Are you an SMB in the Bay Area?

Google announced in the forums that they are looking for small businesses to give them feedback. This is your chance for a free lunch and the opportunity to influence product direction, Here is the  invite:

Are you a small or medium business (SMB) owner based in the Bay area? If so, would you be interested in sharing your experiences with promoting your business on Google Maps through Google My Business? We want to hear from you!

Apply now to participate in a Google panel discussion on Tuesday, August 25th, from 11:00 A.M. – 2:00 P.M. at the Google Headquarters in Mountain View. During the panel discussion, we’ll ask you questions about your experience with Google My Business, its benefit to your overall business strategy, and how you find help when you experience issues. Afterwards, we’ll provide lunch and a tour of the Googleplex, and introduce you to the key Google My Business teams.

Note: The application process is time-sensitive, and will close on Monday, August 3rd.

Thank you,

The Google My Business Team

Google’s Home Service Ads – Questions and Observations

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.08.10 AMGoogle’s test of the their new Home Service Ads generated a fair bit of conversation yesterday on Twitter. The ads started appearing more widely throughout the day allowing folks to dig in and get a better look.

Documents worth reading:
HSA Additional Terms for Providers 
Home service ads Policies

Locksmith & Licensing – The test is focusing on plumbers and locksmiths. Locksmiths are an interesting choice. The locksmith industry has long been a hotbed of spam and deceit. With the ascendancy of Google local search most of that deceit moved online to Google in the form of local and adwords. Google did little to really stop it and imposed barriers that made it hard for legit locksmiths but didn’t seem to slow down the bad guys. And Google was profiting from this deceit via Adwords.

The solution for this new home service product is that Google is requiring licensing AND background checks and not just for the business but “you and each of your Team must comply with the “Minimum Provider Requirements,” as described in the HSA Platform Policies at www.google.com/adwords/express/hsa/policies.html”.

That certainly seems preferable to the mosh pit that has been locksmiths at Google. Certainly begs the question: why hasn’t that been done before?

Third Party Verification– Google is using a third party to make sure that participants are compliant with the requirements. “Determination of compliance with Minimum Provider Requirements is made solely by third parties, and not by Google, and any issues you may have with third-party adjudication of Minimum Provider Requirements must be directed to the relevant third-party adjudicator. You must provide honest, complete, and accurate information in connection with the HSA platform, including to third parties. All third-party verification processes are conducted solely to confirm compliance with the Minimum Provider Requirements, and are not used for any other purpose.”.

This will impose a fair bit of additional burden on small businesses. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

Customer Satisfaction– Amazon has a long history of understanding and dealing with customer issues. They do so directly and quickly removing a huge pain point in any transaction done via Amazon. Google on the other hand seems to want to push that issue off on the business and rely on crowd sourcing quality information and reviews to keep things on an even keel.

“A customer’s satisfaction with your Services is solely your responsibility. Google may provide assistance to customers who are dissatisfied with their experience on the HSA platform, however ultimately it is up to you to resolve any disputes between you and your customers. You agree that you, and not Google, are responsible for all claims made by a customer or other person or entity against you or your Team in connection with your use of the HSA platform and your provision of Services.”

Google has never been good at high touch interactions. This seems to be no exception. It seems a competitive disadvantage vis a vis Amazon.

Reviews and Quality Control– The review system is independent of their local review system and seems to only be available to users who have actually used the services. Google will obviously be tracking tons of other metrics that they will be making available to consumers: “for example, how often and how soon you respond to customer messages, the number of repeat customers you have, the average duration of your Service, number of Services performed, and feedback ratings and reviews (both positive and negative) on your performance). This information may also be made available on third-party websites”.

This is a big change on the review front…verified reviews. And might portend the future of reviews…

Pricing of the Ad– Obviously the success of this “ad format” is the ROI. It isn’t at all clear to me whether its a fixed rate, a % of the job, lead based or some other pricing model. Google says: “You may be charged a fee to Use the HSA platform.” Are they paying during the trial?

Google is giving up 3 of the highest paying ad spaces for the product. This product might only work in fields where the average job is high enough to warrant a bid rate equal to or greater than those 3 ads.

Payments– It isn’t clear exactly how payments are going to work but it appears that the whole transaction might run through Google. “Google may make available to you various payment processing methods to facilitate the collection of fees for Services provided via the HSA platform.”

Google has long dominated local search but it isn’t clear exactly how profitable that has been given the high costs associated with Mapping and local listing management (probably on the order of several billions of dollars a year). For the first time in years there are at least the glimmers of existential threats to Google in the local space. Apple has carved away some not insignificant number of maps and search users and Amazon seems intent on going after the home services space.

Google is obviously answering Amazon very directly. The details are not totally clear but it appears that Google is not going to let Amazon have the space to themselves.

From the small business perspective, these moves foreshadow a near future where you are no longer a truly independent business. That you have effectively become partners with some very large players whether you want to or not.

Some additional screen shots: Continue reading Google’s Home Service Ads – Questions and Observations

Google Testing Sponsored Home Services Marketplace Snak Paks

Updated 8:15 PM with images and details captured by Glenn Gabe of of G-Squared Interactive.

Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz posted this screen shot of a sponsored Snak Pak test displayed for the search “plumbers” in San Francisco. It was captured on a desktop search last night.

Reports of Google getting into home services first surfaced this spring with reports at  Inc. (h/t David Mihm) and Buzzfeed where they noted:

The product will be integrated into Google’s core search offering and is intended to capitalize on search intent, turning queries about home improvement tasks into engagement with home-service providers.

Essentially in this scenario captured by Pete, the Snak Pak becomes pay to play and the goal isn’t a website visit but a call for a booking. Although it doesn’t appear to go so far as to creating a booking, that would not be hard to imagine as a next step.

. As Dr Pete noted at Twitter: potential game-changer, IMO.

I’ll say. We always wondered when paid listings would enter the pack. The time seems to be getting closer.

CLGJbO9UAAE88RM.png-large
Click to view larger

Here is the shot blown up:
blow-up

 

Update: Google Adwords has confirmed that this is a test Home service Ad and is in San Francisco only.

Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive was able to catch a view of the ad live and captured these screen shots and shared them on Twitter:

profile
Plumber Profile including local reviews, types of services, areas covered and the status of their background check
review-tab
Reviews Tab includes their local reviews. It isn’t clear if there is a minimum score or quantity required
bulk-request
quote requests can be sent to three plumbers at a time.

Here are the Google instructions for How businesses qualify for home service ads (also uncovered by Glenn) that details the licensing and background checks required: Continue reading Google Testing Sponsored Home Services Marketplace Snak Paks

Google Now Featuring a Location’s Popular Hours on Mobile Devices

Google just announced a new feature on mobile browsers, a chart showing the hours that a given business is popular. From their post:

Do you ever find yourself trying to avoid long lines or wondering when is the best time to go grocery shopping, pick up coffee or hit the gym (hint: avoid Monday after work)? You’re in luck!

Now, you can avoid the wait and see the busiest times of the week at millions of places and businesses around the world directly from Google Search. For example, just search for “Blue Bottle Williamsburg”, tap on the title and see how busy it gets throughout the day. Enjoy your extra time!

coffee2Here is an FAQ that I received from Google about the feature

Q: Is this available Internationally?

A: Yes; this will be available in all locales.

Q: Will this feature be available for all mobile carriers?

A: Yes, this feature is available for all mobile phones with an internet connection on modern mobile browsers and Android GSA, regardless of carrier.

Q: When will this feature be available in the Google App on iOS?

A: As of now, this feature is available on Android devices and a number of browsers, including Safari and Chrome.

Q: What types of features are associated with this launch?

A: This launch lets users see historical trends of how busy a place gets throughout the week.

Q: Where does Google get this data from?

A: The information is based on anonymized and aggregated visits to places from Google users who have opted-in to storing location data.

Q: Is Google tracking my location and saving it for this feature?

A: No. The information is completely anonymous and users must opt-in to store location data.

Q: What can businesses do if they don’t want the busyness data to show for their business?

A: We do not offer a way for businesses to remove this information. We believe this information is valuable for customers in deciding when and where to go.

Q: What types of places will this information show for?

A: This information shows for places where users are commonly worried about how busy it typically gets. Data will show up for locations with regular foot traffic and a local listing on Google Maps.

Since Google’s patent on using driving directions as a ranking factor, we have known that Google had the ability to track the times that a given business was popular. It is not clear that driving directions are the main metric used in this feature but it seems likely to me that it is a potential source. With mobile Google can obviously now learn not just whether driving directions have been requested for a given location but whether they have been used.

Google also has the ability to understand a users location via their mobile device and use that information to better understand commercial space. Another likely source for the information. They have access to a ton of related information via Android Pay, Google Wallet, browser histories etc that they could use to refine and check their data.

Now that they have started to surface this data, it will be interesting to see if it is used in ranking or allowing Google to change ranking during certain times of the day.

On Twitter, AJ Ginrich suggested a creative use of this data: Spy on your competitor & run ads at the right time!

It is rolling out now on mobile although I have been unable to bring it up on any of my browser/phone combos as of yet.

Google Alerting Accounts Deleted for TOS Violations

Google is apparently removing My Business accounts for TOS violations and sending along notices to owners and managers.

It is not clear to me the specifics of that triggered this action although clearly this has happened to more than a few accounts as there is at least one other report in the forum.

 Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.36.35 AM
This message confirms that the Google Account – xxxxx@gmail.com – was deleted due to a violation of our Terms of Service that was left unresolved.To attempt to restore access to the account, please visit our password-assistance page immediately:Recover account Google Accounts can only be restored within a short period of time after deletion.

Sincerely,

The Google Accounts team

This email can’t receive replies. For more information, visit the Google Accounts Help Center.
If xxxx@gmail.com isn’t your Google Account, you can safely disregard this email.
You received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google product or account.© 2015 Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA

The poster in the forum noted:
This has happened now to two of the companies that I assist with their SEO. They have not been active for awhile however, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still want the account. What terms of service were violated so I can find out what to make sure others watch for? This is unacceptable and without warning, years of emails are now gone. Please help me to understand what is going on so I can make sure that no other of us lose our accounts!!!

I received the notice for an account that I last touched almost 5 years ago. This was before managers were allowed. And I don’t think I have had any current relationship to this account although it is interesting that Google sent me the email.

I am at a loss to answer the poster’s questions although my assumption is that perhaps it was a duplicate, unused account that Google was cleaning up.

If you have more specific information about receiving the email and know the reasons, prey tell.

Google Removing All Non Verified Local Pages from Plus?

I have received a copy of a post made to Google Photographers’ forum. This was also recently posted at Linda’s forum:

Dear photographers and agencies,

In the past few months, you may have seen some changes in the look of Google+ pages that have been associated with Google My Business (GMB) accounts. These changes, including how we treat business pages without owners, are part of Google’s ongoing effort to simplify people’s experience with our tools. We are constantly working to provide only valuable and rich content to our users.

On July 28th, Google will begin shutting down those GMB–associated Google+ pages that have not been associated with user accounts and are also not verified. You may find that some of your Business View tours also sit on such pages, but note that after their removal of unverifiedGoogle+ pages, the Business View tours will still remain available on Google Maps and Google Search.

Essentially, it appears this means that if a page is verified it will also have a G+ Page and if it isn’t, its main presence will be through the Knowledge Graph in the main Serps or in Google Maps. It seems to me that this change was foreshadowed by the many recent minor changes we have seen with the inability to get to Plus from Maps, the removal of the Local search from Plus, the removal of the G+ Page link from search results that weren’t verified and the change of the name of the link on closed pages to Place.

Clearly this is a final step in separating local from Plus. Whether local will stay “debranded” or possibly take on a Local Finder essence beyond basic search and Map results isn’t clear. What is clear is that G+ and Google Local are no longer going to be bed partners.

As to what this means for G+, in my opinion not much. It appears to me that it is being lead down the path of sinking or swimming unaided by props from across Google.

Don’t Go Looking for a Mobile Phone Store On Google

Dave Oremland has pointed out recently that searching for mobile phone stores Vienna Virginia produced terrible results. Tim Capper, another TC in the Google My Business forums, noted that they are terrible world wide. So for now don’t go looking for a mobile phone store on Google unless of your you think it is your lucky day… It’s not just Vienna, Va that offers up screwy results. The search for mobile phone stores plus just about any city produces very bizarre results.

In the search for mobile phone stores Rochester you get everything from a flag store to a fixture store and everything in between (like an adult shop). The searches in NYC, Chicago, Tokyo and Paris are equally bizarre.

mobile-phone-rochester
Who knows what you will get in Rochester NY when you go in search of a mobile phone store on Google?

Snak Pack Rolls Out Interface Update

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.25 AMGoogle seems to have finally finished rolling out a Snak Pak update that layers a Hotel Finder like experience on all hospitality, food and entertainment searches. Colin Neilson wrote about some of the tests in early July as did Brad Brewer. Barry Schwartz noted the rollout in hotels several days ago. It appears to be international in scope as Petra Kraft noted that it is in Austria and likely all of Europe as well.

The interface, which I am referring to as the Local Finder,  is a vast improvement over the recent past and actually allows for both relatively easy recovery as well as discovery of new related opportunities.

Since its introduction last fall, the Snak Pak has been a poor user experience with a very modal feel on the desktop. It mimicked a mobile experience and the user had to drill into a single record and then back out again and in again if it wasn’t what they were looking for. As Dave Oremland has noted, it sucked.

The new interface, while still not showing critical contact details on the front page (and I thought Google was all about answering questions? Go figure.), does take the user into a functional list + Map view that allows them to get specific details as well as explore other locations.

The view is very similar to the one that used to be in Maps with the exception that 1) it offers a list view of 20 businesses and 2) the search bar if used again takes the user automatically back to the main page of search.  It is an interesting balance between the carousel of old, maps and search.

Although for my tastes, I would prefer a way to stay in the Local Finder view with new local searches rather than once again bouncing back out to the main search results page.

While I don’t like the fact that critical contact details are not divulged on the first page and there is no way to stay in the view for additional related searches, it is a vast improvement over the display that we have lived with on these types of searches for the past year.

From a strategic point of view, it would appear that it is one more reason NOT to visit Google Plus for these additional details. Or into Maps for that matter which has, with its recent interface upgrades, forgone its discovery capabilities. This is effectively a lightweight, fast Local Finder.

If you are interested in exploring which terms trigger the Snak Pak, you can find more information here.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.37.10 AM
Food & recreation searches deliver the Snak Pak which when now selected take you into a Local Finder interface


Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.40 AM
If you select the “Restaurants near buffalo ny” link you see the list with a Map and have the ability to drill into each listing for more information
Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.25 AM
If you select a specific restaurant from either search for the Local Finder you will see the Knowledge Panel overlay the Map area.

On a related note, Moz Cast picked up what looked like serious testing of Google showing the Snak Pak across a broader range of searchers during that this same time period.
Continue reading Snak Pack Rolls Out Interface Update

Google MapMaker Soliciting Regional Editors

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 4.33.02 PMIn anticipation of the re-opening of MapMaker as announced last week, Google is now actively soliciting applicants to become regional editors.

Here is an email that I just received asking me to apply to be a regional editor.

Subject: Invitation to become a Map Maker Regional Lead

Date: July 17, 2015 at 2:59:19 PM EDT

As you may have seen in our forum announcement, Google Map Maker will be reopened for editing in early August, and we’ll be relying on trusted users in specific regions to help us make decisions on edits submitted in their regions. To enable this, we’re selecting users who have a long history of making high-quality edits using Map Maker and inviting them to become a “Regional Lead” for their region.Based on the contributions you’ve made to your region, you have been shortlisted for consideration as a Regional Lead. As a Regional Lead, you will have the power to approve or deny edits made in your region. While Google operators may still moderate edits, the Regional Leads will predominantly determine the outcome of many edits. In short, you become part of an elite team of Map Maker users that lead mapping in your area. You also receive access to regional forums to interact with mappers in your region and a private forum where you can interact with the Google Map Maker team.Please indicate your interest to become a Regional Lead by filling out this application form (link removed). This application will be open until July 22, 2015. We will evaluate users who express interest and select qualifying users as Regional Leads. We will get back to you by July 27, 2015.To keep up with the spirit of this program, we will require you to sign a “Non-Disclosure Agreement” if you are selected. This means you agree to keep the contact information and substance of your discussions with the Map Maker team confidential, unless stated otherwise.

Last but not least, we want to reiterate the high level of trust we place in our Regional Leads — our most committed users — regarding the edits you make or approve. You’ll be the front line of the Map Maker community to prevent spam or abusive activity that will lead to poor experiences on Google Maps. We will also be monitoring closely for spam, and any users found engaging in such activities will be blacklisted and may lose their ability to use Map Maker. We trust you to exercise sound judgment as a Regional Lead.

Thank you for your continued support and patience. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Pavithra KanakarajanProduct Manager, Google Map Maker

The note is interesting in several ways. Firstly, while I have done a ton of Map and Mapmaker edits I have avoided being too involved with the MapMaker community because the technology was so arcane with no simple path to learning but even more so because the other volunteers did not seem collegial.

Also in reading the note, there is no description of their expectation of this new category of volunteer. How much work is needed to be considered active? How much work is there? What is a region composed of? What tools will we have available?

Lots more questions than answers at this point.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search