The past year has seen massive changes in local search engine results. Google changed the local 7-pack to the local 3-pack, which means anyone who ranks lower than the third result will see tremendous reduction in traffic if they were generating much before from local results. On top of reducing visibility, Google also changed the way Maps are displayed for the local pack, so even a high-ranking site is now below the fold. [AnythingPopup id=”2″] Perform a search in Google for any local site, and you’ll see local directories dominating the results. Here’s how you can leverage these sites to boost your own visibility and search engine rank.
The New Google Local Look
It’s understandable that site owners don’t always keep track of search engine changes. They focus on their business, and then they just slowly realize that the traffic they’ve received from Google has dropped. Anyone who relies on search engine rank knows the tremendous hit on revenue when visibility is reduced. Some site owners don’t even realize that their Google traffic has reduced until they have a professional analyze the issue for them. It’s a mistake not to watch search engine results when you rely on them for revenue.
Take a look at the latest search engine results for search. The first image shows a local search for plumbers. Ads are at the top, and then a map and the 3-pack are shown. If you rank #4 and don’t buy into Google Adwords, the user must scroll to see your listing. It might seem strange for a person unfamiliar with the way users interact with search, but being below the fold can cut your search traffic by half.
Now, take a look at the results that display below the 3-pack.
Out of the 6 results displayed, only 2 are actual plumbing services. The three highlighted in red are review sites. This search result pattern is common with local searches. They are even more common with local searches such as plumbing, A/C repair, or cleaning. If you run a site that sells services, you probably have a difficult time competing against sites such as Yelp, BBB, Angie’s List, and Yellow Pages. These sites are extremely popular, have high visibility in search results, and they easily dominate Google’s first page.
You don’t need to compete against these sites. Instead, you can leverage them to increase your own site’s visibility.
Establishing Your Business in Search
Internet marketers have been complaining to Google for years that these sites shouldn’t rank. At this point, it’s obvious that Google thinks that they should be on the first pages. It’s frustrating for small businesses who want to gain visibility. However, most small business owners don’t perform the very basics to establish themselves on the web. Every small action counts when it comes to search engine optimization.
The first step is to create a Google business account. Make sure you enter a proper physical address for your location, because Google sends you a post card to verify your address. This is to reduce fraud in Google Business listings.
After you establish your business location, you need to send information to search about your location and services. It’s assumed that you have a website, but the point is to rank that website when someone performs a search for service.
Citations are the term given to a list of sites that contain your business name, address and phone number (NAP) information. It’s important that you keep your citations uniform across all sites including the review sites you’re about to use to help improve visibility. In other words, if your business is located at “111 West Boulevard,” always use the same syntax when submitting your site to various business directories. Don’t use “111 W. Boulevard” for one listing and then “111 West Boulevard” for 10 other listings. Use the same syntax.
You should also keep track of each site where you submit your citation. Using a citation on one or two sites doesn’t usually require a spreadsheet, but you’ll find that you want to submit your citations to several large directories. You lose track of where you’ve placed your citation, and it becomes a problem when you move. When you move, you need to go through each site in your spreadsheet and change your citations to reflect the new address and phone number.
When you submit your business citations, remember to submit them to the big sites that you’re about to use to help boost visibility. The major sites you should use include Yelp, Angie’s List, Yellow Pages, BBB, Thumbtack, and any other review site that ranks prominently when you perform a search for local services.
Using Review Sites for Your Own Visibility
Now, here is the part where the lines between [AnythingPopup id=”4″] are blurred. The advantage of using these review sites is that they have strong authority, and they are impervious to link penalties. If you build links to your own site, you run the risk of a link penalty from Google. If you build links to one of these popular review sites, you shield your own site from being penalized, and you can rank the review site that lists your own site’s backlink.
You can build any type of link to these sites. At the worst nothing will happen, but you could actually improve the listing’s rank. You can hire someone to send links to the citation, or you can do it yourself.
Backlinks are only a part of the equation, though. If you don’t feel comfortable with [AnythingPopup id=”5″], you can take other steps to improve your ranking.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to ask clients to rate them on various review sites. Take Yelp, for instance. You register your business on Yelp, and then invite customers to rate your service. Some businesses do this through emails, and some ask clients after the service is complete. The more ratings you have, the higher your visibility in search. When Google picks up on highly rated local services, it might rank your Yelp profile on the first page. Since Yelp allows you to add a website to your profile, you indirectly drive traffic to the site using this third-party review site.
You don’t have to give customers full control of your review ranking. When customers rate your service, respond to them. Google loves active sites and updated content. Replying to reviews keeps your profile current and active.
Another way to increase review content is to offer deals to customers who rate you. Yelp even has a promotion called Yelp deals. You provide coupons and discounts to customers who find you through Yelp. Yelp takes a small percentage of the deal, but they promise to rank you higher within their own search results, and you can earn more reviews on the site.
What You Shouldn’t Do
These review sites are great for business exposure whether you’re a new business or just a startup. You might be tempted to do a few things that could harm your reviews.
First, always be professional when you respond to a review even if it’s a bad one. Remember that customers find you through a search, so your response is a customer’s first impression of your service. Bad reviews can’t be removed, but the way you handle the response is a part of your online reputation management. Some businesses hire customer service representatives to handle responses for review sites as well as social media. It’s good practice when you rely heavily on search engine traffic. Search engine reputation management is a big business that helps site owners manage poor reviews that could harm the brand.
Don’t be tempted to buy fake reviews. Sites such as Yelp have algorithms that filter out fake reviews. If the company feels that you’re buying reviews, you could have some of your legitimate reviews removed. Buying reviews has also become a legal issue. Amazon recently filed suit against several sites that offered to sell fake reviews for its consumer products. It sets a precedent for other companies that might follow. Avoid fake reviews, and just stick to having real customers rate your service. You’ll avoid potential backlash from any of these sites.
Ranking Isn’t Immediate
Your efforts will pay off, but it takes time. Ranking any site isn’t immediate. Search engine ranking is always a marathon and not a sprint. If you’re new to online marketing, you have competitors who have a strong hold on search engine results. You’ll need to work hard to outrank them.
Depending on the number of customers and links you can drive to your review pages, it can take several months to see any impact from your efforts. Just stick with it, keep track of your reviews, and keep them updated by replying to your customers. The process not only helps your search engine visibility, but it also helps your customer service and reputation online.