VeniceGoogle, ever the busy little bee, has been rolling out updates to its algorithm with great frequency lately. The latest, Penguin, aims to crack down on web spam in the Google search results and it’s causing quite a bit of panic in the SEO world. But a couple of months ago, you may have missed the Venice Update, which flew in under the radar a bit. This update came in in February and is geared towards local search. Here’s Hallam’s Guide to Venice:

What is the Venice Update?

The Venice Update is targeted at local search, so if you’re a local business owner, it’s going to affect you. Big time.

In a list of algorithm updates (where do they get the codenames from?) published on their Inside Search blog in February, Google put it thus:

  • Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.
  • Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.

What does the Venice Update mean?

Basically, the Venice Update is Google’s attempt to make local search results more relevant. It looks at where you are and serves up the results it deems most relevant to your location and query. And it will now serve up local results for a whole host of queries, so you really can’t afford to ignore local anymore.

How will Venice affect my business?

The main way in which the Venice Update will affect you is that you’ll really need to focus some time on your local SEO. If you’re a company that works in local areas, this is something you should already be doing anyway, but this is even more the case following this update. A lot of companies seem to think that having a list of the places they serve on their homepage, or in the footer of their site is enough, but it most definitely isn’t.

How does Google know where I am?

If you run a search in Google, on the left hand side of the screen, you’ll see your location. Google detects this automatically, from your IP address, but you can also change your location manually if you wish. Hallam are located in Nottingham, so if I run a search, this is what I see:

Venice Update - How does Google know where you are

How do I optimise for local search?

If you’re a local company, or a larger company with lots of local offices, then you need to have a page devoted to each of the places you serve. This means, local keyword rich content, local Title tags & Meta Descriptions. If you look at the search results for something like “family lawyers”, for example, you can see that the companies appearing at the top of the search results are all optimising for Nottingham:

Venice Update - Local search results for family lawyers

But what you MUST NOT do is have the same content on all of your local pages. That means no “find and replace”. Make sure that each page is unique and keyword rich. You may not have physical locations in all of the places you cover, and for Google Places, this matters, but for the organic search results, it doesn’t.

Make sure your Google Places page is set up, verified and well-optimised. Your Places page name should be your business name, nothing else. Don’t try and stuff your keywords in. And don’t forget to claim your listing.

Add your business to local citation sites such as Yell, Touch Local and Brownbook. These sites let you create profiles which you can also optimise for local keywords, and Google often gets its info from them. And again, claim your listings, always.

Consider adding a KML file to your site. This little file will tell Google your latitude and longitude, among other things, so it’ll know exactly where you are.

The most important thing with regard to local SEO is consistency. Your company name, address and telephone number should be EXACTLY the same, and in exactly the same format across every local platform, whether it’s your website, your Google Places page, or your local citations. If you do this, you leave Google in no doubt about where you are.

Background reading:

SEOmoz’s Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update

SEOptimise’s Big Algorithm Boost for Local

Further reading:

Team Hallam Top Tips: Local SEO

A Brief History of Google (Interactive Timeline)

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