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08 Apr 2011

Writing Your Own Reviews

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Penalties and Ethics: The Dangers of Writing Your Own Google Reviews

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Ten to fifteen years ago, if I wanted to find a dentist close to my home , I would have picked up the phone book, flipped to “dentists” and tried to discern why one phone number would be any better than any other phone number and usually ended up closing my eyes and pointing. The fact is that phone books were useful for finding a list of services, but gave you no context for the quality of those services. So you were stuck with whoever’s number you happened to point to. Today, we have Google.

Google local search is the best way to find local businesses, and it is the avenue that most people use when they want to find a dentist, barber, HVAC company or anybody else. So it behooves any local business to ignore Google place pages as a fantastic tool for bringing in new customers. Basically, if you are not on Google, you don’t exist. And it’s hard to make money when you don’t exist.

The Upside of Reviews and Context

One of the best aspects of Google’s local search products is the ability it gives users to write reviews of local businesses and share their reviews with other potential customers. This type of context helps users make decisions about where to go to get new tires or where to get the best manicure in town. And reviews are much more helpful than the old method of closing your eyes and pointing at a name on a page.

Reviews Cut Both Ways

The catch for businesses is that reviews can go two ways. They can drive hordes of new customers to your location or they can make it seem like you have the plague. So, in an attempt to tip the scale of the Google local search gods in their favor, some businesses have gotten the idea that they should create bogus Google accounts and write their own reviews.

The Art of Being a Google Slimeball

The practice of writing your own Google reviews is both unethical and counterproductive. Not only does it turn you into a slimeball but Google will catch on, and you’ll spend many more hours and dollars trying to fix your mistakes than you would have if you would have just played fair in the first place.

There are a number of reasons you don’t want to try and game the system by writing your own positive reviews.

1.Penalties — Google is not stupid. In fact, they don’t like people who think they are stupid, and they will penalize an offending site, either through downgrading its page rank or—in serious cases—removing it from their index completely. Google tracks IP addresses, usernames, emails, and more of people who use their system. If business owners are attempting to create multiple accounts and write positive reviews for themselves, Google will find out eventually and the business will be penalized.

2.Tarnished Reputation — All it takes is one customer or one disgruntled (or morally upright) employee to bring down the house of cards. Not only can they inform Google about self-reviewing violations but they can write a review themselves that lets the world know about a business’s lying and deceitful ways. And a review like that can tarnish a business’s reputation for a long time.

Things to Avoid

If you are an honest business owner and want to avoid Google penalties and a tarnished reputation, here are few things to avoid when going about a review-soliciting campaign from customers.

If you can avoid it, don’t have someone with the same last name post a review of your business. Most users will put 2+2 together and discount the review or think you’re up to something fishy.

1.Don’t post reviews from the same computer. If you have built a good relationship with a family of customers and you ask them to write a review, let them know that they shouldn’t all post from the same computer. (Remember, Google tracks this sort of thing and you don’t want to be penalized unfairly.)

2.Spread your reviews out over time. Google likes it when businesses get reviewed on a regular basis. If they see a huge push of 20 reviews in one night, they might get a bit suspicious.

All in all, writing your own Google reviews is a questionable practice at best, and you should avoid it at all costs. Not only will it hurt your Google rank, but it could tarnish your reputation and your business permanently.

15 Dec 2010

Google SERP Changes

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Just when you thought you had a handle on your local online marketing efforts, along comes Google and changes the game. Right now, rolling out across the world, is Google’s new local search results format. And although the principles of a good online local marketing campaign haven’t changed, the new search results and ranking system may change the way you focus your efforts.

Old vs. New

The old search results didn’t feature much in the way of business information because most of the search results page was taken up by the map. What you got before was the business name, phone number, website (if available), and the total number of reviews found on the Google place page for that business. In fact, you didn’t even need to have a website to be ranked.

The new search results offer much more and seem to be more comprehensive, giving viewers access to more information right off the bat. According to what type of business you have and where you are located, Google may attach any number of items to your search result:

  • A picture (found on the Google place page)
  • The business website address
  • A sample of text from the business website
  • Full address and phone number
  • Average number of stars given on the Google place page
  • The total number of reviews on the Google place page
  • A review snippet from a popular review website, like Yelp, CitySearch, Tripadvisor, Zagat, and more
  • The number of reviews given on popular review sites

What This Means for Your Business

In the previous ranking system, all you had to do was get some good Google place page reviews and you could rise to the top of the local search results. Now it seems that Google is taking a more integrated approach to local search so they can reward business that have a multi-faceted marketing strategy and are well reviewed across multiple sites. What this means is that you need to widen your view of what brings you to the top of the Google local search results and focus on three key areas: Your website SEO, your Google place page content, and your reviews on multiple review sites.

Reexamine Your Website

Google—it seems—is now taking into account your website when it comes to ranking your business. If you previously paid little attention to your website because you were concentrating on building your Google place page (or didn’t have a website at all), you may find yourself dropping lower in the rankings or completely disappearing. Now is the time to build a website if you don’t already have one or dust off your current website, reevaluate it, and make a few changes. Look for ways to optimize your site for search engines with keywords, site content, page descriptions, title tags, a blog, and more. Increase your page rank and your local search rank will rise as well.

Spruce Up Your Google Place Page

Now that Google pulls information from your place page and displays it in the search results, you want to make sure all your information is up to date and that you have a compelling picture of your business on the place page. Also, depending on the type of business you have, the search results may show the average number of stars your business has received on its Google place page reviews (not just the number of reviews). So now you’ll need to work harder at getting your loyal customers to write stellar Google reviews of your business.

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

If you have only been relying on Google place page reviews up till now, you need to widen your vision. Depending on the type of business you have, the new local search results may display the number of reviews you have on popular review sites across the internet, giving a snippet of a review from one of those sites. This is more common with food-based businesses or anything in the service industry. The more reviews (and the more positive reviews) you have across the internet the better you will fare in the overall local search results.

A More Comprehensive Search

Overall it seems that Google is trying to give users a better, more comprehensive, ranking for local searches. The results are based not only on a positive Google reviews, but on the time and effort businesses have put into optimizing their website as well as their degree of customer service, as measured in multiple reviews across the internet.

Since Google has enlarged their ranking strategy, you need to enlarge your marketing strategy. Start today by concentrating on website SEO, your Google place page, and reviews across multiple websites.

If you’re concerned about the way that the new Google local search results will affect your business, give us a call today to talk about ways to optimize your website and business for a better search ranking.

06 Dec 2010

Social Media Influences SEO

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Great article we found on a highly esteemed site in the SEO community, www.seomoz.org

“As of yesterday, both Bing and Google have confirmed (viaan excellent interview by Danny Sullivan) that links shared through Twitter and Facebook have a direct impact on rankings (in addition to the positive second-order effects they may have on the link graph). This has long been suspected by SEOs (in fact, many of us posited it was happening as of November of last year following Google + Bing’s announcements of partnerships with Twitter), but getting this official confirmation is a substantive step forward.

In addition to that revelation, another piece of critical data came via yesterday’s announcement:

Danny Sullivan:If an article is retweeted or referenced much in Twitter, do you count that as a signal outside of finding any non-nofollowed links that may naturally result from it?

Bing: We do look at the so cial authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. It carries much more weight in Bing Social Search, where tweets from more authoritative people will flow to the top when best match relevancy is used.

Google:Yes, we do use it as a signal. It is used as a signal in our organic and news rankings. We also use it to enhance our news universal by marking how many people shared an article.

Danny Sullivan: Do you try to calculate the authority of someone who tweets that might be assigned to their Twitter page. Do you try to “know,” if you will, who they are?

Bing: Yes. We do calculate the authority of someone who tweets. For known public figures or publishers, we do associate them with who they are. (For example, query for Danny Sullivan)

Google: Yes we do compute and use author quality. We don’t know who anyone is in real life:-)

Danny Sullivan: Do you calculate whether a link should carry more weight depending on the person who tweets it?

Bing:Yes.

Google:Yes we do use this as a signal, especially in the “Top links” section [of Google Realtime Search]. Author authorityis independent of PageRank, but it is currently only used in limited situations in ordinary web search.

We now know that those link sharing activities on Twitter + Facebook are evaluated based on the person/entity sharing them through a score Google calls “Author Authority,” and Bing calls “Social Authority.”

We can probably predict a lot of the signals the search engines care about when it comes to social sharing; some of my guesses include:

  • Diversity of Sources– having 50 tweets of a link from one account, like having 50 links from one site, is not nearly as valuable as 50 tweets from 50 unique accounts.
  • Timing– sharing that occurs when an RSS feed first publishes a story may be valuable in QDF, but tweets/shares of older pieces could be seen as more indicative of lasting value and interest (rather than just sharing what’s new).
  • Surrounding Content– the message(s) accompanying the link may give the engines substantive information about their potential relevance and topic; it could even fill the gap that’s left by the lack of anchor text, particularly on Twitter.
  • Engagement Level– the quantity of clicks, retweets, likes, etc. (if/when measurable) could certainly impact how much weight is given to the link.

We can probably also take a stab at some of the signals Google + Bing use for Author/Social Authority in the context of the sharing/tweeting source:

  • Quantity of Friends/Followers– like links, it’s likely the case that more is better, though there will likely be caveats; low quality bots and inauthentic accounts are likely to be filtered (and may be much easier to spot than spammy links, due to the challenge they find in getting any “legitimate” friends/followers).
  • Importance of Friends/Followers– the friends/followers you have, like the link sources you have, are also probably playing a role. Earn high “authority” followers and you yourself must be a high authority person.
  • Analysis of Friends/Followers Ratios– Much like the engines’ analysis of the editorial nature of links, consideration of whether a social user is engaging in following/follower behavior purely out of reciprocity vs. true interest and engagement may be part of authority scoring. If you have 100K followers and follow 99K of them, but the engagement between you and your followers is slim, you’re likely not as authoritative as an account with 100K followers + 5K following, but those followers are constantly engaged, retweeting, liking, sharing, etc.
  • Topic Focus / Relevance– The consistency or patterns between your sharing behaviors could also be a consideration, using topic analysis, patterns in the sources of shared/tweeted links, etc. Being an “authority” could even be subject-specific, such that when a prominent SEO tweets links to celebrity news it has less of an impact than when they tweet links to a web marketing resource.
  • Association Bias– I suspect Google and Bing do a good job of associating social authors with the sites/domains they’re “part of” vs. independent from. Sometimes, this might be as easy as looking at the URL associated with the account, other times it could be based on patterns like where you most often tweet/share links to or whether your account is listed on pages from that site. Basically, if @randfish tweets links to *.seomoz.org, that probably means less than when I tweet links to bitlynews or when someone outside the company tweets links to SEOmoz.

These signals represent my opinions only, and while it’s very likely that at least some are being used, it’s even more likely that there are many more that aren’t listed above. Over time, hopefully we’ll discover more about the impact of social sharing on web rankings and how we can best combine SEO + social media marketing.

To me, the most exciting part about this is the potential to reduce webspam and return to a more purely editorial model. While people often link to, read and enjoy sources that link out manipulatively, very few of us will be likely to follow a Twitter account, friend someone on Facebook, or “like” something in a social site that’s inauthentic, manipulative or spammy. The social graph isn’t necessarily cleaner, but the complexity of spam is far lower.

Here’s to the evolution of organic marketing – search, social, content, blogs, links – it’s all coming together faster than ever before, and that’s a very good thing for holisticly minded web marketers.”

30 Sep 2010

Online Reviews – Make ’em Count

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Increasing Google Page Rank Through Online Reviews

You’ve got a local business listing on Google as well as hundreds of other popular search engines and web directories. It’s been optimized for all the right keywords. You’ve even started a blog and social media pages so that Google sees you’re constantly putting up fresh, new information. All these things have helped move your local listing up in Google page ranking, and you’re getting closer and closer to that coveted number one spot. But you need that extra push to get you to the top. It’s time to focus on online customer reviews.

Online ratings

Now it’s time to turn to your customers for help. Not only does Google search your site for keywords and content, but it also searches the rest of the web for your name. If your name is mentioned a lot, you move up in the rankings. And one of the best ways to get your name out and around the web is through online reviews. A good number of online reviews can take you from the second page of a Google search to number one in no time.

Asking for reviews

It may feel weird or uncomfortable to ask current and former customers to review you online, but if you have regular, satisfied customers, they already have a positive view of your business and they’ll want to help you out.

We’ve all seen negative reviews written about a business we are familiar with and we certainly don’t want to see anything of the sort written about us. Most negative reviews are unsolicited; coming from a customer who feels alone or abandoned. When a business extends a personal invitation to a customer to write a review about them, more often it will result in a positive experience for both parties.

You can a send request out to your email list or devote a section of your monthly newsletter to requesting online reviews from loyal customers.  You can even give them links to your business profile on the top online review sites:

Go to these sites, search for your business and see if any reviews have been posted. Maybe you’ve already got some positive buzz going!

What makes a good review?

A good review is more than just a positive comment. Good reviews also give information about where you are located and what you do. Including keywords that relate to your business in a review will improve your Google page rank. In the examples below, check out the keywords these reviewers used (in italics).

Good:I love Ernie’s!
Better:
Ernie’s is the best place to get a burger in downtown Omaha .

Good:Performance Automotive has great service.
Better:
I took my Subaru to Performance Automotive for repair , and they did a great job. They have a convenient location on the south side of Minneapolis , and they specialize in Japanese cars . Their car repair was also cheaper than originally quoted. I’d definitely use them again for any car problems .

As you ask your satisfied customers to review you online, it’s good to keep these tips in mind and suggest that they use them while reviewing your business.

Online Review Don’ts

Now that we’ve discussed tips for creating good online reviews, here are a couple of practices that will actually hurt your Google ranking. If you care about your Google rank, don’t do this:

1)      Don’t post a review yourself (or have anyone from your organization post a review)—Not only will this hurt your Google rank, but if anyone finds out you posted your own review, get ready for some nasty, negative word-of-mouth.

2)      Don’t have someone who shares your last name post a review—You may not be able to control who posts reviews online, but if you know someone who shares your last name, like a family member, don’t ask them to post a review. Google frowns on nepotism.

3)      Don’t have more than one person post a review from the same computer—Google views posting multiple reviews from the same computer as a taboo akin to ballot stuffing. It will hurt your page rank and your reputation.

4)      Don’t get all of your reviews now and never address the topic again—Keep the reviews coming on a consistent basis over time. Google looks for content updates on a continual basis and new reviews each and every month is a great way to make that happen.

More reviews, better ranking

If you are looking to give your website that extra push it needs to make it to the top, it’s time to start focusing on online reviews. Even only a handful of reviews on various sites will do wonders for your Google page rank. Stop messing around on the second page and get to number one by following these tips and asking your customers to review your business online.

13 Jul 2010

Google Tags

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New Enhanced Feature: Google Tags

  • What are tags?

Local customers already search Google for the products and services you offer. By creating a business listing, you can make sure they can find you. When you add a tag to your listing, you can highlight what you most want your customers to see.

For example, you can add a coupon for new customers, highlight a video overview of your store, or even link to your menu. You decide what what’s most important about your business and make sure it stands out.

Signing up and selecting your tag takes just minutes. All you need is a verified business listing and a valid credit card — just contact your Local-One sales or service representative and request the option to enhance your listing.

  • What are the benefits?

– You can easily and inexpensively highlight your listing on Google from Google Places.
– Potential customers in your local area will see what you think is most important or unique about your business.
– You can track the effectiveness of your tag with your Google Places statistics from Local-One.
– You will be charged a low $35 flat monthly fee plus your standard monthly management, with no bids and no keywords required.
– There is no additional work or ongoing management needed.

  • What tags can I use?

You can decide what type of enhancement you’d like to show with your business listing. You can only pick one at a time, but you can change or remove the tag whenever you’d like.

You can select any of the following tags:

– Website for your business
– Photos of your business
– Videos of your business
– Coupons for your listing
– Menu for your restaurant
– Reservations page for your business
– Posts for your business

  • Where and when will my tag show?

Your listing will show in all of the places it used to show — but now it’s eligible to show with your tag!

Please keep in mind that enhancing your listing won’t help it show more often then it already does. You can highlight the information a customer sees — possibly making your listing more attractive to the user — but it won’t increase how often your listing is shown.

We recommend including as much rich information about your business as you can. Your listing will stand out more with its tag, so you want to be sure that when a user clicks on your listing, they find what they’re looking for.

  • Can I see how my tag is performing?

In your monthly statistics report from Local One, you will be able to see data about how your tag is performing alongside the data about how your listing is performing.

  • Can I change or stop running my tag?

You can change your tag at any time. Let’s say you’re running a coupon for a store opening sale — you could create a coupon as your tag and when the sale is over, link to your website instead.

If you remove an active tag type from your business listing, this will also deactivate the tag. For example, say you’re using the menu tag type, and your menu just changed for the season. If you remove your menu link from your listing, it will also deactivate your enhancement.

If you decide to stop running your tag for any reason, you can do so with a click of a button. We’ll charge you for the portion of the month you were running.

  • How do I improve my performance?

There are many different tag types to experiment with. Start with one that you think matters most to your customers. For example, a furniture store manager might decide that highlighting photos of her sofas and chairs is the best way to get customers in the door.

The statistics on your dashboard will help you judge your performance and experiment with different tag types.

  • How much do tags cost?

The fee is $35 per month per listing plus your standard monthly management. It’s a flat monthly fee to add a tag to your listing. You can always change your tag, but the fee covers just one tag at a time.

You don’t need to set bids or determine budgets. The $35 is the same each month regardless of how often a user sees your tag or clicks on it.

At any time during the month, you can add a Tag to a listing, change it, or stop running tags completely. This can be done by contacting your Local-One sales or service representative.

  • How and when am I billed?

You’ll need to enter a valid U.S. credit card to start running your tag. At the end of the month, Google will charge you the $35 fee per tag.

  • Why can’t I see my tag?

The first thing to do is find your listing on Google. One of the easiest ways to do this is search for your business name and location. For example, “Joe’s Pizzeria, Houston.”

Your tag is eligible to show when your listing is. Joe’s Pizzeria will likely not show for every restaurant search in Houston. And, tagging the listing is not going to improve this. However, when this listing does show, it should show with the tag.

If you’ve read all of the above and you still have unanswered questions or would like to give Google Tags a test drive, please let us know .

03 Jun 2010

Web Traffic – Easy as 1-2-3

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Everybody wants to be #1 — 1st in line for the movies, 1st to buy the latest and greatest from Apple, the 1st place team in the league and of course, 1st on the search engine results page. Being in the 1st position is certainly a great way to drive new leads and make more sales, but with so many places to be 1st on a search engine like Google, which is best and how do you take advantage of each of them?

There are 3 important sections on the Google Search Results Page. Showing up in all 3 of these different sections gives you a significant advantage over your competitors and makes your website highly visible to people actively searching your product or service.

1.     Local Business Results

So many searches today are conducted with “local intent”, meaning the person doing the searching is looking for a business in their local area. In fact, estimates show that 30-40% of all searches have local intent. Wow, what a great opportunity! Any business that serves a local clientele deserves to be found in the local business results.

This section highlights local businesses with a map, a locator, and a local phone number.  Additional details like reviews, photos, videos and directions help to draw in would-be customers. With a website link in this section, there is a good chance you will see an influx of highly targeted traffic to your website that converts into leads and clients.

Click here to see what it takes to get your listing to appear above the competition.

2.    Sponsored Links

This section is reserved for businesses who engage in Pay-per-Click (PPC). PPC ads are a real-time auction where you bid on keyword searches and strategically place business ads.   The order of the display (the ranking) is decided by which competing business bids the most and who has the ad copy and landing page content that is most relevant to the keyword being searched. When your ad is clicked on, you pay the amount offered in your bid. 100% targeted traffic at its best!

PPC is a great way to get immediate exposure and traffic to your website.  When this process is managed correctly it can be affordable and offer a measureable return on investment which surpasses that of any other traditional advertising methods.

3.     Organic Search Results

Offering more results than any other section previously mentioned, this area is the most competitive section in the Google search results page and the most difficult to master. When conducting a search, users are given various results:  Targeted Business Websites, Wikipedia Articles, Educational Articles, Personal Blogs, Books and more. For a business to appear here, one must have the knowhow to engage in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing the volume and quality of traffic to a web site or web page from search engines. These are natural search results as opposed to other forms of search engine marketing (SEM), which may deal with paid inclusion. The theory is that the earlier (or higher) a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search and industry-specific vertical search engines. All these types of search can help improve a web sites online presence.

As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work and what people search for. The on-page optimizing of a website primarily involves the editing of content and associated HTML coding to both increase its relevance for specific keywords and to remove barriers in the search engine indexing process.  Also very important to the process are the off-page factors that include link building along with content creation and distribution.

So unlike a top level sports team or the winner of your local chili cook-off, in search engine marketing you really can be 1st more than once. Each of the three sections can provide your site with targeted traffic and when effectively managed, a reasonable return on your investment; saving you both time and money.

Where is your business ranked and are you getting all the traffic that you deserve?

18 May 2010

Important Listing Attributes

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Important Local Business Listing Attributes – A Look Inside

  • Your Business Title
  • Links and Citations
  • Categories
  • Reviews and Ratings
  • Photos / Videos
  • Other Attributes

Your Business Title

Your business title is an important factor for ranking well in the Local search engines. Having a title that remains consistent across all data sources is very important because it helps the search engines establish trust in the existence and location of a particular business.

If you call your business “Joe’s Pizza” in one directory and “Joe’s Chicago-Style Pizza” in another directory, there is a chance that Google and the other search engines might see that as two separate businesses when it comes to indexing Joe and his business. Joe should pick one title for his business and ensure that he adds himself to whichever directories he chooses (including the print Yellow Pages) using the same business title.

Links and Citations

Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines find out about your business in two primary ways:

1) Visiting links that point to your website and tracking the sites where those links appear.

2) Tracking citations of your business and the sites where these citations appear.

The search engines use these factors extensively in determining where to rank a particular business.

– What Are Citations? Citations are defined as “mentions” of your business name and address on other web pages, even if there is no link to your website. An example of a citation might be an online yellow pages directory where your business is listed, but not linked to.

Categories

Many Local search engines, including Google, Yahoo, Bing and others allow you to place your business into a number of categories (usually between 2 and 5) that help describe what your business does.

This may seem like a trivial step but it’s actually very important. The search engines use this data when deciding which businesses to show for particular searches. The search engines will not display a business which is not categorized, or even worse, mis -categorized, for particular sets of keywords.

Reviews and Ratings

It’s unclear how much reviews and ratings of a business influence its ranking position, partly because the reviews and ratings are displayed in so many different ways across different search engines (or in the case of Google, even on the same search engine). But reviews and ratings are very persuasive to prospective customers when it comes to actually receiving a call or email. A good review can encourage someone to pick up the phone and call you!

Photos / Videos

Attractive photos and videos have been shown to increase the number of clicks that a particular listing gets. They generally offer a great way to show off your business—either projects that your company has worked on, some of the people in your office, your office itself, etc. A human stamp (or a professional stamp) can help you stand out in an otherwise flat playing field.

Other Attributes

A simple step that some small business owners overlook is to list your contact information on your own website in a format that the search engines can read. If, for whatever reason, you’d rather not list it on your homepage, or on every page of your website, at the very least you should set up a clear “Contact Us” page which displays your address and phone number.

— References – Getlisted.org

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