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UK shopping market maybe smaller than the US one, but Google wants to make an impact on it as well, introducing Google Nearby Shops UK. Now, when you query for certain product via UK Google Product Search, you will have the shops selling it appearing map-style below your search, to help you locate the closest item to your location.

Of course, if you are a merchant and want to take advantage of this feature, becoming listed in those results, you need to have your shop’s URL linked to both Google Places and Google Merchant Center.

For both buyers and sellers, this combination of Google Maps and Google Products can be very useful in this Holiday season.

Google has recently announced that Google Instant Mobile is now available “globally”. This means that the tool is released for all countries that have Google Mobile access (there are several dozens of those) and supports almost thirty languages.

The product, similarly to Google Instant Mobile, is integrated into search features for any Android browser (built-in for Android OS 2.2 and up) , and features various algorithms that allow faster dynamic search results.

Although this release was expected (shortly after releasing Google Instant Mobile in English, the company had announced that international support is on its way) – nobody anticipated that this would happen so quickly. The roll-out took Google slightly over one month time – an incredible figure, considering the complexity of the product. Of course, this simply means that Google had been working on globalization of Google Instant Mobile simultaneously with the product itself. That is no wonder – Google had always emphasized the importance of international marketing and global support.

rate places with google hotpotThink of it this way – As we travel through a new type of landscape we are guided by signs as always. But the source of the signs and information is much different. Travelers are creating the guidelines and providing directions for the inquiring traveler. This is what happens with Google Profile. Users rate/review businesses, restaurants and service providers based on their experience.

If you are in a neighborhood that is popular with you and your circle of friends you can use Hotpot to find restaurants, bookstores, business offices etc. that will include the locations that are popular with your friends.

Here’s the recipe:

Add an ingredient with a decidedly local flavor to an icon of the Internet world and what do you get? Google Hotpot, a new dish that is seemingly a combination of Places and Profiles. What does this new menu item do for us, the user?

It helps us find local destinations, like businesses and restaurants.

This creates a large database of information in Places, of course. But it also helps the Internet behemoth with another task – making suggestions to users in the future. Add the “friend” touch and you have a referral and suggested destination business model called Hotpot that guides you to physical locations in your area.

How it Looks

A quick look reveals an uncluttered, almost simplistic, design – just what you would expect from Google. Hey, it works!!

Sign in and start rating, that’s all there is to it.

Google hotpot

Obviously, you can do your rating and searching on your computer. But these actions are also available on the Android 1.6+ phone with the Google Maps 4.7 update.

At this point the emphasis is on good places to eat and drink – you know, restaurants and cafes. But Google Hotpot isn’t limited to consumption of food and beverages. Users can review any retail site, schools, libraries, even a nice park for a bit of quality time outdoors. A recent count by Google indicated that users have already placed millions of reviews on the service.

For example, one of the icons of Southern Illinois and the St. Louis Metro-East area is the Brooks Catsup bottle. This huge landmark is atop a tower in the town of Collinsville. Want to find this unusual site? It’s on Google Hotpot, complete with a color photograph and address.

Simply click on the number next to the average rating (five star system) and you can read the individual comments and reviews. Choose the business name – the live link at the top – and you are taken to a page with a map, address and review information. You may even get another photo.

Why Hotpot Now?

Most of the early reviews of Hotpot emphasize that this is a way for Google to take on such social sites as Facebook, Yelp and others. The focus is local. But there is supposed to be a significant difference with Hotpot. Reviews and information come only from people that are brought into your network.

The product manager for Google wrote, “With Hotpot, we’re making local search results for places on Google more personal, relevant and trustworthy.”

The idea is not particularly cutting-edge because there are several other ways to connect with friends and recommend places to spend time and money. For example, a user can select Yelp for the closest city and find all sorts of information about restaurants and other businesses.

But This is Google!

google local mobileThat will capture a lot of attention. Throw in the Android access and Google Hotpot is coming into this market at a time when the Internet and World Wide Web are about “apps,” not searching. We are gradually moving into an electronic world that won’t require much searching. Some say we are there already.

We mentioned the key word “local” a bit earlier but we should have mentioned another key word in this scenario – “social.”

Social networking is far from new. In fact, we could argue that the Internet and the Web have been “social” for years. But with Hotpot, the world’s fastest-growing company, Google, is making a statement – We are more social. We are more local.

As one Hotpot review stated, this is the way things work now.

The Google LatLong Blog says Hotpot makes about 50 million locations available, as indicated on Google Places. Users step into the process to share their recommendations with friends, based on individual tastes and interests. When the iPhone Places app comes online Hotpot will add thousands more mobile users.

If all of this doesn’t seem earth-shaking, consider the one ingredient Google has that even the other social platforms don’t have. It’s called “consumer reach,” according to http://venturebeat.com/

Does this mean that Yelp and Foursquare will gradually wither and die on the vine? Probably not, at least for the very near future. But it is possible that Google Hotpot could be the killer app when it comes to navigating the local scene.

On a technical basis, Hotpot is, for the most part, a free-standing service. But if Google and its users decide to do some serious “mashing” and combining, Google Hotpot might stand next to “GPS” as the way to find your way around.

The merging of services hasn’t happened yet. Users still have to work with Hotpot on its own turf. But this will probably change sooner rather than later.

Some veteran industry observers are less than enamored of Google Hotpot. It’s nothing new or particularly useful, they say. What will the world say?

Stay tuned.

Not too long ago, Wired magazine ran an article by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff entitled “The Web is Dead, Long Live the Internet.” In the introduction to that article the authors write, “Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services – think apps – are less about the searching and more about the getting.”

If this is true, finding your way to the top of the search engines won’t be quite so crucial, in terms of business success. The authors note that people may spend their entire day on the Internet and never really search the Web. Specific apps for email, social sites, news and business resources make it unnecessary to type and search.

Anderson and Wolff urge the skeptics among us not to toss this off as “a trivial distinction.” They call the new model “semi-closed platforms” that use the Internet as a transportation device. But there is no basic need for a browser to display pages. The bottom line is it’s “a world Google can’t crawl.”

What does it mean to rank #1 on the major search engines in 2010 and beyond? Is it as important as being the “big dog” a few years ago? Or, as some believe, is it not quite as important as in the past?

Off to the Races?

page speedThe year 2010 may be remembered as the period of time when use of the Web and Internet changed significantly. What change, you may well ask? It seems obvious that if the majority of people are starting to fine-tune their Web use to the point of using only a handful of specific apps, the key factor is going to be speed.

Several industry observers have started to focus on page-load speed as one of two or three major factors for Web site success. For example, professionals in this field are urging Web designers and administrators to offer thumbnails of images so that the visitor doesn’t have to wait for a full-size image to load. Give the viewer the option to select the larger image. It’s a simple step.

In keeping with this trend toward almost-instant gratification, Google has come forward to emphasize page speed as a key factor. After all, for Google to be successful millions of Web users around the world must continue to search. One of the primary “enemies” of the old search pattern is the mobile device.

As cell phones and other devices take on tasks formerly completed only on a powerful desk computer, the need to search will be in decline. Sites will be developed for mobile devices and for the specific applications that work best on the mobile device.

Take the Local

google local searchAs we discuss this major change in Web use we should also consider this thing called the local search. In simple terms, being #1 worldwide will mean less if a viewer limits the search (and use) to fewer sites. For example, businesses of all types may start to limit their marketing to sectors such as Google Places or to Hotpot (interesting name). This last item is a ratings tool as well as a recommendation engine for Google Places. It’s designed to focus on local service, based on visits and recommendations from friends and other users.

Will search-engine optimization maintain its place as a key to Web site success? The answer could be “yes” and “no” together. Relevant, reliable content that is useful on a consistent basis will still put sites near the top of the priority list. One good example for incorporating the speed idea into the mix is using WebP images that will load faster than bulky JPEGs.

Here are some reasons why we should start using WebP:

  • Faster user experience
  • Reduced bandwidth and hosting cost
  • Overall improvement of the World Wide Web

Perhaps one of the most important ideas Webmasters, developers and marketers can take from this discussion comes from Anderson and Wolff, authors of the Wired article. “The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.”

A Few More Thoughts

Listing the key items for WebP use and including the emphasis on making money makes the argument for page speed quite strong. However, WebP won’t be an industry-wide standard immediately. Most people will continue to use JPEG or another popular format in the near future. But designers and administrators should give serious thought to using thumbnails to reduce load time.

As for the idea of making money on the Web, we might go back to the old real estate mantra “location, location, location.” Make sure your Web content is placed properly and the page-to-page connections are efficient. Add the local ingredient to your Web marketing to secure your place in a defined area.

Here’s a sobering thought for the doubters out there. The Wired article points out that a 1997 cover story in that magazine was already urging readers to “kiss your browser goodbye.” The emphasis for the future, according to this theory, was going to be on applications for specific purposes and a Web that was getting closer to “out of control.”

Walled gardens in which users were controlled by the provider certainly didn’t prove to be the success model. Google seemed to have “it!” But now it seems that even this game-changing business model wasn’t the final answer. Stay tuned.

Optimizing for local search

Local search engine listings may be little more than an afterthought to some webmasters, but they are a source of business that you shouldn’t ignore. Optimizing your site for local searches and making sure you’re listed in the local versions of the major search engines is a smart move, and doing so is fairly quick and easy. The three biggies in local search are Google Local, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Local.

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local business directories

Local internet business directories can help your business out locally. While you may consider your business to be web-wide, there’s nothing wrong with getting the support of the local population, particularly if your business has a bricks and mortar presence too. Even if you do all your work over the web (such as translating documents or writing software apps), there’s no telling who might be living in the same area as you who needs exactly the skills your business offers. Don’t miss out on local attention thinking that just being on the web will catch everyone. It doesn’t take long to sign on to local business directories, and in most cases it’s free. Three local directories you should check out are Yelp, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Local.

Yelp

Isn’t it a rush to get positive feedback about your business? Well, those compliments can be used to your advantage if you use them wisely. The goal is to not only get compliments, but also get real recommendations that other potential customers can see. That’s why local directories like Yelp are so helpful. yelp.com lets you gather good reviews about your company from customers. It is easy to get started.

First, register your business on Yelp by using its business profile directory. You can do this for free at https://biz.yelp.com/signup (see screen shot). The next thing to do – and this is important – is to review other companies and services you’ve used yourself, whether it’s a mechanic, a veterinarian, a restaurant, or some other local business. Keep your reviews positive, which means only reviewing businesses about which you feel positive. If you appear troll-like, you wont’ gain any credibility.

yelp signup

The next thing to do is to invite colleagues and friends to comment on and review your business. You don’t want a flood of these to come in at once. Yelp dislikes spam, and may construe a dozen glowing reviews your first day as such. Another thing you can do is ask your reviewers to review other local businesses as well so Yelp doesn’t think you’re coercing people.

You should build a good profile on Yelp, and you need to stay active in your community by reviewing other businesses (Many will reciprocate.) and make your listing more than just a boring list of your services and business hours. Let all your customers know that you’re on Yelp and that you’d appreciate a review. This is a good thing to include in your business’s email newsletter if you have one. The more you use Yelp’s social networking features, the wider a group of people you’ll connect with, boosting your presence on Yelp even more.

Yahoo! Local

Claiming your Yahoo! Local profile will expose your business to local clients, and you can use the same information and photos that you use on Google Local (if you have it). You can edit your Yahoo! listing any time with changes to business contact information, business hours, and other important information. You can, if you choose, invest in a local enhanced listing. This lets you add to the basic listing your company logo / tagline, up to 10 photos, a more detailed business description, two customizable links for coupons, inclusion in  up to 5 categories. You can check out the kind of things you get from an enhanced listing from the screen shot.

yahoo local options

But even the free listing will bring more business your way. Yahoo! Local only lists businesses that serve designated geographic locations in the U.S., so if you’re online-only or statewide, then you can’t list there. You can improve your chances of your listing being accepted by carefully reading the basic listing requirements first and follow them. Assuming you are able to list there, ensure that the name of your business and your contact information is shown on every page of your website. If you don’t have a bricks and mortar store, clearly show how potential customers can make an appointment with you. Keep in mind that it may take up to five ddays for your listing to show up on Yahoo! Local, so don’t resubmit your site if it hasn’t been at least five days. You can check on the status of your listing on the Yahoo! Local Listings website.

Bing Local

Setting up your local listing on Bing is easy and it’s free. The first thing to do is to go to the Bing Local Listing Center, where you can create a local listing. When you start creating your account, Bing asks you for your Windows ID. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to create one, or you can create one by going to this link before setting up your listing on Bing. You’ll have to enter contact and business info, additional phone numbers, email addresses, hours, etc. You’ll also get to fill out a long section for information like your company’s tagline, brands, affiliations, and a bunch of other things. Try to fill in as many fields as possible, because it’s to your benefit.

You can then choose up to six categories in which to place your business based on your associated keywords. Bing has good local search refinement, so you want to take advantage of this by choosing as many categories as you can. After you finish this, you’ll have to review your business listing and check that the push pin locator is correct. If so, submit it and you’re done.

You might think that these local directories don’t make much of a difference, but you’d be surprised. Having complete listings on all the local search providers is good for your business and gives your local customers (and potential customers) another way to find you. Setting up accounts on Yelp, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Local does not take very long at all, and it’s a great way to point more people toward your business.

Google Enhanced Local Listings

Depending on who’s doing the talking, Google’s new Enhanced Local Listings (currently available only in Houston, Texas and San Jose, California) are either a boon to small businesses with small advertising budgets or the end of organic search as we know it. Here is what all the heated discussion is about.

The Google Lat Long Blog describes it as “a new ads feature in local search that allows business owners to enhance their listings.” Apparently, it is not a matter of “buying position” on the SERP: “When the listing shows up in your Google.com or Google Maps search results, the enhancement also appears alongside it.”

The “enhancement” as you can see in the screen shot is a little yellow flag. Your listing will also have “sponsored” next to it. The enhancement is something you can click on to go to the business’s website, pictures, menu, or coupon. On the screen shot you can see that the flag will take you to the company’s website.

sponsor search

This service costs $25 per month and according to Google, it does not affect your search engine rankings. It only shows up beside your listing where your listing would appear anyway. So what are the pluses and minuses of this program? Forums have been thrashing it out the past couple of days. The two main arguments are: 1) It could help small businesses who don’t have $1000 or so a month for an effective AdWords account and 2) Just you wait: this will result in purchasing rank eventually and organic search as we know it on Google will be over. Let’s take the arguments in turn.

OK, if you’re a small business, you probably don’t have the money or the time to plan and execute a competitive ad plan on AdWords, and the return on investment of a smaller AdWords account isn’t always worth the trouble or cost. And even small businesses can fork over $25 to highlight their ad and include a link to a coupon, menu, photos, or just the website. Maybe it would be good to run for a month while they had a special promotion going on. There’s little question that Google’s bottom line will benefit. According to a Chantilly, Va. local business advertising company called BIA / Kelsey, advertising for small businesses is a $29 billion market. Those $25 flags will add up fast if Google rolls the program out nationwide.

Google says that it is thinking about taking the program nationally, but they don’t know exactly when. Businesses in San Jose and Houston can get into the program and get an enhanced listing with a little yellow flag and link for free for the rest of February. In March, it will start costing $25 per month. Businesses that don’t rank won’t really get anything for their $25, so local SEO will still be important.

If you have a small business who’s claimed the local Google listing for your site, whether you buy an enhanced listing or not you get something called dashboard analytics that will tell you when a visitor hits your local maps-based listing where they go: to your website, directions to your place, or your Google Maps record.

There are plenty of people, though, who see this as a slippery slope to paid rankings. Some of them believe that as the program grows, it will become competitive (like AdWords), and the position will be determined by the highest bids. Others think that if the program is nationwide, everyone will pay $25 per month and the enhanced listings will no longer stand out in a sea of little yellow flags.

Then there are those who believe that now Google has its big toe in the door, eventually there will be a more complex structure for price and what it gets you and after people get used to it, paying for real estate on page 1 of the SERPs will have worked its way into the mix without anyone thinking its any big deal. Boom: the end of Google’s organic search results. With AdWords already putting a price on 10 to 20% of the space on each SERP, Google will eventually want the other 80 to 90% to be monetized too. Other conjecture for Google’s nefarious plan include offering something like number one placement with purchase of a “premium” package.

The most likely scenario is that the program will roll out nationwide, everyone will pay $25 for a flag, and therefore nobody’s listing will stand out (except, ironically, maybe the oddball who ranks and doesn’t buy the enhanced listing). Pay for rank? I don’t know. It seems as if Google has an awful lot to lose by doing that. I suppose it is possible that Google thinks it’s so big and dominates search engines so thoroughly that they could pretty much do what they want and get away with it.

But if that were the case, it would make the time ripe for a new or open-source search engine to bust out due to its simple interface and truly organic listings. Or else Google could separate their search into something like “New Coke” (where businesses can buy rank) and “Classic Coke” (where the results are pure and ads are either gone or could be turned off). That would allow those who actually care about relevance and quality to do their thing while the ones that were OK with buying ranking could have their own search universe too.

Localized SEO

There’s an old adage in international marketing circles that says to go global, businesses really have to think local.

Apple recently launched its ubiquitously popular iPhone in China and after more than two months, it had shifted a mere 5,000 handsets. Whilst it is a product that will be unaffordable to many people in China, in a country of more than one billion people, most conservative forecasts of iPhone’s two-month sales figures prior to launch would be at least fifty times that.

Apple failed to consider a number of factors when launching the iPhone, namely Chinese consumers prefer not to sign long-term contracts, opting for charge cards instead, allowing a greater degree of flexibility for the user. This isn’t the only reason it hasn’t taken off, but it’s a factor that Apple really should have considered prior to launch – they should’ve properly researched the market.

At a micro level, it’s easier than ever for the smallest of home-built businesses to network and trade on the international arena. But the first step towards doing so is to build a fully localized presence in your key target markets– and the process begins with adapting your company website for each country you plan to tap into.

Like Apple should’ve done with the iPhone, you need to fully understand your target country, know what excites them and what, ultimately, is likely to encourage them to part with their hard-earned cash.

Language TranslationThe only way businesses should communicate with their international markets is in the native language of the local consumers. Even though English is the most commonly spoken second language in the world, the fact remains that people prefer to communicate in their mother tongue. Furthermore, three quarters of the world’s population speak no English whatsoever.

Contrary to what many people think, fluency in a particular language doesn’t qualify someone to translate into it. To provide convincing translations, the translator requires first-hand knowledge of the culture of that language which is why most translators will only ever work INTO their native tongue from another language in which they are fluent.

Furthermore, many linguists will specialize in a particular subject – such as marketing, engineering or agriculture. If your company’s products or services involve highly technical terminology, you will probably want to consider checking with the translation company that they have suitable candidates with the right level of experience.

The important thing to remember when translating your website or any other marketing material is that what works in one country, might not translate the way you want it to in another. What’s clever and witty in one country, might be offensive in another. This is something only a native-speaking translator will know.

It’s also important to be wary of dialects within languages. If you translate your website into French, it doesn’t mean you can use it for all French-speaking countries.

In France, a ‘post-office box’ is a boîte postale, but in Belgium and Switzerland it’s a case postale. In France, ‘lunch’ is déjeuner, but in Belgium and Switzerland the word for ‘lunch’ is dîner which, incidentally, is the word for ‘evening meal’ in France. There is a whole host of linguistic nuances between the French, German and Portuguese dialects of the world. Even closer to home, the English in the US and the English in the UK are significantly different…not to the point of requiring an entirely different website, but certainly to the point of requiring significant care and attention when writing the English text.

When marketing internationally, the words ‘language’ and ‘local’ should always go hand-in-hand. Failing to do so can lead to a very costly global venture for businesses where funds may be limited.

About the Author

Article by , the Managing Director of Lingo24.
Visit Christian’s website at www.lingo24.com.