Local search is changing rapidly. Thanks to Google’s use of IP addresses, user-logins and Geo-targeting software, the search engine is able to anticipate what their users want by determining where they are.
This means that, in some cases, users don’t have to use location-specific searches. They can simply search for what they want, say, “ice cream” and get results specific to their location (rather than, say, the Wikipedia entry on the history of ice cream).
For local searches, where the competition is fierce, Google is integrating content from Google+ Local pages and delivering it via carousel:
This makes for a great user experience – you not only get images from places near you, but reviews of those places. Users can click through for typical “places” fare – an address, phone number and map – as well as additional Search Engine Page Results for the place they clicked through to:
That makes having an optimized Google+ Local Page a pretty powerful tool when it comes to winning the local search game.
To win though, you’ve got to have the type of content that users click through to. Namely, images and reviews.
Even if you’ve never taken the initiative to build a Google+ Local page, you likely have one. Last year, Google+ converted existing Google Places pages into Google+ Local pages, pulling in content from Zagat, UrbanSpoon, and other sites from around the web.
This is mostly user-generated content, but you don’t want to leave it up to the users of third-party sites to populate your Google+ Local page. And you don’t have to. Simply verify your page to begin managing it – uploading photos, linking to your website or connecting your Google+ Local page to your Google+ Social page (if you have one.)
Then, you can encourage the fans you already have to leave reviews on your Google+ local page. The best way to do this is simply ask. Send a note to your fans via Twitter and Facebook with a link to your Google+ Local page. Most people are happy to share news of an excellent place, product or service, and need no other encouragement.
You don’t have to have a Google+ social page to participate in Google+ Local. But, if you do have a Google+ social page, you can pull your social stream onto your Google+ Local page – taking even more control of what users see, and how their impressions of your business are formed.
Google+, Google+ Local and Google’s Search Engine Result Pages change all the time. In the near-future, there will likely be additional opportunities to optimize your Google+ Local page. So, don’t set-it-and-forget it. Check back to see how your business’ digital life is going, and what new opportunities may exist.
Google has been saying for years that the best way to rank is to create great content. While anyone who has spent any time thinking about SEO knows that this is a bit oversimplified, the basic principal remains sound: In order to attract attention, drive links and rank, you’ve got to be doing something pretty special.
Usually, this is providing a service (whether that be information or a tool) for a user whose needs are highly relevant to your business.
The content you create, then, is an extension of your customer service model.
When you think about content in this way, you can refine your content strategy to align with a specific purpose or purposes.
This content can, and should, take many forms. This includes blog posts, infographics, social media posts, podcasts, and mobile apps, to name a few.
Consider a mobile app that that offers functionality that your customers need; a blog post that answers a question; an infographic that explains a complex idea; a social media post that shares timely information; a podcast that informs and/or entertains.
Think, for example, about the apps you have on your smartphone. You likely have a banking app that allows you to deposit checks, a fitness app that allows you to track your goals, and/or a recipe app that allows you to browse recipes, read reviews and create a shopping list.
These apps weren’t created out of benevolence. They were created to offer added value for existing customers, lure new customers, and engender brand loyalty.
Consider how your content can do the same.
Whether it’s an app, blog post, infographic, social media post, podcast, or video, your content should be created with your customer in mind.
So, before you create another piece of content – before you think about targeting keywords or sourcing images – take a step back and look at the big picture. What do your customers need? How can you help?
Last week, Google announced the release of its new algorithm – Hummingbird.
Hummingbird represents a move toward semantic search. That is, it’s Google’s attempt to interpret the user’s intent in order quickly to deliver precisely what the user is searching for. To do this, Hummingbird interprets an entire string of text from a search (aka the long tail) rather than a few keywords.
For content creators, this means that if you’ve been using content best practices – creating fresh, interesting, sharable content – you have nothing to worry about. If, on the other hand, you’ve been relying on old, outdated content that’s optimized for search engines, rather than users, it’s time to change your strategy.
Content Strategy in the Age of Hummingbird
During client trainings, and in strategy docs, we often preach “content as customer service.” This means creating content your users want and need.
How do you know what they want and need?
1. Ask them. Turn to social media to connect with your users. What do they need? What do they want? How can you help them?
2. Read industry forums and blogs. And don’t just read the main content, read the comments. Comments sections are a wealth of information not only about the subject, but also what users are struggling with, and how they’re finding solutions.
3. Perform keyword research. Yes, keyword research is still meaningful – especially when you look beyond two and three-word phrases and toward the long tail.
When it comes down to creating that content, best practices still apply:
• Create content for users, not search engines. This means using natural language and writing for your audience.
• Create visual, sharable user-friendly content.
• Keep your website fresh by continually adding content.
• Include social media sharing options on your website.
• Share your content in relevant social media channels.
Remember that Google’s primary focus, as far as search is concerned, is delivering good content to its users. If you’re creating good content for your users, you will have a website that will withstand any algorithm change.