No wonder local Internet marketing is a mystery to many SMB's and even much larger businesses and organizations. Setting aside the fact that there are so many different channels, sites, directories etc that need to be considered, there is a new (and somewhat unfortunate) aspect that is creeping into the picture: complexity.
Take Google, for instance. I was speaking in front of a group of non-profit organizations in Norfolk, VA last week. There were 70 organizations in attendance. When I asked how many of these organizations had verified their Google Place Page, only five raised their hands and the other 65 tilted their heads in a "What is he talking about?" fashion. This falls just below Google's actual verified Place Page run rate of 10% of listings but it was the realization that most didn't even know what I was talking about which was most shocking.
Now that they know, they are in for a real treat, right? They can now open the door to real local online marketing success, right? Let's hope so, but now they are about to enter the world of "I thought this was just about verifying a place page?!" This world has a great lead-in with the promise of at least doing something in the local space online. Once you enter the doors, though, it starts to get pretty hairy pretty fast.
Imagine you go from "What is a place page?" to the following:
- Why don't I have any reviews and how do I get them?
- Hey, I had all these reviews and now they are gone! How do I get them back?
- What is a Rich Snippet?
- What is hReview markup?
- What is Google Hotpot?
- Are Hotpot and Google Latitude the same thing? If not how so they work together ) if at all)?
- Why do I keep getting multiple listings?
- Why do my competitors show up in the search results ahead of me when I have followed all the rules and they haven't?
- Why isn't there any real support from Google?
- What are Tags?
- What is Boost?
The list can go on for quite a while, and that's just about Google's Place Pages! What about Yelp, Citysearch, foursquare etc.?
Now, imagine you are an SMB trying to research just how to navigate this landscape and you are pointed to one of the experts in the space, Mike Blumenthal. His blog is about understanding these Place Pages and his post from February 8th contains the following response to a question regarding testimonials as reviews on an SMB website. The response is from Carter Maslan who is the front facing voice of Google for the Place Page crowd. His answer to Mike's question reads:
An authentic testimonial is really nothing more than a glowingly positive user review that the business owner has hand-chosen to feature because it speaks so highly of the business. There's nothing wrong with that—especially if there are avenues to corroborate the authenticity of the author and review (e.g. "reviewer" attribute referencing the hcard of a real person that might have originally posted comments on a blog or review site). The FAQ below was intended to convey that we try to classify reviews wherever they're found on the Web but that we also aim to protect users from spam.
The use of hReview or other structured HTML formats on any site is just an aid in understanding the page more precisely. Ranking tries to steer clear of suspicious testimonials regardless of whether they're marked-up or not on an SMB's own site. Bottom line - it's not that we always score testimonials on business home pages as spammy but rather that white-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.
Industry types would understand at least portions of that response but the average SMB? Might as well provide your answers in Mandarin Chinese.
All of this is to say that while the concept of local Internet marketing is great for conversation and it sounds like the easy path to success in an increasingly digital world, it simply is not. It is very complex and, as a result, more and more SMBs will be made aware of the opportunity but left in the dust because of the complexity.
It's our job as an industry to make this less about mystery and more about potential. The SMB market is extremely large yet still relatively untapped online. I suspect that this is due to the Internet industry's inability to make it easy enough for the do-it-yourselfers in the SMB space and to make it coherent enough for the "I want someone to do this because I see value but I don't have the time or knowledge to do it" set.
Personally, I feel we are a long way off from either solution being put together well enough to engage more businesses and help them reap the benefits of well-executed local Internet marketing efforts. My goal is to make it more accessible for this important part of the American economy. How will I do it? Still working that out but it seems like something worth the effort.
What's your take?
Originally published on Mike Moran's Biznology