Google+ Now Open to All

Earlier this week, Google’s infant (but fast growing ) social network, Google+, was opened up to everyone. Up until this week, you had to have an invitation in order to join.

Google made it pretty obvious to those who went to Google.com where to go to sign up (good marketing lesson here, by the way)…

We wrote about what Google+ means for small business owners a few months ago and, nothing has changed in our recommendations since then.

Sign up for a personal account (no business accounts are available yet, but look for them to come sooner, rather than later), play around with it a little (it has some very cool features), and watch as Google adds more features and integrates it more and more with other products and services.

Google+ is not a huge factor for small businesses right now, but look for that to change quickly!

 

Can Local Business Owners Ignore Bing?

Bing logoBelieve it or not, there are other search engines besides Google!

With around 65% of all U.S. searches taking place on the Big G, it certainly makes sense for business owners to focus their search engine marketing efforts where most people are searching.

However, you shouldn’t completely forget about the other search engines, especially Bing.

A few years ago Bing and Yahoo! combined their search engines so that Bing now powers searches performed on both Bing AND Yahoo!. Combined, these two search engines get about 29% of all U.S. searches on the web.

Looking at the search traffic patterns for most of my local business clients, I see they’re getting about 20% of their organic search engine traffic from Bing and Yahoo!. It’s not 29% (and your mileage may vary), but that’s still nothing to sneeze at.

So what does this mean for you as a local business owner?

Three important takeaways…

1. Pay attention to where you rank for your top keywords on Bing and Yahoo!. Once a month, look at the Analytics data for your site and see what keywords people are typing into Bing and Yahoo! that are leading them to your site. There may be some good keywords there that you could further optimize and climb higher in the Bing/Yahoo! rankings for (and with relatively less competition on Bing/Yahoo!, it may be easier to claim the top spots for choice keywords for your local business there than on Google).

2. Get your local business listed on the Bing Business Portal. It’s Bing’s equivalent to Google Places and there’s a lot to love about the features it offers. At the very least it’s a good place to get another citation to help you in the Google local rankings but, again, with Bing accounting for 29% of search engine traffic, the Portal may be a good place to pick up some extra visibility for your business.

3. If you’re using Google AdWords, it’s worth testing Microsoft AdCenter (Bing is a Microsoft product). It’s not nearly as slick as AdWords and doesn’t get nearly as much traffic, but with a 30% market share, you could be losing out on a lot of business by not being there.

There used to be a time when I’d tell local business owners to forget about Bing. I can’t do that any more. While I’ve yet to hear stories of Bing/Yahoo! rankings making or breaking a local business (Google can and does), don’t ignore Bing.

Especially if your competition is just focusing all their efforts on Google, spending a bit of time focusing on Bing may give you a few extra leads your competitors are missing!

 

 

I Really Want to Recommend Google AdWords Express, But…

The other week I posted an article with some words of warning about Google AdWords Express.

I really want to be able to recommend it to small business owners. Truly I do.

Google AdWords is a great marketing tool and having an easy, efficient and effective way to use it would be a huge help for many small local businesses.

Since writing that last article, however, my view of Adwords Editor has not gotten any better. Two reasons why…

1. A very pushy Google AdWords Express rep called a client of mine. The rep had my client on the phone for a long time and, despite the client telling the rep he was already using AdWords, the rep persisted. More to get him off the phone than anything, my client relented and signed up for Express.

But here’s what really got me about this situation…

AdWords Express targets searchers in your local area. 99.5% of my client’s customers come from outside his local area so spending money advertising on a local level does him little good.

Google’s pushing this service really hard, but, unfortunately, at least some of the reps are just looking for the sale and don’t even take the time to see if Express can actually help a local business get clients or not.

2. Take a look at this screen capture…

These are the results of a Google search I did for the term “drug crime lawyer” (and, in case you’re wondering, this was for research purposes for a client NOT because of any drug crime I committed!).

Notice that last result on the bottom right with the blue pushpin looking icon next to it? That’s a Google AdWords Express ad…and it’s for a bankruptcy lawyer.

Yet the AdWords Express algorithm is showing this ad for a search related to drug crime lawyers. Not the best targeting there!

And, unfortunately, there’s nothing this lawyer can do about it because, unlike with “regular” AdWords, in AdWords Express you can’t go in and tell Google not to show your ads when certain words show up in the search query a user types into Google.

I do have faith in Google and believe(hope!) that this algorithm will improve over time.

Until then, I can’t recommend Google AdWords Express for the small local business owner.

The Ninja Keyword Trick for Finding Local Keywords Your Prospects Are Typing Into Google (Even if Google Tells You They’re Not!)

You’ve done your local keyword research and found a keyword that would be awesome for your business.

Problem is, the Google Keyword Tool indicates that keyword gets zero search each month. Bummer? Maybe not.

Especially for relatively low traffic local keywords, the data you get from the keyword tool can be highly inaccurate.

This video shows you a simple, yet powerful, trick you can use to see if people are actually searching for that keyword or not.

How to Use the Google Keyword Tool To Find the Best Local Keywords

So where do you go digging to find the best local keywords for your business?

The place to start (and in some cases, perhaps the only place you need to go) is the Google Keyword Tool. It’s part of the Google AdWords program, but you don’t have to use AdWords to use this awesome tool…for free!

It will help you uncover the best local keywords that your customers are typing into Google to find the products and services you offer.

This video shows you how to make the most of this tool and some tricks to help you find keywords your competitors may be missing!

Dude, Where’s My Place Page Information?

The changes from Google keep on a-comin’.

The latest ones to Google Places sent many local business owners into a panic when they looked at their business’ local listing on Google and noticed their number of reviews dropped like the United States’ credit rating.

The reviews are not gone, however. Google just decided that the review counts next to a business’ local listing will only include reviews left directly on Google.

You can see in the screenshot below that the review count in the margin is only reviews from Google and ignores the counts from demandforce.com and doctoroogle.com.

Reviews from sites like Yelp, Yahoo!, SuperPages.com and others still matter, they’re just not included in the review count next to your listing on the search results page.

A few other changes to note on the Places Page itself…

First, the More Details section no longer gets displayed. This section showed custom categories a business owner could add to their Places page such as “Products Sold”, “Brands Carried”, “Awards”, etc.

You can still enter these additional details in your Places account even though they’re not being displayed at the moment.

Why bother? Because there’s reason to believe they may reappear at some point. Also, Google is likely still looking at that data to help it determine how to categorize and rank your business.

Also gone is the “More About This Place” section. This was particularly useful for “spying” on your competitors to find out what sites they were getting citations from that you could use to get citations for your business.

This section was nice for local search nerds (guilty as charge) but didn’t do much to enhance the Place Page for users. Good riddance as far as I’m concerned. (And, if you’re looking for a source to identify citations, go to WhiteSpark.)

Lastly, Google has added a section of descriptive terms toward the top of your page.  These are terms that appear in reviews customers have left about your business.

Here’s an example from the Place page of a divorce attorney in New York…

This is all the more reason to encourage happy customers to leave reviews because the last thing you want is your descriptive terms to include words like “doesn’t care”, “bad experience” or “sucks.”

The bottom line for local business owners:

  1. Encourage customers to leave reviews for you on Google to get your review count up. Just don’t ignore the 3rd party review sites completely because having reviews from a variety of sources is still important.
  2. This is not going to be the last major change to Places. I see some more big ones coming later this year as Google integrates Google+ and Google Offers with Places.
  3. We’ll keep you posted on what you need to know so check back here frequently and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Dirty Diapers and Google AdWords Express (formerly Google Boost)

It sounded good like a good idea.

Before our first daughter was born my wife and I thought we were going to use cloth diapers on our daughter.

We’d be doing our part for the environment, they’re supposed to be better for the baby, and we wouldn’t be plopping (pun intended) $1000s into the Diaper Industrial Complex. After doing our research into cloth diapers we were excited (or, at least as excited you can be about changing diapers) to go the cloth diaper route.

What sounded good in theory turned out to be not so great in practice. With the cloth diapers there were lots of leaks, they were inconvenient when we were out of the house and they required us doing lots and lots and lots of laundry.

So we changed course and went the disposable diaper route.

And that brings us to Google AdWords Express. But before I explain why, we need…

A Little Background on AdWords Express

Google’s rebranded their Google Boost program for local businesses and is now calling it Google AdWords Express.

Google AdWords Express is a ultra-simplified way for local businesses to advertise through Adwords (Google’s Pay Per Click advertising program).

AdWords is a powerful way to target local prospects searching for the products and services you offer… and you only pay when someone clicks on your ad (compare that to TV, newspaper or magazine advertising where you pay a set price no matter how many eyeballs fall on your ad or how many of those who see your ad care about what you offer).

AdWords is also a complex beast that’s hard enough for those of us who use it every day to keep up with, let alone a small, the local business owner who has plenty else to worry about.

That’s where AdWords Express comes in. You set a budget, write an ad and then Google runs things for you. Easy peasy.

Sounds great, right?

Well, like the decision about using cloth diapers, what sounds good in theory may not be so good in practice.

With AdWords Express you get simplicity, but that comes at a price. In this case, that price is control. And control is one of the biggest benefits of using AdWords.

When you manage your own AdWords campaign (or have someone manage it for you) you have control over…

  • The keywords you target
  • What you’re willing to pay for each keyword in your campaign
  • When your ads appear (24/7, only during the week, only on weekends, from 10:30 to 1PM to promote a lunch special, etc.)
  • Where your ads appear geographically (a state, a metro area, specific cities, a 20 mile radius around your office, etc.)
  • What keywords you DON’T want your ads to appear for (ie. A dentist that only works with adult patients can prevent their ads from appearing when the words “kids”, “children”, or “Pediatric” appears in the search term
  • Testing of different ad copy to see which one gets the best response
  • Tracking of conversions to better measure the effectiveness of the campaign

Using AdWords Express, Google controls all these things. You’re largely leaving these important marketing decisions that affect the quality of the traffic coming to your website up to Google’s algorithm.

The Bottom Line for Local Businesses

AdWords is a great way to generate leads and local businesses should definitely try adding it to their marketing mix.

If you have a very small budget, then I’d definitely recommend giving Google AdWords Express a try to test the AdWords waters.

But if you’re going to spend more than a few hundred dollars a month on clicks, then learn how to manage it yourself or hire an expert to do it for you. It should end up saving you money (I’ve seen accounts where keywords cost 50% more in Boost compared to the exact same keyword in a “regular” AdWords campaign) and you’ll ensure you’re getting the most highly relevant traffic to your website.

Otherwise you risk paying for some traffic that’s a pile of, well, the stuff that ends up in diapers (whether they’re cloth or disposable!).

 

Why Local Business Owners Can’t Ignore Google+

Take a close look at this screenshot from a Google search for “google keyword tool” I did and you’ll know everything you need to know about why Google+ is a big deal…

Notice the #4 and #7 results (the ones with the little thumbnail picture with someone’s name next to it)…

#4 is a 2010 blog post by my friend (and Main Street Marketing Expert) Russ Henneberry. Russ and I are connected on Google+.

#7 is a blog post shared by Leslie Clark who I am connected to on Google+ as well (and, unlike with Russ, Google+ is the only social network Leslie and I are connected on).

If I am not logged into Google, the search results page for the exact same search for the keyword “Google Keyword Tool” looks like this…

Notice Russ and Leslie’s post are nowhere to be found.

This is the direction that search is headed.

For better or worse, your connections on Google+ and other social media sites are going to influence the results you see when doing searches. We knew this was coming, I’m just surprised at how quickly these changes seem to be happening.

What’s the bottom line for you as a local business owner?

Right now, you don’t have to worry much about Google+. It’s not adopted by enough people to make much difference. But that will change sooner, rather than later.

Think of a prospect of yours doing a search looking for a local (insert your industry here) and one of their friends has shared your website, blog post, reviewed your business, etc. That instantly makes your business rank higher on Google and be the most compelling result on the page to the person performing the search.

What I also see happening is that as more people come on board with Google+, the activity of Google+ users will become a bigger factor in where your business ranks in the search results for everyone…not just those we’re connected to through social media.

Google+ Action Steps for the Local Business Owner

1. Sign up for Google+ (it’s by invitation only right now and if you send me an email at adam [at] wordsthatclick [dot] com with the headline “Google+ invite” I’m happy to send one your way) so you have a front row seat as this evolves.

(Note: Only individuals can sign up for Google+ right now, business accounts are coming later this year.)

2. Get familiar with how it works – create some Circles, +1 some sites, make a few posts.

3.  Check back with us here at the Main Street Marketing Community and we’ll keep you informed of how to use Google+ to market your local business.

You can start (whether you have a Google+ account or not, by hitting the +1 button right below this post!

 

 

The Low Down on Boost

Out with Tags, in with Boost.

That’s the message Google sent last week when they announced they’re getting rid of their Tags program for local businesses (this program let business owners highlight their listing with a yellow tag in the local business rankings on Google for $25/month).

Google is now trying to steer local businesses to their Boost program. With Google Boost, you control your monthly budget so long as you meet the minimum budget of $50/month.

Boost is essentially Google AdWords. Google created Boost to make AdWords easier and more accessible to the small business owner. And it certainly succeeds on that account.

All you need to do is set your budget and Google will take care of the rest.

Piece of cake.

But that simplicity is also the negative side of Boost.

See, when you use Google Boost you give control of your advertising to Google. They’ll decide on your keywords, the copy in your ads, what days/times the ads run, how much you pay for a click, etc.

As a business owner, you want to be in control of these things.

You know your business much better than Google does.

If you’re a dentist, you may want to focus on keyword related to cosmetic dentistry rather than general dentistry because it’s the more lucrative side of your practice and you want to grow it. Google doesn’t know that.

Or you could be a plumber that offers a special deal your competition doesn’t or perhaps you won a prestigious award you want to highlight to prospects. Google doesn’t know that.

Maybe you own a restaurant that runs a happy hour special after 4PM that you want to promote. Google doesn’t know that.

Listen. Boost is better than nothing. It’s easy. You control your monthly costs. You’ll reach more prospects than you are now.

I think Boost is a good way to dip your toe in the water to see what’s possible with AdWords.

But if you’re getting results from it and see the benefits of advertising through Google AdWords, then make the switch and just use Google AdWords…your results will be much better when your marketing is in your hands.

 

The Most Accurate Local Keyword Tool on the Planet

One of my clients has a good size Google AdWords campaign for his business running in a few major cities. I don’t want to give away confidential information here, so for this example, let’s say one of the services he offers sword fighting classes in Miami.

In Adwords, you get an enormous amount of data about your campaign…more than most people know what to do with! One of the more interesting and helpful bits of data you can get is the exact search terms people have typed into Google that resulted in one or more of your ads being displayed.

The other day I was reviewing the list of search terms for this campaign and noticed there were a number of searches for “ninja sword fighting classes coral gables” and “ninja sword fighting classes coral gables fl” (FYI – Coral Gables is a suburb of Miami).

Go the a keyword research tool, like the free one from Google, and they’ll tell you that no one is typing the keyword+city combination, ninja sword fighting classes coral gables” into Google each month. However, because of the data available in our AdWords campaign we now know there are actually a few hundred searches per month centered around that keyword+city combination.

There is no other way that we could have discovered this information.

And it’s key information that’s going to have a very meaningful impact on this company. Because now that we know there’s a decent amount of traffic centered around “ninja sword fighting classes coral gables”, we’ve started to do some website optimization around that keyword to get his website ranked at the top of the organic search engine rankings.

Most of his competitors don’t have this information, which means there’s not much competition for “ninja sword fighting classes coral gables” so…getting to the top of Google and capturing the majority of traffic for that term should not be terribly difficult!

It doesn’t get much more important than keyword research when it comes to online marketing. Find the right keywords and you position yourself for success. Guess or do a bad job at keyword research and your search marketing efforts are pretty much doomed to failure.

While keyword research tools are great, they don’t give you the whole story.

Data from a Google AdWords campaign gives you more accurate keyword data which gives you a competitive advantage over those who don’t have that data (ie. most, if not all, of your competitors).

And for a local business, using that data to find a niche you can exploit to get 50, 100 or more visitors to your site each month can have a very meaningful impact on your bottom line.