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SEO: High Competition vs. Backlinks

October 31st, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Website Engineering 5,551 comments

This article could be titled “Analyzing how hard it may be to rank in Google’s page 1″.

When analyzing how hard we can expect it to be to rank a site in Google’s Page 1, we have to gauge the competition for our keywords of choice.

People who do not specialize in SEO are sometimes confused (more…)

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Using Facebook The Right Way – Business vs. Personal

October 19th, 2012 Posted by Social media thoughts, Website Engineering 2,063 comments

Here is a Black Friday scenario that could happen to you.

You heard about Facebook being the latest and greatest, how Facebook performs miracles for businesses, how you are missing out on the new revolution if you (more…)

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Marketing Wu Shu: Mix… or Lose to Better Fighters

August 16th, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Website Engineering 6,603 comments

There is no opposition between online marketing and offline marketing. Your marketing-fu [I prefer to say ‘marketing wu shu’] is as good as you are able to set up the right mix for your business and your clients. Research studies show why, and a few figures will help illustrate this.

In the early days of internet marketing (more…)

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The Battle-Tested Rules of SEO

July 31st, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Website Engineering 9,782 comments

A small token of appreciation to the web designer community, we slapped together this infographics which shows the road we follow when we help our users build their LocalRanker websites.

This graphics doesn’t illustrate all the tricks in the book… but then again, we don’t care too much for tricks. (more…)

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Elevator Speeches That Sell Better

July 23rd, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Website Engineering 3,375 comments

When in 1961 Rosser Reeves published the inner workings of the unique selling proposition [U.S.P.], he changed the way we market our products and services by showing us how to link up ‘unique‘, ‘selling‘ and ‘call to action‘ in a clear message.

From his modest beginnings as a staff copywriter in the early ’40s, (more…)

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Free infographics for SEO agencies

July 1st, 2012 Posted by Website Engineering 1,784 comments

LocalRanker designed this infographics to help you promote your SEO services to your leads.

[All experienced SEO specialists use these steps to help their clients rank high.]

Download it, re-brand it, send it to your leads to show them at a glance how you will SEO their websites. (more…)

Google+ vs. Facebook Fan Pages: Where is Your $$$?

June 8th, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Social media thoughts, Website Engineering 4,701 comments

The integration of Zagat reviews in Google+ is a sound strategic move for Google and Zagat, on both sides of the supply-and-demand equation.

It gives Zagat the crowdsourcing capabilities it was missing.
It provides the new ‘Google+ Places‘ with volumes of quality content which sets them ahead of all other social actors in the niche, like Yelp.

More importantly for Google, this move supersizes Google+ to the stature it was still pining for, to make it the #1 SOLOMO network in the world a year after its launch.

For Facebook, heavy weather ahead.

The Zagat conandrum

Zagat is one of the oldest and most respected restaurant guides in the world. An institution, a little brother to the Michelin. The company published paper guides well before they went online, contrary to competitor Yelp.

Because of the print heritage of their publishing house, Zagat has always been picky when selecting their restaurants: they couldn’t waste valuable print space to write a bad review. Better not to review the restaurant at all.

Zagat picks good local eateries where guests can predictably enjoy dinner, and rates them on a wide variety of criteria. Zagat’s detailed reviews take care of the surprise factor: the dinners’ experience is commensurate with their expectations. Restaurant owners (hopefully) take notice of the sore points and correct them. Everybody is happy.

Yelp, on the contrary, grew online from the get-go. They ‘crowdsourced’ their ratings, allowing any and all to drop reviews on any restaurant with a We’re Open sign. Unlike space in a paper guide, online space is low-cost. There is no concern about wasting it over scathing reviews and ugly food. The largest the footprint, the better.

Zagat went online in 1999 and established Zagat.com using their carefully crafted rating system. They simply duplicated online their offline paper-based model. Their financial model is based on subscriptions and guide sales.

With the rise of Web 2.0 sites and the growing popularity of review sites, a selective guide like Zagat couldn’t grow as fast as the likes of Yelp. An article published by the NY Times in September 2008 clearly defined the issue.

Zagat reviewers take great pride in crafting detailed reviews, rating a restaurant on many different criteria. Yelpers can slap a review in 2 minutes on their favorite soapbox. Craftsmanship vs. crowdsourcing. Polish cavalry vs. German Panzer divisions. The battle is quickly over. Easy does it; free wins the day.

Though Ms. Zagat insisted her guide was never about rating as many restaurants as possible, it was urgent for her venerable house to mutate to Web 2.0. Google+ offers her this opportunity on a silver tray.

Google+ growing stronger fast

Google launched Google+ as a belated strategic move, partly in response to the explosion of Facebook as THE social network of the first decade of Y2K.

Note: I have no inside sources in Google, so this statement is my own opinion. But Google+ was a me-too product, not a disruptive product in the meaning given by Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. It is still not a distruptive product but is becoming an ‘integrative’ product, soon-to-become much more powerful than Facebook.

Though the number of subscribers grew fast, the sheer size of Facebook has so far dwarfed [under the skeptical pens of the pundits] the progress made by Google+ in establishing its user base. Some writers likened G+ to a ‘ghost town’, others predicted a quick death. If perception is reality, the new social network was stillborn or DOA.

Yet the numbers are impressive: G+ is about a year old and has already reached 170 million subs. Where were FB’s numbers after a year of existence?

Be it as may, Google is moving fast to flesh out the ‘social‘ in ‘G+ social network‘. The rollover of Google Places into Google+ is a brilliant strategic move which, overnight, gives it the stature it was missing. With the integration of Zagat, it dons the respectability of a true publishing house.

Google+ version 1.0

In his insightful digital opus What The Plus!, author-speaker Guy Kawasaki expands on a social media identification model dubbed Social Media Decoder which differentiates G+ from FB, Tweeter and Pinterest. (The illustration proposed by Dan Roam for Mr. Kawasaki’s ‘Social Media Decoder‘ is way cool.)

Guy Kawasaki explains that G+ is the social network that links people who didn’t know each other prior to connecting around a common passion. Accoding to his classification, this differentiates G+ from Facebook, the ‘People’ network.

Like product managers at Google, Mr. Kawasaki underlines that since these connections are made and nurtured in the confines of private Circles, a very large section of the conversation that occurs on G+ actually escapes measurement by conventional measures of social engagement. (Hence the ‘ghost town’ analogy offered by skeptics.)

That was Google+ version 1.0.
Times a-changing.

Seismic change

The merger of Google Places into G+ is an event of seismic proportions involving some 80 million Google Place pages.

For one thing, this move will drastically increase the noise level publicly shared in Google+. Google Places welcomed reviews, and judging by the number of reviews directly submitted to Google and published on Places, they have already earned their golden gloves in the heavyweight soapbox category.

People love the limelight and the 15 minutes of fame: they won’t restrict their sharing. No no no. They will go as public, as loud as they can. No Family Circle, there. Only the Public Circle will do…

But wait, there is more!

The new Google+ Places will soon enable consumers to open discussions directly with business owners in Google+ Places, the way Facebook ‘Wall’ works. Heavy volumes of conversation in the making, guaranteed.

The resulting increased noise shared publicly on G+ will foster the perception that G+ is not just a big social network among other giants, but the ‘SOLOMO network‘ (SOcial-LOcal-MObile) of the next decade, with a money-critical local component.

Just what the good doctor needed to order.

Zagat and Google+ to benefit

As far as Zagat is concerned, the future looks bright. They needed the massive amount of traffic Google+ will bring them. Yelp’s over-bearing footprint in the restaurant scene won’t be an issue anymore. Zagat’s financial future is secured, whichever way the sales of paper guides go.

Rather, the issue for the Zagat House may become how they will protect the quality of their brand now that 150+ million reviewers can write Zagat-type reviews and publish them on G+ graced with the Zagat moniker. A sweet problem, perhaps.

For Google+, the integration of Google Places is a numbers game. Hundreds of millions of users searching Google 3 billions of times per day will get used to seeing the ‘+1′ and ‘G+’ icons everywhere on their favorite search engine. The GMail users who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet will now start using their G+ account to share their local-centric opinions.

This takes care of the demand side of the data equation.

On the supply side, business owners know where money belongs. Google Search, Google Adwords and Google Places have all the credentials they need as money makers and traffic drivers. When demand exist, a market gets organized and suppliers start touting their goods. Google Places are already populated with business content. The trend will continue with Google+ Places.

As soon as Google+ Places allows consumers to address directly business owners on Place+ pages, the former will engage the conversation and the latter will respond because of the primary piece of real-estate that a Place+ page represent. The foot traffic is there already, no need to do anything special to create it! Location, location, location.

When 50% of local searches are conducted from a smart device and lead directly to a Google Map, you don’t leave your Google Place page empty when people start commenting on you and ask you questions. You are on your computer every day, responding to the demand and participating in the conversation. Or you are a fool, soon to be put out of business.

Facebook net loser  

Business owners know that time is a precious commodity, especially in tough economic circumstances where slacking at the wheel is just not affordable anymore. Try to sell anything to any business owner and they will quickly cut to the chase: Don’t waste my time. How much will this thing make me, how fast?

Business owners constantly arbitrage their time investments. This is where Facebook draws the short sticks and walks the plank.

Whereas Google is a proven money maker, Facebook has nothing to show for. Zip. Nada. Even General Motors says it, and these guys are known to leak money like sieves.

For the business owner, the choice is clear:

  • Do I spend time tonight ornamenting my Facebook Fan page with cute comments and content that may engage 16% of my 350 Fans… in the hope they not only LIKE it but BUY it (please please pretty please, buy it)?

OR

  • Do I respond to the comments I received in my G+ Place which will be viewed tonight and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and forever by the thousands of people who search on Google each day specifically for a business like mine?

Take a wild guess: who wins?

 

Phil Chavanne
LocalRanker

Chinese Prediction True 3,000 Years Later!

June 6th, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Social media thoughts, Website Engineering 6,991 comments

It turns out the Chinese dude who wrote “A picture is worth a thousand words” some 3,000 years ago wasn’t actually smoking crack.

 

A Picture Worth 1000 Words

A Picture Worth
1000 Words

A study released in October 2011 by content publisher Skyword shows that articles accompanied with relevant photos/graphics would get 94% more views than the plain-vanilla garden variety of articles.

94% more views. Wow. That should tickle the shutterbug in you, shouldn’t it?

But wait, there’s more!

We knew from Facebook that pictures created engagement, the Holy Grail of social media marketing. But how fat the increase?

Well, Mashable‘s Matt Handy wrote last March that a picture will increase engagement by 120% and a photo album… by a whopping 180%!

Kodak Moment!

Now, does every industry benefit fromthis windfall of page views in the same way? Of couse not!

Here is the interesting graph published by Skyword:

Skyword's graph showing the impact of pictures by type of industry. Some differences in performance

Skyword’s graph showing the impact of pictures
by type of industry. Some differences in performance

For a local business the first column is particularly noteworthy: page views increase by over 80% when business articles contain pictures!

All pictures created equal under God?

In an article published on Mashable by Samantha Murphy in February this year, the 15 most popular pictures found on Pinterest were:

  1. 3 hands of a family: man, woman, baby
  2. A just-married couple kissing in a funny photobooth
  3. A huge bookshelf taking an entire wall, shot from above
  4. Green apples carved to contain cooked apple dices, like apple pies
  5. Wise words, framed
  6. Chocolate chip bacon cookies
  7. Toenails with metallic nail polish
  8. Wise words on love
  9. A landscape with a bench under a tree in autumn
  10. A complex and beautiful braid on a woman’s head
  11. A well-appointed walking closet with dozens of pairs of shoes and handbags
  12. A man drawing on a blackboard full of interesting doodles
  13. A cookie with 3D sugar icing that looks like a melting snowman
  14. A woman with a really big wool scarf around her body
  15. A cozy bed nook in a beautiful apartment

Count the numbers of photos in each colored category:

6 photos showing a human or some part of the human body
3 photos showing some interior scene
3 photos of cooked food
2 photos related to intellectual activity
1 photo of Mother Nature

 While this is not a scientific study, it nevertheless shows people are strongly inclined to share photos showing humans, human habitat and cooked food (also a human activity).

Of note, most of these photos had dominant white, pink or earthy/golden colors, and all were very well lit, with little or no dark areas.

These observations may guide your hand when you pick a shot from a personal collection or a stock photo library to illustrate a point in your blog or website.

A final note

The phrase “A picture is worth a 1,000 words” was not coined by Confucius or some other Chinese philosopher.

Though its origins are lost in history, author Gary Martin writes that the phrase was introduced in an article published by Frederick  R. Barnard in Printer’s Ink, in December 1921. According to Gary, variations of the phrase were common currency in the US in the early part of the 20th century and can even be traced back to the early 19th century.

But Printer’s Ink re-published it in 1927 as an alleged Chinese proverb. This version stuck to this day.

Now here’s the take. Guess what illustrated these words for posterity? You got it: the picture at the top of this article.

To your success!

Phil Chavanne
LocalRanker

 

Sources:
Skyword‘s website
Matt Handy and Samantha Murphy in Mashable
Gary Martin in Phases.Org.UK 

Get your images indexed and shared – Part I

June 4th, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Social media thoughts 1,188 comments

People do not always search Google through the regular search results. An increasing number of searches occur in Google Images, thanks to the wealth of pictures Google offers.

For business owners it is a great opportunity to get more of their content ranking well in Google. The question is: how do I rank a picture in the top 2 lines (for instance)?

Ranking factors

Enter a search query in Google Images (images.google.com), hover your mouse over a pictures and look at how Google describes an image.

  • filename
  • URL
  • Size and Description

We have to ask ourselves:

  • Are these factors predominant in the way Google ranks the pictures?
  • What are their respective influence in the ranking algorithm?
  • Are there common factors between these pictures?
  • What other (not so easily visible) factors influence the rankings?

We observed the image results for some time, and found some answers which we could use to improve the ranking of our clients’ pictures. Though we can’t pretend to have deciphered Google’s ranking algorithm for pictures, we’ll share what we found and this may help you conduct tests of your own.

Bottom line: since Google Images has become a method Googlers use to search Google and find products, it behooves on us to help Googlers find our products in this way too.

Filename, URL and description

Jimbo’s Sidecars is a LocalRanker user since 2008 [a very early adopter]. Jimbo’s specialty is renovating and converting vintage Chinese sidecars into beautiful BMW sidecars. His shop is situated in Beijing, and Jimbo ships sidecars the world over. His reputation has gone completely international.

In Jimbo’s line of business, pictures are highly important as you won’t order a $10,000 sidecar from a website and send money to China before yau have solid proof that the guy is legit and that what you buy is what you gonna get.

Jimbo’s website benefits from many back-links as each of his bikes is a remarkable piece of work, and Jimbo has a following in the sidecar community. Unsurprisingly his website has been ranking #1 since mid-2009 on his main keywords.

Looking at the first row of pictures offered in images.google.com on the keyphrase “BMW sidecar” we can see 2 pictures from Jimbo’s website sitting pretty in positions 1 and 3. We looked at each of the six pictures in the first row, and tried to identify similarities in the filenames, the URLs and the descriptions.

This first image is from Jimbo’s website. The URL is a perfect match with the key phrase.  The filename does not contain any of the search keywords. The description contains the word “BMW”.

First BMW sidecar picture in Google Images

First BMW sidecar picture in Google Images

The words “BMW sidecar” appear in the filename – perfect match. The URL does not feature any of the keywords. The word BMW is featured in the description offered by Google.

Second image of sidecar in Google Images

Second image of sidecar in Google Images

The URL is a perfect match. The filename only has a vague relationship with the words “BMW sidecar”. The word BMW is featured in the description selected by Google.

Third photo of a BMW sidecar in Google Images

Third photo of a BMW sidecar in Google Images

The filename offers a pefect match. The URL is irrelevant. The description excerpted by Google offers both words “BMW” and “sidecar”.

Note that Google does not care that the words are separated. It identifies them separately as relevant to the search query. Keep this in mind when optimizing your anchor texts: you can throw some words ‘in between’ to add diversity into your link text.

4th image of a BMW sidecar in Google Images

4th image of a BMW sidecar in Google Images

In this photo the URL and the filename are irrelevant, but the description excerpted by Google comprises both keywords.

Again, the keywords are separated. The key phrase “BMW sidecar” is not analyzes as a semantic unit (noun + modifier) by Google but as 2 distinct and separate keywords.

5th photo of BMW sidecar in Google Images

5th photo of BMW sidecar in Google Images

In this picture, the filename features an exact match. The “-” is not taken into consideration by Google. The URL is irrelevant.

The description excerpted by Google features the 2 keywords. There again, separated by a “-“, which confirm that each keywords is analyzed on its own for matching purposes with the search query.

It may also mean that “-” are irrelevant in Google’s eyes. But this is not a certainty and we will see later that the absence of separator (like “-” or “_”) can prevent Google from identifying a keyword as a possible match.

6th image of a BMW sidecar in Google Images

6th image of a BMW sidecar in Google Images

From these 6 images featured on the first result line in Google Images, we see that the presence of keywords in the filename, the URL and/or the description plays a role in the degree of relevance of the picture in Google’s eyes.

This observation has been confirmed many times, and our team always name picture files using keywords. The use of keywords in the URL is of course a given [though there are still health practitioners who believe “DrJohnSmith.com” is a good URL… even if they are not the best-known brain surgeons in the village.] 

The next question is: Where does the description come from?

Google’s preferred sources for picture data

In the distant past of SEO (a few light years ago), we used to “stuff” the Alt tags of the pictures with keywords. Alt tags substitute for pictures when the pictures don’t load: at least visitors would read a description of what should be there – instead of just looking at a gaping hole. [Which leaves me wondering what excuse did we serve our clients when a picture didn’t load in the browser? Heck if I remember….]

Keywords stuffing has long been pushing daisies, and though dutiful web designers still describe their pictures with ‘alt’ tags, Google just doesn’t care anymore.

Google has long switched for contextual description, and snips the description of the picture displayed in Google Images directly from the copy of the website. OK, but where exactly from?

Test #1

For our first test to identify where Google selects the words describing an image, we entered “realtor in tucson az” as our search query in images.google.com. This picture is the first one served by Google.

First image to show for "realtor tucson az"

First image to show for “realtor tucson az”

Note that the filename andthe URL of the image, and its description all feature the keyword “Tucson”. The description specifically features the words “Tucson Arizona real estate“.

Consistent with previous findings, Google rates this image very relevant to the search query “realtor in tucson az“.

Google identifies “realtor” with “real estate” and “az” with “arizona” which confirms that certain keywords are fully interchangeable in Google’s database. Work on your text links with this in mind.

We then went to the page where Google found the picture.

Note where the text of the description shows: above the picture, immediately next to it. Note also the presence of the keywords (yellow circles) around the picture.

Where does Google find the description text of the picture? ... Immediately next to it...

Where does Google find the description text of the picture?
… Immediately next to it…

 

Test #2

The second image to appear in images.google.com under the same search query is found by Google on the website Realtor.com.

Second image for the query realtor in tucson az

Second image for the query realtor in tucson az

There again, consistent with our previous findings, the URL and the description of the picture feature the keywords of our search query.

We have seen that “Realtor” was interchangeable with “real estate“, just as “Arizona” and “az”. “tucson arizona” match our search query.

Note that the “,” between “tucson” and “arizona” has no impact on Google. Note also that “real estate” would usually be writen “real-estate” but this does not prevent Google to identify the word with “realtor“. The “-” has no bearing on the search results. Lastly, note that our query featured the word “in” and that Google ignores it completely.

Where did Google find these words “Find Homes For Sales in Tucson, Arizona”?

Here is the page on which Google found the picture. Note the position of the words: above the picture, close to it. Note also the presence of keywords in the proximity of this picture (yellow circles).

The words contained in the picture description are positioned above the picture, very close to it

The words contained in the picture description are
positioned above the picture, very close to it

 

Test #3

The third picture in the results of images.google.com shows the same pattern as in our previous tests. The keywords match closely our search query.

Third picture selected by Google on "realtor in tucson az"

Third picture selected by Google on “realtor in tucson az”

The same pattern repeats itself.  The keywords of our search query are detected as a match by Google in this picture.

The next screenshot shows that the description associated by Google to this picture was also at the proximity of the picture. The site shows it on the left of the picture: in terms of coding, “left” of the picture and “above” the picture are the same. The text could have been placed visually above the picture, this would not have affected the way Google looked at it.

 

Page on which Google found the above picture

Page on which Google found the above picture

Again, note the presence of keywords in the description and around the picture.

For these 3 tests, we can see that Google likes the keywords to be placed above and around the picture, very close to it. We also see that if we want Google to describe our picture the way we intend it (rather than leaving it to Google to select some random sentence in our page to describe the picture), we should place our descriptive text above the picture and close to it.

Is it important to describe the picture the way we intend?

Place yourself in the shoes of a Googler. You see rows of pictures in a page, and some of them seem more interesting than others. Before you click on any of them though, it is likely that you will hover your mouse over those more interesting, and read the caption. We have been trained since an early age to read words associated with pictures: in vocabulary books first, in school textbooks then, later on in advertisements, then in newspapers.

A quick glance at the caption will tell you if you should continue and click on the picture to go to the website and see in a bigger size. If the caption is interesting and relevant, the image wil win your click more often than not. You may already have decided to click on the image to follow it to the website, but the caption will comfort you in your decision.

Direct marketers know this. Newspaper editors know this. You will be looking for the captions of the photos shown to you. You will want to know the context of the photos. You will want to get the idea of the story told by the picture BEFORE you read the real story.

This is the reason why newspapers like USA Today put half the picture in the upper part of the first page (“above the fold“) and the rest of the picture and its caption in the lower half of the page. When you see the newspaper on the stand, and spot half the picture at the center of the upper part of the page, you tend to pick up the paper and unfold it to get the full picture and read its caption. At this point, the paper is in your hands, not any more on the rack. Does that make you more likely to buy it? You bet it does.

Additional notes

In the third test example, the picture picked up by Google is actually the second picture on the page, NOT the first.

Check out the first picture found in the body of the page: note the presence of keywords next to the picture. All seems good. So why did Google shun this picture and selected the second one in the page?

Why is this picture shunned by Google?

Why is this picture shunned by Google?

Look at the picture in Test #1. This is the exact same picture. This is a perfect example of a very important Google policy: duplicate content is not welcome.

Duplicate content” is text, photos, videos that Google already found on the web and already indexed in its database. Google is not interested in serving twice the same content to Googlers. Google has become sufficiently intelligent to recognize content that only duplicates, even with alterations, similar content already in existence.

The same goes for photos. Photos can be identified by color, color variations, size, copyright mentions embedded (watermarked) into the file. Here, Google has identified that this photo presented exactly the same characteristics as the photo used in Test #1. And even if the keywords describing the photo and placing it in context were relevant, Google just did not select it.

Bottom line: use your own photos… Or be shunned.

I will soon publish a Part II to this article. Meanwhile, get to work to optimize your site.

To your success!

Phil Chavanne
LocalRanker

Tsunami Alert: Why Google+ is the New Deal

June 1st, 2012 Posted by Local SEO, Social media thoughts, Website Engineering 3,663 comments

The train is rolling and there is no stopping. The next social network tsunami is happening right now, and you may not even be aware of it.

Google+ and Google Places are merging. This means a whole new deal for small business owners. Facebook Fan pages may become quasi irrelevant in the near future.

LocalRanker will soon cover the changes afoot in a more in-depth article but here is a heads-up.

What is Google+?

Google+ is Google’s 100,000-kiloton response to Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn and Skype.

It is a strategic move that has been for years in the making and aligns perfectly with Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information”. It is also in direct alignment with Google’s strategy to help small businesses compete with Corporate America on a more equal footing.

Google IS the biggest online business hub in the world. It serves more businesses any day of the year than Facebook in a full year. Contrary to Facebook, Google is positioned in your mind as a business-related resource. Facebook is a friends & family resource. NOT a business resource.

G+ will not replace Facebook as the Friends & Family network (unless of course, Facebook folds). But it completely dwarfs Facebook as a business social network and renders it almost useless because it’s better, bigger and more in-tune with everybody’s search habits.

What will the merger change for your business?

The merging of your current Google Place with Google+ does not really upset the make-up of your listing. But it gives you a lot more possibilities to interact with your clients and your market.

Because G+ is a social network — not just a search engine — the ranking of your listing will depend to a large degree of how you interact with your community. The word “G+ Circles” must become part of your everyday vocabulary.

Google Places had its own ranking rules: early in its existence, the number of ‘reviews’ your business got was the topmost ranking factor. But reviews got abused with unethical SEO practices. Google progressively discounted them and became much more selective in its sources of reviews.

Google Places also relied heavily on ‘citations’. Citations are instances of your business being mentioned in local directories and local social networks. Again, abuse of the system by SEO practitioners resulted in citations being re-evaluated by Google. Was that citation a genuine mention of a business by a client in a local market, or just a trick to get a better ranking in Google?

Citations went down the drain as a ranking factor. Google lives and learns. It is a highly intelligent evolutionary system.

Reviews and citations still do count in your business ranking. But not as much as before, and most importantly for you, is your business cited in Google’s trusted sources?

Google+ is here. And the ranking recipe is about to change.

The position of your new Google+ local listing in the search results will be directly impacted by the reach of your G+ Circles. The more your listing is shared, the wider your Circles, the better your position.

Can one trump the system?

Highly unlikely.

G+ Circles are true social micro-networks because they reflect the degree of information that you are willing to share with the people you connect to. The Family Circle has privileged access to information that the Acquaintances Circle hasn’t. You won’t share the same data with both.

From an SEO standpoint, it seems therefore reasonable to assume that when you ‘+1‘ a business you have interacted with, the way you share it with your various circles will affect the weight of the recommendation on this business listing in Google+.

A good recommendation shared with multiple Circles could have more impact on the business than a good recommendation only shared with Family. A bad recommendation shared only with Family could have less impact on the business’s G+ listing than a good recommendation shared with all Circles.

There are no studies yet on this topic: but they will come. SEO practitioners will want to determine with some degree of certainty if:

  • Sharing a business with Family has more impact than sharing it with Friends;
  • Sharing a business with all your Circles has more impact than if it shared with part of your Circles only;
  • There is some sort of a pecking order for these Circles (more vs. less impact on positions in the search results)

Google+ is based on trust: the closer to you, the more trusted.

In this respect, Google+ is conceived along the lines of a model that has proved itself over 10,000 years of history: the Chinese society and its circles of ‘guanxi’.

Because of the very nature of the G+ Circles, it will be much harder and time-consuming to abuse the system.

Trust results in use. When people know they can trust a tool and the tool itself is useful, people use the tool. Take Angie’s List: it owes its success directly from the fact it’s very hard to abuse the website. The vast majority of the reviews are written by genuine people who genuinely used the services of the business.

Google Places was already trustworthy, even if in the past the review system was abused. Google+ will be even more trustworthy because — by inherent design — it is very, very hard to manipulate it.

G+ is a social network, albeit a business-oriented one. Your local community already interacts with your Google Places (notably through Google reviews). Locals will interact even more with your G+ listing because G+ is becoming part of our daily lives: Google search and local search, GMail, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Images.

And fresh off the boat, Google’s new video conferencing capabilities: ‘Hangouts’!

The bottom line

For you, business owner, it means one immediate plan of action.

You have to establish and maintain your G+ profile and make it evolve continually, sharing recommendations, expanding your circles in reach and numbers, adding photos and comments on your business, interacting with your local community.

Whatever you do on your Facebook Fan page, you have to do on your G+ listing.

As a business growth engine, Google+ has a bright future.

Facebook, I doubt it (read more on this topic here: Facebook Fan pages might not be the solution they purport to be.)

I recommend that you make an arbitrage in your time allocation: favor Google+ over Facebook. You don’t need to do this at once, but in the next few months you will. More importantly, you have to start now and make a habit of updating your G+ profile daily.

I will publish a ‘How To’ guide and send it personally to all LocalRanker users in the next few days.

LocalRanker has also commissioned a scientific study on Google’s results in the Tucson market: we will share excerpts of this study with our Tucson clients.

We want to see you succeed in your efforts to be ranked high in Google and receive traffic on your site. Knowing what to do with Google+ is a sound foundation to a sound SEO strategy.

 

To your success!

Phil Chavanne
LocalRanker