Is Now Google+ Local: What You Should Know

Last week,  our CEO Jeremy Laduque had an article posted on Franchise Update, presented by Franchising.com about the new Google+Local.

Google Places Is Now Google+ Local: What You Should Know touches on important subjects such as an overview of whats new and whats changing in the world of Google+ Local as well as critical information that all franchise marketers should know. Also in the article is a link to the webinar held earlier this month: “8 Tips for Optimizing Google Places for Every Location”.

To check out more information on Google+ Local and the full article, Click Here.

 

Google Converts Google Places into Google+ Local

Franchise online marketers are now overseeing an empire, not a kingdom. How true this is in today’s interconnected world! Your empire is everywhere your customers are… and believe me they’re everywhere!

On May 30th Google converted 80 million Google Places pages into Google+ Local pages!  The old static Google Places page will now be a more dynamic social environment where business owners can engage with customers and friends can recommend local businesses based on their own personal experiences.

How will franchise marketers handle this, how do you manage the new Google+ Local pages, how will Google+ users be affected. Our team has been working on a special Webinar presentation to answer these questions and more. Click here to sign up now
Here’s a brief overview of what’s new and what’s changing:

  •     The substitution of the new Google+ Local pages for Google Places pages
  •     The appearance of a “Local” tab within Google+
  •     The integration and free availability of Zagat reviews
  •     The integration of Google+ Local pages across Google properties (search, Maps, mobile)
  •     Integration of a circles filter to find reviews/recommendations  from friends/family/colleagues

 

What’s Critical to Know:

You will still be able to manage your Google+ Local page through the Google Places dashboard for the foreseeable future
You will still be able to respond to reviews through the Google Places dashboard
Existing Google+ business pages will eventually get linked to matching new Google+ Local pages
In your Places dashboard, clicking on “view” or “see your listings…” is still directing users to the old Google Places pages.  Google is working on this

Here is What Google Says About Managing Your Google+ Local Page

“Continue to manage through Google Places for Business

If you are a business owner, you should continue to manage your information in Google Places for Business. You’ll still be able to verify your basic listing data, make updates, and respond to reviews. For those who use AdWords Express, your ads will operate as normal as they’ll automatically redirect people to the destination you selected, or your current listing.” See http://googleandyourbusiness.blogspot.com/

How Will Existing Google+ Users be Affected

For Google+ users, Google has added a new tab to the sidebar of the Google+ page named ‘Local’.  Clicking that local tab will allow the logged in Google+ user to find local businesses that interest them based on their friends reviews or check-ins (coming soon) to these businesses.  This logged in search will include the previously mentioned social filters and new Zagat ratings to produce a rich, personally customized search experience.

To see an introductory video on the new Google+ Local pages click here

Google Discontinues Geo Sitemap Files

Google has discontinued support for GeoSitemap XML files.  The exact reason behind the move are fairly cloudy and this change was not announced to the public at large.  Instead, thousands of webmasters just happened to notice that their GeoSitemap files suddenly displayed an error status in February & March of this year.  The exact error those webmasters saw was “This tag was not recognized. Please fix it and resubmit.”  The reported error was really vague and misleading and as I mentioned, this change came unannounced.  It was only on March 20th in follow up questions from SMX West on Susan Moskwa’s Google+ page that any of this was explained.

Google has retired support for the Geo Sitemaps format. You can continue to submit your Geo content to us using the standard Sitemaps format (just listing the URL of the file(s), without <geo>-specific tags)…

We previously supported an extension to the Sitemaps protocol where you could include tags in your XML Sitemaps that contained geo-specific information in addition to the URL of your KML file. We no longer support those geo-specific XML tags in Sitemaps, but you can still submit the URLs of your KML files in a standard Sitemap format.” (http://goo.gl/ovcxf)

The good news is that Google still supports the use of KML files which help validate accurate business contact information which can lead to increased rankings in local search.  Our recommendation is to add your KML file’s location into your general sitemap.xml which you would then submit to Google’s Webmaster Tools.

5 Tips To Better Optimize For Google’s New Rules For “over-optimized” Website

Google announced it will be releasing a new algorithm change that penalizes websites that are “over-optimized” or “overly SEO’ed.” This news was released by Mat Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, during his panel at SXSW.

Matt was responding to a great question asked by someone in the audience:

“With so many SEO companies showing up claiming to do SEO, a lot of markets are getting saturated with optimized content…What are you doing to prevent, for example, if you’re looking for something, and the first page is just optimized content, and it’s not what you’re actually looking for? Are you pretty much out of luck if you’re not optimizing your site but it has relevant content? If I’m a mom or pop and I’m trying to optimize a site by myself, I’m going to get beat by people paying thousands of dollars.

Matt’s response was:

“We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on a page, or whether they exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect in a particular area. It is an active area where we have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

Cutts said the new “over optimization” penalty will be introduced into the search results in the upcoming month or next few weeks.

This news came as no surprise to ElementsLocal. As we monitor the constant Google changes we’ve noticed one thing – that Google is the great equalizer. They continually updates their algorithms in an attempt to normalize results, or as Cutts said  “level the playing field.”

We believe this new change will give websites with great content a better chance at ranking above sites that have content that is just simply optimized. And who better to create great content, as well as create the vehicle to deliver that content locally, than a franchise system!

Franchise systems can really take advantage of this, as well as many other updates happening with Google, by doing two things. First, by putting a system in place that allows Franchisees to contribute great local content that is brand and SEO compliant. Second, by putting a system in place that allows the Franchisor to ‘push down’ or roll down content to all Franchisees with properly applied SEO, avoiding wasted time and energy and avoiding Google’s new penalties.

Here are 5 tips that will help you adhere to SEO best practice and avoid any potential penalties for having an “over-optimized” website:

  1. Keyword repetition on page
    Websites should repeat their target keyword phrase at most 3 or 4 times on any given page.  Repetition beyond that can draw negative attention to that page.
  2. Internal ‘spammy’ site links
    You should use a normal linking scheme when linking to the other webpages of your website.  If you have a webpage about your company’s history, don’t link to that page using your top keywords if they don’t relate to that webpage.  Link to it using the term “Company History” or “Our Plumbing Company’s History”.
  3. Purchasing exterior links
    Paying external websites to link to your own website is against Google’s terms of use policies and if discovered your site will be penalized or removed completely.  The word on the street is that this upcoming over-optimization algorithm Google is putting into place is much better at determining which links are paid links.
  4. Backlinks from ‘spammy’ websites like link farms
    Web directories like yellow pages websites linking to your website does have value, even though that value will be small.  Some directories have little to no value and only serve the purpose of linking to you if you link to them.  Incoming links from these link farms or directories will send up ‘spammy’ signals to Google’s algorithm, so it’s better to avoid these types of links if possible.
  5. Too many external links pointing to your website using keywords and not website name
    In recent years it has become common practice for link partners such as blogs to ask you what keywords you want in your anchor text pointing back to your website.  Having the keywords in all your inbound links reading “best seo company” appears ‘spammy’.  Instead, the anchor text should include your website name and possibly a keyword, such as “Elements, an SEO company”.  More often than not, letting the linking website create the anchor text will allow for a much more natural looking linking scheme.

Google Has New Way to Connect Your Blog Posts to Your Personal Brand

Google has a new way to connect your blog posts to your personal brand. By going into your blog and making some simple changes you can have each post point to an author page on your blog, which in turn you can link to the author’s Google+ page.

This is a huge opportunity because Google has more trust in articles that are written by unique authenticated authors. The more articles tied to your Google+ account and the more people who recommend your articles through Google+, the more weight your articles will carry when it comes to ranking your articles in Google’s search results.

On your end, here is how to authenticate your authorship on any blog you contribute to:

  • Log into your Google+ account
  • Click on the circle with a head in it at the top to get to your profile page
  • Click on the “Edit Profile” button
  • In the right hand sidebar click on “Contributor To” button
  • Add a custom link to your blog
  • Click “Save”
  • Click “Done editing” at the top of the profile

The following then has to be added to your blog. You may need your tech folks to do this part:

  • Create an author page on your blog if you do not already have one (author.php)
  • At the bottom of each post put in an author tag that will point to that author’s page (<?php the_author_posts_link(); ?></p>)
  • On the author page you will need to link to that author’s Google+ profile page with the following tag in the link (rel=”me”)

That’s it!

Localizing key to Conversion rate Optimization for Franchises

Here are a few simple ways you can optimize your Franchise websites for lead optimization. Read on to also see our 8 Point Checklist For LOCALIZING your Franchise/Franchisee’s Websites.

Have a Locally Optimized Website

Having a website that is optimized for local exposure gives your local franchises ‘credibility’ with the search engines.  The franchisee will be seen as a local business and can enhance their authority as a local professional and expert and boost website conversion.

Keep Your Website Updated

Having up to date news and content on each Franchisee website, including local ‘Grass  Roots’ news and information, is important to convey ‘freshness’ with search engines.

Put What the Consumer Wants Upfront

Put information about your services and products upfront. Also, make your join pages easy to get to! Front page access is best.  Give them this information upfront; don’t make them dig around your site looking for it. Your website visitors have a need – i.e. the service you provide - and the sooner you demonstrate that you can satisfy that need, the better. Continue reading

Google Search Plus Your World – Changes bring Changes

Google Plus Your World: Changes bring Changes

We have seen change after change occur, both algorithmically and to the user interface of Google.  All of these changes affect what franchises do to generate leads to at the local franchisee location.  In this article we will explain the impact of Search plus Your World and provide instructions on how to change with the times.

Explanation of Search plus Your World

In January of 2012 Google launched what they called Search plus Your World.  The goal of this algorithm change is to create a very personalized result which they expect will have more value to the user than a more generic general result would.  Google has been offering personalized search results for years, but average users didn’t even know that that they were being provided with personalized search because the difference between them and a generic search result was subtle.  Search plus Your World entirely changes the search results layout and drastically changes the rankings of websites.

In 2010 Google launched a social network called Google+.  What the public didn’t realize at the time is that one of Google’s purposes of this new social media platform was to create a way to authenticate people’s online persona.  By doing so, Google can create rate the value of an individual social persona.  This means that the websites recommended by a recognized industry writer will carry more weight than the recommendations of a faceless IP address.  In the same line of thought, the recommendation from a peer in your circle of friends would be deemed as having more value to you because it is likely that they have the same interests and opinions that you do.

With Search plus Your World, Google brings those recommendations from your circle of friends right to the forefront and it can draw those recommendations from private conversations on their social network.  The changes to the search results can be seen in the screen captures below.  The image on the right shows how even a Google Image search is affected by this recent change.

click image to expand

Googles Search Plus Your World Results Google Images Search Plus Your World Results

The problem is that Google is now showing more preference to their Google+ results than it does to other social networks and websites.  Google draws the data for their personalized search results from the Google+ network only, stating that once other social networks will be included when they sign-up for a long-term partnership and offer up their networks worth of data completely to Google.  Obviously Facebook & Twitter, advertising competitors of Google have serious reservations about both of these requirements.

Google is also bumping up the positions from these personalized results right to the top position.  This might be great if your friends happen to be discussing something completely relevant to what you are searching for, but could also be just a text mention of a product or brand rather than a local store or website that can fulfill your needs.  Take a close look at the image above on the left.  The third result is a personalized result pointing me to the Google+ network to find information on ‘search engine help’.  Well, this Google+ post is about a free tool that can show me where my site is listed on Google, but this isn’t really search engine help, is it?  Obviously this is not the most relevant result I could be looking for and is definitely not worthy of a top result.

Taking Advantage of Personalized Search Results

If you are wondering how your franchise can benefit from Google+ and Search plus Your World, the short answer is that every business can.  Recently Google made a change to their search system that obscures the keyword terms that drive visitors to your website if they are logged into Google, whether that is because of Gmail, Google Docs or YouTube.  So, instead of seeing the relevant keywords you will instead see (not provided).  Now Google also creates a Google+ account profile automatically if you have create and account for any of Google’s online products.  From this, we can see that the percentage of results arriving to your website as (not provided), actually have Google+ accounts and are actively logged in when they have made this search.  According to reports from many companies, the current percentage of searches done by people logged into their Google+ account sits between 10-20%.  One of our franchise client’s corporate webpage is showing over 30% of their search visitors are logged into Google+.  That’s a significant percentage of potential leads and leaving them off the table by not optimizing for Search plus Your World makes no sense.

The link graph is dying.  Obtaining links can be easily gamed.  Recommendations from authentic industry experts and friends within a circle are the new most powerful search signals that Google is using to rate websites in their search results.

So How Can Your Franchise Optimize for Google’s New Socially Guided Results?

The first step is to setup a Google+ account for your business. Understandably a franchise may be leery about creating another social media account because they already have Facebook & Twitter accounts that they having difficulty keeping current, but Google+ is a game changer when it comes to  search results and if you don’t grab a Google+ account for your business and begin posting to it now you will be playing catchup.

The first thing you should do is add Google+ badges on your website in conspicuous places on your website, near your companies contact information and in places near where your website’s visitors will be interacting with.  These badges will drive interested users to your Google+ account and hopefully the content you post to your circles is interesting enough to them that they add you to their circles.
Secondly, you need to install a +1.  Similar to a Facebook Like, a +1 button on your website encourages visitors to rate your website positively and these positive ratings will be delivered to others in their social circles.

The key to achieving success in Search plus Your World through your Google+ account is by recognizing your audience.  Finding, growing and pruning potential leads and existing clients into your Google+ social circles is pivotal to ranking success.  This isn’t Twitter.  You don’t need millions of followers.  What you should be targeting is your key demographic, people that are deeply entrenched in the products or services related to what your franchise delivers.  Relevant links or Google+ recommendations –- similar to Facebook likes — from authentic industry experts will do more for your company’s search results than thousands of unrelated mentions from empty profiles will.

What do I share with my users?

Now the goal of this social build-up is to get your Google+ page shared with other users through search or having other users share your website material.  By creating high quality relevant content you can increase the odds of getting users to +1 your website’s content.  With every Google+ update you should keep focused on moving the user from your social profile to your website’s lead generators whether those are a contact form or a newsletter sign-up page.  Track those conversions and the sources that led to them and use those metrics to drive your Google+ campaigns.

Keep in mind that a Like, follow or +1 is great and may be something that you can measure by a simple line chart it is not a conversion.  A conversion is an e-mail, a phone call or a join form that turns a user into a qualified lead.