Latest Google Algo Change Hits Local: Pigeon

Pigeon UpdateGoogle local results have long been a mess; complicated by semi-annual rebranding.  Frankly, local results have been a hodgepodge of mistakes and spam, so I’m not surprised to see an algo update – pushed out quietly late Thursday night.

What exactly changed?  It’s very hard to say, as the announcement was phrased as the lovechild of geek and marketing speak that even I can’t decipher anything substantive:

the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.”

They also announced improved signals around distance and location – which seems strange as that doesn’t seem like a very difficult factor to measure.  The update is currently rolling out across the US – so you may see some variability within local search results in the upcoming week.

The Results so Far?

Early results indicate improved performance for major local directories which I find both surprising and disappointing, as it seems counterintuitive to the entire concept of local search. You’ll remember that the results of the Panda 4.0 update were large improvements for Avvo.  Given some of Cutt’s comments, I’ve long believed that Google will back off the directories in favor of smaller businesses.  The directory angle may be a response to Yelp’s recently leaked anti-trust whinings pointing out that even branded searches were failing to reach Yelp.

The Important Takeaways

  1. Pigeon impacts both local AND natural search results – so for law firms, the overall impact may be fairly significant.  Cross your fingers and watch your natural search traffic over the next two weeks.
  2. Google remains in the middle of an anti-SPAM rampage.  Combine that with the rampant spamming of localized results and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pigeon may also have teeth – negatively impacting those of you (and yes there are lots of you) who are faking your office locations – to the detriment of your actual office location.  (This is 100% conjecture.)
  3. Care about your Yelp profile . . . . I hate to say it (and never advertise with them) but customers vetting lawyers may increasingly be led to Yelp.

Yelp Releases Nielsen Survey Data and Declares Itself King of Local Directories

A few days ago, Yelp released parts of a new Nielsen survey on their blog. The results, as stated by Yelp, were as follows:

“When compared to TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and other local directories, people name Yelp as the review site most frequently used when searching for local businesses because they see it as the most influential, most trustworthy and with the highest quality reviews.”

This news was picked up and commented on by many, such as Greg Sterling over in Search Engine Land. His response article voiced a few concerns about the study…

First and foremost, why weren’t Google and Facebook included? According to Yelp, Google and Facebook aren’t “solely focused on local business directory,” and therefore were not eligible. Though technically correct, it’s important to keep in mind that there is certainly a person or two (or millions) who used Google and Facebook when searching for a local businesses.

Another concern Sterling brought up is that 668 out of the 1000 respondents were Yelp users. Yelp’s response? They didn’t pre-screen users based on which review sites they used, so the skew merely shows dominance in the market. Again, a technically sound defense. Whether or not that affects the integrity of the survey is another issue.

So, what does this mean for me (a lawyer, SEO enthusiast, or general internet dweller)?

Well, uhm, er, basically… a whole lot of nothing.

At first glance, Yelp declaring itself the fairest of them all may send you into a panic chasing after more Yelp reviews. And that, my friends, is not necessary. Don’t get me wrong, Yelp is a strong player and is very influential, especially in certain industries. But you, the Internet savant you are, already knew that. What may have slipped your mind is the following:

  1. This survey compares Yelp as a general local directory to a handful of competitors as general local directories. It was not (as far as we know) divided up into sub-categories for each industry. So, yes, Yelp apparently beats out Trip Advisor for the review site more frequently used when searching for local businesses. This does not mean that Yelp would beat out Trip Advisor in a similar survey that solely focused on the travel industry. Additionally, Yelp being a good general local directory doesn’t take away from efforts you may be putting in to a more specialized directory.
  2. Two thirds of the respondents were already Yelp users. Generally speaking, if people are using a service, they probably like it (read: it’s not exactly a scientific discovery that people who use Yelp like Yelp and rated it highly). If we surveyed a bunch of Avvo users on whether or not they thought Avvo was influential and trustworthy, chances are they would say it was.
  3. Just because Yelp has officially decreed themselves King of Local Directories doesn’t mean anything has actually changed. Yelp is equally as important to your SEO efforts today as it was a week ago. So while the Neilson study was without a doubt helpful in boosting Yelp’s collective ego, it wasn’t necessarily helpful for a business owner.

 

Moral of this story: keep on keepin’ on. Don’t let Yelp, or anyone else for that matter, convince you they’re the reason the sun rises.

Where Have All My Reviews Gone?

Today, there are a variety of places for your customers/clients to review your business. Your patrons may leave you a review on your Google + local page (which you can now respond through on your Google Places for Business pages). Back in June of 2012, Yelp joined Bing to provide users with Yelp reviews in the Bing search results pages, in addition to reviews from CitySearch.

 

Mass Injury Firm P.C Yelp/Yahoo Review

 

If I’ve already lost you, you’re in good company. In addition to what I’ve mentioned, there are a myriad of other review sites that businesses should have their eye on. We can even jump outside of the box for a moment and consider positive and negative blog posts about your businesses that start showing up in Search. Make no mistake, reputation is an important aspect of every business – online and off.

 

The Latest News in Online Reputation

Mid last month, Yahoo formally announced a partnership with the popular review site Yelp. What does this partnership mean for you and your business? If you’ve been attentive to your online marketing and have invested time into building out your online reputation on Yahoo Local, it could mean a lot – All of your reviews from Yahoo Local are disappearing. If you have far fewer reviews in Yelp than Yahoo, frustration wouldn’t even begin to describe your feelings. It is widely understood that when researching businesses, users look for quality and quantity. Diminish either of these and that will have a negative impact on your online reputation. We know that reviews play a role in mapped results, what we don’t know is how this is going to affect them. 

 

Angry at Yahoo Local

 

In an article in the WSJ, they explain how Colonial Hardwood Flooring of Lexington, MA had managed to genuinely build 50+ positive reviews on Yahoo Local. What is now displayed in the search results is a single, positive review from their Yelp page. Thankfully, this Yelp review is a positive one; just imagine the alternative. The WSJ goes on to state that Yahoo will continue to display reviews within their system until that business gets a new review on Yelp. After which, your yahoo reviews will disappear from your Yahoo Local listing.

What Can We Learn?

  1. Reputation is vital – People rely on reviews. Reviews are showing up in search results. Major search engines are teaming with major review sites. How many hints much proof do you need?
  2. Diversify – Just like investing in your retirement, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Invite your clients to review your business online by giving them options.
  3. Things change – Market your business for the long run and understand that some things that work today may not work tomorrow… Always be working for tomorrow.

Is Local Search Optimization About to Get Easier with Moz Local?

One of the most important things that attorneys can do to drive business and generate new clients is local search optimization. If you do it correctly you’ll get priority placement in the search results with a map listing and the onebox local listing which features your business phone number, address, and any reviews you have, like this:

google-maps

google-local-listings

Showing up in the local search listings isn’t necessarily a complicated task, but it’s not necessarily straightforward either. Before Google decides to place you in their local listings they want to confirm that your location and contact info is legitimate. After all they don’t want to go directing people to abandoned buildings, or bogus phone numbers. Such a thing would be a bad user experience.

The Trials and Tribulations of Local Search Citations

So, in order to confirm your address and phone number, Google fact checks that information by looking at other sites and directories to see if your information is cited consistently. It essentially does a scans different directories like Yellow Pages, Citysearch, and Yelp to find the name of your firm, address and phone number.  If your name, address, and phone number are found to be consistent across multiple sites, that information is deemed to be more reliable. Therefore Google’s more likely to list you in the local search results for your location.  On the other hand, if you have multiple listings with different firm names, or old addresses and phone numbers, Google’s not sure which data is accurate.  Therefore they’re not going to list your business in the local search results.

Sounds simple right? Just make sure that your business information is consistent across multiple directories. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever gone down the path of claiming or updating directory listings for your business you might have found a tangled mess.  If your law firm has ever changed names, or moved locations, the chances are high that you have multiple duplicate listings with inconsistent information. We see this on a daily basis at Mockingbird, and we’ve spent weeks in some cases cleaning up “bad listings”. The problem is that these listings tend to propagate and spread across sites, and there’s no central place to update them. In short, it can be a nightmare to clean up. And it’s not something your average attorney has time to worry about, or should even have to worry about. That’s why I’m ecstatic to see a tool created under the guidance of one of the most prevalent names in local search marketing, David Mihm.

Managing Local Search with Moz Local

Yesterday, in David’s Moz blog post, announcing the release, he described the initial goal of Moz Local as being to “solve the fundamental pain points of local search “ensuring accurate, consistent business listing information on the important sites on the web”.

While Moz Local will most likely evolve in future releases to help manage listings on more sites, right now the paid version allows you to easily manage listings across eight of the most important data aggregators and local directories:

  • Infogroup
  • Neustar Localeze
  • Acxiom
  • Factual
  • Foursquare
  • Superpages
  • eLocal
  • Best of the Web Local

If you’re using Moz Local or any other similar service, like Yext, it’s important to realize that these aren’t a one stop solution for your local search marketing efforts. But, it will help you manage some of the most important listings and get a good start, which is probably more than much of your competition is doing.

Check Your Local Search Health with Moz Local’s Free Tools

While Moz Local’s paid search tools will help you easily manage and update your directory listings from one place, some of its most useful tools are actually free.  If you’re curious how your firm is doing in local search, they have an easy tool to check your listings. All you have to do is enter your business name, and zip code.

check-listings

After you enter your business info, you’ll receive a report to show you how your business is doing in local search, and highlight listings which are incomplete, inconsistent or duplicate. So, even if you don’t pay to manage your directory listings you can get a health check to identify discrepancies that may be holding you back in local search. If you’ve never paid attention or examined your firm’s local listings you might be surprised.

moz-local-dash

Hot off the Press: Local Ranking Factors – Lawyer Edition

Local Ranking Factors

Every year, I’m honored to be among a handful of SEOs surveyed by local search expert, David Mihm to ID ranking factors that contribute to Local Rankings.  David’s survey has just come out on Moz and is worth a detailed look by any attorneys competing for business at a local level attorneys.

This year, the survey was broken into two components – foundational Local Optimization and Local for competitive markets. Some highlights below:

  • Local is as complex and multifaceted (if not more so) as natural search.
  • The foundations of local optimization have stayed essentially the same – there was no game changer this year, despite the heavy push around Google Plus.
  • Ranking factors for mobile devices were not that divergent from those of traditional local searches.
  • There was a very heavy focus on the quality of both citations and links (i.e. NOT quantity).  This doesn’t surprise me, but I’ve seen the legal market being very very slow to adapt to this.
  • Along the quality lines – the quality of reviewers was very important.  I saw this in my restaurant days at Urbanspoon where a single review from a Yelp elite could push a restaurant into the local results.  I’m not sure exactly how actionable this is for attorneys (i.e. soliciting business from elite reviewers seems a huge stretch) – but it does serve to focus the importance on the cringe inducing subject of online reviews.
  • One thing that surprised me (and perhaps because I’m desensitized o it after years in legal) was the negative impact of keyword stuffing in the business name.  The perception that overly descriptive business names results in all sorts of Google Juice (insert snarky tone) persists among many lawyers and legal-industry SEO “experts.”

So read David’s report – it is very hot off the press, having been published just this morning.

 

Local Gets a Makeover: Google Knowledge Carousel

Yesterday, Google announced the most significant change to the user experience in Local search with the official launch of the “Knowledge Carousel”.  From Google:

Click on one of the places in the carousel to get more details on it, including its overall review-based score, address and photos. If you want to see more places, click the arrow at the right of the carousel. And you can zoom in on the map that appears below the carousel to restrict your search to only places in a specific area.

This new feature dominates the top of the search results for localized searches with a huge black bar and highly visual interface:

Google Knowledge Carousel
Knowledge Carousel for “Seattle Steakhouses”

 

Upon clicking on one of the carousel items, two very interesting things happen:

  • The search engine automatically executes a brand search for that item – in our examples see how “steakhouse” has been replaced by “Daniel’s Broiler Seattle” in the search bar.  (Interesting inclusion of the city here.)   
  • The map is replaced by a section dedicated to even more data specific to the business.

Click through on Carousel

What This Means for Lawyers

So far . . . nothing.  I have yet to see the Knowledge Carousel with any legal searches.  (If you find one . . . . please send me a screenshot.)  However, I suspect it is only a matter of time.  Restaurants are a great example where there are a lot of reviews and vibrant imagery – making the carousel experience appealing.  I suspect the relative paucity of this type of content is the reason we aren’t seeing this in legal.  Yet.  When the carousel comes to legal, those attorneys who will win will have the following common aspects to their online profile:

  • Vibrant imagery – of either their office, or more likely their portrait.  
  • Lots of structured data in their Google Places Page.  (hours, languages, practice area, pricing etc.)
  • A heavy volume of reviews across the web, but especially within the Google ecosystem.