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Understanding Google Local Search Criteria Leads to a Better Marketing Strategy
Google Local? What Every Lawyer Needs to Know to Dominate

If you have not developed a strategic approach to your web presence as a professional, be it a neutral or a lawyer, there is no better time than the present. You may not have noticed it - but the old ways for a professional to let folks know who and where they are have changed dramatically. Soon to be gone are phone directories, the yellow pages and other print based methods. The replacements have not fully evolved but the replacement will involve the Internet - the Web. Your strategic approach will not start its evolution until you put your hands on the potential power of the Internet to produce new fee paying clients. Recently an Internet marketing pro, Tom Foster - Foster Web Marketing , has succinctly explained the detail of how Google Local is structured. It is worth repeating here.

Google Local?
What Every Lawyer Needs To
Know to Dominate
It’s The New Yellow Pages!
by Tom Foster and George Murphy
Why Should You Care About Google Local?

Understanding Google Local - The Basics
What is Google Local and why do you care? First of all, recognize the
importance that Google, the #1 search engine and fastest growing
technology company ever, has placed on Google Local. Below is an
example of a typical search for “DUI Attorney Richmond VA”
Notice that “Local business results for dui attorney near Richmond, VA”
are listed directly beneath “Sponsored Links” (Google Adwords) and
before organic search results. Clicking on the red pushpin (annotated
by letter in the map) will open Google Maps. Maps will provide
directions and provide a GPS guide to the listed address.
Google Local is considered by many to be the “new” Yellow Pages. As
such, it is a very powerful marketing vehicle that all attorneys who are
focusing on geo-location based practice areas (like my example) must
take advantage of. Just for clarity sake, Google Local listings rely on
the Google Maps GPS technology.
It seems to be a mystery, no matter what service or product you’re
offering, as to how to increase your rankings on Google Local
searches. The devil is in the details and this is true for Google Local
listing and placement as well.
Whether you’re a local attorney, doctor, dentist, barbershop or retail
store, higher rankings on the local Google search is just as important
as your organic search engine rankings because of the increased
online exposure that it offers as the first displayed results.
We are going to make the assumption that you already understand the
point of Google Local, as you have gotten this report. But the real
missing piece is truly understanding how Google decides what
businesses to rank higher than others on local searches.
Is it by Location?
The New Trend: Local Searches On Smartphones
People aren’t just searching from their home or business computers
anymore. The trend is starting to shift from calling 411 to using a
wireless device to find local businesses. Think about how many times
you see people looking up information on their phones?
The number of searches for local businesses and service providers on
mobile phones is continuing to grow year after year. Google, being
the number one search engine in the world, is what a large majority
of smartphone users prefer when looking for businesses in their area
from their mobile devices. Therefore, it is crucial for you to stay
informed on how to maintain a presence on Google Local and be
viewable on these search results.
Is it by the Number of inbound links?
Or is it by the amount of Reviews?
Well, the answer is….
Why Should You Care About Google Local?
All of the above (and a whole lot more)!!!
There are a number of factors that Google Local looks at when
deciding how local businesses are ranked, and it is significantly
different than the Google organic algorithm (organic refers to
“normal,” non-paid search engine rankings) that relies heavily on page
optimization (page titles, content, etc.) and number of external links.
In this report, we’ll not only show you everything that Google Local
looks at when deciding what businesses should rank where, but we’ll
also show you the importance of each factor, as well as what you can
do to increase your local search engine rankings and generate more
leads.
Before we get into the ranking factors, let’s take a moment to go over
what you need to do first: claim your Local Business Listing (LBL).
Step ONE: Claiming your Local Business Listing
Claiming your Local Business Listing is very important. It basically
allows YOU, THE BUSINESS OWNER to decide what kind of
information is displayed about your business. However, according to
this report, Google Local is also ranking the business owners who have
claimed and updated their Local Business Listings higher than those
who haven’t.
Claiming your Local Business Listing can be as easy as following these
instructions:
If you haven’t claimed your profile yet, go to https://www.google.com/local/add,
fill out the required fields about your business, and submit it to the Google Local
Business Center.
They will then ask you to verify the information by either a) calling you at the
phone number you entered, or b) sending you a postcard in the mail and you
going back into the Google Local Business Center to enter a PIN code that is on
the postcard.
Be sure to provide as much information as you can when giving
information about your business to Google Local. Videos, pictures,
hours of operation, payment methods, coupons for service, etc.
can all help your Local Business Listing rank better than your
competition on Google Local searches, so you can never provide too
much information.
Once you feel you have optimized your Local Business Listing by
providing as much information as humanly possible, you can go on to
the ranking factors and we’ll take a look at what Google Local reviews
when determining local rankings and what you can do to improve your
results.
Step TWO: Understand Ranking Factors
A survey was conducted in May 2009 by a Google Local consultant,
David Mihm, where he took 20 experts in the local search engine
ranking community and asked them to rate the importance of each
factor as it pertains to Google Local rankings.
We’re going to be reviewing some of these results, and show you ways
that you can improve on each factor and rank better for your local
search results.
Here are the top 15 ranking factors according to the survey:
1. Local Business Listing Address in City of Search
2. Citations from Major Data Providers
3. Association of Proper LBL Categories
4. General Importance of Claiming LBL
5. Product/Service Keywords in LBL Title
6. General Importance of Off-Page Criteria
7. Volume of Customer Reviews
8. General Importance of Customer Reviews
9. General Importance of On-Page Criteria
10. Full Address on Contact Page
11. Proximity to Centroid
12. Quality of Inbound Links
13. HyperLocal/Web Crawl Citations
14. Product/Service Keywords in LBL Description
15. Location Keywords in Inbound Anchor Text
As of this writing, the study can be seen here,
http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml.
Google Ranking Factor #1:
Local Business Listing Address in City of Search
The first, and most important ranking factor according to the survey of
the 20 local search experts is making sure your physical address is
actually located in the city in which you would like to rank on Google
Local.
We run into this problem with a lot of clients, for both organic search
engine optimization, as well as for local search.
With organic search engine optimization, there are ways to
“manipulate” the search engines and results (build links including
anchor text of other cities, adding content based on other cities, etc.),
so that you rank for multiple cities.
But for the Google Local searches, how can you rank for cities in which
you’re not located?
Simple answer: you can’t…. UNLESS you have an address in that city.
You’ll find out later in the report, where in that city is also important.
This area is where you can put your creative and entrepreneurial
thinking to good use. You don’t have to have an actual office,
secretary, desk, and staff at that location - you just need an
ADDRESS AND PHONE.
Look around for mail forwarding or virtual office services in your area
where you can pay a monthly fee for either the rights to the address
or the ability to use the office (if you plan on clients visiting you at that
location) from time to time.
Google Ranking Factor #2:
Citations from Major Data Providers
This is the most important Google Local ranking factor that doesn’t
have to do with your business’ physical location.
Remember when we said earlier that “manipulating” Google Local is
almost impossible? Well, it is because they verify EVERYTHING in order
to reduce the number of potential spam and insincere business
listings. Google also pulls from a large number of data providers (or
websites) to verify your physical address, phone number, service
offering, point of contact and so on, to make sure everything matches
up where it should.
What data providers/websites does Google Local pull from when
verifying information (so that you can go get listed on these sites)?
Well, as much as we would love to just list a few sites that you need to
get listed on, it’s not that easy.
There are primary and secondary sources that Google Local pulls from
in order to verify your business’ information.
Data Providers to Google Local
The following websites provide data about your business DIRECTLY to
Google Local. They, for the most part, power Google Local’s search
engine verification process.
Primary Data Providers:
Localeze - A resource trusted by Google that verifies and submits
your business data to Google Local, as well as to the following
websites (which are, in some cases, secondary data providers to
Google Local):
? Yahoo Local
? Bing Local
? Superpages.com
? Yellowpages.com
? Best of the Web Local
? OpenList
? DexKnows
? GetFave.com
? Addresses.com
? Loladex.com
? Citysquares
? GenieKnows.com
? YellowBot
? Kudzu
? Edmunds.com
? Matchbin, Inc
? Boulevards
? Praized
? Amazon
You can list your site with Localeze by going to
https://webapp.localeze.com/bizreg/ and filling out the required
information.
InfoUsa- Another resource trusted by Google that submits your data
to Google Local. They also submit to:
? Bing Local
? Yahoo Local
? Ask
? GetFave.com
? AOL Local
? Superpages.com
? Telenav
? Tellme
? DAPlus.us
? Switchboard.com
? Centerd
You can add or update your business listing with InfoUsa by going to
http://leads.infousa.com/landing/Updatelisting.aspx?bas_vendor=190
000&bas_session=
Google Local also pulls from a number of secondary data providers
indirectly. We would recommend, in addition to Localeze and InfoUsa,
getting your business/website listed on:
Universal Business Listing:
http://www.universalbusinesslisting.org/
WCities:
http://corporate.wcities.com/contactus.html
Google Ranking Factor #3:
Association of Proper LBL Categories
Specifying categories that are correct/related to your business, and
include the keywords that you would like to rank for is becoming
increasingly important to your Google Local success.
This time last year, the categories didn’t even matter. Recently
however, Google Local has been putting more and more emphasis on
what categories your LBL are listed in, so make sure you include
categories in your Local Business Listing.
You also have the ability to add up to five categories (by clicking the
“add another category” link).
Be sure to capitalize on additional categories if you have multiple
practice areas (we always recommend using as many pre-defined
categories as possible, such as “attorney” and “personal injury
attorney”).
Google Ranking Factor #4:
General Importance of Claiming LBL
We’re not quite sure why this factor isn’t number one, seeing as your
business doesn’t have much chance of ranking well on Google Local if
your Local Business Listing hasn’t been claimed yet. So, if you haven’t
claimed you Local Business Listing yet, go back to page 5 for
instructions on how to do so.
Google Ranking Factor #5:
Product/Service Keyword in Local Business Listing Title
Including the keyword that you’d like to rank for in the title of your
Local Business Listing page is very important for your LBL to rank well
on Google Local.
But you, like 90% of attorneys (especially personal injury attorneys),
probably have multiple practice areas. So, how do you fit all of those
practice area-based keywords into the title of your listing? We mean,
is someone really going to click on your LBL when it shows up in his or
her search results as:
“New York Auto Accident Medical Malpractice Workers Compensation
Attorney Jim Smith?”
Probably not.
If you have one primary practice area then it makes it easier because
you can be a little bit broader. For example, a client of ours, Bob Battle
in Richmond, Virginia, only handles DUI/DWI and major traffic
violations. Therefore, his Local Business Listing title is:
Another client of ours, Ben Glass, handles primarily medical
malpractice cases in Virginia. His listing is:
Mike Schafer, of Louisville, Kentucky, handles primarily auto accident
cases:
However, if you don’t have a niche practice area and accept a variety
of types of cases, you’ll need to be broader in your LBL. You might say
“well, then I’ll just create a Local Business Listing for each of my
practice areas,” but that’s not the answer. When Google Local sees
that you have multiple listings all pointing to the same website, it’s
likely that none of them will rank.
The best thing to do is to be as specific as possible and hope that the
potential client searching for you knows to search for a “personal
injury attorney in Washington, DC” or a “criminal defense attorney in
Dallas, Texas.” Don’t forget, you can still work those other practice
areas and keywords into your Local Business Listing as categories,
description, and even reviews.
Google Ranking Factor #6:
General Importance of Off-Page Criteria
The ranking factor of General Importance of Off-Page Criteria basically
refers to the inbound links that you have coming into your website. As
you already know, if you’ve read anything about organic search engine
optimization, the quality and quantity of inbound links that you have
coming into your website is critical to your website’s search engine
rankings. Well, it’s no different for Google Local rankings.
More importantly is that the links coming into your website are from
other websites that list your address and phone number, such as
directory sites and local review sites. Any time you come across a local
review site or directory, be sure to get your site listed.
How can you find some of these sites?
Localeze and InfoUsa automatically submit your site to many of the
larger local sites, but there are also some legal sites that you should
try to get listed on, like Avvo.com, Martindale-Hubbel.com,
Findlaw.com, AttorneyPages.com, etc.
Also, don’t forget to have your address and contact info listed on your
blog site or any other websites you might have. Registering with your
local Chamber of Commerce usually results in a listing, as well.
One thing you can do to see what sites your competition is listed on is
to spy on them and cherry pick their links.
How do you do this?
Simply do a search for what you know populates a Google Local result
and that you would like to rank for.
For each of your competitors that populate in the local search results,
you can click on “more” or, if they have reviews, click on the “_
reviews” link. That will take you to their Local Business Listing page.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page where it says “More About This
Place.”
Here is where a number of sites that Google Local is using to pull data
from for your competition are listed. Go through them for each
competitor and see what links/listings you are able to obtain. This is
also good to see what types of other blogs or websites they are using
that you may not know about.
Google Ranking Factor #7:
Volume of Customer Reviews Associated With Your Local
Business Listing
and
Google Ranking Factor #8:
General Importance of Customer Reviews
The number of positive reviews that a local business obtains on Google
Local is becoming more and more important to Google Local rankings,
and rightfully so.
Remember Mike Schafer from Louisville who we used as an example
earlier? Well, he has 5 positive reviews!
It’s one of the primary reasons why he (as a solo attorney) ranks
number two on Google Local for the search term “Louisville auto
accident attorney”.
People looking to hire you as an attorney are also very likely to read
the reviews that past clients and other attorneys leave on your Local
Business Listing, so having a lot of positive reviews about your practice
or firm can help with conversion AND rankings.
We don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the fact that Mike’s Local
Business Listing includes five positive reviews makes his listing more
likely to result in a contact or case than those without reviews.
Here’s one five-star review from a satisfied client:
“As a victim of a personal injury accident myself I can tell you that it is important
to seek out attorneys who are experienced, trustworthy, and have a track record
of success. The Schafer Law office gives you nothing less. The
experienced Kentucky personal injury lawyer team is successful, honest, and
gets fair compensation for their clients. ”
and one from another attorney endorsing Mike:
“Don't make a mistake in your Kentucky auto injury case! My friend Kentucky
auto lawyer Mike Schafer has written a free book to help you with
your auto injury case. Mike answers all your questions and helps you on the road
to recovery. As a lawyer who has handled disability claims for over 29 years, I
know it is crucial that you have a lawyer like Mike Schafer who understands the
games Kentucky auto insurance companies will play with your auto crash case.
I refer all my clients who have friends or family injured in Kentucky auto,
motorcycle or truck crash cases to Mike.
Attorney Nancy Cavey ”
Also, see the words in bold? That means that Google Local is also pulling
from this content, so be sure to include your keywords in the testimonials if
possible.
Do not be afraid to ask for reviews/testimonials from clients you have
done a good job for. They will be happy to provide it.
Always be sure to remind past clients and anyone else whom you work
with that it would be greatly appreciated if they were to take the time
and post a review on your Google Local page, whether it be through
your e-mail list or newsletter, your Facebook or Twitter page, or any
other type of communication you have with past clients.
Google Ranking Factor #9:
General Importance of On-Page Criteria
This ranking factor deals with the “optimization” of your actual
business listing. Are your keywords mentioned in your title and
categories? Is your description optimized with keywords? Do your
reviews include keywords that you would like to rank for?
We think that this particular ranking factor is a little bit unnecessary,
as it pretty much ties in everything that we’ve discussed so far and
everything else that we’re about to go over. So, to summarize this
ranking factor: just be sure to optimize your LBL with as much
information as possible.
Google Ranking Factor #10:
Full Address on Contact Page
This ranking factor, in our opinion, is often overlooked when it comes
to Google Local.
Make sure your website’s “contact us” page includes the full physical
address of your firm or practice. And, if you want to take it one step
further, include your address on the website’s sidebar, so that it’s on
every page of your website.
When Google Local sees that your physical address is actually included
on your website, it gives them plenty of justification to tie your
website to your Local Business Listing, along with all of those other
data providers that you are now listed on after reading ranking factor
number 2.
Remember, Google Local goes out and verifies EVERYTHING and when
they start seeing that the address on your Local Business Listing
matches up to the address on your website and all of the other data
providers, they will start trusting your Local Business Listing more and
more.
Google Ranking Factor #11:
Proximity to Centroid
The eleventh most important (and, in our opinion, most ridiculous)
ranking factor according to the report is the Proximity to Centroid of
City Being Searched.
In other words, the closer to the center of the city that a business is
located in, the better chance that they have of being ranked higher.
When you’re about to pick out your office location and are working
with your local commercial real estate agent, are you really taking into
consideration how close the office is to the “centroid of the city?”
We would hope not - you likely have more important things to worry
about.
If an attorney who is not as recognized and has only been practicing
law for one year is outranking an attorney who has been nationallyWhy
renowned and has been practicing law for thirty years, just because he
is in the center of the city, does that seem right?
Luckily, Google Local has revisited this issue and now puts more
importance on reviews. A survey was done in 2008 and the Proximity
to Centroid ranking factor was number five at the time. Believe it or
not, we did see Google Local results a year or so ago that were
obviously biased towards businesses that were closer to the center of
that city than those that weren’t, so it’s nice to see this change.
Google Ranking Factor #12:
Quality of Inbound Links
Here is another factor that may be directly related to organic search
engine optimization and yet it still plays a key role in Google Local
rankings. Many of the survey participants downplay this and other
factors that relate directly to your website, because they have seen
Google Local listings previously include those that have no website at
all in the top results. Therefore, if listings without websites appear in
the top Google Local results, why would it matter if your website has
inbound links or not?
This topic is debatable, but we would still say that a) your Local
Business Listing including a website (with an address and phone
number, along with content based on your geographic location and
practice area[s]) is important, and b) the quality of the inbound links
coming to that website is just as important.
In fact, we’ll throw another variable of this particular ranking factor
out there: the link neighborhood of your inbound links is also very
important.
Think of it this way: Google Local verifies absolutely everything before
showing your LBL in the top results in order to combat spammy entries
from showing up and to make sure that the business address, phone
number, and additional information is correct and reliable in order to
guarantee the legitimacy of these listings to their visitors and anyone
else searching on Google Local.
Seeing as it is always extremely easy to get a large quantity of “junk”
links from other non-related websites in order to build more authority
to your website, don’t you think that Google Local will measure the
quality and amount of relevance of the inbound links that your website
has to make sure they are indeed quality links vs. some offshore SEO
company linking your site from just about anywhere in order to try to
pull one over on the search engines?
We think that the quality of inbound links that your website has is
important to both organic SEO rankings, as well as Google Local
rankings. The motto “quality over quantity” always applies to link
building. If you do decide to go out and launch an aggressive link
building campaign, make sure you do so with the basics of link
building in mind: only try for high authority links and only obtain links
from websites that are relevant to your practice or your location.
Google Ranking Factor #13:
Hyperlocal/Web Crawl Citations
This can be somewhat related to the quality of inbound links ranking
factor mentioned at number twelve, but this particular one pertains to
the local-based citations having more authority over the nationwide
citations.
In other words, if you have a website that lists and reviews attorneys
from all over the country, and another website that lists and reviews
businesses specifically in your state and/or city, the niche and
location-based website listing your website will have more authority
than the nationwide website.
Your local chamber of commerce website, city and state-specific
directories, websites, and blogs, and any other websites that allow you
to list your address, phone number, and website address are very
valuable and you should always keep your eyes open for these types
of opportunities.
The goal is to have Google Local crawl these particular websites, see
your city or state mentioned numerous times in various content, so it
will see your website listed on a bunch of different sites, and ultimately
give you more authority.
Now, can it actually be verified that Google Local prefers these localbased
websites vs. nationwide resources? No, and this topic is another
heavily debated one. However, most of the local and niche websites
that list your business are free or inexpensive, and they can also be
good for traffic/phone calls even if they don’t help you rise in the
Google Local rankings, which is why we would recommend taking the
time to get listed on them.
Google Ranking Factor #14:
Product/Service Keywords in Local Business Description
We mentioned earlier that “optimizing” your Local Business Listing is
important. Keywords being mentioned in your LBL’s title, categories,
and products can help your listing rank well for certain searches, and
you should also try to work your keywords into your description, as
well.
One thing you want to try to avoid is writing the description for the
search engines and completely ignoring those who actually click on
your LBL to find out more information. In other words, don’t write your
description as:
We are a Maryland personal injury attorney, Maryland auto accident
law firm, Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers, and Annapolis injury
trial law firm specializing in workers’ compensation, etc…
This description doesn’t read well and just lists your keywords one
after another. Make sure you word the description as if a potential
client is reading it and thinking about calling or hiring you, and seeing
as the keywords being included in the description are not as important
as having them in your title or categories, don’t spend too much time
overdoing your description with keywords if it sounds ridiculous.
Google Ranking Factor #15:
Location Keywords in Inbound Links to Website
This factor is a combination of number 12 and number 13. Again, most
of this may be wishful thinking, but those who have studied Google
Local would like to hope that websites with quality inbound links and
anchor text that includes geo-specific keywords would outrank those
that don’t.
So, if you have an inbound link to your website from another blog, and
the link from that website says:
My Friend Gary’s Law Firm Site
The Google Local “link juice” for this link wouldn’t be as much as if it
were:
Arlington Injury Attorney Gary Smith
The reason is that the city is included in the anchor text of that link.
Anchor text links are important for both organic SEO and Google Local
rankings, so be sure to find out the anchor text of inbound links
coming to your website and “optimizing” the inbound links that you
have the ability to change by working keywords into the anchor text of
those links.
Other factors that we think are important:
Including City + State in Most/All Website Title Tags - If Google
Local is indeed taking into account certain on-page optimization factors
of your actual website, then there is no doubt that having your city
and state in the title of the website is important, seeing as it’s the
most influential on-page factor that there is when it comes to organic
and local optimization.
City, State in Contact Page Title Tags - If you can’t work your city
and state into all of your Web pages’ titles, then at least make sure
they are in the contact page titles, as these probably already include
your address and phone number.
Association of LBL Videos- The more info that you provide in your
Local Business Listing, the better chance that it will rank. Plus, videos
are very good for conversion, so even if these videos don’t help you
rank better, they leave you with a better chance of someone
contacting you or visiting your website for more information.
Association of LBL Photos- Again, the more info you provide, the
better off you are.
There are a number of ways that you can increase your Google Local
rankings, by either optimizing your Local Business Listing, getting
listed on a number of other resources, or even making a few simple
website changes. Remember, these ranking factors are almost
certainly going to continue to change over the years. Make sure you
keep an eye on Google Local ranking trends. Just because these
ranking factors are important to your Google Local rankings today
doesn’t mean that they won’t change in six months. Therefore, keep
checking our website, blog, Facebook page, and other resources listed
below, so that you can be sure to stay up-to-date on changes and
improvements as they’re being made.
Foster Web Marketing
http://www.fosterwebmarketing.com
Our Blog:
http://www.lawfirmandattorney-internet-marketing.com
Follow us On Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/FosterWebMarketing

by Tom Foster and George Murphy - May 2010

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