The Google Hotel Knowledge Panel is now showing TrustYou review summaries (h/t TC Tim Capper of Online Ownership). I am not sure when this started appearing but the summaries show granular detail about rooms, location and facilities and replace the Google review snippets that were shown previously.
There is some irony that Google is sourcing this data from a 3rd party given that the review system implemented after the purchase of Zagat and ended after the departure of Marissa Mayer, included much the same type of extra detail.
TrustYou, Google’s data source for this granular data, is a reputation management product that tracks review content, helps Hotels get reviews and provides what it calls Meta-Review data to sites like Kayak, Trivago and Sabre.
Martin Brossman, observing the recent pivot of G+, recently noted that he: .. so much wish[es] Google would have communicated this in clearer ways to small businesses. The businesses I meet are more confused than ever with the Get on the Map program, that then changed everything. Not communicating the changes in a way that makes sense to the local business.
This has long been a problem of Google’s and a complaint of mine….their unwillingness to clearly articulate the uses cases, benefits and near future developments of their local product. Perhaps they were spoiled by search where SEO’s and businesses “just got it”.
The local communication issues have been compounded by the fact that local has always been a pawn in a bigger battle and not really having its own self standing importance to Google. It hasn’t been as important as search or Adwords or YouTube so it has been assigned to whatever division needed a boost at that moment… first Maps and then Plus and now Google Maps (again) and Adwords.
This has lead to a confusion in the market place. Just as the importance of local is dramatically increasing due to mobile, Google seems to be ripping out the plumbing and foundations of what is familiar with no declaration of what is to come.
Google has been “signaling” the separation of Local from Plus since 2013 with aggressive moves in 2014 and earlier this year. But smoke signals are not clear communications. And many missed the “message”.
In May of this year I noted that “while I think we will continue to see local data as an integral part of Google desktop search we may see even less of it elsewhere (like on G+) as Google uses local data (business listings & review content) to further their goal of positioning Google Maps as a dominant mobile destination”.
But I am an avid “watcher” of Google local and spend significant time reading the tea leaves. As Martin points out the job of communicating clear changes and benefits falls clearly at Google’s feet and they have, once again, done a terrible job of publicly articulating this to their audiences.
This problem is compounded by the way that Google handles local, its technical complexity and interrelation with search. This adds a layer of technical obfuscation to when and how local really benefits the small business.
85% of all local search traffic comes to SMBs from Google search. Even with the ascendancy of Facebook, Google far and away outstrips FB in terms of creating small business value in finding new customers. This occurs through search and Maps (and hardly ever through Plus) and yet this is a story that Google has never been able or willing to clearly tell.
In the recent past, Google has said “give us your data, goto Plus and you will have a page of your very own there”. But that was always a bit of a shell game.
The real value has always occurred in search. But the technical requirements of search optimization are so far out of the reach of the average business that it makes it hard for Google to really explain how to best benefit from where the most exposure takes place: in search.
It’s past time for Google to put forward a clear, no bullshit vision for local that SMBs can embrace and one that provides long term, consistent value.
The following features are no longer supported for Local pages – Reviews, categories, directions, stars, photo uploads, interior photos, maps, hours, opentable/apps integration.
With that in mind, I wanted to put the questions about G+ to rest with this FAQ:
Q: What about G+ as a citation?
Google Plus was never a citation in the classic sense. A citation was a 3rd party web reference to your business that Google looked to for verification of your basic data and possibly to enhance your ranking. Your G+ listing in and of itself never offered any ranking value.
Q: Then why was local integrated into G+?
Short answer: Bad strategic thinking about social
Long answer: In the forced march to G+ it was arbitrarily welded to the hip of Plus in the hopes that the rising boat of local would push Plus to the surface as it had done in the past with Maps. Given the changing nature of the local world, the everything but the kitchen sink that Plus had become was more of an anchor.
Q: Is Google getting rid of reviews?
Reviews have and will remain an integral part of Google local search. They have never really been that visible on the G+ pages and were always the most visible in Google search and in Google Maps. Going forward as the world moves to apps for those apps that is even more true.
Q: What link should I use for reviews if reviews are going away on Plus?
There are a number of choices and here is a good utility that generates them for you.
Be careful though, several of the links given by the utility fail in one situation or another so test them. They need to work mobile, desktop, logged in, or not, incognito or not. Not all of them do.
As a note, the Plus URL that you have been using and will work for a while (at least until users actually switch to the new Plus) has NOT worked on mobile for quite some time.
Q: Do we know if the verification process for pages is going away?
Google My Business was separated from Plus quite a while ago. While pages may go away in Plus as they and profiles become one and the same, verification will not go away.
The verification process was to verify the accuracy of your local data for inclusion in the Google Local Knowledge Graph database. That has always been the case and will always be the case.
Likewise certain Page types on Plus have not required verification. It is possible that the idea of a unique page type for local might disappear. If it does then that page/profile type itself might not need verification. Currently they are showing the verification check mark in the Beta. That implies to me that it will continue to be verified for some time.
Q: What is the local smb business use case for the new G+?
There is none that is obvious and available to most businesses. The reason for that is several fold but the main one is that there are just not enough local users on G+ to make the effort worth your while.
The only situation where it might make sense is if you are in a very visual business and are looking for an international audience and have the time to curate or create visual content.
But if that were the case you might already be on Pinterest.
Q: Doesn’t posting at G+ with backlinks benefit my local site?
Maybe in 2011 it did. If that’s your link building tactic, you need to explore other avenues. And quick.
Q: Can a small business just delete their G+ page and be done with it?
Well you can delete your G+ page but….
1)your listing will still show in search with its reviews and
2) you will loose the ability to add hours, photos and respond to reviews.
At least for now you are stuck with the G+ page.
Q: What about all the posts I did? Shouldn’t I keep posting?
Sometimes as business people we invest resources in the wrong place. This may have been one of them. If you have a gadzillion followers and your posts get shared and commented on, keep doing it. Otherwise: Abandon ship.
Q: Do I owe David Mihm a beer for our bet that G+ would fail?
When the original G+ came out in 2011, we bet a beer as to whether it would hit the shit can. I said that it would succeed and David noted that it would fail. Lucky for me we had set a 12 or 18 month deadline for the beer .
I collected my winnings but I fear that this failure is so deep that I will have to pay that beer and one more back to David. It may have taken 4 years but this is what can only be called a #fail.
Q: Will the new G+ Survive?
The internet is a funny place. Who knows. Anything can happen. But we do know that Google doesn’t have much tolerance for also rans these days.
Regardless it appears that its local use case for the foreseeable future is nil.
Q: Why does G+ look so strange on the iPhone?
Google is apparently building a single code base for Plus wherever its deployed. That may be good for Google but when meshed with their (Im)Material Design, Google’s over arching design standards, it has disastrous outcomes on iOS.
Besides being frickin ugly and looking like a ransom note many of the conventions either don’t fit or don’t work. At this point even the limited web version is better.
Q: If G+ is minimizing local, what does that mean about local on Google? What will happen to local?
Local is alive and well. And more important to Google than ever. In fact while I see this as a demotion of Plus, it is a promotion of Local to a critical part of both search and Adwords.
Q: What’s the bottom line with G+?
The reality is that even if those locally oriented features that Google removed from the Plus beta had returned, the new G+ is not a platform that will have much direct or even indirect benefit to most local businesses.
You should continue to use Google My Business to update your local information and for most of you, ignore G+.
Google Plus has released their new responsive, mobile first design. It indicates a very clear direction for the product with its focus on collections, communities, content and curation.
What it doesn’t focus on is of more interest to me. It doesn’t focus on businesses, their description, reviews, videos or business photos. In fact the complete absence of those features in this initial roll out seems to indicate the final and rather draconian separation from any business related function.
Over the past two years I have discussed the parting of the ways between local and Plus but through all of that Google had retained the essence of tabbed business pages and given the owner the ability to add a description, photos, videos and provided a place to send customers to see and leave their reviews.
That is all gone. In focusing on content, communities and collections Google has hung out a new and bold sign.
If you haven’t gotten the message yet it should finally be clear in the release of their new and improved G+: BUSINESS UNWELCOME.
This dramatic change will leave small businesses not just frustrated but angry as they shake their heads and head out the exit.
Facebook, over the past 18 months, has slowly been pushing into the local space. One of those efforts has been in the review space and they have managed to become one of the leading general review sites because of user familiarity and Facebook’s periodic promotions of their review capacity. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that they have apparently not yet put in place filters and processes to deal with the problems and abuses that can occur with reviews when not managed correctly by the platform.
Lynelle Schmidt of Long’s Jewelry Store in Boston writes of a Fiverr driven review attack on their Facebook page that landed over a hundred negative reviews on their page in the span of a few minutes. She noted at inbound.org :
I was so disheartened to see that someone had hired over 100 people to give us fake one star reviews. In the span of just a few minutes, we went from a gleaming 5 star reputation to just barely over 2 stars.
Initially Facebook refused to do anything. After several attempts by Lynelle at communicating with Facebook they have agreed to reexamine the situation and apparently have at least temporarily removed the review page.
One hopes the Facebook steps up and resolves this particular case of abuse but it points out that their review platform in being unregulated and unsupervised is rife for this sort of attack on small businesses. Reviews are a particular pain point for most small businesses and if Facebook does not put in place both filters and processes that handle these sorts of events effectively, what trust they have built up with businesses will soon dissipate.
Facebook has clearly committed resources to their local efforts. If reviews are going to be part of that effort then Facebook has to “put on their big boy pants” and start to be a steward of that trust in a way that respects both the consumer and the business. And part of that trust is putting in place both algorithmic and management processes that minimizes the impact of these sorts of review attacks.
CNBC is reporting that “as of today, homeowners searching for contractors on Google will be shown results that are “HomeAdvisor screened and approved” and come with profiles, price estimates and the ability to “book now” or schedule an appointment to compare estimates for work”.
This appears to be a new ad format although as of yet there are no details what it costs and where the payment is made. It is not clear if the process is completely driven by HomeAdvisor or if the business needs to interact with Google directly. It is also not clear what happens if the selected business is not immediately responsive. Does the request go to the next plumber in HomeAdvisor’s queue.
I have yet to see a live example of the booking screen but here is the screen example shown in the CNBC article:
This comes on the heals of IAC’s offer to buy Angies List and merge it with HomeAdvisor. IAC has taken an offer directly to Angie’s List stock holders at a 10% premium over the current price. Together the combined entity would have $700 million in annual revenue.
Interestingly Google has previously invested in home services startup Thumbtack and has continued their own HSA test in the San Francisco market. They seem to be pulling out all of the stops in going toe to toe with Amazon.
The Google Franken Page problem seems to have largely if not completely disappeared. In a check of 54 links from Uncle Bob’s Storage that were known to have suffered from the problem only one remains that has not yet been fixed. That is down from 2 bad listings this AM so a fix seems to be rolling out.
I asked Google to comment on the situation and here is what they said: Thank you for reporting this. We’re working on a fix and apologize for any inconvenience.
Here is the bad Uncle Bob’s listing that still is not resolving correctly:
If you recall, these franken pages started showing up early last week when Google, for whatever reason, was re-directing Plus pages to new URLs for some percentage of Plus pages. At the time we were seeing about 10% of all pages that had been redirected failed.
There appeared to be two types of these pages that were similar but had subtle differences. Some, which had just been separated from their local knowledge graph appeared as brand pages but verified. Others, a much smaller percent, though showed a 0 instead of a phone number. These are the few that seem to be still outstanding.
The risk level has dropped significantly and hopefully those remaining broken pages will be fixed in the near future.
And the description of what’s in that field now says:
“url contains the URL of the official Google page for this place. This will be the Google-owned page that contains the best available information about the place. Applications must link to or embed this page on any screen that shows detailed results about the place to the user.”
Those maps.google.com links bring up a regular Google map with a pushpin. If you click on the pushpin, you get the business info that you’d have gotten from many other kinds of searches, and that WOULD HAVE BEEN stored in the Google+ page for the business.
Google My Business List (aka GMBL, Bulk) has not seen this many upgrades in a quarter since the financial meltdown in 2008. Google rolled out last night a small but helpful upgrade that allows businesses to set different hours for different days both en masse and on a daily date basis. The feature rolled out in the GMBL via the bulk upload is also available to individual businesses via the List view in the dashboard. Help file instructions are here.
Starting in September Google released a visual upgrade on the search results that alerted searchers to the fact that a business might be closed on a given national holiday. If a business adds special hours specifically for the dates of the holiday the .ours will clearly indicate that they are open thus avoiding the consumer confusion.
Both the old style and the new style hours are supported in the upload file which is good as it allows large organizations and the software that generates these files a few weeks to adopt before Thanksgiving in the U.S.:
If a single location business or a bulk wants to change the hours directly they are able to do so via the List view interface in the new dashboard by selecting “special hours” in the hour area. Once there a user can select any number of individual days and times to indicate their specific status. If there are multiple locations that you manage in the dashboard, these changes can be applied to all locations for which you have management approval:
There is no real restriction on how far into the future a business could make these changes so they could conceivably add the holiday hours well into the future with one fell swoop:
As I noted above, the GMBL has finally started to get some serious love from Google. It has sat largely untouched and unchanged for a long time and it retains many of the oddities of its pre 2012 existence like 200 character limits and no html in the description field (not that anyone can actually read the description field).
In late September we saw the major update to the GMB interface that integrated the single and list view into a consistent experience. And in mid October we saw the release of the API. Google noted to us in a show and tell of the new product that they were the first local platform to support holiday hours across both single and bulk listings. But the really big change in all of this is the obvious reality that Google understands that agencies are a real and significant part of the ecosystem and their existence needs to not only be recognized but helped.
I met with the new GMBL product manager while at Google several weeks ago and he is a forthright, articulate and forward thinking person. The many and frequent changes we have seen in the GMBL is an optimistic sign that GMBL is not just alive and breathing but that it is finally looking to the future.
Local U Advanced is my favorite local event of the year; its collegial, casual, intimate and leading edge educational. This year the event will be held in Williamsburg, Va the night of March 4th and all of March 5th, 2016.
The agenda for the event will be coming out on November 8th but if you are interested in a ticket prior to that LocalU is offering up a Pre Agenda special for only $499 ($449 if you are a Local U forum member).
That’s the good news.
The bad news? There are only 2 tickets left at that price.