Local Search – Cleaning Up the Mess

I’ve been working with a client who has decent natural search rankings but not-so-good local search rankings (e.g., Google Places). Although this client has done a good job of claiming their listings, they’re still not ranking as well as they should be in the local results.

Digging a little deeper, it’s pretty clear why.

  • For several legitimate reasons, there’s a lack of consistency in their listings in directories, Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), etc. The company consolidated from two locations to one, and, correspondingly, from two phone number to one a few years ago. That means there’s a lot of information out there from the ‘old’ location.
  • Because data providers try to do the best they can with amalgamating information, they sometimes merge accounts or otherwise modify information incorrectly. The multiple locations issue magnified that problem.
  • As is the case with most SMBs, the client didn’t know all the intricacies of local search marketing, like how important it is to have a consistent name, address and phone number across the board.
  • The client has some very aggressive competition who have managed to pull off a little map spamming.

As I’m working to fix these issues, I’m reminded of one reason that many SMBs don’t do this (beyond not knowing that they should): It’s cumbersome, time-consuming, and frustrating.

On my personal blog, I wrote a post a while ago about why now was the time for SMBs to rethink – or get – a social media strategy. In that post I outlined some important factors of social media beyond the obvious.

I think the same holds true with local search engine optimization. Local SEO can help your business rank well in the all-important maps section. In a different post on why local SEO matters, I noted that data from TMP Directional Marketing suggests that there are 2 billion local searches per month. If some of those prospective customers are looking for you, it’s worth the time and frustration to get your local listings done right.

In my next post, I’ll be writing about the steps you should take to improve (or fix) your local search presence.

Local Business Listings That Refuse to Die

I’ve talked before about the importance of the local search results for small businesses who primarily work with customers in a geographic area that is near them. Those posts are a little dated, but help articulate the value of local search for small business owners:

  • Google Local Search Result for 'Pizza'The local results have gotten more prominence, particularly on Google.
  • Search engines (and other directories) get this information in one of two ways: 1) you provide it to them, or 2) they pull it from other sources like InfoUSA, Localeze, and YellowPages.com.
  • As a business owner (or a representative of), you should ‘claim’ your listing, which allows you to edit the information, add photos and videos, and more.

Proliferation – Your Data’s Like Bunnies
I previously owned a franchise of a national Internet marketing company. I subsequently dissolved my relationship with that firm and struck out on my own, focusing on small business Internet marketing consulting in Central Florida.

However, the information connecting me to that franchise name lives on, despite the fact that I’d done what I thought needed to be done to remove it.

I only found this out today when someone used Google Maps to look up my address, and then got confused because it listed the old business name. I did a search on my address and discovered – much to my chagrin – that the information I’d thought I’d wiped out had actually proliferated while I wasn’t paying attention.

The Ever-Reaching Tentacles of the Interwebs
Fixing this issue requires first understanding how the search engines are getting the information for those local results in the first place. Essentially, they obtain (and display) information about your business in one of two ways: 1) you give it to them or 2) they pull it from a variety of data sources.

Search Engine Land has a good (albeit a little dated) overview of how local search works.

Since I’d claimed and then subsequently deleted my listings from the major search engines, I hoped that would effectively remove my listings there. The problem is that that the data wasn’t removed from all the other places it appears, and the engines eventually pulled it back in.

What Next?
I’ve already notified Google that the Place no longer exists. (I’m hoping they don’t also delete my current business, which is at the same address. Fortunately, the phone numbers are not the same, so I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll recognize them as separate entities.)

I’m going to gradually go through all the other sources that have data for the old business and try to modify it so it reflects my new business or have it removed. I’ll be documenting my efforts and posting the outcomes in a future post, so stay tuned!

Full Sail University Interview with Rob Croll

First – and most obvious – question: Where did you get the name of the business?
Marlannah is a mashup of the first names of my daughters Marlena and Hannah. I like to tell them that I’m making them famous, but they’re mostly focused on who has more letters in the name!

What does Marlannah Group do?
Along with a network of partners I’ve developed over the years, I work primarily (though not exclusively) with small local businesses in Central Florida to help them develop a strategy for marketing their business online. What that means depends entirely on the business the client is in; some clients need everything from a website to email marketing while others may already have some of the pieces.
We’re able to work with them to help shape how prospective customers will find them online, and what they’ll think about them once they find them.

What kinds of clients do you work with?
I’ve not really focused on any specific industry and am fortunate to have worked with clients across a pretty wide spectrum. Currently, for instance, I’m working with a local printing company, a wedding planner, massage therapist, business associations, an eye doctor and a few restaurants, among others.

Why focus on small businesses?
My focus has been primarily on small business clients because I find them the most rewarding to work with, though not necessarily from a financial standpoint! For me, the Internet has the potential to really level the playing field to allow small businesses to achieve success they could have only dreamed of not long ago. But, the reality has been that most small business owners are simply too busy running their business to fully capitalize on the power of the Internet. They’re overwhelmed by the options, don’t have time to educate themselves, and are worried about the shady characters in the Internet marketing industry. (And there are plenty of those!) The more time that passes, the more the Internet changes and the further behind they feel. The printing company I mentioned, for instance, has been in business for over a decade but hasn’t ever even had a website. They were so intimidated by it all that they didn’t even know how to find someone to help. I really enjoy being able to work with someone like that and show them the potential that exists and help them reach their goals. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help a small business get new clients because it makes a real difference for them.

What advice do you have for small businesses that need help with Internet marketing?
Enroll in the Full Sail University’s Internet Marketing program! Really, though, I’d suggest that most business owners who don’t have a lot of experience with Internet marketing find a reliable partner who can, at a minimum, help guide them in developing a strategy that works. I know that may sound self-serving, but I’ve seen too many instances of businesses wasting time and energy on marketing that isn’t really going to help them, or building a website on their own that does more damage than good for their business.

There’s a lot of talk these days about Web 2.0 technologies like blogging and social media. Should small businesses be jumping on this bandwagon?
Positively, absolutely… maybe. My favorite book on the subject is Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin because he does a superb job of talking about where all this “Web 2.0” stuff can work—and where it won’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Should my company have a blog?” My answer is always a series of questions, starting with “Are you a good (or at least decent) writer?” and followed by “What are you going to write about? Will anyone want to read it? How will you get people to it? How much time can you commit to writing?” The key is to understand who your customers are. If there’s an opportunity for your business to interact with—not just sell to—your target market online then by all means do it. If you don’t have something to say besides a sales pitch, though, it’s probably not going to work.

What do you think is the most underutilized element of Internet marketing?
Far and away, I think businesses—especially small ones—are missing opportunities on ‘local’ search. If I’m looking for a dentist, it’s likely that my search will include some geo-modifier like a city name or zip code because I know that will improve the quality of the results for me. In many instances, results from a geo-modified search like that will include paid links, natural links AND local listings alongside a map. The source for those listings near the map is different than the others, and you can claim your listing with the search engine, which gives you control over certain elements of the listing. It’s a vastly underutilized—and virtually free—way of getting found online.

How did you end up at Full Sail?
A big part of why I’m attracted to working with small businesses is the teaching aspect. I truly enjoy helping them understand ‘how it all works’ and how to make it work for them. When I discovered that Full Sail was launching an Internet marketing degree, I was incredibly excited. I feel fortunate to be part of an amazing program that’s part of an amazing organization. And, I truly think this is an extraordinary opportunity for our students to learn the future of marketing and that our graduates are going to be sought after by companies big and small. You can get more information about Marlannah Group and the Internet marketing services it provides to clients at www.MarlannahGroup.com.


Can Your Business Thrive In a Recession?

Black Friday 2008 has just barely come and gone, and already the pessimistic news for retailers is flowing in. Anecdotal evidence here in Orlando suggests that consumers are scaling back this year, due in part to what many fear could be a long and protracted recession.

It’s so bad, it seems, that even kids are sharing their economy woes with Santa, asking for things like a new job for Dad or money for Mom to buy the house back. (Sounds like Santa’s list is going to be a little tougher to fill this year.)

But is it really all doom-and-gloom? As a small business owner, should the current economic situation make you pull back, or should you use this as an opportunity to forge ahead? Consider this:

  • According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (the official arbiter of economic expansions and contractions), the average post-World War II economic contraction – of which there have been ten – has lasted about ten months.
  • Since the NBER uses (by necessity) historical data, recessions are often officially ‘called’ months after they’ve begun – and sometimes not until they’re actually over.
  • It’s probable that an ‘official’ recession started earlier this year; if it keeps to the average of recent downturns, that would mean it’s perhaps as much as half over.
  • Of course, what matters to you is not whether we’re technically in a recession or not, but how your customers are behaving. If they’re scaling back you may feel you have no recourse but to do the same.

    But perhaps a better course of action – for some businesses, at least – would be to scale UP. Perhaps this is an opportunity to reexamine your business, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and implement a plan that will allow you to grow even if we are in a recession.

    Don’t think it’s wise to try to grow your business during a time of uncertainty? Here are a few reasons you might want to reconsider:

    Competitors will quit. If your business has low barriers to entry and is relatively profitable, your competition may have drastically increased during the recent flush times. (Yes, I’m talking about you, realtors. But also any business that doesn’t require considerable capital – financial or otherwise – to start.) A downturn will almost definitely push some of them out of the market.

    Your remaining competitors may scale back. Watch for signs that your competitors are cutting back on marketing. Don’t see them at the top of the Google results any more? Now may be your chance to supplant them and get the edge.

    Customers behave differently. Earlier this year, an article in the Wall Street Journal noted that the number of consumers who had finalized summer-vacation plans for the year was less than half what it was in the preceding year. For a travel company or tourist destination, that means you need to adjust your messaging and maybe even your target market. Your industry may adjust in other ways, so you need to understand what makes your customers buy NOW, not what made them buy last year.

    There are opportunities to try new things that don’t cost a lot. Not doing email marketing to keep existing customers? Maybe now’s the time to start; it’s inexpensive and effective, and you probably should’ve been doing it long ago. Social media offers another alternative for some businesses. Talk with a consultant or evaluate the options yourself to see if your customers are using social media and if there’s a way for you to engage with them there. (Don’t, however, jump in without a good analysis and a strategy.)

    Businesses who set themselves up to thrive – recession or not – will be in the best position to succeed going forward. Isn’t that what you want for your business?

    Still Using the Yellow Pages?

    I recently came across a really great search marketing article with useful information for local search over at Search Engine Land. The data came from comScore studies commissioned by TMP Directional Marketing comparing this year with last.

    The important bits for small business owners wondering ‘how will customers find me?’:

    • The percentage of people using the print yellow pages as their ‘primary’ source to find location business information has declined roughly 2% in the past year, from 33% to 30%.
    • In 2008, search engines surpassed the YP, with 31% of respondents using them as their primary source.
    • Including Internet Yellow Pages and local search sites, the Internet was the choice of over 60% of respondents.

    But there’s more good news for local search too. A very high percentage of local searchers follow up with some offline activity:

    • 34% do an in-store visit following a local search, and 29% do so after visiting the Internet Yellow Pages.
    • 38% of local searches are followed by a phone call. And over 50% of Internet Yellow Page searches result in a call.

    What Is This Information Telling You?
    If you’re a local business looking for local customers, you simply can’t afford to NOT include the Internet as part of your marketing plan. The days of being able to place an ad in the print yellow pages and forget it are over.

    Google Local Search – May We Help You Find What You’re Looking For?

    David Mihm does a typically fantastic job of explaining the importance of local search in his ‘Ranking in the Local Search Algorithms‘ presentation from the SEMpdx Hot Seat on September 9. (Don’t be frightened by that ‘algorightms’ word; the presentation is really accessible and clear, not a bunch of techno-speak.)

    Particularly noteworthy right up front is the extrapolation that:

    Half a BILLION unique visitors per month search Google with ‘local intent’.

    (Still don’t think local search is important, dear reader?) [Read more...]