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The question often arises, “Can you compete both in local search and global search?” Of course, the answer is “Absolutely.”

The key is to claim your Google Places and Bing Local listings while continuing to optimize your website for organic search. Where you want to dominate in local search is on Google Maps and Bing Maps. To do that, you want to claim those listings. Be sure to include address, phone number, hours, and other locally identifying information in those listings.

With global organic search, you just do all the normal things you would do on your website and off site to rank your web pages. I’d also encourage you to open up a Google+ account.

On Google+, you want to link to your website’s home page. When you set up your Google+ account, you have a Links section. That’s a good place to link to all of your websites. Just link to each website once. And if you are a contributor to third-party websites or blogs, and you should be, then list those links in the Contributor section. Ask the owner of those sites to follow the Google guidelines for Authorship.

You can rank locally and globally. You just have to focus your efforts on organic search for your website and make your local search efforts focused through Maps.

SEOmoz posted an interesting take on Google Places yesterday. The gist of the article tells how some local businesses have had their Google Places listing disappear because they don’t actually service customers at their location. That’s a slap in the face to many home-based businesses. It could happen to you.

Thankfully the article tells how to avoid that fate. Dare I let the cat out of the bag?

OK, you talked me into it. The key is to hide your local address. Yes, hide it. As in, make it invisible.

That could very well diminish your local search results, but if your Google Places listing is de-activated, then that will happen anyway.

Casting aside any temptation to make Google look like a bad guy, I’d like to instead ask you a question. Do you really need a Google Places listing? If you do any business locally, then I’d say you should have one. But is it the end of the world if your address isn’t visible? Do you really think it will make or break your local business?

With all the marketing channels available to small businesses today, I wouldn’t fret over one channel. You have to figure out how many of your local prospects would actually visit your Google Places listing. If your business is rural, it may not be that many. On the other hand, if you operate in a large metropolitan area, it could be much higher.

Like any marketing channel, you must ask yourself how important it is to your business. Then, act accordingly.

A reader asked Mike Blumenthal if linking to her Google Places page would make it rank higher in the search engines.

The question has its basis on the longstanding practice of many SEOs to build inbound links to pages on their websites. Such inbound links have often increased the rankings of their web pages in the search engines. But there are flaws in thinking the same practice when applies to a Google Places page would have the same effect.

First, a Google Places page, as Mike Blumenthal points out, is a search result. Linking to it would be like linking to a search results page for a query that is related to your business niche. That wouldn’t boost your web pages any and it wouldn’t make any sense.

Secondly, linking out from your website to an external page would drain link juice that you could put to better use on your internal pages.

While such linking might be detrimental in terms of your website’s SEO, there may be times when linking to your Google Places page constitutes good marketing. For instance, if you want your website visitors to see all the rave reviews your business gets on Google, then you could link to the page. But I wouldn’t do that from your home page and I’d recommend that you do it using a no-follow link.

Sometimes, detrimental or harmful linking practices can be good marketing practices, and vice-versa. This is where you have to do some weighing of pros and cons. Choose a value that is most important to you and perform the action that makes that value work for you.

If you’ve ever read the book “Men Are Mars, Women Are From Venus” by John Gray, then you’ll appreciate the sophisticated sarcasm in Mike Blumenthal’s post about Google Places and your small business.

While local SEO is a bit different than your ordinary run-of-the-mill SEO, it’s still important to point out the trickiness of the SEO game. Google’s algorithms are not there to serve businesses. They are there to serve searchers. It’s important to understand that when you enter this playing field.

The second thing to understand about SEO – even local SEO – is that you have a responsibility to figure out what will increase your rankings. It is not any search engine’s responsibility to ensure you are ranked – or even indexed.

A third thing to understand, and this is particular to Google Places, is that your local listings will not appear in the same order on every search query. Two people can make the same exact search and be within two blocks of each other and see two different sets of results. That’s because location relative to the searcher is one of the criteria for returning search results for any query. That’s an important thing to know.

When it comes to Google Places and local SEO, don’t get wrapped up in thinking about it in black and white. There’s a whole lot of gray in there.

Googler Jeremy Sussman explains in the following video how Google Maps uses location, relevance, and prominence to rank a business in Google Maps. Watch the video and we’ll talk about what the relevance factor means.

So what is meant by “relevance?”

Relevance in Google Maps means you have done everything you can do as a business to ensure that your Google Places profile matches the search queries that people use to find businesses like yours. Factors that determine relevance include the category you put your business into, keywords you use when writing your description, and other traditional SEO factors.

Of prime importance is category. If your business is a restaurant, you don’t want to categorize it as a butcher shop. That’s a no-brainer. But even subtle differences can make a big difference in Google Maps. For instance, an auto repair shop that does not do body work does not want to list itself as a body shop.

When you write the description for your business, be sure to use keywords that are naturally associated with businesses like yours. Don’t spam, but use natural writing methods to describe your business using the right keywords.

Other items that could affect relevance are how you write your offers within Google Places, whether your domain and business name have a keyword in them, and whether or not you use your business address in your listing.

Relevance is an important factor in Google Maps search. Learn how to make it work for you.

If you own a local business and you’ve been wondering how you can use the search engines and social media to attract more customers to your business, then I highly recommend Google Places. It just got a whole lot better.

More and more, Google has been embracing social media. And Google Places is becoming a nice blend of social media with search engine optimization benefits.

The Lat Long blog outlines some of the recent changes that Google Places adapted to make it better. I must say, the changes are a welcoming upgrade. Here are some of those changes and how they can benefit you.

  • Google Places is now more personalized. You can upload your photo and all of your reviews will appear in one location for easy referencing.
  • You can make friends on Google Places – not a bad idea. Your friends don’t have to be local. If you travel a lot, you might have friends all over the planet. Each friend is a connection to more local places in every area of the world where you have friends. You can share each others reviews through any Web interface including your mobile phone.
  • It is now a lot easier to rate and review local businesses of any type.
  • You can search for specific types of business in any location and review the ones you want.
  • The new Google Places web design is a 100% improvement.

The best way to use Google Places is to be a reviewer. If you are a business owner, don’t just sit back and wait for reviews. Be proactive. Review other businesses and you will develop new contacts in your local area. Those contacts will see that you own a business and are more likely to visit your business if they like and trust your reviews.

Business reviews just became a lot more social and those social benefits carry more search engine optimization benefits. Thank you Google Places.

The Law of Reciprocity states that if you do something nice for someone, they will feel obligated to do something nice for you, and they will.

Imagine being a business owner in your local hometown and discovering a new restaurant. You tell your friends how wonderful it is through a service called Hotspot, which, by the way, has recently been rolled into Google Places.

Later, let’s say, you discover the owner of that restaurant is a big user of Google Places and Hotspot. So you friend him. He friends back and notices that you liked your restaurant. He comes to your bookstore to thank you and then saves your bookstore as a favorite place.

That’s The Law of Reciprocity in action.

There’s no better place to practice The Law of Reciprocity than in your own back yard. That is, in your own hometown where you can become friends with other small business owners that are local to you. You patronize their business and they patronize yours. Now, you can let all your friends know about your local connections and personalize your local search experience as well.

Google Places seems to be getting better and better. It’s certainly good for local small businesses.

Local search is not quite the same as organic search. Where for many years the preferred anchor text in links has been keyword orientated, local search is less keyword-based and more business or website name orientated. For local search, a link with your business name is often of more value than a link with a related keyword. In fact, there are many stories around suggesting that keywords in links are no longer the ideal – but that’s a story for another time.

When you think about local search, you have a distinct advantage over organic search. You can tell the search engines all about your business. In Google Places, for example, you can provide your official business name, your address, and your telephone number. You can also add tags and place your business into a category. With organic search, your search engine optimization program needs to use keywords to ensure the search engines know what your pages are all about.

The bottom line is this: Search engines don’t need anchor text to tell them about your business – you’ve already done that. Links that are in your business name have far more value than those with keywords as your anchor text. Add address details to the text around your business name, and you further reinforce your local search rankings. Local search is all about being local.

The more often your business is linked back to your site where your address is in plain view, or at the very least your town or region, the better. Are you pushing keywords in all your anchor text for local search? Try modifying some of your links to include your business and your town – or the service you provide and the town.

Local search is all about being local so shout your presence from the rooftops – or at least, from the friendly pages around you.

While everyone is talking about the threat that Facebook could be to Google, one article caught my attention that has analyzed whether or not Google could be its own undoing. This is not a new theory, of course. Every time Google makes a major change to its search results, people (many of them from the SEO field) start to make noises about how they are slowly killing off their own golden egg.

The trouble is, people have been making that claim since day one. In the meantime, Google has just grown bigger and bigger. I do agree with the article’s point of view when it comes to changes. Google has made a lot of changes lately, and it seems that Google is really placing its faith in local search. That’s fine at this time of year. Everyone is in the process of preparing for the Christmas – New Year season. This means food, parties and of course Christmas gifts.

What about after the holiday season? Will local search still be as necessary? If you do a search for almost anything at present, the results are often dominated by local search and images – too bad if you are doing a research assignment. Where Google has made improvements that may help is in its Google Instant and relevant search areas. Whether a user’s history will be sufficient to help fine tune search results is yet to be fully tested.

It is hard to imagine the Internet without a dominant Google, yet to many people, that is exactly where we are headed. I have my doubts. Google has weathered many storms over the years and only continued to grow. They are making it harder for SEOs to do their job, but search engine optimization is still delivering results despite the changes being made. Is Google ready to implode? Not yet – there’s still plenty of kick in the old girl.

Local businesses are currently in the midst of a minor (r)evolution in search with local search receiving a lot of special attention from the search engines. Google have upped the ante somewhat with their rebadged Google Places offering small businesses more features on what seems a weekly basis. One feature that is being trialled certainly has a catchy name – Google Boost.

Although currently only being trialled in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago, it has appeal and should prove to be popular with small businesses, especially if they are already involved with pay per click marketing. So what is Boost?

As you may have guessed already, Google Boost is a pay per click option for local businesses. Rather than going through Adwords to establish an ad unit, business owners can log into their Google Places account and set up an ad through their dashboard. The ads are easy to set up requiring just a short business description and a monthly spend budget. Google Places does the rest. I have not found any reference for the need of an Adwords account either, so businesses may be able to trial pay per click marketing without going through the steps needed for an Adwords account.

Like all things Google, there is a downside to this feature. Rather than selecting your own keywords, Google will do this for you based on the content of your web site.  The second downside is that the link in the ad unit goes only to your web site’s home page (or Google Places listing) and not to any deeper landing pages. What will be interesting to see is whether or not these two areas affect costs per click and conversions.

The benefit to local businesses is that their ad unit will appear in the sponsored links area just above search results.  How often your ad appears will depend on relevancy and ad quality. If you’re a small business that has struggled to find a foot in open pay per click markets, Google Boost may be a viable alternative. It will be interesting to see what feedback the trial cities offer.

Local search has been a real bonus for smaller bricks and mortar businesses. Being able to claim your business through the search engine local search features and building even a basic web site has put many of these businesses on level footing with big business. In fact, for many small businesses, local search has given them a real competitive edge.

Having your business listed towards the top of a local search seven pack (the local search listings in organic search) means these businesses are on the front page, often above their larger competitors. However, in recent months some small businesses have woken up to find their listings have disappeared from these seven packs. One moment competitive edge, the next competitive disaster.

So what has gone wrong? The answer lies in consistency. If you have listed your business in several different places, like business directories, perhaps a Facebook page, and the various search engines, if you are not consistent with your information, you could be creating problems for yourself.

Google Places (Google local search) is one area where the problem is particularly noticeable. If Google finds your business on other sites, and it has different data, for example a different set of phone numbers, it is automatically assuming there are two business.  This is creating problems that are similar to duplicate pages on web sites – ranking factors are being divided between the two pages, in this case, ranking factors are being divided between two listings.

The only way to rectify these problems is to ensure that every business listing has exactly the same data stored. It will make life easier for you if you create a simple template that has all your data listed. Then, when creating a listing on any web site, for example, a trade directory, you are using data that precisely matches that used on other sites. It is also important that you keep a list of where you have registered your business online, so that when data changes, you can go through and update every listing to show this new data.

Be consistent with the data you use in internet marketing and local search can give you a real competitive edge. Be inconsistent, and it could prove to be a disaster.