No, Local SEO Isn’t Dead … But It Is a Wee Bit Harder

Filed in Featured, Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on July 22, 2011 17 Comments

local-search-globeYou probably know by now that Google launched a new-look Place Page yesterday. The major changes, as I wrote on Search Engine Land, are a heavy emphasis on Google’s self-sourced reviews and the elimination of citations/references from displaying on Places Pages. Say what?!? No more citations on Place Pages? Yes … but don’t let anyone convince you that citations, or local SEO in general, are dead. Here’s why:

Why Local SEO Doesn’t Change

1.) Citations may not be visible, but they surely still matter.

Don’t (ever!) forget the three pieces of the Google local rankings algorithm: location, relevance, and prominence. Those are straight from Google, not something us consultants have made up.

Citations are still a primary way Google learns about a local business’ location. Citations also impact prominence: the more citations, the more prominent the business (in a very simplified way of looking at things).

2.) It’s like what Google has already done with links.

If we all agree that citations are the local version of links, and we do all agree on that, then think back a few years for some precedence: Google killed the LINK: search command so that people couldn’t see a page’s inbound links. But that didn’t mean that links were less important to ranking. Many would argue that links are more important to rankings today than ever. (In fact, there’s an excellent discussion on Sphinn about that exact topic this week.)

Likewise, I couldn’t imagine that citations/references are suddenly meaningless in the local algorithm. If they’re less important today — and that’s a debate we should have sometime — don’t blame the fact that they don’t appear on Place Pages now. Blame the introduction of “blended” local results that Google launched last October. Regular, on-page SEO became much more important with that change, quite possibly slightly minimizing the impact of citations at the same time.

3.) Local SEO is about more than citations.

No matter how important citations are, there’s a lot more involved in Google maps optimization and local SEO, in general. Consistent NAP data (name, address, phone), correct categorization in local business listings, solid on-page SEO — these are all extremely important today, and will be tomorrow, too.

Local SEO: Actually a Bit Harder Now

With citations now gone from Place Pages, it’ll be a bit harder to reverse engineer a competitor’s citations and web references. Now, you pretty much have to rely on tools to do this for you. I’d still recommend Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder — see my write-up of it from last summer for more details about how it works. I checked with Darren Shaw today and he says that Google’s Place Page changes have no impact on the tool’s ability to identify local citations.

Google’s decision to minimize third-party reviews also makes it a little harder to find all the sites where competitors might be getting exposure, but as with citations, this doesn’t mean reviews are any less important. It’s still smart to encourage your customers to say good things about you on whatever site they like to us — Twitter, Facebook, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Avvo … wherever!

Final Thoughts

Here are some other articles you should read regarding Google’s Place Page changes:

I don’t think you’ll find anything about “Local SEO is dead” in those articles. If you find anyone else saying that somewhere else, ignore them. Or give them the link to this article.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.)

Comments (17)

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  1. I got a confirmation call from the big G today asking about updating my Google 411 listing and Google Business page. I had thought they cancelled the Google 411 project, so it was a suprising call.

  2. Matt Siltala says:

    I am really looking forward to seeing where this all goes. Yelp gets what it wants, but I know at the same time they are hoping G doesn’t go beyond this and take away all their lovely organic rankings. If G decided to just devalue them .. the loss in traffic would be huge. Yelp still wins in mobile app search right now, but who knows – maybe G will be stepping up its game. It’s gonna get interesting! Awesome post Matt … thanks

  3. Linda Buquet says:

    Great points Matt and thanks so much for mentioning my post.

    Good to see the emphasis on citations, since most are concentrating on the more obvious change, the reviews. But citations carry more weight so it’s important to cover.

  4. Great post – no local SEO isn’t dead. Google has just made the efforts to gain top local rankings some what more challenging.

    We will probably see more tools like Whitespark’s in the future.

  5. Matt Raynes says:

    Thanks for the insight Matt. Citations go a long way in proving relevancy to G and why shouldn’t they. The more effort placed off the page will not go unnoticed.

  6. Mary Bowling says:

    Hey Matt, I totally agree with you! Citation and review sources still matter A LOT and you can still find them if you know how. Some local tools have probably lost much of their usefulness with this update, but Whitespark can still do its work.

  7. Great article Matt,

    As a SMB owner, the changes come so fast and furious these days they’re hard to keep up with, so I appreciate the info being so easy to interpret.

    With a brand new NAP as of about a month ago, I have been accumulating reviews on 3rd party sites (IYPs, Yelp, Citysearch, etc.). I’ve been making good headway only to read the changes with Places, so it’s nice to know these reviews still hold value.

    While I wait (weeks? months?) for Google to create a cluster around this new NAP so I can claim my listing, should I continue to accumulate reviews with 3rd party sites? By the sounds of it, it’s a good idea.

    Thanks again!

    • Matt McGee says:

      Keith – yes, having strong reviews on a variety of sites is always a good idea, no matter what Google is up to with Places Pages, algo changes, or whatever else. 🙂

  8. Phil Britton says:

    I really like the symmetry you’re drawing here when comparing the disappearing citations to the ‘link:’ command. This is a great point and represents Local SEO ‘maturing’. When viewing inbound links went away nobody said linking strategies were dead, more likely the opposite is true. Linking strategies are a fundamental ‘no-brainer’ when doing SEO exercises: as Local SEO continues to mature it will be known that citations are a prerequisite.

    It will be very interesting to see this play out, I have a feeling there are more changes to come. Try to login to your Google+ account and edit your employment history…integrating businesses with employees, is location next?

  9. Matt says:

    There is always a blind panic when Google makes any change and a lot of bloggers rush to write attention grabbing posts with out really thinking it through.

    Like you say, there is no way Google are going to disregard all that information held in 3rd reviews, they simply won’t scrape and publish them. They would be mad to stop using the content as a ranking signal altogether, and there results would be poorer for it.

  10. Hi Matt,

    This is a well-balanced and sensible post.

    I laugh when I read the “something is dead” type posts. People need to appreciate that the web is constantly evolving, we’d all be complaining if it was just the same as it was 10 years ago.

    I do wish Google would give a bit more warning about these changes though rather than just spring them on people out of the blue.

  11. Ben Fisher says:

    I’ve been trying hard lately to get my business listing ranking higher and just haven’t had any success. Thanks for the tips on this maybe I can get it higher in the rankings.

  12. Nice write-up, Matt! Yes, I agree — suppression of display of citations info does not at all mean it’s gone away as a ranking factor.

  13. james ascot says:

    I hope they remove the review sites from the rankings where you have to pay to register your business as they unfairly favour large company’s with large budgets.

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