For local businesses, Google Maps is the most important place to be on the search engines right now.

The Google Maps local business listings are featured very prominently on Google and have photos, reviews, ratings and other information that really make them stand out to people looking for local businesses and professionals to do business with.

Google has created a web page, called a Place Page, for most businesses in the U.S. that has a lot of helpful information about each business. The really cool thing is that you can claim and customize the Place Page for your business…for free!

Yet it’s reported that 88% of business owners have yet to take even the first basic step of creating a compelling, optimized Place Page which is simply claiming the Place Page for your business. My friend Bob Sommers has put together a 2 minute video that shows you how to find out whether your business’ Place Page has been claimed or not and how to claim it if you haven’t.

If you don’t know what a Place Page is or not sure whether yours is claimed or not, watch Bob’s Google Maps Marketing video here.

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What the heck is a backlink?

Is search engine marketing (SEM) the same thing as search engine optimization (SEO)?

When an Internet marketer refers to anchor text are they talking about something that’s important for online marketing or a part of their yacht?

A big part of understanding anything is learning the vernacular. A lot of us in the internet marketing world take for granted that our prospects, clients, readers of our blogs, etc. understand the terms we throw out there. But that’s not the case.

The Main Street Marketing Community (full disclosure: I am a co-founder of this organization) now has an internet marketing glossary on its website to help business owners understand the terms thrown around in the online marketing world. Our goal is the keep the definitions clear, concise and make sure they’re written in plain English that anyone can understand.

Check it out and, if there are terms you’ve heard related to online marketing which are not currently in the glossary, you can post requests in the comment section below the terms on the Main Street Marketing Community website.

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Russ Henneberry, owner of Tiny Business, Mighty Profits, recently interviewed me about using Google AdWords to grow small tiny businesses. We discussed a range of topics related to Google AdWords including:

  • When business owners should consider using AdWords as part of their marketing mix
  • How to get started with PPC
  • Common mistakes to avoid when setting up a Google AdWords campaign
  • Whether you should just focus on AdWords or should you consider using other pay per click programs such as those offered by Facebook and Bing

Russ asked a lot of great questions and there’s some very useful information in there for those interested in understanding more about pay per click advertising. So head over to Russ’ site to listen to this AdWords interview.

And, while you’re there, check out the rest of the site – Russ is one of the sharpest guys out there when it comes to marketing tiny business’ and has a lot of great content on his site.

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Last week, Google changed the way they display results when you perform a search that indicates you’re looking for a local solution.

For example, let’s say you’re looking for an auto repair shop in St. Louis to bring your car to.

Before last week, the results would have a big map at the top of the page with a listing of 7 businesses. Below that you’d find the regular or “organic” search results. Here’s an example (click for a larger view)…

Now, the map appears on the right side of the screen and Google has combined the local results and organic results so a search for “auto repair St. Louis” now looks like this (click for a larger view)…

Notice how the top spot is a local result for a local auto repair company, the next two results are the top organic search results which, in this case, are local review sites Superpages.com and Yelp.com and then there are more local results listed (the local results have the red pushpin with a letter on it).

A few things that are important to understand about this change…

1. Where you rank in local results is now a combination of things you do to optimize your map listing (called a Places Page) and your organic rankings. Previously optimizing these were two very different undertakings and one had little to no effect on the other.

2. If you were ranked highly on both the map and the organic search results and appeared twice on page 1 of Google, you now only appear once. If you ranked high in one and not the other, you may now find yourself much lower in the rankings.

3. You cannot ignore your company’s Google Places Page. It’s free to claim one for your business. If you haven’t, go claim it and fill out your profile as fully as possible – people will notice.

4. Reviews figure prominently in this new layout. Snippets of reviews will appear on the Google results page next to your business listing. Nothing will keep someone from clicking on your company in the results more than seeing a negative comment from an unhappy customer next to your business. So encourage your happy customers to leave reviews about your business on Google and other review sites like Yahoo! Local and Citysearch.

5. The title tags and meta descriptions on your website are now a key component to making your business stand out in the local rankings. It used to be the local search results had very little to do with your website (in fact, you didn’t even need a website to rank highly!). Now Google is pulling that meta data from your site and using it as the headline and description for your local search listing. Make sure you make the best use of those meta tags!

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There’s no shortage of speculation about how Google Instant (the new “enhancement” Google rolled out last week that displays search results as you type) will affect AdWords performance and SEO.

It’s going to kill the long tail.

Fewer people are going to look at the ads.

Costs per click are going to shoot through the roof.

Here’s the bottom line on it’s impact: NO ONE KNOWS!

It’s fun to speculate. Some Chicken Little’s get off on running around crying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

But the simple truth is…less than a week after it was introduced, no one truly knows how Google Instant will affect AdWords or SEO.

I do know this, however…

…AdWords is Google’s CASH COW.

They are not going to do anything that will cause a big drop off in ad revenues from AdWords.

Not gonna happen!

Sure, there may be some changes in user search behavior. But as far as I’m concerned, Google Instant is a non-issue until I start seeing results in the accounts I manage that make it an issue.

If you’re running AdWords campaigns, my suggestion is simply keep an eye on your key metrics (as you should always do anyway!) and don’t worry about Google Instant.

Google isn’t about to throw their advertisers under the bus with Google Instant or any other enhancements they roll out.

They’ve got too much skin in the AdWords game themselves to bite the hand that feeds them.

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Own a small to mid size local business and are frustrated, overwhelmed or confused when it comes to marketing your business online?

I’ve just co-founded a new organization with my friends, and online marketing experts Bob and Josh Sommers, called the Main Street Marketing Community.

We created MSMC to be a trusted source of information for marketing your local business in the online world – whether you want to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

We’ll be adding a ton of content over the coming weeks and months to the website including blog posts, a glossary of online marketing terms, how-to videos and more. And this information will be provided in plain English – no techno-babble allowed!

We’ll also have a forum where you can share your experiences with other business owners in the same boat as you as well as get your questions answered by our team of experts who volunteer their time to help.

On a local level, we’ve started scheduling Java Gyms (in Hawaii and St. Louis with more locations coming soon), which are free, 60 minute informal meeting held by local experts at a coffee shop (putting the “Java” in Java Gym).  Each Java Gym focuses on one specific online marketing strategy that you can put to use for your business to generate traffic, leads and sales on the Internet. They are also all meat – no sales pitches or solicitations of any kind are allowed.

I’ve got two scheduled in the next few weeks in St. Louis. One on local search marketing and one on pay per click advertising. Attendance is free, but spots are limited so if you want to attend, be sure to reserve your spot. Here’s a link to the St. Louis Java Gym calendar where you can find the details on these events.

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WordPress is an incredibly powerful tool not just for blogging, but for building entire business websites.

And not only is it powerful, but it’s super simple to use. That’s one of the main reasons I recommend many of my clients use WordPress for their business’ websites. You just don’t have to be a techie, or hire one, to use WordPress.

To illustrate my point, I created a short video on upgrading to a new version of WordPress. WordPress released their version 3.0 today. This is a major upgrade to the software. It contains tons of new features, over 1200 bug fixes and much more.

Yet, for such a major release, you’ll be amazed at how quick and easy the whole upgrade process is. In fact, the video is about 2:30 minutes long, but it only takes that long because I talk a lot. As far as the actual upgrade process, if you blink, you might miss it.

You can either watch it below or go to my other website, WordPressForBusiness.org to watch it there and get a little more background information in the post How To Quickly and Easily Upgrade to WordPress 3.0.

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If you own a locally focused business, this is a big deal.

When you perform a search that indicates you’re looking for a local service provider (ie. accountant, pizza, florist, etc.), Google displays a map of your area along with anywhere from 1 to 7 local businesses who provide that service (usually it’s 7). This map gets prime real estate at the top of the search engine results page.

Having your business listed by that map can be a very big deal and generate a ton of leads for your local business. And, if you are listed by that map, the more you can do to draw attention to your business’ listing than your competitors, the better.

Claiming your business’ local business listing is free (if you haven’t done that yet, stop reading and go claim it here now: http://google.com/places! What’s also important to note about local business listings is that you can’t pay to rank on the first page of results.

However, in an effort to monetize the local business listings, Google recently rolled out a feature called Tags. What tags do is place a yellow marker by your local business listing that allow you to highlight some aspect of your business. Things you can highlight with a tag include:

  • Your website
  • Coupons
  • Photos or videos of your business
  • Link to your menu/reservations page

Here’s a screen capture for the search term “Houston massage” where you can see a couple of the local business listings have tags highlighting coupons…

Notice how those listings and their offers stand out from the crowd?

Here are the key things you should understand about tags:

  1. It costs $25 per month to add a tag to your local business listings.
  2. Tags DO NOT affect your rankings in the local business results.
  3. You can stop running them anytime you want.
  4. Right now, tags are only available in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Washington, and Washington D.C.

And most importantly…

5. Because this is so new, not many local businesses know about tags or are taking advantage of them. This presents a very nice opportunity for those who do to really make your business stand out from the competition and generate some more leads.

So if you own a local business and live in one of the areas where tags are available, I recommend adding a tag to your local business listing before your competitors catch on. And if they’re not in your area, they’ll be there soon so take advantage of them when they arrive.

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One of the most effective targeting tools available in Google AdWords is the negative keyword.

A negative keyword is a word or phrase that, when it appears in a searcher’s search query, you don’t want your Google ads to appear.

For example, if you’re bidding on the keyword “shoes” but you don’t sell ballet shoes, adding the term “ballet” as a negative keyword will prevent your ads from being shown for the term “ballet shoes.”

Negative keywords help you more precisely target your ads to your ideal prospects. (Adding a number of negative keywords to a campaign is also one of the most effective ways to give your clickthrough rate a nice boost.)

Facebook PPC has no such equivalent. I’d like to suggest that Facebook add a similar functionality to their pay per click program to help Facebook marketers more precisely target the groups they want.

Here are a few examples of how this could be helpful:

I’m in the planning stages of a campaign right now. Though I can’t give too much away, it would be very helpful if, geographically, I could target people in the U.S. except for those who live in Hawaii. (You can easily do this in Google.) To do this now in Facebook, I’d have to set up a campaign and individually add the other 49 states to it. It’s doable, but it would be a pain in the ass.

Another example is suppose you want to target women, but have discovered that the group of women you’re targeting are generally not fans of Oprah. Wouldn’t it be nice to add Oprah-likers as a negative demographic in your Facebook PPC campaign?

What do you think? Are there situations where you can see this being helpful? If so, please share your ideas in the comment section below…

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I did an interview for RecognizedExpert.com today, a website dedicated to internet marketing for professionals.

The subject was Google AdWords and we talked about:

  • Which businesses (and business goals) AdWords works well for and which it doesn’t work well for
  • What is Quality Score and why it’s so essential to an effective AdWords campaign
  • What goes into a great landing page
  • How to find the right keywords for your campaign
  • The most exciting recent developments/features in Google AdWords
  • Important tips for local businesses to help them use AdWords effectively

We also talked about dog walking robots.

To find out what dog walking robots have to do with AdWords, listen to the Google AdWords interview here.

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