Archive for October, 2012

Google Places is Now Google Plus Local: What Changed?

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

This summer, 80 million Google Places pages worldwide were automatically converted into 80 million Google Plus Local pages.

What changed? Overall, listings are more dynamic and visual, and local search got a lot more social. Results include reviews from Zagat, as well as ratings and comments from friends.  Notable changes include the integration and free availability of Zagat archives, and a “Circles” search filter to find reviews and recommendations from friends.  Also, Google’s five star ratings were replaced by the more comprehensive Zagat 30-point rating scale.

Great news for search engine optimization (SEO), unlike Places, Plus Local business pages are indexed, meaning they appear when Google users search for a local site using Google Search or Google Maps.

Plus Local listings are also more versatile and social; local businesses can develop followers and message them, and experience the kinds of social interactions available on Facebook and Twitter.  In fact, word-of-mouth marketing reaches a new height with Plus Local.  The “Local” tab in Google Plus takes users to a personalized local homepage, which offers a mix of popular, social and recommended businesses. The same two people in a given market won’t see the same page, though aspects of it may be the same.

These are major changes from Google in the world of local search — for both consumers and marketers. People will be able to search Google as they have in the past but receive the benefits of visually richer results and trusted word-of-mouth.

Plumbing contractors especially need to adapt to the recent changes as Google Maps remains the most prominent and frequently viewed section on results pages for “Your City + Plumber” keyword searches.

Other Plus Local benefits include:

  • It’s free.
  • Google users can find your business via mobile phone.
  • Stand out among the competition.  Only 20 percent of eligible small businesses have claimed their listing on Plus Local. By claiming your listing you greatly increase your ability to stand out in the Plumbing online search space.
  • Learn more about your customers.  Google Analytics tools measure data about consumer behavior you can use to improve your services and keep customers happy.

How does one create a local listing that delivers the biggest return for your business?  Here are some tips:

  • Pay close attention to cover and profile photos.  Use your company logo as your profile picture. Make sure it has a resolution of at least 72 dpi and is the correct size and shape (at least 250 pixels x 250 pixels) so it’s not grainy or distorted.
  • Write a killer introduction.  The introduction, which appears on the “About” tab, is your opportunity to speak directly to your audience.  Here’s a great example from an Plumbing contractor out of Omaha, Neb.:

Omaha’s leading provider of quality plumbing, drain cleaning, bathroom remodeling &  major appliance repair. We offer these services “as needed” or service agreements/home warranty and your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed.

  • Make sure your page is 100 percent complete.  This is the simplest and most important thing you can do to optimize your Plus Local page.  Complete all text fields —even ones that aren’t required, particularly E-mail Address, Website URL, Description and Categories.
  • List your business on other directories.  Google scans the web for information about your business from a variety of third-party sources such as Yellow Pages. The more mentions you have, the more content Google has to work with, and the more authority your Plus Local listing holds. The more credible your business looks, the more likely your listing will appear on the top results. Several top directories include: Yelp, Bing, Yahoo, BizJournals and CitySearch.
  • Encourage customers to write reviews.  A challenging but effective way to boost a page’s position is obtaining customer reviews.  Develop a habit of asking customers to post reviews.  If you decide to reward posting reviews, it’s important to stress you don’t require a positive review — which classifies as a bribe.  Do not under any circumstances write bogus reviews and submit them under a pseudonym.
  • Upload images to your page, lots of them.  SEO analysts documented a strong correlation between a page’s ranking and the number of photos and videos.
  • Add offers.  This provides an incentive to call you rather than the competition.  A few tips:

o   Make sure offers comply with Google’s Offer Guidelines

o   Be generous

o   Always identify the value the customer is receiving

Plus Local is a free resource that helps consumers find businesses online, drives more traffic to local business websites, provides opportunities to stand out in a crowded marketplace, delivers insight into a company’s customer base, enables customer engagement via a variety of media platforms and ultimately boosts overall profitability.

About the Author:  Josh Nelson co-founded Plumber SEO and has more than 13 years of experience in internet marketing, search engine optimization and social media management. For more information, call Josh Nelson at 866-610-4647 or visit

Despite All My Variant Rage, I Am Still Just A Link on A Page

Monday, October 8th, 2012

The Variant matching option is a vampire, set to drain the money from your budget and benefit Google and no one else. With all apologies to Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins, one of the keyword matching “improvements” introduced over the last few months has caused me to channel my 90s grunge based angry inner-child.

Various matching options (Broad, Phrase & Exact) have always allowed for advertisers to control the quality and quantity of the traffic they purchased. Broad match keywords only require that part of the user’s search query match to your keyword.  Phrase match keywords, indicated by quotation marks, require a search to contain the given keyword in order at some point in the search. Exact match keywords, denoted with square brackets, requires the search to be exactly the same as the keyword.

A few months back they introduced a new option to phrase and exact match keywords that is known as close variants. Based on Google’s official documentation regarding this option written prior to its release, “phrase and exact match keywords will match close variants, including misspellings, singular/plural forms, stemmings, accents and abbreviations.”  In reality this attempts to turn phrase and exact match keywords into glorified broad keywords in an effort to leave no money on the table at the end of the day. The detail Google is hoping people will gloss over is the concept of close variants. Our concern with the documentation is that beyond the basics there is no further clarification on what constitutes a close variant. Basically it is up to Google to determine this. Google’s loosely defined rules are a concern to us because they are focused on making themselves money which means spending yours. Close variants reduce the control of advertisers in regards to the quality of traffic they are receiving from AdWords.

Google says that they believe “these changes will be broadly beneficial for users and advertisers”. From what we have seen, the best case scenario is that account performances remain within historical ranges (i.e. no substantial improvement credited to close variants). The worst case scenario is Google picks up close variant traffic that isn’t actually good for you and it leads to an increase in Conversion costs.

For AdWords advertisers this new feature was automatically added to all accounts and you have to opt out if you don’t wish to be affected by it. The good news is that it’s not too difficult to turn off this option although you need to know where to look because it is hidden pretty well. To get to this area, you need to go to the Settings tab for the campaign(s) that you want to opt out of this setting for.  After doing this, you need to scroll to the bottom of the page and open up plus box for Keyword Matching Options which will open the following prompt.

click for full size

To opt out of the settings, choose the “do not include close variants” option, ignore the last resort guilt trip, click save and get your phrase and exact matches back.

AdWords New Shared Budget Feature

Monday, October 8th, 2012


In Vegas the house always wins and so it is with many new Google AdWords features. Google’s newest budget tool fits this model quite nicely. Google rolled out a new Budget feature in AdWords that provides budget control over a collection of campaigns. Initially, we were excited that this would solve some of our budget dilemmas, but as we dug deeper we realized that it still has limitations.

The feature is found in the Shared Library tab on the left side of Adwords. Click on Budgets and there’s a button labeled +New Budget. Name your budget, set your budget, and then apply it to any or all of your campaigns. Google makes it pretty simple to set up. Undoing a budget isn’t quite as easy. One would think that deleting the shared campaign would do the trick – it doesn’t  You can’t delete a shared budget as long as a campaign is applied to it. Before you delete a Shared Budget, you must opt out all campaigns from it. To opt out a campaign of the Shared Budget, click on your campaign and click the Settings tab. Go to your Budget, edit and select the Individual Budget button. Enter a daily budget for that campaign, save, and that campaign is out of the shared budget.  It seems odd to us that Google did not bring all the budget setting tools together in one place, but for now these are separately maintained.

When Google rolled out this new feature, the way it was described was that if one campaign didn’t use its daily budget, the remaining budget would go to a campaign that had spent its budget. This seems like a great idea…but alas it has flaws. When you set up a Shared Budget it deletes the original budget. Now the system doesn’t know what you want that campaign to spend. So, you ask yourself, how does AdWords allocate the budget if it doesn’t know what the budget is for an individual campaign? Here’s where Google gets mischievous. We had to call Google to clear up this question. They told us that the allocation was based on “performance”. Well, “performance” is basically first come first served. If you group a very strong campaign with weaker ones in a shared budget that strong campaign is going to overrun your weaker campaigns and make it difficult for them to get traffic. Who does this scenario benefit? Just Google.

There are a couple things to keep in mind when playing with this feature. If you have a very strict budget, don’t activate the shared budget in the middle of the day. AdWords will assume you haven’t spent any money that day, and it will start off at $0. One side product of a shared budget is the ability to adjust bids past the original campaign budget. For example, if one of your campaign budgets is set to $10, the highest your bids could be set at is $10. Under a Shared Budget, you could set bids past that $10. If you need to bid higher than $10 to be competitive in your market, it’s a nice by-product of a Shared Budget but probably not worth it.

If you use your budgets to control the blended CPA cost then you need to stay away from this feature.  As with most new features that Google rolls out, this new feature is there to make them money. You don’t have a campaign spending its budget, Google has a solution. Spend that money somewhere else! Just keep in mind a campaign that spends its budget slowly will get even less traffic under a shared budget. Google won’t tell you that however, they’ll just keep running your credit card.