Search engines are continuously pushing the envelope when it comes to delivering the most meaningful and appropriate results to searchers’ queries.
In recent years, Google has been significantly enhancing its search engine results pages (SERPs) as it better understands user intent. Depending on the search query, you might see a carousel, a featured snippet, a knowledge graph, or reviews, on top of the usual 10 blue links.
Now more than ever, it is important for businesses to keep up with the changes in SERPs. From ensuring the accuracy of your brand’s NAP data to optimizing your Google My Business listing, there is a wide range of tasks you need to cover in order to stay competitive in local search.
Raj Nijjer, VP at Yext and GM at GeoMarketing.com, joins me in this Search Engine Nerds episode to share insights on why and how businesses should optimize for local, mobile and geo data as consumers continue to search intelligently. Nijjer also discusses the rise of location-based apps, the importance of controlling a brand’s digital knowledge, and why reviews matter for business owners in local search.
Could you tell us a little bit more about what Yext is?
Raj Nijjer: Yext really believes that for any brand, they are in complete control of their digital knowledge. Digital knowledge is people, places, products, and we want to make sure that digital knowledge is everywhere.
If you think about a brand that has locations, that has obviously name, address, phone, hours, website… our mission is to make sure that brand is in control of that digital knowledge on properties like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, and even apps like Uber, Snapchat, Instagram, and a multitude of other places where consumers interact with that brand while they’re seeking to either buy something or discover a product or service.
That has to be really hot right now with the transition of desktop search over to mobile search, especially with location and map targeting, I would imagine.
RN: Yeah, when you think about it, everything’s mobile now, right? Everything is on the go. These are micro-moments, as Google calls them. ‘I want to buy,’ ‘I want to know,’ ‘I want to do something right now.’ Basically, it’s all about instant gratification.
For us, it’s a secular movement, where everything has shifted to mobile, if not already, but it’s also pioneering new industries.
The geolocation industry, as it’s called, has given birth to services like Uber, Lyft, even industries like dating. Tinder is probably one of the largest location-based apps out there. As it gives birth to these new industries, our goal is to make sure that for brands… again, their information is not just found, but also accurate.
There was recently a Google study that came out and talked about how much digital maps, just digital maps itself, impacts sales around the world. Their understanding of that was around 1.2 trillion in sales.
When you think about it, it kind of makes sense, how much we use digital maps for. These are digital maps that are not just on desktop anymore. It’s Apple maps, Google maps, Waze. There are so many different ways you can consume this information, but it’s all at your fingertips across a multitude of app services and they make it as easy as just typing into Safari, Spotlight Search, clicking on a calendar invite, things like that.
I’ve definitely seen a lot of fragmentation, a lot of impact in the actual industry itself, and again, it’s giving birth to a whole new set of industries that never existed before.
Loren Baker: I never really thought of Tinder being a location-based app, but it makes total sense at the end of the day, right?
RN: I don’t think a lot of people think that, but it has also pioneered sharing of location information. I think before that, there were few apps where people were apt to turn on location services, but as these new industries and new services have come on board, I think location sharing has just become normal.
We know people value privacy, even new generation millennials… location sharing has become ubiquitous at this point. Everybody has it turned on, and it’s because, again, the experiences in these apps have gotten so much better and the context has gotten so much better and accurate that people are willing to turn that on to be able to consume accurate information.
When you search for your business name on mobile, now Google gives people three options. First, to call, second, directions, and third, click the site… Could you go into [Google] a little bit? Google not necessarily being just a list of 10 links anymore?
RN: The Google My Business team has really taken that product and accelerated its adoption and innovation. If you search for something – like dentists, dry cleaners, medical, healthcare, any type of service, any type of banks or ATMs – the results that you’re going to get… let’s just talk Google for now.
If you do this type of search, the result you’re going to get is a local pack. Google automatically knows you’re trying to … ‘I want to’… It’s a micro-moment, you want to choose something, and they’re trying to shorten that search cycle as much as possible so you’re able to get the answer as fast as possible. If you do any type of searches like that in Safari, in Spotlight, even in Voice, what you’re going to get is just local results.
Another thing Google has done is they’re actually accounted for the fact that “Near Me” is already part of your search. Before, it was that you’d have to say “Dry Cleaners Near Me,” but now, if you’re doing it on a mobile phone, they automatically assume the fact that you’re looking for a dryer cleaner “near me.”
It would be very interesting or a weird use case if somebody’s looking for a dry cleaner 1,000 miles away. I’m in Arizona right now, I don’t think I need a dry cleaner in New York.
Kudos to Google for assuming all of these things and making the search experience way more valuable for the consumer, but also for the small business by giving all those CTAs. I can get directions, I can call, I can go to the website.
Ultimately, let’s be honest, a lot of these small businesses just want a phone call. What we’ve seen and what Google My Business team is doing is basically that Google search will return local results for goods, products, and services. They will account for “Near Me” and they will also account for modifiers, like “best restaurant” or “best Thai restaurant”, and that automatically assumes you are looking for something with X stars or above, a Thai restaurant that is also near you.
Think about all those modifiers and all you have to type is best Thai food. You have a method that does all of this for you in the background and brings the best Thai food that is rated maybe four stars and above, located a mile from you, that you can go visit or call to get a reservation right now. On top of that, we’ve also adopted a whole new set of structured data, and basically helping consumers consume data with the use of structured data in a very seamless experience.
Google has been able to alter user behavior so they know when they’re searching, they don’t have to put that information in there any longer, which is kind of interesting from an SEO perspective, because if I get on a call with a client and they are like, “We have to put every single ZIP code,” it’s like no, you don’t need to do that. People don’t search like that anymore.
Why is taking care of the knowledge graph important for a brand?
RN: Knowledge graph is a basic entity that’s fundamental to your business. If you own a restaurant, for example, and you need to list your menu and location so Google will know the menu items and hopefully the eatery shows up in the results if a consumer searches for pancakes.
Similarly, for a bank, those entities may be branches or ATM locations. For health care, it might be the provider name, the types of insurance that are accepted. So these are largely entities or attributes for a type of business. For retail, it could be holiday hours, seasonal sales.
It’s largely basically entities that make up who you are.
If you think about a supermarket, they probably want to show up for something like groceries. Category is also an entity at that point.
A knowledge graph is largely who you are, and those entities are basically granular attributes that describe who you are. This could be a repair shop, but repair shop is not enough, it could be how you do oil changes, you do break service.
These are all entities in the knowledge graph that describe what the business is, what it does, not necessarily how it does it, but it defines all of these things… These are all part of the knowledge graph that help enhance your brand value to the consumer.
Why do reviews matter for business owners in local search?
RN: This is a topic that’s obviously been debated a lot. Word of mouth is not all digital.
Yelp was the stalwart that started all of this and now we have… you mentioned TripAdvisor. In travel we have Booking.com, Expedia – everyone has their own review platform. Google and Facebook have their own reviews platform now, and they’re pushing it aggressively. Yelp pioneered the whole industry.
It’s kind of level set why it’s important. Sixty percent of consumers actually say that star rating is an important factor in purchase decisions. I actually think that’s low. I think it’s probably a lot higher than that. Eighty-seven percent of consumers don’t even consider a business that has an extremely low amount of reviews.
It’s paramount for a business to do two things, and it’s two-fold. One is to encourage your customers, especially the happy ones, folks that you know, loyal ones, local ones, to leave reviews.
Don’t incentivize them for it, that gets into a whole different world, but encourage them. Then, respond to them.
I think a lot of small business owners or just business owners in general, don’t respond to reviews. It’s great to put a human response to something like, “Hey, they did a great job.” I think as a small business owner, as a GM, it’s up to me to go in that review and say, “Thank you so much, and next time you’re here, come and say hello.”
It’s very important to make it human, and I think that’s where you really separate yourself from a lot of the review spam and where people are like, “There are way too many reviews way too fast.” If you see a human responding to that, it elevates your game to the point where somebody’s like, “Wow, they actually care about who they are and their customer.”
Another thing we have not discussed is the ability [of] businesses now to send out messages and offer via Google My Business.
RN: They released Google Post via Google My Business, through their UI, which means if you log in you can post messages. It’s a great way to amplify what you do. It’s basically on your listing or knowledge card. You can create your own posts and say, “Hey, this sale is happening,” or even share a review that was left in the post.
Again, it’s reusing the content you already have, so it doesn’t have to be everything that’s brand new. You don’t have to think through all these types of content. You already have it. It could be that we have a brand new dish for the restaurant, or a brand new sale for this retail store, or we’re open X amount of hours now, or we just improved. Why? Because you told us that X was wrong.
There are lots of ways you can use Google Post to engage consumers and people who are searching for your product and service. I know we just rolled this out yesterday, so it’s very timely. Brands can actually take advantage of this.
I think it’s frankly one of the most powerful things GMB has done, to be able to have conversations with consumers and also just rolled out Q&A, which is another great feature. If I have questions about a certain type of business and they hear all those questions over and over, it’s a good candidate to add to the Q&A so that it can remove uncertainty, so that somebody who is uncertain are able to get that answer and able to then transact with you.
If I have a customer with multiple locations and they want to change their hours for the upcoming holidays, how easy is it to use a tool like Yext to set that up, knowing that holiday season is only a month away?
RN: That’s a good question because it is coming and it’s something that we see a lot in our platform, where we see hours being updated. It’s as easy as adding the hours and then saying to apply this to all my locations. You can do it regionally, it just depends on how you have brand marketing set up. It could be that you have four regions and each one of those regions have different hours.
It’s largely the concept of having holiday hours, which are separate from your normal hours. If you reset holiday hours that should basically override your normal hours and say for this timeline, this is the new set of hours, and apply them to all and syndicate it everywhere. Then, make sure that is published everywhere.
Setting it is one thing, getting it published is a whole ‘nother thing, which is something near and dear to our hearts. We want to make sure we get this information out too.
There’s no point in doing all of this and praying that all the information gets out. You have to make sure it gets out, because the two hours extra that you’re open, you’re paying people.
You’re paying staff, you’re doing marketing, you’re putting all of this spent and if you’re not making sure the information gets out, it’s a huge miss on any marketing team. Make sure those extra two hours per day, per week, per month, is actually getting you a return. It especially would depend on foot traffic.
Does Yext enable the same Google post to be published across multiple Google My Business listings?
RN: I want to be careful when I answer this. The short answer is yes, but at the same time, make sure it’s a broad enough message that you’re not spamming all of your locations or all of your franchises. Again, what we see is it depends on how you have everything set up. If you have by region, by language, by product, by service, it just depends on how everything is set up.
With great power comes great responsibility is how I’m going to answer that. This is something that’s brought up … all locations are now open until 12 a.m., or something, for holidays. Perfect example, but if it only applies to 10 of them, do it for those 10 and not necessarily for all of them, and make sure it does apply to all of those, and make sure your franchisees or your location GMs also know that you’re doing this.
It’s critical to make sure that the downstream everyone knows that you’re doing this, and then ask people how they found you. If they say Google Post then you’re doing an awesome job.
The beauty of this… you can create CTAs as well. You could say, “Look, shop, learn more, sign up, get offer.” You can also create now and post it later. There’s a way to set up all of this stuff too so you don’t have to post it right then and there.
You can set up campaigns in a way. Start thinking of this as another campaign you can do or a tactic as a campaign, so you can amplify, using Google, all of the changes you are making or all of the stuff that’s coming up.
Tell our listeners a little bit more about Yext and then also your upcoming ONWARD event.
RN: So again, just to recap, our mission is to put brands and businesses back in control of their digital knowledge. That digital knowledge is your name, address, phone, hours, product, services.
Think of all of the attributes in the knowledge graph. We want to put you in control of that, and not just be in control of it, but make sure that information is everywhere and it’s accurate.
The other thing is… our flagship conference is coming up called ONWARD on November 1-3 in New York City. Super excited about that, we’ve got some amazing speakers. We’ve got the original Jedi, Mark Hamill speaking… Then, great keynotes from Facebook, Amazon, Hubspot. Big agencies like DexYP out for their merger, what is their plan? I know Joe Walsh, great CEO. He’s driven a print business into completely digital, so we’ll have fun talks like that as well.
We’re talking to a lot of folks in the ecosystem and our industry as well. Really excited for ONWARD in November.
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Think you have what it takes to be a Search Engine Nerd? If so, message Loren Baker on Twitter, or email him at loren [at] searchenginejournal.com. You can also email Brent Csutoras at brent [at] alphabrandmedia.com.
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