For this blog entry, I wanted to illustrate an entire Local Search Snapshot using one specific study done randomly to explain Google+’s new system for Local Search, and how it can affect any business’s online reputation.
I will make four observations and explain their impact which can be common for any business, anywhere. Perhaps because my sweet tooth does most of my decision making anyway, I decided to randomly search for “ice cream in boston”.
Please note that I am completely logged out of any accounts, so the results shown would be that of any average user not yet a part of Google+. Think of me as your not-technically-savvy Grandmother with a culinary appetite.
Observation 1 – Paid Google Local Advertisement
So for results we see the above in our SERP, The first is an organic listing for boston.com, the next is a mixed listing for gourmet.com which is a sincerely interesting listing. If you physically go to gourmet.com, you will see that it is a world-wide cooking website covering everything from the Olympics to chefs and restaurants.
Take careful note: Look at their balloon. You will notice it does not have an alphabetical assignment, but instead a black dot. This is a very new feature, which I think is explained as the new look for a paid Google Local advertisement (Google Adwords Express). I say this, because upon clicking, I am taken to the place page for Brighams on 109 High Street.
I tip my hat to you Google, this listing camouflages nicely to look like part of the regular 7 pack.
Observation 2 – Zagat ratings are an influence but not everything
Next we have JP Licks which is the first true champion of this results page, ranking as the first in the pack with the coveted “A” spot. Notice that they show a score of 24/30 with a total of 55 Google reviews. The score of 24/30 solidifies the change in the rating system from 5-star to the Zagat scale out of 30 combined points. Also notice that even though 55 Google reviews seems like a lot, their competitor Picco (4th) has a total of 217 Google Reviews.
Reviews are very important in ranking factors, but clearly they are not everything. Take a look at JP Lick’s very unique feature, the true differentiating factor in this SERP. Ice Cream Flavors, Cow Card, and Contact Us is listed right on the results page.
When you click on each section, you are taken directly to the JP Licks website, right to the corresponding web page. That is pretty darn impressive, and a huge incentive for users to simply click right through to what they are aiming for. (Do I want Chocolate Chip or Butter Almond?) I hope we see more of this as Google+ becomes more refined.
Observation 3 – Competitors in “At a Glance” section
Next in line is Emack & Bolio’s with a listing that, interestingly enough, says it has 7 Google reviews, but does not include any Zagat rating scores. Inside the actual listing we can see a well optimized page, pictured below.
As you can see, attractive pictures adorn the top of the listing, their marker is set clearly, and their contact information is concise and accurate. But the biggest concern in my eyes comes with the “At a glance” section. JP Licks, their direct competitor is in Emack & Bolio’s Google+ listing!
Now, this “At a Glance” section gives plenty of businesses untold headaches because it is not anything they can control. Google pulls 5 phrases or words from around the web and their algorithm decides to use them as additional descriptions for the Google+ page. The only way they can be taken down is if the phrase is genuinely offensive, or if Google sees that the phrase is “mistakenly associated with a place, and is clearly not related”. In this instance, I would advise Emack & Bolio to report this problem and stop giving their competitor an edge on their listing page.
Observation 4 – Negative Ratings
Moving on to my last observation, we will take a look at Boston Children’s Museum, ranked third here. I myself was a little confused, until I did some digging in their website to find a restaurant located at the front of the museum that is called “Hood Milk Bottle” and serves lunch and ice cream. Looking at the SERP we can see that they have 42 reviews and also have a Zagat score of 20/30. What I would like to focus on is what has happened within their Google+ Local listing review section.
Besides needing some cleanup to their description in their listing, scroll down to the second review by “A Google User” reviewed 4 months ago with an Overall score of 0/3. It begins with the following: “Is there anything less than one star, because my visit to the museum today, was absolutely atrocious!!” Nothing out of the ordinary here, of course everyone gets seething reviews now and again. But, if you continue reading the 768 word long essay, you will get to this tasty little threat: “Once again, I absolutely demand a refund on the $48 i just threw away for the 4 tickets I had to buy. If you don’t, I’ll post this review on every single website that I can, and tell everyone I know not to go to The Children’s Museum, or support it in any way.”
Now, this is something that disturbingly enough, happens rather often in online communities. Consumers think they can bully and demand anything they want of businesses with the threat to ruin their reputations online. This unfortunately, is a rather easy thing to do with a very small business.
One positive step Google has made in this endeavor is to force all people who are writing reviews moving forward to have a Google+ account if they want their voices counted. ( Aka- no more anonymous review writing.) In this situation, this review is probably a very old one pulled from before the change in Google. What I find somewhat humorously ignorant of this individual is that they purposely remained anonymous even though they want their money back.
However, this situation is probably not as funny to Boston Children’s Museum. They have no way of taking down this nasty review, but instead can choose to respond publicly to it, leave it alone, or simply try and push it down the list with new reviews from satisfied visitors. All three of these choices require a lot of thought and strategy, which hopefully the museum has already addressed. Otherwise, they could be turning away business and losing sales.
As you can see, Local Search is changing and evolving. Google+ Local has created a more interactive user experience, with more challenges and considerations for every business owner. Local Search commands 25% of all internet searches which means that companies can no longer let their online reputations remain uncontrolled. A lot is happening out there, and it is time for businesses to get involved.