Top Local / Small Business Takeaways – PubCon 2007

MIHMORANDUM NO. 54 | December 10th, 2007Reader Comments (4)

Brian Gil of Yahoo Local mentioned that they are now actively spidering the hCard format to gather information about geographic location. Yahoo in particular is “multi-sourcing” local content; the more sources they find the information, and the higher the quality of those sources, the higher their trust in your small business and the better you’re likely to rank in Yahoo’s Local algorithm.

David Klein:

  • When doing your keyword research, don’t forget to ask your customers what they would search for if they were looking for a business like yours.
  • Include success stories with photos–they’re incredibly persuasive to first-time visitors.
  • Engage the tech community, even if you don’t think it’s directly relevant to your business.
  • Do something interesting and write stories about it–you’ll probably get links from friends and traditional print media.

David is solid proof that a hard-working small business owner, spending his/her energy in ther right places, can absolutely dominate local results for searches related to his/her business. A telling exchange happened after David’s presentation, when fellow panelist John Coronella asked him: “Do you sleep?”

I found this to be a particularly insightful query, emphasizing the laziness of Internet Yellow Pages and traditional bigger-brand marketers and the potential opportunity for small businesses online.

Gregory Markel:

  • Before you start your online business, test one keyword, one landing page in a very closed, very customized PPC environment. A/B or multivariate test to know
    • if your idea is going to work
    • what the best layout for your website is.

Bruce Clay:

  • Network Solutions has 3.4 million small business clients, and in 2009 there will be a HUGE push of theirs to get everyone online. (Note from DM: Intuit’s recent purchase of Homestead signals that they’re thinking in much the same way.)
  • Brainstorming and analyzing how you’re going to drive traffic to your website should be step zero before you even start thinking about design or keyword objectives.
  • Use fear to motivate clients to put time and energy into developing website content and relationships with the online community in their industry.
    • Yellowpages and print advertising are dying.
    • Do you want to get passed by all of the people who still haven’t gotten into the game, or do you want to be ahead of the curve? If you DON’T get with the program now, your brand will erode, and you’ll gradually lose mindshare.
  • User intent is next in the wave of personalized search results. Yahoo offers a tool that lets you analyze the degree to which particular search results are shopping-oriented vs. research-oriented.

John Coronella:

  • De-dupe the descriptions in your IYP listings to avoid getting caught by Google’s filters.
  • Solicit reviews on Craigslist via a coupon, etc., in order to widen your net of potential customers and improve your rankings in Local algorithms.

eCommerce optimization

Ethan Griffin:

  • Be sure to add a site search, and use Google analytics to track what people are looking for. Learn not only how you can improve your site but where to flow your link juice.
  • A 2-column design is preferred by 75 of the top 100 eTailers.
  • Reiterate “Shop with Confidence” logos including BBB, Verisign trusted, etc.
  • No results / 404 Error page? show your best sellers to point people in the right direction.

Rob Snell:

  • Use a lightbox feature to add a professional look for large product images or colors.
  • Display both the manufacturer list price & your price prominently on every product page.
  • Offer your own opinion as to the quality & usefulness of the product. Don’t always tow the company line & you’ll appear more authentic.
  • Ask your vendors for links – take Quickbooks and export your list of vendors & start contacting them!
  • Mash up manufacturer content for better images, better copy. Pay special attention to information that is trapped in Flash, Audio, and images on the manufacturer’s site & transcribe it into spiderable HTML text.

Corrections!

Two panelists, in my opinion, presented poor or misleading information.

Joe Laratro recommended blogging twice a week, or building two new pages per week for a year, which would yield a 104-page website. He implied that pursuing this tack would result in showing up for a lot of long tail search results naturally. I completely agree that small business owners should make an effort to blog or create content as much as possible.

His response to a follow-up question that I asked, however, demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding about how Google indexes and ranks pages from the web. My question was, what were his strategies for flowing PageRank around your site to the most important pages? His answer: don’t worry about flowing PageRank.

The reason for my question? At SMX Seattle in June, Matt Cutts, Google’s search quality guru, specifically recommended the following:

Treat your PageRank like PlayDoh. A smallish PR site with 200 pages is going to get most of them shoved into supplemental results, meaning those pages don’t show up in a normal Google search. Use your internal link structure to tell Google what the most important pages in your site are, and hit your highest-traffic or highest-converting keywords on those pages.

A typical small business site is simply not going to have the PageRank necessary to get all 104 pages indexed naturally. A small business owner would be FAR better off building a 30-40 page website during his/her first year, and spending the remaining energy making relationships with bloggers in his/her community or investigating other forms of link development. IMHO, only after reaching a ~PR4 threshhold are 100+ pages going to capture long tail searches.

The second poor local panelist was Jennifer Black. In a session about Local Search Optimization, Jennifer had little to add. Why? Local.com, her company, is terrible at optimization and so is forced to buy all of their traffic via Pay-Per-Click.

Jennifer also solicited links for business reviews and profiles on her own site. Only in the RAREST of markets is this a good idea for small business owners. You’re ALMOST ALWAYS better off accruing links to YOUR OWN site, particularly for non-competitive searches like the one Jennifer showed for plumbers in Medford, MA. Notice that 9 of the top 10 links are for Internet Yellow Pages.

The exception? General Plumbing and Heating, a small business website that despite having links from only THREE unique domains ranks #3 for one of its most targeted search terms! It’s also #1 in the Google Local algorithm. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the link I’m throwing General Plumbing and Heating in this very blog post will be enough to get it to rank #1 for that search in a couple of months.

Small business owners, please, don’t give these IYP listings any help in ranking — they don’t need the help, and you’re only hurting yourselves.


Note from DM 12/11/07:While I believe my original recap of the information presented at the session is accurate, Jennifer emailed me this morning to clarify that she actually recommended, or at least intended to recommend, the following:

I would never ask a small business to link their business to my profile page. The point that I made was that people will find your profile on my site and others like it and that it is important that you make sure your information is correct and that you have a link to your site within your profile. Not only so people who visit Local.com can find your site but it will help YOUR site with SEO links.

Most small businesses do not have the time or resources to write content and put together an SEO strategy. The easiest way for a small business to be found online is to make sure the correct information for their business appears on the sites that millions of consumers are visiting (Google, Yahoo, Superpages.com, Local.com, CitySearch.com and others).

4 Responses to “Top Local / Small Business Takeaways – PubCon 2007”

  1. Denver Web says at

    Great article for those who weren’t able to attend. There’s some good ideas there… especially the craigslist one.

  2. John Coronella says at

    I was the one that used the medford plumbers example, and it was to illustrate a way that you could own a local term by using your profile pages on various IYP’s to fill up the top 10 by linking to them. You run some serious risk if you build 10 sites that you own. Of course, save the best links for your own site.

    Also, I think Joe was referring to the same easy-to-rank for SERPs that you are in this post by saying not to worry about PR. The point being, that a little content goes a long way, and there is no need for the novice to over-think things.

  3. David Mihm says at

    John, thanks for stopping by my blog.

    I stand by my original assessment that I think it’s an incredibly risky, and short-sighted, strategy to link to your profile on IYP sites. The reason is that you’re banking on the fact that Google will decide to show an indented listing for that IYP, AND that the indented listing will feature your business and not one of your competitors.

    If that DOESN’T happen, you’re just helping the IYP’s DIRECTORY page to rank, where all of your competitors are listed along with you. Notice that none of the description snippets from the IYP’s for that particular search list General Plumbing and Heating…

    Re: Joe’s point about easy-to-rank-for SERPs. Even with the changes Google made to its supplemental index over the summer, it still will not display content, or at the very least be very slow to display it, for sites without enough PR. (I’m not talking about the green bar PR, I’m talking about actual PageRank.) The reason is that their bot simply doesn’t spider those sites deeply enough, or frequently enough, to find that content.

    I did find parts of your presentation quite interesting, particularly your tip to solicit reviews on Craigslist via a coupon, as that was a strategy I had not heard presented before. Thanks for making the effort to present.

  4. Atwood says at

    This article is very valuable resource for any one who wants to succeed at online small business. There are some good tactics there….especially the pay per click one to generate good quality targeted traffic.

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