The New Google Places and Hyperlocal SEO

by Guest Author on April 1, 2011 · 0 comments

It’s a constant struggle for small businesses competing for visibility in search engine results, be it via natural SEO or even using PPC means. The churn rates of small businesses that try limited AdWords campaigns and then give up are massive, and demonstrate that a gap is forming in search engine marketing for smaller fish. Now, there’s a separate argument to be made that as small businesses don’t have dedicated marketing departments, search engine marketing comes last in their priorities after dealing with customers, generating sales and generally keeping their business afloat. These small advertisers will often use third parties that employ Google AdWords campaigns as part of a wider marketing campaign. This is reasonably opaque to the client and perhaps (as Google claims) if the small business could see the ROI based purely on Google AdWords spend, they would keep going with it, rather than breaking away from the third party entirely.

Whether or not these third party SEMs and resellers will be forced by Google into transparency, it’s doubtful that the churn of small businesses abandoning search marketing as quickly as they took it on is likely to change. For example, while on their own these businesses may be able to pick up the jargon and learn ostensibly what a tool like Google AdWords is for (um, direct advertising?), it may not occur to them the way a search engine marketer might use them. For example they’re unlikely to realise that Google AdWords is a great way to quickly test keywords, their conversion rates and their competitiveness for use in a natural SEO campaign.

So, beyond the apparent dithering of a third party search engine marketer, it’s clear that classic SEO and its neighbour PPC are not always right for every business if they cannot be worked to generate significant ROI, but there is an alternative. If we consider that budgetary or other restraints can stop this kind of search engine marketing from being viable for smaller firms, there is another issue: where do these businesses actually want to appear online? For local businesses or those with a limited number of branches, competing for relevant keywords or even targeting a PPC campaign can prove problematic; they’re competing for clients they can’t even service. This becomes particularly true for those businesses delivering a service that must be taken up in person; they’re offering a local service but competing for a national market.

Go Local

The new Google Places is a much better fit for small businesses that might revolve around a venue or geo-specific location (e.g. “Sunday Roast in Northwest London”) than keyword SEO (“Sunday Roast”) partly due to the way people are searching for these services. It must be clarified that there’s only dubious evidence that techniques to raise one’s profile on Google Places will boost a business’ standard SEO – these measures are an alternative means of search engine marketing for a local business, a type of hyperlocal SEO. They’re unlikely to be taken on by the larger firms who provide services nationwide and there in lies the benefit to the smaller company. Your SEO is improved in your local area, where your business listing has the potential to place above the standard organic SEO listings. This is what would make Google Places an SEO tool on its own.

Testing the platform

Maybe it’s a side-effect of how digital agencies are structured and the separation of market researchers from SEMs, but the testing SEMs engage in is directed towards the search engine itself – working around and (occasionally) attempting to sidestep its algorithms. In this situation the actual user, the potential client doing the searching, is long forgotten as is the way in which they are searching. To reflect the way local businesses are often looked up online I’m doing the test on a smart phone running the Google Maps and Google Places apps.

Running a smartphone with Google Maps, I plot a route to ‘Hairdressers, Islington’ and Google Maps immediately sends me about 1 mile north up Upper Street. One might presume that I’d be directed to a large chain like Toni & Guy or similar who have the budget for a full-time keyword and link-gathering SEO campaign. Instead I’m directed to a one-off hairdressers rather than a chain, but crucially I’m directed to a hairdressers with the most reviews for the search terms ‘Hairdressers Islington’ on Google Places.

This high number of reviews, which have the additional effect of acting as client testimonials, are pulled from various listing websites. They also appear to affect the hairdresser’s natural SEO on a search, as if Google has boosted hyperlocal content’s search ranking to reflect the changing ways people are using search engines. A great deal of people have given this place – a hairdressers in Islington – positive reviews, therefore it’s relevant for the search term ‘Hairdressers Islington’.

These user reviews include those made directly on the platform by people logged-in to their Google Accounts, but also the many listing websites like Qype, Yelp and In fact Google has been placing these reviews in the organic results (taken from the old format of Google Places) for Google searches. To do this, Google has given the reviews from the third party listings websites their own search result listings in natural positions on the search engine. In this way these reviews can count toward the venue’s natural SEO, as they work in a similar way to trustworthy links, without Google artificially manipulating its algorithm.

Running SEO campaigns for search terms relating to their business may be out of reach for companies in hyperlocal markets, but on localised search terms which have relatively low competition anyway, it’s not so difficult to actively improve a business’s profile on Google Places. Small businesses just have to verify the listing on Google Places and start encouraging their clients to review them on the different platforms. They could even reward clients for writing reviews, good or bad, and remain transparent by marketing it as part of an ongoing mission to greater reflect their clients’ needs. Just as a business can find out which keywords they should be competing for on natural Google searches, when they verify their Google Places listing, they can optimise the listing for these keywords, as well as clarifying the location they’re in (and therefore the local area you wish to compete for hyperlocal SEO in). I don’t run a local business, so can’t complete SEO testing within Google Places on behalf of a hyperlocal business; but this is where SEMs should be doing their tests and seeing how their actions on Google Places affect natural SEO on Google rankings.

This guest blog was contributed by Matt at Bullseyehub – the smarter way to promote events online.

Bullseyehub allows you to: broadcast event listings to 40+ entertainment sites instantly; design and deliver branded email campaigns; engage customers on the move with mobile flyers and guestlists; schedule and monitor Facebook and Twitter messages; track marketing performance and gain insight with powerful analytics while managing
your customer lists – all from one central hub. For a free demo click here.

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