The In Search SEO Podcast
The In Search SEO Podcast Poll Question of the Week!
Does ‘local’ lend itself to being a voice search revenue source? Let us know so that we can feature you on the next episode of In Search!
Summary of Episode 15: The In Search SEO Podcast
This week we talked to the king of Local SEO SERP features the one and only Sergey Alakov!
- What role does proximity play when optimizing for local intent?
- Will Reserve with Google become a must for local businesses?
- Why might local be the optimal way to monetize voice search?
Plus, where do the richest SEO insights lay, Google updates or the Quality Rater Guidelines?
Where to Go for SEO Insights – The Quality Rater Guidelines vs. Algorithm Updates [2:28 – 7:55]
At SMX West a few weeks ago a speaker from Bing took a poll asking SEOs, “What is more important for SEO understanding the Search Quality Raters Guidelines or the ranking algorithm updates?” (Barry Schwartz of SERoundtable ran the same poll question as well).
Let’s answer this question starting with understanding algorithm updates on their own, not relative to looking at the Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG). Do you know how hard it is to pull out real insights on an update? And we mean the big ones. Forget the smaller ones right now. It’s a lot of hit and miss and frustration and what comes out is but a sliver of the full story.
You have people who do all of these posts and articles on whatever update saying, “THIS IS THE AUTHORITATIVE TAKE ON THE UPDATE.” Mordy noted that when he writes about an update he makes a conscious effort to inform the reader that what is presented is not broadly comprehensive, that it doesn’t define the entire update. He noted that even when we get some really specific data on a Google update, it really is just a piece of the pie and not a complete understanding of how the update impacted the SERP.
According to Mordy, he does not think algorithm updates are more important than the QRG because 1) algorithm insights are a haven for false prophecy and 2) while you can get a general overview and maybe even a solid insight here and there it is hard to get a real grasp on what is going on thematically just by analyzing a Google update.
So why focus on the guidelines, the QRG?
Because you get direction. By looking at what has changed within the QRG, by looking at what Google is focusing on, and what Google wants out of search you walk away with thematic insights. These insights are irrespective of your thoughts as to whether or not Google can or can’t accomplish elements of the QRG algorithmically.
Think about some of the latest hot topics in SEO; safer content, purposeful intent, more purpose for a piece of content
From the Importance of Local Intent to the Future of Voice Search Revenue: A Conversation with Sergey Alakov [7:55 – 34:36]
Mordy: Before we start, I have to ask, and for those of you that don’t know, you’re the man behind a lot of the local SERP feature reporting that Barry Schwartz posts on both Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Land. How did that come about?
Sergey: So the first time I noticed something on the SERP was three or four years ago. I remember tweeting about it and tagging Barry asking if it’s new and he said it was so he published an article about it. It felt really good so I thought if I can do it once I can do it again so I tried building my own personal brand on the web and Twitter with Barry’s help among other great SEOs in the industry. So I try every day or every other day putting in my phone the same queries over and over again trying to see if there’s something new there.
M: Wow. And it’s an amazing thing how many updates you’ve found. Just last week I saw three or four updates you caught. I highly recommend our audience have a look at your blog.
So let’s talk “optimizing” for local intent. You always hear the same things…. NAP… reviews…. identify your local competitors… I could go on and on and on…
Can you offer my dear listeners something a bit more substantial on what matters when trying to optimize for local intent?
S: Sure. Before we go into that I want to discuss what we mean by local search and optimizing for local search and local intent. I usually define search as a search to find a business or service in one geographical area.
Notice I didn’t mention Local Packs or local maps in the definition and that’s for a reason which I’ll explain why. One of my clients is an insurance broker and they service the entire country but they don’t have a physical location in every city/province. What we found was that the insurance industry is very locally driven. So how do you increase invisibility that doesn’t have a location for location-based queries? The answer is you create content that answers location-based questions on your website and we found that we’re able to capture a lot of this visibility and traffic without having a local presence. So the first advice I’ll offer you is that when you think of optimizing for local intent don’t forget the power that organic search can bring for you.
If we’re talking about specifically ranking for the Local Panel and Google Maps you have to know that the Google local algorithm is trimodal, it’s built on three pillars: relevance, prominence, and proximity. Proximity is something you can’t easily optimize for (unless you think opening a new location is easy) so you probably should focus more on relevance and prominence. Things like link building, on-page optimization, etc.
What you mentioned about NAP consistency, optimizing Google My Business categories, and reviews are the basics that you need to do first and get right before moving on. I always find businesses who think they are ready for stage two when in fact they aren’t and helping them with these essential ranking factors can go along way.
M: So let’s talk proximity, especially when it can be a problem. For example, let’s say you have a tax attorney business and you want to rank for tax attorney
S: First off, I don’t think there is such thing as a place where no one has trouble with their taxes (especially in New York). Let me bring your example closer to me. In Toronto, if I searched tax attorney Toronto I will get results in mid-town Toronto (where I live), one downtown, and one on the east end. This just shows you that for this particular query that proximity doesn’t take the biggest role where prominence and relevance take more importance. So even if you’re located in this magic neighborhood where no one has any issues with their taxes you will still show up for users searching for your business or category outside of your locality.
Another thing I noticed with my tax lawyer Toronto search is that the Yelp page seems to rank high. When I see websites like Yelp and other search directories ranking well it shows there is a good chance of ranking high up on the SERP because they tend to rank for lower competition keywords.
Also, I think that whatever business you run and whatever the traffic to your business is, people tend to look up businesses online before making a purchase decision. They want to see your reviews, your listings, your phone number, your location. So making sure that your local business is optimized is important as long as you have some local presence.
M: Off the cuff, I know Google My Business gets a ton of discussion in terms of optimization, but what about Yelp? Do you think it gets ignored too often or is the main thing Google My Business and you should only work on Yelp if you have time for it?
S: It really depends on your industry. I find in some categories that other directories do better than Yelp. For example, in Canada, there’s a jewelry directory that ranks well for many branded and related searches and I had one client who ranked well there.
Another thing is the importance of reviews. A lot of local SEOs found that Google Reviews play a lesser role than other review websites and Google trusts more sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor when giving relevance weight to their reviews than to their own. So definitely pay attention to other directories and try to get some reviews and listings there.
M: I bet you could Google “optimize for local intent” and find a whole bunch of articles that talk about searches where the user doesn’t want a business in close proximity. For example, a Londoner who is searching for the best pizza in New York is a case where the user doesn’t have to be in close proximity.
Great… but if you’re in London and search for Pizza NYC Google still “assigns” you a NY location for all intents and purposes…. I’ve never seen a Local Pack show me a pizza store in Harlem or Washington Heights (for those of you not from NY that’s upper Manhattan)… You usually get lower Manhattan to midtown (Times Square area)…
… So if I’m a really awesome Pizza store in Harlem… in one of these areas that Google doesn’t by default go to …..why should I care about getting searches from London? Obviously, this is a bad example since a pizza store should be all about local optimization
S: So I tried searching best pizza in new york and I did find a pizza store in Brooklyn that was in the Local Pack. And the reason for that was the name of the store, “Best Pizza.” I don’t know if they picked the name for local search but it seems to work very nicely.
M: Would you recommend to change the name of your store for optimization?
S: Well, you definitely can’t change your business name in your Google My Business listing for keyword optimization as that is illegal and against Google’s guideline, but I do know companies that changed their name legally to try and get into Local Packs and as long as it seems natural you can do that.
What your best pizza in new york question shows is that proximity isn’t everything as if you have a high level of relevancy (and your business name usually adds to your relevancy) and high level of prominence you can get into the Local Packs where your proximity isn’t the greatest.
M: Do you know how Google weighs relevancy over prominence?
S: What I find is that it depends on the industry. Usually, for simple things like bars and pizza parlors you’ll find places in your immediate vicinity, but for more complicated places like car insurance or tax attorneys Google will show more spread out results as Google understands that prominence and relevancy play a larger role.
M: Let’s talk Reserve with Google for a moment. First off, are there any drawbacks to it?
S: I think there are. First of all, in order to get into the program, you need to work with one of Google’s scheduling partners. And there’s usually set up costs with it as well as monthly fees. So a lot of businesses do not want to pay for it and are doing just fine with direct bookings. As the program expands globally and into more categories and industries and more users start using it I believe some businesses will find that they will be forced to sign up for the program in order to get bookings from Google Search.
I actually found a new filter in the restaurant Local Pack called “Find a Table” and when you click on it you will only see listings that have this “Reserve with Google” functionality.
So it is pretty limited now, but the more time goes on the more people will get used to it and these type of filters will be getting bigger and bigger until users will be only searching for businesses where you can only book with Google.
M: Don’t you think that’s a conflict of interest problem of Google offering a filter that affects their software partners?
S: It’s a problem for businesses who don’t want to partner because of the cost, especially for smaller businesses.
M: Do you think Google will start charging businesses directly when using the feature?
S: I don’t think it’s very scalable for them and Google always goes after scale and that is I believe why Google has Reserve with Google Partners. It’s much easier to scale as these partners will set up small and large businesses in geographical areas and work with them directly. Google will charge businesses indirectly through
There’s also another way Google can make revenue by offering Cost per Acquisition to more businesses as right now it’s limited to hotels but I don’t see why Google couldn’t expand it to other businesses.
M: Speaking of revenue, I believe it was you who pointed out to me that Google loses money on its voice assistant devices. Obviously, the consensus is that ads, at some point, have to be on their way, somehow. To me, ads on a voice device are impossibly “clunky” – they make ZERO sense to me. All of the data points to users engaging with a voice device because it’s quicker and easier – both of which don’t apply when ads are introduced. I mean, can you imagine saying, “Okay Google, turn the lights in the kitchen off” and it responding, “Sure Mordy, but first… did you know you can lower your energy bill in 5 easy steps? Bob’s energy saving audits are a great way to lower your monthly electric bill. Just call…”
Do you think it’s possible for Google to earn revenue via voice search through its partners, whether it be through the Reserve with Google program or something similar to that (i.e., where they will get a referral fee)? For example, if you order a pizza via Google Home, the pizza costs $20 and Google gets $2.
S: So Google has tried in the past doing certain ads in voice devices when people asked what their schedule for the day will be and there was a lot of
M: I definitely agree. The problem I see though is that, according to some data I’ve seen, people aren’t thrilled about pulling out their credit card when interacting with a “machine”. So my question is will users feel comfortable dealing with an AI interactive interface to make a purchase? Also, how does Google get around the visual aspect of purchasing as I would like to see what I buy?
S: When it comes to making a reservation you don’t really need to pull out your credit card. I did see a case where you can pay and that was for guitar lessons. You can actually pay for your lesson right away. The thing about credit cards is that chances are Google already has the user’s credit card information. If you have an Android device and are using Google Play then Google already has your credit card information. You don’t need to pull out your credit card. It seems seamless and natural and you already trust Google so I don’t see how that will be an issue.
When it comes to visual search I don’t think it’s very big for local search. You don’t really need to see a restaurant when doing a search. For me personally, I do reservations for restaurants I have already been to. I know what to expect and don’t need to see the restaurant. This is why local search is so important for Google in terms of voice search revenue because users already know they want to make a reservation, they know what they want to order.
M: But what about hotels? I know Google wants people to make bookings through voice search (wouldn’t those users want to see what the hotel looks like)?
S: I think it’s similar
Optimize It or Disavow It: [34:36 – 37:55]
M: In the Local Pack, you can have either your correct phone number listed or the Reserve with Google icon show up. Which do you ensure shows up? And to make matters worse, the two other listings in the Local Pack both have the Reserve with Google icon!
S: If I had a business that was eligible for Reserve with Google I would have to look into my conversion rates amongst other channels. A lot of businesses will see that most of their conversions are over the phone and they will choose their correct phone number. Some businesses may find that their conversions are coming through Google more than phone calls so they will prefer to get their Reserve with Google icon.
Now this all may change when the program expands because in time this icon will become mandatory not just for CTR but to track conversions and make money. Then businesses will have to choose the Reserve with Google option.
M: Well, thank you very much for coming on our show!
S: Thank you, Mordy, it was fun!
SEO News [40:34 – 43:07]
Google Adds New Restaurant Features: Google has added a way to mark your place in line via the Local Panel! Showing for some restaurants, the feature allows you to see how many people are ahead of you as well as the wait time! This way you can save your place in line, do something else, and head over to eat when your turn has arrived! And guess who found this? Today’s guest, Sergey Alakov!
Media Search is Being Overlooked: So another Googler is pushing media on the SERP… Gary from Google recently said: “Google Images and Video search is often overlooked, but they have massive potential.”
We don’t know exactly what’s coming but it looks like big things are headed our way when considering image search and the like.
New Video Grid Box on the Mobile SERP: A new format for the video carousel has been popping up all over the mobile SERP. Now mobile videos carousels are not a carousel… but a grid box that contains 4 videos (or more in some cases).
Google Opting-in Businesses into Calls from Google Assistant: It seems Google is now automatically opting businesses into receiving calls from Google Home. Some feel Google should trust its product and give people autonomy rather than opting users in.
Fun SEO Send-off Question [43:07 – 45:00]
Kim and Mordy easily answered this question by saying Google will come back as Bing as some bizarre form of karma – yep they both had the same answers!
Thanks for joining The In Search SEO Podcast! Be sure to catch a new episode each Tuesday!