The BlackTruck team recently traveled to Boston for Distilled’s SearchLove conference, which coincidentally gave us an real-life course in local search. Pull up a chair as our own Patrick starts with a story and shares the lessons that come from it…
When I travel, I don’t like to be a tourist. I like to experience the environment as it would be on any given day, without tourists running rampant. Much of this quest revolves around food: I want to eat where the locals eat. On every road trip where I have focused on this, the best meal has been from the eatery suggested by a local.
The BlackTruck team arrived in Boston on Sunday, the day before SearchLove. We set out to walk the city and eventually found ourselves at a beer garden, where we struck up conversation with a local and told her our dinner goal: good Italian cuisine in the North End. Without skipping a beat, she gave us the name of her recommendation and its general location.
A few hours later, it was time to walk to the restaurant, Pomodoro. I plugged the business name into my map, and we started walking and talking.
“Guys, stop. It should be right here.”
“Are you sure? There aren’t any signs. And nothing here looks like those photos.”
“Yeah, I think it’s across the street. Let’s cross and go back a little.”
-1 minute later-
“Gah, I think we passed it! Turn around!”
We totally looked like tourists. This wasn’t good. In our defense, it appeared the map pin wasn’t placed properly on the Google My Business listing. (More on this later.)
Soon, we spotted a tiny eatery, full of people, with zero signage. A woman was leaning in the entryway. We stopped and asked the name of the restaurant.
We let out a cheer and walked into a dining room that was roughly 20 feet by 20 feet. We were seated and hunkered in for our much-anticipated Italian dinner.
After three hours, 1.5 bottles of wine, and more food than we knew what to do with, we were the only ones left in the dining room. We all agreed that the experience, not just the incredible food, was what made it a night to remember: That woman leaning in the doorway earlier was our hostess. She was also the only server. And the busser. And the owner. She’s been running the restaurant for 25 years, and she recently moved the business just down the street to this location. She immigrated from Ireland 35 years ago, and we were amused hearing her heavy Irish accent inside such an authentic Italian eatery. This place was a gem.
Little did we know, we were only at the start of our Pomodoro experience. The hostess/server/busser/owner brought us our bill, and the credit card was handed over for payment.
“I’m sorry,” she said in her Irish brogue. “We’re cash only.”
It was 11pm and pouring rain outside. There was an ATM outside with no overhang…and no one’s cards worked in the machine.
“Don’t worry about it. Come back tomorrow. I know you’re good for it,” our host assured us.
We thanked her for her gracious hospitality and headed back to the hotel.
Optimizing for engagement using local search
The following day was day one of SearchLove. The second speaker, Dana DiTomaso, presented on optimizing for engagement, a crucial element to the future of local search.
Dana reminded us consumers are leaving digital footprints wherever they go, physically and online, via search history, geolocation, reviews, social media, etc. – and that’s engagement. She proposed that the way things are going, engagement will eventually overpower the importance of local data and traditional SEO.
For brick-and-mortar businesses, useful engagement data depends upon your business having a complete and accurate Google My Business listing. Dana illustrated this with an example from her own location history, tracked by Google on her smartphone. Her Google Timeline showed she frequented a small specialty grocer. But in fact, she was regularly visiting the hair salon next door. It turns out the location pin for the salon was placed incorrectly in Google Maps. Dana suggested the hair salon make some edits in Google My Business (they were personal friends), and her Timeline now shows she has visited the salon rather than the grocer. The salon’s local Google listing is now linked with its actual location and can show popular times for visits (measured by smartphone activity). In other words, the salon now has a more accurate and engagement-ready presence in the local search game.
But the concept Dana presented is much bigger than just a pin on a map. How can tracking engagement through Google listings be beneficial to your business? There’s a lot that can be monitored (from both your perspective and your potential customers’, if you think about it):
Learn from our experience
So, remember Pomodoro? Yeah…it could benefit from updating its local presence in Google. We were reminded of this when Jason later went to settle the dinner bill.
His mission: Quickly navigate an Uber to Pomodoro and hop back in to join us at the SearchLove networking event. But the quick trip ended up being not so quick: He arrived at the wrong restaurant in the wrong part of town!
It turns out there are other restaurants in the area with “Pomodoro” in the name. After finding the correct location in Maps, even with its outdated photos, he eventually made it to the right spot. And in case there was any doubt, he could see from his Timeline that he had been there yesterday (thanks, Google!).
Talk about a timely presentation at SearchLove. At the end of the day, had Pomodoro made a couple small, yet very important changes to their Google My Business listing (and had a sign), we would have had a much easier time finding it both times we were looking for it.
On the flip side…had Pomodoro made those changes, maybe the secret spot wouldn’t be so secret? Maybe it would have been full of those tourists we were
being trying to avoid sitting right there with us. Besides, we all know from House of Cards what happens when favorite local eateries get too popular, too quickly.
The real moral of the story is this: If you want people to be able to find your business (and you should), you need to focus on off-page elements just as much as on-page. Here, we’re talking specifically about Google. Claim and verify your Google My Business listing. If you have a verified listing, make sure all the relevant fields and features are complete and accurate. Upload recent photos of your establishment to help people recognize you. Monitor and respond to customer reviews. And once more for those in the back…edit the address field and drag the pin to be at your front door. (Seriously…we had trouble finding our chosen restaurant by foot the next day, too!)
If you don’t consider local search to be a priority for your business, consider your potential customers. End users are relying on you to make the path to your business the path of least resistance. The tools are available; they just need to be set up and managed. Users will take it from there.