If you’re a business owner even slightly aware of your online local business presence, you have noticed some changes in the local world over these last few months. Not all of these changes are for the better (I’m squarely looking at you Google).  I want to talk briefly about what these changes could mean in the next few months.

Google – Let’s get the big one out of the way first. A few months ago Google made the change from its Google Places platform, a platform we all knew and …well we knew it. They started migrating thousands and thousands of businesses to the new Google Plus Local platform. To Google’s credit, most made the transition smoothly, with the accurate description, NAP (name, address, and phone number), and photos making the switch. Getting to the profile isn’t as easy as it used to be, however. It isn’t a matter of clicking on the teardrop and seeing all of the business info. Now, once you click on the teardrop, you are taken to the maps page. When you click on the listing on the map, and ask for more info, then you are taken to the new Google Plus Local page for the business.

That’s if your business made the cut. Since the transition, hundreds of business owners have flooded the forums and help blogs looking for a solution. The switch has left these businesses in the cold, with the dreaded message “We Currently Do Not Support This Location.

Yesterday, Google made a pretty big change to their local business pages. That is to say, they removed them. As of this morning, all of the local pages are in transition to a new page hosted by the Google + platform. Google has several reasons for making the change, which they explain will create a simpler experience for customers. This simpler experience includes a more proficient rating system, using ratings from Zagat when applicable. Google says it will also make it easier for searchers to leave reviews and recommend businesses to the friends in their circles while logged in to their Google Plus account.

The transition seems to be fairly smooth in terms of bringing over content, though for now it is still recommended that business owners manage their listing through the Places for Business. Right now, the changes have created new plus pages for the business that you can navigate to through the maps listing. For businesses that already have created and manage a local Google Plus page, Google’s instructions is to “hold tight

Today on the Evolving Interactive SEO Blog, we feature a guest post about how to optimize your Facebook profile in a few easy steps. Social media management is a key element to optimizing your business for search engines, a point our guest blogger points out.

Whether you’re running a business or you’re trying to promote yourself, you need to use social networks like Facebook to reach new audiences. Here are a few tips for quickly gaining new followers on Facebook.

1. Engage your followers

Don’t be afraid to ask your readers questions or to offer prizes and contests through your Facebook page. When you make an attempt to communicate with your page’s fans, you bring a lot of positive attention to your page and increase your chances of a viral post.

When you engage your followers, make your posts short and sweet. Try to hook your audience’s attention. If you’re having a lot of trouble getting followers, you might even offer a prize to viewers who share your Facebook page with their friends.

2. Don’t self-promote too frequently

Once you have visitors coming in from shared posts, ads and links, you need to make sure that the first thing that visitors see is a page that offers some value to them. If all of your posts promote your business, band or self, you won’t win too many new followers.

Vary your posts and try to give your visitors a reason to come back. Post interesting links and invite discussion in the comments of each post. You’ll stand a much better chance of getting a viral post that can drive more attention to your page. Remember to check your Facebook page’s Insights to see whether visitors are responding well to a specific type of post.

3. Optimize your page

One of the easiest ways to get quick traffic is to make sure that your page looks impressive. Pay a professional graphic design company to make appropriately sized images for your page. Use an optimized URL by visiting the settings of your Facebook page and make sure that the new URL is easy for your visitors to remember. Delete boring or irrelevant posts and make sure that your page looks professional.

When you have a good Facebook page, you can add your URL to your email signature, put it on business cards and promote it directly, but wait to take this step until you’ve optimized every element. Eventually, growing your base of Facebook followers will be as easy as posting regular updates and including your URL wherever you can, but first you need to understand your audience to make the type of page that people follow regularly.

Guest post courtesy of Shai Atanelov, the Client Services Director for New Edge Design, a web design company in New York.

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Recently, one of our customers asked me about Google and Yelp reviews, and how you can get them to show more prominently. This is a great question, as these interactions from customers can factor into and appear alongside your business name on the search results. It’s more than good SEO, it’s good for business to see other customers excited about your company.  Here are some tips for featuring reviews, and how to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Encourage Satisfied Customers to Leave Reviews

It seems like a no brainer, but you can see why this gets overlooked. The job is done, the business is paid, it’s all wrapped up nicely. But what about next time? If your customer is happy with you, approach this with two methods of thinking. Create leave-behinds, a pamphlet-card or handout with your company contact info. On the other side, offer something to the customer in exchange for a review on Google or Yelp. Maybe 10% off the next repair, a free cookie, something that will not only make them a return customer, but encourage them to get on the web and talk about your company.  A positive review goes a long way in terms of boosting your branding to other customers and the search engines.

Respond to The Negative Reviews

Not every review you get will be a good one. In fact, I’ve heard a satisfied customer tells maybe 4 people, and a disgruntled one will tell more than 12. If a customer is upset enough to take to the web, you’re going to want to deal with it head on (line). Yelp graciously allows business owners to respond to the individual reviews, giving you a chance to explain your case. Angry customers tend to exaggerate, and customers will understand that nobody’s perfect. So despite the negative press and insults being hurled your way on your profile, show compassion and respect, and you can turn this into a positive. The best way is to apologize for their negative experience, and explain what went wrong. Offer the customer a direct line to speak to someone that can help them, and maybe even a discount on the next service, or refund for their current issue. Potential customers will like that your company cares enough to interact and offer a solution.

Burying Bad Reviews

I’ve gotten this question a few times. Yelp is sensitive to fake reviews, either to give companies a five-star boost, or to destroy a company’s reputation. It isn’t always accurate though, and we’ve seen perfectly legitimate reviews get filtered down into no-man’s land. There isn’t really an easy way to combat this. If you’re getting too many 5 star reviews, Yelp will take factors into consideration to decide whether or not it’s legitimate. Is the Yelper a new member? Has the Yelper reviewed only select companies, and given them all glowing reviews? This is why we want you to encourage your real customers to leave real reviews, and why we want you to respond to the negative ones. Plus, fake reviews are in the spotlight, and not in a good way. It goes against Google’s  Terms of Service and can lead to penalties.

So whether your customers are interacting with your business through reviews on Google or Yelp, or through social sites like Facebook and Twitter, the important thing is that your customers care enough to talk about it. With a little boost to this idea, you can help your business reach new potential customers.

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The important of social media marketing is only expanding, and you’ll need certain tools to start and grow your social media campaign. According to a study by Network Solutions, LLC and the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, about one in five small business owners use social media for marketing. Professional services businesses, real estate businesses, and the entertainment, food, and lodging industry use more email marketing, and the social services and education sector use more social media and direct mail marketing.

Whichever category your business falls into, though, social media marketing is likely to become more and more important to your business in the future. Here are just a few of the best tools that can help you grow your social
media marketing campaign.

If you’re already using Twitter as a way to market through social media, you need to know what other Twitter users have to say about your business – and your competition! Monitter is a real-time service that checks in on Twitter mentions. You can set it up to find information on mentions of just about anything, like your business and your business’s competitors. Monitter will then set up a multi-column display that allows you to see what people are saying about you. It’s a must-have tool to track what’s being said about your business and the competition, and it can also help you come up with ideas for further Twitter marketing in the future.

Facebook Insight
Automatically a part of your Facebook analytics, Insight lets you track trends and see how your fans are using your Facebook page. With Insight, you can get a section of demographics about your fans, which includes a list of who most often refers others to your page. You’ll also get analytics about the interactions fans have made with the updates on your page. This lets you see what type of content works best to get a buzz going on your Facebook page, who your fans are, and how you can more specifically market to your target audience.

This is an easy URL shortening tool that gives you automatic analytics on all your social media. A Bit.ly account gives you an analytics suite that will show you historical data, top referrers, and other vital information about where your links are ending up and who is following them through.

YouTube videos are easy to create, and they can be a vital part of a great social media marketing plan. If you’re using every form of social media except for YouTube right now, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon. Upload videos of employees giving presentations. Make walk throughs of how to use your products or troubleshoot common problems with them. Give DIY tips that link with your service industry. Many social media users are more likely to watch a video on a topic that interests them than they are to read a blog post, and once you’ve uploaded videos to YouTube, it’s easy to link them with your Twitter feed, blog, Facebook page, and whatever else.

Email isn’t dead quite yet, and in many industries, the email mailing list is still going strong. Whether you already have a mailing list or want to get one started, MailChimp is a great option for you. You can manage a list of up to 500 subscribers for free, and you can integrate your MailChimp with Twitter, Salesforce, and WordPress. Lots of major companies, including Intel and Fujitsu use MailChimp for their email list management!

While many of these tools are free, some require a subscription or yearly fee, especially if you want to get the most out of the service. If you don’t have it in your business budget to upgrade your MailChimp list, for instance, you have a couple of options.

Guest Blog post submitted by Ashyia Hill. Ashyia Hill from CreditDonkey says you may want to take out a small business loan, or you can look at small business credit cards if you need a quicker option that offers a bit more flexibility. Either way, getting credit to finance your social media growth can be a smart move that may pay of tenfold in the long run.

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