In July 2014, Google rolled out an algorithm update that had a massive impact on local search results. Suddenly, queries that used to trigger the local listings to appear (the 3-pack and 7-pack of map listings) generated only the standard search results. Most local search experts, myself included, scratched their collective heads as they scrolled through the new, post-Pigeon search landscape (Search Engine Land dubbed the update Pigeon because of its impact on the local search results pages).
Sites doing “the right thing” per Google seemed to be replaced on the first page by sites using spammy SEO techniques not seen since 2008 – 2009.
It’s day two at SMX East 2014 and I’m joined by a panel of four local SEO experts for a Q & A session. Our goal is to better understand the impact of Google’s recent Pigeon update and discuss strategies local businesses can use to maintain or reclaim lost visibility in the local listings.
The Panel of Local SEO Experts
Moderator: Matt McGee, Editor-in-Chief at Search Engine Land
Mary Bowling, Ignitor Digital
Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing
Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System
Will Scott, Search Influence
7 Local SEO Questions Answered
Here are the seven questions I think are most relevant to the types of clients we work with at Blue Corona:
Question: What has changed with Pigeon?
Short Answer: Brands win and spam (temporarily) wins
Brands win. For a lot of industries, when you search a general term, they no longer trigger the Google places results. Instead, they trigger the 10 blue links (traditional search results). Mike Ramsey said, “It’s like we’re back to 2008 or 2009. Spam works better than ever–super easy spam.” Mike tried to show an example using a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the example was no longer there–a testament to how rapidly the landscape changes.
Apparently, maps. Robert Brenner, a personal injury attorney in CA was using his Avvo.com link in his local map listing. By tying a site with strong web signals to his local listing, Mike speculated that it had caused him to leap to the top of the local rankings. Perhaps Google noticed this and removed the listing? Mike also noted that, given how terrible some of the local results are post-Pigeon, Google will probably do a “cleanup” at some point in the near future. He warned local business owners not to rush out and start spamming the search engine because those that do will likely get dropped in the coming weeks and months.
Question: How important are reviews to local organic rankings?
Short Answer: Very
According to Mary Bowling, 15 – 20% of how well you rank locally is due to reviews. Phil said that it’s impossible to over emphasize how important they are. Phil noted that while there’s a point of diminishing returns once a business has five reviews on Google+, you shouldn’t stop there. Phil suggested that there are a minimum of two big benefits to getting more reviews. First, customers want to see them. Second, and this is speculative, he believes that behavioral results matter a lot (people that search and visit your site because they see that you have a lot of reviews vs. a competitor’s site). People are more likely to click on those with more reviews.
According to Mike, a BrightLocal study suggested that 88% of consumers trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Personally, I find this impossible to believe. I’d love to see the questions BrightLocal used to elicit the answers they received. That said, I think that digital reviews become more trustworthy as time goes on.
The best tip for getting reviews comes from long-time local search guru, Mike Blumenthal. His method for getting more reviews is simple: don’t suck.
Question: How can medical professionals and others in industries with privacy concerns get reviews?
Short Answer: Get people to sign waivers.
The panel suggested that doctors, divorce attorneys, etc. ask people to sign a release. Will Scott said that his firm has a plastic surgeon. Post surgery, he shoots video of patient testimonials with his iPhone. Another panelist suggested that professionals in industries with privacy concerns give people choices (i.e. don’t make it Google+ or bust).
Mike Ramsey noted that you have to remember that, if it’s hard for you to get reviews, all your competitors are having the same challenge. If you can find a way to solve the problem, it can be a HUGE advantage. If you give every single customer/client a chance to leave a review, you’re bound to do better.
Question: Do you recommend your clients get Facebook reviews?
Short Answer: Not really.
Phil said that there are so many things you can do on Facebook that he doesn’t really recommend that his clients ask their customers to go there to give a review. Personally, I think you should absolutely ask your clients to head over to your Facebook page and give you a review. It’s only the third most popular website in the world.
Question: If you have multiple locations, should you try to get reviews on all your individual Google+ pages or only on your main page?
Short Answer: Get reviews for all locations.
Mike Ramsey said it best: “You want to get reviews from the areas where your customers live.” Let’s say you have a window and door or kitchen and bath business with three showrooms in three different locations. You should absolutely try to get reviews from local customers living in or near each of your showrooms. These will be more trustworthy than if you only get testimonials from your main location.
Question: How can local businesses get links?
Short Answer: Build brands—not links.
The first answer given was a joke—SPAM. According to Mary B., local businesses should focus on brand building, not link building. I couldn’t agree more. Imagine the world if the Internet didn’t exist. Whatever you would do to build your business, do that. Sponsor local events. Give to local charities. Join local chambers and link back to your location page in that specific city. Find local-specific directories. Find industry-specific, local directories. Even though it’s a total shake down, join the BBB. Create a more direct-path from your homepage and other high-authority pages to your local/specific pages.
The panel noted that it often doesn’t take many links to rank for hyper-local queries.
Question: Should you manually claim your local NAP listings or use an automated service to do it for you?
Short Answer: Manual is best (sort of).
Claiming and cleaning up local Name Address Phone Number (NAP) listings manually is best, but it’s time consuming. Once you claim a listing manually, you have to maintain it manually. There are all sorts of services you can use to automate this process. The problem with some of these services is that you have to continue to “rent” from them. If you stop paying, some of the benefits disappear. What you do depends on the resources at your disposal, how well you’re ranking, and how messy your NAP listings/citations are.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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“We trust our support team at Blue Corona completely and quite frankly are involved in very little of what they do for us. They truly understand SEO and what is needed to make it work. I would say this has been the most valuable aspect of working with Blue Corona. They do so with little to no effort on our part, which allows our sales managers to focus on sales rather than SEO tasks and education. For all of these reasons I would recommend Blue Corona to any business seeking Web design and a strong Internet presence. ”