White Paper: Avoid Local SEO Mistakes
A quick glance at the Google Maps Help Pages shows how easy it is to run into problems when optimizing your local business listings.
A few of the current entries include:
- What happened to my business listing in local results?
- Rec’d Postcard from Google: Password Entered in Invalid
- Problem With Local Business Listing…
- Address shows the wrong place now
- Our business has disappeared from Google Maps. What happened?
While many of these problems are not the fault of the business, some are certainly self-inflicted, whether due to violating Google’s terms and conditions or due to sending confusing signals to the system. Local businesses of all sizes should read our new white paper on Avoiding Local SEO Mistakes so that they don’t have to wait fruitlessly for a reply from the understaffed and overworked customer support department at Google Maps.
Are Google Local Listing Ads the Death of Internet Yellow Pages
Last week, Google announced Local Listing Ads, a paid alternative to the free business listings within Google Maps. The ads sit above the free maps listings, but are smaller than traditional AdWords, and are below the top AdWords listing, at least in many cases.
In the above example, the listings marked with bubbles #2 and #3 are Local Listing Ads.
Currently, the test is running in San Francisco and San Diego only, but I expect the test area to spread quickly, if Google views it as a success.
Google Local Listing Ads represent a significant threat to Internet Yellow Pages such as CitySearch and Yelp. The IYPs rely heavily on organic search traffic from Google that is directed to their advertisers. In fact, in many cases they sell on the idea that advertising with their service is a way to have one’s company come up in the organic listings (albeit a page from the IYP’s site, not a page from the advertiser’s site).
And, for a few years now, this model has worked well. The IYPs have well established sites with lots of links, and they know how to optimize their pages for the search engines. Advertisers with the IYP have received a great deal of targeted traffic.
But with the Google Maps listings being added to Google Universal Search, the organic listings are generally pushed below the fold (even on a large monitor).
The IYP countered this by purchasing AdWords to continue to push traffic to their site.
Google Local Listing Ads could be a major problem, however. If they work as Google hopes, small, local businesses will go directly to Google to purchase advertising. And if the traffic at the IYP drops, the advertisers may drop that channel.
There is no guarantee that they will work as Google hopes, however. Small businesses require definite hand-holding when it comes to advertising, and customer service has never been Google’s strong point. The IYP’s however, are generally quite good at customer service.
They are also out in the community actively selling, while Google has always relied on its advertisers coming to Google without much individual enticement.
It’s too early to say where this all will go, but hopefully the IYPs will view it as an object lesson in the dangers of relying solely on Google for your business model.
Has the 10-pack become a 7-pack?
On Thursday, October 8th, something new started showing up on Google’s local blended SERPs:
What previously showed ten local listings now shows seven! Reports are that the 7-pack is showing for local queries in Canada and the United Kingdom.
It’s unclear whether this is a permanent change or simply something Google is playing with, but the fact that I am having trouble finding any 10-packs now suggests the former.
Some say that Google may be making space for its coming Local Listing Ads, while others believe Google is just cleaning up its interface, but the impact on those of us in the Local SEO game is substantial. A reduction in top page listings of 30% means we all need to work a bit harder to get the results we want.
Rankings in Google Maps Dancing All Over
The last few days have been exciting for business listed in Google Maps. And, by “exciting”, I mean irritating has hell as I’ve watched some longtime 10-pack rankings for clients drop away.
A visit to Google Maps Help shows that my clients are not alone. The wailing and gnashing of teeth was constant. Clearly there were (are?) problems across the US and Canada.
And so the conspiracy theories began. Many thought it was connected to edits made in the Local Business Center. Others thought it was algorithm changes. Having multiple businesses at the same address was thrown out as a possibility.
None of these theories matched what I was seeing. I saw drops in competitive markets and in non-competitive markets. I saw some clients stay exactly where they were.
What I did notice is that the “Pages” tab in the detail for a company’s LBL seemed to have changed. In some cases, the number of pages had dropped; in others, the tab had disappeared completely.
There were reports of Reviews disappearing as well, but I did not see this happen to any of my own clients.
My instincts were telling me to wait it out, but I’m not a patient man. So, I emailed Mike Blumenthal, who has probably forgotten more about Google Maps than I know.
Mike had two theories, both speculative and unproven:
1) Switch to (Google) Places has caused disruption with associating businesses with underlying cluster data thus leading to loss of reviews, and web pages and attendant loss of rank.
2) They have implemented some sort of more draconian penalty system for keyword or business title stuffing.
Of those, the first seems more likely, and sounds like the sort of mistake Google might make (especially within the Google Maps system).
If it was an anti-spam smack, it was a rather ineffectual one. Mike says he hasn’t eliminated it as a possibility, even if the odds are slight.
Surprisingly, after the conversation with Mike, the listings for my clients began to come back. As a result, I really believe it was some sort of data error within Google Maps, and that they are in the process of fixing it.
I would not be surprised, however, to see continued volatility in the rankings for the next few days.
Google Maps Still Spammed for Locksmiths
Two months ago, we discussed the abundance of spam listings in Google Maps for “locksmith” keywords. Indications at that time where that Google was attempting to crack down on these spammers, so I decided to take a look and see how they were coming along.
I looked at the listings for the six largest cities in Texas: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth. All have populations north of half a million people.
For each of these, I searched on the city name plus “locksmith”. So, for Houston, I searched on [houston locksmith]. For each Google Maps listing returned on the standard Google results page, I recorded:
- Display Name
- Display URL
- Phone Number
- Actual Name from Site Returned when the Listing is Clicked
- Actual URL from Site Returned when the Listing is Clicked
In addition, I recorded several subjective judgments for each listing and whether the site had duplicate listings within the same query.
All told, I looked at 53 listings. All the queries returned a 10-pack of map listings, except for Houston, which returned a 3-pack. Given Houston’s status as the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States, it was surprising that only a 3-pack was returned. Perhaps this is a clumsy attempt at spam reduction by Google.
Subjective Factor One
Is the listing for a local company?
Many (most?) of the companies advertising in the locksmith industry do not employ any actual locksmiths. They are simply lead aggregators that collect your info and sell it to a locksmith in your area. Hopefully that locksmith sent out is licensed and trustworthy, but there is certainly no guarantee.
Unfortunately, only 35.85% of the listings surveyed actually reflected a local company. Nearly two out of three were clearly just pretending to be located in that geography.
Subjective Factor Two
Does the display name match the website name?
I was relatively liberal on declaring a match. If the company had added a keyword, but the actual company name was recognizable, it counted as a match. In addition, a keyword-only name that used the same keyword name on the website counted as a match.
Only 60.47% of the time did the names match. This is something that Google clearly needs to address, but it will be difficult to do so in an automated manner. And Google hates to do things by hand.
If the listing did not link to a website, it was not counted in this metric.
Subjective Factor Three
Does the display URL match the website URL?
One of the standard Google Maps spam tricks is to include a keyword URL in the display and have it redirect to your actual branded site. The hope is that the keyword URL would count as another instance of usage of the keyword.
Google does seem to be cracking down on this, as they matched 90.70% of the time. On the other hand, this should be very easy for Google to check. Simply have Googlebot crawl the link, and if there’s a redirect, shut them down. I’m not sure why Google is not taking a more aggressive stance on this obvious spam.
If the listing did not link to a website, it was not counted in this metric.
Subjective Factor Four
Is the listing name keyword spam?
This was an assessment of how much the name of the listing on Google Maps appears to be just keyword usage. 47.17% of the listings had names that were nothing but keyword spam.
Again, this is hard to police in an automated manner, but the accuracy of a listing’s name is critical to the integrity of the system.
Subjective Factor Five
Is the listing spam?
This was an assessment of whether the listing itself is spam. Over-usage of keywords and misrepresentation of location where the most common cause of a listing being judged as spam.
Unfortunately, 64.71% of the listings for “locksmith” in the six largest Texas cities are spam. In other words, barely a third of these listings can be trusted. This is an unacceptable quality level.
One company came up for both Austin and San Antonio. They appear to be a company licensed as a locksmith in Texas, although they are servicing multiple geographies. It’s not clear where they are actually located, however. I did not count them in the spam numbers as they are an unusual case.
Six of the listings examined were duplicates within the same geography. In other words, the same company was taking up multiple listings within the same search. There was one match pair in Dallas and two matched pairs in Houston. This is another sort of spam that should be very easy for Google to detect.
By city, here are the number of spam listings:
- Austin: 7 spam, 2 non-spam, 1 unclear
- Dallas: 7 spam, 3 non-spam
- El Paso: 1 spam, 9 non-spam
- Fort Worth: 9 spam, 1 non-spam
- Houston: 2 spam, 1 non-spam
- San Antonio: 7 spam, 2 non-spam, 1 unclear
For the keyword “locksmith”, at least, cattletown Fort Worth has the most can pork by-product in the state of Texas. And El Paso has the cleanest listings.