Three Recent Changes Pushing Local Search Forwardby Kent Lewis on November 26, 2009Local Search
Google Maps is quickly becoming all the rage within the small to medium sized business (SMB) category. Well, Google Maps has been around for a few years now and the savvy small business owner has most likely taken full advantage of what Maps has to offer (i.e. increased visibility, credibility and most likely revenue). Even larger retailers with brick and mortar stores have been taking advantage of the prime placement within the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a while now. Up until recently, however, Google unfortunately wasn’t paying much attention to this new product of theirs. It almost appeared to be abandoned as no one really understood (I don’t even think Google really new) how the listings were calculated and ranked or why there were multiple listings of your business. Trying to claim your listing became a nightmare for many SMBs. And then came the spammers and hijackers. Fear was spread quickly throughout SMBs as horror stories were surfacing about people hijacking a business listing, taking your traffic and potential sales away from you. What changed? Google woke up.
It became apparent to Google that some sort of policing needed to be done as Local Search was much like the Wild West at times. There was mass confusion and many frustrated SMBs and agencies – most were badmouthing Google and its lack of attention to Maps. Google finally came out with Local Listing Guidelines and created reporting tools in the Local Business Center. These were welcomed changes and with Google showing an effort to make updates to local search, satisfied many people. The world of local search and Google Maps isn’t perfect by any means, but it is apparent that Google continues to work to help make the process easier and less frustrating for SMBs. Over the past few months Google has introduced a couple of new pieces to local search and is working to make the help section easier to get an answer (this doesn’t mean Google is actively monitoring the help forum 🙂 ).
The most interesting addition to local search, in my opinion, is the introduction of Local Listing Ads. These are AdWords-type ads, without the option to write ad text, that will show on the main SERPs page, as well as on Google Maps. The ad itself is very simple with your business name, phone number, a display URL and a link to your business location (which directs folks to your local listing page).
Google is providing reporting for Local Listing Ads that will include impressions & clicks. It’s very limited, but better than nothing. Local Listing Ads will be a flat monthly fee that will differ across industries, and cost will depend on the amount of competition for that particular industry/region. From what I hear, the cost will be reasonable.
Another addition to the local family is the use of mobile coupons, which was just announced yesterday. Google has allowed the creation of coupons within the Local Business Center (LBC) for some time now, however, they haven’t done a great job of making these visible to users. I have clients who have had coupons in their local listing for well over a year and not one person has redeemed them. It’s not because the offers in the coupons are worthless, it’s because no one can see them since they’re nearly hidden. Hopefully mobile coupons can help change that as many people are using their mobile phones for web browsing. If you’ve already created a coupon you’ll need to log into the LBC and check the “mobile phones” option. This is what the coupon will look like on a mobile phone. All a person needs to do is flash this coupon at the participating business and they should redeem the coupon (a business should make all employees aware of this).
Hopefully the inclusion of these coupons on mobile phones will help increase their visibility and usage. Businesses want people to use these coupons, otherwise they wouldn’t have created them, and now they may just get a chance to actually redeem one or two of them.
As I mentioned earlier, retrieving answers to questions via the Google Maps Help Forum was nearly impossible, for a couple of reasons. The first is there doesn’t seem to be anyone consistently monitoring and answering questions from Google’s side. There are a number of top contributors who do their best to answer questions, and we sincerely appreciate your efforts. However, without the Google insider knowledge many of the answers are based on trial and error tests done by folks or merely guesstimating. We need Google employees, Maps team members to be constantly monitoring and answering our questions. It will only help make Maps better for everyone. Secondly, the Maps Help Forum can be difficult to use due to the category structure. Google is working to fix this, making the categories more granular to ensure questions are placed in the appropriate category, which should now be more specific to actual issues.
With all of these additions to Google Maps, my hope is that more and more SMBs will continue to claim their listings and take control of their online visibility. There is so much lost potential right now, but Google is obviously aware of it and working to make the process easier.