HOW TO: Optimize Your Google Places Page for SEO & Search Discovery

HOW TO: Optimize Your Google Places Page for SEO & Search Discovery.

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Top 5 Web Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

If you’re a small business owner, your website is the central hub of your company, and it’s a pivotal part of your marketing and branding.

Potential customers visit your site specifically for its content, meaning its appearance and usability are critical to its success and how those users view your company. However, getting your web design wrong can have a negative impact on your business.

Here are 5 common web design mistakes you must avoid to create a great user experience and grow your bottom line.


1. Poor Navigation


Many small businesses fail to make navigation a priority, but without careful attention to how people navigate your site, you could unintentionally be creating a frustrating experience for any potential visitor. People visit your site for specific information, and if they cannot find it they will quickly go elsewhere, leaving with the impression that your business is disorganized in more than just its website.

A good navigation structure should be seamless and will keep visitors on your site longer, which means potentially more readers, subscribers, sales or leads — whichever is your primary objective.

Website navigation affects both usability and accessibility, so it’s important to make it a primary concern. Most websites and blogs use common navigational techniques that are expected by the average visitor. The pages and sections of the site should be easy and logical for visitors to maneuver. Don’t make your visitors think about how to navigate your site; it should be effortless and natural.

There are several principles you can follow to create an effective navigation structure:

  • Use icons to aid navigation. They’re both visually appealing and easy to use and understand.
  • Create logical groups of related links, with the most important links on the top-level navigation bar and functional (dashboard, account, settings, etc.) and legal (copyright, privacy, terms) located elsewhere.
  • Provide location information so users know where they are on any given page and how to proceed to another area of the website. This can be achieved by using Breadcrumb navigation.

2. No Clear Calls To Action


The fundamental error of many small business websites is the lack of a clear call to action. We’ve all seen bland small-business brochure websites with nothing but endless descriptive paragraphs. If you aren’t leading users to commit to an action (buy a product, contact you or subscribe, for example), then you are losing them.

Driving traffic to your website is important, but that traffic is useless if your primary call to action is a plain “click here” link buried in a sea of text. Call-to-action buttons are a great way to grab the user’s attention, and these buttons can be the key to higher conversions. Investing time and consideration into creating successful calls to action can help guide users and address their needs while achieving your own business goals.

It’s important to keep the following best practices in mind when creating an optimal call to action:

  • The design of a call to action can be broken down into 4 simple elements — size, shape, color, and position. Each plays a vital part in determining how effective the call to action is in directing the user.
  • Don’t make your users work or think, or they’ll leave. It’s not that they aren’t smart, it’s that they want access to information quickly without spending unnecessary time searching for it.
  • Don’t overdo it with multiple, competing calls to action on every page. Decide what your primary target is and then define a clear objective per page. Your content should have answered, “What’s in it for me?” and your call to action should now answer, “What do I do now?”

3. Color & Contrast


Color and contrast aren’t usually high up on the list of priorities for a small business owner when it comes to creating a website. But it should be, because if your website text does not have sufficient contrast compared to its background, people will have difficulty reading your content, especially people with poor vision or color-blindness.

Aside from plain readability, color and contrast are important because they can be used to create visual interest and direct the attention of the user. It can equally be effective in organizing and defining the flow and hierarchy of a page, and it’s therefore an essential principle to pay attention to during the design process. Here are some tips:

  • Using a free a Color Contrast tool (which conforms to accepted standards) you can easily check to see how the contrast on your website measures up.
  • Research how major sites use color and contrast to improve readability and highlight specific sections, and use this knowledge to experiment with color schemes.
  • One of best ways to enhance contrast is by creating size differences between elements, making some things appear larger than others. This works especially well within a minimal color scheme, and it means you don’t have to necessarily rely on color.

4. Content, Content, Content


People visit your website for its content, and how that is structured is a huge factor in its success or failure. Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of small businesses get so caught up in overloading the user with information that they overlook how that information is presented.

Most people do not read unless it’s absolutely necessary, and they prefer to scan through information quickly to get to the points of interest. This is why it’s so important to establish a strong visual content hierarchy so users can quickly scan your site and sifting through relevant information. A logical content hierarchy also acts as a guide through each page and creates a more enjoyable user experience.

So when focusing on your content, it’s best to keep in mind these three tips:

  • White space is possibly the most important factor to consider. It will allow the user to focus on the meaningful content within each section.
  • Break up lengthy pieces of information into digestible blocks of text, utilizing headings, sub-headings, bullets, blockquotes and paragraphs.
  • Readable content is important, so use a good line height that is large enough to make content scannable. Margins and letter spacing also need to be taken into consideration.

When talking about content, spelling and grammar cannot be underestimated.


5. Clutter


We all know at least one small business website that seems to include everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. Many small business owners tend to cram as much as they can onto a single page — the end result is a busy, cluttered and unreadable page.

The more extraneous items there are on a web page, the more unprofessional it looks, and it becomes overwhelming, confusing and distracting for the user. A cluttered website will also affect traffic because visitors won’t return if they can’t understand or follow the content, which leads to low traffic, a high bounce rate and possibly a poor Page Rank.

Clutter also applies to images. Too many can be a huge distraction and just plain annoying. Images should be used to illustrate, capture attention and guide the user where required.

Follow these guidelines for a more streamlined visitor experience:

  • Challenge every item on each page and ask, “Does it really need to be there? Does it serve a specific purpose? Can I live without it?”
  • The key is to aid the visitor in finding the information they’re looking for, so make sure to differentiate between areas of content, advertisements and promotions.
  • Prioritize your content and decide what is the most important to your visitor and potential customer — and sell it well.

Even the greatest content can become lost in a mess of words and graphics, so de-cluttering is essential.

These are just five web design mistakes that many small businesses make. What other mistakes have you noticed on small business websites?

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Local Web Presence: Why the Devil’s in the Details (And What You Can Do)

Building a dynamic Web Presence is the key to helping local consumers discover your business when they search for products and services online. And, since 86% of local consumers use the Internet to find a local business, with search being the top way people look for products or services online, showing up in local search is an important goal for any local business.  And, one important factor in your Web Presence is to have a strong Google Places page so that when consumers are looking for a local business like yours but not typing in your business name directly, they’ll be able to find you.

According to the Google Places Help page for business owners, you can help consumers discover your local business by optimizing your listing with  accurate and complete details, selecting the most appropriate category for your business, and making sure you have a solid, accurate Web Presence across the Web. Notice that Google places a heavy emphasis on accuracy.

Taken together, these tips mean that having a great Google Places page is more than simply having the correct information on your Google Places listing. It underscores the importance of having accurate and consistent listings across your entire Web Presence – including third-party review sites like CitySearch and Urbanspoon (although Google Places no longer aggregates reviews from Yelp).

Why is accuracy and consistency across your Web Presence important? According to the Google Places Help page, “Google improves search results by aggregating information about your business from all over the Web. Make sure information about your business on third-party sites is accurate, and try to contact the respective site directly to correct any inaccurate information.” Plus, if your Web Presence isn’t consistent, Google may not attribute reviews on third-party sites to your business, significantly altering the impact of your Google Places page and thus affecting search.  That’s because reviews are a major ranking factor for Google Places pages.

Making sure you have an accurate, consistent Web Presence doesn’t just end with your local listings! Double check these details across all the pages of your website, including the “about” page and details like the footer. Check these details on your social media profiles and pages and anywhere you’ve contributed information about your local business online.

Not Sure Where to Start?

Make sure you the following details are consistent across your Web Presence:

  • Physical Address
  • Phone Number
  • Business Name

Double Check the Details

It’s also important to make sure that your definition of “complete and accurate information” is more than simply that the information looks similar to the naked eye. For example, you might look at “1234 Tree Line Drive, Anywhere, Texas” and “1234 Treeline Dr. Anywhere, TX” and see that they’re the same address or read 1-888-555-5000 and 888.555.5000 as the same phone number. But to search engines, every single detail is needs to be the same to be complete, accurate and exactly the same across your Web Presence – down to the nitty, gritty details. So, make sure to double check the following when posting your business information online:

  • Spelling – Make sure every word in your address and business name is spelled accurately and consistently. Beware: spell check may be your enemy here, since many local business names are plays on common words. Make sure that the spelling of your business name you list is yours!
  • Abbreviations – Does your business name include an abbreviation? If so, use it consistently across your business name mentions, punctuating it accurately. Also, make sure you use abbreviations consistently in your physical address, including whether or not you spell out or abbreviate your state name and street names like “Road,” “Lane,” or “Trail.”
  • Periods – After your abbreviations, do you leave them hanging or add a period? Also, watch out for alternating use of periods or hyphens within phone numbers across your listings. Pick your preference and be consistent.
  • Dashes & Hyphens – Do you know the difference between a hyphen and a dash? Hyphens go in phone numbers and some descriptive phrases like “Go-To Guy. ” Whether or not you know how to use them properly, make sure you’re using them consistently in your listings.
  • Commas & Apostrophes – Is there a comma in your business name? An apostrophe – before or after an “s”? Double check this detail!
  • Spaces – Is there a space in your business name or not? Are there two spaces after a period, or one? Spaces are tricky little details that often go overlook but can make a big impact.
  • Ampersands – Is it “Tile and Flooring” or “Tile & Flooring?” Make sure you’re consistently using this special character if there’s an “and” in your business name.
  • Special Characters – Double check any other special characters like dollar signs, parentheses, or brackets.

When is the last time you checked to see if your address, phone number, and business name are accurate and consistent across your entire Web Presence? Taking the time to adjust and update these details can help you make sure every element of your Web Presence is working for you to help consumers find you online.

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About the Author
Tiffany Monhollon writes about social media, marketing, and local business success as the lead blogger for ReachCast, a service that helps local business owners develop their web presence.

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7 Local Web Marketing Infographics To Overload Your Brain

Mar 21, 2011 at 9:00am ET by Andrew Shotland – Mashable

“Locals Only” sponsored by Universal Business Listing

The infographic is the art form of choice for illustrating complex data in a way that often makes the case that yes, the data is in fact complex. As we all know, the world of local online marketing is uber-complex. With that in mind, I offer you the best of the local search infographics to help you make sense of this world that often defies sense. Feel free to drop these in your next strategy presentation:

1. The Daily Deal Stack

Presented at SXSW by James Moran, CEO of Yipit, a daily deals aggregator. According to James:

Many layers have formed in the stack between merchants and consumers of Daily Deals. The largest players attempt to serve both merchants and consumers, while new players focus on dedicated constituencies or act as intermediaries. This was inspired by a slide by Terence Kawaja (warning – this slide will induce headaches and possibly temporary coma) detailing the display advertising landscape, which serves as a useful analogy to how the Daily Deal market is evolving.

2. Local Deal Behavior

Excerpted from a larger infographic from The Deal Map on how the local deal aggregation service has grown over the past six months. Newsflash: apparently local shoppers like coffee:

Helping keep America caffeinated with more than 649,792 milligrams of caffeine from free coffee coupons at 7 Eleven.

3. Web Equity Of A Local Business

Offered up by Mike Blumenthal via a post about Owning Your Local Web Equity. From the post:

SMBs are trying to make a decisions amidst the buzz as to where to focus their on-line efforts. The goal of this infographic was to provide a foundation for that understanding from the perspective of long term investment in their marketing efforts. It is not so much a guide to those marketing priorities as it is a guide to understanding the trade offs in loss of control as you move your efforts onto the platforms controlled by others.

4. Small Business + Social Media Use

Jed Williams of BIA/Kelsey uncovered this gem by Postling on his post about SMB & “social presence”*:

…to be socially engaging, local businesses and media companies alike must be both socially present and active. In other words, just stepping out on a platform and claiming a profile page won’t cut it. This idea begs several questions, though. How do you define “active”? Are there data to support this assertion? And how much is too much?…those who post on social networks 8+ times per week draw an average of 10.3 comments per day. By contrast, small businesses falling between one and seven posts per week net fewer than one-half of one comment per day.

5.The Power Of Local Mobile Search

Dan Garfield posted this at the Orange Soda blog:

There were quite a few other interesting stats that we didn’t include. Here’s a few:

  • 73% of online activity is related to local content
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than their non-mobile counterparts
  • 32% of searchers with internet-capable cellphones search for local business information
  • 60% of smartphone owners search using either their browser or an application

6. The Local Search Ecosystem

This masterpiece by David Mihm from his post A Closer Look at the Local Search Data Providers illustrates how interconnected the various players in local search are including data providers, big local search sites and “secondary” or smaller local search sites:

…search engine marketing experts feel that citations, in other words mentions of your business name and contact details, on these secondary portals are absolutely critical for ranking well in Google Maps. Google spiders all of these secondary portals regularly, so it’s important to make sure your information is correct and consistent EVERYWHERE across the web.

7. The Local Reviews Ecosystem

Yours truly originally posted this on my little local seo blog in response to David’s work.

I have informally surveyed over 20 SMB SEM consultants about their top social media priorities for clients in 2011.  Customer review generation and management was the top priority by a landslide.As you can see from the above infographic, the review ecosystem is both enormous and complex, and I am sure I have missed several large swaths of services. The definition of a review has changed dramatically since the days of filling out paper Zagat surveys. We now write lengthy novellas about customer service experiences, hover over star rating icons, thumb up and down, tweet 140 characters of restaurant reviews and hit “Like” buttons.

The complexity of The Local Review Ecosystem – from generating reviews (both legitimate and fake) to using them for SEO to interacting with customers in open forums – means those service providers that play a part in the connecting businesses and their customers via reviews have an enormous opportunity.”

Now break out those powerpoints and start blowing some minds!

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Measuring The ROI Of Social Media

– social-media-optimization.com 3/17/2011

With more and more businesses using social media, eMarketer estimates four out of five US businesses with at least 100 employees will be marketing on social media this year, it is interesting to note how measuring the success of those social media interactions are changing.

Site traffic, which was the top metric for social marketing success in 2010, will still be on top this year. But the emphasis on conversions is apparent as in 2011. The number of CMO’s measing conversions this year will be 65.7%, up from 32.6% in 2010. Conversions are now the  number two metric, ahead of “soft” metrics like tallying fans and followers or the amount of  positive buzz.

Metrics Used by CMOs Worldwide to Measure the Value of Social Media Marketing Activities, 2010 & 2011 (% of respondents)

As the economy worldwide struggles to get out of its funk, it is no surprise that CMO’s are expecting a return on their investment, even from social media. I would be shocked if next year if Conversions is not the number one metric, ahead of Site Traffic.

 

It remains to be seen whether CMOs’ evolving focus will lead to a shift in which venues are perceived to be the most valuable, or what other changes might be in store in the social media marketing landscape.

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Google deploys Person Finder after Japan earthquake, tsunami leave hundreds dead

Google launched its Person Finder technology on Friday morning, in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Person Finder is an interactive database that allows users to search for missing persons online, or submit information about people who are injured or were missing.

The 8.9 magnitude Japan earthquake set off a massive tsunami, and the two have left behind floods, fires and the shutdown of public transportation systems and airports.

According to Times reporters in Tokyo and Beijing, up to 300 bodies have been found on a beach in Sendai, on the northeast coast of Japan, with another 110 confirmed dead in other parts of the country.

People looking for data on their loved ones, or government and aid agencies looking to coordinate efforts can all use Google’s Person Finder to have one central database on people and their respective conditions in this crisis.

Google first launched Person Finder after the Haiti earthquake and most recently deployed the tool for the Christchurch earthquake, a 6.3 temblor that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb. 22.

Currently there are more than 7,200 records being tracked on Person Finder, which is available in both Japanese and English, and Google has made the tool embeddable to other websites, which you can see embedded here, below:

Person Finder for the Japanese earthquake can be found on a Google Crisis Response website made for this natural disaster.

On that landing page, which can be viewed at http://www.google.co.jp/intl/en/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html, people can also view maps, related news stories, YouTube videos and other resources, such as links to Japanese utilities and government agencies.

Jamie Yood, a Google spokesman, said Person Finder for the Japanese Earthquake was online about an hour after the earthquake hit.

Person Finder is built by the Google Crisis Response team, which is made up of employees of the company’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, as well as other skilled workers who can contribute to the project.

The project is also open-source, and some non-Google employees have contributed to the project in the past, said Prem Ramaswami, a Google project manager who has been working on Person Finder during the Christchurch earthquake efforts.

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Google Crisis Response (2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami)

http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html

A massive 8.9/9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific Ocean nearby Northeastern Japan at around 2:46pm on March 11 (JST) causing damage with blackouts, fire and tsunami. On this page we are providing the information regarding the disaster and damage with realtime updates.

The large earthquake triggered a tsunami warning for countries all around the Pacific ocean.

Local Japan Emergency dials:
171 + 1 + line phone number to leave a message
171 + 2 + line phone number to listen to the message

Phone numbers to consult about missing persons: (Japanese language)
Iwate: 0120-801-471
Miyagi: 022-221-2000
Fukushima: 0120-510-186 / 090-8424-4207 / 090-8424-4208

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