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Can You Trust The Google My Business Guidelines?

February 10th, 2016

It’s a question I constantly think about, especially in terms of how to counsel our current and prospective clients. Now, upfront, I will admit to being a bit of a skeptic. Google’s guidelines are what make the most sense for them in running their business, not what makes the most sense for our clients’ businesses. I’m a big believer that our obligations are to our clients and not our benevolent overlords at $GOOG, so we set out to do a test on a specific part of the guidelines that I have long been skeptical about: Categories.

Google has changed it stance on categories more then it has changed the name of its local product. From allowing custom categories to not. From allowing 5 categories to 10. They are constantly moving the cheese. Here is the state of categories right now:

Google My Business Categories help your performance

Google is explicitly telling you that using the fewest number of categories to describe your business will get you the “best results”. Further on they clarify that not only should you also use the fewest categories as possible, but they should be specific and not solely based on keywords:

Using general categories will hurt your rankings

Now to me this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but whatever, lets test it out.

The Test

We have a client that uses multiple categories for all of their locations, and to me that has always made sense. It was something similar to:

Primary Category: The type of dealership (Toyota Dealer)
Category 2: Used Car Dealer
Category 3: Car Repair and Maintenance
Category 4: Auto Body Shop
Category 5: Tire Shop

These categories are all things that the business does, so why not have them as categories? However, in a world where you want to use the fewest and most specific categories and not choose categories based on keywords they all seem to be covered by “Toyota Dealer”.

So we took 5 locations and set the primary category to  whatever make of car the dealership sold and removed the rest. Based on the Google My Business Guidelines I should expect positive performance at best and neutral performance at worst right?

The Results

So far the results are not good.

Using the fewest most specific categories hurts Google My Business rankings

The locations are down drastically in terms of total keywords ranking and the amount of keywords towards the top of SERPs. Here are the most relevant raw numbers:

Pre-Test:
851 Terms
36 in position 1

End of Test:
243 Terms ranking at the end of the test
16 in position 1

72% of the terms we were tracking disappeared over the course of the test and they lost 56% of their terms that were ranking in position 1. Not really what I would call “best results”.

Takeaways

If you are an SEO and not taking everything you read, even this post, with a grain of salt then you need to start now. This is an industry where best practices often are not and in a weird way we are all just resellers of some other company’s product (Google.) That means you should be testing out tactics before recommending them to clients and making sure you start rolling things out gradually. How else would you learn that despite what it’s guidelines say, Google is not very good at “umbrella categories”? Most important after this test, we know to always recommend caution to clients when looking to make drastic changes to their Google My Business categories.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Google My Business
Posted by Dan Leibson

Why Local Rank Trackers Suck

January 18th, 2016

Thoughtful-Jon-Snow-Local-SEO-400x400

I am publishing part of this post that just went live on SearchEngineLand because:

  1. The original title was “Why Local Rank Trackers Suck”. I get why SEL rewrote it as “Why Local Rank Trackers Fail” – it’s a family site after all – but I think you’ll agree “Suck” is much more accurate.
  2. The editors changed the top image I provided to a stock photo. While I think the article works fine without the image, it’s the image that would have caught people’s attention. I mean who wants to read about local rank tracking, especially with stock images? But everyone likes a good Jon Snow meme. I am guessing the issue had to do with copyright stuff and not wanting it to show on SEL’s homepage. So instead the inserted it further down where it’s referenced in the piece. 
  3. I’ve got nothing better to do with my time than assert my editorial voice about something that no one will remember in a week. Happy MLK Day!

Hey, rank trackers! You know I love you guys, but let’s face it — your local rank tracking is a fail. This Twitter thread says it all.

I’ve got nothing against any of you, but I am hoping this rant will spur some of you on to solve this problem. Hey, maybe you already have, and I just don’t know about it. Hit me up, and I’ll get SEL to cross this whole thing out and put a nice juicy link to your site at the top with anchor text = “best local rank tracking software.” (Editor’s note: This is not going to happen.)

For local search marketers — and if you have been following the evolution of mobile search, you know we are all on our way to becoming local search marketers — rank tracking can be helpful to both understanding the SERP landscape and communicating with clients. (I know, no one wants to report rankings to clients, but they all still seem to want them.)

There are a ton of Local Rank Trackers — our list of Local SEO Tools has 23 — but the process has become increasingly difficult as Google iterates on their technology.

The Problem(s) With Location-Based Tracking

Google likes to return local pack/maps results based on the user’s physical location; however, there is often a lot of wiggle room. Google always thinks I am one city over, for example.

On top of that, local organic results are not always driven by precise location targeting on GOOG’s end. So before we even start tracking, the data is a bit fuzzy. Par for the course in Local.

Now consider that these tools are generally designed to track rankings in markets where a business is physically located. This presents a huge problem for service area businesses that may be attracting customers from dozens of cities. How about a business where customers will travel greater distances (like to get a great deal on the exact car they want)?

These businesses generally have to pay a significant amount of money for enough credits to cover all of their “markets,” and then they usually have to track all these areas as separate locations. That means a single plumber may need several “locations” in a rank tracker just to properly track search results in their target markets.

Now imagine how this works when you have 1,000 locations. On second thought, let’s not.

What Do You Mean When You Say “Local Rankings?”

When you say “local rankings,” do you mean local organic rankings, or are you talking about local pack rankings?

Or maybe you mean Google Maps? And what about Apple Maps? How do you factor one-boxes, local Knowledge Graph results and combined local/organic results into you tracking? Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about mobile SERPs and app indexing. And how do you report this mess?

Tracking Frequency Vs. Ranking Volatility

We all know that search rankings are incredibly volatile, so how do you separate the signal from the noise?

Some rank trackers track daily, because they want you to have a complete data picture, but that includes a lot of noise that is difficult to sort out. This is especially true of multi-location brands where daily tracking across hundreds (or thousands) of locations becomes an impenetrable abyss of “big data” that needs significant analytical skill and time to sort out.

If you try to cut through the noise by using weekly tracking, then you are only looking at a slice of the whole picture that may omit important movement based on days of the week.

It’s basically a given at this point that user behavior influences search rankings, so your business vertical may be specifically prone to these fluctuations; that’s another variable that drives your average multi-location brand analytics guy to break bad.

Read the rest on SearchEngineLand.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Local Data
Posted by Andrew Shotland

First They Came For Set My Location…

November 30th, 2015

Google’s “Set My Location” option in the Search Tools section appears to have pulled a Google Plus Local…

Google Set My Location

First spotted by the ever-diligent @LennyPham.

From @DarrenShaw: “Fortunately, &near=city_name is still working for getting localized results outside of your city.”

→ 7 CommentsTags: Google
Posted by Andrew Shotland

The Great Google Plus Local – Google My Business Decoupling of 2015

November 30th, 2015

NYC Blackout 1977

I was at Shea Stadium during the NYC blackout of 1977. It’s was pretty cool. The lights went out at Shea first so we got to watch all of Manhattan go dark one block at a time – we were high up in the cheap seats. When big events happen, what we were doing, where we were, etc. often stick in our memories. The recent separation of Google My Business and Google Plus is not one of those events.

A reporter asked me what I thought of the news and I wrote enough of a response that I thought it worth publishing on these august pages:

  1. It’s a pretty common refrain that any time Google changes something, the businesses that are directly affected by that change start complaining that Google is screwing them. So in a lot of ways the decoupling of Google Plus Local from Google My Business is no different than say Google changing the rules on Adwords resellers or releasing a “bug” that specifically screws Yelp & TripAdvisor. So on one hand, we all just need to deal with it and figure out how to adapt our strategies to the new world order. Perhaps where this event is different is that small local businesses (SMBs) are a huge part of Google’s ecosystem, perhaps the biggest, and they are the ones who get hurt the most by these kinds of about-faces. Any of them who had invested in their Google Plus Local pages now are seeing that effort as wasted time, and these are the types of businesses where an hour or two of time wasted on a digital marketing effort can be a big setback. So this gives SMBs yet another reason to not trust Google and to find ways of getting customers outside of Google. It’s hard to say that Google is actively trying to screw SMBs, but it’s easy to see how SMBs may get that feeling by Google’s actions. Google needs to clearly define how SMBs are supposed to interact with Google, lay out a long-term path and broadcast far in advance when they are going to make serious changes to that path.
  2. For large and small multi-location brands, this is probably a net positive. One of the first things we get asked when talking to a potential multi-location client is how much they should be investing in Google Plus. Now they know for certain the answer is “none”.
  3. For those of us who have been observing Google for a while, we haven’t invested a huge part of our business, or our clients’ businesses, in using Google Plus. Sure we have tested it over the years, but it never seemed to be a valuable part of a customer attraction or retention strategy, particularly when compared to Facebook for certain types of businesses. We have always been focused on Google My Business and making sure our Local clients appear in relevant local search queries on Google Web results and Google Maps. So I’d be surprised if this change is a meaningful event for any SEO company or their clients. It hasn’t been for us.
  4. Perhaps the most interesting part of this change is that Google is changing the way the Google Places API works. It used to pull the URL from the GMB profile page URL but now it only uses the CID code for each business. We saw this change about a week before the Google Plus Local/GMB decoupling and a lot of local tool developers had to scramble to figure out how they were going to update their data. We are still seeing a lot of fallout from that. As always, the lesson is if you build your business on someone else’s platform, don’t be surprised when at some point they pull the rug out from under you.

I probably could have saved some time by just responding with “What Mike said…”.

Comments Off on The Great Google Plus Local – Google My Business Decoupling of 2015Tags: Google My Business
Posted by Andrew Shotland

The Cure for Corporate SEO Inertia…

November 23rd, 2015

Corporate SEO Inertia

If your monthly SEO reports look like this, you may want to stop trying to roll the organic SEO bolder up the hill and see if a local SEO strategy can work for your brand. I just posted some thoughts on this topic on Search Engine Land, Even If a Brand Can’t Do SEO, It Can Still Do Local SEO. While it’s not without its own unique complications, Local SEO programs often can operate without involving huge amounts of internal resources. We have convinced clients to shift their budgets from organic to Local a few times over the past year and each time it has resulted in a much better outcome for the client, and consequently for us :)

 

 

→ 4 CommentsTags: Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland