Special Notes for SABs Amid Decreased Local Search Visibility

Posted by MiriamEllis

One of the most common complaints I hear from service area business owners, like plumbers, locksmiths, and housekeepers, is that Google has always treated them as an afterthought. If you’re in charge of the digital marketing for these business models, it’s vital to understand just how accurate this complaint is so that you can both empathize with SAB brand owners and create a strategy that honors limitations while also identifying opportunities.

In marketing SABs, you’ve got to learn to make the best of a special situation. In this post, I want to address two of the realities these companies are facing right now that call for careful planning: the unique big picture of SAB local listing management, and the rise of Google’s Home Service Ads.

Let’s talk listings, Moz Local, and SABs

I was fascinated by my appliance repairman — an older German ex-pat with a serious demeanor — the first time he looked at my wall heater and pronounced,

“This puppy is no good.”

Our family went on to form a lasting relationship with this expert who has warned me about everything from lint fires in dryers to mis-branded appliances slapped together in dubious factories. I’m an admiring fan of genuinely knowledgeable service people who come to my doorstep, crawl under my house where possums dwell, ascend to my eerie attic despite spiders, and are professionally dedicated to keeping my old house livable. I work on a computer, surrounded by comforts; these folks know what real elbow grease is all about:

It’s because of my regard for these incredibly hard-working SAB owners and staffers that I’ve always taken issue with the fact that the local Internet tends to treat them in an offhand manner. They do some of the toughest jobs, and I’d like their marketing opportunities to be boundless. But the reality is, the road has been rocky and the limits are real.

Google goofed first

When Google invested heavily in developing their mapped version of the local commercial scene, there was reportedly internal disagreement as to whether a service area business is actually a “place” and deserved of inclusion in Google’s local index. You couldn’t add service area businesses to the now-defunct MapMaker but you could create local listings for them (clear as mud, right?). At a 2008 SMX event, faced with the question as to how SABs could be accurately represented in the local results, a Google rep really goofed in first suggesting that they all get PO boxes, only to have this specific practice subsequently outlawed by Google’s guidelines.

Confusion and spam flowed in

For the record,

  • Both SABs and brick-and-mortar businesses are currently eligible for Google My Business listings if they serve customers face-to-face.
  • SABs must have some form of legitimate street address, even if it’s a home address, to be included
  • Only brick-and-mortar businesses are supposed to have visible addresses on their listings, but Google’s shifting messaging and inconsistent guideline enforcement have created confusion.

Google has shown little zeal for suspending listings that violate the hide-address guidelines, with one notable exception recently mentioned to me by Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky: SABs who click the Google My Business dashboard box stating that they serve clients at the business’ location in order to get themselves out of no man’s land at the bottom of the Google Home Service ad unit are being completely removed from the map by Google if caught.

Meanwhile, concern has been engendered by past debate over whether hiding the address of a business lowered its local pack rankings. The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey is still finding this to be the #18 negative local pack ranking factor, which might be worthy of further discussion.

All of these factors have created an environment in which legitimate SABs have accidentally incorrectly listed themselves on Google and in which spammers have thrived, intentionally creating multiple listings at non-physical addresses and frequently getting away with it to the detriment of search results uniformity and quality. In this unsatisfactory environment, the advent of Google’s Home Service Ads program may have been inevitable, and we’ll take a look at that in a minute.

Limits made clear in listing options for SABs

Whether the risk of suspension or impact on rankings is great or small, hiding your address on SAB Google My Business listings is the only Google-approved practice. If you want to play it totally safe, you’ll play by the rules, but this doesn’t automatically overcome every challenge.

Google is one of the few high-level local business index requiring hidden SAB addresses. And it’s in this stance that SABs encounter some problems taking advantage of the efficiencies provided by automated location data management tools like Moz Local. There are three main things that have confused our own customers:

  1. Because our SAB customers are required by Google to hide their address, Moz Local can’t then verify the address because… well, it’s hidden. This means that customers need to have a Facebook listing with a visible address on it to get started using Moz Local. Facebook doesn’t require SAB addresses to be hidden.
  2. Once the customer gets started, their ultimate consistency score will generally be lower than what a brick-and-mortar business achieves, again because their hidden GMB listing address can’t be matched to all of the other complete listings Moz Local builds for them. It reads like an inconsistency, and while this in no way impacts their real-world performance, it’s a little sad not to be able to aim for a nifty 100% dashboard metric within Moz Local. Important to mention here that a 100% score isn’t achievable for multi-location business models, either, given that Facebook’s guidelines require adding a modifier to the business name of each branch, rendering it inconsistent. This is in contrast to Google’s policy, which defines the needless addition of keywords or geo-modifiers to the business name as spam! When Google and Facebook fundamentally disagree on a guideline, a small measure of inconsistency is part and parcel of the scenario, and not something worth worrying about.
  3. Finally, for SABs who don’t want their address published anywhere on the Internet, automated citation management simply may not be a good match. Some partners in our network won’t accept address-less distribution from us, viewing it as incomplete data. If an SAB isn’t looking for complete NAP distribution because they want their address to be kept private, automation just isn’t ideal.

So how can SABs use something like Moz Local?

The Moz Local team sides with SABs — we’re not totally satisfied with the above state of affairs and are actively exploring better support options for the future. Given our admiration for these especially hard-working businesses, we feel SABs really deserve to have needless burdens lifted from their shoulders, which is exactly what Moz Local is designed to do. The task of manual local business listing publication and ongoing monitoring is a hefty one — too hefty in so many cases. Automation does the heavy lifting for you. We’re examining better solutions, but right now, what options for automation are open to the SAB?

Option #1: If your business is okay with your address being visible in multiple places, then simply be sure your Facebook listing shows your address and you can sign up for Moz Local today, no problem! We’ll push your complete NAP to the major aggregators and other partners, but know that your Moz Local dashboard consistency score won’t be 100%. This is because we won’t be able to “see” your Google My Business listing with its hidden address, and because choosing service-related categories will also hide your address on Citysearch, Localeze, and sometimes, Bing. Also note that one of our partners, Factual, doesn’t support locksmiths, bail bondsmen or towing companies. So, in using an automated solution like Moz Local, be prepared for a lower score in the dashboard, because it’s “baked into” the scenario in which some platforms show your full street address while others hide it. And, of course, be aware that many of your direct local competitors are in the same boat, facing the same limitations, thus leveling the playing field.

Option #2: If your business can budget for it, consider transitioning from an SAB to a brick-and-mortar business model, and get a real-world office that’s staffed during stated business hours. As Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling discuss is in this excellent video chat, smaller SABs need to be sure they can still make a profit after renting an office space, and that may largely be based on rental costs in their part of the country. Very successful virtual brands are exploring traditional retail options and traditional brick-and-mortar business models are setting up virtual showrooms; change is afoot. Having some customers come to the physical location of a typical SAB may require some re-thinking of service. A locksmith could grind keys on-site, a landscaper could virtually showcase projects in the comfort of their office, but what could a plumber do? Any ideas? If you can come up with a viable answer, and can still see profits factoring in the cost of office space, transitioning to brick-and-mortar effectively removes any barriers to how you represent yourself on Google and how fully you can use software like Moz Local.

If neither option works for you, and you need to remain an SAB with a hidden address, you’ll either need to a) build citations manually on sites that support your requirements, like these ones listed out by Phil Rozek, while having a plan for regularly monitoring your listings for emerging inconsistencies, duplicates and incoming reviews or b) hire a company to do the manual development and monitoring for you on the platforms that support hiding your address.

I wish the digital marketing sky could be the limit for SABs, but we’ve got to do the most we can working within parameters defined by Google and other location data platforms.

Now comes HSA: Google’s next SAB move

As service area business owner or marketer, you can’t be faulted for feeling that Google hasn’t handled your commercial scenario terribly well over the years. As we’ve discussed, Google has wobbled on policy and enforcement. Not yet mentioned is that they’ve never offered an adequate solution to the reality that a plumber located in City A equally services Cities B, C, and D, but is almost never allowed to rank in the local packs for these service cities. Google’s historic bias toward physical location doesn’t meet the reality of business models that go to clients to serve. And it’s this apparent lack of interest in SAB needs that may be adding a bit of sting to Google’s latest move: the Home Service Ads (HSA) program.

You’re not alone if you don’t feel totally comfortable with Google becoming a lead gen agent between customers and, to date:

  • Plumbers
  • House cleaners
  • Locksmiths
  • Handymen
  • Contractors
  • Electricians
  • Painters
  • Garage door services
  • HVAC companies
  • Roadside assistance services
  • Auto glass services

in a rapidly increasing number of cities.

Suddenly, SABs have moved to the core of Google’s consciousness, and an unprecedented challenge for these business models is that, while you can choose whether or not to opt into the program, there’s no way to opt out of the impacts it is having on all affected local results.

An upheaval in SAB visibility

If HSA has come to your geo-industry, and you don’t buy into the program, you will find yourself relegated to the bottom of the new HSA ad unit which appears above the traditional 3-pack in the SERPs:

Additionally, even if you were #1 in the 3-pack prior to HSA coming to town, if you lack a visible address, your claimed listing appears to have vanished from the pack and finder views.

hsa2.jpg

*I must tip my hat again to Joy Hawkins for helping me understand why that last example hasn’t vanished from the packs — it’s unclaimed. Honestly, this blip tempts me to unclaim an SAB listing and “manage” it via community edits instead of the GMB dashboard to see if I could maintain its local finder visibility… but this might be an overreaction!

If you’re marketing an SAB, have been relegated to the bottom of the HSA ad unit, and have vanished from the local pack/finder view, please share with our community how this has impacted your traffic and conversions. My guess would be that things are not so good.

So, what can SABs do in this new landscape?

I don’t have all of the answers to this question, but I do have these suggestions:

  1. Obviously, if you can budget for it, opt into HSA.
  2. But, bizarrely, understand that in some ways, Google has just made your GMB listing less important. If you have to hide your address and won’t be shown in HSA-impacted local packs and finder views because of this guideline compliance, your GMB listing is likely to become a less important source of visibility for your business.
  3. Be sure, then, that all of your other local business listings are in apple-pie order. If you’re okay with your address being published, you can automate this necessary work with software like Moz Local. If you need to keep your address private, put in the time to manually get listed everywhere you can. A converted lead from CitySearch or Foursquare may even feel like more of a victory than one from Google.
  4. Because diversification has just become a great deal more important, alternatives like those offered by visibility on Facebook are now more appealing than ever. And ramp up your word-of-mouth marketing and review management strategies like never before. If I were marketing an SAB, I’d be taking a serious new look at companies like ZipSprout, which helps establish real-world local relationships via sponsorships, and GetFiveStars, which helps with multiple aspects of managing reviews.
  5. Know that organic visibility is now more of a prize than previously. If you’re not in the packs, you’ve got to show up below them. This means clearly defining local SEO and traditional SEO as inextricably linked, and doing the customary work of keyword research, content development, and link management that have fueled organic SEO from the beginning. I’m personally committing to becoming more intimately familiar with Moz Pro so that I can better integrate into my skill set what software like this can do for local businesses, especially SABs.
  6. Expect change. HSA is still a test, and Google continues to experiment with how it’s displaying its paying customers in relationship to the traditional free packs and organic results. Who knows what’s next? If you’re marketing SABs, an empathetic and realistic approach to both historic and emerging limitations will help you create a strategy designed to ensure brand survival, independent of Google’s developments.

Why is Google doing this?

monopoly.jpg

I need to get some window blinds replaced in my home this fall. When I turned to Google’s (non-HSA) results and began calling local window treatment shops, imagine my annoyance in discovering that fully ½ of the listings in the local finder were for companies not located anywhere near my town. These brands had set up spam listings for a ton of different cities to which they apparently can send a representative, but where they definitely don’t have physical locations. I wasted a great deal of time calling each of them, and only felt better after reporting the listings to Google and seeing them subsequently removed.

I’m sharing this daily-life anecdote because it encapsulates the very best reason for Google rolling out Home Service Ads. Google’s program is meant to ensure that when I use their platform to access service companies, I’m finding vetted, legitimate enterprises with accurate location data and money-back satisfaction guarantees, instead of finding the mess of spam listings Google’s shifting policies and inadequate moderation have created. The HSA ad units can improve results quality while also protecting consumers from spurious providers.

The other evident purpose of HSA is the less civic-minded but no less brilliant one: there’s money to be made and Google’s profit motives are no different than those of any other enterprise. For the same reason that Amazon has gotten into the SAB lead gen business, Google wants a piece of this action. So, okay, no surprise there, and if the Google leads wind up growing the revenue of my wonderful German handyman, more power to them both.

But I hope my plumber, and yours, and your clients in the service markets, will take a step back from the Monopoly board and see this as a moment to reevaluate a game in which Google and Amazon are setting up big red hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. I do advocate getting qualified for HSA, but I don’t advise a stance of unquestioning loyalty to or dependence on Google, particularly if you haven’t felt especially well-served by their SAB policies over the years. If Google can drive lucrative leads your way, take them, but remember you have one advantage Google, Amazon and other lead generation agencies lack: you are still the one who meets the customer face-to-face.

Opportunity is knocking in having a giant of visibility like Google selling you customers, because those customers, if amazed by your service, have grandmothers, and brothers and co-workers who can be directly referred to your company, completely outside the lead-gen loop. In fact, you might even come up with an incentivization program of your own to be sure that every customer you shake hands with is convinced of your appreciation for every referral they may send your way.

Don’t leave it all up to Google to make your local SAB brand a household word. Strategize for maximum independence via the real-world relationships you build, in the home of every neighbor where the door of welcome is opened in anticipation of the very best service you know how to give.

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Reblogged 2 weeks ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Local search ranking factors: What’s working in 2017 [Podcast]

In our new episode, we chat with Darren Shaw about the just-released Local Search Ranking Factors survey and discuss what marketers need to know about local SEO in 2017.

The post Local search ranking factors: What’s working in 2017 [Podcast] appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 6 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Announcing the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey Results

Posted by Whitespark

Since its inception in 2008, David Mihm has been running the Local Search Ranking Factors survey. It is the go-to resource for helping businesses and digital marketers understand what drives local search results and what they should focus on to increase their rankings. This year, David is focusing on his new company, Tidings, a genius service that automatically generates perfectly branded newsletters by pulling in the content from your Facebook page and leading content sources in your industry. While he will certainly still be connected to the local search industry, he’s spending less time on local search research, and has passed the reins to me to run the survey.

David is one of the smartest, nicest, most honest, and most generous people you will ever meet. In so many ways, he has helped direct and shape my career into what it is today. He has mentored me and promoted me by giving me my first speaking opportunities at Local U events, collaborated with me on research projects, and recommended me as a speaker at important industry conferences. And now, he has passed on one of the most important resources in our industry into my care. I am extremely grateful.

Thank you, David, for all that you have done for me personally, and for the local search industry. I am sure I speak for all who know you personally and those that know you through your work in this space; we wish you great success with your new venture!

I’m excited to dig into the results, so without further ado, read below for my observations, or:

Click here for the full results!

Shifting priorities

Here are the results of the thematic factors in 2017, compared to 2015:

Thematic Factors

2015

2017

Change

GMB Signals

21.63%

19.01%

-12.11%

Link Signals

14.83%

17.31%

+16.73%

On-Page Signals

14.23%

13.81%

-2.95%

Citation Signals

17.14%

13.31%

-22.36%

Review Signals

10.80%

13.13%

+21.53%

Behavioral Signals

8.60%

10.17%

+18.22%

Personalization

8.21%

9.76%

+18.81%

Social Signals

4.58%

3.53%

-22.89%

If you look at the Change column, you might get the impression that there were some major shifts in priorities this year, but the Change number doesn’t tell the whole story. Social factors may have seen the biggest drop with a -22.89% change, but a shift in emphasis on social factors from 4.58% to 3.53% isn’t particularly noteworthy.

The decreased emphasis on citations compared to the increased emphasis on link and review factors, is reflective of shifting focus, but as I’ll discuss below, citations are still crucial to laying down a proper foundation in local search. We’re just getting smarter about how far you need to go with them.

The importance of proximity

For the past two years, Physical Address in City of Search has been the #1 local pack/finder ranking factor. This makes sense. It’s tough to rank in the local pack of a city that you’re not physically located in.

Well, as of this year’s survey, the new #1 factor is… drumroll please…

Proximity of Address to the Point of Search

This factor has been climbing from position #8 in 2014, to position #4 in 2015, to claim the #1 spot in 2017. I’ve been seeing this factor’s increased importance for at least the past year, and clearly others have noticed as well. As I note in my recent post on proximity, this leads to poor results in most categories. I’m looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one. Hopefully we see the dial get turned down on this in the near future.

While Proximity of Address to the Point of Search is playing a stronger role than ever in the rankings, it’s certainly not the only factor impacting rankings. Businesses with higher relevancy and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of the local search pie. There’s still plenty to be gained from investing in local search strategies.

Here’s how the proximity factors changed from 2015 to 2017:

Proximity Factors

2015

2017

Change

Proximity of Address to the Point of Search

#4

#1

+3

Proximity of Address to Centroid of Other Businesses in Industry

#20

#30

-10

Proximity of Address to Centroid

#16

#50

-34

While we can see that Proximity to the Point of Search has seen a significant boost to become the new #1 factor, the other proximity factors which we once thought were extremely important have seen a major drop.

I’d caution people against ignoring Proximity of Address to Centroid, though. There is a situation where I think it still plays a role in local rankings. When you’re searching from outside of a city for a key phrase that contains the city name (Ex: Denver plumbers), then I believe Google geo-locates the search to the centroid and Proximity of Address to Centroid impacts rankings. This is important for business categories that are trying to attract searchers from outside of their city, such as attractions and hotels.

Local SEOs love links

Looking through the results and the comments, a clear theme emerges: Local SEOs are all about the links these days.

In this year’s survey results, we’re seeing significant increases for link-related factors across the board:

Local Pack/Finder Link Factors

2015

2017

Change

Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain

#12

#4

+8

Domain Authority of Website

#6

#6

Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain

#27

#16

+11

Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL

#15

#11

+4

Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain

#34

#17

+17

Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally Relevant Domains

#31

#20

+11

Page Authority of GMB Landing Page URL

#24

#22

+2

Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains

#41

#28

+13

Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain

#33

+17

Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain

#45

#38

+7

Diversity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL

#39

+11

Quantity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL from LocallyRelevant Domains

#48

+2

Google is still leaning heavily on links as a primary measure of a business’ authority and prominence, and the local search practitioners that invest time and resources to secure quality links for their clients are reaping the ranking rewards.

Fun fact: “links” appears 76 times in the commentary.

By comparison, “citations” were mentioned 32 times, and “reviews” were mentioned 45 times.

Shifting priorities with citations

At first glance at all the declining factors in the table below, you might think that yes, citations have declined in importance, but the situation is more nuanced than that.

Local Pack/Finder Citation Factors

2015

2017

Change

Consistency of Citations on The Primary Data Sources

n/a

#5

n/a

Quality/Authority of Structured Citations

#5

#8

-3

Consistency of Citations on Tier 1 Citation Sources

n/a

#9

n/a

Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts, Gov Sites, Industry Associations)

#18

#21

-3

Quantity of Citations from Locally Relevant Domains

#21

#29

-8

Prominence on Key Industry-Relevant Domains

n/a

#37

n/a

Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains

#19

#40

-21

Enhancement/Completeness of Citations

n/a

#44

n/a

Proper Category Associations on Aggregators and Tier 1 Citation Sources

n/a

#45

n/a

Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)

#14

#47

-33

Consistency of Structured Citations

#2

n/a

n/a

Quantity of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)

#39

-11

You’ll notice that there are many “n/a” cells on this table. This is because I made some changes to the citation factors. I elaborate on this in the survey results, but for your quick reference here:

  1. To reflect the reality that you don’t need to clean up your citations on hundreds of sites, Consistency of Structured Citations has been broken down into 4 new factors:
    1. Consistency of Citations on The Primary Data Sources
    2. Consistency of Citations on Tier 1 Citation Sources
    3. Consistency of Citations on Tier 2 Citation Sources
    4. Consistency of Citations on Tier 3 Citation Sources
  2. I added these new citation factors:
    1. Enhancement/Completeness of Citations
    2. Presence of Business on Expert-Curated “Best of” and Similar Lists
    3. Prominence on Key Industry-Relevant Domains
    4. Proper Category Associations on Aggregators and Top Tier Citation Sources

Note that there are now more citation factors showing up, so some of the scores given to citation factors in 2015 are now being split across multiple factors in 2017:

  • In 2015, there were 7 citation factors in the top 50
  • In 2017, there are 10 citation factors in the top 50

That said, overall, I do think that the emphasis on citations has seen some decline (certainly in favor of links), and rightly so. In particular, there is an increasing focus on quality over quantity.

I was disappointed to see that Presence of Business on Expert-Curated “Best of” and Similar Lists didn’t make the top 50. I think this factor can provide a significant boost to a business’ local prominence and, in turn, their rankings. Granted, it’s a challenging factor to directly influence, but I would love to see an agency make a concerted effort to outreach to get their clients listed on these, measure the impact, and do a case study. Any takers?

GMB factors

There is no longer an editable description on your GMB listing, so any factors related to the GMB description field were removed from the survey. This is a good thing, since the field was typically poorly used, or abused, in the past. Google is on record saying that they didn’t use it for ranking, so stuffing it with keywords has always been more likely to get you penalized than to help you rank.

Here are the changes in GMB factors:

GMB Factors

2015

2017

Change

Proper GMB Category Associations

#3

#3

Product/Service Keyword in GMB Business Title

#7

#7

Location Keyword in GMB Business Title

#17

#12

+5

Verified GMB Listing

#13

#13

GMB Primary Category Matches a Broader Category of the Search Category (e.g. primary category=restaurant & search=pizza)

#22

#15

+7

Age of GMB Listing

#23

#25

-2

Local Area Code on GMB Listing

#33

#32

+1

Association of Photos with GMB Listing

#36

+14

Matching Google Account Domain to GMB Landing Page Domain

#36

-14

While we did see some upward movement in the Location Keyword in GMB Business Title factor, I’m shocked to see that Product/Service Keyword in GMB Business Title did not also go up this year. It is hands-down one of the strongest factors in local pack/finder rankings. Maybe THE strongest, after Proximity of Address to the Point of Search. It seems to me that everyone and their dog is complaining about how effective this is for spammers.

Be warned: if you decide to stuff your business title with keywords, international spam hunter Joy Hawkins will probably hunt your listing down and get you penalized. 🙂

Also, remember what happened back when everyone was spamming links with private blog networks, and then got slapped by the Penguin Update? Google has a complete history of changes to your GMB listing, and they could decide at any time to roll out an update that will retroactively penalize your listing. Is it really worth the risk?

Age of GMB Listing might have dropped two spots, but it was ranked extremely high by Joy Hawkins and Colan Neilsen. They’re both top contributors at the Google My Business forum, and I’m not saying they know something we don’t know, but uh, maybe they know something we don’t know.

Association of Photos with GMB Listing is a factor that I’ve heard some chatter about lately. It didn’t make the top 50 in 2015, but now it’s coming in at #36. Apparently, some Google support people have said it can help your rankings. I suppose it makes sense as a quality consideration. Listings with photos might indicate a more engaged business owner. I wonder if it matters whether the photos are uploaded by the business owner, or if it’s a steady stream of incoming photo uploads from the general public to the listing. I can imagine that a business that’s regularly getting photo uploads from users might be a signal of a popular and important business.

While this factor came in as somewhat benign in the Negative Factors section (#26), No Hours of Operation on GMB Listing might be something to pay attention to, as well. Nick Neels noted in the comments:

Our data showed listings that were incomplete and missing hours of operation were highly likely to be filtered out of the results and lose visibility. As a result, we worked with our clients to gather hours for any listings missing them. Once the hours of operation were uploaded, the listings no longer were filtered.

Behavioral factors

Here are the numbers:

GMB Factors

2015

2017

Change

Clicks to Call Business

#38

#35

+3

Driving Directions to Business Clicks

#29

#43

-14

Not very exciting, but these numbers do NOT reflect the serious impact that behavioral factors are having on local search rankings and the increased impact they will have in the future. In fact, we’re never going to get numbers that truly reflect the value of behavioral factors, because many of the factors that Google has access to are inaccessible and unmeasurable by SEOs. The best place to get a sense of the impact of these factors is in the comments. When asked about what he’s seeing driving rankings this year, Phil Rozek notes:

There seem to be more “black box” ranking scenarios, which to me suggests that behavioral factors have grown in importance. What terms do people type in before clicking on you? Where do those people search from? How many customers click on you rather than on the competitor one spot above you? If Google moves you up or down in the rankings, will many people still click? I think we’re somewhere past the beginning of the era of mushy ranking factors.

Mike Blumenthal also talks about behavioral factors in his comments:

Google is in a transition period from a web-based linking approach to a knowledge graph semantic approach. As we move towards a mobile-first index, the lack of linking as a common mobile practice, voice search, and single-response answers, Google needs to and has been developing ranking factors that are not link-dependent. Content, actual in-store visitations, on-page verifiable truth, third-party validation, and news-worthiness are all becoming increasingly important.

But Google never throws anything away. Citations and links as we have known them will continue to play a part in the ranking algo, but they will be less and less important as Google increases their understanding of entity prominence and the real world.

And David Mihm says:

It’s a very difficult concept to survey about, but the overriding ranking factor in local — across both pack and organic results — is entity authority. Ask yourself, “If I were Google, how would I define a local entity, and once I did, how would I rank it relative to others?” and you’ll have the underlying algorithmic logic for at least the next decade.

    • How widely known is the entity? Especially locally, but oh man, if it’s nationally known, searchers should REALLY know about it.
    • What are people saying about the entity? (It should probably rank for similar phrases)
    • What is the engagement with the entity? Do people recognize it when they see it in search results? How many Gmail users read its newsletter? How many call or visit it after seeing it in search results? How many visit its location?

David touches on this topic in the survey response above, and then goes full BEAST MODE on the future of local rankings in his must-read post on Tidings, The Difference-Making Local Ranking Factor of 2020. (David, thank you for letting me do the Local Search Ranking Factors, but please, don’t ever leave us.)

The thing is, Google has access to so much additional data now through Chrome, Android, Maps, Ads, and Search. They’d be crazy to not use this data to help them understand which businesses are favored by real, live humans, and then rank those businesses accordingly. You can’t game this stuff, folks. In the future, my ranking advice might just be: “Be an awesome business that people like and that people interact with.” Fortunately, David thinks we have until 2020 before this really sets in, so we have a few years left of keyword-stuffing business titles and building anchor text-optimized links. Phew.

To survey or to study? That is not the question

I’m a fan of Andrew Shotland’s and Dan Leibson’s Local SEO Ranking Factors Study. I think that the yearly Local Search Ranking Factors Survey and the yearly (hopefully) Local SEO Ranking Factors Study nicely complement each other. It’s great to see some hard data on what factors correlate with rankings. It confirms a lot of what the contributors to this survey are intuitively seeing impact rankings for their clients.

There are some factors that you just can’t get data for, though, and the number of these “black box” factors will continue to grow over the coming years. Factors such as:

  • Behavioral factors and entity authority, as described above. I don’t think Google is going to give SEOs this data anytime soon.
  • Relevancy. It’s tough to measure a general relevancy score for a business from all the different sources Google could be pulling this data from.
  • Even citation consistency is hard to measure. You can get a general sense of this from tools like Moz Local or Yext, but there is no single citation consistency metric you can use to score businesses by. The ecosystem is too large, too complicated, and too nuanced to get a value for consistency across all the location data that Google has access to.

The survey, on the other hand, aggregates opinions from the people that are practicing and studying local search day in and day out. They do work for clients, test things, and can see what had a positive impact on rankings and what didn’t. They can see that when they built out all of the service pages for a local home renovations company, their rankings across the board went up through increased relevancy for those terms. You can’t analyze these kinds of impacts with a quantitative study like the Local SEO Ranking Factors Study. It takes some amount of intuition and insight, and while the survey approach certainly has its flaws, it does a good job of surfacing those insights.

Going forward, I think there is great value in both the survey to get the general sense of what’s impacting rankings, and the study to back up any of our theories with data — or to potentially refute them, as they may have done with city names in webpage title tags. Andrew and Dan’s empirical study gives us more clues than we had before, so I’m looking forward to seeing what other data sources they can pull in for future editions.

Possum’s impact has been negligible

Other than Proper GMB Category Associations, which is definitely seeing a boost because of Possum, you can look at the results in this section more from the perspective of “this is what people are focusing on more IN GENERAL.” Possum hasn’t made much of an impact on what we do to rank businesses in local. It has simply added another point of failure in cases where a business gets filtered.

One question that’s still outstanding in my mind is: what do you do if you are filtered? Why is one business filtered and not the other? Can you do some work to make your business rank and demote the competitor to the filter? Is it more links? More relevancy? Hopefully someone puts out some case studies soon on how to defeat the dreaded Possum filter (paging Joy Hawkins).

Focusing on More Since Possum

#1

Proximity of Address to the Point of Search

#2

Proper GMB Category Associations

#3

Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain

#4

Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally Relevant Domains

#5

Click-Through Rate from Search Results

Focusing on Less Since Possum

#1

Proximity of Address to Centroid

#2

Physical Address in City of Search

#3

Proximity of Address to Centroid of Other Businesses in Industry

#4

Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)

#5

Consistency of Citations on Tier 3 Citation Sources

Foundational factors vs. competitive difference-makers

There are many factors in this survey that I’d consider table stakes. To get a seat at the rankings table, you must at least have these factors in order. Then there are the factors which I’d consider competitive difference-makers. These are the factors that, once you have a seat at the table, will move your rankings beyond your competitors. It’s important to note that you need BOTH. You probably won’t rank with only the foundation unless you’re in an extremely low-competition market, and you definitely won’t rank if you’re missing that foundation, no matter how many links you have.

This year I added a section to try to get a sense of what the local search experts consider foundational factors and what they consider to be competitive difference-makers. Here are the top 5 in these two categories:

Foundational

Competitive Difference Makers

#1

Proper GMB Category Associations

Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain

#2

Consistency of Citations on the Primary Data Sources

Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains

#3

Physical Address in City of Search

Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL

#4

Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)

Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally Relevant Domains

#5

Consistency of Citations on Tier 1 Citation Sources

Quantity of Native Google Reviews (with text)

I love how you can look at just these 10 factors and pretty much extract the basics of how to rank in local:

“You need to have a physical location in the city you’re trying to rank in, and it’s helpful for it to be close to the searcher. Then, make sure to have the proper categories associated with your listing, and get your citations built out and consistent on the most important sites. Now, to really move the needle, focus on getting links and reviews.”

This is the much over-simplified version, of course, so I suggest you dive into the full survey results for all the juicy details. The amount of commentary from participants is double what it was in 2015, and it’s jam-packed with nuggets of wisdom. Well worth your time.

Got your coffee? Ready to dive in?

Take a look at the full results

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Reblogged 6 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Optimizing for Mobile Search: A checklist to improve local SEO

Mobile devices now account for nearly 60 percent of all searches. Are your local sites and landing pages in the best position to show up in the SERPs and engage mobile consumers? Join us for an in-depth look at how to optimize your location-based marketing strategy for the mobile consumer. We’ll…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 7 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Local SEO in 2017: 5 simple ways to dominate local search

New to local search? Wondering where to start? Columnist Sherry Bonelli offers five tactics to help you kick off your local SEO campaign.

The post Local SEO in 2017: 5 simple ways to dominate local search appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 8 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Opportunities to improve your ecommerce site search experience

Opportunities to improve your ecommerce site search experience

 

The way we use the internet, including on ecommerce stores, is changing rapidly. More and more of us are choosing to shop online using our tablets and smartphones, rather than desktop computers. This, coupled with a gradual moving away from category-based menu systems, is bringing search into the spotlight, as consumers demand a quick and easy way to find exactly what they are looking for when shopping online. This is even more applicable on mobile devices.

As a result, growing numbers of retailers are starting to realise the potential that a strong, feature-rich search solution has for their business, and are exploring ways in which their own search offering can be overhauled to provide a better customer experience. In this article, we look at some of the ways that ecommerce site search can be improved, in order to bring it up to date with the latest developments in search technology and best practice.

1.   Implement an NLP-based search tool

Natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning are taking the ecommerce world by storm, shaking up various functions of an online store, including search, product recommendations and merchandising. More advanced, enterprise-level search solutions, like Klevu, use NLP to understand more about the query, in order to match results more accurately.

In search, natural language processing is used to understand more about the query, allowing the technology to answer what are essentially more complex asks. An example of a query that NLP would help with could be “salmon coloured backpack with a front pocket” – in this instance, Klevu would extract the data and use NLP to understand the key variables in the query and match to the terms that are used in catalog.

This context-driven, meaning-based approach of NLP means that search results are finally relevant to the customer’s search phrase. Clearly, the more accurate that search results become, the more likely the customer is to find what they want and actually make a purchase. The benefits go way beyond that initial purchase though, as a happy customer quickly becomes a loyal customer, returning again and again to a site that they feel really understands them as an individual.

Promote the use of your search function

From what we’ve seen with our clients, the use of on-site search has risen in recent years (generally around 10% – 25% of all users, depending on the prominence of the search box and the nature of the store), due in part to the growth in mobile internet usage. Despite this and the reports available in web analytics platforms (which generally show an uplift in search-led user journeys), it’s surprising to see that many online retailers are not positioning their search box more prominently – especially given that many of the market-leading merchants position search as a primary navigation option (eBay, AO.com, John Lewis, Amazon).

A prominent, bold search box that is clearly defined and easy to find could make a considerable difference for many retailers, helping users to find their desired product(s) quicker. Using language that encourages users to search, such as “search by product name, code, category or type” rather than a tiny magnifying glass icon, could also make a big impact. This is important on desktop, but far more so on mobile, as finding products via categories can be laboursome and increase the time to purchase considerably.

Include content search in results

When a visitor uses the search function on an ecommerce site, they could be at any stage in their purchasing journey. Some will be ready to commit to a purchase, others will be at the start of their journey, and could be looking for information about the product or about the store they are visiting. Including content pages in site search results can improve the customer experience for these early-stage customers, by giving them the information they are asking for. A search for ‘delivery’ or ‘returns’ should show the store’s delivery and returns pages, rather than some random products that somehow happen to have a keyword match, or no results at all.

Similarly, showing size guides, detailed specifications, product reviews, blog content and even buying guides could really help convert that information-hungry potential customer. Content search is not common on ecommerce stores currently, but it’s something that is gaining traction, as search tools become richer and more customer-focussed.

Use a good auto-suggest / predictive search

When a customer searches on an ecommerce store, they are generally trying to find something quickly. By adding ‘as-you-type’ product and category suggestions into the store’s search function, you are able to speed up that search dramatically. If the search is powered by an NLP-driven solution, product and category suggestions are likely to be accurate and highly relevant and can serve results that aren’t purely based on the keywords being used.

People inevitably make typing mistakes, or are unfamiliar with the spelling of brand names or products. Auto-suggest can kick in to present likely results after just three or four characters are typed into the search box. This reduces the potential for errors and speeds up access to results, with the end result being that the customer moves closer to a successful purchase transaction.

Implement a rich search interface

Using auto-suggest is just one part of a trend towards speeding up the search experience. Introducing a richer ‘quick results’ interface for search is another way that results can be presented more efficiently and faster to the customer. These panels will typically show thumbnails of the first few results, along with a link to view all results.

However, progressive retailers are also including links to relevant categories, content links, and even faceted search options in their dropdowns. This approach in a lot of cases takes the entire search process into the drop-down panel, removing or reducing the need for the traditional search results page. Redsgear.com, an outdoor gear specialist, has a great example of a rich search dropdown that also features infinite scroll to show all results.

Merchandise your results

Assuming an NLP-driven engine has been adopted to power search results for a site, the next step is to merchandise those results, to drive the maximum volume of sales. Search merchandising is made up of a number of component parts, but the key one for the more advanced merchants is around weighting the results.

A key requirement, especially for merchants with larger product catalogs, is the ability to weight key products, attributes and categories to ensure that the best products for the user and the business are being served. An example of this could be a fashion retailer weighting their top-selling products and also boosting a ‘summer’ attribute when they’re going into the new season, meaning their summer products will be promoted for their chosen queries.
One of the key features of Klevu is its self-learning technology, which adds a layer of boosting based on how users interact with results. As an example, if lots of users are clicking through and purchasing a specific product, this will be displayed higher for the relevant queries. The key drivers for this are purchases, ‘add to carts’ and clicks, which can make a big difference to the relevance and quality of results, particularly for longer-tail queries.

Improve zero results page

For stores using traditional keyword-driven search tools, the zero results page is an all-too-familiar occurrence and, be it far less, it still exists when using the most advanced technologies. Rather than simply stating ‘No results found’ or even suggesting that the customer has somehow made a mistake, a better approach is to try to salvage something from the situation and encourage the user to continue their journey.

We generally recommend that merchants display links to the most popular results and even a product recommendations block.

Analyse search data to improve product listings

We’ve focused so far on design and functional changes that can improve the search experience for online shoppers. One other key opportunity is in the area of search reporting and analytics. By examining site search statistics on a regular basis, it should be possible to make significant, material improvements to a store’s product catalog.

Identifying repeat searches that have a low conversion rate, despite there being an obvious set of products that should be converting for those phrases, could allow retailers to address issues in the product listings for those items. Products may have weak listings that could be improved, links to size guides might be added, or the product in question may have inventory errors that need to be corrected, which are preventing customers from buying those items. Analysing the poor performers in this way should provide trading opportunities for the store, and should also improve the customer experience over the long term, as they find it easier to locate the items they are looking for.
We’ll be doing a follow-up post around understanding the value of search in the coming months.

For ecommerce stores, it can be hard to reach decisions on how and where to invest in third party systems, for maximum ROI. Looking at on-site search, however, could actually prove to be one of the most beneficial strategic decisions that a retailer could make, and could potentially generate substantial long-term improvements, by way of increased conversion rates, order values and repeat transactions, as well as optimised user journeys.

The post was written by Paul Rogers, who works for Klevu. Klevu is a leading eCommerce search solution, which offers a wide range of advanced features for mid-level and enterprise-level online retailers, including natural language processing, self-learning capabilities, advanced merchandising & boosting rules and in-depth reporting. Klevu can be used alongside any eCommerce platform and they have direct, plug-and-play solutions for Magento 1, Magento 2 and Shopify.

The post Opportunities to improve your ecommerce site search experience appeared first on The Email Marketing Blog.

Reblogged 9 months ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Can SEOs make local search great again in 2017?

The road ahead looks rough for local SEO practitioners and agencies, but is there hope? Columnist Andrew Shotland takes a look at what recent trends mean for those who serve local search clients.

The post Can SEOs make local search great again in 2017? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 10 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Top 10 site search best practices for the Holidays

This winter, ensure that every aspect of your business is prepared for shoppers so you can have a high impact and low-stress holiday season by following these simple site search best practices.

1. Include autocomplete
Autocomplete is a great addition to an ecommerce site as it works by completing a word in the search box while the customer types and provides intuitive, relevant, and error-tolerant search suggestions. Autocomplete can also help detect and correct spelling mistakes, as well as guide consumers to the right product regardless if a mistake was made. Retailers can also use autocomplete to promote certain products of higher margin or products they’d like to sell quickly throughout the holiday season by pushing them to the top of their autocompletion suggestion box as recommendations to shoppers.

 

 

2. Improve site search with synonyms
By properly configuring synonyms into your site search, you’ll not only be able to quickly drive revenue to your online store but you’ll also be able to ensure that your customers can always find exactly what they’re searching for regardless of what they search. Being aware of synonyms isimportant to your on-site search so that you can always provide your customers with accurate results regardless of the language customers use in their searches.

Through Nextopia’s advanced search tools, you have the ability to set up “synonym redirects” which will automatically direct a customer to products they were searching for regardless of the product name. For example, if you run a shoe store and none of your products have the keyword “sneakers” in them, you can manually set up a redirect so every search for “sneaker” goes to the results page for “running shoe”.

By configuring synonyms, you’ll can reduce how much your customers visit the dreaded “no results found page” directing your customers to the products you offer, reducing customer frustration and thereby creating an exceptional user experience.

3. Easy-to-locate search bar
The search box is an often overlooked feature of an ecommerce store, despite how powerful it is. A retailer’s site search box is the pathway to improved sales, better user experience, and most importantly, higher average order value and conversions. Ensure your search bar is easy to locate by keeping it front and center and on every page of your site.

4. Have a mobile-optimized site

 

In 2015, 36.16% of online sales were generated via mobile devices and this figure is only expected to grow over time.  Consumers are now turning to their smartphones to research deals, products and reviews, and for the sheer convenience. Make sure your product pages are optimized for smaller screens, your search box is easy to locate and use, and that site text and product images display correctly on mobile devices.

5. Use product images effectively
To further enhance the online shopping experience, it’s important to include images of your products in your search results so your site visitors can see your products without having to search through your product pages. Make sure that your product photos are clear in thumbnail form, and are flattering to your product. The chances of a customer buying increases when images are displayed along with a product description. Showing product images along with suggested search terms in your autocomplete can help further turn browsers into buyers.

6. Site navigation
Site navigation allows customers to refine their search results without having to use the search bar again. You can refine and sort your products by any attribute you’d like, such as by price, color, size, gender, brand, or any otherrefinements that best describe your product offerings. Enhancing your navigation will help bring your customers to their desired items much more efficiently, which results in higher conversions, happier customers, and more revenue.

7. Ask for customer feedback
Taking the time to ask your loyal customers for feedback will provide you with valuable insight into your website’s performance. You can get this information simply by asking “Did you find this search useful?” with a link to a survey somewhere on your results page, or by adding “How’s our navigation?” below your dynamic filters.
By listening to your customers, you’re ensuring that your site is catering to exactly the right group — the people who are actually using it.

8. Improve ‘no results found’ page
If you don’t sell an item your customer is searching for or perhaps it’s currently out of stock, rather than sending them to the ‘no results found’ page improve the experience by providing them with other calls of action. Provide them with product recommendations that they might find interesting and relevant or links back to the homepage, category pages, or the contact us page. This will help eliminate your site visitors leaving to go search on a competitor’s site.

9. Include category pages
For the holiday season, take the time to create some category pages that cater to your holiday shoppers. For example, highlight the deals and promotions on your site by creating a festive clearance page. This will drive your low-cost items to one page and help your customers access these products more efficiently.

10. Customer ratings and reviews
Seeking out online reviews and ratings has become a standard part of the buying process for consumers, which is why retailers need to include them. A positive customer review can become the powerful social proof that shoppers are looking for when making an online purchase, and considering 63% of shoppers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has user reviews this needs to be a feature that’s added to all ecommerce sites.

These next few weeks are going to be crucial for retailers. Ensure your ecommerce site is ready for the influx of traffic and by following the best practices listed in this post. With only a few shopping weeks left, there’s no better time to improve your site search and in turn increase your sales and conversions this holiday season.

The post Top 10 site search best practices for the Holidays appeared first on The Email Marketing Blog.

Reblogged 10 months ago from blog.dotmailer.com

How to dominate local SEO: more challenging in an evolving local search environment

Columnist Sherry Bonelli explains how recent changes to the local search landscape point to an ever-changing discipline that requires increasingly complex strategies.

The post How to dominate local SEO: more challenging in an evolving local search environment appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 12 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com