With the velocity we face in the digital age, a review of what we "know" reveals that it doesn't take a year for that knowledge to become outdated. In fact, sometimes it only takes a few weeks. The Google page listing is a great example of having to learn anew almost every day.
A review of today's Google page listing shows that it's no longer good enough to just master the practice of organic search engine optimization (SEO) or paid search (aka sponsored links or CPC). Upon looking further at the Google page listing, it reveals much more than organic results and sponsored links. We also find sections (some known as a OneBox) for:
- Local Listings/Google Maps
- News (i.e., AP/Reuters/Google News)
- Products (Shopping)
- Expanded Organic Results (abbreviated sitemap and +show more links)
- Expanded Sponsored Links Results (Product Image and Google Checkout)
- Related Search Terms
- Airline Ticket Departure and Arrival Dates
These are but a few examples that are "crowding" organic results and sponsored links in the Google page listing. So, it's not enough to focus strictly on SEO/paid search. In this installment, we'll review Local Listings/Google Maps and the tactics you might consider using.
Local Listings/Google Maps: If local search matters to you (e.g., restaurants, retail shops, hotels), ensure your company/address is listed on as many "local search engines" as possible, from SuperPages.com to local chambers of commerce. Nearly 95% of them are free, and the rest are cheap, so it's really just a matter of investing time in these various local search engines. The more, the better.
Google Maps scans local "search engines" for consistency of address and name, so make sure your listings are as identical as possible. And make sure they match your phone book listing. Even though phone books are used less every day, Google uses them as primary rank criteria.
Secondly, make sure you have validated and completed your Google Business Listing. Google is the only major search engine that provides this service, and every business should make sure its listing is complete. The more you populate the information they request, the more likely they are to rank your business well. Even businesses without websites are able to complete their listing.
Finally, to help with your page rank, try to cultivate a lot of reviews. Highly reviewed destinations help with getting a top local-search listing. This is especially true of hotels, restaurants, and other retail destinations where user experience is frequently shared online.
One area that is much more difficult to affect is your location. Google gives preference to local-search listings where the address is closer to the geo-center of the location searched. For example, if "hotels in dallas tx" is the search term, the Google page listing in the Local Search OneBox are hotels closest to downtown Dallas.
With this given, it's important to find out your "location" as Google sees it and optimize your web properties if local search is important to you. Using geo-specific search terms in your "contact us" or "find us" pages will let Google know you have done your SEO job well. Use a local phone number and address in your page title and copy, and provide a "get directions" link back to Google Maps with your specific address already linked.
If you have multiple locations, dedicate at least one page on your site to each location and complete a Google Business Listing for each location. For those with hundreds of locations, consider using Google Base for batch upload.
The good news is that the timeless principles of positioning continue to be re-affirmed by search engines. The basics -- and obvious common sense -- do the bulk of the heavy lifting every day. Companies trying to "trick" the search engines and achieve unnatural top search rankings are being exposed each and every day. The online buzz about Target.com SEO spam tactics is just the latest in a long line of those trying to gain instant SEO gratification.
Keep doing the basics well and continue doing common-sense, practical marketing. If it feels wrong, it probably is. If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.