Nobody loves Google+ as much as Google. So much so, they’re using Google+ Pages as the destination URLs in the packs now. Looks like you don’t even need a website anymore.
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What do you notice from this screenshot? First, I apparently need Google’s help spelling collision. Second, if you click the blue link or the Google+ page link, they both go to the same place – a very thin Google+ business listing:
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This may not have been claimed. No reviews. And Google thinks this is a better result than the other fleshed out Google+ local and direct websites? Google doesn’t even have any entities showing for this listing.
This isn’t the first time SEOs have seen this.
Local Search Is The Land Of The Lost
Google has a lot of products. I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage them all internally. I have no idea how big their local team is (likely less than the “web” team, which is already surprisingly small), or what their company goals are with this product, but this is a vital vertical to many small businesses that just doesn’t seem to have the love. This whole integration feels like web search from 2002 – very little made sense there either.
Since Google+ and Google Places merged, forming this mess called Google+ Local, every SEO has been recommending you flesh out a Google+ business page. Our recommendations were for you to flesh out your Google+ and places page, even if you’re already having trouble finding time to tend to your Facebook page. We said, “don’t complain, just do it – Google needs your information to rank you in the packs.”
From the looks of these screenshots, it doesn’t look like we were necessarily right, eh? If Google does indeed have an algorithm biased to any Google+ site, then maybe you don’t need to do the work? Read on…
Can You Understand Google’s Local Algorithm?
I don’t really try. I’m not sure Google really can understand it either. I suspect their hands are full trying to tame the jungle. For almost a decade I’ve described the “Google (web) algorithm” as a rope. A rope has hundreds of threads woven in (all algorithms working together to make the big algorithm). Google Local seems more like a bag of hair. But to be fair, Google web turned into a bag of hair in the early 2000′s as well. They’re only now starting to braid it.
With local and Google+, we have a business page, a local page, maps, and pack listings. They just all don’t tie together nearly as well as they should.
Wut Do? – Do Marketing!
SEO is still marketing. I’m frustrated to see Google+ being so awful, but I believe it will get better. I have local clients I adore, and seeing things like this makes me mental. Google doesn’t always reward content, Google doesn’t always reward your support. Google has made many local business owners I speak to feel jaded by “failed” SEO. To be honest, sometimes an SEO can’t hit a specific goal if Google simply doesn’t want it to be so. You have to give it months – sometimes years – to see. If you want the internet to work for you, you have to accept it could take a long time.
But if and when Google does shift in your favor, your customers will benefit from your hard work. When you’re doing SEO (or having a firm do it for you), make sure you’re doing marketing too.
Despite the bag of hair algorithm throwing a few freebies away to local companies who didn’t do any real marketing, there’s a lot of gold for the business owners who did find time in their busy day to keep the content river flowing through their Google+ account.
Mini Case Study
Michele H, local wedding photographer (asked to be private, apparently a competitive field).
Goal is to fill up the fall with jobs, with no expenses.
I have a friend in the local photography space. Her name is Michele. She moved to Philadelphia suburbs right before Christmas 2012 to stay with her sick mother, and wasn’t really set up financially. As a wedding photographer, she didn’t have a strong ‘word of mouth’ network in Philly, something many local services rely heavily upon.
In such a short window, I figured a social content strategy and local search was the way to go (forgoing general web SEO). I helped her get her photography service up and running with a quick, clean SEO friendly platform (simply WordPress), and pushed Google+ on her hard (as an experiment on my end). She spends most her day retouching photos, and naturally didn”t want to do any more on a computer than she had too. Still, we created a balanced plan to create engagement with only a few hours a month. This included:
- Minimum 5 shares a week on Google+
- Minimum 5 original thought pieces\
- Citation building
- Post anything created solely for the blog
- 10 interactions on relevant Google+ pages
- Always driving Google+ traffic to her blog, and blog traffic to her Google+ (create a loop)
- Respond to all comments quick and humbly
- Soft promotion of services
All the authorship stuff was also put in place. In took about 3 weeks in May to start showing her photo in the search engine result pages.
The Waiting Game
For months nothing came of it. I was rarely involved, assuming she was following the steps. I didn’t do any other SEO work for her.
The content she created sat around on Google+. She wasn’t getting into the packs, and more importantly, she wasn’t getting any pack traffic or Google+ referrals. Everything she did on Google+ she mirrored on Facebook, which was semi-active (helped mitigate any feeling of it being a huge waste of time), but let’s just keep this mini case study on Google+ and related website content.
She was a worried and a little stressed.
Then suddenly she got a few followers in April who started sharing her stuff. More saw it and circled her. In March, 29 had her in their circles. In July, two thousand. By checking out the most shared stuff in Analytics, we knew what flavor of content she needed to continue writing in (in her case it was about what wedding photographers can use to differentiate themselves, and unique wedding photo ideas). She was becoming a brand on Google+.
She started taking small jobs when weddings weren’t happening, and asked them to consider reviewing on her places page. Happily for her, they were all favorable.
She also got a few organic links and upward trending traffic to her blog (located on a folder off the root domain). Things were starting to happen slowly. 10 more visits here, 20 more visits there, with a low bounce rate. Not big numbers, but to a local wedding photographer, this was helpful. 45% of her closed leads came from this traffic from April to July.
In her vertical, her Google+ may not have been ranking well at first, but it was a vital social component and cause of the informational searches she was now receiving. Attribution reports showed some decent interplay. Impressions and actions started to go up. It’s all connected.
She had one goal: fill up the fall with wedding shoots in a new town. She succeeded last week. Added benefit: zero cost. All really minor effort leading to a big win for a minor business.
The opportunity is there for the small business of any size – the bigger you are, the more work you need to put into it. In this day of big brands getting the lionshare of the rankings and traffic, the small business can still rock in long-tail and local search. It’s not hard or expensive – just awkward and confusing… but completely valid.
Protip: Click the sleestack.