For the last few months, ionadas local and Sentient Services have been engaged in research in the local SEO space. The survey uses heat mapping to reveal how the reader’s eye typically tracks geographically-based search result content, giving web developers and advertisers valuable insights into creating page layouts optimized to attract and retain viewers’ attention.
It was to be the first published survey of eye tracking patterns as applied to local search techniques. We planned to publish the research under a Creative Common Attribution 3.0 license.
Twelve days ago, however, Google released Google Place Search, and completely changed the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for local queries. One could argue that this invalidates our hard work.
“No so fast!” I retort in my best Lee Korso voice.
There are currently multiple page types for local queries. One of them draws much of its structure from the old 7-pack. It’s reasonable to assume that many of our findings apply to this new SERP as well.
And our most surprising finding certainly still applies. The conventional wisdom has been that the map itself should be one of the greatest draws on the page. Our research found that the map actually receives very little attention. Most people hardly notice its presence at all.
If anything, this should be even more the case with the new SERPs. Google has moved the map to the right, where paid advertising usually languishes. Most users have spent the last fifteen years learning to ignore that part of the page. I believe it is unlikely to be noticed now.
So, even with the changes, we’re publishing our research report and the heatmaps:
This research and this report are © 2010, ionadas local LLC and Sentient Services, LP.
They are being published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, allowing businesses, organizations and individuals to download, use and reproduce the data in their own promotional and research efforts providing proper attribution is made.
Proper attribution means listing the above copyright statement and including links to www.ionadas.com and www.sentientservices.com for web usage. For other uses, the copyright statement, www.ionadas.com and www.sentientservices.com must be listed.
Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from ionadas local LLC.
There have been indications of this for some time, but the Google Lat Long Blog has now announced full support for hCard Microformat. This is a tagging system that allows a website builder to indicate what type of data is included on a page. It’s most often used for contact info, but other data types (such as reviews), can be tagged as well.
Information tagged in this manner is easier for Google to categorize, and can show up as a citation in Google Places, or even a more prominent link.
Mike Blumenthal has a great write-up on why hCard Microformat is important.
Google has added a “tagging” system to its Google Places system. These tags let a business highlight aspects of your listing, so that they stand out from the others. This advertising program is available in Austin, Atlanta, Houston, San Jose, and Washington for a flat fee of $25/month.
Being in Austin, Texas, an offer for this advertising program popped up in ionadas local’s Google Maps management system this morning.
“Learn More” takes you to Google Help pages. If you “Preview and select a tag, the following dialog box is shown:
You have the option of highlighting coupons, photos, videos or your website. If one of these is not available in your Google Places, it won’t be offered for tagging.
Here is what the ad looks like, in the 7-pack, the 3-pack, and the 1-box, respectively.
It’s too early to tell if this will result in an uptick in traffic, but watch here for updates. In the meantime, here’s the dashboard the advertisement adds to your management system, although it does not have any data yet.
If you logged into your Google Local account the last day or two, you may have noticed something new.
You can choose whether or not your listing has a physical address associated with it. According to Google Maps Help:
Service Area Listings With An Address
Listings with a designated service area and a physical address appear the same in Google Maps search results as results without a service area. Once a you click on the listing title, the information window that appears allows you to toggle service areas on and off by clicking ‘Show/hide service area’. By default, service areas are hidden. On the map itself, the listing appears as a red pin. If you’ve chosen ‘Show service area,’ the service area will appear as a see-through red shape.
Service Area Listings Without An Address
Listings with a designated service area and no address appear in Google Maps search results with a red circle and the city the business is located in. Once you click on the listing title, the information window that appears allows you to toggle service areas on and off by clicking ‘Show/hide service area’. On the map, the listing appears as a red floating circle. If you’ve chosen ‘Show service area,’ the service area will appear as a see-through red shape.
Unfortunately, there is no interface for this functionality through the bulk upload system yet. You have to add the Service Area by hand.
Service Areas are something that we’ve been looking for in the Local SEO world for some time. Many businesses do not have customers coming to their location, but rather go to the customer’s location. While these firms certainly have a tight geographic focus, the Google Local system has been failing them until now.
It’s not clear what the limitation is on geographic range, but I expect that the further a location is from the center of your range, the harder it is going to be for you to rank for your target search terms.
SEO company sees a big future for Google Maps in 2010
Austin, Texas, January 11, 2010 – Brian Combs wants to help companies hit it big in 2010 by tapping into a profitable new online market—their own back yard.
Combs’ company, ionadas local, specializes in search engine optimization (SEO) for Google Maps, the online search giant’s feature that allows a company to display its location in geographically-specific Web searches.
Combs, who worked in online marketing for nearly 17 years before founding ionadas local in 2009, has seen the impact of Google Maps on web search visibility. “A couple of years ago,” he recalls, ” I worked with a team trying to figure out why a travel company’s Google traffic had dropped by 20% and its sales from Google had dropped by 25%. All their tools indicated that everything was fine because they still ranked third on this keyword and fourth on that search term, and so on.”
The investigation revealed that for many of the company’s keywords, Google returned results dominated by a map and associated text listings at the top of the page. “That third-place organic ranking for the company had been pushed so far down on the page, people had to scroll down just to see it. This, to me, was an object lesson in just how powerful this map was. It’s really the biggest change we’ve seen in the online search universe since people first started putting PPC ads on there a decade ago.”
Smaller businesses face sobering competition from big companies when using traditional web search strategies. “The real estate industry is a good example, “ says Combs. “The real estate scene in major cities tends to be dominated by the national players such as Realtor.com and Rent.com. These companies are search result aggregators who collect your contact information and sell it to realtors. In the financial world, Lending Tree may re-sell that information four times to various mortgage companies. That gives them a huge advantage over local firms when it comes to organic search.”
Google Maps changes the game by emphasizing physical location as a search criterion, according to Combs. “That physical presence is much harder for the big national aggregators to establish, allowing small, local companies to compete effectively with the big guys on the Web playing field. The outstanding majority of brick-and-mortar companies, no matter how small, can use their keyword information to score well on Google Maps.”
ionadas local helps businesses nationwide to devise optimization strategies to get the best possible local search results on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. According to client Krisstina Wise, Principal at The Goodlife Team, “ionadas local helped us evaluate and implement a strategy for visibility in the local real estate market. With Google changing the game in local search constantly, it’s essential for us to work with a skilled professional to make sure we show up where buyers are looking.”
Combs predicts the appearance of even more precise search techniques in 2010. “I think we’re going to move from local marketing to hyper-local marketing. For instance, when you search for ‘Austin coffee shop,’ instead of getting results for coffee houses all over Austin, I believe that Google will determine what part of town you’re in and deliver targeted results for that location.” Combs notes that searches conducted by smartphone will allow Google to determine the searcher’s precise location.
“Even now, if you’re in Austin and you just Google ‘coffee shop,’ Google will return results for Austin coffee shops because it assumes you want a localized result,” says Combs. “The near future will hold even more opportunity for businesses to compete using super-precise online marketing.”
About ionadas local
ionadas local of Austin, Texas was founded in May 2009 to help marketers of local products and services. Working with companies in all industries nationwide, ionadas local provides optimization of Google Maps business listings to increase phone calls, foot traffic and website visitors from targeted prospects. For more information about ionadas local, please visit the company’s website at www.ionadas.com or call (512) 501-1875.