Archive for the ‘Google Maps’ Category

Google Maps as Entertainment – Story Telling with Street View

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Have you spent hours cruising through Google Maps? Looking at, or for, features and landmarks near your home or places you’ve been, or places you wish to go? Have you used street view to take a stroll down your home street? The streets of places you’ve lived in the past? The streets of where you may visit or live next? I know I’ve don’t all that and more with Google Maps.

It’s fun and a great way to kill time. Both productive time killing and unproductive time killing. As a location based internet marketing guy I’m a full on map geek. There are many more like me.

One other group of geeks know how to make a movie and tell a story, and it seems they like to play with Google Maps too. Take a look at this amazing stop motion animation short film made with Google Maps Street View imagery.

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

Be sure to click the little expansion button to view it in full screen. Watch it a few times, it’s worth it.

Google Places and Service Areas

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Google has finally added options for business owners to set their service areas, as reported a couple weeks ago by Matt McGee. Today it officially rolls out, again, along with a re-branding of the Local Business Center, now simply called Google Places.

The service area is great for those businesses that work from a home address they would rather not display, or businesses that serve multiple areas from one physical location, which is very common in larger metro areas (think plumbers, landscapers, remodeling contractors, interior decorators, etc..). Up till now many of those businesses targeting multiple cities had to resort to obtaining unique addresses and phone numbers in those other cities, often through UPS box addresses, a practice Google now frowns upon.

The question is, how are rankings influenced by these new service area settings? Will a business located in “City A”, yet services the adjacent “City B” to the north, be able to rank for City B search queries when all its citation sources mention City A? It’s too early to tell and for some of my clients that this is well suited too I’m a little hesitant incredibly hesitant to make any changes as they already rank well. Perhaps the next fresh client becomes the guinea pig.

Google is Encouraging Us to Build the Local Web

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Some recent changes to the Local Search algo has led me to believe Google is trying to encourage us to enrichen the local web. Do that well and they will reward you with better rankings in Google Maps and that coveted 7 pack.

What is the local web? Any location based information that can be added to a map. Geo-tagged photos, videos and webcams, geo-tagged Wikipedia articles, Google My Maps, and KML mapping files are the additional layers of location based information that Google wants to see users creating so as to build a richer local experience online.

User reviews were one of the first, and heaviest, spammed factors of local business listings in an attempt to improve rankings in the 7 pack. They are far too easy to fake and game so it seems Google may have turned the dial down on that part of the algorithm. In turn they seem to have turned up the dial on the user content factors (my maps, kml files, geo-tagged images), to the point that My Maps are now beginning to get aggressively spammed in some industries.

How to Build a Rich Local Web Around Your Business?

Build some My Maps and KML files of your business location, as well create Maps of other businesses in your immediate area. Maybe there is a great coffee shop on the corner – map it. Or a couple great restaurants within a couple blocks of your location – map them. Your accountant might be located a few blocks away, or your favorite laundromat, book store, auto repair guy, sports field, whatever. Combining these locations into your maps may make your maps more authoritative, as well as make your user account more authoritative so that your My Maps have a little more weight behind them than just one single stand alone map in your account. While you’re at it leave some reviews at those places, again to build your authority.

Take photographs and videos of stuff in and around your location. Add those images to Fickr and-or Panaramio and include geo-tags of the location. Add videos to Youtube and include geo-location information. Get creative so that these things might be useful or entertaining for users, not simply there for that fact of trying to satisfy Google with more junk that might help you rank. Instead of leaving a user scratching their heads on why the heck this photo or video is even there, make it useful in some way to build trust and show value.

This appears to be the direction Google is headed with maps and local search. By turning up the dials on that part of the local ranking algorithm it seems Google is encouraging, perhaps incentivising, the creation of more rich local content.

Google Maps Going Real Time?

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

I just finished building this website for an auto detailing shop in Vancouver, BC and today am editing some stuff in their Google Maps profile when I spotted something new. Now you can post up to date events and specials about your business as seen in the screen shot below.

Post event and specials to your Maps Listing

You get 160 characters to write something, and it will auto expire in 30 days.

Below you see how it appeared on their Maps Place page for the business shortly after adding it.

Real time content on Google Maps place pages

Notice the “54 seconds ago“. It seems to show up on the page in a minute or less.

If you post another one it will overwrite the old one, not post more than one like a twitter feed kind of setup.

Great way to keep fresh content on your maps listing and promote your specials, events, and other timely stuff.

Question is, will posting this stuff on a regular bases have any influence in rankings?

Update :

Seems others are commenting on the Twitter-esque or Facebook-like functionality of this new feature. Seb Provencher suggests it’s Google’s shot across the bow towards Twitter and Facebook and goes so far as to suggest Twitter and FB need to start building business profile pages to compete with Google Maps.

Over on Mike Blumenthal’s post the commentors are picking up on the facebook Fun Wall and Twitter stream look to it.

Greg Sterling suggests it should eventually be tied direct to FB and Twitter so you could post it once in the LBC, and auto update your FB wall and Twitter stream in one go.

Transferring Google Local Business Center Accounts

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Following my previous post where I recommended that Google should be allowing shared user access in the LBC I’m now thinking about best practices for transferring accounts. Basically how to pull it off with the minimum disruption to your listings current rankings.

Maybe your web designer went ahead and created a maps listing for you, in their account. Or a family member that knows a bit about the web went ahead and did it for you. But now you want it in your own account where you can control it.

As it stands there is no way to simply transfer ownership of a business listing from one Google account to another. Essentially you must delete one listing and create a new listing in another account. This will temporarily remove the original listing from search results and may take some time for the new listing to resume in its place.

I am actually in the process of doing one of these now and the following is how I’ve gone about it. With relative success. We did loose a couple spots in rankings.

Create A Listing in Second Account

First create the new listing in the other account. Make all the details of that listing identical to the other one. Same name, description, contact info, etc… but add a few more details such as a few extra “Additional Fields”, maybe a few more images. This may make the new listing the more powerful of the two.

Wait for the Merge

Wait a couple weeks to see if a data merge takes place. In the two different LBC accounts you should start to see identical impression and action statistics. Also the listing details on the place page for that business should be now showing those extra’s you added to the new listing version. This is similar to merging duplicate listings within the same account, except in this case its across two accounts.

Edit Original Listing

Once you are fairly confident a data merge has occurred go and edit the original listing, the one you want to remove from the other account. Strip out all the information except the name phone and address. Delete the description, images, hours, additional fields, etc… but don’t touch the name, phone and address fields. Save those edits.

Wait Some More

Now wait and watch for a couple weeks. Hopefully rankings did not plummet, the listing appearing in results still has all its details, from the new listing you created, all or most the reviews and web citations (”more about this place”) are still appearing in the businesses place page, etc…

Delete the Old Listing

Now you should be able to safely delete the old listing from that other account.

What I saw happen in the case I’m dealing with is some of the reviews from other sources, outside Google’s own reviews, got dropped. I do expect them to return at some point. The business dropped out of the top 7, where it had been ranking #7, falling to #9. Loosing those reviews may have been the kicker there. Seems we still have all the web citations. When those reviews come back, plus other optimization tricks begin to kick in, we should see this business back into 7 pack, and hopefully ranking a bit higher next time.

Update: They came back into the top 7, at #4, after a few weeks.

Google’s Local Business Center Should Allow Shared Users

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Note to Google – this should be a priority for 2010

Update: It’s now 2011 and still no shared user access :(

I  believe that business owners should own and control their online data. Or as much as is possible. Google generally feels the same way and recommends that business owners claim and verify their own listings in Maps.Too many small business owners are not getting this message.

Why Google does not have a shared user system, like it currently uses in products like Google Adwords and Google Analytics, baffles me.

What I see happening, too often in fact, is marketing agencies, SEO’s, and whatnot creating, claiming and verifying listings on behalf of clients from within the agencies LBC accounts. This makes it much easier for the agency to manage their clients info, and, as a fair number of  small business owners are a tad handicapped when it comes to just about anything computer related, it’s also easier for the business owner to have someone else handle it for them. But it poses many problems. Some big nasty ones, in my opinion, that create significant business risk.

Risks Associated with Not Controlling your Own Google Maps Listing

  • Being Held Hostage by Marketing Companies – read that as “keep paying monthly or we delete your listing”.
  • Lack of Transportability – Must create new account and listing, wait for a data merge, then delete old listing. Potential 2+ week disruption.
  • Unable to Make Your Own Changes when you Need To or Want To – Don’t like your description? Want to add new hours or payment methods? No can do.
  • Open to Spammy Abuses by Unscrupulous Agencies or Amateurs – these could get your listing penalized at some point.
  • Potential for Duplication of Listings – multiple internet yellow pages type sites are adding Google Maps marketing up-sells, where they create maps listings and/or are using their own call tracking numbers. eeek!

Any of these could cause a noticeable drop in rankings for anywhere from a few days, a few weeks or a few months.

Risks of Having to Share Login Info

You should not share your Google Account with others. Whoever you share your Google Account login info to has access to all your Google services. That includes your Gmail, where you may have private information in your inbox, Google Adwords where you are spending money on advertising, Google Docs where you may have important documents such as business plans, etc…

Sharing your login info to allow a 3rd party to “optimize” your Maps listing should only be done after you’ve established some level of trust with that 3rd party. Even then you should probably change your password to a temporary one, for while they have access, then change back to your preferred one and lock them out after they are done. Note, while that third party has access it is possible for them to change passwords and lock you out!

That said I often have clients send me login info so I can set things up for them. But I’m upfront about making them aware of what it means and what I have access too. In cases where the client does not yet have a Google Account yet I go through the process of setting one up, creating an iGoogle page, Analytics, Local Business Center, and in some cases Adwords. Show them how it all works then tell them how to change the password so they then have control.

Keep Business Accounts Separate from Personal Google Accounts

A tip to business owners. Keep your business data separate from your personal data. This includes your Google accounts. Google recommends this too. At some point you may need to share login info regarding business stuff, or in the future when you sell your business, you want to be able to easily transfer ownership of business data online.

Ideally The LBC Should have Shared User Access Functions

This would solve a number of problems while still allowing agencies and SEO’s to manage things efficiently. Google already has the infrastructure in place. A simple cut and paste of code from Adwords or Analytics, some tweaks to apply it to the LBC, and presto, shared user capabilities.

I worry about the many naive small business owners facing the growing onslaught from mediocre quality and sometimes outright exploitative companies working towards scaling local SEO to capture the big market where those naive and spendthrift people lie.

I see some “local SEO agencies” springing out of the multi-level marketing (MLM) world and it makes me shudder. Not to mention those springing up outside of North America and Europe. That’s not meant to be a xenophobic/racist comment by any means. I’m just generally not comfortable with the quality of service coming out of certain parts of world where tech labor is abundant on the cheap. Also many larger agencies don’t apply any sort of exclusivity on their service and offer the same services to local competitors, and thus are privy to your performance data which can than be applied to assist your direct competitors.

Google Maps team, get on it!

Future Proof Your Google Maps SEO

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Google Maps is still in it’s early stages of evolving and improving the ranking algorithm. Lots of easy, often spammy, methods for ranking are still working, but slowly many of these will be getting picked off by the G team. Are the current optimization methods you’re using today going to continue to work in 3 months? 6 months? A year or more? Or will you be one of the many complaining in the maps forums or various blogs about how your highly ranked listing suddenly dropped to page five.

Strive for Quality

Google ultimately wants to provide relevant and quality results to it’s users. It’s simply in their best interest to do so. It’s in your best interest then to satisfy Google to that end. Give them reasons to believe your business is a quality one. Give those quality cues early.

I see many small business owners, too many really, hoping for that quick fix home run, only to be continually chasing it over and over again when something in the ranking algorithm changes. Think about each and every aspect of your listing and why you are doing it the way you are.

Tone Down the Keyword Spam

Keyword spamming of business name titles, descriptions, and additional fields is a common tactic. About a month ago there was a rash of complaints over lost rankings due to keyword spamming in category fields. This sent hundreds of business owners scrambling to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. The same is likely to happen when Google ads more filters to cut other forms of keyword spam.

Much has been discussed elsewhere about keyword usage in business name titles, and Google’s stance on it, so I won’t say much about it here other than to say if you do it, keep it light.

Writing and crafting descriptions and additional field information is not simply about jamming in keywords, the quick and dirty way. Instead take your time to craft a good description that uses a couple of your main keywords in a natural way. You should really only need 1 or two variations of your main service keywords and one instance of your city name within your description. At 200 characters your description field may just give you enough room to word it in such a way as to also include a Call to Action of some sort.

Use Additional Fields to help target other service keywords, as well as reinforcing your main keywords one or twice more. Write nice little sentences that may provide real information to a potential customer.

Some examples of bad Additional Field usage;

  • NYC Laptop Repair : Yes
  • Laptop Repair : New York

This would be an example of quality in an Additional Field;

  • Laptop Repairs : Our NYC computer technicians can repair your laptop or notebook with ease. From broken monitors to dead batteries.

See the difference? Those bad examples, I’ve seen all kinds of that out there. Not only from small business owners that don’t really know better, but from some larger scale SEM agencies optimizing listings for clients. Tisk, tisk.

Just look at what we accomplish with the higher quality Additional Field that is targeting the exact same keywords. A user can actually read it and get some value out of it, thus building goodwill and trust (not much, but miles above that lame crap in the bad example). You are hitting not only your main keywords, but a few other relevant ones as well.

It might take an extra 5 minutes to try to write something decent that will fit inside the 120 character limit but in the long run it’s well worth it. When Google adds a keyword density filter, or something similar, you won’t be scrambling to rewrite your Maps listings again.

Be Careful with Reviews

Upon realizing reviews have an effect on Maps rankings many business owners jump to trying to amass a number of reviews quickly. Often taking the easy route of creating fake reviews. Woa! Careful there. Fake reviews are easy to spot, both by users and by search engines.

Comments about fake reviews

I repeatedly see legitimate reviews commenting upon what looks like a fake review for the same business. If a couple people are taking the time to write such a comment in the reviews how many more are noticing it and are left scratching their heads as their trust levels diminish. Fake reviews are also quite easy to spot by a computer algorithm. Where has that user left other reviews? Did that same user claim that business listing? Is that same review content appearing for other business listings, or from other review sources? Copypasta is easy but tastes horrible.

Instead, create and implement a system that will continually encourage the generation of reviews over the long haul. Include links to review sites in thank you emails sent to customers. Hand out a thank you card at the cash register that includes information on leaving online reviews. Get creative, there are lots of easy and non-spammy ways to get real reviews.

Recognize Inherent Limitations

Maps search is primarily about the broader categories of business services, for the vast majority of businesses out there. It is not much of a long tail search play. That is much better suited to organic SEO and Pay Per Click advertising.

Now there is a bit of a long tail effect in Maps but it is very weak in comparison. With only 5 categories to choose from, very limited space for descriptions and other information, and the fact that a map is only triggered in the Universal Search Results for mainly those broader category types, the system itself creates limitations. Recognize them and work within them to maximize your relevance to the types of key phrases people are actually using to find your services.

Diversify your Local Marketing

As Google Maps has grown in prominence I get more requests for help with Google Maps listings but I’m seeing many who are relying solely on Maps to generate business. That’s a dangerous position for a small business to be in. Anything could change at any time such as a massive algorithm adjustment that bumps you out of the top results, or a silly mistake in your optimization triggers a filter, or Google completely changes the game with a new version of Universal Search Results, perhaps as simply as occupying the entire visible page, before scrolling down, with paid ads.

Don’t neglect organic search optimization and the long tail riches it trickles your way. Or PPC ads that help you pull a larger fraction of total available traffic (yes, even for same keywords you already rank well for in maps and organic). Experiment with social media marketing via Facebook and Twitter. Try the Pay Per Click options through Facebook. Advertise locally on relevant local websites. There is a lot more yo can do besides just Google Maps.

So for 2010, and beyond, focus on quality to win the local SEO game now and into the future.