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May
04
2009

Google Local under Scrutiny

Since Google has introduced local business results into the mainstream results, along with several other results, we are seeing how Google is greating a strong SERP with blended results.  We now see shopping results, local business results, videos, standard organic and PPC in the SERP.  For the most part, each of these components use a different algorithm.

While a locally based offline business with a desire to find business using the Internet has several options on which methods to deploy resources, it is almost impossible for a small company to deploy every tactic.  In fact, it would be merely impossible.  We do know however that the search engines drive more traffic to a website than all other mediums combined.  Therefore understanding Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is critical.  As I always have discussed, I recommend three methods in order to increase visibility in the SERPs.  These are

  1. Efforts in the Organic Results (SEO)
  2. Efforts towards Local Business Results (the map)
  3. Efforts towards PPC (Google Adwords)

Google’s Local Business Results are playing havoc for thousands of small businesses around the globe.  This algo is as strong as the organic algo were in 2002.  It sucks!  There are so many challenges being faced with business’ records being combined, including wrong addresses, phone numbers and simply wrong data.

There is also a challenge with what Google is trying to do.  Every local industry is different and has different business models.  The transportation industry is getting horrible results in the local listings because locally based transportation companies servicing a major metropolitan area is typically located in the suburbs.  Google is looking for addresses in the city, yielding the wrong results.  The Florist industry has been hijacked by spammers, who have blackmailed local florists for cash to give them their results back.  The locksmith industry has been spammed with thieves, claiming to be locksmiths and stealing your keys to your home and vehicles.

Last week while discussing the nightmare in the Local Business Listings with another local SEOer from a San Fransisco Web Design and Local SEO firm owner, Miriam Ellis, I learned and concluded that the Local Results efforts being put forth by Google is simply a little premature.  It’s a mess!  It’s no secret that Americans are using Google to find local businesses.  It’s no secret a web surfer will click on either an organic listing, local listing or paid listing.  We know exactly how to market ourselves to achieve rankings in the organic and paid listings, however local is still up in the air.  We do know a lot about that and in MLBO you’ll find the strategies that do work, however there are a lot of changes happening daily at Google and there are still a lot of problems at Google.  There are still a lot of unanswered questions about ethical companies trying to market themselves.  We determined several scenarios with local businesses that may appear spamming to the search engines, yet be completely ethical, moral marketing strategies.

I also want to point you to a fantastic interview among 20 expert local business marketer regarding Local Search Ranking Factors.  Check it out, a lot of what you read is included in MLBO however and inline with my teachings, it’s just this is coming from another source.

Interview with 20 experts

All in all, I stand firm that SEM is marketing.  Regardless if today some strategies may come off as spammy for the local results, move forward with your strategies if you feel what you are doing is ethical in the offline world.   Google will shake itself out and determine what is ethical and moral and I believe Google will get this right.



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Permanent link to this article: http://www.scott-gallagher.net/google-local-under-scrutiny/

4 comments

  1. Zack says:

    Hey Scott, thanks for the great post and website. It’s not easy to find good info on local search. I have signed up for the ebook and can’t wait to read it.

    Zack

  2. Betsy Kent says:

    Hi Scott,

    I have been struggling with how to get my clients better positioning in the Google local results…and now I know I’m not alone. I can’t find any consistent characteristics to explain the current way that local listings are displayed. Can you?

  3. Out Of Business says:

    Let me tell you a story of how Google local put me in debt. First we have to go back… 2 years ago, Google gave my Local Business listing the #1 place for my service and location. Today, I wished they never had and here’s why:

    Finlly, people that were searching for my services were finding me- and rightfully so! After all, I’m not only the best on my location, but one of the best in my industry, credited with multiple awards and years of expertise. At the time, I was so happy with Google that I would have kissed their shoes. They gave me the means to connect with clients where my limited resources could not.

    My home business grew to more than I could handle by myself. I needed to hire help, but to do so, I needed to get an office. I hired an attorney to draft up a business plan and we shopped it to the banks. Our pitch was simple “We need this much to expand- we’re making twice as much so it won’t be hard to pay back.” The loan was approved.

    I paid thousands for all the right licensing, hired 2 employees and moved into a warehouse. As sales increased and I expanded my inventory. Here’s where it turns bad:

    We moved into a warehouse lot with similar businesses. We all shared the same street address but different suites. One day, callers started complaining about products that we didn’t even carry and services that we didn’t perform. Turns out, one of our competitors had managed to rack up multiple negative reviews on his Google local listing and it had somehow MERGED with our listing.

    Now, dealing with damage control isn’t so tough. We explained to callers that they had the wrong number and gave them the correct one. The icing on the cake- when our business came to a screeching halt- was when we found that our phone number was nowhere to be seen. No one called for our business. To put it lightly, our phone lines had become the enemy.

    For nearly 2 months, we struggled with finding new customers. We passed out flyers but that proved to be ineffective. We heavily relied on Craigslist advertising. In fact, that was our ONLY source of revenue.

    Google was no help. They would not even entertain the idea of listening to us. What baffled me the most was how a company that employs 20,000 people (that’s right, twenty-thousand) didn’t have a single person to answer the phone. Here’s Google’s phone number, call them and ask them about anything and see what happens: (650) 253-0000. They will shut you down like a light.

    Like a broken record, Google’s android receptionists repeatedly chanted the anthem of: “We do not offer tech support for ‘free services’. We do not offer tech support for ‘free services’. We do…” Ok, as a professional I can understand that a business would not give free support for a free service, but I was willing to PAY. Alas, there was no one at Google that would take my money. Then I remembered that I had paid Google thousands of dollars in Adwords, a $21 Billion dollar company and they couldn’t help me.

    Finally, I ended up deleting my Google Local listing. I created a new one and waited a week for my conformation code. After verifying the code I searched daily for my listing to appear. About a week later I found it… It was on page 4. I’m sure you can figure out what happened in the proceeding weeks. We liquidated.

    There’s an old proverb: “Don’t put your eggs into one basket”… Whether that’s true or not, I know that basket is not Google.

    Thanks for debt,
    Out Of Business

    1. scott says:

      Wow, thanks for your story. This is NOT uncommon. You can’t blame Google either. They have no responsibility to you. That’s why it’s so important to understand what to do, and what NOT to do in the Local Business Results.

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