SMX West 2011: Up Close with Google Place Pages

It’s after lunch and everyone (hopefully) has a full belly. I thought maybe the fullness of bellies would cause people to lag to the next session, but no way – these people are persistent and this session is packed. I came five minutes before start and had to sit three rows back! Time for more local tactics – ready? OK, let’s go!

SMX West logo

Moderator: Chris Silver Smith, Director of Optimization Strategies, KeyRelevance

Q&A Moderator: Benu Aggarwal, President, Milestone Internet Marketing


Brian Fitzgerald, Director, Search and Social, MICROS eCommerce Services | TIG Global
Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management, Google
Chris Silver Smith, Director of Optimization Strategies, KeyRelevance
Gregg Stewart, President, 15miles
Max Thomas, Founder / Captain Thunder, Thunder SE

First, a Solution Spotlight presentation from someone at KeyRelevance … booth 206, you say? I may just check it out. Ladies, don’t all rush the booth at once.

First up is Gregg Stewart. He just said “y’all.” I like “y’all” – it’s a great shortcut. Gregg says 83 percent of consumers are shopping online weekly. The question is, how do you take Google Places pages and add the offline conversion and marry them?

Each year, his company does a local search study. The slide he is showing illustrates that from 2007 to 2010, local search site share has grown 20 percentage points.  His slide says 64 percent of local business searchers expect the results to be within 15 miles of their location.

You can’t just put all your eggs in one basket. In October, Google changed the face of the results with Places pages in the results. He references Bruce’s earlier citing in the Local Search Tactics session, that the average user doesn’t know how to decipher organic from local. He also references the final thought from Mary Bowling in that session, where she said let’s start with great content.

In the Places side optimization, links are replaced with what’s called citations [see the Local Search Tactics session from earlier for a little more about that]. You need to identify the listing you want to claim, but accuracy is key. You have to make sure there is consistency. [This is a theme in this conference with regards to local optimization.] As you go through the process, make sure that all your listings are aligned, not just Google Places.

Third-party reviews are important. He says even though Yelp says dosn’t incentivize for reviews [Google Hotpot Portland, talking to you], there’s a huge market for it, people need it. [EN: Check out Lisa’s coverage of the explosive Yelp session on this one. –Susan] Six out of 10 folks are using them. It doesn’t mean it’s not authentic or genuine. There’s nothing wrong with asking people to review you.

Now, Chris Smith is up.

He is focusing on how to rank in Google Places. He is going off the Google LatLong blog post on how to rank in local that came out not too long ago: Relevance, distance and prominence. He wants to talk prominence because there is a lot of mystery around it.

Developing prominence:

  • Links/PageRank
  • Yet, it’s going beyond link building
  • Citations
  • Mentions of a business name or phone number
  • Mentions of a business name and address

PlaceRank is like PageRank. Where do they get this information? Look to Google Maps, Google Buzz, Wikipedia articles that have location associated with them, photos that have location associated with them (photo-sharing sites), YouTube videos with geotags.

Businesses may have to resort to more traditional public relations tactics to promote your location and area to make it more prominent. Print media could be another source of citations. Google Books maps out locations it sees when it scans the books. He says he talks about this more in a recent Search Engine Land article.

Perhaps trade journal mentions may also help. Even thought this is a more traditional tactic, it could be part of the plan. Social media mentions also, for example, Twitter feeds with location mention. Check-ins mentioning your business (Foursquare, Gowalla).

Possible future sources: Voice recognition in YouTube videos, business signage showing up in street view pictures or photos uploaded online. Newspaper stories that mention your business. Pitching ideas to journalists may be worthwhile.

Now, Max Thomas takes the stage. He says he’s from sunny San Diego – go my hometown!

He says all the information he’s sharing is in a blog post he wrote recently. He is talking about a case study he did for a dental business. The analysis process, he says, consists of looking at citations, Google Places and SEO metrics. He uses Whitespark’s local citation finder tool to track citations.

[It’s kind of hard to translate all the data in the slides, so I’m going to just give you the key findings.]

In this case study, he found that the anchor links were playing a part in the ranking. Most of Page 1 rankings had exact-match anchor text. Does anchor text outweigh citations? This is the question they are trying to answer.

He went over his key points so quickly! But his conclusion is on on their blog.

Brian Fitzgerald is up.

He is sharing the results of some research he did. He wanted to find the breakdown of referring traffic to a couple hundred sites before and after Google Places search. Before Places search, 50 percent of traffic came from Google. Google Places was showing around 3 percent of traffic. After Place search, they found there wasn’t a significant change to the amount of traffic Google Places was driving to clients.

International businesses saw a decrease in Google Places referrals. He thinks it’s partly due to the fact that it’s not rolled out worldwide. The top 10 biggest changes after Places search was all the big name brands within his client base. He thinks it has to do with all the algorithm changes recently, not just Places search.

SMX West ADD Distraction

[Oooo, I just noticed the chandeliers – they are very artsy and distracting. Sorry, ADD kicked in for a second.]

For the hospitality industry, there is a concern about Google introducing price comparisons right on the Google Maps page. He is concerned this is too early in the buying cycle for this info to be presented to users. This is also on the individual Places pages as well. He says to read Mike Blumenthal’s blog for more information on topics like this. This could be an issue for other industries as well.

He is referencing and Google Shopping being integrated into Google Places pages, and the opportunities that may arise from that.

Carter Maslan from the Google Places team is up.

He wants to tell what motivates Google with Places. He says it’s a reflection of the way information is found in the real world. They want to create a map of the world’s information geographically.

Google is focused on making it easier to discover the best sources of information about any place in the world. One thing that “grates” on him is the contrast of local versus organic search. He’s saying it’s still “organic.” He says that Place search can save people seconds on their search and that makes Google happy. This is because users don’t have to go through extra steps to get to the info they need.

One of the challenges is that there’s a huge amount of good content. They are trying to make it easier to discover why any of the published sources matches what you had in mind for your search. He says they need to do a better job in discovering the dimensions that match.

They are doing this all over the world – more than 50 million places across the globe. It’s a big computational challenge. He has three tips:

  • Markups help precision; Rich Snippet helps.
  • Authorship builds trust. If they just see text, Google has no way of knowing if it’s trustworthy.
  • Mobile matters. Having a site that clicks through well is important. If you have an app, make sure it’s user-friendly.

Google is just trying to organize the world geographically.

Questions and answers time.

Q: I have a Places page that keeps getting pulled down. What are my options?
A: Carter says if quality guidelines are OK, but was taken down for spam algorithms, there’s a form you can submit for consideration.

Q: Is there value in building links to the Google Places page themselves?
A: Max says it’s a good question but they haven’t tried exploring that. Basically, just start looking for patterns.
A: Carter says it might be a strange signal to consider.

Q: Since Google has replaced the 7-pack and integrated locations with organic results, is there a rough formula based on organic optimization versus Places page?
A: Gregg says he’s looking at a balanced portfolio version.
A: Brian says it comes down to the query. Difficult question to answer.
A: Carter says put your minds in Google’s heads and what they are trying to solve. If you’re looking for something that is roughly uniform and distance is the primary factor, then Google is trying to give the best answer. Look to that to figure out what content is helpful.

Q: What happens if you don’t have a physical location?
A: Carter says don’t create a Places page if not. If people can call and visit you, do.

Q: What if you have multilanguage listings?
A: Carter says he needs to check with the team to see where they are at with that transition.

Q: What’s the best approach to incorporate call-tracking numbers.
A: Carter says without giving an “absolute” answer, it does track signals and those may confuse the Places page and look spammy. Consistency of the phone number is very helpful. At least make sure the canonical phone number is there if you do.

Q: If you have two listings, what do you do?
A: Carter says if you moved locations, close the old location and open the new location. If it’s just bad data, click edit, report a problem and tell them what’s up.

Q: Is there any official word on how Google re-indexes reviews?
A: Carter defends his answer, says he’s not side-stepping by saying that it’s all on different schedules. [Chuckles form the audience.]

Q: Does the Google algorithm have a different algorithm for generic searches versus brand name searches.
A: Carter says Google is trying to balance matching weight of category versus title. There are a variety of things that determine how much weight each has in each query or geography.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

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Everyone that I’ve talked to said it was Chihuly — very perceptive!


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