Google’s Going Local, Why Google Places Pages Are Now More Important than Ever for Organic Placement

Have you noticed the change in Google.com results? Have you seen all the red icons in front of listings whenever you do a Google search that contains a city location in the query? Are you noticing that your website’s organic (unpaid placement) seems to be pushed down below a myriad of local results? Welcome to the new world of Google’s localized results!

With Google pushing location specific listings pulled from their Google Places index, it’s getting harder for prospects to find your “real” website. Localization is the rage with search engines right now; even Bing and Yahoo have gotten into the act too. It is now more important than ever to use your local Places page as a doorway to bring visitors into your website. As Google is the big player in the world of search, we’ll focus on discussing Google Places accounts in this article, but be aware that Bing and Yahoo both have similar services.

If you have a business, you most likely already have a Google Places page even if you never created one. Google has planned ahead for you, and has created a page just for you, based on the information that it has found on the Web about your business. It’s your job to claim it, and then work the page over so it can be a selling tool to funnel customers and prospects into your “real” website.

How do you claim your listing?
First, visit this page: http://www.google.com/places/.  On the right you will see a section for business owners. Your listing is free, but you will need to set up or tie an existing Google account login to your new Google Places account. One word to the wise, if you are paying a third party to do set up for you, make sure that they tie the Google Places account to you and not to themselves. You want to retain ownership of your Google Places page as long as you have your business.

The sign up and set up interface is easy to use. You will enter in your physical address (no P.O. Boxes allowed), your phone number, email address, website URL, business description, and then select service or product categories. Don’t be afraid to choose custom categories that are short keywords of the services or products you provide. You can only set up a maximum of five categories.

Your Places page is not complete until you enter details about your business such as: operating hours, types of payment accepted, photos, YouTube.com videos, and finally the important “additional details”. Take time to add “additional details” that make sense. We recommend using keyword phrases for these “additional details”.  Keep in mind that what you enter here should be considered like a bulleted list, with a one to three word clarification in the second field to the right of the entered keyword. Focus on keywords that are indicative of what you sell and in a very short concise format.

Although you are done, your Places page will not go live until Google has verified that you are really located at the address your have listed in your Google Places account. Plan on two weeks for a postcard or plain envelop to come to you via regular mail at the listed location. This correspondence will contain a PIN. You must enter this PIN number in your Google Places account for your Places page to be put in the indexing queue. It may then take another one to four weeks for your listing to actually become live. Unfortunately setting up and verifying a Google Places page is not quick process but make sure to follow the instructions carefully. If someone has already claimed your physical location you will not be able to claim it as well. This is an important note to remember for office buildings and even businesses sharing physical spaces with the same street address. The location will be tied to a single Google Places account on a first come basis.

How to maintain top position with your Google Places listing?
As Google Places pages are so important now in the organic results, how can you improve placement and then retain it once you win it. We recommend that you do monthly updates of your photos and videos on your Google Places page. If you don’t have videos, now’s the time to start getting creative and make several short videos using your digital camera. Just load your video files to YouTube.com (tied to the same Google account that you used for your Google Places page). Insert the YouTube.com link to the video into your Google Places account in the video section. You can show up to five videos at a time. As for pictures we recommend sizing 20 or so into a square shape and then rotating ten different ones each month. Google seems to like and reward Places pages with better placement that are actively managed on a regular basis.

Google also seems to reward Google Places pages with better placement when the business offer coupons and has more review than their competitors. Not all markets seem to have a clear cut path to top placement, but we do know from research that in major markets reviews and coupons are just one of the keys for top placement of a Google Places page. Your geographic proximity to the person who has searched is still the top determining factor in which businesses are shown and then coupons and reviews will additionally rank the returned business listings.

Where do the reviews come from that appear on my Google Places page?
Google scans the Web and pulls reviews from all over and embeds them on your Google Places page. Users can also leave reviews directly by visiting your Places page if they are logged into their own Google account. Additionally, with the creation of Google Hotpot, a social business review tool, Google is actively seeking for others to rate your business with their own application.

Unfortunately, you have no control of the reviews that appear on your Places page. However, as the Places owner, if a poor review is posted, you can respond to the review, but there is no “remove this review” button. You can however flag the review for Google as inappropriate, but Google may leave the review at their option. If the review is pulled in from a site that is not a Google property, even if you flag it as inappropriate Google has stated that they will not block it from showing on your Places page.

Be careful if you are using a third party set up service that the creation of fictitious reviews is not part of your package. Your Places page could be dropped from the index through a violation of Google’s terms of service.

In conclusion, with the advent of search engine localization, claiming your Google Places page is a very important aspect of managing your online presence. With Google Places pages being ranked higher than websites for search queries that contain a location, you really must use this new tool to your advantage to funnel clients and prospects into your website.

How the New gTLD Domain Names Will Impact You and Your Brand

How the New gTLD Domain Names Will Impact You and Your Brand

If you’ve ever heard the term TLD, it may seem like just one of the myriad of mysterious acronyms that populate tech-speak. You might be surprised to learn that it’s actually something you likely use every day in one way or another. In addition, recent developments could make it even more relevant to your company or business.

TLD stands for top-level domain, which is the extension to the right of the dot in an Internet address. They’re further subdivided into gTLDs, which are generic domains such as .com or .gov. Currently there are only 21 gTLDs in use, but that number is about to explode. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (iCANN) has begun approving new gTLDs for the first time since 2004.

What makes this expansion potentially game-changing is that these new gTLDs include specific terms that relate directly to businesses, cultures, hobbies and other interests. Some of the domains included in the list are .career, .casino, .book and .fashion. In addition, alphabets such as Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese will be introduced into the naming system in an effort to increase Internet use around the world.

iCANN began accepting applications for the new gTLDs in January 2013. By September nearly 1,800 of these applications had passed the initial evaluation. Prominent retailers Amazon, Wal-Mart have applied for their own brand names as well as other domains (.grocery for Wal-Mart, .book for Amazon) that pertain to certain aspects of their business. The first approved domains are expected to roll out early this year.

While control of a branded gTLD has an obvious benefit, the hefty $185,000 application fee that goes along with it will probably keep all but major companies from pursuing those domains. The real action will undoubtedly come from purchase of addresses with generic domain names such as the aforementioned .grocery and .book. These will be available through online registries such as GoDaddy that currently provide the service for addresses with .com, .biz and other established gTLDs.

One potential benefit of these domains is using them to make a website more user-friendly by sending customers directly to their area of interest. For example, Amazon could use the address Kindle.book to steer people to their online e-reader store without forcing them to navigate the Amazon.com site.

Another scenario is demonstrated by the plans of BuySeasons Inc. They’re attempting to buy several domains with a .party extension to use with their e-commerce sites. Customers can be led to different areas of the party-planning process via Invitations.party, Photos.party and other descriptive addresses.

Use of the new gTLDs clearly serve a proactive function of helping your customers find you more easily. There’s also a defensive purpose of claiming an address to keep your competitors from taking advantage of it. Other businesses, particularly large retailers, will also find themselves in the position of scooping up addresses that may mislead shoppers or reflect poorly on their service or brand.

Search engine giants Google and Microsoft have been vague on the question of if and how their algorithms will change in response to the new gTLDs. However, experts believe that these domains can’t help but make addresses more relevant to customer queries. This is another aspect that makes control of the domains important. If, for instance, the holder of the .makeup domain allows use only by cosmetics companies, it preserves integrity of these addresses in consumer searches.

There are a couple of ways you can prepare for your own potential use of gTLDs. If you have a trademark, you can register it with iCANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse. This gives you priority during a gTLD’s so-called “sunrise period”. When a domain related to your trademark becomes available, you have a 30- to 60-day time frame in order to purchase or bid on it. You may also pre-register for your desired domains with online registries that are likely to be selling them.

As with any change or innovation in online marketing, the jury will be out on the full benefits of gTLDs until they’ve been in use for a while. But it’s vital that you consider the implications for your business and position yourself to use this development in your company’s best interest.

How to Get Customer Reviews

How to Get Customer Reviews

Third-party validation, in the form of customer reviews, can carry a persuasive power that advertising and marketing simply cannot match. According to the marketing site HubSpot, 52 percent of surveyed consumers say positive reviews make them more likely to consider a business (as compared to 28 percent who consider only location and price).

Obtaining customer reviews can be part of your overall web marketing strategy. Fortunately, the reach of the Internet opens up lots of opportunity to connect with your customers.

Engaging Customers for Reviews

Ask nicely. There’s nothing wrong with contacting your best customers and simply asking them to write their impression of your business. Ask them to describe their success stories, or detail how a problem got solved, with the help of your business. But by the same token…

Don’t overdo it. Aggressively soliciting for reviews compromises your credibility and can even make you look a little desperate.

Interview them. Some customers may hesitate to submit reviews or testimonials because they’re not confident in their writing ability. If you suspect this, ask if you may interview your customer. Ask him to speak off the cuff while you take the notes. Then, after the customer has approved the text, you may edit it into a review.

Post some reviews yourself. Not reviews of your own company, of course — but you can review related businesses. Identifying yourself as a business owner yourself can position you as an engaged member of the community and remind people about your company.

Hold a contest. You don’t want to offer free services or other giveaways for reviews– that suggests compensation in exchange for endorsement, which is unethical. But you can create a grand prize drawing for all customers and prospects, with no strings attached. The more happy customers and prospects you generate, the better the chances for customer reviews later.

Thank them. In any interactive forum, whether Facebook comments or a website’s testimonial page, include your own responses and thanks for reviews — even the less-than-glowing ones.

Response Tactics and Media

Go to video.  If you have the time and resources, a short video to post on YouTube, Vimeo or your own site adds sound, movement and engagement to the typical customer testimonial. You can…

Create a call to action. An usual CTA — “Tell us what you think” or “Let’s hear your story” can inspire web visitors to create a review or testimonial. You can include your CTA on blog entries or in your social media pages to accompany relevant articles.

Open up your social media pages to comments.  Facebook comments, Twitter tweets and LinkedIn recommendations can all work in your company’s favor.

Use email or e-newsletters. A well-designed HTML email or e-newsletter can be as attractive as a banner ad. Select a “customer of the month” and interview him or her. The customer will be flattered, and you may net some fine testimonial verbiage.

Add a “testimonial” sub page to your website. Once you have collected a handful of usable reviews, display them in a dedicated sub page. Visitors who read them may be prompted to add their own reviews. Make it easy for them to do so with a link to a submission page.

Dealing with Negative Reviews

Whether they’re on Yelp or through your own Facebook page, negative reviews are one of the risks of opening your website and social media to public comment.  When such reviews appear, it’s your opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction.

First, assess the content of the review. Is it tied to customer service, or a product issue? Or is it something beyond your control, such as a weather event that delayed a delivery? Ask your sales reps or service people about the validity of negative reviews. If you recognize a legitimate problem (and not just a “troll”), you can use respond in kind.

Thank the customer for her feedback. Acknowledge her dissatisfaction and, as appropriate, describe the steps you’ll take to rectify the problem.

After all, even a dissatisfied customer isn’t necessarily a lost one. Even a very angry customer may remain a loyal one after you show that you care about his satisfaction. And doing so in a public forum gives other customers and visitors confidence that they can expect the same considerations.

Panda, Penguin… How to Insulate Your Website from Google’s Zoo

Panda, Penguin... How to Insulate Your Website from Google's Zoo

Pandas and penguins – so cute, so non threatening. Well, until now.

As the nicknames of Google’s new algorithms, Panda and Penguin have become powerful predators of the Internet, targeting websites for specific infractions. The purpose of these functions is to protect users from lower-quality; keyword-stuffed, ad-jammed, spammy search results.

  • Panda targets specific section or an entire site, rather than individual web pages.
  • Penguin focuses on the date of a web page as criteria for its quality control.

When Panda or Penguin identifies content that it considers keyword-stuffed, auto-generated, or linking to pay-per-click sites that add no value, Google takes action by flagging that site’s account.

And it isn’t just the fly-by-night or the fringe dwellers under the gun; according to Search Engine Watch, “Google penalized JC Penney, Forbes and Overstock.com for ‘shady’ linking practices.”

However, for all the benefits Google’s new algorithms purport to bring to the average user, nearly any content creator – you, for instance – may be caught in their grips. If either Panda or Penguin identifies your site as lower quality, it could jeopardize your ranking in the results.

Avoid Becoming Panda’s Prey

Fortunately, you can take steps to produce content that even a Panda or Penguin will love. First, follow a “don’t” list that includes three key tactics:

1. Don’t overdo the keywords. If you’ve ever been subjected to a blog with several instances of an awkward phrase like, “print shop services Bakersfield CA,” you know you’re looking at SEO-stuffed content. Some bloggers stuff keywords deliberately; others inadvertently; but to Panda, the outcome is the same. Keep the text geared toward the reader, not the search engine.

2. Don’t write similar articles on the same topic. Panda hates this, and is quick to identify look alike pages as inauthentic. Avoid the copy/paste and the repetitive phrasing. You can work a theme from page to page, of course – but strive to give every web page, every blog and every other piece of content a sense of uniqueness.

3. Don’t load up on ads and links. When Panda made its debut in 2011, one of the first things site owners noticed was that organic-oriented news sites and social networks climbed in the rankings, while ad- and link-heavy sites dropped. Included among the offenders are “doorway pages” that use keyword-stuffing to direct users to a single destination with no additional value; reciprocal links that arbitrarily connect one site to another with no value-added purpose; and sneaky hidden text of keywords that the eye can’t see but that search engines can.

Play Nice with the Google Zoo

As Google itself puts it, “One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content.”
So to keep Panda and Penguin at bay, your “to do” list is at least as long as your “to don’t” list. It includes:

1. Offering transparency. A user should know immediately what your business is all about. Keep everything accessible, from your About Us, to your Terms of Service, to your copyright. By practicing such due diligence, you maintain a credible, authoritative image – one that could help distinguish you from competitors as well as satisfy Panda and Penguin.

2. Building content consistently. Blogs, e-newsletters, video, blog posts – you have plenty of quality choices when it comes to posting content. When you create a well-themed set of content that uses SEO wisely, you increase your online presence and provide your visitors with a valid reason to proceed to your landing page.

3. Providing meaningful content that’s pertinent to your clients.  Remember that today’s consumers search the Internet for answers, not ads. Clients and prospects are not interested in blogs about your new location, or links to coupons. They’re more likely to respond to industry-specific information that offers real value: a blog on how free shipping affects holiday purchases, for instance; or a report on the risks and advantages of using social media as test-marketing strategy.

Set Up Your Site for Success

Google’s new algorithms have thrown many marketers for a loop – but you don’t have to be one of them. By practicing basic SEO etiquette, you need not fear Panda or Penguin. And at that same time, you may notice enhanced web traffic and more qualified leads resulting from your credible content.

If You’re Selling Online, You’ll Want to Become a Member of the Hot New Startup Pinterest

During the Coronavirus Pandemic Boost Sales with Free Shipping

With its traffic in the U.S. skyrocketing Pinterest, the new online scrapbook site, is now one of the top 10 social networking and forum sites. According to comScore, the website had over 11 million unique visitors in December, 2011. Time magazine included Pinterest in its “50 Best Websites of 2011” column. On Pinterest, users create online scrapbooks consisting of images and videos to share projects and coveted products. The images placed on a user’s page or board, produce an inspiration or collection of ideas. Pinterest is very popular with women, especially those in their twenties and thirties.

This new site is an elegant easy-to-use way to power social shopping. Businesses are using this new social photo website to promote their products and services, build a community, bring web traffic and drive sales. For now membership to the site is available to only by invitation. Businesses can request an invitation at www.Pinterest.com.

Pinterest Traffic is Strong

According to statistics provide by Shareaholic, a social sharing tools firm, Pinterest is driving almost as much referral traffic as Google and Twitter. In fact, Pinterest is driving more referral traffic than YouTube, Google+, or Reddit at this time. It’s one of the most popular social media portals for consumers to visit before they go to a retailer’s website.

Hitwise, a tracking firm, stated Pinterest is one of the Web’s top 10 social networks. People who visited the site in January, 2012 spent close to 100 minutes at the site, compared to 19 minutes on the professional social networking site LinkedIn.

It’s Easy and Fun to Create Boards

At Pinterest, companies have the opportunity to grab a visitor’s attention with images instead of words. The website and apps allow businesses to create image boards showcasing products and/or services. Businesses can upload an image or link to a board, pin links to videos they have at YouTube as well as add images related to the products or services they provide. Many companies are creating unique and interesting photo galleries just for use on Pinterest.

The most important thing on Pinterest is the pin. A pin is simply an image. Once an image is pinned it can be repined by other Pinterest users. Repining is how content spreads virally on this new social platform. Users can even follow other user’s boards and repin, comment or place a “like” on a pin. Companies can add a “Pin It” button to their product pages to lets users know they can pin items they find in their online store onto their own Pinterest board.

Businesses shouldn’t just place images of items they sell; the interaction on this hot new site about sharing the lifestyle associated with the brand. Pinterest wants businesses to engage in their community. Using pins from other sites on your own company’s boards show followers that you are not just using Pinterest to promote your own merchandise and/or service; you are promoting a lifestyle which builds trust and gains more followers.

Companies can also use Pinterest’s price display feature. When a Pinterest user pin an item on a board for their followers to see, the image of that item automatically includes the item’s title and a banner showing the price.

Pinterest is Driving Targeted Traffic That Is Buying Merchandise

Traffic to a company’s website coming form Pinterest has been highly targeted from the onset and is more likely to produce a purchase. Many businesses have found the traffic more targeted than Facebook or Twitter. Typically traffic from a person’s Facebook and Twitter pages consist of people who are interested in that particular person, what she did last night what she had for dinner and whether or not she is in a relationship but traffic from that same person’s Favorite Dress board at Pinterest consists of people who are interested in dresses. For example, a user finds a fabulous dress on a retailer’s board, using the “Pin It” bookmark in her web browser, provided by Pinterest, she pins the dress to her Favorite Dress board. This visual pin also serves as a direct link to the product page where other consumers can purchase the same dress from the originator’s online store.

Google Analytics Tie-in

Google Analytics keeps tracks of all pins on an individual basis. The information lets businesses keep track of popular items being shared by users and conversions which may result from the pin. Business can see every pin which has been pinned from their domain. This information helps a marketing team to identify sales and viewing trends on the most pinned items.

Some Ways You Can Use Pinterest

You may want to consider creating a contest on Pinterest where customers create boards and pin their favorite merchandise from your online store. The additional sales and brand awareness that is generated can easily outweigh the cost of providing a prize to the winner of the contest.

Companies are also using their Facebook pages to advertise their Pinterest boards. You can also encourage your Facebook and Twitter followers to pin your products on their Facebook and Twitter page. Innovative companies are also sending emails inviting people to see what they’re doing at Pinterest or have recently pinned.

Pinterest provides a new way for companies to build a valuable connection between their ecommerce platforms and consumers that are collecting and sharing content.  It’s a great tool for small, medium and large businesses.