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Google Maps PPC and SEO Tips

May 26th, 2011

google maps ppcIn a modern world fueled by technology and globalization, it is tempting to focus only on the global and ignore the local. But Google, if recent developments are any indication, has not. Don’t focus so much on making a sale thousands of miles away that you forget about the potential customer right down the street.

What are the three most-important words in business strategy?

When I was in college, I returned to my house at Boston University after a late-night shift at a journalism internship at The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, about half an hour southeast on the subway. I logged onto my computer and saw that my roommate just down the hall was on AOL Instant Messenger. (Do people still use that?) I had rushed out of the newsroom to cover a shooting at a Quincy mall and was still wired afterward as a result, so I could not sleep.

So, what did I do? Instead of walking ten feet and knock on my friend’s door, we chatted on AOL IM for a half-hour. We were using the Internet to connect with people right next door. For all of the cliches about the Internet opening the global door for business, people are still using the technology to research, shop, and connect locally. And Google, in its supposedly-infinite wisdom, knows that.

The search-engine giant recently announced that the company is experimenting with the placement of hotel prices next to local searches in Google Maps. As PPC Blog notes, the search-engine giant also began inserting Adwords prices next to search results.

So, the obvious question: How can your business appear in these search results? Peak Web Marketing accurately opines:

The two main factors that influence website rankings in Google Maps and Yahoo Local, are back-links from other local directories and user generated reviews. Simply, get your website in the following search engines, popular local search sites, local directories, and yellow pages. (emphasis original)

The art of gaining quality backlinks is greatly misunderstood. Some just spend hours submitting their sites manually to junk directories one-by-one (or still worse, using sketchy SEO-software to submit the entries en masse). Others use black-hat SEO software (and thereby guaranteeing an eventual SERP-smackdown from Google).

(Personally, I do neither — though I can only speak for myself. My general principle has always been to publish quality content here and at my Considerations journalism-blog while knowing that the links will come naturally. Well, at least if people like the content. Any large-scale, link-building push that is too fast, too soon risks looking artificial and “fishy” to Google.)

But many marketers who do actively try to increase their number of backlinks go about it the wrong way. First, it is not the number of individual links that matters; the number of linking domains is also important. If I place a link on my blogroll, that will be dozens or hundreds of links (one on each blog post) but from one domain. In other words, it was a decision by one webmaster that a site is important. So, Google considers the number of linking domains as the number of individual decisions regarding what sites should be “authoritative.” Increasing the number of links from a single domain will provide diminishing returns.

Second, links need to be relevant. If you run a baseball website, a link from a forex website will do less than you think. Google prioritizes links from sites that are in the same industry or have the same theme. If my baseball site links to your baseball site, then I — as a baseball expert — am recognizing the other site as an authority. The same theory holds true in SEO and online marketing. As Peak Web Marketing notes, local backlinks to a local business are more beneficial than a random link from directory somewhere.

Advice for Google Maps PPC Strategy

Still, what I find interesting about Google Maps PPC personally is the business implications. When I was a newspaper editor and publisher in Boston, I experienced first-hand the tension between the twin goals of any newspaper (or any media-outlet): to provide a public service while maximizing profit at the same time. I cannot cite a source, but I remember a BU journalism-professor once telling my class that the circulation of the Boston Herald would increase by thousands on any day that the newspaper would put the Red Sox on Page One with a good photo. So, each day brought a choice: Do we find any excuse to put the team on the cover, or do we place a story there that is actually the most newsworthy? The possible examples are numerous.

I fear that Google is dealing with the same issue. PPC blog also makes an intriguing observation:

So the blur between paid and organic continues it’s inevitable march forward.

It’s also of note that Google has chosen affiliate sites like Expedia and Priceline as their preferred advertiser testing partners for this experiment, not the hotels themselves…

It will be interesting to see how this progresses, and what other verticals it shows up in. (emphasis original)

Google’s famous — or perhaps infamous — slogan is “Don’t Be Evil,” but the choice the company must be facing is clear: Are search results in Google Maps prioritized based first on relevance and second on potential revenue — or the inverse? The choice must always be made since the two priorities rarely match perfectly.

The issue remains to be seen. But Google, for the record, stated the following:

This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.

For more information and resources, I also recommend these posts by Web Salad, David Mihm, and SEO Boca Raton. I also suggest prior posts on SEM-video resources, tips for when you want to download PPC-software, advice from SEM wikipedia on off-page SEO factors, and how to use Google external-keyword tools for mean SEM.

Regardless, the importance of local search will increase just as global marketing does the same. At the beginning, I asked, “What are the three most-important words in business strategy?” For those who may have forgotten, the answer: Location, location, location.

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.