Ah, the olden days when I used to get companies to #1 on Google for their chosen term. Back then, I knew the entire world was seeing the same Google results and I was like a golden god – granting my client fame and fortune by getting them ranked first.
Now Google is a slippery little devil who is providing customized search results for every visitor – that change by the keystroke!
Custom Results and Localization
There’s a lot going on with Google these days and the changes seem to wax and wane, but two key factors that are affecting search results seem to be location and browsing history.
When we are doing our research we use browsers (usually Google Chrome) that we have modified to remove customized (and localized results).
To be honest, I’m not even 100% sure that it is effective, so I’ve started using the Google Adwords Preview Tool to try and get an “unbiased” look at what Google thinks are the top websites for keywords I’m researching.
Incredible Opportunity for New Players
As we discuss in our page about local SEO services, the implications of Google’s new policy is (admittedly) a better user experience for Google’s customer but also a window of opportunity for new players to get to the top of page 1 – without spending untold thousands on building their SEO presence.
If you have a business that you think should be listed in Google Maps, visit http://www.google.com/places/ and set up a profile. There is a verification process that (if you’re lucky) requires getting a phone call with a PIN number (to verify you are the business owner) or may require that you wait for a mailed postcard (2-3 weeks – but these seem to disappear a lot).
Once your profile is set up – optimize it! Make sure you use as many categories as your business will qualify for and wherever you have a certain amount of characters to describe your business – make every character count.
Also, if you have photos and/or video – be sure to include those as well.
Now, do the same process with yahoo.com, yelp.com, citysearch.com and the others.
The Importance of Customer Reviews
Everyone knows that customer reviews are very important and Google is very good about linking up your Google business listing with yelp.com reviews (and reviews from other sites). If you know satisfied customers – appeal to them to leave positive reviews because your “star rating” is currently being included in these custom local Google results.
If you have some negative customer reviews the best course of action is to get positive reviews from others to mitigate the effect on your “star rating” (and possibly push the negative reviews down the page).
Yelp.com has been notorious for allowing paid advertisers to control their rankings and what reviews are present in their business profile. We are fans of Yelp, although this policy irks us. However, as SEO professionals, we are able to help in this area if a customer requests it. Contact us for more info.