Archive for January, 2012

The Secrets of Places Optimization

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Google changed the optimization game when they moved Places into the top organic positions.  Google Places is an index organized by function and location much like the Yellow Pages of old. These are free listings, but the competition for them is fierce.  The optimization comes from many sources but the key ones are citations and reviews. Below is an example search showing how the Places listing and the map flags interact and relate. The small circles on the map are other listings that are eligible for the Places listing that just did not make it to the page. You will want your business to be a flag not a circle.

 

Step 1 – Claim Your Listing

To start you need to claim your listing and get the information on it as accurate as possible but this only gets you into the game. The hard part is getting your site on the highly coveted top first page listing and this means citations and reviews.  You do not want to promote a site that you have not claimed and never let someone outside your business own the listing.

Citations

Citations are other sites that point to your site that include your physical address. The best examples of this would be your listing on the Best Business Bureau or your Local Chamber of Commerce. While these are the common ones they are far from the only ones you should be concerned with. If you belong to a trade group that links to its members make sure your data is up to date and includes your address. Almost every community has directory sites and you want to make sure your business is in these and that they have your correct physical address. If you carry specific brands make sure you are on the manufacturers’ dealer locator as these are high value citations. Plumbers might think that their physical address is no big deal after all no customer is going to show up at your office with their plumbing for you to fix. But being local is hugely important and Google uses citations as votes for your Places listing and your Places listing is a big deal.

Citations: Trust & Authority

Not all citations are created equal and the value of the citation is relative to the trust and authority of the site that is pointing to yours.  The higher the profile of the website the more juice it gives to the citation and this is the same as the SEO process of simple back links. Google is pretty good at knowing what sites to trust and you will find that most of the time these are the same places people trust offline. The BBB and Chambers are examples of this in that they are worth much more because they are high trust sites.

The Most Important Citation

Your website is the first, simplest, and most important citation. We have reviewed thousands of plumbing websites and it amazes us the number of times we find the primary website missing the physical address.  This is the site that is connected to the Places listing so it makes perfect sense that Google would look for support for the map listing on that site. Your address should be in text format on the bottom of every page along with your phone number.

Reviews

Reviews count and you need to ask for them.  When you have completed a job and the customer is happy with the results give them your card and ask them to provide a review of your work. On your business card make sure you include instructions on how to enter a review.  There are thousands of places on the web to leave reviews but we recommend that you focus on just a few; Google and Yelp. Reviews are powerful but power can swing both ways so the reviews can and will go negative. When they go negative you need to be ready to deal with this. The first rule is to keep your cool and respond to the negative review. If you know who posted the negative review call them and resolve the problem. If you do not know who it is post a public response offering to make it right. Never respond in anger and never get into a fight in a review site. There are times when the best advice is to just turn the other cheek.

Conflicts

It only takes the typical plumber a few minutes to realize that they want to appear in cities that they do not have physical offices in and that is one of the great challenges.  If your business serves more than one city then you will want to appear in all of those cities. The problem with this is that these positions are competitive and the plumbers in those cities typically take up all the available slots on the first page.  You can, and should, define your service area in Places but that will not get you into those competitive slots. The problem here is that the more you are about one place the less you are about others so you have to decide what your primary city is and compete for that.

Gaming the System

Our advice on this is that you should only try to game Google if your programming staff is smarter than theirs. The trick of the day might create a win for a short period of time but Google is pretty brutal when they find someone gaming the system. The normal response from Google on this is to rip the entire site out of the index or put it into penalty status. If you think that they will not do this to you – you are mistaken. They have done this to very high profile accounts including little businesses like BMW, JC Penny, and even Google! One trick that Google is very aware of is the creation of ghost offices in other cities. The game is to find an address to use in that location and claim it as your office. We can guarantee you that you will get caught at this.  Google will call and mail to the location to validate it and your competitor is likely to complain creating an investigation by Google.

Summary

Your business has to be on the first page of Google and that means competing in both Google Places and Google AdWords. Use Places when you can get it and AdWords when you cannot. Think of these as the defense and offensive teams in the game of Internet Marketing. You would not play football with just one and you should not do your marketing with just one either.

Who is the Yellow Pages Killer?

Friday, January 20th, 2012

In a word – wait for it – it’s Google. There is no doubt that a Yellow Pages ad is not as effective as it was in the days before Google and the Internet. Many question just how long before the final tree will be killed to print this dinosaur of a publication. For a Plumber the Yellow Pages used to be a “must be” place for your ad, but those days are long gone. The Yellow Pages are not completely dead, but they are bleeding and in critical condition. The Yellow Pages is no place to stick your scarce marketing dollars.

To put this into perspective we only have to look at many people that have never opened a Yellow Pages book. My son who is 30ish scoffs at the concept of the Yellow Pages and proactively seeks out ways to opt out of having them delivered.  The other problem for the Yellow pages is that the world is going mobile and the Yellow Pages won’t fit in your pocket.

Google, as it applies to Plumbers, really has two places that you must be in: Google Places and AdWords. Google Places is accessed by signing into your Google account then going to www.google.com/local/add. This page should look something like this assuming your profile owns the listing.

 

If this page is blank then you need to claim your places listing and you can find the instruction for that in our AdWords4Plumbers booklet that you can request free at:

http://www.adwords4plumbers.com/landing.html.

Google Places is a free listing and the optimization of this is largely driven by the number and quality of the back-links to your site with your physical address and by the reviews on Google and other sources like Yelp. In the search results you will find Places results in the organic listings and linked to the map that is often displayed. Some of the best back-links come from Local Chambers, the BBB, and dealer locators from major suppliers.

AdWords is the paid advertising in Google. This placement puts your business in the top section of the left side or the right column of the search engine results page. For Plumbing accounts there is only one real place to compete for and that is the top of the results on the left-hand side. The problem is that everyone knows this and those placements are highly competitive (read that as expensive).  The real secret to getting a good placement here is the relevancy of the listing (keyword to ad copy to landing page to website) and the amount of the bid. So you can pay for this two ways; cash or creativity. If you are not going to create site with great fresh content then your game is reduced to money.

You have probably heard about getting your website optimized for organic traffic or what is called SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This used to work, but then so did the Yellow Pages. The reality today is that the top half of the first page for popular plumbing searches only has AdWords and Places and very few people search much deeper than that.  You can still work on optimizing your website but you have to be realistic about how far that is going to get your business. The bottom line here is that Google believes that the best quality results for plumber keywords are the map listings and advertisements and you will not change their mind on this.