Has Google’s relationship with CitySearch changed? and other Maps insights

This recently came in from an Anaheim Ca Florist that follows Google Maps closely in her industry:

I can’t speak for a system-wide change, but there have been LOTS of changes when it comes to searching for florists on Google. An update seemed to start on Wednesday of last week and finish on Sunday night.

-Many local florists have had their reviews from CitySearch stripped from their review summaries. Ours have completely disappeared and so have most of the top florists in major cities. I still see a few here and there, but overall – they’ve been greatly reduced. Not sure if it was a fall-out between G and CS or a review quality filter – but the deletions are noticeable.

- The threshold to have review stars displayed in the One Box and Google Local summaries appears to have increase from 3 to at least 5 reviews. Up until last week, it only took 3 reviews to get the stars to show. Most of the One Boxes for major city queries used to displayed stars and now very few do.

The review stars and ratings had a HUGE positive impact on click-throughs and purchases. ….Traffic from the OneBox is down since the change.

- Google also seems to be filtering out reviews left by users. We had a total of 12, lost 3 from City Search, and all but one left directly by folks with Google logins. Our OneBox appearances only show 4 but clicking on the link brings up 5 (4 from InsiderPages.com and only 1 of the 5 written directly there. The other 4 have vanished, too.)

- Remember when Google has displaying only ‘Local’ target Adwords ads in local if there were ‘local advertisers’? That policy appears to have changed, too. Our local ad got dinged for a quality score but I *think* it had more to do with low bid amounts. The ‘national’ affiliate marketer advertisers (FTD, 1800flowers, etc) look to be paying upwards of $3/click and locals could get good placement in Local for about a buck. No more.

We florists are on the forefront of ‘Local’ and we have to succeeding there to be around in the future. Otherwise, we’ll have FTD, 1800Flowers, Teleflora and all the other affiliate marketers taking 30-40%+ cuts of each order we deliver. It’s a matter of survival that we get our arms around ‘local’ search.

This communication brings up several interesting points;

•Clearly, in certain categories Google’s inclusion of local on the main search page is leading to significant online and off-line traffic.

•Small changes in their presentation can have a huge effect in the real world. The impact of the removal of the stars deserves attention.

•Why would Google remove recent reviews that came from Google itself?

•The information about CitySearch might indicate that Google has changed or even dropped their “trusted” source relationship with CitySearch. It was but a year ago that much was made of the CitySearch-Google partnership. I looked at an account/phrase that I track regularly (Restaurants Bradford Pa) and also found that reviews from CitySearch that I had fought with Google very hard to have included are now gone.

Could it be related to this post this afternoon by Greg Sterling: Citysearch and MerchantCircle in Repicrocal Deal?

Have you seen similar changes over the past few weeks?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Has Google's relationship with CitySearch changed? and other Maps insights by

16 thoughts on “Has Google’s relationship with CitySearch changed? and other Maps insights”

  1. Great article and better observation. I work in web marketing and often have problems convincing my client to look for themselves in their free time. That said, this sudden loss could also be attributed to the amount of negative reviews being ranked. I heard not to long ago that there was discontent with the continuious ranking of vindictive and malicious negative reviews being generated by competition. Google may have nixed the idea all together to safe face in front of advertisers as well as end users? I will keep an ear to the track.

  2. Very intriguing Mike. So if G has removed CS’ reviews I wonder why they are still running the InsiderPages reviews? I should note that while I was at IP the G Local reviews feed drove significantly less traffic than G Web search, so my guess is that this is not a huge loss for CS.

  3. Hi Mike & Andrew

    I don’t really know what is going internally at Google. It could as Matt McGee pointed out be a simple issue of the pages having disappeared from the index.

    I don’t think that as Andrew pointed out it is because of complaints…but I could be wrong…they are a bit of a black box..It could just be a change in the algo that once so many reviews are achieved Google normalizes the result that shows to the public like they do with their link command.

    Regardless it makes it frustrating for a small business that starts a reputation management campaign because they show up in Google and all of the sudden they are gone…

    Mike

  4. Very interesting post. I’ll have to take a look at the disappearing reviews and see if it is across all categories or just florists. If it is across all categories, it implies some sort of Citysearch-Google relationship or a complete quality-control issue with reviews based on the text and rating of the review (i.e. a fake review by a business owner, etc). If, however, it is just within florists, it might be some algorithmic change to florists only. There have always been florist-related issues because national providers (like FTD and the others listed above) seem to create a “local” presence in various local search sites when they don’t really exist there so they could target those users (advertisements, sometimes mixed in with “regular” content).

  5. Hi Ms Doc Diva

    Did you have reviews? Were they removed?

    Maintaining your position in Google Maps is a process that is ongoing. As Google changes the rules, as competitors get more savvy etc your rankings may change.

    I have taken a brief look at your site. You have done a very good job of being 2 and 3 on the organic search results for your phrase. Your local has obviously dropped and it appears to have moved to 5. On the positive side when I did the search the Local Onebox appeared lower than your organic listings although that may not always be the case.

    I am not sure that you are asking for advice here but I will give it anyways :)

    You should first use the Google Local Business Center to its fullest. Add a couple of coupons and be sure to use long Beach Mobile Notary phrase in them. Upload some photos to google with the same title. Be sure to add descriptions etc with the same phrase.

    Next you need to see if you can get Google to pick up some local webpages (see my blog entry “What does a local link campaign look like”). Get listed in local directories, chamber of commerce sites and other local sites that will include your address along with your business name & a link to your site if possible (hopefully using your google LBC business title).

    I would then see if you could get a few reviews using the new Google review feature. I would establish a procedure with your clients so that if they are happy they take the time to review you. Now is the time to get started on your reputation management.

    Last but not least I would work on trying to improve the PageRank of your website. You currently have a PR 2. Be sure that you are listed in DMOZ.org, work on getting solid links to your site from other directories and keep up the blogging and get links in that way.

    Since you are mobile in your business and if you can rationalize the expense, you may consider “moving” your business location to a UPS mail center closer to the center of town.

    Let me know if this advice is useful and how you make out.

    Mike

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  7. It seems that google change their results the criteria for a result on a daily basis. Our florists site seems to one day appear highly then on other slip down. the local florists search doesnt seem to be functioning from the google/maps business section this used to show local florists in the area that you searched for whish it no longer seems to do – i think that google is so large its small changes affect people on a large scale. Still trying to get my head around how google actually displays its results or how it came to that result.

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