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A Local Search Marketing Tactic That's One For The Books

Some commonplace, traditional promotion methods provide significant SEO benefits for local search marketers. However, many managers expend more time and energy focusing upon elusive technical tricks. Here’s one local SEO tactic that businesses should consider: write a book.

Way before the advent of the Internet, there have been many business owners who wrote books to gain more attention and renown from the public. For some, it was merely a vanity status symbol. For others, it was a chance to gain some additional respect, and, hopefully, more customers.

Yet, for others who were already well established into being successful businesspeople, it was a chance to demonstrate what they’d learned over the years and to become known as the definitive experts in their fields.

Fast forward to the present and printed book may also be sources that Google refers to in assessing the relative popularity of businesses. Books may be a source for local citations which have gone virtually unnoticed by many online marketers.

How Citations May Be Used From Google Book Search

If you’re unfamiliar with “citations”, they are considered by many of us who obsess over local search ranking factors to be virtually equivalent to links in Google’s assessment of the relative importance of one business over another.

Citations may be mentions of a business’s name and address in text on webpages or in social media status updates. (I’ve theorized that citation analysis may go even further, including mentions of the address by itself as well as mentions of the business’s phone number and business name could also be counted as citations, too, under certain conditions.)

Since Google has invested so much in their Book Search and are continuing to develop it, their database of books naturally contains a great many which have addresses of businesses. These many books can provide a rich source of citations which could be tapped for the purpose of rankings in Google Maps and Google Place Search.

Since print publishing is harder to game in some ways than digital media, the corpus of data could be valuable to them in determinations of whether a business listing is to be trusted or not.

In a recent article, I mentioned how Google Places doesn’t allow companies to add new listings with PO Box addresses, but they do allow some with PO Boxes already listed in their source data to rank under local search. Google may be choosing to trust such PO Box listings when they see the businesses also listed in a number of trusted sources, such as references they may find to them in printed books.

Google may not be using book search data only to determine the trustworthiness of business listings — they might also use it to help determine relative popularity. The numbers of different printed books, magazines and other publications which mention a business could be used in evaluating relative popularity.

But, is there evidence that Google is actually using citations of local businesses from their scanned book data?

As you may be aware, Google Book Search is founded upon a program they initiated circa 2004 to begin scanning in many thousands of books from major libraries.

After scanning in all the pages of a book, they process the scanned images using optical character recognition in order to associate the words with each scanned page, store this in databases, and use their various algorithms to enable it to be searched and to rank books. They’ve also developed a number of elements of their user interface for displaying content from the book search results and book contents.

One step Google would have to take in order to associate places in books with mapped locations would be for them to look for and identify street addresses in the text of scanned books.

And, of course, they are doing this.

If you want to see examples, just search in Google Books’ for things like travel guides which highlight locations, peek into one of the “About this book” pages in the results, and you’ll likely find that Google has cherry-picked a handful of addresses from inside the book and plotted them on a Google Map.

For instance, a peek into “The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive“:

Scroll down and you can see the map of some of the famous places featured in it:

If you were a local business, and you published a book about what you do, Google Books could potentially index your book, and your address in it might add to your overall citation rank value.

For instance, a famous vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York — the Moosewood Restaurant, has published a number of cookbooks over time. In their recipe book, “Sundays At Moosewood Restaurant“:

Google has identified the various places worldwide they’ve mentioned in the book, including mention of their own hometown:

Yet, there are many other citations of the Moosewood Restaurant to be found in Google Books, such as in restaurant guides, health books, and magazines. This issue of Vegetarian Times has their name highlighted in the tag cloud as well as in the mapped places:

Unsurprisingly, the Moosewood Restaurant ranks highest in Google Place Search for generic “restaurants, ithaca, ny” searches — and, ranking highest for restaurant searches in a place is moderately unusual for a vegetarian restaurant.

Is it because they’re so popular when people search on that area, or is it because they have a rich source of citations in multiple channels, including Google Books? Separating out cause and effect are difficult.

While it’s not necessarily a clue that some of Google Books’ interface features are prominent parts of Google Places, such as the maps, it is interesting nonetheless. As you can see above, they’ve incorporated user reviews to display on the About page for books.

Similar to Universal Search behavior, business websites are being listed in almost a one-box at the top of Book search results.

Here’s an example using one of my favorite restaurants in Texas which has also published their own cookbook — a search for “Royers Round Top Cafe” shows their website at the top of the results, followed by their cookbook:

An interesting question would be whether business owners who are authors gain any benefit from the frequency of their names appearing in Google Books.

One example could be Jonathan Kirsch, an attorney in Los Angeles who has written a number of books — not necessarily even directly related to his profession. Since his name coincides with his business name, his books may provide particularly good ranking benefit, such as ranking for search terms like “intellectual property attorney, los angeles, ca“, where he shows up in position #8 or #9 in Google Maps.

Could Print Yellow Pages Boost Citations?

Printed yellow pages directories are often found in libraries, so you might reasonably expect your print YP advertisement to give you a little citational “juice” through Google Books. However, I couldn’t really find any current major yellow pages books via Google Books.

If contemporary YPs were scanned into Google Books, you might see Google associating places with their listings, just as you can see in this old 2002 Ameritech directory for Bloomington. I can’t say whether the lack of yellow pages in book search is due to YP publishers choosing to opt out of having their books scanned, or whether it’s a choice on Google’s part. Either way, it looks like a lost opportunity for increased business exposure to me.

However, as print yellow pages books may become discontinued over time in certain markets, these sources of citations could be rapidly going away.

Widening The Scope Of Citations

It’s obvious that having presence in various other media channels such as videos, images, blog posts and books may help businesses have more opportunities to show up under Universal Search. Yet, various Googlers such as Matt Cutts have hinted that broader marketing tactics and more traditional promotional methods may provide businesses with greater longterm benefits.

As Google desires to shift from more easily-manipulable ranking factors to things which may quantify best practices, it seems clear that doing something like trying to gain renown and attention like getting a book published might actually give you some ranking benefits as well.

Of course, Google’s original PageRank algorithm was based on citations in scientific publications. Google’s founders had noticed that more important academic/scientific research papers tended to get mentioned or “cited” more frequently than less-important published research papers.

Based on that, one could rank academic research papers based on how often they were cited, and whether they were cited by other important papers. Google translated this concept from academic research papers onto the Internet, where they figured the link was the equivalent of a named citation.

There could easily be similar complexity in how local business and location citations are concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if more weight were given to mentions in books published by more established, popular publishers. And, the relative importance of authors could figure in as well, too, since we know that Google is focusing more upon figuring out the relative influence of individuals in social media.

Aside from this rather loose case theorizing Google may be incorporating citations in print media for local search rankings, writing a book has traditionally helped business owners and companies to attract more attention and to establish their authority in particular industries.

Using combinations of traditional promotion tactics, such as publishing books and promoting businesses by inviting reviewers in and such — these things will help increase business referrals, longterm. If it helps your online rankings directly as well — that’s merely gravy for you!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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