All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Is Google Finally Nuking Unverified Plus Pages?

When Google ripped  Local out of Google Plus last summer and stopped linking to Plus, they noted that the unverified Plus pages (what Google called “shell” pages) would be removed. That never seemed to happen but it might just be starting now.

Removing the Plus Pages must have been a difficult process with a few too many dependencies and those local Plus pages seemed to hang around. It would appear that at least some of those pages are starting to be removed and the Plus pages redirected to the equivalent location in Google Maps.

Jay, a Streetview Trusted photographer, has  provide a number of examples of Plus pages that now redirect to Maps. According to Jay some of them went to the Plus page as recently as mid February. All of them note that Google is redirecting the page to Maps.

Google search for Raven Theater

Google Bulk Allows Photo Uploads …. Finally

AllLocal is reporting that Google GMBL (bulk) has finally added support for businesses to add specific photos to their listings. The feature allows photos to be uploaded to for the following fields Profile photo, Logo photo, Cover photo, Other photos.

More importantly Google now allows the business to identify which of the specifically uploaded photos is their “Preferred photo”.  Now we can only hope that Google respects that preference. Although I am skeptical.

The photos can be uploaded via the bulk sheet and then individually edited within list view.

Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.53.43
New fields in the Spreadsheet
Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.59.35
via the dashboard list view
Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.59.43
edit individual listings

Google Updates Mobile Travel Experience with Additional Planning Features

Early in February Barry Schwartz reported that Google had rolled out a new mobile travel search experience that made provided a very deep “click in” experience on Google.

On a search like “Where to go in France” Google offered tiles in the main search for significant cities that when clicked took you to a list of destinations for that country and when a city was selected offer single page of travel related answers for that city.

It appears that since this feature was first reported on SearchEngineland,  Google has expanded the features of that page by separating the functionality into exploring and planning. In the new plan a trip tab they offering a new, animated cost planning interface that details the average costs for hotel plus airfare at different times of the year.

Google_Travel_Planning

This is truly a rabbit hole experience and lays out a clear path of Google not just providing the answer but of capturing all of the attention and attempting to book the trip as well.

Continue reading Google Updates Mobile Travel Experience with Additional Planning Features

Google Incentivizes Local Guides with Gamification and Kudos

Google expanded the Local Guides program from its initial review focused emphasis and has been encouraging other types of engagements with Google Maps.

in November they started giving Local Guide points for photos uploaded, and  listings edited. They even have offered Regional Lead status in MapMaker to them.

The program was introduced in January of last year and while it is similar to Yelp’s Elite program, I have argued that it comes with a distinctive Google flavor. Google has managed to engage a very large number of trusted users to actively improve Google Maps and they have done so at very, very low costs and huge scale.

And not only has it been at low cost but it has saved Google time and money finding trusted beta testers and MapMaker editors. They make those seem like benefits to the users.  I also get 1 terabyte of free storage. I am not sure the incremental cost of that to Google but it has to be very little.

In addition to writing the occasional review and editing locations, I frequently upload photos to Maps…. I just received this acknowledgement that my photos have been seen 500,000 times.

Screenshot 2016-03-01 15.27.21
Click to view larger

PS added 3/2 Google’s definition of gasification:
Screenshot 2016-03-02 14.14.01

4 Ads At Top And Local Search

There has been much written about Google now showing 4 ads at the top of search.  Mostly about its impact on bidding and ad costs.

Given that Google tests these things and likely has a good handle on the income implications, we can rest assured that they have not made any changes that would reduce their income. I can’t speak to whether this change will make it harder for small businesses to compete although that has been an on-going trend.

In all that has been written about the change I have yet to see notice of its non-ad impact on Local search. IE the amount that it further pushes local results down the page and below the fold.

Here are two screen shots of the same search done on my Mac 13″ display, which has an effective web resolution of 1280×800. The impact is present even when Google shows only 3 ads because the ads all now can have extensions with sitelinks, reviews etc which also take up more space.

Local Search with 3 ads BEFORE
Local Search with 4 ads AFTER
Local Search with 4 ads AFTER

The affect of this is particularly noticeable when Google includes product search to the right.

4 ads with Product search
4 ads with Product search

Here is a screen shot from my home computer with a 1440 x 900 pixel display and only 3 ads. Note that the 3 ads and the many Adword extensions push the pack out of sight even on a larger display:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.19.05 PM

 

Click to Call Phone Numbers in Mobile Organic Results

Ryan Schilling of Lead Hub, noted (h/t Barry Schwartz) on Twitter having spotted click to call phone numbers in mobile organic results.

The snippets are appearing in both organic and YouTube universal results on the iPhone. To see these results you need to click through to page 2 of the search results on mobile only (let me know if you see them on Android).

Given that they are buried on page 2 it is very likely that they are a test. That being said, it is a test that if successful could lead to further reduction in pack results.

24 hr ac repair Corpus Christ (mobile only)

IMG_0584

Jewelry buffalo (mobile only)

IMG_0586

Local U Deep Dive in Local – The Role of Links in Local SEO

Our Local U Advanced is rapidly approaching. We still have seats left if you are a last minute type. To sign up visit our Eventbrite page. With David Mihm, Mary Bowling, myself as well as Andrew Shotland, Google, Joy Hawkins and the rest of the Local U gang it promises to be a great event.

As a lame alternative you can watch Mike Ramsey and myself discuss the role of links and link building in  local search optimization  our Deep Dive video series:

Screenshot 2016-02-29 10.52.13

 

Review Stars, Zen and the Art of Local Search

A very brief history: Rich Snippet review stars have had a tough week. Starting last Wednesday I noticed they were missing on a few searches I was using in a demo. By Friday, the reports of their disappearance were widespread.

Interestingly not all instances of the review stars disappeared, even during the “darkest” hour.

Many in the industry were asking about them being missing and wanted to know what could be done. There was, as is often the case, a certain intensity and near panic about the situations.

I assumed that it was one of Google’s many re-calibrations and that Google was once again “clearing the clutter” that was accumulating in the search results.

Yesterday they started returning and today John Mueller has noted that there was a bug and their massive decline was a mistake.

Zen: I often tell people that the best thing to do in Local Search when the s%$t hits the fan is to take two beers and call me on Monday.  I need to take my own advice more often. This was one of those cases where Google was having a “rankbrain fart” and the rest of us were along for the ride.

We live in a Google world, where they ship products early, iterate often and leave bugs for years. They test changes in real time on the real products and these “rankbrain farts” are not uncommon. We have to all remember to take a few days/weeks and assess the next step before conclusions are drawn.

Local Search: Local search is hard, always has been and always will be. Not only is it an amalgam of multiple algos its an area of heavy experimentation by Google.

That being said if you keep in mind some general principals you can minimize the impact of these changes on your business.

1- Communicate early and often with your clients when they come on board about the fact that Google changes frequently. Prepare them for the inevitable.

2- When issues like this crop up, be out front of the issue and alert your bigger customers and communicate to staff what they need to know to answer the inevitable questions.

3- Be prepared for change. Be sure that you are leveraging multiple local marketing tactics so that one change is not the end of the world.

4-Always keep an eye out for the next marketing opportunity that might help that customer and be ready to implement if things change.

5- Stay on the right side of ethics and best practices behaviors so if things go south, you are not the one responsible.

Review Stars Best Practices: Clearly review stars are a valuable asset and as much as possible you should craft your client strategy around them for longevity and visibility. This is an opportunity to review your practices and make sure that they have staying power. Here are some thoughts along those lines:

1- Use review rich snippets on original content. While this is no longer explicit in the guidelines as it once was, it makes sense that Google wants fresh and original content. Simply slapping Schema on Yelp reviews is a likely scenario for failure in the future.

2- Use the aggregate review snippets to inform customers NOT to try to game the search engine. Don’t just slap it on your home page in an effort to get Google to show them in the results.

3- Stay on top of and follow Google’s rich snippet guidelines.

4- Put your reviews and testimonials on a page that is of value to your readers. Burying your testimonial page deep in your site and expecting that page to show review stars is unrealistic.

5- In the case of multi location businesses consider putting them directly on the local landing page. For single location businesses consider putting them on the home page.

barbara oliver Google Search6- Testimonial pages that had significant internal and external SEO continued to show in the search results. This indicates that some form of page prominence is likely the variable as to whether they show and that you want to consider both internal and external linking to the page.

Don’t assume just because you have rich snippets that Google will show them. Or that just because Google has shown them in the past they will continue to do so. At a minimum, as adoption of reivew rich snippets moves across the web it is likely that we will see periodic recalibration on the part of Google. Put in place a sustainable plan now.

Full disclosure: I am a founder and principal in GetFiveStars.com and  as such you need to view anything I say about reviews and rich snippet with that in mind. 🙂

 

 

Apple and the Court of Public Opinion – Do 51% Support the FBI?

Opinion polls are an ever present part of our society. All too often, in the absence of real democracy, they seem to take on the role of the “people’s voice” in public debates.

I was fascinated by the recent headline from the Verge declaring More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI, finds Pew survey and from the NY Times declaring In Poll on Apple, Public Sides with F.B.I..

Clearly the people had spoken. Or had they? Firstly Apple is a global company with 2/3 of their sale from outside the US. So it isn’t clear that the opinion of its US customers should come before those of other countries.

But more importantly polls are just samplings with their own biases. What did it mean for the NY Times to declare that a majority (51%) of the respondents sided with the FBI when by Pew’s own admission they had 24% of respondents admitted to knowing nothing about the case.

I decided to run my own survey of the US internet users as well as adult internet users in Canada, Australia and the U.K. In an attempt to replicate Pew’s results I made the question exactly the same. Unsurprisingly the answer to my survey did not produce a 51% majority and is much more ambiguous with ~32% holding no opinion:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.19.37

We see even more ambiguous results in the UK with ~47% expressing no opinion

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.22.31

Similar results from Canada

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.23.41

And from Australia

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.24.40

In all four countries, the percentage of people that thought Apple should unlock the phone was in the mid 30’s and very close given the margin of error noted in the survey (in parenthesis for each result). But in no country was their a clear majority favoring Apple unlocking the phone.

And given the high percentage of folks in all of the countries that had no opinion including the US, it seems premature for the NY Times to declare that More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI. 

Why the differences? Polls are not science. A lot depends on the context and presentation. Even the questions create bias. I, in emulating Pew, asked simply about unlocking the phone. The actual request is much more complicated than that and in fact Apple needs to create a custom version of their OS. Perhaps if I had asked that the answer would have been more definite one way or the other.

As much as possible pollsters attempt to remove their own biases but even things like the way a question was asked or the order that it was asked can impact outcome. For example in the case of the Pew survey,  there were 6 questions asked prior to asking the principal question and we have no idea what five of them were. The sixth question immediately preceding the main question could also have set the stage for an inflated answer:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.33.00

All surveys have a margin of error built in based on how large and representative the sample is. In the case of Pew, they asked 1000 people which is large enough to be sure that the margin of error is reasonable but it was not stated as to how much it actually was. That being said, making definitive conclusions as they do about attitudes of sub groups within the sample becomes much less reliable and will likely have a much greater (but non stated) margin of error.

Pew for example found no significant age preferences while the Google survey found a very strong age based preference:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.39.13

Finally methodology affects outcome. My surveys were done using Google Survey which admittedly only sample the US Adult Internet Population.

So has the US public decided? Has the greater global public decided (which is really Apple’s audience)? As much as Pew proclaims that they have I would assert that the court of public opinion, like our Supreme Court, is pretty evenly split and nowhere near a majority.

Here are the links to my surveys so that you can examine the results for yourself:

US Survey

UK Survey

Australian Survey

Canadian Survey