Apple: Local Search Embedded in Spotlight as a Default – Can it Move the Needle?

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More than one ambitious player in local has joined the walking dead in their battle with Google.

Google has long been the top dog in local search. Along the way they bested IYPs, Driving Direction sites and Mapping companies. Google left more than a few, like CitySearch and Yahoo Local, among the walking dead and severely limited the growth options for the likes of  the Groupons and Navteqs of the world. They have gone mano a mano to all comers.

It isn’t clear that this has resulted in great income but it has resulted in their dominant position in the local search market. And has put them in a position to send significant traffic to local merchants.

Mac Yosemite Desktop Local Search via Spotlight

Recently though there have been a number of orthogonal “attacks” on Google’s long dominant position in the local market. Apps and the on demand marketplaces have become high growth areas and potentially threaten Google’s place in Local.

And Amazon seems very interested in local. They have created a “local services” marketplace, are experimenting with local grocery deliveries and have developed a Grubhub local take out competitor.

But what about direct competitors in the space?

Facebook has rapidly become a dominant review site but seems to have otherwise ignored local search even when it would be obvious to include it.

iOS8 Spotlight Local Search
iOS8 Spotlight Local Search surfaces both places and apps as well as web searches from Bing.

Apple on the other hand has been making a slow, glacial move on mainstream local search. When Apple released Maps in September, 2012 there were high hopes for their aggressive entrée into Local but the Apple Maps fiasco seemed to push Apple into stealth mode in local search.

It also pushed Apple into serious fix it mode and I doubt that they have the desire to confront that s%$t storm again in Local search.

But recently we have seen some movement on the local search  front. Apple opened up to direct submissions of business listings, expanded their local business data partnerships significantly to improve data quality, appears to have created an inside Mapping project as well and rolled out Apple Pay.

But their most recent move, again in stealth, seems to me more significant long haul and has the potential to significantly impact Google’s monopoly in local search: baking local search into their mobile AND desktop OS Spotlight search function.

Continue reading

Google Shows New Mobile Ad type for Auto Dealers

Brian Pasch of Mastering Automotive Digital Marketing noted that Google will be rolling out a new mobile ad type for auto dealers in January.

Initially it will be available in limited markets with a limited set of keywords. It is a mobile only ad format will not display on the desktop.

The Dealership Listing Ads (DLA) ads, shown in this example with Toyota dealers, will initially appear when consumers use explicit queries that imply that they are looking for a car dealer. Examples given by Google are:

- Toyota Dealer
– Toyota Dealers
– Toyota Dealership
– Toyota Dealerships

dealer-listing-ads
Image credit: Brian Pasch, Mastering Automotive Digital Marketing

Brian is positioning that ad as a replacement for the 7-Pack. And that very well could be true, or not. It could just be a replacement for local ads that are currently showing. And the pack may continue to show below the ads. I don’t really know. Regardless, the ad doesn’t include review data.

In mobile, the Pack has long been pushed down below the fold by ads as can be seen in this screenshot of a similar search.

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The ad format does reflect Google’s growing monetization of vertical, local markets, monetization above the fold and their strong emphasis on brand. And could very well foretell the demise of the Pack in high value local verticals sooner rather than later.

Google Expands Hours Worldwide for My Business Support

Google has expanded the hours during which they are now providing English language phone support through the Google My Business Help Center. Support is now offered from 1 AM – 5 PM PST, Monday – Friday. Previously support was offered from 6 AM to 5 PM PST.

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Obviously, this is one of the benefits of having a team in New Delhi. When you compare these time zones Google has covered business hours in the US, the UK, most of Europe and mornings in Australia (although I imagine that Berliners get to work at 7 AM. :)) and part of the afternoon in New Delhi. This would confirm what poster Jitendra Gursingh pointed out, that Google is not yet very serious about local in India.

Times Open Around the World (as best I could figure, I am time challenged even though Google offers up this very cool time conversion answer box.)
East Coast 4 AM – 9 PM
UK 9 AM – 2 AM
Melbourne 8 PM to Noon
Berlin 10 AM – 2 AM
Delhi 2:30 PM – 6:30 AM

Google first introduced live support in January 2013 in the US and it received widespread acknowledgement that it was excellent within a few months.

My experience the other day was not ideal although with training and more confident staff many of the issues I dealt with (but not all) could be fixed. It isn’t yet clear whether Google is phasing out US based support or whether they are just expanding it and using Indian support to increase their hours and cover overflow to keep response times low.

Hopefully they can do so without sacrificing quality and pushing the added costs of time onto the businesses needing support.

Google Moves Local My Business Phone Support to India – Expect the Call Times to Be Longer

MyBusinessMedium

Google has moved My Business Phone support to India and, at least for now, expect your call times to take longer.

I noticed the changes to Google Local Support today. I haven’t called them in a while so it is not clear exactly when the changes were implemented.

1- It seems that a fair bit of the support for Google My Business  has been off-shored to India.

My experience on the call was less than ideal and it had nothing to do with the rep, who was ineffably polite, patient, well intentioned and well spoken.

The call took almost 1 hour. It was a fairly simple problem of merging an unverified and verified page but as is wont to happen with outsourcing there were several snafus not all of which were Deepa’s fault. In fact none of them really were. He was great.

There were some language issues as it was about a chiropractor and US personal names both of which required laborious, letter by letter spelling.

OK that happens but there were other issues that slowed the transaction down. For whatever reason it was difficult for him to find the listings. I had to spell out the URLs.

He didn’t seem empowered to make obvious changes. And had to wait a very long time for change to be approved upstream.

And the rules seem to be interpreted differently denying what should have been an obvious request but again only after a request to a supervisor and a delay.

Google may be able to fix the systemic issues and improve this process but then again maybe not. Plan on spending more time on the phone for now.

Update: At least for now, some calls are still going to the US call center. It isn’t clear how they are being divvied up or if all will go to India. See comments below.

2- Google now apparently offers a chat mode. Not my favorite way of getting problems solved but next time I will try it. Its got to be faster than the hour this call took me.
Live-chat

Google – Some Days I Just Shake My Head – Today is One of Them

You gotta love the privacy respect they shower on the iconic image of the Colonel.
You gotta love the privacy respect they shower on the iconic image of the Colonel. Click to view larger.

Over the past several days, a number of Google “annoyances” have cropped up…. sometimes it is amazing where a company like Google chooses to put its head…. that I wanted to get off my chest.

1- Did you know that Google’s bulk upload, even though upgraded multiple times with a raft of new ownership, management and social features still has a 200 character limit to the description field? Only known solution: open every G+ Page and upgrade the description manually. Even the few companies that have access to the G+ Plus API and that manage bulk uploads can’t affect this field.  How lame is that?

2- Google obviously put a lot of work into the new guidelines and the examples. And in many cases made things much more clear. Kudos.

But then why do they need to obfuscate things like virtual office guidelines?

  • If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours.

That statement could have been written by Franz Kafka… and leaves one in awe. Just what does it mean? Was it intentionally meant to not inform so that it could be enforced only when desired?

Certainly they deserve scorn over the descriptor fiasco but it seems to me that there are new fiascos in the making with their “Two or more brands at the same location” guidelines in general their examples in particular.

  • Acceptable: “TCC Verizon Wireless Premium Retailer”, “U-Haul Neighborhood Dealer”

I don’t know about Verizon but I do know about U-Haul Neighborhood Dealers. These are gas stations, repair shops and used car lots that have added U-Haul as a product line. This U-Haul Neighborhood Dealer is also Cars Are Us. Same paluka answering both phones and as you can see from Streetview no obvious U Haul branding. Yet he gets two pages not one. Isn’t that what categories are for?

And somehow those tiny KFC/Taco Bell shops garner two pages while the Lebanese, Greek, American, Italian restaurant would be tagged a spammer if they had two.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.45.37 AM3- And finally spam in general but DUI Lawyer spam in LA in particular. Name spam, location spam, spam, spam, spam.  Its on the front page, it’s in maps. It’s freakin’ everywhere. When you call many of these listings they often won’t answer with their company name just a “hello” and when you ask where they are located it will be any place but LA.

It isn’t just DUI, its in virtually every major category in LA. See this post by Linda. And this stuff has been around for ages, reported multiple times, through multiple channels…. hello?

Yelp Update: Free Bulk Upload and Yelp Proceeds with their Lawsuit

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From Social MEowDIA Explained by Avalaunch Media

Rarely do I have something nice to share about Yelp but this note from Justin Mosebach of YDOP Internet Marketing was a pleasant surprise:

Just found this out for a client yesterday. Client is a health system with a bunch of locations.

Yelp called me back (after I called support) and said that only in the past month have they started allowing free bulk uploads… it used to only be for advertisers (who had so many listings?).

However, the person from Yelp told me that they only do it once for free, so to make sure that we include all of the listings in the spreadsheet that she sent us. She also said that they don’t do any de-duping of listings (that we’d have to manually report the duplicates on Yelp.com).

Just so you don’t think that Yelp is getting all cuddly on us, ArsTechnica is reporting that the Yelp lawsuit over alleged fake reviews to finally move ahead.

A judge in San Diego, California, ruled Tuesday against a local bankruptcy lawyer who had attempted to put a stop to Yelp’s lawsuit against him.

Specifically, Julian McMillan asked the court more than six months ago to issue an anti-SLAPP ruling. A “SLAPP,” or strategic lawsuit against public participation, is a type of lawsuit meant to stifle speech—one where one party employs tactics against a smaller target by drawing out the suit in terms of time and money and intimidating the defendant.

Yelp sued McMillan in August 2013. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, alleges breach of contract, intentional interference with contract, unfair competition, and false advertising.

Specifically, Yelp believes that McMillan orchestrated fake reviews on the Yelp page for his bankruptcy law business—an accusation he emphatically denies. That larger case, which had been put on hold, will now resume.

The company had offered to settle the case back in 2013 for $5,000, which McMillan refused.

If you recall, McMillan originally sued Yelp in small claims court and Yelp’s lawsuit against McMillan was filed just days before a San Diego superior court judge was supposed to rule on Yelp’s appeal.

Bizarre and tortured. Tit for tat. Yelp is going for the jugular in this one. Hard to see how in the end they don’t look even more thuggish.

Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 2 – Chains, Brands & Departments

Source: Teddy Kwok via Flickr Creative Commons
Source: Teddy Kwok via Flickr Creative Commons

On Friday I detailed changes in the new Google My Business Guidelines for Representing your Business that were general in nature and applied to all businesses or pertained primarily to single location businesses.

Google has also added a completely new section that applies to Chains, Brands and Departments within larger entities. In this Google is attempting to define standards of consistent naming and categorization within a given brand. While I think the goal is clear, there are enough ambiguous examples that additional thought might need to go into them or explanations provided.

Also I wanted to make available to you in Word format a complete copy of both the old guidelines and the new ones so that you can compare them for yourself if you so desire:

Original guidelines  (word doc)

New Guidelines for representing your business on Google  (word doc)

Here are my comments on these new sections: Continue reading

Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 1

Google has completely rewritten their My Business guidelines and in doing so has provided both more rules and many more examples.

The best way to think about the new document is to read the overview as a statement of their overal objectives and the sections below as providing more nuance and use case examples. At the end of the day the simple guideline of representing your business as it is known in the real world, is the best basis for making a decision as to what is in compliance.

You also want to realize that their document needs to cover both single location entities and large multi location chains. And everything in between.

The problem with that is that guidelines that are really meant for large multi location chains are misinterpreted or over analyzed to apply to a single location.

I heard tell of auto dealers that were multi brand at a single location freaking out over the rule that states “If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single page”. That rule applies to those new KFC/Taco Bell combo stores that inhabit a single location to save on rent but still have distinct national and local indentities. It doesn’t mean that Freedom Chevrolet Buick GMC, who goes by that name, has always gone by that name, has a single location and a single presence has to create two pages. The general rule of thumb here is if that is how your are known in Dallas, Tx then that is how you should be known on Google +.

To eliminate some of the confusion brought on by addressing large chains and single location in one document, I am doing this guideline comparison in two parts. This first part are general rules and rules that apply to single and small multi-location entities. I will address the new guidelines that specifically affect multi location chains in a subsequent post.

Read on for part one of a comparison of the old and new guidelines: Continue reading

Google Rolls Out Major Update to Google My Business Guidelines

Google has rolled out a major update to their My Business (ie Places) Guidelines. The new Guideline offers much more concrete examples and clarifies a number of situations particularly multi-practitioner listings and their naming.

Some obvious highlights:

  • Descriptors of any sort are NOT allowed
  • Categories should be the more specific category and NOT the overarching, general category
  • Increased name and category consistency amongst multi location chains
  • Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name
  • If Different departments are to have their own page they must have unique categories
  • Practitioner’s pages, in multi location practices should have their name only and not the name of the practice
  • Solo Practitioners only can use the format of Practice: Practitioner
  • Virtual Offices are NOT allowed unless staffed. (If they are staffed then they aren’t virtual are they?

Guide to Using Call Tracking for Local Search

phone-tracking-ga-iconI wanted to circle back to the call tracking issues in local. In my previous post, I wrote a great deal about where it doesn’t work. I also have wanted to cover where and how it does work. It made sense to me to ask someone in the industry to put it together so I asked Mark Sullivan, Director of Analytics, CallRail to write a guest post on the topic. Let me know what you think.

Mark Sullivan has directed online marketing at various companies since 2006. Most recently he worked at Yodle on the team in charge of local SEO performance for multi-location & franchise businesses. He left Yodle in 2013 to start growth consulting firm Vasolo, where he learned the effectiveness of using call tracking data to better drive business growth for his clients. In 2014 he joined the CallRail team, where he is the Director of Analytics. Mark spends most of his time educating SMBs and marketing agencies on how to better analyze marketing metrics to extract meaningful insights. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter @mpsulli.

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As our appetite for better business data increases, so do the tools we use to capture that data. Call tracking technology is no different. Adoption among local businesses across North America is increasing. Many local search products now come out of the box with some form of call tracking. Whether it’s a visibility package tailored for dentists or a one-size-fits-all SMB automation package, it’s becoming more common for marketers to quantify lead generation through inbound calls.

When it comes to using call tracking for local search, there are special considerations to keep in mind. Adopt a call tracking strategy that doesn’t account for NAP consistency and you’re setting yourself up for a lot of citation cleanup at best, and utter failure at worst. Many of us have heard the nightmare stories about some company that used call tracking and rankings completely tanked. Or possibly worse, we’ve heard the story of a business losing access to a call tracking number that was used to represent their business all over the web. It’s understandable to be wary of call tracking numbers and local search.

However, there is one foolproof way to get the benefits of call tracking without sabotaging your local visibility. This guide aims to show you how to get your call tracking cake and eat it, too.

So Why Care About Call Tracking for Local Search?

  1. Accountability – One of the toughest parts of what we do in local SEO is communicating clearly, concisely, and convincingly the answer to this question from our clients: “What have you done for me lately?” Often we’re left educating our clients on NAP consistency, the importance of unique content, citations, and the invaluable nature of reviews on IYP’s. Fortunately for us, our clients aren’t really interested in learning how to become local search marketers. What they want is more accountability from their local SEO investments in the form of lower funnel metrics that directly impact their bottom line.

With call tracking enabled we can get deeper into the customer funnel and become more accountable search marketers. As a business owner, if my $500 per month local SEO campaign shows me inbound call volume reports alongside the other metrics, I’m able to better account for the ROI of my investment. Add in call recordings that can be reviewed to determine the quality of phone leads coming in, and you’ve introduced a level of accountability that business owners are craving from their local SEO efforts.

  1. Better KPI’s – KPI’s are a fancy way to say “metrics that matter”. For many of us working in local SEO, the Key Performance Indicators we’ve focused on for years have been based on rankings and traffic. Relying solely on these metrics nowadays, with the advent of personalized search and the rising importance of IYP’s like Google+ Local & Yelp, means you’re likely missing conversions that your local SEO efforts should get credit for. After all, when someone does a search on Google for a cosmetic dentist and calls directly from the SERP without ever visiting any business website, that valuable phone call isn’t fully being accounted for in a rankings/traffic only performance report.

With a better KPI like call volume, we as local search marketers can get a better picture of how well our work is paying off. There’s some guidelines on how to best use this data to prove performance. Later in this guide, we’ll get more into how to slice up aggregate call data to best avoid counting existing customers.

  1. Advanced Features – Modern call tracking platforms include much more “under the hood” than just attribution (i.e. tying calls back to a campaign.) Most platforms come out of the box with advanced features like call recording, advanced call routing/handling, interactive voice response menus, and customizable dashboards. When we surveyed CallRail clients about how they get the most value out of call tracking, an overwhelming number of them talk about how call recordings have helped them identify training opportunities for people answering the phones. Others have pointed out that by implementing a 15 second greeting at the beginning of the call they were able to significantly reduce the amount of time employees spent on the phone answering repetitive questions.

As the Swiss army knife is versatile, so are modern call tracking platforms. Combined with built in integrations with Google Analytics, CRM platforms, and open API’s, the permutations of what you can do with your inbound phone calls are numerous.

The Main Concern: NAP Consistency Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search