How Local is Now Turning Social [Hyperlocal Search]

Kudzu Social ReviewsOver the past 6 weeks, we have seen a lot of local algorithm changes from Google.  What I mean is that nearly every change they have been rolling out recently is geared towards making local search more relevant and much more social.  It is obvious that Google is really grasping the idea that local social media presences can help bring the best search results back for Google users.  Now that nearly everyone in the United States has the internet, and the number of smart phone users is drastically rising, social mentions, geolocation, and reviews matter more than ever.

In an article I wrote about improving your Google Places ranking (right after a few Google Places updates), I briefly mentioned the importance of user review websites such as Kudzu, Merchant Circle, Citysearch, and more.  It seems as if those play a great role than I once though.  This is mostly speculation, but it seems as if the review sites that are more accessible to all users, the more important the site reviews are to increasing your Google Places ranking.

If you make your way into a Google Places page for a local brand, check to see which outside reviews show up first.  Write down the order.  Then go look for another brand.  What I have found is that if a brand has multiple outside reviews, and one of them is from Kudzu, then that Kudzu review is ranked in front of the other review sites as if it were more important.  Since Google is very intentional, and you can see that Kudzu reviewed companies seem to be preferred, one can only guess that Kudzu is hitting all the right spots with Google right now.

Why Google Loves Kudzu

Nearly all of Google’s recent updates have to do with local search.  As these local Google Places have been affected, I noticed that Kudzu was a preferred outside review listing to pull into the Google Places page, and that Kudzu reviews could increase a brand’s ranking on Places.  Here are a few reasons why Google might like Kudzu more than the other review sites:

  • It’s an established review site that nearly everyone knows.  The model for the (directory) business is very sound and reflects Google’s best code of conduct laws that they have in place (It’s Panda friendly.)
  • Users can login with a variety of accounts: Google, Yahoo, Windows Live, Hotmail, Facebook, and more.  Because Kudzu makes their directory so easy to login into and actually be social, Google’s new social emphasis might be rewarding Kudzu for their openness to users.
  • Each review is social.  Not only can nearly anyone with any reputable account login and leave a review on a Kudzu page, but they can then share that review on Facebook and Twitter.  Depending on your privacy settings, Google will most likely crawl that post as well, and attribute it to the brand almost instantaneously.  Google wants people to share information about brands; good experiences and the bad ones too.

In no way is this information set in stone.  However, it would seem as if Kudzu really is preferred by Google because of how easy it is to use for users, and how easy it is to share information by customers who leave reviews.  Kudzu is ahead of the curve when compared to all of the other directory/review sites out there right now.  Now, it’s never good to put all of your eggs in one basket since Google can change their mind about something any day, but it would appear that focusing more on making your Kudzu presence accessible to happy customers would be in your small business’s best interest right now.

If you were going to allocate any other review attention around the web, I would maintain your Google Places page and also keep your Yelp review page up to date as well.  Apple’s iPhone 4s is making headlines with their new voice recognition product, Siri.  Many experts are worried that Siri’s capabilities will hurt local SEO.  This simply won’t happen.  Siri is in beta, so it’s searching capabilities will only grow from here.  As of now, it seems as if a lot of the search results for local listings on Siri are provided by Yelp.  It might be a good idea to begin monitoring your Yelp page and occasionally drive loyal customers over there for a review. It also will typically rank a little higher organically as well because they opted out of being pulled into Google Pages. However, it is not to the point where you need to stay up all night worrying about it.  Your first points of attack should be a well optimized website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel.

 

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First Impressions of Google Plus Pages for Business

Everyone is talking about Google+ these days… Scratch that…  All of the talking heads are mentioning Google+ and how none of the real users (the non digital marketing crowd) are using it.  Thus, many experts are saying that Google+ is doomed.  However, Google has managed to boost some recent hype for themselves by opening up the social network to all users.  The initial spike in users was exciting at first, but then as time went on, Google+ looked more like a ghost town than a social gathering.  Again, experts said that Google+ was failing.

The platform itself, is really ingenious.  If you ask me, it’s like switching from Windows to Apple.  Everything becomes more simple, dumbed down, and easier to organize and customize to your liking.  The tools in Google+ are streamlined and easy to use.  The stream (news feed) is easy to digest whether it be a status update, shared link, or photo upload.  In short, this is an awesome product that is having an extremely hard time getting users to jump ship to join the conversation on their social turf.

Here comes Google’s next plan of attack

Google+ has recently opened up the network to businesses by providing them with “Google Pages.”  Yes, it sounds and is very similar to Facebook Pages.  The idea of Facebook and Google Pages is that it provides a place for regular users (people) to interact with the brands they love.  It is a way for peers to help each other by promoting a local service, an amazing product, or maybe warn off a few people with a bad experience.  There’s no doubt about it; peer reviews are becoming more important to the user experience on the internet.  This might be where Google can edge out the competition.  However, will businesses bring people to Google+, or should people bring businesses to Google+?

I took 10 minutes out of the end of my day to take a look and see what the fuss was all about by building a page for myself.

Here’s what you have to do in order to sign your business up for a Google+ Page:

1. You might notice the new icon on the bottom right of your personal Google+ account.  This is where the fun begins.
2. You select the type of business you are creating the page to represent.  The descriptions are easy to understand, and the setup is extremely smooth. Google+ Pages Type of Business
3. You fill out basic information about your business.  There is an easy to use, and versatile, photo uploader that allows you to add a little creativity to your profile image.  Again, this setup process is extremely smooth and easy. Google+ Pages Profile Setup
4. Make a few posts as usual, and now you have a live Google+ Page for your business.  Of course, the one I just created is fairly void of information (and fans) so it looks pretty bare. Google+ Pages Profile Final

Google’s answer to Facebook Pages is impressive. There is no doubt in my mind that this will play out into Google Reviews on Google Places and how we interact with search. Google has been focusing a lot of time and energy on algorithm updates for their local searches and social media’s impact on search. However, I still believe that it is too early for most businesses to jump over to Google+. The same problem still remains… Your fans are still using Facebook and Twitter; not Google+ (for now.)

 

**Edit November 8, 2011** It might be too soon to spend time and energy on your Google Plus Page at this point, but there is still a lot of value in reserving the page and URL.  If you are going to do anything about Google Plus Pages, go ahead and reserve your business’s spot.