By Anna Seacat
Franchise owners and small business owners who search the name of their brand on Google may be discouraged by the results. A client emailed me a couple of weeks ago in a panic because when he searched with the brand name of his franchise, his business did not appear as a local result within the first few organic listings nor on Google’s mapped image. In fact, quite the opposite occurred – the other business under the same franchise appeared as the only result. How could this be?
LOCAL SEO | Evidence that Google Results are Not Including all Local Business Locations
There are multiple reasons why your business may not be showing up as a result when entering a single branded keyword. The location and device that your search originated from is the most likely culprit. In my client’s case, he was performing a single branded keyword search from his home computer, which just so happened to be located within a mile of his competitor’s business. To prove that the location of your device can affect search results, I replicated this scenario from my home computer. As you will see below, if I search with the branded keywords, “Better Bodies,” which is the brand name of local gyms in my area, only one out of three Better Bodies’ gyms shows up as a result.
Not surprisingly, the Better Bodies that returns as the single branded result on Google is the gym that is located within a mile of my house. There is another Better Bodies located just under six miles from my house and a third location in downtown Indianapolis. My point in doing this exercise is to show that if the owner of Better Bodies lived in my neighborhood, and he searched the brand name of his business on Google, only one of his three locations would return as a result. This scenario can be maddening for small business owners, who don’t understand why Google isn’t displaying all (or any) of their locations.
Nevertheless, don’t be fooled into believing that this search phenomenon is only occurring among competing franchised locations, as with my client, or small businesses, as with the Better Bodies example. Another example of this local SEO mystery occurring in my local search area involves a rather large regional bank. Notice in the image below, when I searched for the branded keywords, “National Bank of Indianapolis” a single branded result is provided via a Google search.
This scenario is somewhat worse for the National Bank of Indianapolis than with the case of Better Bodies. Unlike Better Bodies, whose alternate locations were in different towns than the one located within a mile of my house, The National Bank of Indianapolis has four locations within my town’s limits. Nonetheless, only one is displayed when I search for the brand from my home computer.
SEO | Why is Google Not Showing the Location of My Business?
Search engine marketers speculate that the cause behind only one business being displayed on Google’s map, rather than multiple businesses (“multi-pack”), is partly due to Google’s focus on user intent and mobile.
GOOGLE’S HUMMINGBIRD: A FOCUS ON USER INTENT – Only one business being turned up as a result on Google’s search results started appearing after its Hummingbird algorithm update. According to Joel Popoff of Powered by Search the purpose behind Hummingbird was to move away from using keywords and, instead, use “facts about people, places, and things and how these entities are all connected.” In other words, user intent is decided by Hummingbird through a consortium of knowledge Google has about the searcher, including the location of the searcher. Therefore, if I am using my home computer to search for “Better Bodies,” the Hummingbird algorithm will assume that the Better Bodies located within a mile of my house is the one I was looking for (my intent). Conversely, if I were using my mobile device while covering a conference in downtown Indianapolis and searched for “Better Bodies,” the algorithm would understand that my intent was to find that Better Bodies location instead of the one close to my house.
…businesses that are not relatively close to the searcher are less likely to show up.
GOOGLE’S PIGEON: A FOCUS ON MOBILE – This single one-box search result phenomenon, rather than a 3 (or more) pack result, became even more of a standard scenario with Google’s Pigeon update. Search marketers believe Pigeon is a reflection of Google’s focus on mobile search. A columnist at Search Engine Land, Andrew Shotland, reported, “Basically, Google is treating desktop queries similarly to mobile queries.” The location factor with mobile use is weighted so heavily in this updated algorithm that the results of branded searches are much narrower than in the past, even if the searcher is using a desktop computer. Consequently, Shotland explained, “The narrowing radii of implicit local queries (which are likely the majority of queries) means that businesses that are not relatively close to the searcher are less likely to show up.”
SEO | What Can I do if Google is Not Listing my Business?
So, let’s return to my inspiration for writing this article – my client who was panicking about not seeing his business after searching with his franchise’s brand name from his home computer. I don’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain he was not happy with my explanation for why this is occurring (Hummingbird, Pigeons, he probably couldn’t care less about Google’s algorithm). He only wanted to know what he could do to change it. If you too are not trying to figure out why your business is not showing up on Google’s search results, but how you can change it, below are my step-by-step instructions.
Step 1: Learn to Love Google My Business
Google My Business, otherwise known among search marketers as GMB, is your friend. It was launched in 2014 and is NOT YOUR GOOGLE+ page. Look at your Google+ page as a fan page. It is simply a way to communicate with online consumers and stakeholders. Google My Business is a dashboard that communicates to Google. Google states, “The information you provide plays a critical role in ensuring business information on Google is accurate and up to date.” Google My Business is especially important for local businesses. In fact, Google explains that businesses with physical locations will benefit from GMB, because the tool will “help to get your business found on Google” and provide “insights on how customers searched for your business and where they’re coming from.”
More importantly, his own customers wouldn’t call his business by that name – it’s not real world, and it is hurting his SEO efforts.
One important note: It is important to represent the name (title) of your business in GMB as anyone in the real world would recognize it. In other words, if a searcher saw your business’s sign from the street what does it read? That is what you should have listed on your Google+ and Google My Business registrations as your business name. This becomes a huge problem in the franchise world. In fact, my aforementioned client and I passionately disagree on this point. From a search marketing perspective, I want him to list his branded name as the title within Google+ and GMB. However, he uses the nonsense name that the franchisor gave him, which includes the directional word, “Southeast.” The problem with this is that the title given by the franchise, which includes the word “Southeast,” doesn’t make sense to Google. More importantly, his own customers wouldn’t call his business by that name – it’s not real world, and it is hurting his SEO efforts. According to search expert Mike Blumenthal, Google has even clarified that your business’s name, and nothing but your name, should be used as the title. For instance, “Google Mountain View Corporate Headquarters” is incorrect if following GMB guidelines. It should just read “Google.” “Orlando Airport Marriott Northern Lakeside” should just read, by GMB standards, “Marriott.” “Orlando Airport Northern Lakeside” is just franchise speak. Customers don’t speak or search that way, so Google doesn’t recognize it.
Step 2: Take a Reality Check When it Comes to Consumer Intent
All of the scenarios I described above — my client’s search and my search for “Better Bodies” and the “National Bank of Indianapolis” – were all conducted by using only the business’ brand names and, here is the important part, no specific location. I only searched “Better Bodies,” not “Better Bodies Indianapolis.” If, for instance, I specify location in my query by searching “National Bank of Indianapolis Carmel” a 3-pack Google map result is displayed rather than the one box listing, as shown earlier.
What can you learn from this? Maybe what is more important to ask is what has Google learned? It is easy to see, since Google has adjusted its algorithm so severely, that consumer intent is tied very strongly to whether or not a geographic indicator is used. If searchers leave off a geographic location (usually a city or town) in their search and only use the brand’s name in the query, they more than likely are looking for the business that is located closest to them at the moment of the search.
…unless there is a specific problem with one location over another, consumers will likely shop where they can get instant gratification (closest).
So, try and be realistic about consumer behavior. If a searcher is typing the brand name of the franchise you belong to, recognize what type of searcher this is and what stage they are in the purchasing process. 1) They have recognized a problem that needs solved, 2) researched possible solutions, 3) narrowed the solutions down to specific suppliers (brands), and are either researching each specific brand or ready to buy from your brand. Naturally, you want to capture these ready-to-buy customers. But, be realistic about the purchasing process and the nature of modern online consumers. If they are aware of your brand and see it as the best possible solution, through their online research, they are probably also aware that there are multiple locations near them. Moreover, unless there is a specific problem with one location over another, consumers will likely shop where they can get instant gratification (closest).
Step 3: Expand Your Keyword Focus
I’ve already outlined above that Google’s Hummingbird and Pigeon updates have created a scenario where the searcher’s intent and location are paramount, when using a brand name query. And, being realistic about that fact is a critical step, because it allows you to consider more valuable, long-tail keywords. Along those lines, there is a third factor within Google’s algorithm that should be recognized when trying to rank better within local searches. It has been noted by Shotland (Local SEO Guide) that Pigeon most likely has an “over-weighting of brand.” In other words, businesses that own the URL for a long-tail keyword will rank higher than those with a brand name URL. For example, when I search “Hardware store” from my home computer, not only does my local Home Depot not return as a result in the 6-pack, but Ace Hardware Store’s organic listing is above the pack, the first listing in the pack, and the first organic listing below the pack.
Clearly, my search words matching words within the URL is important to Google. It has long been understood by search marketers, like Brian Dean, that URL / keyword match is a critical ranking factor. What can you do? Start a WordPress blog for your business with the URL of whatever keyword phrase is the most critical to rank for. These critical keywords should NOT be the name of your business, since a highly optimized Google My Business page will take care of that. For instance, Better Bodies should want to rank highly for the keywords “gym Carmel IN.” As shown below, it currently does not rank at all in the map pack for this term. By using what search marketers have learned about Pigeon, Better Bodies’ presence on Google would improve if it would create a WordPress blog with the URL: http://www.gymcarmelindiana.com/
Step 4: If You Can’t Beat Them; Join Them
For the time being, Google controls search. And, the quickest way to appease Google is to provide wildly helpful online content. In other words, it wouldn’t be enough for Better Bodies to own the URL, http://www.gymcarmelindiana.com/ That website would need to contain fantastic content that would be helpful to anyone looking for a gym in Carmel, IN. Sounds like a lot of work for a small business owner, right? Well, the short-cut to this is to pay Google for a position in the search results. In the above image, notice that no gym is bidding on the keywords “gym Carmel IN.”
If Better Bodies would invest in Google AdWords Express, they would not only be at the top of the pack in the form of a Google Ad, but would also be displayed prominently on Google Maps. There are some great success stories about how small businesses can achieve greater online presence with Google AdWords Express on the Google Ads site.
LOCAL SEO | GETTING MY BUSINESS TO SHOW UP ON GOOGLE
Long gone are the days when the “If you build it, they will come” mentality worked. In fact, with Google’s most recent algorithm updates, small businesses’ websites are disappearing from search results. However, there are steps that business owners can take to improve their presence and standing in Google’s search results. Above, I listed optimizing with Google My Business, taking a realistic perspective on user intent, expanding your keyword focus, and investing in Google AdWords Express as possible steps to take.