When search engine employees appear on panels at SEO/SEM conferences, they’re usually hamstrung by company PR regulations about what they’re allowed to say. And usually, they’re not allowed to say much. There are exceptions, of course, but one of the more common phrases you’ll hear from SE reps is “I can’t say anything more than that.” It’s great that they attend, but it stinks that they often can’t answer questions.
There was an exception to this during SMX West: The “Local Search & Blended Results” session on day one. Google didn’t have a rep there, but Brian Gill of Yahoo! and Kevin Hagwell of MSN Live Search both answered the crowd’s questions more fully than I expected.
Here’s the Good Part
Most of the Q&A was about user ratings and reviews, and their impact/importance on local search results. At one point while I was being the Q&A Moderator, I had to stop what I was doing and grab a pen and paper to take notes. Brian Gill was talking about the Yahoo “Local Shortcut” — when they show three local business listings in the regular Yahoo SERPs. Here’s what he said:
Reviews and ratings have no impact on reaching those top three spots in the regular SERPs.
He said they do play a role in the Yahoo Local rankings, but not on the main Yahoo SERPs. So, when you do a search for something like [italian restaurants seattle] on Yahoo, user reviews don’t factor into the three results you see:
Innaresting, isn’t it? The above screenshot seems to prove it right: The top-listed business has zero reviews, but has the keyword in its business name and is located close to the city centroid. The second business has a good location to go along with all those reviews. The third business has a terrible location — far away from the city centroid — but has the keyword in its name.
Brian also told the crowd that your business’s local category is a very important piece of the local SEO puzzle. I didn’t check categories on those three results (this isn’t a scientific study!).
That local session was easily my favorite of the week, but there were several other good ones, too. I spoke with one gentlemen who works for a national retailer and is just getting into search marketing; he told me he found the conference excellent, and planned to get other people at his company to attend in the future.
That bodes well for the future.