Archive for October, 2012

Fasten Your Seatbelts – Google Changed Again

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Just as we were enjoying our summer, Google went quietly about making some significant changes to its algorithm that heavily impacts local businesses. If you want to understand how to keep being “seen” in Google, these new changes must be adapted in your practice’s online marketing program.

First Change: Google Search Results Went Hybrid

This past year, when we used Google for an online search, the results would show paid advertising at the top or far right (which only 25% of people click on), with local search results shown next — listed in packs of 7 or 10 and accompanied by corresponding map markers starting with the letter “A,”, followed by organic (non-local) results. Google has now integrated organic and local search results together, which currently display on the search results page in varying ways — in packs of 3, 5 or 7 for example, depending on the search query. Search results are still formatted with paid advertising at the top or right under the map on the results page, but you’ll now see organic results listed BEFORE, and blended with, local search results. How does a business become listed in this new hybrid format and at the top of local search results? What we have learned is to focus on the following:

  1. It is crucial to have a custom-designed website that can be optimized (coded) down to the page with local search terms, specific relevant industry keywords (funeral, cremation, obituary.), and appropriate geographic regional terms.
  1. When choosing location keywords, check how close your business is to the center of the city. To do this, go to Google Maps (maps.google.com) and type in your city and state; e.g., Minneapolis MN. Google will then display a marker on the map with the letter “A” — where it considers the center of the city to be located. This letter “A” is what Google calls the “centroid.” The closer your business is to the this centroid, the more “votes” your local business listing receives toward being near the top of local search results for that city. With this approach, Google is attempting to make the search experience most relevant to the searcher’s query.
  1. Plentiful (five or more) positive online reviews help maintain good positioning in Google Local Search. Google purchased the Zagat review site and is now incorporating these reviews into Google local listings. Reviews are becoming increasingly important. Having reviews associated with your business listing is yet another key ranking factor and one of the many signals Google looks for.

Second Change: Google Changed Mobile Search

Estimates indicate that by 2014–2015, more searches for information will be conducted on mobile devices then on a computer. Google has already started to adapt to this change by integrating online reviews with local search results for mobile devices. To see how this works, pick up a smart phone and search for your town, state, and funeral homes (example: Maple Grove MN funeral homes). Google shows a list of search results for this query. When a searcher clicks on one of the businesses listed, Google sends the searcher to information that is from the Google+ Local pages, including associated reviews for this business listing.

Many funeral homes I have seen are struggling with online reviews, claiming their Google+ Local page, and actively monitoring and engaging with people in this format. However, Google just forced your hand from reluctance to action. If your business doesn’t take control of it’s local listing page, encourage positive reviews, and interact with your customers in this arena, then searchers will see whatever Google happens to display on this page. Whether it is accurate, positive, engaging, or not — searchers will make their decision on credibility based on what they view. What does your listing say about you? The first step is to claim your business listing at www.google.com/placesforbusiness.

Third Change: Google Merged Google Places, Google+, and Zagat

Google recently began changing Google Local listings to Google+ Local, meaning it’s in the process of merging the Google+ interface with Google Places/local search listings. In addition, Google has now integrated Zagat and it’s way of rating businesses. Reviews on Google formerly used a star rating from 1 to 5 stars. The rating system has now changed to Zagat’s method, which is based on  a number system of 0 to 3 for individual reviews. Google takes these ratings, averages them, and then multiplies by 10 to arrive at an overall score.

These major changes are all happening at the same time. What does it mean for your business?

  1. Take the time to set up your Google+ page, since it also affects your Google+ Local area. Keep an eye on this area, as Google will continue making modifications as it rolls out the integration of these three platforms.
  1. Make sure you’ve chosen the most relevant category for your business listing, add any appropriate information as well as photos,, encourage positive reviews, and respond in a professional, educational fashion to negative reviews.

Finally, remember that your online marketing program is like driving a car. You need to know how to drive the car and fill it with gas, as well as know when to take it in for an oil change — but you’re not expected to build the car.

Content – Treat It Like Royalty

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Yawn—content is so boring, right? Why should we care about content? Throw a few words up on the page, call it good, and move on. Hold on! Not so fast. Content is the star player in any online marketing program. Key functions of content are:

  1. Search Engine Optimization Placement: Content plays a major role in how/where your website is placed on Google. In February 2011, Google made a change to its algorithm, emphasizing high-quality content as a key search engine optimization requirement. This change was called Panda. Bottom line—template content is out and original content http://www.beyondfunerals.com/blog/2012/10/content-–-trea…t-like-royaltyis now “in.”
  2. Education: As consumers, we know about cars, food products, cleaning products, and beer because of the amount of advertising we have seen on these subjects. However, we know minuscule amounts of information about funeral homes and their services and why we should pay for it. We just know as a family member that we “sorta need it.” The job of content is to educate people about what the service is, the benefits of the services, and, frankly, why people should pay to have that service conducted.
  3. Engagement: If the content on your Internet marketing platforms is stale, boring, flat, and so on, then why should the consumer read it? The content needs to be written correctly in the proper style for the platform (website, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, eNewsletter, YouTube, newsletters, and so on) where it is placed, and it needs to ENGAGE the reader. If the content is not compelling, why should the consumer read it and, more importantly, why should they come back?

Placement for Engagement

Multiple times I have been asked: “Can I write the content once and copy and paste it across all my platforms?” No. Resist this urge to write material once, check the box, and just plaster it out there willy-nilly. You will lose your audience. Each platform has its own style and guidelines for the way content should be displayed, the length, and the tone of how it is delivered. Sure, the message across all the platforms can and should be the same, but the exact content in each place needs to be avoided. General guidelines are as follows:

  1. Online Review Areas: Everywhere people can leave you reviews online must be managed and monitored. The content on these pages needs to be accurate and updated on a regular basis. Once a review is left, then a thank you note needs to be given for positive reviews and an educational note placed for a crabby review. Each thank you/educational note needs to be unique to the post and should not be a standard reply.
  2. Website: Most funeral directors websites I see fall down on the job when explaining the services they offer and why people should use them. Website content needs to be 400 to 500 words per page, needs to educate the family member on what the facility does and why they provide those services, and it needs to be optimized (coded) to be found in Google. The content style needs to be informative and educational in nature. Because protocols do not change every week in the funeral home, do not expect to change content about what services you provide on a constant basis. Instead, a blog should be used for weekly educational updates. 
  3. Blog: Confusion reigns over what in the heck a blog is. Think of it as an online magazine that is educational in nature. Resist putting cute updates about the office pet on a blog (those type of updates go on Facebook/social media). Focus on short paragraphs, bullet points, and easy to understand educational topics that are timely. For example, during the holidays would be a post about reaching out to loved ones especially the elderly.
  4. Social Media Platforms: A good framework for the tone and style of social media is a coffee shop. Conversations on social media areas are fun, chit chatty, ongoing conversations with a hint of education thrown in for flavor. Numerous times I have heard funeral directors say they wrote a beautiful article that is educational in nature and are disappointment nobody thought it was useful on Facebook. However, the picture of the office cat doing something cute went viral. The educational piece is great but needs to be placed on a blog. Correct placement is everything with content.

Monitor Its Success

Marketing needs to be monitored to make sure it is generating the results that are desired. Are people engaging with the content? Are they reading it? Is the post/page/tweet being passed to other people? To find out, monitor the statistics. Each platform mentioned above has its own statistics program that is included or can be added to determine the success of the created content. Monitoring, adjusting, and changing the content based on results is an ongoing process—but a necessary one.

“Old” People Aren’t on the Internet, Are They?

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

How often have you heard or thought “old” people are not on the Internet? “Old” for this conversation is being defined as someone over the age of 40. Of course “old people” are still using the Yellow Pages, right? Therefore, you don’t need to be marketing on the Internet because your clients don’t use it. However, in reality, people of all ages are on the Internet. Consider these statistics:

  • G.I. Generation (Age74+) — 30% are online
  • Silent Generation (Ages 65–73) — 58% are online
  • Older Boomers (Ages 56–64) — 75% are online
  • Younger Boomers (Ages 46–55) — 81% are online
  • Gen X (Ages 34–45) — 86% are online
  • Millennials (Ages 18–33) — 95% are online

Source: (http://www.sitejabber.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/sjgen.png)

Instead of asking if “old” people are on the Internet, the appropriate question to ask would be: What device and what platform are they using to access the Internet? “Device” can be defined as how one accesses the Internet. This could be through a standalone computer, a laptop, a tablet/device, or a smart phone. Once a person has a device, they have multiple choices, or platforms, of where to search for their information. Think of a Google search, online review sites, websites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, eNewsletter, blogs, and so on as various platforms. As a searcher, a person has the luxury of selecting a platform of choice to do all his or her searching. However, a business needs to be found on most, if not all, of the platforms because this is where people are looking for your services.

Another way to look at it is your business needs to be found where people are searching. Your business information needs to be educational in nature and your website needs to be built so it can be viewed on the most popular devices and seen on the current platforms. Questions to ask when reviewing how your business is viewed on devices and platforms are:

Device Check:

  1. Pick up a mobile phone. Do a search for your website. Can it be seen easily or do you have to scroll left and right or top to bottom to find the information you are seeking? Your website needs to be mobile friendly — meaning it can be viewed on a mobile device.
  2. Hold an iPad. Can you see your website on an iPad or are parts of it missing? An iPad/iPhone does not support Flash. Many people are surprised to find out what is missing on their websites when they are viewed on an iPad.

Platform Check:

  1. When doing a search on Google for veterinarians in your city and state (for example, Maple Grove MN veterinarians), is your website found on the first page? If it is, is there a link to your website or does it go to maps.google.com? If maps.google.com is listed instead of your website, how do people then get to your website? What is your score? Is it less then 25? Be aware that Google just changed, and your score is going to determine whether people will click on your Google listing to view your website.
  2. Check your website on IE 7 and above, Safari, and Firefox to see if your website can be viewed and looks the same on every platform. Many times, I have seen beautiful websites built to only one type of browser that look like a train wreck in a different browser.
  3. If you have a Facebook business page, do not count on it being found in the Facebook search, which is rather dismal. Instead, is there a way to go to your Facebook page from ANY page on your website?
  4. If a searcher were looking for your business on YouTube (second largest search engine), Twitter, Pinterest, a blog, or an eNewsletter, would you be found?

Why is this important? Because older people ARE on the Internet — but they just might use it differently than you. My 90-year-old grandmother is on the Internet, but she just chooses to use a standalone computer, and her platform of choice is email. Whereas, my 71-year-old mother uses multiple devices (standalone, laptop, iPad, and iPhone) depending on where she is and what she wants to search. Many of us are this way. We search where we want to search on the platform and device of our choice. So instead of asking the AGE of your audience, ask about what device they are using and where (platform) they are looking when searching for your business or services. Because if you don’t know where people are looking for your business or how, you are literally barking up the wrong tree.