Once you’ve gone through my checklist, what next? Are there any other ways you can improve your business’ prominence in search results?
Tim Capper joined us to go through some – shall we say ‘quirks’ – in the way that Google responds to structured data. He shares some pretty creative ways you can take advantage and get more eyes on your business.
He also has a clear explanation on location data and how to teach Maps where your business actually is. Warning – you may need to shell out for a crate of beer!
The video, slides and transcript are below so you can take it all in.
Video & Slides
- Download the slides to accompany Tim’s talk: Local SEO After Checklists. (1.7MB PDF)
- If video is your thing you should subscribe to the Optimisey YouTube channel for stacks more like this.
Hey everyone. I think I’ve already killed it, because I didn’t do a theme. So I’m just gonna go now.
Just a quick question: does anybody know what structured data is? Yeah, schema.org. OK, cool. You know when there’s blank faces everywhere? Then you’re like ‘Oh did I kill this already?’
Right. So, SEO after checklists. Once you’ve gone through Andrew’s whole checklist and of course actually finishing up nicely the question about GMB and is this going to become a paid product etc. Well what I’m looking at tonight is opportunities that other people aren’t taking, that you can do now in case something becomes a paid product.
We want to stand out from the crowd. So I’m looking at structured data and influencing maps with humans. Which is pretty cool. I think.
Google wants to become the homepage. You’ve got your knowledge panel, you’ve obviously got your organic and you’re going to start seeing things. I don’t know if people are aware: well, you’ve probably searched for a hotel. Literally hotels are restricted with absolutely everything in their knowledge panel purely for ads. You can only book through OTAs. There’s no Google Posts. Hotels can’t even add a business description. So this is money and Google wants to dominate that and unfortunately it will happen.
So we’re looking at opportunities here. In my structured data I’m going to look at a couple things: image and price range; owning your events; geoMidpoint; hasMap versus GeoCoordinates. Are people glazing? And influencing maps with humans, which is increasing your location footprint: helping Google to understand your location. Which also works with popular times and some good position jumps.
Right. So I’m Tim. I own and run Online Ownership but I’m a Google Product Expert. We used to be called top contributors. Like everything with Google they just change names left, right and centre. So there’s 15 of us in the world. Most in the States, a couple in Australia, one in Germany and I’m the only one trying to sort out all the crap in the UK.
I’m also a Google trusted verifier which means Google trust me enough to instantly verify your your Google my business listings, so with postcards and all that kind of stuff.
Image and price range
I first noticed this in 2016. I’ve been using schema.org for the last ten years and within the local business structured data I noticed that image and price range was actually showing up in the search results. Result!
Because remember I’m talking about how we stand out from the crowd here.
The problem here, why most people don’t actually implement this is because nine times out of ten they use a plugin. Plugins get their data from schema.org or Google developer docs and neither of them use it. Problem. But it’s been around for quite a few years.
So this is what it looks like. We’ve got an organic search result at the very top and we’ve got aggregated rating and then you can see next to the votes you’ve got price range and it says base rate guaranteed. And then we’ve got two mobile – because remember Google switched to a mobile first index – so we’ve got two mobile results. One on the left hand side.
I didn’t use image and you can see it’s not displaying an image. And on the right hand side I used the image. So you can automatically see how this is standing out from a regular organic search result.
You know we’ve got aggregated rating. We’ve got price – in this case best rate guaranteed because that’s what they’re pushing. The limitations of this: price range now only appears when you use aggregated rating.
In 2016 if you had all been following my Online Ownership you would have started using this and benefited it for a couple of years. But before Google switched to mobile first, the price range used to be displayed before the best rate. But now because of the layout you have to obviously be using aggregated rating on that particular page for your price range to appear. So there are going to be limitations there.
Your aggregated rating can only be on a page on your site that actually has reviews. So it would probably be your service page or an actual product. You wouldn’t run that through your site because Google will just take you down for spammy structured data. You can’t have it on your contact us page, your blog pages, your terms of service page.
Your aggregated rating should only be on your actual pages that get reviews for that particular service or product. But it still looks sexy.
As for the image: Google (in their wisdom), if they don’t like your image or it’s not fitting within the mobile organic result because now they’re testing added meta descriptions at their display. So if your image that you picked is either too long too wide then they will swap it out. They will display an image, but, you know: pick an image.
You’ll probably see a lot of businesses using $$ or obviously ££-£££ and this is because schema.org says $$-$$$ and they literally go ‘That’s my price range, $$’. And I’m like what? You know if you go to the effort of implementing this at least get a little bit creative.
So I use on my site price on quotation. Obviously for the other one I displayed I’ve got best rate guaranteed. Do you price match? Use price match. You know obviously you’re not going to write a sentence because it’s limited in characters but get creative: what’s going to stand out from the crowd?
If you’re the only one in a search result using that and you’re position one to five you know it’s getting eyes on it, it’s going to increase your click-through rate.
Owning your event
So a lot happened in 2016. In 2016 I was marking up events on a site that came to me and when I actually added in the local business structured data within the actual site itself I noticed something interesting.
Now because Google could match an actual location to that event and that business hadn’t had a GMB page it started pulling through the event to display in a knowledge panel. Pretty sexy. Because that’s your brand name.
Events in the past would just show a rich snippet underneath that event. So someone would have to search for Optimisey event Cambridge, that particular page would be showing up for the current one and then you would just have a couple of little blue snippets in organic underneath it.
But now if you’re searching Optimisey events you’re going to actually have your knowledge panel and you can actually click direct straight through the particular event you want. The user doesn’t have to click through to the events page, then they have to scroll down to find the particular event that they’re looking for etc etc. So this is front and centre: it’s brilliant.
So how can we use this to our advantage? Obviously you’re going to mark up your own events, but let’s get a little bit creative with this stuff.
These are the kind of events that Schema supports at the minute. The one for a business there, people don’t realise: sale events. You’ve got Christmas coming up, you’ve got Black Friday, you’ve got bank holiday. Wow, I’ve got a sale on, I’ve got some discounted products I want to get rid of: boom! Sale event. Let’s get that appearing in your knowledge panel. Let’s make it work for us.
Of course everything with Google: what Google gives, Google takes away. And now they’ve put a restriction on exhibition events. So if you mark something up as an exhibition, let’s say for example you are a café and you’re doing a little art exhibition for local businesses, local artists. You mark that up as an exhibition event because it is an exhibition.
Google won’t display it unless your category is a museum art gallery. Which kind of makes sense. In that instance if you were having an exhibition and you weren’t a museum and art gallery you would need to use just a top-line event structured data for that to appear within your knowledge panel.
There’s a limitation there and the other massive one is Google doesn’t honour any events for hotels, of course. Everything is just completely shut down.
So, event spam. In October, November 2018 Google decided that too many people were not taking advantage of this so in Google’s wisdom it was like ‘Hey, let’s just scrape scrape the entire ecosystem’. And what was happening on their first iteration of this they literally had anything that they could tie an event or a local business to. They were just literally displaying all sorts of crazy stuff in businesses knowledge panels.
So I was like ‘Right, can we create an event on our own site? We mark it up as an event within structured data and have it appear in someone else’s?’ Google scraped all these things, but can we physically force this? And yes, you can. There’s online ownership telling Google to stop spamming businesses.
April 1st obviously, I didn’t want to get into trouble. I am a product expert. They do shout at us a lot. I even stipulated on that ‘This is a non-event’ and it still honoured it.
So what can we do with this now? This is the sexy stuff. What can we do with it? How can we use this to our advantage? If Google insists on displaying this, let’s take the opportunity to advertise on another business’ page – which may be not so cool, but we can.
Especially point of interest knowledge panels. What happened here, the Corby Highland Gathering is actually in a park and you’ll probably see these things pop up. It’s labelled as a point of interest. You know parks, let’s say Hyde Park, I’m not really sure anything in Cambridge but you know. If you’ve got a river and you have a festival or points of interest where things happen all the time.
So I harangued my local butcher. I was like ‘Right, give me access to your website’. He’s like ‘What for?’ I’m like ‘Let’s make some magic’ and so we created a special for haggis for the Corby Highland Gathering.
We marked it up as a sale event, tied it in structured data to the actual point of interest and lo and behold we now appear – under the actual gathering that’s going to be coming up – as an event. It’s already starting to get some clicks from this but on the day or close to the time we’ll see.
But yeah this is an opportunity. It’s a point of interest. I don’t think too many people are going to freak out and report you as spam. Take these opportunities.
If something’s happening, be realistic. If it’s within walking distance. Don’t say ‘This is like 50 miles away I’m just going to chuck it in there’. Be realistic because ultimately you still want the click through, you still want the sale or the potential sale from it. Get creative with this kind of stuff.
Magic’s what makes it all happen. You’ve just got to find what Google is doing. If Google is doing something, you figure out why are they doing it and how can we use it to our advantage.
I’ve got two things if you want to know more about actual structured data with the price range and image or just online ownership and also using the events in the knowledge panel. You can just grab those two.
Yeah are people glazing there? This goes nicely into Andrew’s talk about service area businesses. You don’t want your address being displayed. I’ve set my service area as Cambridge but on my website how’s a search engine trying to figure this out?
The way we define this is with geoMidpoint. Another thing: because Schema doesn’t show this in their examples and because Google dev docs don’t show this and none of the plugins support this at the minute, it’s a little bit of an advantage to tell search engines where you where you are located and your search radius.
The example I’ve got here is I used it with a taxi company in Chester. Not just this, by the way, for all those positional ones. Just to clarify it wasn’t just this, there was obviously a lot of work done on the site.
But with your geo coordinates you literally pick – like Andrew did with Wolverhampton – you literally pick the centre. Google’s going to tell you what they perceive the centre of that location to be. Grab the geo coordinates use it in your geo as your geoMidpoint. You’re telling a search engine straight off the bat where you’re located as a service.
I don’t use geo coordinates. Is anyone running structured data on their site and using geo coordinates? Yeah, there’s always one.
I use hasMap and maybe I should explain that a little bit. So geo coordinates like the geoMidpoint, would tell Google where your business is located and it typically lines it up with your Google My Business.
If next time you just search for your business and click on the map so you open up your business listing, your actual URL includes your geo coordinate which matches your pin where you placed it.
The reason I don’t use geo coordinates is because I learned a really, really hard way. For some reason people that stay in hotels and resorts always move the pin. Always. It’s just insane and whether it’s like ‘Hey look at me I’ve moved my pin’ then you send your friend the link and go ‘This is the villa I’m in’ I have no idea why. But it literally kept moving.
Month after month I would sort things out and things would tank and it was like ‘What the hell is going on here?’ And we’re not talking just a little shift, we’re talking three, four, five hundred metres. Sometimes even across the road. It was at this point that I’m like ‘this is just crazy. People are just moving it willy-nilly’ that I ditched geo coordinates.
A storefront business probably won’t or if somebody did they may move it a foot. That’s not gonna make a difference. If you’re a dentist, if you’re any actual physical location business with a short storefront I doubt local guides are going to shove it down the road. But it’s probably going to be that it won’t make a difference. Google can figure out if it’s point point geo coordinates or point one two. They can figure out if something slightly changed and that’s not a problem.
Things to think about if you are an SEO. I don’t know if anyone’s an SEO here? Yep. So if you’re an SEO and you sort out your geo coordinates for a client, you wrap up the job, client goes away. Two years down the line they move the location. Your structured data doesn’t update and everything tanks. So that’s why I use hasMap.
Influencing maps with humans
Andrew gave us a great thing explaining prominence and I think I’ve figured out a way to influence that. Can we influence your prominence with humans by helping Google to understand the exact location of the business and the interaction with customers?
This is the crucial thing: the interaction with a human. This is nothing to do with your website, this is literally nothing that you can do online. It’s literally humans affecting or influencing that business.
I’m going to give you the breakdown to this. Last year Google (in their wisdom), any local business (well most local businesses) that were running ads, all of a sudden had a Google beacon turn up in the post. And they were even sending it out to service area businesses which makes no sense because nobody goes to the business but that’s beside the point.
Ironically, two days before, Google had announced that they were pulling it because they were inadvertently spamming people. But Google said ‘We’re gonna send these out. Oh shit, we’ve pulled them’. So the question came up ‘well if I didn’t get a beacon what benefit are they getting that I’m not getting?’
So essentially the beacon and under the guidelines zone one is the entrance to the business. Under beacon guidelines you can’t chuck a clue too close to walls that are next to other businesses. You literally have to put it into the centre.
The only difference is is that when a human walks in with Maps (you have to have obviously Maps on your phone) it just pings it straight off rather than having to wait for a cell tower to actually pick up your location.
You’ve probably seen this. You’ve probably gone into a quick shop, you’ve walked down the road. Two days later Google drops your thing on Maps like ‘Did you visit here?’ and you’re like ‘Yeah, it took you freakin’ two days to catch up’. That’s because your phone’s not always connected to a cell tower. It pings.
So even with a phone it pings and then it tries to work it way back to where have you been. And occasionally it’ll also ping you ‘Were you here?’ and you’ll go ‘Nope, I wasn’t there’. That’s because you walk past a shop at the particular time Google pinged the cell tower and that’s why it’s thinking ‘oh you’re there’. You never went in.
Again I found another little local business which was a little bit of an interesting experiment. This is a bit of a mishmash. Just to give you some context, it’s a vintage store where you can literally buy the store but it’s also a coffee shop. So if you like a vintage shabby chic chair you can have your coffee and take your chair with you.
But this was interesting. So what we did is: zone 1 is the entrance and Google was picking up that 100% of the time. They were understanding that the user or the customer was in there 100% of the time.
Zone 2 it was only picking up 80% of the time because it was figuring that either you’re there or you’re across the road from that business.
Zone 3 – and this is the scary bit – that was the largest seating area where most customers sat at any one time for a length of time. Literally 0%. It always figured they were at this business or that business. Pretty scary thought.
What we started doing was customers that they knew really well, when they walked in and we asked customers in their Maps to search the business and actually select ‘Yes I am there’. After a couple of weeks we started increasing these. We started increasing the machine learning.
Zone 3 at this point was up by 60% after two weeks of accuracy where people would go in. We’re like ‘Oh yeah it’s figuring out the right place’. But then I had to ship in a whole lot of college kids and a lot of beer and we literally just sat there on different phones. ‘Yes I’m here’. ‘Yes I’m here’. ‘Yes I’m here’.
Zone 1 was always a hundred. We got zone 2 up to pretty much 90% accuracy and we got zone 3 up to around about 80% accuracy on actually understanding that the customer is at that location.
As a result of this we had our popular times pop up because now remember in zone 2 and zone 3 we’ve literally got Google counting one with 80% more customers on a daily basis being in that location.
So we had popular times because popular times are generated by data. It has to have a set amount of data before it can accurately predict. This data is typically not real time, normally a two day lag before they can accurately predict popular times. Surprise surprise: search views, Maps views, people searching and its position just skyrocketed.
So by training Google to actually count the correct amount of customers – these are aren’t new customers they’re your original customers that come in week in week out. By actually counting your customers now you’ve increased the perception of prominence.
You increase your visibility and maps and the local finder. So checklists are crucial. you’ve gotta follow Andrew steps. But then you got to find ways of making things work for you.
Are you going to try any of these?
We are currently under lockdown restrictions in the UK so unfortunately we can’t run our exciting events. If you want to use SEO to help your business survive these turbulent times, check out this post with lots of resources I hope you’ll find useful.