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52 Google Moves Local Businesses to Google Plus With Brute Force

In a move that I predicted from the very beginning, Google has finally scrapped the Google Places offering and rolled all Places profiles into what they are calling Google+ Local.

Google+ Local offering

Now, you could argue, and some will, that forcing local business owners on to Google+ is yet another sign that Google is putting way too much emphasis on their desire to become relevant in social media, but the fact is, it’s still very much Google’s world that we playing in.

The most frustrating aspect of this in my opinion is that it took so long. I’m guessing a lot of local business owners jumped in and built brand pages, so now what?

If you’ve created a Google Place page, as I’ve been advising as part of any local search plan, then you may already be aware that Google has moved your page onto Google+.

If you’ve got a Google+ account you can find your page through either local search or through the Local button that now appears on the left sidebar when logged into Google+.

If you don’t have a Google+ account, well, I guess you’ll get one now if you still want to play with Google.

Google has already flipped the switch and is showing these new Google+ Local pages when you conduct local searches in Google and on Google Maps. While you can still gain access to and edit your Places profile pages through the Places login, my guess is that will give way to Google+ profile editing at some point.

Here are some things to note:

Clean up your profile.

Now is the time to clean up your profile

When Google moved the pages to Google+ it made a mess. A bit like moving anything does, I suppose. Go jump in and choose and edit your profile image and banner image. Right now Google is either picking from photos you uploaded or simply using a map.

You might want to add some things to your profile as some of the customization you may have done previously could be lost. Add links to your page.

Check out the reviews

Google purchased the restaurant rating service Zagat a while back and it appears they intend to inject the Zagat ratings system into the entire review process.

Visitors now have the opportunity to rate your business using a point scale. Not sure how this will translate over into the services of a plumber or insurance agency, but it’s certainly worth noting.

Reviews that came over from your previous page are very messy now. You, as the page owners, have a period of time to clean this up. When you first sign into Google+ and find your page you’ll be able to tell Google+ if you want all your photos and reviews from your Places page to be moved and be attributed to you or remain private.

So, now any reviews that you had previously will simply show up as anonymous Google user. Seems like if you really didn’t have much going in the way of reviews, this is a bit of a do over.

It will be interesting to see how much more emphasis Google puts on reviews.

Here’s the bottom line in my view. No mater how you feel about this rather forceful move, Google looks poised to make it a significant part of the Local Search landscape and you can’t ignore that. My guess is there will be plenty of tinkering, adding and tweaking in the weeks and months to come. You can bet advertising and offers will move into this somehow.

Now is the time to get in there and claim, prune, decorate and otherwise take control of your Google+ Local offering.

9 5 Ways to Use Social Media and Your Online Presence to Drive People Offline

No matter what your business sells, how it sells it or how and where people buy you it, people are going online to find it, pure and simple. That’s as true for those one of kind hand made earrings as it is for the spa and auto repair shop in their neighborhood.

Explore The Bruce via Flickr

And, it’s increasingly true for the local insurance provider, landscaper, plumber, attorney and tax professional.

So, what does this mean for the local small business? You’ve got to start thinking about your online presence as a central tool for driving people offline and into your store, sales presentation, meeting, demonstration, appointment or evaluation.

Below are five ways to think about your online activity as an offline opportunity generator.

1) Online calls to action

When people do find and visit your site make it easy for them to use your website to get a free pass, coupon or trial product.

Enable tools like click to call or chat from Olark, so they can get in touch right now and get their burning questions asked

Put a tool like GenBook on your site they can find a time and schedule appointment without needing to call.

Make sure that you have turn by turn directions and links to maps so they can find your business and even send the directions to their smart phone.

2) O2O advertising

Most people run ads to get people buy, what if you thought about your online advertising as a way to simple drive people offline – O2O?

Create local campaigns using Google Adwords that drive people to your website to take advantage of the calls to action, such a the free pass or coupon, that I discussed in the previous point.

Make sure that your Google Places page is complete and compelling and consider the coupon and advertising options available for this tool.

Look into Facebook targeted ads for your calls to action. You can target local Facebook folks all the way down to targeting fans of your competitors.

To make your O2O advertising even more effective create local landing pages for each campaign or even neighborhood you are targeting.

3) Networked networking

Offline networking is still a great way to create and build potential relationships, but you can really amplify this tactic when you add some simple online tactics to your networking efforts.

When you connect offline with a prospect at say a Chamber event, move to also connect online and watch how much faster you can build a relationship.

Employ Social CRM tools like Rapportive or Nimble so you can easily connect the social profiles of anyone you meet to their record. This will make it much easier to learn how to connect.

Look at tools like MeetUp that make it easy to create offline events and gatherings using an online marketing system.

4) Local social groups

Most social networks give you the ability to create groups. Some organizations have had tremendous success by creating and facilitating local, special interest groups on networks like LinkedIn.

The key here is to think “interest group” and not something that’s clearly a promotional tool for your business. If you can create an industry group or some other niche topic that allows your customers to explore and expand an interest they have, you’ve hit on a formula that’s very potent.

5) Online and on the go

Increasingly, our prospects are not only online they are mobile while doing so. There are some very creative ways to take advantage of this fact and drive people with great buying intent offline.

First off make sure you claim your location on sites like Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. This way you can enhance the details and make sure people using geo location services can check in at the right place.

Create and test an offer on a service like Foursquare that can help highlight your business when someone checks in at another nearby business.

Look into the group coupon tools like Groupon, Google Offers or Living Social, but make sure you’re ready to capture the leads these programs produce in a way that allows you to turn a low profit sale into a long term customer.

Think about ways to create check-in games that you could use as part of a promotion. Get a group of strategic partners to participate and offers special deals for people that have checked in at a number of your partners on Foursquare of that take a photo of their purchases at a number of partners and posted it to Twitter or Instagram.

As you can see, the way you can employ this kind of thinking is limited only to your imagination, but there’s no denying the importance and effectiveness of this strategy.

8 Optimized Reviews May Be the Next Local SEO Edge

I’ve suggested often that reviews in your Google Places and Yelp pages have become a very necessary aspect of trust building as well as local SEO. So much so that getting proactive in stimulating reviews in all the right places must be on the checklist of marketing action steps.

Today Google added an interesting twist to Google Maps searches called Descriptive Terms that injects another dynamic – search optimized reviews. Google has started indexing local search results with phrases that accompany things like reviews. So if you search Marketing Agencies Kansas City, MO you get one set of listing and if you add something like “digital work” to the search the list changes based on words in the reviews.

Google Descriptive Terms

Right now this is just a Google Maps function, but Google claims it will spread in Place search on Google.com and Google Maps for mobile soon!

Better start suggesting keyword phrases for those reviews people are anxious to write.

5 Google Place Search Changes the Local Game Again

Last week Google reshuffled/revealed its local search strategy by introducing something called Place Search.

Place search eliminates the local search 7 box and blends local and organic results in a way that clearly demonstrates how important local search is to them – and consequently to your local small business.

Google has been steadily improving its ability to predict your location and offer up local results even without the use of a city name or location in your query. (It’s very interesting to experiment with this function one letter at a time in Instant Search.)

Google Place Search - note the map has moved too

One thing that’s certain from this new look is that you must claim, optimize, amplify, and participate on your Google Places Page. If you thought this was a nice thing you would get around to someday, stop right now and go get this in the works. It will be very hard for a business to rank well for local search lacking a dynamic Google Places Page.

Once you claim your Places page you must go to work on the elements that will give your page a competitive advantage

1) Add images, video and product/service descriptions to your page. Add custom fields to get more relevant content. Spend time getting the right Places categories.
2) Get listed in other second tier directories – here’s the easiest way
3) Get involved in the ratings game – on Google, Yelp, CitySearch, InsiderPages – reviews on your Google Places page and from other major review sites are a key ingredient for higher local ranking and have become an expectation from shoppers.

Ratings and reviews are an important ranking factor

4) Start routinely using the Places Posting feature to add fresh content
5) Add coupons and try out the Google Tags

21 5 Ways For Small Businesses To Get In The Location Game

foursquareLocation based check-in type services are this year’s overhyped topic – with good reason. While you may not understand why someone wants to be the mayor of their barber shop, you do need to recognize the behavior that social location services such as Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp! and Facebook Places represents for the local business.

Shoppers these days are using the Internet to find everything locally and increasingly using mobile devices, services and apps to effectively bypass even the web to find a merchant. What that means is that local small businesses need to find ways to tap into the behavior and not necessarily try to ride the hype wave to Foursquare fame.

Below are five ways the local small businesses can capture their own personalized version of social location behavior and tap what may be the ultimate online to offline combo to produce sales.

Create virtual rewards programs – Rewards programs such as those offered by most coffee shop via punch cards or large retailers like Eddy Bauer have been around for years, but smart offerings by folks like PlacePop are making the punch card concept an easy virtual or online play. Merchants can offer their own version of a check in and capture rich data on their most loyal customers.

Ride the group buying craze – If you’re not familiar with group coupon buying services like Groupon, then you’re probably not reading this blog. Facebook app maker WildFire offers small businesses the ability to create their own group buying offers and take advantage of the viral and social nature of this play to create local Facebook engagement.

Google Places coupons – When local shoppers do turn to a search engine for local shopping they often uncover your Google Places Page (or at least you should be working to make sure they do) Google has a handy coupon tool that automatically creates mobile versions of your coupons and offer. Here’s more information on Google Places Mobile Coupons

Advertise on mobile coupon networks – You can also place your ads on Mobile coupon networks and get distribution of your coupons across many local sites.

Make your own game – The game playing aspect of many of social location biggies is an aspect that should not be overlooked when trying to develop your own strategy. The web app SCVNGR is a tool that allows you to create your own game and have it related to verified checkins for a specific QR code. This would be pretty cool for a merchant association to use to create their scavenger hunt check in game.

And, of course, make sure your business is listed with the major players – Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places

35 5 Ways to Get Rockin Reviews

thumbs upReviews and testimonials have always been a nice way to offer third party proof that your company does what it says it does and that your customers are happy campers and willing to talk about it. Reviews, however, have become even more important now that local search directories like Google Maps and Yelp! have made them a foundational element for ranking well for local search.

Getting reviews and testimonials on a routine basis takes a proactive and committed approach if you are going to generate them on a consistent basis and still generate them authentically. (Fake or over the top review generation campaigns can actually produce negative results.)

Below are five ways you can look at systematically creating reviews.

Do the reference track

I stumbled onto this idea quite by accident, but it’s very effective. Every now and then a prospect would ask me for several references. I would provide a list of 3-4 happy customers and that was that. If a prospect reached out to these customers, most often they would copy me on their response. The amazing thing is that because they we basically telling someone else why they should hire me, it turns out these were the best testimonials I ever received. Instead of them writing them to or for me, they were writing them to and for prospective customers.

This approach was so effective that I started requesting that future prospect contact some of my customers.

Repurpose testimonials

When you get that unsolicited testimonial, no matter where it comes from, make sure you are using it in several ways. I a happy customer writes a review on Yelp, post that review on your website, in your store and in next month’s newsletter. If a customer sends you a raving review by way of letter, phone them up and ask if they would provide that review for your Google Places page too.

Teach the review process

Since online reviews are so important these days make sure that all of your sales folks know how to show customers how and where they might post reviews. Create a page that walks people through the process of creating a Yelp or CitySearch account. I your clients are all businesses, hold a workshop to teach them some of what you’ve learned about the importance of rating and review sites and how they can

Give reviews

Of course I’m going to suggest this one, give to get works here too. By making reviews, recommending your network on LinkedIn, and reaching out to companies you do business you start one powerful part of the review and testimonial foundation. It’s always a great way to show how you value the process and in turn benefit from the occasional authentic reciprocation.

Hold a review party

I’ve written about this idea before, but it’s such a fun one I had to include it here. Invite your customers to a nice appreciation event, serve up some wine and then ask them if they would like to record a video testimonial or review with the camera crew you’ve hired for the night. People love to get on camera and you can further incentivize them by offering up a 5 minute video where they can talk about their business. This video content will be gold for your website and you’ll provide a great service by helping them create something for their site.

Rating and reviews from users and customers are crucial. Find some way to install one or more of these options and collecting them will simply become a part of the system.

Image credit: Adian Jones

32 5 Ways to Get More From Local Search

local businessShowing up in the top of the search results for local searches is quickly becoming some of the most important local real estate going. The advent of mobile search makes this shrinking bit of turf even more important.

Below is a list of 5 ways you can enhance your organization’s chances of showing up at the top of the heap for local searches, even in highly competitive categories.

1) Location content

It’s important that you review the content on your web pages with an eye on adding geography based terms and content. Add it to your HTML through page titles. Add it to your page footer with addresses. Add it to your internal linking anchor text – Omaha plumbing supplies instead of just plumbing supplies. Don’t overdo it and makes certain that real humans are kept in mind, but amp up the local content, including the names of suburbs, neighborhoods, companies and events that are commonly linked to your area of service.

In addition to localized content on your own site, you should consider adding content to sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Slideshare and adding very localized tags, descriptions, links and file names. (Don’t get spammy, but do get descriptive)

2) Location pages

Google SEO education spokesperson, Matt Cutts, recently said without reservation that businesses that serve multiple locations and communities should create individual pages for those communities and optimize those pages so that search engines understood exactly what they were about. I think this is about as clear an invitation to having location based landing pages are you can get. Businesses should consider separate pages for each location, suburb and community they serve. These pages should feature unique content and be optimized for hyper local search. This is the place I would also add a sidebar of local events and happenings with neighborhood, school and not for profit organizations. (You could use RSS technology to ease this chore.)

3) Profile pages

Profile pages on local and social networks are a must. Hopefully you’ve already claimed your Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local pages and taken full advantage of the fact that you can optimize that content with lots of links, photos, and descriptions.

Take a look at the new Google Places tags and posts features that allow you to buy enhancements to what shows on your listing for local search, including the ability to change coupons and special deals on the fly.

Build these same types of profiles on the major social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, but don’t bypass business portals and community niche sites. (Here’s a list of business related social networks to get you started) Also, try this list of social bookmarking sites that allow do follow links. These may carry more weight if the site is popular at all. (Go for anchor text links when you can – local keyword phrases for the link as opposed to just the URL)

4) Citations

Citations are simply listings for your business in various high profile business directories. This factor is probably the least talked about, but considered very important in a recent survey of local SEO experts conducted by David Mihm’s fabulous Local Search Ranking Factors report.

Two of the easiest ways to get more citations are to update and enhance your InfoUSA listing (they provide info to lots of directories) and to pony up the $30 a year to get a Universal Business Listing (another source provider for many directories). If you want to learn more about this topic you should also spend some time nosing around GetListed.org.

5) Location backlinks

Links from relevant sites have always played a very big role in how a site ranks. Quantity and quality count here, but quality is the biggest concern. When you are trying to rank highly for local search terms quality links from other sites should contain local anchor text what at all possible.

Look for local bloggers in sites like placeblogger, with an eye on finding related sites that might welcome your guest post and make sure you include a link back to your site in the body of the post in your bio.

Take advantage of associations, including alumni, Chambers and networking groups as potential homes for your content and links. Look for local publications that would welcome your guest columns for their online features. Work your vendors, suppliers and strategic partner network to develop opportunities for local links back to your site. Obviously if you are blogging (and you should be) you’ve got a ready make device to reciprocate and link out to other local businesses and events – a practice that both creates high value localized content and draws links to you.