Google released a new update to their Local Search algorithm a few days ago and it may mean big changes in how your Google+ Local Page and website rank in the local search results.

The Pigeon update (informally named so by Search Engine Land), is not a penalty based update like the Penguin (bad links) and Panda (bad content) updates, but a change in the overall algorithm that determines how Google+ Local Pages and websites rank in the local search results.

While it's still early to know all of the details of the update, here are some of the details being pushed out by some of the authority SEO sites on the web.  The update is currently only in the U.S., but Google says it will eventually be rolling it out to other countries.

So what do you need to know?

Higher Emphasis on Strong Domains

It looks like the Pigeon update is placing a higher emphasis on the strength and domain authority of the website itself, meaning stronger domains are getting a boost in the local search results.  The local search algorithm that Google uses is different from the main search algorithm, though there is overlap in the signals they use to determine rankings in the search results.

While domain strength has always been a factor, it seems that Google is placing a higher emphasis on the website itself to determine local rankings.

So what should you do?

If you've had success before with your Google+ Local Page in the past and didn't pay much attention to your actual website, it may be time to change that.  Many Google+ Local Pages can rank highly regardless of your website if it the page is setup correctly and it has a lot of customer reviews.  While these factors will still play a big role, businesses should take a look at their websites and make sure they remain accurate and updated with fresh content.

Directories Have Made Gains

Big directories seem to have made major gains with the new update.  If you look at this sample local search for “plumber san francisco”, you'll see that Yelp dominates the local search results.  Numerous local seo blogs are reporting similar results for other local search terms.  Hopefully this over-emphasis on directories will iron itself out once Google makes some tweaks to the algorithm, but it looks like directories got a win here.

 

plumber-san-francisco

 

 

So what should you do?

If directories are showing up in the local search results for your main keyword terms, it may make sense to start building a presence on that directory and get some reviews posted there.  I'm not a fan of paying for directory listings, luckily most of the major ones are free to use.

Just like with local seo before, getting a profile and proper citations on high quality directories is always a good idea.  It helps Google determine that you're a legit business in the area and gives them the confidence to rank you in the search results.

Changes In How The Local Listing Packs Display

For many local searches in Google, they will display what's called a “Map Result” or “7 Pack” listing.  This is a search result where the Google Map displays along with a list of local businesses.  Early tests have seen that these types of results have been reduced, some say by as much as 23%.  It's too early to tell how much these types of results will be affected, but it looks they will be showing up less often.

gogole-local-7-pack-example

What should you do?

Make sure your website is optimized for your local area and you are doing things to increase the domain strength of your website.  Making sure your NAP (name, Address, Phone#) are displayed prominently and accurately, adding fresh content and getting links back to your website are all ways to increase the strength of your website over time.  Basically, time to do some SEO on your website.

Local Carousel Seems Unaffected

While the Carousel only shows up for a very small number of search results and only for specific searches (like restaurants),  it appears that it is unaffected so far with the Pigeon update.

So what should you do?

To get the most out of search results that feature the Carousel, make sure you have high quality images uploaded to your Google+ Local Page as well as customer reviews, as these are both highlighted in the Carousel.

Google-Carousel-sample

 

 

If you're new to Local SEO or need to go back and do a refresh, here are some general tips for you.

Make sure you have a Google+ Local Page

If you don't have one (it used to be called a Google Places page), make sure you go and set one up, it's free.  If you do have a page, now is a good time to login and review your listing.  Makes sure the listing is live,  information is accurate, you have uploaded nice images to your listing and that you have a process in place to get some more customer reviews.

Customer Reviews

Now is a good time to look at how many customer reviews you have online, not only in Google, but on the major directories like Yelp and Yellow Pages.  If your reviews are lacking, now is a good time to start calling people to write reviews for you.

Local Information on your website

Review your website and make sure that your location information is displayed prominently throughout your website.  I like to display location information in the footer so it shows up on every page of the website.  At the very least, make sure you have it written out on your contact us page.

Make sure your NAP is accurate

Make sure that your NAP (Name, Address, Phone#) are accurate and the NAP on your website is the same on your Google+ Local Page.  If you run a Google search on your phone number (the most distinct item out of the three), you'll be able to see other websites that have your information and can check to see if it is accurate.  If you are in the U.S., you can also go to Getlisted.org (now MOZ Local) and run a check of your website to see where you are listed.

Have a question about local seo?  You can contact me here.

Good Question.  If you're a new business or one that's just starting to focus on online marketing, this is a good question to get you started in the brainstorming process so you can decide which marketing channels will work best for you.

You probably shouldn't try to do everything, but focus your efforts on just a few and expand as you have success with each channel.  It also depends on how much time and money you have to spend.  Some channels depend more on time, like social media, while others require money, like Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.

We're going to talk about the broad channels available to you to drive traffic to your website, but within each one are specific platforms you can use, so there are lots of choices and decisions to be made.  So if you decide to focus on social media, then you'll also have to decide on which platforms to use, such as Twitter, Pinterest or the ever frustrating Facebook.  I'm not going to dive into every option, that'll be for you to decide where to start.

My suggestion is before you spend any time or money trying to drive traffic to your site, is that you make sure it's ready to receive your visitors and hopefully turn them into customers.  Good copy (the words on the page), logical navigation and a great offer/call to action are just some of the basic things you will need to make sure you have in place before you driving traffic to your website.

Driving traffic to your website

This isn't a complete list, I'm sure there are ways to drive traffic I don't even know about (after doing it for 7 years), but I've done all of the below at some point in time and know that they all work.  It really comes down to how good you are at executing and how much resources (in time or money) you are ready to invest.

Current Contacts

This is usually a good starting point.  You take your family, friends, former co-workers and just about anyone else you've ever come in contact with and ask them to check out your new website.  Yes, you're probably not driving new potential customers, but they play an important role for your new website.

You want to ask them (or beg them) to do one of two things for you as a personal favor.  You'll want them to Like, Tweet, Pin or Share your website on their social media channels which will give you some intital exposure and send some positive signals to the search engines that your new website is something worth checking out.  The other thing you will want them to do which might be a tougher sell is to leave reviews online for your new business.  Google reviews for your Google+ Local Page are my favorite, but it depends on your type of business.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) might seem mysterious to someone new to online marketing.  It's one of those things that every business owner has heard of, they know they need it, but don't have a clue how to get started doing it.  You're not alone.  The SEO space moves so rapidly that people that do it as a profession (myself included) can have trouble keeping up with all of the changes.  But if you are someone who has patience and is ready to invest for the long haul, SEO can be the most powerful channel for driving qualified traffic to your site.

The big issue with SEO is that it takes time.  And depending on your industry and the resources you put behind it, a lot of time.  You may be spending time and money on activities that may not see fruition for several months down the road.  And if you do it wrong or hire the wrong people, you may be wasting your time and money.

My best recommendation?  Work on shorter term channels first that will start delivering traffic and customers for your business first.  Pay Per Click advertising is an example of a channel that will drive qualified traffic fast.  And once you have some revenue going and get your feet wet online, look into planting some SEO seeds for your business.  If you are one of the few (the majority quit long before they see results) that are patient enough to invest in good SEO, you'll be amazed at how it can snowball into a constant flood of high quality leads for your business.

Pay Per Click Advertising

If your campaign is set up properly, Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising can be a great way to drive leads very quickly for your business.  The problem?  It's kind of complicated to setup and most people that try and do it themselves end up doing a poor job and wasting their advertising dollars.  If you have no idea what PPC advertising is, click here to learn more about it.

PPC advertising works and it works fast.  You can create a a campaign and start driving quality leads to your website in an afternoon.  You just need to have someone set it up properly for you.  You also need to have money set aside to pay for the advertising spend and possibly to pay for someone to manage the account for you.  Google, which is the largest PPC platform online, will tell business owners it's really easy and they can do it themselves.  They even have specialists that will help set up the campaign.  As a Google Partner for the last 4 years, from my experience, it is not easy to setup an effective PPC campaign yourself and the reps they employ to help you setup an account often don't know much more than you do, at least from my experience.

Display Banner Ads

Display Banner Ads are the image banners you see when you go to sites like Yahoo or The New York Times.  They can be images, animated images or videos.  You can use a platform like Google Adwords to run your display banner campaign or you can work directly with a website that offers advertising and place your image banner on their site for a fee.  Typically you will either use a Pay Per Click model where you pay only when someone clicks on your banner and goes to your website, or a CPM model, where you pay a set price for every 1,000 impressions your banner gets.

My suggestion is to use a platform like Google Adwords to run your campaign as it gives you the ability to show your banner ads on thousands of websites in your target market.  Just like with Pay Per Click, it's not something you would want to try and set up yourself as you can waste a ton of money is wasted advertising trying to get it working right.

I'm actually not a huge fan of banner ads, but it's a good and cheap way to get your brand in front of lots of people online.  It works sort of like an online billboard.  The real power of banner ads is if you run a remarketing campaign where you can pretty much follow people online after they've left your website and show your banners wherever they go.  If you want an example of how it works, just go to any major online shoe store and look at some shoes.  After you leave the site, watch what happens as you surf the net.  Click here if you want to learn more about remarketing.

Social Media

I'll keep this section short and sweet.  Everyone knows what social media is and what the major platforms are.  If you want to drive traffic using social media, you'll need to decide what platform is best for you and start building a following by being super useful and interesting.

This is a channel that does't really cost anything but can literally suck up every minute of your day (without results) if you don't manage it properly.  Social Media Examiner is a good site for learning all about using social media.

Social Media Advertising

Every major social media platform has some sort of paid advertising available for businesses.  It comes down to which platform has your target market.  LinkedIn is good for BtoB, Twitter is good for younger and tech savvy crowds and Facebook can be good for a wide range of consumer audiences.

The thing with advertising on social media is that you still have to keep it social.  People tend to frown upon direct sell ads (unless it's an insane deal you're offering) so you'll have to be a bit more creative with your offerings.  This also means that you might be taking a roundabout way of getting customers which might not drive sales right away.  You may have to start with trying to get people back to your site to read an interesting article or trying to get them on your email list and then trying to sell to them.  Click Here for some examples of where you can advertise online.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is probably an advanced marketing technique, especially online.  But you can start an affiliate campaign online or offline and drive traffic to your website.  In short, affiliate marketing is when you offer another person or business a percentage of your profits if they send leads to your business and they end up making a purchase.

The nice thing with this model is that you only pay when a sale is made, saving you lots of money up front.  The downside is that you usually have to offer a big piece of the pie (sometimes over 50%) to get others to want to participate in your affiliate program.

For a new business, an example would be to work out a deal with another business that has a similar customer base as yours.  You strike a deal with them where they will promote your business or specific offer to their customers and whenever a sale is made, you cut them a commission check.  You might track this with a special offer code or use affiliate software if you are making sales online.  Pretty much every retailer has some sort of affiliate marketing program setup.  Amazon.com has the largest, you can learn more about it here to get some ideas.

Email Marketing

A good email list can be your most powerful online method for driving sales for your business.  But as a new business, you may not have a big list to market to.  A great option is to leverage another businesses email list.  Find a business with a similar customer base and see if you can work out a deal with them.  One of the easiest methods I've found to to run a contest or promotional offer exclusively for that business's customers.  Maybe give away a gift basket of your stuff or a gift certificate or create a special discount code.  It's a great way for that business to reward their customers and a great way for you introduce your business to them.

Some people (especially social media gurus) will tell you that email marketing is dead.  What I will tell you and what every serious online marketer will tell you is that your email list can be your best source of sales for your business.  You have a direct pipeline to your customers inbox, without the distractions of cat videos or vanity quotes to distract people from your message.

Offline Marketing and Advertising

Yes, offline advertising can be a great source for driving traffic to your website.  Doesn't matter what the medium is, whether it's direct mail, newspaper ads or just your business card, use your offline marketing to drive people to your website.  Car wraps and branded t-shirts may be a bit hokey, but they all help to drive interest and traffic back to your website.  Just make sure your website is prominent in all of your marketing materials.

Once people get to your website…..

Once people are on your website, you can expand on what your offer is, demonstrate your value proposition and start guiding them to take the next step in your sales funnel.  Just make sure your website is setup to do this or else most people are going to leave before finding out more about your business.

So these are some of the ways I drive traffic to my business website.  There are other ways of driving traffic to your site as well, using forums, directory listings, blog comments, etc, but the above is what I use and what has worked for me and my business.

Good luck driving traffic to your website.  If you want to learn more about growing your business, check out my podcast, The Small Business Express!

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Pamela – Desktop download that lets you automatically record your Skype calls.  Great for teaching and conducting interviews via Skype.  They offer a free trial of the full version and a lighter free version to try.

Keywordtool.io – Free tool that uses Google Autocomplete to get keyword suggestions for you.

Winston Churchill Quotes

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

Have you ever thought about hiring a freelancer online before?  If anyone could benefit from outsourcing, it would be small business owners, Lord knows us small biz owners have our plates full.

Over the years my web marketing company, 3Bug Media, has outsourced over 100k worth of freelance work.  That's only counting using online freelancing platforms like Odesk and Elance, it doesn't include hiring one off contract jobs locally.  I've hired online freelancers for things like web development, graphic design, CAD drawings, writers and bookkeeping to name a few.

hiring-virtual-freelancers

While I do have a few in-house employees, when things get busy, it's a lot easier and more cost effective to outsource the excess work rather then go out and hire someone and have another mouth to feed regardless if you have work for them or not.  It also allows you to hire (temporarily) for specialized skills that you may only need occasionally, like a graphic designer.

Today I'm talking about hiring freelancers online, where you use an online platform like Odesk or Elance to find a freelancer.  When people think about these platforms they think about hiring overseas, when actually you can find freelancers from all over.  More than half of the freelancers I hire are either in the U.S. or Canada.

I've made a lot of mistakes and wasted a lot of my time and the time of the poor freelancers that had to work for me in the beginning, but I got better over time and learned how to find exactly what I'm looking for in a freelancer.

I've only been burned twice in 5 years doing this and it was for a grand total of $800.  Not bad considering how much I've spent over the years.  I've found that most freelancers, regardless of where they are from, are generally honest and hard working people.  Do you get some bad apples?  Yes, but no more than you would have if you were hiring people locally.

So for you small business owners out there that would love to be able to outsource some of their workload, here are some of the things I've learned when it comes to hiring freelancers online.

If You Pay Peanuts You Will Get Monkeys

No, you can't get a top notch web designer for $3 an hour.  You can't pay someone $10 to write a killer 20 page ebook that will be the cornerstone of your sales funnel strategy.  Yes, you can often get a better rate hiring overseas (or outside of your metro area), but you still have to pay them a decent wage if you want quality work.  That actually applies to hiring for anything, you have to pay a decent wage if you want good people.

The beauty of hiring a virtual freelancer is that you have a worldwide job market of skills to choose from at good rates, it's not about trying to hire someone at the cheapest possible rate.  You'll be disappointed if this is what you expect to get.  In fact, some of my freelancers get paid more than what I would pay for someone locally to do the same job, they just have the exact skills I'm looking for.

outsourcing-small-business

Write a Crystal Clear Job Posting

Most people new to hiring freelancers create poor job descriptions because is they are not clear themselves about what they want.  Before you create your first job posting, make sure you understand what skills are needed for the position you will be hiring for so you can write a clear job posting  Depending on what type of job you post, you may receive hundreds of applicants for a single job posting.  There are two things I've learned that has helped me write good job postings.

1 – Be very specific about what you want.  Remove all superfluous language from your job postings.  A  job description like “I'm looking for a fantastic writer with a passion for the written word” is totally meaningless.  What's fantastic to you may be awful for the next person.  State exactly what you want, you are looking for the basic criteria at this point and will be looking for style and skill at the next stage when you start whittling down your list of applicants.  Something like “Looking for a writer with experience and in depth knowledge of the mortgage industry, please provide reference links to published articles related to this topic”.

2 – Write about what you don't want.  Start excluding people you know you won't hire right off the bat, it'll save you time going through resumes later.  If you need a specific expertise, be very clear about it.  Something like “I'm looking for someone who has experience maintaining Magento databases, if you do not have experience in this area, please do not apply”

Be courteous with your job posting (you don't want to sound like a dictator), but also be very clear and concise with what you are looking for in a freelancer.

Be Patient and Thorough When Hiring

Within the first day or two you may get flooded with hundreds of job applicants.  If you don't have hiring experience and have never had to sift through hundreds of resumes, this can be intimidating.  The quick and lazy method would be to quickly scan through them, look for a friendly face and some good reviews and go ahead and hire.  Wrong! The time you save at this stage will come back to haunt you when you hire the wrong person and spend the next 2 months pulling your hair out trying to get that freelancer you hired to return your emails.

In all of my job postings, I ask for links to previous work and also look through their reviews (more on both of these below).  Make sure you take the time to look at their sample work and read through their reviews looking for anything that jumps out at you and also for red flags.  Also look at the cover letter they send, I've had writers apply for positions (asking for $30+ an hour) and it is riddled with grammar and spelling errors.  Not cool, but they saved me the time of interviewing them.

Dig Deeper Into The Reviews

This is something important I've learned with working with freelancers online.  You'll see lots of 4 and 5 star reviews, even for freelancers that are awful.  So if everyone gets high ratings, how can you tell who is good and who sucks?

For most online platforms like Odesk and Elance, both the freelancer and the contractor get the chance to review each other after a job is closed.  So what happens?  You leave a freelancer a bad review for a crap job and they in turn leave you a bad review as revenge.  So what happens most of the time, even if the job was not satisfactory, many contractors will still give a freelancer a 4 start rating just so they will get one in return.  Other times the contractor feels bad because the freelancer was nice (but did a crap job), so it's easier to give a good review and be gone rather then cause any friction.

It's important to read through the reviews and look for clues

  • 5 star reviews but no supporting text or a one liner like “good job”. When I see this,  I discount it.  If a freelancer really did a great job, most people will take 10 seconds to write a few words of thanks.
  • If a new contractor only has 1-2 reviews and they are excellent.  I might take it into account if their are detailed words of praise for the freelancer, but if they are like the above, I will discount them.  This mainly applies to overseas freelancers (IMO) but sometimes they will hire themselves for 1-2 small jobs with another account and leave great reviews for themselves to get started.
  • Look for communication problems in the reviews.  Nothing is more frustrating than having a freelancer miss a hard deadline and then ignore your emails for the next 2 weeks while you go crazy.  If I see comments like “I don't know what happened, she just stopped responding to my emails”, I know it's time to move on.
  • Look at the timing of reviews.  If you see some bad reviews but they were from two years ago, it may not negate the several great recent reviews they have.  On the other side, if a freelancer has dozens of great reviews but the last 3 were mediocre, maybe you need to question them about what's going on before you consider hiring them.

Don't Trust Sample Work Unless You Can Verify It

I always ask for published work that can be attributed to the freelancer when possible.  Sometimes freelancers mislead people with their work experience and sample work so you need to look for verifiable sample work.  Just because they sent you a Word Doc with some articles in there or have screenshots of dozens of websites they built doesn't mean it's theirs.

Take the time to investigate their writing or websites they claim to have created, sometimes you'll find another author actually wrote the article or an agency actually built the site they are claiming credit for.  Most of the time it's impossible to verify, but it's still good to investigate for obvious signs they are misleading you.  And don't be afraid to ask more questions or to ask permission to contact the website owner to verify they created the site or wrote the article Their reaction to this request will usually give you the answer you're looking for.

Be Very Clear About What You Want

I can't stress this part enough.  When you work with a freelancer, be very clear about what you want.  If it's a logo they are designing for you, please do not email them asking them to ” make something nice”.  Be clear what you want and give examples whenever possible.  When you communicate with your freelancer make sure you:

  • Use exact language.  “I would like a Helvetica font or something closely related” rather than “I want a really classic looking font”.  The more exact your language the easier it is for the freelancer to understand what you want.
  • Ask for hard deadlines.  Mutually agree on a hard deadline to finish the work and how often they should give you a progress report. Something like “So we both agree that you will have the Ebook finished and delivered by the 31st of this month.  And you will send me a progress report every Friday and also let me know if you think you may not be able to meet this deadline”
  • Have them repeat back to you the instructions you just gave them.  This is really important, especially for more complex projects.  If you are on a Skype call and you give instructions on the project, ask them to repeat it back to you in their own words to be sure they understand what you want.  You'll be surprised how many times it's different from what you actually wanted.  Usually this is more of a lack of clear communication on your part.  As time goes on, you'll learn how to give laser focused instructions with little room for interpretation.
  • Only give one task at a time.  Don't give them 10 different things to do at once, that's the quickest way for things to get screwed up.  Give one task with specific instructions, when they have finished that task, have them start on the next one.  Every email I send to any freelancer only has a single task in it.

Take Baby Steps When You Start With a New Freelancer

When you first start working with a freelancer, take baby steps.  Don't unload an entire project on them as a first step, ease them in.  Even with really good freelancers, you're going to go through a breaking in period where there might be misunderstandings that need to be worked out or expectations that need to be set.  If I hire someone to write a 30 page ebook for me, I will usually have them start out by writing a blog article for me just to get warmed up.  It's better to clear up misunderstandings and mistakes on a 700 word blog article than a 20,000 word ebook that doesn't sound anything like you wanted it to.

You'll become a better communicator

You'll make some mistakes in the beginning when you first start hiring freelancers online, but they shouldn't be that painful if you go slowly.  The best thing about learning to communicate with freelancers online?  You actually become a very good communicator because you aren't there to look over someones shoulder and correct them, you have to be clear from the start.  This has made me a better communicator with my employees that I work with face to face.

So that's it, hopefully you picked up some tips and are ready to give it a shot,  If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message.

Resources:

Odesk – Online platform for finding freelancers from around the world.

Elance -Similar to the above (same company owns both) for finding online freelancers.  Unlike Odesk, Elance lets you search by city in case you want to work with someone locally.

Virtual Staff Finder – A service from a very credible guy, Chris Ducker, who will help match you with a fantastic virtual assistant.

The Four Hour Work Week – Has a lot of info on outsourcing.  Never read it?  It can change your life.

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Creately – Powerful and free diagram software.  Work online and collaborate on projects with others.

Glip – Free messaging and productivity tool that lets you easily collaborate with others online.

Theodore-Roosevelt-Quote

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here