Google Plus Local and Blended Local Results Optimization
By Terry Van Horne | September 1, 2012
Recently myself and David Harry interviewed three top Local search consultants for an SEO Dojo Radio Search Geeks Speak Local Search Panel podcast. We were lucky that 3 very knowledgeable Local SEO's were able to join us for what proved to be an hour of tips, information and references. A lot of what I'm sharing today in this post is what I took away from that interview.
Google Local Search is Changing Yet Again!
One of the recent changes to Local has been the addition of Google Plus Local. It means you will have to claim the page like you did with Places. I have a local client that never got around to filling in their Places much less their Plus Local page. I have been managing this site for over 10 years. As Google became more personalized and then Localized this sites rankings have steadily dropped. They could never get set up properly because the PIN for the Places account is sent via a postcard. The postcards were always lost or went to the wrong person.
If you are one of the few that Google Plus Local is now set up to take I would strongly recommend joining Google Plus yourself then claiming your Local+ Page. Right now it is pretty restricted to just sites that are fairly straight forward.
Transitioning to Google Local Plus from Google Places
Businesses with Multiple locations, Brands and business that have service areas are virtually shut out at this point. In his post Mike Blumenthal has recommended only businesses that already have a Places Page in a Local category that doesn't have a service area do much with Google Local Plus at this time. If you are ready to proceed Mike has also published a step by step Guide to merge that Google+ Business page with your existing G+ Local page by following the new verification procedure.
Optimizing For Google Plus Local Search
For the most part things haven't changed much with the transition to Google Plus Local from what I wrote on optimizing for Google Local. In fact much like the my Google Profile page which moved to a "shell page" when Google Plus was created the Google Places Page seems to be providing the same function in Google Plus Local. For the most part my old Google profile page is the information page for my G+ account. That seems to be the role of the Places Page in Google Plus Local.
Once I had my Google Plus Local page set up I'd then start regularly updating the Page and using the events and other functionality like Hangouts. Like any Social Network what you get out of it will or should be proportional to what you put into it. Google is continuing down the road of adding Social Signals so their is some affect on Search whether they are just verification of information signals or a ranking factor is unknown, however, there is a strong correlation between good rankings and social signals. Keep in mind correlation is not causation so whether they cause higher rankings or have another role (verification) is how I would proceed in Social going forward.
Links and Citations are Still Important
We mentioned in the first post on optimizing for Google Local search that links to your website help rankings. That is more a result of the role of the Organic search algorithms then Local Search, however, local links and citations will move Local Search rankings farther than any others. Penguin and Panda updates are at the top of mind with SEOs. Directories are being de-indexed and other similar types of link building are suspect.
CanadaOne's Local business directory is an example of the types of directories that have not been affected by Penguin updates. The General and Paid Directories are the focus of Penguin so in a time when many SEO's and site owners aren't sure of what techniques and types of links to build Local link building seems a good place to go until the fog lifts off what is cause of problems from Penguin updates. Darren Shaw suggested that some other good tactics for getting good/risk free links was to sponsor local teams and organizations, exchange coupon codes with other local business providing a link to the site with the discount. Basically a lot of what you do offline try to think of as many of those as you can and seek the like online site.
Role of 3rd Party Reviews & Google+ Reviews
One thing that does seem to have changed is the role of Google Reviews by Google+ users. Mike Blumenthal mentioned in the interview that once there are about 10 reviews it doesn't really make much of a difference in rankings until you add substantially more Google reviews. Mike went on further to say that diversity of review sources looks to be a very significant signal. The more diversity you have in your review sources the better you'll do. I and Mike Wilton added that one thing to consider for the future is that perhaps at some point Google+ reviewers could begin to be assigned authority or as Mike Blumenthal mentioned there are reviewers from Zagat and Frommers which are professionals.
Google also seems to have put it's foot down on reviews stating that asking for reviews is fine soliciting reviews is not. Mike provided some some ideas of what is bad saying that having a "review station" and allowing the user to open up a new Google + account on it or mass emailing would be examples of techniques that were hit by this recent clamp down on spam..
One tip was to give written instructions for how to add a review. Mike Wilton suggested that it should be, or look, as natural as you can. He has clients that hand out something similar to a business card with instructions. When you look at the Local Search Pak (the listings with the pinmarkers beside them) they all have Google Reviews so it looks like the 3rd party reviews from Yelp, CitySearch (Toronto.com) etc. don't do much but again I would say pay heed to the need for diversity of review sources.
Mike Blumenthal also provided a tip for people whose clients may want anonymous reviews he suggested asking the client to have a friend do a review mentioning how the service worked for their friend. One last tip for reviews was to analyze the numbers of reviews by your non spammy competitors. This gives you an idea of the requirements (SEO's call these thresholds for legitimacy) to look normal. If the average number of reviews is 2 or 3 then if you get 10...well that will look a little fishy won't it?
Conclusions on Google Plus Local
Today we learned more about setting up our Local Business Profile on Google Plus Local; the do's and don'ts in asking for local and Google+ reviews, getting Local links and citations to improve not only Local but organic search and a little about what to do to avoid Penguin update problems. Next month we'll be looking at optimizing the Google Plus Local landing page on your site and any questions that may come in. I have not received any questions so far, but, like the reviews... I'll just ask nicely now for you to email me!