Local SEO earlier was no less but a trend that involved usual SEO practices and aggressive link submissions. Directory submissions, social bookmarking, link based content marketing, keyword rich & location based page creation were the regular practices for getting higher rankings in local search. Things changed with regular changes that Google kept putting forth in last 5 years. Here is an account of those events that changed local SEO in past few years.
Local SEO Timeline – THEN & NOW
Google local business center became Google places in 2010 and local businesses got few more reasons to pull up their search engine marketing activities. Few new features were also added to Google places like:
- Service Areas – One could add geographic locations that it served & keep the business address private in absence of a physical location.
- Tags to Advertise – Businesses got the option to use tags to cities by paying $25 per month to make their business listings noticeable.
- Business Photo Shoot – In few cities businesses could request Google for a free photo shoot to complement the existing pictures.
- Custom QR codes – These codes could be downloaded from Google Places’ dashboard & used on business cards as well as other marketing material. Customers scanned them with smartphones and taken directly to the mobile version of Google places page.
- Favorite Places – Window decals (including QR code) were made to 50,000 businesses to help users decide where to shop or hangout on the basis of most sought out businesses on Google.
The changes made Google places more inviting for small businesses & led to a trend of fully optimized profiles. Added features increased online visibility and became a necessity for Local SEO.
Social media was then meant for social sharing only and businesses hardly used it to attract local traffic. And if we talk about the role of local directories like Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Superpages, Localeze, TripAdvisor, Yellow Pages, Kudzu & Yelp, all these existed then too but businesses would make profiles on these directories once and never bother again. These local directories didn’t show up in organic search & a business registered with them would only appear in Google search results when a search query would include brand name along with directory name.
Google launched G+ on June 28, 2011 and local intent searches got another twist. Google took the plunge finally and came up with this social network with a sole aim to compete with Facebook & other networks. But, its arrival brought a sea change in local SEO and social networking became a part of it. Local businesses started making G+ profiles with a view to get ranked well in SERPs. A general thought dominated SEO companies and experts that Google may favor G+ profiles in search results.
Google Places was replaced by Google+ Local on May 30, 2012 & all Google products (search, map, mobile etc.) got integrated to one. G+ profiles again got the attention due to their presence in Google 7 pack. You would see the Google & pack on the top of local search results as Google favored them and the results (ranked as A, B, C, D, E, F) included name, address, phone number, map & G+ reviews of a business. The business with maximum reviews usually topped this Google 7 pack. The role of G+ extended in Local SEO as it was apparently receiving easy rankings in search results. The directories got ignored once again by SEOs & businesses.
With Google Hummingbird in September, 2013 search engine results got a qualitative change. It improved the way search queries were identified earlier and created the need of original & high quality content in SEO. The new algorithm started giving immediate and more precise results for long tail & comparison based search queries.
Semantic search came into the picture & Google SERPs started showing more specific results based on user intent & context of a search query. With this changed the approach of keyword stuffing and content quality got more prominence in Local SEO too.
And, the latest development in local SEO happened with this Google update named pigeon by Search Engine Land (rolled out in July 2014). It has brought a drastic change in how local SEO was being viewed upon earlier. We tell you how-Google 7 pack count has reduced to 3-4 now and English search queries of US have got affected the most. Apart from these two immediate effects many other things have come into picture like:
- Local directories like Yelp, Yellowpages.com, TripAdvisor, OpenTable have got improved search engine rankings
- For many queries, these directories are even showing above Google+ results, which was otherwise not thinkable.
Yelp had complained before this update regarding Google’s biased approach to show Google+ results even if searcher wanted to see results for ‘yelp+keyword’.
Possible Aftereffects of Pigeon update:
- Local SEO has become tricky. Your one negative review on yelp or TripAdvisor can ruin your business now as these directories have got the advantage in Google search engine results page.
- The pack has reduced, so people will have to compete with each other to get ranked in local SERPs with their G+ page. Earlier you could at least rely on Google+ local for attracting local traffic but now you have to look after your presence on all local directories & in fact all across the web for that matter.
- Paid ads are going to rise and with this, the marketing budget of local businesses (for Facebook or Google Adwords) is sure to go up due to increased competition for local traffic.
- If sites like Yelp and Insider Pages get into sponsored listings (which is quite predictable), you may have to pay high due to bidding war.
- Also dealing with the negative reviews may be difficult since the top rated directories have great user base. That’s the biggest risk in fact to local businesses’ traffic & sales.
Negative Reviews on Local directories- Threat to local business
With user focused directories getting upper hand in local search, online reputation has become the center of attention for all SEOs. You cannot choose to stay away from local directories since most of the users rely on them to find local business and thus generate revenue for them. User reviews have high click through rate and help small businesses perform better in local searches.
But, the matter of fact is that negative reviews get more attention than positive ones. Not just users but Google too favor credible review sites and rank them on top of search engine result pages. A single negative mention can:
- Drive away potential customers.
- Hurt your brand image.
- Decrease the traffic & revenue.
- Affect overall online presence.
- Hamper your business growth.
After Pigeon update, businesses have to keep themselves safe from appearing negative on these platforms. Be prepared for drop in customers and sales if you fail to do so.
What’s the best way to face Pigeon update & benefit from it?
As we said earlier too, focusing on online reputation is the key to business growth & sales for local business now. But the question is how you can manage it the best. As an Online reputation management company FATbit has received several queries from businesses after pigeon rollout. Most of them have common problem that their local profiles have negative reviews and now they are showing up. So, the major concern of this blog post is to reach out to those small/local service providers who are facing the wrath of this latest update.
We are working on fixing those issues for our clients but that gives us an alarming call that no local business is safe now. So, we have introduced PORM (Proactive online reputation management) services for our clients to keep them safe from Pigeon & its negative impact. We studied all the cases of improved & dropped local rankings of many businesses before devising this service plan & felt that managing the loss after a negative review gets ranked high for a business name is tougher. Therefore it’s more than a necessity to invest in online reputation management now in order to hold a clean image online.
PORM is the Best Technique to Deal with PIGEON
It’s not impossible to push down a negative result but may take some time and lead to heavy loss of traffic & sales by the time you recover completely. So, a better option is to indulge in Proactive Online reputation management. Employ PORM if you want to do well despite of the latest changes put forth by Google.
- Protect your online reputation in advance so as to avoid negative links.
- Promote your local profiles with positive review so that they appear higher than others.
- Make a consistent effort to maintain a positive image through user reviews & active social media participation.