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    A Year of Search: 2013's Most Important Google Search Changes

    Last updated 7 months ago

    2013 was a busy year for Google, which rolled out several major updates to its search algorithms. These changes had a big impact on the search industry and businesses marketing themselves online.

    Concerned you might have missed some of Google’s search changes or don’t have the time to track down all the information on your own? Then check out this roundup of some of Google’s major algorithm updates in 2013 and what they mean for your business.

    January and March: Final Panda Refreshes

    Two Panda algorithm refreshes were implemented in January and March of this year, with the January refresh affecting 1.2% of inquiries in English. The Panda algorithm targets low-quality content and rewards high-quality content with higher rankings on the search engine results page (SERP). In 2011, Google provided the public a comprehensive list of what counts as a high-quality site.

    What this means for you:

    Be sure that you’re not engaging in any “black hat” or unscrupulous techniques while trying to improve your search engine optimization (SEO). Doing so can get your site banned from Google search results altogether. Instead, work to provide your website visitors with the most informative and helpful experience that you can. How? Provide quality content that’s original, fresh, and interesting. This can include posting helpful articles about your industry, providing product videos, and pushing content to your social media sites.

    May: Penguin 2.0

    Google’s fourth Penguin update, dubbed “Penguin 2.0,” launched on May 22. It was designed, according to Google’s Matt Cutts, to tackle black-hat web spam techniques and advertorials that passed along Page Rank. More comprehensive than Panda 1.0, Penguin 2.0 included hack site detection and awarded websites with relevant subject authority, such as those in the medical and travel industries, with higher ranking on SERPs.

    What this means for you:

    Again, don’t use black-hat techniques! Google continues to take steps that favor original, quality content that helps your visitors. The more you update your site with fresh, relevant content that answers consumers’ questions about your business, products, or services, the more you can improve your SEO.

    August: In-Depth Articles

    Google announced its rollout of the in-depth articles feature, which places long-form content from recognized subject matter experts and high-quality sources in the middle of a SERP. In-depth articles now appear across a broad range of subjects but will not, however, necessarily appear for every query a user types into Google.

    What this means for you:

    Are you a recognized expert in your industry? If so, then work on writing and posting in-depth articles to your site. You can also use Google Authorship to link content you publish on a specific domain, like your website, to your Google+ profile. This means your author information like your profile will appear in the search results for the content you author, which can drive clicks and increase the authority of your page, improving its visibility in search engine results.

    September: “(Not Provided)”

    Before September, Google provided keyword listing information within Google Analytics, which gave web administrators the ability to see which keywords people were using online to find any particular website. That information is now blocked on the report with the phrase, “(Not Provided)”.

    Google decided to secure all organic searches in an attempt, it said, to protect an online users’ privacy. This means that Google is not reporting which keyword terms people are using to search for and visit your website. However, other key Google metrics are still available, including: overall organic search traffic by search engine, total conversions from organic traffic/by URL, search rankings for critical terms and more.

    What this means for you:

    While losing keyword data can be frustrating, you can still build a great business website with quality content and an engaging experience for your user. How? Know your customers, what they care about, and how your products and services can solve their problems. All of these things can help you know what to write about and what kind of content to produce.

    Hummingbird

    This new algorithm was announced later in the month although had already been in use for about a month. Hummingbird uses “meaning technology” to analyze an entire search query to better understand the searcher’s intent rather than just matching specific search terms to content on a page. Hummingbird, in other words, attempts to answer query questions and not just find content containing words within a search phrase. This means that searchers now receive search results that are more aligned to the meaning of their query.

    What this means for you:

    Because Hummingbird is better at matching search intent with relevant content to individual searchers, this frees businesses and marketers from having to build their search engine optimization programs around exact keyword phrase matching. In a Hummingbird world, think about your business from your prospect’s point of view.

    What kinds of questions would they ask that your products or services could help address? It’s critical to write content that answers your visitors’ questions and intent. Having insights into your customers’ mindset and needs will help you create website content that addresses their questions – which will help your site perform better to relevant searchers, thanks to Hummingbird.

    October: Ad Extensions Now Impact Ad Rank

    Ad extensions — the additional information included in an text ad — are now used by Google as one factor to determine a text ad’s placement on the SERP. Before this change, only the cost-per-click (CPC) bid and your Quality Score were used to determine an ad’s rank. Text ads without any ad extension information now risk lower placement on the SERP.

    What this means for you:

    Using text ads with ad extensions can help them to rank higher in SERPs. And, it can help boost your click-through-rate on your ads. So moving forward, you might want to consider adding text ads with extensions to your marketing mix in 2014.

    What was Google’s most surprising or impactful change to you this year? Let us know with a comment!

     

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    About the Author

    Amy Neeley helps small- and medium-size businesses navigate the online marketing world with insights and information featured on the ReachLocal blog. Follow her on Twitter.

    So Awesome: Our Most Popular Blog Posts of 2013

    Last updated 7 months ago

    Looking back on 2013, it’s easy to recall a few critical changes in the online marketing landscape, like major updates to Google’s search results and Facebook’s News Feed that impacted local businesses. In addition to the latest in search and social media, our readers also showed interest in getting more online marketing best practices that they can continuously use to improve their business’ Web presence. So, without further ado, here’s the list of our top 10 most popular ReachLocal blog posts of the year.

    10) 6 No-Brainer Reasons to Use Search Advertising

    We know how important search engine optimization is to getting discovered in the search engine results. But, in this ReachLocal blog post from April, we provide six reasons why you need search engine advertising to help you quickly get discovered by people searching online. For instance, search advertising enables you to target consumers in specific geographic areas, easily test different headlines and messages, and quickly promote a special or seasonal offers. Check out this post to see all six reasons and how they boost your existing SEO efforts. 

    9) Google Carousel SERP Update

    In June, Google updated the way it displays local search results for certain types of businesses, including restaurants, hotels, and theaters. These prominent results, featured in a carousel across the top of the search results page, emphasize certain features of a business’ Google+ Local page, including their primary image and rating number. Because the carousel results turn into a branded term search when a result is selected, it also increased the importance of both your paid and organic search results for your business name keyword. 

    8.) 5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who Calls Your Business

    Now that conversion-optimized websites are helping local businesses get more calls from their visitors, it’s vital they know how to effectively respond to incoming calls from potential customers. This includes being friendly and professional, providing callers with accurate and complete information, and following up in a timely manner. Check out our list of the top five things you should never say to people who call your business and why they are absolute no-nos. 

    7) 7 Tips for Recovering from a Bad Customer Experience

    We’ve all had a negative experience with a customer, but we may not have always handled it with professionalism. In this popular ReachLocal blog post, we provide seven tips for dealing with angry customers, whether their comments are made online or in person. From how to address the complaint to apologizing and offering a resolution, this post walks you through recovering from any negative customer experience.

    6) 10 Things Google Can’t Resist

    With all the updates being made to Google’s search engine algorithms, we wanted to recap all the ways you can help get your business found in Google Search results. This blog post covers the ten most important things that Google loves, from quality content to search ads to optimized map listings. Review the full list to see how your business can improve your visibility in the search results.

    5) 15 Subject Line Formulas that Work

    Email marketing is a common tactic many local businesses use to reach both prospects and existing customers. In this post, we share some effective subject line formulas along with 15 examples that businesses can use to stand out in an inbox that’s inundated with emails. Read the post to see which types of emails we recommend and how to create them. 

    4) 5 Types of Online Marketing You Should be Doing By Now

    Sometimes we just need a refresher on the basics of online marketing. This post provides a detailed overview of the five essential ways local businesses should be marketing themselves online so they can start to reach their target consumers where they are searching, surfing, and socializing. 

    3) 10 Essentials Every Small Business Website Needs

    When it comes to building (or updating) your business website, there are certain elements it needs to have to make it as effective as possible. This comprehensive list covers the most important design features, copy elements, and functionality every small business website should have in order to convince prospects to contact them. Get the complete list to see how effective your website is.

    2) 7 Popular Types of Social Media Fans

    One of our most popular posts is this infographic describing the seven types of fans on social media. Not only can everyone identify with one (or more) of these common fan characteristics, but it also provides tips businesses can use to increase engagement with each of them in their preferred social network. Check out the infographic and blog post to see which type of fan you are – and which types make up your business’ social media audience.

    1) Facebook News Feed Gets a Makeover

    Facebook’s news feed is probably a common sight to you now, but back in March, the redesign was a pretty big deal for both individuals and businesses. Elements like larger images, consistency with the mobile app, and category-specific news feeds were all launched to create a richer experience for the Facebook user, so we summarized the changes with a few tips on how to get the most out of them. And, as social media sites continue come out with new changes and updates, we stay on top of the latest in social media and provide tips for our audience.

    What were your favorite ReachLocal blog posts from 2013? Let us know in the comments!

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    About the Author

    Tamara Weintraub helps equip small business owners with information about local online advertising, social media, and content marketing as a writer for the ReachLocal blog.

    5 Ways to Make Good Call Handling Part of Everybody's Job

    Last updated 7 months ago

    As a business owner, your time is often spent managing your business. That means you may not have the time to answer every incoming call yourself. And, whether you have a dedicated receptionist or if everyone in your office is responsible for answering the phone, all employees should know and follow basic phone handling best practices.

    If you haven’t made these expectations clear with all of your staff, you could be leaking leads and ultimately losing business. So, here are five important tasks to make sure your entire team is up to speed on to make sure that everyone who answers your phone is converting more calls into customers.  

    Promptly Answering the Phone

    How many times does the phone ring in your office before someone answers it? If you’ve ever called another local business, and we’re sure you have, you probably wouldn’t appreciate a phone that rings nonstop no matter how many times you call. Consumers who contact your business feel the same way. If you have a dedicated member of staff to answer the phone, you’re probably in a good position. But if you hear a round of “Not it!” coming from your staff when the phone rings, you definitely have a problem. Make sure that you set your expectations (like a two-ring policy) with all employees on how quickly to answer the phone – and let them know that “it’s not my job” doesn’t cut it. 

    Returning Voicemails

    If you don’t use a live voice answering service for those (hopefully rare) times when nobody can get to the phone – before or after hours, during lunch, or when the lines are all busy – these calls are (hopefully) being sent to voicemail. When this happens and a consumer leaves a message, make sure they are called back as soon as possible. There’s no “how soon is too soon?” about this either. Calling them back with minutes is best, as consumers are likely to choose the business that responds first. . So make sure your entire team knows when and how to check the voicemail and conduct a proper follow-up call.

    Asking for Contact Information

    When a consumer calls your business, it’s fairly safe to say that they are seriously considering doing business with you, especially if they are the type of consumer who does their homework about you online first. A truly qualified prospect who calls has probably read through online reviews, checked out your website, and decided your business was one worth contacting. So, don’t ignore these prospects. Train your staff and provide a system that enables them to collect the name, phone number, and email address of each potential customer who calls so that you know how to contact them back. Having a system that organizes this information – from a simple spreadsheet or contact list on the computer to the prioritized contact list included in our ReachEdge system – helps ensure that no contact information gets lots in the shuffle of multiple people answering the phone. 

    Putting Callers on Hold

    Chances are, you’ve had to put a caller on hold at some point. And although being put on hold isn’t uncommon, the longer you keep callers on hold, the less likely they are to stay on the phone. In fact, the average time callers will wait while on hold is 56 seconds. It’s a little bit longer for small business, averaging at 1 minute 47 seconds, because these consumers understand that a smaller staff may mean more people juggling tasks. Even so, make sure you and your staff have a clear understanding of how to keep callers on hold for the shortest times possible, even if this means adding additional lines to handle more call volume.

    Being Pleasant

    Following all the best practices for phone handling and follow up will mean nothing if the consumer on the other end is met with an unprofessional, disgruntled, or rude attitude. Understand that a phone call is often the first point of human interaction consumers will have with your business, so make sure it counts! Encourage your staff to answer phone calls with professional greetings, practice basic manners (a “please” and “thank you” can go a long way), and sound like they are happy to help each caller with their needs.

    Does everyone on your team understand your expectations for how to answer the phone? Are you sure your phone isn’t the source of lead leaks (if not, here’s an idea that can help you find out)?

    Let us know, and share your thoughts about phone handling in a comment!

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    About the Author

    Tara Banda writes about how small business owners can reach local customers through online marketing for the ReachLocal blog. You can connect with her on Twitter.

    ReachLocal Chairman Speaks at Churchill Club About Local Services Economy [Video]

    Last updated 7 months ago

    • Churchill 4
    • Churchill 3

    This week, our Board Chair and Interim CEO David Carlick spoke about the digitization of local services at the Churchill Club’s event “The Local Services Economy.” He joined local service entrepreneurs Logan Green, CEO & co-founder of Lyft, Justin Kan, founder of Exec, and Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor, in an open forum discussion moderated by Doug MacMillan, technology reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

    The event focused on the many emerging opportunities that exist to help businesses move various business operations, not just marketing, online. During the panel discussion, Carlick discussed how local services businesses can not only market themselves online, but also help consumers to engage, contact, and transact with them online, too. Similar to the way retail businesses have moved online, home service businesses like plumbers, moving and storage, and remodelers are starting to experience this shift.

    “What has been missing in our area for larger contractors and larger businesses is they need to figure out ways to digitally get in touch with people; increasingly, they need ways to figure out ways to digitally attract and retain those people,” Carlick said.

    To see the event in its entirety, watch the video below.

    At ReachLocal, we are already seeing many home services businesses transition to solutions like ReachCommerce and ClubLocal that help them digitize their business, from getting found by local consumers via Web and mobile, to scheduling and booking appointments, to taking mobile payments. And recently, we have partnered with sites like Yelp and MerchantCircle to more easily connect local service businesses with target consumers who are already searching for their businesses, reading reviews, and getting recommendations online, creating a more streamlined experience for both merchants and consumers.

    Learn more about ReachCommerce and ClubLocal, and let us know what you think about this online shift for local services businesses in the comments.

    9 Types of Holiday Shoppers & How to Reach Them [Infographic]

    Last updated 7 months ago

    The holiday shopping season is in full swing, with reports of record online shopping and mobile shopping up dramatically over the long holiday shopping weekend. Millions shopped over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

    But the holiday shopping season continues, with some of the biggest shopping days of the year still ahead. So, how can small businesses appeal to holiday shoppers throughout the season? We put together this handy infographic to share about nine types of holiday shoppers so all types of local businesses, from retail to services and more, can better reach these local consumers.

    The holiday shopping season is here, and it’s a big one for local businesses.

    $5.5 Billion was spent at locally-owned businesses on Small Business Saturday 2012 (That's just one day!)

    Experts predict an 11% increase in holiday spending this year.

    So, what can you do to capitalize on this shopping trend? Here’s a look at the nine types of holiday shoppers and how your local business can reach them, whether they’re just starting their buying journey or are already a loyal customer.

    The Doorbuster

    “May the best deals win!”

    • Infamous for packing retail stores and malls on Black Friday
    • Eager for door-busters, discounts, coupons, and offers
    • Loves to share deals and finds with their friends and family via social media
    • Will go to great lengths to find great deals, online, in print, on email lists, you name it

    Of the 53.9% of shoppers who use social media in-store, 66.4% of them update their status to tell friends about the deals they discover.

    Tip: Create and promote deals, offers, and coupons that are designed for deal-seekers to share with other holiday shoppers.

    The Online Shopper

    “I research and find gift inspiration online and purchase items without leaving home.”

    • Researches online to find the best gift ideas, prices, and availability  
    • Enjoys the ease and convenience of online shopping
    • Shops high-volume days like Cyber Monday
    • Turns to sites like Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram for gift ideas

    This year, nearly half of consumers plan to buy holiday gifts online.

    Tip: If you aren’t an ecommerce business, offer options to appeal to online shoppers, such as coupons, deals, and gift certificates that can be shared online and redeemed on less busy days. If you’re in ecommerce, offer reduced rate or speedy shipping options and easy returns.

    The Shopping Connoisseur

    “I want to see, taste, touch, and feel my shopping experience.”

    • Enjoys the full holiday shopping experience that delights the senses
    • Does online research to find which local stores carry products they want
    • Prefers shopping in-store to purchasing items they can’t see or test online
    • Appreciates thoughtful, helpful customer service

    90% of U.S. retail sales are projected to occur in brick-and-mortar stores.

    Tip: Appeal to this shopper’s sense of tangibility with beautiful window and product displays, in-store taste testing, complimentary beverages, gift-wrapping services, customer appreciation events, and other thoughtful and customer-centric holiday experiences.
     

    The Do-It-Yourself Consumer

    “Adding my own touch is an important holiday tradition for me.”

    • Takes on DIY projects to prepare for holidays, like home improvements, cooking, and creating gifts or décor
    • Seeks DIY inspiration from sites like Pinterest and Instagram
    • Seasonally purchases supplies and help to complete DIY projects
    • May turn to services to complete some tasks or purchase handmade goods

    31% of consumers plan to spend more on home improvements, remodeling, landscaping, and décor than they did this time last year.

    Tip: Appeal to DIY shoppers by offering “cheat sheets” on how to create their own recipes, gift baskets, projects, and home décor with the products and services you offer, or offer deals to help them finish up projects they may run out of time to complete.

    The Artisan Enthusiast

    “Handmade or local purchases are a source of pride for me.”

    •  Will pay a premium for locally-made or hand-crafted goods, food, and services
    • Enjoys getting to know or meet the artisan, owner, or creator of purchases
    • Shops both in person and online for unique items, experiences, and services
    • Likes discovering and promoting new artisans and local businesses
    • Often seen as tastemakers or influencers in the community

    With over $117.8 million in goods sold, December 2012 was a record-breaking month for Etsy, an online marketplace to buy and sell handmade goods.

    Tip: Attract and entice these enthusiastic shoppers with exclusive “sneak peek” holiday shopping events, or partner with other local businesses, products, and services to offer “taste of local” gift packages.

    The Conscious Consumer

    “I want to know my shopping makes a difference.”

    • Supports causes, charities, and community groups
    • Chooses stores supporting charities through proceeds or matching gifts
    • Enjoys giving gifts that make a lasting impact
    • Thoughtful and intentional in their shopping and purchases

    Charity giving is highest at the end of the year, with some organizations reporting 30% of annual gifts being given in December.

    Tip: Encourage these conscious shoppers by supporting a social good, charity, or community group or partnering with one on an event or fundraiser.

    The Holiday Over-Achiever

    “Don’t worry, I’ve got gift giving and décor months ahead of time.”

    • Meticulously selects just the right gift for everyone on their list
    • Continues holiday shopping into the season with a focus on food and events
    • Takes time for planning, order, and organization

    40% of people start shopping for the holidays in October.

    Tip: Appeal to this shopper’s love of order by offering checklists, recipes, and organizational tips, and incentivize them to choose you with early-shopper discounts or frequent shopper rewards. 

    The Last-Minute Shopper

    Oops, I forgot!”

    • Forgoes shopping for gifts and food until the last possible minute
    • Rushes to the most convenient locations at less-than-convenient times
    • May not have a list or plan and often over-purchases due to poor planning
    • Relies on mobile device to discover stores, locations, and service hours

    Mobile is expected to have an impact on 87% of holiday purchases.

    Tip: Make sure your local listings are claimed and your site is mobile-ready so you show up well on smart phones. Offer extended hours and convenience in the form of delivery, customization, or other ways to make the consumer’s last-minute thoughtlessness appear more thoughtful (at a premium).

    The Holiday Entertainer

    “’Tis the season to entertain!”

    • Hosts holiday gatherings for colleagues, groups, friends, and family
    • Appreciates a well-decked holiday home for guests to enjoy
    • Searches online for party themes, décor, food, and beverage ideas to delight
    • A busy social calendar means less time for shopping and errands

    91% of Americans made festivity-related purchases during the holidays for items such as holiday food, décor, or alcoholic beverages.

    Tip: Appeal to these shoppers by offering seasonal services like Christmas light hanging, valet services, party catering, and maid services. Target online shopping and convenience offers to these time-strapped shoppers to help them stay on top of gift giving.

    About the Author

    Tiffany Monhollon shares practical tips and insights about reaching consumers across the web as a blogger for ReachLocal. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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