Chris Silver-Smith will be speaking about “Local / Mobile Strategies And Tactics” at SearchFest 2012, which will be held February 24, 2012 at The Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon. For more information or to purchase tickets, please click here.

1) Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living?

I am a search marketing consultant, and I own my own business which was recently launched Argent Media. I’m probably best known for specializing in local search engine optimization (or, “Local SEO”), but I’m actually quite a bit broader in background and abilities. My college degree was in Environmental Design — a multidisciplinary design degree which was primarily intended for students interested in going into Architecture — but, it also could be used for people interested in fine art, sculpture, commercial art, engineering drafting, landscape architecture, and animation. In my case, I had originally intended to get an advanced degree in fine art, but I got a job fresh out of college doing map-making and scientific illustration, and I took a tangent from there off into internet design. I went from that mapmaking/scientific-illustration job into working at when it was first starting up as one of the early online yellow pages sites. I stayed on at Superpages for a decade, ultimately getting promoted up to head the technology department. While managing technology, I worked on designing and programming a good many functions, including analytics, online ad products, weather forecasting, partner cobranding, widgets, XML feeds, and SEO.

2) How has Google’s new “Search Plus Your World” impacted the Local SERPS?

So far, “Search Plus Your World” has not had a lot of visible impact on SERPs from my point of view. If they are planning to incorporate recommendations and reviews from individuals’ circles into the ranking algorithms for local businesses, I expect that effort has lagged behind its introduction into the regular search results. It’s not unusual for some types of enhancements to appear later within Google’s vertical search properties after it’s first begun in the main keyword search zone. Also, I’m hearing rumors that Google Place pages are going to be combined with business Plus pages in some way, and I expect that project would probably trump the search personalization upgrades for local.

3) Can you share some trends you’re seeing in how Google is ranking local businesses?

The primary influencers for local ranking are continuing to be at play, such as keyword relevancy (and related Business Category relevancy), geographical proximity, and the popularity signals such as inlinks, citations, numbers of reviews, etc. Just as with their main keyword search, Google appears to be periodically adjusting the percentage of influence of these primary ranking factors by slight amounts, making it very challenging to discern precisely what is being done. For businesses in less-competitive market areas and industries, applying merely basic optimizations to these factors can make the difference in local rankings, since many small businesses perform optimization very poorly. However, for large, aggressively-competitive verticals and markets, it seems one has to apply much more extensive and subtle optimizations to get ahead of the pack. For those highly-competed markets, intensive straight SEO (not just local optimization) seems to be the differentiator.

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