One of the reasons I enjoy search is because it’s like a game. There are winners, there are losers, and by searching for your keywords in Google, you can see, with a certain level of certainty, to which of these two groups you belong.
A very hot topic in the search industry is local search and local ranking factors. David Mihm has done a great job of creating and curating content on this subject, so if you’re looking for resources to expand upon what I have written, be sure to check out his stuff here, here and here.
Before I go further, Google your “money” keyword. This would be the keyword that someone would type into a search engine to find your business. For example, if your restaurant specializes in raw fish and sake, your money keyword would probably be “sushi.”
The cool thing about a game is there can only be one first place. The rest are people who need to work a little harder to try and claim that top spot. So, if your business is first place in Google for your money keyword, congratulations! For the rest of us, you may want to keep reading…
Since we’re using the keyword “sushi” as an example, let’s explore why one restaurant may be ranking ahead of another. Searching from Old City, Philadelphia, here is what I see when I search for the keyword “sushi:”
In the eyes of Google, Vic Sushi Bar is a better sushi restaurant than Raw Sushi. What has Vic done to earn this spot? Let’s explore a few resources that Google factors in when determining rankings.
As we move more toward a social internet experience, the web has become somewhat of a popularity contest. Google can’t physically go into both Vic and Raw and taste the sushi, so it has to depend of people like you and me to do the work for them.
That’s why Google has been pushing the Google+ network – they want to learn as much as they can about you, not only so they can serve you better ads, but also so they can return better search results. The better the results, the less likely you are to use their competitor, Bing.
So, let’s first look at the number of reviews. Raw Sushi is killing it with the quantity of reviews. They should be winning, right? Well, just like in life, quality is so much better than quantity.
Let’s dissect this for a minute.
Google has access to so much data, they’re not only able to make sense out of words on a page, but in my opinion, I believe they’re also able to understand sentiment. Basically, Google knows that I like a product when I say it is “awesome,” and they know that I don’t care too much for it when I say that “it sucks.” Let’s find out what people are saying about both of these restaurants.
By clicking on the reviews, Google actually shows me some of the comments that it has compiled. I can keep clicking “more reviews” until I can see them all. Once all of the reviews are loaded, I can then determine what sentiment people are using to describe the business. I am a little lazy when it comes to things like this, so I use a tool called TagCrowd to show me what the most common terms were. After copy/pasting all of the reviews, I drop them in this tag cloud and you can see the difference between the two.
[PRO TIP: find/replace all of the instances of the terms like ‘Zagat,’ ‘years ago,’ ‘year ago,’ ‘Google’ and ‘user’ as these terms mean very little in this exercise.]
Vic Sushi Bar:
While sushi is the #1 word that sticks out for both (which makes sense as to why they rank really well for that term), take a look at what others stick out for Raw:
Now, let’s look at the terms that stick out for Vic:
Do you see the difference here? While Raw has more reviews, it seems that Vic has more reviews where people speak about their restaurant in a positive light. I seriously believe this is a big part of what Google uses to determine if something is good or not – the fact that other people actually say so, too.
2. Google Places
The sushi (and restaurant industry overall) is VERY competitive. You don’t build a website today and expect to rank for your money term tomorrow. So let’s look at a different term like “auto body shops.” Again, searching for this term implies local intent, so let’s take a look at the results (again, searching from Old City, Philadelphia). As you can see, both Nigro’s and Classic Body Worx have Google Places accounts, but there are a few subtle differences.
- Nigro’s account is claimed and Classic’s is not.
- Nigro’s has the word “auto body repair” in the title while the others don’t.
These may seem like small things, but each of these are very important.
I spoke a little bit about claiming a local business here, but as a refresher, by claiming your Google Places account, it shows that you’re doing the right things to build a comprehensive web presence. Google loves this, and so do your users.
If you’re like me and want to learn more about a business before becoming a customer, you’ll look up a company’s Twitter/Facebook and any other social account they may have. Nigro’s has done the basic stuff here, which is another reason why Google has rewarded them.
By claiming your Google Places page, you have the option to add pics, update the headline and even add hours. For example, I’m searching at 5:25pm. Google may not know if any of these businesses are open after normal business hours, so they may not want to risk showing you those results in case they’re closed. Consequently, they may show less love to the non-claimed account than the claimed one.
Also, by claiming your Places account, you have the option to add in your money keywords, such as a derivation of “auto body shop,” which Nigro’s has done an excellent job of. Google has highlighted this and my eye goes straight to it.
Forget what people say about link building being dead. If Matt Cutts is still toying with link networks, then you better believe that there’s still a lot of value in building links. Besides, when have you ever seen Google penalize a site for adding too many words to the meta keywords section? That said, how does your website’s links stack up against your competitors?
Let’s look at another local term like “Nissan dealer:”
Chapman is in the lead here, and that can be for multiple reasons, but for starters, let’s look at their backlink profile using the free version of OpenSiteExplorer (OSE.) By plugging both of these URLs into the OSE tool, we can see that Chapman has links from 25 separate domains, compared to Faulkner’s 8 domains.
The free version of OSE also gives you some information on what the domains are, so you can focus your attention on building some of the same links which include Dmoz, ChapmanNissanService (microsite) and SouthPhillyOnline (geo-targeted link). If I was the marketing manager for Faulkner or any of the other dealers behind Chapman, this is where I would focus my attention after I’ve exhausted the first two items.
Did you find any of these tools helpful? Are there any other tools that you would add to this list? Leave a message in the comments and I’ll respond to any questions you may have.
Or, if you’re ready to take your competitor analysis to the next level, check out this free webinar replay: How To Analyze And Crush Your Competitors’ SEO Strategies!