Google+ Local: It Really is a Game Changer

Google's Canary In a Coal MineThe conversion of Google Places pages to Google+ Local pages earlier this month was a game changer. Yes, it seems like Google comes out with something shiny and new every other day that can be termed a “game changer,” but this one actually is. Especially for small business owners whose profitability depends on the prominence of their position in a local Google search conducted by potential customers. And more changes are on the way. Big changes.

The Story

In short, what happened on June 1 was Google began the process of converting the business places pages that used to serve as a company’s primary presence in the Google search universe. Those Places pages, when verified by the owner and properly optimized with accurate information about the company, began to dominate many search results about two summers ago.

Google + Local

Now, instead of a Google Places page, companies will have a new Google+ Local page. Much of the same information will be included, but the presentation will be cleaner and – in theory – provide more social functionality for consumers. The five-star rating system Google used for customer comments has been replaced by a 1 through 30 Zagat rating system (think restaurant reviews, only for all types of businesses).

ZagatWhy You Should Care?

Why is it important for business owners to know this? Because this is more than a simple renaming of a product by Google. This is the proverbial canary in the social coal mine, and what happens next could very well shift our whole way of thinking about how we use the Internet for commerce. Google’s commitment to all things social kicked into full gear last year, with the introduction of the Google+ social network. Google+ for business followed, and now comes Google+ Local.

Google+ was greeted with relative indifference. Compared to the nearly 1 billion users on Facebook and 500 million on Twitter, the 90 million Google+ users barely register as a ripple. Business hasn’t ignored it as a way to interact with consumers, certainly, but any social media strategy inevitably begins with Facebook and Twitter (and, increasingly, Path, Pinterest and Instagram).

So, how might the introduction of Google+ Local change that for companies that rely on search position to create conversions and sales (in other words, just about every small business in existence)?

Unlike Google Places pages, Google+ Local pages will be indexed by search engines. This means a well-optimized Google+ Local page is now critical. You might have gotten away with setting up your Google Places page and then ignoring it, as long as your company’s website was optimized and filled with fresh, engaging content on a regular basis. You won’t be able to do that with a Google+ Local page, because this thing is going to show up in the search result. Although no one can predict just how prominent they will become in search results, especially in the ever-shifting world of mobile search, there’s every reason to believe a Google+ Local page might take precedence over your company’s own website. And even if that doesn’t become the case, it would still be foolhardy to ignore your Google+ Local page, because there’s another factor that is steaming our way.

The Longer Term Impact

That factor goes right back to Google’s very public commitment to social. Soon – Google isn’t saying when, exactly – the Google+ Local page will be directly tied to your company’s Google+ business page. As of now, the back end dashboard for the Google+ Local page will be the same as you used for your Google Places page. But that will change when the two become integrated, and there’s another social-related reason for that, as well.

Google Sign InGoogle wants people to sign in under their Google user names when they conduct Internet searches. The most important corporate asset Google has is the user data it collects as people use its products. In the past, people used to be able to interact with businesses on Google Places pages without being signed into a Google+ account. Now, if someone wants to make a comment on a business on a Google+ Local page, they must be signed into their Google+ account. This will eliminate the dreaded anonymous review, which seems great. But that cuts both ways, because people in their Google+ network will immediately know exactly what they think of the business, and potentially make buying decisions based on that opinion. A bad review written with an actual name attached carries much more weight than an anonymous shot that could have been written by a malicious competitor or disgruntled former employee.

The Facebook Threat

The tie-in between Google+ and Google+ Local reveals the real crux of it – Google isn’t trying to become the next Facebook. By tying Google+ personal accounts to Google+ Local reviews, and by tying Google+ Local to your company’s Google+ business page, Google is trying to become all things to all people.

And since Google is still the 800-pound gorilla of search, you need to pay attention to this inexorable shift to social. It matters to the bottom line now, and it’s going to matter a great deal more in the future.

Do you have a different take on this move by Google? Let me hear from you.

Google Local Listings Ads

Last December Google announced the suspension of their Local Listings Ads trial in the San Francisco and San Diego markets according to Search Engine Land

It’s official now.  Sometime in the last 10 days the following two links that explained Local Listing Ads have been deleted by Google, not a best practice in my mind.

I was very excited about this new service and started recommending it to my small business owner friends and anyone else who wanted a low, flat-cost alternative.  If there is something in the works at the GooglePlex I sure would like to know.

Does anyone out there know where they’re going to take the lessons from this trial and apply it?

Online Marketing, Tampa Style – 4 New Google Trends to Watch Closely

As the New Year approaches here in the Tampa Bay area many businesses large and small are looking to make changes and begin the new life for their body as well as their business. Online marketing is usually the first place people target to make a substantial impact to the business. So we take a look at 4 new Google trends worth watching closely.

Google is cluttering the search results page. Over the past few months and in months to come Google will add more components to the results page including:

  1. Social Search results. Currently at the bottom of the page.

    Social Search Results

    Social Search Results

  2. Profiles. Also at the bottom for name searches.

    Personal Profiles

    Personal Profiles

  3. Local Listings Ads. An expansion of AdWords that pushes organic results (non-revenue generating) even further down.

    Local Listings Ads

    Local Listings Ads

  4. AdWords SiteLinks. Another line or three within the paid results.

    AdWords Sitelinks

    AdWords Sitelinks

What does this mean for you? It’s no longer easy to dominate the search results on Google. In addition to traditional organic search results and AdWords tactics you now need to expand your list of campaigns if you want to own the results page and starve out your competition.

As with any channel of marketing it’s important to weigh the time and investment you make in online marketing to insure you are getting a good return. Even with online marketing there may be better and more efficient options than Google for gaining new business.

But most of the options are niche and focused on your particular industry or vertical. Google is the good catch-all for all industries, but don’t be blinded by its press. There are other options; ones that may be less expensive.

Soon I’ll delve into a few of those vertical as they relate to Tampa and how businesses in them could attack the online market and capture local, regional, national or even international business.

If you would like to see me focus on your industry, contact me and I’ll glad to share the results right here with you and the world.

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Claim Your Business Now! Local Searches on Google are waiting for you – South Tampa Dentist Example

In case you haven’t already, do not wait any longer to claim your business on Google’s Local Business Center.  This step is critical to putting your business in the local search results of your prospects.

Local search results are those associated with the map you regularly see in one of the top positions of the search results.  Searchers click on these links in drove for many business categories.  As you optimize you site to rank for terms in the organic results, do not discount getting you business in the local section of results.

An significant advantage of the clicks is you get to direct them to a specific page on your site rather than letting Google determine which page is most appropriate.  For example, if you were to Google “south tampa dentist“, you would get the following results as of today.

Dentist In South Tampa

Dentist In South Tampa

Notice Coast Dental among the top spots in these results even though Coast Dental does not rank in the organic positions for that term or “dentist in south tampa“.  This business and the others are receiving top billing just by managing their local business pages through Google.

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Google Analytics and tagging your inbound links/campaigns

If you’re using Google Analytics, or any other web analytics tool, you must start now to tag your inbound links/campaigns so you can track their effectiveness.

Visit Google’s tagging page for details on how to use utm_source, utm_medium and utm_campaign, the three required parameters that make up campaign tracking.

Omniture’s SiteCatalyst has an even more extensive implementation of this through their default s_cid parameter that allows you to correlate campaigns across more dimensions than Google.  But no matter who you use, start using it now.

I’ve placed campaign tracking tags on my LinkedIn profile and even on the signature of my outbound emails.  You would be surprised how many people click on those links to learn more about you and your company.

A word of caution, I have found at least one place where you cannot place these campaign tracking tags, Google Local Business Center.  Surprisingly, the addition of the three utm_ tags above threw one of my customer’s listings into Flagged’ state for over a week.  That state supposedly sends it to Google for review.  After a week I couldn’t justify not having my customer listed in Google’s local search any more so I removed the tags.

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