This morning I was paging through old Google Blog posts and stopped to check in on the new iPhone app that marries Google Places with Hotpot reviews.
Hotpot started out as a way for Portland, Oregon restaurant and small business owners to help customers rate their business — and receive customized search results based on their own ratings and those their friends write.
Portland was a natural choice to beta the program since it’s such a food-crazy, locally sustainable market. The program got kicked off on December 9, 2010 and is now available everywhere.
So here’s how Google Places works without Hotpot:
- Step 1. Business owner claims their free business listing
- Step 2. People search for businesses on Google and Google Maps
- Step 3. Google decides which businesses are most popular based on how many people search for KPI’s like driving directions (This is also a hook to get business owners to claim their listing, since all these metrics are made available to them)
Personalized Search Reviews Change the Rules of SEO
Hotpot makes search more useful and engaging by using the same game mechanics that made Foursquare successful. When I was traveling in greater Chicagoland last week I kept hitting up Foursquare places to check on local restaurants, along with Google reviews.
If I’d been friends with more people who lived in places like Peoria, I’d have been able to use Hotpot to find an Asian noodle house with great pad thai and sriracha hot sauce.
Luckily Google thought of this. So if you’re a more dedicated Hotpot reviewer and rave about, say, a great deep dish pizza joint, then the next time you hit up the Hotpot in another city then Google will automatically serve up search results based on this preference. Which brings us to SEO.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post discussing why game mechanics are so important for startup businesses. The bottom line is that it encourages better SEO ranking because the more people use and like your content the more relevant it becomes to the Google algorithm.
In other words, your local business can gain website traffic — and foot traffic — by encouraging reviews from a wide community (Customers, their friends and family, and as deep into this funnel as possible). The first step is of course to claim your Places listing, but there’s even more simple steps you can take:
- Suit Up — Get a decal you can put in the window of your store. You can make this happen by providing cool and useful info that answers questions about what makes you different and great. Spice up your copy, add a bit of helpful stuff like driving directions and menus, then encourage people to go deeper into your site and hope that decal comes in the mail!
- Game On — You want reviews that are genuine and positive, or else people will figure out that your page is full of crappy astro-turfed comments. So try turning the reviews into a game. Offer a contest — free dinner for 10? — to the author who writes the most thoughtful review.
This is an SEO plan to get more people interacting with your online real estate, but you’ve got to resist the temptation to game the system. Come on, you know where I’m going with this! Lots of business owners think about slamming the competition with negative reviews, but it’s just not worth it.
Developing a game plan is easier than you think once all the tools are lined up.