Google (Finally) Sets Rules for Local Business Listings

Google Maps has been dealing with spam in its business listings for well over a year now. The problem has gotten so bad that Google recently invited users to help report spam found inside the Google Maps business listings.

In many cases, the spam is obvious; when Company XYZ has listings with the same address and phone number showing up for every zip code in the U.S., there’s no doubt about the intent behind the company’s actions. But in other situations, it’s not as clear. Imagine a lawyer whose office is in Minneapolis, but who serves Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding suburbs. Is it spam when that lawyer rents a mailbox address in nearby St. Paul so s/he can submit an extra listing to Google and be found for “St. Paul lawyer” searches?

Google has finally taken steps to help clear up what’s spam and what isn’t where Google Maps business listings are concerned. Today they published a set of Business Listing Quality Guidelines, and warned that ignoring these rules “could result in your business listings being permanently removed from Google Maps.”

Here’s what Google wants you to do when listing your business in Google Maps:

  1. Represent your business exactly as it appears in real life.
  2. List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can.
  3. Only include listings for businesses that you represent.
  4. Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists.
  5. Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing.

There’s some additional information on the guidelines page, including a specific warning to local service providers not to create listings for every city you serve.

The guidelines seem to me to be right on the money, and are a good first step in cleaning up a problem that’s gone on too long.

What are your thoughts on the new Google Maps business listing guidelines?

Washington Post covers Corporate Blogging

Wondering if a company blog is right for your company? Wondering if your company is ready for a company blog?

The Washington Post tackles the highs and lows of corporate blogging in an article this week, Marketing Moves to the Blogosphere. Writer Sarah Halzack pulls in several examples of how businesses big and small are blogging successfully:

  • A company called Honest Tea used its blog to address customer concerns after Coca-Cola bought a large stake in its business.
  • Marriott CEO Bill Marriott’s blog is such a success that the company is able to track reservations it generates: “Marriott has made more than $5 million in bookings from people who clicked through to the reservation page from Marriott’s blog.”
  • A web development company called Viget Labs uses its blogs as a tool for recruiting new employees.
  • Dolcezza, a small ice cream, uses its blog to bring people into its stores and spend money. “When his second store opened in Bethesda in July, Duncan used his blog to advertise an opening night ice cream giveaway. He ended up serving over 300 gallons of ice cream to more than 1,000 customers that night.”

The article also includes some tips on handling comments and other things to think about before starting a company blog. It’s a good read, especially if that’s the position you’re in today.

SES San Jose: 12 Fast, Free and Easy Tools

image of toolsKeyRelevance will be well represented next week at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose. Our company president, Christine Churchill will be speaking Wednesday on the “Keywords & Content: Search Marketing Foundations” and “Advanced Paid Search Techniques” panels, and on Friday is giving a four-hour training workshop, “Making Pay Per Click Pay – Best Practices in Pay Per Click Advertising.” Also Wednesday, Li Evans will be speaking on the “Successful Tactics for Social Media Optimization” panel.

It’s my turn on Thursday, when I’ll be giving a starter-level presentation on the “Fast, Free and Easy Tools to Get You Going” panel. This is part of the Just the Basics track, geared toward anyone who’s new to search engine marketing. While we’re all going to be advocating the use of tools to make your search marketing life easier, I’m reminding myself to emphasize that tools aren’t a replacement for individual analysis. Tools shouldn’t make the decisions for you; they should make it a little easier for you to make your own decisions.

If you can’t be there on Thursday, here’s a roundup of the tools I’ll be introducing in my presentation:

SEO Tools

Firefox web browser
SEO for Firefox plugin
Search Status plugin

When I think of SEO tools, Firefox is the first thing that comes to mind. There are so many terrific plugins that make site analysis and competitive research easier. I almost thought about doing my whole presentation on Firefox and its great SEO plugins, but ultimately decided to cover a wider variety of tools. Such as…

Keyword Research Tools

Keyword Discovery
SEO Book Keyword Research Tool

Keyword Discovery has been my keyword research tool of choice for a couple years now. The paid version offers some great features in an easy-to-use interface. The link above is to the free version, which has fewer features than a paid account, but is still a good tool to use for basic keyword research. And the SEO Book tool is a great complement that people should be aware of, too.

There are lots of other great keyword research tools, but my fellow panelists are planning to mention some of them, and we’ve agreed not to repeat one another.

Backlink Tools

Yahoo! Site Explorer
Link Diagnosis

The search engines are pretty stingy about revealing all the backlinks they’re aware of. Of the three main engines, Yahoo’s Site Explorer is considered the most comprehensive and reliable, so I’ll be mentioning that as an official source of checking for backlinks. Among the other tools, my favorite is Link Diagnosis. It shows backlinks, the anchor text of those backlinks, which pages on your site appear to have the most backlinks, and so forth. These tools can also be used to help local link building opportunities, but I’ll be mentioning tools for that purpose separately.

Link Building Tools

Hub Finder
Traffic Marks

The idea behind both of these tools is similar: They examine the backlinks of the highest-ranking sites for your keyword and reveal what sites are linking to those high-ranking sites. This helps you locate “hub” sites — sites that would make a great place to get a backlink to your site. If you’re interested in more background, I recently wrote a fairly detailed Traffic Marks review on Small Business Search Marketing.

PPC Tools

Local Keyword List Generator

I don’t do much PPC work, plus my fellow panelists are going to be discussing some of the more well-known PPC tools. So I’m going to share this one — it’s a favorite of mine. If you do geo-targeted PPC, this might be a real time saver. With this tool, you supply a zip code, radius, and your keywords and the tool spits out a list of keywords you can use in your PPC campaign. It takes the zip code and radius you supply, and locates all the city and town names in that geographic area, then concatenates them with the keywords you provided to create your keyword list. Pretty cool.

Domain Tools

Domain Tools

Yep, the name of the tool in the domain tools category is “Domain Tools.” Clever, eh? Anyway, it’s simply the best place I know of to research registered domains. It’ll tell you the WHOIS data, of course, but also a lot more about the domain, too: the Title tag of the home page, the meta description text, how many internal and external links are on the home page, whether the domain is listed in DMOZ and the Yahoo! Directory, and so much more.

Spider Tools


This is one of a couple different tools that will show you how a search engine spider “sees” your web page. I’m including it in my presentation because it goes beyond that to also include some extra data like link counts, word count, page size and load speed, and things like that.


So, that’s it. Twelve tools, 24 slides, and I have 10-12 minutes to fit it all in. No problem! It’s been fun working with fellow presenters Scott Allen and Joe Abraham. We’re making sure there are no repeats in our presentations, so the attendees should learn a lot of different options for their SEO and PPC needs.

If you’ll be at SES next week, please do say hello to Christine, Li, and/or myself — we’d be glad to meet you and say hello!

(photo courtesy batega, via Creative Commons)

More Evidence Shows Power of Consumer Reviews

by Matt McGee

People are talking online. They’re talking about your company, your products, or perhaps your industry. And what they’re saying has a big impact on your chances of converting that next lead or closing that next sale.

Last month, Li made an impassioned case for conversations being the focus and goal of social media. Social media, she said, is an “opportunity for the general public to voice their opinions about brands, products, companies and their opinion of what is really relevant.”

The latest evidence proves that’s exactly what a lot of people are doing online. According to a survey done by the Opinion Research Corporation, reviews are a major influence on consumer decision-making. This isn’t new information, either; consumer reviews have been cited for years as a growing trend in determining who wins and loses online.

Here are some of the stats from the ORC survey:

  • 83% of respondents said online reviews had at least some influence on their purchasing decisions.
  • 70% said they look for reviews and information about particular types of products and services, with travel/recreation/leisure topping the list of most researched niches, and electronics right behind in 2nd
  • 61% look for online reviews before purchasing a new product or service

There’s no hiding from the power of consumer opinion online. If you’re a business owner, the time is now to make sure you know what’s being said about you, your products or services, and your industry as a whole.

You can download the ORC news release (24k PDF) for more background on the survey.