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 The five-star rating system Google used for customer comments has been replaced by a 1 through 30 Zagat rating system (think restaurant reviews, only for all types of businesses).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.

Ty Downing Interview

Ty Downing is one guy who walks the walk when it comes to nearly every aspect of social media.  That’s because he runs a business that manages it all.  With that in his back pocket, his involvement in Social Fresh Tampa will be one of the highlights for me.


Your Background

Ty Dowing
Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as CEO of SayItSocial.

Ty Downing: Well, I have been involved with internet marketing, and digital advertising going on 8 years now. I cut my teeth on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) obsessing over Google’s algorithms by sitting at the feet of Matt Cutts, and Danny Sullivan (Creator of SMX), thus slowly developing my other company “Perspective Internet Marketing” into a full-service internet marketing agency focusing on SEO, PPC,
local search, analytics & measuring site behaviors.

You could say I was an early adopter of social media in a field that mostly despised, or didn’t believe in social media (SEO’s), but I forged ahead, and in 2009 I co-founded SayItSocial, a social media consulting firm focused on corporate social media education & training, Facebook applications, social media strategy, conversation monitoring, and reputation management.

Early Adopter

Mark Regan: Your time at events/conferences must expose you to ideas and trends long before they hit the mainstream. How have you taken advantage of that?

Ty Downing: I utilize what I gain at these events by implementing them with our clients.  The only way I can keep my clients as well as SayItSocial’s reputation as a leader, we must act fast with implementation. Our field and client needs change rapidly as well as, so we take full advantage of these events.

Additionally, our team are thought leaders in social media, so we also bring new ideas to these events, for example in advance of Social Fresh, we are unveiling version 1.2 of Epicenter, a Facebook marketing CMS designed to create engaging custom Facebook landing pages with contests, lead generation, viral marketing, and loyalty programs. It’s a complete Facebook application with cutting edge technology and simplicity. We want to totally get this into mainstream quickly, it’s such an awesome tool that can help business leverage social media so much better, and measure ROI much easier.

Mark Regan: What new topic has become more frequent over the past 2-3 months?

Ty Downing: Facebook custom applications and Facebook consulting.

Personal Brand

Mark Regan: How has your experience in the business world helped you master your own personal brand marketing?

Ty Downing: That’s a good question. I think for me it’s been opposite? I say this because social media has empowered personal brands exponentially. Because of being an early adopter in social media, I mean one of the first subscribers to Twitter even, I was extremely active in marketing my personal brand with social networks, and personal videos that enabled people to “see the CEO”.

When people think of “Ty Downing” they think of SayItSocial & SEO. Obviously this is my own opinion, but I do feel this has been my personal experience.

Break It Down

Mark Regan: How do respond to clients who are jazzed about setting up their social media presence, but haven’t done some of the basics in online marketing well or at all?

Ty Downing: It’s like a golf swing. I tell them we will be “re-training” their swing, but not let them worry, that’s why they came to us in the first place. I (we) teach them simple basics before a strategy and profile building. Which tools should I use? Do I have staff & resources to have an active social media presence? So basically I ask a lot of questions, and then listen a lot!

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Ty Downing: Epicenter custom Facebook applications tool!

Mark Regan: Bonus: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Ty Downing: Mark, please…please tell me the good places to eat? Any of your readers, please tell me what to see in Tampa!

UPDATE: OK Ty, here you go.

Don’t forget to invite me.

Contact

Mark Regan: Thanks Ty! I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa. How can people find out more you and connect with you?

Ty Downing: You bet, lets connect on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn!

Loyalty Programs Can Now Be Social

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=19760319&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Note: This video was shot using a Flip video MinoHD 8GB camcorder (Amazon affiliate link) and a Fat Gecko Double Knuckle Camera Mount (Amazon affiliate link). Boo-Yah!

My Flip is awesome! Though I wish I had the 3rd generation version which includes image stabilization. The Fat Gecko is wicked. Use it in or out of your car, snowboards, mountain bikes, bike helmets. I love it!


Transcription

I’ve had this video transcribed below for those who prefer to read rather than listen or watch. The transcription provided by me.

Hey everybody! Mark Regan here.

You may know that I am a big user of Foursquare. And one of the cool potentials that Foursquare has is as it’s growing into, evolving into a loyalty rewards-type, offering—expanding that empty check-in that they have today and turning it into a loyalty rewards. And they’re doing it today by businesses offerings, specials for acquiring mayorship or they’re allowing every three or four check-ins allowing access to a certain special on the menu. And that’s cool but it really is only a novelty at this point.

And what I saw today and heard about this company through Mashable called SNAP (www.SNAPForBusiness.com) takes that and does a really good integration of the offline and online event. They’ll take your traditional loyalty rewards card program and as you swipe it at the retailer they will check you in to your Foursquare account. So by connecting your loyalty rewards account to your Foursquare account. They will do an automatic check-in for you and that will obviously, then, allow you to attempt to acquire mayorships and update your friends about your status.

But what they done is that they have taken it one step further, and this is what Foursquare cant do, is that they can also do an auto-post status update for your Facebook account and do a tweet to your Twitter followers – all of that, automatically happening, is part of their loyalty reward program, which is something Foursquare cant do.

And what that does is the business gets their name out, so every time you swipe that card and allow them to do this auto-notification through your various  social networks, they are getting a lot  of brand exposure and educating all of those people and having you say that you recommend them and that you endorse them to some extent and in return for that, the customer will get points faster on the rewards system and get the return and the rewards that they’re seeking and that the business owners are looking to give.

So, tell me what you think about that. I think it is a really good play. I haven’t implemented it yet, but the concept is really cool in terms of integrating the online and offline world, and loyalty rewards, which are understood and accepted by many people would be the perfect way to do that.  So let me know what you think.

Thanks a lot! Take care!

Put Those Shorts Away!

URL Shortener Inbound LinkBe careful when you choose your URL shorteners as they may amputate your inbound links accidentally.

If you’re like me you use URL shorteners a lot!  Like most people I started using them thanks to Twitter’s 140 character limit.   Then when tools like TweetDeck started auto-shortening my URLs I really started to get used to them.  Now I find myself using them regularly outside of Twitter.

Why Use URL Shorteners?

While some folks think they’re ugly or even suspicious and spammy-looking, but they do serve a greater purpose:

  • If your link/URL is really long then including them in press releases or text emails can really intimidate and overwhelm the reader.
  • Also some press release tools have their own character limits that can get eaten up by full link paths.  URL shortener conserve that precious character limit.
  • If you want to hide or not overtly publish link parameters you’re passing through, then a shortener is a great way to accomplish that.  Though I’m not saying this is an ideal method of link cloaking (a more sophisticated way of passing parameters), because it’s not.

The Kicker

If you’re creating content that could one day end up on another site, those inbound links could be very valuable to you.

But if you use a URL shortener, are you losing that inbound link love?  Maybe!

It depends on your shortener service.  Most of the major services like bit.ly perform 301 redirects allowing your inbound link love to be preserved.  If you’re in doubt, run the shortener URL through an HTTP header analyzer and confirm a 301 response (and not 302) is received.

Do You Care About URL Shortener and Inbound Links?

  • What other features of URL shorteners do you consider important?
  • Which ones are more important to you than preserving the inbound link?

Twitter Referrals and Web Analytics – A Broken Referral Link

Broken Twitter Referral Link

If you are obsessed about your web analytics or your customer’s web analytics as I am, then you may have noticed a problem where Twitter referral traffic is being recorded as direct entry traffic rather than referral traffic.

Don’t mess with my numbers, man!

I work hard to keep my numbers clean.  I do it for my sites, my employer’s sites and my customer’s sites.  Without this anal retentive attitude you cannot make higher level business decisions.  The supporting data is flawed so your assumptions are broken.

But that’s a rant for another day.  Just suffice it say that you need to constantly test your data to make sure it’s legit.


Who Can I Blame?

Web Analytics Referrals From Twitter

Here’s the problem in a nutshell. When you click from one web page to another the browser usually passes referral data to the receiving page.  That data is then recorded by your web analytics program so you can report on where your visitors arrive from.

In Google Analytics they break it down into 3 buckets initially, Direct, Search and Referral.  Now, if I tweet this blog post’s URL through Twitter, I want those click-throughs back to the site to be recorded as referrals from Twitter. Likewise when others retweet me I want them to also be recorded as referrals, not direct entries.

But the Twitter model has introduced a new presentation screen different from browsers.  HootSuite and TweetDeck are popular applications used to “dashboard” Twitter activity (along with Facebook and LinkedIn).  These applications and their tight relationship to URL shorteners, do not always pass the referral data (needed by web analytics tools) you would normally see if they had come from the twitter.com domain via a browser.

If you want the down and dirty details behind it visit Danny Sullivan’s forensic work on it.


Make The Numbers Match!

Connecting Twitter Visitors In Web Analytics

Fine.  It’s a problem.  But you need to solve it, right?

Again in a nutshell: force the referral information to be preserved as visitors click through Twitter to your website.  This is done with link tagging.

  • Using Google Analytics, we can go to their URL builder and force-tag our link before we put it into our tweet.
    • Of course that gets really painful if you tweet more than once a week.  So check out Snip-N-Tag for an inline method of adding link tagging for Google Analytics.  Pain relieved!
  • Using Omniture’s SiteCatalyst, you can create a campaign in your report suite for all of your Twitter postings.  Then append the campaign id (e.g. s_cid) to every one of your tweets.  You’ll also need to further manipulate some of your variables to ensure they’re attributed to referral traffic, but that’s beyond this post.

I always try to include link tagging on every link I place out there.  Even ones that are not destined for one of my sites.  Nothing speaks to an analytics guy or gal more than looking in their report and seeing your traffic to their site jumping off the screen with campaigns names.

I should really share that treat here!  Next week.