All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Yext PowerListing Scoring Gets Worse When Listing Gets Better?

Yext Power Listing tool has often been useful to me to find bad NAP. I would caution others though that it is primarily a selling tool not a diagnostic one. And one that seems to be manipulated to increase your sense of discomfort EVEN when there is improving NAP.

By Yext’s measures 18 Listings improved, 4 stayed the same with totally wrong name, 6 had the right name or close to the right name and showed no change between October and now.

Yet in October 2014 it was scored at 37% error rate at Yext and in March 2015 it was scored with a 61% error rate DESPITE improving NAP (around the locations new name).

Go figure.

New Port Comparison Yext

Continue reading Yext PowerListing Scoring Gets Worse When Listing Gets Better?

FTC Staff Findings Contradict 2013 Antitrust Decision

Inside the U.S. Antitrust Probe of Google (paywall – to get to it use this search result to get through)  is a look by the Wall Street Journal at the FTC staff report inadvertently released to them under a FOIA request. The staff findings “concluded that Google’s conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

That is a stark contrast to the final early 2013 ruling by the FTC that put an end to the investigation

I have long been a skeptic of antitrust cases and decisions that take place in our “democracy”. It is a democracy predicated on the one dollar one vote ideal of modern capitalism. The process is typically started by self interested companies that often gang up against a bigger self interested entity. This was no exception. However some of the findings divulged in the report were of interest.

“Data included in the report suggest Google was more dominant in the U.S. Internet search market than was widely believed. The company estimated its market share at between 69% and 84% during a period when research firm comScore put it at 65%. “

Many of us in local have long held that Google’s share particularly in Local was in the 85% range. It may even be higher now.

“It cited one instance when Google copied Amazon’s sales rankings to rank its own items.”

It is my belief that Google is still doing that albeit in local. Particularly with the Local One Pack in secondary markets where there is a dearth of user data.

“The report said Google ‘adopted a strategy of demoting, or refusing to display, links to certain vertical websites in highly commercial categories.'”

OK, so what else is new? Oh there is something new. Google is now doing the same thing with individual small business websites with the new Local Stack results. The page is dominated by either ads or the stack itself which leads back to Google. And in some cases it leads to 100% monetization above the fold.

The revelations confirm for me the way things actually work. These cases are not brought on behalf of consumers (although there may be some tangental consumer benefit in a decision against Google) and the outcomes are dictated by realities other than their well being.

The whole thing reminds me of the version of the Farmer in the Dell where the Farmer hits the wife. The consumer is the cheese.

There are no heroes here. Yelp? No way, they are just further down stream. And beat up SMBs.

Likewise there are no devils. Is Google evil? No way. They are protecting their interests. The FTC? Likewise.

But there is a lesson as we get to see how our regulatory sausage is made. The mythology of our childhoods, that government in our society is elected by us to protect our (the citizen’s) interest, is not how it actually works.

Let’s leave the mythology behind as we discuss stark reality of how our world operates.

 

Yelp – The Story that Won’t Die

The Bold Italic is reporting on a film maker that is attempting to tell the Yelp is a bully story via a documentary.

Yelp gets zero stars in an upcoming documentary by local filmmaker Kaylie Milliken. Her film, Billion Dollar Bully (which is halfway done, according to the International Business Times) focuses on complaints from restaurant owners about Yelp’s business practices.

The doc contains interviews with business owners and lawyers who believe their ratings and those of their clients were affected by how much they were advertising — an allegation that, as SFist points out, Yelp vehemently denies

The release date has not been set. But Bold Italic reports that the filmmaker, Kaylie Miliken plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to finish the product.

Google Maps Upends Primary Data Suppliers – YP.ca is Out

yp-gone-circleIt has been confirmed that YellowPages.ca  (YP.ca) is no longer Google’s primary data supplier for business listings in Canada. But the story appears to be bigger than that and likely includes new terms in many countries whereby Google is now owning rather than licensing their business listing data.

Google has, over the past year an half, apparently renegotiated a number of their worldwide business listing licenses with their primary data suppliers. This has lead to new deals and, in a number of cases, changes as to who provides Google with data.

Late last week, I noticed that YP.ca, long a Google data listing partner in Canada, was no longer listed within Google Maps as providing business listings to Google. A link to the YP site had been visibly listed at the bottom of every page of Canadian results within Google Maps. I also noticed that they were not listed in Google’s Legal Notices Page for Business Listings Data. My inquiries confirmed that they were no longer providing listing data to Google.

Those knowledgeable about the situation said that beginning in fall of 2013 Google started to renegotiate licensing deals in many countries, worldwide. Google was modifying the arrangements so that they purchased the listings outright as opposed to the annual licensing deals that had been previously set up. They wanted to pay a fee for each listing and then pay only for the delta in listings that occurred with updates. Google would then own the listings and the data would be unencumbered & show without any need for attribution.

In examining the list of licensees my source noted that some country partners are gone from the list that were known to previously have licensed their data to Google. In some cases the same companies are still providing Google with data but under the new terms and without attribution. In other cases Google is sourcing the data from new companies. According to my source, apparently some that are still shown as licensing have switched to the new purchase agreement but the plan has not yet been implemented.

When comparing Google’s legal notices for business listing data both currently and historically (via the Internet Archive) the change seems to have started showing in November 2013 when Google moved the notices to a new page. At that time, Google added a significant number of new licensees but there was one obvious deletion: InfoUSA and Acxiom. I have prepared a Comparison of Business Listing Data Partners from Google’s website in Excel so that you can see the changes over time.

While I do think that InfoUSA is still providing data to Google it is likely under the new terms. I have no clue one way or the other for Acxiom.

This reported timeline is consistent with the last year’s email alerts alerting businesses in Australia and Canada with GMB claimed listings that if they didn’t “review and confirm the information in your Google Places account, we will no longer be able to keep and show it to Google users”. At the time I speculated that this had to do with with local licensing issues. That now appears to be the case. Either Google was trying to update as many listings as possible to minimize their costs under the new arrangement or proving to existing partners that they had a right to retain the listing in their database.

I would further speculate, based on what is known, that Google actually implemented the new data arrangement in the US, Canada and Australia first but has delayed implementation in other countries where the new agreement is in affect.

In the case of Canada, we do not yet know who replaced Yellowpags.ca. If you have any insight into that please let me know.

These changes reflect both Google’s power in the local marketplace as well their desire to not be encumbered by licensing agreements. That is likely as much about their freedom to use the data as they see fit as it is about costs. With the move towards wearables, in car and in home presence Google, with ownership rights, would not be constrained where, when and how they displayed local data.

Here is the Tl;dr in bullet form:
Continue reading Google Maps Upends Primary Data Suppliers – YP.ca is Out

Google Phone Support Offers Limited Hours Due to High Volume

Update 3/13 3:30 (our lucky day): Google has noted that hours are back to normal.

Colan Nielsen of Imprezzio Marketing just noticed that Google has limited the hours of their phone support due to high call volumes:

Our call centers have recently experienced high support volume and our GMB specialists are working hard to solve existing queries. As a result, we are currently offering phone support on a limited basis only during the hours of 7 AM – 12 PM PST, Monday – Friday.

It is not clear to me if this is being caused by a general increase in usage or perhaps some nee problems.

Regardless it will cause problems for some and forwarned is forarmed. for those that are time challenged like me that’s 10 AM – 3 PM ON THE East Coast.

not sure what it means to Europe.

Local Guides: A Yelp Wannabe or Uniquely Google?

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 11.18.25 AMMany in the local search space have characterized the Google Local Guides program as a cheap imitation of Yelp’s Elite reviewer program. I suppose in some sense that is true but it appears to me that Google is bringing their own approach to the program and scaling it aggressively in a way that seems uniquely Google.

Google has done this before with their support forums and with MapMaker. They have managed to entice and incentivize large numbers of users world wide to engage in programs that help Google scale their products, gather data while simultaneously helping others in their respective communities. And doing so in a way that creates brand ambassadors that seem all to ready to drink the Google Kool-aid.

Having attended the recent TC forums in NYC I can attest to the fact that the many volunteers there were fanatical in their approach to all things Google. On the one hand I was embarrassed by the unthinking love of Google by many of the attendees while on the other I was in awe that Google had managed to capture such loyalty and to have embraced it at such large scale.

The Local Guides program replaced their City Experts program earlier this year and seems to be striving for that same sense of building out a scalable, love fest. City Experts was in my mind, much more like a combination of Yelp’s City Managers + Elites in that it required Google people on the ground to lead the effort in every city. By reaching out to users at all levels of review writing, Google can expand both the reach of the Local Guide program into many more markets and the depth of the program to reach many more users. And do so with very few staff people or perhaps the same number as in the City Experts program.

Has it been successful in its short life? It would appear from the G+ communities that it has. There are nearly 3000 members of the private Local Guides Community on G+. This community is limited to reviewers that have signed up for the program and review more than 50 locations. I have no clue how many Yelp Elites there are but 3000 active reviewers, many who have written more than 250 reviews can become a powerful force.

But the other communities appear to be active and vibrant as well.

Just in these four communities, Google has attracted 29,000 folks that are interested in those cities and in writing and reading reviews about them. I assume some of this success is from the transfer of users from active City Guide programs in those cities. The other cities on the list have not been as successful at scaling but the program has been in place less than two months.

local-guides-communities

If Google can incentivize the reviewer who leaves 1 review to leave 5, the ones who leave 5 to leave 50 and more importantly the ones that leave 50 to leave 250 then there will be both a quantitative and qualitative impact on Google’s review corpus as well as the general perception of Google as a good place to leave reviews. And that desire seems to be present in the posts that I have read in the private Local Guide forum. Comments like “I just got my #LocalGuideBadge! Way cool!” are not uncommon and the members all take their charge of helping others very seriously: “If anyone is ever in #leeds #uk please give me a shout for recommendations where to eat!” . Its hard to put a value on that to Google in general and their efforts to get more reviews in particular.

Here is a copy of the recent Local Guides newsletter:
Continue reading Local Guides: A Yelp Wannabe or Uniquely Google?

Small Business Alert: Google Local Phone Scams Continue

Chris Moreno of LocalLeads.com sent me this audio recording of a scammer pretending to be Google in their voice message to a small business.

Chris asks what can be done to stop these folks. Very little given the current regulatory environment which pretty much takes a hands off approach to these sorts of scams. Education might help but a new SMB sucker seems to be born every minute which seems to keep these scammers going.

Transcription of the call:
Yea hi, this is an important message for the business owner. Due to recent changes in Google Maps we are required to inform you that unless the business owner reviews and confirms the information on your Google Plus business page, we will no longer be able to show it to Google users at the end of the coming month.

Please call 949-478-6815 to speak to the tech support person assigned to help you personally. Thank You.

A reminder to the small business owner: while Google does occasionally make calls to a business they almost always originate from Google’s main number: (650) 253-0000. These scam calls often originate from boiler room set ups in Souther California and are similar to the scams that were perpetrated by 29Prime for many years and apparently still do.

Do due diligence; ask for a website URL, find out their exact relationship (or lack there of) to Google, double check the phone number they are calling from before running as fast as you can from these folks.

Yahoo “Forgets” It Has a Review API with Yelp

It appears that Yahoo seems to have forgotten that they have the Yelp review API or update it so infrequently that it is effectively useless. The reviews Yahoo is showing for many businesses are often 3 to 11 months out of date.

Last year to much hooey and horse puckey, Yahoo “upgraded” their review system to grab reviews from Yelp via the Yelp review API rather than manage their own review system. At the time I thought it was more reflective of the sad state of Yahoo local than of any bold move by Marissa Mayer. It was obviously sadder than I had imagined.

Reviews are generally aggravating for most small businesses, even more so if they are out of date and don’t reflect major updates and changes that a business has implemented.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 8.42.04 AM
The latest review on Yahoo is over a year old. Yelp has 6 reviews this year alone. This doesn’t affect just businesses that have moved. All businesses experience this problem to one degree or another.

This problem of Yahoo not updating their Yelp reviews came to light while exploring the reviews for a GetFiveStars* client, Cadillac Jack’s in Ellicottville. They had reopened just after the first of the year at a new location with a new menu and dramatic changes in their quality. Their reviews at Yelp and their Google+ page  captured these changes faithfully.

However when I clicked through their Knowledge Graph link to their Yahoo page the Yelp reviews showing were over a year old and reflected their work at their previous establishment.

Upon investigating a  number of other Yahoo listings, I found that most reviews had not been updated in at least 3 months at Yahoo and many had not been updated in 11 months. Isn’t the idea of an API that the data can flow in virtually real time?

I recognize that Yahoo Local has mostly turned out the lights and gone on auto pilot. But if anyone there is reading this, the autopilot needs a nudge.

Full disclosure: I am a partner in the GetFiveStars reputation platform.

Minor Upgrade to Google Maps iOS App

For a company that now professes to be mobile first Google’s mobile review experience seems opaque and not generally accessible. It’s a Google Maps app only affair and if you are an iPhone user you might not know that. But they are making small strides in the app. 

I just downloaded a February 26th update to iOS Google Maps app which has now started to channel Yelp (again) by asking for feedback on specific restaurant features like whether it is good for groups or not:

The app also now notes (like the  Android app several months ago) whether a reviewer is part of Google’s  Local Guide program:

Update Nick Rink has taken the time to detail all of the questions that Google now asks:

Yep, looks like it pops up only for places that you’ve personally reviewed, and only for restaurant, bar type locations. It seems to ask 3 initial questions and then say “Help Again” which leads to another round of questions. Here’s the full list that I’ve seen so far:

Is this place good for special occasions 

Is this place good for groups 

Is this place family friendly 

Is it quiet here 

Is this place good value 

Is this place popular for breakfast 

Is this place popular for lunch 

Is this place popular for dinner

Is there usually a wait here

PS I apologize to Nick for not providing more credit but I am writing and editing this post on my iPhone which tends to limit me somewhat.

Update 3/8

They do also ask two questions on a hotel reviews (so it may be other review types as well):

-is it family friendly?

-is it a good value?

Unlike with restaurant reviews there were no options that I could see for answering more questions than just the two. 

Knowledge Panel – Down the Hotel Rabbit Hole with Google

kp-with linkGoogle is leaving no stone unturned in their effort to find new ways to 1)show ads and 2)redirect users back to Google properties to see those ads.

Brad Brewer of Brewer Digital Marketing originally shared this screen shot on G+ showing the addition of a link to Google’s hotel search from the Knowledge Panel on geographic city based searches.

This link of course returns an ad laden search result which takes you to the Google Hotel Local Stack, which if you click takes you to the Google Hotel Booking Page which if you click takes you to a Branded Search Knowledge Panel Booking page for a given hotel.

Talk about going down the Google rabbit hole… not a web link to be seen through most of this process except of course back to Google or to an ad. I think that the engineers at Google have in fact been reading Alice in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“As long as it’s back to Google”
– Larry Page

Google’s new motto: “What good is knowledge and all those facts if they can’t be monetized?”

Imagine some of the possibilities. Google could sell Disney tickets ads on the SeaWorld KP, they could sell t-shirt ads on the Bono one and heck maybe they could entice a Canadian pharmacy to sell drugs on the Knowledge Panel for US insurance companies. The possibilities are endless.

Start with a search for any big city (San Jose in this case):

kp-with link

Here is a tour of where you go once you click that link:

Continue reading Knowledge Panel – Down the Hotel Rabbit Hole with Google