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Why has there been so much interest in local search lately?

Well, for starters, 70% of users look for local information online first, and 20% of all searches are location related. Google has outbound call centers for local listing verification, so you can tell that they care.

Local Search Algorithm Continues To Evolve

As local seach continues to grow, Google’s local algorithm is changing rapidly. According to Brian Combs, the local algorithm now includes major pieces of the traditional (non local) algorithm because Matt Cutt’s webspam team was doing a better job at fighting spam than the local search team was.

Google’s Support For Local Leaves Something To Be Desired

Brian Combs said that the “report” feature in Google Places has been broken since February 21st. Reviews come and go – they disappear from the place pages completely sometimes. The “respond to review” functionality is temperamental at best. Some businesses have disappeared entirely from the listings with no explanation. I wasn’t aware of any of these issues, but it sounds like Google Places has a long way to go.

What will it take to get Google to focus on support? Brian pointed out that the University of Colorado has the wrong number listed for campus security. He jokingly asked if someone would have to die in order to get Google’s attention. He said that the best way to get help at this point is to talk to a Google Tags sales rep. Good to know.

The 3 Methods Of Advertising With Google Places

What is Google Tags, you ask? It’s one of the 3 current options for advertising with Google Places:

  • Google Tags – $25/month for an enhanced listing, tends to make your listing stand out
  • Google Boost – PPC done through Google Places, “dumbed down and highly automated”
  • Local Listing Ads – Adwords tied to google places listing, not as dumbed down

How Are Bing & Yahoo Competing?

Bing has partnered with DealMap and Kayak, but they still need to work on growing their traffic. Yahoo Local was not part of the Bing-Yahoo merger deal. Yahoo is working on hyper local – neighborhood-level data. For instance, they have organized data for 100 neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. They’re currently focusing on doing the same thing with Michigan, Illinois, and a few other states. They’re facing the same traffic issues as Bing.

Yelp vs. Google

Yelp used to allow Google to use their customer reviews in the local search results. At some point, Yelp became unhappy with the way that Google promoted it’s own local pages as opposed to pushing users to Yelp pages, so they ended the agreement. In the first half of 2010, Google began pulling reviews from sites that they didn’t have agreements with (including Yelp) and using them on their place pages.

So Google is essentially using Yelp’s data to compete with them. Yelp’s CEO has stated that they are unhappy with this arrangement, but Google’s stance is that if they don’t want Google to use their data, they can simply remove themselves from the index altogether. This puts Yelp in a rough spot, as Google’s Place Pages are directly competitive, but SERP listings are not.

Is Yelp strong enough to go it alone? They have 16 million reviews and a phenomenal local app, so if any one local reviews site had a chance of surviving without the help of Google, they might be the one. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Fake Reviews

People seem to be wary of fake reviews on Yelp and other review sites, but are they getting the attention that they deserve? In October of 2009, the FTC announced their intentions to crack down on fake reviews, but nothing happened for the following 16 months. On February 24th, NBC’s Today Show did an “expose” about deceptive hotel marketing practices that touched on fake reviews. It would appear that the FTC is now finally beginning to take action against reviews.

Michael Dorausch predicted that by this time next year, online reviews will be viewed the same way content farms are today. He runs a Los Angeles chiropractic practice. He said that it’s not uncommon to hear patients say that they came in based on the recommendation of a friend, and that they don’t trust online reviews – they suspect that they may be fake, and are generally not trustworthy.

Free Swag For Businesses Using Google Places

Have you seen the Google Places Business Kit Catalog? Google is offering up free promotional materials for qualifying businesses. Business owners can order everything from window stickers and neon signs to fortune cookies and sugar packets. There’s a wide variety of items for a variety of business types. It’s a pretty cool idea. All of the free stuff is meant to be used by business owners to encourage their customers to review them in Google Places. At the moment, only businesses in the cities of Madison, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Portland, and Austin are eligible.

Google’s Places Catalog is just one of many indicators that Google is getting serious about local search. As mentioned before, it’s now possible to speak with a Google Tags sales representative (by calling 877-613-4501), which is saying something. Those of us who have dealt with Google know that it can be very difficult to get a response (even via email) for certain products.

Miscellaneous Local Advice

GetListed.org helps business owners list their business on free directories on the web. It allows them to view the way their business is currently listed in local search engines, along with a score of how well they’re listed. It’s actually a lot more in-depth than that, so if you own a small business, check it out for yourself.

Does your site have a geo sitemap? A geo sitemap (also sometimes referred to as a KML sitemap) uses the existing sitemap protocol, but has additional geo-specific tags. These allow you to publish geospatial content to Google. This content will be searchable on Google Earth and Google Maps. Geo sitemaps allow you to tell Google about your geo content, instead of waiting for them to discover it on their own. You can use GeoSitemapGenerator.com to generate a geo sitemap for free. After that, all you need to do is submit the geo sitemap to Google via Webmaster Tools, the same way you’d submit a regular sitemap.

Hyperlocal

Hyperlocal may be the next big thing in local search. People refer to it as the new “low hanging fruit”. What exactly is hyperlocal? Well, if “austin real estate” is a local search, then “allendale real estate” is a hyperlocal search.

Hyperlocal search has an inverse correlation with bounce rate, because people searching for more specific things on a local level are more likely to find what they’re looking for. Hyperlocal also has a direct relationship with conversion – you can build extremely relevant landing pages for hyperlocal queries.

When it comes to content for hyperlocal, you can usually leverage your clients expertise on the subject matter. A business owners expertise may be more accurate than research done by a content writer, because things need to be very specific.

That wraps up my takeaways from PubCon South 2011. If you missed my previous 3 posts, be sure to check them out:

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