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Weekend Favs December Fifteen

My weekend blog post routine includes posting links to a handful of tools or great content I ran across during the week.

I don’t go into depth about the finds, but encourage you check them out if they sound interesting. The photo in the post is a favorite for the week from Flickr or one that I took out there on the road.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Good stuff I found this week:

Statigram – Powerful set of Instagram management tools

Shortstack – Use ShortStack to create Facebook sweepstakes and promotions, feature sharable virtual gifts, and run voting competitions

Google Maps for iPhone – With the failure of Apple’s mapping initiative, Google Maps becomes one of the most popular iPhone Apps.

Foursquare Turns Into Powerful Local Search Engine

Between you and me I had become a little bored with Foursquare. I think it has application for many small businesses and certainly know some businesses that use it quite well.

As a consumer user however, it never really offered up enough value.

I think that’s changed with the introduction of what Foursquare is calling the Explore function.

Explore has been on the mobile app for some time, but now it’s been added to the newly designed Foursquare website and it gives Foursquare a unique opportunity to compete with Yelp and Google Maps.

explore foursquare

The way Explore works is that it allows you to search for businesses that your friends and the other hundreds of millions of Foursquare users have found and commented on.

You can use your current location or put in the location of your next vacation to start finding a place to eat lunch today or get a drink near your hotel.

When you find a place it will tell you if any of your friends have checked in there in the past.

Find by tips

One of my favorite features (and one that should get the attention of business owners) is that Foursquare also searches through the tips notes that users leave. So, if you want to find the “best biscuits and gravy” at a great breakfast place you simply add that to your search and Foursquare will go to work.

Filter by your history

You can also filter your searches to places you’ve been, have not been, your friends have been, or Foursquare recommended places. (Not sure what the criteria for that last one is, but should probably find out.)

My favorite though is that you can filter your searches to only places with specials. This effectively gives the user a great special finding engine and the business a great additional reason to run specials.

Claim and participate

duct tape marketing on Foursquare

To me that adds another great reason to add your business to Foursquare and start enhancing your business presence there. If your business is already in Foursquare, find it and claim the profile so you can information to it.

If it’s not yet listed download the Foursquare app and check in at your business and make sure you add accurate address information. Then you can go to the Foursquare website and claim your venue.

Optimized Reviews May Be the Next Local SEO Edge

I’ve suggested often that reviews in your Google Places and Yelp pages have become a very necessary aspect of trust building as well as local SEO. So much so that getting proactive in stimulating reviews in all the right places must be on the checklist of marketing action steps.

Today Google added an interesting twist to Google Maps searches called Descriptive Terms that injects another dynamic – search optimized reviews. Google has started indexing local search results with phrases that accompany things like reviews. So if you search Marketing Agencies Kansas City, MO you get one set of listing and if you add something like “digital work” to the search the list changes based on words in the reviews.

Google Descriptive Terms

Right now this is just a Google Maps function, but Google claims it will spread in Place search on Google.com and Google Maps for mobile soon!

Better start suggesting keyword phrases for those reviews people are anxious to write.

Is Google Local Search For Sale?

I’ve always assumed that Google Maps (and other local search directories) would build up the free local directory, drive other for pay players out, get us hooked on their service, and then start charging to be listed in the prime spot. In this case the prime spot for local search is the Google Seven box shown below for a search for “Attorney Houston, Tx”

Sponsored local search
Click to enlarge

Something else you might notice is that while optimizing your web site to appear in the lucky seven box is a great idea, the majority of these results are sponsored. That’s right, Google is playing with selling enhanced listings in several cities and looks to be headed towards paid listings in local search.

At first this may not seem like such a bad thing to those on the outside looking in, but it may price some folks out of yet another organic search option.

5 Ways to Rock Customer Review Sites

local businessThere’s been a fair amount of coverage recently about the ins and outs, good and evil, usefulness and rudeness of customer rating and reviews sites. No matter how you feel about these social recommendation sites, if you own a small business of any kind, it’s time to get serious about figuring out and playing the game.

Customer review sites are basically local directories that allow users to add and express their opinions about the various businesses in the directory. Visitors to the site can conduct a search for a plumber in San Diego and get listings along with ratings and reviews from customers of that business.

The biggest players currently are:

There are other directories popping up to serve vertical markets such as FriendsEat for restaurants and MyDocHub for physicians and you might also be on the lookout for directories that serve your city only.

A great deal of the grumbling about these sites revolves around two things 1) businesses don’t like to read that they have bad service 2) people who want to game the system or cause some harm to a business have used these tools to do so. Again, no matter, because these tools are here to stay and making their way into the mainstream of search. Google aggregates reviews from many sites and puts them in search results on Google Maps and Yelp reviews show up on page one for many Google local related searches – so, all this to say, let’s see what we can do to use these sites for good!

Below are five ways to benefit from customer review sites

1) List, claim, and build – The first step is to take the time to create accounts with all of the sites listed above, make sure you are listed (others can add your business so don’t be surprised to find a listing), go through the process to claim and take control of your listing and then look at this listing and profile as a brand asset and take the time to complete it fully – think of it like a brochure – add photos, links, brands, products and anything else that helps describe your business.

2) Use it to make you better – If you find a bad review or two, and you might as negative people tend to be more motivated, don’t freak out and start crying foul and spattering hate down on the reviewer. Look at the review and see if there’s something you can add to further explain what went wrong and if the review is clearly off base or possibly an attack from a competitor (it happens) review the policy for resolving these kinds of issues and take some action. However, some bad reviews are a legitimate reflection of the experience your customers are receiving. Step back and ask yourself if this bad review might be a gift in disguise and dig into the core of your business to see if there really is something that needs fixing. (How many dissatisfied customers just go away without a review?) Use reviews, good and bad to help you get better!

3) Monitor profiles – Tracking brand mentions and managing your online reputation go hand in hand with marketing in this social web world. You should set-up alerts that allow you to easily monitor when a new reviews hits one of these sites. You’ll want to know about any and all reviews so you can reach out and engage a customer that expresses a negative opinion and so that you can reach out and thank a customer that had a great experience. In fact, one part of monitoring is so that you can grab these great reviews and add them to your other marketing efforts. The easiest way to stay on top of the reviews is to grab the RSS feed for your profile and set it up as a Google Alert – then you will get notices when something changes. You can also bookmark all your profiles and scroll through the list each week.

4) Get proactive – What’s that saying, the best defense is a good offense – one way to combat any potential negative is to overwhelm it with positive reviews. In addition, sites like Google Maps seem to be giving higher rankings to local listings with more reviews. So, now’s the time start going after reviews from happy customers in a proactive way. Most of the review sites ban the practice of paying for reviews but there’s certainly nothing to stop you from showing customers that give you compliments, refer others, and keep coming back how to write a review on a review site. You can print up a little tutorial, place positive reviews in the window, mention reviews on your web site and in your newsletter and shower lots of appreciation on those that take the time to write a review. Get creative and I’ll be you can create dozens of positive ratings for your profiles.

5) Consider advertising – In most cases these review sites live on ad revenue and have created some special privileges for businesses that advertise. I have heard some great results from some businesses using premium services and some not so great from an ROI standpoint. What you need to analyze and test is whether the premium listing, for example Yelp! allows you to pick your best review and run it in the listing that can appear right next to your competitors, is worth it from an overall branding and lead generation stand point.

Getting More From Your Google Maps Profile

Mobile and desktop surfers alike are turning to Google Maps to find local and sometimes nearby businesses. Optimizing your web pages for local search has become an extremely important part of the local marketing mix.

Claiming and building strong profiles in the local search directories is another must for the new local search habits.

Today’s post and accompanying video explains a bit of tweak that I suggest can make your Google Maps profile even more local search term friendly.

As shown in the video above, once you claim your Google Maps Profile (Go to the Google Local Business Center) you have the freedom to do lots of customization, including customizing the very important “category” listings, which Google relies very heavily upon to determine when to show your profile. You must choose one category suggested by Google, but are free to add up to four more that can contain city names as part of the category. In my opinion, Las Vegas plumber is a much stronger local category than just plumber.

Watch this quick video and then go strengthen up your profile.

Update: Interesting discussion on this topic here – thanks to @niftymarketing for pointing me to it. Grey area for sure, test and decide.

Google Wants to be the Local Place

Google seems to constantly add little tweaks to all of its various products. The Google Maps search product is inching more and more towards the turf currently occupied by the likes of Yelp and CitySearch. Not content to be a directions engine Google has added a feature that’s being dubbed Place Pages. Now when someone does a local search for a place or business and clicks on the “more info” link for a listing they are brought to a full fledged, often info rich, web page complete with reviews aggregated from other sites, including Yelp and CitySearch. The idea is to present all the information about a place on one page. (I love to play around with the street view camera feature.)

bluemarble

Of course, all I can think to tell you is – take advantage of the real estate gift and make sure you fully enhance your local profile by visiting the Local Business Center.

You can also find out a little more at the official Google blog

The Changing Face of SEO

Search engine optimization has changed dramatically over the past few years.

The shift is from one of web page optimization and link hounding to content and engagement optimization. In short, search engine optimization and social media are now undeniably intertwined. It has become extremely difficult to achieve any measure of success for important keyword phrases without the use of social media. (Of course the flip side to that is organizations that take advantage of social media can dominate, particularly within industries slow to adapt.)

content optimization

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