All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Hummingbird, Local Knowledge Graph & Shitty Search Results

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 9.59.58 AMThe big news earlier in the week was Google’s announcement of the Hummingbird search algo upgrade. InformationWeek noted that “the Hummingbird update expands Google’s use of its Knowledge Graph”.  Local search results were some of the first entities moved to the Knowledge graph and displayed as knowledge graph results. For me there are thus two questions.

Does Hummingbird affect local search results?

Are there any indications of a decline in local search results quality?

The answer, at least as far as I can tell, to both questions seems to be yes.

According to Danny Sullivan, Google started using this new algo “about a month ago”. Moz pegged the rollout at around August 20-22. For the most part this change went unoticed in both local and universal search results. But there was one big change in local that Linda Buquet has covered quite extensively that she first wrote about on August 24th. The timing and results, I think, are not coincidental.

Linda titled this one exactly right: Attack of the Bad Google Local One-Boxes!

What is the attack of the Local One-Boxes? A number of broad head searches like “Buffalo NY Diamonds” or “Denver SEO”  are returning (usually) a single branded, spammy local result. Google seems to have dug into the wayback machine to have pulled out these totally inappropriate results. (Note: as Linda said below it may be necessary to set your location to the same as the geo phrase to see these. That isn’t always the case but it increases the likelihood of surfacing them).

Essentially it appears that Google has once again conflated these head terms with what they suppose to be a branded search and have surfaced spammy pinned local results that we thought had long ago been buried. Hummingbird has worked surprisingly well as demonstrated by the lack of complaints. It is interesting that a problem thought solved long ago would trip it up.

For example if you search on the phrase “Buffalo NY Diamonds” it surfaces a second listing for a local jeweler at the same address that was created long ago for the purpose of keyword spamming “marketing” in local. The problem of Google showing a single branded results was first spotted years ago. It subsequently lead to a spate of one box spam and then, for the most part, squelched by Google. For whatever reason, these spammy local knowledge graph entities seem to have made a come back.

The timing and nature of the results makes me believe that we are seeing “the Hummingbird effect”.

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When was the last time that you saw a local result for a spammy local SEO listings? The answer: December, 2009. They seem to have returned.

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Local U Advanced NYC Sold Out

Local-Advanced-U_180x70Apparently we have sold the last seat to the Local U Advanced session in NYC. We will be holding another advanced event in Valley Forge, Pa next March 7 & 8th. Let us know if you want details. Thanks to all for your support of this event

We will be announcing our (very busy) winter & spring speaking schedule shortly and it looks like we will be in Dallas, Springfield (MA), Valley Forge, Harrisburg and hopefully the Cupertino area (and perhaps a few more places as well). We are now scheduling for May and the fall of 2014 so if you are interested in having us come to your city, let us know.

We hope to have our full video tape of the LocalU advanced session in Seattle available for purchase shortly and some other cool content as well. We will keep you posted.

LocalU Odds and Ends

Local-Advanced-U_180x70Lot’s has been happening at LocalU. We have an advanced LocalU coming up Monday in NYC that has just 5 seats left. If you do sign up be sure to use the discount code WS-LUA10 for 10% off. If you are already signed up be sure to reach out to me and introduce yourself.

We will be announcing our (very busy) winter & spring speaking schedule shortly and it looks like we will be in Dallas, Springfield (MA), Valley Forge, Harrisburg and hopefully the Cupertino area (and perhaps a few more places as well). We are now scheduling for May and the fall of 2014 so if you are interested in having us come to your city, let us know.

We hope to have our full video tape of the LocalU advanced session in Seattle available for purchase shortly and some other cool content as well. We will keep you posted.

We have been busy at the LocalU blog as well with some great articles over the past few months that you might have missed:

Where Should a New Business Create a Listing: Google+ Page or Google Places for Business Dashboard? – Mike Blumenthal

The Real Truth About SEO & Call Tracking – Mary Bowling

Is Your Website Ready for the Holidays? – Mary Bowling

What Kind of Google+ Page Is It? – A Visual Guide to Google+ Local Pages – Mike Blumenthal

How Long Should Your Business Description Be in the Google Places for Business Dashboard? – Mike Blumenthal

Have You Tried Google Support for Local Lately? – Mary Bowling

How To Segment Local Search In Google Analytics (with Free Dashboard!) – Ed Reese (I particularly like the free dashboard that Ed created that gives some incredible insights into where your local visitors are coming from. And what is better than free?).

There will be light postings next week due to travel. I hope to see you in NYC next week.

 

 

New Countries Added to Places for Business Category Tool – Volunteers Needed

google-places-iconWe have just upgraded the Google Places Category tool with categories for the new dashboard from:
UK – United Kingdom contributed by Andrew Loy, Occupancy Marketing
NL  – Netherlands contributed by Eduard de Boer
FR  – France contributed by Ken Fagan
Aus  – Austria contributed by Petra Kraft
IT – Italy contributed by Andrea Scarpetta
CA – Canada contributed by Darren Shaw

Norway has been contributed by Aleksander Steinsvik, Crosspath Media but is not yet loaded.

Here are the countries that have been added to the new dashboard for which I do not yet have categories and am asking for volunteers:

Argentina Liechtenstein
Brazil Malaysia
Bulgaria Mexico
Chile Pakistan
Colombia Poland
Croatia Romania
Egypt Russia
Finland Saudi Arabia
Greece Singapore
Hong Kong Slovakia
Hungary South Africa
India Switzerland
Indonesia Taiwan
Israel the Philippines
Japan Ukraine
Kenya United Arab Emirates
Korea

If you would like your 15 seconds of fame and a link and live in one of the above countries here are the instructions to gather the categories from the new dashboard (obviously I wold appreciate it if you sent them along):

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Google Becoming Slightly More Transparent About Nuking Reviews

Update 9/28: I had myself taken off as a manager of Barbara’s page and my review instantly lost the notice and showed back up on the listing.

Historically at Google Local, if a review triggered the spam filter, the reviewer would still see the review associated with the business if they were logged in and other users would not. The reviewer would have no clue as to why the review wasn’t showing.

This “technique” for handling “spammy” reviews led to many, many posts in the forums inquiring about why a given review wasn’t showing. Google has now implemented at least a modicum of communication in this regard and is tagging flagged reviews with an alert.

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Is this enough communication and enough transparency? I would suggest that while it is better than before it still misses the mark.

1) Google has chosen to make the announcement in a users review section which I assume is infrequently visited

2)The complaints are still coming into the forum with regularity

3)The explanation given provides little in the way of helping the user understand what is going on if they do happen to see the notice.

My review of Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry was flagged because I am a manager of her G+ Page. Perhaps a legitimate reason to not show the review but if I were to read the help file that would not be at all clear.

Filtering reviews is a difficult dance between users and a complicated algo that is at best imperfect at identifying spam. Google has always erred on the side of opacity to prevent spammers from learning too much about their techniques.

The problem with that approach is that spammers figure it out anyways and regular users and businesses are inevitably punished. This occurs without any understanding of how or why on their part. Yelp, while imperfect in many things, handles their spam classification in a much more transparent way that while not ideal at least does a better job of communicating to the reviewer that their review will not be displayed. I believe that Google could learn from that example and with some careful thought do even better at solving this problem.

NY State AG Brings Down the Hammer on Fake Reviews (Again)

The NY Times is reporting that the NY State Attorney General will be announcing a crackdown today against 19 NY based companies, both SMBs and “reputation management” firms, for posting fake reviews online.  The companies will pay fines totaling $350,000 and agree to cease to the practice. “Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo”.

The findings presented no big surprises; reviews are available for purchase for as little as $1 each, “reviewers” often resided in Pakistan and India and many “reputation management” programs frequently offered “bribes” of as much as $50 as incentives for reviewers.  What was surprising was the forceful assertion of the NY State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, that fake reviews are “even worse than old-fashioned false advertising. When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

The fines levied were not insignificant although not as high as those levied in NY in 2009. A Buffalo based web marketing firm that was doing reputation management for 30 clients incurred a fine of $43,000 and a Staten Island tour bus operator received a fine of $75,000. Apparently the other firms will be highlighted in a press conference later in the today. Ironically the offending firm in Buffalo received two (yes two) do-follow links from the NY Times. Expensive links, those.

According to the NY Times the owner of the tour bus company, in response to blistering service related issues noted in on line reviews (“like buses never showing up”) personally oversaw a company effort to get fake reviews. “Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, ‘US Coachways does a great job!'”

While I am glad that NY State has stepped into the breach once again, as anyone following my blog knows this is not a new problem.  I have been reporting on it extensively since at least 2009 when NY State took its last enforcement action against a plastic surgeon. As I noted at the time:  This settlement should come as welcome news in the wild west of local marketing as it not only strikes at bogus reviews but at deceptive and misleading websites. Obviously the cases are many and State resources are few but it won’t take many cases like this to grab the attention of locksmiths, lawyers and others to force a change to their online marketing strategies.

Here are four years later and the enforcement has been worse than lax, abuses continue and while Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and Edmunds have made some public efforts to stem the tide of fake reviews with lawsuits and review filters, it is not clear to me that they are obvious or frequent enough. Nor that the chance of getting caught carries with it enough risk to disincentivize those using the tactic.

NY State is but one of 50 states and the only one to have entered this particular batter. Obviously state resources are stretched and many have bigger problems. The NY Times reported that this enforcement action will have impact beyond NY State borders but unless there is additional enforcement both in NY and other states, the problem is likely to persist.

Update: Here is the attorney general’s press release with some additional details and names of each of the companies that have settled. Apparently the highest fine was close to $100,ooo. The above two companies had a total of $118,000. That leaves $132,000 in fines split amongst the remaining 16 companies for an average of less than $10,000 per business. It is interesting that the company that paid “just under $100,000″ was not apparently named.

Upgraded Google Places for Business Dashboard Listings Now Allow Managers to be Added

google-places-iconOnce a listing  in the Places Dashboard has been upgraded to G+ Page social functionality, Google inextricably intertwines the listing with the social Page with both (mostly) positive and (some) negative effects. For example deleting the G+ Page will now delete the Dashboard listing and changing owners of the Page will transfer ownership of the listing.

Google has just announced that this also means that you can add managers to a listing in the Dashboard:

Update – September 19

Starting on September 19, new Places dashboard users with upgraded local Google+ pages will be able to invite other users to manage the page. You can read more about admin roles for pages here.

Please note that only pages that have been upgraded to have social features will have this multiple manager functionality. Owners of eligible pages will be able to invite others to manage a page, or remove other managers.

To add a manager:

  1. 1.From the listing dashboard, click on the gear icon on the upper right and select Manage listing access.
  2. 2. Select Add Managers and enter in the email address of the desired new manager.

Please note that managers must accept the invitation via email before being able to manage a page.

 

To remove a manager:

  1. From the listing dashboard, click on the gear icon on the upper right and select Manage listing access.
  2. Click on the X associated with the person you’d like to remove.

Please note that removing a manager means that account will no longer be able to edit, post, or act as the page. That account’s former actions will remain intact.

To transfer ownership:

  1. From your listing dashboard, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of your screen and choose Manage listing access.
  2. Click dropdown arrow on the card for the Manager you’d like to promote to Owner, and select Transfer ownership to…

This integration of functionality is the fruition of the vision that most in the industry had when Google first rolled out the G+ Pages for local in 2012. It has been a long time in coming and we are still waiting for many existing old Dashboards to be converted.

Meanwhile Google has slowly and steadily been adding new countries to the list where new claimants will be directed to the new dashboard automatically. Those include: Russia, India, Mexico, Ukraine, South Africa, Israel, Malaysia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Slovakia, Korea, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, Colombia, Chile, Hungary, Romania, the Philippines, Poland, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya, and Macau.

There is still work to be done by Google, like upgrading the bulk upload and integrating it into the new Dashboard but these new changes seem to imply that that upgrade will occur sooner or later. Having recently transferred some clients from Bulk to the new Dashboard in an effort to speed data updates, I have found that the interface, while not quite as fast to work with as the Bulk interface, has potential to get to that point.

Compared to the incredibly confused mishegas that is the G+ Page management interface, the Dashboard is a pleasure to work in and with. Essentially now any new business can work in either the dashboard or the G+ Pages management interface and expect the exact same outcomes for their local data. I would, for a number of reasons, suggest that going the Places for Business Dashboard route is the preferable choice. For more details on this logic see my most recent post at LocalU.org: Where Should a New Business Create a Listing: Google+ Page or Google Places for Business Dashboard?

What is the Value of Embedding a G+ Post on Your Blog? Is there a Local Search Use Case?

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.01.39 PMGoogle+ has recently implemented the ability for a Google + post to be embedded on a page with comments on a different domain. It is simmple to implement requiring a small snippet of javascript (<script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js”></script>) be embedded in your header and then simply copy the embed code from the post at + and embed it on your page.

The question is: what are the implications of this for local marketing? Will the post get more pages views and thus rise in Google search? Will it drive traffic to Google and away from your site? Or it will allow for more engagement on your site and the opportunity to both track and convert clients?

Yesterday I posted my Web Equity Infographic there and it generated a fair bit of conversation so I am embedding it here as an example and trying to wrap my head around the importance of this.

What will the search implications be of replicating here? Your thoughts?

Local U Advanced – NYC Sept 30th

Fall has descended (and I am riding my bike in 40 degree temperatures ….brr) and our SMX Local U Advanced Workshop is only 11 days away. We have sold 75% of the available tickets so there are only 14 left. If you are thinking of coming now is the time to sign up.

If you do sign up be sure to use the WS-LUA10 discount code to get a 10% discount. Learn more at the SMX site.

Wondering what goes on at Local U Advanced? Here is a video that we filmed in Seattle last June that will give you a sense of it.