By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Take advantage of Google+ publishing to improve your company’s search performance
Successful local businesses attract new customers and achieve growth, as they always have, by drawing attention to themselves and the products and services they provide. In 2014, the most promising self-promotion medium is the Internet, and the most important channel is Google.
The search giant finished 2013 with a 67.3 percent share of search queries, according to comScore qSearch data. That compares to 18.1 percent for Bing and other Microsoft sites and 11.2 percent for Yahoo. Given its overwhelming dominance, Google is the first search engine marketers should consider when improving web presence.
Google has been a moving target for local businesses due to its confusing network of overlapping services, which include Google+ and Google Places. Google+ is the search giant’s entry in the social media platform wars, and while it lacks Facebook’s high public profile, it is perhaps the single most important tool for gaining online visibility.
Google Loves Google+
One would expect Google to make its own social media network an effective driver of web visibility, and recent studies of search performance bear that out. Search engine optimization watcher Moz last year reported on their study showing that Google +1s correlate more closely with higher search ranking than any factor after Page Authority, a Moz-developed metric that includes link counts and other factors relating to trust and popularity.
Google +1 is the Google+ equivalent of a like on Facebook – an easy way for a Google+ user to signal their approval of a page or a website they visit. Moz conducts a Ranking Factors Study every other year, and in 2013 the number of +1s on a site correlated very highly with search performance. “In fact, the correlation of Google +1s beat out other well known metrics including linking root domains, Facebook shares, and even keyword usage,” Moz reported on its blog.
With Google+ emerging as a powerful driver of search performance, it’s time to take a close look at the opportunities for fuel retailers and HVAC providers on this emerging social media platform.
To demystify the Google services for local business, let’s first get to know the essential terminology.
- Google+: This is Google’s social media platform. As with Facebook, any individual or business can create a profile and connect with friends, customers and associates.
- Google Places for Business: This is a service that Google provides, where any local business can create a listing page that can be returned in search results.
- Google Maps: Google’s service for mapping locations and directions. Any local business can get on the Google map by posting a listing with their location(s).
- Google AdWords: Google’s paid online advertising service.
- Circles: Google+ users can create Circles and add other Google+ users to them. A local business could, for example, create one Circle for employees, one for customers, and one for friends.
Stake Your Claim
Businesses can position themselves for greater success in local search by taking advantage of the opportunities that the Google platform presents. First and most importantly, companies should claim their listing page in Google Places.
Google creates default listings for businesses based on information that it finds from other sources online. A business owner can claim and edit the listing once Google verifies that they are the true owner, which it does by sending a PIN to the owner in response to a request to edit the listing. If no listing exists, a company can create one.
The Places listing contains business name, address, phone number and website. Companies can customize it with business categories of service, photographs, hours of operation, contact information and even special offers. The Google Places service has a dashboard feature, where companies can edit and expand their listing information.
Google uses your Google Places listing information in search results. If a user searches for “heating oil Boston,” Google’s first page of search results may include a segment of company listings with Google Places information. When a user (with up-to-date browser software) hovers their mouse over one company’s listing on the left side of the results page, information for that company is displayed on the right, including a map and one piece of art, which can be a logo or a photograph.
Those Google Places listings render differently depending on how the company has managed its listing. Only one photo or logo displays in the hover-over mini-listing, so companies will want to be very particular about the first image they post. Many a prospect could see that image when they’re sifting through their Google search results. It’s the kind of detail that might have seemed trivial in the past but becomes far more important when Google is involved.
The special offers option presents a great opportunity for companies to entice prospects from the first page of search results, before they have even clicked on a link. Write a special offer in that space to pique interest and keep it updated year-round.
While Google Places is the service that generates the actual business listing, it is Google+ that can power up search performance when used properly. To get started on Google+, a company must create a Google+ page, which may require another verification by Google.
Like the Google Places page, the Google+ business page will display basic information such as locations, business description, location map and photos. By entering the address, the company also enables Google to display its location in any application of Google Maps.
Google+ also is a content delivery system, where the company can post news, information, photos, videos and more, just as you can on Facebook. Company postings in Google+ will be shared with anyone who has included the business in at least one of their Circles, the same way Facebook posts are shared with fans in that network.
A Google+ business page has more features than a regular user’s Google+ page and may be merged automatically with the Google Places page. Companies that use the same e-mail address to set up both pages and have their pages verified by Google can link the pages and manage them both from the Google Places dashboard.
The New Advertising
To take advantage of the Google+ search performance boost detected in the Moz study, companies must claim, verify and complete a Google+ page and begin posting content. You might never have thought of your company as a publisher, but times have changed a lot, and publishing is the new advertising.
As I mentioned in last month’s column about the Google’s Hummingbird search algorithm, Google is defending its dominant position in search by improving its search performance. By improving the results it delivers, Google is improving the user experience and making it harder for competitors to chip away at its market share.
Specifically, the new algorithm ranks search results based on both relevance and authority, which is determines partly by evaluating the content on the site. If a site has relevant content that is endorsed by likes, shares and inbound links, Google attributes more authority to the site. Among the various types of social signals, Google appears to have a particular affinity for its own +1s. (Google itself disputes the theory.)
About now you might be thinking, “Oh, great. Something else new and unrelated to our core responsibilities for us to worry about.” Yes and no.
Yes, you probably should get in the habit of publishing online, but no you don’t have to add a whole new set of tasks. Instead, you need to put what you already know into writing. Specifically, you’ll take the advice that you and your staff are routinely giving to customers for free and turn it into valuable online assets that will support your profitability for years to come.
Plan to develop and publish an ongoing series of advice pieces for your website that will directly answer real questions that customers and prospects actually ask. For example, tackle the question of how to save on home heating without a fuel conversion. Prepare an article on the topic and look for ways to enhance it, such as making a companion video, so visitors to your website can choose between reading the article or watching the video. Maybe create a companion FAQ or a terminology explainer.
Once the pieces are prepared, publish them on your site and make sure each piece is properly tagged to attract the attention of Google and the other search engines. Next, disseminate them in all the social media channels you use, particularly Facebook, YouTube and Google+. Call the local news outlets in your area and send them all the links for the article and related pieces.
If your pieces are truly helpful, they will attract notice well beyond your service area. Readers in other areas and states might never become your customers, but every time one of them shows appreciation with a +1, a like or a share, they will make your website look more authoritative to Google, which will improve your search performance.
Take your time and make your articles and videos thorough and highly informative. The better your materials, the more likely they are to generate the social signals that will drive better search performance on Google. Be sure to include share buttons – including a Google +1 Button – with your content so visitors can easily share the content or endorse it.
The real beauty of publishing great advice in 2014 is that you win twice: You improve your image with the local customers and prospects who read your advice, and you improve your online visibility by climbing up the search rankings.
Google also checks the freshness of your website content, so it makes sense to publish advice articles on a regular schedule. This means you can build your online content over time, and there is no pressure to get everything published at once. Good advice has a long shelf life, so you can keep older articles online while you continue to publish new ones. If any of the information gets outdated, simply update the article and republish it.
If you’d like some assistance in developing a content marketing plan and mastering the Google platform, please give me a call at 800-796-3342.