Local SEO with Mike Ramsey ━ SEM Synergy Extras
Last Thursday we posted a new episode of our SEM Synergy podcast, this one from SMX East in New York City. While I wasn’t able to post about it here on that day (I was knee deep in the final day of liveblogging), the show was mad groovy for several reasons and definitely warrants a recap.
Mad groovy podcast, reason 1: Video interviews to come! Back in August of last year, we tried our hand at video interviews. You can see our small archive of Internet marketing video interviews over on our YouTube channel. Some big names, including Ben Huh of the Cheezburger Network and in-house SEO evangelist Jessica Bowman, helped me blaze the trail into the video realm, but our video interviews gradually fizzled out.
Now we’re looking to video interviews with renewed vigor, and at SMX East last week we had our first chance to capture people on screen. In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting last week’s interviews along with a couple more, and (spoiler alert) video makes everything more entertaining. Jessica’s hoping to snag a few video interviews with our fine fellow marketers at Wappow Search and Social next week. Look out, World Wide Web. We’re ready for our close ups. (No really, please be careful. This fancy new camera we’ve got is HD… O_o … Eep!)
Mad groovy podcast, reason 2: There are two ━ count them: TWO ━ expert interviews on last week’s show. PPC and online ad pro John W. Ellis spills his secrets for scaling back the creep factor of remarketing and retargeting. He also gives some advice on a PPC solution for small businesses looking for a safe way to test paid search, Google Express. As local businesses explore the array of powerful options available to them through online marketing, platforms like Google Express can make good sense.
Moving from the paid space to the organic, I also talked to local search marketing super-sleuth Mike Ramsey about his research into local search ranking factors most closely correlated with high local SERP-age. He shared his research in a session at SMX East called Hardcore Local SEO Tactics. You can find Mike’s slide deck over at the Nifty Marketing blog, and when that’s not enough, listen to Mike’s presentation buzzing over the airwaves as you listen to the podcast.
To get you in the mood for the gems in last week’s podcast, here are some of the highlights from my interview with Mike. You’ll hear all about…
Major shifts in the way Google ranks and displays local search results:
“The biggest change to the way local search displayed was in October ━ it was October 27, 2010. That was when they brought out, basically, the merged search results. We call it, like, the O-pack, or the integrated search results.
More recently, about three months ago, Google just did cosmetic changes to Places. What they did was they eliminated reviews from third-party sources like Yelp, SuperPages, etc., etc., from the count in your Google Places total review average. They also took off the review snippets from the page as well, and all they have now at the bottom of the reviews section of Google Places is small links that might point you over to Yelp and just give you an overall idea of the count of reviews there.
A lot of people thought that would have a major ranking effect change, but it was very cosmetic-based and not ranking-based. Ultimately, it just made it important to make sure you have all sorts of reviews now. It’s just the Google Places reviews are going to be more visible.”
The role and importance of citations as a local search ranking factor:
“Citations is an interesting thing that’s evolved. About, it was probably about 8 months ago, there was a few studies where some people said, ‘Hey, you know, citations don’t matter as much as links anymore.’ When they switched the pack back in October, everybody was on the bandwagon of saying that the citations were losing prominence. It was so interesting putting together the study [of local SEO ranking factors] that we did at Nifty because we found that Google wasn’t showing very many citations on the Places Page, but when you really got in and started doing a lot of custom searching, either on Google or using tools like Whitespark’s citation finder, you would find very different data than Google was displaying on the Places Page.
So, in the study that we found, we had like 57 businesses across 4 different locations and industries and the data showed that on average, the high ranking amount of citations for companies was somewhere in the range of about 3,000 different instances of that showing up, whereas in the low ranking ones it was like under 100, it was very, very low, even under 50.
It just showed me the importance of how keeping your business name, your business address and your business phone number, which incorporates what a citation is, just consistent across everywhere online. It doesn’t mean that citations are the only thing that matters, but in proving location prominence and getting really big trust with Google, it’s by far the most important step. Tying that with link building and it’s probably the two most powerful things you can do in local search.”
Links as a local search ranking factor (and no, they’re not dead!):
“It’s funny because I think in search, a lot of times it’s the latest and greatest thing. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon and you end up going too hard one way or another. So when David Mihm first came out with a piece called “Citations are the New Link” in 2008 or 9, he said citations are the new link.
In local search, people stopped caring about links at all and they just went after citations. All of a sudden, links start mattering again. My hope is in the industry we don’t have people switch too far one way or another. The best is just to be consistent and broad in your approach; build citations and build links.
I think the two points that I had there was exactness in location ━ and that covers your citation side ━ and then prominence in authority. You link building, it builds on your authority, but it also, depending on your anchor text, builds on your location prominence as well. So it’s very good to just incorporate both methods into search marketing.”
Creative ways to encourage reviews online:
“There’s a lot of ways that we’ve been able to incorporate for customers and we find that our clients’ customers have responded well to. One of which is having, on a local website, usually in the sidebar or in the footer space, links to about four review portals. So generally we’ll look at a place like Yelp; I think Yelp is an extremely important review portal. Other ones, like CitySearch, of course Google Places, and then maybe an industry specific one, just depending on what industry you’re in.
We’ll have some kind of phrase like “read our reviews” or “leave us a review” and you can generally, over the course of natural site traffic, people will go, they’ll read a few reviews. Chances are if they enjoy your service they’ll leave one. If you do a bad job, they’ll leave one as well.
A few other things we’ve seen work extremely well. [...] Let’s say you have a customer e-mail list, identifying everybody that uses a Gmail account, identifying everybody that uses any other service. Maybe if you have them on Facebook then you push them toward CitySearch since you can log in to CitySearch with Facebook. Start trying to get your users and push them toward the place that they’re most likely to leave reviews. It works great. I mean, Gmail account users, if you send them a link to Google Places, they’re already logged in. You can send them a direct link to the review spot and it’s fairly easy to pick up quick reviews like that.”
And there you have it! Mad groovy, right? And those are just highlights from one of the show’s interviews! Be sure to listen to the show to soak in the PPC smarts, too. Thanks to Mike and John for sitting down with me at SMX East. As you’ll soon see, the camera loves you guys, and so do SEM Synergy and Bruce Clay, Inc!