All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Optimizing Your Profile Image at Google Plus

Pack-Result-Desktop-smallThere probably isn’t an image of your business that gets seen more by potential customers and searchers than your Google My Business profile image. There isn’t a single image that has more impact on searcher’s behaviors. And there isn’t an image in the online world that is harder to “get right.”

Read my thoughts on how to best optimize your profile image: Your Google My Business Profile Image – The Most Important Image? at Local U.

Growth in the Use of “Near Me” in Searches

I have previously noted the growth of “near me” and “near by” in mobile search.

With the advent of mobile computing those phrases have moved rapidly into the search lexicon among phone searches.

In a recent article at Think With Google, Matt Lawson noted: Google search interest in “near me” has increased 34X since 2011 and nearly doubled since last year. The vast majority come from mobile—80% in Q4 2014.. The article also noted that these types of searches were more common amongst travelers, more frequent on weekends and frequently focused on restaurant and food related searches.

Clearly these types of searches occur in some vertical more than others but the “near me” really mirrors the growth of smart phones. I created a GIF from Google Trends that shows the spread of the use of Near Me over the past 5 years:

(click to view larger)

output_FGoDbn

Old Google Maps Heads to the Graveyard

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.33.41 AMBarry Schwartz noted a Google Maps Forum post by Abby announcing the full roll-out of the updated Google Maps for desktop and the deprecation of the old Google Maps.

In its place, for slow connection or old browsers, will be a Google Maps Lite Mode, a slimmed down version of the new Maps that eliminates 3D and speeds Maps up generally.

The old Maps was a trusty companion and in its time, an incredibly innovative product. It still has features that will be missed. My top of list request for a feature to be added to the new Maps: The ability to  show two or more sequential searches on the map simultaneously. It allowed me to identify a location in relation to other searches, useful in real life AND Local SEO.

But the old Maps had other capabilities as well that were useful, particularly in Local SEO work, that are still missing from the new Map. For example the ability to ferret out duplicate listings easily is now gone. (This makes Michal Cottam’s Page Finder more useful.)

The new Maps, in minimizing business listings, make them very hard for me (I am color blind) to easily parse on the screen.  The new Maps makes reporting a problem less functional and accessing a G+ Plus page nigh on impossible.

To some extent I suppose that the era of importance of desktop Maps is starting a long decline into second class status as mobile Mapping takes all the glory. That doesn’t mean that the old Maps won’t be missed.

Is the Snak Pak the Future of Mobile Local Packs?

I have been watching mobile Local Pack results for the past several weeks. This Guide to Google Mobile Local Pack Results catalogued what I was seeing across iPhone results as of several weeks ago. I am now seeing indications that the Local Stack, which requires an additional click to get to the business information, may be heading our way more broadly.

Last week, the Local Stack (aka Snak Pak) was, like the desktop version, only showing on entertainment, recreation, travel and food searches in all browsers and apps where I looked. Now I am seeing it for general search results in Google Now.

Google Now Local result showing
Google Now Local result showing

To some extent, mobile Local results are flying below the radar. And as I pointed out over the weekend, they vary a lot by device. But it seems that Google is on a path going with these local results from the classic pack with direct call, directions and web links to a more limited pack with just call links and now the Local Stack requiring a user to click in for even the least bit of information.

I am sure that Google would argue that its for the users benefit. Hard for me to see how hiding critical information like calling and driving directions is helping users.

Here is the fairly quick evolution we are seeing: Continue reading Is the Snak Pak the Future of Mobile Local Packs?

The Google Local Pack Display Across Devices

Browserstack has an online tool that allows responsive design testing across different mobile devices.

I was curious if it would catch some of the display differences that Google has in representing the local pack across devices with different OSs and display sizes. The differences are interesting and legion.

There are some caveats like the fact that it uses a European proxy server and doesn’t reflect things like Google Now. Who knows how many other display types it doesn’t show as there is often variety by browser types, location and searcher as well as device type. I am not sure that it captures the iPhone 6 accurately either.

Regardless it shows the amazing diversity of how a single local search result might show across devices. When was the last time you saw a 7 pack with red pins on the desktop (Windows)? This variety also demonstrates one of the reasons that ranking tools are often inaccurate.

Click to view the slideshow.

Apple Watch Day 0

apple-watch-sport-blk-100413450-galleryThere are several things you should or probably already do know about me:

– I am not particularly fashion driven. In fact I all too often just plain out forget my belt or something.

– I am not typically an early adopter. I have been in the computer industry long enough (35 years) to know that first gen hardware is just that first gen. There are too many quirks still extant to plunk down my hard earned money.

– The last time I wore a watch was 5th grade. I destroyed the watch my Dad gave me playing dodge ball and I felt terrible. Never again I said.

– I am cheap and cautious in my investing. I don’t like spending money when the return is hazy.

– As recently as a month ago, I was thinking of selling my Apple stock. I had trouble seeing how the Apple Watch would succeed. Had Apple jumped the shark?

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.30.14 AMAnd yet here I am with a receipt for Apple Watch in hand. It was an out of character move for me so why did I do it?

Apple has positioned the watch with a trio of current functions; time keeping, fitness and notifications from your on-line world. They are using style and fashion to move it into the watch lovers world, some interesting health related functionality for those thinking they are going to exercise more and positioning the notification system as a way to break free from your iPhone.

Some of the ostensible reasons I made the plunge:

– I am hopeful of weening myself off of my iPhone addiction

– I have a strong interest in the health and fitness functionality of an always attached device.

– My (dumb?) brother was willing to wake up at 3 am and place the order.

– I always LOVED Dick Tracey.

-And, finally, if Matt McGee can spring for a Google Glass and write a whole blog about it, I should able to spend 1/4 as much and at least get a few articles.

But those are mere rationalizations.

What helped me change my mind was this great piece by Ben Thompson: How Apple Will Make the Wearable Market.  It really opened my eyes to the problems with cracking the wearable market and how Apple, of all the players, was in the best position to solve the chicken and egg problem of getting the market kick started.

I firmly believe that within the next 10 years, wearables will provide a human machine interface to the real world….. doors will unlock, cars will start, bills will be paid, location specific information will be pushed to us in real time. Wearables will be an automated  and a hopefully private* way to do that.

As Thompson said in the article: to put it another way, I don’t think it’s an accident that the two hot new technologies are wearables and the Internet of Things; they are related such that each is made better by the other.

There will come a point where the local marketing, local search, local fulfillment, local almost everything will be part and parcel of this reality.

Apple successfully created some of the real world end points for this next step in digital in popularizing iBeacon and Apple Pay; two very real connection points for wearables. Now they are taking the first step in providing an ubiquitous physical interface for the human to interact with those points.

When the iPhone came I out I instantly judged it  a metaphor for the future of the phone market. When the Glass came out, I failed to see how it could succeed.

I am much, much more ambiguous about the Apple Watch. Even now I perceive the product as only having a 50/50 chance of achieving mass market appeal with high consumer adoption rate.  Clearly, it has a long way to go.

But if Google and Apple both introduced a wearable on the same day and they both had the same 50/50 odds, I would put my money on Apple having a success on their hands in 24 months and put my money on Google having pulled the plug.

The measure of this product is a fairly long time horizon – 5 to 10 years. The proof of its success will be the adoption of it by folks outside of the watch and technology worlds and whether it can in fact achieve the ideal of replacing not just my credit cards but my wallet, my keys and who knows what else.

This is the first device that I have seen that I think has a chance of doing that.

PS I persuaded my brother to get up at 3 AM to order them. It is interesting that even though he placed his order by 3:20 there is still a projected 4 to 6 week delay.

*While Apple is no paragon of virtue in the privacy world, they have a business case for maintaining a higher degree of privacy than either Google or Facebook, both of whom absolutely need your personal data to succeed. I chose NOT to buy a Nest, that I was thinking of buying, once they were sold to Google for that reason.

Apple Retains TripAdvisor and Booking.com Reviews in iOS 8.3 Maps

Appleinsider erroneously reported earlier in the week that Maps in iOS 8.3 lets business owners claim POIs, removes select TripAdvisor reviews. As Andrew Shotland has pointed out it is true that business owners can now claim their listing via the Apple Maps App but AppleInsider was wrong in that Tripadvisor and Booking.com are still present.

In fact what has changed is that the list view no longer credits Yelp as the sole supplier of reviews at the bottom of the page and each listing receives individual credit for the review source. It would also appear that Apple is using TripAdvisor as a data source as well as a source for reviews.

When reported 4 days list view showed the primary review provider at the bottom of list results. Now the list views associates the source of the review directly with the listing. This strategy allows Apple to further integrate review sources in industries where they can identify appropriate partners. It also removes their sole reliance on Yelp, which wile strong in restaurants and service businesses on the coast, is missing reviews for vast swaths of the US and more importantly the world.

screen-maps-hotels

Apple Maps Now Testing TripAdvisor and Booking.com Reviews

It appear that Apple, at least in the hotel world, is testing the use of reviews beyond their traditional partner Yelp.

AppleInsider reported this morning the appearance of reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com on a limited number of hotel listings within Apple Maps.

image3

image2

image1

It makes sense that Apple would expand their review partnership beyond Yelp. While Yelp has a great many reviews in restaurants, their presence in hotels is not as expansive as either booking.com or TripAdvisor.

What is not clear is if this a test or a final solution. There are, more questions than answers. It is an option for certain hotel chains, will TA reviews will just be used on hotels and will, at some point in the future, multiple review sources show?

This does though show how Apple, unlike Google, will partner with market leaders rather than trying to either take the reviews unbidden and not compete directly by trying to do it themselves. Its not that they wouldn’t do it themselves if it becomes necessary or beneficial to do so, its just not the default setting.

If you have Apple Maps on your desktop this link will take you to an example.

Greg Sterling has good coverage of this move vis a vis international searches and notes that TA and booking.com are predominantly visible outside the US.  He notes:

A search for “restaurants, Prague” or “restaurants, Mexico City” show Yelp results, while restaurant searches in most European capitals show TripAdvisor content. It’s not clear whether Yelp is simply better in these cities or whether Apple hasn’t yet gotten around to replacing the Yelp content.

It goes on: a search for “hotels, Vienna Austria” displays reviews from Booking.com while “museums, Vienna Austria” continues to show Yelp results.

Yelp has good European restaurant reviews coverage. However in a majority of cases Apple appears to have entirely replaced them with TripAdvisor reviews. Yet TripAdvisor probably has more comprehensive and better hotel reviews coverage than Booking.com. It strikes me as odd that Apple would use Booking.com instead of TripAdvisor for hotel reviews — unless the capacity to book directly through the latter is being valued. (TripAdvisor is predominantly a lead-gen site for other booking services.)

TripAdvisor has always been important to hotel operators but now it must become a new focus for restaurants outside the US (if it wasn’t already). And Booking.com gains new prominence among hotel review sites.

New Google Support Option Offers A Form to Contest Reviews

One option in the new Contact Us process that appears to be an improvement is elevating a form to contest reviews.

The form, previously buried, has in the recent past sent a review removal request into the queued email response system and typically generated a human and intelligent response. This contrasts with the pissing in the ocean review flagging process typically encouraged.

reviews

In the field asking for content of the inappropriate review, one might actually be able to add a comment.

In addition to a form to contest reviews there is now an obvious option to ask for them to be moved from one listing to another. Moving reviews previously had a help page but no action associated with it. In this new context the process for resolution is clear.

Google My Business Help Now Segments Support Questions Prior to Calling

Google recently upgraded their site wide Help pages with a new material design them and more context sensitive help.

Today they have also changed the Contact US option available for My Business listings to attempt to segment certain problems and direct users back to the Help files.

Depending on the issue chosen, the user will either be presented with the option to receive a call back, choose between a call back and chat support or to visit the help pages. This is a change from previously when users that selected the contact us link were asked a few brief questions and then allowed to choose between the call, chat or email option.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.21.49 PM
User must select an issue prior to proceeding – click to view larger
Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.22.02 PM
Depending on the issue, the user might be present with a call or chat option – click to view larger
Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.22.12 PM
Certain issues will lead back to the Help files or possibly over to a different section of the Google Help – click to view larger

From an efficiency point of view it makes sense to attempt to direct users to the best spot to be helped. That being said, Contact US has a very specific meaning and I think it both bad design and frustrating for users to arrive at that point to then be lead elsewhere on the site.