Developing a Venice friendly SEO strategy

by Peter Young on July 26, 2012 · 0 comments

One of the most interesting changes I have seen over the last couple of months has been the way our search results have become localised. Its a subject I have done a number of posts on – both on here and on the State of Search blog. Since the day Marissa Meyer moved over from her role as VP Search Products & User Experience to manage the Location and Local Service department at Google (to the day she left), many of us should have expected significant changes within the search results.

The change though has been significant in that time. Changes to both the result page landscape have come thick and fast – however two of the most recent would suggest Local remains focal to Google’s future strategy, firstly the people Google have put in charge of their local product (with both Marissa Mayer until her departure to Yahoo and Jeff Huber (ex E-Bay) – but also the recent Venice update and the recent announcement of Google Local+.

With this in mind, many campaigns cannot afford to not think of the Local aspect. However I would suggest that for many the impact of Venice is not fully understood and as a result many organisations do not maximise the potential local opportunity fully. So what should you be thinking

Think big?
It shouldn’t be underestimated just how much impact Venice has had.  From legal services to travel to funeral services, Venice has had its claws in many sectors from retail to finance. In many ways its raised a very interesting conundrum – that of whether to add content or to remove – as both Panda and Penguin would appear to have contrasting approaches to remediation. For Panda, most people would recommend addressing content – duplicate or thin content in particular however Venice is an update which would appear to promote greater content normalisation to deal with the localised nuances.

For many, particularly those bricks and mortar organisations such a framework might be easy to deal with. Development of content in line with local store availability is an easy thing to do however organisations which offer a national service in a virtual environment may not be able to scale this side of things quite as easily (the legal services and finance sectors in particular could be particularly impacted here)

To understand Venice – one has to understand the scale. I have been working on a spreadsheet which is not quite finished which highlights the impact of Venice quite nicely.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AjBEUjWpQwTjdEwtM25TWjJ4ZFA4bGxvLWlXcFFEdHc

If one takes a scenario such as solicitors,  one will see that following local breakout, the first result remains constant and thereafter its a bit of a local free for all. Organisations such as Clifford Chance appear for London but nowhere else, whereas Pannone only appear for Manchester based searches.

This is one of many examples we could have used. However what nearly all of them would highlight is local signals count. Whether that be via appropriate markup on page , the development of localised content in line with bricks and mortar stores or the rollout of a Local+ framework – organisations cannot ignore the impact of local as this could change not only how users find information but also how they search it. If users get used to finding localised content, they will stop qualifying their searches (unless they need to). The net impact is two fold

  • Search queries become less long tail on localised searches as users will find their local results via generic queries. Those with local strategies will perform better via organic search however:
  • PPC clicks may well become more expensive. No longer am I bidding on the term ‘solicitor Manchester’ but on the term solicitor. A CPC for the term solicitor may well be up to 10x more expensive than that for ‘Solicitor Manchester’. Great for Google – not so good for advertisers I would suggest and the whole battle for organic supremacy will carry on.

Consider local content

I cannot highlight just how important local content is within Venice. In many instances local breakout within Venice’d results can take impact two fold. Firstly via a primary or secondary page applicable to the searchers location (should this be applicable – such as a store for a retailer or airport or shop for a travel provider not to say that visibility may be compromised completely.

Certain positions appear to be fairly robust against this local breakout. The first purely organic position from my testing appears to be of a premium though – whether or not this occurs pre or post the Places/Local+ results. Certainly on the vast majority of terms sampled this remained constant, however below was a different story.

If your service happens to be highly impacted by Venice, there are two ways thus to approach this. Firstly go for broke and aim for those number one positions. This I would have to suggest is a slightly risky strategy, and one can’t help feeling developing content in line with localised opportunities may well be a better way to go. However again one has to be careful. We know from Panda just how Google are dealing with thin content, so if you are going down this strategy, I would have to suggest you spend a bit of time developing something that meets the expectations of the user, as well as the search engine so integration into the wider site architecture is a definite requirement.

Further more, provide the signals to the search engine of localised relevance. You wouldn’t optimise a site without building some form of off-site promotion and the same applies here. In terms of local content, local blogs, directories, business partnerships or advertorials would be highly advisable.

Think Schema.org

If you are in the fortunate position where you have physical locations, you obviously have an advantage over those organisations that don’t. That said even if you don’t the incorporation of structured markup to your sites cannot be considered highly enough. The search engines these days can deal with a number of formats from Recipes to names to Local Business. In particular the latter should be heavily considered here in order to provide the search engines with clear indications of local relevance. Examples below are a couple of suggestions where this could be incorporated however increasingly we are seeing Google move towards a structured data format (think authorship) with much of what they are doing:

  • Footer Address
  • Contact Page
  • Store pages
Local+

One of the most obvious impacts of the increased localisation of SERPs is the increased breakout of local results. Many localised pages have as many as 7 or so local results returned so the impact on this on a search is huge. Not only does it potentially mean an opportunity to triple play on many results (via Paid, True Organic and the Local+ result) but one would suggest this may see further growth as Google gets more ‘inclusive’ of Google+.

If you do have local ‘entities’ therefore its essential you get these in to Google and work with them. Encourage reviews on these local results as with the integration of Zagat it doesn’t take a brain scientist to work out how fundamental this is going to become moving forward.

How do we deal with this

What Venice does present is a dilemma. SSL search has thrown up an issue in tracking keywords, Venice has thrown up an issue in tracking rankings, so accountability is sure to be a subject on many peoples lips (anyone would think Google don’t encourage SEO ;) ).

Single perspective search results are now a bit of a dinosaur. Given the significant variance for many of these phrases below the first three or so positions, one has to be looking at a more overall picture. Increasingly ranking tools are taking this on board (though AWR and Authority Labs do appear to be slow to the party), with tools like Linkdex offering the posibility of checking localised breakout. Further to this Google Webmaster Tools does offer a more top level perspective which other organisations may decide to utilise instead. Whilst this isn’t a perfect scenario – understanding your visibility I would suggest should still be a fundamental part of your SEO strategy – its just we need to understand this in a far more granular format.

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