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Google doorway pages update – impact on local businesses

This week Google announced An update on doorway pages revealing that they will soon launch a ranking adjustment that could impact on ‘Sites with large and well-established doorway campaigns’. So what could this mean for small service area businesses and franchises?

Of course, it’s impossible to know until the adjustment is released but lets look in more detail at what Google are trying to achieve and this in turn may help to understand the outcome.

Firstly, what is a Doorway Page?

Generally Doorway pages are designed for search engines, not for human beings. Sometimes they automatically redirect to the desired page using Javascript and server side redirection.

Other Doorway pages are more like landing pages in that they have navigation, design and minimal content similar to normal website.

For more detailed information check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doorway_page

In the announcement Google say, “We have a long-standing view that doorway pages that are created solely for search engines can harm the quality of the user’s search experience.”

They give the following as examples:

  • Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
  • Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)
  • Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browsable hierarchy

Their definition of Doorway Pages can be found here

The problem is, the Google examples cause confusion for service area businesses and franchises as they highlight “pages targeted at specific regions or cities”. It has long been a common practise for this type of business to build location specific pages covering the areas that they service.

If a company has multiple branches or locations with their own unique address and phone number details, then these ‘Location Pages’ are quite straight forward and valid. In fact Google provides clear advice and technical recommendations for this here – Location pages for local businesses and organizations

They encourage that “each location’s or branch’s information should be readily available on a webpage” and the information should include the address, phone number and opening hours and presented in an easy-to-understand format utilising schema.org structured data markup.

So what happens when a business has a single location but has a service area that includes other nearby towns? Again, it is common practise to build specific landing pages focusing on the areas or towns/cities that they cover. This could be seen as slightly spammy but is a practical solution for local services to be found in organic search.

Will these single location websites be penalised with the release of the Google doorway pages update? It is highly likely that websites that have cynically produced multiple cookie-cutter location pages, with no regard to duplicate content or relevancy to the visitor, will be affected.

Conclusion

We hope that the new Google doorway pages update will not affect your average small service area business such as plumbers and electricians. The key will be to keep service area landing pages to a minimum, just the main towns in the area and make sure that the content is unique, relevant and tailored to that specific location.

The location area pages should be linked clearly from the top level navigation using a title such as “areas we service” (do not put a big list of links to locations or postcodes on each page).

Coming up with relevant content for each page is difficult but worth the extra time and effort. Things to consider are local testimonials, articles on completed projects in that area with photos and local staff information.

Reinvigorating the Great British High Street

Released this month, The Digital High Street 2020 Report published by The Digital High Street Advisory Board, sets out a 5 year strategy to reinvigorate the UK’s traditional high street with a focus on the impact of digital technology and the digital future.

The report makes 4 primary recommendations which they say, and we also believe, are crucial to the revitalisation and continued success of the high street in a digitally dominated world.

Whilst the foundation of success for the High Street hasn’t changed (economically strong, convenient, engaging. Relevant, adaptive, authentic and diverse, and experiential- see full report for more information) the tools available have and will continue to change.

Although, the high street has already weathered many changes including the impact of digital technologies, the challenges are not over. Digital technologies will continue to shape the high street.

The recommendations are:

  1. Sufficient access through infrastructure- This sets out the aspiration for providing a digital infrastructure over the next five year, to be in line with the UK’s digital goals, so that all of our high streets can fully participate in the digital economy.
  2. Basic Digital Skills- As technologies develop, in order to fully participate, so do need the skills. Digital exclusion can hold back the individual and organisation from fully achieving their potential and competing in a technologically driven market.
  3. High Street Digital Lab- The creation of a centralised  aggregation of the general available technologies, digital applications, tools, methods and training programmes, in order to provide a platform for digital consumer services for each community across the UK on behalf of its local government, high street businesses and charities.
  4. High Street Digital Health Index- To make progress, these goals must be translated from qualitative aspirations into measurable indications of fitness. The adoption of the High Street Digital Health Index concepts will be a resource for both national and local governments.

The report recognises that many high streets in the UK may be well underway in addressing these areas, however, for those who have yet to adapt and adjust to the digital age will quickly find they fall further behind.

The report stresses that these solutions are interdependent and that the success of the high street relies on a complete solution rather than trying to treat a series of symptoms.

We believe that this is a very important development in providing practical steps for the digital development of the High Streets and is a cause very close to our hearts.

We think of Local SEO as a digital ‘bridge’ between the physical premises on the high street and its online presence.  For this reason, we are seeing a strong growth in the need for Local Listing Optimisation services as part of a local SEO strategy.

You can read more on the full report and The Great British High Street here

thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk

Franchises – How to improve your local search performance

Franchises – Tips on how to improve your local search presence.

More than 50% (and growing) of all web queries are now performed on a mobile device.

Why is this significant for franchises?

Well if someone uses a mobile device to search for services, the results are tailored to their immediate location. This is called Local Search. Most franchise businesses are “local”.

Local search is different to conventional web search as it is influenced by your address and phone number more than your website. In fact, a business without a website but is listed on local business listing sites can appear higher in local search than a business with just a website.

The implications are huge, a business with a local physical presence has a strategic advantage over web only business.

Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) Consistency is king.

For local search, Google, Bing and other search engines look for NAP data (Name, Address and Phone Number) on local listing sites to verify that a business exists in a given location. The more consistent your NAP details on local listing sites, the greater your chance of appearing higher in local search. Inconsistent NAP data, for example same name but different telephone numbers listed at the same address, or different names but same telephone number listed at the same address will confuse search engines. As important as NAP consistency, is Category consistency. A miss categorised business will not appear in local search for its category.

You should also add rich brand content to the listing sites including photos, logo, opening hours, business descriptions, weblinks, etc. which further enhances your search performance and raises your brand profile.

The process of cleaning and adding content to local listing sites is known as “Local Listing Optimisation” LLO and is an essential part of Local SEO.

Finally, customer reviews written in Google + Local and other local listing sites (associated with your NAP) can further enhance your search performance.

Most franchises operate as a local businesses, and as such, need to have a local search strategy.

Every franchise is different, with different local search challenges, for example, some have multiple branches, others operate out of a van, or have a call centre with one number, etc. There is no one solution fits all, however it is true to say that every local search strategy must have a NAP policy and ideally local listing optimisation. Without this, franchisee listings will be inconsistent resulting in sub-optimal search performance and the brand compromised. Local Listing Optimisation is a highly effective way of raising your brand profile across hundreds of free local listing sites, but if it is done incorrectly, it can look amateurish and even damage the brand. You must control your brand in local search.

An effective local search strategy needs to include the franchisee.

Franchises that leverage their local network can significantly improve their overall search performance. This means that the franchisees play an important part in the franchise search strategy and need to be included in every aspect of the local search optimisation process.

Here are a few tips on how to improve your franchisees local search performance:

The 5 Cs of Local Listing Optimisation

1. Consistent NAP

NAP is King! Ensure your branch Name Address and Phone number are consistently listed across all local listing sites. The more consistent the NAP the better.

2. Categories

Ensure you are categorised correctly on the listing sites. If you are a plumber you need to be categorised as a plumber. Use listing sites that specialises in your sector.

3. Content

Enhance the listings with content including:

  • A logo
  • Photos
  • Business descriptions
  • Opening Hours
  • Weblinks – this should link to the branch specific landing page on the website
  • Social media links (Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc).
  • Products and services
  • Email

4. Customer Reviews

Customer reviews written on local listing sites are permanent and also have a big influence on your local search performance. Encourage customers to write reviews in Google + Local and the listing sites.
Monitor the reviews and respond to them; it shows that you care.

5. Continue

Occasionally refresh the content with new images and wording. If you must change your NAP, make sure this is done across all the listings. (However, avoid changing your NAP unless it is absolutely necessary)… remember consistency is king!

These simple tips can go a very long way to improving your local search performance.

Bad reviews can be good!

Customer Reviews increasingly play an important role in our purchasing decisions.

Reviews written on local listing sites associated with the NAP of a business location can influence its local organic search performance.   They not only raise the profile of the location within the listing site itself, they can provide key-word references for search engines.  Importantly, they are permanent!

Colourful reviews which describe in detail the customer experience are more engaging and more influential.  Think of reviews as mini blogs written by your customers.

Fundamentally, reviews are written by customers that are either happy or unhappy with your service.  You need to focus on delivering the good service and encourage them to write reviews. No amount of SEO activity can can fix bad reviews.

Bad reviews can be good reviews!

Prospective customers will read reviews and make a reasoned decision about whether to proceed to purchase.  People read the bad reviews.  The odd bad review amongst predominantly good reviews is unlikely to put them off, however, if the review is recent, detailed, scathing and appears genuine, then it can affect their decision.  We’ve seen examples of very unhappy customers going out of their way to write long bad reviews on several different listing sites, just to make sure that everyone got to read about their poor experience.

However, and ironically, the way you handle a negative review as a business can positively influence customer decisions.  As the business owner, you can respond to the review via the listing site.  If you handle a bad review in a constructive and professional way, not only could you win back the aggrieved customer, but also win new ones!

If you can resolve the customer’s issue to their satisfaction, many will go back and adjust the review to reflect this.

A trade customer of ours said that a negative review led to more business as people were impressed by the way that he had handled it.

The lesson is, listen to your customers and respond to the negative reviews!  (Responding to every positive review is too much and unnecessary)

A few do’s and don’ts for managing customer reviews on local listings:

Do:         

  • Encourage customers to write reviews in Google + Local and the listing sites.
  • Provide printed guidelines or prompts to remind customers to write a review, where to go and what to do.
  • Get into the habit of asking for reviews (ideally you want a steady stream of reviews rather than a surge and then nothing).
  • Monitor the reviews and respond to them; it shows that you care. Reviews can also provide valuable feedback and insights into what customers think about your business.
  • Think of reviews as a positive force. You can’t stop people writing about you, so go with it and use them to your advantage.
  • Get staff involved in understanding their value and how to encourage customers to write them.

Don’t:

  • Ask customers to write reviews in store – or on the same device. Multiple reviews written on the same IP address will be penalised.
  • Absolutely do not write your own reviews.
  • Pay for, or reward customers to write reviews.