Is Google Filtering Reviews or Reviewers?

stars on Google MapsA couple of weeks back I wrote a post outlining a review plan for local businesses. On that post I received a very thoughtful comment from David Mihm, a local SEO in Portland OR.

I was asserting that a business should get reviews from Citysearch and Insider Pages and Google almost as an after thought. David commented that he thought getting reviews on Google should be job #1. We had a friendly back and forth and than I read this post on Understanding Google Maps, which said that many of the reviews from Citysearch had been stripped out of Google’s results. With a resulting loss of “review stars” at the listing level and loss of business. Hmmmm… I thought, score one for David Mihm.

Applying What Was Learned From Links To Reviews? A Search for Quality

The question lingers, however, why would Google discount these reviews from Citysearch? I started thinking… if I were Google, what would I look for in a review? I couldn’t filter bad reviews and just show positive ones, obviously. No, I would want reviews from mavens. People who love to shop and give their well informed opinions. What would these people have in common? They would have a lot of reviews to their credit. So, I would look for reviewers with a large number of reviews to their credit.

Conversely, what if I wanted to game the system? The easiest way to do this would be to create an account, review the business and be done. Leaving in my wake a bunch of accounts with a single review on each, possibly 2 reviews to make it look good (but they were done on the same day). Is Google filtering these reviews? That’s a question worth asking… so I went to the florist that had lost some of it’s reviews and checked the reviewers.

Here are the Stats

Insiderpages shows 4 reviews and citysearch has 15. Google reports only the 4 from Insiderpages.

Of the 15 reviews from Citysearch (that google stripped out) 12 of them had been the sole review of the reviewer. Certainly, not mavens and possibly an attempt to game the system in the eyes of Google??? The other 3 reviewers had only 2 reviews to their credit… hmmm.

The 4 reviewers on Insiderpages had 4, 3, 2 & 5 reviews to their credit, better… but not earth shattering.

To look for more evidence, I went across country and found a florist in NY with only 6 reviews but the stars were given. When I dug into the reviews a little further, I saw that they were provided by reviewers with the following number of reviews to their credit: 83, 31, 69, 19, 55. Much more “mavenesque”

Moving on I came across a restaurant credited with reveiws from I don’t see that very often, as Google usually favors sites that specialize in dining reviews for restaurants, so I checked on the reviewers. The 4 who had reviewed that restaurant on had an astonishing 32, 191, 303 & 339 reviews to their credit.

Could reviews be getting like links? Where the number isn’t necessarily more important than the quality? Should the new strategy be to find people with a large of number reviews to their credit and give them a free sample? Are we going to have a paid review debate in the near future?

Some of these things probably aren’t happening yet but they may have just begun or be in the near future. As for Citysearch, most of the reviews on that site are from single reviewers. (Is Citysearch easier to game than others?) And that may have played a role in Google removing those reviews from the local algo.

And as far as the back and forth with David Mihm, I’m going to split the loaf and give David the bigger half: I would revise my advice to the small business owner to focus on getting reviews from Google and Insider pages and put a premium on those reviews from active reviewers.

Posted in Reviews | 45 Comments

A Map Link in An Adwords’ Ad? Yup, it’s called the Local Plus Box

This is the first I’ve noticed this… a link in an Adwords ad that allows you to click and a map of the businesses location will drop down… check it out.


When you click on the link it gives a nice map of the location of the business:


Pretty Cool. According to the Adwords’ Blog, to show up it must be a local business ad geo-targeted and have a high enough bid and quality score to be in the top position.

Posted in PPC, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Local Search Engine Marketing: Overcoming Advertisers’ 3 Fears

The 3 fears that all small businesses must overcome to be active in local search engine marketing are:

  1. Local Search Engine Marketing doesn’t work.
  2. Local Search won’t work for my type of business
  3. Search Marketing won’t work for me.

Afraid Of The Unknown – Overcoming Fear #1

Sharing statistics is the best way to help a potential local advertiser understand the importance of advertising on the web. The ability to relate it to other media, as in this chart from Screenwerk is perfect.

Next, breakdown the traffic by site, this is getting a little old ( July 2006 from Comscore), but it’s still the best study I’ve seen on local.

Wouldn’t You Like to Be A Pepper Too! – Overcoming Fear #2

To overcome the fear that search isn’t right for the particular industry look at the competition.

Do a few searches on some of the sites mentioned above and look for others in that industry who are having success. Defining success is difficult… but the most convincing is time. If a competitor has been advertising on that site month after month… year after year… it proves it’s working for that industry.

Every Man Is An Island – Overcoming Fear #3

Copy is the key to overcoming this fear. Ask, “Why would someone choose your business over the competition?” The answer is very often the headline… and if you have a good headline… you want people to see it.

Small business owners are savvy enough to know that ad copy/promotional text/web design are important. They know it intuitively, but are not experienced enough to articulate it quite that way. So, this fear is the one that leads to procrastination… and if it’s a sales call… it will end with “I’ll think about it.” What they need to think about is the message but they don’t know it. If you don’t help them… then and there… you’ve missed it.

A small business will get involved with search, when they understand why and how:

Why they should advertise in Search Marketing.

And then…

How to do it effectively.

When these 3 fears are overcome, a small business will engage search marketing aggressively.

Posted in SEM | 1 Comment

An Adwords Tip From The Masters: Get Your Local Site To #1

Presumably those writing and selling guides for Adwords are pretty good at it themselves, so let’s have a look and see if they care about the display url:


Notice the keyword is “Adwords guide” and each of these PPC Jedi have gotten the word Adwords into their URL.

It seems these folk think the display url is pretty important. But can it help for a local service business? Let’s go to the video tape…


This painter in Chicago used the url to get them to the top of what for them is probably their most important keyphrase. Notice that all of the advertisers in the coveted top 3 spots have the keyword in their url.

Now, let’s take a look at one of the more competitive phrases in local:


Here again, 3 out of 4 of the top results all contain the keyword in the URL. I particularly like the way it is used in the 3rd result. How the term is used in the url stem (the part after the slash). Perry Marshall uses this technique in his ad above. It allows you to maintain your url brand and still let the searcher know they will be taken to a relevant page. And reminds those setting up the ad to take a searcher to the correct page, rather than just the home page. Google does allow you to shorten the display url if it doesn’t fit. So, for instance, you could shorten:


This should also benefit your ad’s Quality Score.

For a local site I also like to see the geographic indicator in the url. It seems to almost follow the convention of the yellow pages with an address as the last line.

Here is an example of how I would write the url for the search query: personal injury lawyer in manhattan

Of course, that domain is no longer available; but it gives you an idea of how you want to use the url when writing the 4th line of your ad.



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“All My Business Is Referred”

“All my business is referred” and “It’s all word of mouth” are often said by business owners when they are declining new advertising opportunities. It’s often said with a great deal of pride, which it should be… it says that the business is treating it’s customers well.

However, I think, some business owners take this too far and tie it in with esteem or ego. And that could be limiting… so let’s take a quick look at why this may be happening.

Go to a search engine and type in the name of your company and town. Chances are that you come up, right?

Now, do another search and type in the category of your business plus the town and then some of the surrounding communities.

If you are like most businesses you came in the first search, in the second it got a little tougher and the third search we may have lost you.

So, the reason all the business is from word of mouth is that your only opportunity for new business comes when someone knows your name well enough to type it in. Where else, but referrals, could it come from?

I understand that referred business is the best and I don’t mean to come across like search is the only answer… could be yellow pages, direct mail etc. I’m just saying not to limit yourself. And when ALL the business is word of mouth it says as much about your lack of advertising as it does your wonderfulness… so don’t make it an ego thing… you will only hurt yourself.

Some resources to get started:

Graywolf shares 13 tips to get you started for free

My DIY Website & Promotion on a ShoeString
Sugarrae on Launching the Local Website
Matt McGee’s Guide to Google Local
Seoish asks several experts what they would do with $100

Posted in Local Search | 2 Comments

Local Search #1 Rule And Surprise: Look Who’s Breaking It!

Local Search #1 Rule

  • Advertise on sites that a person would logically use when actively seeking to purchase from a business like yours.

A couple of examples… could you picture someone going to Google or and typing in your business category plus a geographic indicator? Yes.

But how about a blog like this one… would you go to the search box of this blog and do a local business search. No.

So, the conclusion is that small businesses should not advertise on Google’s content network… agreed?

This is certainly a debatable point, but my opinion is that small businesses should follow rule #1 closely. What surprises me is that a yellow page company doesn’t agree. After all, a yellow page ad is the purest form of this rule.

But look at this:

Local Search?

This is a page from a forum that is providing advice on aligning text with an image in XHTML. The ad placed by dex media is for a dentist promoting invisalign braces. It’s easy to assume that the Dentist is not likely to secure a patient from this ad.

Wonky Search Results Go With The Territory

Anyone who has done a search campaign has had their ad shown in wonky searches. I’m not beating up Dex for that. We will all do that at one time or another. But I am questioning whether or not they should put their advertisers on the content network.

I think the biggest reason advertisers trust yellow page companies with their search campaigns is because they believe intuitively that yellow page companies will naturally follow local search’s #1 rule.

I also think that search marketers who charge a percentage of spend need to hold themselves to a higher standard. A result like this could make it look like the person who set up the campaign was trying to increase spend. After all, on the content network this ad may only need to be shown, not even clicked, to drive revenue. As CPM is an option on the content network.

Confusion and difficulty is often cited as a big reason local businesses don’t participate more in search marketing. It does not need to be this complicated. Just don’t use the content network in local search.

For a list of the sites that I would recommend a small business consider see the image on this local search post.

Posted in Local Search | 1 Comment

Don’t Forget… Business Reviews Are Searchable

They found your site and they liked it… you charmed ‘em with that ‘about us’ smile… and they are just about to pick up the phone and call you… but they stop and think… “wonder what others are saying about this business.” Then back to Google and they type in:

Review + Your Business

What comes up? Do you know? Is it important?

A recent survey conducted by Nielsen Netratings found: (as quoted on the Kelsey Group Blog)

Favorable reviews in blogs play a key role in local purchase decisions – but only if the review comes from credible sources.

The use of the term blog here is strange, it makes me wonder if the sample is a little more web savvy than average, but it tells me that the review strategy of Fake
review optimization
isn’t the way to go.

Small Businesses Should Have A Good Review Strategy In Place

A good review strategy should start with Search Engines. Begin by doing a couple of simple searches in Google that include the word review: 1 for your business name + review and in the second use the business category. The goal here is to find the review site that Google is most likely to return for your business. The review sites Google returns will likely vary by geography and business category. So, play with the geography a little bit, if necessary.

Review Sites Returned by Google If you look at this search in Google, the geography I used was a state plus the category. In this case, Insider Pages was the top 2 results.

When I added Paramus, a city in NJ, the top were CitySearch and Yahoo! Local.

These 3 sites will be the first 3 I target.

I will begin with Yahoo! Local believing that if my name is typed in with the word review, this will be the first place Google looks.

First, I will verify my business with Yahoo! Local by doing a search for my business and then click on the update listing link. If you need to add your business go here. In either case, you will need to set up a Yahoo Account. Then make sure you have a listing on Insider Pages and CitySearch.

Next, is to just encourage your customers to go on and review you. Some business owners I have talked to about this are hesitant to bring it up because they don’t know how to do it. Simply, sign up with these sites and add a review. Go on and review your favorite pizza place. Write down each step you had to take to complete the process including signing up in an email. Copy and past the link into that email and save it. Repeat the process for each site you’re targeting. This pizza place will love you.

Some Will, Some Won’t, So What!

Next, just have a conversation with your customer. Ask them if they were happy with the work you did. If they were you have a good candidate. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind reviewing your business online. If they say yes, thank them and tell them that you will email them to make it easy. Send them the email and your done.

When you’re satisfied with the reviews on these sites, you should try and get some reviews on popular internet yellow pages such as and And don’t forget Google Maps.

You might later create a page on your site including all these reviews. Include the town of the reviewer at the end of each testimonial and you will have a page laden with great keywords.

And that’s it, you now have a solid review plan in place.

Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

Only 2435 Subscibers Short Of Andy Beard And Closing Fast… 3 RSS Power Tips

In this post, I will show you how to add subscribers at a blistering pace; as I have over the past month.

Power Tip #1 – The Awesome Default RSS Widget

Analytics Sits Overlay

This image is from the Google Analytics site overlay, which provides a graphical representation of the links on a page that are clicked most often.

This particular post was viewed 369 times on Saturday; and as you can see the little blue thing is farther to the right on the subscribe link than on any other. Indicating this was the most frequently clicked link on the page.

Now, what’s cool about this RSS widget is that when you click the subscribe link it does not bring you to feedburner, where you could actually subscribe to my blog, rather it brings you right back to the home page. So, you can see… I have effectively trapped my visitors.

The goal here is to frustrate your readers into finally clicking on the smallest rss icon anyone has ever seen.

Another cool feature of this rss widget is that you don’t need to know HTML or any coding at all to change what the link says. So, it would be easy to change the anchor text in this link to read: How to hose yourself 369 times in one day.

Power Tip #2 – Use Search Engines To Get Traffic

Search engines can be a great source of traffic to your blog and attract many new subscribers; so you’ll want to get as many pages of your site indexed as possible. This can easily be accomplished with the default settings of your blog and careful internal and external linking. As you can see by clicking on the image below, I was able to get many of my pages indexed 3 or 4 times. This is sure to help get more traffic.


Power Tip #3 – Multiple Domains

referring sites

Glance at the image and it’s easy to see how the default set-up of this blog provides an additional source of traffic.

As you can see, I was able to garner a visitor from in addition to traffic I already get from

The idiots at Google actually call this canonicalization, because they don’t see the power of an entirely new source of traffic… Myself.

And since I am not currently subscribed to this blog. This alone has the ability to drive my subscriber count up by more than 7%.

For New Bloggers

When you first get started blogging, you will probably hear a lot of crap about usability and seo. And believe me it is just that… crap. Pay it no mind and focus on developing great content.

Also, you will not only want to use many of the tips from this post, but also share them with your readers. As many bloggers are interested in getting new subscribers, and these tips are sure to make your new blog very popular.

Oh! You Don’t Believe Me? – Read ‘Em & Weep

Andy Beard’s Blog On Niche Marketing – Subscriber Count.

Andy Beard’s BlogVS.

My Feed Count


Now, all I need to do is keep up my torrid pace of adding new subscribers and I should catch Andy in 14½ years.

Edit: 11/07/07 – I finally changed the subscribe link; I hope this does not reduce your enjoyment of this post.  I should only need 13 years now.

Posted in RSS | 2 Comments

From 0 To PageRank 4 In 1 Month: Interview With Local Seo Andrew Shotland

Andrew Shotland-Local SeoI caught up with Andrew Shotland of Local Seo Guide yesterday between “a painful SEO audit” and Trick-or-Treating. The interview was done over the phone, and I found Andrew to be fast-paced and friendly; a let’s-get-it-done kinda guy. I emailed him to introduce myself and request an interview at 5:06 (EST) and had a reply at 5:31, suggesting we do it now.

Tim: Before we get started, I saw that your blog is one month old today, congrats… Could you tell me how you got your blog to a PR 4 with Yahoo reporting 2,700 backlinks in such a short time?

Andrew: It’s PR 4? Wow, I didn’t know that…woo-hoo! I wasted a lot of time on it… Ha…Ha. It’s a combo of the content and social networking. I started the blog because I was asked to speak at SMX… and they needed something to link to.

So, I was doing a lot of work in local and many of the blogs in the local space were essentially saying the same old thing…fill out the business profile and such. So, I thought I could contribute there.

I spent a lot of time socializing on Sphinn… way too much time on Sphinn (laugh). But I wanted to network with other marketers and bloggers. Although the stuff I’m writing is for small business I felt like I would have a hard time getting a plumber to read my blog. So, I am writing for 3 audiences: small businesses, people in the local search industry and search marketer/bloggers who can help me get the word out about what I’m doing.

Tim: You’re also one of the few A-listers in the space who post every day…

Andrew: A-lister? Ya, it get’s to be a pain in the ass…(chuckle) but I knew what I wanted to write about. I set-up an editorial calendar for the first 30 days, I approached it like I would a project for a client… So, I knew what I wanted to say. Now that we’re at 31 days, let’s see what happens.

[Editor’s Note: It was preparation and hard-work?…hrmmph! I was hoping for a quick tip or trick. :) ]

Tim: Do you recommend that small businesses set up a blog as well?

Andrew: Only if they have the time… most small businesses don’t have the time. The other thing they can do is set it up and just put up 9 or 10 posts and then leave it alone. That might help or it might not.

Tim: Ok, tell us a little about your background.

Andrew: I got into the Internet when I was at Showtime Networks. I launched their first website in 1994. I was doing some wacky stuff for them like live IRC chats from Mike Tyson fights… and then moved to

I did anything and everything over there: starting web services, investing in pre-IPO Web companies, and I ran for a while. It was different getting traffic then, so we started with the go online now and do this thing or that thing, back when it was still a novelty to watch TV and see a website promoted. I also started a network of local TV station websites, NBC-IN, so even back then I knew local was big!

I was at Insider Pages for 3 years. And the only way we were going to get traffic at the beginning was SEO. So, we would hire some consultants… and don’t get me wrong, they were smart and they knew their stuff but they were busy… and there was something about the level of service they could provide that wasn’t enough… so I would learn a thing or two here and there and pretty soon we were getting 3 milllion visitors a month. Entirely through SEO… it was exciting and very addictive. But I would make rookie mistakes too… like create some weird duplicate content issue and then boom… we’d lose all the traffic.

Then Insider Pages got sold and I left. Around that time a guy I knew had a huge site and he was adding a new feature. So, I happened to ask him… What’s your SEO strategy?… and he looked at me like I had 3 heads. So, I told him to send me the wireframes and I would have a look at them. He liked what I had to say and ended up being my first client. So now, almost by accident, I’m an SEO consultant.

Tim: I saw that you were recruiting on Sphinn. When I first read your blog, you hadn’t opened the door yet… and now they’re banging it down?

Andrew: Well it comes down to… how much business can I take on and still provide the level of service I want to. Every business has a reason for being in business or what they sell… for me that’s service. I can grow my business and still provide an excellent level of service to my clients.

Tim: How was Sphinn as a recruiting tool?

Andrew: It is a very high quality audience that hangs out at Sphinn. And I found 2 very qualified candidates.

Tim: I can’t let you go without asking this. At a high level, what are the first 5 things you would recommend for a Plumber or a Lawyer just starting a website?

Andrew: The first is to figure out what they want the the website to do… is it lead generation? Lead generation is easy to say… but for some businesses it could be about retention or something else.

Next, is to decide how much effort? If they don’t have the time the best thing maybe just local launch or webvisible, PPC and such.

Next, they need to understand their potential customer… what words will the potential customer type in… a couple of tools we use: and google’s keyword tool is good too. And ask where they are searching?

Then of course, it couldn’t hurt to hire a skilled SEO or make sure the web developer understands a little about SEO. They don’t have to be an expert, but you don’t want one who is going to tell the client, hey make the title tag this… and then there goes all the traffic. The general level of knowledge is improving though because there are a lot of smart people out there blogging and telling everyone how to do it.

They should also talk to someone they know who is already doing it… if you’re a plumber talk to an electrician who’s had some success and so on…

Good Advice… Thanks Andrew.

And don’t forget to link to my blog with the words “local search engine optimization” in the anchor text! :)

Posted in Interviews | 43 Comments

Increase CTR And Conversions By Reading Your Customer’s Mind

What is a person looking for when they go to a search engine and type in:

‘Painter Paramus NJ’ ?

Because of the geographic indicator, we can probably rule out Van Gogh, Mona Lisa and that stuff. So, it is presumably a house painter. But let’s go further… can we guess their intent? Do they want their whole house painted, the interior painted or the exterior painted? I would bet a majority are looking for either an exterior painter or an interior painter. So, If I guess right, will the searcher be more likely to click on my ad? Which one would you click on if you were looking for an interior painter?

adwordpainting.gif adwordpainter2.gif

Both mention interior… but in the first ad we created the “appearance of specialization”, which could lead to the searcher having a predisposition to doing business with us. The second ad, that is trying to be everything to everyone, ends up being lost in the crowd.

Let’s try another in the uber competitive Insurance industry.


Now here again, we will not get a response from most of the searchers. If they are over 25 they’re lost… for sure. But how about those between 17-24? That group would need to be handcuffed in order to not click on this ad. And here again by targeting them specifically, we should create in the searcher a predisposition to do business with us, which would lead to higher conversions. And if we get a majority of the clicks from one group, that could push the CTR higher than getting a low number of clicks from everyone.


To use this concept for your business, just try and guess a specific intent of the search and match it with the copy. Be willing to say no to one group, so that you are the one and only choice for a subgroup.

Obviously, with all of the ads shown you will want to create a landing page specifically for that ad. Please don’t take them to the home page.

Then test the CTR with a simple split-test against the ad you’re currently using.

To test conversion, use this concept in a keyword that has essentially the same intent as another one of your keywords, i.e. Home Painter vs. House Painter, Car Insurance vs. Auto Insurance. And then compare the conversions of the 2 ad groups. You will be measuring your ability to create purchase intent on the search page. Which is pretty cool!

Small Business Commando has a very good post on using targeted copy while expanding keywords to get more traffic

***Note – This post was inspired by the work of Kerry Randall, with whom I once spent 10 minutes on the phone and was inspired. That says a lot about him, doesn’t it… and I continue to be inspired by his writing. Tragically, Kerry died in 2005 at a much too early age. His book, anachronistically titled
Win The Yellow Pages War
(not an aff link), is as appropriate and inspiring for local search marketing as it is for Yellow Pages.

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