“Google Now Sees Owner Written Descriptions As Pretty Much Worthless”

October 18th, 2013

You're All Worthless and Weak

Brother Blumenthal preaching the gospel when asked if there was any SEO benefit to varying your business’ description on different local directories:

“If there is a benefit, it would be quite small. Although there is no exact understanding of how Google uses directory descriptions, it would seem to be a minor or non-issue.”


“As a proof of the low esteem in which Google holds descriptions, look at how little the Google+ description field is actually used by Google itself. The descriptions entered by the business owner only appear on a page that is hardly seen at all by users. Since reviews have been pushed to the front page and Places search was removed, a user needs to click between two and four times to get to the Google+ “About” page where the description resides and that just isn’t going to happen.”

That said, I have a bone to pick with this assessment

“I have seen no indication that strong directory entries like Yellow Pages, Superpages or Yelp are not shown in search results due to a duplicate description.”

The key word here is “strong”. Strong sites can basically do what they please. It’s the not-so-strong sites that would benefit from having unique business descriptions, in the same way that a 2nd tier online retailer would benefit from having a different product description than Amazon’s.

Mike has some interesting thoughts about IYP categories as well.

(via Max Minzer)


→ 3 CommentsTags: Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland

How The Local Data Sausage Is Made

October 17th, 2013

How Sausage Is Made

Source: British Premium Sausages (Yum)

Howard Lerman, CEO of Yext, just unleashed There’s No Such Thing As A Permanent Record, one of the best posts I’ve seen in a long time about why local business listing data is so damn screwed up.

“A common misperception in the local search and data industry is that publishers have a single “permanent” or “master” record for a given business listing. The misconception goes deeper: many people think that claiming a business causes a publisher to update a permanent record for that listing.”

On the process of trying to fix the data at the source:

“Historically, to manage a businesses local data, experts have advocated a “spray and pray” approach. The strategy behind this approach is that, since the public has no real idea which sources any given publisher uses, and no idea how those sources are ranked, the best idea is to simply “spray” your local data to every known aggregator, update your web site, claim your business, file with all gov’t agencies, etc. Then you “pray” that you guessed every source a publisher uses, that their matching process works, and there is no idiosyncrasy that causes your listings to show wrong data.”

Looking forward to the emails from InfoGroup, Acxiom, Neustar Localeze, etc. telling me why this will never happen, but I love this:

“I will leave you with a controversial idea: I actually think Google could solve a lot of their problems by implementing a similar program to the Yext and charging a reasonable monthly for businesses who wish to directly control their data. Who wouldn’t want to pay Google a bit every month to guarantee that their listings were up to date?”

Full disclosure: I publish The Yext Quarterly for which Yext offers me my choice of currency

→ No CommentsTags: Local Data
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Local Citations: Quality v. Quantity?

October 15th, 2013


Source: BrightLocal Citation Building Survey 2013

Nyagoslav Zhevkov has a great overview of a survey on local citations Bright Local conducted in September.  There are a few good insights in the post, but this one stood out for me:

“For the question “What is more important – quantity or quality of citations?” I would have answered that although quality is crucial, if you do not have sufficient quantity of citations, quality won’t suffice. In many cases people set their profiles up on Yelp, Yellowpages, Yahoo! Local, and even Bing and Nokia, stuff them with as much information as they all, and expect the job is done. Unfortunately, with citations, quantity is also an important factor, at least yet.”

As SEOs, it’s all too easy to find yourself always parroting the “quality over quantity” pitch.  We all want that to be true.  But my experience has been that quantity of ridiculous, virtually useless citations, particularly “unstructured” citations (e.g. UGC pages that contain a business’ NAP + keywords) can still move the needle for local keywords.

At some point this tactic may stop working – and the most sustainable SEO still relies on quality all around – but as Nyagoslav says “Unfortunately” quantity too often trumps quality.

→ 1 CommentTags: Local Data
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Local Search Job Candidate of the Month: Robert Collins

October 14th, 2013

From time to time, I like to post high quality candidates who are in the local search job market.  It seems like this blog’s readership is often on the hunt for experienced people who can get the job done.  With that it mind, I proudly present Robert Collins, GM of Surewest Media, one of the West Coast’s largest YP companies.  I’ll let Robert’s LinkedIN profile do the talking:

Robert Collins

“Senior Sales & Operations Executive with demonstrated track record driving exceptional revenue growth and creating highly profitable organizations within multimedia publishing companies.”

I have had the pleasure of working with Robert over the years and I give him an unfiltered 5 stars.  If you are looking for SMB Sales help, he’s your guy. And if you are looking for Myrtle Beach, SC…(it’s a test).

You can contact him via LinkedIN or ping me if you want an intro.

And if you are in the market, either looking for a job or looking to hire someone, let me know.

→ No CommentsTags: Local Search Jobs
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Part-Time SEO Job in the Bay Area

October 11th, 2013

Hey readers,

Local SEO Guide is looking for help in the Bay Area from someone who has experience in “big SEO data” analysis – don’t be intimidated – we’re talking about taking data from various tools and interpreting it into actionable recommendations.

You must be located in the Bay Area. We will not relocate you for this position.

This is a long-term assignment and could lead to full-time employment, if we’re mutually interested. Perfect for an independent consultant looking to pick up some steady work.

Interested?  Contact me here.


→ No CommentsTags: SEO Jobs
Posted by Andrew Shotland

NY Attorney General’s Fake Reviews Sting Exposes Bad Client Screening Practices by SEOs

September 23rd, 2013


NEW YORK — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that 19 companies had agreed to cease their practice of writing fake online reviews for businesses and to pay more than $350,000 in penalties. “Operation Clean Turf,” a year-long undercover investigation into the reputation management industry, the manipulation of consumer-review websites, and the practice of astroturfing, found that companies had flooded the Internet with fake consumer reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch.  This operation also uncovered that many agencies selling SEO services do not know how to screen potential clients.

Posing as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn, representatives from Attorney General Schneiderman’s office called the leading SEO companies in New York to request assistance in combating negative reviews on consumer-review websites.  During these calls, representatives from some of these companies offered to write fake reviews of the yogurt shop and post them on consumer-review websites such as Yelp.com, Google Local and Citysearch.com, as part of their reputation management services.

“While engaging in the practice of writing fake online reviews is reprehensible,” Attorney General Schneiderman said, “What’s really amazing is how these so-called ‘reputation management experts’ couldn’t easily figure out that the yogurt shop was a fake business.”

The Attorney General’s office has released the following set of recommendations for SEO agencies to follow any time they get a call from a business requesting a fake review program:

  • Search Google for the business’ name in quotes.  If there are no results, they could be a fake business.
  • Search Google for the business’ telephone number in quotes.  If there are no results, they could be a fake business.
  • Search the website of the Secretary of State for the state where the business is located.  If they are not listed in the state’s business database, they could be a fake business.
  • Search Google Maps for the business at their given address.  If they do not show up, they could be a fake.  Do not try the same search on Apple Maps.  It’s not a valid test.

“Unfortunately” said a noted reputation management consultant who wished to remain anonymous but had reviewed the recommendations, “These fake businesses don’t sound any different than most real ones.”

→ 8 CommentsTags: Online Reviews
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Is This The Future of Local Directory SEO?

September 9th, 2013

UPDATE: Some of my better-read compatriots have pointed me towards Greg Sterling’s article from April about how Google is using the layout below to appease anti-competition complaints in Europe.  So take my theories below as pure entertainment, as it should be.

Nick Rink of Smart Local , a UK Local SEO firm, posted a screenshot of this new Google Local SERP this morning on Google+:

new Google local search results


I can’t find another example of this, or a full SERP screenshot, but I think there is one of two things going on here: 1) Google is doing this to address anti-competition complaints in Europe and/or – ACTUALLY THAT’S PRETTY MUCH WHAT IT IS – THE REST OF THIS IS JUST FOR FUN: 2) this kind of layout could be suggestive of Google’s desire to deemphasize local directories in the SERPs while still providing access to those users who want them.  This is pure speculation, but over the past year, I have noticed that more and more truly local sites are showing up in the organic results for local queries.

This may be symptomatic of Google wanting to favor these sites over the national directories like Yelp and Yell, or it may simply be the fact that more local businesses are doing SEO.  I have always felt that a well-SEO’d local business site should always be able to outrank most directories for any query in the non-local section of the SERP.

Perhaps this is Google signaling that your local directory better not be a generic set of business listings which adds little value to the SERP.  If this, or some version like this, becomes the default SERP display, the implication is that you better have a brand that is going to make people click (and your brand name better be pretty short).

Some further reading on the matter:

→ 13 CommentsTags: Google Place Pages · Google Place Search · Google Plus · Google+ Local · Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland

The “Ultimate” List of Google Manual SPAM Action Viewer Messages

August 8th, 2013


Google Webmaster Tools just launched the Manual SPAM Action Viewer which alerts webmasters to manual SPAM issues with their sites.  Like a good SEO consultant, I quickly ran through all of my clients and here are the various messages I encountered – ok, perhaps it’s not so “ultimate” – disavow me if you want:

Pure SPAM – Partial Match
Pages on this site appear to use aggressive spam techniques such as automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites, and/or repeated or egregious violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

User-generated SPAM – Partial Match
Pages from this site appear to contain spammy user-generated content. The problematic content may appear on forum pages, guestbook pages, or user profiles. 

Unnatural Links From Your Site – Site-Wide Match
Google detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links on pages on this site. This may be the result of selling links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

Unnatural Links To Your Site–Impacts Links – Partial Match
Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. Some links may be outside of the webmaster’s control, so for this incident we are taking targeted action on the unnatural links instead of on the site’s ranking as a whole.

Thin Content With Little or No Added Value – Partial Mach
This site appears to contain a significant percentage of low-quality or shallow pages which do not provide users with much added value (such as thin affiliate pages, cookie-cutter sites, doorway pages, automatically generated content, or copied content).

Other messages I haven’t seen listed in GWT Help:


Anyone seen any others?

BTW, if you’re a client reading this, don’t worry, we’ve already alerted you if there’s a problem.


→ 9 CommentsTags: Google
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Can I Use ALL CAPS in Google Maps?

August 8th, 2013

In my SEL post 7 Things I Have Figured Out About The New Google Maps, I mentioned that businesses might want to try using ALL CAPS in their business name on their Google Places + Local (whateva) profile as I had noticed EXTREME PIZZA rocking the all-caps in the map result I was studying:


A commenter then added:


We quickly updated the post to warn readers that all caps in a business name might not be a good idea.  In fact, I had forgotten a couple of years ago my Places listing had been de-indexed because I capitalized it as Local SEO Guide.  Once I changed it to Local Seo Guide, it popped right back.

But that was a while ago, so I reviewed the Google Places Quality Guidelines and here’s what it says about business names:

Business Name: Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world.

  • Do not include marketing taglines in your business name.
  • Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name field, unless they are part of your business name.
  • Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business in the business name field.

Nothing about capitalization.  But of course, there are plenty of unwritten rules in the Matrix.

And if you look at the rules for names in Google Mapmaker, you’ll see the following:

 The first letter of each word should be capitalized according to the customs of the language the name is added in. In case there is a website for the feature, its best to add names the way they’re reflected on the website.

Examples :

  • MCDONALD’S (English, Inappropriate)
  • mcdonalds (English, Inappropriate)
  • McDonald’s (English, Correct)
  • Moulin De La Galette (French, Inappropriate)
  • Moulin de la Galette (French, Correct)

So all caps is clearly verboten in Google Mapmaker, but it’s not clear that it is in Google Places + Local (the two are related but separate systems).  So how to explain EXTREME PIZZA?  Harris Schacter to the rescue:

Harris Schachter

So I followed that up with a bit more research, and it seems that if your offline brand is all caps, then your GP+L name can be all caps.  For example:


Floodgate Fund Map

The LEGO Store
(I know, not the whole name, but still…)
The LEGO Store



Disclaimer: Past performance is no indication of future performance.  Your mileage may vary.  Void in Nebraska.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Google Place Pages · Google+ Local
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Top Local Search Ranking Factors 2013

August 7th, 2013

David Mihm has published 2013′s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey over at Moz. As is tradition, I will summarize it here and encourage you to head over to David’s post to soak in the data: “By and large, the primary factors seem to have stayed largely the same for the past couple of years:

  • Proper category associations
  • A physical address in the city being searched
  • Consistent, high-quality citations from sources that are:
  • Authoritative
  • Trustworthy
  • Industry-relevant
  • Your NAP information featured clearly on your website
  • Your location as a keyword in title tags and headlines
  • A smattering of reviews on both Google and third-party sites
  • A handful of high-quality inbound links”

David’s commitment to doing this every year is inspiring, as is his generosity with the local search community. Well done, as usual.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Local Search · Search Engine Ranking Factors
Posted by Andrew Shotland