In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send us an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!
Mike: I actually started riding my bike to work… a sure sign that it is actually spring here (it only stopped snowing about 2 weeks ago). Have you put away your umbrella yet?
David: As I noted for our Californian readers on Twitter last week, we’ve had the wettest winter ever in Portland. San Franciscans and Angelenos priced out or repulsed out of their current markets might want to consider Phoenix or Denver as their next destination.
Mike: Your discouragement is unlikely to deter them much if at all.
David: I’m under no illusion, but it’s worth a shot…
Mike: A reader asked that we talk about enterprise and local. What say we talk about the evolving local practices that we are seeing there?
David: Sounds good. I’m working with a single client these days, which happens to be an enterprise in the healthcare space, so I feel like I’m still somewhat connected to this question. What has surprised me more than anything is that prior to my engagement with them, there was no internal coordination around maintaining a canonical list of buildings, clinics, and physicians.
Data that you and I would consider foundational just for recovery searches like name, address, and phone number is scattered throughout the organization and has been difficult to chase down.
Mike: Oooh healthcare. Always a tough one. Keeping track of all those offices and doctors is a pesky problem. Certainly a canonical list is a critical first step. Getting that data reliably updated and out to the website is another. Although these days, since users spend SOOOO much time at Google, I am beginning to think of attributes, links to product/service pages and photos as foundational data as well.
David: Well, that’s what we’ve found, actually. We’re working on a pilot with two clinics in parallel with the master database project. Google Maps and main-SERP Knowledge Panels yield two-and-a-half to three times as many patient interactions as clickthroughs to the location pages for those clinics. I know you’ve seen something similar with your SMB poster child. And while two data points don’t make a conclusion, certainly the trend is directionally obvious at this point.
But in my view, where those interactions happen does not negate in any way the need for a well-structured “store locator” — Google still uses information you present on your website heavily when determining what to display in the SERPs. It’s just that instead of viewing your store locator and your location pages as a destination, you need to start thinking of them as a customer-facing API for the Knowledge Graph.
Mike: To that point, I think some local managers in corporations are getting pushback as to why their local traffic is falling, and if it is why should they maintain local pages? What is hard to explain is that those pages DO feed Google.
But these locations need to be not just well structured, but easily found and crawled by Google, not hidden behind some opaque code.
David: I can empathize with the corporate budget-deciders, honestly. If it looks like the locator is failing, why should brands spend even more money on it? You really need deep knowledge (and historical perspective) about Google’s long-term evolution, and I doubt that class was offered at Wharton or Haas or Tuck even as recently as 5 years ago, if it even is today.
Google hasn’t done itself any favors with its lack of integration between GMB and Google Analytics. It’s much more difficult to get the actual picture of just how valuable clear and complete location information is to an enterprise than it needs to be.
Mike: Well as we talked about in our previous conversation about how Google assigns authority to an entity, that page is critical for not just data but for rank as well. But getting a clear analytics picture, while getting somewhat easier via the Google GMB, is still a huge integration struggle.
David: Duplicate listings are another huge problem for large brands–exponentially harder than for the average small business due to the number of close-match listings that are accurate and should remain active–and in combination with your point about attributes and photos becoming foundational data, they can lead to dreadful results.
My client has several world-class physicians whose Knowledge Panels show StreetView construction sites front-and-center for their own name because Google returns the wrong (duplicate) listing as the primary Knowledge Panel.
Mike: Obviously when starting from scratch, getting rid of duplicates is a huge problem that, while never going away, should diminish over time as you seed canonical data to Google and elsewhere. So hopefully it can be wrestled into a semblance of reason.
David: From what I’ve seen, I’m not sure it would diminish on its own, but brands stand no chance if they’re merely “suppressing” duplicates and not actually closing them at the primary source–whether a data aggregator or a powerful vertical site.
Mike: An area where I see more ongoing struggle is local content. I.e., content that enhances the brand, is unique to each of those many pages and can be sustained in some way by the organization at the scale that they are dealing with.
Obviously it is critical for the user to know, for Google to see and to satisfy the many queries that might surface those pages. As Megan Hannay pointed out, it’s no longer an issue of Keyword targeting but of brand building. Another good piece on this topic from a technical point view was from Joy Hawkins where she described a range of techniques that allowed a business to achieve higher multi-location visibility with better content. One of the ones that stood out (for me at least :)) was leveraging user-generated reviews as a content strategy. That would be part and parcel of a larger effort across the board with reviews, not just on their website and Google, but every place that shows up on the first page of Google as well. As we have been saying, Google is the new home page.
David: Certainly for on-page content, local keyword research across thousands of locations seems unrealistic. Brands don’t have the bandwidth to create a localized content page targeting every keyword, and the ones that have tried have created such awful “spun” content that they haven’t converted any customers with it, even if they achieved rankings.
I particularly liked Megan’s column, which encourages brands simply to create content that is categorically-relevant and interesting to your prospective audience, without obsessing over how many times you repeat a given keyword or where you place it on the page.
If I had to sum up, audience-focused content > keyword-focused content (which wasn’t necessarily true 4-5 years ago).
Mike: It certainly seems that if an enterprise local effort could bring brand building down to a local level, they could have an advantage over their small business competition. I suppose they would need to assess where they are on this list (canonical data, submissions, aggregate data, analytics, content) and start there. But in the end, a well designed website with localized, user focused content seems like it could give them a huge advantage in the race for local eyeballs.