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12 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q4 2022

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9 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q3 2022

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Hard to believe but neither Q1, nor Q2, nor Q3 can equal Q4 for the activity we’ve seen in local search, and the quarter isn’t even quite over yet! For all I know, Google could celebrate New Year’s Eve by renaming Google Business Profiles “Google Plus Places My Business Profiles Merchant Experience Listings” and we would just have to roll with that, too.

There has been so much going on, it’s small wonder if you haven’t caught every development, but here’s a list of some of the most interesting ones you should be aware of as we look towards 2023. We’ve got one new interface, two awful bugs, three new GBP features, four review developments, several guideline updates … all that’s missing is the partridge in the pear tree!

The new merchant experience breaks upon us like a thunderclap

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Watch this space for a vast post from me on the NMX in the next few weeks, but for now, you need to know that the editing via the old Google Business Profile Manager dashboard is a thing of the past and you’ll need to manage your data in the new in-SERP interface that’s been dubbed the “New Merchant Experience”.

About a year ago, Google warned us that this was coming, but it must be said that they also intimated that this change would only impact single location businesses. In Q4, a hue and cry understandably went up from the local SEO community when everyone – including multi-location listings managers – woke up to find themselves summarily escorted out of the old dashboard and into the SERPs for management.

The good folks at Bright Local, Streetfight, and Online Ownership have done a great job of early reporting on the frustrations and discoveries surrounding the NMX, and for the most part, have concluded that if you click around enough within the new interface, you will relocate most features. A few new surprises have been noted so far. For example, Q&A is now part-and-parcel of the interface instead of being treated as a separate instance:

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And check out Khushal Bherwani’s tweet capturing Google tagging the previous location of a business under the “locations” tab of the NMX when the company’s location has been changed.

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We can get used to the NMX. We should also expect changes to it in the new year, but at the moment, my most interesting industry takeaway from the deprecation of the historic dashboard is that listings management software just became more appealing. BrightLocal’s informal poll captures how clunky many users will find the act of trying to manage listings amid the clutter of the organic SERPs:

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In recent years, there has been some debate about whether local business should pay for listings management software. Google’s latest move is making experts like Mike Blumenthal and Carrie Hill say “yes” if you’ve got multiple listings and require the calm and quiet organization of a dedicated listings management dashboard instead of the awkward mess of the NMX.

Google bugs only an entomologist could love

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David Mihm captures some of the industry angst many are feeling right now as a result of multiple Google bugs making work needlessly difficult for us in recent months. For the record, I love and appreciate all insects, but Google’s listing suspension spree has been about as fun as finding potato bugs in one’s bathtub. When even the smallest of normal edits to listings (like writing a post or editing a description) results in suspension, it can make local SEOs and local business owners very leery of keeping their listings updated:

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Fortunately, about one month after reports of suspensions began flooding fora, Joy Hawkins announced the good news that Google had apparently resolved this bug.

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This is a good time and place to mention Amy Toman’s reinstatement request tip:

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And also, that Colan Nielsen spotted what appears to be a new notification from Google in the NMX of how long it should take for your edits to be reviewed:

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Meanwhile, a second bug began chasing us all around the local picnic table in the form of a big wave of review loss. If you’ve recently lost a ton of reviews, Mike Blumenthal has done outstanding investigative reporting at Near Media on this latest aggravation, including his finding that Google had been auto-updating Google Business Profiles and changing their CID numbers right before reviews were thrown out. As he says,

“Changing the CID and losing reviews with a Suggested Edit update is a new and disturbing bug…You should always capture and store your Google CID and Place ID somewhere safe. Gatherup’s Google Review Link Generator Chrome extension helps you get those numbers easily as does Pleper’s free Google CID converter.”

I also highly recommend reading Mike’s article examining the difference between a review bug and a review filter and outlining steps you can take in the wake of review loss.

New Google features we don’t dislike

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Barry Schwartz captured a new feature test that several people had noticed in which a speaker icon reads out the name and category of the local business. I’m not sure where Google is headed with this, but I am a fan of audio features as an alternative to too much screen time.

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Stefan Somborac notes a nifty feature, referenced in this Google help doc, that lets dining establishments select their preferred menu. Also new for restaurants, Abner Li wrote up the “Nearby Dishes” US rollout from Google that can return a carousel of local options to you when you search for something like “pho near me”. I have yet to see this feature in the wild, but Abner’s article has screenshots.

Good review things!

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Darren Shaw was jubilant at finding something truly new in local SEO – this time, a notation of the number of times a Google reviewer profile had published reviews in a specific city. This sparked a great discussion between Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal as to whether this signal will actually boost the authenticity of Google-based reviews, or whether location is too easy to spoof. I like this feature because it adds some transparency to the fact that Google is tracking your location when you leave a review – which might come as a surprise to some users. Perhaps this might be a minor deterrent to some forms of review spam?

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Next up, an amazing find from Christina LeVasseur Brodzky for the hospitality industry of Google quantifying the positive and negative sentiment in association with place topics within reviews. In her example, 72% of reviewers favorably mentioned the bar at a hotel, while 17% were not so favorable. This rollout showcases the deepening levels Google is reaching in sentiment analysis.

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And to round up review developments, Q4 saw the publication of two major review studies. Moz’s own, The Impact of Local Business Reviews on Consumer Behavior will take you through three chapters of insights into the habits of review readers, review writers, and successful owner responses based on a large-scale survey. Meanwhile, the good folks at SOCi have a gated report on The State of Google Reviews based on an analysis of nearly five million reviews. Also, the team over at Sterling Sky has been publishing a series of small and interesting studies on the impacts of review recency, number, text, and diversity on local pack rankings. If Google will just stop accidentally deleting local business reviews and let us get on with things, all of these reports will seriously power up your reputation strategy for 2023.

Guideline updates should always be noted

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In the aforementioned Moz review survey, we learned that the next step 51% of consumers take after reading reviews will land them on local business websites. Given this, it’s quite relevant to local business owners and marketers that Google has replaced its historic Webmaster Guidelines with the overhauled, rebranded Google Search Essentials. This would be a good time to read through the refreshed guidelines to be sure your website is being understood by people and search engines alike.

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And finally, Colan Nielsen took note of Google adding a stern warning against review gating back into their Prohibited and Restricted Content guidelines. In sum, don’t ever ask customers to specifically leave you a positive review, don’t use software that weeds out negative sentiment, and if you publish first-party reviews on your own website, don’t show only the good stuff. Be honest and authentic, and you should be fine.

And that puts a bow on local SEO 2022! I want to thank everyone who has read this new quarterly series this year and who has tweeted it, blogged about it, included it in your newsletters, and discussed it on your podcasts. Warmest gratitude, as well, to each of the local SEO community members giving time every month of every year to freely sharing your discoveries with all of us. I hope to continue this series in 2023 and to keep learning local with all of you!

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Introducing Variation Generator for Web Experimentation

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Introducing Variation Generator for Web Experimentation

If you attended Opticon ’23, you saw first-hand how Optimizely has been investing in AI. Optimizely introduced Opal, an AI assistant designed to accelerate the entire marketing lifecycle. Opal is ever-present across Optimizely One, providing generative AI, smart insights, and recommendations to transform how our customers create, test and personalize digital experiences.

Now, our latest AI capability is here: Variation Generator. Available for all Web Experimentation customers, Variation Generator helps experiment authors expedite the ideation and creation of test variations.

What does it do?

Variation Generator leverages generative artificial intelligence to create a list of phrasing suggestions based on a site’s text elements like headlines, product descriptions, or call-to-action (CTA) wording, ultimately making it easier and faster for experimenters to plan multiple variations for their tests, which can be quite time-consuming.

Who is it for?

Based on our research, around 30% of experiments include text changes. So, experiment authors like optimization managers or digital marketers are spending a lot of time ideating/brainstorming multiple versions of the original copy to decide which should be tested. Variation Generator empowers users to add more variations in an experiment, which we strongly suggest after our Experimentation Benchmark research found that experiments with more variations (4+) tend to see higher win rates and return higher uplifts on the metrics tracked.

Cool…but generative AI is popping up everywhere, why does it matter here?

  1. Directly embedded into our UI: No separate tools or tabs to click out to…No typing out a prompt to a chatbot…just click the text element you want suggestions for, and click “generate.” All interaction stays within our Visual Editor.
  2. Reduce time and effort in variation ideation: Shorten the time it takes to come up with new experiment variations, allowing experiment authors to get more time back into their day.
  3. Optimize each variation in an experiment: Variation Generator provides unbiased and creative alternatives to experiment authors so they can make sure that each variation is different enough to avoid duplicative messaging, yet effective enough captures visitors’ attention.
  4. Increase a test’s chances of winning: Our Benchmark research shows that experiments with 4+ variations are ~90% more likely to win than experiments with just 2 variations. Variation Generator helps experiment authors create more variations, leading to higher lifts.
  5. Fine-tune brand positioning: Improve existing headlines, product descriptions, CTA buttons, and more, ensuring a consistent and impactful brand message across digital properties.

Increase a test’s chances of winning

This outcome is important enough to highlight a second time. Mentioned earlier, we know from our Experimentation Benchmark research that tests with more variations (4+) are more likely to produce a winning (statistically significant) result versus a traditional A/B test that pits a baseline (original version) against a single variation. Variation Generator can help experiment authors get into the habit of testing more variations and producing more winning results.

Future enhancements

Optimizely is committed to continuous innovation and improvement. Potential enhancements for Variation Generator include generating suggestions for other content types like images, icons, HTML, and CSS, as well as giving users more control over output fine-tuning, such as adjusting length, tone, and other fields.

At the end of the day…

Optimizely’s Variation Generator is a simple yet powerful feature that empowers experiment authors to create more effective and winning experiments. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, this feature saves time, optimizes variations, and fine-tunes brand positioning, ultimately leading to better results, stronger brand presence, and an effortless workflow.

Want more info? If you’re an existing customer, ask your account manager about Variation Generator, and if you’re a future customer, contact us to learn more.

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Tips and Tricks for Digital PR

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Tips and Tricks for Digital PR

In the bustling digital landscape of the 21st century, public relations (PR) stands as a beacon of brand visibility, trust-building, and reputation management. As businesses navigate the complexities of online competition, the synergy between search engine optimization (SEO) and PR has become increasingly evident. This article delves into digital PR, exploring how strategic integration with SEO practices can elevate brand visibility, drive organic traffic, and amplify PR success.

The SEO & Digital PR Power Couple

In today’s digital landscape, success hinges on a strong online presence. Two crucial aspects of achieving this are SEO and Digital PR. While they may have functioned as separate strategies in the past, they’re now recognized as a powerful team.

SEO focuses on optimizing your website and content to rank higher in search engine results, driving organic traffic. PR, on the other hand, builds brand awareness and cultivates positive press mentions.

However, creating compelling content that resonates with audiences and search engines can be challenging for many PR professionals. A recent Institute for Public Relations study found that nearly three-quarters (70%) of PR practitioners struggle with content creation. This is where the magic of SEO and digital PR working together comes in.

Combining these forces creates a synergy that delivers impressive results. Effective SEO techniques in PR campaigns can amplify brand messaging and ensure it reaches the right audience through search engines.

Conversely, strong PR efforts can generate backlinks to your website, a significant factor influencing SEO ranking. This teamwork propels brands to industry leadership by establishing online authority and positive brand sentiment.

Optimizing Your PR Efforts for SEO

PR and SEO go hand-in-hand in today’s digital marketing landscape. By aligning your PR activities with SEO best practices, you can significantly boost your online presence and reach a wider audience. Here’s how:

Keyword Research

Just like any successful marketing campaign, PR needs a strong foundation. Keyword research is crucial for understanding the language your target audience uses online. According to Google, more than half of consumers (53%) consult online resources before purchasing a product or service.

This includes potential students researching educational options. For instance, terms like “best online degrees for 2024” can be valuable keywords for online schools to target in their PR efforts to reach potential students actively searching for programs.

By identifying relevant keywords with high search volume, PR professionals can craft messaging that resonates with their audience and increases the discoverability of their content in search results.

Content is King (and Queen)

Compelling and newsworthy content is the cornerstone of any successful PR campaign. But for SEO, it’s not just about capturing attention.

High-quality content, such as press releases, blog posts, and infographics, should also be optimized for search engines. This includes using relevant keywords strategically throughout your content and adhering to on-page SEO best practices. By creating content that is both informative and search-engine friendly, you attract not only readers but also valuable backlinks and organic traffic.

Building Backlinks

Backlinks are links from other websites pointing back to yours. Search engines consider backlinks a sign of trustworthiness and authority.

Strategic PR campaigns can help you secure these valuable backlinks by pitching newsworthy content to relevant websites, building relationships with journalists and influencers, and leveraging social media to promote your content. However, focusing on earning backlinks from reputable sources is crucial, as spammy tactics can hurt your SEO efforts.

Optimizing Media Coverage

Every media placement you secure, whether an article, interview, or social media mention, presents an opportunity to enhance your SEO. Encourage journalists and influencers to include relevant keywords and links to your website in their coverage.

Promoting these media placements on your social media channels can amplify their reach and drive more organic traffic to your website.

Advanced SEO Techniques for PR Success

Today’s audiences crave engaging content; SEO is crucial to seeing your message. Incorporating advanced SEO tactics into your PR strategy can amplify your reach and achieve tremendous success.

Leveraging Multimedia

We’re living in the age of visual storytelling. Eye-catching images, infographics, and videos aren’t just trends; they’re powerful tools for grabbing attention and boosting SEO.

A Demand Metric report highlights the power of video marketing for conversions. 93% of marketers agree that video is just as practical, or even more effective, at driving conversions compared to other content formats.

These elements enhance user experience and provide opportunities for keyword optimization. Descriptive alt tags and strategic file names can help search engines understand your content and improve your ranking for relevant searches.

Data-Driven PR

Gone are the days of guesswork in PR. You can achieve laser focus and maximum impact by integrating SEO data with your PR strategy. Tools like keyword research can help you identify topics and language your target audience is actively searching for.

Analyzing website traffic and other SEO metrics allows you to tailor your content for optimal performance. This data-driven approach ensures you craft content that resonates with your audience and achieves your PR goals.

Collaboration is Key: Aligning SEO & PR Teams

Many companies have separate SEO and PR teams, but these teams should work together closely for maximum impact. By collaborating, SEO and PR can achieve more than they could. Here’s why:

  • More robust results: When SEO and PR share information, like keyword research and content plans, they can create campaigns strategically placed in search engines and reach the right audience through media coverage.
  • Unified Voice: Consistent team communication ensures a consistent message across all channels, from website content to press releases. This builds trust and credibility with your target audience.
  • Measurable Success: Working together allows SEO and PR to track the combined impact of their efforts. This data can refine future campaigns and demonstrate the overall value they bring to the organization.

In short, by breaking down silos and working as one unit, SEO and PR can create a powerful force for achieving your company’s goals.

The Future of SEO & Digital PR

The digital world is constantly changing, and how we approach SEO and digital PR also needs to evolve. Here’s a look at some of the biggest trends we can expect to see:

AI-powered everything

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to become a game-changer in SEO and digital PR. AI can help create high-quality content tailored to specific audiences, analyze vast data to identify trends and opportunities and personalize outreach efforts for journalists and influencers.

Voice search is king

With the rise of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, voice search optimization is becoming increasingly important. This means websites must be optimized for natural language queries and focus on long-tail keywords that people might use when speaking.

Focus on user experience

Search engines are becoming more competent at understanding what users are looking for and giving more weight to websites offering a positive UX. This means creating sites that are easy to navigate, load quickly, and provide valuable and relevant information.

Building trust and authority

Search engines also emphasize Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) when ranking websites. This means businesses must establish themselves as thought leaders by creating high-quality content and building relationships with other reputable websites.

By staying ahead of these trends, businesses can ensure their websites are visible, and their brands are well-represented in the ever-changing digital landscape.

Beyond the Buzz: Building Lasting Success with SEO-Fueled PR

In the dynamic realm of digital PR, mastering the art of SEO integration is paramount for sustained success. By optimizing PR efforts through strategic keyword research, compelling content creation, and targeted link-building strategies, brands can amplify their visibility, drive organic traffic, and forge lasting connections with their audience.

As we march towards the future, the synergy between SEO and PR will continue to be a guiding light, illuminating the path towards digital supremacy.

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3 Contextual Link-Building Strategies That Actually Work

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3 Contextual Link-Building Strategies That Actually Work

 

Quality content can get your web pages ranking higher in Google search results. But contextual links can help, too.

Google says the inclusion of relevant, high-quality links signals the content that includes them may be quality content, too.

So, how can you earn contextual links to give your content an edge over the competition? Adopt one, two, or all three of the strategies detailed in this article.

But first, let’s understand what contextual links are.

What are contextual links?

A contextual link appears in the body of a web page’s content. A hyperlink is added to a relevant word or phrase. They:

  • Link to other pages on the site.
  • Cite the source of a claim or statistic.
  • Indicate other relevant pages.
  • Provide readers with more in-depth information on the topic.
  • Guide readers to a product or service.

In this screenshot of an article with the header, Challenges of Productivity Tracking in Remote Workplaces, three phrases are hyperlinked — measure productivity, Microsoft, and research by Gartner.

Each contextual link serves a purpose:

  • “Measure productivity” goes to a Slack article about how to measure employee productivity.
  • “Microsoft” directs the reader to the original research for the cited statistic.
  • “Research by Gartner” links to the native source for the research cited in that paragraph.

With a contextual link-building strategy, you not only boost your content in the eyes of Google but also encourage other sites to use your valuable content to provide their readers with additional information or context.

Now, let me show you three strategies to grow your contextual links and improve your content’s rankings.

1. Help sites fix their broken links

Broken link building involves contacting a website, pointing out a broken external link on a page, and suggesting your content as its replacement.

Broken links could result from a 404 error, a blank page, or a redirect to an irrelevant page — any alteration that ruins the original link’s purpose.

Since broken links negatively affect the visitor experience, removing them is in the site’s best interest. Your replacement offer gives them a quick solution to their problem. Plus, people are more willing to help you after you’ve helped them.

To find broken links, use a tool like Free Backlink Checker extension. I also like to inspect links manually since most tools only pick up 404 errors. Rely solely on them, and you will miss relevant broken-link opportunities.

Ahrefs also has tools for finding broken links. Its free broken link checker is helpful, but the paid version is more robust.

Paid subscribers can go to Site Explorer, go to the Outgoing Links report, and click on “Broken Links” from the dropdown menu.

The report identifies the total number of broken links (3,136 in the example below), the referring pages (the URL for the content including the broken link), the anchor (the words hyperlinked in the content), and the link (the URL that no longer directs to a viable page).

The report identifies the total number of broken links (3,136 in the example below), the referring pages, the anchor, and the link.

Ahrefs subscribers can also compile a Best by Links report under the Pages option in the Site Explorer tool.

In this example, the report lists pages with 404 page-not-found errors for TheMuse.com. It has 6,230 pages with broken external links. Each page URL listed is accompanied by the number of referring domains and a number of links to the page.

The report lists pages with 404 page-not-found errors for TheMuse.com. It has 6,230 pages with broken external links.

This research can identify the topics with the biggest potential to become the fixes for a broken link. You can create content to address them or identify content you already published. Just make sure the content closely matches the intent of the anchor text’s original link.

For example, the same research report, which is now a broken link, is cited in articles from Oyster and TINYpulse. On Oyster, the anchor text reads, “44% of companies did not allow remote work.” On TINYpulse, the anchor text says, “only 33% are very satisfied with the level of trust in their organization.”

On Oyster, the anchor text reads, “44% of companies did not allow remote work.”
On TINYpulse, the anchor text says, “only 33% are very satisfied with the level of trust in their organization.”

For a single article link to replace the broken link on Oyster and TINYpulse, the content would need to cite both a statistic about remote work and another stat about trust in organizations.

2. Guest posting

Like the broken-link replacement strategy, guest posting benefits both your and the recipient’s sites. You reach out to sites and offer to write content about a topic relevant to their audience that relates to your content subjects and includes a link to your site. This technique works well because you typically control where and how to add your link to make it as relevant as possible.

You can take multiple approaches to win guest-posting opportunities. No matter which tactics you use, track the sites and verify the site’s quality using Ahrefs, another tool, or a direct visit to the site.

First, you can use Ahrefs (or a similar tool) to examine your competitors’ backlinks and identify any links that come from guest posts. The anchor or surrounding text might hint at its status with phrases such as “contributed by,” “guest post by,” or the name of the brand or author. You also can check links manually to see if they’re contributed content.

In this example from Collegiate Parent, the headline reads “EFC Too High? Tips for Successful Aid Appeals” and includes a byline for “Billie Jo Weis.” At this point, you don’t know if it is a contributed article.

The headline reads “EFC Too High? Tips for Successful Aid Appeals” and includes a byline for “Billie Jo Weis.”

But scroll down to the end, and you can see the author’s bio. It confirms the article is a guest post because her bio says she is a client services advisor for My College Planning Team, not the publisher (Collegiate Parent).

The bio confirms the article is a guest post because it says she is a client services advisor for My College Planning Team, not the publisher (Collegiate Parent)

You can also use Google search operators to identify sites open to guest contributions. You’ll want to do several searches using variations of your target keywords and topic accompanied by phrases, such as “guest post,” “contributed by,” “guest post by,” and “guest posting guidelines.”

The example in the screenshot below works for a brand targeting college prep topics. The search is “’college prep’ ‘guest post by’ -site.pinterest.com.” The results reveal four articles from four sites that use the words “college prep” and “guest post by.” You can add those sites to your outreach tracker.

The example screenshot shows the search for "college prep" and "guest post by" -site.pinterest.com. The results reveal four articles from four sites that use the words

Finally, you can list sites relevant to your niche that didn’t appear in the earlier searches.

TIP: Not all sites that accept guest articles say so on their website.

3. Niche edits

A niche edit, sometimes referred to as a link insert, is a technique that adds a link to existing content. The key to success is finding relevant articles on high-quality sites and pitching your content as a valuable addition to those articles.

You can use a similar process to the Google guest post search. Input a broad keyword for your targeted keyword, then tell it you don’t want the targeted keyword in the title. If the entire article is about your targeted keyword, your chances of getting the publisher to include a link to a similar article are low.

Here’s an example from one of our client’s that sought to make niche edits for the keyword “soft skills.”

The Google search included these phrases:

  • “Organizational development” soft skills -intitle:”soft skills”
  • “Organizational development” soft skills employee training -intitle:”soft skills”
  • Soft skills employee training  -intitle:”soft skills” organizations

It led to an added link for “soft skills” in this article — “Employee Development,” which includes the header, “What are the benefits of employee development for an organization?”

Article from Big Think, which includes the header, “What are the benefits of employee development for an organization?” The article shows the "soft skills" link.

You can do several searches, modifying your search operators each time to see what sites and content appears. Think of multiple angles to broaden the potential sites that publish content with your targeted or a related keyword.

After you’ve crafted a list of high-quality prospects, it’s time for outreach.

Niche edits might be the hardest of the three strategies to achieve because they’re not as clear of a win-win situation as the other two (repairing broken links and publishing new content).

Your email pitch can make or break your niche-edit campaign. It must convince the publisher that your content provides so much value that they will want to take an extra step with content they’ve already completed.

 Here are some tips to craft a link-earning email pitch:

  • Start by mentioning something about them. It could be something you like about their website or the article you’re targeting. You want them to know you’ve explored their site and read the article. But don’t overdo it. A simple compliment or sentence about how you found the article helpful should suffice.
  • Introduce your content and mention how it can help their audience. Be concise and convincing, but don’t oversell it.
  • Go one step further and point to a section or sentence where you think your content might be a good fit. This will help them see where your content can add value and link to it.

Get linking

Though contextual link building may seem challenging to execute, it can bring great rewards. Follow these tips and strategies, and your valuable content will get more attention from external sites and eventually Google rankings where it deserves to be.

All tools mentioned in this article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please tag CMI on social.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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